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.

Thursday, October 7, 2021



A fmonths ago The Beloved Spouse™ and I had the bright idea to watch both versions of 3:10 to Yuma back-to-back. It was great fun, and educational to boot. We’ve kept up with the practice and have a few more examples, which required me to alter a core belief. We’ll get to that later.


Rio Bravo (1959) & El Dorado (1966). Not announced as a remake, but it is. Same basic story, and the remake is definitely better. The story has more depth, as do the characters. Hell, replacing Dean Martin and Ricky Nelson with Robert Mitchum and James Caan practically guarantees the second would be better. John Wayne’s in both, and, as Chili Palmer says, he plays John Wayne.


The Italian Job (1969 & 2003). Same basic story, updated to reflect advancing technology in the heist department, and audiences’ desire for higher octane action sequences. The first, starring Michael Caine, has a much more whimsical approach. The remake, with Mark Wahlberg in Caine’s role, takes advantage of societal and filmmaking advances to be a lot of fun itself. Neither aspires to be taken seriously, but both succeed admirably at what they set out to do. I give a slight nod to the remake because Charlize Theron.


The Taking of Pelham 1-2-3 (1974 & 2009) Another remake that pays homage to the original in many aspects while still bowing in the direction of contemporary sensibilities, notably in the areas of technology and villain motivation. The skills of the primary actors are pretty much a wash (Walter Matthau vs. Denzel Washington), and, while I’d give Robert Shaw a nod over John Travolta, the screenwriter did a nice job in changing the character to suit Travolta’s style. (Not that Travolta isn’t a fine actor—he’s a favorite of mine—but there was only one Robert Shaw.) I liked the remake a little better. It provided a better sense of urgency and the added subplot involving the mayor (James Gandolfini) added depth to the story. The original ending was better, but overall, I preferred the remake.


Which leads us to my change in philosophy. I always thought remaking what was already a good film was stupid, especially when there are so many candidates for do-overs among crappy films that failed to realize good ideas. I now see that’s not true. Things change, and if the filmmakers choose and execute their material wisely, they can update a film and maybe add a few things that weren’t available to their peers of forty years ago. This would not be true of all films, but I’ll no longer dismiss a remake out of hand. I consider it growth on my part.


(PS. The Beloved Spouse™ and I were considering repeating this process with The Magnificent Seven, but a trusted source waved us off. I may still watch the remake, but possibly to prove the point of another thought I’ve had along these lines as to decide which I like better.)



Thursday, September 30, 2021

Summer's Favorite Reads

 I had a nice post written but when I came back to edit it, OneDrive had disappeared it into the ether, even though it still appeared on my Recent Files list. So here’s an abbreviated version, and, while we’re at it, fuck you, Microsoft.


Bottom Feeders, John Shepphird. The mystery is good, and well told, but the inside baseball stuff about how low-budget vanity project movies are made is fascinating.


Time to Murder and Create. Lawrence Block. I’m done beating myself up over how long it took me to dig Block. Now I’m just going to dig him.


Murder, DC, Neely Tucker. The second of three Sully carter novels; for me it completes the cycle. All are outstanding, all are different. Tucker has a gift for describing a reporter’s life without getting bogged down in any single aspect.


The Friends of Eddie Coyle, George V. Higgins. There’s nothing I can say about this book that hasn’t been said. If you don’t know what I’m talking about, get a copy.


The Black Marble, Joseph Wambaugh. Working my way through Wambaugh in order is a lot of fun. The Black marble is a relatively early book, but it’s outstanding as it weaves three disparate stories together with earned pathos and the humor that became one of Wambaugh’s trademarks.


The Eviction of Hope, Colin Conway (editor) et al. I don’t usually list books I contributed to here, but this is as well-organized, and uniformly excellent, a collection as I have been involved with.


Midnight Lullaby, James D.F. Hannah. I read the two Shamus nominees (and one winner) from this series already, so I’m reaching back and starting over. This is the first Henry Malone book, and as good a first novel as I’ve read in a long time.




Thursday, September 23, 2021

Creatures, Crimes, and Creativity 2021: A Look Back

 This year’s Creatures, Crimes, and Creativity conference took place in Columbia MD September 10 – 12 and may have been the best ever, despite several obstacles. Part of this success was, I’m sure, the result of people just wanting to get back with their tribe. Columbia and Howard County are among the most-vaccinated and least-infected locations in the country, and the hotel and organizers did well with their safety and masking policies. I felt secure the entire weekend.


A few weeks ago I laid out what past C3 experiences have been like, and what to expect this year. Today I’ll look back.



12:00                 Old home week commenced with Austin and Denise Camacho welcoming everyone. C3 feels more like a family reunion than a conference, and no one is more responsible for that than those two.

12:45                 “Secrets to Snappy Dialog.” Not the most auspicious start, as the moderator forgot his notes and had to wing much of the session. His panelists were up to the challenge and the end result was solid.

1:45          “Pitfalls to Avoid When Writing a Series.” I was a member of this panel, and happy to be there. Norwood Holland touched all the bases the title implied, and everyone on the panel (Karen Neary Smithson, Kelli Peacock, Ilene Schneider) had slightly different perspectives on series writing.

2:45          “Living With a Professional Liar.” This was the spouses’ panel, and The Beloved Spouse™ acquitted herself well. This has become an annual event and is always entertaining. I’ve seen several and can’t help but think how these better halves (regardless of gender) keep the writers on their toes, while supporting their (our) often unusual needs.

3:45          “Adapting the Written Word to Screen.” Christopher Chambers piloted James Grady and John Wren through a fascinating 45 minutes of advice, war stories, and tales of horror. A couple are worth recounting, but this is not the place.

4:30          Cash bar and book signings. Basically a social hour. Given those who attend C3, it’s always a damn fine social hour.

