Kelby Losack is the author of “The Way We Came In” (2018) and “Heathenish” (2017), both published by Broken River Books. I wrote that “Heathenish” had the “the clarity and importance of a dream forgotten” and in my review of “The Way We Came In” is “sharp, descriptive and beautiful”. You can buy the books directly from the author or from Amazon.
A few months ago I reviewed Preston Lang’s “Sunk Costs” and wrote, “Unlike kids soccer teams that give out participation trophies like candy on Halloween, I don’t award five-star reviews that often, but Preston Lang’s Sunk Costs deserves each and every one of those stars.”
David: Is Preston Lang a pseudonym? I ask because finding information on you is difficult. Hell, pictures of you are almost non-existent. Is your limited internet footprint intentional or is it something that just happened?
Preston: Yeah, it’s a pseudonym. Not a huge deal or anything, but I’ve got a few reasons to stay low key.
David: The writing in “Sunk Costs” is spare but not bare bones. You made a comment about the quotes I used in my review edited by Chris Rhatigan, editor and publisher of All Due Respect Books. What are a few of the things you learned about your writing through the editing process with Chris?
Preston: First of all, thanks so much for taking the time to read and review. I just went back and looked at the original of one of the passages you cited in the review, and it was really long and barely comprehensible. Chris and Nigel Bird were both great. They did an excellent job of pointing out logical errors, redundancies, and clunky sentences, and I felt very comfortable that what we were putting out was an actual professional-looking book. This wasn’t a surprise or anything because it was the second time I’ve been through the process with ADR.
Maybe the biggest thing I learned was that it’s important to find the right place for your books. As you say, the writing in Sunk Costs is pretty spare. A lot of editors might have had a problem with that—needs more fleshing out, description, internal monologue—but ADR got that it’s all right for a novel to go light on these elements.
David: “Sunk Costs” is a throw-back to the pulp books of the 40s and 50s, but it never feels dated or false. Set in today’s world, “Sunk Costs” has a drifter come in touch with a criminal conspiracy in a small town. I’m thinking that there are obvious influence of Jim Thompson and James Cain. Not that “Sunk Costs” is solely an homage to those earlier books, but what are some of the influences that drove you to write this book?
Preston: A few people have told me that it feels old-fashioned, which is really cool but not something I completely understand. Characters have cell phones and airports have serious security. A while back, I tried to write something set around 1950, but it wasn’t really coming together.
So Thompson and Cain are influences, though I don’t think I had them in the front of my head writing this. There was probably an element of those old TV shows where someone just wanders around getting into weird adventures. I remember as a little kid watching Starman, where Robert Hays from Airplane was traveling America getting into scrapes. It turned out he was an alien, but it took me a few episodes to figure that out. There was also a similar show in Canada called The Littlest Hobo that’s also pretty good.
I like the freedom of introducing a character into a situation where he’s has no past and very little context and then seeing what he can make out of it.
David: Shotgun Honey recently re-released “The Carrier” and you have some short stories published in Pulp Modern and Switchblade. When you write are you focused on one thing such as a short store or novel or are you able to move between different projects?
Preston: Mostly I work on novels, and I try to keep going until the one I’m writing on is done. But sometimes if I have a decent idea for something shorter, it can be a real relief to get away from the big mess for a few days.
David: Give me five books to read, genre doesn’t matter.
Preston: Just some I got to recently:
Three Kinds of Fools, Matt Phillips
Tussinland, Mike Monson
Two Down, one Across, Ruth Rendell
Hard Knocks, Ruby Lang
American Static, Tom Pitts
The Magic Barrel, Bernard Malamud
Paul D. Brazill was one of the first independent crime writers I stumbled across when I got into this game. Two things that stood out with Paul is the humor in his writing and his support for other writers. Paul has two new recent releases: “Small Time Crimes”, a collection of short stories published by Near to the Knuckle, and “Last Year’s Man”, a novella about an aging hitman returning to his hometown. I reviewed “Last Year’s Man” a few weeks back here. You can find out more about Paul D. Brazill on his website.
Anthony Neil Smith is the author of many books two of which I have reviewed here: “Castle Danger: Woman on Ice” and, most recently, “The Cyclist”. Smith is also the Chair of the English, Philosophy, Spanish & Humanities Department at Southwest Minnesota State University. Smith answered some question via email.
David: Congratulations on your latest book, “The Cyclist”. That was a terrifying read. The book is much more a horror book than a crime book and its influences seem to come from horror movies. What were some of the influences (literary or film) for “The Cyclist”? Also, where did you come up with the germ of the idea?
Neil: I think that most of the neo-noir writers of this century are inspired by horror. I don’t think we can escape it. The styles bleed. What we think of as noir is a lot “worse” than what it had looked like during the Golden Age (if there ever was one). So I think torture-porn movies like HOSTEL and SAW play a part, and also the serial killer novels of Mo Hayder. As for the idea, I guess my love of cycling and my two trips to Scotland blended together in my mind. When we were driving around the highlands, at one point we got a little lost and ended up in the middle of nowhere, but there were a lot of trees around, making the path a little claustrophobic, and I immediately thought of the horrible things a crazy person could do out here in all that isolation.
David: In Ben Lelievre’s Dead End Follies review of “Castle Danger: Woman on Ice”, he wrote that it took “a little while to warm up” and then you pulled the rug out from under the reader. In “The Cyclist”, you point the reader in one direction and then everything changes, nothing is what the reader thought it was. Can you talk about setting up the reader’s expectations and then changing on a dime?
