Science Behind the Story

Good People, I’m excited to share a recently completed project with you. This is a free curriculum guide and companion text for the fiction anthology Origins.  Origins is available from our good friends at Hadley-Rille Books, if you’re into supporting small presses directly, or there’s a Kindle version ($4) at

The concept is simple: use science fiction to explore evolutionary biology. A good friend of mine, Randall Hayes, at Variation Selection Inheritance brought his scientific knowledge to bear and we developed the text with science teachers in mind. The free pdf version is The Science Behind the Story.   Here are the mobi (kindle) and epub (nook) versions. More about the manual is below, but first a little about the anthology.

Origins: Tales of Human Evolution is edited by Eric T. Reynolds Publishers Weekly said it was an “Ambitious overview of human evolution…individually excellent works…”

Clearly we agreed. Just check out these authors:

Gerri Leen (3,000,000 years ago)
Leslie Robyn (175,000 years ago)
Z.S. Adani (71,000 years ago)
Max Habilis (41,000 years ago)
Camille Alexa (31,000 years ago)
Jenny Blackford (2500 years ago)
Mike Resnick (throughout the span of human existence)

The manual starts with a chapter entitled “What Do I Do with Fiction in a Science Class?” and includes sections on “Reading for Understanding and Meaning,” “Annotation,” “Basic Story Questions,” and some “Basic Discussion Questions Template.”

Each story is broken down with the following: a Synopsis, a section on Vocabulary, the Main Characters, some Discussion Questions, Search Terms & Key Concepts in Evolutionary Science, Research/Discussion Questions, Links & Resources, and possible Assignments.

We end the manual with “What Else Can I Do with Fiction in a Science Class?” which includes a checklist for effective writing assignments, sample rubrics, peer review activities, in-class activities, and teaching strategies.

We hope science teachers and home schoolers find it instructive, useful, and engaging.

Randall runs a podcast covering biological sciences. As he notes, “VSI is a podcast about evolution, broadly defined as the behaviors of any system that displays the trifecta of variation, selection, and inheritance.” At his site, we are asking for feedback from teachers who download and use The Science Behind the Stories in their classrooms.

Amazon’s Karma Backlash

A few days ago, I took my ten-year-old Violet Beauregarde and eight-year-old peacock around the neighborhood to knock on doors and beg for treats. They had a grand time. I even enjoyed myself. Giggling at the poor kids lined up behind my Violet made standing in the cold worth it.

The princesses, witches, and superheroes impatiently shifted while my kid waddled up the house steps to get her candy. Sure, some kids tried to sneak past. They hugged the porch railing and inched toward the candy, but Violet inadvertently crushed them there, small faces smashed into grimaces of faux pain. Soon the kids got smart; they went across the street or just skipped whatever house she was at.

While we braved the cold, streams of cars pulled into the neighborhood. Some parked and a half-dozen hobbits would exit screaming as they ran for fourth dinner. Some cars drove by barely noticing the kids. I heard some parents complain that the kids weren’t even from our neighborhood or that some people were bringing their babies up to doors and collecting candy when the kid was clearly still in diapers. I understood their frustration; it felt like someone was trying to get over on them.

Of course, no one was trying to get over on them. No one tried to hide the fact that they “weren’t from around here.” And most parents take their kids’ candy anyway (at least their favorites), so what if the mom just starts a little early?  Besides, she’s up four times a night with a creature locked on her teat, give her a damn Kit Kat.

This leads me to the latest Amazon kerfuffle.

Not too long ago the Internet was on fire about sock puppets and authors taking on multiple personas to post reviews of their own and their competitors’ books. Amazon felt as if it was a serious enough of a problem to warrant a response; unfortunately, Amazon’s response is causing a whole new set of problems.

Recently a friend of mine, Steve Weddle, tried to write a review of Karma Backlash, my novel put out by Snubnose Press. He’s a damn fine writer and editor and he had read an early draft, so I was psyched that he wrote a review when it came out.

He posted it on Amazon and then it disappeared. After a few days, I asked him why he took the review down. “Are you on drugs?” he asked.

He looked at Amazon and re-uploaded the review. It happened again. You can read about the subsequent mess in all its glory at DSD.

Here is the money shot from Amazon: “We do not allow reviews on behalf of a person or company with a financial interest in the product or a directly competing product.” Neither I, nor Snubnose Press, are aware of any financial interest so I am assuming Amazon is treating him as a competitor. It just so happens that the competitor wrote a nice review.

Now, I get it. Accountability. Transparency. These are worthwhile ideals. The thing that bothers me is that Amazon is not transparent in their policy. How do they come to the conclusion that a review written by BookBabe69 is valid versus one written by a fellow writer who never hid behind anonymity?

Some might claim that writers shouldn’t review writers because it could be seen as “backscratching.” It’s absurd. Publishers solicit reviews and blurbs from other writers all the time. Look at any book’s dust jacket the next time you wander through Barnes & Noble.

How is Amazon determining which author reviews are ok and which should be taken down? I was recently looking at a book by Tony Larusa, and one of the reviews is by “Author Geri Ahearn.” It doesn’t look like Ahearn writes in the same genre, but does that matter? Will all her reviews be removed? Some? None? Who decides? And based on what criteria?

