Monday, December 5, 2011

Creative Spirit by Scott Nicholson now an e-book (revised edition of The Manor)

Creative Spirit is Scott Nicholson’s revised edition of the 2004 U.S. paperback The Manor. Scott is the Kindle-bestselling author of 12 novels, including The Red Church, Disintegration, Liquid Fear, and Speed Dating with the Dead. Connect with Scott on Facebook, Goodreads, LibraryThing, Twitter — or via his blog, website, or Amazon page.

Creative Spirit: A paranormal thriller by Scott Nicholson

After parapsychologist Anna Galloway is diagnosed with terminal cancer, she has a recurring dream in which she sees her own ghost at Korban Manor. She’s compelled to visit the historic estate to face her destiny and the fate of her soul.

Sculptor Mason Jackson has come to the manor to make a final, all-or-nothing attempt at success before giving up his dreams. When he becomes obsessed with carving Ephram Korban's form out of wood, he is swept into a destructive frenzy that even Anna can’t pull him from.

The manor itself has secrets, with fires that blaze constantly in the hearths, portraits of Korban in every room, and deceptive mirrors on the walls. With an October blue moon looming, both the living and the dead learn the true power of their dreams.

"Scott Nicholson explores the dark legends of the southern end of the Appalachian mountain chain, a nightmare country that ends in Stephen King's yard."-- Sharyn McCrumb, author of The Ballad novels

View or sample Creative Spirit at Amazon US, Amazon UK, Kobo, Smashwords, Barnes and Noble, or Goodreads. Look for Liquid Fear and Chronic Fear from Amazon’s Thomas & Mercer imprint.

Re-Kindling Interest: The Big Blow by Joe R. Lansdale (historical novella)

This is one of a series of reviews focusing on out-of-print works that have become available again via a variety of e-book formats.

I've long been a fan of author Joe R. Lansdale's work, and I'll be the first to shout his talents from the rooftops. But even I was impressed when I read The Big Blow when it came around in rotation on the Free Stories section of the his website.

This novella just may be a perfect story. Set during the Galveston hurricane of 1900, it offers action, sex, violence, cleansing, redemption, and a small dose of history, peopled with typically Lansdalean characters.

Centering around a boxing match between John McBride and "Lil" Arthur Johnson (later to be called Jack), it's a real action piece, flying past like a roundhouse punch. The characters and setting feel impressively realistic, and the plot is entirely believable.

Having enjoyed it so much the first time, I read The Big Blow again with relish when it was released in the author's collection Mad Dog Summer and Other Stories. It was even better the second time around, and I'm excited to see it available once again as a reasonably priced download. I'm not much for re-reading, but The Big Blow is one that I look forward to revisiting repeatedly.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Fear Me by Tim Curran (horror novella)

Danny Palmquist is the new fish at Shaddock Valley maximum security prison. He tells his cellmate, Romero, that he's innocent, that Danny's brother committed the murder Danny was convicted of, and that if anyone bothers Danny while he's in stir, his brother will take care of it.

Romero is incredulous at first. But soon, Danny is targeted, and then the attackers die gruesomely, at night, after lockdown. And it can't be Danny because Romero, sleeping on the bottom bunk, knows Danny never left their cell.

But something else did. Something that frightens Romero like nothing ever has before. So much that he couldn't even bear to look at it.

Fear Me is the first Tim Curran book I've read after last year's The Corpse King, and I really must not leave such a gap in the future. Curran really has the chops.

He manages to seamlessly combine a darkly realistic prison setting with Lovecraftian horror, people it with believable and interesting characters, and tell it in short chapters with speedy prose. Even when I knew what was happening, Curran's skill at suspense made sure I wanted to know what would happen next. Fear Me pulled me along with its narrative force and left me satisfied but wanting to read more of this amazing author's work.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Return to Perdition by Max Allan Collins and Terry Beatty (graphic novel, Road to Perdition sequel)

With Return to Perdition, author Max Allan Collins and artist Terry Beatty conclude the saga begun by Collins and Richard Piers Rayner with Road to Perdition. It not only brings the story back to the graphic novel (sequels Road to Purgatory and Road to Paradise were prose-only novels) but also reunites Collins with Beatty in their first comic collaboration in 15 years. (Though Beatty did the cover to the Ms. Tree novel Deadly Beloved and illustrated the Jack and Maggie Starr novels, including Strip for Murder.)

While previous Perdition graphic-novel "sequels" (collected in Road to Perdition 2: On the Road) essentially expanded on the original storyline involving Michael O'Sullivan and his son, Return to Perdition picks up where Road to Paradise left off, including the illustration of a climactic scene from that book. (If you feel a little lost by not having read those books, do so; they're some of Collins's best and most personal work.)

Return to Perdition follows Michael Satariano, Jr. — spoken of but, if memory serves, never "seen" in Road to Paradise — as he is rescued from a POW camp in Laos and recruited by the Justice Department as an assassin targeted on organized crime. He trains at the FBI academy at Quantico but even more rigorously than the special agents, with a fringe benefit of his assignment being his chance to avenge his family's murder.

It's great to see Collins and Beatty together again in this form. Their classic Ms. Tree comic is terrific and influential, and their skills at their respective arts have only deepened over time. Return to Perdition is a fantastic way to end a series that I've been reading and rereading for years.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Top MFA Programs for Genre Writers (from guest blogger Emily Matthews)

Today I have the pleasure of welcoming writer Emily Matthews to the pages of Somebody Dies. An MFA applicant herself, she has offered to share some of her knowledge with other genre-fiction writers.

For all the arguments for and against obtaining a Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing, one of the greatest concerns among authors is choosing the right program. This concern goes beyond simply choosing between a program that is geared toward fiction or poetry.

In the past, creative writers who wanted to explore the depths of certain genres such as mystery and thriller novels had every right to be skeptical about the value of MFA programs. There was a prevalent notion that MFA fiction programs shunned genre writing in favor of highbrow literary drama and writing for the performing arts. What’s a genre fiction writer to do when you’re searching for a master's degree program to practice your craft? Don’t give up hope.

While it’s true that masters of literature such as Kazuo Ishiguro and Ian McEwan, as well as acclaimed screenwriters such as Darren Starr and David Benioff, graduated from MFA programs, authors of thrillers and mysteries can definitely find a program geared towards their chosen genre. Authors of mysteries and thrillers who are looking to create suspense will find that there is an MFA program waiting for them.

The MFA program at the University of Southern Maine has an option for popular fiction writing. The school not only welcomes burgeoning writers of mystery and thriller novels, it actually encourages them to market their work.

Science fiction and techno-thriller authors are gladly accepted at the University of Kansas and its esteemed James Gunn Center for the Study of Science Fiction. Genre fiction is actually a graduate course for writers attending the North Carolina State University MFA program.

Taking a critical look at the professors teaching at specific MFA schools can shed light on their inclination towards genre writers. At Florida International University, Les Standiford has been at the helm of the creative writing program for decades. He is well known for his crime and suspense novels based in Miami, and he even gave Raymond Carver his first writing gig. Adam Baron, who teaches at the prestigious Kingston University London, is a thriller and crime writer whose work has been serialized for BBC Radio.

Writers of mystery and thriller novels do not have to jump from one workshop to sharpen their skills and become masters of their craft. In terms of cultural standing, the MFA programs above recognize that mysteries and thrillers have an important place in the world's literature. Entering the right MFA program is a great opportunity for authors to become the next Michael Crichton or John Grisham.

Emily Matthews is currently applying to master's degree programs across the U.S., and loves to read about new research into health care, gender issues, and literature. She lives and writes in Seattle, Washington.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Ten Great Western Novels (top 10 best of list)

My friend and co-editor of Living After Midnight: Hard and Heavy Stories, David T. Wilbanks, asked for recommendations of some good Western novels. Here's the list I gave him. They're in no particular order (except the order in which I thought of them).

