Criminal Records #3 – Tom Leins on Repetition Kills You

In the latest instalment of an occasional series, Dirty Books curator Tom Leins talks you through some of the tracks that influenced his book, Repetition Kills You (All Due Respect, 2018).

REPETITION KILLS YOU

Repetition Kills You is an experimental noir. A novel-in-stories. A literary jigsaw puzzle. The book comprises 26 short stories, presented in alphabetical order, from ‘Actress on a Mattress’ to ‘Zero Sum’. Combined in different ways, they tell a larger, more complex story. The narrative timeline is warped, like a blood-soaked Möbius Strip.

Repetition Kills You is also a pop-noir jukebox – a collection heavily inspired by the random tracks spat out by my iPod when I was working on the book. Music is often a starting point when looking for inspiration for a new project, and this book is a prime example.

The title came from the 2007 single of the same name by cult UK electronica duo The Black Ghosts, and fitted the concept perfectly. When assembling the overlapping short stories that make up the book, that phrase stuck in my mind. Motifs are repeated, storylines are reimagined, supporting characters are killed off, only to re-emerge elsewhere in the timeline…

In the title story, protagonist Joe Rey admits stomping the same guy twice in the same day – purely by accident. As the man says: “They say repetition kills you. Well, it’s sure-as-shit going to kill somebody.”

THE CARNY

Nick Cave’s lyrics are phenomenal, and his rich, dark imagery is a great jumping-off point when looking for inspiration. A number of people have told me that ‘The Carny’ is their favourite story in the book, and it is definitely one of mine too. Imagine the deranged carnival depicted in Cave’s song – but relocated to Paignton. Add in complicated family relationships and a long simmering desire for revenge and you are in the right ballpark.

Happily, I can confirm that the title character, Eugene, will return in the one of the sequels to Repetition Kills You – provisionally titled Screw Joint – which I’m currently in the midst of writing. Given how ‘The Carny’ turned out, you would assume that Rey would be inclined to steer clear of the Eugene, but that isn’t going to happen, and this new story sees him dragged out of his comfort zone and into a hellish new environment where nothing is as it seems.

(Note: surreally enough, ‘The Carny’ was initially performed live at a Liar’s League literary reading in Hong Kong, where the performer, a guy named Aaron Kahn, gave this defiantly Devonshire story a welcome Americana twist!)

THIS IS HARDCORE

My story ‘This Is Hardcore’ originally appeared in 2016 in Pulp Fiction, a quirky little anthology themed around the songs of Britpop band Pulp. It concerns a typically violent investigation for Joe Rey, which sees him plunge headfirst into the seedy world of suburban pornography. The story even includes a retired porn star whose back catalogue is made up of films named after obscure Pulp album-tracks, including ‘Inside Susan’ and ‘Acrylic Afternoons’!

I have owned the Pulp album in question for two decades, but never recall watching the noir-themed music video – until seeking it out for this feature. A fitting soundtrack to my dirty British noir.

YOU WILL MISS ME WHEN I BURN

‘You Will Miss Me When I Burn’ is easily the oldest story in the collection, written in 2013 – some five years before the publication of Repetition Kills You. It first appeared in Sein und Werden’s ‘Auto de Fe’ issue. Suffice to say, Sein und Werden always made me think outside the box with its themes!

The track that inspired the story featured on the Soulsavers 2009 album, Broken, and sees Mark Lanegan of the Screaming Trees singing a Will Oldham (Bonnie Prince Billy) track first recorded as Palace Brothers back in 1994. Such a bleak song – it makes my story seem like a comedy by comparison!

(Bonus track: ‘Idle Hands’ by The Gutter Twins inspired my ‘I’ story of the same name. This one is another Lanegan collaboration, this time with Greg Dulli of Afghan Whigs. As such, I think he is the only artist to appear twice!)

ZERO SUM

For me, putting together a short story collection is a lot like assembling a mix-tape, and this downbeat Nine Inch Nails track – and the story it inspired – felt like the perfect closer. After a string of explosive stories and queasy revelations I was keen to end the book on a more contemplative note, with a more subdued story – something that tied the collection’s disparate themes and sub-plots together – and also something that had readers scrambling back to the first chapter – armed with the final piece of the jigsaw puzzle. My future books will end with buildings in flames and blood dripping off walls, but not this one!

