Monday, November 28, 2016

I Suck at Marketing

Remember the great deal I promised you last week on Kindle versions of my self-published books? Well, I should have set the deals up before I started running my mouth. Thanks to the vagaries of Amazon countdown promotions and their relationship with KDP, not only are not all of the books available at the times I promised, the number of price increments is not the same.

I’m not blaming Amazon for any of this. It’s my fault for not performing even a modicum of due diligence before letting my mouth write checks my ass couldn’t cash. That said, here is the updated promotion schedule:

The Stuff That Dreams are Made Of
November 29 & 30
December 1 & 2
December 3 and beyond
$2.99 (regular price)
The Man in the Window
December 5 & 6
December 7 & 8
December 9 and beyond
$2.99 (regular price)
A Dangerous Lesson
December 12 & 13
December 14 & 15
December 16 and beyond
$2.99 (regular price)

A Small Sacrifice and Wild Bill will still be available for cheap(er), but the dates are TBD. I expect A Small Sacrifice to sneak in the week before Christmas and Wild Bill will meet its original Hanukkah/after Christmas window, but I won’t know for sure until I see how the KDP renew dates shake out.

My ego is not such that I expect this to be a major obstacle in your holiday plans, but I still hate to say anything that turns out not to be true. Mea culpa.

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Announcing the Big Holiday Sale!

The holidays draw nigh and everyone is in a dither about what to buy their family and friends. If you’re reading this blog, there’s an excellent chance your family and friends would like a book. Not just any book; a Kindle book. Less clutter, it won’t clog up their bookshelves, and the chances of a paper cut are nil. And not just any Kindle books, either. What they’d really enjoy is one—or more—books from the double Shamus award nominated Nick Forte series.

I’m your friend and I’m here for you. To aid in this endeavor, I‘m having a special on all four Forte novels between Thanksgiving and Christmas, but timely action is key. All four books will be on sale for the better part of a week, one book at a time, in a series of Kindle Countdown promotions.

Here’s how it works: starting Monday, November 28, Book One of the Forte series, A Small Sacrifice, will go on sale for 99 cents. Tuesday it goes up to $1.49. Wednesday it’s $1,99, Thursday is $2.49 day, and by Friday you’re paying full freight. Here’s the schedule:

November 28 – December 1: A Small Sacrifice.
December 5 – 8: The Stuff That Dreams Are Made Of.
December 12 – 15: The Man in the Window
December 19 – 22: A Dangerous Lesson.

“But wait,” you say. (You must have said it pretty loud for me to hear it all the way over here.) “How do we give a Kindle book as a gift?” It’s simple. How simple? It’s so simple even I have done it, both pitching and catching. Here’s how it works:

  1. From the Kindle Store, select the book you want to purchase as a gift.
  2. On the product detail page, click the Give as a Gift button.
  3. Enter the personal email address of your gift recipient.
  4. Enter a delivery date and an optional gift message.
  5. Click “Place your order” to finish your gift purchase using your Amazon 1-Click payment method.
  6. The lucky recipient receives an e-mail with download instructions and the warm feeling that comes with knowing they are loved.

Everyone is busy this time of year, Lots of stuff going on. Lots of things on your minds. Don’t worry. I’ll post reminders in Facebook and on the blog margins. You don’t have to thank me. It’s just how I am.

But wait!! There’s more!!

You may well receive an Amazon gift card as part of your personal holiday gelt. Do not feel left out. You may not be able to get the Forte books for dirt cheap—and 99 cents is as down and dirty as it gets—but our Hanukkah/After Christmas sale runs December 27 – 30. Same .99/1.49/1.99/2.49 deal as before, but on Wild Bill, my standalone novel about how an FBI agent’s case of a lifetime is jeopardized by a mob war.

If my stuff is not to your taste and you have gift cards burning holes in your pockets, that’s okay. Stop back here on January 5 for my list of the best books I read during 2016. Not necessarily books released in 2016, though some will be, but the best books I read during the year. Not that my opinion outweighs anyone else’s, but that’s all I do here is give opinions, and you’re still here. Do the math.

