Always Judge A Book By Its Movie Poster by David James Keaton

Pleased today to welcome David James Keaton back to the blog. Those in the crime fiction community will no doubt know David from his work in places like Noir At The Bar, Beat To A Pulp, Needle, Pulp Modern, Shotgun Honey and Thuglit, among others. His collection of short stories, Fish Bites Cop!, was well received by both readers and critics alike. Today, David is here to talk about the evolution of the cover for his newest release, The Last Projector (Broken River Books – October 31, 2014).

David James Keaton“Always judge a book by its cover.” – Dave’s dad.

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

James Thompson: 1964 – 2014

I had the good fortune to both enjoy the writing of James Thompson, author of the Kari Vaara series, as well as to engage with him for several very personal, in-depth interviews. So it was with incredible sadness that I opened an email two days ago from a longtime friend of Jim’s informing me of Jim’s untimely passing.

James ThompsonThough 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.

Reaching for the Light by Sam Hawken

Very pleased to welcome Sam Hawken back to the blog. For my money, Sam Hawken is one of the most underrated authors working in crime fiction today, and it’s been my pleasure to both read and review Sam’s novels, such as The Dead Women of Juárez and Juárez Dance, as well as work with him on the Camaro Espinoza novellas (currently on hiatus). Sam’s novel Tequila Sunset, which has already had a successful run in the UK, is set for its official US release next week (though some outlets are already selling it).

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.

Hustle by Tom Pitts

Piggyback by Tom PittsHe hated Rich for his cynicism, for his instinctual inability to trust anyone. He didn’t want to end up that way, with that black hole for a heart.

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.

Big Money by Jack Getze

Here it is again, that special Austin Carr moment when I know I am about to speak words that will produce inevitable, disastrous repercussions.

Stockbroker Austin Carr can be forgiven for his somewhat bleak outlook. After all, the divorced father of two is barely on the comeback trail following a pretty rough series of events in the first entry in the series, Big Numbers.

Big Money, the second chance for readers to take Carr for a spin, finds Austin serving as a consultant/advisor at the investment firm he’s a part owner of, Shore Securities, while he waits for the suspension on his license to be lifted.

Trouble is, it may not matter whether or not he gets that license back, because Shore is being investigated by the feds for allegedly commingling funds, a problem his boss, Vic Bonacelli, leaves Austin to handle while Vic runs off to Tuscany. Of course, if that were the only problem Austin had to deal with he may still be okay.

Instead, he’s also saddled with keeping an eye on Vic’s daughter, who’s in the midst of a messy breakup, and Vic’s mother, the infamous Mama Bones, who’s been known to have a hand in some underhanded dealings involving bookmaking…and bingo fixing. (Don’t ask.)

This Thing of Ours by Jack Getze

Anyone who’s been around the crime fiction community for any length of time knows the name Jack Getze. In addition to serving as the Fiction Editor for Spinetingler Magazine, Jack is an accomplished author himself, his work having appeared in A Twist of Noir, Beat to a Pulp and The Big Adios, among others. Today I’m pleased to welcome Jack for a guest post in conjunction with his Austin Carr Mystery series (Big Numbers and Big Money having been reissued by Down and Out Books), wherein Jack proves that, once again, sometimes truth can be stranger than fiction, and that some authors have very deep wells from which to pull for inspiration.

He was short, dark and handsome, with thick black hair and tunneling eyes that could warm you with a twinkle or drive you away with quick, venomous anger. The ex-boxer’s temper and willingness to fight were legendary, but so was his generosity, and so was his love for Sam, the German Sheppard who went with him everywhere. In the car or on his leash, the tri-colored, one hundred pound dog named Sam was Domenic’s closest friend.

“We’d be loafing on the job, smoking,” one of his former workmen recalled. “We’d see and hear that huge dog of his in plenty of time to get back to work before Dom arrived. We fooled him every time, convinced him we were one of his hardest-working crews. Man, we loved Sam.”

That workman’s employer, Sam’s owner, the man with the legendary temper, was also my father-in-law. He owned a successful electrical contracting business, served in World War II and worked like a dog all his life. Everyone called him Dom except his mother-in-law, Angelina, who called him Don as a passive-aggressive insult. (You had to love Angelina). And were it not for Dom and his daughter, who single-handedly dragged me to Jersey, the crazy story that is Big Numbers would not have turned into a series.

Let’s face facts, stockbrokers are boring by themselves. Austin Carr needed trouble with the mob. And luckily for me, my father-in-law provided introductions. Not personally (Well, there was that time Dom and I met the handsome “Big Frank” Condi in a restaurant), but mostly through stories about Dom in the newspaper. Trust me, Dom was not the kind of man you slap on the shoulder and say, “So Dom, tell me about this limo ride. Were you scared?”

