Friday, December 30, 2016

How to be Cool: An Interview with Ben Tanzer

Ben Tanzer is a regular alumni of this blog, and I'm so excited to bring you another interview with the master storyteller, this time on the eve of the release of his new book, Be Cool, which happens to be my favorite of his. Read on as Tanzer and I discuss everything from dreams, to publishing, to, finally, how to be cool. Cheers!

Steph Post: Be Cool is the third book of yours I’ve read over the past two years and I believe the fourth book (fifth?) to be released in the past three. You’ve now officially become my most interviewed author! Before getting into Be Cool, I just have to ask how you’ve managed to get so many words out to the world in so short a time. Are you just naturally a fast writer with a lot to say or is this merely a product of publishing circumstance?

Ben Tanzer: I feel like I should begin with an apology. That is a lot of Tanzer book and interview. There must be a vaccine of some kind to prevent that, right? As to your actual question, I doubt there is a remotely humble way to respond, but it’s a both…and. Or, a both…and…and not exactly. I’m not an especially fast writer, but I write nearly every day, I rarely get stuck, and the words do pile-up. They are also intensely focused words in that I always know where they are going because in my head I’m always building towards something, whether that’s a potential novel or a collection. So on the one hand, there is that pile-up, but there were also the years where the words were piling-up, just not necessarily finding a home. Now sometimes they do. Even when they do though, some things come out when planned, like Lost in Space or The New York Stories, and some things get delayed for whatever reasons like Orphans or SEX AND DEATH. So, there is circumstance too. And yes, many words.

SP: When I read Sex and Death, I was sure that it would always be my favorite work of yours, but, to be honest, Be Cool has quite eclipsed that collection in my mind. Be Cool is classified as a “Memoir (sort of),” but I’m not sure what part of it doesn’t fit into the memoir category. Are there any parts of Be Cool that aren’t true? Or does this parenthetical addendum refer more to the structure of the book?

BT: You’re very kind Steph Post and this is a great question. I conceived Be Cool as an essay collection. I developed a list of ideas for essays I might write and wrote them one by one as the moment struck me that it was time to do so. I didn’t visualize the essays as connected per se, or as having an arc, just that somehow my tragic desire to be cool would inhabit the pages. But when I organized the essays and talked about them with my mother, they seemed to hang together by decade, and when I submitted the collection to the publisher, he said, it reads like a memoir, sort of, and I said if that helps with marketing, cool, and here we are. So, it is categorical. But it is also all lies, as well as damned lies, and obfuscations. Of course.

SP: As with all of your work, your specific and unique, and very personal, voice rings true in Be Cool. You directly engage with the reader, almost in a one-sided conversation. You always refer to “you,” who is, I take it, the reader. Do you have anyone specific in mind that fills the role of “reader” for you? Is this “you” directed at any one person or group of people?

BT: My father was a painter and he would always say that an artist has to understand their niche and direct their work towards that niche. He never really figured out his niche, however, and I have chosen to ignore this advice, in what I can only imagine qualifies as a wholly unwarranted repudiation of my father’s memory. Which is to say, that I never try to define, or even imagine, an audience. The “you” I write to is whoever you are that somehow found the book and by extension found me. Now, that may very well be why I don’t have more readers. Nor do I assume this is any way to be successful, and by that I mean actual sales, and some kind of notoriety among some set of the public and my fellow authors. None of which I’m opposed to, I should add. I just haven’t been quite able to figure it out and apparently have been unwilling to truly think about it.

SP: I’m actually quite fascinated with the memoir genre, though I have only written one, very short, memoir-ish piece which I don’t ever plan to publish. I noticed that you included dreams in Be Cool. Not to get too philosophical, but how much are dreams really part of our memories? How much do they contribute to our identity and how we want to present ourselves in the world?

BT: I am the product of both an artist and a psychotherapist, and as a result of the latter, I have had to talk about my dreams since I was a child. I believe that dreams play a significant role in both our attaining some level of understanding about our waking lives, as well as a potentially enhanced self-awareness about who we are and what makes us tick. All of which would seem to serve writers well as they plumb the various layers of story and character before them. How dreams truly contribute to memory or identity would make a good paper, but I think what’s important in the context of this discussion, is the idea that our dreams involve the threads and events in our lives that we struggle to make sense of during our waking lives, and may even actively seek to avoid, but still bubble-up from our unconscious and find room to roam and expand while we sleep. The challenge is to consciously ask ourselves what these dreams may mean, what they say about us and then decide what to do with the information. 

SP: As with your short stories, the themes and topics in Be Cool seem to range from one end of the universe to the other and have no boundaries. Is there anything that you consider to be too personal to write about? Is anything taboo for you?

