Friday, November 9, 2018

Book Bites: Tom Pitts, author of 101

It finally feels less-than-scorching here in Florida which is a clear indication that the year is slowly winding down. No worries, though, I've got a few more killer reads to showcase before we close out 2018. Today, I'm lucky enough to bring you an interview with Tom Pitts, author of the recently released 101- a wild ride of a tale replete with drugs, bikers and detectives, all scrabbling together in Northern California's "emerald triangle." This interview is a pretty wild ride as well...

101 is typical Tom Pitts, the kind of novel that proves he’ll forever and ever have followers, trailing behind him begging for one more hit.” —Eryk Pruitt

Are there any writers you’re jealous of?

This is gonna sound like bullshit, but … no. I’ve always lived my life believing I didn’t need the whole pie, just a little slice. I’ve never been that greedy. Years ago, when I was looking for some shady side work, an old gangster told me, “Tom, you’ll never make it in this kind of life. You’re not hungry enough.” And he was right. I know I’m never going to be huge, I don’t write blockbusters, I’m not trying to write the great American novel; I just do what I do and try the best I can. It’s important to have a little perspective too. Take a look at where you started and where you are. Occasionally I have to remind myself there’s always somebody down the ladder a couple rungs who’s sayin’, “Damn, look at how well Tom’s doin’.” As for the friends who succeed? I’m happy for them. Truly. Their success is there to inspire me and make me aspire. Besides, what’s good for the goose is good for the gander, right?

If you weren’t writing, what would you be doing with all of your free time?

That’s gotta be a sarcastic question. Man, what free time?! As it is I need to carve out the time I have for writing, steal it from my life. I run myself ragged. I look back at my novels and wonder how the hell I did it. Between the job, the family, and getting enough sleep so I don’t crack-up and kill someone, there is no time, let alone free time. Oh, wait … drinking. I’d probably do a lot more drinking.

Have you ever given up on a writing project?

Two of note. Most recently I surrendered 20k words into a novel. It just wasn’t lighting a fire for me. I think the story line was too ambitious. I was out of my element and when I slipped back into my element, I felt like I was running over well-tread ground. The other one was a book I was writing while I was still out on the street. Joe Clifford still tells people I was pushing around a shopping cart with a desktop in it—and that’s not too far from the truth. I was out of my mind on drugs, but I was trying to write this huge crime novel that just kept splintering and splintering. Years (and years) later I went back and found the floppy discs (yeah, floppy discs) and downloaded the damn thing and had a look. It wasn’t too bad. The title was so good, I won’t tell you what it was ‘cause I might still use it.

Who was your intended audience for the novel?

Aside from folks who’ve read and enjoyed my last two novels, and the new readers I hope will discover it, I was acutely aware while writing this book that a lot of the people who the characters are (loosely) based on would be reading it. Some of them are not big readers either. I’m anxious to see what they think of my interpretation of their world. A lot of my pals who’re out there on the fringe give me great feedback about my work. It’s always a great feeling when someone tells me they don’t read and yet they finished a book of mine in a couple sittings.

How important is the setting in your novel?

All my novels (so far) have been set in and around the Bay, and the Bay Area’s played an important role in all of them. San Francisco is alive and well in my work and I’ve been told many times that I treat the city like a character. But with 101 the setting is even more integral. The backdrop of the story is deep in the redwoods of Humboldt County and I went to great lengths to deliver an accurate portrayal of life in the Humboldt hills. From way back in the bush to the little hippie town of Garberville, all the way down the 101 to Oakland and San Francisco, I cover a lot of ground in this baby. I’m finishing out my Northern California Quartet with the next book, Coldwater. That one is set mostly in Sacramento, but ends in Malibu, of all places.

Friday, November 2, 2018

Book Bites: Patricia Austin Becker, author of Cane River Bohemia

As always, I'm excited to bring you something just a little bit different, and today I'm featuring a biography! Patricia Austin Becker's Cane River Bohemia examines and fleshes out the life of Cammie Henry, a freethinking woman who, in the 1920s, turned a former Louisiana plantation into an artist colony and surrounded herself with writers, painters, naturalists and other intellectuals. Just released, Cane River Bohemia is a fascinating look into the forgotten life of a woman who cultivated her own paradise and changed the lives around her. 

Are there any writers you’re jealous of?

I’m not sure “jealous” is the word I’d use but I am rather envious of people who have the luxury of time and solitude to write. That’s one true gift that Cammie Henry offered to the writers that came to stay at Melrose, and I am definitely envious of Lyle Saxon and how he was able to walk away from his full-time job at the Picayune, move into the cabin at Melrose, spend his days writing and his evenings sitting in the company of Miss Cammie and whomever else might be in residence that day. The environment there was so rich for creativity.

If you weren’t writing, what would you be doing with all of your free time? 

I can’t imagine not writing, but probably I would be digging through some archives someplace or else knocking things off my bucket list like driving Route 66 from East to West or attending Oktoberfest in Munich.

Were they any parts of your book that were edited out, but which you miss terribly?

Hahaha! The first line of Cane River Bohemia was initially, “Cammie Henry spent her entire life on damned rivers.” Both Bayou Lafourche, where she grew up, and Cane River where she spent her adult life, were dammed. I thought it was hilarious; my editor, thankfully, had better judgment!

Do you have a set routine as a writer? 

I discovered that I write best in the morning and when it is raining. The best writing days for me on Cane River Bohemia was when we had three consecutive snow days, the schools were closed, and I couldn’t go anywhere. It was glorious. I plugged in my headphones, cued up my favorite playlist, and went to work.

What single book has been the most influential to you as a writer?

I’m not sure I can name a single book, but Southern writers speak to my soul: Eudora Welty, Rick Bragg, Harper Lee. Not Southern, but I love his seeming simplicity and the rhythm of his writing: E.B. White.


Thursday, November 1, 2018

Miraculum ARCs are here!

...And they're gorgeous. Just sayin'. :)

Want to know what's inside? Check out Entertainment Weekly's feature on Miraculum for a sneak-peak at Chapter One... Oh, and pre-orders are up as well! 

(If you are a reviewer interested in an advanced copy of Miraculum, please contact me or Jason Pinter at Polis Books. Miraculum is also available on Netgalley for request. Many thanks!)

Friday, October 26, 2018

Book Bites: Erica Wright, author of The Blue Kingfisher

Erica Wright is a maverick. Crime writer one minute, lauded poet the next- she's pretty much unstoppable and I'm thrilled to have her back to celebrate the release of her latest Kat Stone mystery: The Blue Kingfisher

"Fascinating and fully developed characters lift Wright’s intriguing third Kat Stone mystery...Wright’s vividly told tale is studded with wry wit.” ―Publishers Weekly

Were there any parts of your novel that were edited out, but which you miss terribly?

Oh, what a great question. I had a scene at a campaign rally that amused me to no end. I wrote it before the 2016 election, and it was light-hearted, gently poking fun at the elaborate promises of politicians. It had a Lady Macbeth-esque figure who disrupts the evening with a paranoid rant. If I wrote it now, it would be a lot more cynical. Ultimately, I cut it because it didn’t forward the story, though, not because of tone.

How do you handle writer’s block?

No way through but through. Is that a real phrase? What I like about writing fiction is that there’s a tangible work aspect to it. When I’m writing poems, most effort takes place off the page, doing the dishes or studying a star atlas. There’s a lot of patience required, a lot of trust. Every time I start a new poem I think, what if I’ve forgotten how to do this? I don’t have that same fear with fiction. Of course, there are days when my writing’s cringe-worthy, but I’m still able to write. And maybe I don’t use those paragraphs, but they lead to a new idea. So I suppose my practical advice is don’t be afraid to write badly. As Richard Hugo would say, “When you are writing, glance over your shoulder, and you'll find there is no reader. Just you and the page.”

