Sunday 31 October 2010


There's a really great series of interviews out there by a talented guy called Richard Godwin (he'll be appearing here very soon). He's had some of my favourites up at the 'Chin Wag' and yesterday went with the highly talented AJ Hayes (who appeared here early on in this series). I recommend you check it out then add it to your favourites.

Bob and Carol Bridgestock will also be appearing here soon. They have a new website at in case you'd like to find out what they're up to.

And so to today's main event.

Earlier this year I got an email from Maxim Jakubowski. He was informing me that I'd be in the next collection of 'Best British Crime Stories'. I could have fainted and jumped to the moon within secondsof each other. Brilliant. Why so happy? Because to get in there is like entering a great institution.

He's something of an institution himself having been everywhere, done everything and burned the Tee shirts.

Today he releases a novel. After reading this you'll be wishing him the Best Of British too.

Maxim Jakubowski

Q: So, you have a new novel coming out on November 1st. It’s been nearly 6 years since the last one. How come?

A: Well, CONFESSIONS OF A ROMANTIC PORNOGRAPHER took a lot out of me, being the end - or so I hoped at the time - of a whole series of novels with similar themes, moods and obsessions. I had mentally decided I’d take a year off or so before I tackled the next novel. Then the all-important business of life, procrastination, cowardice and all that seemed to take over, and a year became four before I finally decided to get on the novel-writing track again. And the groove returned ever so slowly.

Q: Why?

A: Writing fiction is something I find terribly painful. Almost physically so. I have no problem with editing, devising books, even short stories but novels are awful. They take over your life, you sleep with them, or rather you don’t sleep as the story and characters keep on haunting your nights. It hurts. A lot.

Q; Is I WAS WAITING FOR YOU another semi-autobiographical novel, then?

A: None of my books are autobiographical. I swear. It’s just what people assume as so many of the male characters appear to resemble me. But actually, it’s the female characters I mostly empathise with in a strange way. Madame Bovary, c’est moi!

Q: And Cornelia is again featured in the book?

A: Yes. Initially, I thought (hoped?) that I would be striking a new vein, but somehow she made her way back to the surface, and I suppose the novel is as a result a typical piece of ersatz Jakubowski erotic Noir. But I like writing about her, and she seems to be popular with readers.

Q: So for for all those years, you did fuck all?

A: Totally. Only published 20 or so books, including a collection of short stories, a collaborative novel, scores of anthologies, ran the Murder One bookshop until I just grew tired of the lack of challenge, did hundreds of pages of journalism, ran a film and literary festival, saw a thousand movies, read a few thousand books. Edited other people’s books. Listened to music. And lived. I know, I’m just a lazy sod.

Q: I heard that your wife can always tell whether you’re writing fiction or non fiction?

A: Yes, on two scores: on one hand, I sweat differently and she can always tell what I have been writing when I put T-shirts, sweats or shirts in the washing basket; also, my rhythm at the keyboard is different! I think a lot is influenced by the music I write to!

Q: What sort of music?

A: Mostly rock, but sometimes orchestral or electronic stuff. Strangely, I always pen fiction with music blaring out loud, whileas I require a modicum of silence for journalism. Or maybe it’s all superstition.

Q: Music means a lot to you?

A: Absolutely. I couldn’t live without it. I’d sacrifice all of my books away to the Gods of whatever just for the talent to write music and create a wonderful melody. Sadly, I can’t even play a single instrument. Although, I’m very good at air guitar or air bass, you know.

Q: I saw on Facebook you already have another novel scheduled for 2011?

A: Yes. EKATERINA AND THE NIGHT. So many better writers than I have a strict rule whereby by the time their new book is published, they try to have the next one completed. I’m not sure this will be the case, as EKATERINA is still unfinished, but at least it should be well advanced by the time November comes. I was having lunch with one of my publishers and I thought I’d force myself to squeeze out another novel somewhat faster this time around and I agreed to a deadline, which would allow it to be published in the autumn of 2011. I have a great pride in my professionalism and never miss a deadline, however tight.

Q: But, unlike I WAS WAITING FOR YOU, it’s not a crime book, I hear?

A: A decade or so ago, I wrote a short erotic novel, THE STATE OF MONTANA, which became quite successful, with several translations into other languages and I sold the film rights to a very well-known A-list Hollywood actress, who thought it might prove a great challenge. I happily signed on the dotted line and eagerly cashed the six figure cheque. A few years later I had a phone call from her ‘people’ advising me she would not be filming it. She had now had her first biological child and decided she would no longer be doing any nudity in her movies. Needless to say, THE STATE OF MONTANA without nudity is inconceivable. It would only last five or ten minutes. But it’s a book I’m very fond of. Its mood, its characters, its form. So I’ve been wanting not so much to write a sequel to it, but an accompanying short book retaining some of its format and atmosphere and that is what EKATERINA will likely be about if I pull it off. Watch this space.

Q: How did you become ‘The King of the Erotic Thriller’ as you are often described on your book covers?

A: It just happened. I’m a writer who has never had anything to say. I don’t and won’t write about social things, the world, the human condition. I can even say I have a limited imagination. But people fascinate me, what makes them tick, why they do the things they do, and all that. As a result sex and its games, deceits and world appear to be the things most worth writing about. In my own way, Woody Allen’s views on sex and death are also mine. They are the only things worth writing about. Sadly, though, I’m not funny.

Q: Have you tried writing other things?

A: I’ve tried. It was awful. It had no soul. I worked for 20 years as an editor in publishing and I admire people who can write, plot and do those things well and with such naturalness. I know I’m not in that club. I have my little kingdom, and I’m sort of happy there for now. It’s never going to make my fortune, but I’d rather be knowledgeable about my limitations than delusional. I’m comfortable being the ‘King...’ even though I’m fearful that should I ever write a children’s book, the publisher might still wish to use that blurb!

Q: Regrets?

A: Too many.

Q: Dreams?

A: Too many.

Q: Any questions I should have asked?

A: Too many. And a good thing you didn’t; if you had I would have had to lie through my teeth or turn this interview into a piece of fiction.

Thanks Maxim. An honour.

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Dancing With Myself: MATTHEW MCBRIDE interviews MATTHEW MCBRIDE

Quick plug for a series over at:

and one for me, story 618 in the excellent 600 - 700 epic over at A Twist Of Noir. As always, it was an honour to be considered for such a quality space:

So, Halloween. Don't you think this is about as appropriate as you can get? Matthew McBride. Just look at his picture.

Except we all know he's a little cuddly. Has a feminine side. Welcome to

the McBride of Frankenstein...

1. Q) You're relatively new to the crime writing scene. What can you tell someone reading this who's never heard of you? Hoe long have you been writing?

A) You misspelled a word up there asshole ^. People are going to think you're illiterate.

Sorry about that. But trust me, they already know you can't spell. Now please, answer the question. I'm kind of in a hurry. I like to rush through things you know.

A) Oh, I know. (pause) Okay, well to answer my ques, er, your question, I started writing seriously about eight months ago. The first thing I ever wrote was for the Airport Flash Fiction Challenge last December. So about eight months, give or take. Although I did write a novel back in 2003, and a few partial stories on napkins and loose odd ball sheets of paper here and there. I never submitted anything until a super famous writing buddy of mine suggested it. Other than that, I had a short published in Deer & Deer Hunting once (Don't laugh, I actually made money from that story).

2. Q) You seem to enjoy writing short stories. Do you? If so, why?

A) The answer to that question is both long and short. First of all, it seems very easy for me to do. Plus I enjoy writing them. It's also a good way to test the waters as far as a potential audience goes. The readers feedback is important, so are peoples comments. If they like the story they usually say so. If they don't like the story, they usually won't say anything.

The fact that my shorts have made favorable impressions on people here and there can give a guy a great feeling. Like maybe you're doing something right. Or at least barking up the right literary tree. If people like your short stories, perhaps they'll become part of the future audience that will one day support your novel(s).