6:00          Dinner, followed by keynote speech by Hank Phillippi Ryan. Hank’s new book dropped that week, and she was busy doing promotional work, but she carved out time to join the conference virtually on a couple of occasions. She also worked out a virtual book signing to prove what a class act she is.

7:30          Noir at the Bar. I hosted this year, and got an outstanding group of authors to work with, including Lanny Larcinese, Kelli Peacock, Mark Bergin, D.W. Maroney, Ef Deal, Bruce Robert Coffin, Maria Kelson, and Jeff Markowitz. (Listed in reading order.) All not only wrote excellent and varied stories, they read them well (not something one can assume at most N@Bs), and were all good sports when I took liberties with their bios.


Then I closed the bar, with assistance from The Beloved Spouse™, Bruce Coffin, and Lanny Larcinese.



9:00          “Espionage for Everyone.” Outstanding panel that explored fictional espionage vs. the real thing. Made me want to consider shifting genres, if I weren’t already booked solid. (See what I did there? “Booked” solid? You know, a writer? Booked? I crack myself up sometimes.)

10:00                 “Just the Facts, Ma’am.” It is no slight toward Noir at the Bar when I say this was my highlight of the conference. I moderated a panel of three retired law enforcement professionals discussing where fictional cops get it right and wrong. This is a favorite topic of mine and Mark Bergin, Bruce Coffin, and Jeffery Higgins were perfect as the panel. Maybe the best panel I’ve ever been involved in, regardless of conference.

11:00         “Write Drunk, Edit Sober.” I was a panelist this time as Ellen Geib Butler led three of us (Rick Pullen, Lane Stone) through a discussion of writing techniques, with and without alcohol.

12:00                 Lunch, followed by Hank Phillippi Ryan interviewing Kathleen Barber, neither of whom was actually in the room. Hank was still on tour, and Kathleen, who has two small children, wisely chose not to risk exposing herself to the virus.

1:15          “Murder is Everywhere.” Once again, I was a panelist (thank God for lunch; they were working me to death) as Austin Camacho, D.W. Moroney, and I followed Jeff Markowitz through an exploration of the effects of location on our writing.

2:15          “Mixing Fact With Fiction: Does Historical Fiction Need More Than Just a Time Frame?” I haven’t given up on ever writing a Western (not yet) and was happy for John Wren to help Serg Koren, Ellen Butler, Frank Hopkins, and Bill Rapp show me what to beware of when writing of periods I have no direct connection to.

4:30          Cash bar and book signings. There were panels at 3:15, but I was exhausted. Nap time.

6:00          Dinner and keynote by Sherrilyn Kenyon. Any time you think you had it rough as a kid, check out her story, then shut up.


I closed the bar once more, with the able assistance of Bruce Coffin (again), Kelli Peacock, and a very nice gentleman who didn’t wear his name tag so I have no idea who he was.


“It’s a Small World” Award to Sherrilyn Kenyon, whose father was post sergeant major at Fort McPherson GA when the Army stationed me there in the early 80s.



8:00          Breakfast, and Austin Camacho interviewed James Grady. As one would expect from those two, funny and informative.

9:15          CLASS: James Grady – Mastering Your Writing. A true master class, as Grady is a master with enormous class. I’ve been writing for quite a while and sessions like these are why I keep going to conferences.

10:15                 “Journalism in Mysteries.” Another outstanding panel. Rick Pullen led John DeDakis, Mark Bergin, and Jeffery Higgins (former journalists all) through a discussion of how authors use journalism in fiction, and journalistic trends in general.


And then, alas, the end. There was another panel session, but The Beloved Spouse™ and I had to check out of the hotel and take care of a couple of administrative things before going home to collapse. Was this the best C3 I’ve been to? I have to admit the fact we had to skip last year, and this is the first time I’ve been with my writer tribe since November of 2019 in Dalla might affect my judgment, but I can think of none better. The hotel laid out perfectly, the staff was courteous and helpful, and, aside from a couple of minor technical problems with the remote speakers, the conference went off with out a hitch. The Beloved Spouse™ and I registered for 2022 on our way out. We’ll see you there.



Joe Lansdale will be one of the 2022 keynotes. If that’s not incentive, I don’t know what is.)

Thursday, September 16, 2021



I say enough unprovoked stupid shit that I try not to jump too hastily into controversies. This post concerns a disagreement between two friends of mine I didn’t want to get into, but have strong thoughts about. I’ll not mention either name; those who know them will likely know who they are. If you don’t, or aren’t sure, don’t bother asking. This is not about either of them, but the general principle the discussion raises.


Person A won a significant award, for which he gave a public acceptance speech. Person B was upset that the speech did not mention the influences and inspiration of women writers on Person A’s work. I was late to this party, not having seen the speech, nor read the Facebook post criticizing it before it came down. What I know is all from the aftermath.


To me, it’s tough to criticize a person for something they didn’t say, unless the exclusion is so glaring it qualifies as an insult by omission. Listing influencers and inspirations is particularly tricky. Influencers change over time; inspiration varies from story to story. I’ll use myself as an example, not because I have the answers, or am even the best illustration, but because I can speak authoritatively only about myself.


The first authors who inspired me to want to write were Raymond Chandler and Robert B. Parker; my first four books were PI novels. The “inspirations” for novels evolved even during those first four PI stories, as did what, and who, provided the inspiration. Were I to win an award, how many inspirations should I note, especially since events were more responsible for some recent books far more than anything I read?


Regarding influences, when asked early on I always said “Chandler, Elmore Leonard, and Ed McBain.” Dashiell Hammett soon superseded Chandler. Over time, Joseph Wambaugh had increasing influence over what stories I told, and George V. Higgins over how I told them. James Ellroy is not without impact. Should I credit them all? Give the timeline? Or only those who had specific influences on the novel in question? Am I wrong not to mention a more diverse group?


It’s the diversity question that hangs people up, and rightfully so. All my listed influences are white men, most of whom are dead. What can I say? I’m a product of my environment. I grew up in semi-rural southwestern Pennsylvania in the late 60s and 70s. That’s when my tastes formed.


