Sunday, October 30, 2011

We Need to Laugh a Little

The other day I found myself in a conversation with a writer pal about the change in subject matter I have been going through lately, as in turning away from the hard-boiled noir writing I started with and switching to more light-hearted adventure fare. My friend, a terrific hard-boiled writer himself, does not understand why I have decided to change gears. Hard-boiled is alive and vibrant and more important than ever, he says. We have the opportunity, he says, to write the history of our time the same way the hard-boiled pioneers wrote about theirs.

That's all well and good and I assure you (and him) that my decision to forego hard-boiled/noir work is not permanent--I have two such novels planned, one that I'm doing next year--but I have had it up to my eyeballs with the bleakness that goes with hard-boiled stories, especially because of our current "turbulent time". We need to laugh a little. We can't face a grim reality and then escape into a grim fictional world--that's no escape at all. So I'm writing stories that are thrilling and exciting but contain elements of humor so if you are looking for an escape, you can read these stories and not be reminded of what just frightened you on the news. I'm also reading similar books for the exact same reasons.

You'll be seeing the first of my new stories soon, when The Rogue Gentleman #1 debuts, and there will be a new episode each month. Adventure, humor, romance, cliff-hanger endings....I hope you'll enjoy reading them as much as I have enjoyed writing them.

And then in 2012 we'll have Kill Fever, where I return to the hard-boiled school with the story of a war vet who returns to the U.S. to find out why his sister stopped writing letters to him. Of course, what he finds isn't good.....

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Anonymous-9 Visits Your Humble Correspondant

Well we are delighted to welcome Anonymous-9 to our abode where she agreed to talk to us about her new ebook, HARD BITE AND OTHER SHORT STORIES, which is currently masticating its way up the Amazon sales charts. Ten stories in all, HARD BITE won Spinetingler's Best Short Story on the Web 2009 and 4 others got nominations, including a first-round Thriller Award nomination. 99 cents at Smashwords and Amazon Kindle.

But this is not your average interview; in my conversation with Anonymous-9, we talked about elements in her stories that raise them above the average blood-and-thunder short stories. Read on:

Brian: I was surprised to hear you suggest an interview based on spirituality and morality in your short stories, because one might be hard-pressed to find any moral center in stories about killer monkeys and women who poison the wives of men they want to sleep with. Please explain.

Anonymous-9: Thanks for inviting me to your blog, Brian. Glad to be here. Let's leave killer monkeys for the moment and talk about a woman who kills for the man she wants. Who hasn't seen an attractive person and thought, "Wow, if his or her fiance were out of the way, I could go for some of that!" Everybody has had that thought at one time or another, so I ran further with it. KILLER ORGASM is the story where my main character (spoiler alert!!!!) kills the wives of men she wants to marry. For a short time it works wonderfully. But eventually she dies by her own sordid hand. She gets done in by this thinking, she doesn't get away with it. The story shows where our ordinary, selfish thinking will lead if it runs amok. That's a morality tale, don't you think?

B: Do you start each story with a theme or "moral" in mind, or do these elements come later during your editing process?

A9: No, these elements come as I develop the story. For example, in my story CLAW MARKS, I wanted to tell a classic noir tale of a man and a woman--man rescues woman from bad husband, husband comes and takes revenge. Simple, huh? We've all read that story a thousand times. The question in my mind was, "How can I make this different? What element can I change in this classic storyline so it feels fresh at the same time that it feels familiar?" The element I changed was the point of view of the storyteller. The storyteller (spoiler alert!!!!) is a cat. Cats are killers and they feel very little compassion for living beings not directly associated with their own welfare. Even then, cats are iffy. So the cat was the perfect, psychopathic narrator for the story, emotionally unaffected by the human behavior he observes. He forces the reader to fill in the morality and ethics part on their own.

B: So are there a list of themes you want to write about, or does the theme of a story emerge as you're writing? Would you reuse certain themes if you had more to say about the subject or try to find something new each time?