I was rather pleased with what I came up with, so I thought I'd share it here. There will surely be contention with some of my choices, but I greatly enjoyed them all, and I think they display the genre's breadth of possibilities.

Another fantastic book, which takes place in the West in the early 1900s (and thus isn't a traditional "Western"), is The Big Rock Candy Mountain by Wallace Stegner.

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Crime Fiction and Literary Merit: the Debate (from guest blogger Anthony Garcia)

Does crime fiction have literary merit? The debate over the place of crime fiction has raged for as long as the existence of crime fiction coincided with attempts to define literature or create a literary canon. The debate has recently grown in intensity, with graduate programs in literature often discouraging students to study the genre. Crime fiction is often the center of controversy, with avid readers defending its literary merit. The fact is that this debate speaks more to the prejudices of those criticizing it than to any merits in the fiction itself.

As a genre, crime fiction encompasses a huge number of subgenres. The noir crime stories of Raymond Chandler are examples of crime fiction, as are the murder mysteries of Agatha Christie and the social commentary one can find in John Grisham’s works. In fact, the first question one has to ask is what precisely is “crime fiction”? Crime fiction can in fact cover many story styles from traditional detective fiction to police-centered and character-driven stories.

These subgenres thus make it difficult to pigeonhole crime fiction into any easy form — unlike the Western genre, for example, crime fiction cannot be restricted to a given time or place. Hard-boiled private eyes and grim noir storylines occupy the same “space” as lighthearted legal romps. Thus, trying to apply any single definition to crime fiction is an exercise in futility. This can sometimes lead people to assume that the genre as a whole has little literary merit.

It is also important for this debate to understand what the term “literary merit” means.

Literary merit includes:
  • A work that is enduring rather than ephemeral. Many best sellers are forgotten a week after their first run — works with literary merit continue to be remembered long after they have been published.
  • The literary classic has important commentary about, or illumination of the era it is set in. Stories with literary merit are not simply imaginary stories, but works of art that can be examined on a number of levels. For example, Little Women is a classic for the way it uses that family to tell us about the world they lived in.
  • Literary classics are also written to the highest standards, involving fully realized characters and story-lines. Of course this can be very much a matter of personal choice, which demonstrates one of the problems of trying to define what has enough literary merit to become an enduring classic.
By those standards, the answer is yes, crime fiction can have literary merit. Crime fiction can be both about crime and society. The noir genre of crime fiction was not just about crime, but the cynicism and hypocrisy of society and how it often influenced the less wealthy.

Many crime fiction pieces are not simply stories about crime, but ask questions about race, class, corruption, and honesty in political and legal systems. Crime fiction has the ability to cast a critical light on our modern society.

In addition, the impact of crime fiction can be enduring. The influence of the noir, police thriller, and legal drama subgenres on public attitudes and views is easily equal to any other genre. Crime fiction set in the 1960s continues to be cited in examples of ethnic and racial attitudes from a time of often-violent flux, while modern crime fiction makes enduring statements about the place of greed in our society.

The debate about crime fiction may continue, but that should not decrease the literary merit given fiction of any genre that has the power to impact society. It may be that crime fiction's focus on the seedier side of our culture makes some reluctant to give it the recognition which it deserves, but it still deserves to be discussed and noticed. After all, any view of our society would be sadly incomplete without looking at the parts we are less than proud of, but crime fiction is nonetheless part of our shared heritage, and provides a wide selection of works with undeniable literary merit.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Re-Kindling Interest: True Detective, True Crime, and The Million-Dollar Wound by Max Allan Collins (Nathan Heller series of historical private eye novels)

This is one of a series of reviews focusing on out-of-print novels that have become available again via a variety of e-book formats.

Though they've been out of print for most of the last decade, I was happy to learn that Amazon's new mystery imprint, Thomas & Mercer (named for the cross streets where the offices are located) would be reprinting all of author Max Allan Collins's Nathan Heller novels. Now they're available in trade paperback and e-book formats.

Recently, the first book in the series, the Shamus Award–winning True Detective, was promotionally priced at $0.99 and shot to #1 on the Kindle charts. As of this writing, it's still at the reasonable $1.99: an easy impulse buy.

True Detective is a stunning mix of fact and fiction. The setting is 1930s Chicago, and Collins paints the city of that time with a bold brush. Nathan Heller is a city cop who gets roped into a messy situation by his fellow officers. When he ends up killing a man with the same gun Heller's father used to commit suicide, Nathan's own, that's the last straw that leads to Heller's quitting the force, despite the efforts of the higher-ups to get him to reconsider.

But working as the president of your own detective agency (called "A-1" so it will appear first in the telephone directory) is by no means boring — not when your best friend is Eliot Ness and you have connections to Frank Nitti, Al Capone, mayor Anton Cermak, Walter Winchell, George Raft, and a young future actor who goes by the name "Dutch" Reagan. (Gangster John Looney, whom Collins would feature in Road to Perdition fifteen years later, even shows up.)

Collins took five years to research the place and time, and this, combined with his immense storytelling skill, make True Detective an immersive experience. The World's Fair comes alive in his hands, as do the characters, who have never seemed so real (even in The Untouchables) as when they are dealing with the fictional Nathan Heller.

The Nate Heller series continues with True Crime, also the second book in the "Frank Nitti Trilogy." Taking place just months after the events in its predecessor, True Crime centers around the famous killing of gangster John Dillinger in front of Chicago's Biograph Theater. (Manhattan Melodrama was the picture that he, a girlfriend, and the famous "Lady in Red" had just seen.)

Nate has just begun a relationship with renowned feather/bubble dancer, Sally Rand, when a man comes into his office asking Heller to find his wife. How this connects with Dillinger, and how Heller then gets mixed up with Pretty Boy Floyd, Baby Face Nelson, Ma Barker and her boys, and J. Edgar Hoover is a narrative of historic proportions.

True Crime was originally meant to be part of True Detective, but Collins realized that what was supposed to be a novel was slowly turning into an epic, and that cutting the entire Dillinger plot was what was needed. So, when the editor who bought the first asked if Collins had ideas for a sequel, he had an instant answer.

The accuracy of Collins' details and the amount of research done to get the facts right (sources are named in the back) are an example of the dedication Collins has to his craft. That he is able to whip up a plot that uses these facts, but does not rely on them for a crutch, while inserting a fictional character into the midst of the fracas, is nothing short of remarkable.

Collins sends Heller off to war in The Million-Dollar Wound, the third in the series to be nominated for a Shamus Award. (Note: The title refers to a war wound that gets a soldier sent home, but doesn't kill him.)

A little male pride, some misplaced patriotism, and a few drinks too many land Heller, too old for the draft, in the Marine enlistment office in 1942, right alongside best friend and ex-boxer Barney Ross. Far too soon after, they find themselves smack dab in the middle of Guadalcanal Island, surrounded by "Japs" and fighting death in both its projectile and contagious forms.

An especially bad case of malaria finds an amnesiac Heller back in the States with a fuzzy memory but a thriving investigation practice, and a request to testify against Frank Nitti, now in control of the territory left vacant by Al Capone's prison sentence. The story quickly flashes back to 1939. Those used to the linear narratives of the first two novels in the series, and their relative chronological proximity to each other, may be thrown by The Million-Dollar Wound, which takes place nine, then six, then ten years after the events in True Crime.

The Million-Dollar Wound was Max Allan Collins's most complex novel, both emotionally and narratively, up to that point. The weight of the combat experience weighs heavily on Heller's mind throughout the remainder of the novel, especially the bad dreams he has involving a fellow Marine's death by "friendly fire." Did Heller fire the fatal shot? He can't remember. This lends a gravity to this third entry that only enhances the reading, offering a deeper sense of character through Heller's reaction to the truth.

