Wednesday, November 24, 2010
It seems to be Vicki Hendricks appreciation week on the old interweb. First Nigel Bird features Hendricks' self-interview at his always entertaining blog, Sea Minor. Next, Crimefactory irregular, the Nerd of Noir, reviews Hendricks' stellar short story collection, Florida Gothic Stories, over at Spinetingler Magazine. So I figured I'd finish things off with my video interview with Ms. Hendricks at the Poisoned Pen from this past summer.
In case you're unfamiliar with the notorious Ms. Hendricks, she's the author of five brilliant crime novels (Cruel Poetry, Miami Purity, Sky Blues, Iguana Love, and Voluntary Madness) and a brilliant short story collection, Florida Gothic Stories. Ms. Hendricks is also the sole female member of the recently formed e-book collective, Top Suspense Group.
I interviewed Ms. Hendricks at the Poisoned Pen conference at the end of an extremely busy, hot day and she was gracious enough to sit down with me to discuss Florida Gothic Stories, the current state of short fiction, and her current work in progress.
I hope you enjoy.
In case you haven't seen this one yet, the University of Otago, New Zeland has put together one hell of a great collection of classic pulp fiction covers from both the United States and Australia. Make sure to check out this great exhibition/website right HERE. The heads up for this great site comes from Independent Crime and future Crimefactory contributor Nathan Cain.
This one gets my nomination for coolest group blog of the year, or month, or whatever......
Anyway, Crimefactory favorites Megan Abbott (Die a Little, The Song is You, Queenpin, Bury Me Deep, and the upcoming The End of Everything) and Sara Gran (Saturn's Return to New York, Come Closer, Dope, and the upcoming the City of the Dead)have teamed up to form The Abbott Gran Old Tyme Medicine Show! The blog looks like it's going to be all kinds of fun, so make sure to check it out right HERE
Saturday, November 20, 2010
For those of you who aren't familiar with the Twitter and this little
hash tag thingy, it's typically meant to cause a particular subject to trend such as:
#fridayreads (my favorite, never miss it)
And as you can probably guess, that's exactly what I've been doing for the past week
For some reason or other, I've got erstwhile editors asking for re-writes, so I've been re-writing
Plus, I'm charging hard on the completion of something I've been working on the past couple of months and I've decided the month of November is the month that I'll be finishing the first draft and December will be the month I clean it up. No, I'm not participating in
#NaNoWriMo (which I actually think is kind of lame, because every month should be write a novel month.)
this is just how my writing schedule has worked out is all.
So the point of this little post is to let you know that I
and not being
And I have a fair amount of material lined up for the next couple of weeks. But in the meantime, I just want to let you know that Cam and Liam are slapping together Kung Fu Factory and issue #6.
BTW, have you read issue #5 of Crimefactory? What, you haven't? Then getting going right HERE and get some reading done ASAP!
Alrighty, time to get back doing the
Tuesday, November 9, 2010
You can’t help but like Hilary Davidson. As a person, she’s a warm, inviting presence and like most crime writers, a stark contrast to her menacing fiction. I discovered Davidson’s writing through her Spinetingler award winning short story, “Insatiable”. The story of sexual dysfunction was one of my favorites of 2009 and I eagerly anticipated her debut novel, the Damage Done. On November 2nd, I was lucky enough to sit down with Davidson before her appearance at the Poisoned Pen in Scottsdale, AZ to discuss the Damage Done, her writing process, the Gluten Free guidebook, and her future writing projects.
I hope you enjoy.
Sunday, November 7, 2010
Recently, Crimefactory friend, (and seriously kick ass novelist) Benjamin Whitmer, wrote a wrap up of his first Bouchercon experience on his blog, Kick Him Honey. The post mostly stuck to what a blast he had at old B-con getting hammered with some of the new millennium crimedawgs and a little bit about the old genre vs. contemporary literature thing. (Who else thinks that motherfucker is a dead horse? Seriously, folks, time to move on) But, Whitmer briefly mentioned something in the opening paragraph of the post that has been on my mind as of late. Here’s what Ben had to say:
“….There was some of the expected horseshit, where writers griped about their panels and whined about their sales, but whatever, somebody’s gotta do it. Talking business bores me fucking senseless, but then, that might be just me.”