Bio:

Tom Leins is a disgraced ex-film critic from Paignton, UK. He is the author of the short story collections Meat Bubbles & Other Stories (Near To The Knuckle) and Repetition Kills You (All Due Respect) and the novelettes Skull Meat, Snuff Racket, Spine Farm and Slug Bait. 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!

 

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Book Review: Streets of Darkness by A. A. Dhand

STREETS OF DARKNESS

Author: A. A. Dhand

Publisher: Transworld

Release Date: June 2016

At the outset of Streets of Darkness high-flying Bradford cop Harry Virdee is on suspension for breaking a man’s jaw. Until a moment of hot-headed impetuousness derailed his career, he was going places – his brutally efficient knack for getting results playing well with his results-orientated superiors. When a pillar of the local Asian community is found murdered with a swastika carved into his chest, Detective Superintendent George Simpson offers Harry a shot at redemption – track down Lucas Dwight, the notorious ex-BNP leader who has just been released from prison, before the city descends into violence.

Streets of Darkness is a compelling contemporary thriller that explores a group of disparate characters trampling the racial fault-lines in the post-industrial Northern city of Bradford. Caught in the crossfire is Harry Virdee, a British-Asian cop, whose ability to cross between cultures – and his knowledge of the underworld – gives him an edge few of his colleagues can muster.

Dhand serves up a fast-paced blend of pulpy, violent scenes, searing social commentary and unscrupulous characters throughout. While the dialogue sometimes lapses into B-movie territory, the action is generally undercut with a wry, twisted sense of humour, and the book scores extra points for providing an insight into Bradford’s past and present, as well as scrutinising the often-conflicted Anglo-Asian experience. A fascinating series opener – I look forward to more.

Review by Tom Leins

Book Review: Sirens by Joseph Knox

SIRENS

Author: Joseph Knox

Publisher: Black Swan

Release Date: January 2017

After a potentially career-ending mistake, nihilistic Manchester cop Aidan Waits finds himself pressurised into participating in a murky undercover investigation on behalf of shadowy politician David Rossiter – a man whose teenage daughter, Isabelle, has shacked up with charismatic local drug-lord Zain Carver. His superiors are unconcerned about his slim prospects of survival, and Waits finds himself plunged into a hellish limbo populated by warring dealers, alluring bar girls and ruined corpses. Can he keep it together long enough to untangle the labyrinthine mystery, or is he destined to die face down in a Manchester gutter?

Manchester always feels like an underexplored noir backdrop, and Joseph Knox comprehensively redresses the balance with this rain-slick, booze-sodden, smack-ravaged depiction of a city overflowing with dark secrets. Aidan Waits isn’t a dirty cop, but he is definitely a figure tainted with the bad decisions of his past. In Sirens he finds himself mired in a dubious off-the-books investigation, where the only way to gain credibility is to play up to his tarnished reputation.

Knox’s book is seemingly more influenced by the murkier strands of US crime fiction than by the kind of standard-issue UK police procedurals that he is now sharing shelf-space with, and Sirens is an arresting debut novel that immediately marks him out as an author to watch. The tone is as bleak and brooding as the Joy Division albums that provide the book’s unofficial soundtrack, and the fully fleshed-out world that Waits inhabits is set up nicely for a series of smart, urban thrillers. Terrific stuff.

Review by Tom Leins

Book Review: Bluebird, Bluebird by Attica Locke

BLUEBIRD, BLUEBIRD

Author: Attica Locke

Publisher: Serpent’s Tail

Release Date: September 2017

At the outset of Bluebird, Bluebird, Darren Mathews – a committed Texas Ranger with marital troubles and alcohol dependency issues – is suspended from active duty pending the conclusion of an investigation into his involvement in a violent altercation between a long-time family friend and a local racist thug. However, when a pair of bodies – a black lawyer from Chicago and a local white woman – are dragged out of the bayou in an East Texas town called Lark, Mathews puts the job he loves in jeopardy and travels up Highway 59 to investigate. In doing so, the town’s racial fault-lines are blown wide open, and all manner of uncomfortable secrets come tumbling out.

