Criminal Records #1 – Tom Leins on Meat Bubbles

In the first instalment of a brand new series, Dirty Books curator Tom Leins talks you through some of the tracks that influenced his new book, Meat Bubbles & Other Stories (Near To The Knuckle).

MEAT BUBBLES

Drum & bass is about as an unlikely influence on crime fiction as you can get, but it most definitely influenced the title story of my new collection. I first encountered ‘Meat Bubbles’ by Dirty Harry on a second-hand D&B compilation, and knew I had to repurpose that wonderfully grisly title for my own malevolent purposes. After all, how queasy must a black-market surgical procedure be for it to cause meat bubbles?! For what it’s worth, drum & bass is actually pretty good writing music: brutal breakbeats, stomach-churning bass, and a sprinkling of paranoia. Go ahead, punk – give it a try…

PINKY RING

In early-2017 I had a story – Incarcerated Scarfaces – published in This Book Ain’t Nuttin to Fuck With: A Wu-Tang Tribute Anthology. It was crammed with so many Wu-Tang Clan references it probably warranted footnotes! Pinky Ring takes its name from the 2001 single ‘Uzi (Pinky Ring)’, which was included on the Iron Flag album. The Wu-Tang references here are far more subtle – just the title and a reference to garbage bags full of hash. (Note: the killer sample is from ‘Parade Strut’ by JJ Johnson, which was featured on the soundtrack of Blaxploitation movie Willie Dynamite!)

Hip-hop is a huge influence on my crime fiction. I love densely packed imagery-rich lyrics, and like to build up stories one line at a time, shuffling the text around until the whole package starts to flow. I don’t plan my stories in notebooks – I scrawl them on scraps of paper like Eminem in 8 Mile!  Walking around Paignton on my lunch break, listening to the likes of the Wu-Tang Clan, Nas and Notorious BIG, while soaking up the sights is a potent combo. Seeing drug dogs sent into sheltered accommodation, or men stumbling down Foxhole Road with bloody lump hammers in the middle of the day are striking images. Witness these things with Ghostface Killah rapping in your ear, and you know you are going to have a good writing session that evening!

THE GUNS OF BRIXHAM

I’m sure most writers have a dreaded first book attempt stashed away on their hard-drive – so lamentable that they can’t even bear to open the document any more to check how bad it was. Mine was called Thirsty & Miserable, and while most of the content was too cringe-worthy to even consider reworking, elements of the closing story The Guns of Brixham made it into a new story of the same name, which first appeared as part of the Akashic Books’ Mondays Are Murder series a couple of years ago.

Most notably, I resurrected the location of the climactic showdown and the character of Errol – no longer a bouncer – now an ex-soldier providing muscle-for-hire for a Turkish heroin dealer. Like the Wu-Tang Clan, The Clash are another band whose imagery blew me away the first time I heard them (‘White Man In Hammersmith Palais’, in that case), and like a lot of their records ‘The Guns of Brixton’ still sounds tremendous. I’m a sucker for picking my titles first and then concocting a story to fit, and this one is a definite example!

DRY SALVAGE

I first encountered cult Scottish indie band AC Acoustics when Placebo singer Brian Molko wore a t-shirt promoting their great 1999 single ‘Stunt Girl’. (Apparently this was on Top of the Pops, but I have no idea!) The early AC Acoustics albums didn’t quite work for me, and my favourite record of theirs was 2000’s low-key Understanding Music, which includes this song, ‘Dry Salvage’.

It was only after finishing my story of the same name that I grew curious about the origins of the phrase, and I discovered that the band had been referencing T.S. Eliot’s poem, ‘The Dry Salvages’. My knowledge of 1940s poetry unfortunately pales next to my knowledge of turn-of-the-Millennium Scottish indie bands, but it is a great phrase which worked perfectly for a story about a decrepit storage facility that harbours all manner of dark secrets. Dry Salvage is one of the last pieces in Meat Bubbles & Other Stories, and I hope the bruised and beaten mood of the story matches the subdued qualities of the song.

