Thursday, December 30, 2021

The Year in Review From Castle Schadenfreude

 2021 was better than 2020, which is like saying Al Pacino is taller than Danny DeVito. Maybe using Pacino as an example is selling 2021 a little short. Let’s say Michael Keaton.


We’ll get the unpleasantness out of the way first. We had to cancel another trip to New Orleans because of the virus. This time was a double whammy, as the delta variant forced a cancellation of Bouchercon, so not only did we not get to visit Dr. Sole Heir™ and Lieutenant Son-in-Law™, but we also missed the largest crime fiction conference of the year. I have strong opinions on the topic, but this is neither the time nor place for them.


That, along with the myriad of things the virus subjected us all to, was the downside.


To 2021’s credit:


·       No one close to us died. That made the year better right there.

·       I retired on January 1. I thoroughly enjoy having more free time, though it has been an adjustment. I worked from home the previous ten years, so there was no obvious change to my routine. My natural laziness has served me well in this regard.

·       My vision appears to have stabilized. The frequency of injections has dropped from every four weeks to six. What I lost is gone forever, but I’m not losing anymore, at least for the time being.

·       A new Penns River novel, Leaving the Scene, came out in May, courtesy of Down & Out Books

·       In preparation for our big western trip, we made an overnighter to Pittsburgh to buy fish and pick up some local water, an important component to replicating a family recipe for Syrian bread.

·       The year’s Big Event™ was a 5,000+ mile western trip that included

o   An authentic Western town

o   The Badlands in South Dakota

o   Custer State Park (also in South Dakota)

o   Devils Tower (drive-by; the line to get in was hellacious)

o   Yellowstone, for two glorious days

o   Buffalo Bill’s Museum of the West

o   A rodeo (Now Corky can truthfully say, “This ain’t my first rodeo.”)

o   A great and relaxing weekend with my brother’s family in Colorado

o   Three days in Hamilton MO, the Quilting Capital of the World. Corky went into every shop owned by the Missouri Star Quilt Company (twice), and then some. If you’re ever in Hamilton, be sure to hit the Levi Garrison tap room. We ate there all three nights, even though we had to have the food delivered and Corky doesn’t drink beer.

o   The Louisville Slugger Factory and Museum

o   The Kentucky Horse Park


I can recommend everything on this list with a clear conscience if you’re ever in one of these areas.

·       We finally got to go to a conference again, as Creatures, Crimes, and Creativity resumed in September. Everyone was with the program on vaccinations and safe conduct. No one – no one – got sick.

·       Another overnight trip, this time to Yonder Bar in Hillsborough NC for a special, horror-oriented Noir at the Bar for Halloween.

·       A weekend in Pennsylvania, where we met up with my brother’s family, Dr. Sole Heir™, and her mother to say good-bye to Mom. It was a true celebration of her life, and everyone left with good feelings.


In other family news:

·       Dr. Sole Heir entered her final year of residency at Tulane. She made it through the delta variant surge Version 1 and is looking forward to graduating in June of 2022. She’ll begin a cardiology fellowship at the University of South Florida in Tampa in the fall.

·       The Sole Son-in-Law earned his pilot’s wings. His new USCG permanent duty station will be in Clearwater FL flying helicopters.

·       They are this close to buying a house in Tampa, which will allow them to live together full-time for the first time. (They were married in May of 2018, so yay for them.)

·       They got a puppy, a yellow Lab named Reny. “Puppy” is now a stretch, as he’s up to around 80 pounds


So maybe using Michael Keaton as 2021’s avatar was a little harsh; lots of good stuff happened. Let’s say the year was Kevin Costner. Not Shaquille O’Neal, but still pretty well up there.


The Beloved Spouse™ and I hope your year was at least as good.


Stay well, and let’s be careful out there.

Thursday, December 23, 2021

Fall's Best Reads

 Fall of 2021 was a good three months for my reading. The highlights:


The Killing Look, J.D. Rhoades. Rhoades’s first Western, and a winner right out of the chute. Combines the best elements of Western and modern thriller with a story and characters one can only hope is the prelude to a series. The Jack Keller books prove Rhoades has series chops, and it looks like he’s primed for another. (Not that Keller needs to go away, mind you.)


Band of Brothers, Stephen Ambrose. Decided to re-read this after The Beloved Spouse™ and I re-watched the HBO series. All the good things anyone has said about the book are true. Wonderfully, though practically, written, it humanizes everyone in Easy Company, both for better and for worse. Reads like butter, funny and wrenching by turns, a wonderful book.


Heroes Often Fail, Frank Zafiro. Book 2 of the River City series, and I’m definitely in for the duration. Parts of this book were hard for me to read, as it deals with child abuse; disclosing the nature of the abuse would be a major spoiler. It’s not graphic, but I have a low threshold for such things and glossed over some pages. Nothing is gratuitous, and the story as a whole is compelling, especially as it shows cops as imperfect, even when they’re heroes.


Blood of the Wicked, Leighton Gage. Gage first came to my attention when I was asked to review this book for the New Mystery Reader web site. This is the first of the Chief inspector Mario Silva series, following the cases of a member of the Brazilian federal police. A fascinating look into a country with its own set of laws, crimes, and customs, written by a master.


The Thicket, Joe Lansdale. Another book only Joe Lansdale could have written. This story of a teenaged orphan and his kidnapped sister reads like an extremely violent Tom Sawyer story. The cast of characters that travel with Jack includes an erudite midget, a Black bounty hunter who has issues with drink (but not what you might expect), and a 600-pound hog. A delight from start to finish.