The publishing process is a long and arduous one, and I’m sure this book was completed long before Donald Trump oozed into the White House and cranked up his bile-flecked carnival barker theatrics. Nevertheless, the antagonists here feel like Trump supporters to a man – from self-satisfied local landowner Wally Jefferson, to the meth-fuelled Aryan Brotherhood members who drink in the nearby bar he owns – and the ugly racial tensions give the book a frighteningly contemporary feel.

The swaggering-but-damaged Mathews is a great conduit for the righteous anger that Locke’s book runs on: an imperfect man with perfect values, kicking over rocks in a town where he clearly isn’t welcome. Combining the personal and the political is a tough feat, and Locke makes it look easy.

The central mystery that drives the narrative of Bluebird, Bluebird is a puzzle wrapped in contradictions and contrivances, and in a lesser writer’s hands this could have diminished the story’s appeal. Locke’s easy storytelling style and rich, evocative prose means that this is never an issue, and the story is unpredictable and spiked with tension.

Locke’s excellent 2009 debut Black Water Rising was a memorable, impressive book, and Bluebird, Bluebird is every bit as good. I look forward to the sequel – and the in-development TV series that is reportedly on the cards.

Review by Tom Leins

 

The Interrogation Room – An Interview With Tess Makovesky

Next up in The Interrogation Room… Tom Leins catches up with Tess Makovesky to discuss her new book, Gravy Train (All Due Respect).

Congratulations on the publication of your new book! How would you pitch Gravy Train to potential readers?

Thank you! I’m going to start with the same question I used to pitch the book to my publisher: how far would you go for £80,000?

Luckily, they didn’t report me for attempted bribery because this really is the premise of Gravy Train. It’s a breathless romp in which a group of low-lives and losers chase a bag of ill-gotten money around the back streets of Birmingham. They’re great at nicking it, but hopeless at hanging onto it, so when it all blows up into a showdown by the local canal it’s less about who wins and more about whether any of them manage to get their hands on it. Aside from the action (which has already been described as ‘raucous’ and ‘barnstorming’), there’s also a more serious message about greed, and just how far people are prepared to go for that much money. Violence, blackmail, sexual favours… Would you? Probably not – and I know I wouldn’t. But these guys are desperate enough that they just might.

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

Apart from square eyes from reading it too quickly, you mean? Well, I hope they have as much fun reading it as I had putting it together, because it really was a joy to write. Even though (or perhaps because) the characters are so hopeless, they ended up getting under my skin and I hope the readers will care about them too. I also had a great time with the humour in the book – the slips, the trips, the sheer blazing coincidences – and I hope it will give everyone a giggle.

On top of that I hope that the book’s setting helps readers see Birmingham in a new light. Too often it’s portrayed as nothing but dull 1960s concrete when in actual fact it’s a fascinating and historic city full of odd nooks and unexpected sights. Although I can only put a fraction of that into each of my books, I’m hoping readers will be intrigued enough by the descriptions of Five Ways island, Gas Street canal basin and the Victorian suburbs of Moseley and Acocks Green to want to go and find out more for themselves.

Oh – and then there’s the scattered references to Pink Floyd lyrics (mostly from Have a Cigar, which also spawned the book’s title), which people might have fun tracking down. And then there are the elephants…

Birmingham seems like a great setting for a crime caper – are there any notable Birmingham/Midlands crime novels that you would recommend?

Your readers will probably shout at me but off the top of my head I can’t think of many crime books set in the city, which surprises me because it’s such a classic location for crime fiction. However, there is one author who leaps to mind – the late and much missed Joel Lane. He wrote two or three novels set in and around the city, and my own favourite is From Blue to Black. This noir masterpiece is set mostly in the leafy Birmingham suburb of Moseley, where I lived for many years, and involves a musician falling in half-love, half-hero worship with the lead singer of a rock band. Needless to say, there’s no happy ending, but the use of language is incredible and the strange, pared-down grey-scale palette with occasional flashes of colour left a lasting impression on me.

