Thursday, September 29, 2016

Blood on the Bayou - Friday

Friday picked up right where Thursday left off, which is not surprising when one considers Thursday didn’t end for me until 2:00 AM on Friday.

9:30 Fan Guests of Honor Jon and Ruth Jordan Interviewed by Charles Todd and Caroline Todd
It’s good to remember people like Jon and Ruth Jordan are the reason there are such things as Bouchercons. We writers—even regular-sized writers—are only able to get together because three times as many readers pony up and travel great distances to visit with us, and few people are more responsible for keeping those fires stoked than the Jordans. For as much as writers like to complain about discuss how difficult it is to balance jobs and lives and still find time to write, I guaran-damn-tee you none of us puts in more time than the Jordans. They’re charming and unassuming and one would never guess they, and others like them, are what make everything we get to do possible. The interview covered a wide range of topics, from Jordan family history to the origins of Crimespree Magazine to anecdotes about writers they’ve come to know, and they know everybody. A delightful 50 minutes, though co-interviewer Charles Todd needed coffee badly. Very badly. Bubbles on The Wire never jonesed harder for a fix than Charles Todd did for his coffee that morning.

11:00 Better Him Than Me: Criminal Protagonists. Dwayne Swierczynski, moderator.
Dwayne Swierczynski stepped in when original moderator Todd “Big Daddy Thug” Robinson was unable to attend. Dwayne never skipped a beat, keeping a first-rate panel moving on a topic they were all more than qualified for.

John McFetridge refers to his Toronto series of books that focus on the motorcycle gang the Saints of Hell as “criminal procedurals.” As one of his characters said, “I don’t understand serial killers. It’s a crime with no profit.” (Gordon Brown also fails to see the appeal of fictional serial killers, and thinks it’s the vicarious danger that appeals to readers.) John also mentioned that killing an animal is lazy writing if the only purpose is to establish how bad the bad guy is.

Nik Korpon feels the same way about rape. Placing women in danger is too easy, and Nik has no background in how the women feel, which makes it almost impossible to describe more than half a rape.

Nik also told a story of author Angel Luis Colon, who used to hang with former IRA guys in New York City after the Troubles. Colon was later appalled when he realized he’d been spending enjoyable time with bombers and murderers and had difficulty reconciling the things they’d done with their apparently genial natures.

Shawn McDaniel strongly recommends a non-fiction book, The Sociopath Next Door, as a way to get inside criminal protagonists. Shawn believes people are drawn to characters like Tony Soprano because of the character’s passion for what they do.

2:00 On the Nickel: PIs Jan Grape, moderator.
Sean Lynch, a former cop who writes a series about PIs who take on police corruption: How many cops does it take to push a guy down the stairs? None. He fell.

David Housewright doesn’t think of setting as a character, but as how it forms and informs the human characters. He’ll let his PI go outside the rules, but there are always consequences.

Corey Lynn Fayman once had a PI tell him if he ever came up against a man with a gun in the course of an investigation, he’d step back and call the police.
Sean Lynch: The antagonistic relationship often depicted between fictional cops and PIs isn’t generally accurate. They get along and can help each other 90% of the time, and it drives him crazy to see cop shows where the cops have only one case at a time. If a PI has a way to help and isn’t a jerk about it, most cops will be happy to cooperate. This relationship works both ways as each side utilizes the better skills of the other. One condition: the PI must agree to share everything and understand the cop can’t do the same. In his experience, cops who are dismissive and hostile toward PIs who can help them aren’t usually good cops in general.

3:30 The Boxer: Writing Violence. Zoe Sharp, moderator.
This panel differed from other violence panels I’ve seen as the discussion focused less on the mechanics of violence and more on the psychology. All of the panelists agreed they get much more grief from readers over the swearing in their books than because of the violence.

Sheila Redling: How does physical size affect your character’s sense of risk or preparation for violence? Are physically smaller characters more attuned to physical threats?

Sheila Redling quoting from The Onion: The average man is 5000% less effective at fighting than he imagines.

Zoe Sharp: Male authors focus more on the mechanics of sex and violence; women more on the emotions.

Taylor Stevens: The middle course is to be inside the character’s head and see what that person is thinking or experiencing.

Zoe Sharp: You don’t need to spell out everything that happens. Readers will fill in their own blanks. (She then referenced the shower scene from Psycho, where at no time does the audience ever see a knife contact skin.)

Quote attributed to Dennis Lehane (by who I don’t remember): Everything he knows about writing violence came from reading the Parker novels by Richard Stark (Donald Westlake). Zoe Sharp got a lot of pointers from the sparse prose used in Robert B. Parker’s novels.