A Red Death, Walter Mosley. The second Easy Rawlins book. Not as solid as Devil in a Blue Dress, as the story tends to ramble. This one isn’t so much about the story as it is about how Blacks lived in Watts in the 50s (which is true of all Mosley’s books), but also how the Red Scare affected aspects of American lives we don’t ordinarily think of.


The Magdalen Martyrs, Ken Bruen. The Jack Taylor books are typically more about Jack than they are about whatever case he’s working on; this is no exception. That’s okay. Bruen combines prose that borders on poetry with a sparse, hard look at life’s underside, spices everything with humor, and leaves one with a reading experience like no one else.


The Drop, Dennis Lehane. Among my favorites and close to a perfect book. I read it when it first came out (a rarity for me), and skipped the bar the first night at a conference so I could finish it. Been a while, but it holds up very well. The book is adapted from Lehane’s screenplay for the movie, which is ass-backward from the typical sequence, but it works to perfection.


With a week to go, I’ve read 46 books tis year. A little below my average since I started keeping track, but all tings considered, I’m fairly well pleased.


Thursday, December 16, 2021

The Inexorable Decline in the Quality of Home Entertainment

 As my father aged, he was prone to say “I’m glad I won’t be around to see…” and then complain about some aspect of the decline of civilization. I made a conscious decision never to do that. Keeping this promise is harder some days than others, especially during the covid era, but I’ve done well in general.


That’s not to say I ignore things I don’t like. I’ve mentioned today’s topic before, but events have conspired to prompt a re-visitation. I understand this is all trivial, entertainment-related stuff. Still, with all the other things going on, entertainment fills a greater role than it might otherwise.


Let’s start with home entertainment, by which I mean television, by which I mean streaming services, as what’s shown over the air (read: cable) is rarely worth the time to read the program guide. Streaming services are pay to play, but that’s not stopping them from starting to sneak in commercials.


Here's the thing, boys: HBO and Showtime set the standard for pay TV, and the standard is we already paid, so give it to us straight. Hulu’s old TV shows don’t bother me as much; the creators built in commercial breaks, making the ads less obtrusive.


The other night we watched an Australian Western, The Proposition, using Amazon Prime as a portal to IMDB TV, which was “free with ads.” We can live with Hulu’s ads, so we gave it a try.


I’d like to give the movie a thumbs up or thumbs down, but I can’t. The ads appeared seemingly at random, and so disrupted the continuity I can’t make a fair assessment. The movie is mostly atmosphere and tone. Random breaks for dog food, makeup, and, worst of all, promos for what a fine service IMDB TV is, killed any mood we might have built. Some were timed so badly we wondered if they’d just let the movie run behind the ads. They hadn’t, but some of the cuts were so dramatic it was a valid concern.


This is yet another example of the inexorable creep of advertising into our entertainment. The compact used to be that the viewer had to put up with commercials as the cost of the entertainment. Now it feels like the providers only have programming because they don’t think we’ll tune in just to watch commercials. (Yes, I know this was always true. They just weren’t as obvious about it.)


Take sports. Baseball has long had the green screen ads behind home plate. Now the fields have ads along the baselines and TV superimposes corporate logos onto the backs of the pitcher’s mounds. I saw a game last season with a large ad superimposed on the Green Monster at Fenway Park, and another where a TV-only ad covered the hitters’ background.


Hockey is even worse. There have been ads between the blue lines for years. Now they are also in the corners. Some TV outlets started superimposing ads on the glass several years ago. Now everyone does it near the blue lines in both offensive zones. Corporate logos started appearing on helmets a couple of years ago. This year the Washington Capitals have logos on the uniform jerseys. Soon everyone will.


Why does this bother me so much? Probably because I used to be able to use sports as my refuge away from the outside world. Now they not only have ads everywhere, TNT runs the odds for proposition bets on the screen during the game. The event has become an excuse for advertising in the spirit of too much money is never enough.


Which brings to mind another point. Everywhere we look, some business is complaining about how there isn’t enough money. We can’t afford to pay minimum wage / hire new workers / provide benefits / improve customer service / you name it. Then where does all this advertising money come from? The cart is no longer before the horse. It’s rolling down the road on its own


I have no solution. I’m old and cranky. Next week I’ll still be old, but I’ll have reading recommendations.


For now, get off my lawn.

Thursday, December 2, 2021

An Interview with Joe Ricker, Author of All the Good in Evil


Joe Ricker is a favorite interview of mine. We’ve never met in person, but he’s a fascinating character who is an honest and forthright interview. I’ve interviewed him before (June 2015 and June 2020) and they‘ve always been a treat. His new book, All the Good in Evil, dropped in October from Down & Out Books


One Bite at a Time: Welcome back, Joe. Your new book, All the Good in Evil, launched a couple of months ago. Tell those who are late to the party a little about it.

Joe Ricker: All the Good in Evil is my fourth book with Down & Out. It’s gritty, hardboiled, and there’s no shortage of violence. Basically, a couple of bouncers in Southern Maine supplement their income by robbing drug dealers and construction materials.


OBAAT: Amos Swain can’t catch a break. Where did you come up with the character and what inspired you to write of his fall from promising college student to convict?

JR: The idea for Amos Swain as a character came years before I’d ever tried to write a work of fiction. In a lot of ways, Amos is an amalgamation of my own history, and a couple of guys I grew up with. When I did finally pursue All the Good in Evil as a work of fiction, I thought back to the summer before my sophomore year of college when I got arrested for armed robbery. I remembered sitting in jail and thinking that I’d fucked my entire life up, and there would be no future for me except for something criminal. That’s where Amos originated.