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

Although I read almost constantly, I have to admit that I don’t read a huge amount of crime fiction. But when I do, I’m happy with a mixture of traditional print, small indie companies, digital, self-published – basically, whoever publishes the books and/or authors I like. That ranges from household names like Peter May and Ann Cleeves, via the domestic noir of Sarah Hilary and Michael J Malone, to the more unusual (John Connolly’s paranormal crime or Mark Mills’ mysteries with a historical edge, for example). And I’m constantly looking for new books and new authors, in pretty much any format I can get my hands on.

Which contemporary writers do you consider to be your peers?

There are two main groups that I kind of ‘grew up’ with as a crime writer. First, there’s a bunch of us who started out writing noir short stories for the indie publisher Byker Books at around the same time, and who have kept tripping over each other in anthologies and magazines ever since. This includes Nick Quantrill, Aidan Thorn, Ian Ayris, Craig Douglas, and of course the king of Brit-Grit himself, Paul D Brazill, and it’s a pleasure to feel I have something in common with their work.

Secondly, there’s the Crime and Publishment gang, who came together thanks to the wonderful annual crime writing course organised by Graham Smith. Since he set it up, around 8 or 9 authors have gone on to get publishing deals, many of us as a direct result of contacts made at the course, and we’re all fiercely supportive of each other’s work. As well as me, the list includes Graham himself, Mike Craven, Jackie Baldwin, Lucy Cameron and Les Morris, amongst others, and I can thoroughly recommend their books.

But this is very much the tip of a Titanic-sized iceberg. Crime fiction has exploded recently and there are so many amazing authors coming through the ranks. I’m lucky to know even a fraction of them.

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

You’re probably expecting me to choose someone like J K Rowling – and who wouldn’t want to be hugely famous, sell squillions of books, and make more money than some small countries? Well, me actually. What’s right for one person isn’t necessarily right for someone else, and I’m happy following my own path, at my own pace, through life. It’s fun finding out what that path leads to, and even if it sometimes seems to be taking a while to reach the top of the mountain, at least I get to stop and admire the scenery along the way.

Finally, what are your future publishing plans?

I’m currently working on another Birmingham-based crime caper called Embers of Bridges, featuring loyalty, a heist-gone-wrong and a getaway on a canal boat, and I have two or three others that are kind of part-finished. Nothing is certain in the world of publishing, of course, but I’d love to place all of them with All Due Respect over the next few years and build up a catalogue of fun, gritty books that, hopefully, readers will enjoy.

Bio:

Liverpool lass Tess is now settled in the far north of England where she roams the fells with a brolly, dreaming up new stories and startling the occasional sheep.

Tess writes a distinctive brand of British comédie noir and her short stories have darkened the pages of various anthologies and magazines, including Shotgun Honey, Pulp Metal Magazine, ‘Drag Noir’ (Fox Spirit Books), ‘Rogue’ (Near to the Knuckle), and ‘Locked and Loaded’ (One Eye Press). Her debut novella, a psychological noir called Raise the Blade, is available from Caffeine Nights Publishing, and her first novel, Gravy Train, is due imminently from All Due Respect.

You can follow her ramblings (both literary and literal) at her blog: http://tessmakovesky.wordpress.com

Buy Gravy Train!

Book Review: These Darkening Days by Benjamin Myers

THESE DARKENING DAYS

Author: Benjamin Myers

Publisher: Moth Publishing

Release Date: September 2017

These Darkening Days – the sequel to the acclaimed Turning Blue – finds local journalist Roddy Mace living on a houseboat and battling his alcoholic demons, while struggling to make progress with a true crime book (based on the grisly case depicted in Myers’ previous novel). Mace’s subdued routine is disrupted when a middle-aged woman is savagely attacked by a mystery assailant and left for dead in an alleyway.