Monday, November 21, 2016

All Things in Moderation

I had the good fortune to serve as a moderator in both conferences I attended this year, Bouchercon and Creatures, Crimes, and Creativity. I’ve been going to writer’s conferences since 2004, and pretty much annually since 2008. I’ve been on panels at either Bouchercon or C3 or both every year but one since 2012. In that time I’ve been lucky to work with moderators who were uniformly excellent and also had differing styles. It was only natural I’d want to try my hand one day after seeing how effortlessly Sandra Parshall, Peter Rozovsky, Jim Born, et al pulled it off for me.

It ain’t as easy as they make it look.

I have no doubt there are moderators who don’t think twice about getting up in front of a couple of hundred people and asking a handful of writers questions off the tops of their heads. We’ve all seen them and can probably identify them. By and large they’re the shitty moderators. The panels roam, the questions either don’t give the writers anything to talk about that’s informative and entertaining (a good panel is both), or is so vague no one knows what to do with it. I’m sure some people can pull it off. I’m sure I’ve seen a panel or two where that happened. I’m also sure there are moderators out there right now who do this and think they pulled it off. They’re probably wrong.

Preparation is important because there’s going to be a lot of stuff going on the moderator has to keep track of. “How much time is left” may be the most obvious, and it’s close to most important when considered in conjunction with other elements. Sure, there’s a volunteer there to tell you when you have 10 minutes, five, two, clear out there’s people waiting. What do you do if you’re 25 minutes into a 50-minute panel and you’re three-quarters of the way through your questions? Even worse, what if you’ve been coming up with questions more or less off the top of your head, realize you’re running out of ideas, look at your watch and realize you still have half an hour? I saw this happen at Bouchercon—I won’t say in which panel—and the moderator depended on the audience to fill the last 20 minutes. That’s not right, and it’s not fair to anyone.

In addition to tracking time you’re also gauging the audience. Anyone who’s done a reading, sat on a panel, or given any kind of public performance knows not all audiences are created equal. If a certain type of question is dying, change up. It’s probably a good idea to have at least half again as many questions as you think you’ll need, covering different aspects of your topic. That allows you to switch off if what you thought would be clever just lies there and rots.

It’s also important to know your panelists. Not necessarily personally—though that never hurts—but their writing. A good moderator should probably read at least one book by each panelist, but at the very least should be familiar with their work through reviews, synopses, and excerpts. Specific questions may present themselves, but you’ll also know what kinds of questions will work better for the group as a whole. Another benefit to this relates to the previous paragraph, except in reverse: a line of inquiry goes well and you run out of related questions. Then is a good time to go with the flow. The last thing you want to do is to get everyone in a good mood—your panel is revved up, the audience is revved up—and you decide to talk about something else. Buzzkill.

This year’s Bouchercon was my first moderator gig. Five writers (including one good friend, Terrence McCauley, yay me) including multi-bestseller Heather Graham, so I knew there would be a decent crowd. I polled a few moderators I’d seen before and thought did a good job—including the Master of Moderation, Peter Rozovsky—and started my research and working on questions several weeks in advance.

One panelist had to pull out due to an illness in the family. I felt bad for him, but the panel was not in danger. I had plenty of material. Stepping onto the dais I learned another panelist had taken ill and was missing.

Now I’m down to three. Fast math in my head. Fifty minute panel. Enough questions to allow five panelists to speak for half again that long. (So I hoped.) Only three panelists. Should still come out to about 45 minutes. Leave five to ten minutes for audience participation and I’ll be fine.

Then the real benefit of preparation made an appearance. Our other panelist—a fine writer and nice man based on our conversation in the Green Room—had never been on a panel before, got nervous and vapor locked. It happens. I’ll not name him as I don’t want to embarrass him, and after the event I felt badly for him. During the event I mostly felt bad for me, wondering what the fuck I was going to do to fill the time.

Some say luck is where preparation meets opportunity. In my case it was more like where preparation met Heather Graham and Terrence McCauley, both of whom stepped up to give more expansive answers as time went on. Shared a few anecdotes tangentially related to what was under discussion.

