The Interrogation Room – An Interview with Bobby Mathews

Next up in the Interrogation Room… Tom Leins catches up with Bobby Mathews to discuss his new book, Living the Gimmick.

Congratulations on the imminent publication of your new book! How would you pitch Living the Gimmick to potential readers?

Like a lot of books, Living the Gimmick comes down to a pretty simple premise: What if someone murdered the biggest wrestling star on the planet, and his best friend had to navigate the current ‘sports entertainment’ world to solve the crime?
Then, of course, I had to complicate it by also having the protagonist go through the journey of discovering that his so-called best friend wasn’t exactly who/what he was supposed to be. That was kind of fun, as I had Todd Snider’s song “You Think You Know Somebody” running through my head the whole time.

For years I’ve been fascinated by the intersection of criminality and wrestling. I’ve always found that the deeper you dig, the more lurid the stories get. Were there any specific real-life incidents that influenced your plot?

Oh, absolutely. The most famous one is probably Jerry Graham stealing his mother’s body from a hospital morgue and getting into a showdown with the cops over it. But I think if you pay attention to it, there is a ugly underbelly of sexual crimes that either go unreported or ignored completely.

There are some ugly things in wrestling that make Harvey Weinstein’s crimes pale in comparison. Like, you have the Fabulous Moolah, who would train female wrestlers but also credibly accused of farming the young women out as ‘talent’ to promotions in more ways than one.

Then there are guys like Bruiser Bob Sweetan, a longtime territory wrestler who went to prison for molesting his own daughter. Matt Bourne (later Doink in WWE) got run out of Georgia in the early 1980s when he was a tag team champion because he got caught with an underage girl. Art Barr raped a girl in Oregon. Jerry “the King” Lawler was, I believe, indicted for rape and sodomy of an underage girl. Mind you, these are just off the top of my head. There are guys in the business who have spent time in prison, been indicted for, or credibly accused of robbery, rape, murder. And, of course, I’m not even touching on the Chris Benoit situation. Ugh.

Especially in the 1970s and 1980s, but even into the 90s and 2000s, wrestling could be kind of a haven for outlaws.

What is the first wrestling match that you recall watching? Why did it strike such a chord with you?

The first was probably British journeyman Johnny Eagles vs. some underneath guy that I don’t recall. But Eagles was billed as “the Houdini of wrestling.” That captured my 4-year-old imagination for the program, and then later on in the program you had these outlandish people making incredible claims and these wild-looking brawls. So, Johnny Eagles hooked me, and everything else kept me coming back.

I think part of the reason it struck that chord with me as a kid — as it did with so many kids I knew — is that it felt like the life I was experiencing as a child in school, where there were rules that were either flouted or selectively enforced, and a lot of the time the kids did whatever they could get away with. You know how wrestling referees get distracted or misdirected? You could get away with a lot when the teachers weren’t looking.

Not me, though. I read a lot and brought an apple for the teacher every day. How was I supposed to know there was a worm in it?

Has your interest in wrestling waned over time? Are you conflicted over wrestling’s past and wrestling’s present?

It’s definitely waned, because wrestling went corporate. Part of the magic was the characters who were unpredictable, who would do something outrageous to work up the crowd. You look at the 1970s-80s crowds, the height of the territory days, and you had fans who believed — even if only for the time that they were in the arena — that the action they were seeing was real. The ability to get fans to suspend their disbelief is long gone, and now there’s no heat to it. Mainstream corporate wrestling — I’m talking WWE here — is booked to be as inoffensive and bland as possible, because they don’t want to upset their advertisers or endanger their TV contracts.

There are some companies who are doing interesting things right now, but I really prefer old-school territory wrestling even though I still pay some attention to what’s going on today.

Do you have any favourite eras, or matches that you wanted to pay lip service to in your book?

In many ways, Living the Gimmick is a love letter to territory wrestling. As I was writing it, I always thought of the main character as a sort of stand-in for legendary wrestler Arn Anderson, and I was definitely inspired by some of his true-life details (such as meeting the world champion and becoming friends with him in the Pensacola, Florida, territory).

If Living the Gimmick was a wrestler, which wrestler would it be, and why?

You remember the ‘Three Faces of Foley’ storyline, where Mick Foley was kind of shown to have three distinct personalities? That’s what LTG is like, in some ways because it’s a book that’s firmly — and intentionally — split between the territory days of pro wrestling and modern wrestling. One chapter in the present, one in the past. My hope with the book is that the past illuminates the present. (Which would be pretty to believe about real life, wouldn’t it?)

This book was published by Shotgun Honey; do you read mainstream crime fiction, or are your tastes firmly rooted in the independent scene?

I’m completely unreliable in this regard. I’m an omnivore when it comes to reading and rarely take into account whether a book is ‘mainstream’ or small- or micropress, or even self-published. I’ve got books on my shelves that encompass all of the above. Sometimes the only difference is the marketing budget that Big 5 publishers have access to, if they choose to use those dollars.

If you could recommend one crime novel that people are unlikely to have heard of, what would it be?

The novels of Charles Willeford are largely forgotten now, but they remain some of the most entertaining crime fiction I’ve ever read. The Hoke Moseley series is brilliant from start to finish, full of darkness and wry humor. It’s essentially Southern gothic disguised as crime fiction, and every word is brilliant. Start with Miami Blues and go from there.

