Friday 29 April 2011


It's Royal Wedding day.  That's a reason to celebrate for many.  Me, I'm easy.  I'm not a royalist.  On the contrary, I'm more of a passive abolitionist.  That's not to say I'm against today.  It's difficult to be sour in the face of love and celebration and happiness.  So, in spite of my general stand, good on the couple and I hope everyone who's making an effort has a jolly good time of it.

(I've just popped through to see the couple at the alter.  They look amazing and that dress is stunning.  I've got a small lump in my throat - don't tell anyone, will you?)

There are lots of other reasons to celebrate this week, in spite of my return to work after the Easter break.

I've loved the posts here.  Emily Winslow and Sabrina Ogden really took the biscuits and Julie Lethwaite is about to run away with the cake.

There's an amazing new look to Plots With Guns:

Copper Smith has a Flash Fiction comp that looks like fun and will draw in a lot of quality:  It's theme is dead rock stars.  Contact him through his blog if you like the idea:

Another five star review at Amazon

'Dirty Old Town is the first thing I have read by Nigel Bird and it won't be the last. A very varied range of short stories. Nigel writes with an innate sense of believability, his characters came alive for me. Humour is ever present but this did nothing to spoil the sometimes dark nature of his tales - a rare skill. There's a little something for everybody in this collection. A cracking read start to finish.'

Thanks for that to GrooyDaz39 from Hull for that injection of spirit.

I completed a couple of stories with May 1st Deadlines and, after a little help from my friends at Crimefiction Writers, I've ended up with pieces I'm really happy with.  The quality of the comments at Crimefic is amazing and the process of checking other people's work as well as receiving feedback is a real education.  Thanks to all of those guys for their help.

And there was also that amazing novella start by Pablo D'Stair on Easter Sunday.  The opening chapter is outstanding and you'll find it here if you check out the earlier posts.  Tonight, it's the third chapter over at David Barber's place, .  Before you go to chapter 3 (and I strongly advise you to do that), you'll find chapter 2 at Julie Lewthwaite's Gone Bad , which loops round nicely to today's interview which is with Julie.  Many thanks for being here and for being the first to take on Pablo's novella baton.

Julie Lewthwaite:

So you’re Julie … who …?

Oh god, the name thing! Sorry about that. I have fiction out there as Julie Lewthwaite (my actual name), Julie Wright, Julie Morgan and Julie Morrigan. There’s a reason for it all, but I won’t bore you with it.


It’ll be simpler from here on in. Fiction will be by Julie Morrigan, and my business writing - as it always has been - will be credited to Julie Lewthwaite. Okay?

I suppose. Although if I may say so, you’re getting ideas above your station, aren’t you? Hanging with the cool kids ….

Um … yeah, to be honest. But I was invited. That nice Nigel bloke who writes the scary crimey stories asked me.

Well, this series has been running awhile. Must be getting low on writers.

Not at all - never mind all the good stuff there’s been already, wait ‘til you see who’s up next! There are lots of good writers out there and they haven’t all done the one (wo)man waltz yet.

Okay, I believe you. I’m worried about you, though.

Why’s that?

Well, that’s some seriously bad shit you’ve got running around in your head. Are you safe to be let out on your own? Do you sleep nights?

Yes, and sometimes.

What gets you started with a story?

Different things with different tales. It might be a voice I start to hear in my head, an image I can picture, or an emotion I have felt and want to invoke in the reader. Sometimes I see things that make me wonder. Or that scare me. Or make me cry.

Soft shite. Like what?

Well, there was this one time in Asda. I heard a kid giggling and saw a little girl - maybe 7 or 8 - being thrown around by an adult male. You know the sort of thing, bit of horseplay. She was really enjoying it, but there was something in his face … then I heard her cry out in pain. He’d dropped her, and I think he did it on purpose. Give the kid a bit of happiness, then take it away. Another lesson learned, another callous on another soul. The look on her face spoke volumes. I wish I’d been either more brave or more sure and had had a word with him. As it was, I said nothing.

If you’d spoken up, you might have made it worse for her.

Maybe, maybe not. But it occurred to me, isn’t that one of the things we do as writers?

What, make things worse for people?

*rolls eyes* No, stand and watch. Observe. Wonder how it feels. Then write about it.

If that’s true, you’re a pretty heartless bunch.

I don’t think so. I think in a lot of cases, we feel too deeply and that causes us to reach out with our stories and ideas. We’re constantly trying to connect.

Or to reassure yourselves that you’re not just fucking weird.

Too late for that.

What’s this e-book malarkey you’ve been banging on about?

Oh, they’re the future.

Why so?

