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.

The Editor’s Touch by Steven Axelrod

Very pleased today to welcome Steven Axelrod to the blog to talk about the first book in his Nantucket detective series, Nantucket Sawbuck. Specifically, Steven has been kind enough to share an exchange that occurred between him and his editor regarding a scene they were at odds over, and how they came to an agreement. He’s also included the scene in question, so you can see for yourself how things turned out.

Steven AxelrodWe normally think of editors as people who trim and cut our work, fix our mistakes and help us “kill our darlings” as William Faulkner memorably put it. What you don’t realize until you’re involved with a gifted editor at a real publishing house, is how they can inspire you to write more and better. It doesn’t always happen in a direct linear way, with the editor saying “You should put more detail here” “Flesh this out.”, though of course that sort of editorial direction does happen.

More often, a vital change comes out of a conversation, that can even start out as an argument. You always feel at the same disadvantage with an editor, when a real published book and the possible start of a meaningful career is at stake. They have the power. They’re agreeing to put your book out into the world under their imprint. It’s their money and influence and reputation on offer. If they want you to change things, you’d be foolish to refuse. Sometimes it seems the only real option you have is the nuclear one: just packing up your scribbled pages and walking away. Of course you could bluff it. But that’s a dangerous game to play. You had better be prepared to follow through if you make a threat like that.

There are other alternatives, and I found one recently.

Remo Went Rogue

Remo Went Rogue by Mike McCrary

It has been my great pleasure to work with screenwriter turned crime fiction author Mike McCrary on a couple of projects. The first manuscript I edited for him, Remo Went Rogue, is a powerhouse story that revolves around an attorney who decides to steal from a couple of his clients, figuring he could get away with it if they “ended up” in jail. Yeah…that doesn’t exactly go as planned, much to Remo’s misfortune and the reader’s pleasure. I thought it was fantastic, and had a lot of fun working on it with him.

One More Body by Josh Stallings

Out There Bad by Josh StallingsMy love for all things Josh Stallings writes is no secret, as I have given glowing reviews to everything of his I’ve had the pleasure of reading. The first two Moses McGuire books—Beautiful, Naked & Dead and Out There Bad—knocked my socks off, as did his memoir, All the Wild Children.

I’ve also had the pleasure of hosting Josh here for a couple of amazing guest posts: “Penguins & Vomit” (how can you not want to read that?) and “Mayhem & Thuggery” (I dare you not to read that!).

It was with great pleasure and a tremendous sense of honor, therefore, that I stepped up to the plate to work with Josh as his editor on the most recent entry in the Moses McGuire saga, One More Body. Given my involvement with the book it wouldn’t be appropriate for me to give a review per se, but here is what some well-respected authors have had to say:

“Hardboiled, intense, action-packed, with its heart on its ragged and bloodstained sleeve – Moses is back in another breathlessly brilliant pulse-pounding novel full of great, gaudy characters.” — Paul D. Brazil (Guns Of Brixton)

“Josh Stallings writes like a man possessed. He’s a live wire, a raw nerve — the rare writer capable of finding beauty in pain and pain in beauty.” — Chris F. Holm (The Collector Series)

Characters Who Invite Themselves into the Story by William Petrocelli

Today I welcome William Petrocelli to talk about his first novel, The Circle of Thirteen. The year is 2082 and U.N. Security Director Julia Moro finds herself on the trail of the leader of a terrorist organization targeting women, including the Women for Peace, a group which was headed by thirteen bold women who risked their lives to achieve world peace and justice. But as Bill explains, not every character in The Circle of Thirteen was originally “invited” to the story…at least not in the role they ended up playing.

William PetrocelliA story may begin with an idea. It may even begin with a place, a memory, or a mood. But those things can easily fade and drift away until the writer is not really sure what he or she had in mind in the first place. The story only becomes real when a character invites herself into the story.

