Friday, August 31, 2018

Dietrich Kalteis, Author of Poughkeepsie Shuffle

Dietrich Kalteis is the award-winning author of Ride the Lightning (bronze medal winner, 2015 Independent Publisher Book Awards, for best regional fiction), The Deadbeat Club, Triggerfish, House of Blazes (silver medal winner, 2017 Independent Publisher Book Awards, for best historical fiction), and Zero Avenue. His novel The Deadbeat Club has been translated to German, and 50 of his short stories have also been published internationally. He lives with his family on Canada’s West Coast.

Dietrich and I have been friends since we got together at Bouchercon several years ago. (Exactly which Bouchercon is lost to the alcohol-shrouded mists of time.) It’s always a treat when he stops by the blog. His blog, Off the Cuff, is also a pleasure, especially the multi-person discussions he runs from time to time, which I can’t think of any other blogs doing.

One Bite at a Time: Let’s get this out of the way right at the start so it doesn’t hang over the entire length of the interview: With a title like Poughkeepsie Shuffle, people are going to want to know if anyone picks their feet. You know, they’re in a hotel, they sit on the edge of the bed, take off their shoes…

Dietrich Kalteis: Man, I like the way you think, Dana, but no, there is no feet picking going on in any hotel. But, funny that you mention it because there is a scene where a couple of the main characters drive down from Toronto and end up picking up a couple of hookers in a hotel, the two women in the late-night bar calling themselves Miss Right and Miss Right Now. Of course, things don’t work out as planned in the hotel room when instead of getting their rocks off, our boys get ripped off.
OBAAT: Jeff Nichols is described as “a man strong of conviction but weak of character.” There’s a hint of cognitive dissonance there. Tell us a little about him.

DK: J Jeff’s likable, but somewhat bullheaded, the kind of guy who refuses to let the lessons of past mistakes get in the way of a good score. He sees what he wants and goes for it, the kind of underdog we’d like to see succeed. After getting his release from the infamous Don Jail, he tries to rekindle a relationship with his ex, Ann Ryan, making his way in the world by taking a job at a used car lot in a part of town called the Junction. But, it soon proves to be not enough to keep them afloat. So, when the lure of easy money comes along, he gets himself mixed up in a gun smuggling ring, smuggling guns across the border.

OBAAT: Your previous novels have focused on Canada’s west coast, around Vancouver, mostly, and dealt a lot with drugs. This time we’re in Toronto and it’s guns. Why the move?

DK: I grew up in Toronto, and I usually go back once a year or so, and I’m amazed at how much the city has changed since I lived there. Urban expansion, taller buildings springing up along the 401 and the Gardner, with roadways around the city expanding to extra lanes, some that didn’t exist at all when I lived there. It’s still a great city, but, it’s sad in a way to see some of the places l remember torn away. So, I wanted to bring some of that back and set the stage for Poughkeepsie Shuffle, weaving in those sights and sounds and bringing back a grittier, but character-filled Toronto, the way I remember it back in the mid-eighties, back when nobody knew what a condo was.

And it’s just across the lake from Niagara and Buffalo, with easy access to the US, making it the perfect setting for a story revolving around gun smuggling. What sparked the gun angle was an article I read about a gunrunning ring that operated between upstate New York and Ontario, eventually being taken down by the OPP, working alongside several U.S. law enforcement agencies. Another element that worked into the story was the increasing gang violence that I remember hearing about on the radio and reading about in the paper. 

OBAAT: We’ve talked about our admiration for Elmore Leonard before and the synopses of your books could very easily have been Leonard stories. The affinity is in the writing, yet you never sound as if you’re knocking him off. How are you able to show the debt without falling into imitation?

DK: It’s flattering to be compared to somebody you admire, and no doubt, I’ve been both inspired and influenced by Elmore Leonard’s work, along with other greats like George V. Higgins, James Crumley, Charles Willeford, Donald E. Westlake, and Hunter S. Thompson. To me, reading the greats is about inspiration, not imitation. It’s about transcending those influences, developing my own style and voice, honing strengths and knowing weaknesses, and finding what works.

OBAAT: Another thing you share with Leonard is strong female characters. Frankie Del Rey was the core of Zero Avenue. What’s the deal with Ann Ryan?”