BT: When it comes to myself, I don’t really consider anything too personal to write about or too taboo. Fiction is different in its way, because I wouldn’t want to offend anyone by tackling a storyline I can’t speak some kind of truth to. For example, child sexual abuse. I know the science from my working life and I have personal relationships with survivors, but outside of threads that tackle the theme in the ways it has impacted me, I would never attempt to go too in-depth on this topic. However, when the characters, and their characterizations, feel truthful to me, or authentic, I will write about them regardless of taboo. With nonfiction, I am endlessly embarrassed by things about myself that I would hate to discuss in person, but as a writer I feel a certain responsibility to the handful of readers I can claim as mine, to be as authentic as possible. Now that said, I will not write about anything my children consider to be their secrets, or that would especially upset my wife or mom. The former feels fairly black and white, and the latter generally does, but I will ask my wife or mom from time to time if they’re okay seeing something in print, and if they aren’t, I will set it aside. My desire for truth certainly doesn’t need to come at their expense.

SP: In writing about your high school years you say, “The real world- school, parents, the endless effort to be cool- may have constantly encroached on me everywhere else, but not on the track.” Obviously Be Cool deals with the idea of being “cool” and as both a high school teacher and a writer, this is something I encounter every day. Both teenagers and authors seem to be obsessed with being cool, but maybe the struggle applies to everyone. Do you have a personal idea about what it means to “be cool?”

BT: I’ve been thinking a lot about this since I finished the book, and my definition has certainly changed over time, but I really believe, for now anyway, that being cool is all about being your truest self, even when embarrassing, or at the risk of not fitting-in. Owning who you want to be, and living it, is when you are happiest and most productive, and people, some people, your people, respond to you, and what you are, and nothing is ultimately cooler than that. Know yourself, love yourself, be yourself. The people who can do that, are always the coolest, even when it takes some time for the universe to catch-up with them.

Be Cool will be released from Dock Street Press on February 1st. Be sure to Pre-Order it today! And many thanks, as always, to Ben Tanzer for stopping by. Happy Reading!

Friday, December 23, 2016

Steph's Spring 2017 Book Preview!

Get out your calendars and your To-Be-Read lists, folks. These are the books that need to be on your radar for the first half of 2017!

by Andrew Hilleman
by Nolan Knight

by Dave Housley

by Taylor Brown

by Berit Ellingsen

by Jeff Zentner

by David Joy

by Kristen Radtke
(Available for Pre-Order)

by Alex Segura
by Sarah Gerard
by Lisa Preston

by Kristi Belcamino
by Eric Beetner
by Leonard Chang

by Julia Fierro

SIRENS by Joshua Mohr (January)
BOOK OF MUTTER by Kate Zambreno (February)
CROSSED BONES by S.W. Lauden (March)
DREAMLIVES OF DEBRIS by Lance Olsen (April)
A NEGRO AND AN OFAY by Danny Gardner (May)
INVISIBLE DEAD by Sam Wiebe (May)
CAST THE FIRST STONE  by James W. Ziskin (June)
HE SAID/SHE SAID by Erin Kelly (June)
A CONSPIRACY OF RAVENS by Terrence McCauley (Forthcoming)

Monday, December 19, 2016

Do Some Damage- 2016 Book Wrap-Up

Many thanks to Eric Beetner and Holly West for discussing A Tree Born Crooked during their end of the year book discussion. "Southern noir done right." And Lightwood makes an appearance in their conversation as well.

If you're looking for crime novel recommendations, this is the list for you!

Saturday, December 10, 2016

Lightwood Drops in One Month!

Yes, you heard right. My second novel, Lightwood, will be hitting shelves exactly one month from now on January 10th, 2017.

So, here's a little bit of self-promotion for your Saturday morning enjoyment...

Pre-orders for Lightwood are up and running on Amazon! Now would be the perfect time to go and click. What else are you going to do with all of those stocking stuffer Amazon gift cards?

Lightwood is up on Goodreads! Another easy click on the "Want to Read" button. If you scored an advanced copy, now would be a great time to swing by Goodreads and leave a review as well.

Much, much gratitude in advance.... Books mean nothing without readers. And authors can go  nowhere without support. Everything is appreciated.

Monday, December 5, 2016

Steph's Spectacular 2016 End Of The Year Book List Extravaganza!

It's that time of year. You know, holidays, stress, excessive drinking, mental and emotional breakdowns and.... End of the Year Book Lists! So today I bring you:

Steph's Magnificent, Spectacular, Unparalleled List of the most Amazing and Astonishing Books of 2016.
(I really wanted to make my list stand out this year :)

But wait, there's more..... We have AWARDS! Hold on to your hats, folks- here we go....

