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A flurry

It’s a flurry. A flurry of action going down once again in my neck of the woods.

In fact, there’s so much going on I can’t keep up with it. I’m not talking about the fact I can’t seem to find the time to get a haircut and consequently have something close to a bouffant on my head. I’m not talking about the fact my late nights have left me with what my 4-year-old calls “red cracks” in my eyes. I’m talking about the fact I am liable to get buried alive by the fruit of my writer friends’ success.

First, Riske came out the other week with a sweet and succinct piece of flash fiction over at Pindeldyboz. Expect to read far more of Riske, because it seems like the literary-fiction crowd is really starting to give him the credit he’s long been due.

Next, I heard from Ayres, screenwriter of the indie noir film, Mosquito Kingdom, which made a big splash at the St. Louis Film Festival last weekend. Very cool. And be sure to keep your eye on this cat, too. I sense far more to come from Jed Ayres, in both film and crime fiction.

Then there are all the books coming out by some truly talented friends and blog buds. That tower on my nightstand? Yeah, it’s their new novels. There’s Swierczynski‘s “Severance Package.” There’s Gischler‘s “Go-Go Girls of the Apocalypse.” And there’s Black‘s highly anticipated, well-reviewed debut noir novel “Paying for It.” Black, a journalist in Edinburgh, had written four novels before penning “Paying for It,” found agents for each, came close, but didn’t see them published. Now it’s his moment, and people are noticing. The Scotsman has taken notice, and Scottish actor Garth Cruickshank recently lent some excerpt narration to a gritty video featuring “Paying for It.”

In other words, there’s some great stuff out there right now. Check it out.

One of those moments

It feels like one of those moments, one of those moments when a lot of folks you dig are having, well, their moment.

Specifically, it feels that way for my writer friends. Lots of good things happening for some fine writers.

First, Bryon Quertermous had a hell of a week, with his short fiction appearing in no less than two printed anthologies. First Amazon sent me “A Prisoner of Memory: And 24 of the Year’s Finest Crime and Mystery Stories” (Pegasus; 432 pages; $15.95), which puts Bryon’s story beside those by heavy hitters Michael Connolly and Lawrence Block, as well as stories from Chimichanga friends Patti Abbot and Hilary Davidson. Pretty sweet. Then a few days later, I dropped in on the massive Barnes and Noble in San Mateo, where right on the front table I found “Hardcore Hardboiled” (Kensington; 352 pages; $14), which also features a Quertermous story with the rest of Thuglit‘s top stories in 2006. I’m thrilled not only for Bryon, but also another Changa buddy, Todd Robinson, aka Big Daddy Thug, publisher and founder of Thuglit, which ran my story, “Big Load of Trouble” last year. It’s Todd’s vision, tenacity and sharp sensibilities that have made Thuglit what it is today — one of the best places to read crime fiction online. One of the headlining contributors to “Hardboiled” is another Chimichanga bud, Duane Swierczynski, who’s thriller “Severance Package” (St. Martin’s; 288 pages: $13.95 pages) just hit the stores and is getting rave reviews.

But wait, there’s more. … Major Changa philanthropist Anthony Neil Smith just completed a road tour for his new novel, “Yellow Medicine” (Bleak House Books; 260 pages; $14.95), which continues to get great reviews for great reasons. Meanwhile, my good friend Al Riske recently won a short-fiction contest run by the Blue Mesa Review and will soon see his story, “Pray for Rain” in print. And lastly, prose stylist Tony Black, publisher of U.K.-based Pulp Pusher, which ran my “She Don’t Like Hecklers” last year, soon will see his first novel, “Paying for It,” released by Random House and offers the following video teaser. Congrats to Tony and all the others who are enjoying their moments.


Minutiae Monday — “pea gravel and Yellow Medicine”

Minutiae for your Monday …

My copy of Anthony Neil Smith’s “Yellow Medicine” finally arrived, and I’m loving it. If great writing, original characters and compelling crime stories are your thing, I encourage you to participate today in Smith’s “Pyschobilly Monday” campaign by buying your copy of Yellow Medicine through Barnes & Noble. … When the writing is good, it can make just about anything interesting. Case in point: the landscape-design blog, A Verdant Life, authored by TV prima donna and poker buddy John Black. I’m not a landscape-design enthusiast (nor am I hater), but there’s something about interesting ideas and great writing that can hold my attention, even when the subject matter is pea gravel. It’s pleasing to watch someone do their thing really well. So be sure to check out A Verdant Life, which currently features John handing me my ass in the matter of “do-it-yourselfism.” … For one of two Mother’s Day appetizers tonight, I whipped up perhaps my strongest batch of guacamole of this young season. This came as a major relief, as my last two batches of guacamole had been substantially sub-par. Be sure to tune in on Aug. 1 when I open-source my recipe. … My feet hurt from some serious Mother’s Day facilitation, but it was a great day. … Last night my wife took me to a great jazz-and-dinner joint located through a side alley in San Francisco. … It feels good to be working on a novel again. … Who else digs A&E’s extremely well-produced reality program, “The First 48 Hours”?

