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.

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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 www.psychonoir.blogspot.com

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

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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.

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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.

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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.”

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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 www.danielboshea.wordpress.com.  Dan is represented by Stacia Decker at the Donald Maass Literary Agency.

KnockOut

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?

WHY I’M STEPPING OUT OF THE RING

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 ericbeetner.blogspot.com

The Dark Mind of R Thomas Brown

Art and entertainment made the world smaller long before on-line communities showed up on the scene. While books, music, and art sparked conversation, one rarely had the opportunity to actually converse with the creator. Lucky for us, that’s not the case anymore. R. Thomas Brown is one of those artists you read and you either want to have a beer with or run away from him.

I mean, what kind of twisted guy comes up with stories like he does? He dropped by to share his inspiration for his novel, Hill Country (including tunage).

Why would you write that?

It’s a question I get pretty often when friends and family read Hill Country. And it’s a fascinating question. Well, what they’re really asking is “What else is that sick mind of yours thinking about?”

That’s not very interesting. The answer is “even worse things.” But, the original question is worth thinking about. Why did I write it? Not why did I write something, but why this book? These people? This plot?

Well, the idea for the plot came first. It was the Maltese Falcon. Really. People searching for something valuable. They have no idea where it is, but they think they know who might know. When they do find it, it doesn’t have the value they thought it did. That’s the tiny kernel of an idea that spawned the story (oh, and, yes, the reference to the film in the book was intentional).

Then came the place. I’m a suburban guy. Have been most of my life. Right now I am surrounded by big box stores, chain restaurants and similar looking homes. Not as similar as my last house, but still. And, I like. It’s comfortable for me and the family. It also drives me nuts.  There’s an oppressive sameness about it all. So, I went far away. To a small town that my cousins lived in for a few years. I built a little town that had the character that is lacking in so much of urban sprawl.

Now, the people, they’re all around me. Not the killers. No, that’s just imagination at work. But all the people that populate the town. They’re all around me. Always have been. See, I’m not just a suburban guy, I’m a suburban Texas guy. I’ve never  lived anywhere else. I know lots of people in the same boat. They live in that book. The story doesn’t spend lots of time dwelling on the unique character of them, but I think the nature of the people comes out.

The rest of the stuff. The killing, the sex, the drugs. Well, I just thought it fit, and it was damned fun to write. Especially the cursing. Fuck a ring-tailed lemur, I loved the cursing.

So now you know. You can check out another interview here, and read the first chapter of Hill Country at his blog, Criminal Thoughts. You can also follow him on the Twitters at @rthomasbrown and FB

The Stomach Abides

As my stomach recovered from the last few days of pure and unadulterated gluttony, I felt like Mr. Creosote.

Then I started to drift off to sleep and was thankful that no only was I able to provide the feast, I was able to share it with my family. This leads me to the Lost Children. As described on its website:

30 powerful stories from around the world to benefit two children’s charities: PROTECT: The National Association to Protect Children (www.protect.org) and Children 1st Scotland (www.children1st.org.uk).

Stories by David Ackley, Kevin Aldrich, David Barber, Lynn Beighley, Seamus Bellamy, Paul D. Brazill, Sif Dal, James Lloyd Davis, Roberto C. Garcia, Susan Gibb, Nancy A. Hansen, K.V. Hardy, Gill Hoffs, Fiona “McDroll” Johnson, J.F. Juzwik, MaryAnne Kolton, Benoit Lelievre, Veronica Marie Lewis-Shaw, Vinod Narayan, Paula Pahnke, Ron Earl Phillips, Thomas Pluck, Sam Rasnake, JP Reese, Chad Rohrbacher, Susan Tepper, Luca Veste, Michael Webb, Nicolette Wong and Erin Zulkoski.

It began as a flash fiction challenge when Fiona Johnson and Thomas Pluck donated $5 to PROTECT and £5 to Children 1st for every story at Ron Earl Phillips’ Flash Fiction Friday and Fictionaut. Now we have collected the 30 best stories to benefit these two charities.
Join us and make a difference while you read 30 great stories genres by writers from the U.S.A., Poland, Hong Kong, Portugal, India, Scotland, England, Canada, and one told by a Lost Boy of the Sudan to his teacher.