I’m not talking about panels here (but I will say some panels at a few of these conventions seem a little half baked, but I digress.) what I’m writing about is novelists whining about their sales.
I’m around a lot of writers, (and I’m sure I’m shooting myself in the foot with more than a few of them with this post) whether virtually or face-to-face and when you’re talking shop with most writers, inevitably the conversation will turn to the commerce side of things, and like Whitmer, whenever the subject comes up, I tune out, because it bores the living shit out of me.
Admittedly, my writing doesn’t keep a roof over my head. I have the advantage of having a day job that I get up for at 3:45 in the morning (With the time change it’s now 4:45, thank god, and I’m pretty sure I’m going to keep it at those hours even when the time changes back and have the option of going back to the early shift. Because with me nearing 40, getting only 5 or 6 hours of sleep a night just ain’t cutting it.) and writing is just a side line. Something I do in-between the job and family obligations. Once in a blue moon I get a check for doing it and that’s pretty okay
But for the most part, I write because I love doing it and I do it without expectation.
That’s right, folks, I don’t really ever expect to earn my daily pay check from this. Would I like to? Hell yes I would! If Little, Brown or Random House came to me saying,
‘You know, Keith, you pudgy suburbanite you, we think you’re a fucking genius, a virtual Mozart of crime fiction and we want to offer you a six book deal. What d’ya say to that?’ I would probably simultaneously crap and jizz myself with joy. Now is that going to happen? Diffidently not. (They may offer to buy a book or two off of me in the future, but you know what I’m saying?) Will I keep writing? Yeah, I will, because without writing, without putting words down on the page on a daily basis, I’m a sad sack, I’m a whiney bitch and not all that much fun to be around. I’ve got the bug and it’s not going away anytime soon.
Now don’t get me wrong, I know publishing is a business. I know that it needs to make money just like Wal*Mart, Ford, or my company has to (Well, not so much Ford, they can just claim poor and have the government bail them out again) make a profit in order for it to exist. And it’s a reality for me, too, because guess what, folks, it takes money to run Crimefactory. (And I’m not bitching about the cost of operating the magazine here, folks.) The URL, the web hosting, the POD edition, all of it costs money and I have to concern myself with the bottom line because I want the magazine to continue, and the whole purpose of the Kindle and POD editions of the magazine is so Crimefactory can become a self sustaining entity and that it doesn’t become a huge drain on our time and resources.
Alright, I’m sure more than a few of you are starting to shake your heads, thinking, what the hell’s the point of all this, Rawson? Shit or get off the pot already. So here I go:
The commerce end of writing is strangling the artistic side.
There I said it.
When you have so many people—both the creative and business end—focused on the single idea of profit above all else, the art of writing is going to suffer. Novelists are going to write (or be forced to write.) books that they may not want to. They may write books that they think are going to be more commercially viable or switch to a style or genre that simply pays the bills instead of fulfilling them as creative people.
And, once again, I know I’m going to have a few people saying, ‘Ah, Rawson, you naïve little shit. If only you knew the realities of publishing.’ But guess what, I do know. Publishers, once again, are nothing more than a profit driven business and I work for a profit driven business which makes BILLIONS of dollars a year, and in the past year, despite my company making record profits, I was in serious fear of losing my job. So even though I’m not part of the mainstream publishing machine, I get it. I understand the fears novelists have of losing contracts if their books don’t sell well, because when it comes right down to it, writing is just another job, a way of putting food on the table.
But, recently, my company has started to think of things a little differently and has started banking on long term gains as opposed to the short term, and because of this change, they’re attempting to change their business model and with them doing this, well my day job has become a much more pleasant place to spend 9 hours of my day at.