7:00 Private Eye Writers of America Banquet.
The PWA Banquet is always fun, and this year’s even more than usual. Lawrence Block spoke of his time as president, and several other long-time members spoke and presented awards. The evening concluded with the presentation of the Shamus Awards, which went to:
  • Best Private Eye Novel: Brutality by Ingrid Thoft
  • Best First Private Eye Novel: The Do-Right by Lisa Sandlin
  • Best Original Private Eye Paperback: Circling the Runway by J.L. Abramo
  • Best Private Eye Short Story: "The Dead Client" by Parnell Hall (Dark City Lights: New York Stories)
The lifetime achievement award went once again to someone who had more than earned the honor, S.J. Rozan. Congratulations to all the winners, even Joe Abramo, who beat me for best paperback original. I’d like to hate him, but he’s such a nice guy, fine writer, and gracious winner I couldn’t be happier if I had won myself. Well, maybe a little.

Special thanks to Bob Randisi for not only putting on his standard great party, but for taking time from his own dinner to make sure The Beloved Spouse and I had a meal that wouldn’t kill us. I’m not a joiner, but every year I’m reminded how glad I am to be a part of PWA.

Next Monday on the blog: Day Three.

Monday, September 26, 2016

Twenty Questions With Andrew Nette

Andrew Nette is a writer I’m predisposed to like because he takes the craft seriously. (You can’t take any craft more seriously than to work on a PhD in whatever it is, as he is in Australian pulp fiction, so kudos to Andrew.)

Andrew is co-editor of Beat Girls, Love Tribes and Real Cool Cats: Pulp Fiction and Youth Culture, 1950 – 1980, forthcoming from Verse Chorus Press. His short fiction has appeared in a number of print and on-line publications, including Crime Scenes, an anthology of Australian crime fiction published by Spineless Wonders, Beat to a Pulp Hardboiled 3, Shotgun Honey Presents: Both Barrels, Blood and Tacos, The One That Got Away, Phnom Penh Noir and Crime Factory Hard Labour.

His first novel, Ghost Money, a crime story set in Cambodia in the mid-nineties, was published in 2012. His second novel, Gunshine State was released by 280 Steps a couple of weeks ago, and is why we’re here today.

His online home is or you can follow him on Twitter @Pulpcurry

One Bite at a Time: Tell us about Gunshine State.
Andrew Nette: Gunshine State is an Australian take on the classic ‘heist gone wrong’ story, set in Surfers Paradise, Queensland, Thailand, and Melbourne.

Here’s the pitch: Gary Chance is a former Australian army driver, ex-bouncer and thief. His latest job takes place in Surfers Paradise, working as part gang run by an aging stand over man, Dennis Curry, who runs off-site, non-casino poker games, and wants to rob one of his best customers, a high roller called Frederick 'Freddie' Gao. The job seems straightforward but Curry's crew is anything but. Chance knows he can't trust anyone, but nothing prepares him for what unfolds when Curry's plan goes wrong.

OBAAT: Readers love to ask where authors get their ideas and most authors reply with something along the lines of “we’re tripping over them. The trick is to find the idea that works best for me.” What made this idea worth developing, and how much development from the original germ was required?
AN: There were a couple of key motivations behind Gunshine State. First, I love heist stories but very few of them have appeared in local crime fiction. I wanted to try my hand at writing what I hope is a quintessentially Australian take on the heist genre.

Second, there was a period in my life several years ago when, for various family reasons, I was spending a lot of time in Surfers Paradise. Surfers is a strange beast. It was basically a small settlement hacked out of mangrove swamps in the Forties and by the Sixties had become Australia’s foremost beach holiday destination, modeled on similar places in Florida. The local authorities now promote the place as a family friendly destination but it has a very colourful history, full of deeply suspect characters and goings on. Linked to this it is a very transient place. Nearly everyone who lives there comes from somewhere else. Although there is much less of it now, Surfers also still exudes a strange faux Miami atmosphere that influenced a lot of its construction in the Fifties and Sixties.

It’s the perfect place to kick off a heist story.

OBAAT: How long did it take to write Gunshine State, start to finish?
AN: All up about a year, although the idea had been percolating in my mind for a while.

OBAAT: Where did Gary Chance come from? In what ways is he like, and unlike, you?
AN: I am not sure there is any of me in him, but there are certainly aspects of people I have met. He is also strongly influenced by some of my favourite crime fiction criminal characters, particular Garry Disher’s Wyatt, Wallace Stroby’s Crissa Stone and Richard Stark’s (Donald Westlake) Parker.

OBAAT: In what time and place is Gunshine State set and why was this time and place chosen?
AN: It is set now. My first novel, Ghost Money, was an historical crime novel set in Cambodia in the 1970s and 90s. For my second book, I wanted to do something more contemporary.