SNUFF RACKET: OBLIVION

‘Snuff Racket’, the novelette that closes Meat Bubbles & Other Stories, started life as ‘Didn’t Bleed Red’, a serialised neo-Giallo story which appeared in The Blood Red Experiment. The initial title was taken from an album track by cult ‘90s Brit-rockers Terrorvision, and inspired by the murderous antagonist’s early observation that a pool of blood ‘glints like dog piss on petrol’!

The original title was downgraded to a chapter heading when I reworked the story for publication, but the Terrorvision theme remained intact, with a number of other song and album titles appearing as chapter titles, including ‘Hide The Dead Girl’, ‘Perseverance’ and ‘How To Make Friends & Influence People’, all of which seemed weirdly appropriate! Fittingly, ‘Oblivion’ crops up in the epilogue…

Bio:

Tom Leins is a disgraced ex-film critic from Paignton, UK. His short stories have been published by the likes of Akashic Books, Shotgun Honey, Near to the Knuckle, Flash Fiction Offensive, Horror Sleaze Trash and Spelk Fiction. A pair of novelettes, Skull Meat and Snuff Racket, are available via Amazon and the short story collections Meat Bubbles & Other Stories (Near To The Knuckle) and Repetition Kills You (All Due Respect), will be published in 2018. For more information, please visit: Things To Do In Devon When You’re Dead.

Are you a crime writer? Would you like to write about the musical influences on your new book? If so, drop me a line via the contact form on the About page!

 

 

Advertisements

The Interrogation Room – An Interview With C.S. DeWildt

Next up in The Interrogation Room… Tom Leins catches up with C. S. DeWildt to discuss his new book, Suburban Dick (Shotgun Honey).

Congratulations on the publication of your new book. First things first, the question on everyone’s lips: how long is Chris DeWildt’s Suburban Dick?

Long enough to get the job done – 200 pages.

On a more practical note, how would you pitch Suburban Dick to potential readers?

Work and home life collide as smartass private detective Gus Harris investigates the case of the missing high school wrestler.

Which characters influenced Gus Harris in Suburban Dick?

He’s a combination of Jake Gittes, Jim Rockford, and me.

As a reader, what draws you to private eye fiction?

The thrill of the chase! I just love the experience, watching them put the clues together. And I think PI protagonists are interesting cats. They straddle the moral line and I’m drawn to that.

As a writer, how tough is it to give the private eye story fresh impetus?

I don’t know if I’m qualified to answer that. I just try to do something I have seen or heard before. If I can entertain myself I’m sure I can entertain a few readers.

Do you read mainstream crime fiction, or are your tastes firmly rooted in the independent scene? Do you think crime fiction is too safe?

The mainstream stuff doesn’t do it for me. One of the things I like most about the indie scene is the huge body of undiscovered work. I feel mainstream crime fiction is definitely too safe. The last mainstream piece of crime fiction I read was Gone Girl, and the twist was interesting but beyond that it didn’t do much for me. I like darker stories, stories about terrible people doing terrible things. Indie is where it’s at.

Which contemporary writers do you consider to be your peers?

I dunno. I suffer from classic imposter syndrome, so I’m hesitant to throw myself into the same category as anyone else. That said, I’m pretty tight with a lot of the All Due Respect writers and a few in the Down & Out Books crowd.

Which books from the Down & Out/Shotgun Honey/All Due Respect extended family would you recommend to the uninitiated?

Hustle or Knuckleball by Tom Pitts. Crosswise by S.W. Lauden. Great guys, great writers. Texas Two-Step by Michael Pool is next on my list.

If your career trajectory could follow that of any well-known writer, who would you choose, and why?

Probably Faulkner, Nabakov, or Jim Thompson. They all leveraged their talents to secure Hollywood gigs. I’d love to be making films but telling stories on paper is cheaper.

Finally, what are your future publishing plans?

Working on a couple sequels, one to Suburban Dick and another to my Neil Chambers book, Love You to a Pulp.