3. Q) What are you working on now? Short stories or a novel?

A) I seem to always have a few things going at once. I've come to realize I must be a bit of a word juggler. My wife recently found a stack of these huge napkins that I started writing something on about eight or nine years ago (at work). Turns out it was close to a 9,000 word western that I can barely remember writing. A revenge tale about cowboys smoking opium and slaughtering each other. I really like it and I'll peck away on that for a while, then jump over to another book I'm writing about organized crime in the Ozark hills (my backyard). It takes place in the 30's and into the 50's. The golden age of gangster's, at least for me. The Depression, Tommy guns, bootlegging. And in between all of that, the occasional short.

4Q) Name two things readers would be surprised to learn about you?

A) My favorite color is orange and I hate Pepsi.

5. Q) You seem to have acquired somewhat of a reputation as a gun nut. Is this true?

A) Like I always say, you never know when a good machine gun is gonna come in handy. As I look around our old farmhouse, there's literally a gun(s) in almost every room. Protecting yourself is important. If somebody breaks into our house, somebody's gonna get pumped full of lead. Guns are important. I, myself, am armed quite often. Just because you never know when your gonna have to shoot a guy. Besides, If we didn't have guns, crime writers would be writing about bad guys throwing rocks at people and shit. Plus, PLOTS WITH GUNS would be called PLOTS WITH ROCKS. See? That really doesn't work at all.

6. Q) Do you think social networking plays a very important role for an aspiring writer?

A) That was a dumb question. Nobody would be reading this interview that I never would have given without it. (pause) But, the answer to that question is another question. Where would writers in general be without social networking? Networking is the key for an aspiring writer. Even an established writer. Making connections is important and I think the more people feel like they know you, the more likely they are to become interested in your work. I know that's how I feel when I read something by somebody I know, as opposed to a story written by someone I don't.

7. Q) Okay, final question. Have you ever thought about self publishing your novel?

A) That question was almost stupider than your last question. I think about it everyday. But I doubt I'd ever do it. The truth is, I don't wanna be that guy. The guy who's giving away his books at Christmas every year. “Guess you know what McBride's givin us this year? Yep, another copy of that book he couldn't sell.”

Nor do I wanna peddle it at flea markets or swap meets. And truthfully, nobody really thinks of you as a real writer if you self publish. At least that's what I've been told by people that have done it.

By the way, these are the same people giving them away and peddling them at flea markets. Although the social networking aspect from the above question could definitely come into a play as for as marketing goes, I still feel like, on some level, it's taking the easy way out of a hard situation. Anybody with money can pay to be an author, but I wanna have a better novel than a thousand other people. I wanna earn my way into publication. Eventually I will, because I've come to far to turn back now.

Quitting is not an option.



Saturday 30 October 2010

Dancing With Myself: TIM HALLINAN interviews TIM HALLINAN

Now here's a new take on e-books. A Creative Revolution? Nice. Here's Tim:

Thanks for finding the time to do this.

No problem. I was in the neighborhood.

Well, to begin. You've been described as, “ . . . one of the angriest voices of his generation, a writer who uses a finely honed rage and a sure command of the thriller form to shine a light on the inequities and injustices of our age.”

I have?

Not really.

Didn't think so. I would have noticed.

Let me approach the point in a different way. What pisses you off?

Practically everything. The world we live in is run by political imbeciles, reported on by media imbeciles who are talking to an audience of ordinary, every-day imbeciles. That's kind of a sweeping statement, so let me provide some support. Afghanistan. Snooki. But what really pisses me off is being relegated by literary snobs to some genre slum. Oh, thrillers? How droll. My body temperature literally rose this morning in pure fury. One of the blurbs for Julie Zeh's ravenously wonderful novel In Free Fall mentions that the book is structured as a mystery and goes on to say, “Here's a piece of literature that takes the liberty to develop its very own rules, and to impose them upon an obsolete form . . .” What kind of arrogant, empty-headed elitism is that? Another way to look at it would be to say, “Here's a wonderful, brilliant story that benefits from being presented in mystery form.” And why would a writer as prodigious as Zeh choose the mystery form? Because it works. Honest to God, these people need to get out of New York (or in this case, Berlin) once in a whole and see what people are actually reading. We live in a Golden Age of thrillers and mysteries, and anyone who can't see that needs to come down from the alabaster tower and eat some solid food now and then.

Why do you think thrillers and mysteries are a good way to look at a world that you obviously find wanting?

Because the mystery is the perfect form for a broken age: it's an excuse to set loose upon all levels of society a character whose only function is to ask questions. You can explore ANYTHING, from the impact of the Hardy Boys to the fine points of quantum mechanics in a mystery or a thriller. In my private list of the best books of the last decade, about 55% are mysteries or thrillers, or use the form to get at the heart of their material. One other thing about the mystery in a world where so many things have so obviously gone wrong is that it's the most optimistic genre. People talk about it being dark and even scary, but no other genre has as its primary movement the restoration of order to a broken world. And despite the way I sound at times, I admire optimism. I think bleak sucks as a world view.

Would you like to plug your books?

Oh, no, I couldn't. Not possibly. Too embarrassing. Okay. The current series is set in Bangkok and features an expatriate travel writer named Philip “Poke” Rafferty who's married to a former Patpong bar girl, with whom he's adopted a daughter, a former street child named Miaow. They're three somewhat damaged people from wildly different worlds and cultures who are trying to cure themselves by loving each other. The books are standalone thrillers but the story of this little cobbled-together family is at the heart of them, and if you want to follow that, you have to read them in order. The titles are A NAIL THROUGH THE HEART, THE FOURTH WATCHER, BREATHING WATER, and the newest, THE QUEEN OF PATPONG. I'm happy to say they've gotten the best reviews of my life.

And I wrote a series in the 90s, six P.I. books set in Los Angeles, featuring an ovcreducated post-hippie named Simeon Grist, Since the last one came out, in 1996 or thereabouts, I've had a letter or two every week asking when I was going to write him again. Well, I am writing him again, in a completely different context; but on a short-term basis, the first three books in the series, THE FOUR LAST THINGS, EVERYTHING BUT THE SQUEAL, and SKIN DEEP, are now available on the Kindle for $2.99, which is almost better than free. And they're really selling.

Very discreetly done. What do you like best about writing?

The moment when I realize that the world is moving around on its own, that I've stopped making it up, as Anne Lamott says, and started getting it down. That's magic, and it happens to me only when I write every day, or at bare minimum six days a week. If I take a week off, the book's world turns into a dusty little diorama that I have to reach into and move the weensy figures around by hand. If I work daily, they're already walking and talking by the time Windows loads.

What do you like least about writing?

Well, we all have days when we're turning out crud and the harder you work, the cruddier it gets, and sometimes those days add up to a week or so, and that's no fun. But still, you know, even then, what I'm doing is writing. I hear these writers moaning and agonizing about writer's block, and I just want to remind them that even on their worse days, they're writing. I've had plenty of real jobs, and I know that every single working person in the world has days – lots of them – when he or she would rather be the subject in a colonoscopy marathon than go into the office. And they go into the office anyway. But we writers – we're so sensitive. I think, generally speaking, the less we feel like writing, the more we need to,

And I don't like the business end of things. But that's changing for the better.

Really? All we hear is how the publishing industry is falling apart and how there are fewer chances taken on unknown writers and how all the big advances go to the people who need them least, and how all anybody wants now is the big blockbuster . . .

Sorry to interrupt. Okay, here's my take, purely personal. My brother Michael is a successful painter. He works every day on his technique, just as I do. He refines his approach all the time, just as I do. He works his tail off, just as I do. And when he decides he wants to paint something completely different than anything he's ever painted, he sits down and does it.

Just as I never could, until now. Mike sells his creativity directly to people who like paintings. I sell mine to middlemen – publishers – that are corporate entities with very strict guidelines about what they will and won't put out, and who have me pigeonholed as the writer of a certain kind of book. And if I want to write a different kind of book, they don't want to hear about it. If I want to write something offbeat, that has nothing in common with anything on the current NY Times list, they don't want to hear about it. And until recently, that was the end of it. Interesting idea goes unwritten.

But now, because of e-books, I can write whatever the hell I want. I can plow through a book that, according to my agent, has slender commercial possibilities, just because I want to write it. And when I'm done with it, I can put it online as an e-book at a cost to me of $200-300 bucks, and people either read it or they don't. And I can price it at $2.99-$4.99 because my royalty rate is 70%. It's capitalism at its most Darwinian. Write it, put it out, let it sink or swim. This is the single most liberating development of my writing life. I feel like I've been cooped up in a small room for decades and the walls just fell down.

