Greg Bardsley



Cuckoo for Crazy Larry?

Not too long ago my story, Crazy Larry Smells Bacon, had quite the day.

First, in the morning, I received the news that Crazy Larry, which originally appeared in the transgressive-fiction journal Plots with Guns, had been selected to appear in the anthology, By Hook or by Crook: The Best Crime and Mystery Stories of the Year: 2009 [Tyrus Books], edited by Ed Gorman and Martin Greenberg.

Then, that night, I learned that judges for the storySouth 2010 Million Writers Award had named Crazy Larry a “notable story” of the year (along with pieces by many others, most notably Kieran Shea, Kyle Minor and Mike MacLean), and that it’s still elligible for higher praise, however unlikely.

For all the love Larry is now receiving, I can thank PWG editor Anthony Neil Smith. Neil’s push-backs on the piece, and his suggestions for spry ol’ Larry, really made a difference. … I’m also glad to tell you that Larry has a solid role in the novel I have been writing; it’s a relief to see that Larry actually ineterests more people than just Neil and me.  

Not that there would’ve been anything wrong with that.

The agony and the ecstasy

The agony: Realizing there’s a great chance the manuscript on which you’ve spent countless nights and pre-dawn hours might never get published.

The ecstasy: Learning that a well-respected novelist likes one of your short stories so much that he sent it to his publisher.

The agony: Having a sobering conversation with your literary agent about how much more time he can spend on your project.

The ecstasy: Being able to tell a publisher that one of their novelists suggested they give your manuscript a good look.

The agony: Receiving a form rejection from said publisher a day later.

The ecstasy: Learning that one of your best friends, a talented and graceful writer, is a finalist for a fiction contest run by a great literary journal.

The agony: Dealing with radio silence as our stories and manuscripts “make the rounds” with editors.

The ecstasy: Discovering, to your great surprise, that an online magazine editor has nominated one of your stories for the 2008 Million Writers Award.

The agony: Failing to summon the energy to write after a long day of work and parenting.

The ecstasy: Coming home the next day to find your first-grader on the computer tapping out his own story, announcing, “If you’d like to put it on your blog, Dad, that would be fine with me.”

How could I, the “editor” of Chimichangas at Sunset, say no to this aspiring writer? So, after some light editing for clarity by Mom, I bring you ….

by Jack Bardsley

Chaptr 1

One day a boy saw Nijl. He was driving a jeep the boy decided to follow but the jeep had DINOSAURS inside it.

When nijl got there he let two DINOSAURS out of it. The boy looked at the VLUSURAPTR it looked at him. the boy hid, but the raptor found him under the jeep. the boy ran uot.

From the jeep he went over the gate. He sees two DINOSAURS. he went out but it whas to late. The one DINOSAUR started to run. the boy ran home.

chaptr2 – the dinosaur

The dinosaur was veree fast it wus hard to run that fast. win he got home the teerecs chirnd uround and that mint things ar not gonu git good. so far thay hav noct over the pirumid and a cupl bildings. wot hav I dun?

thin uneagspedlee, anuthir teerex came and slamd into the uther. the uther TEEREX RAN UWAE. the teeRex behind it, he did not lic wut he did.

Chaptr. 3 the ter a bil see monstrs
— To be continued —

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

Waiting …. waiting …. waiting

My agent is starting to tell publishers about my novel, which has been pretty damn cool. For me, to finally have some really great book editors take a look at my stuff is like getting called up from the farm system for an afternoon of practice in the Majors. Of course, you know the odds of lasting beyond that one day of practice are slim — but, damn, it’s cool to at least see them give you a serious look.

So now I wait, and try to focus on producing new fiction, primarily the storylines and themes for the second, third and possibly fourth books in what would be a series of crime novels. And I’m making progress. But of course I spend too much time thinking about what might be happening out there with my manuscript — who might be reading it, what might be going through the editors’ minds as they do read it, whether any of them are reacting favorably to the idea of a smart and violent femme fatale who thoroughly bewitches a young journalist, or what they think of a paroled Oakland Raiders fan and his tiny pet monkey with the serious ear fetish.

We’ve gotten some initial feedback, and it’s been encouraging. The first editor to respond enjoyed the book and called it “a lot of fun.” The second response came from an editor who said the novel was entertaining and well-paced, and added that “Greg Bardsley clearly has talent” (I’m saving that comment). But neither of them made an offer. In fact, we’re early in the process, my agent reminds, and the manuscript is still out with other publishers. So I wait.