Again, I only say this out of the absurdity of the rationale, especially since this policy seems to harder hit indie artists.

By the way, is this happening to all industries or are writers the only lucky ones? Might be worth checking out. Musicians, take heed, you should not review new bands. Amazon is diligently taking down all reviews of anyone who might be a competitor. Watch out Keenan Cahill. And Maria Aragon, don’t think you’ll be let off the hook just because you’re a kid. Amazon is not playing around. Who cares what your review is (Good, bad, or meh); if you play an instrument, you’re out. More importantly, if those reviews aren’t being rooted out and taken down, why not?

For a few years, my neighbors tried to stem the tide of people driving in and dropping off kids by blocking off the street. It brought more people. It seems that parents liked the idea of a neighborhood with no traffic – it is much safer.

Amazon’s policy seems reactionary, randomly enforced, and full of unintended consequences. While I applaud Amazon for exploring ways to keep the system honest, I’m not sure this is the best way.

He Is Psychonoir

Heath Lowrance is a machine. A prolific writing machine. And what really makes me angry (in a truly envious way) is that his work is overwhelmingly fantastic. He’s graced the pages of so many premier crime journals, magazines, and anthologies that I won’t even attempt to mention them here. I did, however, link to his site at the end of the post so you can look him up there.

I was excited when Heath decided to drop by for a guest post and talk a little about his new novel City of Heretics.  Have a read and check out the book. You’ll like it. I promise.


So Chad was kind enough to let me crash his blog today in order to tell you about a couple of new things I have out now—my second novel, CITY OF HERETICS, and a novella in the FIGHT CARD series called “Bluff City Brawler”. And I’ll do just that, in a minute. But first, I wanted to bend your ear about something I’ve been thinking of lately, if you don’t mind.

A couple days ago, a friend of mine made reference to the fact that I had “fans”. That is, folks who bought my books and stories on a regular basis. Not many of them, mind you, but some.

In the short period of time I’ve been doing this, it was the first time anyone had ever used that word… “fans”.

I didn’t like it.

It made me feel weird and uncomfortable. I puzzled over it for a couple of days, trying to figure out what, exactly, bugged me about it, and this is what I came up with: I don’t have “fans”. I have readers. There is a difference. “Fans” implies some kind of false separation between writer and reader, a separation I find a little offensive. It puts the writer on some kind of higher plateau than the reader, ascribes some importance to him or her that is totally wrong.

The writer and the reader represent the very definition of the term “symbiotic relationship”. They NEED each other. Really, one doesn’t exist without the other.

This is especially true with us independent and small press writers. In fact, in our case, the reader is MORE important. Without the reader, we’d be totally screwed. The reader who leaves reviews, who spreads the word, who shells out her hard-earned cash, well… that reader is the life-blood of the independent writer. If anything, the scenario should be the other way around—writers should be fans of readers.

I’m very lucky that there are readers out there who like what I do. I’ve become friends with many of them, via Facebook and various other social media sites. I’ve learned from them, and I never fail to be staggered by their generosity. I’ve come this far because of them, and I never, ever forget that fact. 

So, okay, I’ve got that off my chest and I feel a bit better, thanks.

Awkward transition time, then. My new novel, CITY OF HERETICS, came out just recently from Snubnose Press, and I’d be happy if you gave it a try. It’s a fast and nasty piece of work about a bad, bad man in a bad, bad city doing bad, bad things.

And my FIGHT CARD novella, “Bluff City Brawler”, is pure pulp, a boxing story about a fighter on the run after accidentally killing a connected mobster. It’s a fast-paced thriller with lots of action, totally in the spirit of the great old boxing pulp stories.

Two very different kinds of stories, but both equally worth your time, I promise.

And if you’ve already bought one or both of them, if you’ve left reviews or told your friends, well then, I thank you.

I’m your biggest fan.

Heath Lowrance is the author of the cult novel THE BASTARD HAND, a short story collection called DIG TEN GRAVES, and all sorts of other things that are bad for you. He currently lives near Detroit, Michigan.
You can visit his blog at

Catch him on Goodreads, Twitter (though he’s not a fan), and Facebook.

Thicker Than Water?

There are a few infamous brothers that everyone refers to: the Grimm brothers, Ringling brothers, Marx brothers, Smothers brothers. But the Sawyer brothers, the two main characters in the novel Blood on Blood, rank right up there. I mean, I liked them as much as the Winchesters and MacManus of Supernatural and Boondock Saints fame respectively.

Jerzy and Mick are brothers by their father’s blood and they each have their father’s fire; however, each was born from different mothers and that blood sets them apart. The story unfolds from Gar’s perspective, calling forth his sons to see him off and set them upon a quest for missing diamonds. Then each subsequent chapter is from one of the brother’s perspectives. Sometimes the brothers are in the same room, moment, scene and offer very different perspectives of what they are experiencing. Both are anti-heroes in the best sense of the word, and as a reader I found myself rooting for both of them depending on which chapter I was in.