Therein lies the biggest lesson I learned: be generous with your panel and they’ll reciprocate. Take the time to make your best effort to understand their work and ask questions to help them put their best feet forward and they’ll carry you. The more attention the moderator can place on the panel, the better.

And should my third, nervous panelist read this: I’ll do a panel with you again anytime.

Thursday, November 17, 2016


The Beloved Spouse™ and I re-watched Justified recently. Didn’t quite binge it. One or two a night generally sufficed, though there were evenings when the end of a season neared and we couldn’t leave one or two episodes hanging, especially if we were going to have to take a couple of nights off. Watching the show this way gave us a new perspective on it. We both found it even more enjoyable than when we watched them as they aired.

First the disclaimer: we never actually watched Justified live, as in “Tuesday nights at 10:00.” TBS didn’t retire until shortly before the final episode. Staying up till 11:00 and getting up at 5:30 was not on her agenda. (Nor would it have been on mine.) We routinely watched the show on DVR over Wednesday dinner, which meant we got to skip the commercials.

Of course, fast-forwarding through commercials isn’t the same a skipping them. You still have a break. Justified was written well enough to take these breaks into consideration, but still, they’re there. Watching on DVD a year-and-a-half later removed even that small gap in continuity. The episodes held together better. It was easier to get into the state all authors and readers seek, the vivid and continuous dream where we forget we’re being told (or shown) a story and accept everything that’s happening as real. (Kudos to John Gardner for that felicitous phrase, and to John McNally for teaching it to me.)

Add to that the lack of a week between episodes and nine months between seasons and the time lines make more sense. Clues sown to be harvested an episode or two later came to fruition that same night or the next. I’d always thought Season 3 was the weakest, as the story lines didn’t hold together as well. Watching 13 episodes in a week showed I’d been wrong. Season 3 works very well. Season 4 still leaves me wondering how Drew Thompson held the entire area in thrall for 30 years, but a lot more of it makes sense to me now.

What I liked best about this re-viewing is the relationships. Of the characters, yes, but also of the plot lines. I can’t think of any show that stayed more true to its characters than did Justified. While Boyd and Ava may seem to be all over the place in their plans and personal relationship, at their core they’re the same. Boyd’s conversion in Season 1 may have been legitimate—I believe now that it was—but it was also convenient. It was what Boyd Crowder needed to hold things together at that time. When that was no longer the case, he moved on to the next thing. Had his daddy not fucked with his church, Boyd might have been quite happy to stick with it, but once his flock was gone, so was he.

Same with Ava. Yes, she’s the small town girl who still had a crush on Raylan, but she also killed Bowman in cold blood once she’d made up her mind he had to go. Much as she detested Boyd early on, it made sense that they’d get together eventually. Raylan had Winona, but even if he hadn’t, Ava would have been Raylan’s girl. She and Boyd were equals. Until they weren’t, and they went their separate ways.

If the show had a weakness it was in the use of the subordinate marshal characters, Brooks and Gutterson. Neither had full advantage taken of their potential as characters. Brooks ended up filling a plot role as the acting Chief Deputy who didn’t do things the way Art would have. Gutterson got better banter opportunities with Raylan and a few more plot lines of his own, especially in Season 4 when he engaged with Boyd’s man Colton. Erica Tazel and Jacob Pitts were up to weightier chores.

Maybe. In the end, this was Raylan and Boyd’s show, two brothers from different mothers
whose love-hate relationship played out over the entire course of the series. That’s what Justified got right and did best. The writers knew this—I suspect they knew they’d dodged a bullet when they decided not to let Boyd die at the end on the pilot as he did in the short story that served as source material—and played it expertly. No TV show, movie, miniseries, book, or other storytelling medium ever realized a fuller symmetry than did Justifed in the first and last times Raylan and Boyd see each other: hugging in front of the Nazi church building, then Raylan’s “courtesy visit” to Boyd in the final scene, “because we dug coal together.” The perfect ending to what was damn close to a perfect show, when taken in consideration of what it set out to be, a tribute to the genius of Elmore Leonard.