For your money, which contemporary writers are producing the most interesting, compelling work right now?

This goes without saying, I’m sure, but Jordan Harper is amazing, and I will spend money on anything he does. S.A. Cosby has really captured the moment with his noir novels set in the American South that he knows so well. He’s not only writing at an INCREDIBLY high level, but he’s doing something important, too: His work is a reminder that the South doesn’t just belong to the good ol’ white boys and the conservative power structure that dominates the region. He’s shouldered his way to the front of the line of American letters in the roaring 2020s, and he’s earned every bit of it.

William Soldan remains the best line-for-line writer I’ve ever read who’s not signed to a Big 5 deal. The guy’s got talent for days and I expect him to break out. C.W. Blackwell is fantastic. He beat me out for a Derringer Award last year, and how dare he? I mean, seriously! HOW FUCKING DARE HE???

I’m fine, I’m fine. Just needed to breathe for a moment. Now, what was I saying? Oh, yeah: Nikki Dolson is the Bret Hart of short story writing: The excellence of execution. Everything Nikki writes is fearless and ferocious. Paul Garth is the master of bleak. Read his short story ‘The Hope of Lost Mares’ in The Eviction of Hope anthology. It’s insanely good. Paul writes slowly, but everything he does is so, so good.

Mark Westmoreland is going places. I mean, prison is a place … no, seriously, Mark’s A Violent Gospel was THE independent crime book of the year in 2021, and he’s only scratched the surface of what he can do. J.B. Stevens will punch your guts out with some of his stuff and then turn around and make you laugh with his humor writing, too. He’s got all the tools.

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

I’d love to have Donald Westlake’s career. Westlake started in the 50s and had a publishing career until he died on New Year’s Eve, 2008. He’s at the top of my Mount Rushmore of writers. To quote Lawrence Block: Westlake “never wrote an awkward sentence.” The man wrote more than 100 novels in his lifetime. Can you imagine? But what makes me want to be like Westlake is his professionalism and his dedication to the craft of writing.

Finally, what are your future publishing plans?

Magic City Blues publishes (also through Shotgun Honey) in February of 2023, and I’m co-editing a charity anthology with Raquel Reyes called Dirty South: High Crimes & Low Lives Below the Mason-Dixon Line (Down & Out Books, summer 2023) which will benefit the Equal Justice Initiative in Montgomery, Alabama.

I’m currently working on two books: 1) A crime novel with the working title The Boys from Alabama; and 2) A Southern gothic novel set against the backdrop of Hurricane Eloise making landfall along the Gulf Coast in the fall of 1976. I hope to have them finished and on submission somewhere by the end of the year.

Bio: Bobby Mathews is the author of the forthcoming novels Living the Gimmick (May 2022) and Magic City Blues (February 2023). He is the co-editor of the anthology Dirty South: High Crimes & Low Lives Below the Mason-Dixon Line, forthcoming in May 2023 from Down & Out Books. Bobby was a finalist for the 2021 Derringer Award for his story ‘Quitman County Ambush.’ He lives in Hoover, Alabama, and when he’s not writing, he’s covering sports in suburban Birmingham, coaching baseball, or reading something that would scandalize the neighbors.


Living the Gimmick will be published by Shotgun Honey on 27th May 2022

The Interrogation Room – An Interview With Laird Barron

Next up in the Interrogation Room… Tom Leins catches up with Laird Barron to discuss to discuss his Isaiah Coleridge series, which comprises Blood Standard, Black Mountain and Worse Angels.

I thoroughly enjoyed reading Blood Standard recently. Isaiah Coleridge is an unusual protagonist – familiar, yet enigmatic. How easy was it for you to shape his character in a way that felt satisfying?

Tom, thank you. I’ve written and published well over a million words. A large chunk of that features various permutations of the archetypal action (anti) hero protagonist—be it two-fisted detectives, gladiators, old school loggers, Pinkertons, arm breakers, and so forth.

Coleridge is a synthesis of my many attempts to depict that type of character. Defaulting to a hardboiled protagonist made writing my first crime novel more comfortable. Satisfaction derived from developing Coleridge and the supporting cast over three novels. Recurring characters present narrative opportunities; especially at novel scale. There are more chances to deviate from the tradition, to contribute one’s own unique take on the subject matter.

In this opening book Isaiah is wrestling with his dark past, and he goes on to have further misadventures in the sequels, Black Mountain and Worse Angels. Was his entire narrative arc mapped out in advance, or did it evolve as you worked?

It began with a sketchy notion of where I wanted to go and the whole thing took off like a boulder rolling downhill. Robert B. Parker and John D. MacDonald are foremost among numerous inspirations for Coleridge. Spenser and Magee stories tend to be episodic. Spenser didn’t change much over many years and multiple novels.

I wanted to operate in a kind of twilight realm between doggedly episodic narrative and a heroic saga with an overarching theme and defined endgame. Coleridge hasn’t necessarily grown across three novels so much as I’ve discovered more and more of his true nature.

As a reader, which personality traits do you enjoy most when investing time in a series character? And which traits aggravate you?

Humor and agency are important. Big fan of gallows humor, sardonic wit. The Spenser series had those elements. The television series Justified did as well. I prefer characters who make decisions and reckon with the fallout. Less a fan of purely episodic, consequence-free adventures.

I understand that you grew up in Alaska. How did that environment shape you as a person – and a writer?