The Great Psychobilly Blog Road Trip of 2008: Day 2, Part 2

If my pronuncshun sounsh ah lil off today, maybe it’sh zshee shotgun barrl in my mouthsh. You see, my blog hash beensh highjacked by badash author Anthony Neil Smith, and I dont’sh dare doosh so mush ash twitchsh. Whish ish why I’m handin’ over the keysh to Chimishangash ash Shunshet right nowsh. ….

Guest Post from Anthony Neil Smith

Last stop: Swierczynski’s Secret Dead Blog

Wow. That was exhausting. And somewhere around Tulsa, we had to abandon the Big Red Truck for one of those tricked-out Hummer stretch-limo SUVs. Riding in style now. But when we get to Greg’s crib, thank god he’s waiting with Mexican beer and homemade guacamole. Whip together a pitcher of margarita’s, and damn, that’s a nice break before we get on the road again (stone cold sober, too. *Ahem.* thank god it’s all virtual).

Greg Bardsley sprung up seemingly full-formed from the dirt already with a boatload of stylized pulp stories just screaming to be published. And published they have been (you can find the list over to the right, including the two I accepted–“Upper Deck,” which is now one of my favorite short stories, like, ever, and “Funny Face,” which is just fucking hilarious). Hoping to see so much more from him, and I can only imagine what his novels will be like. He’s got this imagination like if Satan were stoned, and I’m glad he figured out how to tap into it.

And here’s the shameless self-promotion part: I bet Greg would like Yellow Medicine! and the more people who buy it (especially on Monday, May 12th, to be forever, or at least this week, known as Psychobilly Monday), then the more I can keep writing exactly the sort of books I want to, telling the stories I think you’d enjoy hearing. That’s the fun of it, too. I used to think if I had the chance, I would sell out in a second. But then I tried writing a sell-out script, then a sell-out novel, and then eventually I figured it out: I can’t make myself sell out. I just can’t. Maybe it’s my twisted little personality or something, but all I know is that when I sit down to write a sweet little scene full of subtlety and grace, I just get all shaky and sweaty and before you know it, someone’s lost a head, or an eye, or a testicle. Or they found out their wife’s been fucking the entire bench of a somewhat popular arena football league. Or that the doctor was lying about how long they had to live…it was a lot less…and the doctor’s the one who gave you the disease. See? I just can’t. I’m having too much fun writing about the stuff that scares me shitless. And as long as you’ll keep reading, I promise to keep trying my best.

And so Day Two comes to a close as we set our eyes an an even longer trip tomorrow–to pick up four “First Offenders” (makes em sound like virgins, but by now they’ve all offended plenty of times): Jeff Shelby, Lori Armstrong, Karen Olson, and Alison Gaylin.

Driving Time: This one might take a week.
Tune for the leg: “Wild Thing” by Tone Loc (Don’t ask. it just seemed to fit.)

Opening his doors to noir

Hey, check me out. Today, I’m literary.

I like to pronounce it, “Littah-lehry,” affecting a self-important gaze as I make the final “r” roll nice and long, lowering my lids to emphasize that we’re talking about “important” work and all that. You see, I haven’t been literary before. Hell, maybe I’m still not literary. But today, a literary ‘zine called Storyglossia opened its doors to me and other crime writers for its special noir edition.

It reminds me of that scene in Caddyshack when the country club opens its pool for a special “caddy appreciation hour” — during which time a Baby Ruth candy bar is mistaken for poo at the bottom of the pool.

As a guy who writes a lot of crime fiction, I’ve always listened with fascination when other writers attempt to distinguish literary fiction from everything else. When pressed, they’re usually at a loss for words. Hell, I am, too. Maybe it’s like that famous Supreme Court ruling on porn in which Potter Stewart said it was hard to define but “I know it when I see it.” Kinda like a Baby Ruth at the bottom of a pool?

Doesn’t matter to me. Great crime fiction can offer just as much value as the best “literary” fiction, and it’s usually a lot more interesting, visceral and alive. I’ve also read some great general fiction that takes me places that crime fiction hasn’t. In fact, maybe we can learn a few things from each other. Maybe crime-fiction fusion, as you might call it, can bring out the best of both sensibilities.

If the new edition of Storyglossia is any indication, folks might be on to something here. I am truly honored to be included in the edition, which is guest edited by novelist Anthony Neil Smith (his great introduction is here) and is graced by stories by the likes of crime-fiction badasses Vicki Hendricks, Megan Abbott, Ray Banks, Seth Harwood, R. Narvaez, Fred Zackel, Kevin Wignall and Adam Cushman, to name a few of the talented contributors.