OBAAT: How did Gunshine State come to be published?
AN: I’d heard very good things about 280 Steps. So, after getting knocked back by a few mainstream Australian publishers ‘because the story was a bit too dark’, I thought I would send it their way. They got back to me fairly quickly and said yes, which is great.

OBAAT: What kinds of stories do you like to read? Who are your favorite authors, in or out of that area?
AN: I try and read pretty broadly in terms of contemporary crime fiction. I have a preference for noir and hardboiled, especially if the material is written well and tries to being something innovative to the genre or put a new spin on a standard trope. In addition to the authors I mentioned above, think Donald Ray Pollock, Megan Abbott, David Peace, Elizabeth Hand, Cathi Unsworth and West Australian writer, David Whish Wilson, and you’ll get an idea the type of stuff I like.

OBAAT: What made you decide to be an author?
AN: I am not sure when I decided I wanted to be ‘an author’. I do remember when I decided I wanted to write a novel. I was in Cambodia in 1996 as a wire service journalist. I’d first visited the country in 1992 and it had fascinated me from the moment I first arrived. The people, the contrast between the anything goes, Wild West atmosphere of Phnom Penh and the hardscrabble but incredibly beautiful countryside. History oozed from the cracks in the French colonial architecture and protruded from the rich red earth, sometimes quite literally in the case of the mass graves that litter the countryside. Things happened every day – terrible events and acts of heart breaking generosity you couldn’t make up if you tried. I always thought Cambodia would be a good setting for a crime story but was too caught up in the day to day reporting of events and trying to make a living as a freelance journalist to put much of a dent in the book. That didn’t come until nearly a decade later, when one day I sat down and started reading through some old notes. In early 2008, my partner and I quit our jobs and moved to Cambodia for a year with our then two year old. I freelanced as a journalist, did fixing work for foreign TV crews and finished the first draft of what would be become my first novel, Ghost Money.

OBAAT: How do you think your life experiences have prepared you for writing crime fiction?
AN: I work with words. It’s what I have done to earn a living nearly all my adult all my adult life. I think it’s all I can do. Writing crime fiction is just one part of that, albeit a major one.

OBAAT: What do you like best about being a writer?
AN: The feeling of exhilaration you get when someone likes your material enough to publish you. Getting jazzed by seeing my name out there, whether it is on the cover of a book or an article. That feeling never gets old.

OBAAT: Who are your greatest influences?
AN: I am a huge fan of Don Westlake. Every book of his is a master class in plot, character and structure. I, like practically crime writer I know, owe a huge debt to James Ellroy. I get the impression he’s fallen out of favour a touch due to his last couple of books not being so well received as his earlier material, but his influence on crime writers, myself included, cannot be overstated. He blew a giant hole in the middle of what people thought crime fiction could be.

OBAAT: Do you outline or fly by the seat of you pants?
AN: I’d say I fall somewhere in the middle. I plan but not obsessively so.

OBAAT: Give us an idea of your process. Do you edit as you go? Throw anything into a first draft knowing the hard work is in the revisions? Something in between?
AN: Again, somewhere in the middle. I try not to revise as I write too much on a first draft, but I find it unavoidable.

OBAAT: Endings are hard and can make or break a book. Americans as a whole tend to like happy endings, and those are the books that tend to sell best. What do you look for in an ending?
AN: If I had to answer this, I would say, a powerful image. With Gunshine State and my first novel, Ghost Money, I had a very clear picture of how I wanted the endings to go and, to some degree, a lot of the process of writing was trying to make things lead up to that in a way worked.

OBAAT: Who is your intended audience?
AN: Seriously, if you’re reading this, you’re my intended audience.

OBAAT: If you could give a novice writer a single piece of advice, what would it be?
AN: Stop talking about writing. Just write.

OBAAT: Generally speaking the components of a novel are story/plot, character, setting, narrative, and tone. How would you rank these in order of their importance in your own writing, and can you add a few sentences to tell us more about how you approach each and why you rank them as you do?
AN: I don’t know if I can prioritise them. I can only say which components are harder/easier for me, because everyone has their own strengths and weaknesses. Character is the toughest for me, something I really need to work at right. Gunshine State is told from the perspectives of four characters, two men and two women. It was a real challenge for me trying to shift between four points of view, male and female, and make the characters concerned compelling and realistic.
I believe narrative is just a matter of imagination combined with perseverance. Setting and tone come more easily to me. I think this is because I think about a book like watching a film, if that makes sense.

OBAAT: If you could have written any book of the past hundred years, what would it be, and what is it about that book you admire most?
AN: Probably George Orwell’s 1984 because Big Brother IS watching you.

OBAAT: Favorite activity when you’re not reading or writing.
AN: Getting through the huge backlog of films on my TBW list, which is even bigger than my TBR pile, if that is possible.