If you’ve not seen Justified, you ought to. Even if you’re not a huge fan or Leonard’s work—through if you’re not, why not?—there’s a lot there in the relationship building. If you have seen it, watch it again. You’ll enjoy it even more. We did, and will again.

A key benefit to buying the DVD set is the special features. They’re excellent, especially the first three or four years. (Season 6 not so much. I had the feeling they rushed them to get the boxed set out.) The sense of commitment of the writers, cast and crew is palpable throughout, as is the affection for Leonard and his work. There are several features that deal with him exclusively, notably “The Coolest Guy in the Room.” If you know anything of Leonard’s writing and philosophy, Patton Oswalt’s reading of Leonard’s obituary in The Onion is not to be missed. (I would have planted a link, but it appears to be locked down on the Internet. Sorry. The written obit is here. Look up the Ten Rules yourself if you don’t know them. Must I do everything?)

Monday, November 14, 2016

Twenty Questions With Richard Godwin

Richard Godwin is the critically acclaimed author of Apostle Rising, Mr. Glamour, One Lost Summer, Noir City, Meaningful Conversations, Confessions Of A Hit Man, Paranoia And The Destiny Programme, Wrong Crowd, Savage Highway, Ersatz World, The Pure And The Hated, Disembodied, Buffalo And Sour Mash and Locked In Cages. His stories have been published in numerous paying magazines and over 34 anthologies, among them an anthology of his stories, Piquant: Tales Of The Mustard Man, and The Mammoth Book Of Best British Crime and The Mammoth Book Of Best British Mystery, alongside Lee Child. He was born in London and lectured in English and American literature at the University of London. He also teaches creative writing at University and workshops. You can find out more about him at his website , where you can read a full list of his works, and where you can also read his Chin Wags At The Slaughterhouse, his highly popular and unusual interviews with other authors.   

I first encountered Richard at the 2014 Noircon where his talk on the elements and different types of noir was a highlight of the conference. My thoughts at the time:  Richard Godwin sees two lines in each noir tale. The first is where the situation tempts the protagonist to cross the line of legality. The second is where he fails, often because the powers that be will not allow him to succeed. Godwin feels strongly about noir tales where the protagonist is forced into the situation, as opposed to being drawn in by his own lust or greed. A key element of all noir is moral compromise, regardless of the motivation. 

That said, it’s a treat to have Richard here to play Twenty Questions and talk about his newest book, Buffalo and Sour Mash.                                                                                                                                                              

One Bite at a Time: Tell us about Buffalo And Sour Mash.
Richard Godwin: Buffalo And Sour Mash is about one man’s dream of bringing the rodeo to Surrey UK. No greater disparity of cultural inheritance could exist. It is a slice of the prairie, the Virgin Land of Fennimore Cooper and Jack London, that runs like a tortured leitmotif through the paradigm of the American Dream and the American psyche. It is also a love story and Noir novel and a horror novel, and a piece of hardboiled crime fiction. Hybrid genres. Murphy Stubbs is arguably the most psychotic deranged character I have ever written. And he is in love with Rhonda. Except there is an argument that Murphy is incapable of love. Or is he, well find out for yourselves. Murphy will stop at nothing to succeed in his goals. And only Rhonda holds the key to Murphy’s violent past in Oklahoma all those years ago when the novel begins.

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?
RG: That is an instinctive process for which there is no answer. Truth is you either have ideas or you don’t.

OBAAT: How long did it take to write Buffalo And Sour Mash, start to finish?
RG: Two months first draft. Eight to edit it.

OBAAT: Where did Murphy Stubbs come from? In what ways is he like, and unlike, you?
RG: The subconscious. He is not like me at all, writers make things up, they narrate, they tell the story that needs to be told at that particular time, they utilise subconscious energies.

OBAAT: How did Buffalo And Sour Mash come to be published?
RG: I sent it out to Down And Out Books because I knew they would get it. And of course they did. Eric Campbell is doing the kind of thing for contemporary crime fiction that the older better, than today, largely speaking, publishers did for the likes of Chandler and Hammett. He has sweated blood over this and he ought to be thanked, I do. And there is a sequel on its way in which the lead from Wrong Crowd, Down And Out Books, Claude, meets Murphy as does Maxine meet Rhonda.

