Friday, July 3, 2020

An Open Letter to Writers' Organizations


As usual, I’m a bit late here, but I wanted to get my thoughts together about the recent International Thriller Writers controversy. Not even ITW so much, as what this debacle says about writers groups in general.

Writers’ organizations such as ITW, Mystery Writers of America, Sisters in Crime, etc. do not require two houses of Congress and a president to set standards for membership. There is no need to content ourselves with saying how something is terrible and needs to stop, the horror, the horror, then install window dressing and walk away. It’s time to establish who our organizations and events belong to. Consequences are in order.

Understanding that lawyers would have to fine tune this, here’s a proposal for organization membership and event attendance:
  • A Code of Conduct for all members, clearly stated and easily found on the web site. The Code will cover inappropriate sexual behavior, as well as racist, homophobic, transphobic, or religious discrimination. The Code shall make clear this is not a bar to civil discussion of such topics. Context always matters.
  • Conference attendees must check a box to certify they have read and agree to abide by the Code of Conduct before the system can accept their registration.
  • Credible complaints will be forwarded to a standing committee on conduct, which may do any of the following after an investigation:
    • Nothing. The committee will inform the complainant of the reasons why. (Example: “You became uncomfortable after finding yourself involved in a discussion of the invective used in James Ellroy’s works describing life in the 50s. No one called you, or anyone else, any of these names. No sanctions forthcoming.”)
    • Probation. Prohibits the accused from attending future conferences for a prescribed period of time. They are still a member and may participate in other activities until the probation period is over. Probation can be conditional (“on probation until the matter is disposed of”).
    • Suspension. The accused may not attend any events, nor enjoy any of the benefits of membership, for a prescribed period of time.
    • Banishment. Permanently bars the accused from any aspect of the organization. This should apply only in extreme circumstances, though repeat offenders should also be subject to permanent banishment.
  • Members who are on probation, suspended, or banned will have their names posted on the group’s web site. The reasons will remain private, but their names will be available for those who may attend a conference to which this person still has access, so people know who to look out for. The Code of Conduct each attendee must acknowledge prior to registration will clearly include this provision so there are no misunderstandings.

It’s no longer enough to know there are bad actors out there and maybe they’ll face some arbitrary consequences if they misbehave. The consequences have to be clear and public. It does little good to ban someone from ThrillerFest for sexual misconduct only to keep their name secret so they may prey on others at Left Coast Crime or Bouchercon.

This isn’t about punishing the guilty. It’s about keeping everyone else safe. Not just good thoughts and boilerplate platitudes so they’ll feel safe. Taking action to actually make them safer. I’m a six-foot-one-inch, 240-pound straight white man. I have never, not once, felt anything but safe at a conference. Everyone needs to be able to feel that way. To paraphrase Harry Bosch, “We’re all safe, or no one is safe.”

Friday, June 26, 2020

Jochem Vandersteen, Author of Crimes And Riffs: Roadie, Metalhead, PI.


This is Jochem Vandersteen’s fifth interview on OBAAT and each one has been a pleasure. Born and living in The Netherlands, Jochem is as ardent an advocate for American private eye fiction as anyone living. A good review or year-end mention on his  “Sons of Spade” are notable accomplishments and I’m proud to have received both.

Jochem is a writer of note his own self. In addition to two anthologies of PI fiction. (The Shamus Sampler and The Shamus Sampler II), Jochem has published short stories and collections featuring protagonists Noah Milano, Vance Custer, Mike Dalmas, and his newest creation, Lenny Parker. Jochem treads the line between homage and moving the genre forward with aplomb and I’m always interested in what he’s up to. Now you can catch up with him, as well.

One Bite at a Time: Jochem, it’s always a treat to have you on the blog. I hope everything is well with you. Your new book is a collection of your Lenny Parker stories, Crimes And Riffs: Roadie, Metalhead, PI. Talk a little about what readers can expect in the stories. We’ll get to Lenny in a minute.
Jochem Vandersteen: You can expect longer short stories (not yet novelettes
though) divided into small chapters. I first published those at my blog, “Sons of Spade.” They are to a degree standard PI stories but take place partly in the heavy metal subculture and have sometimes a humorous feel although stuff gets dark sometimes as well.

OBAAT: Lenny Parker is described as a “roadie, metalhead, PI,” with PI coming last. Where did you get the idea for him and how did he get into the PI business?
JV: They say you should write what you know. Well, as a metalhead myself and writer for a Dutch webzine about heavy music I know all about the world of heavy metal. I really wanted to set a story in that world. Inspired by other private eyes with part-time gigs I figured a roadie would be a good job that wasn’t full-time enough so offered some chances for the character to do some PI work as well. From that Lenny Parker was born. Lenny started his PI work at a larger PI form, gaining the experience legally needed to start your own PI firm there. At times the daughter of his original boss acts kind of like his muscle and even brains when Lenny needs some of that.

OBAAT: You are as dedicated a devotee of PI fiction as anyone I know, and the entire field respects you for it. I remember what a thrill it was when one of my books made your year-end list in “Sons of Spade” and when you invited me to contribute a story to the second Shamus Sampler collection. What originally drew you to this uniquely American genre and how does it maintain its strong appeal?
JV: I’ve always liked heroes. While I like superheroes I found in the PIs a more relatable kind of hero as a young man. Aside from that I like fast, action-packed reads but detest long fight scenes and a focus on hardware. I like dark stories, but need some lighter moments as well. I like stories that are ripped from the headlines but don’t beat you down with morals. The private eye genre offers me all of that.

OBAAT: Have you ever thought of writing a PI who must go down the mean streets of Amsterdam or Rotterdam?
JV: Not really. I’m not even a fan of PI stories that take place in other places than the USA. I think the PI is as connected to the States as the cowboy is. I have been tinkering around with characters in my home country but if those ever come out they will be in my own native language and not feature private eyes.

OBAAT: You like protagonists who have unorthodox backgrounds. Noah Milano is the scion of a mob family. Vance Custer is a literary Travis McGee who will take on a case if for the book rights. (What’s not to love about a badass writer?) Lenny Parker we already talked about. What draws you to these kinds of characters and how do you come up with them?
JV: You need to do something original to stand out when you want to tell traditional tales but stand out. That is why I try to think of original angles to the backgrounds of my characters. You forget to mention my vigilante character Mike Dalmas who is blackmailed by the cops to take on some missions for them. I guess these kind of things are what I look for in other characters as well. It’s what drew me to Steve Ulfelder’s Conway Sas, A.J. Devlin’s Jed Ounstead and Steve Hamilton’s Nick Mason or even Lee Child’s Jack Reacher. All fairly standard lone wolf PI-like types who either have a different background or just something different / special than just a fedora and an office with their names stenciled on the door.

