Thanks to Elizabeth for letting me guest blog. I’d like to reflect upon what sounds like a simple question – one I ask myself with every novel: just whose story is it?
When I started my first series, I had a character and setting – Barry Clayton, funeral director in the Appalachian Mountains of North Carolina. Since my father had been a funeral director, I used some of his stories and my own imaginings of what it would be like to be in that profession to blend the “what was” and “what might have been” into a family story.
But as the writing process evolved and fictional events unfolded, the characters’ paths diverged from my original intentions and characters became whom they needed to become, distinct and individual entities. A friend of mine, writer Robert Inman, remarks that he knows he’s in his most productive zone when his characters start talking to him. I need to take it a step farther. I know my story has grown beyond me when my characters start talking to each other. It is no longer my story; it is my characters’ story.
Sometimes a story creates a new cast because the premise isn’t right for the ensemble of characters who have already come into being. My first experience with this change of “ownership” occurred when an elderly friend told me about his journey through the Jim Crow South transporting a body from Asheville to North Georgia. When he was ten, he and his father, both white, aided an African-American funeral director who had only a horse and wagon.
This time, Andrez is doing something very cool with his serialized, twelve-part comic, Bullet Gal. I’ll let him explain more:
Doing the Bullet Gal comic book was surprisingly liberating after four back-to-back novels, and it gave me a better chance to really hone in on the hardboiled, crime and film noir influences that shaped my brain as a kid. Being able to tweak these visually as well as through the story arc and rapid-fire dialogue was a joy.
Of course, things never turn out simple. These influences were then folded and shoved into a dirty sock drawer with mischief-makers like sci-fi, slapstick and superhero derring-do.
I didn’t expect the combination to work so well, or for it to get such positive feedback from people outside my own head space. And once I wrapped issue 12, finalizing a story around 280 pages in total length, I felt kind of sad. I’m going to miss this place. A sizable part of me is itching to get back in there! — AB
I think about the dedications to my books a lot. I probably overthink them. They’re one of those things I can’t stop thinking about once I get started.
I was pretty proud of the original dedication to Cry Father. It was this:
For my children, with all my apologies. And for my parents, with the same.
If Cry Father is about anything, it’s about the failures of fathers and sons. And if I know about anything, it’s failure on those two fronts.
Also, it acknowledged that I have no right to claim any moral superiority over my characters. (Thinking about whether you think you’re better than your own characters is the kind of dipshit thing only somebody seriously prone to overthinking could do.)
The other day, a parent of one of my students (I’m a high school English and Literature teacher) came up to me. She smiled and said, “I finished reading your book, and loved it” (this of course made me smile in return, and I thanked her for the kind words). But then her face grew serious and she asked, in the most straightforward tone I could imagine: “What happened in your childhood to make you write this?” I laughed at first, thinking it was a joke, but then stopped myself short when I realized her true concern. “Nothing,” I said. “I had a great childhood.” (And that’s true.) She smiled, said “Good,” and then shook her head. “But the book’s so dark, though. Where’d it come from?” I could only shrug my shoulders at the question.
Since then, I’ve thought a great deal about her question. Where did it come from? She’s right; my first novel, A Murder Country, is incredibly dark and serious. Unrelentingly so. The book is set in late 19th century Appalachia and is full of death and pain, vengeance and sadness marked with only the faintest glimmer of hope (if any). But that is not who I am as a public or even private person.
To meet me, I am kind and polite, fun and goofy—at least I try to be—but my stories (besides A Murder Country, I have had several short stories and plays published online and in print) are all marked with the same dark and serious intensity. Where does that depth of angst come from? The answer is simple, and I think it applies to all narratives (all forms) that carry any kind of purpose. The pain comes from the buried and repressed parts of our psyche. Every person has these questions and thoughts trapped within his/her mind, but there are only a few people who actually look into that psychological darkness and try to understand—or at least explain—it. (Call it bravery or stupidity,
Not a big blogger. I have one of my own, but I rarely post anything on it. I think for me it’s mostly a place to vent and bitch my frustrations, which is why I avoid it altogether. And self-promotion—that fucking god-awful masturbatory necessity we little-known writers need to gain Google presence and get some attention to our soon to be doomed into nonexistence novels and short stories. Here today, gone tomorrow. Oh well.
