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Wednesday, 27 July 2011

Dark Courier

This month, I have been mostly reading novellas about couriers. Two novellas that are very different in approach and setting, but which are both excellent. One of the best things about the growth of e-publishing is that it gives room for work at lengths that might have been regarded as commercially tricky. I like novellas, as they have that little bit more room to explore plot and character than a short story, but can still be satisfactorily polished off at a single setting.


Sean Cregan's All You Leave Behind (US) is set in Newport City, which has also been the setting for his The Levels and The Razor Gate. I really like the feel of this near-future (or alternate present?) city of decay and violence. It feels well worked-out (you feel you're seeing part of a greater whole, not just a film set with one street and backlot beyond) and I hope that we see more of it. This story focuses on the runners in the Levels district, couriers who provide connections between the city's warring criminal factions, and who work to a code.

Chase has been a runner for five years. He takes on an ordinary job, but is interrupted by a phone call from a stranger which saves his life. The package he's delivering is a bomb that would have killed him and the person he's delivering it to, and Chase wants to find out who wanted to kill him - and who it was who saved him, and why.

Although it doesn't wander into any of the genre's cliches and there's no tech to speak of, All You Leave behind reminds me of the feel of good cyberpunk, particularly in the almost mythic aspects of Chase's protector, and the way that's expressed around the city by rumour, whispers, mysterious paintings. Add in a breakneck pace and it's an interesting mix and a very good read.



Ray Banks' Gun (US) is set in very recognisable real-world territory for me and tells the story of Richie, fresh out of prison and sent to pick up a gun for a man you don't want to upset, from another man you don't want to upset either. Or sit next to. Richie starts to have second thoughts about returning to the life, but it's all too late, the job goes terribly wrong, and his attempt to fix it makes it go from bad to worse.

There's not a wasted paragraph in Gun, it's told with great economy and Richie's voice is consistent and engaging throughout. There's some really well-drawn and interesting characters, and when Richie's job all breaks down into inevitable chaos and violence it's sudden, and shocking, and real.

This to me is much more vital British crime fiction than most novels of Detective {NAME} with sidekick {NAME2} set in {CITY} tracking down {SERIAL KILLER} and never failing to visit {SCENIC SPOTS OF CITY}. Stories like Gun are far more real - and honest - and capture a slice of what life in Britain is like for many people. It's classic Banks territory, people trying to make their way the best they can when the odds are stacked against them, and the chances are they will find a way to fuck it all up regardless. But you read on, because the voice and Richie's struggle are so engaging, you have to see whether he makes it.

Both highly recommended. Both available now on Blue-Ray and DVD. Sorry, I mean Amazon. Links in the text. Check them out.

Tuesday, 26 July 2011

Writers Talk About Writing - Charlie Williams

(Once you've finished reading what Charlie's got to say, check out the whole series of interviews here)


Charlie Williams wrote a few books, including the Mangel series featuring antiheroic doorman Royston Blake, but he is probably best known as a founder member of the "Yo Boys", a group of breakdancers who used to bust moves in Worcester precinct, circa 1985. Charlie was the one who could do a turtle spin. Like a real turtle.

We're in a lift, I'm someone important (come on, pretend), you've got thirty seconds (tall building, slow lift) to tell me about your latest book.

ONE DEAD HEN (Amazon US | UK), which comes out on August 9th, is the long-awaited fourth entry in the Mangel series. This series was a trilogy until now, but it was never meant to be. Royston Blake is the kind of character who will never be broken. I know guys in my home town who have been in and out of hospital (mental and general), divorced, in jail, emigrated, deported and all kinds, but still they keep coming back with a new scheme to finally achieve the big shot status they know they deserve. This time, Blakey's scheme is to become a cop, specifically to catch a murderer who has been targeting local women. His role models for this are 80s TV cops Sonny Crockett and Sledge Hammer.

Uh-oh. Not sure lifts are meant to stop suddenly between floors like this. Guess we've got a bit more time. Ignore the flickering lights and creaking sounds above us. Would you like to tell me about other books or stories that you have available?

The previous three books in the series - DEADFOLK (US), BOOZE AND BURN (US) and KING OF THE ROAD (US) - were originally published in the mid-noughties, but they have also just been republished, with new covers and everything (and a new title for one of them, old school Mangel fans will notice). Royston Blake is the one constant that strides through each one, but the town of Mangel keeps changing under his size twelve feet, edging him one step further into dispossession. Deadfolk was shortlisted for the Prix SNCF du Polar, Booze and Burn for a Left Coast Crime Lefty Award, and King of the Road didn't sell enough copies to warrant a fourth (despite some blushingly good reviews), hence the long wait.


Please stop repeatedly pressing the emergency button. The comment about building a ladder of bones to reach the ceiling hatch and get out of here was just blue-skies thinking. So, what are you working on now?

I might come across like a crazed obsessive, but I am nearing the end of Mangel book #5, provisionally titled TAPPED. Saying that, it's four years since I wrote the last one, so there has been other stuff. STAIRWAY TO HELL (US), for example, which is about a small town pub singer who is confronted with evidence that he possesses the transmigrated soul of David Bowie, placed there by Jimmy Page in the 1970s. And GRAVEN IMAGE (US), about a brothel bouncer whose daughter is snatched as payback for a fuck-up.


You like to write crime fiction from the criminal perspective. What is it about this that interests you?

I have tried writing as a policeman or some sort of investigator, but those characters always turn bad on me and reveal themselves as worse than the guys they are chasing. I'm not sure if I can explain this obsession with "differently moralled" protagonists. Possibly it's because I am about as far from black and white as you can get. I can always see both sides of an argument, and it tends to be the accused/perpetrator/transgressor who has the more flexible outlook on things. Cops and other seekers of justice are always dogmatic. I guess I like dogmatic characters too, but only so I can show how absurd they are.


Humour in crime fiction. Get it wrong, and it's awful. You get it very right. What do you think the key is to getting it right (or what, indeed, would make it go very wrong).

Thank you. I don't try to make things funny. I never look for a joke and never think "three pages without a laugh - I'm losing it!" But these moments just suggest themselves to me as I am writing, and I grab them and shine them up. I think a lot of writers shut themselves off from that side. Many crime writers seem to think their work has to be grim and po-faced - "we are dealing with REAL HUMAN TRAGEDIES here, folks. It's NOT FUNNY". I say bollocks, it is funny. Remember at school, when the teacher was being really strict and talking about something of the utmost gravity, and you caught that look from your mate? You have to laugh, don't you? You know you shouldn't - that it's the most inappropriate thing a person could do at that moment - but that only makes it funnier. It makes it the funniest thing in the world.

Is Royston Blake going to play his part in David Cameron's Big Society?

Blakey sees himself as the ultimate pillar of the community, so I guess he will. Maybe he will become a scout leader, and train up a bunch of lads in all the skills he thinks they'll need in life.