OBAAT: You’ve focused on short stories. Any plans for a novel?
JV: Writing a novel takes a long time. With a fulltime job, writing reviews for my blog and for the Dutch webzine I don’t have much of that. I like short stories and novelettes. I can get to the point, leave out the parts people skip and tell as many stories as I can. I have been doing a few false starts on a novel though. So yeah, I might write one in the future. I have started a few that might make it to the finish line.

OBAAT: What’s next?
JV: I will continue writing Lenny Parker episodes on my blog. That is something that comes pretty much without effort. I hope the sales of the collection will give me some extra energy to write more and finish that novel we were talking about.



Friday, June 19, 2020

What to Write and How to Do It?


First of all, this is a first world problem. I neither seek nor expect sympathy. I don’t mean to complain or whine and I appreciate more than I can tell you that I’m not breathing through a ventilator.

We’re all affected one way or another by the virus and a president who shows a willingness to run the country by executive fiat if given half a chance. As I type this the whole country and much of the world is (finally) riled up about how police treat minorities. All these things invade our consciousness and affect each of us differently. That’s as it should be. I worry about anyone who claims to remain unaffected. The trick is to compartmentalize enough so one can continue to move forward, learning along the way.

This is a blog about writing and I’d be lying if I said current events had no effect on my work. It’s not that I can’t write, or that I’m blocked. (Regular readers know how I feel about the idea of writer’s block.) Last week I finished a draft of a story I like, using a process different from anything I’d tried before. The problem is deciding what to do next.

The Western has bitten the dust, shot from the saddle by my realization I’m not at home in either the time or the place. I tried to pull together the scenes I’ve written over the past couple of years and, while there’s writing in there I’m proud of, it feels like cultural appropriation. The story seemed less organic than like bits and pieces of other Westerns I’ve read or seen. Maybe I’ll have an idea I like better someday.

I finished Penns River Volume Six last month, so PR-7 is the next logical step. The timing is awkward. Here’s the elevator pitch: A black cop shoots and kills a white guy. The police find no weapon on the victim. Oh, and the guy was a white supremacist and various factions decide to converge on Penns River to send their boy off in style.

You see my problem?

My PR cops are good people who work hard to do the right thing. There are a few jerks, but I know enough cops to know most of what’s in the barrel are good apples. I want cops to be good guys. They protect the people I care about.

Right now it’s impossible to write such a book and not have it be about more than that.

My timing isn’t altogether bad. A new chief took over in Book 6 and in Book 7 he’s going to start to bring in cops from other jurisdictions to replace an exodus of Penns River retirees. They bring big city techniques and attitudes, not all of them palatable to the holdovers. Or the town.

I don’t write door stops, so I’m in danger of doing what John McNally calls putting too much in the container. This is more often a problem with short stories, but it’s a concern with novels, as well. I also don’t want to give anything short shrift. There are things I dare not ignore, but I want to be fair.

I also can’t afford to write as if someone is looking over my shoulder. My books have always been well received (if not frequently purchased) when all I’ve tried to do is write a book I’d like to read.

Which I suppose brings us to the real problem: I don’t know what kind of book I want to read right now. The Beloved Spouse™ and I abandoned a long-anticipated re-viewing of The Shield last weekend after two episodes. We love the show but neither of us was in the mood to watch it. More than ever, I need to hit a proper balance, and that’s going to require more of a plan than I usually take into a book. I always outline the chapters to remind myself what needs to happen to move things along. How it happens I leave for the actual writing. This time I need a better defined vision of not only what happens, but how and why. Not to do so is an invitation to either drift into blandness, write a screed, or create something that goes in every direction without arriving anywhere.

It’s going to be interesting.

At least I’m not on a ventilator.

Stay well.

Friday, June 12, 2020

Justified

I don’t watch weekly television. Most recent was Yellowstone, but even then we DVR the whole season and binge them over the course of a week. This means the last TV show I waited a week for a next episode of was Justified.

Ah. Justified.

The Beloved Spouse™ and I watched all six seasons a few weeks ago, the
second time we’ve hung with Raylan and Boyd and Ava since the show went off the air in 2015. While there are lines we can recite with the characters, there are still things we hadn’t noticed and the special features are as good as any I’ve seen.

I don’t have time to discuss all the things I love about this show. Some plots have more twists than an intestine, but the show is an homage to Elmore Leonard, whose plots got out of hand at times and no one cared. That’s not why people read his books, and it’s not why people watch Justified. Leonard’s writing was all about character and attitude and the show has those in spades, from the opening shot of the pilot, Raylan walking through a crowded hotel pool area to kill Tommy Bucks, to the last scene in prison, where Boyd says Raylan personally delivered news of Ava’s “death” because they dug coal together.

Never has anything that ran as many episodes maintained that level of wit in the writing, people saying laugh out loud things and not realizing they’re funny, it’s just what that character would say. Raylan: “If you wanted me to shoot you in the front, you shoulda run toward me.” Boyd: “God damn, woman, you only shoot people when they're eatin' supper?” Ava: “If by uncomfortable you mean it made my skin crawl, then yes.” Dewey Crowe: ““You mean I got four kidneys?” (We could do a whole series on the wisdom of Dewey Crowe.) Art Mullen: “That mystery bag thing is giving me a bit of a Marshal stiffy.”

The show dodged a bullet when the creators realized Boyd Crowder (Walton Goggins) could not die in the pilot; the chemistry between him and Raylan (Timothy Olyphant) was too good. This kept Justified from being a crime of the week cop show—okay, an extremely well-written crime of the week cop show—and led them to build around annual villains while still showing what else marshals might do on slow days.

Ultimately what makes the show work—in addition to the talent and dedication of the writers, cast, and crew—was the devotion to Elmore Leonard. The special features are full of oblique and direct references to the respect and affection everyone had for him. He died during pre-production for Season Five, and that year’s extras include a hilarious reading of The Onion’s obituary by Patton Oswalt, annotated to show where they broke all ten of Leonard’s Ten Rules of writing. “The Coolest Guy in the Room” is a half-hour biography interspersed with cast members reading from his books. The extra bonus disk has another half-hour of readings, and the actors who read make sure we know what a treat it was to work with him and know him.

Justified is violent, irreverent, funny, and heartbreaking, all in balanced doses. If you haven’t seen it, do so. If you have, do so again. It gets better with age and familiarity. If you’ve seen it and didn’t care for it…different people have different tastes. You’re just not someone I’d want to hang with, is all.

Friday, June 5, 2020

Joe Ricker, Author of Some Awful Cunning


Joe Ricker is a former bartender for Southern literary legends Barry Hannah and Larry Brown. He grew up in southern Maine and has lived in Alabama, Mississippi, New York, and New Mexico. Ricker spent several years travelling the country with his dog and working as a cab driver, innkeeper, acquisitions specialist, professor, lumberjack, ranch-hand, and strip-club bouncer. He lives in Reno, Nevada, where he hikes daily with his four-legged partner in crime. His new book is Some Awful Cunning, from Down & Out Books.