The publishing industry is in the throes of a revolution. It reminds me of the changes that happened in the music industry when digital content started to become widely available. The music industry totally fucked that one up - they treated music fans, their customers, like criminals - so there are lessons to be learned. But I’m not convinced the big publishers are learning them. They’re still slow to react and their e-book prices are high to the reader, while writer rewards remain comparatively low.

Those writers who self-publish are trying to get the stories out there now for people to enjoy. Let the readers decide what they want. They’re not daft, they should be trusted to know what they enjoy reading.

So publishers are the enemy now?

No, not at all. Especially not small, indie publishers like Caffeine Nights. Nick Triplow recently said that signing with Caffeine Nights was like a band signing with Rough Trade in the seventies. And there is that feel now, that excitement, so many possibilities ….

Look, there’s just so much luck involved in getting a traditional publishing deal. There are so many variables - you need to hit the right desk on the right day and hope not only that the person who looks at your stuff hasn’t just accepted something with a similar theme, but also doesn’t have a hangover or hasn’t just had a row or doesn’t hate people called ‘Julie’ because that reminds her of the heartless nanny who murdered her teddy bear when she was four and a half.

Did you?

Did I …? No! I love teddy bears! What I’m saying is that it isn’t enough just to write a good story, it has to be the right length, to be able to be easily classified so booksellers know what shelf to put it on, and to match a perceived zeitgeist that will be twelve to eighteen months in the past by the time the book hits that shelf.

I woke up to the possibilities offered by e-publishing and had my first book out within a fortnight. Had I subbed to somewhere like Caffeine Nights and been good enough to be accepted, it would have taken a bit longer for the book to hit the street - but not twelve to eighteen months. That’s where self-publishers and indies have the edge - as a business model, it’s much more nimble. (And let’s not forget that publishing is a business. I think it was Stephen King who said something along the lines of you don’t get paid to write, but you do to publish.)

So how do people know what’s best to do?

It’s very much a matter of personal choice. Despite my reservations about and criticisms of mainstream publishing, that remains very much an option and, for some people, it’s the ideal outcome, the dream come true. And that’s fair enough. But it’s nice to have a choice, and since there is one now, I’m choosing to have a bash at e-publishing.

So what’s this book again?

Gone Bad. It’s a collection of short stories. It’s cheap.

Describe it in three words.

Sweary and violent.

Nice. Have a fourth word.

Um … funny.

So foul language and violence are funny now, are they?

They always were, if they were written right.

Okay, I’ll give you that. What’s next?

I’m planning a series of business books, probably to be called ‘Business Shorts’ and each tackling a different issue - getting things done, communication, teams, that sort of thing. They’ll probably run at around 40K words, hence the ‘Shorts’ tag.


Okay. I’m planning on getting a couple of novels out sharpish. The first has the working title of ‘Lost Children’ and is about how one stupid mistake made when my main character is just a kid colours and warps her whole life. Then there’s ‘The Last Weekend’, which looks at how a bunch of people who have got together with the intention of undergoing assisted suicide react when someone starts killing them off.

Bit dark, that.

And funny. I hope. We’ll see - no doubt the readers will tell me when the time comes. They’re in charge, after all!

Ain’t that the truth. Now shut up and write something.

Julie blogs here  and here . She also proofreads for Caffeine Nights Publishing: . Gone Bad, her recently self-published collection of short stories, is available as an e-book via Smashwords, Amazon UK, Amazon USA, Barnes & Noble and goodness knows where else. So far, people seem to like it. And it’s cheap.

I love that mention of 'feeling things deeply'.  Very well put.  And the idea of a writer signing to an indie being just like a band signing to Rough Trade, it's an excellent analogy.

If there's any doubt that Juie's in the big playground now, she appeared at the wonderful Criminal-E earlier this week. 

Go girl.

Wednesday 27 April 2011

Dancing With Myself: SABRINA OGDEN interviews SABRINA OGDEN

Sabrina runs a blog called My Friends Call Me Kate and that might seem confusing.  Never mind.  Should you go over at any time you'll find reviews that are full of feeling and personal response as well as lots of smiles.  It's a unique style that works really well for me and many others.  Proud to have her here today.

Q: “Would you like to start with a hard question or an easy question?”

A: “Easy.”

Q: “Define easy.”

A: “Where’s the dictionary?”

Q: “Okay. What is *your* definition of an easy question?”

A: “Something I can answer.”

Q “Do your friends really call you Kate?”

A: “Define friends.”

Q: “Good grief, woman. Just answer the question.”

A: :-P~~~ “My coworkers, the ones I started the book blog for, they call me Kate.”

Q: “Why?”