Lily and the Octopus by Steven Rowley
Award: Most Heart
Superlative: Book Most Likely To Make You Ugly Cry

Fallen Land by Taylor Brown
Award: Best Language
Superlative: Book Most Likely To Make You Envious (if you are a writer)
Leadfoot by Eric Beetner
Award: Most Badass Character
Superlative: Book Most Likely To Get You Arrested
Marrow Island by Alexis M. Smith
Award: Best Ending
Superlative: Book Most Likely To Make You Never Do Mushrooms
You Will Know Me by Megan Abbott
Award: Best Tension
Superlative: Book Most Likely To Make You Feel Better About Chilling On The Couch Instead Of Hitting The Gym
No Man's Wild Laura by Beth Gilstrap
Award: Best Voice
Superlative: Book Most Likely To Make You Pour Yourself A Shot Of Whiskey
Maybe Mermaid and Robots are Lonely by Matthew Fogarty
Award: Best Flash Fiction
Superlative: Book Most Likely To Make You Smile
Red Right Hand by Chris Holm
Award: Best Thriller
Superlative: Book Most Likely To Make You Listen To Nick Cave On Repeat

Nothing Short of Dying by Erik Storey
Award: Best First Chapter
Superlative: Book Most Likely To Make You Want To Learn Wilderness Survival Skills
The Serpent King by Jeff Zetner
Award: Best YA Fiction
Superlative: Book Most Likely To Make You Thankful You're No Longer A Teenager

Honorable Mentions!
(Books I Haven't Read Yet, But Really Want To!)

Other Books!
(Books I Really Enjoyed This Year And You Should Definitely Check Out Pronto But I'm Running Out Of Steam Here....)
City of Rose AND South Village by Rob Hart (both are awesome)
The Universal Physics of Escape by Elizabeth Gonzalez
This is Not a Confession by David Olimpio
The Other One by Hasanthika Sirisena
Hoopty Time Machines by Christopher DeWan
Where We Go When All We Were Is Gone by Sequoia Nagamatsu
The Nix by Nathan Hill
Looking Ahead!
(Books Coming Out In Early 2017 To Keep On Your Radar)
River of Kings by Taylor Brown
Be Cool by Ben Tanzer
World, Chase Me Down by Andrew Hilleman
The Neon Lights are Veins by Nolan Knight
Whew! Congrats All Around. Happy Reading!!!

Friday, November 11, 2016

A Thriller in the Wild: Erik Storey's Nothing Short of Dying

Erik Storey's no-holds-barred thrill ride of a novel, Nothing Short of Dying, was November 2nd's Book of the Day and I'm so excited to now be able to bring you an interview with the author. Read on!

Steph Post: One of the first things I noticed when reading Nothing Short of Dying is its incredible pace. By the second page, literally, the plot has been kicked into motion when Clyde Barr receives a desperate phone call from his sister. This breakneck speed never lets up and while there are a few strategically placed moments for the reader to breathe, overall your novel is one high-octane ride. When writing, did this sort of speed come naturally or is this the result of a lot of revision and editing to craft such a pace?

Erik Storey: This is a definite result of rewriting and rewriting and rewriting. I think there were at least fifty different versions of the manuscript, if you count the small revisions and micro-edits. I like a fast pace in a book, but it’s almost impossible to do when I write the first draft. I’m usually feeling my way through, trying to nail down who the characters are and what they want. I’m telling myself the story, as they say. The second draft is where I add layers of detail, and work on the dialog. The rest of the drafts are for cutting and paring it down to make a smooth, fast, and hopefully effortless read.

SP: When you do have those more calm moments of exposition, you devote space in the novel to developing your settings, which, in a way, are such an extension of your characters. How essential was the backdrop of Colorado, particularly its wilderness, to the core of your story?

ES: I think that setting is just as important as any of the characters, and if done well, can become almost a character itself. The idea for the book actually started with the setting, when I was driving down a two-track in the middle of nowhere in Colorado, and I started wondering why we didn’t have more books written about the rugged area I was travelling through.

Wilderness is definitely core to the story, and to Clyde. It’s what makes him different from other main characters, both because he’s spent so much time out in the boonies, but also because he excels at it and has the skills to survive almost anywhere. His love of the outdoors comes directly from me. I grew up spending every summer either in the Flattops Wilderness or at my family’s ranch that my great-grandfather homesteaded. Neither of those spots had electricity nor running water, and that’s where I learned to ride a horse before I learned to ride a bike. Later I became a guide and took people on trips into the mountains that I loved and got to share that with people. Hopefully my descriptions in the book convey some of that love.

SP: Family, and threats to a character’s family, are often a jumping off point for thrillers, but I really felt the struggle and connection between Clyde and his sister, Jen. Perhaps this is because of the harrowing childhood they shared, and the way you depicted it, but it seemed that the family element in Nothing Short of Dying went beyond the cliché. Was the story of Clyde and Jen always at the heart of the novel? Or did it develop more to support the high-action of the plot?

ES: The family drama developed separately, and it was indeed to support the action. My editor and I knew that it needed to be there to make Clyde more of a human, and less of a brute, and to explain how and why he did the things he did. So I wrote all of the backstory separately, then put it in the book in small doses scattered through the book.