One Bite at a Time: Tease us about Some Awful Cunning. One hundred words or fewer.

                                                                                         

OBAAT: Ryan Carpenter works the flip side of witness protection and helps prospective convicts slip off the radar. Where did you get the idea for this unusual occupation?

JR: I’d gone through a bunch of personal and professional setbacks that were really frustrating. I thought a lot about just saying “fuck it” and dropping off the grid, so I moved back to Maine and started working in the woods cutting timber. I worked all winter and decided to take it up a notch by taking a road trip from Maine to the west coast because I’d never been west of the Mississippi except for some Army stuff in Fort Lewis. I was camping in Alamogordo, New Mexico, and there was a crew of prisoners cleaning up the campground. That was the start of it. From there, the idea took shape and it went from wanting to disappear to writing about a guy that helps other people disappear. At first it was a character who helped people escape persecution, but evolved into him helping anyone who wanted to escape. Battered wives, prostitutes, bikers, etc. Basically, Ryan Carpenter helps anyone who needs to get away from where they are or the situation they’re in and start over.

OBAAT: As your bio shows (I will have included it above) you are the quintessential “well-traveled author.” Was it your intent to move around so much, is that just how things worked out, or is that Witness Protection you’re not supposed to talk about?

JR: After that first road trip, I was hooked. I loved being on the road. I went back to teach at Ithaca College for a couple more years, but after continually being turned down for a full-time position, I decided that life would be better on the road. I thought about how fucking stupid it is for colleges to encourage people to take out student loans to get a degree so they can hire you to teach and those same colleges pay dog shit. And then I realized that I was fucking stupid for continuing to teach, so I went back on the road. I picked up work along the way and I did some freelance writing, so I made enough money to survive, which is a lot easier when you don’t have to pay rent. I loved the road. When I got sick of a place or I didn’t like it to begin with, I went somewhere else. It was insanely liberating, and it gave me more to write about, so it certainly became my intent to move around as much as possible. I did that for two years until I settled in Reno.  

OBAAT: Who are the primary influences on your writing? Were they people you set out to emulate, or was it a matter of looking back one day and realizing they’d had more of an impact than you thought?

JR: I’ve had some amazing people influence my writing – some authors I’d only read and a handful of writers I met while I was bartending at City Grocery in Oxford, Mississippi. Flannery O’Connor and Raymond Carver were probably the two authors I tried to emulate the most when I first started to make an attempt at crafting a story. I fell in love with Carver’s prose, and I really liked how dark O’Connor’s writing could be. When I started to focus mostly on crime fiction, Jim Thompson, Craig Clevenger, and Will Christopher Baer became the guys I really looked up to. Jonathan Lethem, too, was big for me. I walked out of a job at L.L. Bean just to finish Motherless Brooklyn, which I did while sitting in my car in the Bean parking lot.

In Oxford, I was fortunate enough to have some really great people who not only influenced my writing, but showed me enough patience for me to have the courage to get things on the page. Shay Youngblood and Cynthia Shearer were instrumental in helping me discover my strengths, which were few and often sparse. Tom Franklin and Ace Atkins took some time to help me figure out what I was doing wrong and how to make those adjustments. And Barry Hannah and Larry Brown were gentle enough to throw in a kind word here and there when I asked a dumb fucking question about writing. My time in Oxford is always a point of reflection, especially now that I’m getting things published.

OBAAT: We’re both Down & Out Books authors. How did you get hooked up with Eric and Lance?

JR: That’s kind of a sad turn of events. My first book Walkin’ After Midnight came out with another publisher. Jonathan Ashley, another author with the same publisher, reached out to me at some point, and we started talking crime fiction. When that publisher went under, Jon went to Down & Out and hooked me up with Eric. Unfortunately, Jon died shortly after that, so I never got to thank him for linking me up with them.

OBAAT: The classic final question: What are you working on now?

JR: Other than getting better at coloring in the lines, I’m doing some edits to the next two books I have coming out with Down & Out and finishing up the prequel to Some Awful Cunning.



Friday, May 29, 2020

The Times, They are A'Changin'

Otto Penzler opened his annual controversy last week with an intemperate response to Houghton Mifflin Harcourt’s decision to choose another editor for their Best American Mystery Stories anthology. (Editor’s Note: Otto took down his post so I have included a verbatim copy below so no one can say I slanted his opinion.)

The most charitable spin to Otto’s statement is he is an aging white man who hasn’t evolved with the times. It’s a failure as old as history. Things once commonly accepted prove not to be true. Apollo’s chariot does not traverse the sky to bring daylight. The stars and planets do not revolve around the Earth. The Earth is not flat. White men are not inherently superior in any regard; openly accepting the contributions of others into any aspect of society can only improve it.

It is unlikely HMH would have replaced Otto had they felt his choices reflected the current state of crime fiction. One can argue that his dismissal was a politically correct marketing ploy, but that implies, had Otto opened things up more on his own, they would have felt no need to replace him.

Otto’s own comment allows one to reasonably infer he wasn’t open to accepting more diversity: “This means that stories will no longer be selected for excellence, the major criterion evidently now being the race, ethnicity, or sexual preference of the author.” That’s yet another example of the death of irony in America, as, looking back, it appears race and ethnicity were criteria in Otto’s selections.

There’s another layer of privilege here that hasn’t gotten nearly enough mention: Where does Otto Penzler get off deciding it is his divine right to choose each year’s Best American Mystery Stories in perpetuity? Is he the only person, white or otherwise, qualified to be the arbiter of what is “best?” Even if the Aryan Brotherhood started an annual “Best White American Mystery Stories” anthology, one could argue a different editor each year would create a more representative selection over time.

I wish Otto Penzler no ill will; I’ve never met the man. No one disputes his enormous contributions to crime fiction over the years. That said, publishing, and hopefully society in general, is turning a corner. The new direction is clear. The ruckus raised by those who find themselves left behind is evidence of the desperation born of their realization this is true. The train to a better world is leaving the station, and they lack the currency to buy a ticket. There’s room for everyone, but they’ll have to make some changes in themselves if they are earn the means to ride inside the coach.

(The Facebook post I refer to in this commentary is below:
Hi All--A couple of days ago I posted that Houghton Mifflin Harcourt had decided not to renew my tenure as the series editor for THE BEST AMERICAN MYSTERY STORIES OF THE YEAR. My heart was warmed by the many supportive comments and the kind words about me and the series. I was stunned by the news and didn't understand the motivation for it, and many of you had theories. I now have an answer. According to an announcement from the editor-in-chief of HMH on Monday, the series "is going in an exciting new direction in response to the changing market and evolving readership and with an increased focus on traditionally marginalized voices." This means that stories will no longer be selected for excellence, the major criterion evidently now being the race, ethnicity, or sexual preference of the author. Forgive my bitterness. First off, I published lots of black writers and probably more than I knew since I never required a photo ID. I also published some writers who I know are gay but, again, doubtless others whose sexual preferences were unknown to me--as they should be. No one was marginalized when my first reader Michele Slung, and I, and the guest editors, sought the best stories. I'm now glad that I was not asked to stay on as I never would have agreed to edit a book on these terms. It's not over. I'll make an announcement soon.)

