Thursday, April 27, 2023

Made in the Shade


There are regular venues for Noir at the Bar other than the Shade Bar in Greenwich Village. I have a lot of excellent personal experience with Yonder in Hillsborough NC, and, knowing some of the people who routinely host these events, I’m sure there are others. No offense to any of them, but there’s something special about Shade.


I’m a small town boy who avoids NYC at every opportunity, so my feelings toward Shade aren’t a matter of “Everything is better in the Apple” syndrome. Shade has three things going for it, two of which are crucial.


1. The atmosphere. I expected a bigger place; what I found was better. The intimacy of the setting means no one is on the periphery, so distractions are virtually non-existent. This is helped considerably by bartender Laurie Beck, who keeps everyone’s glasses full while never disrupting the performances.


2. New York City, for all the things that drive me crazy about it (I’ll delve into that in a future blog), is the epicenter of the American publishing world. The publishers and a significant majority of the agents are here, which attracts authors like hummingbirds to sugar water. Shade can draw a top-notch lineup at the drop of a hat, and routinely does.


3. Todd Robinson, aka Big Daddy Thug. The founder of Thuglit, Todd has launched more careers than American Idol. The list of well-known authors who got their first stories published there includes (off the top of my head) S.A. Cosby, Hilary Davidson, Johnny Shaw, Jordan Harper, and many more. (And me, but don’t hold that against him.) Todd needs only to put out the word and he’ll have well-known authors (and me) lined up to read for him; the place and time are secondary.


This is where I must confess to having prejudice. The first piece of my writing someone paid money for was a short story titled “Green Gables.” Todd passed at first, but liked it enough to work with me to get it over the hump. There aren’t many who do that these days, especially at venues that receive the quantity of submissions Thuglit did. “Green Gables” was selected for the anthology, Blood, Guts, and Whiskey, where I was flattered to appear with Max Allan Collins, Craig McDonald, Stuart Neville, Hilary Davidson, Kieran Shea, Jedidiah Ayres, Dave Zeltserman, and others. That was when it occurred to me that what I wrote might have an audience. I still have a photocopy of the check on my office wall. (The memo line reads, “Loot.”)


So, yeah, to me Shade is the Mecca of Noirs at Bars. I was beyond delighted to read last Sunday night, especially to share the stage with such talents as Big Daddy himself, James Grady, S.A. Cosby, Eryk Pruitt, Rob Hart, Tom Schreck, Rob Creekmore, Erin E. Adams, and Galal Chater. My story was well received, but not even The Beloved Spouse™ and I thought it cracked the top half of what was read that night.


The evening was well worth overcoming my New York aversion. You can’t understand what high praise that is until you know what we went through to get there, which is a blog post of its own, probably in a couple of weeks.

Thursday, April 20, 2023

A Hiatus (Of Sorts)


The new Nick Forte novel, Off the Books, is finished, which is good because April is a busy month.

·       The 13th was Noir at the Bar at Yonder in Hillsborough NC.

·       Jury duty on the 17th.

·       My first Noir at the Bar at Shade in NYC is this Sunday.

·       Next weekend The Beloved Spouse™ and I will be at Malice Domestic.

·       May 2 (might as well be April) I have oral surgery.


May and June are lightly scheduled, but I have a larger dilemma: what to write next? The contenders are:

·       Another Forte novel (or two).

·       A Western. (Seriously. I mean it this time.)

·       A comic novel with three new characters I want to try out.

·       The three-book arc to conclude the Penns River series.


All will take research and what movie people call “development.” I had a great time a few years ago dedicating the summer to Western research in multiple forms, and this spring and summer I intend to do the same, but for all of the above books. The one for which a well-formed outline comes together quickest will be the first I write.


It will not be a Penns River book. Those three deal with elements I’ve not done much with in the series; significant research is required if I am to do them justice. I also plan to outline the arc of all three together, then flesh out each book as its time comes.


Each of the other three (four if both Forte ideas come together) has elements that will be at least somewhat new to me.


·       Forte continues to be more willing to find his own forms of justice, as will be seen in Off the Books. He won’t have as much of a support group and his attitude will be more Ray Donovan than Philip Marlowe.

·       The Western will be a novel in stories, positioned as the lost “notes” from a frontiersman’s memoir, “as told to” a writer. Much of it will be historically based, albeit loosely, and I need not only to dig deeper into the relevant history to get it right, but also to see which parts fit what I want Walter Ferguson to do.

·       The comic effort draws inspiration from Terriers, Shane Black and Guy Ritchie films, and Hap and Leonard, with a little Westlake and Butch Cassidy thrown in. Retired cop Pete and his old high school buddy and retired Marine Gunny will get into some serious shit with the girl of their pubescent dreams, Louise. I’ve always had humor in my books – I can’t help myself – but this will be the first time I set out to make humor the primary element.


Lots of reading and movie watching are in store, even more than the Summer of Western Research™, because, being retired now, I have a lot more time in which to indulge myself. I’m willing to wait until after the C3 conference in September before I resume actual writing, but that’s not set in stone. As I said above, if a story comes together sooner, I’ll jump right on it.


Life is good.