Approximately $2 per e-book sale and $4 per print book sale, depending on retailer, are donated for each sale. The full royalty paid by the retailer goes to these causes (50% to each). Ordering from Createspace gives the greatest donation of $5.49, and Barnes & Noble the least, $1.94. The first week of each month, detailed sales and donation reports will be posted here.

The anthology is now available in trade paperback at Amazon and Createspace for $9.99

Available for $2.99 in e-book form, for: iPad in the Apple iBookstore Amazon Kindle (read it on your computer with Amazon Kindle Cloud Reader, or on your phone with the Amazon Kindle App) Nook at Barnes & Noble Kobo, Sony e-reader and download as PDF, epub, mobi or Viewable Online at Smashwords

If you don’t have an e-reader: you can download the Kindle for PC or Kindle for Mac app, the Nook for PC App, Nook for Mac App or view it online at Smashwords, or download it as an Adobe PDF file. You can also read epubs on the Adobe Digital Editions reader for PC and Mac.

Truly a good cause and great stocking stuffers.

Lookie Lookie

Richard Godwin, author of Apostle Rising, invited me over to his place then hurt my brain — see what we talked about here.

Look what the devil brought in, a hardboiled, noir, crime flash fiction site with the sweetest name evah: Shotgun Honey. Daniel B. O’Shea is the first up and he does not disappoint.

I can’t wait to see this issue of Mystery Scene, Spring Issue #119  (out late April). There is a review of Needle Magazine coming out and here’s a taste:

“Issue #3 of Needle magazine has been out for a while now. I’ve read several of the stories, all of them lowdown and gritty, especially Anthony Neil Smith’s “Minnesodom.” You might need a bath after reading that one.”

So you like Needle? Go vote for it in Spinetingler Awards.

On a different note, I learned something recently: I hate nerves. Yes, nerves. Not all nerves are bad. If a person finally get up the nerve to ask someone out, or a person afraid of heights gets up the nerve to climb up stairs, that’s great. Pinched nerves, on the other hand, completely and utterly suck.

I went to chiropractor on Friday, best one I’ve ever been to, and they figured out why I had serious pain in neck and arm and, more importantly, why my hand was turning purple. Seriously. Purple. Barney Purple.

Long story short is I have neck muscles that are pulling everything out of whack. This pinches the nerve and constricts the “clump” of blood vessels in my chest/shoulder area making my hand change colors.

So we will try that dreaded “E” word (exercise) and drugs and hope surgery isn’t needed. Sigh.

Open Heart

Patti Abbott has another pretty amazing challenge.

Open Heart

Corey knew the heart was a delicate organ: her father’s burst while putting on his boots, and her mother’s was buried with her father.

Chubs swung his fat arms, cracked his neck, let out a loud, “C’mon baby,” as if throwing dice.

He snatched up the rolled up bill and made the fat white line disappear.

“Oooora!”

Chubs was 18. Corey bordered on 40. She smiled at his enthusiasm.

When there was a knock at the door, Corey strolled into her office, settled into the chair behind her desk, and absentmindedly gazed at the middle drawer.

“Chubs, my man.”

“Shut the fuck up.”

Corey listened. The door slammed shut.

“Why the static, my man?”

“You don’t understand ‘shut the fuck up’?”

“Man, I get it, pat me down, ok, I ain’t got nothin’ on me.”

The open palm slap was unmistakable.

Corey opened the drawer and peered inside. Her flesh felt like mirror shards falling off her frame.

Corey pictured him reconsider coming to her; clearly it was too late to turn back.

“First door on the right.”

“Cool, my man, cool.” After a moment she heard the guy’s voice, barely a whisper. “My man, tell me something, no offense, but tell me something, ok? Word on the street is she’s crazy. She crazy?”