As a side note, it’s important to mention that all of the family violence and trouble came straight from the imagination. I had a wonderful childhood, so I had to research and be creative to come up with the hell that Clyde and his sister went through.

SP: Lee Child blurbed Nothing Short of Dying and many readers have made the comparison between Nothing Short of Dying and the Jack Reacher novels. Before you began your novel, were you a fan of the types of thrillers that you are now compared to?

ES: I am a huge fan, yes. I’ve read all of Lee Child’s books, for two reasons. One, because they are fun and fantastic reads. Two, because I wanted my characters to be different from his, so I read to make sure Clyde is not Jack Reacher. There are similarities, yes, but I think there are just as many differences.

I wasn’t always a fan of thrillers, however. When I was younger, I read mostly Westerns, Science Fiction, and Fantasy. It wasn’t until after college that I started reading authors like Child, and Crais, and C.J. Box.

SP: Finally, will we be seeing more of Clyde Barr?

ES: Yes we will. A Promise To Kill will be out sometime next year. In that book, we find Clyde wandering through a Native American reservation that has been taken over by outlaw bikers, and there is talk of terror activities in the area. Hopefully, if people like the books, I will be able to write more adventures for Clyde.

Thanks so much to Erik Storey for stopping by. Be sure to pick up your copy of Nothing Short of Dying today and add A Promise To Kill to your TBR list. Happy Reading!

Wednesday, November 2, 2016

Entering the Strange with Sequoia Nagamatsu (An Interview)

Today I bring you an interview with Sequoia Nagamatsu, author of the brilliantly weird and wildly wonderful collection Where We Go When All We Were Is Gone. Cheers!

Steph Post: So many of the stories featured in Where We Go When All We Were Is Gone feature monsters, ghosts and other mythical creatures. Where did your interest in the “otherworldly” come from?

Sequoia Nagamatsu: I’ve always been fascinated with mythology and folklore, probably starting early on with watching the 1963 Jason and the Argonauts on TNT and flipping through a used copy of Bulfinch’s Mythology that I bought at a garage sale. It was the prospect of explaining the world through the fantastic and strange that drew me. In a similar way, the comics I read as a kid helped me consider (even though I couldn’t articulate it at the time) how the unreal and otherworldly can be ways of illuminating aspects of identity and social issues. I identified with the misfits and the outcasts because I was one myself (bookish, goth for a time, generally pretty weird). Super heroes (and villains) and monsters and creatures of magic live on the periphery of society because of their extraordinary abilities. And it is because of this unique vantage point that they can dig into the architecture of society and the human condition. As a writer, I use magic and monsters to understand humanity, and I think the fantastic is needed more than ever as a lens to view a world that is increasingly complex and chaotic.

SP: As much as magic and other mythical and mystical elements are present in your collection, many of the stories also include references to science- particularly as concerns how you structured your stories. I’m thinking, for example, of the opening story, “The Return to Monsterland.” In your mind, how do science and magic go together and work together?

SN: I think magic and science are essentially the same thing, but just several steps of understanding removed from each other. With magic, there’s the belief and expectation that something fantastic will happen. It simply is because that is the way the world works. No questions. With science, we take that faith and put it under a microscope and try to unlock the secrets of wonder. We ask questions. Of course, life doesn’t like neat compartmentalizations, and I think a fully realized life embraces the mingling of all aspects of ourselves and worldviews. We can look at love as a chemical reaction, but we generally prefer to think of it in grander terms.

In "Return to Monsterland," our narrator is trying to understand how his wife lived and what she saw in Godzilla and the other Kaiju. At its heart, his quest is to find the connections between his field notes and scientific work and the realm of immeasurable beauty and awe.

SP: In, perhaps, sharp contrast to the scientific elements in your stories, there is also clearly a poetic voice bubbling beneath the surface. Are you a poet? Do you have a background in poetry?

SN: I wouldn’t describe myself as a poet at present, but I started my first forays into creative writing with poetry and definitely still appreciate and strive for writing that not only reads true to a character or situation, but sounds true to my ears.

SP: As I expressed in my review of Where We Go When All We Were Is Gone for Small PressBook Review, much of the delight in your collection comes from its weirdness. I mean, the Placenta Bloody Mary? The advice section for the dead? I’m wondering if you ever felt that you pushed the weirdness too far. Were you ever concerned that your readers wouldn’t “get” what was behind your stories?

SN: I don’t think that was ever really a concern that I had, but that might say more about me as a person and a writer than anything. Fundamentally, these stories are all about very recognizable experiences and emotions, so I felt that was more than enough of an anchor to provide a foothold for readers. The humanity and emotional resonance is there if you allow yourself to enter the strange.