I say “herself” when, of course, I could just as easily say “himself.” And, in fact, there is an important male character who invited himself into my novel The Circle of Thirteen at a very early point and has clung to the story like death. And that’s the problem. Wherever Jesse goes, bad things happen. He might have invited himself into the story, but he’s not someone you would ever invite out for a drink or welcome into your home for tea.

I feel much better about Julia and Maya – the two main female characters in the book. When the book was finished, I was happy that there were two important women characters that I still genuinely liked.

Julia needed no invitation to the story, because The Circle of Thirteen basically revolves around her. (The novel is mostly told through Julia’s first-person voice, but not entirely – Maya has a lot to say, and Jesse pokes his way into the narrative as well). Julia grew up just north of San Francisco and went to University at Berkeley. During the main part of the story in the early 2080’s she is living in New York, where she is the Security Director for the reinvigorated United Nations. She’s in her late 30’s, tall, physically strong, and not afraid of very much – except her own inner demons. Throughout the novel she is fighting the memory of her mother’s illness and death and the man she holds responsible.

A Killer Beginning by Ken Goldstein

Today I welcome to the blog Ken Goldstein, author of the satirical Silicon Valley crime-thriller This Is Rage. Given the intricate sequence of events that open This Is Rage, you’d think Ken had a detailed, master plan in place for the book’s plot from the outset…you’d be wrong.

Ken Goldstein It started with an initial thought — what if the unlikely collision of a failed radio talk show host and a voracious venture capitalist caused an extraordinary impact on the economy at large? For the most part, I imagined I knew how the story would unravel but then reality kicked in and character development took me down a very different path.

Having worked as a tech insider for many years, I knew the types of storylines and sub-storylines I wanted to incorporate but as a first-time novelist, I wasn’t sure of the pacing of the book. I felt some of the elements in the first few drafts sounded a bit forced, so it was back to the drawing board.

I had to put it away for a few weeks and remind myself of what I like to read and that’s dialogue. A great exchange of words can make me feel as if I’m in the book; knee-deep in the situation, which is the feeling I wanted my readers to share.

Banned Books Week 2013: Celebrating the Freedom to Read

CBanned Books Week: Celebrating the Freedom to ReadToday is the start of Banned Books Week 2013:

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.”

For more information on getting involved with Banned Books Week: Celebrating the Freedom to Read, visit their official website.

Hardboiled Wit Runs a 4-Color Gamut of Comic Book Chatter by Andrez Bergen

I am incredibly pleased today to welcome Andrez Bergen back to the blog. Andrez is one of the most gifted and creative authors I’ve had the good fortune to discover in recent years. His first two novels, Tobacco-Stained Mountain Goat and One Hundred Years of Vicissitude, made my Top 10 Reads lists in 2011 and 2012 respectively, and he’s back now with his latest, Who is Killing the Great Capes of Heropa?

Andrez BergenHeropa is, for me, many things but mostly about the dialogue.

It circles around the way in which people interact, smearing naturalness with an underlying surrealism. Flip, awkward moments, misunderstandings, bravado and poignant asides all have their moment in the spotlight, since this is the way of the real world. People don’t always “get” one another straight off the bat — yet sometimes we click completely.

But this is also fiction, allowing artistic license to push the conversational tangents and have a bit of fun with the content.

The dialogue slant is also something that hallmarks classic hardboiled 1930s-40s detective romps — along with the 1960s Marvel comics I grew up on thanks to my older half-brother’s stash.

Just as in books like Raymond Chandler’s The Big Sleep and Dashiell Hammett’s The Maltese Falcon, Stan Lee and Jack Kirby’s work with the early versions of comic-book-people-now-famous (think Avengers, X-Men, Fantastic Four, Thor and Iron Man, along with the reinvention of Captain America — originally created by Kirby with Joe Simon in 1941) smacked dialogue right in there as a key point of the journey alongside costumes and fisticuffs.

In both the noir and comic books there’s a ton of interaction between oddball characters and the ofttimes rather scarred protagonist. Rapid-fire repartee, pithy remarks, the odd pun and bickering galore ride superbly cynical roughshod over the story to be told.