Environment/culture shapes everybody. What food is put into your mouth; what facts are put into your head; familial warmth or the lack. Geography imprints upon the mind as well. Extreme geography and extreme environments might well scarify an impressionable mind. I feel Alaska, and particularly some of my negative experiences there, dug channels in my mind that tend to direct my creative impulses into certain patterns. Sometimes that has worked to my advantage. Other times not so much.

You are best known for your work within the horror genre. Have the Coleridge books helped you to tap into a new audience? And have the horror enthusiasts come along for the ride? 

My readership has expanded overall, although my horror audience was initially divided about the shift. Some readers are omnivorous, others stick with a certain genre. As has been the case since The Imago Sequence in 2007, my titles are long of tail and keep selling over time. More people find Coleridge each year and he features in a significant portion of upcoming material.

You have built up an impressive back catalogue over the years. Which book would you suggest a would-be reader pick up first?

If you prefer short fiction, I’d recommend Occultation and Other Stories. That collection covers a spectrum of styles, approaches, and narrators. There’s a good mix of cosmic horror, occult horror, and weirdness. If you like novels, try Blood Standard. It’s straight up crime/noir that cracks the door to ever greater darkness.

Genre aside, what are the common threads that link your books?

Bad things happening to bad people. Bad things happening to good people. Bad things happening to regular, everyday people. The destination is the same for everyone. How people face their struggles is what interests me most.

We were tarpaper shack poor for a while. Reading and writing were my escape. I was drawn to gothic horror, noir, crime, and westerns. Happy endings are placeholders—even westerns tended to be “happily ever after…for now.”

That grimness pervades my own work. I don’t fight it; I roll with it.

Can you name the book – or books – that made you want to become a writer?

There isn’t a source I can point to as the inciting event.

I wanted to be a writer before I learned to read. I drew pictures and scribbled nonsense symbols to simulate an attendant story. Many authors guided my progress into my teens—Louis L’Amour, Poe, Edgar Rice Burroughs, Robert Service, Andre Norton, Madeleine L’Engele, and Robert E. Howard were major influences. Service’s The Spell of the Yukon; L’ Amour’s Sacketts saga; and Howard’s Conan stories were all formative.

These days, I look to writers such as Beau Johnson, Hilary Davidson, J Todd Scott, and Thomas Pluck (to rattle off a handful) to energize my own work.

What was the last truly great book that you read?

Collection: Convulsive, by Joe Koch (coming in spring 2022). Surreal, beautifully written, and timely.

Novel: The Fisherman, by John Langan. Cosmic horror informed by the classic and contemporary masters of the art.

Graphic Novel: The Double Walker, by Noah Bailey, Michael Conrad, and Taylor Esposito. Ancient legends impinge upon a hapless modern-day couple. Full of dread and exquisitely illustrated.

Finally, what are your future publishing plans? And are there any more Isaiah Coleridge books in the pipeline?

A couple of horror/dark fantasy collections are in the works. I’m writing a dark novel featuring dark ages versions of Coleridge and Robard. In coming years, they’ll show up (and their various alter egos) in a few short stories and novellas as well.


Laird Barron spent his early years in Alaska. He is the author of several books, including The Beautiful Thing That Awaits Us All, Swift to Chase, and Blood Standard. His work has also appeared in many magazines and anthologies. Barron currently resides in the Rondout Valley writing stories about the evil that men do.


The Interrogation Room – An Interview With Morgan Boyd

Next up in the Interrogation Room… Tom Leins catches up with Morgan Boyd to discuss his new short story collection, More Devils Than Hell Can Hold.

Firstly, congratulations on the publication of More Devils Than Hell Can Hold! How would you pitch the collection to potential readers?

A junkie punk rocker’s revenge unfolds during a pot dispensary robbery. A surf rivalry in Santa Cruz escalates to arson and murder. An escaped convict hides out on a rural farm that turns out to be worse than prison. An incarcerated mixed martial artist enters a ‘fight to the death’ tournament for a chance at freedom. A hitman on the run finds love in a small New England town, just as his past catches up with him. A rockabilly couple hides from the mob in the wrong town. These dark and humorous stories, brimming with moral turpitude, and many more of the same ilk lie in wait within the pages of More Devils Than Hell Can Hold.

How hard was it to select the stories – and indeed the running order?

I chose these tales because they were accepted by various crime fiction websites in the past. I figured if they could pass muster with those outlets, they could hold their own in this collection. When it came to selecting the running order, I fumbled about in the dark, praying for a sign that never came.

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

‘A Hell of a Hideout’ is the oldest story in the collection. It was inspired by an event that occurred near me during my childhood. In 1988, in downtown Sacramento, the police caught a serial killer. Her name was Dorothy Puente. She murdered her boarders to cash their social security checks, and buried their bodies in her backyard. When I wrote ‘A Hell of a Hideout’ I was trying to imitate Jim Thompson. These days, I don’t try to imitate other writers. Through lots of practice and life experience, I’ve been working on developing my own writing voice.

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

I don’t have a favorite, but there is a line I really like. In the story ‘Charlie Knuckles’ the protagonist says, “He’s just a scared little cow, and I’m the big bad hamburger factory.” I don’t tend to laugh at my own writing, but this line made me chuckle.

What do you hope that readers take away from the book?

I hope that readers take away a bit of entertainment from these stories, and that it makes readers want to further explore the genre, and discover some of the amazing contemporary crime fiction out there in the scene.