The new Simeon, for example – it takes place in a sort of limbo where the characters from failed detective series go when the last unsold copy in the series is pulped. It's a cut-rate, low-budget limbo, compared to the no-expense-spared Grecian elegance of the Literary Fiction limbo, but it's full of every kind of detective ever written – everything from hard-boiled PI's to the heroines of cozy cooking mysteries, the woo-woo mentalists of paranormal mysteries, etc. And then, back on earth, one of Simeon's few remaining readers is murdered, which Simeon witnesses because whenever someone on earth opens a book in which a character appears, the character can look up through the book as though it's a window on the world. Anyway, for most of the detectives whiling away eternity in limbo, a new murder is like a 50,000-volt shock. This may or may not sound promising to you – and it doesn't to my agent, who said, “There's no market for meta-books,” thereby pouring cold water on me and teaching me a new word at the same time – but I'm laughing my ass off writing it, and it's a whole genre that I don't really know how to do, and there's nothing more exhilarating than that. So I'm writing it, and it'll go on Amazon and iBooks, and maybe it'll float and maybe it'll sink.

Maybe I'll even make money on it. And that would be nice – if I've got ten books up there and I'm selling 2000 of each per year (a target I'm well exceeding with the current ones) that's a chunk of change. And it's money earned from writing what I want to write when I want to write it.

Everyone talks about the e-book market as though it were an economic revolution, which it is, but I think it's much more importantly a creative revolution. Got an idea? Write it. Put it up. Sure, there's going to be a ton of junk put online (I may even write some of it) but that shelf space is yours forever. Maybe the right people will find my book. Or yours. What the hell? Write the damn thing.

Thursday 28 October 2010

Dancing With Myself: JEN FORBUS interviews JEN FORBUS

Welcome to the newest installment of “Dancing with Myself” I’m here today with Jen Forbus…wait, who? [Note to self: must ask Nigel if he needs some assistance in recruiting real talent for this gig.] I guess we should start off with who ARE you and why are you qualified to be included in this high-power project?

Well, I’m Jen Forbus and I blog at Jen’s Book Thoughts. I’m not really sure what qualifies me to be included among the likes of Emma Donaghue, Kelli Stanley and R.J. Ellory, but I’ll try to be worthy of the invite. My completely uncreative blog name should let you know right away that I am not a writer myself – aside from my blog posts. I’m a huge crime fiction fan, though. Obsessive, I guess you could say. And I try to be creative in how I approach crime fiction on the blog. The nice folks at Crimespree sometimes let me contribute to their magazine as well.

How did you get started reading crime fiction?

The very first mystery I can remember reading was THE WESTING GAME. I read it when I was 8 and it was a tad advanced for me at the time. I remember not understanding and getting frustrated, which is a huge motivator for me. I hate not understanding, and I will not let something defeat me because I’m always convinced I CAN understand it if I try harder. I also enjoyed THE BOXCAR CHILDREN about that same time.

I was pretty eclectic in my reading and then when I started teaching high school English, my reading amounted to the books I was teaching and the papers I was grading. But some of the all-time great crime fiction is taught in English classrooms. When I left teaching, I was pretty clueless about what was popular in fiction. I happened to read a Linda Fairstein book jacket in Sam’s Club one day. It was for ENTOMBED and the connection to Poe fascinated me, so I started looking into it more and found out the book was part of a series. Around the same time I got an email from Borders about Robert Crais’ THE WATCHMAN. Those two series pulled me firmly into crime fiction hook, line and sinker. Then the obsession just snowballed.

So, you like to read crime fiction, but why blog about it?

I’ve always loved to talk about books. People who only know me through the book world are surprised when I say I’m usually a very quiet, non-verbal person. They’re surprised because I can yammer on endlessly about books and authors and events and…well, you get the picture. Anyway, my excitement happens without my permission. I start talking about books and before I know it I’m smiling and I can’t sit still and I get louder and more animated. It’s the most bizarre phenomenon.

When I was teaching, I would be able to talk to my students every day about books and they would laugh at me when I got excited about something we were covering. When I left the classroom I was still reading but didn’t really have anyone to talk to about the books. I went to an author event for Michael Koryta and walked away from it simply elated, bursting to tell someone about it and discuss what happened. But there really was no one immediately there. I went home and wrote a blog post on the personal blog I was keeping at the time and felt this kind of release; an avenue to let the energy and exhilaration flow. It didn’t take long for me to start a blog that was strictly book related.

And then I started finding all of these great authors whose books weren’t at places like Walmart, Sams Club or the local drugstore. The blog gave me a chance to tell a lot of people about authors like Craig Johnson, Craig McDonald, Louise Penny, Thomas Holland, Hilary Davidson, and most recently R.J. Ellory.

So when you started that blog, you couldn’t have had many followers. What motivated you to keep blogging?

Most of the time I still don’t feel like I have a ton of followers. I know there are quite a few lurkers, but when I listen to other bloggers talk, I feel like I have a small following. But boy are they awesome!

Part of the stamina came from just feeling like I was releasing the energy from my excitement. But I had a few friends from a Crais discussion board who would stop by and leave me encouraging comments. I met Lesa Holstine and Trish Collins who have become wonderful friends, but in the beginning they were a huge source of motivation for me; they still are, really.

They are often my sounding board when I’m trying to hash out ideas that aren’t fully formed. And then there was the crime fiction community. They were so, so welcoming and willing. When I approached Alafair Burke and Michael Koryta about the very first interviews for the blog, they were so wonderful to say yes, even though my interview questions then were really rather bad. They were great sports. It still shocks me when I contact an author I admire about doing an interview and they say, “yes.”

These days I’m inundated with motivations. I love the doors that the blog has opened for me. Without the blog I never would have met the Jordans, probably wouldn’t have met Kaye Barley and Judy Bobalik. I consider these people my family now, and what a great gift that is. I’m extremely motivated by positive responses to projects I work on. I’ve done a couple of projects working directly with authors and it’s an amazing gift they bestow when they agree to participate. Equally wonderful was the “theme week” I coordinated and other bloggers participated. Their motivation fueled me and I’m excited to try that again in 2011. I walk on Cloud 9 every time I have someone ask for book recommendations. I just love the feeling of turning folks on to wonderful, new books. And of course more people comment now, so I have more friends to talk to about books. And I’m always looking for new book friends!

Is there anything you wish you would have known before you started blogging?

Well, I’m sure if I put thought into it, I could come up with some things it would have been nice to know, but the whole process I’ve evolved through has been a wonderful ride. And the best part is, it’s not even close to over. I love growing and discovering; finding what works and what doesn’t. There are so many elements and fads and whatnot that change on an almost daily basis. As a hobby blogger, it’s hard to keep up with it all, so I don’t kill myself trying. I just do what makes me happy.

Oh, o.k., I’ve thought of something I wish I would have known before…or maybe it’s actually something I wish I would have put more thought into. I wish I would have come up with a snappier name for my blog.

So you really cover primarily, almost exclusively, crime fiction. Don’t you want to be an eclectic reader?

I didn’t develop my obsession with popular crime fiction until a handful of years ago, so I’ve experienced a lot of different kinds of books and genres and whatnot. What we look at as classic literature is some of the greatest crime fiction ever: Harper Lee, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Twain, Shakespeare, Dickens, Homer, Sophocles, Faulkner, etc. So, I think it was a natural gravitation for me. Through my reading experiences, I’ve found that I’m not a big fan of the romance genre. I think I’m too cynical and I find a lot of it starts to sound like a soap opera. Even in crime fiction, if authors start getting too sappy with the love interests in their plots I find myself rolling my eyes. My cynicism also prevents me from getting much enjoyment from science fiction or paranormal books. And while there are exceptions to this generalization, as a whole, memoirs make me want to run screaming.