Neil: That’s the expectation of this genre (or any genre), seems to me. Movies, too. At the end of the first act, everything goes topsy-turvy and heads off in a different direction. Aren’t we all waiting for that moment? Maybe I try to avoid what that exact expectation is. Don’t want it to be too easy. It’s one thing to invert expectations, but what about perverting them? Is perverting a word? No one should read the book and think “That’s exactly what I expected.”
In CASTLE DANGER, I don’t want anyone to trust Manny’s voice too much, since he’s not so sure about his wants and needs anyway. I wanted the whole narrative to be shifting beneath the reader’s (and Manny’s) feet.
David: Genre vs literary. One doesn’t find anyone particular genre talking smack about another genre, but authors of literary fiction seem to revel in their disdain of genre fiction––Stephen King is a good example of getting the brunt of this. Since you are knee-deep in the literary world as a professor of English and a department chair, are the lines still drawn hard-fast between literary and genre fiction?
Neil: I want to say “not as much” because I know a lot of people who straddle the lines between those two areas, but I guess there will always be a thin hard line, but most of the younger generation of literary writers seems to accept and enjoy genre work, and appreciate anyone blurring the line. I know some crime writers hate the phrase “transcending the genre,” but I never mind it. After all, the main works of most genres that stand out and are the milestones are the exceptions. They end up becoming the roadmap for genre even if they deviated from the expectations of it. I tend to gravitate towards those people always trying to buck the genre while still being in love with it.
David: Are students more accepting of genre fiction than the professors?
Neil: Oh, god yes. My only disappointment is how much they lean on fantasy or sci-fi clichés. I would like to see some students try for something new, but I understand that they are just learning and need to go through those early phases. I don’t see as much love for the crime or thriller genres with undergraduates, though. They like epics.
David: I mentioned in my review of “The Cyclist” that you’re a bit prolific. You’ve had three books published in the last year. I’ve only read two of your books and I feel like I haven’t even scratched the surface of your work. What’s your writing routine like and how you generate so many words in an almost Stephen King-like flood? That’s the last Stephen King reference I promise.
Neil: I’m prolific? I feel frozen a lot of the time. I wish I could write two books a year, but I usually end up around one-and-a-half. I was on a strict deadline for the recent three from BE ebooks, and they were released quickly, so it’s all an illusion. I just abandoned one novel and am starting another, so it might be awhile before the next one. I’m amazed at King’s output and quality, even if I’m not a big King fan. I really only write about a thousand words on a good day, and I don’t write every day. I tend to get lazy. But somehow I’ve published 14 novels since 2005 (plus two novellas and a lot of short stories). I like to write in the mornings, between about 10 and 2, or during my office hours when things slow down at work. At the moment, I’m trying to do a page a day until I get some momentum. Just always moving forward.
David: In a recent interview with Tom Leins, you talked about that it’s okay to want to be read by the masses and that “The Cyclist” was a step in that direction. Any hints on how a writer can put food on their table and pay rent. How do you stay true to yourself and still reach for a mass appeal audience?
Neil: Get a job. Lucky for me I went to grad school, got a PhD, and became a creative writing prof. I love my job. That allows me a lot of time – since writing is part of the job – to work and always think about craft. My friends have had better luck with larger publishers. If I put the advances (very few of them) and royalties from my books together, I’d still have a lot less than some friends have gotten for two or three book contracts. It’s more like a bonus than a way to make a living. I heard that only 5% of novelists make a living at it, something like that.
Here’s home I stay true to myself and still reach for a mass audience: I don’t know. So far, I haven’t been very successful at it, so maybe I will never know how. I am still a student of bestsellers, trying to figure out how I can write a book *I* like that will also reach hundreds of thousands of people. My friend and longtime editor Allan Guthrie is always teaching me more about structure, plotting, and character in order to make a breakthrough book, but I always end up messing it up somehow. I get bored and just follow my own interests instead.
So I’ve got the freedom, because of my university job, to write whatever I want and find indie presses to publish them. It’s a great feeling. But I would love to find the story that would reach many more eyes.
David: Give me five books to read, genre doesn’t matter.
Neil: Complete Short Stories of Flannery O’Connor, WHITE JAZZ by James Ellroy, THE REAL COOL KILLERS by Chester Himes, STAR TREK MOVIE MEMORIES by William Shatner, IGUANA LOVE by Vicki Hendricks.
Thanks for reading this interview with Anthony Neil Smith. Make sure you go and buy his books.
Aaron Philip Clark is the author of “The Science of Paul” and “A Healthy Fear of Man”, both recently released by Shotgun Honey and reviewed here at this blog. Clark was nice enough to respond to my questions via email. You can learn more about Clark at his website.
David:I’m a little late to the game with “The Science of Paul”, but I absolutely loved it. What struck me the most was that the crime and the plot driven by the crime were almost background music. The real star was Paul Little. What drove you to write more of a character study than a wham-bam-thank-you crime novel?