This Frank Nitti trilogy is only the first three novels of this long-running series of "memoirs," which includes the most recent novel, Bye Bye, Baby, wherein Nate Heller investigates the death of Marilyn Monroe. Also upcoming are two collections. Chicago Lightning contains all the Heller short stories produced throughout the last 30 years, previously collected and uncollected. Triple Play contains three Heller novellas written to date: “Dying in the Postwar World,” “Kisses of Death,” and “Strike Zone.”

Thursday, September 29, 2011

The Spy Books They Didn't Want You to Read (from guest blogger Dee Mason)

Today, I'm honored to welcome guest blogger Dee Mason to the pages of Somebody Dies with some insight on a few books that some governments tried to have quashed. It seems quite appropriate since this is the American Library Association's annual observance of Banned Books Week.

The Spy Books They Didn’t Want You to Read

Over the years there haven’t been many better ways to promote your book than by getting it banned. It just seems that anything that a government decides people shouldn’t see suddenly becomes the only thing they want to see. In the case of books, because they contain so much info and have such power to inform, there have been countless cases of their being simply too risky or packed with "sensitive" info.

Spy books are a prime example here; more specifically, the books that have been written by spies that divulge specific information about the world of spying and the upper levels of government. There have been quite a few examples of governments' deeming a spy-related book to be too sensitive or deciding that it gives away too much. Thankfully for you as the reader, a lot of them made their way to the public. So, without further ado, let’s get moving on our examples of spy books they didn’t want you to read.

Spycatcher by Peter Wright (1985)

This book’s full title is Spycatcher: The Candid Autobiography of a Senior Intelligence Officer, and it’s a prime example of what happens when a government tries to ban a book. The autobiography was written by Peter Wright in 1985; he was the Assistant Director of MI5, the British intelligence agency.

The book chronicles Wright’s attempts to track down a Soviet mole within the MI5, and goes into a great amount of detail about what he did and how he did it. He also discusses, in detail, the goings-on at the intelligence agency on a day-to-day basis. Because he was the Assistant Director, he had an unprecedented level of access to the MI5’s infrastructure: something the government quickly decided was a danger.

The book remains banned in Great Britain but has been published in Australia and the USA — giving Brits easy access, if they want it (which, of course, they do).

Operation Dark Heart by Lt. Col. Anthony Shaffer (2010)

Operation Dark Heart is the memoir of U.S Army intelligence officer Lt. Col. Anthony Shaffer and gives an incredibly detailed account of his five months spent in Afghanistan. This book is notably more controversial at time of writing because the conflict in the Middle East is still ongoing, meaning the U.S government is always trying to protect its image and the pictures painted of this conflict.

The book was technically published twice: the first was approved with minor changes by the U.S Army and a limited number were made available. Following this, other departments in the U.S government decided that there were certain passages in the book which were too sensitive for general release. They then censored the book even more and re-published it. The problem was that the original had become a collectors' item, and the public had a thirst for the unaltered edition. This led to its being released on multiple websites in its entirety, and prompted an official statement on the matter from the U.S Army.

The Big Breach by Richard Tomlinson (2001)

Richard Tomlinson was an MI6 officer who was put into prison in 1997 for breaking the Official Secrets Act when he provided an Australian publisher the outline of a book he wanted to write. The book, which would eventually become known as The Big Breach, was a detailed account of Tomlinson’s experience within the British secret service, and as such contained a lot of sensitive information.

The fact that he was actually imprisoned for simply providing a synopsis of the content is a testament to how volatile the content was, especially in the late 1990s. During his imprisonment, Tomlinson actually completed the book and eventually published it in Russia. It became a sought after item, especially in the UK, and in the end MI6 allowed the book to be published in England, but withdrew all of Tomlinson’s rights to the profits.

This didn’t stop the book from selling, though. Finally, after so many years of strife, MI6 agreed to release the funds back to him and stated that they "overreacted." To this day, The Big Breach remains one of the most popular "whistleblowing" spy books of all time.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

The Cheaters by Orrie Hitt (Stark House Press, paired with Dial "M" for Man)

The first of the two novels in this "sleaze classics" release from Stark House Press, The Cheaters, is also the one many followers of author Orrie Hitt consider to be his best.

Clint and Ann are a couple of kids from adjacent Beaverkill farms who started dating when he was 20 and she was 16. (Their families are apparently close, as Ann's father got one of Clint's sisters pregnant.) Now Ann is pregnant and they had to leave the Catskills due to lack of work, so the couple need money.

On their second day in Wilton, opportunity knocks for Clint in the person of Charlie Fletcher, owner of a dive in The Dells that also operates as a cover of sorts for a group of prostitutes. As he puts it, "I wanted a job tending bar about as much as I wanted three legs in my pants but when you've got ten bucks in your pocket and a girl waiting for you in a rented room you don't argue with anything that comes your way."

Especially when it pays seventy-five dollars a week. But little does Clint know what a monkey wrench this particular bartending job is going to throw into his life, such as it is. Fletcher is looking to get out of the business, and his wife Debbie is looking to get away from Fletcher. Meanwhile, crooked cop Red Brandon lets it all go on as long as he gets his cut... until he takes a particular dislike to Clint because Clint has something he wants.

Given Hitt's reputation as the "Shabby Shakespeare of Sleaze" (as the afterword by Hitt fan and pastiche artist Michael Hemmingson calls him), I was expecting a prurient read of little to no real quality. The pure novelistic skill Hitt displays in The Cheaters was a very pleasant surprise.

Not only does the story move, rarely pausing to let the characters take a breath, but I also actually cared about Clint's success. Even though I didn't exactly like him, I wanted him to do well, just because he seemed to be up against so many obstacles.

Hitt throws so many potential pathways in front of him that the book could have ended in any of a dozen ways, and the one chosen is just as good as any of the others... if not better, given the general tendency toward darkness in the crime genre. I'm excited to have discovered a new author and subgenre to pursue. Once again, a Stark House Press is more than just entertainment; it's an education.

The second novel in this collection is Dial "M" for Man, and the book also contains an introduction from Hitt's three daughters, a profile by Brian Ritt, and an afterword and bibliography by Michael Hemmingson.

Ritt's profile was originally published on James Reasoner's blog, Rough Edges, and revised for this appearance. In it Ritt shows that Hitt, despite the "heroes" of his work, was a loving man who was devoted to his wife and children and was merely supporting them in the best way available to him. The intro from Hitt's daughters loving supports Ritt's profile.

The afterword by Hemmingson contains a bibliography and some insight into the publishing practices of the day and genre. Due to the questionable marketing, even scholars have found it difficult to say clear on Hitt's output. Queer Pulp author Susan Stryker thought Hitt's pseudonym "Kay Addams" was a real lesbian who sometimes wrote under the name Orrie Hitt.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Quarry's Ex by Max Allan Collins (Hard Case Crime)

Her upper lip curled at little. "You know what your problem is, Jack? You don't know whether you want to fuck me or kill me."

"Is there an all-of-the-above?" I asked her.

Before he was a hired killer, the man later known as Quarry — back then, he was Jack — was killing for the Marines in Vietnam. On arriving home a day earlier than expected, he found his wife with another man. Later, he went looking for the guy and killed him, but the District Attorney recognized Jack's war record, and the possibly accidental nature of the death, and decided not to prosecute.

That still left Jack on his own, with no marketable skills except one. Enter the Broker, who saw emerging talent in "Quarry" and hired him for contract killings for years (see The First Quarry), until he betrayed Quarry and had to be gotten rid of. But not before Quarry found the Broker's list and decided to go into business for himself (see Quarry in the Middle).

Now he uses the list to locate the Broker's former employers, follow them around to identify their targets, then offer his own services to the target to eliminate the threat. It's entrepreneurship at its finest: find a need and fill it.

