Fire On My Mind by Todd Ritter

I’m very pleased to welcome Todd Ritter, author of the Kat Campbell mystery series, back to the blog for another guest post. The third book in the series, Devil’s Night, will be released tomorrow. Today, Todd shares a look at the story behind the story, and explains how Devil’s Night was a book thirty years in the making.

Todd RitterStory ideas can be a pain in the ass.

Most aren’t. Most pop into a writer’s head, rattle around there for a day or so and then vanish just as quickly as they appeared. Those are whims, not ideas — as thin and impermanent as clouds.

But then there are the real ideas. The aforementioned pain-in-the-ass ones. They refuse to go away, sometimes resurfacing weeks, months, even years after they first arrived. The idea behind DEVIL’S NIGHT, the third book in my Kat Campbell mystery series, was one of those. In fact, I’ve been carrying it with me for going on thirty years.

In DEVIL’S NIGHT, the small town of Perry Hollow, Pa., is terrorized by a series of arsons on Halloween. And the idea for it first took hold of me when I was at the ripe old age of nine. That was the year the general store in the tiny village where I grew up burnt to the ground on Halloween night.

I don’t know why the fire spooked me, but it did. It might have been because fires were a rare occurrence during my sheltered childhood, as dangerously exotic as, say, an avalanche or tornado. Is also could have been due to the fact that my school bus rumbled past that store every day, which, to a kid, suggested some sort of kinship and familiarity. Most likely, though, the blaze unnerved me because of when it took place. A fire on Halloween felt ominous and vaguely sinister to a nine-year-old with an overactive imagination. It conjured up thoughts of demons and devil’s and witches. I didn’t know it back then, but the idea for DEVIL’S NIGHT was born.

Save Yourself by Kelly Braffet

Save Yourself by Kelly BraffetHe had, it seemed, developed a talent for seeking out the worst possible thing he could do in any given situation, and then doing it.

Though everyone certainly feels that sense of not being able to do anything right at some point or another in their lives, Patrick Cusimano really does seem to be batting zero when it comes to the “good decision” arena, his most recent lapse being a particular biggie.

A year prior to the start of Save Yourself, Patrick was home one evening with his brother when their father staggered in, quite drunk and even more distraught. An investigation of his father’s car revealed it to have been in a serious accident…one which resulted in the hit-and-run death of a six-year-old.

Unfortunately, Patrick waited 19 hours before calling the police, a delay that the residents of their small town have never forgiven the brothers for. The resulting cold shoulders and sideways looks forced Patrick out of his warehouse job, and he now finds himself working the graveyard shift at a convenience store.

The Elshere sisters have also found themselves on the receiving end of a less than warm welcome from their peers, though arguably through no fault of their own. Daughters of a strict fundamentalist, the teens became the focus of bullying when their father’s campaign against the teaching of sex-ed in Biology resulted in one of the high school’s most popular teachers being fired. Older sister, Layla, responded to the taunts and torment by joining up with the school’s clique of Goths and rejecting her parents’ Christian teachings.

No Show by Simon Wood

No Show by Simon Wood“You don’t seem to know squat about your wife.” — Sheriff Holman

Despite the long journey, Englishman Terry Sheffield arrives in San Francisco from London with a bounce in his step. Green Card in hand, he’s ready to start his new life with American wife, Sarah. The two met while on holiday in Costa Rica, and after a whirlwind romance were married. Now, after being apart for 6 months due to bureaucratic red tape, things have finally lined up for the newlyweds.

Only, Sarah isn’t there to meet him at the airport. After waiting for several hours, hoping she was just stuck in traffic, Terry finally takes a shuttle to “their” house, a place he’s never actually been. Sarah isn’t there either, which forces Terry to break in…something a watchful neighbor dutifully reports to the local sheriff. A brief arrest and long explanation later, Terry is left with a skeptical sheriff, wary new neighbors, and still no wife.

Terry can find no explanation for her disappearance, but does find evidence that she left voluntarily–there’s no sign of struggle in the house and a bag, some clothes and personal items seem to be missing–and has to wonder if the police are right: did the woman he married just get cold feet and take off?