Aaron:Paul Little was inspired by Walter Mosley’s Easy Rawlins. Both characters originate in the South and journey to metropolitan cities with the hope of a better life—they could very much exist in the same literary world. Paul and Easy exhibit a strong need to preserve their identities. In Devil in A Blue Dress, Easy wants to prevent foreclosure on his home. As a black man in the forties, owning a home was a great accomplishment and it indicated upward mobility, and in many ways, a path to a prosperous future. For Paul, he has nothing except his humanity and prides himself on not losing that in prison. Paul is governed by empathy and he sees human existence as inherently flawed—and he simply doesn’t fit in the world. Paul is courageous because he recognizes that he’s very much ‘other’ and he’s fine with it. He has no desire to fit in or play a role in a society he deems as another prison. The farm in North Carolina is where Paul sees himself as being able to live freely. While Easy’s identity is rooted in independence and progress, Paul’s identity is deeply connected to familial roots and assuming control over his existence. I knew a character as conflicted as Paul would need a strong interior voice and that prompted the first-person narrative. Since Paul is not a detective or private investigator, it was important for him to operate as a novice and someone who was cut off from street culture—he’s very much a product of the sheltered life he’s led with Tammy. Paul is an amalgamation of black men I’ve met in my life—some with great hope despite horrible circumstances and others who seem to court death and have an almost fatalistic view of the world. However, it was important that Paul maintain a sense of faith because for many ex-cons, especially black men, it’s the only fuel that keeps them going. Paul believes that no matter what happens if he is alive he still has a shot at happiness. And for black men, no matter our situations, preserving our lives requires copious amounts of mental and physical energy, and there are no days off. The crimes that happen in the novel are not the focal point because crimes, alone, are not interesting to me. I’m fascinated by how the crimes affect the people and communities where they take place. Paul is driven by the need to escape the crime and squalor of Philadelphia, and since it’s the inhabitants of the city that perpetuate the crimes and have essentially corrupted the city, Paul is willing to say goodbye to Tammy and any connections he has in Philadelphia if it means leaving and never having to return.
David: Philadelphia has a strong role to play in “The Science of Paul”, Paul wanting to escape to the North Carolina countryside. At one point, Paul thinks “Philadelphia is a historic ghost town inhabited by those who don’t know they’re dead. In the past, runaway slaves died trying to get here. Now, I’m dying to get out.” It seems as though you get Philadelphia, how did you go about capturing Philly’s essence?
Aaron: I lived in Philadelphia for 3 years while obtaining my bachelor’s degree. I got a good taste for the city and thought it would be a good setting for The Science of Paul. What I loved about Philly was the culture. It was a heavy dose of Americana—greasy food, jazz and blues, and the Liberty Bell—but at the same time, there existed this desperation and an immense sadness. People all over the city were just getting by. There were overgrown lots where buildings once stood. The city was crumbling, and it reminded me of photos I had seen of Kosovo as a kid, but it was even more disturbing because it’s a city in America—the fabled land of milk and honey. I figured if I could capture just a fraction of the real Philly, the city would take shape and come alive in the novel.
David: Paul is an alcoholic, but his big problem is his self-loathing. Most of his relationships have one common thread, Paul cannot understand why anyone would love him. Obviously, Paul’s self-hatred is stronger than most men’s, but I cannot help to wonder that this is why readers connect with him since we all have that feeling that we aren’t good enough. I know there’s a question in there somewhere.
Aaron: Paul’s self-loathing is palpable, and I wanted it to be like a plague that is slowly consuming him. He has such deep regret over what he’s done and that is by design. I wanted to write Paul as a human being and while some may find what Paul did to land him in prison as something a person could overcome, it doesn’t mean that it would be easy. Paul is haunted by his actions and that’s what makes readers root for him—it’s about making the most out of a messy life and ultimately finding some peace.
David: One of the layers of both books is race which is an idling engine throughout, always there, always making some noise, but sometimes racism raises its ugly white head. I particularly enjoyed the scene as Paul walks down the street in a new suit.
“The suit is my new skin, one that seems to diminish my blackness. I’ve gotten used to white men pulling their girlfriends close when I pass, white women crossing the street a block away when they see me coming. But now that I am in the suit, women’s eyes linger.”
The perspective of a black person is not seen a lot in crime fiction books. Even though race is just one of the layers of your books, is there anything that you want a white reader to come away regarding the black experience in America?
Aaron: I can’t say that I’m looking for white readers to come away with anything particular. In grad school, my professor always said to write the book you’d want to read, and, at the time, The Science of Paul was the type of novel I longed to experience. I wasn’t sure if anyone would want to read about a black man who wasn’t a detective or private investigator, but I recognized it didn’t matter. I needed to put Paul on paper and it was important for me to write him with dignity, strength, and intelligence—that was my only focus. I didn’t want to write a face-less black man—a character who you know is African American but moves through the world as if the color of his skin isn’t the first thing people see. I am always pleased when any reader, no matter their ethnicity, connects to Paul. If I manage to expose a reader to an aspect of the black experience they were unaware of, I feel that’s a testament to the novel. The truth is, black men aren’t valued much in American society, or the world for that matter, so if Paul is a conduit to understanding and empathy, that’s a powerful thing.
David: “The Furious Way”, your new novella is coming out in November 2018 and you’re working on a memoir about your experiences in the Los Angeles Police Department. Can you tell us about both?
Aaron: The Furious Way is a revenge tale set in Los Angeles, specifically San Pedro, a port-town just south of Downtown L.A. In the novella, a young woman, Lucy Ramos, seeks out an aging hit-man, Tito Garza, with the hope he’ll teach her how to kill—the reason is simple—she wants to kill the man who killed her mother. However, this isn’t about Tito coming to Lucy’s rescue and Lucy playing the part of the damsel in distress. Tito is in it for the money and Lucy is an active participant in the crimes they carry out. The only thing threatening to derail their mission is when Lucy is given a glimpse of what life could be like if she were able to turn a blind eye to injustice and relinquish her rage.