I will read Pat Conroy every chance I get because I love his work. I read authors like Toni Morrison, Ken Kesey, Garth Stein. I enjoy some poetry and select non-fiction. But reading is my hobby. I do it for enjoyment and therefore I choose the types of books I’m most likely to enjoy. That’s crime fiction most of the time. And there are more than enough great crime fiction books to keep me busy for years to come. Add in the fact that I didn’t start reading them until fairly recently; that provides a huge back list of authors and titles I’d like to someday read as well.

But, you read so much. Haven’t you read everything?

Ha! Not even close. I guess I read more than the average American, but I don’t think that says much. Our society is pretty disappointing when it comes to reading activity as a whole. In the population of “avid readers” I don’t read a lot at all. The biggest part of that comes from the fact that I’m a slow reader. I’ve always been a slow reader. A book that takes the average person 8 hours to read will take me closer to 12. I’ve never been a scanner; never managed to master that art. And if I’m in a good book, I don’t even want to scan. I want to devour each and every word. I want to luxuriate in the book’s wonderfulness. I’m also easily distracted by activity or noises around me…or sometimes day dreaming. That slows me down as well.

I manage to read as many as I do with the help of audiobooks, through reading during my lunch breaks at work, spending time each evening reading, and simply opting to read as a pleasurable activity. I don’t watch TV. My TV has been on the fritz for the last 3 years. Sometimes I feel out of the loop, but for the most part I don’t even really miss it.

You seem to have acquired a reputation of being a very nice person. Is this why you give everyone positive reviews? Do you have a dark side?

Anyone who thinks I’m nice should spend an hour with my sister. She’ll be happy to tell you what an evil person I am! No, in all honesty, I do try to make an effort to treat others the way I would want to be treated. Plus I have that disease that Meg Ryan had in YOU’VE GOT MAIL. You know? How she felt awful anytime she said something mean to someone. I have that problem, too. Catholic guilt maybe? I can be very catty and nasty, but I try to refrain from being public about it because it’s often my issue, not the person or situation I’m aiming my nastiness at.

As far as my reviews go, I wouldn’t say I give everyone positive reviews. I choose to post positive reviews over negative reviews. I don’t write about books that were so bad I couldn’t find redeeming qualities in them. If I was being paid to review everything I read, then I’d have to write negative reviews. But I’m not, this is my hobby. I want to spend my time with books that I enjoy. And not all the reviews I write are glowingly great. I think people who read my reviews on a regular basis notice when I’m not so thrilled with a book. But I choose not to be outright snarky about what I perceive to be weaknesses in the book. I mention them, but not with an effort at being mean. I think that’s the big difference. It seems like when people write reviews recognized as “negative” they are actually rather mean reviews. And they focus on the negative. I focus on the positives I found and mention the negatives. The other thing I try to be very cognizant of is the fact that I have personal biases. I mentioned the one about sappiness above. That turns me off completely. Other people love that. So I make it clear what led me to perceive something as negative.

I once heard a writer say I should post negative reviews because he would learn from them. My response to that is simply this: “I’m not your editor. If you’d like to pay me to be your editor, I’ll be glad to give you all kinds of constructive criticism. I have done that for people. My blog is my hobby; therefore the only person I’m obligated to oblige is me.”

In the end, though, I have my blog because I want to talk about books I love and encourage others to read great crime fiction. To reach beyond the safe or the familiar. I find it exciting when I find someone new to me that I think is phenomenally talented. I want others to enjoy that experience, too. I have the luxury of being able to recommend books without the bias of working for a publisher, without the need to sell a certain level of stock. I can simply recommend what I love. I’ve never had someone come up to me and ask, “What book shouldn’t I read?” I answer the question people do ask me, “What have you read lately that you love?”

How has blogging changed you, do you think?

Oh, that’s an easy one. I’ve really come out of my shell. All my life I was a shy, reserved person. I did what was safe and I stayed in my comfort zone. Lately I look in the mirror and see an obnoxious, over-bearing, loud-mouth who’s going to visit the moon. O.k., it isn’t that dramatic a difference, but the fact that I drove to Indianapolis by myself last year, introduced myself and talked with people I’d never met before. Those were huge undertakings for me. I conducted a live interview with Alafair Burke in February and am moderating a panel at this year’s Bouchercon. And isn’t it ironic, that a solitary act like typing on a computer is what made me a more social creature?

I smile a lot more now, too.

We probably ought to wrap this up here. It’s gotten a little out of hand. So why don’t we end with a fun question? Now that you have all this experience with crimes, if you could use one weapon to fend off an intruder, what would it be?

Oy. Even though I read a lot of crime novels, I’m not a violent person. I’m actually an advocate for stricter gun control laws in the U.S. so it definitely wouldn’t be a gun. I can’t even manage to keep a cell phone with me on a regular basis, so it’d really have to be a weapon that was part of me or a weapon of convenience – I’d forget to pack a knife or a star or brass knuckles. So, I’m going to say either my teeth or my feet. Given the right scenario, I can give a whopper of a kick and I’m not afraid to bite if I need to. But even more so, I’d use my noodle. While I would forget it if it weren’t permanently attached to my shoulders, it’s pretty reliable.

Thanks Jen! [*Aside*: can you believe how much she had to say? Like she was somebody or something!]

Wednesday 27 October 2010

Dancing With My Friends: ROBIN SPANO

Writers love being interviewed. Unlike most things we say – to our keyboards alone in the dark – with an interview, we know someone cares about our answers.

Nigel tried to rip away that rarely-found confidence and make me ask the questions, for this interview series with writers he calls “Dancing With Myself.”

I said yes – great idea, Nigel; sounds like fun.

But I tricked him.

I went on Facebook and set my status as: If you were reading an interview with a crime writer, what would you want to know?

So I know I have at least a small audience, because my friends replied with:

FELICE: I'd want to know about your childhood and if there was anything that would have predicted your future in writing crime fiction.

ROBIN: I think there were indications, like the day I realized my mother was a Russian spy. Only a future crime writer would see a fake smile on her mother’s face and assume that if she was faking the smile, she was probably faking her whole life, and that’s what Russian spies do. I kept a close eye on her for a week or so before deciding that mostly she was sincere; it had just been that one smile. And she didn’t seem to be covering up an accent.

MERILEE: What’s different about your book and why would I want to read it?

ROBIN: It’s different because the characters are the clues.

Clare Vengel, the star of the series, is an undercover cop. Her job is to befriend the suspects and live in their world as a native. At times she needs to live dangerously and gather hard-to-get evidence, but mostly her role is to ingratiate herself and observe the other characters’ behavior.

As a result, police procedure takes a back seat to dialogue and action. There is some tangible evidence, but most of the clues are in things characters say to each other when they’re not even talking about the murders.

The guesswork for the reader isn’t about how each person might physically have killed the politicians (they all have plausible access), but who has the biggest motive, the reason that would compel them into action – and who has the character that would make murder possible.

You would want to read it if you like a fun, fast read that takes you inside a university on an undercover mission to find a killer.

CHRIS: Does the novel blend genres, and if so, which ones?

ROBIN: I’m not supposed to say this because apparently this other genre isn’t selling so well right now, but I think it blends mysteries with chick-lit. Not because I think I write like an airhead, but because I like to balance any dark elements with something light and optimistic.

J.K. Rowling does that with the Harry Potter series – she tackles all kinds of dark and troubling issues, but she balances it with light, so readers are left feeling optimistic and empowered.

Crime writing lets me grapple with dark issues – most of my characters could be killers, and I try to make that credible – but ultimately I’m an optimist and I think the world can be a great place, and I want that positivity reflected in my writing.

Mixing elements – deep with shallow, dark with light – is a cool way of creating layers and deception – you never know quite which level a character is operating on, so the whodunit aspect is enhanced.

NORM: Do you ever sit at the blank page and just feel like killing someone, and then go from there?

ROBIN: No, but now I’m worried about my friend Norm. Actually I’m lying. I was already worried about Norm, and that’s how Dead Politician Society got started. (I wanted to murder the mayor without going to jail.)

MERILEE: What are you trying to accomplish with this book?

ROBIN: Primarily, I’m trying to entertain. But I’m trying to do it in a thought-provoking way – if people want their thoughts provoked, that is. I cover lots of ground that matters to me – some political issues, some personal ones – and if someone reading can relate to that stuff, then I’m thrilled. But if the reader doesn’t relate to my issues, I think the book has entertainment value on its own

NORM: Assuming that women are more left-brain than right-brain, what advantages/insights does Clare have, as a woman, in her crime solving technique and/or thinking?

