Monday, July 1, 2019

Guns + Tacos: New Anthology Series from Down & Out Books

I've known Michael Bracken for several years now, ever since he bought and published the first short story I ever (a) had published and (b) received payment for. We've kept in touch since (check out his blog at CrimeFictionWriter.Com), and it's been great watching Michael achieve steady sales with short fiction, and you should for sure check out his work. Michael knows how to spin a crime tale like nobody else, and I'm really hoping he finds the audience he deserves with a new effort from Down & Out Books called Guns + Tacos.

Guns + Tacos has a terrific concept. It's a series of novellas that take place in Chicago, and all feature a taco truck that sells more than tacos. If you've guess the truck also sells guns, you're right. Michael and some of today's hottest crime fiction writers contributed to the first "season" and you can buy the books individually, or subscribe to the set. It's great to see Down & Out Books, a terrific publisher, by the way, try new and exciting ways to get crime fiction to the public.

Michael agreed to sit down at our favorite hole in the wall Mexican place in Waco, TX (which, he once joked, stands for We Ain't Comin' Out) and share a few words on the project.

You're going to like this one....

BRIAN DRAKE: Guns + Tacos has an interesting concept. Tell us how the idea of a series of books linked by a taco truck came about.

MICHAEL BRACKEN: Trey R. Barker wrote a story for The Eyes of Texas, an anthology of private eye stories set in Texas that I edited for Down & Out Books (due out this fall). While corresponding about it, we learned that we had several friends in common.

So, my wife Temple and I met Trey and his wife Kathy for lunch at Bouchercon in St. Petersburg, Florida, last year. Trey is a native Texan living and working as a peace officer in Illinois while Temple and I are long-time Texas residents. I ordered tacos for lunch and the conversation, as it does for Texans daring to eat tacos anywhere outside of Texas, the conversation turned to my food choice. And, somehow, guns. At some point during our conversation, Trey said his two favorite things were guns and tacos.

A little later, the subject came up again and my wife suggested that guns and tacos sounded like a good premise for an anthology. Over the course of the day, Trey and I batted around the idea, and what started as an offhand comment grew into a concept we thought we could have fun with.

That evening Trey and I found ourselves on the veranda of the Vinoy with Down & Out Books publisher Eric Campbell and a revolving group of editors and writers associated in one way or another with D&O, and we pitched the idea. As everyone else chimed it, the idea morphed a bit, becoming a series of novellas rather than a traditional anthology, and this is how we ultimately described the series:

“There’s a taco truck in Chicago known among a certain segment of the population for its daily specials. Late at night and during the wee hours of the morning, it isn’t the food selection that attracts customers, it’s the illegal weapons available with the special order. Each episode of Guns + Tacos features the story of one Chicagoland resident who visits the taco truck seeking a solution to life’s problems, a solution that always comes in a to-go bag.”

We gave contributors a few specific instructions: The stories must be set in Chicago and its suburbs, protagonists of the stories must acquire a weapon from the taco truck, and the weapon must play an important role in their stories. Beyond that, any crime fiction sub-genre was acceptable, and the six stories in the first season cover a variety of crime fiction sub-genres.

BD: What inspired the sales plan of a subscription, both print and digital?

MB:One of the most important contributors to our discussion on the Vanoy’s veranda was Frank Zafiro. The first season of his novella anthology series A Grifter’s Song was scheduled for release the first six months of this year, and Eric asked if Guns + Tacos could be turned into a novella anthology series (rather than a traditional anthology) to plug into the last six months of 2019. Of course, we said it could, and during the rest of Bouchercon, Trey and I refined the idea and made a list of potential contributors. Frank sent us a copy of his original proposal for A Grifter’s Song and we modeled our formal proposal for Guns + Tacos on Frank’s proposal.

A novella anthology series is the literary equivalent of a Netflix series, with a new episode dropping once a month during the six month-season. Readers can purchase individual episodes, but subscribers get the entire season, which is released initially as ebooks. At the end of the season, all of the stories are compiled into a pair of paperback books, which the subscribers also get. Subscribers also receive a bonus story.

So, the first season of Guns + Tacos launched July 1 with a story from Gary Phillips, and new episodes will be released each month through December.

One key difference between Guns + Tacos is that A Grifter’s Song has a two-season series arc, but Guns + Tacos is open-ended, could last several seasons if readership interest is strong, and we’ve already been renewed for, and are hard at work on putting together, the second season.

BD: What can you tell us about some of the stories included in the set?