Jerzy is a gangster’s gangster. Mick is the fallen cop. They are two sides of the same coin and both are clearly able to do what’s necessary to come out on top. But then they fall in love. With the same woman. And you thought the family reunion was going to be tense with a simple fight over 1 million worth of diamonds.

Wilsky and Zafiro, the authors of Blood on Blood, create these brothers who are complex, conflicted, and real. And even more impressive is the deft by which they bring the secondary characters to life.

What I love about this story is that the characters drive the plot so hard that I find it hard to write about the novel without splashing “Spoiler Alert” all over the page. Wilsky and Zafiro have dropped by to talk about the book, their unique writing process, and their forthcoming projects.


What inspired you? Where did the impetus for the story originate?

Frank: The inspiration was Jim. No, really. Sure, there’s tons of inspiration to write (that’s a whole other discussion, right?), but the idea of working on this book came from my desire to work with my friend, Jim Wilsky. We’ve known each other for a few years, and I’ve been a huge fan of his short stories, not just his crime fiction. But it was his crime fiction that had a certain edge to it, a certain quality that I liked, and who doesn’t want to be around something you like?

The other inspiration, truth be told, came from the masters. Richard Stark’s Parker novels and Lawrence Block’s early noir work, full of grifters and gamblers. I wanted to write a departure from police procedurals and first person detective mysteries, and this was the perfect opportunity.

Jim: For me, it was simply getting that book done. My first book. A quirky kind of chance that was offered by Frank and an opportunity that just seemed right to do, at the right time, with the right partner. Writing that first novel was something that I had never taken a really serious stab at. A few drafts and outlines that never really went anywhere. Seriously though and I have to cut right down through to the bone on this, it had absolutely nothing to do with Frank…I mean hell, I would have teamed up with any good author who asked.

The guy brings out the best in me, he pushes when I need to be pushed and it just seems to happen. There were no stalling points or huge blocks in the first book or second. It just flowed.  He knows how to write a great outline, adjust and we both try to create characters that breathe. Not just main characters either. I’ve come to realize that fully fleshing out those ‘best supporting actors and actresses’ are just as important as the protagonists. Frank is like a younger, older brother to me if that makes any damn sense at all.


Frank, I noticed you have done at least one book as co-author prior to this, how did that experience compare? What were you able to bring to the table with that experience?

Frank: I wrote Some Degree of Murder with Colin Conway. We finished the first draft of that back in 2005. Structurally, the book is much the same, in that it has the same dual narrative, first person format. The experience was also similar in that I drew a great deal of creative energy from working with another writer. I think working with Jim was even better, for a couple of reasons. One is that I’m older and my craft has hopefully improved, so I was a better partner. Secondly, we alternated chapters, never writing our next chapter until we got the intervening chapter back from the other guy. This added some serious energy to the equation.

As far as what I was able to bring to the table, I think having collaborated once before with this same format, I was aware of the pitfalls. This allowed me to say, “Hey, we probably ought to resolve this before we go much further” or “Hey, we need a loose outline here.”


Jim, have you ever written with a partner before? What was it like?

Jim:Never have before. It was scary, fun, energizing and pretty much painless. Probably the biggest thing it was, and is, though? A huge confidence builder. It made me believe that I had more than a two thousand word story in me and as it continued, chapter after chapter, I was pleased with the results.

I used to have a huge insecurity issue with my writing and I know that’s nothing new or unique, but it’s there. Honestly, I was concerned that I wouldn’t be able to hold up my end of the bargain, that I would maybe make my writing partner regret the project. I told Frank that too. More than once. He thought I was kidding, but I was dead serious.       

I used to write using a pen name because I was afraid I was writing inferior stuff. I’m definitely not where I was back then, but there will always be a little of that self doubt in me. I think in an odd way though, having a bit of that insecurity is natural and maybe keeps you striving to write better, to improve.

In the end, instead of it being a prolonged dentist appointment without Novocain, it was fun. A helluva lot of fun.


Each alternating chapter – did one of you take a character or was a shared experience?

Frank: We each took one of the characters and wrote the chapters for that character. I wrote the introductory chapter with Gar, the father, and the final chapter was a collaboration. But the entire book was definitely a shared experience, as characterization and plotting was something we collaborated on heavily. And there were scenes in many of the chapters containing both characters. So even though, as a writer, you’re controlling the actions and dialogue of both brothers, you have to remain true to the other brother’s persona while presenting him through the eyes of the brother you’re writing. Wow. Does that sound confusing, or do I need another cup of coffee?

Jim: The really scary part is I understand what Frank just said. And even more troubling, I fully agree. I will only add that there are characters, and then there are characters. This guy in Blood on Blood, my guy, was just a kick to write. He was a piece of work in the best and worst way. I’ll guarantee you Frank feels the same about his guy.


Did you know where you were going or just riff off each other?

Frank: Some of both. We had a loose outline of plot points, but we jigged and jagged a bit. It probably felt more structured than writing by yourself, which allows you to follow whatever rabbit trail you want to go down. We had to rein in those inclinations and at least talk about them in advance if we were going to explore them, because if we started straying too far from the outline, we’d have continuity issues and be thwarting each other instead of complementing. But we definitely riffed off of each other on smaller, more subtle elements. Kind of like a song you both know. You play the same chord progression, but the little nuances that fill in the gaps are played off each other.