In your own writing, what do you think you do well, and what do you wish you could do better?

I think I write first person pretty well, as long as the narrator is psychologically damaged in some way. I wish I could write normal, balanced first person characters better. Then again, fuck it - other people do that well enough. I would also like to write a successful (as in one that I think works really well) longer piece in the third person, a multi-POV kind of thing. I love reading that kind of book when it is good.


Can you remember what made you sit down to write your first book or story?

It was my wife walking in and telling me she was pregnant. I was 27, and had only toyed with writing up to that point, telling myself I could write but never having put it to the test and showing stuff to people. The sudden realisation that I was about to be superceded by a new generation spurred me into action, I guess.


Do you have a book or story that you're very fond of, but you think should get more attention from the world than it has.

By me or by someone else? I'll go for the latter. One of the most original writers in Britain, I think, is Paul Meloy. The only thing he has published in book form is a collection of shorts called ISLINGTON CROCODILES, but it is well worth chasing it down and immersing yourself in his deranged yet utterly lucid and logical world. His tone is pitched somewhere between Hieronymous Bosch and Tommy Cooper, and he is a genuinely underappreciated original.


Print publishing is a doomed but still predatory dinosaur rotting from the feet up. Ebook publishing is the vomiting out of the world's slushpiles onto the market. In the ongoing war of words and hyperbole, where's the happy medium to be found? Where do you think the publishing business is heading over the next few years, and what are you doing to be ready for it?

As a writer, even one who has been published in book form for seven years now, I know very little of the business side of publishing. Everywhere I go I meet other writers who are full of ideas about print and digital and marketing and what have you, and I wonder how the hell they find the head space to bother with all that. My concern is producing the text, and I will continue to do that even if it is not getting widely read. I think the business side of publishing is another set of skills and learning entirely. I'm more into damaged protagonists and innapropriate humour.


What book do you most wish that you had written?

That one I keep going back to but still can't nail. I love books and am well aware that there are brilliant writers out there whose heights I will never reach, but I don't want to write their stuff. I want to drag out the stuff that is in me and arrange it as best I can. And I will keep going back to that unfinished one. Even if it kills me!


You're publishing ebooks now - have you learned anything in that process?

My new publisher - AmazonEncore - is publishing my Mangel novels as ebooks as well as paperback, but personally I have never done this myself. I have a couple of shorter works I look at and think would work well on a Kindle, but I haven't got around to doing anything about it. It's a learning curve, and one that I look at and think "hmm... nah" But what I have gathered from the Amazon editions is that Kindles are popular, and if you price an ebook pretty low, people will give it a shot, even if it looks a bit different. Also you need a good cover.


Do you do much promotion for your books? What do you think is the most effective thing you've done?

A good way to promote your stuff, in this modern world, is to just get out there. Personally I am not in love with personal appearances and events, so try to keep those down, but there is always the web. Websites, blogging, Facebook - all that stuff can be quite fun and get you a profile. And if a fellow blogger like yourself is kind enough to interview me or let me scrawl some words on their space - that's gold dust.


What is it that really pushes your buttons as a reader? (Voice, action, sense of place etc).

I think it is attitude. Or world-view, moral stance... whatever you want to call it. A book I love is TOBACCO ROAD by Erskine Caldwell. The callousness and warped morality of these increasingly desperate sharecroppers is just breathtaking - because it is not what you would expect of an American novel from 1932. If a character gives me a different way of looking at things, even if it's not all good, I love that.


If you could give an aspiring writer one piece of advice, what would it be?

Don't listen to writers who try to give advice. What the hell do they know? Hundreds of years of literature and we think we know what it is. We don't. It's a plastic thing, constantly morphing into new areas and shedding old skins that we once though were so valuable. Maybe you, aspiring writer, have it in you to write a new skin.


If you could tell an aspiring writer to ignore one commonly given piece of advice, what would it be?

"Write what you know."

Are you 'out' as a writer of fiction with work colleagues/family, and if so, what reaction did you get?

All my family and friends know what I do, but I always kept it a secret at work. I only just left my job, but for years I was getting books published and having the odd interview in the papers, and no one at work knew. I worked in IT, and in that world there can be a culture of looking at each others' screens, checking that some actual work is being done. I didn't want people thinking I was writing on the job.


Gibbons or tigers? (NB this question is to help me in compiling my List of People Who Are Wrong).

What, are you nuts? Tigers.


Who has had the most combined success in the twin fields of fiction writing and actual sports (as in doing it, not writing about it)?

Probably Terry Venables. He played top level football for Spurs, Chelsea and others as well as winning a couple of England caps. He managed Spurs, Barcelona, England etc. He wrote the Hazell novels (with Gordon Williams) as PB Yuill.

Meticulous research is both enjoyable and important / what's the point in writing fiction if you can't just make stuff up - discuss.

I say make it up. If you feel a twinge of curiosity about a fact and you can't make it go away, look it up or phone someone, then go back to making stuff up. That world you are creating on the page, it is your world. Sprinkle very sparingly with reality dust. That's what I do anyway.

Monday, 25 July 2011

Move over Frost/Nixon

My turn to be on the receiving end of some questions this time, in a few interviews.

Over at Close To The Bone, Old Seth offers me some Werther's Originals, and we talk about ambiguous endings, William Gibson's non-sf sf, genre hopping, and lots more.

At The Man Eating Bookworm I talk with Peter Andrew Leonard about why crime, the generosity of other writers, criminal masterminds and their nemeses, James Ellroy's White Jazz as a way to frighten people, and much else besides.

And at Dan Holloway's The Company of Fellows, he asks what comes from a barrel of a gun, we talk about food in fiction and Tony Blair, why to be paranoid about hotel ornaments, and most importantly of all, he asks how long is a piece of rope.

Thanks to them all for the opportunity.

Tuesday, 19 July 2011

Writers talk about writing - Anna Tambour

(Once you've finished reading what Anna's got to say, check out the whole series of interviews here.)

Anna Tambour is the Supreme Compassionata of The Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Bulwer-Lytton, and the Founding human, Sigesbeckia/Siegesbeckia Anti-defamation League. A bestselling author on Asteroid *, her earthly following includes a large number of fruit lovers who have been cruelly jilted by spelling and pronunciation, and wander confused, seeking juicy leeches. You can find out more about Anna and her work at her website and Medlar Comfits, her blog.


We're in a lift, I'm someone important (come on, pretend), you've got thirty seconds (tall building, slow lift) to tell me about your latest book.

Crandolin is the only tome whose divine spark's gas is composed of 29458.039 ppm postmodern physics, 867 measures of Ottoman confectionerists, 1 whole extreme-food taster, unskinned; 10CB/cq Quests; >9 train lovers > = 9 haters of borscht, the Muse, the Omniscient, the Great-Moustache maker, 1 temperamental bladder-pipe with musician attached, 1 girl in tower, 0% dreadful lift musi//


Uh-oh. Not sure lifts are meant to stop suddenly between floors like this. Guess we've got a bit more time. Ignore the flickering lights and creaking sounds above us. Would you like to tell me about other books or stories that you have available?