Have my horizons broadened since I got serious about writing? Damn right. I understand that Walter Mosely and Chester Himes are masters. No one does, or has ever, written crime better than Laura Lippman or Megan Abbott. Did any of the above inspire me to be a writer? Hardly, since I wasn’t aware of them when I first started. Have they been major influences on my writing? No again, as none of them writes the kinds of stories I write. True, Mosely and Lippman write (wrote) PI stories, but their universes and the experiences are foreign to my background. Do I have an obligation to credit a diverse range of writers as influences, even if they were not, at least for the book in question?


(I should point out that Person A has been a tireless supporter of women writers. He just didn’t make a big deal about it that particular night.)


Leaving diversity aside for a moment, let’s look at the entire business of author acknowledgements. Some novels now have acknowledgement sections that rival the bibliographies of scholarly works. Aside from the usual suspects (editor, publisher, agent, experts who provided special insights) we get heartfelt gratitude for beta readers; people we discussed the book with at conferences; people we drink with; our spouses, children, and friends for putting up with us while we write; Mom and Dad (possibly though neither one ever did dick to inspire or assist us as writers); our third grade teacher who liked a story we wrote; our junior-year teacher who was a prick and inspired us out of spite; Gutenberg for inventing publishing; Cai Lun for inventing paper; and our sophomore roommate’s girlfriend for inspiring the fantasies that led to those awesome sex scenes.


I’m not questioning the sincerity of those expressions of gratitude. I’m just saying, when we spread acknowledgements so thin, they become akin to participation trophies and lose all meaning. 


“But I don’t want to leave anyone out.” I get that. I do. We do no justice to those who were truly influential in the creation of a particular work if we provide equal gratitude to everyone even peripherally involved. There is no obligation to thank everyone who crossed our path, literally or through literature, every time we open our mouths. We’re writers, and among the most important traits every writer needs is the ability to know what to leave out, lest what remains loses impact.



Thursday, September 9, 2021

From the Archives: Collateral Damage


I’m at the Creatures, Crimes, and Creativity Conference in Columbia MD this weekend and won’t be available to moderate comments, so I looked back into the archives to see what I was blogging about ten years ago. (Yes, this blog has run for over ten years now. Today’s is Post 983.)


There was no post on September 10, 2011, but this one from September 8 seems oddly suitable for a couple of reasons, at least to me.


Collateral Damage


The earthquake knocked over a picture. The hurricane didn't even flicker the lights. Yesterday thunderstorms left us without power for twelve hours and water so deep I had waves behind me as I ran the wet vac at 2:30 in the morning.


We have water in our basement almost as often as John Boehner reneges on a deal. Tomorrow I'm scouring Angie's List for wet basement contractors; they can come by during my scheduled time off next week. Interviewing contractors in Maryland and attending Bouchercon in St. Louis at the same time is beyond even my multi-tasking abilities, so I'm afraid Bouchercon will get a pass this year.

I'd ask anyone I might have shared a beverage with to meet me next year in Cleveland, but it's Cleveland, for Chrissakes. I'll probably go, but the Pittsburgh boy in me can't ask someone else to go to Cleveland with a clear conscience.

There's always Albany.

Thursday, September 2, 2021

Next Week: Creatures, Crimes, and Creativity


The (hopefully) annual (again) Creatures, Crimes, and Creativity conference kicks off one week from today. I missed the first C3 but have attended all since. It and Bouchercon are the anchors of my annual conference schedule.


For those unfamiliar, C3 is a multi-genre conference that takes place in the late summer or early fall in Columbia MD and runs from noon Friday through noon on Sunday; this year’s dates are September 10 – 12. Special guests this year are Hank Phillippi Ryan, Sherrilyn Kenyon, Kathleen Barber, and James Grady.



12:00 Welcoming session

12:45 – 4:30 Panels. I’m up at 1:45 as part of Norwood Holland’s discussion of “Pitfalls to Avoid When writing a Series.” The Beloved Spouse™ follows as a participant in Denise Camacho’s always entertaining “Living With a Professional Liar.”

4:30 Cash bar, book signings, and social hour. (This event is free and open to the public.)

6:00 Dinner (Included with conference fee. They’re always good.) After dinner, Hank Phillippi Ryan will deliver her keynote speech. (Alas, virtually, as scheduling issues made it impossible for her to be there in person.) Previous years have included the likes of Reed Farrel Coleman, Jeffrey Deaver, Jamie Frevoletti ,Heather Graham, Julie Hyzy, Brad Parks, and others of that ilk in this slot.

After keynote: Noir at the Bar. I’m hosting this year. Readers include Mark Bergin, Bruce Robert Coffin, Ef Deal, Teel James Glenn, Maria Kelson, Lanny Larcinese, Jeff Markowitz, and Kelli Peacock. The event is open to the public.

After the readings: Bar time. Enjoying yourself at the bar does not require you to be a drinker. Think of it as socializing with optional lubricant.



8:00 Breakfast buffet. (Included with conference fee.)

9:00 Panels. I’m up at 10:00 to moderate a panel I’m ecstatic about: “Just the Facts, Ma’am” with Mark Bergin, Bruce Robert Coffin, and Jeffery James Higgins. We’ll discuss how actual police methods and practices differ from what you might read.

At 11:00 I’m past of the “Write Drunk, Edit Sober?” panel moderated by Ellen Butler. (WDES was Hemingway’s advice to writers.)

12:00 Lunch. (Included with conference fee.) For dessert, Hank Phillippi      Ryan interviews Kathleen Butler through the miracle of modern technology.

1:15 Panels. I’m back at 1:15 for “Murder is Everywhere,” moderated by Jeff Markowitz.

4:30 Cash bar, book signings, and social hour. (This event is free and open to the public.)