Killer Ideas by Simon Wood

I’m very pleased to welcome Simon Wood to the blog. A man of many talents–race car driver, licensed pilot, occasional PI–his latest novel, No Show, was recently released by Thomas & Mercer. And though it’s a question many writers admit to hating, Simon’s here to talk about one place he gets inspiration from.

No Show by Simon WoodI live with a cold blooded killer. I haven’t turned him into the cops because he’s my cat, Tegan.

He’s on a roll at the moment. It’s spring and that means young and inexperienced creatures are poking their heads from their protective homes and Tegan is there to bite them off. I spent last week picking up the chewed remains of mice, rats, birds and a lizard. As soon as I’d drop a carcass in the trash, he’d have the remains of something else dangling from his jaws.

“Tegan, you git. Stop killing things.”

He’d look at me with a typical cat arrogance that said, “Yeah, right.”

After I’d dealt with his latest trophy and sat down, he joined me on the couch for cuddle and a purr (okay, I purr. It’s what I do). I stared into his big eyes and I looked for a sign of remorse and obviously saw none. Morally, he wasn’t doing anything wrong. He’s an animal and his genetic code is programmed with the need to hunt and kill—irrespective of how much kibble I give him. He’s doing what he’s supposed to do. But he takes lives on a pretty regular basis without a hint of killer’s repentance.

Paying the Piper by Simon Wood

Paying the Piper by Simon WoodIf Scott Fleetwood thought he was suffering now, it was nothing compared to what was to come.

Eight years ago a serial kidnapper known as the Piper terrorized San Francisco. He successfully snatched child after child from the city’s wealthiest families, holding them until a ransom was paid. In every case, he collected the ransom and returned the child unharmed.

Until crime reporter Scott Fleetwood got involved, that is. Contacted by someone claiming to be the Piper, Fleetwood withheld information from the police and FBI, bent on chasing the story–and resulting book deal and fame. Only Fleetwood wasn’t really dealing with the Piper, merely a wannabe copycat.

What should have been simply a career embarrassment turned into a disaster, however, when the Piper killed the child he was holding at the time of Fleetwood’s spectacular blunder then disappeared without a trace. The resulting backlash from the public, his employer, police and FBI branded Fleetwood with a scarlet letter, though arguably no one was harder on him than he was on himself.

Now the Piper has returned, apparently up to his old games. Except, this time it’s about more than money. With the selection of one of Fleetwood’s own sons as the first target in his renewed career, the Piper serves notice that he’s come out of retirement for more than money–he’s back to collect his pound of flesh as well.

Fish Bites Cop! by David James Keaton

David James KeatonTurns out they look just like us on the inside. The fish, not the cops. But he swears their hearts might be a little smaller. The cops. Not the fish.

I first came across David James Keaton’s writing via the short “Mosquito Bites,” which was included in the outstanding Pulp Modern (Alec Cizak, Editor). The story is told from the perspective of a recently paroled con whose determination to stay straight is immediately derailed by a betrayal, and includes a passage so descriptively disgusting – and I mean that in a good way – that it still makes me shudder when I think about it.

I immediately began seeking out other work by him, not too difficult considering he has appeared in over 50 publications, including Noir at the Bar, Chicago Quarterly Review, Thuglit, Beat To A Pulp, Needle and Grift. Still, I wanted more, and so was very happy for both Keaton and myself when he announced awhile back that he had been signed and would be releasing a collection of his works under the title Fish Bites Cop! Stories To Bash Authorities (Comet Press).

As the title implies, the collection of 30 stories, which includes the aforementioned “Mosquito Bites,” all revolve in some way, shape or form around people in positions of authority, specifically police officers, firefighters and paramedics. Unlike the heroic light in which those first responders are often cast, however, Keaton’s stories all explore a decidedly darker aspect of those in uniform, taking an unflinching look into the shadows at the occasionally less than honorable motives some men have for seeking positions of power and authority.

If You Were Here by Alafair Burke

If You Were Here by Alafair BurkeOnce you start asking questions, it can be impossible to stop, even when you know you should.

McKenna Jordan’s life is finally settling back down after a promising career as an Assistant District Attorney was spectacularly derailed by scandal. Having left the D.A.’s office under a black cloud, Jordan reinvented herself as a journalist and, ironically, is now enjoying the biggest success of her life as a result of a feature she wrote about the very case that got her run out of the legal profession.

