The Interrogation Room – Wrestle Maniacs Special – Adam Howe

Introductory Note by Adam Howe

Before we start this Q&A, I have a confession make, a scandalous confession for any man, let alone the editor of an anthology of wrestling fiction…but until recently I was not really much of a rasslin fan. Sure, I loved it as a kid. But once I found other combat sports – dare I say REAL ones – I never really looked back.

That all changed with my story DAMN DIRTY APES, the first of the Reggie Levine escapades, which you can read in my DIE DOG OR EAT THE HATCHET collection. There I wrote what I presumed to be a throwaway line, in which I suggested that the mating call of the Arkansan skunk ape (a type of redneck Bigfoot) sounds like “Ric Flair being sodomized by a moose with his pecker greased in pepper spray.”  (And who’s to say it doesn’t?) To my surprise, I was deluged with messages from readers asking if I was a wrestling fan; mostly I was surprised that wrestling fans could read. One of these readers pitched me the idea for a book of wrestling fiction. The idea held little appeal for me, at first. I felt I didn’t know enough about the sport(s entertainment) to do it justice. But I did a little research, and soon found myself immersed in a cartoonish world of rival promoters and warring wrestling territories, not to mention the larger than life personalities of the wrestlers themselves. Professional wrestling, it turned out, fit the kind of pulp Americana I write like a pair of spandex rasslin briefs.

WRESTLE MANIACS was originally set up with an established small press publisher, who authorized me to assemble a team of writers and have at it. Things were moving along when, due to circumstances I won’t go into here – no sense adding to the ongoing dramas within the indie publishing community – the project unexpectedly lost funding, and the publisher and I parted ways within a couple of weeks of the deadline for stories, a bunch of which I’d already received from my writers. Now these things happen in publishing. Publishers go under. Projects fall apart.  It’s certainly happened to writer-me before. But editor-me was pissed off. So I dug my heels in, and decided to self-publish the book under my new Honey Badger Press banner. Financing the book myself meant I had to downscale my ambitions, and lose a bunch of great writers – I’m hoping these writers will be onboard for any future volumes of WRESTLE MANIACS.  Still, I’m gotta-pinch-myself amazed at the line-up in THIS book, and I’m grateful to these writers for not bailing when the project hit that early speed bump. You guys rock!

Name: Adam Howe

Story Title: Rassle Hassle (A Reggie Levine Clusterfuck)

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

My story, RASSLE HASSLE, marks the return of anti-hero Reggie Levine, ex-boxer turned strip club bouncer, and perennial shit-magnet, as he attempts to assist a past-prime Jake “The Snake” Roberts-style wrestler at a small hall rasslin’ show. This is now the third Reggie Levine misadventure after the novellas DAMN DIRTY APES and TIJUANA DONKEY SHOWDOWN, and for regular readers I’m happy to report that Reggie’s luck hasn’t improved this time out.

Did it turn out how you expected?

With Reggie, it rarely ever does. Things tend to snowball. Often bodily fluids.

What is the first wrestling match that you can recall watching?

I don’t recall a specific match, but “my” era was the early 90s. Back when WWE was the WWF. Before pandas got involved. WWF wrestling wasn’t on UK terrestrial television, only SKY, and my old man was too much of a miser to shell out for a satellite dish, which meant I only got to watch the odd big event (a Summer Slam here, a Royal Rumble there) at a buddy’s house. So I remember the likes of the Ultimate Warrior, Sgt. Slaughter, The Million Dollar Man, Big Boss Man; the Undertaker was making his first appearance around then – hard to believe that guy is STILL wrestling at the top level; and of course, Jake “The Snake” Roberts. I felt Jake’s pain when Earthquake squished Damian. Heartbreaking. I’m getting misty just remembering it… Before I could get too carried away with this wrestling malarkey, my dad used it as a gateway to his sport, boxing. After watching a Mike Tyson knockout reel, it was hard for the likes of Brutus “The Barber” Beefcake to compete, and I gradually lost interest in wrestling.

Do you have any favourite eras, or matches?