In your eyes, what does it mean to be a “successful” writer?

I appreciate how writers are opening up now about the realities of this career. Authors you assume write full-time reveal their side hustles, and it’s bracing but important information. I think the true measure of success is working on projects you love. Writing what you want to write. If somebody wants to publish those treasures, even better.

Did the novel have any alternate titles?

It’s funny, yes, the novel definitely did. But I can’t remember any of them. I just remember that they didn’t work. I loved the idea of the kingfisher because it’s a stunningly beautiful bird and is quite deliberate in the way it hunts. A kingfisher will find a high perch, then swoop down for its lunch. I’m interested in the idea of haves versus have-nots, those perched highest and those nearer the earth, and how that relates to crime. So I took some creative license and made “kingfisher” the title and also the nickname for someone who finds off-the-book jobs for immigrants, a key plot point.

What was something interesting you learned while researching that didn’t make it into the novel?

I learned that there are no jellyfish that cause hallucinations off the coast of New York—but I included one anyway.

Want to know more about The Blue Kingfisher? Check out my in-depth interview with Erica Wright over at LitReactor

Want to know more about Wright's poetry and other novels? Check out my 2017 interview in which all are covered... 

Friday, October 19, 2018

Book Bites: Joe Clifford, author of The One That Got Away

Okay, admit it. You've been waiting for this interview. Today, I'm bringing you shoot-from-the-hip answers to a few questions from rock star author Joe Clifford. His most recent novel, The One That Got Away will hit shelves this December, but if you can't wait that long, check out Clifford's Jay Porter series and the book that started it all, Junkie Love. For now, read on as Clifford gives it to us straight about broken characters, deadlines, golf, and why crime writers are some of the nicest folks you'll ever come across....

"Taut, pacey and with a powerful sense of place, Joe Clifford's The One That Got Away is an intelligent and astutely observed piece of American small town noir." --Paula Hawkins

What drew you to the genre you write in?

I made the switch to genre, mystery, because honestly, the people were nicer. This isn’t to knock all literary fiction writers. But that’s the place I started, and I found many to be, well, sorta douchey. Or at least rude. And I think about this often, why mystery writers—crime writers—who write about some god-awful stuff—murder and assaults and kidnappings—tend to be some of the nicest mutherfuckers you’ll ever meet. Whereas, conversely, literary fiction writers, who write all about feelings and shit, are a little more insular, snobbish, pretentious, dickish. And I think it’s because we mystery/crime writers understand there is no end game. No prize. Every once in a while someone breaks through, and you are truly happy for them. But most of us are happy to get our books out, have some people like them, and so we support one another. Without generalizing too much, I think literary fiction carries a heavier weight, that illusion of the Great American Novel, and how it is going to change your life. It’s not.

Which character in the novel gave you the most trouble?

That’ll always be Jay Porter. Jay is a character I deeply identify with, and a character that pisses a lot of people off. He’s morose, sullen, angry, hellbent on revenge, and not all that nice. And while I am not like that, at least not entirely, I can see how I could’ve ended up there. A couple more wrong turns, fewer good breaks, whatever. But my life broke a different way. But it didn’t for Jay, and when so many things go wrong I see how people can become broken. My brother was broken like that. The stories of broken people interest me. Heathcliff. Holden Caulfield. Camille Preaker. I’ve found that a lot of readers don’t like to be reminded of that kind of thing, and that if a book is too dark, you run the risk of alienation. But that was the story I wanted to tell. But, yeah, it hurts that Jay doesn’t get a little more love.

If you weren’t writing, what would you be doing with all of your free time?

What I’m doing now. Golfing. I’ve been golfing a lot. I’m trying to take time off before the next book. I have three out this year (Broken Ground [Porter 4]; the 2nd Ed. of Junkie Love. And [my first in a 3-book deal with Down & Out] The One That Got Away. And a 4th if you count the Italian translation of Lamentation [Porter 1]). Which involves a lot of traveling to promote. I don’t think I get one uninterrupted three-week block till the New Year. Moreover, though, I want this next book I write to be … the one. I feel like I am running out of time. Anyway, it’s sorta driving me nuts, not writing. So I’ve been golfing a lot. Which with my injuries (motorcycle accident) is tricky. I’ve got a little old man swing. But it’s fun. I did it a lot when I was a kid. My wife thinks it’s a mid-life crisis. Probably. Still beats having an affair and buying a sports car.

How do you handle writer’s block?

I once heard another writer say that the best cure for writer’s block was having a deadline. It’s pretty amazing, especially if an advance is involved. I mean, you ain’t giving the money back. I haven’t missed a deadline yet.

What piece of your own writing are you most proud of?

Well you know how that is. You love all your babies the same. It’d be like asking you which chicken you love best! But, yeah, since you’re asking (and I’m answering). Junkie Love. It was my first book, and it’s the story of my life. I am very proud of work I did on the Jay Porter series, in part because I was able to expose what a bunch of rat-bastards the Manafort family is (have fun in prison, Paul). And my new thriller, The One That Got Away, may very well be the “best” book I’ve written, at least in terms of character, plot, mystery, etc. But Junkie Love will always be the story of how I got from there to here. And I like here. Most days.

Friday, October 12, 2018

Book Bites: Charles Dodd White, author of In the House of Wilderness

I'm so excited today to bring you an interview with Charles Dodd White, in my opinion one of the best Appalachian writers to date, whose harrowing In the House of Wilderness debuted last month to critical acclaim. White is known for the beauty and brilliance of his language and now he's bringing us a story of mythical proportions, set in a stark and desperate landscape, centered on a family that embodies the harshness of the land around them.

"In the House of Wilderness may be Charles Dodd White’s finest achievement to date. This is a story that at once moves and lingers, well paced but dripping with the language we've come to expect from his pen. Line for line, White is one of the most talented writers at work in the American South."—David Joy

What drew you to the genre you write in?

I can’t become invested in a piece of writing unless I can feel that something urgent is at stake. So, for me, that really dismisses a lot of so called “high concept” fiction. Some readers have called my writing Gothic, but I really think I’m writing realistically about people who find themselves in difficult circumstances. I want the reader to feel like the conflicts my characters face are recognizable and important. That’s the heart of fiction, for me.

Have you ever given up on a writing project?

More than once. When you sit down to write a novel, you’re flying blind. One of the great things about that is that you have a world of possibility in front of you, and if you’re doing the job right you’re taking big risks. The downside of that is, of course, those risks don’t always pay off and sometimes you end up with a mess on your hands. I like what Harry Crews said about this, though I’ll butcher it in paraphrase. Sometimes, when the work isn’t there, it needs to go into the fire. I like that idea of purifying the work by destroying it so then you can go on and make something new from the ground up.

What piece of your own writing are you most proud of?

I’m always proudest of what I’m currently working on. I want to make sure I’m doing something different each time I set out on a project. As a writer it’s important to keep looking forward and to realize you’re building something longitudinal. A long term career is something that requires you to try to understand yourself and to reflect that honestly in what you create.

In your eyes, what does it mean to be a “successful” writer?

Success is writing the books that only you are meant to write. That might translate into sales, big publishers, and critical accolades or it might not. But being proud of sticking to your own view of what your art should be isn’t something that can be taken away from you. 