Needing to capitalize on that success, Jordan begins looking into the case of a mysterious woman who rescued a teen from certain death when he fell onto the tracks in the path of an approaching subway train. Jordan discovers more than she bargained for, however, when she finally gets her hands on a video of the events shot by a fellow commuter…she thinks she recognizes the woman.

More startling than that, it’s someone she, and everyone else, had long since presumed dead after the woman mysteriously disappeared ten years ago. A classmate of Jordan’s husband, Patrick, while they were at West Point, Susan Hauptmann was one of the most gifted–both athletically and intellectually–people Jordan had ever known. Now, convinced that Hauptmann’s reappearance signals the tip of an iceberg awaiting discovery, Jordan begins a search that will lead her places she could never possibly have imagined, and into unimaginable danger.

And When She Was Good by Laura Lippman

And When She Was Good by Laura LippmanHeloise long ago reconciled herself to the idea that all is fair in love and war, which is just another way of saying that nothing in life is ever fair, because life is love and war.

Helen Lewis has a story that is, sadly, all too familiar. Abused by her father and passively neglected by her mother, Helen was understandably starved for attention and affection, and at the age of seventeen she ran off with the first man who gave them to her.

Unfortunately, her knight in shining armor turned out to be a drug addict and thief, and at the ripe old age of eighteen Helen found herself stripping and giving lap dances to earn enough money to keep a roof over their heads and food on the table.

So when a dealer her boyfriend owed money to offered Helen a chance to get out of the relationship, she jumped…out of the frying pan and into the fire. Turned out the dealer was also a pimp, and he promptly put Helen to work as one of his girls. Things finally took a turn for the better when Helen’s pimp was arrested for murder and she was able to get away and start over.

The more things change, however, the more they stay the same. Though she has changed her name to Heloise, has a son, and now lives in an upscale neighborhood in the D.C. suburbs, Heloise is still up to her old tricks…literally. Only now she’s the madam as well as one of the escorts.

It’s Supposed To Be Funny, I Swear by David James Keaton

Pleased today to welcome David James Keaton to the blog. Those in the crime fiction community will no doubt recognize David from his work which has appeared in places like Noir At The Bar, Beat To A Pulp, Needle, Pulp Modern, Shotgun Honey and Thuglit, among others. He’s also the author of the ridiculously entertaining “zombie love-story fiasco” novella Zee Bee & Bee (a.k.a. Propeller Hats for the Dead). Today, David is here to talk about his newest release, the short story collection Fish Bites Cop!.

David James KeatonNow that my collection Fish Bites Cop! is out, I’ve started thinking about “reasons” lately, probably due to interviewers asking good questions. One that pops up is, “Why would anybody write a book with several stories seemingly attacking First Responders?”

Well, to be honest, that’s not really what it’s about. That’s not really what happens in here (although there is an experiment to see how many time you can fold a police officer in half, but, hey, science!)

Now, it would be funnier if it was, in an irreverent, anything-goes kind of way, an all out assault on those who “don’t ask to be heroes,” and, yeah, it probably tries to be, and I’ve even been promoting it as such with playful jabs, mostly at law enforcement and firefighters, so why should you believe me now? But it’s supposed to be funny, I swear.

Okay, the law enforcement grudge is probably genuine, the firefighter thing being more inexplicably personal and harder to defend. And, sure, the mocking of religion, middle management, and the military are also legitimate targets. So in other words, forget what I just said. Whoops! No, really, it’s supposed to be funny.

Seriously though, they are fair game. Anyone who holds authority over another is ripe for corruption, at the least incompetence. So much like the firefighter who sets a fire just to put it out later, sometimes I also hypocritically set them up and knock them down a bit. Sometimes. But what about paramedics? Who in their right mind includes paramedics in this equation? Exactly.

Wanted: Men and Women for Pirate Adventure by Keith Thomson

Pleased today to welcome author Keith Thomson (Once a Spy and Twice a Spy) to the blog. It turns out that before he became interested in spies, Thomson was a big fan of pirates and pirate lore, and he’s decided to rerelease his first novel, Pirates of Pensacola. What is it Thomson finds so appealing about pirates? Why the adventure, of course!