OBAAT: I’m not going out on a limb when I say you write dark. What is it about such stories that appeals to you and keeps drawing you back?

JR: I grew up a little rough and that made me pretty unstable for a long time. Too long, probably. I started writing as a way to curb some of the “unhealthy” tendencies that I had, which I felt was very mature of me. I guess I leaned more toward darker fiction because that’s where I felt most comfortable – that’s what I knew when I started writing.


OBAAT: You mentioned in our previous interview how those you cite as influences on your writing has evolved. Is your list still changing? What kinds of things have changed in your writing as your influencers change?

JR: I’m always adding to the list. Lately, I’ve been reading a lot of Anne Sexton. I think that the writing I’m doing now is a little less dark. It’s more apparent with All the Good in Evil coming out, because I wrote that book so long ago. Some Awful Cunning, Walkin’ After Midnight, and Porcelain Moths were all books I wrote after All the Good in Evil.


OBAAT: You spent two years living in your car while traveling the country. Your web site indicates you settled down, or are at least staying in one place. Do you still get the itch to hit the road? If not, what is it about Reno that keeps you there? (Editor’s Note: I have been to Reno, though only for a few days and over fifteen years ago. I liked it.)

JR: Being on the road for that long was the most liberating experience of my life. I’m always yearning to go back on the road, but I won’t be doing that again for a few years. I’ve been in Reno for a little over three years now, and it suits me. A lot of the old Reno is gone, because developers have basically leveled the weekly hotels to build luxury apartments that nobody working in Reno can afford to live in. But, I practically live on the Truckee River, where there’s excellent fishing, and I spend a lot of time in the mountains. Living in Reno gives me a lot of access to all of the other things I like to do.


OBAAT: When we spoke in 2015, I asked what you were working on. You replied, “Faking my own death.” How did that work out for you, or is it still a work in progress?

: I totally forgot about that. That’s when the first version of Walkin’ After Midnight came out. But the funny thing is that while I was working on ideas for that, I came up with the idea for Ryan Carpenter in Some Awful Cunning, my first novel with Down & Out. I guess I’m still considering ideas on how to drop off the grid/fake my own death, but I’m pretty content with being Joe Ricker right now.


OBAAT: When we were setting up this interview, you mentioned at one point, and this is a direct quote, “this strip club gig is a lot of late hours.” There’s no way I can’t ask you how that gig came about, and how it’s working out for you?

JR: A lot of luck, actually. I met the GM of the club at a bar I hung out at. He needed a guy to manage a couple shifts. I’d done some security work in the past, so he gave me a job. I was teaching at UNR, but I got beat out for a full-time position for a spousal hire. So, I was pretty annoyed with academia and just stopped teaching for them to work at the club. That turned out to be a better choice for me. The money is better, and I don’t have to work as much. It’s been a great gig, so far, despite the occasional violence.


OBAAT: Time for the obligatory wrap-up question: What are you working on now?

JR: I’m working on the sequel to Some Awful Cunning.


Mare of Easttown

 A friend suggested I watch Mare of Easttown because the setting and atmosphere resemble my Penns River books, though from the other side of Pennsylvania. The show and my books have many similarities, though there are also crucial differences.


The parallels are easy to see. Easttown is hilly and mostly semi-rural, with a small downtown. The winter weather is cold and damp; the sun shines about as often as Tucker Carlson makes a lucid statement. Those who live there are predominantly working class, though a few are doing better.


The primary difference is that no one in Easttown – no one – is having any fun. Their lives are a daily trudge from one unfortunate occurrence to another. Even good news comes with tragedy attached. Penns River is much the same, but its residents take their misfortune with a healthy dose of ironic humor, and every so often something funny happens. Life is like that, and Mare could use more of it.


The show in general is good, not great. All HBO shows have excellent production values; Mare is no exception. It’s filmed on location in and near Drexel Hill PA, and the visuals take full advantage. The acting is uniformly excellent, led by Kate Winslet as Mare. Kudos to her for having the courage to age naturally. I know her mostly from Titanic (which I didn’t care for), and her performance here is a revelation.


The plotting falls prey to a couple of TV quirks. When confronted with choices, characters too often take the one more likely to cause the most, and greatest, complications. I know it’s good for conflict and drama, but most people are smarter than that. Let them show it.


The second annoyance is that each episode has a different favored suspect until they finally get it right. It’s one thing to work through possible candidates, but cops prefer not to arrest people, or make serious accusations, until they’re pretty damn sure they have the right person. It reminds me of watching a House marathon with the then Sole Heir (now Dr. Sole Heir) many years ago. She was already thinking of medical school and was trying to guess if House had the diagnosis right. It was his second or third try of the show, so I was confident in saying he’s still wrong. When she asked how I knew – aware I never watched House except with her – I pointed to the clock. “He’ll get it wrong at least once more before they miraculously save this guy as the first two wheels of the gurney cross the threshold of death’s door.”


My overall feelings about Mare are positive. I’ll watch a second season, if there is one. The main story line is intriguing, though some of the police procedure is questionable. I’m willing to forgive that because

A. They’re matters of omission. It’s not like they have a bunch of CSIs running around with guns or car explosions.

B. It’s not really a cop show. It’s a family drama where the lead character happens to be a cop. While not outstanding at either – no one will confuse Mare with The Wire or Little House on the Prairie* - it’s better than competent. I’d give it 3.5 out of 5.


(* - As you probably guessed, I don’t watch a lot of family dramas.)

Thursday, November 25, 2021

Happy Anniversary to The Beloved Spouse

 Today The Beloved Spouse™ and I celebrate our 12th wedding anniversary. We were actually married November 27, 2009, but we chose that date because it was the day after Thanksgiving. My parents were visiting for the holiday, and The Sole Heir™ was off school. The whole thing was a surprise, with security the NSA would have been proud of. Only the two of us and the celebrant knew what was up.