Who was your intended audience for the novel?

In the House of Wilderness is a book for people who believe the world doesn’t offer up easy answers. The characters are human, and as such, they are flawed. I’m not interested in writing something that promotes a cardboard version of right and wrong. As Hawthorne said: “Ambiguity is sacred.”

Friday, October 5, 2018

Book Bites: Kate Gehan, author of The Girl & The Fox Pirate

Today, I'm super-excited to bring you an interview with The Girl & The Fox Pirate author Kate Gehan. I mean, will you look at that cover! A dreamy, wonder-filled short story collection is exactly what we need right now....

"This is a charming, keen collection of creatures and treasures where even the darkness crackles and zaps with tiny electric lights." -Leesa Cross-Smith

If you weren’t writing, what would you be doing with all of your free time?

Piano and guitar lessons. Maybe song writing.

How do you handle writer’s block?

I do everything I can to get out of tired patterns. I explore new music, walk different streets, hit a new museum exhibit, and get out and people watch. Reading poetry aloud late at night and showering in the dark also rewires my brain.

Have you ever given up on a writing project?

A handful of years ago I started a novel about the opiate epidemic in Staten Island, where I grew up but left after my family moved away after I graduated from college. The story and characters grew out of a series of short stories, beginning with a couple who sells pot out of their ice cream truck. But then as I began to get serious about the project, the New Yorker published an exhaustive article about oxycodone busts on the island, and a few authors published books on the subject, along with Hurricane Sandy’s destruction. I didn’t move quickly enough and the market became saturated. Plus, I had qualms about writing about a place I’ve been away from for so long. My characters still feel real to me and I think about them often, but I’ve let go of their story.

What is the best piece of writing advice you’ve ever received?

It’s twofold: Just sit down and do it for 20 minutes, and everyone else faces the same blank page.

What single book has been the most influential to you as a writer?

I read Robert C. O’Brien’s children’s fantasy/sci-fi novel The Silver Crown as a child. The protagonist’s house burns down, she witnesses a murder, and escapes a kidnapping by sheer gumption and by use of a magical crown only she can control. Ellen uses the gifts she’s been given to survive a dangerous world—what a feminist heroine! I loved how O’Brien mixed realism with magical fantasy and I think I’ve been chasing that combination ever since in my own writing.

Monday, October 1, 2018

Tattoo Tuesday

Many thanks to Brian Lindenmuth for hosting me over at ToeSix Press for Tattoo Tuesday! (If you ever wanted to know more about my tattoos or tattoos in general, well, here you go...)

Friday, September 28, 2018

Book Bites: Willie Davis, author of Nightwolf

So, it's been a hell of a week, but here's a Book Bites interview to get you through... Today, I'm talking with Willie Davis, author of Nightwolf, released just this past July. Nightwolf is a rough-and-tumble, down-and-dirty exploration of the darker side of Lexington, Kentucky, as seen through the eyes of a seventeen year old, in over his head and caught between choices that are only hard and harder.
"Davis, a master of wit, one-liners and dead on observations, has done everything right. Nightwolf, often funny and always smart, is told through the eyes of Milo, a devastatingly funny and keen social critic. And through him, this story of Kentucky and youth and angst and self-discovery gleams." --Natashia Deón

Which character in the novel gave you the most trouble?

My main character, Milo Byers, took a long time to come to me because his nature is to joke about his circumstances rather than deal with them straight on. Still, I liked being in his presence, so I didn’t mind waiting until I figured out what he was going through. His best friend, Meander Casey, however, was a puzzle. On the one hand, he’s slight, and of all the casual pain dealt out by the plot, he’s the only one that really feels the bruises and welts. On the other hand, he invites pain and seems to enjoy it. I couldn’t tell if he was invincible or if he was a flower about to wilt. Eventually, I realized how he came by his pain. He could afford to be emotionally open because he knew that no one else there, not even his best friend, would really understand him. By the end, he’s the one that feels the most revealed to me, the one with the least to hide even though the book isn’t in his voice.

Were they any parts of your novel that were edited out, but which you miss terribly?

The original ending of the book was actually the first thing I wrote with these characters. It was a standalone story, but I wanted to hear more from them. I actually thought it was the opening to a book that was going to follow these characters as they adjust to the challenges that come in their thirties. But the part of the story that kept insisting on itself was when they were seventeen. I thought the second part of the book would take place with the characters in their early thirties. But then another part of the story felt far more vital. I pushed on, in part, because I knew the epilogue would be this standalone story, that showed these wild, long-suffering characters as adults, still bruised from the past, still misbehaving, but still standing, full of genuine love for one another. When it came time for the final cut, the editor said it was fun, but it didn’t add anything to the story. To me, it showed both where they came from and where they were going. But on a practical level, he was right. I spread some of the elements of the epilogue throughout the book, but I miss having them take a troubled curtain-call of sorts.

How do you handle writer’s block?

I once heard the advice that, if you have writers block, send someone with a gun into the room. It’ll clear up everyone’s motivations and give them something to do. Seems like good advice, but given how often I get blocked, my work would be nothing but people with guns barging into rooms. I have occasionally found this helpful: pick a book at random. Read ten pages, and tell yourself, “I’m going to steal something from this.” Sometimes it’s a detail, sometimes it’s a tone, sometimes it’s just a word, but giving yourself the obstacle that “something from this book is going to go into my story” can make for rewarding reading.

What was the best review you ever received? The worst?

I’ve been fortunate to write some articles for Salon. The first article I wrote for them came out of the blue because an editor (who was my Facebook friend) needed an article about college basketball within 24 hours, and knew I was a fan. I was powerful proud to have it published and happy with my piece. The first comment I read was “This has to be the stupidest piece of shit that’s ever been published on Salon.” I thought, “That will be the worst review I ever get.” Then the next comment was, “Sadly, this is not the stupidest piece of shit that’s ever been published on Salon.” So I really ran the gamut from negative to positive there.

Did the novel have any alternate titles?

The original title was Against A Thunderstorm, a phrase taken from a letter General Sherman wrote to the Mayor of Atlanta. The mayor wrote to General Sherman asking to spare the city from his “reign of terror.” Sherman responded that were these normal times, he would not only spare the city, but would use his forces to help restore Atlanta. Unfortunately, however, this is wartime, and war rules over all. “You might as well appeal against a thunderstorm as against these terrible hardships of war. War is cruelty, there is no use trying to reform it; the crueler it is, the sooner it will be over.” It’s a quote both empathetic and heartless, and it speaks to the futility of so many of our daily fights. In fact, the only thing that quote lacks is even a tangential connection with my book. That didn’t stop me, and I called it Against A Thunderstorm anyway.

When I was starting this book, I lived across the street from a family with two young kids. They were excited because they had just adopted two stray cats. I asked what their names were, and the youngest daughter said she named her cat “Bubbles.” Then ten minutes later, she told me she changed the name to “Flowers.” After another ten minutes, she told me it was “Keisha.” I asked her brother what his cat’s name was, and he said “Nightwolf.” That shocked me—it was such a badass name. Meanwhile, I had this character who goes by a superhero-pseudonym and stalks the night. As I was yet to christen him, I temporarily named him Nightwolf, and before I could stop him, he ran off with my novel. Years later, I got word that my publisher wanted the book, but he couldn’t figure out why it was called Against A Thunderstorm. He’d publish it if it was called Nightwolf. I knew immediately that it was the right title, but also that it would mean that my literary achievement would be named after my 8 year-old neighbor’s cat.