The working title for my LAPD-centered novel is The Color of Authority. While it’s not a memoir, it is heavily inspired by the time I spent with the LAPD and growing up around the influence of the department. My uncle was a retired police sergeant and I have family members on the job. The job is difficult and it’s even more so for police of color, especially black officers. I wanted to write a novel that analyzes what it means to be a black police officer in a time of ‘Blue Lives Matter’ and videos of unarmed black men being shot. In the novel, the victim, a black male police recruit’s body is found mutilated in the Angeles National Forest. The protagonist, Detective Finnegan, rose to the rank of detective quickly and he shares a connection to the victim that could jeopardize his life as a cop and his freedom. Like The Science of Paul, The Color of Authority is a character-study but is equally plot-driven.
David:Give me five books to read, genre doesn’t matter.
Another Country – James Baldwin
Devil in a Blue Dress – Walter Mosley
The Life & Times of Michael K – J.M. Coetzee
Wash This Blood Clean From My Hand – Fred Vargas
The Prone Gunman – Jean-Patrick Manchette.
Thanks for reading this interview with Aaron Philip Clark. Make sure you go and buy his books.
Back at the beginning of 2017, Stephen Mack Jones’s “August Snow” was published by Soho Crime. It took some time for me to get to it, okay, over a year, and damn was it worth it. I wrote that it was “a fine private detective novel filled with great writing and a timely mystery.” If you haven’t had a chance to read it, buy it or check it out of your local library. You will not be disappointed.
Angel Luis Colón’s new book, “Pull & Pray” (Down & Out Books), is out now. It’s the second featuring Fantine Park, a retired safe-cracker pulled back into the business by an estranged family member. The first book was “No Happy Endings” which was nominated for an Anthony Award in 2017. You can find Angel on Twitter, @GoshDarnMyLife, as well as his website. Let’s get this interview started because there’s a lot more to Angel than his latest book.
David: You have a full-time job, you’re married, you have two kids, you write, you edited flash fiction at Shotgun Honey, you write for anthologies, you do your own writing, you’ve had five books published in the last three years and now you host a podcast. Do you ever sleep?
Angel: Apparently, I don’t sleep ever. I’m also training for a half marathon and participating in Pitch Wars (basically mentoring a writer).
I’m an idiot because I honestly feel like I don’t do enough.
The truth of it, though, is scheduling. I get home and workout, kids get home and I try to hang out with them, and when it’s time for bed, my wife does me the solid of giving me an hour or two to get whatever I need to get done sorted out. On weekends, I might have to take a half day, but I find the hours. It isn’t impossible and there are times I step away from my desk in favor of the family (quite often) but it’s all about doing the work. I think it helps that for all this work, I’m not really getting paid for it, so I can dictate when I stop.
I can also sleep on my commute into work, so that helps too.
David: You have two series out now: Blacky Jaguar and Fantine Park series. Both have two books each with Fantine Park’s latest, “Pull & Pray” just published. Last time we talked you were working on a third Blacky Jaguar book. Is that still going to be a thing?
Angel: It is! I’ve had to rethink how I’m tackling Blacky but there’s a third story in the cards for him. The biggest decision is whether that’s a novella or something a little longer. I had four novellas in mind for him, but now it feels like the next two stories should work together. This is a good thing since it gives me breathing room to work on a horror novel, a few short stories, and another outline I’m working on right now.
David: I haven’t had a chance to read “Pull & Pray”, but will Fantine Park get a third go around? Also, is there anything else you are working on?
Angel: I never expected to write a second Fantine story at all, but she made me change my mind. Fan’s future is sort of a spoiler for “Pull & Pray” so I won’t get into details. That said, readers will know what the shape of her future looks like by the end of this story.
Right now, I’m gearing up for the release of my debut novel, “Hell Chose Me” (Down & Out Books, 2019). I’m proud of that one and really hope folks dig it. And hey, if folks are jonesing for some Blacky, they might be interested in scooping this book up; there’s something in there for them.
David: In your podcast, the bastard title, you had an episode where you chatted with Eryk Pruitt about Noir at the Bars. You guys talked about what to do, what not to do, and even talked about your own bad experiences at N@Bs. With the Bouchercon N@B coming up, do you have any rules or best practices that readers of any N@B should try to follow?
Angel: I just had a nice chat with Johnny Shaw (name drop) about some of this and he schooled me in an aspect of the live reading I hadn’t considered. There’s an idea that you’re selling your book or yourself at these events, but I’ll concede that my own thinking isn’t quite right there. The purpose of the reading is to give the audience exactly what you give readers: an entertaining time. There shouldn’t be a motive to kick ass up there beyond folks enjoying what your spitting.
I’m still not the biggest fan of first chapters or blatant promo like selling books at the event. If your goal is exposure, I think doing the very best you can for that event itself is the best path. Nobody owes you their presence or attention at these events.
David: You seem to be having fun with the bastard title podcast, how’s it going? I know you are only about a dozen episodes into it, but are you digging the direction you’re headed?
Angel: I fucking love it. It gives me a chance to emulate those bar conversations I’ve had at conventions and readings with none of the bullshit posturing. It’s also all on my terms! I’d be lying if I said that wasn’t an incredibly appealing part of the project.
I have plans for future endeavors but for now I’m committed to 52+ episodes. The guest list ahead is looking far more diverse, though. I’m booking more authors of color and authors from other genres. The goal of this project is to get to a place where my guest list will never be predictable. I want to provide a platform for as many writers as possible and that’s going to take some work, but I’m hyped to give it a go.
David: You are a big proponent of promoting and defending the unheard voices in the crime fiction community. Right now, it’s like every white person’s racist family member has decided to step away from their Thanksgiving table and are moving out to the streets. I know racism and marginalizing voices has always been there, but today people are taking a stand and telling white men to sit the fuck down. I guess this is a long way of asking, what work can we do to help those who need it?