OBAAT: What are you working on now?
AN: I’ve just started a PhD on the history of Australian pulp fiction, so that’s keeping me pretty busy. In addition to this, I am doing research for a monograph I have been contracted to write on the classic 1975 dystopian film, Rollerball and the films influenced by it. Oh, yes, and there is a second Gary Chance book in the works. I pretty much have the plot nailed, I just need to find the time to start writing it.

Thursday, September 22, 2016

Blood on the Bayou - Thursday

Bouchercon 2016 took place in New Orleans September 15 – 18. While I’ve never been to a bad Bouchercon—Albany was a logistical nightmare but the panels were solid—the Big Easy may have been my favorite.

I’m providing my impressions over the next few weeks. Your experiences may not lead you to agree with everything reported here, but it’s not your blog, is it?

9:00 Another Tricky Day: Problems All Authors Face. Scott Adlerberg, moderator.

Wallace Stroby—who looks like Jason Bateman’s somewhat disreputable older brother—says what all former journalists say about getting stuck or being blocked: it’s a job. Get it done. He says he doesn’t miss the news business much, but he does miss being around the people. I’ve heard that from quite a few former journalists. Journalism must have been a hell of a way to make a living back in the day when a living could be made from it.

JT Ellison made contact with the Nashville cops by calling and asking if there had ever been a serial killer in Nashville and the cop told her to come on down, as if they were holding interviews for the position. I’m going to have to get to Killer Nashville one of these days. They seem to have the right attitude.

God, I love listening to writers talk about writing. This was a perfect opening panel: good writers talking about writing. We’re off and running.

12:00 One More Time: Novels and Characters Taking on Another Life on Screen. Lee Goldberg, moderator.

Nina Sadowsky: Don’t remake great old movies. If the original was bad, have at it.

Phoef Sutton and Alexandra Sokoloff agree that set pieces are key to getting a novel adapted. (Filed under “Microsoft Fails:” Word considers “Phoef” to be a misspelling.)

David Morell had an interesting backstory on First Blood. The book is ardently anti-war. The original Rambo movie less so, but still leaning that way. In the sequel, the line “Sir, do we get to win this time?” set off such a jingoistic wave in the country Morell and the book were virtually blacklisted from liberal bookstores and libraries, each of which had been his champions prior to that. After ten years or so the book and films had become so much part of popular culture he and the original novel became acceptable again.

Previously Unknown (by me) Fact: Die Hard was adapted from a book (Nothing Lasts Forever) that was itself the sequel to The Detective, which was made into a movie starring Frank Sinatra.

Alexandra Sokoloff: Producers will want to change your story into whatever they fantasize their mistress is doing.

Lee Goldberg once wrote a story about a TV executive driving in his car when The Big One hits LA, and how he finds his way to safety. A studio executive was interested, but asked could they make a couple of changes. Goldberg assumed the TV exec would have to have a different profession. The studio guy wanted to swap out the TV exec for six Midwestern cheerleaders, and—since LA earthquakes are cliché—change it to a tsunami. Basically a wet tee-shirt movie. Goldberg passed. The studio exec probably still wonders why.

Nina Sadowsky, quoting Nicholas Kazan: They pay us to take the meetings. We’d do the writing for free.

Lee Goldberg: Ideas are easy. Execution is everything. That’s why people who have had previous successes can so often get something else made.

Phoef Sutton, when asked about Robert McKee, believes McKee has inadvertently done storytelling in general a grave disservice. Sutton does not believe McKee intended for his book, Story, to be followed so slavishly. McKee was a charismatic teacher, but the book is indecipherable.

Nina Sadowsky, following up on Sutton’s comment: You can learn structure, not voice.

Phoef Sutton; James M. Cain was asked if having Walter Neff dictate the entire story of Double Indemnity as he dies was Cain’s idea. Cain said, “No, but it would have been if I had thought of it.”

David Morell: It’s not a writer-friendly environment when one has to contend with executives who could not survive in any other environment, and often not even in this one. Example given: Morell pitched an idea for a story about a mutant form of rabies. The exec had just made a movie in which rabies figured, and suggested changing rabies to industrial pollution. When Morell pointed out industrial pollution is not contagious, the exec replied, “Fuck it. No one will notice.”

1:30 Road to Find Out: Research. Harriette Sackler, moderator.

Michael Gear: Always remember the term “Willing suspension of disbelief.” Research is what allows the author to get the details right, which develops the trust the reader needs to suspend disbelief.

Veronica Forand: If you don’t know something, find a book that explains it for kids to get the basics down first.

3:00 Dead Man’s Party: Realities of Death Investigations. Ayo Onatade, moderator.

Jan Burke: Coroners speak for the living, such as victims’ families and others who might be affected by this cause of death.