A: “It happened by accident when we were at lunch and I was telling them about this really cool dream I had shortly after reading the Black Dagger Brotherhood series by J.R. Ward where I was a human female that got busted by the Blind King, Wrath (he leads the Black Dagger Brotherhood. The BDB is the most incredible group of vampire warriors you’ll ever meet!). I was busted for slaying Lessers. (Lessers are the enemy to vampires in the BDB series.) They’re a ruthless group of mofos. Uh, if they were real… they’d be “the” ruthless group of mofos, ever. Strong. Ugly. Completely crazy. Well, anyway…

The Brotherhood found out I was slaying Lessers on the side and I was summoned to a meeting before the King. It was horrible. The Brothers were all ticked off and standing around giving me the death stare. It was quiet for the longest time and then the King said, “females are forbidden to fight in the war against the Lessers.” And of course I responded with, “female “vampires” are forbidden. Last I checked I was human, and if I’m not mistaken your rules don’t apply to me.”

Ya… it didn’t go over very well. The King shot out of his chair and grabbed me by the collar. He put his finger in my face and started calling me Kate. It didn’t matter how many times I told him my name wasn’t Kate, he didn’t care. Before I knew it I had managed to convince the Brotherhood that I’d be a great asset to their team and I was forever known as: Kate, The Female Slayer of the Lessers.

Pretty cool title, huh?”

Q: *shaking head* “Did you just make that up?”

A: “Ummm. No.”

Q: “Do you have dreams about all the books you read?”

A: “Pretty much.”

Q: “And everyone calls you Kate?”

A: *sigh* “Pretty much.”

Q: “Care to add to that?”

A: “There really isn’t anything to say. Characters I would read about started calling me Kate in my dreams so I gave her the last name of Dahson (spelled with an “h” in tribute to the Black Dagger Brotherhood and JR Ward). She’s smart, beautiful, witty, charming, and extremely intelligent. And the best part is she can kick some serious butt. She’s quick with a dagger and is a perfect marksman … when she isn’t carrying her Limited Edition Walther PPK/S Aristocrat 380. They only made 500. The number on mine is low double digits so it sits in the case and never gets used. It’s a very pretty and powerful weapon, but I won’t use it to save anyone in a dream. Not even Oscar Martello, and I love Oscar Martello.”

Q: “So this Kate stuff. Is that where you came up with the concept for your book blog?”

A: “Uh, no. I don’t think I had a true concept for the blog. I started talking about books at work and someone said it would be fun for me to write about all the stories I had been sharing. So… I started a blog. Not necessarily a “book” blog. It was just a blog. It was supposed to be a place for me to tell stories and share dreams with my friends. I really had no intention of writing book reviews. In fact, I intentionally avoided them. The original blog was title, Buried in Books. But when I found out people other than my coworkers were reading it I became nervous and I dumped the domain and the title and started over. I renamed it, My Friends Call Me Kate, which by that time, those who knew me understood the title.”

Q: “So if your intention was to never write reviews why did you start writing them?”

A: “I fell in love with reading and I wanted to give back to the writing community. I decided to attend book signings in the Salt Lake Valley so that the authors knew they had support. I know it isn’t easy sitting at those tables waiting and hoping for someone to acknowledge you. The thought of all the people I purposely ignored at those tables broke my heart.

So, I searched out a book signing and made plans to attend with a friend. I befriended the authors on Facebook in order to break some ice before meeting them and to let them know I would be in attendance. It was perfect. I had a wonderful time at my first book signing, but I knew when I left that I needed to learn how to write reviews. I guess for the first time, the people behind the writing became just as important as the characters I read about. Things just evolved from there. When my coworkers read my first review they made it pretty clear that they wanted me to do more. So I do what I can and hope people know it’s sincere and honest.”

Q: “Your reviews usually come with a personal story in the introduction. How has this been received by your blog readers?”

A: “Ya, most of my reviews come with some sort of personal experience. Only because I need an opener and reading is so personal to me. I rarely read a book that doesn’t invoke some personal memory. And if I have a dream about a book… I don’t have a problem sharing. Hey, dreams are a form a flattery. I may be the only person talking about dreams, but I promise you, I’m not the only one having them. As far as the reception from my blog readers… I’ve only received positive comments so far. I’ve lived a pretty interesting life and I’m afraid I’m turning into my grandmother when it comes to the story sharing. Luckily it’s in writing format. I’d bore everyone to death if you had to listen to me talk.”

Q: “Your Twitter profile reads, I am a grasshopper by day, creator of a really lame book blog, wife, mother to two adorable beagles, and a lover of books and eating. My friends call me Kate. Do you really think your book blog is lame?”

A: “I thought it was when I first created it. Compared to all of the real book blogs out there I’d have to say mine is a little odd. But in all fairness to me, I couldn’t find a word to describe it. I write reviews, but not really. I look at the definition of the word lame now and it does kind of describe me… inadequate; unsatisfactory; clumsy. And in the beginning, well, even now at times, I still feel those things. Do I really think its lame? No. Do I feel inadequate? All the time. Am I clumsy? Who isn’t? Should I rewrite my Twitter bio? Yep.”