Do you read mainstream crime fiction, or are your tastes firmly rooted in the independent scene? Which authors are on your must-read list?

I mostly just read indie when it comes to crime. I definitely consider Tom Leins a must read! Your writing is very descriptive, action driven, and laconic. How do you fit these big stories into such brief tales? There are many must-read independent authors out there. Presently, the I’m about to delve into books by Chris McGinley, Tom Pitts, Rob Pierce, Alec Cizak, Patrick Whitehurst, and Preston Lang.

Which contemporary writers do you consider to be your peers?

I still feel very nascent in the independent crime scene, so it is hard to think of others as my peers. I’m amazed at how many writers that I look up to have taken the time to talk to me, to give me encouragement, to point out my mistakes, and to read my work. I consider most of these writers more as mentors than peers. Guys and gals like Tom Pitts, Patrick Whitehurst, Paul D. Brazill, Travis Richardson, Bill Baber, Rob Pierce, Jesse “Heels” Rawlins, Jim Shaffer, Kimmy Dee, Robert Ragan, Mick Rose, Jason Beech, and Beau Johnson are just a few.

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

Fuck, that’s tough. If I had a say in the matter, I’d reach for the stars, and go with William Shakespeare. His writing is miles ahead of anything else I have ever read. Not only does every educational institution around the world worship Shakes, but you can buy his image on socks four hundred years after his death. You know you’ve made it when they steal your skull from your grave.

Finally, what are your future publishing plans?

I’m excited to have a short story coming out soon in the Octopi From The Sky anthology from Dumpster Fire Press. Beyond that, I’m hoping to pull off a comedic crime fiction novella, but, well, it’s a fine line between funny and shitty.

Bio: Morgan Boyd is an educator, living on the Monterey Peninsula with his wife and daughter. He has an MA in Television, Film, Radio, and Theatre from San Jose State University. Morgan has had his stories published in Out of the Gutter, Switchblade Magazine, Near to the Knuckle, Yellow Mama, Tough, Punk Noir Magazine, Shotgun Honey, and various other crime fiction websites.

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The Interrogation Room – Dead-End Jobs Special – Michael A. Gonzales and Mark Slade

Continuing my series of interviews to celebrate the release of the brand new All Due Respect anthology Dead-End Jobs: A Hitman Anthology, here are Michael A. Gonzales (‘City of Lead’) and Mark Slade (‘Get Born Again’) discussing their respective contributions!

Firstly, how would you pitch your story to potential readers?

MAG: I might be the only writer in the book that has ever been targeted by a hitman. Actually, my next-door neighbour’s ex-girlfriend put a hit on him, but the hired gun shot me instead. That was why I decided to write ‘City of Lead’ from the point of view of the person who knows he has a contract on him. Beside the wonderful 1976 movie Mikey & Nicky, I don’t personally know another tale that spends so much time with the soon to be deceased.  In my story the main character is named Blue. He seems like a nice guy, but he actually isn’t, especially in the eyes of the women he’s dated. The killer in ‘City of Lead’ teases the lead character Blue, who knows that something bad is going to happen to him. He just doesn’t know what or when it will happen.  Blue’s paranoid and afraid, but all he can do is wait for the pain.

MS: My hitman is overweight, not very smart and not really very good at his job. But he’s always lucky! What might make him unique in the genre is he’s a family man.

Themed anthologies offer a unique challenge. Did your story turn out how you expected?

MAG: It did. I’ve thought about this story for years before actually writing it. Also, in hitman books and films, they’re usually told from in the voice of the hitter; I wanted to do that was the opposite of that while still making the killer important. When I was in high-school I often got in trouble for writing papers that weren’t exactly what was asked for; with ‘City of Lead’, I’m thankful (editor) Andy Rausch let me slide.

MS: It went exactly as planned – and I can’t say that for all my stories. I kinda had the plot in my head for a few years, but I didn’t have the character – until Andy [Rausch] asked me to write a story for his hitman anthology. I recalled an episode of The Rockford Files where actor Michael Lerner played a professional snitch. I think I wrote it in a week. Maybe a few days. The ending was the hardest part to write.

Who is your favourite fictional hitman, and why?

MAG: Though I write all types of stories, my crime pieces are usually centered in Harlem and other urban environments. Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai (1999), which takes place in Brooklyn, is one of my favourite films and the hitman, played by Forest Whitaker, was just so cool. Director Jim Jarmusch is one of my favourite American directors and he made an arty Blaxploitation flick with a great soundtrack by RZA. I wanted ‘City of Lead’ to be just that. Like, what would happen if Chester Himes collaborated with Jean-Patrick Manchette on a screenplay produced by Luc Besson, but directed by Park Chan-wook.

MS: It’s hard to say which one is my favorite. I really like Lawrence Block’s Keller series. He collects stamps – how bizarre for a killer. But I really like Lee Marvin in the early ‘60s version of The Killers. I also like Alan Ladd as the professional hitman in This Gun for Hire. To be honest, there are so many to choose from. Jack Nicholson and Kathleen Turner in Prizzi’s Honor also get an honorable mention.

If you could put together an anthology focused on a different criminal archetype, which one would you choose?