While developing this project, I did my research, tried to catch up on some of what I’d missed, and I’m sorry I didn’t catch the Attitude Era as it happened. That seemed like a lot of fun. The Stone Cold Steve Austin / Mr. McMahon rivalry in particular.

If you had to compare your fiction to any wrestler, who would it be and why?

Ric Flair. Why? Well, to quote The Nature Boy: “Whether you like it or not, learn to love it, because it’s the best thing going.” The “Wooooo!” is optional.

Which of your fellow contributors would be most likely to win a Battle Royale?

Ed Kurtz. If only because the man is so damn handsome that no one would have the heart to lay a hand on him, he’d walk it. Ed’s basically the Kelly LeBrock of fiction: Don’t hate him because he’s beautiful.

Finally, do you have any additional publishing plans for 2017/18 and beyond?

Up next for me – hopefully in 2018 – is SCAPEGOAT. Co-written with fellow WRESTLE MANIAC James Newman, it’s an 80s-set occult thriller about a group of dudes on a RV-trip to Wrestlemania III, who take an ill-advised shortcut through the woods and find themselves hunted by a cult of religious crazies. We’re looking forward to sharing that one. Beyond that? I have a few other projects (wrestling and non-wrestling related) in various stages of development. Perhaps even a second volume of WRESTLE MANIACS. Depends how this one fares. Have I overestimated the reader demand for a book of hard-hitting, high-flying rasslin’ fiction? Time will tell.

Amazon US

Amazon UK


The Interrogation Room – An Interview With Benjamin Myers

Next up in The Interrogation Room… Tom Leins catches up with Benjamin Myers, the award-winning author of Pig Iron, Beastings and The Gallows Pole to discuss his recent crime novels Turning Blue and These Darkening Days.

Turning Blue is one of the most disturbing crime novels I have read in recent years, and some of the imagery was truly stomach-churning. In crime fiction terms, how far is too far?

If you approach a subject with some degree of understanding, research or empathy, then I don’t think too much is off-limits. There’s always a danger of being gratuitous or lazily aiming for shock tactics, but I’m far more offended by the ignorance of, for example, certain politicians than I am by anything I read in fiction. Also nothing that I write about hasn’t already happened at some point in mankind’s long and sordid history; a lot of it is inspired by what I read in the news every single day.

The cadaverous spectre of Jimmy Savile rears his ugly head through predatory light entertainment personality ‘Lovely’ Larry Lister. Turning Blue definitely feels like a post-Operation Yewtree book – was it conceived as a response to the horrors that emerged in the press, or was the book already underway?

I wrote an early draft of the book, and it was something else entirely – a short twisted love story about a lonely farmer who falls in love with a corpse (again, such things have happened). But then the Savile story broke, and he had a lot of ties to where I live – he was from West Yorkshire – so I felt I had to cover it in some way. I was borderline obsessed with Savile for a while actually, or at least with the idea that this man with no charisma or talent could nevertheless ingratiate himself into all levels of British society, from top to bottom, and flourish. He’s emblematic of corruption absolute. A figure that Prime Ministers, royalty, the legal system and the media facilitated and often encouraged. So the concept of moral corruption bled into Turning Blue as I attempted to turn it into a more cohesive and publishable work.

The rural Yorkshire backdrop you write about is incredibly detailed. How much of the location is real, and how much is imagined?

All of it is real. I live close to the moors, the woods, the reservoirs, and am out exploring most days. Some locations are composites, but a lot of the novel takes place in a very real hamlet and town.

The Odeon X also provides an exquisitely grotesque backdrop to some of the book’s queasiest scenes. Is this cinema based on real location?

Yes, it too is based on a real adult sex cinema, though I haven’t been in it. I merely heard about it, did some research, and then let my imagination fill in the gaps. I was surprised to find that such places still exist in the internet age, but seemingly they very much do, which in itself is interesting. It raises lots of questions: who would go to such places? And why?

Last month you published These Darkening Days – the second book in the Mace and Brindle series. When you wrote Turning Blue, was it always intended to be the first instalment in a larger narrative?