Angel: Those with privilege need to take direct action and challenge their peers who poison the well. Those latter people do not deserve comfort in the face of how they’ve chosen to participate in our society. Without that action, it’s all hollow.
Continued inclusiveness in writing organizations and convention boards would be a huge step. Recruiting younger people to assist in these efforts is vital as well. More perspective helps everyone and keeps all of us honest. I do see it happening in small bursts already and you know what? There have been some immediate improvements in multiple writing scenes, but there’s still a long way to go. It’s not as simple as playing Noah here; you can’t ‘two of each kind’ this and act like the job’s all done once you’ve checked all the boxes.
We also need to squash the bizarre purity competition a lot of these efforts tend to be consumed by as those just hinder the actual accomplishments and regress efforts.
Let me add: I understand that I’ve got privilege of my own. I’m not perfect but I’m going to do what I can as best I can. Whether it’s out loud or behind the scenes, I’ll try to do as much good as possible. It’s all learning. The things I say about this subject are as valid a lesson for me as anyone else. Therefore, I don’t mind being outspoken. What’s the cliché; don’t sacrifice your authenticity for approval? I think Kanye tweeted that, so you know it’s borderline smart but mostly insufferable.
David: Give me five books to read, genre doesn’t matter.
Angel: I’ll dive into a few I’m currently reading and some I think most folks should read.
It was last year around this time that Paul D. Brazill, author of “Last Year’s Man”, that wrote about Tom Leins’s “Skull Meat” calling it “Brit Grit at it’s grittiest.” A few days later I reviewed Leins’s book and wrote, “If you like your crime fiction filled with dive bars, whore houses, and vicious beatings then Leins’ ‘Skull Meat’ will be the best 99¢ you will have ever spent.”
Leins’s “Meat Bubbles and Other Stories” (review) was recently published by Near to the Knuckle and in September, All Due Respect Books will be publishing his book “Repetition Kills You”.
David: I’ve read “Skull Meat” and “Meat Bubbles” and the first question that comes to mind is, “What the hell is wrong with you?”
Tom: That’s a very good question, David!
When I came up with the idea of “Skull Meat”, I wanted it to be a raw, nasty blast of dirty noir that made people sit up and take notice. A debut single to test the water before an album (short story collection).
It wasn’t totally representative of the other Paignton Noir material I had been working on at that point, but people responded favourably to the grubby violence and lurid antagonists, which encouraged me to go darker and harder with “Snuff Racket” and “Meat Bubbles”.
To be honest, the first version of “Meat Bubbles & Other Stories” that I worked on was less extreme, and I actually gave it a ‘Skull Meat remix’ for publication, which basically meant maximum Wet-Look – the deranged ex-cop who takes protagonist Joe Rey under his wing. Every time Wet-Look appears you know that something horrendous will happen before too long, and I had a lot of fun reworking those tamer stories with a nastier slant.
In my flash fiction I have always liked creating visceral, memorable scenes. I didn’t realise how brutally effective this approach could be when stitching them together for a novelette-length work – or a collection – but people seem to appreciate the darkness.
To answer your question: “I don’t know”, but I can assure you that my next book, “Repetition Kills You” represents a nervous step towards the light – a bit like a captive stumbling out of a sex dungeon, I suppose…
David: Most of your stories are set in Paignton which is kind-of near where Broadchurch was filmed. Now your Paignton is like Gotham at its worse but with no superheroes. It’s safe to say that you will never get the key to the city and that you might be driven out by pitchforks under torch light. Your description of Paignton is so disturbing that I even went on to Google Street View to see what kind of hell the city was. How did you come about building your version of Paignton?
Tom: Broadchurch-meets-Batman! I should put that on the cover – the books would sell millions!
Put it this way, if someone does turn this material into a TV show, it will be more like the unrelentingly grim Red Riding (a valiant effort at bringing the wonderful David Peace books to the small screen) than Broadchurch.
The Batman reference is interesting too, as reading superhero stories with my son in recent years has definitely impacted on my storytelling. (Well, it has influenced my commitment to larger-than-life villains and alliterative character names at any rate…)
Anyway… the Paignton Noirscape has been painstakingly assembled over the course of the last decade. Part memory, part imagination, and stuffed with eye-popping observational details, which people probably think I have made up! Some of the location names have been changed (to avoid legal action), but the landscape and geography have been preserved. Ultimately, this is my interpretation of Paignton, as filtered through the prism of my obsession with US crime fiction. (ie. My interpretation of Torbay Road is influenced by Andrew Vachss’s hellish version of Times Square in the ‘80s!)
Paignton Noir isn’t just an obscure crime sub-genre – it also has its own pub crawl: the Paignton Death Crawl, which me and my mates roll out on special occasions. For a small town, this place has a lot of pubs, which probably explains why most of Rey’s cases resemble pub crawls rather than conventional investigations…
David: Have any pudden eaters taken issue with your depiction of their city?
Tom: Nice – you have definitely done your homework on Paignton!
The response from local media outlets to “Meat Bubbles” has been less lukewarm and more frozen over, which is probably to be expected. The combination of cover/synopsis/opening line is pretty emphatic, and lets you know that you are in for a rough ride! If hardboiled crime is a niche, then I’m deep in the crevice of that niche.
Weirdly, I have just started work on a new book, which I think will hold greater appeal for this town’s predominantly elderly population. It has the working title ‘Pig Alley’ and starts off in 1859 – the year the railway was extended to Paignton – also the same year as the pudding riot you alluded to in your question!
It won’t be a pure historical thriller, but there are going to be numerous nuggets of local history entwined with the story. It will be a bit like The Da Vinci Code – but sloshed on supermarket booze and eviscerated with a pig-knife.