I think I’m getting good at that.

So dope

When you’re 40, you just don’t have the time anymore.

You don’t have time for phonies, snobs and career sharks. Conversations about someone’s endless pursuit of the latest luxury item not only prove exceptionally boring, but feel empty. The clock of mortality, after all, is ticking, and I’d rather not waste my time.

Last week, it was in this spirit that I stopped reading a recently released crime novel. Eighty pages into it, I found it to be poorly written with a boring story and unconvincing set of characters. In a word … Blah. The fact that others who are passionate about writing have enjoyed this book reminded me of just how subjective this whole business is. I kept telling myself, An editor bought this book. What did he see that I don’t?

Regardless, I’m 40. And I didn’t have the time.

dopepb3.jpgSo I moved on and picked up a sublime, tightly crafted slice of noir that my boss Terry had given me — “Dope,” by Sara Gran. “Dope” follows a recovered drug addict in 1950s New York City as she navigates through a world of fiends, whores, con men and crooked cops in her search for a missing Barnard coed. Between the great characters, the enveloping sense of place and time, the tight and graceful prose and a phenomenal series of plot twists, I was captured. I devoured the book in no time, and loved every page.

Time well spent for this 40-year-old.

Charlie Huston, you badass

I never knew Charlie Huston.

When we were growing up in adjacent East Bay suburbs, I didn’t know him. And when we were both at Chico State, where Charlie used to work with one of my best friends and hang out with one of my newspaper buddies, I still had no idea the guy existed. Even during my destructive run as a local theatre critic for the daily newspaper, I still didn’t know the aspiring actor when I crapped on one of his plays — our mutual friend, who told me 16 years later that Charlie had been in that play, reminds me of how I compared the production to those old Calvin Klein commercials where gorgeous men chanted Greek philosophy into the air. Subsequently referred to amongst artists and actors as “the infamous ‘Obsession’ ad review,” according to our mutual friend (now a successful editor and author), the review apparently popped some vessels in the Theater Department. (Sorry, Charlie. I was scared, confused and on deadline … and they never should’ve made me a critic)

Regardless, I didn’t know anything about the man. Then, in 2005, I read a blurb in the Chico alumni magazine about a guy who’d attended when I had, and who had (unlike me) published his first novel, “Caught Stealing” with Random House. I bought the book immediately; that wasn’t surprising. What was surprising was how quick I tore through the thing — staying up through the night to finish it even though I was the fatigued, sleep-deprived father of two “spirited” boys (1 and 4 at the time) and owner of a pretty consuming job. I loved “Caught Stealing,” and so did a lot of other people, including one dude you may have heard of — Stephen King, who recently called Charlie “one of the most remarkable prose stylists to emerge from the noir tradition in this century.”

Long story short, the unpublished novelist approaches the published novelist, who graciously grants the unpublished novelist invaluable manuscript feedback, publishing advice and email friendship. And the unpublished novelist is thinking, Why couldn’t have I met this guy in Chico? More than a year later, unpublished novelist learns from the mutual friend that the published novelist had been an actor in that “Calvin Klein” play, “The Trial of Socrates,” and the unpublished novelist feels his lunch surging at the base of his throat.

shotgun_final_with_king_pop.jpgAnd so now, all these years later, I have an opportunity for redemption. I have a chance to review another one of Charlie’s creative efforts — his new novel, “The Shotgun Rule,” which tells the story of four teens growing up in an East Bay suburb in ’83. And it is my extreme pleasure to report that Charlie, in my view, has penned his most compelling, heartfelt, authentic and engrossing novel yet. Of course, it doesn’t hurt when the book you’re reading captures the average teen-age boy’s life in the Tri-Valley area in ’83, and you were just such a person in ’83. Of course, it doesn’t hurt when the author refers to friends with Mohawks, music hierarchies involving the Dead Kennedy’s, AC Transit/BART trips to the city, eerily quiet neighborhoods in a commuter town and even guards from Amador Valley High (hey, I was a third-string guard on Amador’s frosh team, but I swear I didn’t deal drugs at a Livermore dive bar).