So why not celebrate the event on the actual date? We were both working then, and the day after Thanksgiving was the one day we knew we’d be off. The “reception” was at Famous Dave’s, so that’s where we go every year. (We chose Famous Dave’s because that’s where we met, and both my parents loved it.)


Those of you who have been keeping up know I retired this year. It’s reasonable to wonder why we still use the day after Thanksgiving to commemorate the event. We like it. It became yet another quirky thing in a relationship that might not work for anyone else, but we thrive in it. This year is special because on our actual wedding day, we were watching hockey when the celebrant showed up, knocked on the door, and asked if anyone wanted to get married. (There was an elaborate set up, which I can get into another time if you’re interested.) As luck would have it, this year the Penguins are playing the same team they played that day (the Islanders), though it’s not an afternoon game.


I’ll conclude with this: Happy anniversary to my Beloved Spouse. No offense to The Sole Heir’s mother (with whom both Corky and I get along famously), but it took me a while to appreciate the value of spending my life with someone who accepted me for exactly who I am and didn’t try to change a thing. (All right, there are 1,275 kitchen rules, but that’s quibbling.) Even TSH’s mom has described TBS as “The love of Dana’s life,” living proof it’s always better late than never.


Happy anniversary to the love of my life.


(Editor’s note: Needless to say, the day after Thanksgiving has not been referred to as Black Friday here at Castle Schadenfreude since November 26, 2009.)

Thursday, November 18, 2021

What I've Been Watching


I don’t keep track of all the movies I watch like I used to. Part of this is because, now that I’m retired, I watch a lot more movies. I don’t want it to become a task, so, in the immortal words of Ray “Bones” Barboni, I say “Fuck that.” Another part, somewhat related, is that since retired people can do whatever they want, keeping track of every movie I see is not something I particularly want to do. Again quoting Mr. Barboni, I say “Fuck that, too.”


I have seen some things recently that are worthy of comment, and what else are blogs good for if not to bore your friends with your personal opinions?


Cheers. We’re into Season 5 and loving every episode. I’d seen just about all of them when they originally aired, but it’s a delight to go back and see how good this show was through more experienced eyes. I’ve always been a Ted Danson fan, but watching him now, knowing what subtle things to look for, is fascinating. The same applies on a somewhat lesser level to George Wendt. Season 4 is when they made the transition from Coach to Woody, and it’s great fun to see Woody Harrelson get his start, knowing where his career goes from here. The humor holds up well, though some of the attitudes would not pass muster in today’s culture.


Killing Them Softly (2012) Based on George V. Higgins’s novel Cogan’s Trade, an unorthodox but highly effective look at life in the underworld. It appears no one outside the crime fiction community cared for this dialog-heavy, character driven adaptation, but that’s okay. (It’s Higgins, dumbasses; what did you expect?) Brad Pitt and James Gandolfini are perfect, and director Andrew Dominik knew how much of Higgins’s book to leave alone. Highly recommended.


Cellular (2004) I don’t post unflattering book reviews, but I will for movies. Why the difference? Books have a hard enough time getting traction as it is. Dozens of people vet movies before they get made, and have millions of dollars invested in them. When such a deeply flawed system produces a true stinker, it’s only fair to point it out, as a warning to others that this is dog shit, don’t get any in your eyes. In Cellular, a wholly implausible premise works its way through enough holes for not just a golf course, but a whole resort. We watched it because we’re Jason Statham fans, but he’s not in it much. Even when he is, he has shit material.


The Bank Job (2008) I dumped on Jason Statham above, so it’s only fair I point out a movie that surprised me in a positive way. Based on a true story, The Bank Job has Statham front and center as the brains behind a complicated bank robbery that is not what it appears, even to the robbers. A highly entertaining film all around.


Official Secrets (2019) Keira Knightley stars as a young MI6 prole who stumbles onto an email that incriminates the American and British governments in blackmailing foreign UN ambassadors on the Security Council into voting for the 2003 war in Iraq. Based on actual events, it’s a chilling story of individual courage, the lengths governments will go to save face, and how even elected officials occasionally buck what’s good for their careers to help a constituent.


Goodfellas (1990) The memories of a few scenes are so strong from this film it’s sometimes easy to forget how great it is. (“Get your shine box.” “You think I’m funny?” “Fuck you, pay me.”) The only real criticism I’ve heard of this film is that it glamorizes mob life, but that overlooks the fact director Martin Scorsese tells the story through the eyes of Henry Hill (Ray Liotta), whose sole ambition in life was to be a gangster. The more he sees how things work, and the deeper he’s involved, the more the glamor wears away until everything falls apart in the end. Scorsese doesn’t hit you over the head with it, but the ultimate message here is these guys all end up either in prison or dead. In anticipation of the reasonable question, “Did Henry Hill really look at the mob that way?” read the sequel to Nicholas Pileggi’s Wiseguy, Gangsters and Goodfellas, written by Hill himself to describe his life in witness protection. A bigger piece of shit than Henry Hill would be difficult to find.


The Many Saints of Newark (2021) I don’t know that it’s a bad movie, but anything that hangs its rep so closely to The Sopranos should have been much better than this.

Thursday, November 11, 2021

An Interview With Weldon Burge, Author of Harvester of Sorrow and Founder of Smart Rhino Publishing


I first met Weldon Burge at a Creatures, Crimes, and Creativity conference several years ago, when the conference was still in the wilds of Hunt Valley MD. After a few panels we noticed that, not only were we always attending the same panels, we tended to end up with one of us sitting directly behind the other. That led to conversation (“Are you stalking me?”) and friendship. Getting to see Weldon is a highlight of every C3 I attend.