Thursday, September 20, 2018

Book Bites: Brian Tucker, author of Pokeweed

I'm always trying to spice it up with my Book Bites and today I'm bringing you not only a YA novella (though it's really for adults, too), but a YA illustrated novella. And let's just throw 'historical' in there as well, as Brian Tucker's recently released Pokeweed is set in Hazard, Kentucky, in 1888. Here, Tucker shares his thoughts on True Grit, establishing a fictional place over a span of works, and what you can learn just by heading to the library.

"Brian L. Tucker is writing about Eastern Kentucky in original and interesting ways, and Pokeweed is a perfect example of that. I'm excited about this newest book and eager for what Tucker does next. You should be, too." - Sheldon Lee Compton

What drew you to the genre you write in?

I wish I could stick to one genre! I’ve written in different mediums with each work I’ve released. My first work, Baptisms & Dogs, was a short story collection written in the fictional town of Seton, KY. I draw largely from my experiences of my hometown of Monticello. The collection was close to me, as it was constructed while working through my MFA program at the Bluegrass Writers Studio (2010-12). This work prompted me to think more about place and setting as a character. It led me to tackle my first novel, Wheelman, taking place in central Mexico (again drawing from a summer residency our MFA program took to San Miguel de Allende (2010)).

Following this, I tackled a second YA novel and went explicitly through a Christian publisher to house the action/adventure work, Swimming the Echo. Again, I based the story in Seton, KY and allowed personal stories from my childhood (growing up in cave country) to allow the reader to travel to Mammoth Cave and witness some of the behemoths situated below ground. Since this second novel, I felt challenged to try something new. After reading Robert Gipe’s illustrated novel, Trampoline, I thought “Hey, it’d be cool to try to illustrate a tale told east of Seton.” I thought long and hard about surrounding towns, and I let research become a part of what would eventually become my newest publication, Pokeweed. It’s an illustrated novella set in Hazard, KY, at a time just after the Civil War. In it, I utilize factual events of a not-so-famous feud known as The French-Eversole Feud to permeate the travails of a teen forced to reckon with the loss of his sister (gunned down by one of the feudists). Due to the shorter length, I sought out an illustrator, and the artist totally nailed the vision I had for eastern Kentucky at that time in American history. It is set for release September 20th, and I can’t wait to share it.

Who was your intended audience for the novella?

Anyone who’s ever picked up a copy of True Grit and thought, “This is fiction!” I wanted to cater to that crowd and tell a story in a new style. I couldn’t get the character, Mattie Ross, out of my head. Portis did such a fantastic job writing a character into existence, and I wanted to mimic that with illustrations and true accounts. While the main character, Z Snopes, is a teen in his own right, his story is one for everyone who’s trying to survive.

Was there something interesting you learned while researching the novella?

So many things happen when you check out a book from the library. For the sake of keeping this [interview] brief, I loved reading about the dwindling size of a town—post-Civil War. (Not for the hardships and pains Hazard, KY people underwent, but the raw realization that just two opposing clans wreaked so much havoc from their sins.) Much like the Hatfields & McCoys, this feud consisted of ever-present hatred. At one point, less than fifty people were stated as living in the city of Hazard. The fear of getting shot caused people to move elsewhere. I couldn’t imagine that type of thing happening, even with all of the recent shootings we’ve seen in the US.

What single book has been the most influential to you as a writer?

This is a tough one. Every book can lend itself to a future idea or project. Wendell Berry’s creation of Port William in all of his great books comes to mind. So does Harriette Arnow’s books, especially Hunter’s Horn and The Dollmaker. I also love anything Thomas Merton wrote.

How important is the setting in your most recent novella?

Setting has gained so much more heft to what I write. Seton, KY started as a word on the page, and it grew from there. I wouldn’t say it’s nearly as fleshed out as Berry’s Port William, but it’s become special to me with each new book. My first thought now is, “Should I bring it back home?” And I weigh the pros and cons of starting in Seton or somewhere else. It’s nice to have that spot in mind. I love my hometown, and I wouldn’t be who I am without the people God placed in that corner of the world [Monticello].

Wednesday, September 19, 2018

Walk in the Fire on the Coil

Many thanks to Al Kratz and Alternating Current's The Coil Magazine for this stellar review of Walk in the Fire!

"Steph Post is on a roll with 2018’s Walk in the Fire, a sequel to last year’s Lightwood, and her third novel so far. It’s no longer sufficient to suggest Post’s work is like gritty, noir, crime writers such as Daniel Woodrell. It’s time to say the work is classic Steph Post. The catalog stands tall now."

Saturday, September 15, 2018

Book Bites: Danny Gardner, author of A Negro and an Ofay

Today, author Danny Gardner stops by to chat about his debut novel, A Negro and an Ofay (recently nominated for a Shamus Award!), now available from Down & Out Books. Here's Gardner on genre, success and taking a pause instead of giving up. Happy Reading!

“Fans of Walter Mosley and George Pelecanos are going to devour Danny Gardner’s brilliant new book. A Negro and an Ofay breathes exciting new life into noir fiction.” —Jonathan Maberry
What drew you to the genre you write in?
It’s heyday is the 50s, a period I most identify, for many reasons.
 Are there any writers you’re jealous of?
Were they any parts of your novel that were edited out, but which you miss terribly?
No, fortunately. My debut set the standard for author control in my career, God help everyone else.
Have you ever given up on a writing project?
Never, although several are on pause until I’ve evolved into who I must be to continue them in truth.
In your eyes, what does it mean to be a “successful” writer?
To have saved someone’s life and world with my work.

Friday, August 31, 2018

Book Bites: Leah Umansky, author of The Barbarous Century

I'm always excited to showcase poets, and today you're in for a real treat. Leah Umansky, author of this year's standout The Barbarous Century is here to talk about breaking down barriers with poetry, how television can be inspiring and keeping the strange in writing. Enjoy!
"And in this book Umansky has made something wondrous indeed—something fierce, formally inventive, and unapologetic."
-Maggie Smith

What drew you to the genre you write in?

I’ve always loved poetry, but what draws me into poetry is the freedom. There are no rules. You can do what you want with poetry, unless you’re writing in form, but even when I write in form (which is rare) I always shake it up a bit and strange it out. The poems I love are the ones that make you feel, the ones that make you think about them, days, months later, and the ones that make you cry or laugh. What draws me into poetry is how tangible the emotions are on the page. I love that a poem can be about anything. I also love that a poem can be short or long. I also love that a poem written hundreds of years ago can still strike a chord today with readers. That’s something I really enjoy seeing, in my role as a teacher, too.

Are there any writers you’re jealous of?

Oh, there are so many writers I’m jealous of. I think it’s good to be jealous of other writers – to some degree that is – because it keeps you motivated, it keeps you engaged with your craft and of course it keeps you curious. I’m always jealous of writers that can recite their poems by heart at readings, or can recite other famous poems by memory. I’ll never be that person, though I wish I could be. I’ve only ever memorized a poem twice in my life and it was just torture. I’m also jealous of writers that write freehand. I have such a hard time with that. I need to type my poems, my fingers just type faster than my brain sometime.

Were they any parts of your collection that were edited out, but which you miss terribly?

I’m going to answer this question a bit differently. I wouldn’t say anything was edited out, but I will say that originally, the book was not in three titled sections with the middle section focusing on story and pop-culture. I think these sections shape the book nicely, and maybe that's why the book got rejected years before, because it needed that structure.
Also, there’s a long poem in the middle, “Holding,” which is a real emotional poem for me, and I almost cut that one out. It was a really hard decision. I’m glad I trusted my gut and kept it in. I’m glad I didn’t make those cuts.