Well, the new edition of Monterra's Deliciosa & Other Tales (Amazon US | UK) & has a "Big Fat Bonus &" which includes more stories, including one story of what happened in the hours *after* a story; poetry, and excerpts from the Onuspedia. As for Spotted Lily (Amazon US | UK), it is the only Australian novel that examines wowserism, censorship, art and religion, and the tension between urban and bush life, in invisible ways (it has never been published there, so this is the first time that Australians can buy this {and Monterra's...] for a reasonable amount of $s). One point about it that I find fascinating: reviews that I saw never mentioned these aspects of the novel, because, I theorise, the reviews were written by writers; the book's first-person protag wants to write a novel (not actually *write* it but be the bylined author of a novel that would establish her as a famous *loved* author as opposed to a famous studied one) , so the reviews centred on that fact. "The Seagull" is still a favourite at playhouses. The trade and would-be's for it love it, though many don't know it was meant to be a satire. If "The Seagull" were about, say, a plumber or a crab cannery, it would be as played as a broken piano. But looking forward, I would like for people around the world (especially in the UK, Russia, India, and Turkey) to have the choice to read the extraordinarity, Crandolin. It might play better in those places than in Peoria, but even in Peoria, I don't know it it'll get a chance if the world of publishers is looking only for the likes of . . .

Scattered amongst a number of anthologies and some magazines are the contents of a new collection called Eat Me. This publication is in the medium that could be called "wild-grazing" since the individual stories haven't been baled up together. A bit of rude hooting and loutishness is in order, especially for those would-be-diners hankering for stories such as "Cardoons!", a horror tale of veg and WARNINGs; or, say, "The Oyster and Alice O."--a story so fresh, it's still dripping; and like Cardoons!, so fresh, it might never see the land of Publication.
(Here's a couple of Anna's wild-grazing short stories: The Emperor's Backscratcher; Wanted - The Baker's Dozen Gang)


Please stop repeatedly pressing the emergency button. The comment about building a ladder of bones to reach the ceiling hatch and get out of here was just blue-skies thinking. So, what are you working on now?

"The Importance of 'Insignificant' or For the Sake of an Anecdote: A thrilling exposé of collateral damage done to a plant's reputation, and of the truth to be discovered"
& fiction such as "The Paper Murderer"


You've told us about what stories you've written, and I know from my own reading how wide-ranging they are. How would you describe yourself as a writer?

A square, I guess. Crandolin has been described by an Industry Expert as "a square peg in a very, very conservative market at the moment." Be there or be square? I'd choose square every time, though that has proved to be Choosing Unwisely.


How does the environment in which you live shape your writing?

Although I have lived in many places and countries, it's great to get out of the forest of humans, not just to be able to track individuals better (never trust a story not to insert something inside you that never needs battery replacement) but to get away from all the senseless chatter. I prefer waking to parrots and being kept awake by possums, though I don't properly appreciate the patter of tiny mating dunnarts in the roof. A life lived close to other species has taught me so much, including the stubbornness of mushrooms, the secret sookiness of bulls, and the sense of humour (admittedly medieval, in donkeys) of so many species.


Can there ever be too many plum-like fruits in fiction?

You noticed! And they thought they were so subtle. They make fruitful to redress the balance of fruits that taste like chicken.


Pascal said: "Please forgive this very long and drawn out letter, I did not have time to write you a short one." Do you find writing short fiction harder than your novels?

A short story is like a horse-warrior's bow. Small, taut, musical, and beautifully deadly in the right hands. A novel can be anything from a longbow to a lumbering hulk of underdeveloped trebuchet. Besides, writing is easy compared to getting published (by a quality publisher).


In your own writing, what do you think you do well, and what do you wish you could do better?

Well? Let the story do the talking. Wish I could do better? Know how much of the story it wants revealed to the reader, and how much the reader would want to know and has a right to know--or damn the story, how much enjoyment readers would have if I ratted on that secretive story. I'd never tell all, but a little subterfugious leaking couldn't hurt, could it?


Can you remember what made you sit down to write your first book or story?

I wasn't sitting when I wrote my first book (a stream-of-consciousness work of futurist speculation that proved to be quite fictional) on the walls around me, in amniotic fluid. But I assume you're asking about my post-womb works. A boil of a story that got so big, I couldn't sit. I lanced it with a parable. Being naive, I thought "What the hell" and sent the parable/story to my favourite publication, Elsevier's (now RIP) HMS Beagle: The BioMedNet Magazine. The next day I got an acceptance with one editing request that today I would not, all-powerful and experienced author that I am, grant without a cough. But I did then, so in their version, "toilet" is changed to that execrable euphemism "bathroom". If only all writing and getting published (and getting paid!) were as much of a joy as the Beagle and its wonderful editors and board.


Do you have a book or short story that you're very fond of, but you think should get more attention from the world than it has.

Only the ones that have been published, and the ones still un-. Seriously, though I do have a small following in Turkey, the only country where my some of my stories have been translated, I'm at the village dung-beetle-society level in readership (on Earth *).



Print publishing is a doomed but still predatory dinosaur rotting from the feet up. Ebook publishing is the vomiting out of the world's slushpiles onto the market. In the ongoing war of words and hyperbole, where's the happy medium to be found? Where do you think the publishing business is heading over the next few years, and what are you doing to be ready for it?

As varied as people are, they want a variety of relationships with the written word. Some people like to actually read a book, and actually turn back to a favourite page or paragraph to reread it, turning down the edge of a page, a page with a smell and feel--while others like to, say, just skim a story or a novel pre-reviewing it, never going to the trouble of actual reading except of their own writing. This works brilliantly if one reads on screen only, especially if one only savours one's own writing.

Publishing has always been in crisis. Everyone today should read George Gissing's New Grub Street with its irony of "independence" and its recognition of the stringent demands, which shift arbitrarily and without warning (even to the fashion for trilogies). Today, when the degrees you have and the workshops you've attended are actually shoes in the door of consideration, these words from 1891 could be sold as new: "Art must be practised as a trade, at all events in our time. This is the age of trade . . . You could do fairly good work, and work which would only sell, if only you would bring yourself to look at things in a more practical way."

But say you ARE published. There's published and published. If your books are only 'published' as print-on-demand or for other reasons, have poor or no distribution, they are not in bookstores, libraries, and other places that people can physically handle them and buy them at prices that make readers comfortable taking chances on an author, so "published" is a joke. In my experience, the infinity plus editions of my books have eaten the stats of sales of the print editions, which have only been produced as PODs.

