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Greg Bardsley

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If you need a babysitter …

If you’re looking for a babysitter, or a driving instructor, you may want to pass on Terry, the reluctant parental guardian in Jed Ayres’s story, “1998 Was a Bad Year,” which appears in the latest edition of  Thuglit.thug301

There’s something about this story that first disturbs, then amuses. You know guys like Terry are out there, somewhere, and that’s the disturbing part. But when you’re in the hands of a writer like Ayres, you want to go on that ride. It’s like this ’78 TransAm skids up onto your lawn, spins a donut and blares the horn, and the next thing you know, you’re happy to be sandwhiched between a couple of shady characters in the back seat, destined for a joyride into a world of neo-degenerancy you just don’t wanna miss.

Well, you get the idea.

Also in this edition are top-shelf tales by Changa buddies Jason Duke and Hillary Davidson, as well as stories (which I hope to soon read) by Eric Beetner, Patrick Cobbs, Robert S.P. Lee, Sophie Littlefield and Myra Sherman. Check them out.

pulp1Meanwhile, over in the United Kingdom, Pulp Pusher is running Frank Bill’s “These Old Bones,” which hits you in the jaw right from the start. Warning to those with delicate sensibilities, or those who prefer introspective, meandering “literature” about a sweet girl in a bonet walking through fields of daiseys with “Papa”: keep walking, don’t look at Frank Bill. For the rest of you: come over here.

Like a sock in the gut

It’s been a while.

Been a while since I’ve read a book that just shook in my hands. You know, with a life all its own, the characters jumping off the page before you, the story engrossing you, the emotional well-being of the protagonist producing a big lump in you514cejg6p1l__sl500_aa240_1r throat.

Not sure why it’s been a while. I have my suspicions. But what I do know is that it’s a tricky —  damn tricky — business, making a novel work at that level.  Making it work so that when the world caves in on a character like Gus Dury, you feel like you’ve been socked in the gut.

Well, last week I was socked in the gut. You could say I was Gutted.

I was lucky to get ahold of an advance copy of Gutted, the forthcoming novel by Scottish maestro Tony Black. Gutted exposes us once again to the world of  Dury, a journalist turned down-and-out  alcoholic and dive-bar proprietor. We first met Dury in Black’s breakout debut, Paying for It. In Gutted, we go a little deeper into Dury’s past, and we come along as the utterly flawed, supremely loveable Dury struggles to solve a gruesome murder that, if it goes unsolved, just might destroy what is left of his own life.

What gets me is Black’s ability to write stories that are so visceral and brutal in their physicality, and yet so thoughtful and touching in their emotional weight. Damn, damn impressive, Mr, Black.

Dude ….

Dude …

Dude ….

Very … very cool.

Ayres alerted me to the recently unveiled cover for “Sex, Thugs and Rock & Roll,” the second anthology of crime stories produced by Thuglit and Kensington Books. This edition happens to include my piece, “Big Load of Trouble,” and a great story by Ayres (“Politoburg”). We’re the what the cover refers to as “Others” — and damn proud of it.

Love the cover design. Can’t wait to see this one drop, come May 26 — in bookstores, on Amazon and elsewhere. … I tip my hat to you, Todd Robinson, you frickin’ badass.

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Add Dorst to the stack

I had a chance to see a Doug Dorst at Kepler’s Bookstore last week.

I got to know Dorst as one of his students in a fiction-writing course I took in 2003. Long story short, the former Stegner Fellow led a great class and later helped me with the novel I was completing. Along the way, I got to know a little more about Dorst. Apart from being a genuinely kindhearted and insightful guy, he’s also pretty damn multi-talented — he’s everything from a former lawyer to a three-time Jeopardy champion. So when I learned that his long-awaited novel, “Alive in Necropolis,” had been released by Three Rivers and was winning critical acclaim (The New York Times gave it a nice review, and Amazon named it one of their favorite books in July), I was thrilled for him. Seeing him read from “Alive” at Kepler’s was an added bonus.

Dorst takes some big chances with “Alive,” does some interesting things, and makes it work, according to the large number of writers championing the book. At Kepler’s, he read the opening section and hooked a few more writers, including me. I bought a copy and added it to my ever-growing stack of unread books authored by friends. If there’s ever a reason to be happy about losing the battle against your reading stack, this is it.