D. P. Lyle: The ripple effects of murder are enormous and too often neglected.

Jan Burke is appalled at the state of much of what we do forensically in this country. Examples:
  • Each state has different standards for submitting DNA into CODIS (Combined DNA Index System), depending on the crime. Auditing to see if even those standards are met is lacking.
  • There 100,000 unidentified corpses lying around in the United States and we cannot even assume they have been measures and weighed, let alone fingerprinted or sampled for DNA. Not all states require the reporting of unidentified remains to NamUs (National Missing and Unidentified Persons System).
  • Homicide investigations do not begin until a coroner rules a death as suspicious, and there are no national standards for coroners.

Jan Burke: Forensic science is designed to be understood by “the biggest idiot on the jury.”

Jan Burke: A missing person is “where hope can become cruel.”

D.P. Lyle, quoting Lee Goldberg on why so many cop shows get the science wrong: If you give me a choice between story and fact, I’ll choose story every time.

Alistair Kimble: Most cases are still broken by talking to people. That will show the investigator where to look, what to look for, and what’s important.

Jan Burke: A real benefit of the CSI shows is the increased numbers of women going into the sciences.

4:30 Telling Lies: Fiction is Better Than Reality. Johnny Shaw, moderator.

Five accomplished liars authors (Ingrid Thoft—who won the Shamus Friday night, congratulations, Ingrid—Lachlan Smith, J.D. Rhoades, Ben Lieberman, Julie Smith) told stories that could have been true or false. Mostly false, but two things were learned amid the laughter:
  1. Truth is stranger than fiction.
  2. The best lies have a lot of truth in them.

7:00 Down & Out Books Fifth Anniversary Event

Paraphrasing Art Mullin in Justified, it gave me a little bit of a writer’s chubby to see the caliber of talent I’m now included with by being a Down & Out author. James Ray Tuck read and emceed a lineup including Eric Beetner, Tom Pitts, Gordon Brown, Jeffery Hess, S.W. Lauden, Ian Truman, J.L. Abramo (who also went on to win a Shamus Friday night, congratulations, Joe), Grant Jerkins, Danny Gardner, Gary Phillips, Jen Conley, and yours truly that wrapped up what would have been a full and rewarding day even if Tim O’Mara had not kept me out at Sneaky Pete’s until 2:00 AM.

On Monday we have an interview with Australian author Andrew Nette that’s worth a read. We’ll get back to Bouchercon doings next Thursday.

Thursday, September 8, 2016

Twenty (One) Questions with the Authors of Triple Shot

I’ve said for years the greatest and longest-lasting effect e-books might have on literature is to make novellas financially viable as a form. Instead of being either too short or too long for wither of the main formats, e-books would release the novella from the price and size constraints by removing them altogether.

I still think that’s true, but left out another possibility: get a group of talented authors—three should be sufficient—and hook them up with a publisher who’s willing think outside the box. (Down & Out comes to mind.) Voila! You got yourself a collection of novellas.

Triple Shot launched August 15 from Down & Out Books and OBAAT is lucky to have not one—not two—but all three of the authors here for a special Bonus Question™ edition of Twenty Questions. Each author gets seven questions, with some overlap to be sure no one is bullshitting us.

So, in alphabetical order, here are Ross Klavan, Tim O’Mara, and Charles Salzberg to talk about Triple Shot.

Ross Klavan’s novel, Schmuck, was published by Greenpoint Press in 2014. He recently finished the screenplay for The Colony based on the book by John Bowers. Nominated for an Independent Spirit Award, his original screenplay, Tigerland, was directed by Joel Schumacher and starred Colin Farrell. He has written screenplays for InterMedia, Walden Media, Miramax, Paramount, A&E and TNT. As a performer, Klavan’s voice has been heard in dozens of feature films including Revolutionary Road, Sometimes in April, Casino, In and Out, and You Can Count On Me as well as in numerous TV and radio commercials. In other lives, he was a member of the NYC alternative art group Four Walls and was a reporter covering New York City and London, England. Ross’s contribution to Triple Shot is Thump Gun Hitched.

One Bite at a Time: Tell us about Thump Gun Hitched.
Ross Klavan: A freak accident forces two L.A. cops to play out a deadly obsession that takes them from back alley payoffs to hard time in prison, then deep into the tunnel networks south of the border to a murderous town that’s only rumored to exist. Before the last shot is fired, everything they thought was certain proves to be a shadow and everything they trusted opens into a trap.

OBAAT: I hate to ask where writers get their ideas, but where did you get this idea? Damn.
RK: One of my guilty pleasures is that sort of gritty style Western, you know, where everything gets peeled away until the characters are left to face off with what’s usually the worst of their own selves. So I wrote one. Added to that, there was a guy I met who was a private hand-to-hand combat instructor who was hired by the military and police. He said that he’d once been a cop but did something really stupid at a cop party and spent a year locked up. I always thought that might be useable.