As the local police force struggles to locate any worthwhile leads, the victim’s colourful past – she was an amateur porn star – sparks an unseemly tabloid frenzy in the small Pennine valley town. When further attacks occur, the unusual case piques the interest of a bored Detective James Brindle – currently on enforced leave from the enigmatic ‘Cold Storage’ unit – who decides the time is right to renew his uneasy acquaintanceship with Mace.

Last year I described Turning Blue as ‘easily one of the best British crime novels that I have read in the last decade’ – an assessment I stand by – so, it was with a degree of trepidation that I approached the follow-up. Myers is too smart to traipse over old ground, and this sequel is a sneaky whodunnit which offers a number of parallels to the earlier book – before yanking the story in a completely different direction.

Myers continues to play to his strengths: rural Psychogeography, queasy observational details and unflinching character studies of small-town misfits, but the crushing dread of the earlier book has been dialled down a couple of notches, and alleviated with lashings of dark humour – much of it relating to tabloid exploitation and vigilante justice.

These Darkening Days may lack some of the raw power of its predecessor, but it’s a terrific read, and a well-judged follow-up to a contemporary classic.

Review by Tom Leins

Book Review: The Bad Kind of Lucky by Matt Phillips

THE BAD KIND OF LUCKY

Author: Matt Phillips

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

Release Date: November 2018

Two-time loser Remmie Miken doesn’t have much going for him, so when he is offered the opportunity to accompany a sadistic stranger to Mexico in pursuit of a missing prostitute it actually sounds like an appealing prospect!

Whereas Matt Phillips’ typical protagonists are unlucky guys who get dealt another shitty hand, main-man Miken makes an informed choice to cross the line and finds himself plunged into a hellish buddy-movie with the ruthless Trevor Spends. What follows is a savage excursion into low-life criminality.

By trading his grease-splattered life as a fry cook for a blood-splattered existence as Trevor’s sidekick, the hapless Remmie is about to realise that the grass isn’t always greener on the other side – but the scumbags are definitely more vicious!

This blood-pumping, border-hopping, bullet-spitting thrill-ride is Phillips’ best book yet. Highly recommended.

Buy Now!

Review by Tom Leins

The Interrogation Room – An Interview With Tom Pitts

Next up in The Interrogation Room… Tom Leins catches up with Tom Pitts to discuss his new book, 101 (Down & Out Books).

Congratulations on the publication of your new book! How would you pitch 101 to potential readers?

101 is a story rooted in California weed country on the cusp of legalization. A kid on the run from San Francisco hides out on a weed farm with his mysterious host, an old-time friend of his mother’s. His host and his mother share a dark secret and trouble soon erupts. The fuse the kid ignites burns all the way up the 101. A wild cast of characters soon collide and his mother, his host, and an unlikely crew battle bikers, gangsters, and a couple of loose cannon cops as they all race back Oakland to settle old scores.

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

I’ve tried to push my exploration of the multi-POV to create a fast-paced page-turner with a cinematic feel. I hope readers get to see the movie I saw in my head when I wrote it. It’s brutal, funny, and I hope captures some of what I experienced while I was knee-deep in the muck of Humboldt County.

Your various books chronicle different aspects of California’s criminal underbelly – how important is it not to repeat yourself?

I’ve very conscious of it. True, they all spring from the underbelly, but they’re very different in many ways. Hustle was about junkie male prostitutes, American Static covered political corruption. Knuckleball was about a young Mexican kid in the Mission District. Coldwater (the next one) is about a couple who move to the burbs. I’ll admit though, after these four novels, what I call my California Quartet, I’m wondering if it’s all I’ve got to say. I started writing two more novels and put ‘em down because they just weren’t doing it for me. I felt like it was ground I’d already tread. So yeah, I’m very conscious of it. I wonder how some of the successful authors, like Lee Child, deal with repetition. It’s an odd thing in the literature world. People love series, there’s something about a familiar brand they love to return to. Publishers sense that and they’ll squeeze a series—and an author—dry. I think it takes a special disposition to make a series work. I don’t think I’m built that way, my books most definitely have endings, and when they’re done, I have to move on to an entirely new story.

Are there any subjects or themes that you would like to return to?