In the end, you realize “The Shotgun Rule” is far more than a page-turner (though, it could stand alone as that). This time around, with this Huston book, there’s so much more. You’re reminded that most fucked-up assholes in school were fucked-up assholes for a reason — and that reason usually had to do with their parents. That most kids with attitude problems were covering pain — and that pain usually came from their homes. That most people who encounter truly horrific violence must deal with its side effects for years. That what kids need most of all is help and support.

“The Shotgun Rule” has spent two weeks on The Los Angeles Times Bestseller List. How it can’t also soon make it to the San Francisco Chronicle’s Bestsellers list is beyond me — after all, the story is set in Livermore, and is so relevant to growing up in the East Bay. Regardless, I’d bet some serious cash that this won’t be the last Charlie Huston book you’ll see on a bestseller list.

Congrats, Charlie. You’re a good guy and one badass writer.

He “popped the hood”

My agent sent me an email Monday. And I have to say, this probably was the most satisfying email I’ve gotten in my fiction-writing pursuits.

In his email, Jeff outlines and explains his strategy for pitching my novel to editors. After working with Jeff on the editorial aspects of the book, I now got to see the other side of his literary-agent skills — architecting the submission process and discussing the sensibilities and buying habits of various editors.

Not only was I impressed with Jeff’s deep knowledge of the publishing community, but I was simply thrilled to see the names of editors with whom he wants to share my novel. They’re editors who’ve put out some truly great crime novels, and seeing their names and respective publishing-house imprints in Jeff’s email added a new layer of tangible authenticity to my adventure. It was as if he had “popped the front hood” of the publishing-world’s TransAm and let me have a nice long look at its engine — it’s fascinating, cherried-out, all-chrome machinery.

Pretty sweet.

“What About Greg?” starring me

The chicken-bone sceneOne of my all-time favorite movies is the 1991 comedy “What About Bob?” starring Bill Murray and Richard Dreyfuss. When I chance upon it on TV, I can still sit there on the couch, point at the screen and laugh out loud. And when the Heimlich Maneuver scene unfolds, I go into a full-on fit with tears streaming down my face — at which point my wife pats me on the leg and whispers, “I think I’ll leave you alone.”

“What About Bob?” features an annoying but harmless “multiphobic obsessive compulsive psychiatric patient” (Murray) who won’t leave his successful psychiatrist (Dreyfuss) alone. All the good doctor wants is a restful, Bob-free family vacation at the lake; problem is, Murray’s Bob Wiley follows him there. As the stalking continues, Bob slowly drives the doctor loony.

I don't wanna be like BobI got to thinking of this movie today — right after I sent my literary agent, Jeff, another email. You see, I don’t want to annoy Jeff. I don’t want to keep sending him emails, as he already is overloaded with them. And being that I am capable of sending Jeff too many emails, I suddenly realized that I risk becoming the literary equivalent of Bob Wiley, the annoying client who won’t leave his savior alone.

But on the other hand, Jeff is about to start telling book editors about my novel, and it’s a major moment for me. I want to make sure I’ve given Jeff everything that could help him, which is why today I sent him a kind of cheat sheet to my book. It summarizes some of the selling angles we’ve discussed, and it offers my crudely developed list of editors who’ve bought novels similar to mine. Mindful of possibly becoming the Bob Wiley of Jeff’s world, I did promise to “go away” for a long time and resume work on my next novel.

Have any of you sent your agent any sales leads? Or would that be too annoying, too Bob Wiley’sh?

A personal milestone

Last Friday, the call finally came. It was the call I’d been anticipating for months. It was the call I’d been working toward for years. It was the call I sometimes thought would never come.

It was a call from my literary agent. He’d finished reading the latest revision of my novel, and he is ready to start sharing it with some handpicked editors the week after Labor Day.

Thus, I begin a new phase in my fiction-writing career — actually having my book submitted to publishers. On the surface, that might sound like it should have been a simple goal, something easy to attain. But to actually get to this point was anything but easy. I have spent many years writing and revising this book — countless late nights, countless pre-dawn mornings, so many stolen moments.

And believe me, I know. I know how low the odds are. In today’s book market, I know how rare it is for any book editor to actually like a book so thoroughly that she would be willing to part with hard-earned cash to have it. But right now, on this week, that’s okay. I’ll bemoan those sober realities some other day.

In other words, wooooooooooooooooooooo-hoooooo.

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