OBAAT: What kinds of stories do you like to read? Who are your favorite authors, in or out of that area?
RG: I read a lot, but to name a few out of many, James Lee Burke—his new one is great—Henry Miller, Shane Stevens, Cormac McCarthy.

OBAAT: What made you decide to be an author?
RG: I knew it when I was seventeen. My grandfather was an author, he was widely published. I wanted to write because I wanted to explore the human condition, the only prerequisite for an author. And I still am.

OBAAT: How do you think your life experiences have prepared you for writing crime fiction?
RG: I have travelled widely and visited about 72 countries. I have been to 24 of the states in the US, I saw a lot of crime in the war in the former Jugoslavia, as I am  a quarter Serbian, quarter Croatian, quarter Irish, and quarter English. I have also tried to understand motivation and not to bring some idle middle class head set to my opinions. I want to know why crime occurs and I can understand that this attitude that we have that there is a them and us is a piece of rhetoric. It works purely to indoctrinate the masses with prejudice than can be utilised for political purposes. Most people have committed crime. We like to moralise. My Noir fictions are about men and women who are morally compromised, like most people. They are lured across a line into committing a crime. That is where it occurs. Blurring the moral line into crime in the eyes of society and challenging that society, that is the source of a good narrative.

OBAAT: What do you like best about being a writer?
RG:  There is no glass ceiling.

OBAAT: Who are your greatest influences? (Not necessarily writers. Filmmakers, other artists, whoever you think has had a major impact on your writing.)
RG: Influences are hard to determine, but and this is by no means compete list. Dostoyevsky, Shakespeare, Jonson, Dickens.

OBAAT: Do you outline or fly by the seat of you pants?
RG: Both depending on the novel.

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?
RG: I always write out the first draft or you lose the flow. Then I edit and that may be repeated numerous times.

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?
RG: Realism and faith to the novel. Happy endings are irrelevant to reality. Dickens was forced to rewrite the original ending of Great Expectations. Unfortunately we live in unreal times.

OBAAT: Who is your intended audience?
RG:  Everyone and anyone who likes to read a novel

OBAAT: If you could give a novice writer a single piece of advice, what would it be?
RG:  Write every day and read as much as you have time for reading, analyse what the writer is doing and how does he achieves his effects, observe people and keep going.

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?
RG: Character first and foremost. If you can hear them talk you have the story. Plot is irrelevant to many novels except straight genre formula. Setting is most important. Narrative is essential and tone also.

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?
RG: Graham Greene’s Brighton Rock. The literary classic that cocks a snoot as an aside at the establishment, because it is hybrid, it is genre and it is crime it is a love story and Greene is one of the rare writers who writes and explores in depth good and bad characters equally well with the most polished beautiful prose.

OBAAT: Favorite activity when you’re not reading or writing.
RG: Travel, going to the gym, music, socialising.

OBAAT: What are you working on now?
RG: The sequel to Noir City, my commissioned Erotica Noir novel about Paris Tongue, the nomadic Gigolo. The sequel will be out next year, Black Jackal Books, and here is a snippet about Noir City, which is available here and here 

Dangerous, blonde Gigolo, Paris Tongue uses his looks and insight into female sexuality to seduce women in the Secret Hour. This is the time when he takes them out of their lives and resurrects their sexual identity, like an erotic priest. He turns fantasy into reality and ushers in new ecstasies to their lives. Yet sees himself as a night visitor or ghost. The women are haunted by him, their lives forever changed by their encounters. Set in numerous European cities, this lyrical and deeply erotic novel captures the flavour of each city, each hotel, apartment, house, as exotic settings for Paris Tongue’s sexual adventures. But when he seduces the wife of a Mafia boss he finds himself hunted across Europe.

Thursday, November 10, 2016

Penn River's Cops

What is it about cops?