As individual writers, do you listen to music while you write? If so, what? 

Frank: I usually don’t. I have in the past, but it was usually something weird like Gregorian Chant. The problem for me is that I listen to music too closely, so it ends up being a distraction. I don’t need perfect quiet, but I do need to step through the window and into the world I’m writing about.

Jim: Oh hell no, I can’t do the literary/musical version of chewing gum and walking at the same time. I’d be like Jack Nicholson in the Shining. Page after page of the same sentence. I’m in awe and actually jealous of people who can listen to music while writing.

Or people who can drink, or something else, and write. Can’t do it. I have to drink after I write, never before. Jack Kerouac I’m not. Talent wise obviously, but the ability to put good words together while plowed – faggettaboutit.

Sometimes I do use music and certain songs to frame a story, a scene or a character. Some badass song that everyone knows. If you have that playing silently in your head at least and the readers head, I think it can be very powerful. I wrote a story in the August issue of Yellow Mama and it was all about that. Alannah Myles was playing loud in that story.


Who decided to beat up a midget? That was not nice. Funny. But not nice.

Frank: I blame that on Jim. He is the midget beater. I was complicit by my inaction alone.

Jim:To be fair, he wasn’t a midget. He was vertically challenged to be sure, but he was wiry and dangerous back in the day. There is only one way to deal with a guy like that.


The ending was a jolt and I’m not sure we can really discuss, but how did it come to be? Was that planned from the beginning?

Frank: How do you end a book? Sometimes ideas start with the ending and work backwards. Sometimes they start from the beginning with a ‘what if’ and go from there. This was definitely the latter. We asked ourselves a few “what ifs” and then set about answering those questions. I don’t think we had a clearly defined ending until we were what…mid-book or so, Jim?

Jim: Well, I knew the end the whole time. I just didn’t want to ruin it for Frank so I let him explore it on his own and then find… finally… the solution. It took him forever.

Frank: How to end this book merited a couple of phone conversations, but ultimately we came to what we thought was best. It’s been the same for all three of our projects together so far. I think part of the reason for it is that we both listen to the other guy, because we both think he’s got some great ideas. But we’re both also willing to say so if we think it might not work. I can say that I pushed for the ending in Blood on Blood. In the sequel, Jim made a significant change involving one character, and the changes had some repercussions for the third book…but his idea was better than mine, and we went with it. Jim came up with a great ending for the third book.

Jim: I’ll just say this, Frank is leading the good idea game 11-2.


Are we seeing any of the characters from Blood on Blood again?

Frank: Definitely. There are two sequels in the works, and both of them contain characters from this book.

New project/s?

Frank: As I alluded to earlier, Jim and I are continuing our partnership. We’ve just finished the first draft of the sequel to Blood on Blood, and it is in the review and revision phase. We’ve mapped out the third book and started writing the first draft of that one, too. After that, I’m not sure exactly which direction we’ll take, but I do know that I hope to keep working on projects with Jim as long as he can stand it. We might try a different format or even subject matter, but the partnership is a good one, and I look forward to a long time collaboration.

Jim: It goes without saying that I’m by far the greater beneficiary in this writing partnership, so if the opportunity presents itself again past this current series, well then hey.

I’ve also decided to start my first solo novel sometime before the end of the year. That’s my goal and the resolve has been strengthened and encouraged by writing Blood on Blood with Frank. I also have an exciting new anthology coming out with a cast of other writers that everyone knows. There is unbelievable talent in this collection that I’m lucky to be even included with them. Strong is all I can say. Real strong. That’s all I can share at this point. Top Secret. If I tell you, well you know what happens then.

Frank: Of course, we’ll both work on separate projects, as well. I’m in the revision phase of a novel called Lovely, Dark, and Deep, the sequel to Waist Deep. It’s a first person mystery set in River City and should be out before the end of the year. I have another mystery called At This Point in My Life, also in the revision phase. That one might be early 2013. There’s another crime fiction novel I’m working on with new characters in the first draft stage. Same thing with the next (and fifth) River City novel, Place of Wrath and Tears. A River City novella starring Thomas Chisolm is in the works, too. The thing I like about the Chisolm novella is that it bookends the character, who has been a major part of the River City series, by going back to the time he spent in Vietnam as a young man and jumping forward to an adventure he has after leaving the police force.

On other fronts, I’ve just begun working with another writer (Jimbo knows her) on a romance. I’ve got some ideas for a fantasy series, a mainstream/literary work, and of course, more crime fiction. Like every writer, there’s a shelf full of ideas waiting to make it onto the page. Just a matter of time, and not enough of it.


While I’ve only chatted on-line, I think it is safe to say these two guys are some of the nicest people you’ll ever meet. And hopefully you will have an opportunity to meet them at a reading, conference, or just out on the webs. It was a pleasure working with them and I am looking forward to the sequels. Check out Blood on Blood and you’ll see why. Hopefully, you’ll be bugging them about the sequels too.