Q: “What do you love most about your blog?”

A: “The people I’m meeting and the personal growth. People probably won’t believe this, but I’ve been quiet and shy my entire life. I was always the kid trying hard to fit in. Always the kid standing against the wall at the dances and waiting for that last minute invite to activities. I’m really disappointed that reading wasn’t a part of my life growing up. No, I’m not the same person I was just over a year ago when I fell in love with reading. And I’m learning things…”

Q: “You’ve been known to fall in and out love with a lot of men on your blog. If you had to name one, who would it be?”

A: “Daniel B O’Shea. Oh, wait. He’s real. Well, I’m currently in love with this older man named Oscar Martello. I have no words to describe him, but I will admit that I’ve been postponing reading a short story collection for fear that the main character might snag my heart. Scott Finn was my first love. Jack Reacher, my second. Nick Heller, my third. I love them all, but I love Oscar the most. I mean, if you could really love a fictional character I’d love Oscar the most. Ummm, can we move on with the next question? I’m digging a hole here.”

Q: “Have you ever asked your husband to role play characters?”

A: “Hahahahaha… dork!”

Q: “Okay, moving on. Any big plans on My Friends Call Me Kate?”

A: “I met this really wonderful paranormal romance writer on Twitter. She’s in the process of finding an agent and all the good stuff that comes with being a writer. I love her flash fiction pieces. She’s recently agreed to write a series of stories for the blog. In fact, I’m planning to introduce her as soon as this blog post hits the webosphere, or whatever those writer types call it. A lot of my blog readers are my coworkers, so I know they are excited about this and I’m hoping other people will stop by the blog and check out her writing and show their support. It isn’t easy putting your work out there for the public to see. I’m just thankful she’s willing to be a part of my blog.”

Q: “What’s the hardest part about having a book blog?”

A: “Finding all the time needed to read and write. And writing isn’t my strength. Not many people know this, but I lost my memory in a car accident in 1998. I was hit by a drunk driver and spent close to 3 years learning how to walk and several years trying to regain chunks of memory that I had lost.

I thought I had regained everything that I had forgotten, but I learned pretty quickly that my writing skills were below par when I started my blog; grammar, punctuation, sentence structure. After the accident it was easy to get by. I was teaching law enforcement classes for the Sheriff’s Department and if I couldn’t find a word I needed to fill in the sentence, I would just give a dramatic pause like I was testing the officers and eventually someone would give me the word I needed. But when I started to write, it didn’t matter how long my dramatic pauses were. I learned very quickly that no one was going to type in the word for me, properly construct my sentences or take care of the grammar and punctuation problems.

Not knowing these things used to keep me awake at night, but I’m learning more and more every day. I find it more of an annoyance now than a hindrance. My writing won’t be perfect, but it’s something I’m working on. I was told once that people didn’t expect my writing to be perfect because I’m not a professional writer. I don’t know if that’s true or not. I just know that I’d like to know more than just enough to get by. So I’ll keep working on it. I think in that respect, I’ve grown to love my blog even more because I can see how much I’ve grown along the way.”

Q: “Okay, last question. Pancakes or Waffles?”

A: “I actually prefer French Toast. But in the end I guess it really doesn’t matter since all three items are just a side dish to the real food on the plate.”

Q: “The real food on the plate? Which is?”

A: “Duh! BACON!” =)

Many thanks.

For what it's worth, I think Sabrina's a gorgeous name.

You might also want to pop on over to Shotgun Honey to find Kate's/Sabrina's talents used in different ways. They're looking for submissions, so what are you waiting for?

Monday 25 April 2011

Dancing With Myself: EMILY WINSLOW interviews EMILY WINSLOW

Things I'm Never Asked but for which I have Ready Answers:

What is the best episode of Quincy?

The botulism one, of course. No one can rationally argue otherwise.

The many, many "social issues" episodes are now the worst, though at the time they were important.

The weirdest episode is the one that--I'm trying to recall this from memory--involved the mafia and Egyptian artifacts. Okay, I've looked up a plot summary on IMDB: "there's international gem smuggling plots, ancient Egyptian Mummies, plot twists, double crosses, murder, mayhem, several dead bodies, the Israeli secret service pops up, there's a Nazi war criminal, poisonings... & there's even time for Danny to get kidnapped & held to ransom." So I was wrong about the mafia; it's Nazis and the Israeli secret service. Even better!

What are the best episodes of Murder, She Wrote?

Cabot Cove episodes are superior to New York episodes, which are superior to Ireland episodes. (Nothing against lovely Ireland; just everything against the ghastly accents affected by the American actors.)

Worst are the ones that don't have Angela Lansbury in them, where they are supposedly presenting mysteries from Jessica Fletcher's books.