David: On your blog, you write mainly about your accomplishments. I kid, you write book reviews and do author interviews focusing on independent crime fiction. What is it about this slice of the genre that you find attractive?
Tom: Independent crime fiction scratches the itch that other thrillers don’t scratch for me. With a few notable exceptions, my crime fiction tastes have always veered towards the leftfield end of the scale, and the mainstream holds limited appeal for me.
Funnily enough, I started buying e-books from independent crime publishers when I won a £20 Amazon voucher in a short story competition in 2014. I haven’t really stopped since, and I think it is vitally important to buy books from smaller publishers, review books from smaller publishers and give these authors a platform.
When I started Dirty Books, I wanted a standalone blog unrelated to my own site, Things To Do In Devon When You’re Dead, which I slightly regret, as Dirty Books generates far more traffic!
The first two books I reviewed on the site were Zero Saints by Gabino Iglesias (Broken River Books) and Down In The Devil Hole by David Jaggers (Near To The Knuckle), which hopefully set the tone. Since then there has been plenty of coverage of the likes of from All Due Respect, Shotgun Honey, Down & Out Books, Near To The Knuckle, No Exit Press…
To be honest, I abandon more books than I finish these days, and try to only review books that excite me. I gain very little satisfaction from skewering shit books. If you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all, right? That said, I really wish I had the time to write about more books and interview more authors, as it is a real pleasure.
David: “Repetition Kills You” is a new book coming out in September on All Due Respect Books. Tell me about the book? Are we still in Paignton?
Tom: Yes, I am very excited about this one! It is a continuation of the over-arching Paignton Noir narrative. It is a self-contained, standalone book, but it follows on from “Skull Meat” and “Meat Bubbles”, for any readers who committed to maintaining the continuity.
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. It goes round in circles—like a deranged animal chasing its own tail.
If “Skull Meat” was the debut single, and “Meat Bubbles” was the rarities album, then “Repetition Kills You” is definitely my concept album. Hopefully the greatest hits are still to come!
David: Your other life was as a reviewer of movies at DVD Monthly. Give me five of your best bad movies.
Tom: Agh. Choosing between movies is even harder than choosing books. Before I start, I want to note that I don’t think these are bad movies – I think they are bad-ass movies!
“Death Warrant” (1990)
Jean-Claude Van Damme stars as a cop who goes undercover in a Californian prison to bust an organ trafficking ring and go toe-to-toe with his psychotic nemesis The Sandman. This was the first Van Damme movie I rented this from Visual Video in the early ‘90s, and I like it so much that I wrote an entire story inspired by it for ‘This Book Ain’t Nuttin to Fuck With: A Wu-Tang Tribute Anthology’ a couple of years ago. Paignton Noir-meets-Wu-Tang-meets-Van Damme! I’m now seriously considering doing an entire short story collection inspired by Van Damme movies. Watch this space.
“Nico: Above The Law” (1988)
Deep down, I have always preferred Van Damme to Seagal is he takes far more beatings, and lacks Big Steve’s invincible status, which makes for better… erm, drama. I discovered Seagal through Under Siege, but his debut movie Nico is a classic. Sadly, it was all downhill from there… Seagal admitted to a Russian journalist last year that he is now exactly twice the weight he was when he made Nico, which is pretty staggering.
Sure, the opening 20 minutes with Maggie Grace pretending to be a ditzy teenager are toe-curlingly awful, but Neeson’s subsequent investigation into her disappearance is tremendous. This one divided the DVD Monthly office, but I was an enthusiastic cheerleader! People are unlikely to look back on the post-Taken ‘Dad-spolitation’ era favourably, and the fact that the producers fucked things up so spectacularly with the sequels just underlines how good this movie was.
This is probably my favourite straight-to-DVD movie of all time: a brutal prison drama starring Stephen Dorff, a heavily bearded Val Kilmer and Harold Perrineau from ‘Oz’, on the other side of the bars, who stars as a sadistic CO. I doubt I would have discovered this if I wasn’t scraping around for titles to fill the straight-to-DVD section at DVD Monthly in whichever month it was released. Check it out!
“Blood & Bone” (2009)
I love fight movies, and this one – starring the unstoppable Michael Jai White – is a dirty dose of bareknuckle trash. Eamonn Walker (Kareem Said from ‘Oz’) co-stars, and the late Kimbo Slice features in a minor role. Bareknuckle B-movies are ten-a-penny nowadays, but this one takes some beating.
Tom Leins is a disgraced ex-film critic from Paignton, UK. His short stories have been published by the likes of Akashic Books, Shotgun Honey, Near to the Knuckle, Flash Fiction Offensive, Horror Sleaze Trash and Spelk Fiction.
A pair of novelettes, SKULL MEAT and SNUFF RACKET, are available via Amazon. MEAT BUBBLES & OTHER STORIES was released by Near To The Knuckle in June 2018, and REPETITION KILLS YOU will be published by All Due Respect (an imprint of Down & Out Books) on 21st September 2018.
The first book I read of Grant Jerkins was “Abnormal Man” and if you are ready for it, man, you find yourself swimming with some creepy characters–and not in the Stephen King way, more in the way of sexual predators and violent men already pushed over the edge. In my review of Jerkins’s book, I said that “we are not driving by a car crash and staring — no, we are in the car crash and slowly dying.” As far as contemporary crime fiction, Jerkins’s “Abnormal Man” sits alongside Jake Hinkson’s classic “Hell on Church Street”.