OBAAT: How did you get involved in Triple Shot?

RK: Each of these pieces was on the way to publication for another company that went under. Tim, Charles and I all know each other from NYC and know that nobody wants to pick up the bar tab. I think it was Tim O’Mara who came up with the idea for the compilation for Down and Out Books, who’ve been terrific. Tim had a great idea and we didn’t even buy him a drink. I guess we’ll have to.

OBAAT: You’ve written both novels and screenplays with success. How different was it to write a novella?
RK: It seemed sort of like the bastard child of a screenplay and a novel. You can’t waste time or words. I wanted it to move and I wanted to keep the writing very physical…so that, too, was a way to mix what you can do in a novel and a film.  

OBAAT: You have quite a creative range, as you’ve acted in addition to you novels and screenplays, and worked on short documentaries. Which is your favorite and how do they influence each other?
RK: I can’t choose a favorite but everything influences the other. In a way, you’re always doing the same thing but in a different form, sometimes pushing the body into words, sometimes words into the body, but you’re always working on rhythm and timing and sound and image and how to make a world and people that somebody can get lost in…including yourself. 

OBAAT: Who are your greatest external influences? (Not necessarily writers. Filmmakers, other artists, whoever you think has had a major impact on your writing.)
RK: I think if you’re smart, you’ll let yourself be influenced by just about everything. Let me steer clear of naming writers, just for laughs, so, I’ve always loved film, even bad ones and I can watch individual scenes over and over, sometimes without sound…but of course, also, the usual great suspects like Kubrick and Scorsese and even someone a little more epic like David Lean. My wife, Mary Jones, is an abstract painter and also teaches at Rhode Island School of Design and School of Visual Arts—she’s taught me incredible things about composition that are as true for writing as for painting. Some odder influences…there’s a painter named Mark Tansey, I’ve always like his stuff. The great performance artist Allan Kaprow. There’s a teacher of theater and clowning, Philipe Gaulier. And then, besides the happenings and history of my own life, my writing’s been formed also by martial arts, tai chi, yoga, psychoanalysis and talking to people in bars all over the world.

OBAAT: If Thump Gun Hitched were made into a movie, who would play the major roles?
RK:  Y’know, I don’t want to influence any possible reader’s imagination—they’ll probably cast it better than I could. And if I actually name somebody—say, Josh Brolin—some clown in the business could say, “Gee, we were going to do this book…but Brolin isn’t available.” So cast it the way you want it and all I’d like is a small under-5.                              

Tim O’Mara has been teaching math and special education in New York City public schools since 1987, yet he is best known for his Raymond Donne mysteries about an ex-cop who now teaches in the same Williamsburg, Brooklyn, neighborhood he once policed: Sacrifice Fly (2012), Crooked Numbers (2013), Dead Red (2015), Nasty Cutter (January 2017). His short story, “The Tip,” is featured in the 2016 anthology Unloaded. The anthology’s proceeds benefit the nonprofit States United to Prevent Gun Violence. Tim wrote Smoked for Triple Shot.

One Bite at a Time: Tell us about Smoked.
Tim O’Mara: Smoked is a first-person monologue from a sketchy character explaining how he came to be in the uncomfortable position he now finds himself. The structure of the story—no chapter breaks, just thirty thousand words of him talking—was inspired by Stephen King’s Dolores Claiborne. The reader has to take the narrator, “Aggie,” at his word. Or not. 

OBAAT: You’re best known for your Raymond Donne series of novels. How different was it to write a novella?
TO: “…best known” is a very kind statement. Thanks. The biggest difference/challenge was creating a first-person narrator who was not only NOT Raymond, but also NOT a New Yorker. I enjoyed writing in another voice and making it a monologue instead of the usual dialogue-driven prose I usually find such comfort in.

OBAAT: How did you get involved in Triple Shot?
TO: Charles, Ross, and I each wrote a novella for an e-publisher who ran into some business issues. I had previously written a short story for Down & Out’s “Unloaded” and scheduled a meeting with its publisher, Eric Campbell, to see if he’d be interested in putting together a trilogy of the novellas. He said “Absolutely” and made the rest look easy.

OBAAT: I hate to ask writers where they get their ideas, but where did you get this idea?
TO: My lead character, “Aggie,” is based on someone in my life who lives by prevarications and rationalizations. I had his (or her) voice in my head and said to myself, “What would happen if she (or he) were put in this position?” Man, was it fun to let loose on this person and then humanize him (or her) in a way she (or he) has not been able to do in real life.

OBAAT: You’re a teacher in the New York City Public Schools by day. It’s easy to see how that has affected (for the better) your Donne series. Did your profession have any effect in Smoked?
TO: “Aggie” is basically a grown-up version of some of the kids I’ve worked with who you know are lying because their lips are moving. Beyond that, Smoked is as far away from my New York City teacher life as I’ve ever ventured in my fiction.