After I finished Turning Blue I more or less just carried on writing, straight into half of the next book. I never write novels with a publishing deal in place, so only ever write for myself really. Once they are finished I then send them out. But then other projects took over – most notably my novel The Gallows Pole for at least two years – so These Darkening Days was left on the backburner for a long time. When I picked it up again I was pleased to see it still works, and have signed a deal in France to write a third one in the series.

Speaking of series characters, who are your favourites to read?

I’m not sure I read many series characters really? Ted Lewis’s Jack’s Return Home is a wonderful novel, the follow-up is strong and the third book a stinker, so I see that as a warning really. Derek Raymond’s ‘Factory novels’ are an influence, and David Peace’s Red Riding quartet too, though I have only ever dipped in and out of these.

Turning Blue is a defiantly British story. Who are your favourite British writers – past or present? How have they influenced your own writing?

I’m quite fickle and faddish but I’m a fan of DH Lawrence, Thomas Hardy, John Clare, Ted Hughes, Gordon Burn, George Mackay Brown. I’m reading a lot of William Golding at the moment. Hanif Kureishi was a big influence. George Orwell. I like Julian Cope, Billy Childish. David Storey. Dominic Cooper is a writer few people know about. I suppose I like British writers who create a sense of place, have a unique vision, or in whose work landscape plays a part. There are a few contemporaries I enjoy – Jenn Ashworth, Cynan Jones, Paul Kingsnorth. I read a lot of non-fiction and nature writing too. Recently I’ve enjoyed books by Rob Cowen, Malachy Tallack, Richard Benson, Amy Liptrot.

Which current writers do you consider to be your peers? Any recent books you would care to recommend?

I’m not sure I have any peers as such, as I tend to move between fiction, poetry, non-fiction and journalism, and that confuses people. Also everything I have ever published has been turned down by every major publisher in London, so I feel like an outsider, a black sheep, a reject…and that suits me just fine these days. I’d recommend The Dead of Winter by Dominic Cooper, So The Doves by Heidi James, This Is The Place To Be by Lara Pawson and Attrib by Eley Williams

Finally, what are your future publishing plans?

My new book Under The Rock will be published in May 2018. It’s a non-fiction work about floods, myths, The North of England, badgers, poetry, asbestos, nettles, anxiety, foxes, swimming, nettles. It is, I hope, a sub-psychedelic experience.

For more details please visit

Book Review: Turning Blue by Benjamin Myers


Author: Benjamin Myers

Publisher: Moth Publishing

Release Date: August 2016

When a teenage girl goes missing on the Yorkshire Dales at Christmas, precocious, obsessive DS James Brindle from the police’s elite Cold Storage unit is dispatched to the frozen moorland community to investigate. The case, which involves the daughter of local businessman Ray Muncy, also piques the interest of local journalist Roddy Mace, who has returned home after burning out in London. As the missing girl’s trail goes cold, both men find themselves drawn to Steven Rutter, an apparently harmless loner who is harbouring a lifetime of dark secrets. Mace’s local knowledge is able to cast new light on the close-knit village and its inhabitants – many of whom are nursing their own foetid connections to the area’s sleazy underbelly.

The proliferation of rural British police procedurals may seem suffocating at times, but Turning Blue is an entirely different beast: it’s like a Peter Robinson novel as re-imagined by Dennis Cooper! From the come-stained horror-show of the Odeon X adult cinema, to the destitute Rutter farmyard, the sense of location is brought queasily to life throughout. Hellishly bleak background details are casually scattered throughout the book like chicken feed, and Brindle and Mace’s investigation unfolds in appropriately stomach-churning fashion.

If you enjoyed David Peace’s excellent Red Riding series then Turning Blue should jump right to the top of your reading list, as the two authors explore similarly bleak versions of the North, albeit decades apart. Another useful point of comparison is the work of Gordon Burn (Myers won the 2013 Gordon Burn prize for his novel Pig Iron). Indeed, his savage dissection of fictional Jimmy Savile-esque Saturday night light entertainer ‘Lovely Larry’ Lister recalls Burn at his darkest.