Boom Goes the Dynamite

I first read Dan O’Shea’s work in a Flash Fiction challenge, however, I really got a sense of the man as I followed his tornado relief challenge where for every story he received he donated 5$ to The Red Cross. Then with amusement and awe I read Shakespeare telling his noir story. Of course, I had to follow this crazy man on the Twitters.

He has a quick wit that entertains and insights into books and stories that I trust completely. I blame him for single handily making my stack of unread books at least 1/3 higher this past year. Asshole.

At BoucherCon, which was in St. Louis this past year, we broke bread. Well, more like Bar-B-Que ribs (they were delicious) and had time to talk books, authors, and kids.

If you drop by his website, you’ll get a chance to read his insights, explore his world, and even listen to interviews with kick-ass authors.

I asked Dan to talk a little about Old School, a collection, put out by Snubnose Press. After giving this post a read, I hope you check the collection out. It really is that good.

What’s the big idea? Hell if I know.

Where do your ideas come from? That maybe the most common question writers get asked. And it’s almost impossible to answer. Ideas can come from anywhere.

Some of the stories in Old School are intensely personal in origin. The very first story, The Summer of Fishing, is largely memoir. I actually did get mugged one day when I was out fishing with my little brother because the kid had to smart off and tell this guy that he had money. Turns out he had a nickel in his pocket. Sheepshank, the longest story in the collection, is heavily informed my father’s gradual decline and eventual death from congestive heart failure – I’d like to add now that, aside from the heart failure, my Dad was nothing like the protagonist, Lou DeGatano. But that story would never have been written if I hadn’t spent four years visiting my Dad at an assisted living facility, if I hadn’t watched the myriad ways that aging tries to sap dignity and the daily battle that the elderly fight to hang on to it.

Several of the stories were written in response to flash fiction challenges. Somebody throws out a prompt and you have to base a story around it. The middle-aged businessman coping with a terminal diagnosis in Shackleton’s Hootch, the MacGyver-like hit man in Two-Phones, the laid-off father in Exit Interview, the grandfather dealing with his grandson’s crime in Absalom, the tough septuagenarian nurse in Purl Two, the contract killer confronting his own mortality in Circle of Life, and then all three of the protagonists in the supernatural-tinted stories in the last section of the collection, all of those were written in response to flash fiction challenges.

Funny, I look back at that last paragraph and I realize that, instead of telling you about the stories, I told you about the protagonists. But that’s how I work. For me, in all my writing, but especially so in short fiction, everything starts with character. I can’t start until I have someone fixed in my head – until I know how that person feels, how they think, how they talk, what they want. The story unspools from there. I know some people are bigger on plot – they like to have an outline of events in place, some kind of framework. But for me, I need a person, someone I’m interested in. Then I just drop them into a situation that introduces some form of conflict and I follow them around my head, just see what they do. It’s a wasteful process sometimes – they’ll go off on tangents that end up not serving the story. I’ll think I know where things are going, be convinced I’ve got the narrative arc all worked out, and then they’ll take off in some completely unexpected direction. That stuff makes the re-writes a bitch. But I also like to think it makes the stories a little less predictable. If I don’t know what the character is are going to do, how the story is going to end, then it’s unlikely that I’m going to tip my hand.

Inspiration can come from anywhere and can lead everywhere. The Bard’s Confession on the Matter of the Despoilment of the Fishmonger’s Daughter grew out of a conversation I had with my daughter. She was taking a Shakespeare class at college, we were talking on the phone, and she asked “What would happen if Shakespeare wrote noir?” My first response was Othello, because, really, that’s as noir as it gets. But it also gave me an itch. I love the richness and color of Elizabethan language – love its ornate character. So often, especially in crime fiction, there is this Mies Van Der Rohe less-is-more bias. This sense that we always have to cut the language back – to prune and prune and prune, trying to squeeze more and more into fewer and fewer words. Done well, that’s marvelous. But too often, I read copy that feels denatured, Cliff Noteish, like all the grace notes have been stripped away, all the architectural detail sanded off. So I decided to take a shot at a chunk of Elizabethan noir, a little first-person Shakespearean introspection. I gave myself permission to slip the linguistic leash and to use every single word that I wanted to. I loved the result. Loved it so much I wrote a whole Shakespeare as Elizabethan private dick novel. Never would have happened if I hadn’t had that conversation.

I guess, more than anything, what I’ve learned from writing short fiction is this – waiting for inspiration, sitting on your hands expecting the Big Idea Train to pull into the station, that’s a waste of time. If I can take random cues thrown out in flash fiction challenges and then just sit down and write and come up with decent stories, that proves that all I ever really needed to do is sit down and write. If you don’t have a good idea, write about a bad one. The ideas will come – they are part of the process. But nothing happens until you start.

So that question about ideas, I guess I can answer it. Ideas come from writing. Writers write. Wannabe writers look for excuses not to. Not having an idea is just one more excuse.