MAG: I grew-up in New York City in the 1970s, when many slum lords were burning down their properties to collect the insurance. Many people know about the Bronx, but the truth is, it was happening all over the city. That said, the criminal archetype I choose are arsonists.  Who are these people that the landlords hired to burn down apartment building, stores and factories? I would read that anthology in a heartbeat. 

MS: I’m actually putting one together. It’s called Born Under a Bad Sign: 13 Tales of Bad Luck. Unlucky criminals. Jim Thompson-type stories. Some are mixed with horror, others are SF/noir tales. I think it will turn out really good. Screaming Eye Press will put it out. It’s a publisher I started with Chauncey Haworth, Lothar Tuppan and artist Cameron Hampton.

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The Interrogation Room – Dead-End Jobs Special – Tyson Blue and Nikki Dolson

Continuing my series of interviews to celebrate the release of the brand new All Due Respect anthology Dead-End Jobs: A Hitman Anthology, here are Tyson Blue (‘Killer In A Cage’) and Nikki Dolson (‘Good Samaritan’) discussing their respective contributions!

Firstly, how would you pitch your story to potential readers?

TB: Ray Vincent, a professional contract killer, walks into an FBI office in a small city in Georgia and turns himself in. Mayhem ensues.

ND: A killer, bruised from her last job, under the influence of oxycontin, and on her way back home, interferes in a kidnapping and finds a kindred spirit.

Themed anthologies offer a unique challenge. Did your story turn out how you expected?

TB: Yes, it did. This story had been percolating in my mind for a very long time, and when I heard about this anthology, I knew immediately that it would fit perfectly. I wrote it in about three hours. It had been a story looking for a home for over forty years.

This is the third story I have sold to one of Andy’s anthologies to be set in Larey County, Georgia, the fictionalized version of a place I lived for eighteen years about thirty years ago.

In an interesting aside, almost everything in this story actually happened. I’ll leave you to figure out which is which.

ND: Once I had the first line it flowed pretty easily. Laura has always been a little impulsive. in this story she’s high and becomes the queen of poor decisions. Laura always keeps her word though so once she’s in, she’s all the way in. For better or worse.

Laura is the main character from my first book All Things Violent and this story is only the second time I’ve written about her since that book. It was great fun to write it and now I want to write a sequel to that first book.

Who is your favourite fictional hitman, and why?

TB: Right now, it would have to be Billy Summers, the protagonist and title character of Stephen King’s forthcoming novel. He kills people for a living, having figured out a way to apply the skills he learned as a sniper in Iraq to make a living in the real world. And at the same time, he has a soft side for some of the people he encounters along his way.

ND: There’s so many great ones to pick from! I admit to loving John Wick (the universe created in that series is so detailed!) and Lawrence Block’s Keller was a big influence on me but honestly, my absolute favorite hitman is Sorter from Guy Ritchie’s movie Revolver. Mark Strong played him wonderfully.

If you could put together an anthology focused on a different criminal archetype, which one would you choose?

TB: I don’t know… a terrorist, maybe? It would be quite a challenge to humanize someone like that, don’t you think?

ND: The lovers of criminals. All these people who knowingly choose to be with criminals, to be their emotional support, are terribly interesting to me. Are they in the life or are they pretending? Are they ride or die?  Do they turn tail and run at the first sign of trouble? Or do they turn in their criminal significant other to keep themselves safe and out of prison? That’s the anthology I’d put together if I had the time and connections.

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The Interrogation Room – Dead-End Jobs Special – Andy Rausch, Daniel Vlasaty and Matt Phillips

Continuing my series of interviews to celebrate the release of the brand new All Due Respect anthology Dead-End Jobs: A Hitman Anthology, here are editor Andy Rausch (‘The Silver Lining’), Daniel Vlasaty (‘Cookie’) and Matt Phillips (‘Trade For The Working Man’) discussing their respective contributions!

Firstly, how would you pitch your story to potential readers?

AR: This is a very personal story about a troubled hitman going to confession for the first time to confess his sins. This is a character (Orlando Williams) that I’ve already written about in two novels, The Suicide Game and Layla’s Score.

DV: A powerful drug dealer enlists a kid named Cookie to do a shooting on Chicago’s far north side.

MP: A man needs a job, right? Well, being a hitman pays pretty damn well. Sometimes you gotta do what you gotta do. And sometimes… what you gotta do is use a shotgun.

Themed anthologies offer a unique challenge. Did your story turn out how you expected?

AR: I was the anthology editor, so I knew I had to bring something qualitative to the table. You look at the line-up of writers in this – it’s a damn murderer’s row – so you have to bring your “A” game. When you’re the editor, people are looking to see if you can hold your own. I had originally written a different story for the collection (an idea I still like), but the idea for ‘The Silver Lining’ came to me all at once, mentally, and I liked it. So, I pretty much knew what it would be right away. I must confess that I stole some elements of it from an unpublished half-finished manuscript I had sitting in the proverbial drawer.

DV: Cookie was a story I was already thinking about when Andy asked me to write something for the book. I had been wanting to do it as a novel for a few years now but could never get it to work. I think it works great as a short story and am very happy with how it turned out.

MP: Writing for an anthology is a challenge, but it’s also fun to look at your own ‘piece of the puzzle’ and try to make it not only fit the theme, but also be unique enough to stand out. Of course, that’s the challenge with writing crime/noir anyway, no matter the sub-genre. None of my stories turn out how I expect…Instead, they become – I hope – what they’re meant to be. I’m just super-thankful to have a story included in this fantastic book. Crazy to have a story in a book with Max Allan Collins and Joe Lansdale and Tom Pitts and Rob Pierce… Just so honored.