Still, few authors find publishers of any sort. Some authors are also impatient, not wanting to wait with the patience of a stone gargoyle. The success of a few self-published authors selling their books as e-editions has deluded many people who have written something. Now they think they can bash out a book, slap it into e-format, put a page up on the web, and bug everyone they know to write about it, and then count their money. They'll be lucky to sell two ebooks, including the one to a family member. No one can sell volume without a following; and charisma of some sort, not to mention work and talent, is necessary to get people networking an author to popularity. Once popular through ebook sales, some successful self-published authors and their books are then fought over by the rotting dinosaurs to create those anachronistic artifacts, dead-tree books.


What book do you most wish that you had written?

Judging from my extensive notations on and around the text (the character of which no e-book will ever be able to shine a lightsource to), The Little Red Hen.


You're publishing ebooks now - have you learned anything in that process?

All ebooks look like shit, but some are better set than others. To do this, real effort must be put into the production of the book. Keith Brooke at infinity plus has put the effort in. I think it matters, though I don't know if it matters to others.


Do you do much promotion for your books? What do you think is the most effective thing you've done?

Overt promotion revolts me. Some authors are models of good promotion, so I'll talk about them. Jeffrey Ford has a swag of novels as well as many anthologies and magazines with his wonderfully varied stories in them. Ford's online presence and appearances at readings are insouciant. He never overtly pushes, and doesn't need to, as the quality of his fiction drives demand. He is a great author who doesn't use his biography to become a celebrity, and doesn't use any gimmicks. He is also gracious to everyone, even when he's been signing suitcase-fulls of books. Gail Carriger launched her first book with an accompanying blog that is at once, a support for the series, and tremendous fun. It's also informative. She never begs anyone to buy or pushes overtly (something too many authors do, and get the idea from heavy promoters that this is necessary, not pestiferous). Carriger's bestselling status is firmly founded on the enjoyment that her books themselves give to readers, though her appearances are events. Jennifer L. Rohn is another author who probably had a hard time getting her first novel published, though she shouldn't have. The Honest Look should be a international bestseller. It is published by the Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory Press. She started the site LabLit, and named the genre. I recognised it instantly, because I've been writing in this field for years ("Sincerely, Petrified", for instance, in Lovecraft Unbound edited by Ellen Datlow) without knowing what to call these stories (I've called them 'scientist fiction'). The LabLit site obliquely pushes Rohn's novel but in the most modest way. LabLit is quite an excellent magazine featuring fiction and essays, poetry and more that are all so lively, intelligent and well written, that it reminds me of the HMS Beagle. I think these authors are excellent examples of how good promotion can be achieved--but in each case, the main factor in promotion that means anything at all, is the worth of what these writers write.


If you could give an aspiring writer one piece of advice, what would it be?

Dead writers are always more popular with quality readers, so be dead if you can be, and remembered if at all possible. Since there are more dead writers who have never been published in their time than not, it helps if you have been published, especially on obelisks, scrolls, or other media that can be considered a find (which excludes most bestsellers of their day. See, for example: the US bestsellers for the years 1923 - 1953). Even if you are merely a dead scribe whose works are barleycorn statistics or a tab of some ruler's exploits, if Time and the Mystery of Taste favour you, your works might be pored over, concorded, and argued over till the end of Time or Funding.


If you could tell an aspiring piece of writer to ignore one commonly given piece of advice, what would it be?

Aspiring authors should take their pick about what piece. All great authors have ignored their own selection, if they heard advice at all.


Are you 'out' as a writer of fiction with work colleagues/family, and if so, what reaction did you get?

Globally, work colleagues/family/friends would be willing to pay well to learn the secret of getting writers to be innies about their writing lives and aspirations.


Gibbons or tigers? (NB this question is to help me in compiling my List of People Who Are Wrong).

Although I have tail envy, Gibbons, please! We need more of them. He had a fierce passion for history, no patience with myth as establishment-enforced reality. And most important in communication, he used humour as a lubricant. He is my kinda guy. If you think I'm wrong, may his 7 volumes fall on your head. I'll pay for the pleasure without any pain. They can be bought for less than the price of landfill half-brick.


Meticulous research is both enjoyable and important / what's the point in writing fiction if you can't just make stuff up - discuss.

Research is the ultimate indulgence, and so nourishing. Besides, reality is more surreal than anything sprung from the imagination. For instance, who but Reality would make up the used-food trade? Who but this joker would dream up scientists pushing mythic curses?

Besides, as you have recently written, the imagination needs to be extra limber, not to mention fluider than slime itself, to plumb some sewers.

Sunday, 17 July 2011

Folding words

Interesting post over at Alan Ryker's blog about whether writing is an act of addition, subtraction, or transformation. Bonus link to a documentary on origami, for those of you who have Netflix.

Saturday, 16 July 2011

Drunk On The Moon

Inspired by a Tom Waits song (and let's face it, who isn't), Drunk On The Moon is a cross-genre venture by Paul D Brazill which takes noir and horror, locks them in the cellar and lets them get on with it.

Paul's written the first in a series about Roman Dalton, a PI with a rather unusual affliction, but there's more to come from other authors set in the same world. Check out the first story at Amazon (US | UK).

Writers Talk About Writing - Ray Banks

(Once you've finished reading what Ray's got to say, check out the whole series of interviews here.)

Aaaand, I'm back in the land of the living. Time for the next in the series of interviews with authors, and this one's another cracker.

Ray Banks is the author of the Cal Innes novels, the bitter swansong of which - Beast of Burden - is out in the US this August (Amazon UK
paperback). He lives in Edinburgh and online at www.thesaturdayboy.com. He knows many swear words and isn't afraid to use them.


We're in a lift, I'm someone important (come on, pretend), you've got thirty seconds (tall building, slow lift) to tell me about your latest book.

But I've got two of them. Shit, okay. Gun (Amazon US | UK) is a novella about a young lad called Richie, just out of the YOI, who has to pick up a converted air pistol for a one-legged drug dealer called Goose (and you'll know why he needs a new gun if

you've been reading Wolf Tickets) [Review of Gun coming up soon on this blog - Ed.]. Richie gets mugged and loses the gun, and he has to get it back. It's currently priced nice and low at Amazon -- FUCK ME WHAT WAS THAT NOISE?


Uh-oh. Not sure lifts are meant to stop suddenly between floors like this. Guess we've got a bit more time. Ignore the flickering lights and creaking sounds above us. Would you like to tell me about other books or stories that you have available?

Alright. It’s just I’m not that good in confined spaces. Beast of Burden is the other book coming out in August in the States. That's the last and best of the Innes books. I may well be looking at bringing out more digital stuff, too. Seriously, though, we're not supposed to be locked in like this, are we? I mean, fuck's sake, how long's it been now?

And what are you wittering on about? Ladder of what?


Please stop repeatedly pressing the emergency button. The comment about building a ladder of bones to reach the ceiling hatch and get out of here was just blue-skies thinking. So, what are you working on now?