MB: The first season includes:

Tacos de Cazuela con Smith & Wesson by Gary Phillips,
Three Brisket Tacos and a Sig Sauer by Michael Bracken,
A Gyro and a Glock by Frank Zafiro,
Three Chalupas, Rice, Soda and a Kimber .45 by Trey R. Barker,
Some Churros and El Burro by William Dylan Powell, and
A Beretta, Burritos and Bears by James A. Hearn

Phillips’s story has a light science-fictiony feel, involving an ER doctor used to dealing with the physical and psychological trauma of gunshot wounds who obtains a handgun. Mine is a femme fatale story involving bank robbery and an ex-con torn between two women. Zafiro’s story deals with the choices a drug addict is forced to make, while Barker’s dives into the dark side of the internet. Powell’s story involves a drug cartel and Hearn’s is about a man framed for a crime and how he seeks revenge.

BD: What inspired your own story, “Three Brisket Tacos & a SIG-Sauer”?

MB: I went a little over the top, telling the story of an ex-con who falls back in with the woman who initially enticed him into a life of crime and who bailed on him when he was caught. He finds himself torn between continuing a life of crime with her or going straight with the neighbor he’s fallen for after his release.

BD: It's exciting to see publishers experimenting with stories and distribution plans. What challenges did you meet trying to get the series out in the chosen fashion?

MB: Our biggest challenge as editors was turning everything around quickly enough to have the series ready to launch in July. Bouchercon was in September, and Trey and I had to find six writers who liked the concept and could write novellas within a few months. I faced an additional challenge, as one of the writers, because novellas are two to three times longer than my usual short story lengths, and I didn’t know, when I wrote the first few words of my story, if my idea had enough meat to justify the length. Luckily, most of the other challenges fell to the publisher.

BD: You've said many times, in many venues, that you despise the word "got" and encourage writers to use a word that isn't so lazy. (Full disclosure: I caught myself using "got" in my intro, and quickly found a better word. You taught me well!) Did any of the series contributors dare to use the word "got" in their story? And if so, how did you dispose of the bodies?

MB: A few did, and I excised what I could without too much bloodletting.

BD: I'm really excited about this project, and really hope it brings you a wider audience, Michael. How do we find Guns + Tacos?

MB: Subscribe to the first season at

To purchase the first story:

At Amazon:

At Barnes & Noble:

At Smashwords:

Tuesday, May 14, 2019

The Promised Big Announcement, Or: Look, Mom, A Real Publisher!

I'm late telling you about this, but now that the book is coming out, it seems like the best time to explain my tease from a few months ago.

I recently joined Wolfpack Publishing to co-write some action series (Team Reaper), and they liked my work so much they decided to take on my Stiletto series, too, the previously self-published action series featuring the exploits of a tough CIA agent who later goes freelance.

The first book, The Termination Protocol, drops tomorrow. You can pre-order it now, ebook or very handsome paperback. The second book, The Fairmont Maneuver, is also up for pre-order for release later in May.

The text has not changed from my original editions, so unless you like the snazzy new cover, there's no reason to buy this again.

But, Wolfpack also contracted for FOUR MORE Stiletto titles, so once Book Four hits, you can start adding to the collection.

Many thanks to Mike Bray at Wolfpack for taking me -- and Stiletto -- on board.

Tuesday, March 5, 2019

Robert J. Randisi and the Nashville PI Series

The first time I read a Robert J. Randisi story was in The Black Lizard Anthology of Crime Fiction. It's probably the best anthology the late and very much missed Ed Gorman assembled, and should be part of your collection. Gorman included Randisi's "A Matter of Ethics", and the first line grabs you by the neck:

"I got mugged on the way to meet a potential client."

If you have the power to stop reading after that, you're stronger than I will ever be. It's just one example of Randisi's straight-to-the-point writing style that has earned him so many fans and made The Gunsmith, which he writes under the name of J.R. Roberts,  the longest-running adult western series in the history of the genre.

And the good news is, he has another book out!

The Honky Tonk Big Hoss Boogie takes place in Nashville, in the heart of music city, where session player Auggie Valez gets in over his head by taking a job that seems harmless at first, but, of course, quickly turns deadly.... 

How's this for an opening: Corkey Barnes told everyone who would listen that he was a "Major Country Music Producer." It wasn't a lie. He was, and he liked everybody to know it as soon as possible.

I don't know about you, but I need to keep reading.... Corkey has snake written all over him....

Robert agreed to a sit down at the pool hall and we chatted while sipping some very good bourbon while we chatted about his career and The Honky Tonk Big Hoss Boogie.

Brian Drake: You've attained legendary status in the mystery and western community. 670 books--and counting! 30 anthologies. Mystery Scene. American Crime Writers League, the Private Eye Writers of America, the Shamus Award.  Incredible--when do you sleep? When did the writing bug bite, and is telling stories still as exciting today as it was when you began?