A9: Themes emerge. I can't imagine a more turgid way to write than something designed to lecture people about morality. I guess my most common theme would have to be how murderers and extreme criminals are not that far off from the ordinary person. We all have crime in us, including killing. A few of my stories show how the wrong place, right time, will turn Rebecca of Sunnybrook into Rebecca of Donnybrook. Some people don't want to admit they have a dark side, or the potential for a dark side. I find it frightening and dangerous, that lack of self-awareness.

B: Why do you think people deny their darker nature? Do you think we read crime fiction to find some way of exorcising that nature?

A9: Whether you believe that humans evolved or were created by God, both schools of thought pay tribute to our animal natures. The evolutionary school of thought admits we are carbon-based organisms with a brain cortex similar to the lizard with all the attendent animal impulses. Theology states that although we are made in the image of God, we're also half animal--super-intelligent primates. It's a constant battle to overcome our animal nature. Some crime fiction is just a walk on the wild side, crime for entertainment, a pleasurable roll in the gutter that allows us to be voyeurs watching how "bad" people do it with no personal responsibility. I don't think crime fiction exorcises that nature. There's no exorcising who we are. I think crime fiction can put us in touch with it, for better or worse. It's the responsibility of the reader.

B: So who are two or three other authors who you think best handle the type of theme you write about? They don't have to be crime writers, either.

A-9: John Burdett rocked publishing with Bankok 8 and Bankok Noir, has a series based on a Buddhist detective in Thailand. The character who does a beautiful job of passing along Zen philosophy without moralizing or his clumsy asides. In my view, Burdett is one of the freshest, most original crimewriters of today.
Tom Robbins doesn't write crime, but he evokes a surreal atmosphere that seems acquainted with meditation, or kabbalistic philosophy or Buddhist teachings. A certain spiritual cosmology  backdrops Robbins' writing. Keep in mind that these philosophical roads of thought all come with warnings that they can drive the student crazy. That's my disclaimer.

There is a great site for clerical detectives. Christians, a few Jews and Buddhists are represented. I think Christianity is under-represented in modern crime fiction. Many law enforcers depend on their faith to guide them and keep them sane while dealing with the worst of humanity. But they're rarely represented in prayer or evoking God. I think there might be an eager market waiting for something along this line. Myself, I love mocking the Devil. I wrote about the bureaucracy of Hell in a story called M-N-S. Anthony Neil Smith edited it. We pulled out all the stops with that one.

Brian: What have you got in the pipeline and what's coming up?

A-9:  HARD BITE is in rewrite as a novel. I'm trying to get it ready by the new year.

B: How has the audience reaction been to the short stories so far?

A-9: It's always great. Yes, I may be a little extreme for some, but those that like my stuff like it a lot. I do well with critics, and for that I'm very grateful. Readers are the ultimate critics, though. That's why Amazon Kindle and Smashwords are so empowering. Agents and editors based in New York with their geographic filters, political filters, racial filters in place about "what fiction should be and say" no longer have a stranglehold on publishing. E-books are the free-est, most unregulated, unencumbered market in the world right now. It's the writer's time to howl.

Bloggers are the new Town Criers and advertising outlets. They find new writers, new works, and tell the world. They're the ones who help books "go viral." It's all free. But I better have a great story and give good blog. I'd also like to say that my experience has been, regarding awards and nominations, at least, it doesn't matter who you know or where you live. Story trumps all. I was completely anonymous when I got my nominations, nor was I a member of the International Thriller Writers. They didn't know me from dirt. But they liked my story. That's all there is to it in the end really, the story.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

The Consummata: A Heck of a Yarn!

Available now!
The Delta Factor is my favorite Mickey Spillane novel. I like it even more than all of the Mike Hammers combined--seriously. There's something about that book. It's less of a hard-boiled story and more of a swashbuckling adventure that really sucks you in. The hero, modern pirate Morgan the Raider, is coerced into helping the U.S. government rescue a scientist from communists--or something. Anyway the usual Spillane hokum results and it's one hell of a book with a great cliff-hanger ending and if I tell you too much about it I'll ruin the book. I wish Spillane had gone further with Morgan the Raider instead of writing about secret agent Tiger Mann, and I still mourn the trees killed to print that swill. If Spillane had wanted a "Bond like" character, Morgan the Raider was fresh and original and a kick to read about. Tiger Mann was as ridiculous as his name.