What about Morse and Lewis?

The Morse novels are wonderful. I've never gotten into the Morse television show, because every time I tune in it turns out to be the Masonic episode, which I can't stand. Is it an actually dreadful episode, or just one that I can't appreciate without having seen the others?

Lewis, the sequel series built around Morse's detective partner when the actor playing Morse died, is a fun continuation. I do always watch it when a new episode is on. Two things frustrate me, though:

1) The Oxford students are presented as socially elite in a way that seems, to me at least, old-fashioned and stilted. I admit that my experience is living in Cambridge, not Oxford, but I assume there's some similarity. Here, the students are nerds in the best sense: passionate, intense, super-smart. They're privileged enough to have been well-educated, but aren't particularly wealthy, fashionable or socially snobby. I'd like to see more nerds on Lewis.

2) Why do women throw themselves at Lewis? He's mopey, doughy, middle-aged. Sweet, yes. He's a nice man, and I could happily see him grow into a new relationship. I just don't buy that SO MANY women are chasing after him, including witnesses. It's ridiculous. (Also, I am TIRED of hearing about his wife's car accident. No more references to it, please!)

What are your favorite TV relationships?

The family in Medium, and the brothers in Numb3rs.

Who has the best clothes?

Jennifer Love Hewitt on The Ghost Whisperer.

Why do you watch so much TV?

I love stories.

When Emily Winslow isn't watching crime-solving TV, she writes crime-solving fiction for Delacorte Press/Random House. Her debut novel, The Whole World, came out in 2010, and the sequel, The Start of Everything, will come out in 2013. Both are set in Cambridge, England, told by multiple first-person narrators.

Sunday 24 April 2011

this letter to Norman Court

this letter to Norman Court is a novella consisting of 22 sections (each between 1000 and 1250 words) I am releasing by way of the following experiment: I am trying to serialize the piece across blogs, by reader request. If you read and enjoy the section below and have a blog the readers of which you think would enjoy a selection, as well, please get in touch with me to be an upcoming host. A little hub site is set up at that will have a listing of the blogs that feature sections, as they are posted. Each forthcoming section will include a link to this hub so that readers can have access to the entire available novella as well as see what other sites have served as host.

It is my simple hope to use this as a casual, unobtrusive way to release this material to parties interested. There is some suspense, in that if a new host does not appear after each posting, the train comes to a halt (back tracking to previous hosts is not an option in this game). So, if you enjoy what you read and would like to host an upcoming selection, please get in touch with me via . I welcome not only invitations, but any and all comments on the piece (positive, negative, or ambivalent) or general correspondence about matters literary.


Pablo D’Stair

this letter to Norman Court
Pablo D’Stair


One of the girls working behind the counter—I think maybe the one who’d wrapped my burger, passed it to the guy working the register to set on my tray—she’d made sort of quick, flirting eye contact with me while I’d been in line, but she hadn’t looked up to see where I’d sat down or anything. It had been flirting, though, like she’d for a moment, anyway, thought I was attractive, was probably even having a little fantasy about me, who I might’ve been, what I might say, do to her, but it was the sort of thing she knew it’d be ruined by looking at me again. I kept my eye on her anyway, kind of, not even so much thinking about anything.

I’d taken a large bite, was taking a drink to help me swallow it, when some guy sat down right at my table, nodded at me, smiling and it wasn’t until I’d mashed the swallow down, caught my breath and was saying Can I help you? I realized it was the guy I’d stolen his wallet about two days before.

-Sixty, seventy dollars, it isn’t much money, he said

I coughed into my hand, had another quick sip of my drink, wiped the excess from my lip.

-It was forty dollars.

No point in playacting the innocent for this guy.

-Forty? He hardly seemed like he was paying attention, his saying Forty might not even’ve been a question.

-It was forty, forty-two, something. Look, it’s gone, it’s spent. And I’m sure you probably canceled your credit cards, everything, but I don’t bother about those and I don’t leave them around for people might take them.

-Why not?

I didn’t like this person, he looked like the clothes he was wearing and nothing else, that’s all somebody would describe him by if he went missing or robbed a bank or something.

-Because. I don’t know why not.

-You can’t sell them to people or something?

I shrugged, glanced over to the counter, behind it, the girl not looking up, still.

-Why would somebody buy a credit card someone’s just gonna cancel?

I knew there were reasons, knew what he was talking about, but I didn’t know anything about it, in a practical sense—this guy’d probably watched a movie or some news magazine, had all sorts of little ideas about everything he’d picked up here and there. Thing was, he could chit chat it up, whatever he thought he was doing, I didn’t care. There was obviously certainly nothing he could do about it, unless he was gonna shoot me, cut me down at the Wendy’s or whichever place this was. The wallet was gone, it’d been forty-two something dollars, it’d been two days ago. Even if he was tape recording me, spy camera glasses, I didn’t know what he thought, like he was being tricky.