Robert J. Randisi: I got bit when I was 15. Started by writing a Man From UNCLE manuscript (Man meets Girl from UNCLE). Put it in a drawer, wrote a private eye novel, put it in a drawer. Then started writing short stories. Also saw Paul Newman in HARPER, which convinced me that I wanted to write for a living.  By the time I was 30. And I did it.

BD: Let's talk about The Gunsmith, your adult western series that's still going strong. [The history of The Gunsmith is well-documented elsewhere, so we aren't going into that here.] Has continuing the series series since leaving Berkeley been a challenge? I see Gunsmith titles from Piccadilly, Pro Se, etc.--has that made it difficult to remain consistently available to readers?

RJR: I was able to continue The Gunsmith after all the other series died because I made sure I owned it. The others were house owned. And yes, it’s been difficult making it consistently available. Piccadilly would only do ebook editions, but going with them was the only way I could be sure there was no lag between Book 399 and Book 400. I wanted to keep it coming out monthly. Then I had to find somebody to do hard copies of the books. Pro Se stepped up, but it was too difficult.  I finally placed it with Speaking Volumes, who is doing both hard and ebook editions. But we’re still trying to find all those readers who lost us when we left Berkley.

BD: You've recently spun off Lady Gunsmith from the series. How did that come about?

RJR: LADY GUNSMITH was going to be done 35 years ago by Charter Books before Berkley bought them.  Berkley canned the idea. I uncannily—cannily?--waited for the time to be right to bring the idea back.

BD: What is it about the western genre that keeps it relevant? Where do you see the genre heading over the next ten years?

RJR: It’s history. History is always relevant. The fact that we can elaborate on it, exaggerate it doesn’t change the basics of it.  Private eye, Spy, even Science Fiction genres have to change with the times. Westerns don’t. Westerns are Westerns—basically.  But everybody has to put their own twist on it, and for the future we’ll all keep trying to find ways to do that.

BD: Miles Jacoby, one of your private detective characters, is back in print from Wolfpack. Tell us a little about him.

RJR: Jacoby was a middleweight boxer who worked part time for a private eye. When he had enough time in, he applied for his own license and quit fighting.  Throughout the course of the 6 books, he’s learning to run his own business. I’m toying with the idea of continuing the series for Wolfpack, jumping ahead the 20 or so years that have gone by since the last one.  

BD: You've written about other PI characters, too, including Nick Delvecchio. If Nick and Mike Hammer got the same lead on a case, who would solve it first?

RJR: Hammer. He’s tougher, smarter, older and more experienced. And if I said Nick, my friend Max Collins would tear me a new one.

BD: Hahaha ... Max Allan Collins has visited this blog many times and even leaves a comment once in a blue moon, so I'm sure he'll get a chuckle out of that. How has the private eye genre changed during your tenure, and where do you see it going in the future? Is there even still a place for the private eye?

RJR: There will always be a place for the private eye—in my heart, if nowhere else.  As with the Western genre, writers have been putting their own stamp on the genre since my first book came out in 1980.  He—and she—have changed with the times. Methods change, laws change, new laws are passed. All that has to be taken into consideration, unless you’re going to write period pieces. At the moment I’m getting back into the P.I. field, doing a new series for Wolfpack and a new series for Down & Out Books.  The locales are different, the experience level and ages of the protagonists are different, but the devotion to the conventions—not cliches—of the genre are the same.

BD: Along with The Honky Tonk Big Hoss Boogie, you also have some other titles coming up.

RJR: One is The Headstone Detective Agency, set in New York, about a 50 year old P.I. who gets his license back after serving time and has to start over. The other is set in Nashville and features a P.I. who is also a guitar player and song writer. The first book—THE BIG HOSS HONKY TONK BOOGIE--came out several years ago, was nominated for a Shamus for Best Paperback, then the publisher folded. Now I’m getting a chance to bring it back with Wolfpack. The second book is called THE LAST SWEET SONG OF HAMMER DYLAN.

I’m still writing Gunsmith and Lady Gunsmith. A few years ago I wrote what I think is my best book, MCKENNA’S HOUSE, for Crossroads Publishing. I’d like to do more. I’m also going to do more traditional westerns.

BD: Thanks for the chat, Robert. 

Click here to find Robert's Amazon page. He has so many titles available, you will never lack for a good read.

Monday, January 21, 2019

Big Announcement ... Soon

We've tidied up the blog a little as far as the sidebars go where I normally post my available titles. Steve Dane is there; three books out from Liberty Island, with two more forthcoming, hopefully this summer.

If you can remember what was there before, and isn't there now, you might have an idea of my upcoming announcement.

Details soon, I promise....

Sunday, January 13, 2019

Alaskan Storm Incoming!

We have a new kid on the block who is worth checking out. Kronos Ananthsimha has written a terrific action yarn called Alaskan Storm, and it hits all the right buttons, starting from page one. 