6:00 Dinner, followed by a keynote speech by Sherrilyn Kenyon.

After dinner: Skip the noir and go directly to the bar.



8:00 Breakfast buffet. (Included with conference fee.) Austin Camacho interviews James Grady.

9:15 – 12:15 Panels


This year’s C3 is special for me. Last year’s had to be canceled due to covid, and, while there will still be some restrictions, this is the first time I’ll be in the company of other writers since Dallas Bouchercon in November 2019. (The event for which I had my most recent haircut.) I’m also delighted to be assigned panels with so many friends I’ve made here at C3 over the years. It will be like homecoming.


If you’re on the fence about coming, attendance is typically under 100, which is a good thing, especially if you’re new to conferences. Larger events, such as Bouchercon, can be intimidating for virgins. (First-time conference goers; actual virgins have nothing to fear.) At C3 you can eat meals with a favorite author, or meet someone new you decide is worth checking out. Even though something is always going on, the pace is more relaxed than larger cons, which makes it much easier to strike up a conversation.


Full disclosure: I have no financial interest in C3. The organizers are friends of mine, but that has not unduly affected the descriptions above. Come yourself and they’ll likely become friends of yours, as well. (Not to get too far into the whole “Friends of mine, friends of ours” thing.) More detailed information is on the C3 web site.

Thursday, August 26, 2021

Happy Trails to the Western

The Western I have been working on sporadically for five years finally bit the dust. It is no more. It’s pushing up daisies. It has gone to join the choir celestial. Bereft of life, it rests in peace. It has ridden off into the sunset, kicked the bucket, bought the farm, and taken a dirt bath.

 It is an ex-Western.

 I noticed during the final days of working on it that I wasn’t enjoying myself. Usually second drafts, where I rewrite the entire book, are fun. This was drudgery. The decision to cut bait after 34,000 words came when I realized the problem: it violated Edith Wharton’s fifth rule of writing:

 Have a point.

 The book was a mash-up of scenes from Westerns I’ve enjoyed, some good character interactions, and dialog I was happy with; the whole was less than the sum of its parts. Even I would have got to the end and thought, “So what?” I have projects on the back burner that do have points. I’ll work on those. (I have two or three possible Forte stories still in the embryonic stages, and a Penns River book is coming together rapidly since I abandoned the Western.)

 Another problem was the voice. I finally found what seemed to be a voice that sounded appropriate for a Western, but writing it was as left-handed an exercise as I can remember. I considered going back and re-writing it again in the voice I’ve developed over twelve crime novels just to see how it worked, but realized I’m sick of looking at this story. If I’m going to essentially start over, I should have something worth writing about.

 I may well try another Western. I picked up a couple of non-fiction books on the recent vacation that could generate ideas. I also plan to revisit Charlie Siringo’s memoir, which has a story I remember as having potential.

 The ultimate problem with the book I just set aside was its origin: I wanted to write a Western. It wasn’t that I had a story I wanted to tell or a character I wanted to explore. There was nothing organic about it. If nothing else, this has taught me to keep the horse before the cart when starting out on a new book.

 I should have known better. I’ve always wanted to write a heist or caper novel, but never had the idea for one that struck me as something I could write well enough to make it worth spending a year on. Same thing with a straight-up comedy. Whatever governor I have that made me realize those desires didn’t have legs took a vacation when it came to the Western.

 I suspected this was the case a while ago, but I’m a stubborn bastard. Everything I found wrong could be fixed, and I kept fixing things until what I had was a Frankenstein’s monster of a book. So I’m setting it off on an ice floe to bother me no more. I can always cannibalize bits if they fit into another book.

 No time spent writing is ever wasted. I learned a lot from this. I wouldn’t have minded learning it a little quicker, but that’s how life is sometimes. Knowledge is not always achieved in a timely manner. Just ask those people whose last words before being intubated are, “Can I have the vaccine now?”





Thursday, August 19, 2021

Bouchercon 2021: A Look Back

Today is the day I would normally post my pre-Bouchercon message. (No, not because it’s August 20. It’s the Friday before Bouchercon.) Since this year’s event has been postponed, I’m posting thoughts about that. I am not, and have never been, on an organizing committee, so I can speak frankly. Consider that fair warning.


First off, this year’s Bouchercon was not canceled; it was postponed. Things that are canceled never happen; postponement puts things off until a later date, in this case 2025.


There has been griping about the handling of this year’s erstwhile conference. Stop it. This year’s committee did yeoman’s work under extremely difficult, ultimately impossible, circumstances. They deserve every kudo they would have received had the conference come off. They did all they could and deserve full honors.


Every year there are complaints about some aspect of the conference; I have done so myself. That said, based on my experience of attending ten Bouchercons, and having gained some insights into what has to happen to make them work, I have some well-considered advice for the most common grievances.


“I don’t like my panel assignment.” Shut the fuck up.


“The venue is too small/large/hot/cold/stuffy/not close enough to places I’d like to go, etc.” Shut the fuck up.


“They chose the wrong people for this panel.” Shut the fuck up.


“Why is it in [insert city name] during [hurricane, fire, natural disaster of your choice] season?” Shut the fuck up.


“The book room is a mess,” or, alternately, “I can’t get my book into the dealers’ room.” Shut the fuck up.


(Unique to this year.) “I’m canceling because of the virus. Why can’t I get my money back?” Read the registration form, then shut the fuck up.


The ultimate solution to all these complaints is to volunteer for a future committee. Spend your time (and money) negotiating contracts, finding alternate activities for spouses and kids, booking guests of honor, coordinating with publishers for receptions, handling book sales logistics, organizing panels, last minute changes, and the myriad of other things—some anticipated, others not—that go into pulling off a Bouchercon. Do that once—one time—I guarantee you’ll shut the fuck up forever after.


Bouchercon is a labor of love, and few loves require more labor on the part of those who have volunteered to make it work. I have been to Bouchercons that worked better than others, but never have I had even an inkling those that weren’t as successful were due to any lack of effort or involvement by the organizers.