Son of a Gun: A Memoir by Justin St. Germain

Son of a Gun A Memoir by Justin St. GermainThe events of September 11, 2001 dealt a blow to us collectively as a nation. Mere days later, while still reeling from those historic events, two young men were dealt another, much more personal blow.

While attending the University of Arizona, Justin St. Germain returns home from classes one afternoon only to be informed by his brother that their mother, Debbie, has been murdered in Tombstone, Arizona.

Shot in the back in her trailer, Debbie appears to have been the victim of domestic violence gone to the ultimate extreme. Her current husband, number five, has gone missing and is the prime suspect.

Given Debbie’s somewhat troubled history in Tombstone, both with a succession of ill-fated marriages and relationships, as well as in her business dealings, her murder amounts to little more than a blip on the locals’ radar–fodder for bar gossip and not much more.

For twenty-year-old Justin, however, his mother’s murder marks a very clear turning point in his life, even though it will take him nearly seven years to realize it and embark on the journey that led to Son of a Gun: A Memoir.

The King’s Jar by Susan C. Shea

Susan C. SheaI was beginning to think this particular treasure was very bad luck. — Dani O’Rourke

Dani O’Rourke, chief fundraiser at San Francisco’s prestigious Devor Museum of Art and Antiquities, knows a thing or two about both treasures and bad luck. In her position at the museum, Dani has the good fortune to be surrounded by some of the greatest paintings, sculptures and relics from the world of art, past and present.

She is also, however, apparently a magnet for bad luck, as evidenced by her misadventures in Murder in the Abstract, the first entry in the series. The follow-up, The King’s Jar, once again finds Dani juggling more than just socialite dinner seating charts and the egos of the über rich.

The newest exhibit at the Devor is mere weeks from opening when its centerpiece, the recently acquired King’s Jar, a legendary African artifact, goes missing. Complicating matters tremendously, the archeological expert who discovered and authenticated the piece is murdered, and there subsequently arises some ambiguity as to who exactly legally owns the piece: the museum, which hadn’t technically taken receipt of the piece yet; the socialite couple who were donating it to the museum; or the government of the country in which it was discovered, which now alleges the piece was removed from their borders illegally.

The police are justifiably more interested in solving the murder than they are locating the missing artifact, but Dani believes the quickest way to find the killer is to find the King’s Jar. And given the massive influx of money the museum stands to lose if the exhibit doesn’t open on time, both from patrons’ donations and revenue from visitors to the exhibit, Dani’s interest in locating the King’s Jar is more than academic…the museum’s very future may depend on it. So, it’s once more unto the breach for Dani and dear friends.

Devil’s Night by Todd Ritter

Todd Ritter“May the fires of Hell rise up to consume this place.” — Rebecca Bradford

Those words, the last uttered by a young Pennsylvania woman accused of witchcraft and killed in 1692, seem to have come back to haunt the current residents of Perry Hollow, Pennsylvania, when Police Chief Kat Campbell is roused from her fitful sleep in the wee hours of Devil’s Night by the sound of sirens…a lot of them.

As she responds to what turns out to be a fire raging through Perry Hollow’s Historical Society and Exhibition Hall, Campbell can’t help but be reminded that Halloween marks the one year anniversary of the town’s last major fire, the burning of the old mill during the Grim Reaper investigation (Death Notice)–a fire she and Perry Hollow Gazette journalist Henry Goll were lucky to escape with their lives.

Once the fire is extinguished, it’s a rather quick job of determining arson as the cause. Complicating matters immensely are the two sets of human remains found in the smoldering building. One is obviously that of the Historical Society’s curator, Constance Bishop, though she appears to have been bludgeoned rather than burned. The other is a tidy pile of bones contained in a burlap sack, identity unknown. Even more ominous than the remains, however, is the message Campbell finds scrawled on one of Bishop’s hands: This is just the first.