Another slap, this time louder than the first. He yelped.

“Corey is like my grandma, man. That woman taught me everything. Every damn thing about this business, about surviving. She’s my grandma without the milk and cookies and bull-shit.”

Corey didn’t know whether to laugh or cry so she pulled out her four-inch ceramic blade from the middle drawer.

“I wouldn’t…”

“Shut the fuck up.”

He shut the fuck up.

A moment later he stood in front of Corey, a backpack in his hands. His hair was shaved tight and his thin moustache was immaculate. He was young. They all seemed young to her now. His brown eyes flashed from Corey to the knife and back to Corey.

“I understand you’re looking to be an independent distributor.”

He squirmed. Talking like that always made the street boys squirm.

“Yes, mam,” he said.

Corey watched his eyes fall to her arms, her chest. She saw shock spread from his whites to the pupils. She sighed.

“You have the down payment?”

“Yes, mam,” he said holding up the backpack.

Corey nodded.

“You wanna to count it?”

She didn’t move.

Ok,” he said. “I’ll just leave it here then, on the floor. I guess, you can just keep the backpack. I’ll replace it.” He gave a weak smile. “Yeah, no problem.”

“What’s your name?”

“What?”

“And not what they call you out there. What did your mama name you?”

“Jaron, mam,” he said glancing at the door.

“Jaron, you call me ‘mam’ one more time, I’ll have to cut you.”

Jaron hiccupped a laugh then swallowed it.

“15% for you. Full payment due on the last day of the month. If you’re killed while working, we’ll give your designee a lump sum. You break our code, both of you are done.”

Corey considered the blade again. When her father bought it he said he’d never need another knife for the rest of his life. He was right.

Corey saw sweat bead on the boy’s forehead. How old? 15 maybe? How many of these boys are growing up without their fathers?

Her mind wandered to her own father. He was a good man: he called her Sweets, came to all her dance recitals even when dirty with sewer stink, used cookie cutouts on her PB&J. Once when the boys at school were bullying her about her “crazy” momma, he found them one-by-one and whispered in their ears. They never said a word to her again.

Once she got up the nerve to ask her dad why momma never got out of bed and was angry so often. Her daddy told her that momma was a wonderful woman who just lost herself sometimes. To Corey, that made as much sense as anything.

Jaron glanced at her arms again. She felt like she was being ripped apart and stuffed with straw.

“You. You, uh, ok?”

Corey’s eyes focused, a dark red line seeped from arm, skin flayed open like someone cupping her hands begging for water. Corey’s mind lit up ecstatic.

“I really don’t mind the scars,” Corey said, the knife-edge poised. She drug it further, skin opening like a smile.

“But, you know, it’s like trying to stitch gangrenous flesh. I can’t contain…” she gazed up searching for a word, “the absence of me.”

She held up her arm, blood speckled her desk. “It’s not there. You see what I’m saying?”

“Yes, mam.”

Jaron’s eyes widened as Corey slipped around the desk, the knife tapping her thigh.

His lip trembled but he didn’t move. He understood he should’ve listened to grandma.

Rock on

Many of you may remember that for a long time I was doing a story and song on the blog. Yes it was a simple idea by a simple man: connect a great story with a great song. I even met the enigmatic Matthew J McBride doing it. Great times.

Storychord had the same idea but with a different audience in mind.

So, I found a few things that just seemed to fit together so nicely that I had to bring them together in one spot.

First is the story Terry Yaki and while you’re reading enjoy RJD2, The Horror.

I also want to share the F3 series to you. A community of writers and readers sharing creative work and impressions of their creations. A lot of really good authors are putting up fantastic stories. Best thing, it’s open to everyone.

 

Flash Fiction Friday #2

Here we are on the second installment of FFF. We are given a first sentence, this time suggested by me, and our mission was to write a 2000 word or less story based on that sentence.

So here goes my attempt — feel free to comment if it so moves you 🙂

Mom Is Always Right

Mom always said I would amount to something.