Okay, but if you keep on with “blue-skies thinking” like that, I’ll punt you in your “low-hanging fruit”. I've currently got a novel out doing the rounds called Dead Money, which long-time readers will recognise as a pimped-up version of The Big Blind. The serialised novel in Needle magazine - Wolf Tickets - comes to an end in their next issue and I’ve just sent the final third. I'm currently writing a semi-sequel to Dead Money called Double Down, which is the casino robbery novel I've been meaning to write for ages. I'm also dicking around with a couple of screenplays and outlining a follow-up to Wolf Tickets called Trouble’s Braids.

The private eye novel has a long and glorious history, but...it is a long history. Were you concerned about carving out your own, original take on the genre, and how did you go about it?

I was absolutely concerned with doing something new – otherwise what’s the point in doing it? And I thought I’d write something counter to what I saw as a proliferation of Chandler-lite PI fiction that dominated the sub-genre in the UK. So I set out to place the Innes series in a city that wasn’t London, write a protagonist who wasn’t some tarnished knight errant and whose “code” was closer to that of a noir protagonist than a typical PI, and otherwise have a bit of a play with what I thought were the more untenable tropes. It was an incredibly arrogant and destructive way of going about it, but I was young and stupid.


You've spoken before about the need for emotional honesty in fiction. Speak some more. What do you mean by that, and why's it important to you in your work? And the flipside - what makes a book emotionally dishonest?

Emotional honesty comes from creating characters that are recognisably human. This means rounding them out, giving them an internal logic that we can understand and empathise with, giving them flaws, spending a bit of time trying to breathe a bit of life into them. The characters should be able to stand and walk around without a plot propping them up. But a book becomes emotionally dishonest when it sacrifices character logic and characterization to further the plot. It’s the main reason why I think a lot of thrillers read like puppet shows.

What book has impressed you most in the last year, and why?

I think the most recent novellas from Allan Guthrie (Bye Bye Baby - Amazon US | UK) and Tom Piccirilli (Every Shallow Cut - Amazon US | UK) have been outstanding, but the book that really nailed for me isn’t out until October. Christa Faust’s Choke Hold (pre-orders: US | UK) is a killer sequel to Money Shot (US | UK), and Faust is one of those authors I have to read twice in quick succession – first time to enjoy, second time to learn. She’s got that emotional honesty we were talking about, but she also keeps her plots bombing along. Superior stuff.


The Fairy Noirmother visits you in the night and grants you one wish - if you could change or influence crime fiction in one way, what would it be?

I would give the genre a ten -year break from police procedurals. Not an outright ban, you understand – I don’t want to be a fascist about it. And I’m aware that a break like that would put a momentary kibosh on one of my favourite writers, Mr Stuart MacBride. But I’m sure he’d be able to put his pen to work on other stuff without too much of a problem. Just like the other authors – Rankin, Ellroy, Wambaugh – who’ve nailed the subgenre, yon Beardy has “sick writin’ skillz”, as I believe the urban youth are wont to say. Ahem.

But a break from police procedurals could only be a good thing. They’ve choked the genre for a good long while now, and they appear to be the subgenre of choice for debut novelists with fuck all to say for themselves. Personally, I don’t understand why anyone would want to write a book where the most interesting thing about the story has already happened, but there you go.


You've never had any cat detectives in your books. Plan on putting this right any time?

Hey, never say never. I did have a go at a cosy a few years ago, especially for The Divine Donna M and her LCC panel. I dare say with a little encouragement (i.e. sweet, sweet moolah), I could whip this up into something frothy:

"Were you to enquire as to the identity of the most famous and well-respected resident of the leafy and lazy village of Little Tittington, you would undoubtedly be introduced to the rotund yet dainty figure of Francesca Muldoon. Francesca moved with a speed and gusto that belied her ample size, at once a champion bee keeper, author of countless swooning historical romances, accomplished gardener (with a fine nose for the lethal properties of those harmless-looking herbs), amateur sleuth, award-winning cat breeder (indeed, her prize feline Eustace Monkeysharples III had proven a fine amateur sleuth himself, having solved single-pawed the notorious Catnip Murders as well as taking Best In Show five years running) and purveyor of mouth-watering banana and walnut muffins. And yet, on this sleepy Little Tittington afternoon, there was murder in the air, as well as the smell of burning confectionery."

It’s a bit dense, but I was only allowed one paragraph.

[That's disturbingly right. I suspect it is part of a highly-polished Monkeysharples trilogy that Ray occasionally and reluctantly tears himself away from to write the noir stuff - Ed.]

You've published a novel, the excellently-titled 'Wolf Tickets', as a serial in Needle magazine. Given the rise in electronic publishing, do you think that serial publication might make a bit of comeback?

Technically it’s a serialised novel more than a serial, because it existed as a book before we put it out there, but it was re-written specifically with a three-part publication in mind. And the more I look back at Wolf Tickets, the more I have to thank the Needle crew for taking it on, because it’s probably the most violent, profane and slangy book I’ve written thus far. It’s just a thug of a novel, and I know it wouldn’t see the light of day otherwise. Which would be a shame, considering the kind of feedback I’ve had.

E-publishing could well mean resurgence in serial fiction. I know it’s meant resurgence in series fiction, and you could argue that those books are short enough that they could be classed as serials. I’m not sure I’d do it, though. To me, serials always look better in print, in amongst a bunch of short stories. But then I’m old-fashioned, which is why I’m wearing this ruff.


Do you have a book or story that you're very fond of, but you think should get more attention from the world than it has.

GBH, by Ted Lewis. It’s out of print, along with pretty much everything Lewis wrote, but it bloody well shouldn’t be. Jack’s Return Home (or Get Carter) gets all the hype – and it’s a hell of a novel, much better than the film – but GBH is something else entirely. I wrote about it for The Rap Sheet, and I’d heartily recommend tracking down a copy if you can. In the meantime, I’ll keep mentioning it in the hopes that there’s a reprint somewhere down the line. I’d gladly pay out of my own pocket, if the estate want to give me a price …


Print publishing is a doomed but still predatory dinosaur rotting from the feet up. Ebook publishing is the vomiting out of the world's slushpiles onto the market. In the ongoing war of words and hyperbole, where's the happy medium to be found? Where do you think the publishing business is heading over the next few years, and what are you doing to be ready for it?

If I had to dust off the Mystic Meg bob-cut, I’d say that print publishing is far from doomed. I do think it’ll be forced into shedding some of the bloat that’s made it slow over the last few decades, though. I see the trade paperback becoming a thing of the past, which can only be a good thing, and the hardback becoming a thing to cherish and collect again. I can even see a return to separate publishers for different editions – hardback, paperback and electronic – if I squint hard enough.

