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But I transgress

Anthony Neil Smith, author of the compelling and critically acclaimed novel “Yellow Medicine,” invited me and the other contributors to Issue 1 of his reborn Plots with Guns journal for a web chat on crime fiction hosted by Gerald So. Due to a bug in Yahoo! Messenger, I couldn’t read Neil’s questions or comments during the chat, but I did my best to seem like I actually had a clue as to what was being discussed (just like in real life). Despite the Messenger bugs, folks still managed to exchange some interesting thoughts about novel writing, short stories, selecting submissions, our understanding of noir and the notion of transgressive crime fiction. Also joining in were crime novelists Victor Gischler and Harry Hunsicker.

The transcript of the chat is here. Check it out.

Also, be sure to watch Neil’s short YouTube video, below, on why he started Plots with Guns. It’ll make you wanna check out the ‘zine, if you haven’t already.

Love for thy raspberry

My 3-year-old Dylan loves to blow raspberries. He’s pretty good at it.

Usually it’s a slow and gentle raspberry — the tongue is fat and wet, the lower lip is stuck out, the chin is jutted out, the eyes are calm. When he blows one of these beauties, I feel like laughing because it’s hilarious to be with someone who uses the raspberry quite seriously.

If his brother Jack antagonizes him, Dylan blows him a raspberry.

If he can’t get a toy to work properly, he blows a raspberry at it.

If he earns a time-out during dinner, we send him to the nearby garage. He knows it’s useless to resist because that will only bring on worse consequences. So he saunters to the door, opens it, steps into the garage, looks at us one last time, and gives us a raspberry. Then he shuts the door, nice and gentle.

Now he’s realizing that his raspberries are making people laugh, so he’s blowing them like there’s no tomorrow. And he can fly into a raspberry frenzy at any time, any place.

Case in point ….

The other day I tell Nancy that I’ll take the boys to the grocery store. She looks at me like I’ve lost my mind.

“When was the last time you’ve spent thirty minutes in a grocery store with both boys?” she asks.

“Why?”

She’s still looking at me like I’m crazy, and she’s fighting off a smile. “You sure you wanna do that?

Thirty minutes later, at Lunardi’s, the boys are whizzing up and down the aisles, each with his own little “Customer In Training” shopping cart. It sounds like a dozen Roman chariots are approaching my backside, and my skin goes cold. I turn and whisper-yell for them to slow down. A yuppie holding an enormous latte gives us a long, blank stare. An elderly couple passes us, their eyes twinkling at the boys.

In the produce section I’m fingering through avocados when Dylan backs into his “training” cart, which in turn eases into a tower of vinegar bottles. The sound of clanking glass gets my attention, and Jack laughs and hollers, “Whoa.”

“Dylan,” I yell. “Freeze.”

I can feel people watching us. My skin goes cold again.

“Okay,” I whisper-yell. “That’s it. No more cart.”

“Fine,” Dylan says, and marches off toward the bananas, blowing a raspberry with every happy stomp, pumping his arms like he’s pulling on train whistles, encouraged by the howls of his older brother. A woman in a giant denim skirt looks down at him as he raspberry-stomps past her, his brows furrowed in mock earnest, and continues toward the apples and peaches.

I have a full cart of groceries. This cart of groceries has been hard-earned. I am not going to abandon this cart of groceries, I won’t leave this store in defeat. I grab the items out of Dylan’s cart, throw them into mine, corral the boys and high-tail it to the checkout area, whispering to myself, “We’re out of here.”

At home, Nancy fakes innocence. “How did it go?” she asks, heavy on the calm motherly tone.

We look over at Dylan as he raspberry-stomps through the kitchen. Only now he’s inserting fart noises between each raspberry. Jack is still laughing.

“Yeah … Well … It looks like it was a relaxing experience for you,” Nancy deadpans, and she squeezes my forearm. “I’m happy for you.”

I swear it: I’ll never so much as crack a grin at another one of Dylan’s raspberries.

One exhausted bowl, two others plenty full

How do you know that you have done your best, that you have greeted the challenge before you with a performance of which you can be proud?

Well, when it comes to guacamole showdowns, perhaps the best indication is the very bowl in which you have presented your batch. When the party is over, is your bowl empty, exhausted? Or is it still plenty full? Is it apparent that people have been scraping chips against the ceramic bowl, leaving only a few faint streaks of green? Or do you have enough for sandwiches next week?

Does it matter that my Guacamole Gregorio won more votes than the others in today’s aforementioned guacamole showdown at Sun Microsystems‘ Menlo Park campus? No. Does it matter that my bowl of guacamole was fully exhausted? Most definitely.

