Thursday, December 28, 2023

Our Year in Review

 Happy holidays to all! The Beloved Spouse™ and I hope your 2023 was as good as ours, which was so good it started last year.

We spent Christmas 2022 in Florida visiting The Sole Heir™ and Sole Son-in-Law™. Mostly TSH, as SSiL was on deployment with the Coast Guard. Contrary to expectations, we froze. Literally. The Sole Heir™ and I had to put a space heater in a friend’s boat so the engine wouldn’t freeze.

March saw us attend our first in-person Suffolk (VA) Mystery Authors Festival. (I had been to a pair of virtual events in previous years.) An added benefit was having dinner with two good friends from my largely misspent college days.

April opened with a visit from the California branch of TBS’s family,. We all went to an escape room in DC and had a ball. We don’t get to see them often enough and had a wonderful day.

The latter part of the month was full of writing-related activities. First we went to Yonder in Hillsborough NC to read at a Noir at the Bar event. The next week we trained it to New York for my first reading at the Mecca of Noirs at Bars, Shade. Then to Bethesda MD for three days at the Malice Domestic conference. We had a great time, saw old friends, and made new ones.

Back to Florida in June where Sleuthfest gave us an excuse to visit The Sole Heir™ and Sole Son-in-Law. Alas, SSiL was deployed again, though we had a lot of fun with TSH and Reny. (Reny = 80-pound yellow Lab.) Sleuthfest was a much better time than anticipated. We’ll be back.

In July we finished a renovation of The Beloved Spouse™’s craft room. No construction was done, but the room had lost much of its allure as her tastes in projects shifted from card-making to quilting until it no longer suited either. We – mostly her – stripped it down and built it back up to better accommodate her current interests.

My eighth Penns River novel (The Spread) came out in July. This launch was made special through two events. A dear friend opened her home to host a reading and Q&A; later in the month another friend made his restaurant available for a discussion of writing and craft.

The Sole Sibling™ and I celebrated his 60th birthday with a road trip that started in New Jersey to visit relatives; went to Cooperstown NY for the Baseball Hall of Fame; then on to New Berlin NY for the Motocross Nationals at Unadilla, the most hallowed track in the country. I had never been to a motocross race before; don’t be surprised if you see me at another.

September marked the tenth Creatures, Crimes, and Creativity conference, of which I have attended nine. We are already registered for next year.

October sent us back to North Carolina for another Noir at the Bar, Halloween Edition. From there we went to the Outer Banks for a lovely weekend with two good friends. The weather and company were perfect.

As for the extended family, The Sole Heir™ is working as a primary care physician for the Veterans’ Administration as part of a pilot program that allows her to see patients remotely from her home; patients do not have to go to a VA facility, just a local doctor’s office where a physician’s assistant handles the hands-on bits. The program is popular, TSH loves the work, and it will serve her well when The Sole Son-in-Law gets his next transfer orders, as she can work from anywhere.

SSiL continues to thrive as a Coast Guard helicopter pilot. We didn’t see as much of him as we’d like in 2023 but we plan to make up for that in 2024.

We all hope everyone had at least as good a 2023 as we did and looks forward to 2024 as much as we are. Happy holidays!

Thursday, December 21, 2023

Triple Forte Now Available for Kindle


The Nick Forte Rebranding Tour continues with a bow toward last-minute shoppers and those who will have holiday cash burning holes in their pockets. Today marks the availability of the first three-volume “boxed” set of Forte novels, titled Triple Forte. Included are:

A Small Sacrifice, the first Forte, nominated for a Shamus Award by the Private Eye Writers of America as Best Indie Original.

The Stuff That Dreams Are Made Of. Blogger extraordinaire Peter Rozovsky wrote in “Detectives Beyond Borders,” “It's a kind of authorial magic that The Stuff That Dreams Are Made Of works as a tribute and as a story, and that neither aspect interferes in the least with the other… I can imagine this book finding its way into a class on writing crime fiction as an example of how to pay tribute to one's predecessors while at the same time writing a story that can stand on its own. It's an impressive accomplishment.”

And last but not least, The Man in the Window, Shamus-nominated as Best Paperback Original.

Triple Forte is available for Kindle only for $3.99. (See the Amazon web site for prices outside the U.S.)

The next few months will see more rebranding as a lead up to the first new Forte novel in six years:

January – A Dangerous Lesson, in which Forte’s dark side come more into the open as he matches wits with a serial killer.