Twice a Spy by Keith ThomsonIf you’re reading Elizabeth A. White’s site, you’re probably, like me, a thriller fiend. Likely you too consider reading a thriller the next best thing to a real-life adventure. So what do you say we dispense with discussion of literature today and plan an adventure?

I’ve essentially had this idea since I was a kid, growing up in a coastal Connecticut town that was whatever the opposite of fun is. But as anyone who’s gazed across wave tops toward the horizon knows, the sea offers boundless possibilities. I hoped to meet the notorious real-life pirate William Thompson—an ancestor of mine, I thought. He spelled Thomson the wrong way (with a p) but pirates weren’t known for their literacy. Also he died in 1825. Regardless, if you’re eight, you can stare out to sea and believe there’s a pretty good chance your pirate ancestor’s masts might appear on the horizon, and that he might row ashore and say to you, “Kid, I need you to go on an adventure to get gold.”

Twenty-some years later, this was pretty much the premise of my first novel, Pirates of Pensacola: A landlubbing accountant’s life is anything but exciting until his estranged pirate father shows up after twenty-some years in jail and says, “Let’s hit the sea, lad, there’s treasure to be got.” And the adventure is underway.

When A Short Story Gets Completely Out of Hand by John McAllister

A book I’ve really been looking forward to, The Station Sergeant by John McAllister, was recently released by Portnoy Publishing. My review is forthcoming, but today I am extremely pleased to be able to host John for a guest post about how this novel came to be. As seems to be the case more often than those of us who aren’t authors may think, it appears that The Station Sergeant was the result of another character who just had a mind of their own and a story too big to be limited to a ‘short.’

John McAllister‘Barlow’ wasn’t supposed to be a novel called The Station Sergeant. He wasn’t supposed to be the inspiration for five stories. Barlow was only a ten minute exercise in the discipline of writing regardless of time or tiredness – that got out of hand.

During 1998 / 99, I was running my accountancy practice AND doing a full time Masters course in Creative Writing at Trinity College, Dublin. That often meant a five o’clock rise. Two hours creative writing followed by hours in the office then a late morning train to Dublin and getting home near ten o’clock at night. I always wrote on the train but one night I was particularly tired and promised myself that I’d write for only ten minutes and then sleep the rest of the way.

I poised my pen over the scratchpad with absolutely no idea what I wanted to write about. A childhood memory of a local policeman, John Barlow, came into my head and I wrote it down. More memories came back of the things the man had got up to and I scribbled them down as well. Ten minutes and a page of notes later Station Sergeant Barlow was striding through my imagination.

I wrote five stories about Barlow as part of my submission for an M.Phil. in Creative Writing, included them in my short story collection, The Fly Pool, and then forgot about Barlow. Except that…

The Magic Circle by Jenny Davidson

The Magic Circle by Jenny Davidson“Your game-players might like to experience something of a gothic frisson.” – Anna

In The Magic Circle by Jenny Davidson, friends and roommates Lucy and Ruth are joined by a neighbor down the hall, Anna, in putting together a virtual reality game designed to take place in the Morningside Heights neighborhood surrounding Columbia University as it appeared in the 1880s. Players will be led through a series of events and challenges, needing to accomplish each in order to receive the clue needed to move on to the next challenge.

Early on, however, the idea starts getting kicked around about what would happen if, instead of remaining a sterile online experience, the game was brought to life via live-action role-playing instead? Wouldn’t that make things more interesting, more absorbing? If people were playing “for real” instead of nestled behind their computers or smartphones, wouldn’t that raise the stakes? Perhaps, if the game was done well enough, even challenge people to question what was real and what was just role-playing?

More than they could ever possibly have imagined.

Blood Red Turns Dollar Green Vol. 2 by Paul O’Brien

Bill LoehfelmHe needed to mourn but he couldn’t yet, because he knew there would be more death to come. – Danno Garland

Paul O’Brien’s debut, Blood Red Turns Dollar Green, was one of the more enjoyable books I read last year, a wonderful combination of organized crime and professional wrestling circa the early 1970s. The book ended with a rather intense cliffhanger, and fortunately for fans of the first entry O’Brien is now back to pick up the story in Blood Red Turns Dollar Green Volume 2

As we learned in the first outing, professional wrestling in the early 70s was not the huge, centralized business it is today, but rather was broken into various territories held by individual owners spread throughout the country. And though the owners worked together to a certain degree for the greater good of the sport in general, at the same time each protected their turf ruthlessly.