SP: Finally, many of the stories in your collection, and the collection as a whole really, could be described as experimental. Both in content and in structure. Is there a place, or space, for experimental fiction or poetry in the mainstream literary arena?

SN: I don’t think the mainstream literary arena (if we’re thinking really traditionally here) really provides a lot space for innovative literature, but we’ve made some strides in recent years. For one thing, what the mainstream literary arena comprises is changing. Certain small presses are no longer all that small and major literary awards are tapping writers and publishers based in the Midwest and west coast. And a not insignificant number of writers who found their voice and niche online like Blake Butler and Amelia Gray could certainly be called experimental and have found a wider audience. So, I’m hopeful that challenging and innovative writing is finding more readers these days, but I’m not sure if the number of readers who truly appreciate the innovative has changed all that much. But one arena where we might close the gap as far as reaching other readers is in the world of games and VR. It is here where gamers are often engaging with experimental narratives without even realizing it.
Many thanks to Sequoia Nagamatsu. Be sure to pick up your copy of Where We Go When All We Were Is Gone from Black Lawrence Press. Happy Reading!

Friday, October 28, 2016

We're All Outlaws: An Interview with Rumrunner's Eric Beetner

Bouchercon 2016 in New Orleans was a blast and for so many reasons. One of the highlights of the event for me was participating in my very first Noir at the Bar, hosted by Eric Beetner. Rumrunners, Beetner's latest novel, had been on my radar for some time and so, of course, after meeting Beetner in person, I just had to snatch it up. And after reading this interview, I think you will too....

Steph Post: Let me just start out by saying that Rumrunners is a hell of a fun book. Crazy families, fast cars, a classic crime- it’s just an all-around good time. Do you think that Rumrunners exemplifies your “style” as a writer?

Eric Beetner: I do think it is indicative of what I do best, which is center a story on the “bad guys” and yet make you like them. I have no interest in writing about hero cops or the ultimate assassin or a government agent backed by the moral high ground. I like the little guys making their way in the world slightly to the left of the law. But I think to draw readers in, they can’t be all bad. We all have a little outlaw in us so I strive to bring that out in my characters and make them relatable even when they engage in actions the reader would (hopefully) never do.
I’ve gotten great feedback on the character of Lars from The Devil Doesn’t Want Me and the sequels to that, and he’s a professional killer. People love the guy, though, and that’s when I know I did my job right.
I’ve also been called a funny writer, though I rarely do it consciously. I like a light touch in the absurdity of situations rather than trying to write funny lines, which I am no good at. But I think a dose of humor now and then really helps with the pace of a book. A reader needs a little relief after the intensity of some of the violence.

SP: As an author who also writes about the weaving web of crime families, I obviously related to, and appreciated, the relationship between the McGraws and the Stanleys. Tucker McGraw is the one family member spanning both groups who has done his best to avoid the criminal lifestyle. Even if most of your readers haven’t grown up with a kingpin parent, do you think they can relate to Tucker’s plight throughout the novel?

EB: We all struggle to build our own identity, don’t we? Tucker is someone who has to rebel kind of in the opposite direction. His rebellion is to fly the straight and narrow. He doesn’t commit crimes and that makes him an outcast within his family. So in that sense I think he is relatable.
Whether it’s that day you move out of the house or the day you stand up to your parents and tell them you don’t want to go into the family business, being an adult is making that choice. I think many of us never quite recover from the consequences of that tipping point. It can effect the rest of your life if it alienates you from your family or if it is a decision you end up regretting.
Tucker’s slow awakening to who he is really meant to be is intended to be a happy story, even if he breaks bad in a way. He’s sort of going through a very late in life coming of age.

SP: Calvin McGraw, Tucker’s grandfather, is my favorite character in Rumrunners. He’s an eighty-year-old badass and the novel’s opening scene with Calvin versus a cocky hipster in a donut shop is one of my favorite first chapters. Was Calvin based on someone you know or met in real life?

EB: Calvin has definitely been the breakout character from Rumrunners, and I’m glad. I think older characters are underserved in stories. I wish I could say he was based on someone I know, but he isn’t really. I used elements of my grandfather in other novels of mine, specifically that he was a pro boxer in the 1930s and I wrote about a boxer living in that era for two novels. But Calvin is maybe a bit of fantasy on my part of what I hope I can be like at his age. Not the criminal stuff, but the attitude. The guy just doesn’t give a crap anymore. That’s admirable on the one hand and it also makes him a formidable foe on the other, even to people a quarter his age.
And his loyalty is unsurpassed. That gets back to being relatable. Calvin in an unrepentant outlaw. He’s lived his whole life on that side of the fence. But he’s fiercely loyal to his family, and that shows the stand up guy beneath the outlaw exterior. I think most people respect a trait like loyalty more than they do to strict lawfulness.