Weldon’s new book, Harvester of Sorrow drops next week from Suspense Publishing, though that’s not all he had going on, as the interview will show.


One Bite at a Time: Howdy, Weldon. It’s good to see you here. What’s the skinny on Harvester of Sorrow?


Weldon Burge: Ah, the skinny. Harvester of Sorrow is about a dedicated and insightful police detective, Ezekiel Marrs, who embarks on a race to solve a series of vicious crimes involving murder, kidnapping, tainted cocaine, and voodoo. Marrs and his team of fellow officers must confront two of the most vicious villains they have ever encountered.


The novel, published by Suspense Publishing, is the first in a planned series of police procedurals. I’ve written for Suspense Magazine for about a decade, mostly writing author interviews. Submitting the book to Suspense Publishing, an imprint of the magazine, made total sense.


I’ve always wanted to write a police procedural, and I’ve always had an interest in voodoo. Combining the two elements as a thriller was my objective when drafting the book—which, by the way, took me more than a decade. Much of what I wrote never made it into the book. Guess that’s common for many novelists.


OBAAT: It’s not unusual for thrillers to have supernatural aspects; it is for procedurals. A high-concept description of HoS could be “Law & Order meets Angel Heart.” How did this develop in your mind?


WB: Well, I’m a big Ed McBain fan, and one of the first McBain books I read was Ghosts. McBain handled the supernatural elements well in that police procedural. Even Stephen King praised the novel. There are other crime novels with supernatural aspects, but that’s the one that immediately comes to mind. And I loved how McBain defined his characters largely through dialogue. I attempted the same style with Harvester of Sorrow.


Law & Order meets Angel Heart. Wow, I’m honored, that’s a pretty accurate description of Harvester of Sorrow now that you mention it. Well, I hope readers will make those comparisons as well. I’ve always been a reader and writer of horror and suspense fiction, so the storyline for the novel was something of a no-brainer for me. The two genres are my playground. To be honest, the genres make for a superb marriage. So, I played it that way as I wrote the book. And I’ve always thought horror and humor are kissing cousins, so there’s a good deal of dark humor in the blend as well. I hope readers will enjoy it.



OBAAT: The book spans eleven years; I’ve never had the balls to have a story last longer than a few months. How did you keep your threads together when skipping ahead?


WB: The beginning of Harvester of Sorrow takes place in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, in 1982 and introduces the main villain, Edouard LeBorg. His story over the following eleven-year time span is basically his history, which is told as the novel’s story progresses. The core of the police procedural elements take place in a six-month period in 1993. Juxtaposing the two threads was relatively easy—I approached them as two stories that complemented each other. The trick was sequencing them at best effect. I think the strategy worked in the polished book.


OBAAT: You have multiple irons in the fire, as you’re also the driving force behind Smart Rhino Publications. How did you get into that, and how much of your time does it demand?


WB: I’ve always wanted to start a small, independent publishing company that focuses on suspense and horror fiction. Beyond that, there are two major reasons I launched Smart Rhino back in 2012.


First, I’m a huge fan of anthologies, like Dark Crimes, Stalkers, Predators, Transgressions, and all those Alfred Hitchcock anthos ages ago. My desire to publish an anthology led to the first Zippered Flesh horror anthology. To date, we’ve published fifteen books, eight of which were anthos.


Second, I enjoy collaborating with other writers, especially talented writers who haven’t quite hit the limelight yet. I’m a “pay-it-forward” guy. I appreciate the many folks who have supported me over the years, and helping writers better their careers is a natural ambition of mine because of it. Starting Smart Rhino Publications, especially with the anthologies, provided an opportunity for me to develop venues for those authors. I’ve worked with more than a hundred writers over the years. That means more to me than you know!


The Smart Rhino projects demand a great deal of time. I received 120+ submissions for the last anthology, with only twenty-four slots available in the book. I read every story. I also edit and format each book. (I do, however, rely on a cover artist, cover designer, and proofreader for each book.) So, yep, time is always an issue. But I love doing it, so I make the time.


OBAAT: Smart Rhino also recently published, Asinine Assassins. Tell us a little about that one.


WB: That’s the third in the “Assassins” series of anthologies Smart Rhino has published. The first two, Uncommon Assassins and Insidious Assassins, were straight-up suspense anthologies. Well, with a smattering of dark humor. When pulling together Asinine Assassins, I wanted to go full tilt into darkly humorous and tongue-in-cheek stories—weird and yet suspenseful, even wacko and surreal tales. I mean, there are stories about murderous otters, a vastly different take on Jack the Ripper, a vengeful deer, and a female assassin who is far too hung up on fashion. And that’s just a taste of the twenty-four stories in the collection. I don’t think there is another anthology out there with a similar spirit and focus. It was the most fun yet of the Smart Rhino anthologies I’ve pulled together and edited. The writers took the theme and ran with it, and I’m deeply appreciative of their diverse talents.


OBAAT: What’s up next, and what are you working on now?


WB: I’m currently about one hundred pages into my next novel, a paranormal mystery. (I guess I can’t get away from that “supernatural” thing.) I’ve played with a dozen or more titles for the book, but none have thrilled me. Regardless, I’m thinking this may be the first in another series. We’ll see.