In your eyes, what does it mean to be a “successful” writer?

I think what makes a writer “successful” is subjective. For some people it could be, publishing in a certain journal, or reading for a certain organization, or teaching at a certain college. For others, it could be being in a workshop, having a book or chapbook published, or knowing other writers. For me, being a “successful” writer is being proud of the writing I do and identifying as a writer. That took a long time for me. Sure, you can look at your achievements as milestones, but I don’t think that’s really very helpful or important. I think setting goals is important and I think being inspired is important. I feel the most successful when I am happy and inspired by an idea or concept. I feel the most successful when I meet people at readings and events who have enjoyed my work, or my reading, who are not a part of the literary community. That’s when I feel proud – when a poem reaches someone who didn’t think they would enjoy poetry – whether it’s someone at a reading or even a student in one of my 8th or 10th grade classes. When a kid enjoys a poem for the first time, it is really an amazing accomplishment. It’s like when a student realizes they LIKE Shakespeare! (He isn’t so bad, right? )
I guess the short answer here, is I think a poet is successful when we break the stigma we are always fighting against.

If you weren’t writing, what would you be doing with all of your free time?

As I said earlier, I’m a teacher, so I’m always grading or planning or trying to think of new ways to teach something. If I wasn’t writing, if I wasn’t teaching, or grading, I’d probably be checking out a lot more live music. I love concerts. I’d probably going to even more readings, watching more television, traveling more, and going to more museums because those are the things that inspire me. I try to carve out free time for myself to just enjoy all that the city has to offer but sometimes, I set too many goals for myself. Sometimes, I need to sit down and binge TV because inspiration strikes when you least expect it. I say this all the time, but it’s true: never did I ever think television would inspire me to write poetry and now, I just never know when something will get me to pause and take some notes.

To learn more about Leah Umansky, visit her website and be sure to check her out on Twitter: @lady_bronte

Sunday, August 26, 2018

Bouchercon 2018! See you there...

So, Bouchercon is only 2 WEEKS AWAY.....

Here's the scoop and where you can find me:

Bouchercon 2018
September 6-9th
St. Pete, Vinoy Renaissance

Noir at the Bar
8:30 pm
Vinoy Bar

Panel: The Life and Crime of Florida Man (and Woman
Vinoy, Royal 1AB

Panel: Blue Collar: Writing the Working Class
Vinoy, Avery Chancellor

Panel: Southern Crime
Vinoy, Avery Chancellor

Book Bites: Gabino Iglesias, author of Zero Saints

If you're active at all in the indie or crime lit communities then you'll probably recognize the name of Gabino Iglesias. Novelist, columnist, editor, prolific book reviewer and champion of other writers, Iglesias can be found everywhere from Shotgun Honey to The Rumpus to The New York Times. Today, he's stopped to talk about his novel, Zero Saints, his obsession with frozen corpses on Mt. Everest, and what it means to find success. Cheers and happy reading!

If you weren’t writing, what would you be doing with all of your free time?
Reading. All the time. Just reading.

In your eyes, what does it mean to be a “successful” writer?

I define success as being able to do what you love and find readers that enjoy and support your work. I also think contributing to any important discussion with your writing is crucial, and the more you can do that, the more successful you are. For a long time I thought that writers who find so many readers that writing becomes their full-time gig were as successful as you can be. Now I think other things matter more than money. I still want money for my work and I’m a huge advocate of authors getting paid, but finding your voice, sharing your passion with others, enjoying the friendships of writers you admire, and doing readings, to name a few things, also make me feel accomplished. 

Is there anything in the novel that you wish more readers noticed?

Yes! I tend to develop lingering obsessions with random things. For example, I’m obsessed with corpses left on Everest, strange things caught on trail cameras, and the psychological effects of solitary confinement. One of those things I obsessed about for a while is the Dyatlov Pass incident. In a nutshell, the incident happened in 1959 when the frozen bodies of a nine-member ski-hiking expedition that had gone missing weeks before in the northern Urals of the Soviet Union were found. Some of them were in their underwear and barefoot. A few of the bodies showed signs of traumatic pressure or crush injuries and one them had no tongue because it’d been ripped out. Oh, and the bodies showed small traces of radiation. Well, I took some of their names and included them in the novel. I’m still waiting for someone to point that out.

Did the novel have any alternate titles?

I worked on it and thought it’d be titled Santa Muerte. Then it struck me as too obvious and clichéd. Plus, it was in Spanish, and that could confuse folks even more. Then I thought Holy Death, but that’s… kinda weak and I’ve seen it before.

Are there any symbols running throughout your novel? Do readers recognize them?

There are many. I’m huge on syncretism. Many readers pick up on that. I’m really happy they do.

Friday, August 17, 2018

Book Bites: Frank Morelli, author of No Sad Songs

Punk rock and Alzheimer's aren't two things that usually go together. (Okay, actually, when you think about, they do sort of go together, and after reading the book, you'll see why even more so...) Yet, Frank Morelli, author of the coming-of-age YA novel No Sad Songs, deftly interweaves the two, as well as grief, alcoholism and, oh yeah, being a typical teenaged boy. Though No Sad Songs tackles some heavy issues, it's also hilarious and one of those rare books that truly captures the authenticity of a teen's outlooks and experiences, while still resonating with adults.
"This coming-of-age tale is a must for any YA collection." --School Library Journal (starred review)

Which character in the novel gave you the most trouble?

Strangely enough, the toughest character to write was my narrator, Gabe LoScuda. It’s weird because he’s the character most like me in the story, but I think that sometimes made me want to lean towards making him too likeable. That’s also kind of a weird statement to make, but the further I got into Gabe’s story the more I started to feel his struggle internally. I felt there was an authenticity problem to have Gabe carry all the weight of his grandfather’s illness and the loss of his parents without having a sizeable chip on his shoulder. I started to feel like I wanted him to be more real. Less of a superhero and more of a standard teenager who just happens to be performing heroic tasks. In subsequent drafts I went back and roughed him up a bit. Made him more abrasive in places and therefore more susceptible to experiencing growth and change. The challenge in that was going as close to the line as I could go without making Gabe lose all of his support with the reader.

Are there any writers you’re jealous of?

So many. At the top of the list is Stephen King. I grew up reading his books and then spending the better part of the weeks following sleeping with the light on. He’s amazing. He also happens to be living my life in an alternate reality. Imagine living in Maine. Waking up to writing everyday. Publishing new titles with roughly the same speed and efficiency as a Ford production line. It sounds like heaven to me. On a side note, I keep tweeting at Mr. King with promises of providing my skills as the ringer on his all-author softball team. Curiously, he has yet to respond. I think it might be a collective bargaining thing. He’ll come around.

What piece of your own writing are you most proud of? 

That’s easy. It’s an absolutely terrible piece of creative nonfiction (I had no idea of that at the time, btw) that I wrote at the beginning of ninth grade. I called it “Lost on the Slopes” because, get this, it chronicled the first time I went skiing and, you guessed it, got lost out there on the trails. I still have it sitting on my shelf next to all of my slightly more professional writing. Every time I read it, two things happen: 1) I cringe and begin to doubt every other word I’ve written since and 2) I smile, because this was the first piece of writing I ever had the courage to share with other people. “Lost on the Slopes” will never go down in the annals of literary history (and, no, I will not share it with you...ever!), but it was my gateway. It made me want to create again and again, and it gave me the confidence to begin completing the basic transaction of literature, which is to find a worthy consumer.