You know, I’ve been having this debate about whether gentrification in urban America has driven writers back to rural noir, and it keeps coming up because the cities seem to have lost a lot of their edge. There’s not a lot of crime and desperation left in the big burgs. That got me thinking about what real crime looks like in the big city. And that’s petty crime, that’s hobos and winos breaking into liquor stores, drug dealers getting robbed by fiends, car burglaries, shoplifting. That’s what pulled me into writing in the first place, so I’ve been writing some shorts relating to the homeless and what’s going on out there in the street. The homeless situation in San Francisco, in all of California, has never been worse and it’s an issue that’s underreported and inaccurately portrayed.

Of all your protagonists to date, do you have a favourite – and why?

It’s funny, all my protagonists seem to be vehicles for the antagonists. I mean, that’s where the show is, right? The protags often take a back seat. They drive the story forward, but aren’t usually the heroes or the villains. Quinn in American Static was fun to write. He was a charismatic but sociopathic wise-cracking psycho. Vic, the anti-hero in 101, is great fun too, but he’s got a moral compass. A cowboy complex. I think the protag’s mother really turns out to be the hero. I try to keep the reader off balance by switching up who rises to the surface as a hero or villain, protagonist or antagonist.

In your opinion, what are the quintessential California crime novels that everyone should read?

I don’t know, that’s why I’m trying to write ‘em! Seriously, Denis Johnson did a great job with Northern California in Nobody Move, but he’s not really a crime writer. Crumley he did a great job with the state, The Last Good Kiss is a must read. Shit, Johnny Shaw, he captures his corner of the state perfectly in his books. Jordan Harper’s novel and his shorts have both a literary and an authentic note. I mean, there’s lots of great California writers throughout the last century history. Steinbeck, Bukowski, Fante, Ellroy, Chandler, Hammett. But I don’t know if the best in contemporary California crime fiction has bubbled up to the surface yet.

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

My tastes vary, but I do read quite a few contemporaries. I get asked to write a blurb now and again, or I’ll get excited by an internet buzz. However most of my choices still come from the age-old tried-and-true word-of-mouth.

Which contemporary writers do you consider to be your peers?

Is this for potential jury selection? I talk a lot about the ladder or the food chain. That guy’s a few rungs up the ladder from me, or that person’s way up the food chain. I’m usually looking up at others accomplishments, but if they’ll still talk to me, I consider them a peer. I mean, shit, I still talk to Joe Clifford daily, but he’s more than a peer, he dragged me into this mess. Besides, he’s a few rungs up from me too.

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

That’s a tough question. When I was young the lives of so many writers seemed oddly glamorous to me. The wild nights, the heavy drinking, the broken hearts. When you get older though, you realize these things are the fallout of awful selfish people, and I don’t want to leave a wake of wickedness (although I’ve left my share.) Then I really started to write, and I learned it was really about the discipline. That’s the trait I truly admired. The guys who were able to sit down and write. Elmore Leonard comes to mind. He’s never tried to write the great American novel, and I’d be hard-pressed to pick a favorite novel of his because they’re all good. He had one hell of a work ethic and didn’t let success spoil it, so I guess I’d have to go with him. He was an inspiration. Now if I could only implement a few of those lessons learned.

Finally, what are your future publishing plans?

It looks like the next one, Coldwater, is coming out in 2020. After that, maybe a short story collection. But, God willing, there’ll be more novels. I’m sketching out a period piece right now. And by period piece, I mean the 1980s.

Bio:

Tom Pitts received his education on the streets of San Francisco. He remains there, working, writing, and trying to survive. He is the author of AMERICAN STATIC, HUSTLE, and the novellas PIGGYBACK and KNUCKLEBALL. His new novel, 101, is out on November 5th.

Website:    http://www.tompittsauthor.com/    

Buy 101

The Interrogation Room – An Interview with Math Bird

Next up in The Interrogation Room… Tom Leins catches up with Math Bird to discuss his new book, Welcome to HolyHell (All Due Respect).

Congratulations on the publication of your new book! How would you pitch Welcome to HolyHell to potential readers?