Friday, May 22, 2020

Joe Clifford, A Man With Too Much Good News to Fit Into a Title


It’s not fair to either of them, but people tend to think of Tom Pitts and Joe Clifford in tandem. This is partly their fault, as they’re fucking inseparable. (Yeah, I know. I’m usually pretty safe for work in these interview intros, but Clifford fucking brings it out in people, you know?) So even though it’s not fair and I love both these guys, as soon as I booked Tom for last week’s interview (prodded by the release of Coldwater), it occurred to me I hadn’t had Joe on the blog for a while and more good stuff happened to him in a short period of time than can be grasped by a single human mind, so I got him for today. Which puts them here as a tandem, which is what I just said was unfair. So I’m a prick. Fucking sue me.

Anyway, Joe doesn’t need much more introduction, as the interview touches on just about every aspect of his life except for his unhealthy fascination with Taylor Swift, which I didn’t ask about because…maybe you should seek help yourself if I have to explain it. Here’s Joe.

One Bite at a Time: You probably thought I was kidding on Facebook when I said this would be the easiest interview I ever did. Your life has been so action-packed the questions wrote themselves. Let’s start with congratulations. I have as much respect for you as I do for anyone I know and to say you deserve all this is an understatement.

Joe Clifford: Stop it. You’ll make me cry. Seriously. Why are the insults always so much easier to take than the compliments? But thank you.

OBAAT: The news that probably got the most attention is your fifth Jay Porter Rag and Bone, receiving a nomination for the International Thriller Writers’ Award for Best Hardcover novel. I suspect you’ll admit that the Porter books, while well received, may not have sold as well as they might because a lot of people found Jay to be unlikable. Does this nomination provide some validation, that there are people who get Jay and understand what you were going for?
novel,

JC: Dude, that was fucking nuts. The last thing I would’ve expected. I frequently am looking for good news from, as Tom Pitts likes to say, “the e-mailman.” It rarely comes. That morning I got the news from ITW, I was bleary-eyed, Day 39 whatever of Marchtober or whatever fucking month. Gobsmacked. Which is not a word I use lightly. Not a word I use, really, but can’t think of a better one. I sorta keep waiting for a correction email saying they made a mistake!

But to answer your question? Fuck yeah. The books sold okay, but, no, they didn’t earn USA Today Bestseller status, and I think my publisher, Oceanview, would say the same. The books sold fine. We were hoping for more. Which is cool. That’s a lot of books. I was appreciative that I had a nice loyal group of readers who picked up each new Porter, but you’re right, that one criticism I heard, over and over, was “he’s unlikable,” he being my protagonist Jay Porter. And honestly? After a while it started to get to me. I understand the books are not for everyone, but I also feel like, sometimes, that “unlikable” tag can be a copout. No, Jay isn’t likable. He makes some bad decisions. Like a lot of people I know. Like, well, me. I strove less to make him likable than I did “believable.” If there was a silver lining it’s that. I didn’t hear much “Well, I’d never believe someone like him would do that.” It was more, “Yup. Of course he did that. He’s an asshole!”

Anyway, I won’t ramble so much for the rest of the questions. I could’ve just answered yes. Yes, I am very happy that there are some people who “get” Jay Porter enough to bestow upon me this tremendous honor; it’s fucking humbling.

OBAAT: I’ve had a couple of Shamus nominations and, while it’s a letdown to hear someone else’s name, I never felt like the nomination wasn’t sufficient notice, even though I did want each undeserving winner to have an aneurism and die on their way to the podium. (Not that I’m bitter.) I don’t want to jinx you—I’m assuming you’re going to win—but should the unspeakable happen and you don’t, you’re not going to be one of those who feels like you lost something, are you?

JC: There’s not a fucking chance in hell I win. Did you see those other names? Blake Crouch had a show on TV with Matt Dillon. And a second season with Jason Patric. And Baldacci has been translated into more languages than are currently known (I’m approximating that number). And the rest of the writers? Are you kidding me? A who’s who list! I know it’s cliché to say “honor just to be nominated.” I always say shit like that. Like when someone else is sick and you’re like “Aw, I wish it was me not you.” I never mean it. Except when I had kids. Now I really would prefer I got sick instead of them. And I mean it this time with the “it’s an honor just...” And I am fine with that. Of all the mysteries and thrillers released? To be one of the six Best Hardcovers of the Year? Yeah, I won’t go back to shooting heroin if I “lose.” I’ll Gloria Gaynor that shit.

OBAAT: You also have a new book deal, for Shadow People. Tell us a little about the book, the deal, and when we can expect to see it.

JC: When I was strung out on speed, which was in between/during the heroin stuff (and cocaine) back in the 1990s, well, that shit is bad. Obviously. But it makes you see shit. Like really see shit. And you know it’s not there. Except … it is. And I can’t explain that if you haven’t done a shit-ton of meth but something happens. You cross over worlds. And I know that sounds insane, and it is. But that’s the thing with speed: you go crazy. It’s in the minutia. You focus on the dot and the dots that makes up that dot, until you are so zeroed in you’re … seeing … the inside of the inside. And people will call that hallucination. And it was. I’m not maintaining I was in a parallel universe. But as clear as you see that coffee cup or pen, I’d see people who may or may not have been there. And I’d talk to them. And I’d see cats, and they’d be all automaton-ic, dripping green ooze and moving all robotic, and then it would turn out to be a shirt. But the thing is when you are living like that? It’s fucking real. So you live in this Dali painting, and some days, your … mind … takes you somewhere wonderful. But after a while, it drags you to your worst fears, deepest hells. Interestingly enough, this is the same sensation schizophrenics experience. And I’ve known a lot of them. Was married to one. The guitarist in my first band suffered. Horrible affliction. So using my firsthand … experience … with the symptoms, I crafted a narrative about a schizophrenic who witnesses a crime, and then it’s up to his friend to separate reality from fiction. Basically it’s a road trip novel with an uptight college student and the dude’s equally schizo grandpa, who’s made peace with his disease. So, y’know, a laugh riot.

OBAAT: Keeping the roll going, you sold the audio rights to The Lakehouse five months before the book is scheduled to drop. That’s Michael Connelly/Dennis Lehane action there. What’s the scoop and do you know who’d going to read it yet? I have a soft spot for Gilbert Gottfried.