Grim, gripping and grotesque, Turning Blue is an outstanding book, and easily one of the best British crime novels that I have read in the last decade.

Review by Tom Leins

Book Review: Four Days by Iain Ryan


Author: Iain Ryan

Publisher: Broken River Books

Release Date: November 2015

Four Days is a hellish police procedural which unfolds in Queensland, Australia between September 1984 and January 1986. The story centres on Jim Harris, a lazy hard-drinking detective whose alcoholism seemingly helps to blur his moral boundaries as he works alongside a posse of venal, self-serving cops on the make. When a brutal murder case unsettles Harris’s bleak equilibrium, it forces him to dig deeper than he ever has before, and he seeks to redeem himself against him numerous past indiscretions. Marginalised, humiliated and dangerously close to the edge, Harris is determined to end it – before it ends him.

A queasy, hungover mood permeates Four Days, and the tawdry private life of boozy loner Harris is raked over in forensic detail as the book judders towards its bloody climax. Mid-1980s Australia is painted with a muted palette, and the only splashes of colour come from the spilled blood or the garish interiors of the many Cairns and Brisbane brothels which the characters frequent.

Ryan’s prose is impressively understated: brisk and razor-sharp throughout, and his knack for nastiness and corruption recalls early James Ellroy. If you are sick of flabby police procedurals this grim novella is a welcome antidote. Make no mistake, Four Days trims away the fat and cuts to the fucking bone.

Review by Tom Leins

The Interrogation Room – An Interview With Tony Knighton

Next up in The Interrogation Room… Tom Leins catches up with Philadelphia crime writer Tony Knighton to discuss his new novel, Three Hours Past Midnight (Crime Wave Press).

Firstly, congratulations on the publication of Three Hours Past Midnight. The Richard Stark/Parker influence came through very clearly – where does he rank in terms of your favourite writers? Which other writers – crime or otherwise – have influenced your style?

Yes, I am a big Richard Stark fan.  He wrote consistently great stuff. Even Mister Westlake’s earliest published work seems every bit as good as anything else he wrote. The man was a master.

I would have to say that George V. Higgins made an early impression on me.  The Friends of Eddie Coyle is still one of my favorite books. Anyone who has read it raves about the great dialogue, and it is, but to me, Mister Higgins genius lay in trusting the reader. He gives no explanations or back-story. He knew we would get it.

I read a lot of straight fiction, too. I’m a big fan of the Johns – O’Hara, Cheever, Updike, and of course, poor John Kennedy Toole. I think Confederacy is the funniest book I’ve ever read. The way he was able to keep all those balls in the air was inspiring.

The Philadelphia backdrop and locations seem hand-picked to lend authenticity to the story. How important is location to you – as a reader – and as a writer?

Location means more to me as a writer than a reader. Specific places inspired scenes in Three Hours Past Midnight. There’s a protracted chase sequence that follows the route I walked and rode to work during the time I wrote the book.  I’m currently writing a scene that takes place along the Susquehanna River in Central Pennsylvania. It wouldn’t have occurred to me without seeing the location first.

Three Hours Past Midnight seems to flow effortlessly. Was it an easy book to write, and did you cut much out of the finished work?

Thanks, that’s a nice compliment. No, it wasn’t easy. It was a shit-ton of work.

I didn’t have to cut a lot. Early in the writing, I’d intended to make the story’s locale more far ranging, but I changed my mind before I ever got there. If I come to a point in the writing where I’m not sure what happens next, I’ll skip ahead to something I do know.

I tend to revise compulsively, so often, by the time I’ve completed a first draft, much of the manuscript isn’t too horrible.

It sometimes feels like we learn more about the supporting characters than we do about your nameless protagonist – was this a deliberate strategy?

That’s a great question. I know what you mean, but no, that wasn’t any sort of conscious decision. I think it’s more a function of the narrator’s personality. He’s telling the story, and what he considers significant. Other people are his business. For instance, he acknowledges and is wary of another character’s marksmanship, but makes no reference to his own abilities, even though he usually manages to hit what he shoots at. Sometimes while speaking with others, there are allusions to past events, but these are sketchy. Silhouettes.