-Well, forty dollars is even less money, then.

I nodded, back to my burger, the bite I took shoving wet bread up, wedging it up into the gum of the tooth I was missing and I dug at this with my tongue while he went on with his bit.

-How would you like to make some more money than that? How about we talk about that?

I sighed, vaguely interested—at least it wasn’t what I’d been thinking, wasn’t so banal.

-How about we talk about it? Fine, talk about it.

-I’ll pay you two thousand dollars to deliver a letter to my brother.
I grinned.

-A small fortune. But what else is it for?

-It’s not for anything else. Though, I suppose there’s the stipulation that you don’t tell him it’s from me.

My mind drifted to cinematic pretend, trying to weasel around how he’d be edging me into something I didn’t want into, but at the same time I didn’t so much care, really, because it was going to be either he gave me the money, all of it, in front or there wasn’t going to be anything about me delivering any letter to anybody and so I could just walk off if I got feeling something was askew, money in pocket, dust my hands of it all.

-What’s he going to do with me I give it to him? I’m suppose to have a chat with him or what?

-Just in case, just in case he asks you something. I just need you to put it into his hand, personally, that’s the only important thing, no reason you have to say a thing to him after that, but just in case.
I ate my last bite, the girl wasn’t even behind the counter anymore so I did a phony stretch to see was she maybe wiping down some table but she wasn’t anyplace, was in back, employee toilet or something.

-And so how would this letter have gotten to him somebody didn’t steal your wallet?

He chuckled, very real chuckle, said he didn’t know, he’d been thinking about it all for awhile.

So it was something, it wasn’t normal, not like he could mail it from a pretend address —send it to a hotel inside another envelope, little note asks them to send it along so that the postmark is someplace strange nothing that could be left to chance or have a straight third party involved with.

It was pointless, making it all a little mystery—I wanted to know about the letter, I’d say Yes to the guy, take the two thousand, open the letter and have a look. I was no more certainly reliable than a hotel clerk, this little scene must’ve just given the guy a kick, this little intrigue, maybe he was full of it.

-And sort of mind reader, he out of nothing said I like you, I think you seem the sort of person who could do this and know that’s that.

-I seem that way, yeah?

-He nodded. Yeah.

-You know you have to give me that two thousand, that’s first, then

I take your letter. What’s your brother, gonna kill me I give it to him?

He shook his head, face a scrunch, a real genuine expression of it’s-nothing-like-that. In fact, I didn’t think it was—the suit of clothes I was striking the deal with, it was just too earnest for that, it was just something I’d never decipher and it was right, I really didn’t care and probably I would deliver the letter.

I said Alright, tilted my drink cup back, got an ice cube I broke and swallowed in two chews, looked over to the counter, behind the counter, the girl wasn’t there, still.

Pablo D’Stair is a writer of novels, shorts stories, and essays. Founder of Brown Paper Publishing (which is closing its doors in 2012) and co-founder of KUBOA (an independent press launching July 2011) he also conducts the book-length dialogue series Predicate. His four existential noir novellas (Kaspar Traulhaine, approximate; i poisoned you; twelve ELEVEN thirteen; man standing behind) will be re-issued through KUBOA as individual novella and in the collection they say the owl was a baker’s daughter: four existential noirs.

Friday 22 April 2011

Dancing With Myself: LEIGHTON GAGE interviews LEIGHTON GAGE


You’re a Yank. What qualifies you to write novels set in Brazil?

I’ve lived here longer than I’ve lived anywhere else – more than thirty years.

Why would you want to? Poor as it is?

Brazil isn’t poor. It’s a rich country – with a lot of poor people.


We’re the eighth economy in the world.

Our GNP is greater than that of all the other countries in South America combined.

We have the largest fleet of private helicopters and the largest fleet of private jets outside of the United States.

We have an auto industry, a computer industry, an aircraft industry and a space industry.

When it comes to the generation of energy, we’re independent in terms of natural gas and petroleum, have the world’s most successful biofuel program, generate hydroelectric power in abundance and have numerous nuclear power plants running on our own uranium.

The country is larger than the continental United States, but with a population of less than 200 million, and arable land throughout, we not only grow enough to supply the needs of our population, but also to rank as the world’s largest exporter of beef, soybeans, orange juice, chickens and a number of other food products.

And our soil is rich in iron ore, bauxite and gold.

But you’re right about one thing: there’s a great deal of poverty. That stems from the fact that most of the land, and the money, are concentrated in the hands of a few.

And that doesn’t bother you?

Of course it does. But it’s changing – and changing rapidly. The wealthy may control the land and the money, but they don’t control the elections.