JC: Lol. That reminds me of when Gottfried read 50 Shades of Gray. I’ve been very lucky with narrators. Timothy McKean, who’s done most of my books and is fantastic, and Jennifer Jill Araya, who did a knockout job with The One That Got Away. Dreamscape has the rights to the new one, and they are as big as it gets, so I have no doubt whomever they choose will be equally terrific.

OBAAT: A new edition of Junkie Love popped to Number One on Amazon when it came out. I read the original about five years ago and there are few books that have affected me as much, thanks to its unvarnished look at the life of a junkie and getting clean. What prompted the second edition?

JC: It wasn’t our intention—“our” being me and Fawn Nuen, who runs Battered Suitcase (publisher for JL), but I think it turned into a New Coke kinda deal. So we had the original Junkie Love with the black cover and syringe, and Fawn and I always thought maybe that cover was a little too … graphic? Anyway, I had this old Polaroid taken by Gluehead (my speed dealer, who got his nickname as a kid because of a bad haircut. Pre-destiny, I guess), with my ex-wife (Cathy in the book) and me and there’s fire all around us, a photography trick Glue employed. Anyway after my brother died, I wanted to update JL, and so I wrote a new intro and significant Afterword, and we released a second edition. Which did fine. But then people were all, “I can’t find the original!” Which was funny because I didn’t change the main text, just augmented with additional material, like ten percent more! So then we brought back our original Coke, which I guess people had cued for alerts or some shit, and so the original became a “new release” (like Spinal Tap and the “New Originals”), and we sold a bunch.

OBAAT: I saved this one for last, but you also got a record deal. I’m a recovering musician while you have remained active, but I suspect this might have been the news that jazzed you up more than the rest. Spill so I can have another reason to hate you.

JC: I might’ve oversold that one! Steve Coulter put together a lo-fi compilation record to help benefit musicians out of work because of COVID. Originally it was just this thing going up band camp. Then Big Stir Records picked it up. So, yeah, as I guy who started out wanting to be a rock-and-roll star, desperate to be picked up by a label, and falling far short… Fast forward thirty years, and now I’m a crime writer, and dream comes true. But really it’s a great cause, super cheap, and it was a blast! Some AMAZING company on this one. Not sure Big Stir will be putting out the next Wandering Jews record. But I won’t lie. Each morning, I check my email kinda sorta hoping maybe… Quarantine Sessions

OBAAT: I recently interviewed Tom Pitts and asked him this same question. I’m asking you before his interview comes out so we can get a weird Newlywed Game vibe going: You and Tom go way back, well before you were writers. How did you meet and how did your paths to becoming acclaimed writers vary? Or were similar?

JC: I feel like this is asking for another Batman origin story. Not sure anyone wants to hear it? But … yeah, Tom and I were junkies and we met at Hepatitis Heights and… Tell you what? Let’s just close with a line I wrote about Tom from Junkie Love. Because it was fucking true then. And it’s fucking true now, except minus the dope: Tom Pitts was a rare breed: a reliable doper. Meaning you could trust Tom with you money, your girl, your dope, your everything. He’d never rip you off or do you wrong. He was true blue then. And he’s fucking true blue now. He ain’t heavy; he’s my brother...

Friday, May 15, 2020

Tom Pitts, Author of Coldwater


Tom Pitts is one of my favorite people. Even just to see him pass by and exchange smiles at Bouchercon is a treat. His talent as an author is a bonus, but that’s not to say it’s insubstantial. He has his own way of pouring his life into his books without about his life, just letting his experiences inform the writing as few can. His new book, Coldwater, drops May 18 from Down & Out Books.

One Bite at a Time: First, welcome back. I don’t keep formal stats but this is the fifth time you have graced this site and I always look forward to getting a chance to catch up with you. The Beloved Spouse and I aren’t going to Bouchercon this year—decided well before all the coronavirus business started—so this will have to do for this year.

Your new book is titled Coldwater. Give us a two hundred word or less
description.
Tom Pitts: Fifth time? Do I get one of those jackets like they have on Saturday Night Live?
I can answer this one with a lot less than two hundred words. Coldwater is my take on a real-life horror story. What happens when regular people are pulled into a nightmarish pool of criminal quicksand.

OBAAT: Your books tend to deal with criminals, usually drug-related (either users of dealers or both), and sometimes cops. In Coldwater you make a suburban couple the focal point of the action. What was it that drew you to that bit of departure?
TP: I think the Everyman facing insurmountable odds is a powerful theme, and very relatable. I wanted to write something akin to Joe Lansdale’s Hot in December or Cold in July, but my own version. And in Northern California. And I wanted it to play out in a few locations, not just San Francisco. I think the suburban sprawl is under-represented in fiction. Gentrification has made the big cities so banal. Where’s the hunger, where’s the struggle, where’s the passion? In the burbs, baby.

OBAAT: I don’t know of many writers who can make their stories as unique as you do. Knuckleball was a fairly straightforward police procedural. Hustle tells the story of two young street hustler addicts. Your previous book, 101, focused on the marijuana trade as legalization approached. Now Coldwater is kind of a suburban horror story. What is it that draws you to such different types of stories and what kinds of adjustments, if any, are needed to write them?
TP: I grouped my four novels together as a “Northern California Quartet” because I think they do have a common denominator. And not just geographically. Really, what I wanted to do with Hustle is a realistic take on drug addiction, which I feel writers often get wrong. With 101, I wanted to do the same thing with the weed industry. With Coldwater, I wanted to capture my version of Sacramento. I want to show the world the view from where I stand, especially on topics I still feel like I have a little input on. My next book will be my take on the homeless situation, which I don’t think people really understand. Not in an empathetic way. I’ve been down in the trenches, and I want to convey what it’s like to be living like an animal on the streets of a big city.

OBAAT: The only thing I don’t like about your writing is that I get so invested in the characters I want more when the book ends. Have you ever considered even a short series? A trilogy, maybe?
TP: Weirdly enough, I thought about it with this book. Mostly because I like the name Calper Dennings so much. I started another book with Calper as the catalyst, but it crashed at about twenty thousand words. But yeah, I’d consider it. I better stop killing everyone off at the end of my book though.

OBAAT: What do you do when you’re not writing?
TP: These days, not much because of the pandemic, but I’m not kidding in the bio where it says I’m trying to survive. Being on the bottom end of the financial ladder in one of the priciest cities in the world doesn’t leave you with a lot of leisure time. I work too much, I worry too much. Not really pastimes, but they do pass the time.


OBAAT: We talked last time about your love of the Bay Area, though you’re a Canadian native. What part of Canada are you from and what was it that drew you to California so this love affair with San Francisco could begin?
TP: The short story is that I moved here from Calgary when I was 17 to play music. SF was punk rock mecca in the 80s, a very different place. But the truth is, when I was younger, my dad’s hockey team would come to Santa Rosa every summer to play. On one day each trip, we’d drive down to San Francisco, do North Beach, Chinatown, etc. And I remember being up near Coit tower, looking across at the density of North Beach, and I thought, I’m moving here when I grow up. This is America, this is where I belong.