There is no “Bouchercon Inc.” or “Bouchercon LLC;” these folks often have to put up their own funds as deposits. Until you’re willing to do that, and put your money where your mouth is, I only have one word of advice as to what to do about going public with your Bouchercon complaints: Shut the fuck up.

Thursday, August 12, 2021

What I Did on my Summer Vacation


The Great Adventure of 2021 has concluded, covering twenty-one days and fifteen states. I did no writing (some research was accomplished), so this week’s post will be an accounting of the highlights. Not that you care, or should, but I like thinking back on them and I need a topic.


Date: Tuesday July 13

Woke up in: Laurel MD

Highlights: Closed the last of my parents’ accounts. Dinner at Primanti Brothers; dessert at Glen’s frozen custard, the best in the world.

Went to sleep in: Harmar PA


Date: Wednesday July 14

Highlights: A driving day. Hooked up with Culver’s burgers and custard. Both are very good and will be even more appreciated over the next several days.

Went to sleep in: Madison WI


Date: Thursday July 15

Highlights: Visited Spam museum in Austin MN. Dinner at the Rusty Spur, the only functioning restaurant in town.

Went to sleep in: Murdo SD


Date: Friday, July 16

Highlights: Visited an authentic 1880s town. Tried to get lunch at three different places before settling for beef jerky and energy bars in our room.

Went to sleep in: Murdo SD


Date: Saturday, July 17

Highlights: The Badlands and Custer State Park; bighorn sheep and buffalo. Drove out of Badlands on longest gravel road in North America. The dust may still be settling.

Went to sleep in: Custer SD


Date: Sunday July 18

Highlights: Drove past Devils Tower. (Line was too long to get in.) Took three tries to find a place open for lunch.

Went to sleep in: Gardiner MT


Date: Monday, July 19

Highlights: Yellowstone. Saw hundreds of buffalo, some close enough to touch. Lost an argument with a picnic table at Sheepeater Cliff picnic area; swore vengeance.

Went to sleep in: Yellowstone Park, then Gardiner MT


Date: Tuesday, July 20

Highlights: Yellowstone again. Even more buffalo. Later we watched an elk grazing on the main street of Gardinar. Returned to scene of yesterday’s altercation to find the table already occupied, so I’m having mine cold.

Went to sleep in: Cody WY


Date: Wednesday, July 21

Highlights: Buffalo Bill Museum of the West. Rodeo in the evening.

Went to sleep in: Coy WY


Date: Thursday, July 22

Highlights: Dinner with former co-workers.

Went to sleep in: Fort Collins CO


Date: Friday, July 23

Highlights: Hung out with my brother’s family. Outstanding bison parmigiana at CafĂ© Jordano.

Went to sleep in: Lakewood CO


Date: Saturday, July 24

Highlights: Delivered family heirloom to niece’s new condo. Cook out at my brother’s included some wicked cornhole games.

Went to sleep in: Lakewood CO


Date: Sunday, July 25

Highlights: Family time. Dinner at the 49th State in Denver.

Went to sleep in: Lakewood CO


Date: Monday, July 26

Highlights: Driving day. Heavy rain caused a brief waiting period.

Went to sleep in: Abilene KS


Date: Tuesday, July 27

Highlights: All Abilene attractions closed, though it didn’t appear we were missing much. Dinner at an excellent microbrewery tap room in Hamilton.

Went to sleep in: Hamilton MO


Date: Wednesday, July 28

Highlights: The Quilting Capitol of the World. The Beloved Spouse™ ravaged the town while I hung around the library and ice cream shop. Dinner in the tap room again.

Went to sleep in: Hamilton MO


Date: Thursday, July 29

Highlights: See entry for July 28. Dinner at the tap room again again.

Went to sleep in: Hamilton MO


Date: Friday, July 30

Highlights: Lunch in St. Louis with my trumpet teacher from New England Conservatory and his friend.

Went to sleep in: Louisville KY


Date: Saturday, July 31

Highlights: Louisville Slugger Factory and Museum. Drinks with Chad Williamson and the lovely Alice Blevins at the one bar in Louisville Jimmy Hannah hasn’t gotten Chad banned from.

Went to sleep in: Georgetown KY


Date: Sunday August 1

Highlights: Kentucky Horse Park. Found what must be the southernmost Culver’s for custard.

Went to sleep in: Georgetown KY


Date: Monday, August 2

Highlights: Driving day.

Went to sleep in: My own bed.


Total driving distance: 5,090.5 miles at 32.0 miles per gallon.


A wonderful vacation. Not perfect: restaurant issues due to lack of staffing, extremely hot weather in places, the altercation with the picnic table and its aftermath. I’d do it again even if I knew all of the above would happen.


Many thinks to my brother’s family (Stu, Cris, Aspen, and Hailey); Charlie Schluter and Mary; my former co-workers at USDA; Chad Williamson and Alice Blevins; and various new acquaintances, including, but not limited to: Vinnie at the Rusty Spur; all the folks at the Sheepeater Cliff picnic area (If I had your names you’d get cards), Mari of Mari’s Bed & Breakfast, both librarians in Hamilton, and, last but not least, Toni, Amanda, and all the staff at the Levi Gallagher & Sons Brewery in Hamilton.


This trip was so much fun, I enjoyed toting up the bills because of the memories they evoked.


Thursday, August 5, 2021

Bosch, Season 7


(I held this post back to allow those who care time to see Season 7 of Bosch. Spoilers abound.)


The Beloved Spouse™ and I watched Bosch’s final season on its first weekend of availability. We’ve had mixed emotions about the past few seasons, as the stories are always compelling, the storytelling less so. Season 7 took this to the point where we’re just as glad it’s not coming back even though there’s a lot to like.