Earlier this year, ABC Group Documentation published Jerkins’s short story collection, “A Scholar of Pain“. It’s of no surprise that these stories are as good as they are disturbing. In my review, I wrote, “these stories … combined with the author’s other works begin to fill in the canvas–if you tilt your head so and squint your eyes a bit, yeah, you begin to see something.” All of which leads to my first question.
David: After reading two of your books, “Abnormal Man” and “A Scholar of Pain”, I need to ask, “Are you okay?” I’m concerned.
Grant: I am. I’m okay.
When I first started writing fiction, I thought I would write horror, because that was what I mostly read. Back then, I didn’t even know ‘noir’ was a thing. A genre. I found out about it online, the community of writers and readers. Now noir is everywhere, everybody does it. Kind of like how being gender-fluid is a thing now. Maybe you don’t fit comfortably into a traditional gender role, then you get online and everybody is talking about being gender fluid, and you think, oh, that fits me. I discovered the term noir fit me. I think my writing is quintessentially noir. So, yeah, I’m okay, I just like dark shit.
David: In an interview with Jedidiah Ayres, you said, “Even though people are breaking laws left and right in my stories, these people are crossing a line. Either personally, or culturally—they are crossing a line. Actual criminals live on the other side of that line (and cops too, really). The rest of us just visit there. We transgress.”
Most crime fiction from the point of view of the criminal, they always have a code that they abide by, they don’t tolerate rape, pedophilia, or the killing of children and animals. With your last two books, you don’t shy away from those that journey in these dark areas. Can you talk about your attraction to these voices and the need to tell their stories?
Grant: A code they live by? Maybe James Cagney type criminals. But you’re right, most of us draw the line at rape/pedophilia/child killing/animal cruelty. In fact, rape is kind of iffy. I’d take that off the list of unforgivable crimes. So we’re left with pedophilia/child killing/animal cruelty as the things other criminals won’t tolerate. Unless they’re pedophiles too, then they do tolerate it. Unless they are your fellow animal abusers, then they’re cool with it. Darkness is drawn to darkness.
What is the point in writing about a pedophile? As you said, even other criminals despise them. I think it only becomes interesting in a Venn diagram sort of way. We are all in agreeance that these are vile, abhorrent crimes. But isn’t it interesting to see where our humanity overlaps with those we most despise? It’s uncomfortable. One of the points of Abnormal Man is that in two centuries of medical and scientific advance, not much has changed in our understanding of criminal behavior. Maybe I’m daring the reader to feel empathy toward the most despicable among us. To look at the area where our lives overlap. It’s a difficult subject.
To put it into a religious context, we have to somehow reconcile the fact that these people—like us—are created in God’s image. Every human life has intrinsic value.
Switching back to a secular view, what fascinates me—what I’m drawn to—isn’t deviant behavior; it’s that spot on the Venn diagram where we all overlap. The area where you and I and the teenage boy who likes to set dogs on fire—where we are the same.
Or it could just be that I like dark shit.
David: When I was reading “A Scholar of Pain”, I had to put the book down between stories not only to digest what I just read, but also to catch my breath. You’re considered too dark by those that consume the more popular police procedurals, psychological thrillers, and to catch a serial killer books. A lot of writers grasp onto the formula and I don’t imagine you have give much thought about writing that “rootable” character. You demand a lot of your readers making them move forward without the classic “rootable” character. Do you have any expectations of your readers?
Grant: This question catches me off guard. I guess the answer is no. I have no expectations of my readers. I’m surprised they exist. And glad.
David: Following the previous question, what should the readers expectations should be of you as a writer?
Grant: They should expect to be entertained. They should expect me to try to offer them something of significance. I might fail, but hopefully you can at least see I was trying. I don’t want to waste your time or mine.
David: You had several books published with one of the big publishers and then they turned down Abnormal Man. What made you decide to go with a small niche publisher, ABC Group Documentation, that no one has heard of?
Grant: I was in a unique position in that I knew I was going to go with a small publisher. “Abnormal Man” was never going to be brought out by a big publisher. (Exactly why is another story.) So, I knew it would be a small publisher and I needed to decide which one fit me best. Let me bring this back to my stupid ‘gender fluid’ comparison above. Yeah, I’m noir, and there are lots of small publishers who specialize in dark crime fiction. But I don’t necessarily feel like I fit in the traditional dark crime mode. Get it? I’m genre fluid. In going with ABC Group Documentation (the very name is genre-eschewing), “Abnormal Man” became their first published book. So I ended up helping create their identity, rather than having a publisher push their identity on me. On top of that, I found a muse and lifelong friend in the imprint’s founder, Jeremy Stabile.
David: Give me five books or authors to read, genre doesn’t matter.
Grant: Genre doesn’t matter? Wave that flag.
The first book that comes to my mind—for whatever reason—is “Miss Lonelyhearts” by Nathanael West. I love that book. It’s this incredibly pure distillation of the human heart. Have you ever heard of Vantablack? It’s this weird man-made dark stuff created out of nanotubes. It’s the darkest artificial substance known to exist. It absorbs 99.965% of radiation in the visible spectrum. That’s how dark Miss Lonelyhearts is. And somehow manages to be funny too.
My second, ha-ha, I can’t believe I’m putting this book on a list (other than a book-burning list), is a novel called “Bad Ronald” by Jack Vance. There was a TV movie based on it in the 70’s, but you gotta read the book. Ronald is very, very bad. He rapes and murders a little girl—rather nonchalantly—on his way home from a high school pool party. Ronald’s mother hides him from the police in the walls of their house. Creates a secret room. Mom eventually dies, and the new owners move their family into the house, not knowing Ronald lives in the walls. There’s just something about that book that freaks me out. It’s written in this bizarre Tom Swift style. Like: I shall persevere, Ronald thought bravely. The juxtaposition of that naive children’s-book voice with the truly wicked things Ronald does… It just kills me.