Thursday, April 13, 2023


 The Beloved Spouse™ and I recently subscribed to BritBox to take advantage of its plethora of outstanding crime shows. We’re three series in and, of course, I have thoughts.


Line of Duty. I’d heard enough good about this one that it piqued my interest in BritBox in the first place. Outstanding in every regard, LoD follows Anti-Corruption Unit 12 (AC-12) in a fictional English Midlands city, based on Birmingham. AC units are England’s version of Internal Affairs in the States, and the show focuses on a different angle of police corruption in each season. There is more to say, but noting the common thread that runs between seasons (and occasionally shows wear as time goes on) is a potential spoiler, so I’ll leave that for now. Suffice to say, LoD gets high marks.


Karen Pirie. Another winner, if only one season long so far. Based in St. Andrews, Scotland, Karen is a young detective who is assigned to a cold case as a way of brushing off the investigation because she’s both inexperienced and a woman. Needless to say, while Karen is young and inexperienced, she’s also smart and dogged. The quality here is just as good as Line of Duty, with one caveat: you might want to turn on the subtitles. While not Glasgow, the St. Andrews accents are at times indecipherable. We watched the first episode and thought it was okay, then watched again with the subtitles turned on, turned to each other, and said, “Whoa. This is good.”


Wallander. One of the two crime series I’d heard a lot about before subscribing to BritBox, along with Prime Suspect, which we haven’t got around to yet. Each episode is a 90-minute movie based on a single novel by Swedish author Henning Mankell, not unlike the series created for Ken Bruen’s Jack Taylor. (Exception: the last two episodes come from the same book, a la the end of the Harry Potter movies.) Filmed on location in Sweden with UK actors, the show stars Kenneth Branagh as Wallander, a detective in the resort town of Ystad who seems to discover more bodies than he’s assigned. Broody and dark, Wallander’s inherent goodness and fallibility come through to make him as human a cop as one is likely to find. As one might expect, Branagh is superb. I’ll have more to say about Wallander, but in a different post, as there will be spoilers.


You can’t go wrong with any of these. The only complaint we have with BritBox is the service itself, which some nights makes us kiss ass to watch it; some nights we give up. It’s more reliable on a laptop, but I’m paying for a service to watch its programming on a screen the size of those made before I was born when I have a 65-inch television across the room. Not with my eyesight.

Thursday, April 6, 2023

Inappropriate Language

 The Beloved Spouse™ and I spent the weekend of March 11 and 12 at the Suffolk (VA) Mystery Authors Festival. (Editor’s Note: If you’ve not been, you should go. It’s a treat.) This year’s guest of honor was Hank Phillippi Ryan, who was interviewed by Art Taylor to launch the day’s festivities.


The interview was wide-ranging, informative, and a lot of fun. One thing that stuck out to me was Hank’s use of the phrase “inappropriate language.” It came up in the context of what she will, or won’t, include in her books; this is a won’t. It got me to thinking (again) about the use of language in books, as the term “inappropriate” hadn’t occurred to me before.


Those dozens of you who have read them know my books would be rated R as movies, primarily for the language. I include very little sex and not much violence by today’s standards. I am, however, not averse to foul language.


I do try to stay away from language that is inappropriate. What’s the difference?


Others may differ, but to me the audience and character decide what is, or is not, appropriate. My language would be quite different if I wrote cozies or YA novels. My audience consists of people who like their crime stories with hard bark on them. My characters are overwhelmingly either law enforcement (sometimes a private investigator) or criminals. Basically working class people, sometimes just barely. These folks do not speak as a librarian or schoolteacher or minister would. My characters converse primarily with peers, or as cops to suspects, and often under duress. “Darn” and “shoot” won’t sit right in their mouths.


This varies by individual. Ben Dougherty’s mother does not use the same kind of language Doc is known to use; neither does Doc speak to his mother as he would to a suspect, or even to a peer. We all do this. To me, that’s appropriate language. That doesn’t mean I think any less of those who made a conscious choice not to use those words.


I remember a discussion in a critique group many years ago when a woman complained about the language in a story. This woman, who I have no interest in disparaging, presented as at middle-class, probably upper-middle. I explained these were working class men speaking to each other, to which she replied her father and uncles were also working class and they never spoke like that.


“Not around you, they didn’t,” I said.


That’s my point.


This has been on my mind lately as I toy with trying a Western again. My idea is to write it as a memoir, a series of stories from a man who covered a lot of territory after the Civil War, as told to a journalist he became friendly with. The “conversations” they had would have taken place in the 1920s.


I have no delusions about how people spoke on the frontier. When women and children were around was one thing; on the range another. The coarseness of mining camps is well documented, and I’m not just talking about Deadwood. Having no recordings of any 19th century conversations, I am perfectly happy to make up language and use it to suit my needs.


But the book was ostensibly written in the 1920s, based on stories told by an old man. What language would he use?


It won’t be Deadwood.


This book will be what I’m thinking of as colorful, yet sanitized. What we consider foul language will not appear, if only because publishers wouldn’t tolerate it a hundred years ago. At the same time, my aging frontiersman will want to convey the flavor of his life in an engaging and, to him, accurate way.


It’s going to be a challenge, as it should. Also a lot of fun.