Short-story fever

I got it. I got it bad. I got short-story fever.

I’m not the only one. At work, two other cats — Riske and Richardson — also have short-story fever. Real bad. In recent weeks, both of them have seen their short fiction accepted by online literary journals. Meanwhile, I just shipped off a tale about degenerate activities to a journal that, well, loves that kind of thing. And so the three of us can be found at different points in the day (during lunch, between meetings, after work, etc.) talking about short stories — about our own, about others.

You ask me, and I’d say one of the great things about short stories is the far more immediate emotional payoff for the writer, compared with novels. A short story can be written in an evening, and the chance of soon-after sharing it with the reading public is, of course, far greater than it is with a novel. And of course, as a writer, there’s so much freedom with short stories — one can write a compelling piece without getting into geographic locations, last names, character backstory, family members, or any number of other things that usually warrant the writer’s attention in a novel. And because readers are more likely to give an unusual protagonist or storyline a few minutes of their lives (compared to hours and hours of their lives with a novel), I think you can take so many more risks with a short story.

I still love writing novels. In fact, I heard back from my literary agent last week that my next novel is promising and that I should definitely keep working on it. I’m thrilled, so I’m making a point to focus on the novel. But I have to admit that these short-story ideas keep popping up in the back of my head, begging to be written. I just tell them, “I’ll write you; it’ll just be a while.”

Anybody out there with similar problems? How do you handle it, strike that balance?

Minutiae Monday — “it’s gonna be a zoo”

Let us begin the minutiae …

My 6-year-old son likes to take his guitar and “serenade the neighborhood” with his original songs. It’s proven to be a great way to attract lots of adults and children, which of course is his primary objective. … Plots with Guns just released another really strong set of stories, including those from Chimichanga friends Bryon Quertermous, Patti Abbot and Todd Robison. Added bonus: the stories are accentuated by some great art and another really cool design. Cool shit. Real deal. … I have to admit it felt good to see my short story, “Funny Face,” included on a short list recently created by DOGZPLOT. … This weekend: three birthday parties, three park adventures, one wet bed, four sleep relocations, one tee-ball game and one lingering cold. … I’m happy to report that my employer Sun Microsystems was named one of the world’s most ethical companies. … My wife and kids are participating in a school field trip to the San Francisco Zoo tomorrow. It’s gonna be a zoo there.

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.


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.

The communicator’s anti-climax

Wednesday night, I was in the midst of suffering a common malady in my profession — the communicator’s anti-climax.

Here’s how it works. The communicator, a total junkie for creating things that “connect” with viewers or readers, works his or her tail off to complete a big project. Lots of effort and thought goes into the project. Along the way, he has a blast — a blast creating, a blast getting feedback, a blast collaborating with other communicators.

This is part of the high.

The other part of the high is anticipating the connection that he hopes to make with the audience — the hope of connecting with strangers, of evoking emotions out of them that might range from laughter to glee to nostalgia to even sadness. And when it happens, when his work is unveiled, and people are affected in these human ways, the high is about as sweet as it can get. And in today’s world of blogs, metrics and email, never has the communicator enjoyed more immediate, direct and pure access to this juice, this “connection” juice.

But there’s a danger — the communicator’s anti-climax.

It happens as the “dust” starts to settle. Suddenly, there’s a void. Suddenly, the “connection” with the audience is over; they have moved on to something else. And in some cases, the reaction is not what one had hoped and the “connection” wasn’t as strong as he’d expected. And in the case of big efforts, like my work on an April Fools prank, the audience reaction, no matter how pronounced, will sometimes feel somewhat less than expected.

This is what happened to me the other night. I was crashing. I was crashing hard.

And yet, I was in denial. I kept checking hit counts and email messages, kept looking for signs that the “connection” with viewers was still there. But deep down inside, I knew it was gone. As a former newspaper reporter, and as a guy with a novel in a literary agent’s hands, I know from experience that the anti-climax is marked by a sense of failure, and subsequent exhaustion.

Luckily, my psyche re-balances, and my view of reality is more accurate, and I can better appreciate the work that has been completed, and before I know it, I’m back — ready to start something new, hoping to get another shot of that juice.

Does this happen to you with your professions/passions?

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