And publishing seems to be pushing in this direction with the recent creation of Mulholland books and Little, Brown’s signing of Michael Koryta to a six book deal. It seems that Little, Brown is taking more chances on authors like Koryta, Swierczynski, and Woodrell and helping them develop an audience (or in the case of all three, develop a wider audience) because they know (hopefully) that if you put a little time and effort into an individual, your long term profits via back catalog and not just new releases will help increase profitability of not only the company, but of the writers as well. My only hope is that the other five big New York houses clue into Little, Brown’s model.
Okay, to wrap up (because this shit has gone way too long) from a personal stand point, writing is writing, if I don’t enjoy doing it anymore, or I get too concerned with how much money my writing is making, I’m going to walk away. Done and done and I’ll spend my free time hanging out with my family, watching bad movies, and basketball, and whatever writing I get done will get sent along to small presses like PM Press, New Pulp Press, Serpent’s Tail, Gutter books (By the way, folks, have you taken a look at some of the titles being put out by the small presses? Most of the time I think they’re doing a better job of tracking down, signing, and presenting promising talent than the big boys are.) to see if they want to put it out, or it’ll just sit on my hard drive collecting dust and my sole audience will be me.
(One last thing before I sign off, make sure to check out Crimefactory irregular Andrew Nette's blog Pulp Curry. Andrew has DTK Molise of the blog Kabul Noir, guest posting about Afghan based crime fiction. It's a good read, so make sure to check it out.)
Wednesday, November 3, 2010
When I first started reading Rabid Child by Peter Risley, a slight involuntary shutter ran through my entire body. The protagonist, Desmond Cray, was one of the most repulsive characters I’d encountered in a number of years, but Risley’s sharp, surrealistic prose drew me deeper into Cray’s depraved world and my sympathy for the character grew and like a bloody ten car pile up, I couldn’t avert my eyes and had to continue reading. Recently, Mr. Risley contacted me and I asked him to write the following piece on Rabid Child and his evolution as a novelist. I hope you enjoy—K.R.
RABID CHILD and the Bad Girl Tradition by Peter Risley
I'm very flattered that I've been invited to write a brief piece about myself and my debut novel RABID CHILD for DAY LABOR. However, I'm afraid there's nothing very interesting about my background that I can relate. I'm a writer from Columbus, Ohio who's had a long and rather difficult apprenticeship. Unlike many of my fellow wannabe scribes, over the hard years of learning my craft I’ve never worked as a lumberjack, short-order cook, bouncer, hotel detective, jazz musician, Chippendale dancer or male prostitute. I do have a day job, clerical, but I'd rather not say where. I'm not married and have no children. I've never done much traveling, either. There’s really not much to say about me. I like old Hollywood movies, but who doesn’t?
OK, here's something -- you know those cartoon tracts put out by the Christian fundamentalist publisher Jack Chick, 'This Was Your Life!' and so forth? I have a sizeable collection of those, accumulated one by one over the years from people handing them out on the street. And this little interest of mine does have something to do with RABID CHILD.
RABID CHILD is my first published novel. I failed to complete the first novel I attempted, a cozy mystery about a string of cat-detective slayings investigated by a hamster and goldfish pet detective duo (no, I'm not kidding). I (wisely, I think) decided to try a noir scenario instead. I think it's fair to say that the main influences on my novel, the writers I most wanted to emulate, are Nathanael West and Jim Thompson. I hope that readers who esteem those two writers might take a look at RABID CHILD and see if those influences are apparent.
Readers may notice as well that a character in RABID CHILD named Mr. Wince uses some phrases that are reminiscent of a very familiar figure in a classic 19th century American novel. This may sound like a rather sophomoric literary joke, but I felt there was good reason to present Mr. Wince in this way.