I amounted to exactly 5’11,128 pounds and 3 ounces not including clothes. When Slacker cut off my digitus mínimus mánus, or commonly referred to as pinky finger, I might have amounted to less, but indiscernibly so. A person really never considers the beauty of a pinky until he no longer possesses it.

Slacker was my wife’s brother who earned his name by selling dope and living off the girls he fucked. He fucked a lot of girls and lived pretty well. He amounted to about 6’3, 248 of unadulterated muscle.

Slacker was not a nice guy. Cheryl, my wife, said so herself. She said it was the juice, but I thought there was more to it. His shocking blue eyes were a little closer together than the average person which to me seemed somehow predatory. He could enter a house and you’d never know. Scared us a few times like that. We’d be eating our mashed potatoes or whatever and he’d be standing in the doorway just staring at us like he was studying us. When we’d notice him and jump, he’d laugh and give Cheryl a hug his huge paws draped over her shoulders.

Mom, Cheryl’s mom, was the only real mom I ever had. When I was 17, my father killed my mother then put a bullet under his chin with the family’s .38. While one cop said she thought it was homicide, all the others assumed murder suicide. Case closed. I asked them why and they said, “shit happens, kid”. After that I was in counseling for about a year; that is, until the counselor unexpectedly ran off with some newspaper editor from Reidsville.

I started dating Cheryl in high school and her mom took pity on me and saved me from the foster care system. I was able to finish high school, and Cheryl and I were married right after. I took three years of pre-med at the local state college. Cheryl waited tables at Crawford’s Racks and Ribs where the girls wore pasties while serving cheap beer and bar b-que to fat townies. I didn’t like her working there, but the money was putting me through school so I couldn’t bitch too much.

Mom said I’d be a doctor from the day I met her. Mom believed in me. She said a psychic three towns over in Harrison told her in no uncertain terms that her daughter would marry a doctor. One of the only reasons mom said yes to the marriage was because I agreed I was going that doctor in her prophecy. If I lived through this, I’d have to find that psychic and give her a piece of my mind – I hated sick people. But I did love Cheryl.

I’ll admit it, when Slacker took my thumb with his gardening snips, I almost passed out. I know he tried to get between the metacarpus and the palm, and I appreciated that, but it was just too hard to get in there with the thick blades. He put his massive frame down on the handles, his forearm muscles straining, and the snap of bone made my stomach lurch. It was the sound of it more than anything.

I was probably down about, what, 10 grams. If not, blood loss would definitely put me there. What a mess.

A couple of hours before I found myself there in Mom’s basement, a guy up at Crawford’s told Cheryl he’d seen me with some “hot little thing wearing a state T-shirt and painted on jeans”. Slacker was me downstairs within about 30 minutes.

“I’m telling you, Slacker, I mean, shit, look at me, I didn’t have any hot little thing. Ever.”

Slacker was pulling a piece of my flesh that got caught in the snips when he suddenly stopped what he was working on and cocked his head like a dog hearing a door knob rattle. “Ever?” he asked.

“Your sister, I mean, that, that goes without saying. She’s always been really hot.”

Slacker was wearing a black mesh wife beater that showed off his sculpted frame, jeans, and Wolverine work boots, which made no sense since he didn’t work. Through the mesh I could see his freshly shaven pectorals and wondered just what kind of man actually did that.

“Come on, man, I didn’t do anything with some other woman. I wouldn’t. Let’s go find the bastard that said this and get it straightened out.”

Slacker wasn’t in the mood to talk that was clear. He bent down and reached under a worn workbench that hadn’t been used since their father died 4 years ago.

Slacker slid a 40 pound bag of fertilizer to the front of the bench and opened it up. A stench like an overflowing factory farm filled the room. Slacker reached both hands as if he was a chef, and then he seemed to clasp something inside and hauled it out. He wiped specks of fertilizer off the top of the package, then set a kilo of coke on the workbench. Turning on the radio, Hank Williams Jr.’s “Family Tradition” emanated from the miniature speakers.