In your eyes, what does it mean to be a “successful” writer?

Serving as the ringer on Stephen King’s softball team would be a good start. No. To be totally honest, I measure writing success on a micro instead of a macro level. I don’t think it’s healthy to obsess over what your novel might become or to compare book rankings to find your worth. I feel successful when I create a sound plan for a day of writing and then execute it. If I do that enough times in a row, suddenly there’s a book. If I’m happy with what I’ve created at that point, then I’m a success. I don’t know, people might tell me that’s a super low bar to meet, but I don’t see it that way. If you’re invested in your writing and you believe in your story, the most difficult reader to satisfy will always be yourself.

What was the best review you ever received? The worst?

No Sad Songs has received many good review from some significant reviewers. I won’t sit here and tell you that receiving praise from the industry standards wasn’t both satisfying and relieving. It was. But my favorite review came on a classroom visit right here in Greensboro, just a stone’s skip from my front door. It was an oral review, and the young man who gave it is currently helping his single father care for his grandmother, who is suffering from Alzheimer’s. To hear his story and then listen to him make comparisons to the experiences of my main character told me I had truly created a work that was able to reach the right person at the right time in his life. To me, that’s why we write the books.

The worst review? Ouch. That came from a beta reader shortly after I’d written the first draft. She said something like, “Cute story, but it doesn’t have the depth to be a published novel.” At the time it felt like the literary reviewer’s equivalent of “Cool story, bruh.” But it was ultimately helpful and led me to expand on the personal essay device I wound up using throughout the story. You never know. Sometimes a bad review can be worth a thousand good ones.

Friday, August 10, 2018

Book Bites: Nick Kolakowski, author of Boise Longpig Hunting Club

This Friday is another 2-for-1 on the author interviews and, oddly, seems to be the day for wacky, off-kilter crime fiction. (Mercury is still in Retrograde, right?) Nick Kolakowski's new novel, Boise Longpig Hunting Club, hits shelves next Tuesday and he's stopped by to discuss Lolita, making grenades and writing the absurd. Oh, yes.... Cheers and happy reading!
"A bounty hunter, his underworld criminal sister, and a dead body stuffed in a gun safe. What could possibly go wrong? In Boise Longpig Hunting Club, Nick Kolakowski unleashes a sordid and delightfully twisted tale of double crosses, revenge, and good ol' redneck justice. Like the bastard child of Joe Lansdale and James Lee Burke, this one is well worth the sleepless night you'll spend captivated." --Joe Clifford
Were they any parts of your novel that were edited out, but which you miss terribly?

In the first draft, there was a lengthy flashback chapter that showed how the main character, Jake, became a bounty hunter. It featured a meth-crazed lunatic robbing a bar, then trying to make a getaway in a “cab of the future” driven by a complete eccentric, only to encounter Jake in the midst of an epic bender. It was madcap and funny and weird, but the tone completely didn’t jibe with the rest of the manuscript, so with great reluctance I cut it out.

With all of my books, I try to inject a bit of absurdist humor into the proceedings, in order to prevent the narrative from getting too heavy for its own good. But it also means that, during the editing process, I end up wrestling with myself over mood—too light? Too dark? Life is strange and hilarious, sometimes even at the worst moments, but in prose that dichotomy between funny and bleak can sometimes come off as jarring. 

What was something interesting you learned while researching that didn’t make it into the novel?

I generally like to have firsthand knowledge of whatever my characters do, whether firing a certain kind of pistol or cooking a particular meal. When I was researching this book, someone showed me how, in theory, you could craft a makeshift grenade out of ingredients you’d find around a farm. (Thankfully we didn’t actually try to make one, because given my chemistry skills, I probably would have blown off a hand or two.) I carried that explosive knowledge around like a gem for a couple of months, fully intending to use it as part of the big finale, but it never found its way into the book—mostly because the process of making one didn’t mesh well, pacing-wise. 

What is the best piece of writing advice you’ve ever received?

“Plow through the first draft as fast as possible. You can’t get hung up on perfection at an early stage, or you’ll simply grind to a halt.” Which is exactly what I needed, advice-wise; when I was younger, my impulse was to laboriously craft every single sentence. And that’s why I had such a hard time finishing longer pieces in my early twenties.

How important is the setting in your novel?

Setting is everything. Idaho is a fascinating state, facing a lot of issues right now. The book touches on a number of them—political extremism, the ‘Californication’ of parts of the Treasure Valley, and so on. The plot couldn’t exist without the location.

What single book has been the most influential to you as a writer?

Nabokov’s Lolita. I know that’s a bit of pretentious answer, but I read it when I was fourteen, and it awakened me to two things. First, the suppleness and capability of language, in the right hands. Second, that there were people out there so masterful at writing that I’d never in a million years approach their level. That mix of excitement and envy has fueled me ever since.

Book Bites: Earl Javorsky, Author of Down to No Good

Today's Book Bites interview is with Earl Javorsky, author of Down to No Good, the second novel in Javorsky's Charlie Miner P.I. series. (And Miner is back from the dead, just to give you an idea of the quirky ride you're in for!) Read on as Javorsky talks about "paranormal noir," not having a writing routine and what his idea of success is. Happy Reading!
"Earl Javorsky's Down to No Good is wildly original, wildly energetic,wildly funny--it's just straight up wild, and I mean that in the best possible way."
Lou Berney, Edgar Award-winning author of The Long and Faraway Gone

What drew you to the genre you write in?

My Charlie Miner books are a weird hybrid. Some would call them hardboiled/paranormal mashup, but I prefer to call them metaphysical noir. First of all, although I grew up on science fiction and read some horror—Stephen King, Peter Straub, etc.—in my teens, I’m more of a crime/mystery reader, so the sudden emergence of a paranormal noir narrative was a fluke of the moment. Or not. Perhaps it was inevitable.

I was sitting at my desk one day and wrote this sentence: They say once a junkie, always a junkie, but this is ridiculous. I haven’t been dead more than a few hours and I already need a fix. I contemplated that goofy line for a while and wrote the first ten pages, creating Charlie as a drug-addicted PI who now has to go solve his own murder. Down Solo borrows from Stephen King only to the extent that, generally, people don’t reanimate their bodies and continue daily life. Otherwise, the novel is more or less a straightforward (well, slightly convoluted) Chandleresque mystery.

By the way, my second novel, Trust Me, is a much more conventional thriller involving a sex predator in the Los Angeles recovery community. It’s based on a real character, although he never murdered anyone. I felt the story had to be told. I’d say it pretty much dictated the genre as it unfolded.

Who was your intended audience for the novel?

Well, this flows from the first question. Mystery/Hardboiled/Noir readers who can accommodate an element of the fantastical. I wrote in 1st-person present tense in order to create the immediacy of Charlie’s experience, which is as strange to him as it is to the reader. My hope is that this makes it easier to accept.

Also, I’d like to reach the recovery community with all my books, as altered consciousness and substance abuse—and the thoughts, feelings, and actions that flow from them—drive the characters in different ways than ordinary motivations.

Do you have a set routine as a writer?

I have no set routine. I come up with an idea and—each time—I create a Rubik’s cube of a structural puzzle that paralyses me. How am I going to get to where I think this is going? If I write this, then that can’t happen, and if I go down this path I’m committed to it and might wind up doing a lot of work I’ll then have to undo. With Down Solo, I wrote ten pages in the initial sitting and then had no idea what to do with it; two months later I had a vision of how it could unfold. Unfortunately, I completed the narrative arc at page 100 and had a novella. It took six months of inaction before it occurred to me that there were deeper levels I could plumb—that I had only set the stage for the real story. Then I worked in spurts for about a month and finally finished.