If I only had one sentence, I’d describe it as ‘Kes meets The Getaway.’ However, if I had a few more sentences I’d go onto say that Welcome to HolyHell, set in the borderlands of northeast Wales, is a crime, noir coming-of-age story about loneliness, hope, the past that haunts us, and the fear of growing older – packing an emotionally-charged punch to every hard-boiled reader’s heart.

The book is set in the 1970s – what was your thinking behind using that era, and was it tough to iron out the period details?

Well, I love all things ‘70s: music, films, books, art, history etc. I spent my pre-teen and early-post teen years in the ‘70s. So, creatively, the decade has been a huge influence on me. The novel is set during the drought of 1976, which I remember quite vividly. Also, in an historical sense, it’s an era I’m able to reference quite easily, although I have researched the ‘70s quite extensively for many years and stored that information alongside my own memories and experience. Plus, it’s a fantastic decade to set a crime novel. ‘70s UK and noir are an ideal match. What more could you want? Also, Welcome to HolyHell is the first novel in a series of three with the subsequent books set in the mid-80s, followed by the late ‘90s. So, the ‘70s was a perfect place to start.

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

The main thing I hope is that they enjoy the story. I hope it’s a solid, entertaining read. That’s always my main objective. I hope they enjoy the novel’s humour, tenderness, and of course its darkness (well, enough not to ask for a refund). And other than that, I hope they get a better understanding of northeast wales especially the borderlands between Wales and England – which for anyone who has read any stuff of mine will know is a central theme, in some form or other, throughout all my fiction.

Is there a rich tradition of Welsh crime novels that you are tapping into, or are you mapping uncharted territory – crime fiction-wise?

There’s certainly a rich tradition of Welsh fiction and short stories, which crime and some noir are a part of. I researched Welsh crime fiction quite extensively for my PhD, as it was the main part of my thesis. So, I could reel off a host of great writers who are worth exploring for so many reasons. But I won’t, mainly because I’d hate to leave anyone out. But what I would say in relation to mapping new territory is that most Welsh fiction be it crime or literary tends be set in the south, Cardiff (the Welsh Capital), or the north West. And northeast Wales as the eminent scholar and biographer M. Wynn Thomas once wrote remains ‘an unexplored territory and has yet to find a place in the popular imagination.’ That’s still kind of rings true today, although it’s not entirely an undiscovered country. So, in my own way, I’m trying to remedy that. Hoping that my fiction can play a small part in pushing northeast Wales a tiny step further into the popular imagination, using a genre I love.

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

I guess, like most folk, I read a mixture of both. I buy and read anything that catches my eye. I read a lot of indie crime and noir novels; however, a lot of mainstream novels that I’ve really enjoyed I’ve later discovered that the writer was once part of the indie scene, writers such as Scott Wolven, and Sean Dootlittle for example, whom I later learned had early stories published in the brilliant ‘Plots With Guns’, where I’ve placed some of my stories too. Incidentally, I must say I love ‘Plots With Guns’, currently on hiatus, but my favourite online crime and noir literary journal.

Which contemporary writers do you consider to be your peers?

There are lots of contemporary writers I read and admire. Although, I’d never dare to say they were my peers. That’s not for me to judge. Although, I do love the current indie crime scene of All Due Respect, Down & Out Books, etc. – a family of which I’m a very proud to be a small part of. I love all the stuff those guys do and produce, and long may they continue.

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

Any writer who can churn out entertaining, quality crime fiction on a regular basis and make a living out of it has my utmost admiration and respect, because, as we all know, it’s no mean feat.

Finally, what are your future publishing plans?

Well, I’m writing Goodbye HolyHell (Book 2) and Return to HolyHell (Book 3), so I’d love to place those at some point.  I’m also rewriting an early novel entitled Bordersands and again would love to place that.

Bio: Welsh writer Math Bird, has had stories broadcast on BBC Radio 4, Radio Wales, Radio 4 Extra. His work has also appeared in numerous magazines and anthologies. A collection of Math Bird’s stories, including his Pushcart Prize-nominated story ‘The Devilfish’ can be found in: Histories of the Dead and Other Stories published by All Due Respect.