It’s said they’re never around when you need them. Used to be they stole apples from fruit stands and guided lost children home safely. Depending on who you ask they’re either murderous racists or targets. We can all agree cops are those who run toward the danger. Whether that’s because they’re heroes or adrenaline junkies, once again, depends on who you ask.

It’s not unfair to say there are elements of all of the above in the average large police force. Why wouldn’t there be? Police departments recruit from the general population, which means cops are fathers (good and bad), mothers (good and bad), teetotalers and alcoholics, straight and gay, straight shooters and assholes, nice guys and hard-ons, just as they are also tall, short, fat, or thin. Departments do what they can to weed out those less desirable for police work, but no process is perfect and it’s generally accepted that the skill set required to make rank is not the same as what is needed to effectively run a department.

So that’s what it is about cops: just like everyone else, with one difference. To paraphrase Dennis Lehane in an interview I saw last week, writing about cops allows an author to show conflict on multiple levels, and conflict is Drama 101. (This was in response to a question about why he wrote crime, to which he also added that, while trained to write literary short stories, he grew tired of reading about people who were vaguely dissatisfied in Connecticut. Touché.)

Cops resolve conflict for a living, then go home and resolve all the usual bullshit conflicts the rest of us have, with one key difference: it’s impossible to leave the conflicts they dealt with on the job in the locker room when they take off the bag. The residue and frustration soaks into their pores. It’s a lucky cop who can leave that behind. I doubt any of them can do it all the time. One who can probably isn’t a very good cop.

I’ve never been a cop, and doubt I would have been a good one. I lacked the temperament a patrolman needs when I was of an age to be one, and all policing grows from the street cop. (One of my proudest moments as a writer came at this year’s Bouchercon when a retired cop mistook me for one. Yes, I corrected him.) That said, I’ve read enough cop memoirs to have a sympathetic and empathetic outlook, and I’ve been told I get the cop stuff right in my books.

Joseph Wambaugh is the Godfather of realistic cop fiction. He worked as an LA cop for fourteen years before switching to writing full-time, having written the books that made his career while still working. (The New Centurions, The Blue Knight, The Onion Field, and The Choirboys, which didn’t come out until after he left the force.) Wambaugh holds that lots of jobs are more physically dangerous than police work: firefighters, miners, construction workers, to name a few. To him, police work is primarily dangerous psychologically, as is shown by the high rates of divorce, alcoholism, and suicide. I’m far from the first to say Wambaugh’s books worry less about how the cops works on the cases than about how the cases work on the cops

That’s what I’m working toward in the Penns River series. I’m not going to get to Wambaugh’s level. He’s a unique blend of police experience and writing talent that I can’t match on either end. That’s fine. The goal is to up my game beyond what it might otherwise have been. You’re not always going to like my cops. Frankly, as the series goes on, you’re going to find things to like even less about them. That’s okay, too. If I can get readers to empathize, even when they may not agree with the cop’s perspective or actions, I will have succeeded in humanizing them.

I don’t want to write cop heroes or villains. I want to write people who are cops. They may be fathers (good and bad), mothers (good and bad), teetotalers, alcoholics, straight, gay, straight shooters, assholes, nice guys, hard-ons, tall, short, fat, or thin. SO long as they’re people first, and the story is entertaining enough for people other than myself to want to read, that’s a pretty good target to aim for.

Monday, November 7, 2016

A Conversation With Weldon Burge

Weldon Burge is a true Renaissance man: author, editor, and publisher. He’s also one of a diminishing breed: people who can disagree without becoming disagreeable. I first met Weldon at a Creatures, Crimes, and Creativity conference a couple of years ago and we struck up an immediate friendship. It’s a treat to get to chat with him here for you.

One Bite at a Time: Weldon, first, thanks for this. There are things I’ve wanted to ask you since we met but there’s never time at a conference. Let’s start with the writing. Among the joys of the C3 conference is getting to meet writers who don’t write the same stuff I do. I write crime novels; you write primarily horror short stories. What attracts you to horror?

Weldon Burge: First, Dana, it’s always great to see you at the conferences as well. We’ve had interesting discussions—online and in person.