February – Bad Samaritan pits Forte against men’s rights activists in a story that shows best intentions, inexpertly applied, can go terribly wrong.

March – Off the Books, the first Forte since 2018. What appears to be a trivial case in a small town unearths a heinous criminal enterprise Forte does not trust the authorities to deal with.

The Forte character means a lot to me, as do his associates Goose, Sonny Ng, Jan Rusiewicz, Sharon Summers, and especially, his daughter Caroline. PI fiction was what attracted me to reading crime, and Forte was the first character I created as an adult writer. There is more of me in him than in any other character (even Ben “Doc Dougherty), so writing Forte always seems like a bit of a homecoming.

That’s why it has been so good to hear from folks who are looking forward to his return. This will not be a one-off. I have two more Forte novels on the back burner after Off the Books, and he will make at least one more appearance in Penns River.

Merry Christmas, all.

Thursday, December 14, 2023

Hill Street Moonlighting

 The Beloved Spouse™ and I recently opened the Hulu vaults for a couple of shows we loved when they were first aired, Hill Street Blues and Moonlighting. We did not last long with either.


Hill Street was first. Few programs have broken as much fertile ground as well as Steven Bochco’s premiere effort. The enormous ensemble cast, showing the cops’ lives beyond the station, the stresses no one thought about in the early 1980s. The list of what Bochco showed first could fill a blog post of its own.


That’s why I feel half guilty about cutting out near the end of Season 2. Bochco broke the ground, but a lot of people have since planted crops that flourished there. The Wire. The Shield. Even Bochco’s and David Milch’s NYPD Blue. All took the baton from Hill Street and ran with it, pushing the envelope ever farther. While they might not be here if not for Hill Street, Hill Street cannot compete.


Again, much of that is due to changing standards in television. Hill Street was among the first shows – and, I believe, the first cop show – to extend stories beyond one episode. This has become such a common thing it is now typical for crime series to invest an entire season in one primary line and hang lesser plots from that tentpole. Think of how clearly all five seasons of The Wire focused on a primary story while retaining others to flesh it out, sometimes going back all the way to the show’s origin.


Networks and streaming services now understand viewers have adequate attention spans to handle such programming; Bochco had to teach them. Watching several of the three-to-four-episode arcs we could not help but think that some stories deserved more time to breathe. Looking back forty years, Hill Street’s moves in that direction seem tentative. We’re past that now. Bochco’s genius was in many ways hoist on its own petard.


(Full disclosure: Hill Street left Hulu about the time we finished Season 1. We found it on Amazon, but after another handful of episodes they started charging $1.99 an episode, which adds up if you intend to watch them all. TBS found it on the Internet Archive, but that was more trouble than we wanted to take for a show we weren’t sure how long we wanted to stick with.)


Then there is Moonlighting. Both of us loved that show when it originally aired, but it fell flat with us after a few episodes on the re-viewing. What was wrong?


Personally, I remembered it as being funnier. I wondered why I didn’t think so this time – it’s not like my sense of humor has become any more elevated* – until TBS mentioned one evening how Bruce Willis’s irresponsible smart-ass act has been done to death. We were tired of it.


Again, it’s not Bruce Willis’s fault that he helped to create such a lasting trope. That still doesn’t make it any fresher after all this time. Each episode seemed like something we’d seen before, and done better.


(Even fuller disclosure: It also did not help that I have since learned Cybill Shepherd was a pluperfect bitch on the show. This is why it’s never good to know too much about performers’ backgrounds.)


I feel badly that two shows I loved when they were fresh and new no longer entertain me. It’s a little like seeing an old flame years later and expecting him or her to look the same. Even if their personalities haven’t changed – and certainly Hill Street’s and Moonlighting’s have not; I mean, they’re on videotape – they look and feel old.


So do I. That means I don’t have the time to stick with something because I might like it down the road; I don’t have as much road left as I used to, and it’s a dead end. I might watch Hill Street Blues again on my own sometime as research for a book, but probably not. There are far more timely and incisive examples today.


Thank you, Steven Bochco and Glen Gordon Caron, as well as everyone involved with each of your projects, for not only providing the younger me with wonderful and memorable entertainment, but also for raising my standards in such a manner your programs have lost much of their appeal, though not their luster.


(* - We watched both Cheers and Frazier start to finish a couple of years ago and loved them. All in the Family also holds up well.)