Of course you have “the ranters,” the keepers of all that’s right and wrong with writing, publishing, editing, and how to do this, how to do that. Those fuckers love seeing themselves write, and none seem to have a best-selling anything. But every now and then their heads swell with praise from their followers—their 600 sheeple—and their mouths get big enough for a big ol’ boot to fit in…and they do; they choke on it once in awhile. But they’re only blogs, and there’s a safe distance between a fist and black eye there.
I say, what’s so wrong with getting a shiner when your mouth gets out of hand? It’s how we used to learn our social graces. I’ve seen a well-followed blog get too many, ‘Oh, yer so right, couldn’t have said better, once again, yer the greatest,’ and pow, out of nowhere, they decide they can do no wrong and they spew out an opinion so stupid, and so negative, that might involve another—who’s just a little bit better informed on whatever subject, and maybe they have ten times the followers—and, rabid bunch they can be, the fists start flying.
Wait. I kinda feel like I’m doing that now. Actually the only thing that gets flying are words, and that’s too bad. Usually the dumbass who started it shuts right up and publicly reports that they refuse to read their counterpoint rebuttal, their deserved E-shiner. Internet shiners come in the form of insults and attacks on the other’s writing. Which stings a bit, but doesn’t teach us much. Not like a good old fashioned fist in the face. Those are hard to say, ‘No, I won’t lower myself’ to.
But what of it? It passes soon enough, and everyone is on to the next and latest end of the
Matías Segura, a member of the Policía Federal Ministerial in Ciudad Juárez, Mexico, has seen more than his share of dead bodies. From gang members gunned down in the streets in broad daylight to mass graves and scenes of unspeakable torture and brutality, dealing with the carnage that flows from the Mexican drug trade has become a part of Segura’s daily routine.
Just across the border in El Paso, Texas, Detective Cristina Salas is all too aware of the atrocities occurring far to close to home for comfort. When in the course of her work with the El Paso Gang Unit she learns of a possible connection between the notorious Mexico-based Barrio Aztecas and gang activity in her city, she is determined to do whatever it takes to make sure El Paso doesn’t become another Ciudad Juárez-style killing field.
Caught in the middle is Felipe “Flip” Morales, a minor criminal who ended up in prison when one of his crimes took a turn for the unexpectedly serious with devastating results. Unfortunately for Flip, while in prison he became indebted to the Barrio Aztecas, who provided Flip with protection from the other gangs inside. Now free from confinement, Flip is far from free of the hold the Aztecas have on him. Though he has the support of a loving mother and the inspiration of a new girlfriend to fuel his desire to go straight, the Aztecas have other ideas for Flip’s future.
“Banned Books Week (BBW) is an annual event celebrating the freedom to read and the importance of the First Amendment. Held during the last week of September, Banned Books Week highlights the benefits of free and open access to information while drawing attention to the harms of censorship by spotlighting actual or attempted banning of books across the United States.
Intellectual freedom—the freedom to access information and express ideas, even if the information and ideas might be considered unorthodox or unpopular—provides the foundation for Banned Books Week. BBW stresses the importance of ensuring the availability of unorthodox or unpopular viewpoints for all who wish to read and access them.
The books featured during Banned Books Week have been targets of attempted bannings. Fortunately, while some books were banned or restricted, in a majority of cases the books were not banned, all thanks to the efforts of librarians, teachers, booksellers, and members of the community to retain the books in the library collections. Imagine how many more books might be challenged—and possibly banned or restricted—if librarians, teachers, and booksellers across the country did not use Banned Books Week each year to teach the importance of our First Amendment rights and the power of literature, and to draw attention to the danger that exists when restraints are imposed on the availability of information in a free society.
Banned Books Week is sponsored by the American Library Association, the American Booksellers Foundation for Free Expression, the Association of American Publishers, the American Society of Journalists and Authors, and the National Association of College Stores. Banned Books Week is also endorsed by the Center for the Book in the Library of Congress.”
Up-and-coming artist Junior Lara returns home one night to find all the windows open and his loft apartment filled with doves. As he makes his way through the dark rooms shooing the birds out and closing widows behind them, a deep feeling of unease overtakes him as he realizes something very wrong has occurred—all of his canvases are in tatters, ripped to shreds.
When he slips in a patch of something wet, but disturbingly sticky, Junior barely has time to comprehend he’s stepped in the blood of his girlfriend, supermodel Anya Langtry, whose lifeless eyes stare up at him from the floor, before he has a terrible sense of falling…and everything goes black.
And with that wonderfully eerie, atmospheric opening, The Night Visitor, the newest offering from LA Times bestselling author Dianne Emley, is off and running.