OBAAT: You and Joe Clifford go way back, well before you were writers. How did you meet and how did your paths to becoming acclaimed writers vary? Or were similar? (I’m going to ask Clifford these same questions when I get a chance. Get some Newlywed Game action going.)
TP: Now that’s a loaded question. I really should write the story of the day we met, because it was a perfect snapshot of our lives then. It started with a shot of dope, but it ended with Joe attacking some guy in the house over a deal gone bad. But I digress. Basically, we were both living on the floor of different junkie scumbags who lived in the same flat—this horrific place we called Hepatitis Heights—and Joe was introduced to me by this awful person named Skipper Nick. Don’t get me started on that piece of work. Anyway, Joe was dope sick and bent in half. I’d just copped a gram of junk and a half gram of coke, and I threw most or all of it in a spoon and split it with him. Now, that’s a pretty big fuckin’ dose, and trust me, nobody was sharing. It just wasn’t done. I don’t know why I shared it with him, he seemed like a good guy. But that action started a pact between us, we’d split whatever we had, money or drugs, and keep each other well. You see, in Hepatitis Heights, it was a constant free-for-all. Lying, stealing, begging, borrowing, pawning, whoring, everyone was out for themselves. With me and Joe actually able to trust each other, it gave us half a chance to survive.

OBAAT: We’ve both been around long enough, and written enough books, that we can look back at our books with a little perspective. Which of your books is your favorite and which means the most to you? Doesn’t have to be the same book. I know mine wouldn’t be.
TP: I think Hustle means most to me. Maybe because it was my first novel, or maybe because the movie option made me the most money, but I think it’s because there’s a lot of my personal experience in there. But I think my favorite is 101. I feel like, at least with pacing, I’m at the top of my game in 101. That said, readers seem like American Static the most, so, who knows?
                                                        
OBAAT: With Coldwater hitting the stores, what’s in the pipeline?
TP: Absolutely nothing. I’m writing, of course, but I’m not sure this next one is truly crime fiction. And I’m not sure what’ll happen with it. It’s a book about a homeless man in San Francisco who thinks he’s a prophet and the lives that intersect because of him. I’m trying a very different approach, so we’ll see if it works. Trying to push the envelope and create something new.

Thank you, Dana, it’s always good to talk with you. Hopefully we’ll both be around for a sixth round.

OBAAT: Always a pleasure, Tom. Come back any time.

Friday, May 8, 2020

Favorite Reads


Though my schedule hasn’t changed much, social distancing has created time for reading. I also read when I used to watch television news. The books chosen were good choices, as well.

The Man with the Getaway Face, Donald Westlake writing as Richard Stark. I’ve read a small handful of the Stark/Parker books and the only one I didn’t care for was The Hunter. (I’m working on a post that goes into things everyone else loves and I don’t, and why the rest of you are wrong.) Getaway Face (wonderful title) begins with Parker leaving an off the radar clinic with a new face to minimize the chances of being recognized by anyone he offended in The Hunter. Wouldn’t be much of a book if that worked, so besides worrying about that, a member of his new crew has a personal agenda, plus the caretaker from the clinic is chasing the last three new faces to see which one killed the doctor. Well-paced, not a wasted word, and Parker’s personal moral code is easy to understand once you buy into the character, which is also easier here than in The Hunter. There was nothing Westlake couldn’t do as a writer.

Paradise Sky, Joe Lansdale. I liked Cold in July so much I went straight for a Western and found it completely different but just as good. A fictionalized account of the life of Nat Love, aka “Deadwood Dick,” the book traces his life from the day he’s almost lynched for looking too closely at a white woman’s ass, through his time as a Buffalo Soldier, and onto Deadwood, where the obsessed man whose wife’s butt Nat admired catches up with him. Paradise Sky has all the wit and laugh out loud humor Lansdale is known for, but also pulls the reader into the sadness approaching despair Love faces, and the horrific injustice faced by African Americans after the Civil War. Lansdale’s reputation rests much on the Hap and Leonard books, but having read one of them in addition to Cold in July and Paradise Sky, I’d have to say it’s the weakest of the three, which is not to say it’s weak. I have another H&L on my shelf, so a re-evaluation may be in order.

The Promise, Robert Crais. Writers like Crais are why I keep a spreadsheet to track the writers I don’t want to lose touch with. I like the Elvis Cole books best, and I like the parts of this book that are told through Cole’s first-person POV better as well, but the characters are all compelling, even Maggie the K-9. The plot never sacrifices plausibility for surprise, but there is plenty you won’t see coming. I could have lived without the last two denouement chapters, but that’s like saying Charlize Theron has ugly toes. (Full disclosure: I have no idea what Ms. Theron’s toes look like, and I’m not about to add to a crime writer’s already dubious search history by Googling “Charlize Theron toes.”)

Hawke's Target, Reavis Wortham. A modern day Texas Ranger story, and a damn good one. I’m not usually a fan of books that go from one shootout to the next, preferring suspense to build more organically, but Wortham writes such good action sequences I was happy to get to the next. Sonny Hawke is a good ol’ boy trouble seems to find and Wortham makes Sonny capable without being superhuman. I’ll be back.

Friday, May 1, 2020

Pushing Water Drops May 4 from Down & Out Books




I don’t do a lot of blatant self-promotion and my sales reflect it. This being my blog, nothing I say or do here BSP, as everyone is here of their own free will, as opposed to me beating you senseless on Facebook. With Pushing Water dropping on Monday and a blog of my own, where else should people expect to see puffery?

Let’s start with how happy I am over the blurbs this book has received. I have been fortunate over the years to get blurbs from writers better than I deserve. (I’d list their names but they asked me not to. All of them. Every goddamn one.) I try not to go to the same wells too often (at their request), and I wanted to appeal to those who enjoy procedurals with more realism in them. Who better to ask than actual cops who are also writers? The way I looked at it, these were people uniquely immune to bullshit. They knew cops inside and out (literally) and knew the trickiness of balancing verisimilitude and entertainment.

The lead quote on the Down & Out web site belongs to Colin Campbell. Colin is a thirty-year veteran of the West Yorkshire police and author of the Jim Grant series of thrillers, the next of which, Catawba Point, drops June 8 from Down & Out. He hit my sweet spot without me having to tell him what it was.

“An extraordinary voice. A mix of Pelecanos, Leonard and Wambaugh.”

Mark Bergin retired as a lieutenant from Alexandria VA police, a two-time Officer of the Year for drug and robbery investigations. Before that, he was an award-winning newspaper crime reporter. His debut novel, Apprehension, was one of my favorite reads last year and I started looking forward to his next book soon as I put it down.