This time, the killer is Nick Varnos, a specialist in "accidental" death, and the intended victim is film director Arthur Stockwell, shooting the sequel to his surprise hit (in the burgeoning home-video market) Hard Wheels. A pretty straightforward job, it seems, until Quarry meets Mrs. Stockwell, who just happens to be the former Mrs. Quarry....

Quarry's Ex feels as if it were written in 2 or 3 fevered sessions. That's how fast it moves. Author Max Allan Collins seems to save his tightest prose for this series, and this is no exception. The character also allows Collins to let loose with some of his darkest, crudest, and funniest one-liners.

And this time, Collins also gets to use his experience writing and directing independent films like Eliot Ness: An Untouchable Life to give the novel detailed atmosphere. Posing as Jack Reynolds, unit publicist, Quarry gets unfettered access to the film set, cast, and crew — including full access to some.

Collins sets up the time period with flair, peppering references to the Reagan/Carter election and the growing video industry, as well as dropping the names of current films like The Empire Strikes Back and The Shining. But mostly readers will be glad to see Quarry once again up to his old tricks — this time with an emotional twist — in Quarry's Ex.

As an aside, I want to mention that I noticed something in particular about Quarry for the first time. He takes in a showing of The Long Riders. He spends some time in the john with Elmore Leonard's Valdez Is Coming. And he is just about to watch a Randolph Scott film when he is interrupted. Who knew Quarry liked Westerns?

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Re-Kindling Interest: Sineater by Elizabeth Massie

This is one of a series of reviews focusing on out-of-print novels that have become available again via a variety of e-book formats.

Author Elizabeth Massie's debut novel is like nothing I've ever read, and yet it is familiar enough to not be too challenging to the average genre reader. Winner of the Bram Stoker Award for first novel, Sineater utilizes the popular Southern gothic style to expound on a little-known legend in a highly imaginative manner.

When residents of the small town of Ellison die, their friends and family place small meals on the chests of the deceased. Joel Barker's father, Avery, then comes out of the woods -- where he has been relegated to live during the day -- and eats the food, symbolically devouring the sins of the deceased and allowing their souls to ascend to heaven.

Legend has it that peering into the eyes of the "sineater" -- even via a photograph -- will cause the looker to view all of the sin that has been eaten, and subsequently either go crazy or simply die from the shock. Therefore, due to their connection with one who is perceived unclean, all of the Barkers are ostracized from the rest of the town, especially by Ellison's resident spiritual mother: Missy Campbell.

But all this is merely background to understand the core story of Sineater: Joel's coming of age. Joel is an outcast trying to fight his way in, while everyone else, including the other members of his family, are doing their best to keep him out. And someone is invested enough in the Barkers' outcast status to begin a regimen of "punishments."

Luckily for Joel, there are a few townspeople who are brave and caring enough to ignore the rules, but when the punishments become personal, Joel's support system crumbles and causes him to take action. Along the way, he gains insight into some previously unanswered questions and learns a lot about his family and himself in the process. (It is a coming-of-age novel, after all.)

At least a hundred pages too long for the story to support, Sineater keeps the reader involved through the use of present tense. Most often utilized for its sense of immediacy, writing in the present tense is difficult to execute successfully. However, Massie pulls off its use in this novel beautifully and invisibly. I was halfway through the book before I even realized it, which just goes to show how well-suited it is to this author and story.

That, in addition to the fact that the climax is a pulse-pounder that could even make me forget that I was riding the commuter train on my way to work, makes sure that all is forgiven and that Sineater comes highly recommended.

Friday, September 2, 2011

Guest Blogger: Kelley Armstrong, author of Spellbound (Savannah Levine/Otherworld series)

Today I have the honor of once again welcoming author Kelley Armstrong to the pages of Somebody Dies. (Regular readers may remember her interview with author Marjorie M. Liu back in July 2010.) Armstrong's latest book in her Otherworld series is Spell Bound, the second to feature Savannah Levine as narrator. This time, Kelley comes to us to talk about something close to the hearts of all writers: getting published.

Luck, Talent & Timing

Last month I did my annual stint teaching dark-fantasy writing at the University of Toronto. Now I’m in Melbourne, getting ready to speak to aspiring writers at the Romance Writers of Australia conference. And despite the fact that I’m halfway around the globe, there is one question that will remain the same, one question I cannot answer. “Why am I not getting published?”

If it’s a new writer, there’s an easy response: Just give it time. Writing is like any other craft. It takes practice, and you can’t expect success on your first book.

But often the question isn’t coming from new writers. It’s from people who have been practicing—for years, writing book after book, getting feedback, doing everything they can to improve. They win contests. They get positive rejection from agents and editors (yes, there is such a thing as a positive rejection!). They are so close. And yet the offers—of representation or, better yet, publication—elude them. Family and friends, once encouraging and supportive, begin to quietly suggest they take up a new hobby. Their dreams teeter on the cliff, one small nudge from falling and shattering. And all they want is for someone—an agent, an editor, an author—to tell them what they’re doing wrong. Just tell them, and they’ll fix it.

If only it was that easy.

I’ve been there. I’ve teetered on that edge. I’ve raged that my writing is horrible and I’ll never be published and I should just stop trying. I’ve even thrown a manuscript into a fireplace…a grand gesture somewhat weakened by having backups on my computer. So how did I finally get published? Did I practice until I wrote the perfect book that agents and editors just couldn’t refuse? No. I broke in the way most writers do—by keeping at it until I floundered onto the perfect intersection of luck, talent and timing.

For me, talent equals craft. Craft, as I said, is about practice. Write, write, write some more, and eventually it doesn’t suck. My luck came when an instructor offered to recommend my work to an agent who turned out to be a perfect match for it. As for timing, that was also luck—I wrote a book that I thought was unmarketable, and the market just happened to be ready for it, primed by a resurging interest in paranormal fiction.

If asked how I got published, I’ll say, “I just got lucky.” But that’s a lie. I didn’t just happen to sit down and write a book and sell it. I had a lifelong dream, and I gave it everything I had. I wrote as often as I could. I joined writing groups. I took courses. I read voraciously. I experimented with genre and form. And you can bet I wouldn’t have thrown that manuscript in the fire if I didn’t know I had backups. So how did I get published? The same way I’m trying to stay published: perseverance.

If you’re trying to get published, keep trying. Keep writing. And keep trying to get published—it’s the only way you’re going to hit the luck and timing parts of the equation.

If you know someone who’s trying to get published, this blog is for you, too. Support them. Encourage them. Understand that it’s not all about talent. If they’re in for the long haul, be there for them. They’ll need it.

Thanks to Kelley Armstrong for sharing her experience and knowledge. Spell Bound is out now and is available in hardcover and for the Kindle.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

The Last Lullaby directed by Jeffrey Goodman (starring Tom Sizemore and Sasha Alexander)

The Last Lullaby (2009). Screenplay by Max Allan Collins and Peter Biegen, expanding on Collins's Quarry short story "A Matter of Principal."

Fans of Max Allan Collins's Quarry character have been waiting for a movie starring their favorite hired killer since he debuted in the 1970s. It took thirty years, but it's worth it. The Last Lullaby is here, and it's definitely a Quarry film, though the lead character isn't named "Quarry" (Collins wants to retain the rights to the name, so filmmakers can't make "sequels" without his input).

Retired killer Price (Tom Sizemore), on one of a string of sleepless nights, drives to a nearby convenience store and follows two suspicious characters to a kidnapping site, where he rescues the victim ... sort of. Six months later, he's offered $1 million for one last job: kill a librarian with ex-boyfriend troubles. But he gets emotionally involved, which puts them both in danger.

Collins's Quarry short story "A Matter of Principal" (upon which the first part of The Last Lullaby is based) was made into a short film by director Jeffrey Goodman. (This short film is available on the DVD Shades of Noir, available in the Max Allan Collins's Black Box DVD set.) Collins liked the short so much, he allowed Goodman to expand it into a feature, provided Collins was involved in the scripting.