So I tip my hat to Steven McDermott at Storyglossia for opening his doors to noir, and for stating as he does that “crime stories matter.” And I thank Neil Smith for pushing me to write a new ending to “Funny Face,” which ultimately took my piece to a higher level.

Now go check out some crime-fiction fusion at Storyglossia.

Feeling good … for a friend

I’m feeling good.

I’m feeling good for a friend.

Today, a truly talented and thoughtful writer experienced one of those rare moments of pure joy and satisfaction. And I couldn’t be happier for him.

Enough said. The full story is here.

Plotting to “upper-deck”

Long ago, my sister told me about a truly grotesque and depraved “activity” — an activity that attracts only the most emotionally stunted and lowest-functioning individuals from the depths of civilization’s sewage system.

I never forgot about that activity. In fact, I wrote a story about it.

Today, this activity is at the heart of my short story, “Upper Deck,” which is included in the debut edition of the resurrected Plot with Guns crime magazine. And I couldn’t be more happy. Nor more honored.

Anthony Neil SmithDuring it’s previous five-year run, Plots with Guns earned its reputation for running award-wining crime fiction by anyone from Duane Swierczynski to Charlie Stella to Scott Wolven. And today, in its new form, the first edition achieves a wonderfully off-center, slightly artistic but never-pretentious persona — and I love it. Crime novelist Anthony Neil Smith wants to populate his quarterly with “contemporary transgressive/noir fiction,” and I think he might be on to something.

So I’ll admit it — I’m tickled, I’m thrilled, I’m honored. And yes, I’m a tad giddy to have “Upper Deck” included.

Now go check it out. … And let me know what you think.

Plots with Guns cover

I’m thrilled for Mario, but ….

How long did I last?

eatpray-716112.jpgTill the 28th “tale” — at which point, my system couldn’t withstand another page. The structural integrity of my psyche was shaking and quaking, and I knew that if I did venture into the 29th tale, things inside would begin to fissure and fracture and snap. I had to stop reading “Eat, Pray, Love,” the No. 1 New York Times bestseller by Elizabeth Gilbert.

It’s funny about books. I’m starting to think that writing books, especially novels, is like creating an illusion — providing carefully rendered, temporary interpretations of the world in a compelling way that suspends the reader’s disbelief and makes him want to enter your world. I’m not saying I’ve achieved this as a writer, but I do think that if your readers can’t suspend disbelief, it’s over — it’s like revealing the machinery of your illusions, the exposed slights of hand readers aren’t supposed to see.

And what makes an illusion most effective? I say it’s a dazzling distraction. I think about my favorite authors, and I realize they all possess some phenomenal literary “distraction” skills. Tim Dorsey is so damn funny, you pay no attention to the insane storylines he’s feeding you. Charlie Huston‘s prose style is so fun to read (such a literary aesthetic), you never even notice a few unlikely events that unfold in his world.

Which brings us to “Eat, Pray, Love” — in short, I wasn’t buying it.

The writing was excellent, and Gilbert’s narrative voice was compelling — and that sustained me for 87 pages. But ultimately, I could not suspend disbelief, and I couldn’t take another “tale” — of which there are 108 in the book. Somewhere along the way, this stopped feeling like a candid, authentic memoir and more like a deliberate, carefully planned-out and contrived “what-if” literary event — as in, “What if I spent a year traveling to three of the trendiest places in the world, included some angst over my divorce and bouts with depression, and wrote about it? Would that sell?”

Perhaps most bothersome was the fact that Gilbert had secured the book deal for “Eat, Pray, Love” (and the money for it) before she even set off on her journey to Italy, India and Bali, but hardly mentioned the deal in her memoir. After reading that, everything felt manipulated and controlled and fake. This wasn’t a personal, see-where-the-wind-takes-me journey. This was a planned-out literary event hashed out beforehand in New York.

Two friends of mine, Richardson and Riske, had already read the book and really enjoyed it. So we had at least a half-dozen debates. Slowly, I whittled away at them. Eventually, Riske sagged his head and sighed, “If we’d been discussing all this while I was reading the book, I don’t think I could’ve finished it.” I felt kind of bad about that — like I was ruining his memory of a great vacation. I’d had a friend do a similar thing to me with a book I’d loved — just goes to show you how subjective all this is.

And yet, I kept reading “Eat, Pray, Love.”

My wife Nancy, on the other hand, had stopped after only five pages. And now, every night, she’d glance at me and laugh to herself, saying things like, “I can’t believe you’re still reading that thing.” So one night I put the book on my lap and ask, “My friends wanna know why you had such a problem with this book.”

Nancy gets up. “Here, I’ll show you why.” She takes the book, fans the pages, closes her eyes and stops randomly on page 109. She reads aloud: “The tears begin when Mario — our host — weeps in open gratitude …” She shuts the book, tosses it to me and says, “That’s why I’m not reading it.”

And that was it for me — I moved on to Volume 2 of the crime-fiction journal, Murdaland. And I’m loving it.

murdaland2.jpg

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