Bio:

CS DeWildt lives in Arizona with his wife and sons. He is the author of several works of longer fiction and a collection of shorts. Please visit him here:

https://csdewildt.com

https://www.facebook.com/csdewildtauthor/

https://twitter.com/csdewildt

Book Review: The Fighter by Michael Farris Smith

THE FIGHTER

Author: Michael Farris Smith

Publisher: No Exit Press

Release Date: March 2018

Punch-drunk middle-aged bareknuckle fighter Jack Boucher is damaged beyond repair. Too many punches to the skull have scrambled his brain, and now he has to carry around a notebook highlighting which of his scuzzy acquaintances are his friends, and which are his enemies. Abandoned as a child, Boucher was raised by a foster mother, who now resides in a hospice, suffering from dementia. Desperate to protect the family home from repossession, pill-popping Boucher seems destined for one last stint in the cage…

At just over 200 pages, The Fighter is a slight book that packs a ferocious punch. Beautifully written, and utterly absorbing, Farris Smith has crafted an emphatic story about a man pushed to the limits – desperate to claw back a slither of self-respect as he backslides into the abyss.

The creaking Boucher is an impressively ravaged physical specimen – held together by his scar tissue and his conscience – and the supporting players are equally well-judged. Carny runaway Annette and savage local crime boss Big Momma Sweet are among the vividly-drawn characters that populate the book, and both could comfortably carry their own novellas. The Fighter is an excellent book that comes highly recommended.

Review by Tom Leins

Buy from No Exit Press

The Interrogation Room – An Interview With Anthony Neil Smith

Next up in The Interrogation Room… Tom Leins catches up with Anthony Neil Smith to discuss his new book, The Cyclist (Bastei Entertainment).

Congratulations on the release of your new book, The Cyclist. How would you pitch the story to would-be readers?

A failed Marine falls for a girl hallway around the world and flies to see her on a “blind date”. Little does he know, she’s hiding a secret that might just be the end of him.

Scotland is a country with a rich crime fiction history. Why did you pick it as the location for your fish-out-of-water thriller?

Well, I love Scotland. I’ve been there twice, but I’ve had friends there for years, such as Allan Guthrie (my editor) and Ray Banks. I’ve read loads of novels from the country – everyone from A.L. Kennedy to Irvine Welsh to James Kelman. So it was a natural choice to want to write about it. The Highlands are beautiful, but they can also be terrifying in a sublime way. And Glasgow has a lot of personality and attitude. I feel at home there, even though I’m still learning a lot with every trip I take and every book I read.

Given the right break, The Cyclist feels like it could resonate with a mainstream audience – was that intentional?

Absolutely. I’ve written thirteen previous novels, all of which have attracted a “cult” audience, I’d say, and some of the early ones were really rough “gonzo noir.” And I love those books!  However, I’ve always dreamed of a larger audience enjoying my books, the same way I enjoy a lot of mainstream thrillers and crime novels. So that’s a goal of mine: to learn how to write a book that can reach out and grab a very large swath of thriller readers. THE CYCLIST is another step on that journey. I mean, some writers may scoff at James Patterson or John Grisham, but they must know *something* I haven’t figured out yet in order to have so many people love to read them.

Do you read mainstream crime fiction, or are your tastes firmly rooted in the independent scene?

I read all of it. I love the dangerous edge of the indies, and I love the big name bestsellers. And I definitely prefer when the writing and the plot are both working at a very high level, what some people might call “transcending the genre,” although a lot of writers I know abhor that phrase. I don’t mind it. I think it just means to transcend genre expectations, thus reinvigorating the genre we love so much.

The Cyclist drags the reader into so pretty dark places – do you think crime fiction is too safe?

Sometimes, but I also have to face the fact that everyone should be able to enjoy crime fiction at a level that’s right for them, and not all crime fiction is right for every reader. I am exasperated by those people who will shit all over a novel simply because it had “naughty language” in it, but they have no trouble with bloody murder. Or, you know, turned off by sex in a book. I *love* sex scenes in books, if they don’t go for awful poetry over getting the job done.

I don’t think it’s too safe, though, when we consider that so many crime novels are also social justice novels, touching on subjects that more literary writers have been afraid to touch. Think about THE WIRE, for instance, or Don Winslow’s THE CARTEL. Those are politically provocative works.

Did you worry that you had gone too far with any of the violence in the book?

Nope. I think artists should be allowed to go wherever the story takes them, and I think violence in art is never as awful as real life can dish out. But let’s be real: I don’t think I’m glamorizing violence, and any good writer should tell you the same thing. When we write violent scenes, they have to scare ourselves in order for us to know that they work. You can sort of tell which scenes cause us to cringe as we write them. It should feel as dangerous as real life. But then again, like with horror movie gore, we *want* that visceral terror while also feeling safe.