An early draft of Collins's initial script was novelized by the author and published as part of the Hard Case Crime line as The Last Quarry. Readers of that novel will find a similar tone and characters but some significant differences made in turning the story into a mainstream (if independent) film. For example, co-screenwriter Peter Biegen was evidently brought in to punch up the love story. (Collins's novelized version is much tougher.)

What really makes The Last Lullaby work, however, are the lead performances by Sizemore and Sasha Alexander, who plays the librarian. Tom Sizemore's stony countenance betrays selective emotions, letting his eyes do the acting. And Sasha Alexander (Rizzoli & Isles) is an intelligent beauty with her own secrets.

A veteran of mostly television work, Alexander holds her own opposite Sizemore, and one hopes that The Last Lullaby allows her to possibly break out from the small screen. Goodman understands human drama and the complexities of male-female relationships and lets this carry the viewer along as events conspire against the couple.

Sizemore gets to show his tender side as one half of a potential couple of loners who aren't young anymore and really want to impress each other. Both actors bring incredible sexual magnetism. At the same time, it's incredibly sweet to see a romance between two such people treated with realism and delicacy, making The Last Lullaby a surprisingly good option for a date movie, even given its unremittingly dark storyline.

Monday, August 8, 2011

Re-Kindling Interest: A Girl Called Honey, So Willing, and Sin Hellcat by Lawrence Block and Donald E. Westlake (early pseudonymous novels originally by "Sheldon Lord and Alan Marshall" and "Andrew Shaw")

This is one of a series of reviews focusing on out-of-print novels that have become available again via a variety of e-book formats.

This review originally appeared in somewhat different form on The Green Man Review. Copyright 2010. Reprinted with permission.

Authors Lawrence Block and Donald E. Westlake met while both working for Harry Shorten at Midwood writing soft-core sex novels. Block was impressed by a line in one of Westlake's novels written as Alan Marshall, then Westlake overheard a conversation Block had with his agent. Later, they introduced themselves and were friends for fifty years, until Westlake's death at the end of 2008.

These three novels are the only ones Block and Westlake ever collaborated on, two under their respective pseudonyms for Midwood, Sheldon Lord and Alan Marshall, and one as Andrew Shaw. They discussed the prospect in later years of working together again (specifically a Bernie Rhodenbarr/John Dortmunder crossover), but alas, it never came to pass. Luckily, these books are now available for much cheaper than they could be found on the collectors' market.

A Girl Called Honey centers around the semi-innocent Honour Mercy Bane, whose parents kick her out on her sex-loving kiester, causing her to begin selling her ware in a brothel as "Honey." Richie Parsons is a petty thief in the Army who finds it difficult to keep his favorite hobby under wraps in a closely watched barracks.

Gone AWOL (he knows they can't get him for desertion if he keeps his uniform), he meets Honey and their relationship progresses from business to pleasure — until his fear of capture makes him more a liability than an asset, and another client tries to make his way into Honey's top spot. Then a single event has universally tragic consequences, with an ending easily as shocking as that of Block's later novel Mona (reprinted as Grifter's Game).

In So Willing, Vince is frustrated. He learned early on the skills to get a girl to go all the way, and he's decided to use them to bag his first virgin. But after numerous disappointing surprises, he discovers that you can't really tell a virgin from a more experienced girl. "Her own statements ... were worse than useless" and her actions, reputation, and appearance can also be misleading. So he decides to take a different approach and gets much more than he expected.

Sin Hellcat focuses on Harvey Christopher, husband to the frigid Helen and current paramour to Jodi, a working girl whom Harv went out with in college and who now makes a good living on her back. They "reminisce" for a while, getting reacquainted with each other's outer selves, until a business associate of Jodi's tries to blackmail Harvey, and Harvey responds in an unexpected way, inadvertently making him the ideal candidate for what comes next.

The three novels are all a lot of fun, especially when read with the knowledge that Block and Westlake alternated chapters. Block began A Girl Called Honey, Westlake began So Willing, and Block won't tell who wrote what in Sin Hellcat — since he was quite proud to discover that their styles mesh remarkably even now.

One gets the impression that the authors got a great deal of amusement from taking off on each other's plot twists and especially from getting rid of characters created by the other when they began to annoy. The books are full of little in-references (one character signs a hotel register as "Andrew Shaw") and throwaway jokes (like calling a town Modnoc; read it backwards) that only add to the entertainment. All in all, Block and Westlake have nothing to be ashamed of with these early novels, and their fans will be glad to see them back in print, if only so that they can generate royalty checks once again.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Bad Chili by Joe R. Lansdale (Hap Collins and Leonard Pine series)

In this fourth book from Joe R. Lansdale's popular crime-fiction series featuring Hap Collins and Leonard Pine, Bad Chili, we find the two best friends discussing Leonard's latest breakup with his on-again/off-again boyfriend, Raoul (and how Raoul had hooked up with a leather-clad biker) when the pair are attacked by a rabid squirrel.

Hap gets the worse end of the deal: the rabies. Since his insurance won't cover the shots as an outpatient, he finds himself spending eight days in the hospital, where the only good thing that happens is his meeting a cute nurse named Brett.

Leonard doesn't even stop in for a single visit, and when Hap asks a friend to check on him, he finds out that the biker has been killed and that Leonard is the prime suspect. Leonard admits to everything he is accused of — except for the murder itself; he was too busy running for his life from the biker's other biker buddies.

Bad Chili is shelved in the mystery section, which makes some sense given that there's a crime or two to be solved and since Lansdale won an Edgar Award for his novel The Bottoms. (One portion of the pair's investigation concerns a series of secret videos, something Lansdale would revisit 15 years later in Leather Maiden.)

But the main appeal of Bad Chili is not the mystery, which you'll likely forget about until it's brought up, but the characters and their relationships to one another. (Speaking of characters, there's one mean son of a bitch in here like I haven't seen since "The Night They Missed the Horror Show.")

I feel that Joe's novels should be on a special shelf reserved for writers who can portray Southerners accurately but without being hyperbolic or insulting. I know people just like the ones in Bad Chili; I grew up with them, and Lansdale is the only writer I've seen really get them right.

Lansdale's humor is dark and deep-fried. I especially like how he captures the pretend-gay jokes between close guy friends. But there were many times that I laughed out loud at a single turn of phrase; Lansdale's country homilies are familiar yet original and sometimes outrageous.

And he has an inimitable way with a simile... or a metaphor... whichever one starts with "like." Like this one from Bad Chili: It was late April and unseasonably hot, like two rats in caps and sweaters fucking in a wool sock under a sun lamp. (I think it's a simile, but I always forget. I know my "who" from my "whom," though, and a hawk from a handsaw, so don't feel too bad for me.)

For those who prefer audiobooks, reader Phil Gigante does marvelous work with this series. By that I mean that he is invisible as both Hap and Leonard. Gigante seems to understand their needs just from the dialogue. This is more evidence that Lansdale's writing is deceptively skilled: it flows like water, but it's obviously very carefully crafted.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Guest Blogger: Kempton Mooney, author of The Committee

Today I have the honor of welcoming author Kempton Mooney to the pages of Somebody Dies. Mooney is the author of the recent novel, The Committee, available currently at the Amazon Kindle store for 99 cents.

There are apartment buildings in New York that function like small towns. Towns some people live in all their lives while others cannot wait to get out. Developers see opportunity, and so do the criminals.

The Committee is set in such a building. It is claustrophobic and broken and makes its mark on the people who pass through it. The setting, like any, is a reflection of its inhabitants. Its atmosphere shapes them, and its walls narrow their perspective until they cannot see past.