I was delighted to learn a few years ago that Spillane had written part of Morgan #2 but never finished it. Until the day he passed I thought, maybe, he'd get around to it, but now his pal Max Allan Collins has completed the work, and The Consummata, published by Hard Case Crime, is the result.

Film tie-in cover
The cliffhanger ending of The Delta Factor really gets your imagination going because you wonder how it might be resolved. I was afraid the genuine article would not match my vision of that resolution, and that I might not enjoy it because there was no way it could live up to the blockbuster in my head. Truthfully, the novel doesn't come close, and I had to jettison any ideas I had at page one.

The Consummata is a fun book and I enjoyed it a lot, finishing it in three days. Many plot lines from The Delta Factor are resolved, and we get another cliffhanger at the end which was a nice touch. What we also have here is yet another blend of the Spillane/Collins style, and it's a kick to try and figure out where one ends and the other begins, and the other way around. Sometimes (just like Hammer in the recent Collins-completed novels) Morgan the Raider sounds a lot like Nate Heller, and that's always fun to catch. There are two other moments where you can tell Collins was doing the typing--just two--but I'll let you find them. One involves a piece of weaponry that had not been invented at the time the original manuscript was typed; the other is a Collins trademark. But never mind all that.

The Consummata is a rip-roaring thriller and I think you'll like it. I really enjoyed being reunited with Morgan and Kim and meeting his new friends and the ending leaves the door open for Morgan #3 should Collins decide to do it, or if The Mick had further Morgan adventures planned than we have been led to believe. If Max doesn't want to do Part Three, my original idea for #2 would work for #3; in other words, Max, I'm available....I'm cheap....and I'm not hard to find.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

How Amanda Knox Saved My Story

If you have been writing for any length of time, I am sure you have a manuscript that stalled and no matter what you did there was no way to get it going again. So you threw it in a drawer and said, Maybe someday....

A couple of years ago I started a manuscript entitled Bullet Alley about an ex-cop and defense attorney racing to clear a woman wrongly accused of murder and up against corrupt city officials doing their best to see she's convicted for reasons of their own. The story stalled when I could not come up with a proper "frame" for the woman; I think the story collapsed around page 50. Those pages remain in a box.

Someday, I thought, I will find a solution to the problem and finish the story.

Flash forward to this week. Like many folks around the world I have kept up with the story of Amanda Knox. It has been quite riveting. Did she do it or not and if she did not will she be cleared and if she did will she spend the rest of her life in prison? And now, as more information of what went on before and after the crime and during the investigation comes out, I see a picture of somebody railroaded into prison by overzealous, incompetent, or even corrupt police and prosecutors using evidence that cannot stand up to scrutiny, violating the rights of the accused, and slandering the accused as well.

And then a light bulb went off.

With a few changes here and there (to protect the innocent, of course--and so I don't have to pay anybody!) the Knox case provides the outline for the frame I need for the woman in Bullet Alley. Woo hoo!

Now the story can be told. I have no idea when, or even, really, if, I will get back to Bullet Alley, but you can bet when I do it will be a much better experience, and a better story, because of what happened to a certain young woman from Seattle. Maybe I should send her a cake.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

New Blog Title

I have never liked the "Explains it All" title of this blog, and it took a long time for me to think of a new one. Finally, I did, thanks, in part, to a British comedy show I used to watch when I was young. Dave Allen, who is no longer with us, did a program called "Dave Allen At Large" which was a mix of stand-up (in his case, he sat down) and sketches. Allen would sit on his tall chair with his whiskey and soda and say funny things in between funny sketches and it was something I looked forward to every Friday night. Recently a friend and I were lamenting the loss of Dave Allen, and while thinking about the show I decided to steal part of the title.