With eBooks, the books are going to get shorter – closer to your original pulp novels of 40-60k – and there’ll be a bigger market for niche genres. I think we’ll also see a rise in e-publishers who can combine the best of traditional publishing services like editing, proofing and design with sound marketing and social media strategies, and that’ll more than likely skim the cream from the self-pubbers who are better writers than they are self-promoters. Ultimately, though, the whole business will have account for their royalty percentage, and that can only mean a better deal for authors.


If you could give an aspiring writer one piece of advice, what would it be?

Don't read anything contemporary. There are more fundamental lessons to be learned in the work of writers from the 30s than you’ll ever get from contemporary fiction. Plus, if you’re going to have an influence, it’s better coming from the original than some third-generation copy.


If you could tell an aspiring piece of writer to ignore one commonly given piece of advice, what would it be?

“Write what you know.” Chances are, what you know isn’t interesting and there’s no sense in restricting yourself right off the bat.


Are you 'out' as a writer of fiction with work colleagues/family, and if so, what reaction did you get?

That's a bloody good question. I’m still in the closet when it comes to colleagues at the day job, and have been for a good long while now. My family know, of course, but workmate reactions have been divisive enough in the past for me to keep this whole writing thing to myself. Some people were impressed, others didn’t really give a shit, and some actively held it against me. And life’s too short to be dealing with that on a daily basis. I’ve had a few close calls with reviews popping up here and there. Lucky for me, I look and act borderline illiterate, so people don’t tend to connect the names.


Gibbons or tigers? (NB this question is to help me in compiling my List of People Who Are Wrong).

As much as I want to say tigers, I think gibbons edge ‘em out. They’re this close to having precision grip, they’re organised, they’re agile, they can literally leap two-storey buildings in a single bound, they can dislocate their wrists at will and they’re known as lesser apes, so they’ve got something to prove. A tiger, you can kick in the face. Try doing that to a pack of determined gibbons with flick knives.


Meticulous research is both enjoyable and important / what's the point in writing fiction if you can't just make stuff up - discuss.

Research is your alibi, so you just need the details to ring true. If the details are correct, then the big lie is easier to sell. Besides, too much research results in infodumps and self-importance.

Tuesday, 12 July 2011

Interval

Go get some ice creams.

Mad busy at work, comatose when not.

Back next week.

Try the mint choc chip.

Wednesday, 6 July 2011

The biggest reason I am full of hate for Murdoch and Co.

The novel that I've been writing. The novel that I've spent a lot of time thinking about.

This novel, it features a protagonist who earns his money digging up dirt on celebrities to sell to the red-tops. His own world falls apart when his ex disappears and he becomes suspect number one, but if ever there was anyone equipped to find out the truth, it's him.

But now? It just pales. Absolutely pales. I thought I stooped low, but there are miles and miles of sewers running below the deepest one my imagination reached. And in a few months, every publisher, every agent, is going to be deluged with a flood of phone-hacking bin-dippers.

OK, it's not the biggest reason. Them all being emissaries of Satan, that's the biggest reason. But still.

Tuesday, 5 July 2011

The Co-operative Group - lobby on NOTW

UPDATE: The Co-Op Group have reversed their decision, and decided to suspend advertising with the NOTW. Their statement is:

"The Co-operative Group has taken the decision to suspend temporarily any further advertising and promotional activity with the News of the World until the outcome of the investigation is known.
The Group is a consumer-owned business which adheres to strong ethical standards. These allegations have been met with revulsion by the vast majority of members who have contacted us."

It's great that they have buckled, and well done to everyone who has taken the time to ring, email or post on Facebook and Twitter. I am disappointed though that they've only acted because they've been deluged with pissed-off members and customers, who have obviously acted as the conscience that the Group doesn't appear to have. The original decision to continue to advertise was ethically appalling, and the public relations equivalent of shitting in your own hat and putting it on - if an 'ethical' company like the Co-Op has to rely on reacting to customer fury over an issue like this, there's something deeply wrong with its decision-making process. I hope they do something to address this.

Original post follows. Contact details now removed.



We bank with the Co-operative Bank (well, their internet arm, Smile). Like many of their customers, we chose to do that because of the bank's ethical policy, which is derived from the ethical policy of the parent Co-Op Group.

The Co-Op Group (which covers everything, banking, supermarkets, funerals) has today announced its stand on its approach to advertising in the News of the World. Ford, NPower, Halifax, T-Mobile and others have all announced that they are at least reconsidering their ad spend with the NOTW.


Some things to think about here.

News International has admitted phone-hacking in previous cases.

News International has, to the best of my knowledge, failed to deny the most recent allegation, about Milly Dowler.

There is clear evidence not just of unethical behaviour, but criminal behaviour on the part of the NOTW.

NI has lied repeatedly about the extent of phone-hacking, only later to have to admit that each fresh allegation is true.

The Chair of the Press Complaints Commission today stated that the NOTW lied to the PCC.

The former editor of the NOTW and current UK Chief Exec of News International, has told a Select Committee that the paper has in the past paid police officers for information.

And now, the private investigator who hacked into Milly Dowler's voicemail, has released a statement in which he made no denial of the allegation, but instead clearly stated that his work was at the request of NOTW journalists.

All of which makes the Co-Op's innocent-until-proven-guilty stance look like the mealy-mouthed prevarication it is.

[contact details removed]

If you use any of the Co-Op's services, why not give them a call or write them an email and tell them - politely, but firmly - how you feel about their much-vaunted ethical policy in the light of their continued enthusiasm to pay money to a newspaper which has ALREADY admitted criminal behaviour, and which on a day to day basis is exposed as have committed more, worse each time. If you have a bank account, like we do, tell them that you plan to close it. If you shop there, tell them you plan to take your business elsewhere.

You can also post on their Facebook wall, or message them on Twitter, but I think it's better to hold senior staff of the organisation to account. If anyone has any other contact details, please let me know and I will add them to this. If the Co-Op changes its stance, I'll remove them all.


Monday, 4 July 2011

A giant pyramid, made of shit

In 2002, a thirteen year-old girl called Milly Dowler was abducted and murdered. In the early days of the case, before it was known that she was dead, journalists from the News of the World paid private detectives to hack into her mobile phone's voicemail.

They listened to the messages left for the dead girl. Then, her mailbox filled up. No-one would be able to leave a message. There would be no new stories.

So, they deleted some of the old messages they had eavesdropped upon, to make room so that they could eavesdrop on new messages. It became apparent to the family that messages had been deleted, and for a period it gave them brief, agonising hope that Milly Dowler was still alive. She wasn't.

The police knew this was happening. At the time, they knew. And they did nothing.

So, what do we have? A press that doesn't think twice about breaking into the voicemail of a murdered teenager, destroying potential evidence by deleting messages, and giving her family false hope that she is alive. A press that has done this over and over and over and over, to politicians, to celebrities, to public figures - and, if the stories are to be believed (and now, why shouldn't they be) to the parents of two other teenager murder victims.