Who is your favourite fictional hitman, and why?

AR: Keller, the protagonist from Lawrence Block’s Hit Man series is pretty fascinating to me. He’s a hitman out there clipping people, but all the while, he’s more interested in the next stamp he’s going to obtain for his stamp collection than he is the job itself. Having said that, Jules Winnfield, the character Samuel L. Jackson plays in Pulp Fiction, is pretty great too. Just imagine looking up the barrel of his gun while listening to him screaming and incorrectly reciting Bible verses. He’s a scary motherfucker.

DV:I don’t know. Maybe John Wick. It’s probably not the most sophisticated answer but those movies are my go-to if I just want to chill out on the couch and be dumb. I love excessive violence and almost nonsensical plots.

MP: No question, my favorite fictional hitman is Charlie ‘Little’ Bigger from Jim Thompson’s noir masterpiece, Savage Night. The book, to me, is perfect in its construction, craft, and nuance… It’s also an analysis of mental fracturing, an indictment of capitalism, and a moody examination of terrible motivations and fleeting rewards. Pure brilliance. If you haven’t read this one – READ IT ASAP. After reading Dead-End Jobs, of course.

If you could put together an anthology focused on a different criminal archetype, which one would you choose?

AR: I have an idea about this, but I’d rather not say at the moment. 😉

DV: The more straightforward one would be drug dealers/junkies, but that’s maybe too easy, kind of boring, been done already. A more abstract idea would be stories about “idiot” criminals. You know what I mean. These are dumbasses who are bad at crime, in over their heads. Not the sophisticates that have every detail of a job planned out fully, more like the person who robs the same liquor store twice in as many weeks… something like that.

MP: I thought I’d answer this one easily, but I’m having trouble… How about a Femme Fatale anthology? Has that been done? A male shouldn’t edit that one though… Maybe one focused on ‘accomplices’ or how about ‘perpetrators of passion’? God, I could come up with so many – but guess what? Putting these anthologies together is a whole hell of a lot of work. Many thanks to the writer Andy Rausch for doing this one, and to All Due Respect Books for publishing the thing. All I did was write a story – they did the real work.

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The Interrogation Room – Dead-End Jobs Special – Paul Heatley, Tom Pitts and Rob Pierce

Kicking off a series of interviews to celebrate the release of the brand new All Due Respect anthology Dead-End Jobs: A Hitman Anthology, here are Paul Heatley (‘Killer’), Tom Pitts (‘Company Man’) and Rob Pierce (‘Nothing More Than Death’) discussing their respective contributions!

Firstly, how would you pitch your story to potential readers?

PH: ‘Killer’ tells the story of a down and out ex-hitman who’s given in to his demons. He’s offered a chance to reconnect with his young daughter when approached by her mother to take vengeance on a dog-fighting neo-Nazi.

TP: For those still on unemployment, a primer for an alternative to the gig economy ‘til you land that dream job.

RP: There will be readers? Oh shit. Mine is about a hitman who reluctantly takes a job killing a guy he likes.

Themed anthologies offer a unique challenge. Did your story turn out how you expected?

PH: I’d actually been working on ‘Killer’ in various drafts and guises for about seven years or so, so when [editor] Andy Rausch reached out, I knew exactly which story to send him!

TP: You have to be outside the traditional box. But not too far, like not beat poetry far. Something about the shape of the story or the point of view should be unique. So, here’s hoping.

RP: I got no expectations. That’s a song.

Who is your favourite fictional hitman, and why?

PH: Probably Blackbird from Elmore Leonard’s Killshot.

TP: Anton Chigurh from No Country For Old Men. He’s a sociopath to the very end.

RP: Anyone but that incompetent boob from The Godfather. Oh wait, there is one. The Jackal, from Day of the Jackal. Favorite real hitman was the one on Tom Snyder who, when Tom asked what he’d do if Tom pulled his mask off, said in a menacing growl, “I’d cut your heart out.”

If you could put together an anthology focused on a different criminal archetype, which one would you choose?

PH: If you’d asked me before this book came out, I would’ve said hitman, but it’s been done now!

TP: Hobos. Criminal hobos. The shoplifting, get off my bench, steal your cans, and stab-you-for-a-bottle-of-Popov kind.

RP: Failed gamblers. They’re always guys on the run, right? Or they stick around and get punished.

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The Interrogation Room – An Interview With James D.F. Hannah

Next up in the Interrogation Room… Tom Leins catches up with the Shamus Award-winning James D.F. Hannah to discuss his Henry Malone series, which starts with the recently reissued Midnight Lullaby (Down & Out Books).

Firstly, congratulations on the publication of Midnight Lullaby! This is the first in your series of books about State Trooper-turned-PI Henry Malone. How would you pitch the book to potential readers?

Justified but Raylan Givens as a nine-fingered recovering alcoholic and chronic asshole.”

The series was originally self-published, but are now set to be reissued by Down & Out Books – what prompted you to initially go down the self-publishing route?