DK: Ann Ryan’s tough like Frankie del Rey, but she’s more of a home body, and her fuse is longer. She’s better at taking the crumbs, at least at first, believing in Jeff to make good on promises to give her a better life. She wants to believe one of his schemes is going to pay off. Of course, everybody’s fuse is only so long, and when she tires of Jeff’s schemes, she puts her foot down, and she’s pretty tough. Frankie on the other hand, never relied on anybody to give her what she wanted, always ready to kick down some doors and just take what she was after. 

OBAAT: Time for a hard question. Two things come to mind when I think of controversies in writing nowadays: diversity and cultural appropriation, which can be like the proverbial rock and hard place. As a white man, you earn kudos for your strong female characters. (At least you should.) Do you ever wonder, “I’m not a woman; how can I write this scene from her point of view and not be accused of writing what I can’t possibly know?”

DK: I wasn’t sure I could pull off writing a female lead character before I started writing Zero Avenue, but since I write about people, and since half of them are women, I thought I’d give it a shot. I liked that Frankie, being a woman in the late seventies, seemed more challenged than a male getting into the music business, that is until you get to know her. Once I got going, it seemed to work, so I just kept going, writing from her perspective, revealing my inner Frankie.

For Poughkeepsie Shuffle, I wrote it in first person from Jeff’s POV. So, Ann is largely seen through his eyes. Writing in first person did have limitations, mainly I couldn’t shift from one character’s perspective to another’s. But it allowed for Jeff’s biases to come through, and that often made it funnier, like when her family comes to visit, all those thoughts in his head. But, again, once I got rolling, I liked the way writing in first person was going.

OBAAT: Let’s talk about point of view a little. How did you decide to write Poughkeepsie Shuffle in first person? When you write in third, what are the things you consider when decided whose POV to choose for a scene?
DK: I hadn’t written a novel in first person before, and I wanted to try it since it’s primarily Jeff’s story, and it just seemed to be the way to go. Usually, I like to write in third person, it’s like being the camera in a movie. It’s flexible and lets me move around and offer more insight, get into different heads by switching the POV from one character to another. 

OBAAT: Dieter, it’s always fun to chat with you. What’s on the horizon now that Poughkeepsie Shuffle has made its appearance?
DK: The next one’s done and with my publisher. It’s called Call Down the Thunder, and it’s set during the late 1930s. The story centers around a married couple with some unique ways of surviving the dustbowl days of Kansas. And I’ve got a short story called “Bottom Dollar” included in the Vancouver Noir anthology by Akashic Books, coming out this November. Right now I’m working on a new novel about a guy who’s on the run after stealing a gangster’s money and making off with his woman. 

Monday, August 27, 2018



People say the word like it’s dirty. “He’s a lucky sumbitch.” “If it wasn’t for bad luck I’d have no luck at all.” It’s as if anytime a person one feels is undeserving of any accomplishment, for any reason, he was lucky. It’s the favorite word of the envious and bitter.

Branch Rickey had it right. The legendary General Manager of the Cardinals and Dodgers (and not-so-legendary GM of the Pirates) famously said: “Things worthwhile generally don’t just happen. Luck is a fact, but should not be a factor. Good luck is what is left over after intelligence and effort have combined at their best. Negligence or indifference are usually reviewed from an unlucky seat. The law of cause and effect and causality both work the same with inexorable exactitudes. Luck is the residue of design.” (Emphasis added.)

There are other ways to say it. “Luck is where preparation meets opportunity.” “The harder I work the luckier I get.” “You make your own luck.” All of those are true to some extent, but it cannot be argued that serendipitous good fortune plays a role in all success. The trick, said Jonathan Maberry at last year’s Creatures, Crimes, and Creativity Conference, is to do something with luck when it finds you.

How does one create luck? Mostly by getting off one’s ass. (Or sitting it in a chair to wrote; “Getting off one’s ass” is figurative.) Black Velvet whiskey used to run a magazine ad with a photograph of a drop-dead beautiful blonde wearing a black velvet dress (the fabric, not the booze) with this caption: “The woman of your dreams is out there, but you’re going to have to leave the house.” She’s not going to knock on the door, and, if she does, you’d be wise not to answer it in your underwear with three days’ stubble and a mustard stain on your wife beater.