ROBIN: She has empathy – she’s really good at putting herself in someone’s shoes. She can make friends easily when she has to. She’s also good at finding creative solutions to seemingly impossible problems – though her first impulse is to ram her head into an obstacle, once she sits back, she’s good at finding ways around them. But Clare does have several typically male traits, like a sense of adventure and excellent mechanical skills.

CHRIS: When was the last time you vacuumed?

ROBIN: I don’t know.

Want to find out more:

Tuesday 26 October 2010

Dancing With Myself: GRAHAM BOWLIN interviews GRAHAM BOWLIN

Busy times. Interesting times. Good times and bad.

Crimespree have another issue out today (huzzah!!). Download it for free or wait for a hard copy - you choose:

and they've gone and got themselves a blog:

While over in the corner, Chris Holm has a collection to check out:

and then there's Discount Noir (flash fun): (at the time of writing there's a 25% discount, too)
and Beat To A Pulp Round 1:
and there are a couple of my poems, absurdities I'd call them, over at:
(you can be pleased there are only 2)
And then there's today's interview with Graham Bowlin. You can find out all about him by following the link to his blog during the interview.

He's talented and up and coming (growing from a whisper to a scream). Crime Factory, Needle and A Twist Of Noir - what more can one do?

And he's hard; must be - 'take the skinheads Bowlin,' I've heard them shout now and again:

(sorry Graham, my fingers type things as they come to mind).

Here we go then. Please check out his blog once you're done.

Graham, over to you.

1. How did you come to start writing crime fiction?

Well, to be honest, in prison I had nothing but time on my hands. Taking writing classes was a great way to creatively channel the rage and violence that had gotten me there in the first place.

Just kidding. I skipped prison and went straight to film school. Once I got out, I wanted to continue writing, continue telling stories. But I didn’t have immediate access to a ton of money and crew members. Conflict, right? Around the same time I discovered a Thuglit anthology at my local bookstore and realized there was a large community of writers and readers doing incredible stuff that I had believed to be long dead. I wanted in so I started writing and submitting.

2. What do you think makes a good crime story a great crime story?

As Brian Wilson once said, “Love and mercy, that’s what we need tonight.” I couldn’t say it better so I’ll just steal it from him. It’s that old adage of without meat there is no pudding. Without hatred there is no love, without cruelty there is no mercy.

Obviously, part of our job is to shed light on the darker aspects of the human condition. But I think we’re equally obligated to explore the opposite: hope in the face of desperation, love giving purpose to life.

Don’t get me wrong, sometimes everybody’s gotta die in the end. But they should die trying.

3. How does geography effect your work?

I’m a big believer in all that “write what you know” crap. Of course, this means that most of my stuff revolves around douche bags screwing up their lives. It also means that a lot of what I write is pretty well tied into where I live.

I’ve done most of my growing up in North Carolina, so I’ve come to consider myself a southerner. Thus, a lot of my stuff has ended up being set down in the ol’ Dirty Dirty. I mostly do this because it makes everything a hell of a lot easier to write. But it also makes the work more honest. Home is where the heart is, along with the resentment, greed, fear, paranoia, self-loathing, and all the other stuff you need to make a good crime story.

Since my move to Los Angeles a couple of months ago, I’ve really begun to notice the effect that my surrounding geography and culture have had. Many of my story ideas now involve social alienation and economic failure in the City of Angels. Coincidence? I dunno, ask my landlord.

4. How do they say “fuck you” in L.A.?

“Trust me.”

5. What do you wish you knew when you first started writing?

How generous other writers are with their advice and time. Shortly after I started submitting stories I began writing to some authors in the community hectoring them, asking them for advice and what not. I can’t tell you how incredibly helpful everyone was and is. If you’re just starting to write, just starting to submit, or just beginning to fantasize about the exciting and glamorous world of online crime writing, we’d love to hear from you about almost anything. (I don’t do nudes, don’t ask.)

6. Do you have any advice on submitting to online magazines?

Do your research. There are many, many amazing websites out there, and some that aren’t as amazing. Don’t get me wrong, no matter what the website every writer, editor, publisher, and webmaster deserves high kudos for their work. Some just deserve a lot more.

Every website is different in their layout, art direction, quality control, and readership. Find a site that’s sexy to look at and simple to navigate, where a reader can easily locate your work. Read some of what they’ve published. Make sure that they host work that you enjoy and respect, and that fits what you’re going for.

In most cases you won’t get paid for your work, but you can still get something for it in the form of new readers, industry attention, and the pride that comes with publishing with a really quality rag.

Unlike your virginity, your work is actually worth something. Don’t just give it away to the first plain Jane skank who seductively sips from her Zima and beckons you into her dad’s Buick Skylark.

7. What do you find more challenging to attempt to write, the novel or the short story?

Novels are super long and hard to write.

Short stories are too short and hard to write.

They both have disadvantages.

As a beginning writer I’ve found that the short story is a great way to find your footing and get your name out there. What settings and locations do you enjoy the most? What themes do you find yourself attracted too? What are your greatest strengths? (The characters, dialogue, plotting, etc.) Short stories can be a great way to identify these and cut your teeth before starting your novel. I started out there and I’m glad I did.

8. Would you like to take a moment to shamelessly promote yourself?

Hell yes. I have two stories coming out soon with Crime Factory and Needle Magazine, two great venues I’m really proud to be a part of. I’m also working on a darkly comedic rural noir novel about a disgruntled private eye, a sexy cryptozoologist, and a small Southern town where nothing is what it seems. One day soon I’ll finish it.

Until then you can read more ridiculous babble at my website:

Bio: Graham Bowlin is a reformed southern gentleman newly moved to Los Angeles, where he is one of five card carrying NRA members. He likes short skirts and long cons, high heels and lowlifes. And bourbon. He works at the Mystery Bookstore. Stop by and say hello.

You can find him posting a bunch of self-aggrandizing horseshit over at his blog:

Monday 25 October 2010

Dancing With Myself: TODD RITTER interviews TODD RITTER

Todd Ritter’s debut mystery, DEATH NOTICE, was released in October by Minotaur Books. It follows a small-town police chief, an obituary writer and a Pennsylvania State Police investigator as they try to stop a killer who sends the local newspaper death notices of his victims before they die. Kirkus Reviews has called DEATH NOTICE “a convincingly blood-soaked debut novel.” Publishers Weekly said “Ritter treats his main characters — sympathetic, believably vulnerable people — with respect.”

The son of a bank teller mother and a father who dabbled in taxidermy, Todd was born and raised in rural Pennsylvania. An editor and journalist for more than 15 years, he began his career as a film critic while attending Penn State University. He has interviewed celebrities, covered police standoffs and, yes, even written an obituary or two. Currently, he is a copyeditor at The Star-Ledger, New Jersey’s largest daily newspaper. He lives outside of Princeton. Visit him online at .

Question: DEATH NOTICE is your debut novel. How does it feel to be a published author?

Answer: Surreal. And cool. And overwhelming. And nerve-wracking. The emotions vary from day to day. A lot of times, I walk around feeling very proud of myself. Then other days insecurity hits and I feel a bit like a fraud, like I’m just someone pretending to be a writer and that at any moment people are going to call my bluff. But then I’ll hear from someone who read DEATH NOTICE and loved it. And that’s the best feeling in the world. It just doesn’t get any better than that.

Q: What do you do when you’re not writing?

A: I wish I could say something noble and exciting, like climbing Everest or saving puppies from burning buildings. But I’m a pretty low-key, stay-at-home guy. I like to watch movies. I like to cook. I like to relax on the couch with a glass of wine and an episode of “Modern Family.”

Q: You’ve worked in newspapers for more than 15 years, and a lot of writers have backgrounds in journalism. Is there something about the newspaper industry that helps people become published authors?

A: Yes, and it’s called a deadline. People in newspapers, whether they’re reporters or editors or page designers, know how to work with a deadline hanging over their heads. It teaches us to think on our feet, trust our instincts and get the job done. We’re also accustomed to being clear and concise. Journalists aren’t ones to mince words, which is a good quality to have when you’re writing crime fiction.