The building itself has a history like any character. It has been burned and flooded, and the old-timers like to sit around and remember the interesting bits: the gambling, the gangs, the fights.

Newcomers like to learn the stories but become impatient once they know them. The newcomers do not need to relive the tales over and over. They want to have other things to do, important problems to solve, a murderer to catch. They want to make their own stories.

The old-timers are different. Some worry, but it is almost so that they have something to do. The newcomers can see this future ahead of them, and their fear sets them against each other. Where they are, they realize, is a place they are not ready to be yet. The building is a destination. It is a place to die.

The crisis for all the characters starts with the building. It is a tool in some's hands, and others must react to it. The building claims the first life. From the beginning it is wielded against its tenants.

But even with warnings of the trouble ahead, no one wants to leave. No one wants to be forced. Each individual wants to make a choice and demonstrate some measure of power. The question to be answered is do they have what it takes to fight for it.

Kempton Mooney is the author of The Committee and several non-fiction books on art theft. He lives in New York where he has worked in the publishing industry for the past ten years. For more information, you can visit his website,, for an assortment of stories, essays, audio recordings, and plenty of opinion.

The Committee is a novel of murder, deceit, and greed in New York City.

“A cocktail of noir and classic mystery with a cast that sticks in your head. You'll look over your shoulder for days.” —Des Hammond, Creative Loathing

“A world of palpable mistrust and paranoia, a world of flawed and forgotten souls drawn from the greats. The streets are the ones you have walked down, the people are those you have passed, and Mooney shows you how they live.” —Alex Friedman, editor of Shot in San Francisco

Monday, June 27, 2011

Rio Loco by Robert J. Conley (Barjack series Western)

When local outlaw Owl Shit Johnson commits his latest murder, he makes the mistake of doing it right in front of the town's marshal, Barjack. Owl Shit is used to being bailed out by his brother, Chugwater, but Barjack can't be bought off. He might be prone to extreme violence and heavy drinking, but the marshal of the town of Asininity upholds the law.

Because of a promise made to their mother to take care of his little brother, Chugwater is determined to break Owl Shit out of Asininity's jail before the county judge arrives to sentence Owl Shit to be hanged. And Barjack is determined that the murderer will be face his punishment. This results in an "irresistible force"/"immovable object" fight of near-epic proportions.

Author Robert J. Conley is a three-time winner of the Spur Award from the Western Writers of America, and his character Barjack is one of the most entertaining I've encountered. He has his own way of doing things, and his code is not above using dynamite to make a point when the outlaws just don't seem to get it.

Barjack tells the story, and his voice is its primary appeal. But I was never once bored, even though Rio Loco (whose title, strangely, never appears in the text) is mainly an attack-and-defense story all the way through. Chugwater hires cowhands to do his dirty work, and Barjack deputizes a selection of trusted gunmen and -women to defend their post at the jail.

Each must try to outshoot or outwit the other to get his way, and neither is willing to give up his own, to the death. The fact that both are fighting for his own deeply held moral code — Chugwater's promise to his mother, Barjack's upholding of the law — makes it hard to feel that either is completely "wrong."

Conley peoples this mostly traditional Western with interesting characters and balances moments of shocking carnage with others of light humor, so the reader never knows what to expect. This gives Rio Loco a very modern appeal. I liked it so much that I immediately acquired a copy of the preceding volume in the series, Barjack and the Unwelcome Ghost, available in both ebook and mass-market paperback — for a limited time, I'm sure — for around a buck and a quarter.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Blood Born by Matthew Warner (reproductive horror)

Daniella Connolly was on a date with boyfriend Eric Gensler when he tried to go too far with her. She ran away. Soon after, she was knocked unconscious and brutally raped. Gensler was immediately suspected, especially since his filed-to-a-point canine tooth seemed to be the source of nasty bites on Daniella's neck and shoulder.

Daniella's mother, Dr. Margaret Connolly, is a fertility specialist at the CalPark Fertility Clinic. Her supervisor's work in the experimental wing is so top secret that Margaret's supposedly all-access key card won't let her in.

When Detective Christina Randall gets involved with Daniella's case, she gets a big surprise. Daniella is only the latest woman to have been raped in a series of assaults. These have all resulted in pregnancies that are progressing at over 30 times the normal rate.

In just one week, during which the new mothers emaciate to astonishing proportions, the "baby" is born: a pseudo-primate whose first meal is the meatiest parts of Mommy. After another week, the new addition is fully grown and ready to start its own horrific procreation spree.

(Author Matthew Warner's regular readers may recognize Detective Randall from his first novel, The Organ Donor. And CalPark was featured in his second novel, Eyes Everywhere. I haven't read the former, but the latter is a truly excellent psychological thriller.)

Warner manages something all-too rare in modern horror: he writes about extremes without any trace of his tongue in his cheek. Every horrible event in Blood Born is told completely straight, even the ones that in other hands would be ridiculous. All disbelief is suspended as Warner takes his readers on a ride unlike any they've been on before. His combination of intelligence and confidence lets you know you're in solid hands, so you can just let him do his thing.

This results in a 500-page horror festival that flies by as Warner takes the reader into new territory. I sometimes wanted to stop and look around at all the details -- Warner is especially deft with all the medical information required for the plot to make sense -- but the narrative drive of Blood Born is such that it quickly became clear who was at the wheel, and it wasn't me.

Small press horror novels are numerous, and it can be hard to know which ones are worth your time, but my experience with the work of Matthew Warner -- with Eyes Everywhere and Blood Born in particular -- shows that he he delivers intelligent, visceral, and psychological horror of dependable high quality.

He seems to be always testing himself, not content with delivering another version of his last book. His book of essays, Horror Is Not a 4-Letter Word, displays his knowledge of the genre, inside and out. It sounds like a product endorsement, and I guess it is: Matthew Warner is a brand you can trust.

For more on Blood Born, read Matthew Warner's guest blog here on Somebody Dies.

Saturday, June 4, 2011

The Caretaker of Lorne Field by Dave Zeltserman (quiet horror)

Jack Durkin's family has been taking care of the menace in Lorne Field for three hundred years. Every day, he spends twelve hours extracting the plantlike Aukowies that continuously sprout from the ground. To the untrained eye, they look like simple weeds, but Jack knows that if allowed to grow, they become uncontrollable, ambulatory, and a threat to every living thing on the planet.

For a long time, the caretaker of Lorne Field was given a great deal of respect from the local residents. But this generation seems to have not been told of the importance of the position, because everyone below retirement age thinks Durkin's job is at best "a quaint tradition" and at worst a waste of the $8,000 annual stipend paid for by their taxes.

Durkin's first-born son, Lester, who is contracted to take over the job when he turns 21, is tired of being mocked (and called "Weedpuller") by his friends. And Durkin's wife, Lydia, is tired of barely scraping by on $8,000 a year — which was a lot of money when it was contracted for in 1869 but is half what Lester says he could make at McDonald's.

Lydia wants her husband to quit the ridiculousness and get a real job. And Jack wants to prove to the town that the blood-thirsty beasts he kills for twelve hours a day, six months a year, aren't just weeds.

The premise of The Caretaker of Lorne Field is a highly original one that grabs the reader from the first page. Author Dave Zeltserman also grounds his admittedly fantastic novel with fully human and relatable characters, especially Jack, whom you can't help but sympathize with as he meets persecution from almost everyone.

Belief in the Triffid-like Aukowies isn't necessary to the enjoyment of The Caretaker of Lorne Field, as Zeltserman leaves the truth open to interpretation. The appeal of the novel is in its ease of delivery, its confident voice, and its perfect length: relatively short for a modern novel.

Zeltserman has made quite a name for himself in the crime-fiction genre with his novels Outsourced, Killer, and Pariah among others. He shows an equally skillful hand at quiet horror with The Caretaker of Lorne Field.