My novel deals with some very grim and controversial subject matter; with perverse sexuality, religious fanaticism, dementia, misogyny, abortion, the abuse of children, and the devastation of a family. Despite this, a lot of it is intended to be not only dark, but funny as well. However, I wouldn't want anyone to pick the novel up thinking it was going to be a rollicking, willfully outrageous laugh-fest. The protagonist, Desmond Cray, is a child molester. In fact, by my judgment and my intention, the story involves a lot of shame, despair and anguish. I never intended it to amount to cheerful-nihilism-as-uplift, as black-humored fiction is sometimes conceived to be.
The strain in American crime fiction that interests me the most has to do not so much with urban street vibes, criminal enterprise, police procedures, etc, as with human perversity, and not only, or primarily, in a sexual sense. The anecdote in Dashiell Hammett's great THE MALTESE FALCON (1930) about Flitcraft, the man who starts his life over after nearly being crushed by falling beams, only to end up living as he did before but with a second wife and family, interests me as much as the tale of the struggle over the rara avis itself. I wouldn't wish to choose one over the other, I like having them together in the same sharp-eyed and sharp-elbowed work.
I don't wish to reveal too much about the plot and characters of RABID CHILD in this piece, and I certainly won't make inflated claims for it. It's fair to say, however, that my novel at least attempts to deal with some key themes and characteristics of noir fiction. I understand that there's a fair amount of discussion in academic studies that cover the work of Hammett and Raymond Chandler, in particular, of the figure of the 'femme fatale' as represented in THE MALTESE FALCON by Bridget O'Shaughnessy, and in Chandler's THE BIG SLEEP (1939) by the Sternwood sisters.
What's striking to me is the moralizing condemnation of these sultry female vipers (not that they're all the same, not at all) made by male characters (the heroes) in these classic noir novels, and the fact that alluring female sexuality is, not only in these works but frequently throughout the genre, an aspect of the perceived menace in these young ladies. Many will remember Philip Marlowe becoming so enraged at the remaining imprint of slutty and crazy Carmen Sternwood's nude form in his bed after he's thrown her out of his home that he tears the bedclothes apart "savagely." Sam Spade in MALTESE FALCON, a far more cold-blooded fellow than Marlowe, finally dispatches Bridget with the line "I won't play the sap for you." Beyond that, as a moralizing/punishing male rejection of femme fatale attempts at seduction, lies Mike Hammer's famous and brutally sexual final riposte in Mickey Spillane's I, THE JURY (1947).
The main female character in RABID CHILD, Tracy Honnecker, can be judged yet another variation on the femme fatale figure, but is presented a little differently from what could be called the norms of the tradition. No one should mistake me for a supposed 'male feminist' due to this. I'm not sure whether anyone will, or if anyone will even care to speculate that much about the novel, and about its author's views. In case anyone does care, however, I'll just assert that despite the grim humor of the novel, I take these matters seriously.
In any case, let me advise that anyone who finds RABID CHILD offensive or disturbing after the first couple of chapters should probably not read the rest of it. Perhaps I should add that neither Desmond Cray, Tracy Honnecker nor any other character in the novel is based on a real person.
- Pete Risley
Monday, November 1, 2010
Nothing but Whoring and Filth from Start to Finish: The American Tragedy of William Lindsey Gresham by Jimmy Callaway
The first book assigned in my sixth grade reading class was C.S. Lewis’s The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, part one of The Chronicles of Narnia. I lost complete interest within forty pages. A buncha fruity limey kids and their goofy talking lion. Bah. Plus, looking back at this particular assignment as well as some key comments Miss Chapman made in class, I’m relatively certain now that this (otherwise nice enough) lady was trying to indoctrinate us into the ways of the one true Christian God. All the more reason I’m glad I paid more attention to Comics Scene instead.
This became an old saw: my teachers trying to get me to read boring garbage like Where the Lilies Bloom while I insisted on reading stuff like the novelization of Total Recall. I never lost my passion for reading, especially for reading that spoke to me, although I had more than one English teacher attempt to rip that from me along with my self-worth and poor penmanship.