“Facing a flood of armed robberies – and murder—Detective Doc Dougherty and his partners never lose their professional edge or hometown humanity in Pushing Water. With twists that shock and detective work that rings true, King is among the best cop writers going.”

Adam Plantinga is a 19-year veteran of the Milwaukee and San Francisco police departments and still an active sergeant. His first book, 400 Things Cops Know, earned an Agatha Award and won the 2015 Silver Falchion award for best nonfiction crime reference. I scan it and Adam’s follow-up, Police Craft before I start work on a book to refresh my memory on what I can use to add realism.

“Pushing Water is smart, rhythmic and relentless with a gripping narrative and a keen eye for how cops act and think.”

Frank Zafiro served twenty years in the Spokane WA PD, retiring as a captain. He worked as a patrol officer, corporal, and detective before entering into leadership roles, where he commanded patrol officers, investigators, K-9 officers (and their dogs!), and the SWAT team.

Since retiring Frank has taught, and written police craft textbooks. He’s currently a writing machine who edits the Down & Out series The Grifter’s Song and co-writing with Colin Conway the Charlie 3-16 series of novels. His podcast, Wrong Place, Write Crime has cost me a small fortune buying his guests’ books.

“Pushing Water is an engaging book that gets everything right: the people, how they speak and act, the setting, and the story. The most telling endorsement is this - after I finished reading it, I passed it on to another retired cop to read!”

Thanks to all these fine officers and gentlemen. (Literally.) Asking for blurbs is one of the more difficult aspects or writing for me, as I know how busy everyone is and how many people want names such as these on their books. The generosity they showed with their time and their words ranks high on the list of things that keep me going.

Friday, April 24, 2020

Pushing Water Chapter One


Pushing Water drops from Down & Out Books on May 4; you can pre-order it any time you want. Today’s blog post is the opening chapter, to see if it piques your interest.


PUSHING WATER

CHAPTER 1

Jacques Lelievre pushed a ten across the bar, tapped it with an index finger.
“Thanks, Larry.” Don Kwiatkowski tipped his fresh beer in Jacques’s direction. Under the impression Jacques’s name was Larry Robinson. A reasonable mistake: that’s what Jacques had told him.
“You ever hear of a guy named Elmore Leonard?” Jacques careful to keep his French Canadian accent under control.
Don swallowed. Showed thought. “He a fighter? Sounds like a fighter’s name.”
“Writer. I think he did some time, though. Writes a lot of books about guys who did time and knows how they think.”
Don swallowed. Set the glass on the bar. “You know much about guys that did time?”
“Some.”
“Got a lot of convict friends, do you?”
“Not a lot. Some.”
“Where’d you get to know not a lot, but some convicts?”
Jacques sipped his drink. “Prison.”
Don took his time with another swallow, cagey like. “So you’re saying you’re a convict. That’s how you know about this Elmore guy.”
“I’m not saying anything. Being a con isn’t the kind of thing you brag aboot.” Jacques flinched inwardly.
Don took a few seconds to really look at Jacques for the first time that night. “Where you from, exactly?”
“Vermont. Way the fuck up by Canada. Got tired of freezing my cock off seven months a year and moved to Florida. Got so hot there I had to change clothes three times a day. Now I drive truck and move around a lot. Get a little of everything.” Jacques really had gotten tired of freezing his cock off, though it had been somewhat north of Vermont.
“What’d you do to get put in prison?”
“Does it matter?”
The pause told Jacques snap judgments weren’t Don’s strong suit. “Not really, I guess. No. It don’t matter at all.”
“That’s good,” Jacques said. “I’d hate to think you were close-minded.”
“Not me.” Don finished his beer. Looked at Jacques’s Crown Royal sitting half-full on the bar. Jacques slugged it back and held up two fingers, pointed to his glass and Don’s. Don said, “I’m pretty liberal when it comes to shit like that. This Elmore you mentioned. What about him?”
“He write a book about a guy who has rules for armed robbery. Makes a lot of sense.”
“You know a lot about armed robbery?”
“Some.”
Don welcomed his fresh beer like a cousin he hadn’t seen in years. “Why’re you telling me?”
Jacques pretended to think about what to say. “You’re on strike from that steel mill across the river, right?”
“We ain’t on strike, goddammit. We’re locked out. The union’s willing to work without a contract while things get settled, but those cocksuckers want givebacks. Locked us out and brought in scabs.” Then, into his beer: “Cocksuckers.”
“Pay’s about the same, though. Locked out or on strike?”
“You just now drunk enough to break my balls, or is there a point here?”
“I’m not drunk.” Jacques gave Don time to make eye contact. “Funny thing, towns without much money usually got plenty of cash. Hard to get credit for people out of work or part-time. People who write money orders don’t take checks. Payday loan places have to keep lots of cash on hand. The less money a town has, the more cash is in circulation.”
“So?”
Jacques needed Don to be stupid enough, but not too stupid. Not as sure now which side of the line he fell on. “All that cash? It’s not nailed down. It has to be available for people to use. That makes it available for everyone.”
The lightbulb came on over Don’s head. Sixty watts, tops. With a dimmer. “That time you did. Wasn’t for robbery, was it?”
Jacques sipped his drink. Smiled.
Don said, “Why are you telling me?”
Jacques let the anticipation build a few seconds. “It takes two men to do it right.”
Don gave a long hard look. “What makes you think I’m the kind of guy robs people?”
“What kind of guy is that? A guy who robs people. They look different? Have three eyes? Gun permanent attached to their hand? You know who armed robbers are? People who need money. You know anyone like that?”
Don’s beer sat forgotten on the bar. “You didn’t say nothing about armed robbery before.”
“You know another way people give you money don’t belong to you?” Left time for Don to speak up. “I didn’t think so. The difference between an armed robber and any of these doncs around us is ambition. You think there’s anyone in here don’t need money?”
Don looked around at Fat Jimmy’s usual clientele. “Some of these guys do all right.”
Jacques snorted. “They wouldn’t drink in this toilet if they had money to go anyplace else. We been talking here over an hour. You got truck payment, you got child support, you got rent. All you don’t got right now is a job.”
“I got a fucking job.”
“I’m sorry. You got a job. What you don’t got is income.” Let that one lay on the bar to see if Don picked it up. “I got an idea for income. But I need another guy.”
Don turned on his barstool to face Jacques, closing them off from the other drinkers. “I ain’t got a problem with…taking some money. But armed robbery? That’s an extra five years in this state, I think.”
Jacques knew he had a partner as soon as the conversation turned to specifics. “Doesn’t matter. No one is going to give you the money if they don’t think you got a gun, and that’s all it takes. Even you put your finger in your pocket like this—pretend gun—if they think you have a gun, the law says you do. Least that’s how it is in Vermont.”
“Yeah. Here, too, I think.”
Jacques sipped his Crown Royal. “It’s funny, when you think about it. They make a big deal about how much more serious is armed robbery, then they write the law so pretty much any robbery is one. You want to call it just robbery? Fine. I’ll be armed. You do what you want.”
Don’s beer sat unattended, nearing room temperature. Jacques finished his drink. Let the warmth flow down his throat. Relaxed and in his element. Hoped Don asked the question before he exploded.
“How do we do it?”
“The first thing is to always be polite on the job. Say please and thank you.”