Stepping away from your new book, your back catalogue was recently re-released by Down & Out Books – how did that arrangement come about?

Eric Campbell, who runs D&O, was kind enough to publish some of my ebook originals from Blasted Heath as paperbacks. So once Blasted Heath closed up shop, D&O seemed a natural fit for my backlist. They’ve been great to work with, have given me generous terms, and they are passionate about crime fiction. I’m also glad that I still get to work with my Blasted Heath cover designer J.T. Lindroos, who has performed artistic miracles.

If you could recommend one of your books to a first-time reader, which one would you choose?

Definitely ALL THE YOUNG WARRIORS. That is the book that I think should’ve been a bestseller, should’ve been a movie, and should’ve made me rich. I think it came together beautifully. I saw a story about young Somali men in Minnesota who would go “missing” here, only to end up in Mogadishu fighting for the terrorists in a Civil War. It was fascinating and sad, so the story and characters came to me soon after hearing about it.

Which contemporary writers do you consider to be your peers?

Well, that’s a tough one. There are so many that I’m bound to leave some out, and I’m certainly much less read than many of them! But I’ll throw a few names out there, like my close friends Victor Gischler and Sean Doolittle, and Megan Abbott, Laura Lippman, Jason Starr, Stephen Graham Jones, Adrian McKinty. IT’S NOT A FAIR QUESTION! I’ve met so many great writers, befriended so many, and with our old magazine PLOTS WITH GUNS, I’d even say we helped birth a few careers. So it’s an impossible question.

If your career trajectory could follow that of any well-known writer, who would you choose, and why?

Wow oh wow. I daydream about this all the time, and I hope I can achieve it one day. It’s not so much the money as it is the reaching out to readers… but it’s the money, too. I would love to see myself achieving what James Ellroy has, or Walter Mosley, or Laura Lippman, or T. Jefferson Parker, or Tana French, or Adrian McKinty. I mean, I would love to write full-time (even though I love my job as a university professor) for a big audience that gets where I’m coming from.

But then again, there’s something kind of cool about being a cult author.

Finally, what are your future publishing plans?

I want to work with publishers who a) I like, and b) who want to help me reach more readers. I’d love to work with someone with creative ideas, not just folks looking at the bottom line all the time. After THE CYCLIST, I’m currently working on a book I’ve been thinking of writing for a long time, based on an actual crime committed by someone I once knew. It’s very early, but it’s coming together nicely. I have no idea what people will think of it, but it’s just one I *have* to write to get it out of my system.

After that: another adrenaline-drenched crime thriller, I hope. I’ll write those until I drop.

Bio:

Anthony Neil Smith is the author of fourteen novels, including YELLOW MEDICINE, ALL THE YOUNG WARRIORS, CASTLE DANGER, and THE CYCLIST. He is a professor and the Chair of English, Philosophy, Spanish & Humanities at Southwest Minnesota State University. He likes cheap red wine and tacos. His dog is named Herman, and he is a good boy.

Twitter

Amazon Page

Book Review: The Cyclist by Anthony Neil Smith

THE CYCLIST

Author: Anthony Neil Smith

Publisher: Bastei Entertainment

Release Date: May 2018

Since dropping out of Navy SEAL training, Judd has found himself in a rut. Living alone, and tormented – quite literally – by Burt, his drunken former SEAL trainer, he takes solace in a burgeoning online friendship with a Scottish girl named Catriona, built on their shared obsession with cycling. As their mutual attraction grows, Judd makes the bold decision to fly to Scotland and meet Cat in person, with a view to taking an epic bike trip through the Scottish Highlands, and getting to know each other more intimately. Nothing is quite what it seems, however, and Judd’s dream trip quickly degenerates into a bloody nightmare, as a mysterious lunatic sets his sights on the couple…

With its transatlantic, fish-out-of-water plot, and its nerve-jangling Catfish-meets-Rambo storyline, The Cyclist represents a well-judged lunge towards the mainstream for cult crime novelist Anthony Neil Smith. The principal characters are unusual and well-rendered, and the narrative is satisfyingly twisty throughout. That said, Smith pulls no punches with the grisly violence, which made me wince more than once.