What’s to like? As I said, the stories. Using Michael Connelly’s stories and universe as the jumping-off point was inspired. They’re the kinds of stories that hook you right away, and deft handling of the procedural matters is a huge separator from more mainstream television and movies.


The casting is outstanding, and the acting is solid, within a caveat I’ll describe below. It is now impossible to read a Bosch book without seeing Titus Welliver in the role. Amy Aquino was excellent as Lt. Billets. My sole complaint about Gregory Scott Cummins and Troy Evans as Crate and Barrel is that they’re not used enough.


The production values are outstanding. This was among the first of Amazon’s streaming series and has serves as the flagship ever since. The care taken and attention to detail is obvious in each episode.


So why am I ready for it to be over?


While the stories are compelling, the storytelling is not. I understand about getting in as late as possible and getting out as early as is practical, but Season 7 suffers from Attentio Deficit Disorder, moving from scene to scene so quickly it’s hard to keep track of what happened, or to remember it when it becomes important later. One scene stands out. Bosch gets a phone call, the caller asks how he’s doing, he says he’s fine, and that’s it. The scene reminded us Harry is dating a judge, which will matter in another episode or two, but it goes by so quickly, and in such an uninteresting manner, The Beloved Spouse™ and I both looked at each other and asked So what? The relationship between Bosch and the judge was shown, briefly, in a previous episode. Nothing worth mentioning passed between them, the scene easily forgotten.  


Plot exists so scenes have a point; scenes are where the entertainment and storytelling take place. Season 7 plays like a mash-up of Law & Order and The Wire. The problem is, the side stories are not particularly compelling and are sometimes extraneous.  Chief Irving’s premature baby is at best a distraction, at worst a waste of time. The scenes with Maddie and her boyfriend are necessary only because a member of Bosch’s family is in mortal peril. (Again.) With only eight episodes, each well under an hour, fewer story lines with more attention paid to each would have been a better choice.


The dialog is turgid, at best. Too many characters pontificate, and too often one character describes something the listener clearly already knows for the benefit of the audience. That’s lazy writing. Fewer, longer scenes with real interaction between characters would be welcome.


The pregnant pauses don’t help. It’s almost like someone held a stopwatch and directed the actors leave at least three seconds between lines to allow time for meaningful facial expressions. The end result is a sequence of flat deliveries and disruption of chemistry.


Then there’s the ending. After disrupting a major federal investigation that gets their confidential informant killed, Bosch gives the chief a (literal) fuck you; shortly after, Bosch hands in his badge. The chief then makes a half-assed attempt to talk Harry out of it. My police friends may correct me, but I have to believe Harry wouldn’t have a chance to resign; the first words out of Irving’s mouth would either be “You’re fired” or “Where don’t you want to go” so he can bury Bosch just as Bill Rawls buried Jimmy McNulty in The Wire. I also kept waiting for some fed to remind Harry that Sammy Gravano got passes for nineteen homicides to get him to flip on John Gotti. They’re not going to tolerate some local cop ruining an investigation intended to take down at least one major drug organization, no matter how much that cop believes everyone matters or no one matters.


What bothers me more than anything about the end of Bosch is how it symbolizes the failure of streaming services to live up to the hype for their original programming. Shows like Bosch and Goliath showed great early promise, but what’s come after is mainly things too edgy or overtly sexual or graphically violent or had too much foul language for the broadcast networks. I have no problem with overt sexuality and graphic violence; regular readers know I’m all fucking for foul language. Having all of the above doesn’t make a show good. How do we get what we get and no one has created a streaming vehicle for Tim Hallinan’s Junior Bender or Brad Parks’s Carter Ross or Reed Farrel Coleman’s Moe Prager is beyond me. (Editor’s Note: This is far from a complete list.)

Thursday, July 29, 2021

From the Vault: A Problem and Its Likely Solution

 This week’s post was originally posted May 29, 2019. It’s as true to today as it was then, though perceptions may have changed since. It prompted a pretty good comment thread. Feel free to check it out, and continue the discussion here.



Readers may think this post is a whine. I hope writers will not, most of you having had this conversation with yourself a time or two and understanding why it needs to happen, though maybe not as publicly as this.


Why don’t my books sell better?


The reviews are good, given their limited numbers. (Sincere thanks to all of you who have reviewed any of my books, regardless of your opinion. I appreciate you taking the time.) People approach me with unsolicited praise at conferences, so I feel secure that the books hold up. I take my craft seriously and folks seem to appreciate that.


More than one agent has said that I might have had a nice career as a mid-list author thirty years ago. Part of that compliment—and I do consider it as such—is because thirty years ago there was the possibility of making a living as a mid-list writer. If I’m being honest with myself—which the situation demands—I have to admit part of that is because I write the kinds of books that were popular thirty years ago, before serial killers and sociopathic spouses and constantly raised stakes took over the business.


I’m not complaining, just observing. The market is what it is and it always will be. I posted last week about bestsellers and I’m not here to complain about people’s tastes. I read exactly the hell what I feel like reading, too. Life is too short to worry about what books someone else thinks one should read. The question here is, “What can I do to get more people to read my books?” Or even, “Is there anything I can do?”


Shall I move away from the private investigator and small town procedurals into more high-octane stuff? I’ve seen friends shift gears in a similar manner and do very well. There are two things that have to be determined before answering:


1) Do I want to do it?

2) Do I have the ability to do it?


I am among a fortunate few writers who doesn’t need much—any—writing income to live a comfortable life, at least by my limited standards, as the current day job pays the bills and then some. (Update: I’m now retired six months. Cat food and Ramen noodles are not on the horizon, so this still applies.) This frees me to write whatever the hell I want, but it also removes a sense of urgency I might feel if I needed writing income. That’s okay. Frankly, I don’t do my best work under that kind of pressure; I’m a plodder.


I write what I do because I like it and I know I’m good at it. The fact that it doesn’t sell much is an inconvenience, not a crisis. That doesn’t mean it doesn’t rankle.