Luck manifests itself in many ways. Reed Farrel Coleman worked at JFK airport and had thoughts of being a poet. He decided to take a class to fill a dead hour in his schedule and the only English class they had at the time was a survey of American detective fiction. That was three Shamus Awards ago. William Vacchiano played principal trumpet in the New York Philharmonic for 38 years. If you hear a recording of Leonard Bernstein with the NYPO, it’s Vacchiano playing first trumpet. His father sent him to the music store for a clarinet and young Bill forgot on the way and cornet sounded close enough so he got one.

Even someone of my limited accomplishments has been uniquely lucky. Harper Collins ran a contest about fifteen years ago to win an ARC of Elmore Leonard’s The Hot Kid. I scored a copy and wrote a review I sent to the editor of the New Mystery Reader web site, Stephanie Padilla. She liked it enough to make me a regular reviewer, which led to doing interviews, which led to a friendship with Charlie Stella, the Godfather of Mob Fiction.* Charlie took a liking to my writing which led to my getting a contract with his publisher, which didn’t work out as well as I would have liked but also gave me the visibility to come to the attention of Eric Campbell of Down & Out Books which is a situation I could not be happier with. Eric might not have been as interested had I not had two Shamus nominations, which I would not have had were it not for the time and effort the late and sorely missed agent Pam Strickler invested in teaching me to self-edit. Sure, I busted my ass in between all those steps, but winning that stupid contest any reader could have won teed me up for it.

What I might like best when listening to highly successful crime fiction writers is how often they acknowledge the role luck has played for them. It’s not false modesty; they know they’re good. But they also never forget there was a time when they could have ended up in the mass of young writers who came along at the same time they did, and that talent is not always the determining factor in who gets ahead. It is the determining factor in who stays ahead, but a lot of other stuff can happen along the way.

On the other hand, few things are more off-putting than those for whom luck was largely a circumstance or birth or privilege, as these are often the least likely to admit its effects. It’s what I call the Ann Richards Syndrome, after her famous line about George H. W. Bush being “born on third base and thinks he hit a triple.” (The comment is a little unfair, considering his history of public service, but it’s still a great line. I like to think she was prescient enough to predict the current inhabitant of Bush 41’s former office.) These are people who forget the simplest effects of good fortune because they think it somehow makes them less admirable, failing to understand that what makes them less admirable is their refusal to credit anything but themselves for their “success.”

To paraphrase Churchill, I am a writer with much to be humble about. Beyond the unique good fortune mentioned above, I was born a white male in the richest country the world has ever known at a time when an affordable college education was considered to be a sign of national pride. With luck, I’ll never forget that, nor fail to act accordingly.

(*--Charlie says only I call him that, but I swear I read it somewhere.)

Wednesday, August 22, 2018

What's the Deal With Bouchercon?

I re-posted some thoughts about Bouchercon last week, which got me to thinking about the conference in more detail. With this year’s event beginning two weeks from tomorrow, this seems as good a time as any to share thoughts I’ve had about more than why it’s a fun opportunity.

Not that it isn’t a fun opportunity. It’s safe to say that for The Beloved Spouse™ and me Bouchercon is the social event of the year, to the point where I save up time off from work so we can make a road trip of it. Two years ago we drove to New Orleans from the Baltimore-DC area. Last year we took a couple of extra days to go to Niagara Falls and the Hockey Hall of Fame. This year we’re making three stops along the way to visit family and friends, plus a day at Busch Gardens. We’re already thinking of driving to Dallas next year. We work our annual schedules around it.

It’s obvious that we have our own agenda when going each year. We’ve made enough friends over the years that it has in many ways become more of a social event than anything else for us. Yes, I still wait with growing anticipation for the panel announcements to come out and I attend as many panels as I can, notebook in hand, soaking up as much information and good writer vibe as I possible.

When one is trying to make a go of it as an author it’s easy to get caught up in the authorly aspects. (Yes, that’s a word. I just made it up, and I’m a writer, so I have what’s called license.) It’s fashionable among writers to kvetch about our panel assignments or any of the various social issues authors get involved with; diversity is big this year, and rightly so. We’d all like to make a good impression and sell some books in the process, which is another thing I like about Bouchercon: the attitude is less to sell books than to get readers interested in you. It’s a soft sell.