Q: You started out as a film critic for your college newspaper. What is your favorite movie?

A: It’s a tie. The first is “Rear Window,” which uses every storytelling technique available to tell a crackerjack, suspenseful plot. You’re so caught up in everything that you don’t realize you’ve been stuck in that apartment the entire time. The other is “The Sound of Music,” which is the first movie my parents saw together when they were dating. I love it for unabashedly sentimental reasons.

Q: You’ve mentioned that your two biggest influences are Alfred Hitchcock and Walt Disney. Aren’t they kind of polar opposites?

A: Yes, but both of them were geniuses at storytelling. They were masters at it. In their own different ways, they could draw big emotions out of the smallest beats or gestures. And they were very economical from a plot standpoint. Nothing is wasted in a Hitchcock or Disney film. And yet the emotional response, whether it’s fear or suspense or joy, is enormous. So they’re actually more alike than they seem.

Q: Good point. But neither of them are authors. What writers have influenced you?

A: Too many to mention here. I’ll go with the two big, predictable ones: Agatha Christie and Stephen King. But I’ve also learned so much from people like Anne Tyler, Laura Lippman and Harlan Coben. To take it further, I’ve probably learned something from everyone I’ve ever read.

Q: If you couldn’t be a writer, what else would you like to do?

A: I love photography. I’m pretty good at it, but I have so much to learn. I’m jealous of those professional photojournalists who get to travel the world and share their vision. It’s the same way with chefs. I’m a major foodie, and the talent of most chefs leaves me feeling very humbled. I would love to be as creative and skilled as them.

Q: So, your dad was a part-time taxidermist. What was it like growing up with dead animals all over the house?

A: Not as disturbing as you might think. Taxidermy is just something my dad does in his spare time. He has his own little studio in the basement, so it’s not like he was tossing deer pelts onto the kitchen counter. But it wasn’t something that was hidden, either. His work was on display all over the house. And we had this freezer in the basement where he stored all the animals he planned on stuffing later. As a kid, that was pretty cool, especially when friends were around. I’d open the freezer and show them some dead animal inside sitting right next to the popsicles.

Q: If you were a tree, what kind of tree would you be?

A: That’s a stupid question.

Q: Just answer it.

A: I’d be a weeping willow. Because they’re large and beautiful and tend to grow in bucolic places like ponds and parks.

Q: Finally, tell me about what’s in the pipeline. Are you working on a second book?

A: I am. It’s called BAD MOON and it’s a sequel of sorts to DEATH NOTICE. Same characters, same town, different case. It’s very different from DEATH NOTICE, but in a good way. I’m very excited about it.

Sunday 24 October 2010

Dancing With Myself: CHARLIE STELLA interviews CHARLIE STELLA

Before kicking off today, I wanted to give a little plug for a fund raising idea relating to Autism Awareness week next year. You never know, you might be able to help out in a small or a big way. It's an idea that benefits readers, writers, independent book-sellers and people with ASD and their families (not bad in the one hit, huh?) Go over to
and take a look.
I also wanted to say 'Welcome back to the land of the living Donna'. The Broad from Badsville is back, but be gentle. Go over to her site and say hi ( )
Not much else to say now, is there? Except maybe, HERE'S CHARLIE STELLA...
1) Who the fuck is Doc?

A dear friend of mine who pisses off a lot of other friends of mine (those oh so tolerant so-called “liberals”) that it brings a big smile to my face. Mostly he makes fun of me and President Obama on my blog. Doc coined the term President Fredo (of Godfather fame). Doc isn’t me, as some suspect. Doc is a much better writer than I am. In fact, he wrote a survival novel that is a terrific read and I can only hope that some publisher out there takes it on. I can see this thing flying in the NRA gun toting market. Doc is an expert marksman, a world class ball-breaker and one of the good guys on this planet.

2) Are you the new voice of right wing America?

Some days I probably come off that way, but that’s usually the frustrations of (again) so-called liberals with thin skin (Obama loyalists and the like) who refuse to acknowledge their party of choice isn’t so different from the one they spend all their energy bashing. I was a lifelong liberal Democrat until I was fed up with them not representing me, then I voted Republican twice (a combination of frustration and temporary insanity) and now I wouldn’t vote for either party with a gun to my head. Days when I’m frustrated by government bureaucracy, I understand the urge for Libertarianism, but I don’t buy into that law of the jungle bullshit so long as the advantages that are in place (and have been in place) remain so; it’s easy to prefer the law of the jungle when you’re the lion. I have to wonder how many so-called “Libertarians” would go for a complete redistribution of wealth equally to all and then revert to that jungle scenario. I doubt they can swallow that particular concept. The born (or otherwise) disadvantaged (as the recent rise in our national poverty level shows—thanks President Obama, I guess that qualifies as “change”) have nothing near a level playing field. That doesn’t work for me. I’m probably closer to a socialist (and have voted that way recently in our governor’s race in New Jersey) than a Libertarian because I do believe in national health insurance and “some” heavy handed government regulation over certain industries (but not some of the absurd regulations that make no sense). I just don’t see how we let corporate fraud off the hook (by rewarding it) while we put bookmakers away. WTF? Likewise, I don’t see how we reward a two party system out of fear that one or the other party will win. Again, WTF? Aside from completely marginalizing the left (from my point of view), how does that make any sense?

3) What about those bailouts? You do an awful lot of whining over them. Didn’t they save the economy?

Nobody knows that for sure, do they (that the bailouts saved the economy)? What we do know is they saved a lot of bigwigs and permitted them to reward themselves with record bonuses. They continue to outsource after being gifted our money (taxpayer money). They were excused $38 billion in taxes (the bailout companies were) but my wife and I had to pay an extra $26K (beyond what they took out of our paychecks) for working 7 days a week. You know that bit about working hard to achieve the American dream? Turns out it’s a crock of shit not only for minorities but also for what were once considered the middle class. All I know is I did a lot better financially when I was a criminal. And look how well the criminals running Wall Street did (and continue to do). Those bailouts were an absolute slap in the face to American workers. I guess we’re all too busy trying to survive or playing with our electronic toys (the new opiate of the masses) to realize how bad off we actually are. I don’t envy my kids’ generation. If you’re not born into it (the money), it’s gonna be a lot tougher working your way to prosperity after (or if) this cycle of economic shit ever comes to an end.

4) Think you can come off your soap box now?

Fuck you too, Charlie.

5) Let’s try something else. Any good reads lately?

A few wonderful rereads: Brothers Karamazov, Crime & Punishment, Anna Karenina ... Friends of Eddie Coyle, Digger’s Game, Cogan’s Trade and I’ll be focusing on some French Revolution history born of listening to the music from Les Miserables a lot lately.

6) Oh, jerkoff, anything from this century?

Lynn Kostoff’s Late Rain was a wonderful read, all three times. Chevy Stevens Still Missing was my very first kindle purchase and I liked that a lot. I also enjoyed the Stieg Larsson books (all three of them) even though I know I’m not supposed to. The author broke a lot of the so-called writing rules, but I found the Lisbeth Salander character (super hero that she was) too intriguing to ignore. Too bad the poor bastard (Larsson) died before he scored. Talk about bad luck ...

7) And ebooks?

I’m not supposed to like them but I love my kindle. Let me rephrase that. I LOVE my kindle. It is convenient and it has made book reading affordable for me again. I read a lot. Mostly because of my commute, but also when I work out. I use my kindle a few hours a day. I LOVE it. I feel bad for booksellers. As a writer, they were my last best hope. Will that stop me from writing? No. Will it stop me from buying books? It already has. Will that stop me from being published? So it goes. My amazon bill was upwards of $100 a month. My wife made it clear that couldn’t continue. I bought a kindle and it’s one reason I’m rereading classics again (they’re either free or damn close to free on kindle). I’ll be taking on Victor Hugo’s Les Miserables again soon. Usually, there are several options to buying on kindle. $0-.99-$5.99, etc. I choose the badly formatted cheaper versions. I’m a word processor so the bad formatting doesn’t bother me as much as it might someone else.

8) How’s that going, the word processing?