In your eyes, what does it mean to be a “successful” writer?

Well it’s certainly not about money or fame. If I could orchestrate reality (God knows I’ve tried), I would be self-sufficient as a writer with a loyal cult following. Short of that, I vacillate: On the one hand, I feel successful in having reached people with my fiction and having been validated by quite a few writers whom I respect; on the other, I have to admit to being disappointed in the distribution aspect, and frustrated with the whole self-marketing charade. But I have to walk that last bit back, because here I am, interacting with you and your readers, and, if anyone’s gotten this far, we’ve connected. And that has its own indefinable value.

Are there any writers you’re jealous of?

A few come to mind. James Lee Burke for his gorgeous prose and his insight into character. Iain Pears and Vikram Chandra for their ability to weave multiple threads into massive, intricate, and fascinating tapestries. And Michael Gruber for having written The Tropic of Night and dancing on the edge of reality.

Friday, August 3, 2018

Miraculum Cover Reveal!

It's here! And head on over to Entertainment Weekly for the exclusive reveal, including a write-up with interview from the fantastic Anthony Breznican and an excerpt from the first chapter. January's not that far away...

January, 2019
Polis Books

Book Bites: Sweta Srivastava Vikram, author of Louisiana Catch

Today, I'm excited to bring you an interview with Sweta Srivastava Vikram, author of Louisiana Catch. A thriller that steps beyond the mystery genre, Louisiana Catch tackles a host of timely issues including online relationships, violence against women and feminism on a global scale. (I'm also excited to be able to meet Vikram at the upcoming Louisiana Book Festival in November!)
"A moving, modern story about letting go of the past in order to find true empowerment. As a longtime advocate of women in need, Sweta Vikram doesn't shy away from difficult topics. Louisiana Catch deals with the complexities of love, loss, history and home."
--Georgia Clark

Which character in the novel gave you the most trouble?

So glad you asked this. Jay Dubois was annoyingly difficult to write. He is not the kind of person I would want to engage in my day-to-day life or allow in my personal space. It was creation from a place of unfamiliarity. Writing him while struggling to not get upset wasn’t always easy because he is truly that brilliant and psychopathic. Because Jay Dubois is the most complex and nuanced character in Louisiana Catch, I read books on psychology and interviewed psychotherapists.

Are there any writers you’re jealous of?

Not really. Jealousy stems from fear and the fear of missing out. I believe there is a big pie of publishing and there is enough for each of us to get a sliver. I am focused on my own path and realize there is no room for competition or jealousy as it is counter-productive. How do you measure your success against someone else’s? Where does jealousy end? At what point do you say start and stop? I am definitely inspired by other writers and there are a few I admire a lot. But am not jealous of because it seems pointless and endless. We are all here to go about our own journeys. I’d much rather conserve my energy for things that nourish me.

How do you handle writer’s block?

I am grateful that I write in different genres, so I can always switch back and forth between poetry, fiction, and nonfiction to handle writer’s block. I also meditate and teach yoga. That’s been greatly helpful in embracing the highs and lows of a creative life—you show up to your words with dedication, just like you would show up to the yoga mat, and your words might surprise you. But commitment is key. Once you put aside your ego and expectations (just because you want to write doesn’t mean there will be a shower of words in that very moment), everything gets easier. Practice. Practice. Practice.

Have you ever given up on a writing project?

I haven’t given up, but sometimes, the book has given up on me and refused to move, no matter how many times I try. But that is part of a writer’s life. So, you put in your 100% but remain detached to the outcome of your efforts. Nothing feels crushingly dramatic then.

What piece of your own writing are you most proud of?

My debut U.S. novel Louisiana Catch. I spent years researching, interviewing, teaching, and writing this book. Louisiana Catch changed me and my writing. People are able to relate with the characters and the story. The book has resonated with survivors. It’s spoken to men and women across different ethnicities. It's timely given the #MeToo movement and is already on U.K.'s The Asian Writer’s list of “Books to Read in 2018" and for two weeks in a row, on Amazon's #1 new release under women's divorce fiction. And, it’s for this book and my work, I won the Voices of the Year award, which is given to women whose voice and platform has been used to make the world a better and more equitable place. I am honored that Chelsea Clinton has been a recipient of this award in the past.

Book Bites: Rob Hart, author of Potter's Field

If you read crime fiction or mysteries (and haven't been living under a rock these past few years), then you know Rob Hart. With his break-out news about next summer's The Warehouse, his Anthony nominations, his workshops over at LitReactor, his forthcoming Food-Noir collection (stories of "culinary crime") or, you know, the five novels he's published in the past four years, Rob Hart has been more than a little busy. Potter's Field, the fifth and final installment in his Ash McKenna series that began back with Hart's debut New Yorked, hit shelves in July and is, of course, garnering a lot of buzz. Lucky for you, Rob Hart took a breather and stopped by to answer a few quick questions. Enjoy!
“Brings the series to a satisfying close...gripping action sequences...Hart has a fine command of wiseguy comments, a modern take on the noir crime idiom, and enough vulnerability in his protagonist to make the reader sorry to see the last of Ash.” ―Publishers Weekly
What drew you to the genre you write in?

I like crime fiction because you're generally dealing with people at their rock bottom, which is when you really get the measure of a person.

Have you ever given up on a writing project?

A few! The biggest was a novel called Not Yet Lost. It was a horror story with this weird meta-narrative and it might have been a bit too ambitious--I don't think I was ready to write it. I got up to 70k words and just sort of fizzed out, so I put it away. I may come back to it at some point, even to scrap it for parts.

What piece of your own writing are you most proud of?

I wrote a story called "Creampuff" that was in the Unloaded anthology, and will be in my collection food-noir, Take-Out, coming out in January. Out of all the stories I've written it's my favorite. Not even really sure why. Just do. But I'm also really excited for people to read The Warehouse. It's the closest I've gotten to the kind of writer I want to be.

What was the best review you ever received? The worst?

The best and worst were for my first novel, New Yorked. I was so afraid of what my mom would think, because here was this character roughly my age who was a heavy drinker and drug user and just an utter idiot, and after she read it she said, "I felt bad for him." And that just really cut to the heart of what I was trying to do. The worst was the person who bought the book and left a one-star review calling it "too New Yorkie."

What is the best piece of writing advice you’ve ever received?

From Amy Hempel, who is probably the best living short story writer: The biggest mistake young writers make is wanting to publish more than wanting to write well.

Friday, July 27, 2018

Book Bites: Angel Colon, author of Pull and Pray

Nobody does wild, crazy, fun, and yes, sometimes weird, noir like Angel Luis Colon. His latest offering to the crime fiction world is Pull & Pray, due out next Monday (7/30) from Down & Out Books. Read on as Colon shoots from the hip and tells it like it is.
“Tough, sly, and funny as hell; Fantine Park is a noir hero for a new century. With Pull & Pray, Angel Luis Colón continues to show why he’s one of the finest voices in crime fiction.” —Nick Kolakowski author of Slaughterhouse Blues

What drew you to the genre you write in?

I write crime and horror (mostly crime now) and I guess what drew me to both wasn't so much the actual darkness of the subject but the idea of investigating that darkness. Why would people hurt or exploit one another? I've always been interested in what drove folks when they were at their most desperate. Whether that's in regards to needing money or power or simply to survive. It's obviously pretty fertile ground to work on and I thoroughly enjoy that; especially if I can find some levity in there too.