I’ve been involved in some discussions about how we as authors can make changes to improve either the diversity of panels, or support the #metoo movement. I’m all for both, but there’s one thing that keeps me from taking a more active role in either when going to Bouchercon.

It’s not a writers’ conference.

It’s a readers’ conference that I attend as a writer. I am their guest, and, as such, I’m grateful to have been invited. That doesn’t mean I’ll stand by if someone is being harassed. Nor will I reserve my opinion about any conference-related issue if asked.* I’m just not going to impose my opinions on anyone. It’s not my house. The organizing committees—composed mostly of readers and those who run web sites and magazines and hold the entire community together the way mortar binds brick—do an outstanding job year after year. They have more competing priorities than I want to think about, and the last thing I want to do is tell them how to run their conference.

What I will do is whatever I’m asked. I will be just as gracious if assigned to a panel of supernatural animal cozy writers for whom English is a second language as I would be if I sat next to Michael Connelly, Laura Lippmann, Megan Abbott, and Reed Farrel Coleman. If an organizer asks me to help out with something, I will. If a reader wants to talk to me, just come on up, so long as the standard rules of civility are observed. There are more writers looking for exposure than there are slots for them. I’ll never take such an opportunity for granted. The best news about Bouchercon is that the vast majority of the writers have that same attitude, and that includes those at the top of the profession. It is as egalitarian an occurrence as any you will find.

So, at the risk of sounding like I’m sucking up (which I’m not, as I already have my panel assignment and it’s a peach), thank you to everyone responsible for pulling this year’s (and last year’s, and the year before that, and next year’s) conference together. From finding the hotels to getting us good rates to finding sponsors to organizing the peripheral activities to setting up the schedule and assigning panels, what I think of most when pulling up to the conference hotel is how my work is done; everything that happens for the next four days has been taken care of. All I have left to do is to make sure I enjoy myself and, for that, I’ll do whatever the readers ask.

(* -- A “politics-free zone” extends for three feet in every direction from my center of mass. I’m not saying you can’t talk about politics; it’s a free country. Just don’t be distressed or think me rude if I walk away. These four days are for the books.)

Friday, August 17, 2018

Historical Research; A Guest Post by Dorothy Anne Spruzen

Thank you, Dana, for inviting me to contribute to your excellent blog. I thought I would share some of the tips I pass on to my creative writing students concerning historical research for writers of fiction. I know some of you are readers rather than writers, but I hope this will nevertheless prove interesting.

I’m not going to give a discourse on how to perform historical research in the broad sense, but rather to point out some of the ways in which one might avoid embarrassing little blunders. Some reader, somewhere, will pick up your errors with a malicious sense of glee and self-congratulation.

For me, and I think for most people, if I spot an egregious error, my train of thought is
broken, I’ve fallen out of the story, and I’m irritated. We need to get it right. There is usually a historical element in my novels, so here are some of the errors I have come across over many years of reading and writing such books.

My novel The Blitz Business is set in World War II England. Jamie, a fifteen-year-old mildly intellectually disabled boy, loves red fire engines; close to the beginning of the novel, he is found by air raid wardens wandering the streets in the middle of one of the most devastating raids of the Blitz. He is taken to a large fire station that is being used as a headquarters for the rescue services. Imagine his excitement to find so many beautiful red fire engines ready for action.

Only I discovered, quite by chance, that they were all painted gray during the war so as to avoid easy detection from the air. The fact did not come to light during the course of research, per se, but through reading fiction set in that time period and written by a credible source—R.F. Delderfield (The Avenue, God is an Englishman), a well-regarded British military historian who also wrote fiction.

My fix? Jamie still had a red vehicle to admire because, as luck would have it, the station had run out of paint before finishing the last one!

But, be careful. It is unwise to depend entirely on secondary sources; further research was needed to confirm the fact.

In my first novel, Not One of Us (featuring a female serial killer), I had a young girl in New York City dial 911 in about 1950. The fact that the emergency number did not yet exist in New York City may be old news to many of you, but not to me, as British cities and towns had already had an emergency number (999) for years. An American reader in my critique circle picked it up. Critique circles are invaluable, as every member brings his or her own experience and knowledge to the table.

Language usage is another issue. I bought a historical mystery set in the Victorian age, written by a Texan man and wife team who visit England regularly. The language errors are numerous; here are some of them:

Someplace else
I guess
Fix you something to eat?
Doctor’s office (referred to as “surgery” in the U.K.)