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Guest Blogger: Matthew Warner, author of Blood Born (horror novel)

Today I have the honor of welcoming author Matthew Warner to the pages of Somebody Dies. Warner is the author of a short story collection (Death Sentences), two previous novels (The Organ Donor and Eyes Everywhere), and a collection of essays (Horror Is Not a 4-Letter Word).

I am currently halfway through his latest, Blood Born, and it is easily his best work yet, gripping, intelligent, and horrific.

"Where Ideas are Born"
by Matthew Warner

My story ideas are born any damn place possible. I’m not picky about those I raise to adulthood as long as I remain fertile. But you deserve a better explanation than that.

I conceived my most recent story while playing with my toddler son at the local tot lot. As I tried to keep him from picking up trash on his way to the playground’s slides, I noticed this hulking dude with tattoos beside a van. He was smoking a cigarette and watching my boy from behind mirrored sunglasses. Little warning prickles kept walking up my neck until Tattooed Dude turned to his child-snatcher van and hauled out . . .

Yep, you guessed it. A child. Probably his. They entered the playground and proceeded to have a grand old time on the swings.

When my shock wore off, I came home and wrote a short story that contains that scene.

So yeah, I’m a father. My life is Elmo, poopy diapers, and ultra-tight baby hugs around my windpipe. I therefore spend a lot of time thinking about children and parenting and all the stuff that can go horribly wrong. If Owen’s hand ever slips out of mine in a parking lot, I immediately flash to that scene in Pet Sematary where little Gage Creed runs into traffic to be creamed by a tractor trailer.

Is it any wonder, then, that my latest novel, Blood Born, deals with babies? Bad babies, of course. Babies conceived of brutal rapes and who come to term in just one week. Then eat their mothers. And grow to adulthood in just a few days to continue the cycle of rapes themselves.

Blood Born falls into a body of stories I’ve written about parenting. “Cat’s Cradle,” published last year at Horror Drive-In, deals with the consequences of letting your cat sleep next to your pregnant wife’s belly. (If your baby is born without a soul, don’t say I didn’t warn ya, okay?) “Maybe Monitored,” published in January at The Dark Fiction Spotlight, started when I thought I heard strange voices in Owen’s room through the baby monitor.

So that’s Matthew Warner’s Idea-Trolling Suggestion #1. It’s a variation on the old “write about what you know” chestnut: write about what’s occupying your thoughts.

There’s more to it than that, of course. I mixed some marketing considerations into Blood Born’s genesis. Such as, I wanted to reward readers of my previous novels by recycling a couple characters, namely Detective Christina Randall from The Organ Donor and the CalPark corporation from Eyes Everywhere.

I also wanted to write a horror story that appeals to women. That meant strong, female protagonists dealing with a situation that targets women. (And what could be more terrifying to a woman than rape?)

Sprinkled into that was my fascination with the Gaia theory -- the idea of the Earth as an organism -- and the paradigm of how a virus spreads. I learned in high school biology that when a virus invades a cell, it hijacks the cellular machinery to replicate itself, eventually causing the cell to explode and spread copies of the virus far and wide. I wondered how to represent such a thing if we took it up a frame of scale so that humans were the host “cells.” I concluded that a contagion spread by serial rapes and pregnancies was the logical choice.

Blood Born is also a monster story, and like most Americans, I grapple with the existence of our bona fide monsters: the Osama bin Ladens of the world. I learned while living in the Washington, DC, area during and immediately after 9/11 that when the shit hits the fan in the nation’s capital, the federal government doesn’t just respond by cleaning the shit off the fan blades. It stuffs a cork up the ass of every life form within 500 miles, declares a moratorium on farts and other airborne pollutants, and borrows $14 trillion from China to invade places suspected of harboring chemical toilets.

So, when a wave of strange animals starts impregnating every fertile woman in the DC area with creatures whom -- for lack of a better moniker -- the media label the Beltway Bigfoots, you can bet your bowel movements the government’s cure will indeed be worse than the disease, and, oh yeah, the baby will get thrown out with the bath water.

Man, I’m glad to be living in the Shenandoah Valley now. Here, a subway is just a sandwich shop. But I still get stressed out being a father to babies and stories alike.

Take a chance on my novel, will you? If you’re still hesitant, the first chapter and some awesome book trailers can be viewed at And if that still doesn’t convince you, just lay your eyes on that sweet little boy pictured here with his daddy. You want him to eat, don’t you? I thought so.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Re-Kindling Interest: Street Raised by Pearce Hansen

He pulled the straight shooter from his lips, torturing himself with anticipation as he watched a tiny tendril of crack smoke waver from the mouth end of the pipe. The scent of it excited him more than the sight of a naked woman as he watched the crack smoke dissipate into the air, a little piece of Heaven wasted. — from Street Raised

I believe the current e-book wave's greatest benefit is in how it allows books and authors that were neglected the first time around, another chance to get noticed. And I can't think of a single novel that deserves this second chance more than Pearce Hansen's Street Raised.

Originally released by PointBlank Press in 2006, it got terrific blurbs and subsequently great reviews. But it never seemed to find its audience. Now Hansen has released an expanded and improved version in electronic format. According to the author himself, the new edition of Street Raised is "a third longer than the original, with material based on several years of research to make the feral Bay Area of 1984 come fully alive as a character in and of itself."

What follows is my original review:

Few crime fiction writers have actually lived through the same events they put their characters through. For most, writing noir is an opportunity to experience illegal behaviors from a safe distance, things they would never dare to replicate because they don't have to. Pearce Hansen is the rare breed: he has run the same streets and struggled through the same precarious existence his characters do.  For Hansen, writing is a kind of catharsis: it helps keep the nightmares away.

From the bio included with Street Raised, we learn that Hansen was "functionally homeless at a young age," and that he did a lot of self-educating through reading a variety of books: "he counts Thucydides & Spillane, Dostoevski & H.P. Lovecraft, Dickens & Nietzsche among his dear dead friends."

Street Raised is his debut novel, but it is not the work of a beginner. Hansen has been honing craft in short-fiction circles (including the now-defunct Plots With Guns) for ten years, and it shows. The story of Speedy and the aftermath of his release from Pelican Bay State Prison (far too much happens for me to even attempt a summary) displays a sure hand that knows what a good story requires: relatable characters, detailed settings, a clearly defined arc, and a satisfying ending.

It is in the spaces between, though, where Hansen's experiences and innate knack for storytelling shine through: There is no distancing from these people; we get up close and personal with their ways of life. Street Raised is filled with situations that could only be described by one who has seen them happen up close.  That immediacy translates onto the page, resulting in at least one character who is thoroughly disturbing.

But make no mistake, Street Raised is not a memoir; that doesn't suit Hansen's needs here at all.  He simply brings the rawness, the grit, and the upfront humanity to a genre that has, over time, gotten far too glossy.  Hansen's unflinching (and completely engrossing) take will change how you feel about other crime writers.  Kudos to Hansen for writing what is without a doubt the most affecting crime novel of the year.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Kiss Her Goodbye by Mickey Spillane and Max Allan Collins (Mike Hammer series)

Only a telephone call from his best friend, police captain Pat Chambers, could bring Mike Hammer back to New York. There was simply nothing for him there anymore. And his health's not so great, either, after that firefight that ended in the death of Sal Bonetti and left Hammer with numerous pains, in particular a "hot spot" behind his ribs. So, he's been relaxing and recuperating in Florida and not missing the city a bit.

When Pat tells Mike that their pal Inspector Bill Doolan killed himself, Mike is on his way. After the funeral, though, something nags at Hammer, and he begins to have doubts. Sure, Doolan had cancer, and maybe he would want to do away with himself before the disease made his every living moment hell, but it's just not Doolan's style. And yet maybe it could have been his wish, given how he was living his final years as a playboy, to go out in a flash.