Every Brazilian citizen over the age of eighteen is required to vote. It’s the law. You can be fined, or even go to jail, if you don’t.

The system does away with voter apathy and produces statesmen like Lula da Silva.

Lula never got past the fifth grade, but was elected president of the republic. He was raised in poverty, understands it and took steps to counter it. His hand-picked successor, Brazil’s first female president, is doing the same thing.

When Lula left office in January, after serving two consecutive terms, his approval rating was 84%.

How many leaders in Western Europe or the United States have managed to rise from such humble beginnings? And how many can make a claim to that kind of popularity?

No revolutions? No dictatorship?

Not anymore. These days, Brazil is a stable democracy. No wars, either. The last one Brazil fought was as an ally of the Brits and the Americans during WWII. Prior to that, it was a border conflict with Paraguay that ended in 1870. Young Brazilians don’t die in international conflicts. And very few of them die in natural disasters. Brazil doesn’t have earthquakes , or tsunamis, or hurricanes, or tornados. Our causes of sudden death are largely limited to traffic accidents, landslides, floods – and murder.

I was wondering when you’d get around to that. So Brazil isn’t all moonshine and roses?

Far from it.

We have more than our fair share of corrupt politicians, venal judges, and crooked cops. My home town is one of the murder capitals of the world, and Rio de Janeiro, a scant 400 kilometers away, doesn’t lag far behind. More cops are killed there, each year, than in all of the United States, Canada and the United Kingdom put together.

Whenever I’m in need of crime-writing inspiration, all I have to do is to pick up a newspaper.

Where did your protagonist, Mario Silva come from?

In a former life, I used to direct documentary films. One day, I read about a Brazilian who’d just returned from a course at the FBI National Academy in Quantico, Virginia. It’s on the same campus as the Academy that trains federal agents, but it’s a different institution. They provide advanced education to senior cops.
I thought this fellow’s story might make for an interesting film, and I actually shot some footage with him. He had no camera presence, though, and I abandoned the project – but not without learning a great deal about the lives of Brazilian cops.

Somewhat later, I made the acquaintance of a law-school colleague of my brother-in-law’s, a fellow who commanded São Paulo’s (750 men strong) murder squad. By that time, I was thinking about writing a novel, and I asked him if I could accompany his people for a few days to get a feel for how they approached their work and pick their brains.

Which you did?

Which I did, and I profited mightily from it. It’s lent verisimilitude to all of my books.

The guys you observed were city cops in São Paulo. Why did you decide to make Mario a federal cop and move him to Brasilia?

In Brazil, there’s no DEA, no ATF, no Secret Service. And most local police departments don’t have an internal affairs division. All of those tasks, and more, are within the purview of the Federal Police – an organization that can otherwise be compared to the American FBI.

Making Mario federal gave me a chance to involve him in just about every kind of crime there is. As to Brasilia, I wanted him to be sufficiently senior to have autonomy in conducting his investigations. To be senior, he had to be stationed in the federal capital. That’s where all of the senior people in his organization are located.

Other than police procedurals, how would you classify your books?

As entertainment for intelligent people.

Intelligent people?

Yes. You can check out the beginning of each book on my website:

If you go there, and are entertained by what you read, it qualifies you as intelligent.

I’m a highly intelligent person, and I intend to read all your books. Should I tackle them in order of publication?

That might be best. Blood Of The WIcked, the first book, introduces most of the recurring characters. And there’s a particularly nasty villain in Buried Strangers that comes back to haunt Mario and his companions in Dying Gasp. Every Bitter Thing is the latest, launched in the US in January of this year. That one, I think, could be read out of order. (It’s a book, by the way, that the New York Times called “irresistible”.)

What’s next?

A Vine In The Blood. It will go up in the Kindle UK store (and on Kindle outside of the US and Canada) in April. At a very good price, too – substantially less than folks in North America are going to have to pay for it when their hard cover comes out in December.

Wednesday 20 April 2011


How would you describe what you do?

I’m a mystery writer and an online therapist—a self-description that’s been keeping me off juries ever since I started saying it out loud.

Which came first?

There’s no short answer to that question. I’ve wanted to be a writer since I was seven years old. I got a master’s degree in social work and became a therapist at around age forty. I started working with clients online in my late fifties. And my first mystery novel, Death Will Get You Sober, came out on my sixty-fourth birthday.

Tell us about your mystery series.

The series includes two published novels, Death Will Get You Sober and Death Will Help You Leave Him; the third, Death Will Extend Your Vacation, is under contract and will appear in April 2012. They’re traditional mysteries, set in New York City and featuring recovering alcoholic Bruce Kohler and his two sidekicks, Barbara the world-class codependent and Jimmy the computer genius. My characters also appear in three short stories, with a fourth due out in an anthology later this year.