Thursday, December 7, 2023

An Interview With Alec Cizak, Author, and Editor of Pulp Modern Magazine

 Alec Cizak is the editor of Pulp Modern magazine, as well as the author of several novels, novellas, and numerous short stories. He also founded All Due Respect and his championing of dark, gritty fiction that pays homage to the original pulps of a hundred years ago is unflagging and respected. One Bite at a Time was lucky to grab a little of his time so those who are as yet unaware can learn more bou t him.


One Bite at a Time: Welcome to the blog, Alec. You’re best known as a pulp writer and editor. “Pulp” is a term that’s been around for a long time and, like “noir” it has almost come to mean whatever the speaker wants it to. For some, the two terms seem to be interchangeable. What is your definition of pulp, and how does it differ from noir?


Alec Cizak:  Thanks for having me! I guess pulp is a term that encompasses all the genres that make “literary” writers grumble about what does and does not constitute “real” literature. While “literary” writers tend to dwell on the boring, mundane minutiae of ‘reality,’ pulp makes the medicine go down with a hint (or sometimes an overdose) of the fantastic. Whether it’s horror, adventure, fantasy, westerns, or even romance, the function of escapism is fully engaged in pulp fiction. We should always remember the original pulps had their prime in the 1930s, during the Great Depression. Just imagine how important escape was when you had to scratch and claw for a piece of bread to trick your belly into thinking you’d had a full meal. Noir differs, I believe, in that it sneaks up on the realism “literary” fiction pretends it has a monopoly on and offers readers an escape that is dangerously close to reality. The sole relief, perhaps, being that the fate of characters in a good noir is much, much worse than whatever momentarily troubles the reader in his/her/their ‘real’ life.


OBAAT: You were the originator of All Due Respect, which became a leading platform for your kind of fiction. Starting up such a magazine is a considerable effort. What made you decide to do it?


AC: I wanted to create a venue that spotlighted a single writer for a month. I also wanted to create a venue that didn’t handcuff writers with restrictions on subject matter. Crime is dirty. Crime is nasty. Crime is violent. And crime is ugly. I wanted to publish fiction that reflected these aspects of criminality.


OBAAT: You eventually moved on from ADR to start Pulp Modern.  What’s the story behind that?


AC: Pulp Modern started because no venue gathering all the pulp genres in one place existed. As others have said, if you want to see it and it doesn’t exist, you must create it. So, I did.


OBAAT: Most of your books are of the type of story you’ve featured in your magazines, except Lake County Incidents. What’s different about that one and why the departure?


AC:  When I started writing short stories back in grade school, they were always horror stories. As I got older, however, I decided I wouldn’t write horror unless I thought for sure I could freak out the reader in some way. I think if a story is advertised as horror, it is obligated to scare the audience. Too much horror I’ve read over the years has failed in this respect. A lot of horror is predicated on gore, on what Stephen King called “the gross out” (in his book Danse Macabre). That’s not interesting to me. I had a flash of inspiration, however, in 2015, and wrote a series of stories I believed would unsettle readers. Most of them were published at various venues. My publisher, ABC Group Documentation, asked to see a collection of them and eventually published it.


OBAAT: You’ve written several novels. For someone new to your work, which would you suggest they begin with to get a representative idea of your style and voice that is most accessible. (Full disclosure: I ask this because when I decided to investigate James Ellroy I began with The Cold Six Thousand, which is brilliant but definitely not the place to start.)


AC: Depending on who you ask, I’ve only actually written two novels, Breaking Glass and Cool It Down. (A reviewer erroneously called Cool It Down a novella; it’s not. It’s well over 50,000 words. I consider that the low end of novel length.) Those books are a little challenging to newer readers as I experimented with the genre and I’m not convinced they were successful experiments. For straight up noir that is easily accessible, I would suggest the novella Down on the Street.


OBAAT: Given the kinds of stories you write and accept as an editor, what are your thoughts on trigger words, or, more generally, on words polite society would not want us to use?


AC: If a story calls for language or situations some might find “offensive,” the writer needs to decide what’s most important to communicate to the reader and go from there. Do keep in mind that I have never published anything at Pulp Modern that is “offensive” merely for the sake of being “offensive.”


OBAAT: Where can readers find out more about you?


AC: The best thing to do is read my short stories. ABC Group Documentation just published a collection called Nobody’s Coming Home.


OBAAT: What’s next on your writing agenda?


AC: I’ve been working on a novel since 2020. My writing agenda is dominated by my desire to finish that damn book!