Fast forward five years, where we learn Junior survived being shot in the head that night…if you call being in a persistent vegetative state surviving. We also learn that his girlfriend was an illicit one, and that in fact Junior had been engaged to Anya’s sister, Rory, at the time. The police have long since written off the events that occurred that evening as a murder/failed suicide, a theory that Rory and Anya’s family agrees with. Junior’s family, on the other hand, believes it was Rory who shot both Anya and Junior in a jealous rage upon learning of their affair.
“A writer wastes nothing,” a saying that’s attributed to F. Scott Fitzgerald, may not be true for all writers, but it’s true for me. It’s especially pertinent to my new standalone novel, The Night Visitor, which was released yesterday. It’s a tale of love, murder, corrosive family secrets, and the inexplicable mysteries of the human heart and mind. It was inspired by a tragic period in my life.
The protagonist of The Night Visitor is Rory Langtry, a young socialite and business executive who may have murdered her twin sister and shot her fiancé, Junior Lara, making it look a murder/suicide. Junior survived but has been minimally conscious and in a hospital subacute unit for years. He’s still accused of murdering Rory’s sister. While Rory has gone on with her life, Junior’s family maintains that she’s the shooter, protected from justice by her wealthy family.
As Junior finally nears death, Rory begins to have inexplicable visions and sensations—some terrifying, some wonderful—of things that only Junior could know and feel. She comes to the frightening conclusion that Junior has opened a mind/body connection with her and she’s doomed to die with him unless she can find a way out. Has Junior attached himself to Rory as a way of enlisting her help to find the real murderer before he dies or is Rory, consumed by guilt, losing her mind?
So, what prompted me to make a minimally conscious man a major character in a book? The short answer is: I know Junior’s world and its unique heartaches because something similar happened to my father and I felt compelled to tell the story.
The best feedback to my latest novel, published in July? A mate said it was like The Catcher in the Rye — for girls. I can certainly live with that.
But this is also a yarn that additionally throws in a murder mystery, a sprinkling of gothic horror, surrealism, and dialogue heavily influenced by both Raymond Chandler and Angela Carter. I’m hardly claiming the strength and agility of any of these — yet there you go.
One of the things I like to do in my books is lob in hundreds of additional nods and the occasional homage to things I dig and cherish, or that may have had a role in developing my peculiar psyche.
Some of this fodder is just plain obscure, and Depth Charging Ice Planet Goth is no stranger to these things.
I’m therefore going to skim the surface here, in order to give prospective readers a vague idea of what to expect in the book between the lines — and if you have read it, these tarnished nuggets may add flavour.
For starters, the old truck in which Mina hitches a ride — a World War Two era, canvas-backed General Motors lorry — featured in The Great Escape. It has the license plate ‘JJZ-109’, which was the number plate on Steve McQueen’s Mustang in Bullitt. Hip-hop DJ Clive Campbell is a direct reference to DJ Kool Herc (same real name), considered by many to be the ‘father’ of hip-hop.
Much of the new novel focus on music, especially that created in the 1980s. When creating character names, I couldn’t resist the winks. Margaret’s boyfriend Danny Murphy is an amalgam of Peter Murphy and Daniel Ash, the singer and guitarist from British gothic rock band Bauhaus, while Mina’s form teacher Roslyn Williams spins out of Rozz Williams, who formed American band Christian Death in 1979. Glenda Matlock, the school counsellor, comes from Glen Matlock, the Sex Pistols’ original bass player before Sid Vicious joined the band. Police constables Copeland and Andie Summers are based on members of The Police — the band — namely Stewart Copeland (drums) and Andy Summers (guitar).
So Broken River Books recently unveiled the cover art for my upcoming novel, The Last Projector, and since it’s gotten such a great response (the cover, I mean) and I’ve fielded more than a few email inquiries about the artist and the strange cover concept, and because Elizabeth White has a great venue for these kinda guest musings I figured I’d throw down some back story for the curious on this artwork’s long, strange journey to completion.
Initially, because of the novel’s obsessions with movies and videos, when J. David Osborne and I brainstormed ideas, we considered a schematic for a film projector, like one of those exploded blueprints, and/or some sort of swirl of videotape. I was also a big fan of Matthew Revert’s cover of Stephen Graham Jones’ The Last Final Girl and how it had those seams on the image to remind people of the traditional “four-sheets” from the heyday of movie posters.