After that, I’ll turn to writing a sequel to Harvester of Sorrow. The next book will have no supernatural elements at all and will pick up where the other novel left off. I like that sense of continuity in a series, and it allows for further character development. Referring again to Ed McBain, his 87th Precinct series began in 1956 and ended in 2006—we’re talking fifty-two books! The continuity he established with his host of characters, over so many decades, was astounding. I hope, as I develop my series, I can accomplish something similar.


Thanks, Dana!

Thursday, November 4, 2021

Dietrich Kalteis, Author of Under an Outlaw Moon


I met Dietrich Kalteis through mutual friends at Bouchercon several years. It was a fortuitous introduction. In addition to being an outstanding writer, Dieter is as nice a person as you’re going to met, even by Canadian standards. His new book Under an Outlaw Moon, dropped earlier this week from ECW Press, which provided the perfect opportunity to see what he’s been up to.


One Bite at a Time: Welcome back, Dietrich. It was great to leave you alone on the blog for your previous visit, though The Beloved Spouse™ commented you left the seat up. What’s the quick and dirty on your new book, Under an Outlaw Moon?


Dietrich Kalteis: The novel’s based on the true story of Bennie and Stella Mae Dickson. He’s out for kicks and she longs to feel wanted. When they pull a bank robbery to celebrate her sixteenth birthday, the ensuing fireworks are more than they ever bargained for.


OBAAT: Your three most recent books are period pieces: Under an Outlaw Moon and Call Down the Thunder are Depression-era pieces; Cradle of the Deep is late 70s. What is it about times past that’s drawing your attention?


DK: The setting comes about depending on the story that I have in mind, wanting the perfect time and place to set the story’s mood. 


The seventies was the right for Cradle of the Deep. A woman flees from her gangster boyfriend, running off with the gangster’s ex-chauffeur. Jumping into the front seat of the gangster’s Cadillac, they take off. Of course, there was no GPS, cell phones, or satellite networks back then that would betray them. As the couple races through northern British Columbia, heading to a remote town bordering Alaska, they are being hunted by a stone killer sent by the jilted gangster. The remote setting creates a dead end, and adds to the peril they find themselves in.


Call Down the Thunder is the story of a couple who are on the verge of losing everything due to hard times, and they’re pushed to the wall. The bleakness, desolation, and threat of danger surround their life on the struggling farm back in Dustbowl times.


While researching that story, I stumbled across the true story of Ben and Stella Mae Dickson, a couple of real-life bank robbers from the same era. I was intrigued by their story and decided it was one that wanted to be told.


OBAAT: UaOM is based on a real couple. Is this the first time you’ve done this? What was it about these two outlaws that attracted you?


DK: Yes, it’s the first time I’ve written about real people, getting to know them and their story through a lot of research. They weren’t vicious killers, just two young people in the wrong place at the wrong time, landing on the FBI’s most wanted list, and ending in the crosshairs. 


OBAAT: I don’t suppose you ever tire of being linked as a writer to Elmore Leonard. (I know I wouldn’t.) In one of our earlier interviews, you cited him and James Ellroy influences. Has that changed, or evolved? If not, are there different things about their writing that influence you now?


DK: Every now and then I get the Elmore craving, rereading one of his novels. And I’m still catching up on a couple of Ellroy novels that I haven’t read yet. There are many authors and books that draw me in, and the wonderful thing is there are so many great ones out there. Lately I’ve been reading Walter Mosley, Tim Dorsey, Daniel Woodrell, James Lee Burke, and Reed Farrel Coleman’s Parker books — all of them inspiring.


Outside the crime genre I’ve been reading Philip Roth, Margaret Atwood, Stephen King, Donn Pearce, Saul Bellow, Thomas Berger, Salman Rushdie, and Tom Wolfe to name a few — and all highly recommended.


OBAAT: I know you like to make up stories as you go. Have you ever been well into a book and realize you’ve written yourself into a corner? If so, what do you do. (Asking for a friend.)


DK: Dear friend of Dana: I don’t usually paint myself into a corner, but I’ve had to back up a few times. It usually starts with a single idea, to which I create the characters I want to see involved, and I write it scene by scene. I’ve balled up my share of paper and reworked chapters and changed direction midstream, but that’s all part of the process, and it’s how I get it to where I want it to be. On a second draft, I usually write a timeline, a way of checking the sequence of events. It’s what works for me.   


OBAAT: The standard concluding question: What are you working on now?


DK: Right now, I’m shaping a few ideas for a new novel, and I’m at that ‘I don’t know if this will work’ stage. And I have one more complete and set to come out next Spring from ECW Press. It’s called Nobody from Somewhere, a crime tale set in Vancouver in present time. There’s also got another crime story complete and signed after that. And I’ve just sent in a historical novel, based on another true crime story.


Many thanks, Dana, for inviting me over. You ask the best questions.


Thursday, October 28, 2021

Going Down Yonder


The Beloved Spouse™ and I have wanted to go to an event at Yonder since it opened. Life (read: covid) conspired to prevent such an excursion until last week. It was worth the wait. (I’ll not get into the fact that we shouldn’t have had to wait so long. Thanks, you unvaccinated assholes.)


For those unaware, Yonder – Southern Cocktails and Brew, is a drinking establishment and meeting place in Hillsborough, NC that has been described as Hillsborough’s living room. Owned and operated by Eryk Pruitt and his lovely wife Lana Pierce (of whom Eryk is wholly undeserving), Yonder holds regular musical and literary events, including Noirs at Bars a few times a year. (If you unfamiliar with Noir at the Bar, look it up. This is One Bite at a Time, not fucking Wikipedia.)