OBAAT: Who are your greatest influences? (Not necessarily writers. Filmmakers, other artists, whoever you think has had a major impact on your writing.)
TO: Hitchcock, for sure. He famously said, “Interesting people do interesting things.” I always keep that in mind when creating new characters or developing established ones like Raymond Donne or his buddy, Edgar. I’m also a big fan of Edward Hopper’s paintings. With a single image that—if you take the time to really soak it in—he brings up a lot of questions and tells a different story to each person. Also, I read The Friends of Eddie Coyle once a year just to remind myself how you can tell a story using mostly dialogue. 

OBAAT: What moves you most in a work of literature?
TO: Presently, I’m amazed at how certain writers use poetry in their prose. I just finished Richard Price’s The Whites, and the way he constructs a sentence can only be described as poetry. Reed Farrel Coleman also weaves poetry into his novels, as do Dennis Lehane and Megan Abbott. I’m at the stage now where—when I’m finished with a novel—I reflect and ask myself what I learned from the author. 

Charles Salzberg is the author of the Shamus Award-nominated Swann’s Last Song, Swann Dives In, Swann’s Lake of Despair (re-release Nov. 2016), Devil in the Hole (re-release Nov. 2016), and Swann’s Way Out (Feb. 2017). His novels have been recognized by Suspense Magazine, the Silver Falchion Awards, the Beverly Hills Book Award and the Indie Excellence Award. He has written over 25 nonfiction books, including From Set Shot to Slam Dunk, an oral history of the NBA, and Soupy Sez: My Life and Zany Times, with Soupy Sales. He has been a visiting professor of magazine at the S.I. Newhouse School of Communications at Syracuse University, and he teaches writing at the Writer’s Voice and the New York Writers Workshop where he is a founding member. Today he’s going to talk about his novella, Twist of Fate.

One Bite at a Time: Tell us about Twist of Fate.
Charles Salzberg: Trish Sullivan is an ambitious TV reporter working in a small, upstate New York market who receives a note from Meg Montgomery, a beautiful young woman convicted of murdering her husband and two children. Montgomery claims she’s innocent and Sullivan, smelling a big story that may garner some national attention, investigates and turns up evidence that the woman has, indeed, been framed. What happens next changes the life of both women in unexpected ways.

OBAAT: This sounds like a “ripped from the headlines” story if ever there was one. Was it?
TO: Nope. I guess it could have been but it was completely made up, a figment of my runaway imagination. The idea came to me after thinking about the legal concept of double jeopardy, and I took it from there.

OBAAT: How did you get involved in Triple Shot?

TO: It’s all because of Tim O’Mara. He came back from Bouchercon Long Beach a few years ago with news of a new subscriber website that was going offer brand new crime novellas each month. They were looking to sign up crime writers and Tim convinced me it would be fun and a good idea. I then convinced Ross, an old friend of mine—we have lunch every week at Dos Caminos here in NYC. We all submitted our novellas and they were accepted, but the site never got off the ground and so we got the novellas back. It was either me or Tim, sometimes we’re confused as the same person, but I have no problem giving him the credit, who suggested we package them together. He met with Eric Campbell of Down & Out Books, Eric loved the idea, and that was that. (Editor’s Note: That checks out with what the others said. See what I did there? Separating them like that and not letting them see each other’s answers?  Reminds you of Ed Exley’s masterful interrogation of the Nite Owl suspects, doesn’t it? Oh, come on. Not even a little?)

OBAAT: You’re best known for your Henry Swann series of novels. How different was it to write a novella?
TO: Very different. I didn’t want to use Swann. I wanted to create a whole new story, a stand-alone. I had actually written Twist of Fate as a screenplay years ago with a friend of mine—it was actually optioned several times but never made. I thought it would make a better prose piece because I could go much deeper (and darker).

OBAAT: You’ve written a lot of non-fiction. How much, and what kind, of an effect has that had on our fiction in general, and Twist of Fate in particular?
TO: I started out wanting only to be a fiction writer, but I had to make a living. I knew how to tell a story, which is what magazine writing is, and so I got a job in the mailroom at New York magazine and after three months I quit, sold one story to them and another to the Daily News Sunday Magazine. I found that writing nonfiction was the best thing I could ever have done, even though I looked down on it at first because I thought it didn’t take much imagination and wasn’t very creative. I was wrong on both counts. It also taught me how to write to a word count, which meant making every word count, how to tell a story efficiently, and how to create realistic conversation and dialogue. And beyond that, it gave me ideas for fiction. Swann was a skip tracer because I actually did a profile of a skip tracer once and learned what they did and how they did it. It also taught me research techniques and I was able to indulge my curiosity by doing stories on things I knew nothing about.