Sometimes The Cyclist feels less like a cat ‘n’ mouse thriller, and more like a visit to a menagerie of maniacs – and that is definitely a good thing! Entertaining stuff.

Review by Tom Leins

Book Reviews: A Brutal Bunch of Heartbroken Saps + Slaughterhouse Blues by Nick Kolakowski

A BRUTAL BUNCH OF HEARTBROKEN SAPS + SLAUGHTERHOUSE BLUES

Author: Nick Kolakowski

Publisher: Shotgun Honey (an imprint of Down & Out Books)

Release Date: May 2017 + February 2018

At the outset of A Brutal Bunch of Heartbroken Saps, self-absorbed hustler Bill is on the run from the Rockaway Mob, millions in embezzled cash safely tucked in the trunk of his not-at-all-conspicuous lime-green convertible. Bill is confident he can out-run the handful of undesirables on his trail, but his grand exit strategy hits a major roadblock in the form of a posse of small-town criminals whose initial southern hospitality proves unfortunately short-lived. Happily – for the reader at least – the situation spirals bloodily out of control, and carnage ensues. Follow-up Slaughterhouse Blues picks up the narrative thread, with Bill and (pursuer-turned-lover) Fiona now hunted by sociopathic, well-groomed contract-killers Barbara and Ken! Cue more love, more bullets and more imaginative bloodshed!

With these two novellas Nick Kolakowski cements his position as a contemporary crime writer worthy of further scrutiny. Twisted, amusing and enjoyably violent, these books are a fine advertisement for the Shotgun Honey brand. Rather than risk repeating himself, in Slaughterhouse Blues Kolakowski whisks his protagonists Bill and Fiona off to Cuba and Nicaragua, respectively – furthering the storyline and dragging the characters even further out of their comfort zone. The evocative Latin American locations are convincingly rendered, and give the cat ‘n’ mouse story an extra narrative charge. All in all, a pair of quick, slick crime stories that complement the author’s entertaining body of short fiction.

Buy A Brutal Bunch of Heartbroken Saps

Buy Slaughterhouse Blues

Review by Tom Leins

The Interrogation Room – An Interview With Jason Beech

Next up in The Interrogation Room… Tom Leins catches up with Jason Beech to discuss his new book, City of Forts.

Firstly, how would you pitch City of Forts to potential readers?

All thirteen-year-old Ricky Nardilo wants is a fun summer before he and his friends part for school again. But, when he and Liz fall through the floor of an abandoned house and come face to face with a dead man, the hot months become charged with danger.

The City of Forts is the name Ricky and his friends have given a crescent of abandoned homes at the edge of Town. Lying in the shadow of a disused factory it is their refuge from the Town’s rust, its drug dealers, and the Ghost Boys.

It’s not a refuge for long. The dead man has triggered a gangster’s warpath. Tarantula Man wants to know how his man has disappeared. And he wants to use the City of Forts for his own purposes.

Ricky, Liz, Bixby, and Tanais will not give it up without a fight – and maybe with the help of Floyd, Mr Vale and his son, Charlie, they’ll rid themselves of the invaders.

City of Forts is a dark coming of age crime drama where every street and alleyway is loaded with menace.

As a Brit living in the US, when you start work on a new piece, is your natural inclination to write an American story or a British one?

I don’t know anymore. I write the first paragraph and see which location it takes me. I set City of Forts in Yorkshire at first, but Ricky’s tone came out all American, so I switched it quickly to the US hinterland, even though much comes loosely from my own childhood.

I set the one I’m writing now, Never Go Back, in the US, but that has shifted back to my Sheffield hometown, maybe because it’s about an expat coming back to his roots. This bugger is all made-up, but is full of dee-dars as well as Spaniards.

Getting the American tone right for City of Forts proved a challenge. I initially called it City of Dens, but an American pal noted that a den on this side of the pond is where you put your office, so that title went out the window head first.

I’m not a native, but when I first came over here I lived with dozens of American families from all political backgrounds – hardcore Republicans and live-and-let-live liberals, as well as independents in between. I’ve sat at their breakfast tables in my shorts, been to their churches, slid off their double-decker boat slides into lakes outside John Mellencamp’s house.