Well, to answer your question, I write (and read) both suspense and horror. And, of course, suspense and horror share a good number of similarities. But horror is my “go-to” genre.

So, what attracts me to horror? Not to be cliché, but I think horror fiction is cathartic—it’s a way to safely face your demons, so to speak. Horror taps those primal, often psychological fears we all harbor. Plus, it’s just fun to be scared. A good horror story is like a ride on a rollercoaster. It’s thrilling and, in a way, cheats death. Yet, you know it’s actually safe. The guy wearing a mask and wielding a bloody axe in a story you’re reading … well, he’s probably not outside your bedroom window. But, then again, he may be …

OBAAT: Short stories are hard for me. My best ideas seem to want to be novels; I can write a flash piece when I need to. Short stories are a struggle for me, yet they’re right in your wheelhouse. What is it about short stories that resonates so strongly in you? Do you have plans to expand into novels?

WB: I’ve always loved anthologies, so it’s probably not a surprise that I enjoy writing short stories. Nothing against novels, but reading one is a commitment. Not so much with a short story. And I think writing a short story requires greater focus and precision from a writer. You have to get at the characterization, setting, and plot pretty quickly, unlike a novel where you have more leeway when it comes to developing those three elements. Writing a short story is like telling a joke—you have to get to the punch line ASAP. Nobody wants to listen to a joke that’s 300 pages long.

I’ve been asked to expand several of my stories (especially “White Hell, Wisconsin”) into novels. And I have a truly disturbed hit man character, Francis “Flash” Conwright, who has appeared in several of my short stories. I think he may deserve a novel at some point. I’m currently working on a police procedural that—surprise!—has horror elements.

OBAAT:  I learned at this year’s C3 that you like to listen to heavy metal when writing. How does that help you and who do you like to listen to?

WB: Well, when you’re writing horror, I guess it’s natural to have heavy metal in the background. Inspirational? I don’t know. It may simply be my preference. But having screaming guitars, pounding bass and drums, and growling vocals in the background is probably more impactful to writing horror than listening to, say, Adele. As to what I listen to, I’m pretty broad, going back to Blue Cheer in the late ‘60s to Megadeth and Metallica today. I also often listen to rock/blues guitarists like Joe Satriani, Steve Vai, Gary Hoey, and Joe Bonamassa, to name a few.

OBAAT: Your full-time job is working as an editor, both of fiction and non-fiction. Do you feel your editorial work helps your writing?

WB: Oh, definitely! Sitting on both sides of the desk (the writer submitting material, the editor accepting material) has helped in my own career in more ways than I count. As an editor, I’ve worked with somewhere in the neighborhood of a hundred writers. I hope that those writers have learned from me, but I can safely say that I’ve learned far more from them. As the editor at Smart Rhino Publications, I’ve enjoyed working with other fiction writers, all at different levels of their careers. I hope those relationships have been mutually beneficial.

OBAAT: Do you ever worry your editing will spill over into your fiction and influence it too much? Or, even worse, that you’ll inadvertently appropriate something you editing, possibly years ago? I ask this for a reason, as I’ve considered doing some editing and both of these things worry me.

WB: That is actually something I’ve recently contemplated. I’ve been working far too long on the novel I mentioned earlier. A writer friend of mine told me, “You know what your problem is? You’re an editor.” “What do you mean?” “How many times have you rewritten the first chapter?” “Oh …” Switching gears can become problematic.

As far as appropriating something I’ve previously edited … well, I’m not aware that has ever happened. Not that it hasn’t, just that I’m not aware of it. I just don’t worry about that sort of thing. If anything, a story may spur something in my own imagination. But I’m keen on not plagiarizing.

OBAAT: When did you get the idea for Smart Rhino Publications?

I always wanted to publish horror and suspense fiction. I acquired the web domain for Smart Rhino Publications back in 2000. But, it wasn’t until print-on-demand and ebooks came along that I could see how to make things work. Being an independent publisher back in 2000 was foolhardy at best. I finally saw a way to jump into the fray back in 2011, when I started planning our first anthology, Zippered Flesh: Tales of Body Enhancements Gone Bad! I know a lot of people despise Amazon. But, prior to the launch of Createspace and Kindle, Smart Rhino was only an idea. I’m glad it’s no longer that.