A police force, which has known about this for years. Years. And done nothing. Because their cosy, dirty relationship with the press was too good to spoil. Too much information. And too much cash in brown envelopes. The papers paid the police off, for information. And in return, police officers demonstrated that they were twice over unfit to be in uniform - once because they took the bribes, and once because they ignored the crimes of those who lined their pockets.

Supine politicial parties, who are so scared of the Murdoch press and the dirt that they might have on them, that they do nothing but meekly bleat occasionally when the revelations are so terrible that they can't say nothing.

A Prime Minister, who employed the man who was assistant editor at the News of the World at the time Milly Dowler's phone was hacked - and who was editor for years while the rest went on - as his press officer, and backed him to the hilt. A Prime Minister who is a regular dinner guest of the woman who was editor at the time Milly Dowler's phone was hacked, and is now UK chief executive at News International.

A company which has just been given the green light - by the Culture Secretary appointed by that Prime Minister - to take over yet more of the UK media.

So what do we have in the UK?

We have a giant pyramid, made of shit.

There's shit at the bottom, the bent coppers and the dirty hacks who connive to cheat and tap and bribe and cover up. There's shit in the middle, the editors and sub-editors and senior police officers who know it's going on but turn a blind eye, and then have the effrontery to turn around when it all comes out and pretend they knew nothing about it - which means they are either liars, or incompetent fools. And then there's shit at the top, because the cosy dinners between PM and News International execs, Rupert Murdoch being the first visitor to Downing St after Cameron was elected, Labour PMs being guests at Brooks' wedding, every last bit of it, is just the top of the giant pyramid of shit. And it may be the top, but it stinks just as much as the bottom does.

We can't ever point the finger at another country and talk about corruption. We can't. Because the most important thing that the phone-hacking scandal is showing is not the moral bankruptcy of some journalists, it's not that you can buy some police officers like they're on the shelves at Sainsburys: it's that there's a tight and filthy mesh of corruption and bribery and coercion and influence that links significant parts of our society, and it's been there for years, and I fear it's not going away any time soon.

Sunday, 3 July 2011

Writers Talk About Writing: Alan Ryker

(Once you've finished reading what Alan's got to say, check out the whole series of interviews here.)

Time for the next interview in the series, and it's a good 'un, especially for Alan's thoughts on horror fiction and its intersection with literary fiction. But there's lots more too. First, an introduction.

Alan Ryker writes good fight scenes because he studies Muay Thai boxing, though not as often as his coach would like. He lives with his wife in the Kansas City area, where he writes both dark and literary fiction, and tests the boundaries of each. He has previously published short fiction in a number of print anthologies and magazines.

Check out Alan's many adventures at his blog, Pulling Teeth. Enjoy his most mundane thoughts by following him on twitter: @alanryker. Friend him on Facebook.

Read on, and enjoy.

We're in a lift, I'm someone important (come on, pretend), you've got thirty seconds (tall building, slow lift) to tell me about your latest book.

Psychomancer (US | UK) is about 1) the luckiest man on Earth, who washes up on a Florida beach after spending his entire life marooned on an island, 2) the most powerful psion the American government has ever produced, who is sent to capture #1 and 3) a man who travels the United

States writing articles for his syndicated column about strange deaths, and ends up following the swath of destruction #1 and #2 are carving across the country until he gets himself tangled up as well.

When good luck is real, what happens if we end up on the wrong end of someone else’s?


Uh-oh. Not sure lifts are meant to stop suddenly between floors like this. Guess we've got a bit more time. Ignore the flickering lights and creaking sounds above us. Would you like to tell me about other books or stories that you have available?

I've also got a contemporary vampire western called Burden Kansas (US | UK | paperback), a little short story collection called Pulling Teeth (US | UK), and a domestic comedy one-act play set during a Lovecraftian apocalypse called When Cthulhu Met Atlach-Nacha. It's sassy. It's brassy. It's a dramatic humdinger!

Please stop repeatedly pressing the emergency button. The comment about building a ladder of bones to reach the ceiling hatch and get out of here was just blue-skies thinking. So, what are you working on now?

I'm very tall. It's totally natural to think of kicking footholds between my ribs and climbing me like a ladder.

I'm currently writing a hardboiled novel filled with angels, demons and Muay Thai fighters, a collection of flash fiction with each short centered around an extremely uncomfortable/embarrassing/awkward moment, and the sequel to Burden Kansas.

Here's the thing: when I describe my work it sounds stupid.


Where do you see horror fiction heading over the next few years, and what direction do you hope for your own work to take?

Realistically, I see horror remaining as unread as it currently is. It's currently cooler to play D&D than to read horror.

Horror is a feeling and a literary device. It's not really a genre like other genres are. It's getting a certain type of reaction from the reader, and any way you can get that reaction is fair game. So horror requires a vehicle. The vehicle that we're stuck on is the horror thriller. In my opinion, that's been the demise of the horror genre. The situation has gotten as lame as slashers before Scream came out.

But I also see a continuation of mainstream literary writers embracing their genre roots and writing horror that is read by the public. I'd love to see that stoke interest in horror, and for readers to want more and to be able to find the horror writers doing interesting, artistic and emotionally moving stuff. Most literary writers didn't start out reading Tolstoy at age ten, but unlike artists in other mediums, they've been very reluctant to embrace their past loves, let alone allow them to emerge as influences in their current work.

But that's changing. Right now it's very self-conscious. It's like what happened with comics, with the divide between alternative and hero comics. Then came meta work like Alan Moore did, where there was defiance burning on every page. Now, it's accepted that smart adults can create smart adult comics, and that they can even still have heroes and that that's no biggie. I see the literary world as being a decade behind the comic book world in that regard. And some people get angry, feeling like they've stuck with horror the whole time, so who are these writers like Cormac McCarthy to just step in and take all the accolades? But I like what these writers are doing. Maybe they don't know the rules. Maybe they don't agree with the rules. For whatever reason, they're not following the rules, and that creates something fresh.

Obviously there's been horror writers down in the trenches creating fresh, original work, too. From what I've encountered, it's mostly been short fiction. Across genres, the cool stuff is being done in short fiction.


You've blogged about the intersection between horror and literary fiction. Do you think it's harder for a writer identified as coming from genre to get recognition for the literary nature of their work, than it is for a writer already established as a literary writer to be recognised as writing a novel that genre fans will enjoy? How can those barriers be broken down?

Absolutely. If you get the critics and general readers' trust as a mainstream literary writer, they'll trust where you're taking them. They'll give you much more leeway. Like I said, there are going to be hardcore genre fans who'll be suspicious, but I think they're a small minority. On the other hand, everyone is suspicious of an uppity genre writer, genre and mainstream readers alike.

I guess one way to break down the barrier would be to bang your head against the wall of traditional publishing and have your agent submit to literary presses that can get your book out of the genre ghetto and onto the general fiction shelves. But it seems like traditional publishing is getting pretty tight.