One owner, Danno Garland, has managed to claw his way to the top of the heap and now controls the World Heavyweight Champion, which gives him tremendous power. It wasn’t an easy climb, however, and the backstabbing and double-crosses are now catching up with Danno. When his rivals lash out at him in a particularly horrific way, Danno turns his back on everything he’s ever known and loved and directs the same single-minded focus he used to build his wrestling empire to a new purpose–revenge.

A Series I Never Planned to Write by Bill Loehfelm

Very pleased to welcome Bill Loehfelm back to the blog today. Bill’s novel The Devil She Knows was one of my Top 10 Reads of 2011, and the follow-up to it, The Devil in Her Way, was just released by Sarah Crichton Books. Today Bill explains how a character can take on a life of their own, whether the author planned on it or not.

Bill LoehfelmMaureen wasn’t supposed to be the new beginning. She was supposed to be the end.

She first appeared as a worn out and nameless waitress as the subject of a flash fiction piece I wrote over fifteen years ago – my attempt to tell the story of a tuxedo-clad woman I saw standing on a Staten Island bus stop in the early afternoon. I moved on to other work, to other stories and characters.

The waitress hung around through all that, appearing in various expanded versions of that first story. She materialized under a different name in another story, fleeing her job in a diner and an abusive lover on a stolen motorcycle. In my grad school thesis, she appeared in yet another incarnation as head cocktail waitress in a Caribbean resort, when she first started carrying a knife.

She makes an extremely brief walk through appearance on Staten Island in my second novel. That was when she got her name. Maureen Coughlin. I’d always liked her, and thought she had depth and resonance as a character. I’d suspected she would not be satisfied in short stories and supporting roles, but I had yet to build the right place for her.

Now, with her in the lead for me third novel, I’d found a place for her in a story about a woman who sees something she shouldn’t have. I was thrilled when, finally, Maureen came into her own enough to carry her own novel. I was excited for this character I’d known for so long to have her time in the spotlight.

I’ve got a confession to make… by Dan O’Shea

Though he’s been known in crime fiction circles for quite some time, both for his own short story work (see, Old School) as well as his amazing readings of other people’s work (most notably, Steve Weddle‘s Oscar Martello stories), Dan O’Shea hit a milestone this week when his first full-length novel, Penance, was released by Exhibit A. Dan is truly one of the good guys, and it’s my extreme pleasure to welcome him for a guest post to celebrate the occasion of Penance’s release.

Some Ruminations on Short Fiction by Dan O'SheaI’ve seen some of the early reviews of PENANCE. One of the things I look for is what the reviews have in common. If there’s something, good or bad, that’s showing up in most of them, then it’s worth considering.

And one thing that’s popped up a fair amount is Chicago’s key role in the book – that it’s more than just the setting, that it is almost a character. I’m glad to see that. And a little worried.

‘Cause I made some stuff up. And I started with the very first scene.

I was just starting out, and I knew what I wanted. I wanted this old woman being blown away just stepping out of church after going to confession – and being blown away from a long ways off. That was causing problems. Because I didn’t know a specific church where I could set that scene. I knew it had to be a Catholic church. I knew I wanted it on the northwest side of the city. Now, I know the city pretty well, but it’s not like I know every church in town. I mean c’mon, there are 356 parishes in the Chicago archdiocese. So I started Googling, and then Google Earth-ing, trying to find exactly the right one.

I was wasting a lot of time. Then it hit me. Just make one up. It’s not like the Chicago in my book is a carbon copy of the one in real life. I mean yeah, there’s a dynastic Irish family running the mayor’s office and the political machine in my book and there sure was one in real life. But in real life, the succession from one Daley to another was interrupted by three different intervening administrations. Hell, Little Richie even lost the primary his first time out. And neither Daley ever had anyone killed as far as I know. Daley Sr. never had a dead son chopped up with an ax. I was already making stuff up.