The authors had not recognized these idioms as being either American or modern,
perhaps because many of them are often used by the British these days. They have failed to absorb the speech patterns of whatever historical works they might have (should have) read.

I was born in England to a father who was born the year after Queen Victoria died and who had relatives and friends much older than he. I remember their speech patterns, the formality of their oral exchanges, not to mention the written ones, and so I developed the “ear” to recognize these missteps. Imagine my annoyance, when I read:

(Husband in the 1880’s) “What time is it my dear?”
(Wife) “It is three thirty-five, Stanley.” (Maybe she was looking at her Swatch!)

This is a modern Americanism. Even an American would have phrased it differently in those days. As recently as when I was a child (!), we would have said, “five-and-twenty to four” instead of “three thirty-five.”

What would have saved the authors from these errors? A critical reader who knows the speech patterns, and reading novels not only written about that period, but written during that period. And there are plenty of books written during the Victorian era.

Now, one must be careful reading dialog in old fiction, whether English or American, with a view to your own writing set in the same era. Written work, even for dialog, was typically much more elevated than everyday spoken language, even at a time when spoken English was, by our standards, very formal. You will need to modify so your readers won’t be tempted to skip!

For British writers, American usage can be a minefield, too. For example, whether you refer to Pepsi as a soda, pop, or cola, depends which state or city you are in. And I guess most people know now that Americans correct their work with erasers rather than rubbers, unlike the Brits. I had a very embarrassing experience before I learned that one! And let’s not forget slang, which evolves like fruit flies.

Technology is the greatest trap for many writers, especially our younger colleagues. We forget just how recent technology and medical treatments we take for granted are. Take the Internet, for example. In the 1950s, could they analyze blood samples from a pillow? And how precise was that analyses? Was it admissible in court in the 1960s? When was DNA accepted as evidence in a court of law? And is it likely that kid would have had a cell phone at his disposal in 1995? Was that vaccine available in 1975?

Every country has its unique legal system. Saudi Arabia follows strict Islamic law, but Egypt’s law is based on the French civil code while still accommodating national mores. In America, state law varies from one jurisdiction to another, even while Federal law takes precedence. Not only that, but laws are continually being changed or modified, so be sure you know the relevant local situation in the 1940’s or even last year, as it may differ considerably today.

My novel Lily Takes the Field (the sequel to Not One of Us, featuring a female serial killer) is set in Toronto, Canada. It is set in the late 1990s, so fairly contemporary. At one point my protagonist is sitting in the Art Gallery of Toronto enjoying lunch in its charming restaurant, looking out at the garden and admiring the statuary dotted around. She was eating from a menu that featured French cuisine, reflecting a current major exhibit. Not too much later, the whole gallery closed down for about three years while major renovations took place. Sadly, that lovely restaurant is no longer there. I would have had significant egg on my face had I set that scene a few years later.

What saves the day? Research all contexts of your story. Do not rely on the unreliable. Encircle the subject, even using movies and other fiction. Look at the author’s intent (bias, misinformed, shaping to their story). Even encyclopedia entries may be biased and are to be verified. And we have all heard about recent history textbook scandals! I wonder how text book sections on the Civil War might differ from Alabama to Maine? Double check everything!

Remember, social history is part of our game. It is a context for people’s lives and actions and provides connections between different events. It sets your characters onstage against a particular backdrop: other cultures; social strata; the kind of things they use and how they use them (clothes, food, utensils, tools, housing); their speech patterns and slang; and, how they are affected by social and political upheavals.

Always ask the hard questions: Who said that and why? Has anything changed? (Just because the town hall is there today, doesn’t mean it was there fifty years ago.) When, where, why, whom, and how did it change?

I hope some of this has been helpful, particularly to those who write historical fiction. Thank you for taking the time to read my piece!

** ** **
D. A. Spruzen, grew up near London, U.K., graduated from the London College of Dance and Drama Education, and earned an MFA in Creative Writing from Queens University of Charlotte; she teaches creative writing in Northern Virginia when not seeking her own muse. In another life she was Manager of Publications for a defense contractor

A historical novel The Blitz Business was published by Koehler Books in August 2016. Long in the Tooth, a poetry collection, was published by Finishing Line Press in July 2013; her poems and short stories have appeared in many online and print publications. She self-published the first two novels in the Flower Ladies Trilogy—Not One of Us and Lily Takes the Field—and Crossroads: Two Novellas.