You could submit to literary journals. A lot of them have adopted electronic submission systems, and I've seen many of my pure horror stories make it past the first reading, as you can see the status of your work in these systems. But good lord do they take a long time. And nobody reads them. And most don't pay anything. They're really just for building your CV to get a teaching gig. And you've got self-conscious students worried about looking stupid for passing a werewolf story up to the editor, so you have to send your stuff that does the most fence-straddling.

That's a wordy way of saying that I don't know. I think the key is for the readers and writers of smart, literary genre fiction to try to find each other and get just a fraction of the voice the lowest common denominator stuff has.


What scares you most in fiction?

What really gives me chills is the idea of not being able to trust your senses or your logic. House of Leaves is a great example of that. A writer you've interviewed, James Everington, has a lot of stories playing with that type of horror in his collection The Other Room (US | UK).

Then there's realistic violence that happens to characters you've grown to care about. I nearly threw up reading White Hotel, but its violence is nowhere near the level that goes on in splatterpunk. It's the kind of violence you can never get desensitized to, because it's occurring to someone close to you.


It's safe to say that the vampires in Burden Kansas don't sparkle. How difficult is it to find an original take on such a well-established (sub) genre, and what are you doing to revive the vampire as something to fear, rather than to put a poster of up on your wall?

Creating something completely new is rare. I don't know if I could even gauge the difficulty, because I'm not sure how much control you have over something like that. On the other hand, I think that taking something well-established and doing a unique twist only requires intent. If it's hard to find an original vampire novel, it's because most writers prefer to write the billionth goddamn sexy vampire novel.

Making Burden Kansas different from every vampire book you've read was as easy as setting it in rural Kansas. And tossing in meth. Good old crystal methamphetamine. Happiness distilled to its purest form—dopamine—in a level higher than any other chemical or activity could produce. Better than a thousand orgasms. Better than watching your child graduate from medical school. Twelve times more dopamine than your body could ever produce naturally. Literally the happiest you can be.


Speaking of posters, I think you should consider releasing the cover of Pulling Teeth as a poster for dentist's waiting rooms. Or maybe as a nice greetings card. Your excellent covers are very eye-catching - how important do you think this is in marketing your books?

Thank you! The dental poster is a good idea. I try to do my part for the kids.

A good cover is essential. I'm a nobody. On good days, I consider myself an up-and-comer. When someone stumbles across a thumbnail of my book on Amazon or B&N in a search or in a “customers also bought”, I've got one square inch to show them something that makes them click as they zip past to whatever they were intending to buy.

I know my buying pattern for someone I've never heard of: the eye-catching cover gets me to click and read the interesting blurb that gets me to download the well-written sample that gets me to buy. I think that represents the habit of a lot of e-book readers. So the cover has to be professional. It has to minimize well. And most of all, it has to grab the eye and the consciousness.

I spend hours looking for art for my covers. Then I contact the artist and purchase the exclusive rights to use it as a book cover. Then I send it over to my graphic designer, Wendy McBride, who turns it into a cover. Anyone interested in contacting the artists I've worked with can check out the “My People” tab on my blog.


Can you remember what made you sit down to write your first book or story?

A creative writing class when I was a junior in college. I don't think I'd written a story previous to that since junior high. I went from visual art to music, and then ended up really loving writing. If I hadn't taken that class, which was just an English Lit elective, I probably never would have started writing fiction. I'd probably be doing something people appreciate.


Do you have a book or story that you're very fond of, but think should get more attention from the world than it has?

The Drowned World by JG Ballard. It's my favorite of his books, and one of the few books I reread regularly. He's obviously very well-known, but I don't think so much for that book.


Print publishing is a doomed but still predatory dinosaur rotting from the feet up. Ebook publishing is the vomiting out of the world's slushpiles onto the market. In the ongoing war of words and hyperbole, where's the happy medium to be found? Where do you think the publishing business is heading over the next few years, and what are you doing to be ready for it?

Apple saw the direction the music industry was going. Amazon probably sees the way the publishing industry is going. If I could see these things, I'd be rich. I'm just a stupid writer.

It seems that for awhile, at least, both worlds will coexist: the efficient self-publishing world and the curated trad-publishing world.

I've heard people say that once writers see that self-publishing isn't an easy path to riches and fame that they'll give up. No way. I used to read slush at a literary journal. Previously, aspiring writers with no talent have poured money and time into writing with no way to reach readers due to gatekeepers. Reaching a few is infinitely preferable. So the deluge is just beginning.

Quality will still set you apart. How will anyone find your work to know you write quality material? Slowly. Very slowly. I'm lucky that I'm a good essayist, so I've got a growing audience at my blog. Slowly growing. I also feel lucky to have gotten in pretty early.

But like a lot of people who've hustled for years before the e-book revolution, I'm trying to keep a foot in each world. I'm self-publishing collections of short fiction, but not before I try as hard as I can to publish the stories in magazines or journals first. If someone offered me a book contract, I'd really think about it. Not because I think it would be financially smarter in regards to those specific items of fiction, but because I would like to teach creative writing one day. So it would provide me with career opportunities that self-publishing can't.


What book do you most wish that you had written?

Crime and Punishment. But I'd have had Raskolnikov leave Siberia an unrepentant motherfucker.

Do you do much promotion for your books? What do you think is the most effective thing you've done?

I'm pretty ineffective, so I wouldn't encourage anyone to take what I do as a map to success.

Like I said, I'm an entertaining essayist. So I keep a blog and try to put up quality posts that have personality. My books are there on the sidebar, and certain posts keep people informed about what I'm doing. I like the soft sell. I'm not one to shout about my work in a crowded room (a stuck elevator is another matter).

I will get on Twitter and shout links to my blog posts. Other people find Twitter to be a good tool for selling. I don't. I find it good for networking, and for getting people to my blog. Then my blog does a good job of selling.

A giveaway at librarything is the best way to get reviews, for sure. But you will get some people who never would have plunked down money for a book like yours reviewing it. Sometimes they'll say, "I never read books like this, but this was great!" And other times they'll say, "I never read books like this, and this is an example of why!"


What is it that really pushes your buttons as a reader?

Show me something new. Get me with a cool concept, but get me in the heart, too. And I tend to prefer minimalism. The literary world almost seems stuck in a maximalist era of hysterical realism. Blah. Mostly, just don't bore me. New Yorker realism (upper-middle class whiners doing nothing) and standard rock-em-sock-em, that's-so-cool! genre stuff both bore me. I'd rather play a video game.


If you could give an aspiring writer one piece of advice, what would it be?

Don't publish your first novel, unless it's under a toss-away pseudonym.


If you could tell an aspiring piece of writer to ignore one commonly given piece of advice, what would it be?

If you stick with it, you'll eventually succeed.