This started me thinking less about the more obvious “projector” idea and more about movie posters. Because thinking about movie posters is way more fun. So we talked and talked about how we thought movie posters had taken a nosedive as far as creativity, almost always cashing in on the fame of the star with what I called the typical “giant famous head” design (see any Tom Cruise film for examples of this). But before the invasion of the heads, movie posters were amazing.
Also affecting the design was Broken River’s new venture into hardcovers. Mr. Osborne wanted this to be their first hardcover, and thought of this release as more of event, a more collectable work of art. Not to take away from his distinct paperback covers, and the Matthew Revert designs for their first dozen publications which had already made their own splash. He just thought a hardcover should look a little different to justify its existence. And I had fond memories of dust jackets that were almost as action-packed as those movie posters way back when.
Well, maybe some softer scenery, and maybe not quite the heroic poses, but there definitely used to be a lot
Though I never met Jim in person, we did talk fairly regularly via email, and he joked that doing one of those “soul-baring interviews” had come to be part of his book release ritual that he most looked forward to.
Today I do my little part to help people enjoy and celebrate Jim’s life and work with links to my reviews of his writing and interviews with him.
Helsinki Blood by James Thompson
The Culture Must Change to End the Slaughter – An Interview With James Thompson
Helsinki White by James Thompson
Will I Be Assassinated? – An Interview With James Thompson
Lucifer’s Tears by James Thompson
My Life Just Isn’t Anybody Else’s Business by James Thompson
Snow Angels by James Thompson (Nominated for Edgar, Anthony and Strand Critics awards.)
My sincere condolences to his friends and family, both in his adopted home of Finland and in his home state of Kentucky.
Two years ago saw the US release of my debut novel, The Dead Women of Juárez. Nominated for a Crime Writers Association John Creasy New Blood Dagger — whew, that’s a long name! — it had garnered some degree of critical and commercial success in the UK, where it was first published. When it hit over here, however, it made no impact at all. Few copies were sold and fewer readers were satisfied with what they read. One memorable Goodreads review declared that the book “commits entertainment suicide” at the midpoint, when a major plot twist kicks in. Not exactly the sort of thing that breeds confidence. People didn’t like the characters, they didn’t like the setting and they weren’t all that interested in the plight of the real dead women of Juárez, the victims of what Mexicans call the feminicidios.
I wrote another Mexico-set novel after The Dead Women, this one called Tequila Sunset. It was likewise critically lauded and the Crime Writers Association again nominated it for an award, this time the far more easily named Gold Dagger. This was satisfying, as you might expect. To make matters even more gratifying, Tequila Sunset did so well in the UK that it even went bestseller. And when the book was tapped for an American release, Publishers Weekly and Booklist raved. This was a whole other level, and it got me thinking about what was so different about this book than the one that came before.
The Dead Women is essentially two interlocking stories with lead characters who are, shall we say, deeply flawed. There is very little light in the novel and it both turns and ends on bleak notes. Some got what I was going for and even liked it, but I think it’s safe to say most didn’t. Entertainment suicide, indeed.
Street hustler Donny is wise to be concerned about that path he’s walking. Though relatively new to the life of a male prostitute turning tricks with gay men in order to fund his drug habit, he’s already been in long enough to know it’s a fast track to a dead end. Donny doesn’t have to look far to see what lies in store for him, after all.
Big Rich, Donny’s friend and mentor of sorts, has been in the life longer than any of the other guys working the corner in San Francisco’s notorious Tenderloin where Donny plies his trade. And while Donny’s learned some valuable lessons for staying alive and getting over from Rich, there’s no denying they’re both going nowhere fast, spinning their wheels waiting for the next high or the next john, whichever happens to be on deck.
The opportunity to escape the boomerang cycle of drugs-hooking-drugs presents itself in the form of Gabriel Thaxton, one of Rich’s routine customers. Thaxton is a wealthy, well-known defense attorney, one Rich is convinced will be willing to pay handsomely to keep his proclivity for young, gay men a secret.
Rich’s plan is for the two of them to use a cell phone to record Thaxton in a compromising position, then threaten to upload it to YouTube unless they’re paid off—a seemingly solid, if sleazy, plan. It would have been, that is, if Thaxton weren’t already so far down the blackmail rabbit hole he’s willing to go to extreme measures to get out from under it, enlisting the help of a biker ex-client of his to do whatever it takes to remove the threat. If they don’t watch their step, Donny and Rich may just end up collateral damage in a situation far beyond their control.