Tobacco-Stained Mountain Goat Graphic Novel Kickstarter Campaign

Andrez BergenIt’s no secret that I love the hell out of anything and everything Andrez Bergen is involved with. In fact, his novel Tobacco-Stained Mountain Goat (TSMG) is one of my all-time favorite reads.

With one foot planted firmly in a futuristic world where Seekers—people employed by the government to hunt down so-called Deviants for what is euphemistically called “hospitalization”—routinely undergo Matrix-like virtual reality “tests” to ensure they are still in the fold and capable of carrying out company orders, TSMG manages to simultaneously have its other foot rooted in an authentic, throwback, hardboiled detective vibe. And it is in that fuzzy blending of post-apocalyptic and old-school noir that TSMG carves out what is one of the most wonderfully unique books I’ve had the pleasure to read.

Needless to say, when Andrez told me he was doing a Kickstarter campaign to fund a graphic novel version of the story in collaboration with Fée Romney I was overjoyed. If you’ve had the pleasure of reading Andrez’s work (One Hundred Years of Vicissitude, Who is Killing the Great Capes of Heropa?), I hope you’ll get behind this campaign. As you know with these things, every little bit helps.

Writing Comics: A Newbie’s Perspective by Christopher Irvin

I originally met Chris Irvin when I steered some graphic novels I had on my hands but wasn’t interested in his way. So in that regard, I guess I’ve always known he was into comics. Most of my interaction with him, however, has revolved around his crime fiction, both his short stories and his recently released novella, Federales. But when it came time for Chris to do a guest post in support of Federales, we thought it’d be interesting if he explored a slightly different side of writing, one many authors never think about: how to write for comics. So without further ado, here’s Chris on comics. (But do go buy a copy of Federales!)

I’ve been a fan of comics since I was young, collecting shiny Fleer trading cards and staring wide-eyed at the explosion of comics in the early-90’s (yes, that young.) I drew a lot as well, though that petered off as I got older and began to see true talent in those around me.

Skip forward a couple of decades and I’m knee deep in prose, working on short stories and a novella. But I’ve still got that itch to work on a comic. I sign up for a class on graphic novels at Grubstreet in Boston, taught by Katherine Roy and Tim Stout, who inspire me to work on mini-comics (four, six, eight page stories) and I’m off to the races.

Taking a cue from Dark Horse Presents, who run eight page stories/chapters, I write an eight page comic entitled, EXPATRIATE, about an American criminal who flees to Rio de Janeiro in the shadow of the coming 2016 Summer Olympics. The pages sit for a while, Boston Comic Con is postponed from April to August due to the marathon bombing, and I stumble into Ricardo Lopez Ortiz, a fantastic artist out of Brooklyn. I’ve sworn off purchasing a commission prior to going in, but I dig his art so much I pull the trigger anyway and he sketches a killer head shot of Judge Dredd for me.

Fast forward again a few months and I’ve been able to somehow rope Ricardo into this crazy project, which has now bloomed into a five issue mini-series. Fingers crossed, with a little blood and sweat and a lot of luck, this might turn into something.

Federales by Christopher Irvin

The Internet is a strange and wonderful place. I originally met Chris Irvin when I found myself with some graphic novels on my hands I wasn’t interested in and asked around on Twitter to see who may want them. Chris took me up on the offer, and from there we did the Facebook friend thing and started getting to know each other better.

Despite working as an editor himself at Shotgun Honey, Chris is a smart enough guy to know it’s always wise to have someone else look at your own work, so he reached out to me to look at a few short stories he’d written. One thing lead to another, and at this point I’m proud to call Chris a regular editing client and someone I’ve worked with on numerous projects.

So, I was particularly happy when I learned one of those projects, a novella entitled Federales, had been picked up as the debut publication for the One Eye Press singles series. Federales officially drops tomorrow (ISBN: 978-0615916545), but here’s what people who’ve had a sneak peek have been saying about it:

“Christopher Irvin’s FEDERALES is an absolute gut-punch of a novella. The story of one man’s search for redemption and justice within a Mexican system that has long-forgotten the meaning of either will haunt you long after the last page is turned.” — Todd Robinson, author of The Hard Bounce

“FEDERALES is a sweaty, feverish sojourn into a fetid limb of the Mexican drug war, where sentiment, principles and fellow feeling have no place. Christopher Irvin’s read will carry you swiftly through to the fitting end.” — Sam Hawken, CWA Dagger Awards-nominated author of The Dead Women of Juárez

Where Would We Be Without Imagination? by Stephen Paul

I’m pleased to welcome Stephen Paul to the blog today. I had the pleasure of working with Stephen on his debut novel, The Perfect Game, a fast-paced supernatural thriller involving a little baseball, a little science, a little sleuthing, and a lot of fun. And while I enjoy working on every manuscript I get the opportunity to help an author bring to life, it’s a special treat when one involves matters which are actually new and enlightening for me in the process—and I definitely wasn’t up on things like Rupert Sheldrake’s theory of morphic resonance prior to working with Stephen on The Perfect Game! But, as Stephen discusses in his guest post, that’s part of the power of imagination in action.