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

Absolutely, most mainstream stuff is too safe. Entertainment is big business.  Music, movies and publishing used to be controlled by businessmen who also enjoyed these businesses and their products. They were motivated by their own tastes, and were willing to take a chance on something different if they liked it. Now, the only motive is profit, and the people in charge are only interested in sure things. Most readers, as well as listeners and viewers, crave the familiar. This leads to stale output.

I think the interesting stuff nowadays is coming from independent presses. Most folks published by independent houses try to write the kinds of stories that they’d want to read. That keeps things fresh.

There are still some fine crime fiction writers published by the big five. Thomas Perry is an example. I love The Butcher’s Boy.

Your book has been published by Crime Wave Press – do you have any favourite Crime Wave authors or titles?

Benedict J. Jones. His Charlie Bars stories are great fun. I dig his short stuff, too. Andrew Nette’s Ghost Money is cool. Ezra Kyrill Erker’s Salaryman Unbound is deliciously creepy. These are some of my favorites, but you can’t go wrong with anything from Crime Wave Press – those guys know good fiction.

Which writers do you consider to be your peers?

There is a lively crime fiction scene, and I’ve made a lot of friends, both in person and through e-mail and social media, but I would hesitate to consider myself their peer. I feel more like a kid who is being allowed to hang out on the corner with the big guys – guys like Scott Adlerberg, Jedidiah Ayres, Greg Barth, Nick Korpon, Jon McGoran, Andrew Nette, the horror writer Norman Prentiss, Eryk Pruitt and Sam Starnes, to name just a few.

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

That’s hard. I’ve had the good fortune of spending most of my life working at a job that I enjoy. To be more successful would mostly mean a having a larger readership. I’m a pushover – whenever I’ve met someone who’s liked any of my stuff, I’ve immediately asked, “What was your favorite part?”

If I had to pick someone specific, I’d go with Donald Westlake. He seems to have been a happy, fun-loving guy.

Finally, what are your future publishing plans?

I’m not a good planner. I’ll just keep writing and sending stuff out, reading, and spreading the word about good stuff that I happen upon.

Thanks again, Tom.

Tony Knighton @ Crime Wave Press

Book Review: Three Hours Past Midnight by Tony Knighton


Author: Tony Knighton

Publisher: Crime Wave Press

Release Date: July 2017

At the outset of Three Hours Past Midnight, an unnamed professional thief and his veteran ex-cop partner pull off the flawless robbery of a safe from the home of a wealthy Philadelphia politician. Before he can claim his share of the spoils, however, the thief finds that his partner has been murdered – and the safe has gone missing. Already carrying around the baggage of his chequered past, our anti-hero seeks to salvage his sketchy reputation by tracking down the culprit – and retrieving the loot. Needless to say, the job quickly spirals out of control, and a deadly cat ‘n’ mouse game unfolds across Philadelphia.

The excellent Three Hours Past Midnight bursts into life in the style of a hard-boiled Richard Stark caper, and doesn’t let up. With a moral code that is gunmetal grey, and an unwavering commitment to following the criminal code, the unnamed protagonist busts heads and takes names as he seeks to make the pieces of his jigsaw fit. In doing so, he soaks up plenty of punishment, but his actions never lapse into indestructible incredulity.

Knighton delivers his story in cold, hard-edged prose, and imbues the book with a keenly-felt sense of location, topping things off with a memorable array of supporting characters. Suffice to say, if the idea of a smart-mouthed tough guy tearing through the underbelly of Philadelphia appeals to you, then this savvy little thriller will fit the bill.

Three Hours Past Midnight is a compelling slice on contemporary hard-boiled fiction, and one that cries out for a sequel – or sequels. Great stuff.

Review by Tom Leins

The Interrogation Room – An Interview With Beau Johnson

This month in The Interrogation Room… Tom Leins catches up with Canadian crime writer Beau Johnson to discuss his brand new short story collection, A Better Kind of Hate (Down & Out Books).