His novel Welcome to HolyHell published by All Due Respect books is available from October 19th 2018 at all the usual places.

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The Interrogation Room – An Interview With Hector Duarte, Jr.

Next up in The Interrogation Room… Tom Leins catches up with Hector Duarte, Jr. to discuss his new short story collection, Desperate Times Call (Shotgun Honey).

Firstly, congratulations on the publication of Desperate Times Call! How hard was it to select the stories – and indeed the running order?

So, this collection was my thesis for grad school and it was a three-year process batting back and forth with my advisor and having her tell me she didn’t like this story because… or, maybe I should revisit this story here… As far as the order, it’s actually almost chronological in the order I wrote each piece.

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

Probably ‘Cabernet’, because it’s the longest short story in the collection and I really feel it’s the best job I did in the whole thing, where I actually created this little world that twists and turns into itself. That’s the fun part of writing, when you can do something like that.

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 ‘Accounts Payable’, which I wrote for a fiction workshop I took in the grad program. That’s from 2009. I’d like to think my writing style has improved since, in that I can write a tighter story and I’m not trying to impress anyone with my words and language, which I think is a huge rookie mistake.

How have your editorial duties at the Flash Fiction Offensive impacted on – or even influenced – your own short fiction?

I am forever grateful to Joe Clifford and Tom Pitts for trusting me enough to pass the FFO editing over to me, which helps me understand the importance of every single sentence, word, and letter. It’s taught me the importance of writing something that does not drag or waste the reader’s time. Get to the point and just raise the stakes from there.

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

All kinds of crime fiction exists out there, the stuff that is afraid to offend and, on the other side of the spectrum, stuff that tries to be too edgy but doesn’t really have anything to deliver as a proper story. It’s all good to me. Mainstream or independent, as long as I’m entertained and being taken for a ride. Like right now I’m reading The Man from Beijing by Henning Mankell, which many might categorize as mainstream, but the way he opens up that novel, man, is fucking brilliant. Can I curse on here? He writes a grisly crime scene to open a near 600-page crime novel that just gets the thing rolling on all cylinders.

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

Go on the site and check out the latest by Angel Luis Colon, C.S. Dewildt, Nick Kolakowski, Rusty Barnes. There are a ton of others up there. Can’t go wrong with that crew.

Which contemporary writers do you consider to be your peers?

This is a tough question because it could make me sound like an overconfident douche but the following are writers I started off admiring and emulating, and eventually met and realized they were very down to earth, cool people who I’d like to think I can call friends. M.J. Fievre, the aforementioned Joe Clifford, Beau Johnson, Jose Ignacio Valenzuela. This is just naming a few.

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

I’ll just answer this by saying my main goal with writing is to just keep writing. If the day comes when I can finance my life solely by writing. And, I mean a very simple life, enough to not have to stress over money and just be comfortable (I’m not looking to make “fuck you” money or anything like that), then that would be the best outcome.

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

I think a solid following is better than mainstream success. Like I said before, the type of career that allows me to keep writing, and in different forms. I’d love to try my hand at screenwriting. I listen to a lot of jam bands, Phish and Umphreys McGee being my favourites. If there is anything to learn from those bands, it’s the work ethic: constantly produce and give back to the audience because without them there is no career.

Finally, what are your future publishing plans?

I’m currently working on a first novel and after that I have an idea that I’m going to keep tucked under my sleeve until it’s done.

Bio:

Hector Duarte, Jr. is a writer and teacher out of Miami, Florida. He’s current editor at The Flash Fiction Offensive. His work has appeared, among many others, in Shotgun Honey, Spelk Fiction, HorrorSleazeTrash, and Just to Watch Them Die: Crime Fiction inspired by the songs of Johnny Cash. His first full-length work, the short story collection Desperate Times Call, was published by Shotgun Honey books in 2018. He loves his fiancée Samantha and his cat Felina very much.

Website:

www.facebook.com/hector.d.junior

Twitter:

https://twitter.com/Hexpubs

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