Thanks to our “for the people” government, I’m forever waiting for the hammer to fall. It can at any time. I wouldn’t be surprised or upset; it is out of my hands. What Bush & Obama and the Congress & Senate did with those bailouts was further consolidate all the economic power in the hands of the few and mighty. It made me sick when fellow workers smiled while telling me who was let go the previous week when that was going on, but that’s the beauty of a deck rigged for the Aces; it’s always the lower valued cards that eat each other first.

9) The weightlifting? Still dicking around with that, old man?

Did I tell you to go fuck yourself yet? Yeah, I’m still lifting, but not for competition. I’m still losing weight slowly but surely. I’m down to 304 now and I’m eyeing a RAW Powermeet in Baltimore in early December (but eyeing is not training for). I can lift in either the 275 or 308 class. If I go I’ll get my ass kicked like usual, but it’s not about winning these things. It’s all about growing the hairs on my back ...

10) How’s the drumming going?

I’m playing with a band right now I might enjoy over time. I’m not crazy about some of the music selections (the lyrics to Thin Lizzy’s Jailbreak hurt my soul and Queen’s Save Me is nothing but cymbal slapping) but I have to admit I really enjoy playing to an Alanis Morissette piece we do (You Oughta Know). At least it says something and has some soul. I’m hoping they take my suggestions and do a few more blues/soul-based numbers. Our singer has a very good voice and I’m sure she can pull it off; songs like Zeppelin’s version of Since I’ve Been Loving You and/or Dazed and Confused; a few Allman Brothers tunes like Stormy Monday or Not My Cross to Bear. We shall see ...

Saturday 23 October 2010


I'm just back from the Lake District. For those who haven't been there, it's a truly beautiful part of the world and it rains a lot.

On the motorway, just before our final turn off, the last services available were at a place called Killington Lake. I like the idea of using that for a name of a character at some point, but if you want to get there first, go ahead - just make sure I get to read the tale.

Being with the family has been a real treat and there's also been something of marathon running in there (now I know how the bloke who walks it wearing a deep-sea divers suit feels). Great to go, great to be back.

I've missed posting interviews very much.

Delighted then that, as I come up for a lungful of air, tonight I can put up this piece by Benjamin Whitmer. The air around him smells fresher and cleaner than the Lakes, at least that's the way I imagine it from all the way over here.

Here's something about his novel that I ripped from the ever reliable Spinetingler:

“This is nightmare, hunker-down-in-your-soul, how-deep-can-you-dig, release-the-fucking-bats territory.”

If that isn't enough for you, read the rest of the review at:

Dig the cover, dig the title and dig the interview:

Benjamin Whitmer one and all...

So the first question has to be one that I think we’ve all had on our minds: how the hell did Pike manage to get published?

Well, it started with getting an agent. After I finished Pike I made a list of Manhattan agents and sent out a bunch of straight cover letters asking them to please represent me. I got nowhere, so one night after a few drinks, my wife and I decided to have a little fun with the process. I don’t remember all of what we came up with, but the bio ran:

“I've been a bar-brawler, a factory grunt, a vacuum salesman, a convalescent, a high-school dropout, a graduate student, a semi-truck loader, a small-time drug dealer, a protestor, a gun nut, a squatter, and a petty thief. Right now I'm teaching Ward Churchill's classes at the University of Colorado, and I could stomp a mudhole into James Frey's ass on the best day he ever had.”

All of it was true, of course, and It seemed to work. I sent it out to a five agents on a Wednesday, and by the next Monday I had one phone message and two emails.

Boxers or briefs?

Barbed wire.

Have you ever considered who might play the title character in a Hollywood adaptation of Pike?

Funny you should ask that. About a year ago my editor at PM Press asked me to write up a Hollywood pitch for Pike. She had a bead on an independent crime movie director who was looking for new material. He’s somebody whose movies I like quite a bit, so I had a couple of drinks and banged something out. For the lead character, Douglas Pike, I wrote: “Mel Gibson (with his beard), hopped up on cocaine, booze, and self-hatred, with strict instructions to tap into his inner Nazi.”

The director liked the pitch well enough that he requested a copy of the book, but, as of yet, he hasn’t read it. He’s on a pretty grueling directorial schedule, I hear. Which, as I told my editor, is just how I want it. As long as he doesn’t read it, he can’t reject it, and I get to brag on ever barstool in town that my first novel’s being considered for a Hollywood film.

I’m starting to notice a common theme. If you don’t mind me asking, what’s your favorite color?


And since we’re on the subject of things writers love to talk about, what kind of music do you listen to when you’re writing?

Waylon Goddamned Jennings. Just in case you couldn’t tell. I have my own sense of what is and what’s not country music, and it runs from The Louvin Brothers to The Drive-By Truckers, but all of it revolves around Waylon Goddamned Jennings. Even the other shit I listen to, like blues or punk rock, all of that is contained within the mighty spirit of Waylon Goddamned Jennings. So when people ask me what I listen to, that’s what I say. Waylon. Goddamned. Jennings.

Glock or 1911?

Why choose?

Back to Pike. You got some great blurbs on the book. Were there any that you wished you’d gotten but didn’t?

Actually, now that you ask, my agent had a contact who knew Harry Crews, so he hit him up for a blurb. Crews’ response was perfectly appropriate, something to the effect of: “I’m 74 years old and got my own fucking books to deal with before I die.”

My wife says I should have called him up and said, “Yeah, well my first choice was Larry Brown, but he’s already dead.”

A serious question: was there any one book you read that made you want to start writing?

Actually, yeah, there was. And, more impressive, I even remember what it was. It was Islands in the Stream by Hemingway. I was semi-homeless in my late teens and I had a friend who was starting off playing blues guitar who I stayed with a lot. After reading that book I did nothing but write really fucking horrible short stories and read them aloud to the poor fucker. He was kind enough to never bludgeon me to death with the guitar. He was a hell of a lot more talented than I ever was.

Another serious question: did you know where you were going with Pike before you started writing, or did it just kind of evolve?

I had no idea where it was going. I mean, I thought I did, but I ended up throwing away probably eighty percent of what I wrote in the early stages. That’s part of why it takes me so long to write a book. Better writers can plot stuff out, make plans, do it right the first time. It takes me a lot of rewriting to get anywhere near to whatever initial thought or feeling it was that made me want to write the book in the first place.

One more question. What would Chunk Norris do?

Probably stomp a mudhole in my ass on the best day I ever had. Rightfully.

Sunday 17 October 2010

Dancing With Myself: JEDIDIAH AYRES interviews JEDIDIAH AYRES

Come watch cream rising to the top:

10 questions for Nigel Bird’s site. Take One:


I don’t know.









How many questions is that?


Isn’t it five?


Can you even count?


So how many?



See my first answer.

Take Two. Redux:

Arighty, are you ready to “dance with yourself?”

Somebody once made me a compilation of masturbation songs. That’s always been my favorite.

The Billie Idol song?

No. Masturbation.

Ah. Are you any good at it?

About on par with my writing.

Yes, and how do you tell the difference?

One’s a whole lot more satisfying.

Which one would that be?

(wags finger) I don’t kiss and tell.

Wait. By Kiss and tell are you suggesting that you can (whispers) kiss yourself?

That’s not what I came to discuss.

What did you come to discuss?

Whatever you were asking that wasn’t about my sex life.

Fine. What would you say your greatest weakness is?

Lack of strength.

Are you kidding?

No. Dude, you’re at like nine questions again, don’t waste the last one.

Okay, asshole, what would you most like to improve?

My sex life.

Take Three. Once more into the breech:

(sigh) Why do you think you were even asked to participate in this series?

Wait. There’s a series?

Sure. You and a bunch of other writers are posting “self interviews” here for Nigel.

(under his breath) Son of a bitch.

And, that wasn’t a question. I still have nine more to go.


Same, of course with that last bit. The pitch of my voice didn’t go up at the end of the thought. It was a statement, not a question. As is this. And I’m not going to ask if you understand me, I’m just going to assume you do. You are very difficult to get along with, has anyone ever told you that?

Are we counting that one?

Actually, yes. Not what I’m saying now, though. Please answer the question.

Sure, I’d say -

And ‘please answer the question’ is a directive, not interrogative.