Next is the novel “Better“. It’s by John O’Brien. He wrote “Leaving Las Vegas”. You should read all his stuff. There’s not much of it. He committed suicide young.
I’m really into Octavia Butler. She’s science fiction. Dark science fiction. But fluid. I would recommend her story collection, “Bloodchild“, to start.
I just noticed everybody I listed is dead. With that in mind, last up is Jake Hinkson. To the best of my knowledge he’s still alive. I hope this doesn’t curse him. I’m simply enthralled with his work. Start anywhere on his backlist. There’s not a bum one in the lot. But my favorite might be “Posthumous Man“. Dude’s dark. I’d hate to see where he and I overlap on a Venn diagram.
Thanks for stopping by and reading our interview with Grant Jerkins.
Grant Jerkins is the author of “A Very Simple Crime“, which The New York Times called “An extremely nasty study in abnormal psychology.” The prize-winning debut was selected by Book of the Month Club, Mystery Guild, QPB, The Literary Guild, and Doubleday Book Club; and has since been optioned for film by Oscar-nominated screenwriter Nicholas Kazan.
A few week’s ago, I was reading an interview with Chantelle Aimée Osman by Ed Aymar at The Thrill Begins. I learn that Osman, who hosts Crime Friction with Jay Stringer, is starting a division at Down & Out Books called New Wave Crime. As the press release states, “New Wave Crime will focus on diversity of plot, culture, and character, and champion new voices in the crime genre.”
David: I’ve read your bio and you seem to have had a life for multiple people. I’m sitting here trying to write questions and the first thought that pops into my head is, “What have I done?” For the readers, you have a law degree, worked in Hollywood, teach creative writing, editor, co-host a podcast with Jay Stringer, and speak five languages. Have I missed anything?
Chantelle: Umm…I like to knit? And thanks, you make me sound much more exciting than I really am. How much do I owe you?
David: My introduction to you has been by listening to Crime Friction, the podcast you co-host with Jay Stringer. The format of the podcast is laid-back, and you don’t force the questions on the writers, you rather let the questions from where the conversation takes you. For instance, if I remember correctly, your interview with Alison Gaylin focused more on music than writing. There’s a question in here somewhere but damned if I can find it.
Chantelle: Well, the voices in my head asked one, so I’ll answer them. I’m thrilled that’s your take away from the podcast, because that’s exactly what Jay and I were aiming for in starting it. Basically, having a conversation about craft and creativity with other writers, like you would over drinks in a bar—someone just happens to be recording. Letting the reader/listener hear a side of the author they may not normally, and giving other authors insight into the process, that’s our goal. But mostly, having an excuse to chat with our friends about stuff we think we sound interesting talking about.
David: Let’s get to the reason why you’re even spending time going through these questions. You’ve started a new publishing division at Down & Out Books called New Wave Crime. How did this come about?
Chantelle: I’ve worked as a freelance editor for well over ten years (shh), and there are stories I want to see on the shelf that just aren’t there. This is by no means a slight against traditional publishing. This is, after all, a business. However, the current eclectic publishing model has allowed for the resurgence of the passionate editor/publisher—one who can find a promising voice and nurture it to fruition, rather than the first book boom or bust model born out of a bottom-line approach. I’m lucky I found that my vision was shared by Eric Campbell, Publisher of Down & Out Books, who was as eager to see these voices as I am, and can provide an out-of-the box platform for them.
David: Crime fiction is a strange business but, sadly, it’s typical of most. The genre’s readers are mainly female–I’ve seen some stats upwards around 70% and most published writers are women, but the number of reviews and awards is not comparable to men as they still seem to get the lion’s share of attention. There have been some gains, and I’m not asking you to solve this problem during this interview, but I’m hoping that New Wave Crime is a positive step in that direction. Can you talk about what you want to happen for New Wave Crime and what the new division will bring to readers and writers both?
Chantelle: Perception and reality, and sometimes reality and statistics, are two very different things. Our genre is amazing. I’ve never met a more eclectic, interesting, or more selfless group of people—and as you’ve established, I’ve done a bunch of other things. The amazing thing about crime fiction people? We’re willing and eager to learn and adapt. For example, conferences learned that people were feeling less than included? Our two major fan-based conventions adopted anti-harassment policies. We’re the last to stagnate, and the first to grow with changes. Sometimes, it takes longer for huge corporate entities to get on the page, but I know they’re willing, just sometimes not able. I’m hoping that New Wave can get the ball rolling, expose people to these voices in a way they haven’t been before.
David: The is the part of the interview where I usually ask for recommendations, but as you’re kicking off a new division, let’s go with these questions. The crime fiction genre is quite broad from cats that help solve mysteries to people doing unspeakable things to each other. So … what kind of crime fiction do you like? Authors? Books? What are you looking to publish? How can writers submit work to New Wave Crime?
Chantelle: I read…everything. If that cat has a new, unique angle, send it to me. I’d say I’m not the biggest fan of police procedurals, but even there, maybe it’s because I haven’t read the right one. Sub-genres are really all just about marketing, and I’m not as concerned about that as most. Good crime fiction is good crime fiction, if you’ve got a passionate voice I haven’t heard, that I feel belongs on the shelf, I will do the absolute most to make that voice heard. Just show me. I accept unaccented submissions for similar reasons, you can submit to me today through the guidelines at Down & Out Books.
Thanks for reading this interview with Chantelle Aimée Osman and New Wave Crime, a new division of Down & Out Books.