Firstly, congratulations on the publication of A Better Kind of Hate. How hard was it to select the stories – and indeed the running order? Do they form part of a larger narrative?

Ah, Tom.  Thanks so much.  It’s been quite a ride!  It wasn’t too difficult to select the stories and running order at all.  All I did was pick the ones most relevant to body count.  I kid, of course.  It was a task, sure, but a fulfilling one.  As for a larger narrative… well I do have Bishop Rider in there before he goes rogue, and I do have him in there near the end of his life, so yes, I guess we could agree on that. His origin is spread throughout many stories though – as ever, it seems I am unable to info dump in clumps.

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

The more I think about it, I would have to say ‘Wonder Twin Powers Activate’.  I don’t know where that woman came from, nor have I heard from her since, but man was she a blast to write.

You are best known for your flash fiction. Do you have any ambitions to tackle a longer project, or does short fiction keep you satisfied?

Short fiction seems to be my bag, yup.  Get in, get out.  You know, never waste a word.  As for longer projects, I get this question a lot. All I will say is this: stay tuned!

I think it is fair to say you have something of a track record when it comes to wreaking all kinds of twisted vengeance against your antagonists. Where does this desire for fictional revenge stem from?

Probably from realizing people get away with more things than they should.  Each deserving what should always match their crime. Maybe a little more if I’m generous.  Sometimes a lot if I’m not.

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

Independent is me.  The only mainstream stuff I seem to read is by King.

Your collection has been published by Down & Out Books – do you have any favourite D&O authors or titles?

Well let me spin the wheel!  Nah, there are too many.  If I have to choose though – Beetner, Sayles, Pitts, Jerkins, Colon, too many others… a plethora.

Which writers do you consider to be your peers?

Ah, man, loaded question.  Tom, I’m just happy to be here!

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

King.  Hands down.  That Dude is my Vader.

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

Ha!  Any status would be great, cult or otherwise.

Finally, what are your future publishing plans?

Just to keep on chuggin’.  Wherever my imagination takes me.  Speaking of that, I think I hear Rider calling.  Damn, is that a head in his hands or is he just happy to see me?

Beau Johnson @ Down & Out Books


The Interrogation Room – An Interview With Alec Cizak

This month in The Interrogation Room… Tom Leins catches up with US crime writer Alec Cizak to discuss his excellent new book Down on the Street (ABC Group Documentation) – the unlikely story of a down-on-his-luck taxi driver who becomes a pimp.

Firstly, congratulations on the publication of Down on the Street. Where did the idea for the story come from?

Thanks. I’d been throwing around the idea of a “loser” trying to be a pimp for a long time. I know they did something similar in the old Ron Howard flick Night Shift, but I wanted to take the idea just a little bit more seriously. I had a wonderful midlife crisis experience that compelled me to start writing the book back in 2012. I worked on it a little at a time for about three years before deciding I was ready to let it be.

Was the entire narrative arc planned out in advance, or did you just set up the taxi driver-becomes-a-pimp idea and run with it?

I originally had a big shoot-em-up type of plotline that I eventually scrapped in favor of the darker road the book takes. Interestingly, in making the book less sensationalist, I decided to redeem the protagonist. Sort of. I have to credit the writer Mav Skye for helping steer me in the right direction. I let her read the first half of the novella and she gave me some ideas on how to finish the book. Her ideas, in fact, were much darker than what I eventually came up with, if you can believe it.

Lester Banks is no one’s idea of a hero, and some of his choices are spectacularly bad. Was it fun to write such a hapless protagonist?

It’s always fun to write about people “polite society” doesn’t give a shit about. If these people have jobs at all, they’re usually service jobs. The middle and upper class give them a nod and a courteous smile in exchange for a task they aren’t willing to do for themselves (or maybe can’t – I’m not going to sit here and bash the upper classes, I’m not really into the “make people feel guilty” routine that’s become so fashionable with social media one thinks it might be a mass addiction of some sort; I think shaming people for having more stuff than the rest of us is tired and not very useful in the long run). But let’s be honest – the ruling classes love to talk about what’s best for the impoverished, for the doomed, as Hunter Thompson might have referred to them, but it’s all just talk. The rich will write checks and send them to charities. A few angels will actually put in volunteer time, but ultimately, people like Lester Banks and Chelsea Farmer aren’t valued beyond the work they do and the profits other people make off of their labor. I sound like a commie, I know. I’m not. I’ve actually been to communist countries and they’re awful. But at the same time, having lived in poverty for all of my adult life, I would be derelict of duty as a writer if I didn’t try to force the upper classes to take note, to attempt to understand how rough life can get in this country.