And I’ve lived here for years now, so I felt comfortable writing from an American perspective, from all their perspectives. I hope I got it right, and I hope I’ve scrubbed all references to shopping trolleys away.

You have produced short stories as well as novels – which format do you enjoy writing the most?

I prefer short stories when I’m writing a novel, until I get past about 20,000 words in a novel and then I prefer the novel. Once you’ve lived inside it a while it’s easier than a short story, which is over almost as quick as you started.

What are the main positives behind self-publishing – and what are the chief drawbacks?

The freedom to write what the hell you want is the top selling point of independent publishing. As long as you iron out all the work’s deficiencies and get other eyes involved, it is brilliant for creativity.

The biggest drawback is getting your work seen. I’ve sold a few, but I’m a terrible marketer and I’m sure I could reach a lot more readers with the skills pro publishers have in their hands.

Do you think crime fiction is too safe? Do you read mainstream crime fiction, or are your tastes firmly rooted in the independent scene?

There’s a market for any taste nowadays, so I don’t think it’s safe if you know what you want and know how to get it. You’ve got to be careful not to buy any old guff just because it’s ultra-violent. That veers towards torture or misery-porn. But there have been many mainstream crime fiction books I’ve read where I got to the end and wondered, “is that it?”

I’m mad for James Ellroy, which scares me half to death. But I also like Ian Rankin, who’s nowhere near as off the rails. I can mix it with the independent stuff. If I want a laugh I’m all Paul D. Brazill. Ryan Bracha comes up with some off the wall crackpottery I enjoy. Ray Banks, Keith Nixon, Thomas Pluck, Paul Heatley, Gareth Spark, Kate Laity/Graham Wynd, Aidan Thorn – loads to enjoy.

Which contemporary writers do you consider to be your peers?

Bloody hell, I don’t know if I can answer that until I have a wider readership. I’d love to say Aidan Thorn, Paul D. Brazill, you, Paul Heatley, Sonia Kilvington, Ryan Bracha, Keith Nixon, and a whole bunch more, but they are all way ahead of me.

If your career trajectory could follow that of any well-known writer, who would you choose, and why?

I’d want to mix James Ellroy and Iain Banks in a stew and have that career. I don’t know where I am with Ellroy – is he a right wing nut or an Obama supporter? – but his books make your head spin. I love Banks’ characters and could live in his The Crow Road world, easy.

I could live with their success, though I’d find Ellroy’s public persona hard to keep up with, and I couldn’t pull off his bullshit pronouncements.

Finally, what are your future publishing plans?

My new novel, City of Forts, is out on 15 April this year – out for pre-order right now. I hope to get Never Go Back out for Christmas.

Bio:

Jason Beech hails from Sheffield, England, but now lives in New Jersey with his wife and daughter. He’s the author of Moorlands and the Bullets, Teeth, & Fists Collections. His next novel, City of Forts, is out soon, and he has a number of shorts in various digital magazines.

Website:

https://jdbeech.wordpress.com

Twitter:

@beech_jason

 

Under The Influence – Richard Brautigan – by Chris Orlet

Richard Brautigan was not a great novelist. He was a worse poet. He did, however, have a remarkable – and fleeting – talent for tapping into a certain substrata of the national zeitgeist.

Thus, for a few years Brautigan was the unlikeliest of counter-culture icons. One critic noted that in the 1960’s, the release of a new Brautigan book was akin to the appearance of a new Bob Dylan album.

I was introduced to Brautigan’s works through the dog-eared copy of his novella In Watermelon Sugar that my older sister had abandoned in the bathroom closet–which may be the most effective way yet devised to introduce fifteen-year-old boys to literature.

I didn’t get In Watermelon Sugar, which isn’t surprising since most book reviewers didn’t quite know what to make of it either; a surreal allegory with a post-apocalyptic setting and a sun that shone a different color every day and what the hell was watermelon sugar anyway?

I had a sense that I wasn’t supposed to get it. We were entering strange new territory, having left the familiar and safe land of John Steinbeck and Willa Cather around the last forested bend.