I wrote Midnight Lullaby around 2015, after the Amazon Kindle boom had begun. I knew publishing was changing, and that a lot of mid-list writers I enjoyed were moving to the e-book realm after getting dropped by their publishers. Midnight Lullaby was always a “small” story, with a difficult lead character, and it was set in southern West Virginia. None of that felt like a recipe most publishers would be interested in, and I didn’t know much about indie publishing, so I decided to chuck it out into the world and see how it went.

I believe that there are five Malone books in total. Without spoilers, how does his character arc unfold?

I say the Malone books are essentially a Pinocchio story, where the goal is for Henry to become a man. When the books start, he’s already fallen off the wagon, he’s lying to his AA sponsor, he’s popping pain pills, he’s still in love with the wife who kicked him out, and he’s lost the job that he thought defined him—he’s a toxic mess. I want to grow and develop the character of Henry Malone, and have him come to terms with the choices he made, and become the person he’d fought against becoming. Of course, that’s not a perfect journey, and there are bumps and challenges along the way.

PI fiction is responsible for some truly iconic characters. Which ones influenced Malone?

Robert B. Parker and Spenser are obvious; all PI fiction exists either pre- or post-Parker, and enough can’t be said about what he brought to the genre, both good and bad. Another is Lawrence Block and Matt Scudder; Block offers real depth and growth to the character of Scudder, and it’s probably the most consistently brilliant series of PI novels ever written. Loren Estleman’s Amos Walker novels are always worth paying attention to for remaining so old-school but never being pastiche. And obviously Sue Grafton for making Kinsey Milhone so wonderfully human and flawed and believable and funny.

How conscious are you of bringing something new to the table and not imitating classic PIs of years gone by?

I know the books carry the collective weight of their influences, but I also want them to have their own voice, and for Henry to be his own person. It’s why the Appalachian background is so important, because the culture is very different there from nearly anywhere else, and it gives a contrast for telling a PI story. Also, Henry isn’t much of a knight errant; he’s not a brawler with the heart of a poet, or he’s less about being charming and more about being an asshole sometimes.

Your book Behind the Wall of Sleep won the 2020 Shamus Award for Best Original Private Eye Paperback. How much of a boost did that give you?

It was an unbelievable surprise and just such a sense of validation for the books and the writing. It was my second nomination, and to be nominated for a self-published book, alongside authors who’d won the award previously, who’d been nominated previously and were traditionally published and who I am a fan of, that was an honor by itself. Finding out I’d gotten the award ruined my day in all the best ways, because it let me think “You know, maybe you’re not bad at this after all.”

Down & Out Books has built up an impressive stable of authors in recent years. Do you have any particular favourites?

I like publishing with Down & Out because they have such a huge list of talent, it keeps my ego in check. I really love Dana King’s Penns River novels; it’s a great procedural series that harkens back to McBain’s 87th Precinct. Beau Johnson’s Bishop Rider stories are a dark ride, and he’s building this entire mythology in bite-sized increments that demand to be read. It’s tough to find new great things to say about Angel Luis Colón and Hell Chose Me, but I’ll just add that all the good things are true, and he is not only an incredible storytelling but a wonderful advocate for writers. I really dig the A Grifter’s Song series that Frank Zafiro edits; he’s brought together a great, diverse group of writers to tell very different and fun con game stories. Plus, Chris McGinley’s Coal Black is an astonishing collection of noir stories, all set in the coal mining country of eastern Kentucky, so they obviously speak to my heart

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

Those are tough lines to call, because you have great writers like S.A. Cosby with Blacktop Wasteland or David Heska Wanbli Weiden and Winter Counts, who both bring very indie vibes in their storytelling but via mainstream publishers. They’re dealing with race and social justice and cultural identity in big ways that feel very counter to that otherwise safe, neutered norm for mainstream publishing. I’m all for that, but yeah, my tendency will always be toward indie writers like Christa Faust or Gabino Iglesias, who take huge fucking swings with every book and aren’t afraid to put it all out there.

If you could recommend one crime novel that people are unlikely to have heard of, what would it be?

Within the crime fiction community, Jake Hinkson is a known quantity, but he really should be famous. He’s one of the few writers crafting pure noir, and he often does so while also exploring the toxicity of modern religion. Any of his books are worth the time, but if you can find Hell on Church Street, grab hold of it and don’t let go. Though when you’ll done, you’ll want a shower. It’s just unrelentingly brutal noir, written to be tighter than a drum and with an ending that’s just a kick to the crotch.

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

I really look up to writers like Block, who’s published for more than 60 years and still putting out new work, or Parker and McBain, who were writing to their very end. I got into this game later in life, so I’ve got some catching up to do, but I’m having the time of my life getting to do so.

Finally, what are your future publishing plans?

Right now, I’m working on the sixth Malone novel, tentatively titled Splendid Isolation, and then I’ll spend the summer working on a standalone set in 1970s Kentucky before I plunge into ideas for Malone #7.

Bio: James D.F. Hannah is the Shamus Award-winning author of the Henry Malone series; his most recent novel, Behind the Wall of Sleep, won the 2020 Shamus Award for Best Paperback Original. His short fiction has appeared in Rock and a Hard Place, Crossed Genres, Shotgun Honey, and The Anthology of Appalachian Writers, as well as the upcoming anthologies Trouble No More: Crime Fiction Inspired by the Allman Brothers and Only the Good Die Young: Crime Fiction Inspired by the Songs of Billy Joel.