SP: Rumrunners takes place in Iowa and the Midwestern setting is referenced throughout the novel, especially as the Stanley family is one of territory. Yet I could have very easily see the Stanleys and McGraws in a showdown with the Cannons (characters from my novel Lightwood, set in north Florida). Is Rumrunners uniquely Midwestern?

EB: I also think the Midwest is an underserved locale for fiction. I’ve seen the book called Southern noir or country noir and I think people tend to picture more of a deep south when they hear about characters like this, but the Midwest can be just as backwoods, just as dangerous, just as redneck as the South. Some of the worst meth problems are in the Midwest. Hell, our worst heroin problems today are way up in New England, and that doesn’t fit what most people picture in their prep school/ivy league ideas of what New England can be like. So I think the more different areas of the country are represented with the truth of it, the better.
That said, I hope it’s not an unflattering portrait of Iowa. I was born there, but only lived there briefly. I still have family there and spent a lot of time there visiting while I grew up moving to different places on both coasts. Iowa has always had an outsized impression on me, mostly because I think the vast majority of Americans don't know what it’s really like. I know when I lived in Connecticut and wore my Iowa Hawkeyes hat around, the kids who’d never been out of Fairfield County thought I must have been born on a farm and slept with pigs in my bed. They were that clueless about Iowa beyond cornfields and barnyards. But I have a deep affection for Iowa. Some of my favorite memories are there. I’ve written about it a few times and although I always write about some crime taking place there, I think the setting itself comes off well.
But could the saga of Rumrunners have been set elsewhere? Sure. You have my permission to have the McGraws drive through the background in one of your Florida novels. They wouldn’t be entirely out of place, I don’t think.

SP: I had the privilege and pleasure of being part of your Noir at the Bar at Bouchercon this past September. How did you get started with this event?

EB: I knew of the events being held in St. Louis, unaware that it started in Philadelphia. The Philly events weren’t happening any more, but Jedidiah Ayres and Scott Phillips had a regular thing going in St. Louis that I’d heard great things about. When a place called the Mystery Bookstore closed down here in  Los Angeles, we lost the hub and central meeting place for crime writers in town. I wanted that back so I called up Jed and Scott to ask if I could do a Noir at the Bar in LA. I reached out to a few LA writers to see if there would be interest and everyone was very excited about it.
That was already 5 years ago and since Jed and Scott gave me their blessing, I think other writers in other cities saw it as a franchise opportunity so now there are regular events all across the country and even in the UK. Everyone does it independently, each event is a little different, but the core concept is the same and that’s to give writers a place to come and get in front of an audience, and a place for writers and readers to interact in the flesh. It’s been a real boon to the indie crime community, the younger writers especially. It’s a right of passage now to read at a Noir at the Bar. We’ve hosted national bestsellers and guests from other countries right on down to unpublished authors. We’ve seen several people do their first ever public reading at Noir at the Bar LA and several have gone on to now be published authors. It’s immensely gratifying and as much work as it is for no money and no gain, really, outside the satisfaction of doing it and the fun times at the event, I can’t see stopping any time soon.

SP: I’d ask you what’s coming up next for you, but I already know- Leadfoot, the prequel to Rumrunners. What prompted you to go back to 1971 and explore the roots of the McGraws?

EB: Well, as you said, Calvin was the star of the show once Rumrunners came out. I had a loose plan for a trilogy starting with the action right after Rumrunners, but the publisher suggested maybe a prequel and I thought it was a great idea. So I went back to when Calvin was in his prime and pushed him front and center. I also gave Webb, who vanishes right at the start of Rumrunners, his moment in the sun. So the story is about Calvin getting caught up in a big turf war between the Stanley family and rival gang from Nebraska, all while grooming Webb for the job and sending him out on his first assignment which does not go as planned.
Hopefully people find it as high octane and supercharged as the first book.

SP: And finally, to spread the love (and because you have killer taste), who are some authors you’d recommend to readers interested in the crime and thriller genres?

EB: Not to blow smoke but I’m so glad I got to read your books this year. A Tree Born Crooked was great and Lightwood just went in my bag for me to start at lunch tomorrow.
It’s actually been a great year for dark female writers, which I’ve had a hard time finding in the past. Neliza Drew, Marietta Miles, Sarah Chen. I love having more answers now for when people come asking for female crime writers who don’t do cozies.

Looking back over what I read this year some of my below-the-radar favorites have been Cold Quiet Country by Clayton Lindemuth (you would love it!) A Better Goodbye by John Schulian, All Involved by Ryan Gattis, Gunshine State by Andrew Nette, Revolver by Duane Swierczynski. I discovered Larry Watson this year and I loved Montana, 1948 and American Boy. I read a ton of vintage crime too and really dug deep into the work of Charles Williams and William P. McGivern, who everyone should seek out.
So now, including Rumrunners and Leadfoot, you have even more books to check out! So many thank to Eric Beetner for stopping by and be sure to pick up a copy of Rumrunners. Don't forget- Leadfoot hits the shelves on Nov. 1st and you'll want to throw that in your bag as well. Happy Reading!