Down on the Street features some pretty twisted scenes. In crime fiction terms, how far is too far?

Well, to me, this is a freedom of expression issue. If we value freedom of expression, there is no such thing as “too far.” Now, more than ever, it’s important to fight for this. We live in a hyper-Orwellian era in which freedom of speech isn’t fully appreciated. That said, the artist must have a damn good reason for stepping over certain lines. I don’t believe in being outrageous just for the sake of shocking people. Basically, if it’s necessary, go for it.

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 mostly read independent books and older crime fiction. It’s sad to say, but the older stuff, as far as books published by “mainstream” publishers, is a hell of a lot better than what they’re publishing these days. The “mainstream” publishers are no different than the music industry or Hollywood—they don’t want to take risks because there’s no more money for that sort of thing. Business people have taken over and they don’t understand the concept of risk in art; to them, not making a profit isn’t an option.

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

I guess I’d recommend Black Wings Has My Angel, by Elliot Chaze. Jed Ayres alerted me to that book a couple of years ago and I really enjoyed it.

Which writers do you consider to be your peers?

I don’t know if these guys would enjoy being called my peers, but the writers I really respect at the moment are Eryk Pruitt, Grant Jerkins, and Garnett Elliott. If I can ever produce work that entertains others the way their work entertains me, I will feel good about my writing.

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

I think my favorite writers are Henry Miller and Charles Bukowski. If I could get some late-in-life success to make old age a bit more tolerable, that would be just fantastic (I’m not holding my breath, though; the masses are so concerned with phony politeness these days, the kind of cynical realism I prefer to write just isn’t marketable, just isn’t vanilla enough for the Oprah book club!).

Finally, what are your future publishing plans?

Well, I’m working on a novella about what happens to Chelsea Farmer after Down on the Street. I’m going to write a book about Lester Banks after that in which he’s hiding out in an apartment above a massage parlor in Florida (I keep trying to get away from that sort of subject matter, but I don’t see society improving any in the way it uses and abuses sexuality for profit). In the meantime, I’m revising a full-fledged novel I wrote last November. It’s somewhere between horror and what the academic folks call magical realism. I’d still like to achieve the dream I had when I was twelve years old, which was to make a living writing horror novels.

Alec Cizak is a writer and filmmaker from Indianapolis. His fiction has appeared in several journals and anthologies. He is also the editor of the fiction journal Pulp Modern. Find out more at No Moral Center.

Book Review: Down on the Street by Alec Cizak


Author: Alec Cizak

Publisher: ABC Group Documentation

Release Date: June 2017

Times are tough in modern-day Indianapolis, and sad-sack cab driver Lester Banks is struggling to make ends meet: paying his rent and maintaining his hooker habit is becoming increasingly difficult… Enter Chelsea, his sexy young, nymphomaniac neighbour – a woman whose life is also about to hit rock bottom. Captivated by his new acquaintance, and spurred on by advice from a colleague with a chequered past, Lester proposes a sordid business arrangement to Chelsea: why not have sex and earn money at the same time? With him as her unlikely pimp! Unfortunately for our desperate duo, their new side-line quickly attracts the attention of a posse of crooked cops, a wealthy degenerate, and a rival pimp, and Lester comes to realise that pimpin’ ain’t easy…

Anyone who has read Crooked Roads, Cizak’s masterful short story collection, will be well aware of his knack for dark, emotive stories – in which hapless protagonists are drawn hopelessly out of their depth in their pursuit of a slightly better life. Down on the Street treads a similar path, and the author offers up an eye-opening series of set-pieces as the book unfolds. The subject matter is understandably dark – but undercut with a bone-dry sense of humour – and the lead characters, and indeed supporting players, are all convincingly depicted.