My senior year in high school, I discovered the (now) late, lamented crime-zine Murder Can be Fun. John Marr’s nearly blistering passion for crime literature, as well as minimalist layout and scathing tone, instilled in me a love for the genre which has not abated in the slightest. In particular, his book review section, “Read Hard or Die!” was indispensable to me as a young high school grad on the rise in the rapid-growth industry of graveyard-shift gas station attendance. It was within these meticulously typed pages that I first heard of William Lindsay Gresham’s Nightmare Alley.
When I first pitched this piece to Crime Factory, it was going to be an essay on the entire sub-genre of carny-noir, those stories set in the seamy world of the traveling carnival. A couple of things almost immediately put the kibosh on this idea. Firstly, Michael S. Chong has already written “Carny Noir: Bearded Ladies and a Man-Eating Chicken,” a fairly complete piece of research to which I’d be able to add little. Secondly, many of the novels are so rare and out-of-print, it would cost me a small fortune to obtain enough research material.
But most of all is the bare fact that Nightmare Alley is the definitive novel of its kind, if for no other reason than that the masterful execution of the story allows the book to transcend all generic trappings to prove itself a pure example of American tragedy.
The basic structure of the classic tragedy is the story’s protagonist rises to great heights, but because of a fatal flaw, is brought horribly low. This form of story-telling remained immensely popular for thousands of years, going back to the ancient Greeks, only to be almost completely uprooted, it would seem, by 1950 or so. Post-war America didn’t really wanna be bummed out anymore, and since Western culture tends to be a pretty driving force, this trend of happy endings remains dominant today. Even when you come across a particularly depressing piece of literature, it rarely holds to the classical structure, more often opting for the vast post-modern ennui of existentialism and nihilism (nothing wrong with that, of course).
Although Nightmare Alley was first published in 1946, the time Gresham spent gathering research for this novel and for the non-fiction Monster Midway was smack in the middle of the Great Depression. When you add to that the man’s own life-long struggles with alcoholism and what would probably be diagnosed today as severe depression, you have an extremely fertile ground for tragedy writ large. Also, Gresham’s obvious interest in Freudian theory soundly rounds out the tragic atmosphere; they don’t call it an Oedipal complex for nothing.
The story opens on young Stan Carlisle, an amateur magician helping run the mentalist act at the Ten-in-One show. The junior huckster is eager to learn all the ins and outs of the fortune-telling racket, almost as eager as he is to get into the pants of Zeena, the show’s palm- and mind-reader. Early on, we see that Stan is willing to pull out all stops to get what he wants. And why not? He’s young, good-looking, and smart enough to talk himself out of the tightest situations. After the life he’s had so far, he feels he deserves what’s coming to him.
Eventually teaming up with the innocent, doe-eyed Molly (herself something of an Elektra poster-girl), Stan leaves the carny to go into business for himself. Becoming the Reverend Stanton Carlisle, he begins fleecing the lonely rich widows who come to him looking for evidence of life after death. And again, why not? Like any drug dealer worth his salt, Stan’s just giving them what they want most, and if they don’t get it from him, they’ll just get it elsewhere.
The psychology of Stan’s character runs to chilling depths. Saddled with a holier-than-thou father whom he despises—a hatred he projects onto nearly every authority figure with whom he comes into contact—Stan was also left with deep emotional scars after his mother ran off with the local singing instructor.
Abandoned at such a young age, Stan turned to magic to affect some measure of control over his reality and, eventually, that of others. Yet even during his highest triumphs, Stan is plagued with a recurring nightmare: running down an alley into a blinding light, death ever at his heels. We all have a nightmare alley, Stan reasons, but he’s also managed to convince himself that he’s going to come out the other side.
Gresham didn’t just craft a classic plot, but his technique is unbelievably subtle, especially for a novel that seems to view life, as Stan says, as “nothing but whoring and filth from start to finish.” However, it only makes sense, with a protagonist who relies so heavily on prestidigitation, that the author would not be quick to give away his tricks. Each time Stan pulls off a momentous scam, the reader is forced to fill in the blanks as to exactly what happened. Gresham often accomplishes this by adding a sort of P.S. to certain chapters, where the point-of-view is from someone peripheral to the action—a cab driver, a morgue attendant, a railroad bull. This refusal on Gresham’s part to fully disclose every detail not only makes him a boon to pulp fiction, but to story-telling in general.