(P.S. — I chose that profile picture of Dan because it shows how old school he really is. Even though he says he was mashed up from a biking accident, I don’t believe a word of it. He’s a storyteller after all)

Dan O’Shea is a Chicago area crime writer. His collection of short ficion, Old School, is available through Snubnose Press. His novels, Unto Caesar and The Gravity of Mammon, will be published by Exhibit A, the crime imprint of UK publisher Angry Robot. Visit Dan’s blog at  Dan is represented by Stacia Decker at the Donald Maass Literary Agency.


The other day I was interviewed by John Jurgensen at the Wall Street Journal concerning “binge” TV watching. I described my 22 hour marathon of Breaking Bad. Of course, this makes it sound like a person who sits down and takes in a season, or two, of a show needs some kind of twelve-step program. “Hello, my name is Chad and I am a binge TV watcher.”

First let me say that the interview I had with John was great. We spoke for about forty minutes and covered a lot of ground and he even talked with my wife getting her perspective. Unfortunately it made her sound a little “frustrated” at my couch potato ways; on the contrary, she was quite easygoing about the whole ordeal.

In the age of Netflix, DVR, and box sets many people like myself have opportunities never before afforded to them. Specifically we have the luxury of watching our shows when we want to watch them, minus (most of if not all) the commercials. This means an average hour-long show on television actually sits at the 47 minute marker, give or take. Those extra 13 minutes add up when you are blowing through multiple episodes.

I imagine many people who binge are like myself who just don’t have the time or patience to arrange their calendars according to their programs. For me, the school year is too hectic to watch anything, let alone keep up on complex storylines. So once summer hit, I plugged in.

I don’t think this is unique. Not to mention, I noticed the complex subplots more easily and had a more thorough understanding/analysis of the characters by watching the episodes back-to-back.

The downside is I miss the community’s discussion. I’m so far behind that everything I want to explore has been thoroughly interpreted, analyzed, and explored.

Teaser – Next week a fine author with a new two-book deal is coming for a visit. You won’t want to miss what he has to say.

We have the Hawaiian Chair and Predator Drones but no fucking CURE

For a short time my wife and I watched “The Big C” on Showtime. It’s a remarkably smart and engaging show about a woman dealing with cancer. The disease sends the main character and her family up, down, and inside out. It’s insightful and touching and captures the array of emotions that those affected by the disease experience. It’s also one of those shows I can’t watch anymore. Cancer took my grandmother, threatened my mother, took my aunt’s ability to have children, and now is attacking my best friend.

A few years ago, he told us he needed a liver transplant. I was shocked. Cancer. The doctors went in, got it out, and he was put on the list for a new liver. When he received one, he seemed good and things were on the mend. Visiting him was an eye opener. The immunosuppressants he took were quite intense, but things were progressing well and he was smiling again. He even talked about returning to teaching. Then he told us, the cancer returned. The drugs he took to make sure his liver wasn’t rejected allowed the small pieces of cancer the doctors missed to bloom. I couldn’t believe it. He started treatment with determination and family support. It was touch and go with good news followed by not so good news. Last Fall when he told us he was terminal, I refused to believe it.

Sometimes I hate existence. I mean the sheer weight and ridiculousness of it. The lack of justice. As my kid says, “It’s not fair.”

1973: Watergate, George Foreman, Pink Floyd, Badlands, and the year my buddy was born. We met in college in 1991. We were both artists. We read Kerouac and Rimbaud and hung out with painters and musicians. We spent numerous hours at the coffee shop and the bars (still have our names immortalized at one pub after going “Around the World” which consisted of drinking a whole lotta beer). We talked Serres and Nietzsche, Jung’s dreams and Skinner’s experiments, and religion. Quite a bit of religion. We wrote together, did readings together, critiqued each other’s poems. Road trips were fairly normal (once ended up in a diner called Venus that was full of rednecks and truckers). We were editors of Prairie Margins, a literary magazine, then started our own called Anathema Review. Somehow we schemed well enough to get the university to publish large runs of the thing.

While we had our fights, as good friends are apt to do, we also had some great experiences. He was one of my best men at my wedding. For a time our kids grew up together. We did house projects, worked construction in the summer, shared many stories over dinner while the kids played or our wives worked on the landscaping.

He is a tall man, 6-4 give or take and has always been skinny, but when we recently hugged I was not prepared for feeling of bone pressed against the thin veneer of skin. He had long hair that he’d wear in a ponytail, though now the chemo has stolen much of it. He doesn’t walk, he lopes on the balls of his feet. He loves B movies and comic books. His sweet tooth is legendary, especially for doughnuts. Now he sleeps a lot and he doesn’t eat much.

There’s a stark beauty in his poetry. Not a word unexamined or line break ill-conceived. His poems often explore the dark places we push into the recesses of our minds. The white space on the page gleaming with significance and power. His silences cut like broken glass; infects your psyche. Recently we spoke of his death. It was a frank discussion. I asked questions. A lot of questions. He seemed both relieved and open. (I found out later from his wife that many people hadn’t been around for quite some time — perhaps afraid to intrude, perhaps unable to think of things to say). He told me of the last conversation he had with his father. His father was crying. He didn’t understand how my friend was handling it so well. My friend told me his father just didn’t understand that he’d been preparing for it since he wrote his first poem so many years ago. This made as much sense as anything.