Unlike reluctant anti-hero Lester, Down on the Street is neither cheap nor exploitative. This is riveting stuff, and well worth checking out.

Reviewed by Tom Leins

Under The Influence – Richard Stark – by Greg Barth

“When the phone rang, Parker was in the garage, killing a man.”

That first line from Firebreak was my introduction to Richard Stark. And wow, what an introduction!

I’d heard of Richard Stark, knew that Stark was a pen-name used by the bestselling author Donald E. Westlake, and I’d seen the movie Payback starring Mel Gibson that was based on Stark’s novel, The Hunter. I think I first became aware of Richard Stark through Stephen King mentioning that his novel, The Dark Half, was inspired by Stark and Westlake. One of the characters in The Dark Half was even named George Stark. But I’d never read anything by Stark. Much of his work was long out of print and mostly owned by collectors.

Westlake stopped publishing as Stark in 1974. For twenty-three years Richard Stark was inactive. But, in 1997, something wonderful occurred. After two decades of silence, Comeback by Richard Stark was published. There was no explanation for the hiatus. Stark was back, and his character, Parker, was once again found in the middle of a heist going wrong.

When I picked up Firebreak at the local library in Asheville, North Carolina and read that opening line, I was immediately hooked. It was the literary equivalent of crack cocaine. Talk about being under the influence. I read everything by Stark I could get my hands on.

Stark’s character, Parker, was my first introduction to a fictional character who was truly amoral. I was reading about the bad guy here, and I don’t mean a misunderstood anti-hero or a Robin Hood rob-from-the-rich-and-give-to-the-poor bad guy. No. Parker was just bad. He robbed from the rich to fund his own life of lavish leisure. He was tough. He could hurt people. Kill people. He was like a shark in the pool amongst civilized people, taking a bite where he could find it. His moral compass didn’t point in the same direction that yours and mine might.

The impact of Parker on my fiction writing is immeasurable. Parker coupled with Tony Soprano or Walter White led me to write the kind of fiction I do today. I write about the bad guys.

Unlike Westlake, Stark wrote with a lean (and yes, stark) style. He kept descriptions simple. You don’t get deep POV from Parker. He doesn’t say much. There’s no interior monologue. You don’t know what the guy is thinking. You have to watch what he does. The books all get to the point immediately. I liken them to the James Bond movies. Those movies always started out with Bond in the middle of doing something interesting. The Parker stories begin the same way. Parker is always in action with the first line of the book. And, as a reader, you are always hooked by that first line. That moment, standing in the library, when I read, “When the phone rang, Parker was in the garage, killing a man,” you better believe I read the second line. And The third, and so on. Stopping was out of the question.

When I sat down to write the novel Selena, I deliberately tried to draw upon everything I’d learned from reading Stark while also doing my own thing. And what a blast it was to write that first novel about her. The rest were just as much fun. And now, on July 1st, All Due Respect books will be releasing the fifth and final volume in the Selena series, titled Everglade. It’s been a fun, violent romp that I’ve had with Selena over the last couple of years, and I very much look forward to the final volume seeing the light of day soon. I hope you enjoy reading them as much as I enjoyed writing them. Personally, I will miss Selena. As a fictional character, I heard her voice loud and clear in my head, which made writing about her an easy task. I always knew exactly what she was going to do, which – more often than not – was the wrong thing.

Everything by Richard Stark is now back in print. Thanks to the University of Chicago Press, you don’t have to be a collector of rare books to enjoy them. So, if you’ve never read anything by Stark, you should go to it immediately. Enjoy. And, while you’re at it, you might also check out that Greg Barth guy. I hear his stuff is okay too.

Bio: Greg Barth is the author of Bona Fide JobsWhere Moth and Rust Corrupt, as well as Selena and three other follow-ups Diesel TherapySuicide Lounge, and Road Carnage. He lives and writes in Bowling Green, Kentucky.