But when the corpse of Ginnie Mathes turns up and Dulcie Thorpe is hit-and-run'd right beside Mike, Hammer knows that, as unofficial as he wanted this visit to be, he'll have to break out the .45 and the porkpie and do what he does best. Only this time without his girl Friday, Velda.

Kiss Her Goodbye is the third Mike Hammer novel finished by author Max Allan Collins from documents in the late Mickey Spillane's files. The first two were The Goliath Bone and The Big Bang (with the non-Hammer Dead Street before that).

Collins has really hit his stride with this one. He captures the disco era skillfully, yet assures that it doesn't feel old or out-of-date to modern readers — though that didn't keep a Bowery Boys reference from eliciting a grin. Kiss Her Goodbye also serves up a superlative mystery that kept me guessing, sometimes even more after a question was answered than before, delivering a couple of really great twists.

There are several more unfinished novels and other works remaining in the Spillane archives, but Kiss Her Goodbye is at this writing the last Hammer contracted for. I for one am glad to see Hammer in brand new adventures, and I know many of you are, too. So let's keep him there. What this means is that, if you want to see more, you need to speak up with your almighty dollars. Accolades and passionate discussion are all well and good, but the only way the publisher knows that these books are in demand is if they sell.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Guest Blogger: Don Bendell, author of Strongheart: A Story of the Old West

Today I have the honor of welcoming author Don Bendell to the pages of Somebody Dies. Bendell wrote 10 popular Westerns in the 1990s (the Colt series), but after the fall-off of Westerns, he switched to military thrillers. A real cowboy, he longed to return to writing Westerns.

He liked the name of his hero in Detachment Delta, Charlie Strongheart, so much that when his editor asked him to return to Westerns, Bendell said the first book would be named Strongheart. The author and his wife own the Strongheart Ranch in southern Colorado and have even registered the Strongheart brand.

Strongheart is centered around the Fremont, Custer, and Saguache Counties in Colorado territory in 1873. The story begins with an action-packed stage holdup on Copper Gulch Road and a promise made to a beautiful grieving widow to get back her stolen antique wedding ring. The promise is made by the tall, handsome Joshua Strongheart, a half-white and half–Sioux Indian Pinkerton agent. There are fights, chases, and shootouts from Canon City and Florence to Hardscrabble and Villa Grove in the southern Colorado Front range area.

The plot involves Strongheart couriering a letter signed by the President from the US War Department to Major General Jefferson Davis, who has captured Captain Jack of the Modoc Tribe. Captain Jack is scheduled to be executed by firing squad. Washington does not want the popular Modoc chief, who embarrassed the army eluding capture, to become a martyr, so the missive clearly directs Davis to assure that the chief and his followers get a public and fair trial.

The story also centers around the fact that Strongheart gave his word to a beautiful widow that he would get her ring back. He lives by the creed that a man is only as good as his word, and the storyline proves it as he hunts down the gang who robbed the stage, man by man, and survives gun battles, ambushes, and even has a run-in with a large grizzly bear.

In the process of all this, Strongheart falls in love with the young widow, but it is an unrequited love, as her husband has only been dead a year. She still feels a loyalty, and the highly principled Strongheart feels honor-bound not to proclaim his growing all-out love for her. Strongheart is full of action and suspense from cover to cover, and you’ll have to read it to see how Josh and the widow come out.

Read on for an excerpt from Strongheart...

The tall warrior grabbed his bag and headed to the nearby stream to bathe, clean off his war paint, and change clothes. The Lakota or Sioux and their allies, the Cheyenne and Arapaho, were meticulous about bathing and keeping clean, and he was amused how so many racist wasicun, or white men, used expressions such as “filthy redksins.” The Lakota actually viewed many whites as being very dirty and unkempt.

Thirty minutes later, he returned to the circle of lodges from the stream. Lila Wiya Waste looked at him approaching with a great longing. She wished he was not her first cousin, but wished more he would look at her the way the other braves did. He now was dressed in his normal manner of dress and looked like a totally different person, a white man, with Lakota features.

His long, shiny, black hair was no longer braided but hung down his back in a single ponytail, and it was covered by a black cowboy hat with a wide very flat brim and rounded crown. A very wide, fancy, colorful beaded hat band went around the base of the crown.

He wore a bone hair pipe choker necklace around his sinewy neck and a piece of beaded leather thong hung down a little from the front with a large grizzly bear claw attached to it.

His soft antelope skin shirt did little to hide his bulging muscles, and the small rows of fringe which slanted in from the broad shoulders in a V shape above the large pectoral muscles and stopping at mid-chest, actually served to accentuate the muscular build and narrow waist that looked like a flesh-covered washboard like the wasicun women used.

Levi Strauss had recently patented and started making a brand new type of trousers made of blue denim which whites were calling “Levi’s.” They had brass rivets and Joshua had bought a couple pairs from a merchandiser, who bought them himself for $13.50 for each dozen pairs. They were tight, and they too did little to hide the bulging muscles of his long legs.

Around his hips, Joshua wore his prized possessions, one a gift from his late-step-father and the other a gift from his late father. On the right hip of the engraved brown gunbelt was the fancy holster, with his step-father’s Colt .45 Peacemaker in it. It had miniature marshal’s badges, like his step-father’s own, attached to both of the Mother of Pearl grips and fancy engraving along the barrel. It was a brand new single action model made especially for the army in this year, 1873, and this one was a special order by his step-father’s friend Chris Colt, who was a nephew of inventor Colonel Samuel Colt.

On his left hip was the long beaded and porcupine-quilled and fringed leather knife sheath holding the large Bowie-like knife with the elk antler handle and brass inlays. It was left to him by his father.

He wore long cowboy boots with large-roweled, jingle-bob Mexican spurs with two little bell shaped pieces of steel that hung down on the outside of each from the hubs and clinked on the spur rowels as they spun or while he walked.

Because he had always been trained to keep his weapons clean and knife sharp, Joshua pulled the large knife from the sheath and examined the blade. As usual, it was scalpel-sharp.

Lila Wiya Waste, his cousin, handed him a cup of hot coffee from the large pot he gave her months earlier. He sipped the steaming brew and thought about his childhood quest to learn about his biological father and search for blood relatives.

His biological father, Siostukala, Claw Marks, had disappeared when Joshua was young and was a total mystery to him for many years. His mother would not tell him anything about the man, and Joshua quit asking, because tears would well up in her eyes every time his name was brought up. Joshua figured he must have caused her very painful memories. Asking when family friends were trading with the Sioux, he traveled to Lakota villages every chance he got to locate him.

Finally, at 16, he met his half-brother who grew up with Siostukala . His 13-year-old half-brother named Cate Waste, meaning “Cheerful,” told him how his father died a year earlier.

Friday, April 1, 2011

Living After Midnight: Hard and Heavy Stories now only $.99!

Acid Grave Press must have spring fever because they've reduced the price of Living After Midnight: Hard and Heavy Stories, the story anthology I co-edited with David T. Wilbanks, to less than a dollar. Read on...

It's April, and throughout this whole month, Acid Grave Press's hard-rockin' horror and dark-fantasy anthology Living After Midnight: Hard and Heavy Stories is being reduced to the insane price of only $.99 from its original rock-bottom deal of $2.99.

So, for all you April fools who haven't yet bought a copy, snatch one now before the price goes back up in May!

This price reduction is primarily effective at Amazon (Kindle format) and Smashwords (other formats), but you may be able to find this lower price at your favorite e-tailer.

If you still need convincing, just check out these great reviews:

"One of the things that make having an e-reader worthwhile." — Dead in the South

"Heavy metal horror heaven." — Ginger Nuts of Horror

"A good variety pack of scary stories ... an easy read, and a satisfying one." — author Patrick D'Orazio

And here's another great review from Martel Sardina at Dark Scribe Magazine.
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