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Greg Bardsley

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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.

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?

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”?

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.

Minutiae Monday — “Me no remember”

It’s Monday, which means it’s time for minutiae …

I fired off a new short story to a crime magazine. … My son Jack spent the entire Saturday in his Giants T-ball uniform. … A demolition crew is tearing up my backyard. … For the third time in a month, I called a new acquaintance “Tom” — only problem is, his name is still Peter. … Bryon Quertermous posted a soulful entry about the pursuit of successful novel-writing. … In my two days of sitting through jury selection for a murder trial, prospective jurors came up with a variety of reasons for being excused. They included, “My psychiatric condition is already declining.” … “I’m very bad at English.” [Repeatedly effective reason]… “I’m prejudiced. … “I’m sleeping with a police detective.” [Very effective] … “All my best friends are cops.” … “The defendant reminds me of my son.” … “I’m very forgetful.” [Extremely effective] As Day 2 wore on, a new friend and I joked that if we were selected, the best thing to say was, “Me no remember well. Me make love with polices.”

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?

And suddenly I’m sitting down with a titan

Back in January, I took a call from a recruiter.

I was busy when she called. More importantly, I wasn’t interested in leaving Sun Microsystems. I loved my job, my boss, the Sun leadership and my colleagues. Even so, when the recruiter told me about the new job, and how much it would pay, I found myself firing off my resume.

The job was a speechwriting gig for the CEO of one of the largest companies on the planet. It would be a promotion in title, and it would pay a boatload of money. I’d been a speechwriter for a titan before, so I knew it would be a pretty challenging gig. But I also knew this was the kind of opportunity that didn’t come around very often, and the money would make a big difference in my household, where my wife stays home with our two sons.

Well, one thing led to another, and things got more and more serious. First it was a conference call with an executive recruiter in New York, then it was half a day at the company itself, then it was another visit with the chief marketing officer as well as the chief technology and strategy officer. They liked me, and I liked them.

Only one problem: I still loved Sun.

I still loved what I was doing at Sun — creating journalistic, reality-based videos for our CEO, explaining our vision and strategy to our 33,000 employees, getting tapped for humor projects and trying my best to make Sun a fun place to work. My boss had always encouraged me to use my creativity to do new and cool things, and I knew that leaders like her don’t come around too often. I can’t tell you how many times I had friends and acquaintances tell me that mine was the coolest job around.

But the other company was calling; their CEO wanted to meet with me. This obviously would be the final interview. Me and the titan, in his office.

Maybe I should have been thrilled. Maybe I should have been salivating. Maybe I should have been ready to do jumping jacks for this guy. Maybe I should have looked at the bigger title, the promise of more money — all of that — and let my eyes cross in corporate lust.

But I didn’t. I was too busy having fun at Sun.

Then came the kicker. I was in the midst of producing a video about courage and integrity at Sun. Along the way, I was able to listen in on a high-level discussion about Sun’s core values and how they are “interwoven into the fabric of who we are” as a company of integrity, transparency and mutual respect, as CEO Jonathan Schwartz put it. It was a special moment for me, because I knew he wasn’t just feeding us a line. I had been at Sun for more than eight years, and I had seen how Jonathan and his team have not only made some important moves to turn in consistent profitability, but also have emphasized the importance of treating people with respect. It’s one thing to talk about being high-integrity; it’s quite another to show it day in and day out with your actions. Jerks, bullies and self-important snobs are a lot harder to find at Sun these days, and that means a lot to me.

I kept my date with the titan. He seemed like a great guy, and he was smart. In fact, really smart. Despite my best efforts to show extreme interest in the gig, he could tell my heart wasn’t in it. At one point, he put my resume down and announced, “Well, it sounds like you’re in a great situation over there at Sun.” According to the executive recruiter, he later declared, “Greg doesn’t want this job.”

He was right.

And I got to produce an April Fools prank on Schwartz. See below for all the drooling details. Is it any wonder why Sun is such a great place to work?

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.

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