Friday, April 17, 2020

SAMCRO


The Beloved Spouse™ and I completed watching all seven seasons of Sons of Anarchy last weekend. I should have reviewed each season separately; I didn’t. Here’s the Campbell’s version. (Condensed.)

(There are at least the hints of spoilers here.)

Production Values
Outstanding. SOA must have been a high-budget show by FX standards, as the budget for fake blood alone must have run five figures a week. I’m not a vroom-vroom guy by modern standards, but I got into the fishtailing cars and motorcycles darting in between traffic. Full marks.

Acting
Generally good. I’ve been a Jimmy Smits fan for years but this was a revelation. His expressions and little mannerisms helped to make Nero the most compelling character in the show for me.

Katey Sagal was very good as Gemma, but the character wore thin after a while, as there are only so many ways to spin Cruella DeVil’s evil sister. By the time she did get to do something with more depth, her acceptance of her fate wasn’t credible. I kept waiting for her to try one more lie. In fairness, that’s not Katey’s fault, it’s the writers’. More on that later.

Dayton Callie maintained the same core of humanity as he did with Charlie Utter in Deadwood, and remained one of the few characters worth rooting for.

Charlie Hunnam was solid as Jax, though he never quite got the hang of the American R at the end of words.


Ron Perlman was born to be Clay. I read several places that they shot much of the pilot with Scott Glenn in the role. I love Scott Glenn—and not just because he’s from Pittsburgh—but Perlman is Clay Morrow.

Writing
Uneven. Season One’s dialog lacked life, but as the years moved along the banter and offhand humor between characters improved; maybe Kurt Sutter started watching Justified.

Action was too often a substitute for suspense. Good as the action was, new story lines sprung up and ran their course faster than erections in a whorehouse. Problems that arose ten minutes into an episode resolved themselves by the forty-minute mark, usually in a hail of gunfire.

That brings us to the show’s two greatest failings: timelines and credibility. The Sons—especially Jax—go from mayhem to mayhem at least twice a day. There were time when they stopped off to kill someone on their way to killing someone else. Star Trek doesn’t move people around with transporters any faster. One memorable scene has Jax and the Sons at the marina. Bad guys show up to blow up the boat. The Sons see them. The bad guys split. The Sons give chase, except for Jax and Clay, who still have business at the boat. Next thing we see is Jax leading the pursuit. This is but the most memorable occurrence of a common practice.

What really got me, and finally wore down TBS, is the things that just can’t happen. Twice the Sons are thisclose to going down on a RICO beef based on the testimony of a single witness. RICO cases take years, under the best of circumstances. Trial dates move forward or back to suit the plot. The DA orders around sheriff’s deputies; we never see, or even hear from, the sheriff. All feds are even more vicious and duplicitous than any of the MCs. Or the Taliban, for that matter. About the closest the show gets to actual police procedure is using telephones to speak into. It wore me down after a while.

The weaving of multiple plot thread in Season Seven was outstanding in how they were woven together to credibly solve two problems in one fell swoop. The ending had a certain elegance, as well, though the final chase scene too way too long and the final shot was maudlin. (SOA could have benefitted from a Sopranos ending as Jax raised his arms before driving into the truck.)

There are plenty of other things to talk about in a show that ran seven years. With a few exceptions they’d be more of the same. The show took a detour to Ireland in Season Three and never quite found its way after that. As The Guardian said, “when it existed in its own self-contained Stateside world of dive bars, strip clubs and motorcycle clubhouses, Sons of Anarchy was just fine.” SAMCRO* came back from the auld sod less about mayhem—which is fine—and more about gratuitous bloodletting. The offbeat charm was gone.

I’m not sorry I watched Sons of Anarchy, but I was ready for it to be over and see no need to watch it again. TBS and I started right into to re-watching Justified. The difference between SOA and Justified is that one watches Sons to see what’s going to happen and one watches Justified to enjoy what’s happening.

Three stars of five.

(*--Sons of Anarchy Motorcycle Club Redwood Originals.)


Friday, April 10, 2020

Why the Blog is Back


An existential reason sent the blog into a coma over the winter: Do I have a point? It’s not like some fledgling writer in Goodland KS is wondering what I think about the Oxford comma. No reader in Pahokee FL waits for my opinion before purchasing a book. Too many of my justifications for continuing sounded like ego gratification, and god knows we don’t need any more people exposing us to masturbatory exhibitions of their self-perceived greatness.

Two things changed my mind. Primary was that I work out ideas better when I apply myself to writing about them. Bullshitting among friends is one thing, but I have internal standards—as all writers should—that demand anything written down needs to be well thought out, especially if others might see it. Continuing on with the blog should be a learning experience for me more than anyone, and I truly believe a day spent without learning something is a day wasted. Given my age and the current world health situation, the time I have available for wasting does not yawn ahead into infinity.

Another reason came to mind as I looked through the archives for a post a few weeks ago. I’ll admit I don’t read as many blogs as I used to, mainly because much of what I read in them are things I already know, or made up my mind about, long ago. Among the reasons I stopped posting was because the world didn’t need another blog not to read.

If I had to pick one vocation I am best suited for, it’s not writing; nor was it music. I’m a teacher. Few things give me more satisfaction than sharing my knowledge. It’s an infinite resource, as the surest way to learn something is to teach it. (Thanks to Dr. Sole Heir™ for reminding me.) There is nothing in the world better than seeing the look on a student’s face when an elusive concept snaps into place. (Laughing babies is close.) Many of my fondest memories of The Sole Heir™ (pre-doctor) are of teaching her things, or, even better, helping her figure something out. I am beyond proud when I see her use concepts and methods we worked on now that she and Lieutenant (j.g.) Sole Son-in-Law™ move through life together.

It also occurred to me that, while the bulk of my author contacts are people of experience who now take many of these thoughts for granted, we didn’t always. There are writers today who might benefit from some of what I’ve discovered for myself, and, as a teacher, that’s where the payoff lies.

Not that I’m a better teacher than anyone else, or even as good. I’m different. I’ve learned that how something is phrased can make all the difference. When is important, too, as students often aren’t ready to assimilate imparted knowledge the first (second, fourth, twentieth) time they’re exposed to it.

So I’m looking at the blog as more of a teaching/learning thing. I’ll reach into the archives at times, but those reaches may be to show my evolution, or even something I changed my mind about altogether. Long-time readers may think, “Meh. I know that already.” That’s cool. Quit reading when it sounds too familiar, but feel free to pass it along to someone it might help.