OBAAT: Who are your greatest influences? (Not necessarily writers. Filmmakers, other artists, whoever you think has had a major impact on your writing.)
TO: As far as writers, probably Norman Mailer, Philip Roth, Vladimir Nabokov, Saul Bellow and Dashiell Hammett. But I love films and some of my favorites are crime films, especially Goodfellas. But I’ll see every crime film that comes out, and some of them more than once. I especially like the old ones, the classics in black and white.

OBAAT: What are you reading now?
TO: I just finished reading Joe Clifford’s two Jay Porter books and I loved them. I’m also reading T. J. Stiles’s Custer biography, lots of works by students and a whole bunch of crime short stories. Next up is The Art of Fielding.

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

World Tour Update

The All Expense Spared World Tour™ resumes for Conference Month 2016. If you’re in any of these places, please stop by and say hello. A willingness to imbibe adult beverages is always welcome, especially if you’re paying.

Thursday September 15 – Sunday September 18

New Orleans Marriott
555 Canal Street
New Orleans, LA 70130
(Room number TBD. Knock once, then twice, then once again.)

Thursday @ 7:00
A Toast to Five Years of Criminally Good Books
1201 Burgundy Street
New Orleans LA 70116

I’ll be reading with several other Down & Out authors, including James Ray Tuck (MC), Eric Beetner, G.J. Brown, Jen Conley, Jeffery Hess, S.W. Lauden, Gary Phillips, Tom Pitts, Ian Truman, J.L. Abramo, Grant Jerkins, and Danny Gardner. A good time is guaranteed. Tom Pitts says he has a surprise for me. (I thought Joe Clifford burned those pictures. Damn it.)

Friday @ 7:00
Shamus Awards Banquet
Pere Marquette Hotel
817 Common Street
New Orleans LA 70130

Did I mention I’m nominated for a Shamus for Best Paperback Original? Must have slipped my mind.

Saturday @ noon
LaGalleries 6

Moderating the panel, “Dark Necessities - Balancing the dark and light in stories” with panelists Heather Graham, Patrick Hoffman, Debbi Mack, and Terrence McCauley.

I’ll be circulating through panels pretty much the rest of the time, so please say hello. There is also a distinct possibility I'll be at the bar in the evenings. It's been known to happen.

Friday September 30 – Sunday October 2

Creatures, Crimes, and Creativity Conference
Sheraton Columbia Town Center
10207 Wincopin Cir, Columbia, MD 21044

Friday, September 30 @ 1:00
Moderating the panel, “Writing Outside the Box: Crossing Genre Lines to Tell Your Story” with panelists Sandra Webster and Michelle Markey Butler.

Friday @ 2:00
Panelist for, “Mysteries – Noir, Cozy, Police Procedural, Detective etc. What makes them so different?”
Moderator and other panelists TBA at press time.

Friday @ 5:00
Book signing open to the public.

Saturday, October 1 @ 3:00
Panelist: “Suspense, Action or Conflict? The prime elements of a thriller / mystery.”
Moderator: Michael A. Black
Other panelists; Austin S. Camacho and Reed Farrell Coleman.

Saturday @ 5:00
Book signing open to the public.

I’ll also be roaming the halls in general for the rest of the conference. C3 is a relatively new conference that has already shown great promise and is well worth working into your schedule. This will be my third year and it’s already earned a permanent spot on my schedule.

(PS. That bar thing I mentioned at Bouchercon? It could happen here, too.)

Thursday, September 1, 2016

August's Best Read

You know how when you go on vacation and you fall behind in the everyday stuff you have to do so when you come home there’s that all backed up but you still have to stay current with what’s going on and another major event is on the horizon that’s sucking away much of your attention and energy so you really don’t have as much time for purely recreational stuff as you might ordinarily? That was August.

LaBrava, Elmore Leonard. The problem with falling in love with a writer as prolific as Leonard is that it’s hard to go back and look at some of his older stuff as long as he kept cranking out new. Then he stops and it reminds you of favorites it’s been too long since you read. I scored a used copy of a three-book Leonard compilation a few months ago; LaBrava was the first in the collection, and one of the handful I’ve never read. Now I’ve read it, and it’s as good as I’d heard. All the usual Leonard stuff is there: the offbeat hero and his even more offbeat foil, the strong female characters, the finding out the villain isn’t quite where you were looking. And the dialog. Leonard’s dialog isn’t the kind of thing well suited for excerpting in a piece like this. He didn’t write great lines so much as he wrote great conversations. His narrative is to the point without being spare and no one was better at leaving out the parts the reader might be inclined to skip. (Duh.) If you’ve never read LaBrava, you should. If you’ve never read Leonard, damn right you should. And if you have, reading him again is never a bad idea.