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.