My friend said he made his peace, that he is ready. The rest of us have not, are not.

His wife is a soft-spoken woman. She’s a good foot shorter than he is, but so strong. She carries him. Her daughter. The silences of her family seem walled up in every cell’s membrane and she doesn’t falter under their weight. Instead, I see her plod along, step-by-step, determined to kick them free with every footfall. Death: that final silence. How does one push air through the vocal chords, shape the tongue, create the sounds to tell your ten-year old daughter you won’t be there for her 11th birthday? Her prom or wedding? To share life’s stories?

Many nights my wife and I sat up drinking coffee talking. We considered the past and the future. We wondered what we could do? What we should say. How to say it. We still don’t know. But we share moments with them while we can. It’s terrible being so far away. Every few months we try and make it down and visit. Each time he is different. Sometimes a little better, sometimes a little worse.

My dear friend is sick. He and his family face it with a grace, delicacy, and courage that I doubt I could muster.

He is one of many. He is unique.

Fuck cancer.

By Chad Rohrbacher

Some Other Kind of Writing

Hey folks. I thought I’d just throw an update out here since it has been some time since I’ve posted.

First of all, the deadline for Shotgun Honey’s anthology is approaching fast. Get your stories in soon! (full guidelines are below for your review). On our webpage, you will also have an opportunity to vote for our anthology’s title. Keep an eye out for that. It will undoubtably be close since we received so many fine submissions.

For those of you who teach, you might be interested in this text I have an article in. It’s called Quick Hits for Teaching with Technology: Successful Strategies by Award-Winning TeachersThere are a lot of fine scholars who offer some insights and tips on creatively using tech in class to engage students. For ten bucks, it’s a steal.

Another project I’m wrapping up is a free teacher’s resource manual for evolutionary biologists (grades 9-14). A colleague, Dr. Randall Hayes, and I received a Beacon grant to develop a manual that would help biologists explain and explore evolutionary theory to non science majors. Our thinking was fiction may give students a way into the science that a standard textbook couldn’t.

We decided on Origins put out by Hadley Rille Books. It features stories by some of our favorite sci-fi writers (Mike Resnick, Jenny Blackford, Camille Alexa, Max Habilis, Z.S. Adani, Lezli Robyn, Gerri Leen) and does a great job of “walking through” human evolutionary development. As the editor of Origins, Eric Reynolds has been extremely gracious and helpful as the manual has moved through the process and taken shape.

This project has been a massive undertaking with over ten thousand words on just my part concerning the fiction (synopsis, analysis, discussion questions, possible writing assignments, etc.). Randall dives in next with his connections to biology by breaking down each story and exploring ways in which students might engage the science within the fiction.

What we are particularly excited about is that due to the grant, we are able to offer it free to any teacher who wants to implement it in his/her class. We hope to have a pilot project this Fall, a larger cohort  this Spring, and its final version for public consumption by Summer 2012. Dr. Hayes has a blog and podcast where you can find wonderful interviews, and his musings on fiction, poetry,
science, and the connections therein. Definitely worth checking out. If you’re interested in creative writing and science. As a side note, I highly recommend Alice Fulton’s Fractal Poetics: Adaptation and Complexity.

Most recently Dr. Hayes and I received another grant entitled: Reforming a Large Undergraduate Non-majors Biology Course (Part 1 of Infusing Evolution Through an Entire College Biology Curriculum). While this will be a ton of work, I think Dr. Hayes’ innovative idea will lead to some exciting results in teaching biology and writing. Fingers crossed.

Lastly, I’ve got a copy of The Journal of Teaching Writing (from Indiana University-Purdue Press) which has my article “Significant Learning: Effectively Using Tarantino’s Reservoir Dogs in a Critical Writing Class” in it. While their webpage isn’t updated yet (I’ll let you know when it is), this paper is one I’m particularly proud of as it brings together my passion for teaching and for noir. Better yet, my students seem to love it (the exercise, not the paper which I’m sure they would find completely boring).

As promised: Shotgun Honey Submission Guidelines

Format: .doc, docx or .rtf file in a standard short story format as described on William Shunn’s website.
Length: 1000 to 5000 words. 3000 would be the sweet spot.
Submission: Send your submission with [Anthology] in the subject. Attachments only. Single submissions only.
Deadline: August 1st, 2012. We recommend sooner.

Payment: $10.00 upon publication, 1 print copy of Shotgun Honey Presents… and our eternal gratitude.
Rights: 1 year first print.
Release: Target October 2, 2012.

No queries. Please follow the guidelines if you want your story read.


Eric Beetner is a creative machine — Music: check. Book design: check. Directing: check. Writing some damn good fiction: check.

Wait, I had that wrong; he has a TON of good fiction. A couple of the many standouts for me include Fingerprints, which placed in the Watery Grave contest last year, and Bleeding Out which appeared in Thrillers, Killers, N Chillers. What separates Eric from a lot of writers is his sense of dark humor. If you liked Heathers, you know what I mean. If you didn’t (or never saw the film), there is no hope for you.