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The Interrogation Room – Coming Through In Waves Special – Andy Rausch

Next up in a series of interviews to celebrate the launch of the new Gutter Books anthology Coming Through In Waves: Crime Fiction Inspired By The Songs of Pink Floyd is Andy Rausch, author of American Trash and Layla’s Score.

Author: Andy Rausch

Story Title: Wish You Were Here

Firstly, what drew you to this anthology?

I love these sorts of anthologies, honestly. I was also in a Wu-Tang Clan-inspired anthology that Clash Books put out a few years back. I love music. All kinds of music. I love Pink Floyd too. I feel that their music has such texture, so many layers. Every time I listen to them, I discover something different or feel something different. I feel like they are the personification of everything music should be—bold, creative, beautiful, thoughtful, the list goes on…

How did you first get into the band, and what was the first Pink Floyd album you owned?

I listened to a lot of Dark Side of the Moon when I was in high school. I had a friend who introduced me to their music. He wasn’t good for much of anything else, but he did that one thing. Pink Floyd’s music often takes me away to some place different in a way that few other bands have. It totally transports you. Gorgeous, just gorgeous music. I must say, the music always has a melancholy effect on me. I always said if I ever committed suicide, I’d definitely do it to a Pink Floyd soundtrack.

How would you pitch your story to potential readers?

My story ‘Wish You Were Here’ is about a wife visiting her husband in prison. He’s behind bars for committing a murder during a robbery. I think it’s a pretty compelling story about love and the different perceptions of what is and is not true.

This story aside, does music have an important influence on your fiction?

Music always plays a role in my writing. My novel Layla’s Score, especially, has a lot of music in it. That was one thing that most of the reviewers pointed out—that it had a bit of a soundtrack. I love music, but I never listen to music when I write because it’s hard for me to concentrate with it on. I’m a guy who needs absolute silence when he writes.

Finally, if you had the opportunity to put together a music-themed anthology, which band or artist would you choose, and why?

I sent an email to Gutter Books a while back pitching them a Prince-inspired/influenced anthology but haven’t heard back from them. I’d love to do that one, but as time is passing, I’m finding myself a bit busier, so I may not have time for it if they ever do get around to writing back. I have a new novel out titled American Trash and an anthology I edited titled Dead-End Jobs: A Hitman Anthology coming out soon. But I’m a huge Prince fan and I really love his music, so maybe I would make time for that one thing.


Andy Rausch is the author of nearly fifty books, including the novels AMERICAN TRASH, LAYLA’S SCORE, and SAVAGE BROOKLYN. His non-fiction includes such books as MY BEST FRIEND’S BIRTHDAY: THE MAKING OF A QUENTIN TARANTINO FILM and THE FILMS OF MARTIN SCORSESE AND ROBERT DE NIRO.


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The Interrogation Room – Coming Through In Waves Special – Bill Baber

Next up in a series of interviews to celebrate the launch of the new Gutter Books anthology Coming Through In Waves: Crime Fiction Inspired By The Songs of Pink Floyd is US short story specialist Bill Baber.

Author: Bill Baber

Story Title: Arnold Layne

Firstly, what drew you to this anthology?

Are you kidding? First T. Fox Dunham. And the opportunity to write a crime story based on a song by a band named Pink Floyd? Yeah, I was hooked! Fox’s novel The Street Martyr is one of the best crime novels I have ever read so I was excited to have him edit a story I wrote. And the fact that part of the proceeds are going to the Leukaemia and Lymphoma Society helped draw me in. It was a chance to give something to a cause that deserves everyone’s support.

How did you first get into the band, and what was the first Pink Floyd album you owned?

I was a senior in high school in San Francisco in 1973, so draw your own conclusions. KSAN, which was an underground FM station, was playing versions of songs from Dark Side of the Moon for a few months before the record was released. I bought it the day it came out. Hard to believe it’s been almost fifty years. Still my favorite of the band’s.

How would you pitch your story to potential readers?

I tried to make it fun! I based my story ‘Arnold Layne’ on their debut single from 1967. There was definitely a criminal element to the song and the potential for a story to go several directions! It turns into a heist gone wrong for reasons based on the song.

This story aside, does music have an important influence on your fiction?

Absolutely! Good songs are stories, and it doesn’t matter if it’s in a story or a song – a good line is a good line! Sometimes just the mood of a song can be an inspiration. I wrote a story based on how I felt after listening to Kind of Blue by Miles Davis.  Another was set in New Orleans after hearing The Meters. And my story ‘Turn Me Loose’ was written after hearing ‘Big City’ by Merle Haggard.

Finally, if you had the opportunity to put together a music-themed anthology, which band or artist would you choose, and why?

Robert Earl Keen. Heard his music? ‘The Road Goes on Forever’ is one of the best short crime stories ever written, along with songs like ‘(I Only Use My Gun) Whenever Kindness Fails’, ‘Dreadful Selfish Crime’ and ‘Ninety-Nine Years For One Dark Day’. Yeah, that could be fun. The songs are quite literary and that’s how I like my crime fiction to be.

Bio: Bill Baber’s writing has appeared at crime sites across the web and in print anthologies – most notably from Shotgun Honey, Dead Guns Press, Close to the Bone and Authors on the Air Pressand has garnered Derringer Award and Best of the Net nominations. A book of his poetry, Where the Wind Comes to Play, was published in 2011. He lives with his wife and a spoiled dog in Buckeye, AZ, on the edge of the desert and sometimes just on the edge.

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