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

The Accidental Novel: An Interview with Jesse Bradley, author of The Adventures of Jesus Christ, Boy Detective

Today I bring you an interview with Jesse Bradley, author of the recently released The Adventures of Jesus Christ, Boy Detective. Read on!

Steph Post: Your recently published novel The Adventures of Jesus Christ, Boy Detective is, to say the least, unique. The premise alone- Jesus Christ trapped in the body of Timmy, a twelve-year-old detective- tells readers that your book is going off into uncharted territory. How strange do you personally believe your novel to be?

Jesse Bradley: I would say no weirder than any other boy detective novel where said boy detective has to solve grizzly, soul boggling murders.

SP: In many ways, your novel reads like a serial story collection. Do you have a background in short stories?

JB: It’s funny, I focused on poetry from about 1996-2010. I wrote a smattering of fiction here and there in during that period, but I wrote mostly poetry, especially when I was competing in poetry slams. While I was doing interviews for PANK, I stumbled onto flash fiction and started writing that along with poetry. I discovered that a lot of the narrative elements in poems written for slam transfer well for writing flash fiction. In 2011, I was challenged by HOUSEFIRE to write a 10,000 word novella in six weeks and I used my experience in writing flash fiction to write Bodies Made of Smoke. It was a tough challenge but damn, it was fun. When I stumbled onto the idea of writing these Jesus Christ, Boy Detective stories, I used the events of Bodies Made of Smoke as a major plot point in The Hand of Fate section of JCBD. I started with writing a novel but then when it became intimidating or I got bored, I wrote self-contained JCBD mysteries. Originally, the book was going to only contain the mysteries until Mark Givens at Pelekinesis wanted me to add some background to them. I mentioned I had a long novella/short novel that provides a ton of background (The Hand of Fate). Once I showed it to him, we added it. The stories have been published elsewhere as well as only the first chapter of The Hand of Fate. Everything came together through the editing process. I tell people that I accidently wrote a novel, which I feel like is the case.

SP: You’ve been published by quite a few independent presses and have published chapbooks for other authors as well through There Will Be Words. How important are the indie presses in today’s publishing climate?

JB: Indie presses take chances on work that the major labels won’t. It’s how I discovered writers like Sean H. Doyle, Scott McClanahan, Roxane Gay, John Jodzio, xTx, and Jane Liddle, just to name a few. There’s far more daring, challenging work in indie lit that I wish the major labels would indulge in.

SP: In addition to writing, you run the previously mentioned There Will Be Words group in Orlando, Florida. Can you tell me more about the group and how you got started with it?

JB: I ran a poetry slam in Orlando from 2001-2011. Around late 2010, I was burnt out on poetry slams. I was writing shorter poems that were getting published in literary journals. I got divorced. I wanted a fresh start. I went to my first AWP conference in 2011 and met a ton of writers that I interviewed for PANK. While I was there, I went to my first Literary Death Match and some amazing off-site readings. On my way back to Orlando, I told a friend I was travelling with that I wanted to start a prose reading series in Orlando. There was this amazing space in Orlando at the time called Urban Rethink, which used to be a bookstore called Urban Think. Burrow Press put out its first anthology and I met the publishers (Ryan Rivas and Jana Waring) at the release party. I pitched the idea of doing a reading series at Urban Rethink called There Will Be Words, where chapbooks would be sold with the readers work in it and they were down. The final slam was in April 2011 and There Will Be Words began in May 2011. I’ve been running it now for almost six years and it has been a consistently rewarding experience. Our literary scene has grown exponentially and I’m so proud to be part of that growth.

SP: And finally, what’s next? What can readers expect from you on the horizon?

JB: My Yelp review prose poem collection, Pick How You Will Revise a Memory, comes out later this year through Robocup Press.

Many thanks to Jesse Bradley for stopping be. Be sure to check out The Adventures of Jesus Christ, Boy Detective and, as always, keep reading, keep reviewing and support the authors you love!

Monday, October 10, 2016

Of Angels and Devils: An Interview with Chris Holm, author of Red Right Hand

One of the books I've been talking up a storm about over the past month, in case you hadn't noticed, is Chris Holm's recently released novel Red Right Hand. A classic thriller, Red Right Hand brings together the FBI, a secret Council with a terrorist plot, and a hit man anti-hero with both a mission and a vendetta. It's a wild ride and one which I truly enjoyed. I'm excited and honored, therefore, to bring you an interview with Chris Holm. Read on!

Steph Post: I was initially drawn to your book by its striking cover and its title, which I hoped was a reference to Nick Cave’s song “Red Right Hand.” I was, of course, thrilled to see that you included an excerpt from the song in the epigraph for the novel. Did Cave’s song, or its imagery or themes, in any way influence or guide you as you began to write Red Right Hand?