There’s also a level of irony at work in the story, one which creates a sort of tension one can only find in the best psychological novels. As stated above, it is clear that Gresham was at least passingly familiar with the works of Sigmund Freud, which would not put him in an exclusive club for any author of the time. But Gresham also sets up one of the most debilitating femme fatales the genre has ever seen, one Dr. Lilith Ritter. She begins her association with Stan first as an ally, helping him pick out a prime mark, one who will give the big pay-off. Then she becomes his lover as his physical obsession with her increases, then his enabler as he begins the slide into alcoholism, and finally his puppet master, the one who truly pulls the strings. The fact that Dr. Ritter successfully utilizes Freudian analysis to finally convince Stan that he is insane can be considered quite the juxtaposition, since Gresham himself leans so heavily on those theories to characterize his protagonist. What Gresham seems to be getting at overall by casting Ritter in this light is that even though Stan has risen to the level of supreme confidence trickster, the true artists of the form hold Ph.D.s in psychology.
What remains probably my favorite rabbit that Gresham pulls out of his hat is, at this point, he begins to lead you toward a happy ending. Once Ritter wrings Stan out, he hits the skids. He’s a wanted man, and he rides the rails, becoming more and more of an animal as his slide downwards continues. But then Stan’s nightmare finally comes true: the alley. Stan comes out on the other side of it, but far from being intact. But as soaked in brandy as his brain is at this point, even Stan realizes that if he doesn’t clean up his act and quickly, he’ll not only be destitute but dead, either by his hand or another’s.
So he goes home again. Back to Zeena, ever the mother/lover figure, and back to the carny. It looks like things will work out after all, and despite what a bastard Stan is, the reader feels a sense of relief that, even at a man’s lowest ebb, he can still find love and sanctity in himself and his friends. As half-man acrobat Joe Plasky says of Stan, “That guy was never born to hang.”
This proves to be the only time the wise Plasky is wrong. And as if to illustrate just how tenuous is the grip of anyone on his or her sanity, all it takes is a single headline, read almost by accident, to finally send Stan over the deep end. Stan, having risen, fallen, and risen again, has nowhere to go at this point but down, even further than he or any respectable human being has before. Gresham, with an evident glee, pulls the rug out from under this tragic figure, and the reader shares that sinking feeling in the pit of the stomach as the book ends.
By all accounts, Gresham’s personal life was not all that far a cry from his fiction. Apparently himself a raging alcoholic and a wife beater, Gresham eventually drove off his wife and the mother of his two sons, Joy Davidman, to whom Nightmare Alley is dedicated. Herself a writer, Davidman had struck up a loving correspondence with another writer, whom she went on to marry. That writer was C.S. Lewis, creator of The Chronicles of Narnia.
If by a man’s works you shall know him, then C.S. Lewis was a kind and gentle soul who truly believed in the teachings of Christ and the Sermon on the Mount. On the other side of that coin, William Lindsay Gresham was a bitter and disturbed man, who took his own life in 1962, dying in the relative obscurity of a flophouse hotel room.
The works of C.S. Lewis are adored the world over, translated into over thirty languages and adapted into stage plays, TV specials, and movies. His messages of universal morality and a rational approach to Christianity have won him as converts many sixth grade reading teachers.
You ask me, though, I say fuck all that shit. Gimme Nightmare Alley any day of the week
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Jimmy Callaway is an enigma wrapped inside a conspiracy wrapped inside a riddle wrapped inside a bourbon soaked, deep fried twinkie. His short fiction has appeared in Plots with Guns, Thuglit, A Twist of Noir, Title Fights, and many other virtual dive bars. He blogs about funny books and what not at Attention, Children. Sequential Art
You can also read Jimmy's review of MEMORY by Donald Westlake in Issue #5 of Crimefactory