A few years ago I realized both my current series read like novels based on 70s crime movies. I love 70s crime movies, so to me this is not a bad thing. Of course, 70s crime movies were popular forty to fifty years ago, so having that as my wheelhouse is a distinctly limiting factor.


Can I tweak the series to bring them a little more in line with popular tastes without losing the things I like about them? More action? Less foul language? More linear story lines? (Update: The novel slated for 2022 release includes two of these three. Guess which two, cocksucker.) All are possibilities that may well align more closely with my gifts than the radical departures considered earlier.


Paraphrasing Mencken, all these questions have answers that are simple, clear, and wrong. Some would work for others but not for me because of elements missing from either my personality or talent. All I can hope for is to achieve a balance that will keep me on the right side of the Reward vs. Bullshit Curve.


And, as so often happens when writing, Serendipity smiles upon me. After finding the nine-year-old post I linked to in the previous sentence, I decided to read it again. I’m way more accomplished now than I was then, and I thought of myself as successful when I wrote that piece.


So I’ll just keep plugging away. Try a little of this and a little of that. Don’t double down on something that isn’t working without a damn good reason to do so. Benoit Lelieve over at Dead End Follies recently had a great post about the hazards of trying to make a living doing what you love. Go on over and have a read; he nails it. His timing is impeccable from my perspective, reminding me as it did that because I have a reliable source of income I never have to worry about forgetting why I write.


Thursday, July 22, 2021

My Greatest Day of Parenting

 Lots of people advocate various books on parenting. That’s fine. Do what you do. I learned everything I needed to know about raising a child from reading Calvin and Hobbes.


One that sticks in my mind is a strip where Calvin asks his dad (my spirit animal) why old family pictures are black-and-white. My Spirit Animal goes on to explain how those photographs are in color. It’s the world that was black-and-white. MSA explains how color evolved in the 1930s, though it was spotty and grainy at first. When Calvin asks how paintings from hundreds of years ago can be in color, MSA tells him they were always in color. We just couldn’t see it until the 30s.


As a divorced father, I lacked many of the opportunities MSA had for influencing Calvin, so I had to cluster them when possible. One weekend, The Sole Heir was messing with her malfunctioning iPad ear buds. She did a little online research and learned the issue was probably with the magnets and that any local Apple Store would swap them out.


She turned to me as we left for the excursion to ask, “Why do ear buds have magnets?”


“To keep them in your ears.”


That brought her up short. Old enough to know I wasn’t always trustworthy on such matters, not sufficiently mature to reliably recognize when. “I thought magnets only held metal together.”


“You never heard of bone magnets? They keep the earbud close enough to the little bones in your ear so you can hear, but no so close it clogs up your ear canal. That’s probably what’s wrong. These are either too strong or too weak.”


That prompted a look I came to know and love: she knew I was full of crap, but lacked the ammunition on hand to call me on it and win the argument.


We were watching baseball that same evening when the standard disclaimer came on: “Any rebroadcast, reproduction, or other use of the pictures and accounts of this game without the express written consent of the office of the Commissioner of Baseball is prohibited.”


She should have known better after the morning’s earbud episode, but the idealism of youth was strong in this one. “Hey, Dad. What does the Commissioner of Baseball do?”


“He signs all the baseballs.”


A moment’s thought. “That’s all?”


“Watch the game. See how many balls they go through. Multiply that by fifteen games a day. Signing balls is a full-time job.”


I got That Look twice in one day. Maybe the proudest I ever felt as a parent, including at her wedding.



Thursday, July 15, 2021

Fan Letters


I have kidded myself in the past, making comments along the line of how my fan club meets in airplane lavatories. While not a lot of people read my books, those who do are remarkably loyal. For that I am genuinely grateful. Thank you all.


As you might expect, I don’t get a lot of fan mail. It’s not disappointing; I don’t expect much. I have received a couple of messages in the past few weeks that have made me realize I don’t write only for myself. There are people out there who look forward to my next book. One has been so loyal I named a character after her.


I received an e-mail the other day from a reader I have corresponded with in the past. He wrote to tell me the virus gave him a rough year, both health-wise and on the employment front. He went on to say how much he appreciated Leaving the Scene for giving him a break from all the bad that’s been going on around him. Followed that up with detailed comments on the book that made it clear he’d read it.


I tried, but couldn’t begin to tell him how gratifying his message was, so I’ll try again here. (And will fail again.) The writers among you know what a lonely and frustrating thing writing can be. (Not always, but enough of the time.) I spend a lot of time on craft, trying to have a unique voice, but not something that gets in the way of the readers’ ability to move quickly through the book. I don’t make any money to speak of, and I’m okay with that.


What makes it possible for me to be okay with that is the knowledge that my cadre of loyal readers looks forward to what I create for them. No one is going to confuse me with Dennis Lehane or Michael Connelly or James Ellroy in either artistry or sales; that’s fine, too. It’s enough to know there are people to whom I can bring a little entertainment that might help them through the day.


So consider this a heartfelt thank you to all of you who read my books or this blog. Your support is appreciated, and I’m grateful, and lucky, to have you.

Thursday, July 8, 2021

An Interview With Beau Johnson, Author of Brand New Dark

 Beau Johnson is a treat. Outstanding author (most notably of the Bishop Rider short stories), tireless promoter of the work of other, connoisseur of all things cheesy, and a hell of a nice guy. I look forward to Beau’s annual collection not only for the stories, but as na excuse to get him back on the blog.

This year’s entry is Brand New Dark, which drops July 12 from Down & Out Books. (I should also note that Beau has all the best titles: A Better Kind of Hate, The Big Machine Eats, and All of Them to Burn.

OBAAT: Looking back at our previous interviews, I see we’ve been getting together more or less annually since 2017. In that first interview we talked a little about your process, how you’re a pantser but will revise each story ten to fifteen times before setting it aside for a few weeks. Has your process evolved as you become more comfortable in the knowledge “I can do this?” Maybe the first question should be to ask if you have become more comfortable.