Last Thursday (October 21) the good people at Yonder (and Eryk) held a special Noir at the Bar to commemorate Halloween by inviting several horror writers along with a top shelf cast of crime authors. The result was the best Noir at the Bar I’ve ever been to, and I’ve been to a goodly number. (Read at several, and hosted one, too. Yonder’s horror night was still best.)


A few general observations before I get specific.

·       Those typically associated with crime all had an element of crime in their stories, the horror writers, not so much.

·       Crime writers tend to tell their stories through dialog; horror writers are typically more narrative-based. This is not a hard and fast rule.

·       I have never been to a Noir at the Bar where the performance level was close to this high. Not only were all the stories outstanding (let’s face it, N@Bs are anthologies, so maintaining a uniform level of quality can be an issue), the readings were uniformly excellent. No one just read; they performed, and they all nailed it.


This was among the fastest two-and-a-half hours I ever spent.


Everyone deserves credit. I had three beers, so I don’t remember the exact sequence in which everyone read, so here’s the list in alphabetical order.

·       Nathan Ballingrud read the opening of a story about a bookseller who clearly deals more than paperbacks out of the back room. What, we don’t know. I’ve already ordered his book so I can see what happens next.

·       Natalia Barron’s excerpt was as dark as its subterranean setting would suggest, and left everyone wondering where the story would go.

·       Michele Tracy Berger read a cautionary tale of the potential dangers of moving from one fast food employer to another.

·       S.A. Cosby supplied a harrowing tale of the backstory to a horrific shooting binge.

·       Rob Hart told of a new restaurant experience in New York City that will give you pause before going to another potluck dinner.

·       Jamie Mason’s story talked about one supernatural entity rousing itself to fight another, more malevolent one.

·       Katy Munger took the Halloween theme seriously, telling a story that combined laugh out loud humor with a disquieting warning of who can hide in plain sight on Halloween.

·       Eryk Pruitt creeped everyone out with a tale of a side of dom/sub relationships people never think of.

·       Todd Robinson read of redemption and forgiveness after a horrific tragedy.

·       Cadwell Turnbull’s vampire story taught the dark side of eternal life.


I’m not a horror guy, so I was unfamiliar with the horror writers who read that night, and was profoundly impressed at the quality of their stories, and writing, compared to what I remembered from my young adulthood, when I read a fair amount of it. A personal re-assessment of the genre may be in order. They were also all new to the Noir at the Bar experience, so it was a treat to see how much fun they had in the company of people who love to write and read.


No assessment of the festivities would be complete without mention of the host, Tracey Reynolds. I’ve hosted a Noir at the Bar and can attest that, while it’s not particularly difficult, it’s not something you just roll out of bed and do. One must prepare, and an ability to read an audience and pace the performance is imperative. I’ve never seen anyone do it better than Tracey. (And no one – no one – handles a microphone condom better.)


In addition to all the above (like that wasn’t enough), this was an opportunity for The Beloved Spouse™ and me to reconnect with some good friends face-to-face. The trip would have been a success had the reading flopped, just so we could see Eryk, Lana, Todd, and Shawn to trade hugs, news, and insults. I knew Rob Hart slightly from social media, and it was a treat to get to meet him in person, as well.


As it was with everyone I met. I made a point of telling the writers I didn’t know beforehand how much I enjoyed their work, and not just because I know how good that feels after such an event. I genuinely did enjoy their stories, and I hope this becomes an annual event at Yonder.

Thursday, October 21, 2021

The Process Evolves


I have long considered first drafts to be the heavy lifting of writing. I enjoy playing with ideas as I put together the outline, and there’s great satisfaction in editing and rewriting, as I can see the raw material of the first draft evolve into what I’d consider an acceptable book.


I’m trying something new with the first draft of the next Penns River book (working title The Spread). It’s early on – only a handful of chapters in – but the idea shows great promise, and it’s making the first draft a lot more fun to write.


A little background: I used Scrivener for the first drafts of the last couple of books, mainly so I can re-arrange the outline as needed, and to keep notes on the same screen as the chapter I’m working on. For the second draft, I split my screen, with Scrivener on top and Word below, then retype everything. To me, that’s better than trying to edit what I’ve already written, as once it’s on the screen, there’s a certain permanence implied. I talked about this before when discussing how it’s easier to leave one’s darlings along the side of the road than it is to kill them.


For The Spread I decided to leverage the idea that I was re-writing the first draft no matter how it went. This first draft is much sketchier. What I know goes in, which is mostly dialog, I write up. Everything else – attributions, narrative, descriptions, action – is condensed into a more or less comprehensive set of notes that I can flesh out when I do the rewrite. The end result is somewhat similar to a screenplay, at least visually:



S. Jamal Whitlock!


JW. Took ya’ll motherfuckers long enough to get here.

S. Stop right there.

JW. I’m give myself up. [DOC DRAWS HIS WEAPON.] Whoa. Ain’t no need for gun play. I told you I’ze giving up.


JW. Motherfuckers! I told you I’m coming out, let me get out and you can cuff me up right here on the stoop.


D. put your hands out to the sides with your palms facing me.


The idea is not to get bogged down in describing things that are peripheral to the main point of the scene. I’ll make those decisions in the second draft


What I don’t know yet, and won’t for a couple or three months, is if this makes the second draft as burdensome as the first draft used to be. I’m betting that it doesn’t. First, much of what I’ll have to describe will have had time to ripen in the back of my mind. I’ll also have the context of what else is to come, so if I want to drop in a telling detail, I’ll already know it’s telling.


It may also give me an opportunity to decide something doesn’t need to be said. I’ve noticed George V. Higgins having more of an influence on my writing of late, without me consciously making an effort to allow him to do so. (Unlike how I deliberately added some Joe Wambaugh-esque elements in recent books.) I’m not trying to be Higgins – no one can do that – but if that’s where my voice seems to want to go, I know better than to tell it not to.