I kept coming back to In Watermelon Sugar, like a hippie fisherman to a dependable trout stream. Perhaps I was attracted by the subversive themes of revolution and peace and other radical ideas my parents and the Catholic Church would have disapproved of.

Or perhaps it was because it made me laugh:

“Here is a list of the things that I will tell you about in this book. There’s no use saving it until later. I might as well tell you now where you’re at—

      1:  iDEATH. (A good place.)

      2:  Charley (My friend.)

      3:  The tigers and how they lived and how beautiful they were and how they died and how they talked to me while they ate my parents, and how I talked back to them and how they stopped eating my parents, though it did not help my parents any, nothing could help them by then, and we talked for a long time and one of the tigers helped me with my arithmetic, then they told me to go away while they finished eating my parents, and I went away. I returned later that night to burn the shack down. That’s what we did in those days.”

Brautigan was a master at creating poignant mood-scapes with just a few words. Partly it was his naive, childlike narration. Always terribly sad and terribly funny at the same time.

Years after the forty-nine-year-old author discharged a revolver into his mouth and followed his hero Hemingway to the great library of unpublished books in the sky, Brautigan’s daughter Ianthe sought to discover the spring of her father’s sadness.

From time to time, he’d hinted at the causes in his fiction, particularly in his semi-autobiographical novel So the Wind Doesn’t Blow it All Away, where he described a mystical Pacific Northwest childhood full of wonder and sadness and tragedy. Ianthe wrote that Brautigan’s mother would leave him and his little sister terrified and alone in their welfare motel room for days upon end, while she went out looking for a new husband. She wrote that her father was so hungry once he threw a brick through a police station window so he wouldn’t starve.

Most of what I read fades immediately from memory. Plot, characters, setting, mood, all vanish like a used bookstore in a quickly gentrifying neighborhood.

But Brautigan has remained with me like a deep and fresh scar.

A few of the stories in his short story collection The Revenge of the Lawn have especially stuck with me.

I’m thinking of his story “⅓, ⅓. ⅓,” chosen by Raymond Carver as one of the great American short stories of the last century. The story is about a young couple who are attempting to write The Great American Novel only they have no typewriter. They ask the narrator, whom they have heard typing away in his cardboard box, if he will collaborate with them.

“I was about seventeen and made lonely and strange by that Pacific Northwest of so many years ago, that dark, rainy land of 1952. I’m thirty-one now and I still can’t figure out what I meant by living the way I did in those days.”

The three strike a deal in which they will split the immense profits of their book into thirds. The story ends with the narrator “pounding at the gates of American literature.”

Brautigan’s best work is not the cult classic Trout Fishing in America, which is as meandering as a shimmering north Pacific stream and as uneven as the floor of an old rural Oregon shack, but his short story “A Short History of Oregon” which tells of a young man who goes hitchhiking and hunting in the rain and comes unexpectedly upon some children on the porch of a shack. There’s more to it, but it’s in the telling. Brautigan’s telling, not mine.

The story’s ending couldn’t be more perfect. So why don’t I leave you with that?

“I’ll have to admit that I was a strange sight coming down their muddy little road in the middle of God-damn nowhere with darkness coming on and a 30:30 cradled down in my arms, so the night rain wouldn’t get in the barrel.

The kids didn’t say a word as I walked by. The sisters’ hair was unruly like dwarf witches’. I didn’t see their folks. There was no light on in the house.

A Model A truck lay on its side in front of the house. It was next to three empty fifty-gallon oil drums. They didn’t have a purpose any more. There were some odd pieces of rusty cable. A yellow dog came out and stared at me.

I didn’t say a word in my passing. The kids were soaking wet now. They huddled together in silence on the porch. I had no reason to believe that there was anything more to life than this.”

Bio:

Chris Orlet is the author of the forthcoming A Taste of Shogtun (All Due Respect) and In the Pines (New Pulp Press).

Are you a crime writer? Would you like to write a short piece about one of your formative influences? If so, drop me a line via the contact form on the About page!

The Interrogation Room – An Interview With Paul Greenberg

Next up in The Interrogation Room… Tom Leins catches up with Paul Greenberg to discuss his new short story collection, Dead Guy in the Bathtub (All Due Respect).