BJ:  I guess, yes, this would be our fourth go around, Dana.  As ever, thank you for having me! Always

cool of you to give me time and space. As for more comfortable, I can say yes to some of it and no to other parts. I HAVE settled on twelve revisions as to the number any one piece goes through, however.

 OBAAT: I have to ask: Is Bishop Rider still a prominent force in this collection?

BJ: THE prominent force if I'm honest.  Brand New Dark being my first attempt at a book exclusive to a single character.  Will it be too much?  Bishop's world? His struggle?  Time will tell for sure and yes, these are the things I think about.

 OBAAT: Looking back, I’m shocked—shocked!—to see I never asked you about who has most influenced your writing. So, who have been the greatest influences on your writing?

BJ: Even though I found crime fiction over a decade ago my first love will always be King. Misery being the first book I ever read by the man.  I've been hooked ever since.  But back to crime fiction, I would say I dig quite a few writers out there producing today.  Matthew C. Funk is one.  Shawn Cosby for another.  I would add Nikki Dolson, James D.F. Hannah, Nick Kolakowski, Angel Luis Colon, Laurel Hightower, Jennifer Hillier, Laird Barron, Tom Leins, and just too many others that I will probably kick myself for forgetting once you've gone and posted this.

 OBAAT: What are you working on now, and what can we expect next?

: Well, I never want to jinx things, but if I'm lucky, I might have one more Rider book in me. It would take his story close to one hundred in total and I've always felt like that was a nice round number to end on.  We shall see, of course.  As ever, I guarantee nothing.

 OBAAT: What is the cheese you’ve eaten most recently (or are eating now), and why was it chosen?

BJ: Ha!  We do love cheese, don't we?  Right now just some plain old Old, purchased by my wife because she kicks all the ass. 

Thursday, July 1, 2021

Spring's Favorite Reads


I’m out of the business of talking about which books are “best.” There is too much personal taste involved, and the comparison isn’t even apples to oranges. Depending on the books, it could be steak to pork chops or even eastern North Carolina barbecue versus western North Carolina barbecue. (Didn’t know there was a difference? Heathen.) With that in mind, what follows are the books I enjoyed reading the most in the three months just ended.


Dodge City, Tom Clavin. Rolls the history of Dodge City as a cow town into biographies of Bat Masterson and Wyatt Earp, with several entertaining digressions. This was a re-read for me, and well worth the time. Clavin has an engaging style, and the stories are fascinating, even more so because they’re true. If you have an interest in this period and these men, you’ll enjoy this.


Under the Bright Lights, Daniel Woodrell. The first book of the Bayou Trilogy and more of a straight-up crime story than his later works. All of the elements that made Woodrell Woodrell are here, though in a less fully developed form than you’ll see in Winter’s Bone. Few writers are as evocative and economical at the same time.


Blood Relatives, Ed McBain. An 87th Precinct novel from the 70s. I’ve written so much about McBain it’s hard to find something new, but it’s often overlooked how well he shows the changes in society over time without aging his characters at the sane rate. Steve Carella probably hasn’t aged five years in the twenty years between this book and Cop Hater, yet technology and society are contemporary to the year in which the story takes place and it’s never jarring.


Among the Shadows, Bruce Robert Coffin. First book of the John Byron series. Tightly plotted procedural with lots of inside stuff on investigations and how police departments run them. Or don’t, sometimes. Outstanding characters are well defined and delineated, with a dry wit that suits each cop, which makes sense: Coffin is a retired cop and knows this stuff cold. Lucky us, he has the writing chops to be able to tell the story in such an entertaining and enlightening manner. I’ll be back for the rest of the series.


The Ways of the Dead, Neely Tucker. Book 1 of the Sully Carter series. A journalist himself, Tucker knows his way around a newsroom as well as one would expect. What sets him apart is an ability to tell things straight without grinding any axes. Based on a true story that is at least as engrossing as any fictional account, Tucker adds a few ornaments to make The Ways of the Dead unique. Too often plot twists are too convoluted to withstand scrutiny; the big one left me gobsmacked until I thought back and saw how everything made sense. The next book in the series is already queued up to be read.


Every City is Every Other City, John McFetridge. His first book in quite a while, and worth the wait. Low-key humor, engaging characters, and two radically different parallel plot lines all fit together. Gordon Stewart is a film location scout/manager and part time private eye who starts out doing a favor for a friend, finds a body, and gets involved in a case way bigger than he can handle. If you’re looking for a book where you can reasonably think “This could happen” on just about every page, with plenty of opportunities for “I’m glad it’s not happening to me,” then this is the book for you.


Swag, Elmore Leonard. Not his best—he spends too much time having drinks with the “career ladies”—but the opening, closing, and writing are first-rate Leonard, which means at least as good as anyone else, ever.


Blood’s a Rover, James Ellroy. This completes my sequential re-read of the Underworld USA trilogy. There isn’t much more I can write about Ellroy and his work than I have already. Suffice to say he is the most unique writer I have encountered, and I gain something every time I read him. Next year I’ll begin his current series with Perfidia. There’s no rule that says I can only read Ellroy once a year; I do have one that says I must read him every year.


Trouble is My Business, Raymond Chandler. Four of Chandler’s best “long stories” (as he referred to them): “Trouble is My Business,” “Finger Man,” “Goldfish,” and “Red Wind.” I’ve soured on Chandler over the past few years. He spends a little too much time on description in his novels, sometimes reaches too hard in his efforts to be clever, and I’ve read each novel so often I know what’s coming. (It didn’t help that I read his letters a while back and learned what an asshole he was.) I almost skipped him when his turn came up in the rotation, but I reached back for these stories and was glad I did. The shorter format keeps him from rambling, and these are all pretty close to perfect.