Let me quote one of the Amazon reviews to give you a taste of the story: "The premise is unique and original, centering around a secretive DARPA special ops unit called the Hounds, comprised of an eclectic cast of characters (and a St. Bernard) and tasked with countering scientific threats."

What you get with Alaskan Storm is a bit more than the usual action thriller, and it's a treat in this age of bearded anti-terrorist dude bros tactically dude bro-ing as they fight the same bad guys everybody else is writing about.

Kronos hails from Bangalore, India, and I think you'll be very interested in seeing what he has up his sleeve now and in the future. I won't try and tell you about the book because Kronos is better at it than I am, so here it is in his own words.....

BD: When did you start writing?

K: I started writing when I was 16 years old, around five years ago. For a few years, I just tried to write and I’m still learning. After publishing a short story anthology with a small press which went badly, I started learning to write. I read books on the writing craft, read online articles and watched a wide array of videos from professionals in the field. Each time that I write is an experiment with my mind’s wildness. I’ve been keen on making a career in writing since I started reading books in Primary school. 

BD: What is it about adventure fiction that particularly inspires you?

K: The three books which redefined my view on storytelling are Matthew Reilly’s Temple, Clive Cussler’s Inca Gold, and James Rollins’ Bloodline. I discovered them accidentally and they expanded my perception of the sheer fun, excitement, craziness and the learning ability one can have with books. As I read more books in this action-adventure genre, I wanted to create my own epic roller coaster ride that would be brutal, detailed, fun and informative. This came into reality in the trilogy of novellas called Blood Stone Impact, the first of which is Alaskan Storm. I’ll compile the trilogy into one book when I’m done writing them and put it out in the print format. 

BD: Which authors have influenced you most?

K: My earliest taste of thrillers was through Robert Ludlum’s classic masterpieces of complex plots with brilliant protagonists who had deep characterization.  Vince Flynn, Brad Thor, Brad Taylor, Ben Coes, and Mark Greaney are some of the legends of modern spy-action thrillers who’ve shown me the impact that this genre has on the world. Two new authors, Andrew Warren, and Aiden L. Bailey write uniquely brilliant books which have got me hooked recently. I’m lucky and fortunate enough to have them as my mentors, friends, and guides for every aspect of the literary industry. They’d make great creative writing professors if they wanted to.

BD: You're studying to be a journalist. How has that helped, or hindered, your fiction writing?

K: Studying journalism has helped me to collect, verify and research data which I need for writing. I’ve learned about networking and made helpful contacts while studying media and through the activities that I’ve done for building my portfolio. Unfortunately, news writing is completely different from creative writing. So, it’s not very helpful. 

BD: Indeed. I spent my early career as a newspaper reporter because I thought it would help. And you're right--the writing is totally different, but it did teach me how to research, how to interview and ask the right questions, and even get people who didn't want to talk to me to share their thoughts anyway.

Please describe your protagonist. What makes him interesting to you?

K: In Blood Stone Impact, there are three equally important protagonists. But the first part focuses on Damian Blood and Nick Park who are very different from each other and yet have certain similarities. Blood is a tall, hulking operator who leads a strike team for Taskforce COBALT, a covert unit of DIA and DARPA which handles scientific threats. The other side to him is that he’s a genius level mechanic and yet he’s immature, rash and wild. Park is an Army Ranger turned microbiologist who has given up his military career after a tragedy. He has spent five years curing cancer in an isolated lab only to have his research stolen and weaponized. Nick Park is drawn back into the action which he wanted to forget and has to face off against the men he had once trained and commanded. These characters make the elements of a conflicting plot. As an author, I take pleasure in putting my characters through hell and enjoy the ride that their lives are. 

BD: How is the villain going to challenge your characters?

K: The main villains of Blood Stone Impact aren’t revealed yet in the Alaskan Storm. A few of the major antagonists play a major role in the next two novellas of the series. The villains here are a union of the most powerful groups that the world ever had. It’s an unholy alliance between the Templars, Ottomans and a few other groups who are thrown into a complex chess game with the Russians, Americans, and a few billionaires. Each novella in this trilogy focuses on one long sequence with an epic battle in an exotic location. 

BD: What are you working on next?

K: I have to start working on the sequel to Alaskan Storm, but I’m still researching for it. Currently, I’m focused on completing a short story that will introduce a couple of protagonists for two different Geo-political action-thriller series that I’ve planned to start. These books will be much more realistic and serious than the Taskforce COBALT adventures, though they’re set in the same world.

BD: Alaskan Storm is a great start to a great series and marks the debut of an author to watch. Thanks for taking the time to talk, Kronos, and good luck with the series. Buy Alaskan Storm at Amazon!