Revenge stories can easily become trite, overdone Mel Gibson knockoffs. Rarely do they rise to the level and character of, say, The Professional but Eric gets extremely close with his novella “Dig Two Graves”. Yes, I am referencing a lot of kick ass films, because that is how the novella plays out: a picture show (though not the last one — yeah, Larry McMurtry also rocks). The characters are well-drawn and the story a “fun” ride. I asked him if he wouldn’t mind stopping in and sharing some insight about the book with us like — where the hell did that come from?


By Eric Beetner

This July sees the publication of my latest Fightcard novella, A Mouth Full Of Blood – sequel to Split Decision. It will be my fifth published work (not counting anthologies) and the fourth writing about a boxer or ex-boxer. Time to hang up the gloves.
I’m enormously proud of the Fightcard books and especially the two novels I co-wrote with JB Kohl, One Too Many Blows To The Head and Borrowed Trouble. I believe in the stories and while the Fightcard novellas rely a little more on boxing as a backdrop, in the co-authored novels there is very little actual fighting at all. They are solid mystery/noir novels which happen to feature and ex-boxer. But it’s so easy to get pigeonholed in this racket. I don’t want to become, “Oh, he’s the guy that writes those boxing books.” I do, and can do, so much more.

I was very excited when the new Pulp Ink anthology announced they were looking for stories with a crime and a horror element. I ran with that and my very dark horror-influenced story was accepted, and even inspired the cover art. Of the five completed novels of mine that remain unpublished (so far) all are contemporary set and there isn’t a pugilist in sight.

Such is the case with my novella Dig Two Graves. The dark revenge story was written after a small publisher put out the call for gritty vengeance tales told in about 25k words and using plenty of blood and action. Hell yes, I said to myself. When that publisher never even acknowledged my submission it ended up in the hands of Snubnose Press and found a home.

I think everything I write is somewhat inspired by pulpy action-driven tales, but Dig Two Graves would never have been allowed to be published in the golden era of pulps. Way too much talk about prison blowjobs. The story is dark, moves fast and I’ve been told has a healthy dose of gallows humor. I never want to admit my stuff is any kind of funny for fear of people urging me to seek help. But if someone finds it funny, that’s on them.

I’ve loved my time writing about boxers, and maybe someday I’ll go back to it. JB Kohl and I are into our second novel together in a contemporary set series. I have outlines for a few more novels staring at my on my desk and asking when I will ask them to dance. Really, I want to show readers I have more sides to my writing. You’ll never see me write a cozy, but there is more to me than just the sweet science. My ultimate goal all along has been to build a body of work, preferably a wide variety. I could never be the type of writer who does twenty novels all about the same character. I’d get bored. I already found myself repeating little riffs in the boxing books, so time to ring the bell and walk away.

Knock on wood, I’ve so far not run out of ideas. If anything, there are too damn many. When they start to get backed up in my brain the shouting makes it hard to sleep. Guess that’s why I’m a night writer. Who can rest when all these degenerates in my brain keep fighting to be let out?

You don’t get much more degenerate than Dig Two Graves, and I’m excited to know that the most twisted thing I ever wrote is still waiting to be published (maybe by myself, and maybe soon). I relish the days when I surprise myself and can’t wait to be able to surprise readers. Y’know, like a well-placed uppercut.

BIO: Eric Beetner is the author of Dig Two Grave, Split Decision and A Mouth Full Of Blood, as well as co-author (with JB Kohl) of One Too Many Blows To The Head and Borrowed Trouble. His award-winning short stories have appeared in Pulp Ink, Grimm Tales, Discount Noir, Off The Record, Murder In The Wind, Needle Magazine, Crimefactory and more. For more info visit


I love my children’s imaginations. I love seeing what they come up with, the plays and pet shops, the art and dances, the worlds they create.

My oldest is crazy about sci-fi and horror. How much she “gets” always impresses me. Her imagination allows her to understand things well beyond her years. And we have great conversations about the movies and books after.

Lately we’ve been talking about equality (except for last night when we were talking about demonic possession and devil spawn — seriously). She literally doesn’t understand people who hate others for absolutely no reason. She doesn’t “get” the fear. The need to control, or worse, let others control them.

Today I put out a collection of cyber punk short stories about control, or the lack of it. It’s been sitting on my computer since last year.  Big Pulp and Silver Blade published a couple of stories and people asked if there were any more coming out. I enjoyed the characters, so I wrote a few more and asked John Hornor Jacobs to put together a cover (which, btw, looks fantastic).

Here’s where it gets tricky; my kid wants to read the collection. In general, most of my stories are not quite kid friendly. My zombie and crime pieces usually don’t bode well for young audiences.I think all but the last story is ok for her. Interestingly, I am actually nervous about her reading my work. This adds a new layer to our relationship.

While I look forward to what she has to say, I’m also concerned she’ll think I’m nuts. Or realize that I am. I hope, though, she sees me as maybe more than that; she’ll realize I’m just some kid who still lives in his imagination and that that’s ok. I want her to always nurture her imagination; I want us to grow and discuss and think about the world we want to live in.

If you are so inclined, feel free to check out the collection at Amazon.