Dorothy has served on the boards of many nonprofit organizations, including ten years with Langley Residential Support Services, which provides services for the intellectually challenged. Dorothy is also a visual artist, working in acrylics, watercolor and pastels.

Monday, August 13, 2018

Why Go to Bouchercon?

(What follows is a lightly edited post from March of 2017 when the Anthony Award nominations went out and I got to thinking about Bouchercon. With this year’s conference on the rapidly approaching horizon I realized I don’t have anything more profound to say about the conference this year, but not everyone has read this, so here you go.)

Readers are, by and large, introverts. By definition, introverts expend energy around other people and recharge when alone. That doesn’t mean introverts don’t like other people, though we may be somewhat more discerning than extroverts when it comes to who we choose to be around. It’s not that we don’t like spending time around people who share an interest, but we’d have to leave the house to meet them and that cuts into our reading time.*

Bouchercon is the perfect place for such a person. True, it’s close to two thousand people in relatively confined quarters, but it’s not just that. It’s hundreds of people who are geeked up about the same thing you are, and are often hungry for others to talk to about it. Even better, it’s not just the thousand-plus like-minded readers you’ll see: you’ll also be tripping over the people who write the books you’re so revved up about. What could be better?

They’re glad to see you, too. I’ve been to eight Bouchercons in the ten years since I discovered them. I’ve made friends there, cemented acquaintances with people I came to know online, and have created enough of a footprint myself that some people actually recognize me. I have never once been treated other than civilly, and far more often than not people have gone out of their way to be friendly.**

It can be an expense, but it’s a bargain compared to many other conferences. The conference fee itself is always reasonable and I’m constantly surprised when I see the room rate the committee gets at the host hotel. The only complaint I’ve had is the hotels rarely appreciate how much readers and writers drink and fail to put enough additional staff on the bar. Doesn’t mean I don’t socialize; I just don’t drink as much. The hotel’s loss is my liver’s gain.

So, dear readers, if you’re curious to see what over a thousand readers and several hundred crime fiction writers look like in the wild, there’s no better place to find out than Bouchercon.

* -- The Sole Heir™ was pre-teen when my tenure at Castle Voldemort ended and I was the classic single divorced father again. We used to have this conversation fairly often:

TSH: Do you ever go out?
Me: Not much.
TSH: Why not?
Me: If I go out I’m going to see a lot of people I don’t know.
TSH: What’s wrong with that?
Me: I hate people I don’t know.

After a year or so she came up with the next logical question.

TSH: Why do you hate people you don’t know?
Me: It saves time.

** -- My favorite Bouchercon story. Baltimore, 2008. My virgin appearance. Standing on the walkway between hotels with Peter Rozovsky, one of about three people I actually knew then. He asked was I having a good time.
Me: Sort of.
PR: What’s wrong?
Me: I don’t really know anyone here. (See above statement about people I don’t know.)
PR: (Looks around) Do you know Scott Phillips?
Me: I know who he is….
PR: (Waving) Scott! Come here a second! (Scott Phillips comes over.) Scott, this is Dana King. Dana, this is Scott Phillips. He wrote The Ice Harvest. (Peter does not know I am head over heels for The Ice Harvest.)
SP: (Extends hand) Hi, Dana.
(We chat for five minutes and Scott has to go to a panel.)
PR: See? Now you know Scott Phillips.

One year later. Indianapolis. I’m on the periphery of the crowd at the bar looking for anyone I know. I see Scott with a group of people, but he’s someone I’ve met for five minutes a year ago, not someone I know. Scott notices me and waves me over.

SP: Dana, we’re going to get something to eat. You want to come?

That’s what Bouchercon is like. If in doubt, go. Look me up. Mention this post and your drink is on me. I’m not paying for it. I’m just clumsy when I get excited.