Firstly, congratulations on the publication of Dead Guy in the Bathtub! How hard was it to select the stories – and indeed the running order?

Thanks Tom. I really appreciate it. Choosing the stories was easy. I sent everything to my editor and publisher, Chris Rhatigan and I let him decide!

My biggest concern about the running order was where do you place the title piece? It’s like making an album. Do you lead with the title track or bury it on side two? We put it towards the top of the order.

Do you have a favourite story in the collection? If so, why is it your favourite?

I like “He Touched Me.” It’s about the underbelly of an extreme collectibles market. It’s got Elvis, passion and decapitation.

What is the oldest story in the book? How do you think your style has evolved since then?

The oldest story in the collection is “Bobby’s Big Brain.” It’s the first story I ever had accepted at Out of the Gutter, back in 2012. As style goes, I try to adhere to Elmore Leonard’s ‘10 Rules of Writing’. Why? Because Elmore Leonard. So you won’t find me “using an adverb to modify the verb said, he admonished gravely”.

Do you think crime fiction is too safe? Do you read mainstream crime fiction, or are your tastes firmly rooted in the independent scene?

I’ve read a ton. Mainstream, indy, vintage pulp fiction, hardboiled and noir authors. Plenty of unsafe out there. Unsafe is good. Like you for example, Tom! (Make out the check to Paul S. Greenberg…)

Your collection has been published by All Due Respect/Down & Out Books – do you have any favourite ADR/D&O authors or titles you would like to recommend?

I’ve read: Chris Irvin, Beau Johnson, Marietta Miles, Tom Pitts and Paul Brazill. All highly recommended. Did I forget Joe Clifford?

Which contemporary writers do you consider to be your peers?

Peers? I have no peers. They just won’t have me.

If your career trajectory could follow that of any well-known writer, who would you choose, and why?

If I had an Andy Warhol ‘15 Minutes of Fame’ trajectory I’d be happy. Then again, probably not…

Do you crave mainstream success, or is developing cult status satisfying enough?

I’m just here for the groupies.

Finally, what are your future publishing plans?

I’m working hard on a second collection of stories. The working title is “Dead Guy in the Dumpster.” See you next year!

Bio:

Paul Greenberg has been writing since he was a child. His first published work was a review of The Police at The Rat, a legendary Punk club in Boston. An avid reader of crime fiction Paul started writing and submitting to crime fiction journals in 2012. Since then his work has been placed in Out of the Gutter/The Flash Fiction Offensive, Shotgun Honey, All Due Respect, Horror Sleaze Trash, Yellow Mama, Spelk, Thrills Kills & Chaos and Near to the Knuckle. Paul spent many years working in record stores in the Boston area, and is a former employee of Capitol Records. He resides on the Northshore of Boston with his wife and two sons.

Dead Guy In The Bathtub @ Down & Out Books

Book Review: Gunshine State by Andrew Nette

GUNSHINE STATE

Author: Andrew Nette

Publisher: Down & Out Books

Release Date: February 2018

Gunshine State is the story of Gary Chance, a former Australian army driver, ex-bouncer and thief, who finds himself in Surfers Paradise, Queensland, working for Dennis Curry, an aging criminal with a lucrative side-line in high-stakes poker games. Curry has hatched a plan to rob a high-roller named Freddie Gao, and has assembled an unlikely crew to help him do so. Inevitably, the plan backfires bloodily – setting in motion a violent chain of events that sees Chance scrambling to get clear of the wreckage before circling back in search of his pay-day.

Gunshine State is a tremendous heist-gone-wrong thriller which will delight fans of Richard Stark’s Parker books. The resourceful, cynical Chance is a fully formed flesh-and-blood protagonist – not an indestructible tough guy – and the crew he tangles with is eclectic and similarly well-judged. Nette’s plotting is crisp, and the story zig-zags memorably between the Iron Triangle in South Australia, Surfer’s Paradise, Canberra, Bangkok and Melbourne.

As the heist unravels and the plot unfolds the absorbing location details and invigorating set-pieces help to keep the narrative fresh. All in all: a top-notch thriller. I look forward to the (in-progress) sequel, Orphan Road.

Review by Tom Leins

Buy from Down & Out Books