Are there any writers you’re jealous of?

As a whole? Not really. I think it's perfectly normal to feel professional jealousy at successes and events, sure. We all want to be signed or win an award. When it comes to quality or style I don't think it makes sense. Every writer's different and while I know I'm not anywhere near a brilliant writer, I also really like my voice and my style. It took a long time to find that confidence and I'd never undercut it by being jealous of someone else's style. I'd rather admire the stories I know I won't write or can't write. Hell, Jordan Harper's She Rides Shotgun is incredible but I'm not jealous of the book or his ability - he put the work in and deserves the accolades.

I AM jealous that he gets to work on LA Confidential, though, but that's as a fan of the cast they've lined up and the material!

If you weren’t writing, what would you be doing with all of your free time?

I'd be running a hell of a lot more. I'd probably end up injuring myself again which only leads me back to writing. So ultimately, I'd end up in front of the keyboard again.

Were they any parts of your novel that were edited out, but which you miss terribly?

Pull & Pray (out July 30th from Down & Out Books) was a slow write but it's the first project I didn't leave anything out of. I actually found myself needing to dig in and add two more scenes to flesh out a few character decisions without things feeling to abrupt. My last novella, Blacky Jaguar Against the Cool Clux Cult, I actually threw out a completed MS twice with that one. Not a lot of fun but the finished product is something I was very proud of.

What is the best piece of writing advice you’ve ever received?


That's it. There's nothing to be happy about, to fret about, or to be heartbroken about if there's nothing on the goddamn page. So you write. You create and you do what you love without worrying about what comes next. Next doesn't matter.

Saturday, July 21, 2018

Juno-beans and Garden & Gun....

This past Tuesday I had the incredible experience of walking into my local Publix (the only grocery store around here, the only one I ever go to) and seeing the latest edition of Garden & Gun- containing my Good Dog piece on my dogs Vegas and Juno- right at the register. Sometimes things just work out, right? Garden & Gun is one of maybe two magazines I regularly read and to see Juno's story in its pages, available to the world... well, I'm not going to lie and say that it wasn't pretty much a dream come true. Anyone who knows me at all knows how much my dogs mean to me. Hell, every book I've ever written (and most likely ever will) is dedicated to one of them. If you open up Walk in the Fire, you'll see Vegas' name right there, with an allusion to the very same The Little Prince quote referenced in the magazine, which is also a line that I have tattooed on my arm. To say that "Finding Juno" wraps up quite a few important things in my life right now would be an understatement.

Cheers, and Happy Reading.....

Friday, July 20, 2018

Book Bites: Sarah Ward, author of Aesop Lake

Today I'm branching out again by bringing you an interview with YA author Sarah Ward. Aesop Lake hits shelves next Tuesday (July 24th) and tells the story of two teenagers living through and grappling with the aftermath of a heinous hate crime in rural Vermont. Read on as Ward discusses writing for teens, NANOWRIMO, and creating a book that both embraces and confronts a timely, and difficult, subject.
"Emphasizing that there’s no shame in recovering at your own pace but no refuge from responsibility either, three illustrated Aesop fables punctuate the well-paced novel." -Kirkus Reviews

What drew you to the genre you write in?

Ever since I was barely an adolescent myself I wanted to write for young adults. This age group is always relevant, carving new paths into the way our culture thinks and behaves, and yet there is something so familiar to their experience that we can relate to the pain, and the sweetness, of moving from childhood into adulthood. As a parent of two young adults, and a youth group leader at a Unitarian Universalist Fellowship, I have spent a lot of time talking with teens and early twenty-somethings. They are brimming with energy, passion and discovery. When I worked as a clinical social worker, my favorite clients were young adults, because they always came in with such bravado, but when treated with respect and kindness they opened up very quickly. I find that writing for them is just as satisfying. I believe that we shouldn’t “write down” to what we think is safe; we should challenge young adults with difficult topics and real-life situations. I also find that adults enjoy YA as much as the youth, as we have all been there, and can relate on so many levels.

Were there any parts of your novel that were edited out, but which you miss terribly?

Yes, in the first several drafts, Aesop Lake was told from three perspectives: Leda, Jonathan and Marcia. Marcia is Jonathan’s mother, and I felt strongly that her perspective on the hate crime was important, and that she could bring in the voice of the community. However, my editor felt that Marcia’s voice wasn’t necessary, and that it was a little odd to have an adult tell part of the story in a YA novel. So, I talked with my daughter, who was seventeen at the time, and she agreed with my editor. I had to cut ten chapters, shift the important pieces into Leda & Jonathan’s story, and then write four new chapters to make up for the gaps in the story line, all on a three-month timeline. Whew! Not only was it painful, it felt like a herculean task to take on over the holidays, but I did it!

Have you ever given up on a writing project?

Yes, my first attempt at a novel fell flat after fifty pages. I was listening to a web-cast that suggested outlining the novel to help you write it faster. But as soon as I completed the outline I was bored. I couldn’t keep the intensity going in my storyline, and the characters felt shallow, as if I were trying to make them do what I had written in the outline. I learned a valuable lesson from that experience, and never outlined again. This novel, Aesop Lake, was written during National Novel Writing Month 2015 (NANOWRIMO), where you spend the entire month of November trying to pump out 50,000 words of a novel. You can’t critique yourself, and you have no idea what is going to happen in the story. Every day you are just doing the best you can to get to a specific word count, and at the end of that magical month Aesop Lake had a first (horribly written) draft! And then the work began to shape and craft what became the final product.

Do you have a set routine as a writer?

No, I sometimes wish that I was one of those writers who could get up at O-dark-thirty, to write for an hour before the rest of the world stirred or stay up late every evening and pull prose from the dusty corners of my office, but I can’t. I like to sleep in to six-thirty and I don’t have an office in our small condo. I mostly write on the weekends, sometimes in the library, or at a coffee shop, or Panera, if it’s not too crowded. When my daughters were young I would squeeze in thirty minutes of writing while they were at a music lesson, or when I was waiting for their lacrosse practice to end. I called this “stealing time” and it worked really well. Now that they are older, and I don’t need to cart them around, I have to be more disciplined about finding time to write. I like to go away for a weekend retreat to a friend’s house, or a cabin in the woods and get as much done as possible. For over a decade I had a strong writing group that met once or twice a month, but we have drifted apart and their goals changed. Now I get together with my best writing buddy, Tammy, and we keep each other on track. Until I can give up the day job, I will just keep fitting it in and around the rest of my life, but it seems to be working.

What is the best piece of writing advice you’ve ever received?

This past spring, I was at the 2018 American Writers Programs (AWP) conference, and I sat in on several panels about writing for young adults about challenging subjects. My new novel, Aesop Lake, takes on a hate crime against a gay couple, and one of my main protagonists, Leda, who witnesses the crime, has to choose between doing the right thing, or protecting her boyfriend and family. I asked one of the panelists, Sarah Aronson, how does she cope with negative reactions to her topics, since I'm assured that some will judge my book as too violent, anti-Christian, etc (even though it is not), and Sarah's response was, "as soon as this book is released, start writing the next one. Don't get focused on any negative press, or the haters, because they don't really matter. What matters is getting back to work, telling the next story that is ready to be written, and putting your energy into the creative process." I can't wait to do just that, as I've been thinking about my next novel for six months. I'm ready to go.