Yes. I used to hear that a fair amount.

Please clarify which statement you were responding to.

I used to hear, fairly often, that I was very difficult to get along with.

Used to?

As in, not anymore.

Huh. Why do you think that is?


Okay, that does not count as an answer, so I am not counting the question.

Y’know what? Fuck this. I’m just gonna go to some respectable author’s site and copy the questions out of the FAQ section.


1.When’s the next book coming out?

I don’t know. Soon, I hope.

2.What is the order of the Myron Bolitar novels?

I’m really not sure.

3.Will you write another Myron Bolitar novel?

I haven’t ever written one, but if I were asked to and there was decent money involved? Absolutely.

4.Where and when were you born?

Topeka Kansas. January.

5.Where did you go to school?

Kansas, Colorado & Arkansas. Grade schools.

6.Are any of the characters based on real people in your life?

Yeah. Based on. Which means, ‘not representative of” but based on, sure.

7.Where do you get your ideas?


8.What about the books PLAY DEAD and MIRACLE CURE? Did you write those?


9.What’s up with Hollywood? Any word on movies or TV shows based on the books?

What is up with Hollywood? No. No word. And again, I’m not sure which books you’re referring to. I haven’t had any published under my own name yet and I sure as hell hope no one knows about the early pseudononymous stuff. But, I do have some original scripts that get sniffed around some. Here’s hoping.

10.Will you come talk at our school, library, conference, etc?

Wow, that’s sweet of you. I’d be happy to if circumstances permit and if I feel I have anything to say, but that kind of lightening can’t be conjured at will.

Saturday 16 October 2010

Dancing With Myself: VICKI DELANY interviews VICKI DELANY

Right at the end of this piece, you'll find one of the nicest 6 word bios you're ever likely to come across.
Great interview this one. Take it away Vicki.
1. Why does the phrase murder mystery make your hair stand on end?

Labelling all crime novels, with their incredible range of style, tone, setting, structure as a murder mystery goes a long way, I think, towards maintaining the ghetto image of the genre novel that we struggle so hard to overcome.

I much prefer to call them to crime novels.

A crime novel doesn’t have to contain a murder, nor does it have to be a mystery. Lots of crime novels are not really mysteries in the sense of the detective attempting to follow clues to arrive at the solution to the mystery of who killed someone. Novels of suspense often have no ‘mystery’ about them. You know who did what and why, the suspense or the drama comes in watching the protagonist attempt to track down the bad guy, or deal with the aftermath of a tragic event. Most crime novels do involve murder, probably because murder is the ultimate transgression. But they don’t have to. Think of a kidnapping for example: the stakes can be incredibly high, and thus so can the suspense and the emotion.

2. How would you classify your own novels?

I write three completely different types of books, all falling under the wide umbrella of crime novels. I write standalone psychological suspense, which I would not call mysteries because the protagonist in those books is not trying to solve any mystery – they are merely caught up in events beyond their control when a crime happens. Scare the Light Away and Burden of Memory, both from Poisoned Pen Press, are in that category. They both have a back-story of something that happened during World War II so I employ the dual narrative format. I also write the Constable Molly Smith series, a fairly traditional village/police procedural series set in a small town in the Interior of British Columbia. Last year’s book in that series, Winter of Secrets, is not a whodunit. It is more of a did-anyone-do-it, and if they did what-did-they-do? The newest book in the Molly Smith series will be released on November 1st from Poisoned Pen. It is titled Negative Image and can probably be classified as a, gasp, murder mystery.
And then... I write the Klondike Gold Rush series published by the Canadian publisher Rendezvous Crime. They are set in Dawson City, Yukon, in 1898, during the Klondike Gold Rush. These books (Gold Digger and Gold Fever) are intended to be light-hearted, just a wild mad-cap romp through the muddy streets of Dawson in that incredible time.

3. What is the appeal of crime writing?

Crime writing is suited to righting wrongs. Not all wrongs can be righted, of course, but in crime fiction we usually do have a sense of justice served and the world returned to normal. As a writer, crime writing takes me into worlds with which I am not familiar. I have no background in law enforcement, but write about the day-to-day life of being a police officer. I’ve had to learn a lot about cops and have made some good friends and had lots of fun in doing so. It also allows me to explore issues as varied as human trafficking, stalking, jealousy, poverty, love and hate, family.

4. Many writers complain if they have to bring out a book a year. How can you write so much?

(Shrug) I just do. I am, for reasons known not even to me, highly prolific. I lead a fairly simple life on a small rural property. I have rabbit ears on my 25-year-old TV (which gets me one channel) I don’t have a DVD player, rarely go to movies. It certainly helps that my three children are all grown up and out of the house. I love to try different things and write in different sub-genres, and being prolific means that I can try out a new series, or write a standalone, while still keeping up my existing series(s).

5. You seem to like small town settings. Any reason?

Small town are great places to set books, any sort of books. People really do know each other and they know each other’s business. What would be a huge coincidence in a big city is perfectly normal in a small town. Thus it’s a lot easier to have people like Molly Smith’s mother and John Winters’ wife involved in the story. Trafalgar, B.C. is a tourist town, so I hope I’ve avoided the Cabot Cove syndrome by bringing in outsiders as well.

6. As Negative Image is about to come out, tell us a bit about it.

Thank you for asking, Vicki. At its heart Negative Image is a novel about loyalty and betrayal. What would you do if you fear that the person you trust most in the world has betrayed you? And what would you do if you suspect the person you trust most in the world believes you capable of betrayal? Here’s the blurb:
When his wife’s former fiancĂ© is found dead of a single shot to the back of the head,

Trafalgar police Sergeant John Winters is forced to make the most difficult decision of his life: loyalty to his job or to his wife. Meanwhile, tragedy strikes t the heart of Constable Molly Smith’s family.
Let me add that the first chapter is up on my web page ( for anyone who wants a sneak peek.

6. Tell us a bit about Molly Smith.
Molly is really the co-protagonist. The books should be called “The Constable Molly Smith, Sergeant John Winters Novels”. As that’s a bit of a mouthful it had to be shortened. Molly is, as far as I know, unique in crime fiction. She is young and inexperienced. When the series begins she is just a probationary constable and still lives at home with her mom and dad. She’s very keen, very green. Makes lots of mistakes. Part of the reason the books are set in a small town: it’s easier for her to be involved in major crime investigation. In a big city she’d be writing traffic tickets.

7. Series vs standalones? Which do you prefer?

Another excellent question. My you’re good at this. They both have their strengths, and I like writing both. A standalone novel gives the protagonist that one opportunity to achieve great things; to have that grand adventure; to meet the everlasting love of their life; to conquer evil, once and for all. In a standalone, the characters face their demons and defeat them.
Or not.
Series novels present a different challenge. The central character, or characters, confront their demons, but they do not defeat them. Their weaknesses, all their problems, will be back in the next book. In each story the series character stands against, and usually defeats, someone else’s problem or society’s enemy, but she or he moves only one small step towards the resolution of their own issues, if at all.

8. Does being Canadian affect your writing?
Very much. I set all my books (at least to date) in Canada despite the fact that it is very difficult to get a Canadian-set book any recognition in the U.S. Setting is very important in my books, and I’d have a hard time setting a book in a place I don’t know well. Now your readers are going to pipe up: “What about Louise Penny?” To which I will reply, name me one other successful crime writer whose books are set in contemporary Canada? Okay, other than Giles Blunt.
Canadian books are different than American or British books in the same way that British books are different than American. Part of the reason I’ve worked hard to develop police contacts is so that I get my Canadian policing right, and not take what I see on TV or read in books as the right way of doing things. Canadian policing is very different from American or British.

9. What’s next?
I am currently working on Gold Mountain, the third in the Klondike Gold Rush series. Smith and Winters book #5, Among the Departed, is finished and scheduled for release on May 1, 2011. And on November 1st Negative Image will be released. I have a lot of appearances and book signings scheduled.

10. You participated in Jen Forbus’ You’ve the Right to Six Words project. What was your six word bio?
I know how lucky I am.

Facebook: Vicki Delany; Vicki Delany author of novels of mystery and suspense

Twitter: @vickidelany