Lately, evolution has been on my mind. The whole notion that every single one of our attributes stems from a necessary purpose fascinates me. But what about imagination—the cornerstone of the inventor, the necessary tool for the artist, and the life-blood of a writer? What survival element did imagination possess that allowed it to flourish into what it is today?

A quick Google search provides a host of answers. I’ll go with the one from Richard Dawkins because it seems pretty easy to grasp. Dawkins, the atheist-extraordinaire, opines that imagination started out as simulation processes helping our ancestors avoid physical trial and error and then exploded in leaps and bounds.

Although I get where he’s coming from, as imagining the pain one might experience from falling off a cliff would definitely do the trick in teaching our ancestors not to fall off cliffs, it’s the explosion by leaps and bounds part that puzzles me. What evolutionary purpose allowed creative imagination to flourish in a way that resulted in Salvador Dali’s paintings or Stephen King’s books? How did we go from using imagination to avoid falling off cliffs to creating paintings about melting clocks and stories about killer cars and dogs?

Country Hardball by Steve Weddle

Country Hardball by Steve WeddleWriting fiction isn’t easy. Lord knows it’s not. And while it may seem counterintuitive to some, it’s always been my contention that writing short stories is actually more difficult than writing a full-length novel—there’s less wiggle room, less time to hem and haw instead of getting right to the point. For my money, it takes a special kind of skill to really do short stories justice.

That Steve Weddle chose to present his debut full-length work, Country Hardball, as a novel-in-stories was truly ambitious. That he made it work is extremely gratifying, though not a surprise to anyone who’s followed Weddle’s writing over the years at places like the Do Some Damage blog and in collections such as Protectors, First Shift, Both Barrels, Off The Record, and D*cked.

The eighteen stories in Country Hardball all take place in a small town along the Louisiana/Arkansas line. Various characters appear throughout the collection, as bit players in some of the stories, taking center stage in others. The most common denominator is Roy Alison, a man whose life seemed destined to run off the rails almost from the jump.

After spending over ten years in and out of juvie, jail and halfway houses, Roy eventually makes his way back to his small hometown, ready to finally make something of his life. Only, the town was never much to begin with with, and the decade Roy’s been away has left the working-class community hit hard by the downturn in the economy. Still, like the other residents of the town, Roy is determined to make the best of things, and thus sets about putting one foot in front of the other the best he can.

Penance / Greed by Dan O’Shea

Chris HolmI came to read Dan O’Shea’s first two Detective Lynch novels in a roundabout, backward way, as did a lot of people who’ve been longtime fans of Dan’s work. You see, the second book in the series, Greed, was actually “published” first. As Dan explains more fully in his recent guest post, the book, originally called The Gravity of Mammon, was written and shared as a sort of online exercise on Dan’s part.

Then the whole voodoo process that is queries and submissions and publishers and contracts unfolded in its mysterious way and, voilà, the first Detective Lynch thriller was now a book called Penance and Mammon had become Greed. However it all came to pass, they are both kick-ass reads.

Penance is truly a marvel of plotting, in which O’Shea weaves together two parallel stories which take place over 40 years apart in Chicago. Our contemporary guide, Detective John Lynch, is second generation law enforcement, his father having been killed in the line of duty when Lynch was still young.

At the story’s outset, Lynch is drawn into the puzzling case of an elderly woman who was gunned down from long range by a sniper as she left church. Hardly the type of victim one would expect to find on the end of a world-caliber shot, it soon becomes apparent there is something much more complex at work. As it turns out, the sniper is a member of an off-the-books government black ops agency, and he’s gone a bit rogue.

Full Throttle by Sam Hawken

Out There Bad by Josh StallingsFor my money, Sam Hawken is one of the most underrated authors working in crime fiction today. His first novel, The Dead Women of Juárez, is a hard-hitting story which uses the real-life tragedy of female homicides in the Mexican city of Ciudad Juárez as its backdrop. It made my Top 10 Reads of 2012 and, more notably, was shortlisted by the Crime Writers’ Association for the John Creasy ‘New Blood’ Dagger.