Wednesday, August 8, 2018

July's Favorite Reads

Swann’s Last Song, Charles Salzberg. Not the typical way to start a series—declaring it to be the “last” of anything—but there are a lot of unusual things here. Henry Swann is a skip tracer. Nothing as glorious or sexy as a bounty hunter. Swann just finds people who have split on wives or husbands, debts, unfortunate circumstances. It’s a pleasure, Swann thinks, to take the hot upper-crust woman’s money to find her husband; not so much when the man turns up dead and she still wants him to keep looking. The case takes Swann from New York to LA to Mexico to Berlin and back to New York to a resolution that isn’t what Swann expected at all. Swann’s pretty much an undesirable until he gets his teeth into the case and comes to the realization he wants to do this one right for a change and shows more mettle than he thought he had. This is one of those books that grew on me. I thought it was good while reading it, and found my thoughts on looking back growing fonder all the time.

Dirty Sweet, John McFetridge. A re-read for me, as McFetridge hasn’t been writing books as fast as I want to read them, so I started the Toronto Series over from the beginning. An outstanding first novel—the author had previously collaborated with Scott Albert to write the underappreciated Below the Line—all the things McFetridge would build on in Everybody Knows This is Nowhere and Swap are here. Just the right mix of danger and fun. A lot of writers have been influenced by Elmore Leonard, but few have shown that influence more uniquely than is done here.

Thursday, August 2, 2018

Guest Post by Angel Colon

Angel Luis Colón is a Derringer and Anthony Award shortlisted author. His published works include the titles: Pull & Pray, No Happy Endings, the Blacky Jaguar series of novellas, the short story anthology; Meat City on Fire (And Other Assorted Debacles), and the upcoming Hell Chose Me (2019).

His short fiction has appeared in multiple web and print publications including Thuglit, Literary Orphans, and Great Jones Street. He also hosts the podcast, the bastard title.

Keep up with him on Twitter via @GoshDarnMyLife

That’s the party line. What he puts on his website to show how badass he is. Those who know him know a genuinely funny person (as opposed to those who claim to be funny and only think they are) who always has a kind word for a fellow writer. It's been a while since he’s been on OBAAT and I hope it won’t be as long before he’s back.

** ** **

I don’t think I’m alone in experiencing that surge of doubt that comes with releasing a new work into the wild. The piece isn’t good enough, there’s a missed copy edit(s), or maybe I should have revised that finale one more time—the usual little grey clouds that pop up when you’re trying to celebrate getting work done.

Shit, I know for a fact I’m not alone in that feeling. I see that feeling all over my social media feeds. Some folks experience it worse than others and everyone has a different approach in dealing with that added stress.

I’ve read a few takes lately on the idea of the stress getting to a writer in a way that ends up
making the very process of creating miserable. Those writers broke down their arguments and have decided to lean towards quitting (or at least taking a break). The popular response seems to be questioning the writers’ commitment to the super serious craft of writing but really, what’s the fucking harm in letting your brain reset?

I’m not a fan of the romantic notion that some unseen force compels me to write; that I am a living Stephen J. Cannell stinger in action (sigh – that’s obscure and 80’s as fuck, here’s the LINK).

I say we should be allowed to breathe for a bit—even if that means “quitting”.

As writers, we need to be able to deal with truths. We’re too often consumed with building a platform or a façade and yes, I understand why: we want to succeed. I also understand we’re trained to believe that only grinding our fucking fingers to bloody stumps is the answer. That concept that hard work is proof of commitment—which, come on, how often do we roll our eyes at success stories we know aren’t as rooted in hard work as they are in dumb luck or nepotism?

Mental health is important. A toiling creator is not the creator of great things, no matter how much we romanticize bullshit myths about Hemingway or Van Gogh. We need to support each other in all those decisions that do not harm ourselves or others. If a writer is out there feeling this grind is doing self harm, then we need to grow a spine and offer our support. Yeah, maybe that isn’t conducive to a continued life of networking opportunities but that is being a decent human.

As corny as it sounds, I’m of the belief that we should strive to be decent humans, especially as writers. We chronicle pain and joy, we foster empathy for the good and the bad. To kick someone while their down because their current situation doesn’t align with yours? Come on, y’all. We’re not those kinds of assholes.

So, support the writers out there in the throes of doubt the same way you would those living it up on their success. Endeavor to lift everyone up as best you can. There is literally no downside to the people in your community succeeding on their own terms.

Look at that, and I bet you thought this was going to be all glum and stuff. Made it into rainbows and butterfly kisses.

Now go buy my book about family fucking each other over for money.