OBAAT: How did you come up with the name Smart Rhino?

OK, now this will probably sound bizarre. I had a dream one night in which I saw Rodin’s “The Thinker” with the huge head of a rhinoceros. When I suddenly awoke from the dream, I immediately thought, “Wow that must have been a smart rhino!” Ah, dreams …

OBAAT:  What surprised you about getting a new publishing venture off the ground, whether good or bad?

WB: I got lucky with the first anthology, Zippered Flesh. I had no idea how well it would go over, but the book garnered many great reviews and was largely accepted by the horror community. Our second book, a suspense anthology titled Uncommon Assassins, also went over well. The third book, Zippered Flesh 2, included two stories that earned Bram Stoker Award nominations. That told me Smart Rhino had arrived. Just this past year, the novella The Box Jumper by Lisa Mannetti received a Stoker nomination, and was deemed “Novella of the Year” by This Is Horror in the UK. So, I’m jazzed about Smart Rhino’s success so far. We’ve now published 10 books, and have two more anthologies in planning stages. Trying to keep the momentum going!

OBAAT: Now that Smart Rhino is up and running, what is your biggest challenge? Your greatest joy?

WB: As just about every indie publisher knows, funding is the chief challenge. For most of us, it’s more a labor of love than a profitable venture. So, we’re always looking for more reviews, more stature on social media, different ways to market our books. For me, I’m always looking for more money to start the next Smart Rhino book project. The success of one book feeds the launch of another. We’ve been fairly lucky so far in that regard. But it really comes down to word of mouth from the readers who enjoy our books and spread the word—and, of course, that is the hardest marketing for a publisher to obtain. Without that support from our readers, Smart Rhino would not survive.

As for the greatest joy, I love working with and helping other writers. I love when I hear a reader say something like: “I bought the anthology for the Graham Masterton story, but I enjoyed the stories by several authors I’d never heard of before. I need to search out their other work.” That, for me, is what it’s all about. I also fully appreciate the “name” writers who share that same drive to help others.

OBAAT: It’s pretty well established that between writing, editing, publishing, and the day job, you don’t have a lot of free time. What do you like to do to relax when the stray opportunity presents?

WB: I like to travel with my wife, go to concerts, go to the beach—the normal things, I suppose, that people do to relax. (We seem to have been visiting many wineries lately.) I’d probably have to retire to really relax … and even then …

Thursday, November 3, 2016

October's Best Reads

Back in the saddle in October and I have a few true treats to share.

The Long and Faraway Gone, Lou Berney. Deserves every award it won, and then some. A look at two damaged people who deal with their losses in different ways, told through examinations of two cold cases. Berney uses the wit he showed in Gutshot Straight and Whiplash River to keep what could have been a depressing story hopeful, never unrealistically so. Every time the story comes to a point where a lesser book would take one route, Berney takes the other. The result is unfailingly effective, both emotionally and as entertainment. A truly special book.

To Kill a Mockingbird, Harper Lee. I went to see David Swinson at a banned book event where he read from Lee’s masterpiece and confessed afterward I was the guy who’d never read it. David made me bring his copy home with me. Another book that deserves all its praise. The core story of racial hatred didn’t resonate with me as much as the book’s reputation implied, mainly because I’m 60 years old and there wasn’t much in there I didn’t already know. What surprised me was Lee’s easy writing and sly wit, each of which create wonderful characters and characterizations. To serve TKAM solely as a moral lesson does it a disservice. It’s a masterful piece of writing.

One or the Other, John McFetridge. Book Three of the Eddie Dougherty series, this time starting with the Brinks robbery and going through the 1976 Montreal Olympics. The tease of homicide has worn thin with Eddie and his personal life grows more important. McFetridge continues his move into Joe Wambaugh territory, writing less about cases than how the cases affect the cop. A nice look into the shifting responsibilities of a cop as cases come and go, told with all the style and wit one has come to expect from McFetridge.