Slacker fished a pocket knife from his pocket then carefully cut a hole in the wrapping. Quickly he produced a gold-plated metal straw from his other pocket, dipped it in the powder, and inhaled deeply. There was a half cough, a sniff, an exuberant “yes”. I could see his neck vein pulsing as he leaned his head back letting whatever was still in his nose drain down the back off his throat.

“Slacker, buddy,” I begged, “even if I did cheat, which I didn’t, why all this? It’s a bit extreme, isn’t it?”

Slacker opened a rusted toolbox from on top of the bench, grabbed something, and turned toward me.

“For years she’s worked and gone into debt for you. You took her years, her money and more important my sister’s trust. Fuck, Oliver, you took my mama’s trust. How do imagine the scales of justice would weigh that? A finger? A thumb? Maybe a hand?”

A human hand weighs about 300 grams, give or take. Trust is hard to measure. I knew for a long time scales of justice were not always balanced.

That’s when I noticed he had a hatchet in his hand. It was something you would use for kindling or cutting small branches. It was something that could easily go through a man’s wrist.

“You’re crazy,” I groaned trying to wiggle out of my bindings.

Slacker strode toward me, a gleam in his eye. A gleam I have recognized in my own at times. I was terrified.

He raised his hand above his head, striking a pose that reminded me of the Indians in the old westerns right before they killed the poor settlers.

“Sit still,” he said, “you don’t want me to miss and take half of your forearm.”

At that moment we heard a women’s commanding voice declare that Slacker should drop his weapon. I had my eyes closed, so I didn’t see her and when I opened them Slacker had already turned and was rushing toward the stairs.

Two loud pops didn’t stop him as he lurched forward. A third seemed to stun him and his body jerked back like he was shot with a jolt of electricity. A fourth cause the hatchet to fall to the floor with a thud and a gasp of air leave his lips. He dropped to his knees, and then sprawled forward onto his face.

In front of him at the bottom of the steps was the most beautiful woman I had ever seen, all 5’8 and 120 pounds of her. Her chest was heaving, sweat dappled her forehead. She took her State T-shirt sleeve and wiped her face. Her hands were shaking.

“I’ve never been so glad to see you, Detective.”

“Looks like I owe you an apology.”

Detective Hicks kicked the hatchet away, checked Slacker for a pulse, then holstered her weapon. She fumbled with my bindings for awhile before getting me free. She smelled like Lilacs. Probably a Lilac scented deodorant; it worked great.

“I’ve been telling you,” I grimaced holding my bloody hand, “I had nothing to do with my parents’ deaths or counselor’s disappearance.”

“I said I was sorry.”

“You said you owed me an apology.”

“We knew he was dealing,” she said looking at Slacker’s body on the floor, his blood pooling on the concrete. “We just could never get anything on him; but this, we never guessed this.”

“Clearly,’ I said looking for my digits hoping that a doctor would be able to sew them back on. “There’s coke over there.” I jutted my chin toward the workbench. My hand was throbbing.

“Why you, Oliver? Why’d he come after you?”

“Shit if I know. Could I get an ambulance? Christ?”

Hicks called in for a bus while I tried not to pass out.

“My guess Hicks, I’m just throwing out ideas here, he was an overprotective big brother. He never liked me I mean I invaded his house when I was 17, and married his sister, all while his mom had more hope and expectations for me than her own son. But you know the thing that really set him off?”

I heard sirens in the distance which was good because my adrenaline was dropping and the pain was hitting.

“Someone told him I met this ‘hot thing’ today.”

Her face blanched.

“I, I was…”

“I know, trying to get under my skin. See if I would lose my cool, even though I didn’t have anything to lose my cool over. Ah, fuck you very much Detective.”

She looked at Slacker’s body, then at my bloody hand.

“I guess I deserve that. For what it’s worth I’m truly sorry.”

I nodded. For some reason, I really felt bad for Hicks. She looked so vulnerable, so innocent. Strangely it was the first time I ever hoped she’d find the counselor, all 5’10, 263 pounds of her.