I’d like to thank Lisa for her fierce competition. She made a great batch of guac today, using all-natural ingredients, fueled by a philosophy that guacamole should be about, more than anything, the avocado. She also used 10 avocados compared to my four, so it’s understandable that she’d have guac left in her bowl. And I want to thank unsuspecting newcomer Paul, who walked in with his own formidable bowl of guac and won a lot of street cred (you can hold your head up high, too, Paul).

What’s important? It’s not that I WON THE SHOWDOWN. What’s important is the fact we have collectively raised the profile of guacamole.

Be sure to stay tuned this summer as I prepare to open-source Guacamole Gregorio to the world Aug. 1

Also, a few people took photos of today’s festivities. I’ll add them to this post as they become available.

And this is how you get a showdown

A hallway party is planned for Friday.

People start firing off emails.

“I’ll bring dip,” offers one coworker.

“I’ll bring dessert,” says another.

This continues for a while until Christina sends out a group email asking if I’ll bring a batch of my famous guacamole. And being the gracious soul that I am, I reply, “How could I say no?” After all, everyone in the hallway knows about me and my guacamole. They know about this calling in life, this calling I did not choose but have accepted nonetheless. They know I make music with guacamole.

Well, Lisa apparently didn’t get the message.

Lisa, one of the kindest people here at Sun, a truly gentle soul, says she’s bringing guacamole, too. And just like that, I am forced to make a decision — to either back away and offer to bring plastic forks or cheese balls, or stand up, stick my chest out, and accept this defacto challenge for a major guacamole showdown.

I chose the latter.

So my question for you, Lisa, is: Are you prepared? Are you prepared for a battle? Have you spent the past decade preparing for this moment? Do you have scouts squeezing avocados in supermarkets from San Carlos to Palo Alto? Do you have a big-city guacamole coach? Have you thought about your chips? Do you have cooks in Florida begging you to reveal your guacamole recipe (I will reveal it August 1)?

Do you realize, dear Lisa, that you have wandered into the jungle?

Do you know how you’ll get out?

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”?

Some things never get old

Some things in life never get old. For males, it’s bathroom humor.

I will admit it. I’m not immune to the stuff. It can still make me laugh. It can make me laugh hard. And if all the bathroom-humor-oriented movies, books, stories and web sites out there are any indication, I am not the only adult with this weakness.

But now I have two sons. And there are times when, as their father, I really shouldn’t be laughing and pointing and nodding and even tearing up at their potty humor (namely, when at the dinner table or in public). But sometimes it’s damn tough, and I find myself forcing a straight face as I tell them to cut that out, you don’t talk about poo-poo sandwiches at the dinner table. And there are times when even my wife fails to keep from laughing at what our 3-year-old son Dylan has come up with.

Which, of course, causes Dylan to beam with pride — fortified by the laughter of his audience — as he resolves to dive deeper into his potty-humor repertoire.

For Dylan these days, songs, monologues, jokes and games centered around “poo and privates,” as he calls his subject matter, never lose their luster. He just can’t get enough. Case in point: This weekend, the boys were wondering how many days have passed since they’ve been born. I worked out the math, and they were fascinated. Then Jack wondered how many days have passed since “prehistoric bugs” roamed the earth and even offered his best guess: “Three million, two hundred, fourteen-thousand, twenty-five trillion and seventy-two katrillion days.”

I turned to Dylan. “And what’s your guess?”

Dylan takes a deep breath. “I think its been two-four-ten pee-pee-pillion, one diarrhea-rillion and one poo-poo-pillion days.”

I stared at him and bit my lip, fighting the urge to grin, thinking, Ah, to be three again.

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.)

Minutaie Monday — “the depravity is in abundance”

Let us proceed with the minutiae ….

Our youngest son Dylan feels it’s quite okay to urinate behind any tree he pleases. … “The Karate Kid” is on the TV right now. The master sense for the malos is saying to Mr. Miyagi, “This is a karate dojo, not a knitting class.” … Reading deeper into the special noir edition of Storyglossia this weekend, it became quickly apparent that the depravity is in abundance. In other words, my story has company. Lots of it. … I’m afraid I’m addicted to toasted raisin/cinnamon-swirl bread, consumed too late at night. … In college, I used to hang out with a friend who looked like a pissed-off Jesus. … In Second Life (virtual reality), everyone at Sun is hot — way hot. Paris Hilton should come visit. … Jedidiah Ayres has another great story in Thuglit — “Mahogany & Monogamy.” … I’ve got a hankerin’ for some beach time. … My oldest son Jack had a first-grade poetry reading the other week. I loved his poem about blocks, but he thought it sounded wrong in a few places and was centered around “a baby thing” (playing with blocks). Not entirely happy with your prose, my dear son? Welcome to creative writing?

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.

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