Sam’s second novel, the equally stark Tequila Sunset, also set in Ciudad Juárez and its sister city, El Paso, Texas, was once again recognized by the Crime Writers’ Association, this time nominated for the Gold Dagger—aka best crime novel of the year! Despite the man’s obvious and undeniable skill, however, he remains criminally under the radar for most mainstream readers.

So when I had the opportunity to work with Sam—who has previously dropped by the blog for a guest post and whose self-published Juárez Dance I have reviewed—I jumped at the chance to edit his Camaro Espinoza omnibus, Full Throttle: The Collected Camaro.

Previously released as four separate novellas (Camaro Run, Crossfire, The Drum and Sisters in Arms), Full Throttle collects all the rollicking Camaro adventures to date in one edition. As always, it wouldn’t be appropriate for me to actually review something I’ve worked on, so here’s what a few authors and publishers have had to say about the Camaro Espinoza stories:

The Collector Series by Chris Holm

This article I wrote originally appeared in All Due Respect Issue #1: Featuring Chris F. Holm. The issue includes a brand-new short from Holm titled “A Dying Art,” and Holm also sat down with fellow author Steve Weddle (Country Hardball) to talk all things writing. Round it out with more fiction from Todd Robinson, Renee Asher Pickup, Paul D. Brazill, Travis Richardson, Mike Miner, and Walter Conley and this is a publication you need to pick up if you haven’t already.

Chris HolmThose who’ve read author Chris Holm’s accomplished work in the short story format are well-aware of how talented a writer the man is. He’s been an Anthony Award nominee, a Derringer Award finalist, and his short story collections, 8 Pounds and Dead Letters: Stories of Murder and Mayhem, were met with universal praise from readers. Yet, despite all that, I was still completely blown away by the tour de force that is The Collector Series, in which Holm takes a pinch of fantasy, a little supernatural, a dash of hardboiled crime fiction, and blends them into a pitch-perfect adventure in a way that is nothing short of authorial alchemy.

Things haven’t shaken out Sam Thornton’s way for quite some time. Driven by desperation and good intentions, Sam made a very bad decision many decades ago. And you know what they say about good intentions…yeah, the road to Hell. Thing is, Sam didn’t make it all the way down that road, but got detoured into Purgatory and shanghaied into eternal employment as a soul collector—if your time has come and the powers that be have marked you for damnation, it’s Sam’s job to remove your soul and send it on its way to hell.

In Dead Harvest, the first book in the series, Sam is assigned to collect Kate MacNeil’s soul. At first blush it seems like a no-brainer since the young woman was caught red-handed, literally, having just butchered her family. However, upon attempting to collect Kate’s soul Sam is met with an outpouring of purity so overwhelming he’s convinced she didn’t commit the crime, that she’s been improperly marked for damnation. However, one does not simply refuse to collect the assigned soul. It’s never happened in the history of, well, ever. Failure to collect Kate’s soul is sure to seriously piss off the denizens of Hell who’ve claimed it. On the other hand, improperly sending a pure soul to Hell for damnation could touch off a war with Heaven.

Is GREED good? Gee, I hope so… by Dan O’Shea

Very pleased to wrap-up 2013 on the blog by welcoming Dan O’Shea to celebrate the publication of his second novel, Greed, which is out today from Exhibit A Books (ISBN: 978-1909223158).

Dan O'SheaHow do you feel about re-runs?

See, Ms. White reviewed this book before – quite a while ago. At the time, the title was The Gravity of Mammon and it was an experiment. I wrote it live, on my blog, posting the chapters as I finished them – two or three a week at the start, then, as I got rolling, a chapter a day until it was done. Took a couple months all in. Just a draft at that point, but I was pretty happy with it.

Ms. White liked it enough to review it then, almost three years ago. Now, it’s out in print form, though with a new title – Greed. Well, a second new title. For a while it was the title was shortened to just Mammon, then it was changed to Greed. The path to publication has been a long, strange trip.

See, back when I did the blog experiment, my first novel, Penance (which was published in April, 2013) was still making the rounds. One of the big New York houses had almost bitten on Penance just before I started the blog novel experiment – but they had this one tiny problem. Silly me, I thought I’d just redraft Penance to address their concern, they’d buy it and I’d be on my way to fame and fortune. Of course, once I got started, I couldn’t stop and I overhauled the book probably more than I should have. The publisher passed on it, of course, but now I had two pretty different versions of the same book making the rounds. And, while Greed isn’t a sequel to Penance exactly, it is the second book in the series, so they do have to match up.