Chris Holm: Very much so. In The Killing Kind, I introduced the Council, which is essentially a criminal UN comprising representatives from every major organized crime outfit in the country, and the Council’s right-hand man. In Red Right Hand, that man—whose name is Sal Lombino (the birth name of the late, great Ed McBain)—and his machinations on the Council’s behalf take center stage. I envisioned him as a chaos agent, an emissary of evil, the prime mover of a vast criminal conspiracy. Or, as Cave puts it:
You’re one microscopic cog
In his catastrophic plan
Designed and directed by
His red right hand

The phrase “red right hand” didn’t originate with Cave, though. He borrowed it from Milton, who was a huge influence on my Collector series. While Cave’s “Red Right Hand” has a sinister cast, Milton used the term to refer to the wrath of God:
What if the breath that kindl’d those grim fires
Awak’d should blow them into sevenfold rage
And plunge us in the flames? or from above
Should intermitted vengeance arm again
His red right hand to plague us?

The interplay between the two quotes became the central tension of the book. If Lombino was the Devil’s Red Right Hand, what did that make my series character, Michael Hendricks—a reluctant avenging angel?

SP: I was about halfway through Red Right Hand when I realized that The Killing Kind, for which you just recently won the Anthony Award, preceded this work. Red Right Hand is the second installment in a trilogy series, but I found that it worked very well as a stand-alone novel. Would you recommend that readers begin with The Killing Kind to really understand the story and the character of Michael Hendricks?

CH: I’m glad it worked well as a standalone, because I tried hard to ensure that it would. That said, there’s no question Red Right Hand spoils a thing or two from The Killing Kind, so it’s probably best to start at the beginning.
It’s funny; a number of reviews have mentioned I’m writing a trilogy, but I’ve always intended the Hendricks books to be an open-ended series. Could be all this trilogy talk stems from the fact that my last series was a trilogy—but between you, me, and the internet, I thought that one was open-ended too, until my old publisher told me they weren’t interested in publishing another one.

SP: Michael Hendricks, the main character of Red Right Hand, is clearly an anti-hero. He’s essentially a hit man who goes after hit men, and while he is certainly not evil, he’s not exactly walking around with a heart of gold either. Yet it is this dark edge that makes him so attractive to readers. Why do you think readers like an anti-hero? And are there even such things as “real” heroes?

CH: I believe that there are truly evil people in the world, and truly good, but the majority of us exist in the vast gray middle in between. It seems to me that part of the appeal of anti-heroes is that they allow us to safely explore our own dark impulses. Anti-heroes are a dare. A gut-check. A what-if.
I also think their unpredictability makes them interesting. Heroes, by definition, always act heroically—and you can count on mustache-twirling villains to be villainous. Anti-heroes, on the other hand, are harder to pin down. We read (or watch) to find out what they’ll do next.

SP: One of Red Right Hand’s many strengths is its fast, uncompromising pace. From a craft perspective, how did you maintain the intensity and pace without sacrificing any of the story?

CH: Honestly? Copious editing. My first drafts are pretty bloated and uneven. I usually go through six or seven drafts before a book is done. Red Right Hand only took three, but damn if they weren’t brutal. Every scene streamlined. Every character deepened. Every action beat punched up. I kinda see it like those digital FX reels you see online. The first draft is the wireframe version. Every subsequent draft adds texture and context. Hopefully, by the time it hits the screen, it doesn’t look half-baked anymore.

SP: As I previously mentioned, Red Right Hand follows The Killing Kind. Did you write The Killing Kind knowing that the story would eventually become a series? And once you realized that you would be carrying Michael Hendricks’ story for the breadth of more than one novel, did you outline the series ahead of time?

CH: Is it weird to call your shot? Yeah, I always intended The Killing Kind to be the first in a series. That said, I’m incapable of outlining. I’ve got a rough idea of a few big beats in my head, but that’s about it. When it comes to finding out what happens next, I’m six months ahead of my readers at most.

SP: And just to spread the love, as I always like to do, who would you say is currently writing at the top of the crime-fiction genre? Who or what novels would you recommend for fans of your work who are hungry for more?

CH: Lou Berney’s TheLong and Faraway Gone is as beautiful a crime novel as you’ll ever read. Megan Abbott’s You Will Know Me continues her already impressive literary hot streak. Stuart Neville’s Those We Left Behind was absolutely devastating, so I can’t wait to dig into his new one. Ditto Michael Koryta’s Last Words. And I’m in the middle of a gritty, lyrical Florida crime novel by Steph Post called Lightwood that’ll be out early next year.
Okay, I'm not going to pretend that didn't make me smile... But back to Chris Holm. Be sure to check out both Red Right Hand and The Killing Kind, as well as Holm's Collector series (which have amazing covers, by the way) And always, read, review and repeat. Cheers!