Like I said, it’s an experiment, and it’s early days. Check back here when I’m halfway through the second draft and see how pissy I am. Or, hopefully, not.

Thursday, October 14, 2021

An Interview With Terrence McCauley

 Terrence McCauley and I have been friends since we shared a panel at the Albany Bouchercon in 2013. He’s an even better person than he is a writer, and he’s a damn fine writer with a range that encompasses crime, thrillers, Westerns, and whatever he puts his mind to that day. He recently accepted a position with Wolfpack Press, a growing force in the industry, which gave me an excuse to catch up with him. (“Excuse” as in “He’s a person I’d interview just to bullshit with him but space doesn’t really allow for that.”)


One Bite at a Time: Hi, T-Mac. It’s been a while. It’s good to see you here again. You recently took a position with Wolfpack Publishing. What’s the new gig and how did it come about?


Terrence McCauley: It’s always great to hear from you, my friend. I when I reacquired my rights to my previously published books, Wolfpack was interested in breathing new life into them. New covers, a new marketing plan and a chance to add to the existing stories I’ve told. I was impressed with the team they have in place at Wolfpack and told them I’d be happy to help them in any way I could. As we began talking about ideas, we all decided it would be a good idea for me to take on the responsibilities of Director of Public Relations. I did it in the public sector for twenty-five years, so I had a lot of transferable skills that prepared me for the role. They’re a fine bunch of people and I’m honored to be working with them.


OBAAT: I’ll confess, Wolfpack was under my radar until I read your hiring announcement. I checked the website and saw authors there who have considerable juice. Tell us a little about the company, such as what its goals are, and how it plans to achieve them.


TM: The company was started in 2013 by Mike Bray and L.J. Martin. It has quickly grown into a powerhouse in the publishing industry. They company is proudly built on publishing new and classic western novels and will continue to do so. They have recently expanded into Young Adult titles with their Wise Wolf imprint and Mystery/Crime/Thriller novels through the acquisition of Rough Edges Press.


Their goal is simple in all the genres they publish. To give readers the best fiction available for an affordable price in both digital and, in their newer publications, print format.


When they announced the acquisition of Rough Edges Press, we sent notices to every writing organization we could think of to let them know we were open for business and eager to give under-represented voices a chance at publication. That commitment was one of the main reasons why I agreed to work for them and I’m excited about the future, both for my work and for the work of all the writers who join us.


OBAAT: This is a great opportunity to get your books consolidated under a single umbrella. Was that part of your consideration when taking the job, or was it a serendipitous benefit? Were there any problems with getting the rights?


TM: My westerns are still being published by Kensington, where I have a spinoff series coming out next year. Wolfpack acquired all my Terry Quinn, Charlie Doherty and University Series novels. They’re also publishing the new Doherty novel, The Wandering Man, and the new University novel, The Moscow Protocol. I had already signed with them for several weeks before we discussed the possibility of me joining the team. I was lucky that everyone involved agreed that Wolfpack Publishing was a better home for the kinds of novels I’ve written and want to continue to write. So, Kensington is home for my westerns and Wolfpack/Rough Edges Press is home for everything else and I couldn’t be happier. 


OBAAT: You write in as many genres as anyone I can think of. What are you working on now?

TM: Right now, I’m finishing up a western novel, then will switch over and write a prequel to Prohibition I’ve tentatively titled The Duke Of New York. It’ll be about Terry Quinn in the days after he joins the Doyle mob and how he helps that mob grow in power and prestige. It’ll take place in the same timeline as The Wandering Man. My goal is to write three books apiece that lead up to the events in Prohibition and Slow Burn respectively.


I got the idea for those novels because a lot of people have told me they were interested in Quinn and Charlie’s backstories. The Doherty books are in first-person, so I get to show that world from his jaded perspective. Quinn is third person, but anchored in his point of view, so the reader experiences the story from his place in it.


I’ll also continue The University Series with as many books as Wolfpack wants to publish.


OBAAT: You recently began both a blog and a podcast, both of which I keep tabs on. (And encourage readers to do the same.) What prompted the decisions to do both, and how is it working out for you? Do you enjoy one more than the other?


TM: Both are fun in their own ways. I did it because I realized a lot of people did not know that I write in other genres. Fans of my westerns often suggested I write suspense. I was happy to tell them that I have and show them my other books. That’s why the podcast is interesting for me because I cover my approach to each book I’ve written. I talk about the struggles I faced writing each western and how I overcame it. I plan on doing that with all my books in the hopes that writers can hear it and learn from what I went through as I wrote across genres. No book is written in a bubble, and I think others can learn from what I did right and what I did wrong. The podcast also taught me some new skills, which is always good.


The blog allows me to mouth off about topics that are top of mind. I like to discuss something current, such as conventions, then add another topic like protecting yourself as a writer.


OBAAT: I looked at your website while preparing for this interview (I do prepare for interviews), and it’s beautiful. I see your name next to the copyright notice, so I have to ask if you did it yourself. (Note to Maddee James: No worries. I have no thoughts of changing web teams.)


TM: I had done my original website by myself, but after I left my state job more than a year ago now, I decided to invest in my writing career. I worked with Krista Rolfzen Soukup at The Blue Cottage Agency about ways I could enhance my online presence. She suggested Corey Kretsinger of Midstate Design to build it out. Together, the three of us worked on creating something unique. I wrote the content and created the logo. That much I can take credit for. The rest was a team effort and I recommend Krista and Corey to anyone who’s looking to refine their digital presence.