How is this series different from all other series?

A little hommage to Passover there. Sometimes I can’t resist a joke, for all I’ve learned about “killing my darlings” in the process of developing my craft as a writer. In fact, I believe my mysteries are different. In the last couple of decades, some magnificent crime fiction writers, notably Lawrence Block and James Lee Burke, have created protagonists who are recovering alcoholics. But in creating my characters and their world, I wanted to go far deeper into the process of recovery, in which not drinking and going to meetings is just the beginning. I also wanted to get at the fun in sobriety for those who connect in a meaningful way with the twelve-step programs and other people in recovery. A good AA meeting can be a lot like a good comedy club. Bruce is a bit of a smartass—he calls himself “ham on wry”—and he does a lot of kicking and screaming on his way to what AA calls spiritual recovery, which is not about any religion but a matter of getting over negativity, hopelessness, and despair. But as he develops as a character, he’s drawn in spite of himself into what the AA Big Book calls “a manner of living that demands rigorous honesty.” That’s quite a change for a bullshit artist and chronic turnstile jumper, but Bruce gradually realizes that it’s worth the effort.

What about your sidekick character, Barbara? What’s her role in the series, and to what extent does she resemble you?

Oh, you noticed that? Barbara and I are both nice Jewish girls from Queens, and we both have a tendency to rescue and control a little more than we’d like to. But when (at an editor’s suggestion) I demoted Barbara from first-person co-protagonist to third-person sidekick, I was able to develop her into a character who’s a lot more over the top than I would dare to be. Barbara tries not to stick her nose into other people’s business, but she’s addicted to helping and getting involved, which makes her a wonderful amateur sleuth. She tries to “keep the focus on herself” as she’s learned in Al-Anon, but she keeps backsliding, and that fuels the detection part of the plot as well as the character and relationship arc and makes her a lot of fun to write and, I hope, to read. I have been told by more than one reader that they think Barbara is “a hoot.” She’s also a strong woman and at times a vehicle for my feminist voice.

What else are you working on?

I have a second series that I didn’t plan that way. I wrote a story with a new protagonist, a young Marrano sailor on Columbus’s first voyage. I can’t explain where Diego came from: he started pounding on the inside of my head in the middle of the night and wouldn’t stop until I told his story. The Marranos were the Jews who pretended to convert to Christianity but still practiced their faith in secret. The Jews were expelled from Spain on pain of death on the same day that Columbus sailed. In “The Green Cross,” Diego is falsely accused of theft on the voyage, and Columbus steps in and saves him by deducing that he couldn’t have done it. In the second story, “Navidad,” I started mining the actual history of the first voyage, and I got more and more fascinated by what happened. Both of the short stories were published in Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine. I’ve just completed a YA suspense novel about the second voyage, in which Diego has to get his younger sister out of Spain a step ahead of the Inquisition. Some amazing themes have emerged along with the adventure story and the characters, whom I’ve come to love. This book is all about being an outsider, intolerance, and genocide: the persecution of the Taino in the Caribbean and of the Jews in Spain and elsewhere in Europe have some remarkable parallels.

In addition to the historicals, I’ve written quite a few standalone stories: some were published in 2010, and at least a couple more will appear this year. Besides the writing, I’m working on a CD. I’ve been an acoustic singer/songwriter for many, many years, so this album is long overdue, and I’m having a marvelous time working on it. The title is Outrageous Older Woman.

You have been nominated for several awards. Tell us about that.

Three of my short stories have been nominated for the Agatha Award for Best Short Story. The first two were about Bruce and his friends: “Death Will Clean Your Closet” and “Death Will Trim Your Tree.” Currently, “The Green Cross” is up for this year’s award. The results will be announced at the Agathas banquet at Malice Domestic on April 30th. All the other nominees are friends of mine who have written wonderful stories: Sheila Connolly, Mary Jane Maffini, Barb Goffman, and Dana Cameron. So it can’t be about winning: we all deserve it, and we all have a shot. I wouldn’t mind becoming the Susan Lucci of the Agathas—she got famous for being nominated over and over without winning, and she’s the only daytime TV star I’ve ever heard of.

To what extent are you being affected by the growing trend of e-publication?

My first two books are available on Kindle through the publisher. In my new book contract, I retain the e-rights, and I intend to make the book available for e-readers as soon as I can. And I’ve recently made two of my previously published short stories, “Death Will Tie Your Kangaroo Down” and “Death Will Trim Your Tree,” available via Smashwords and Kindle for 99 cents each, doing the formatting and covers myself. I plan to add to these as more of my published stories become available and eventually put them together as a collection, possibly with an unpublished novella to attract readers who have already read my other work. It has meant a lot to me to have my work published by such giants as St. Martin’s and Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine, but e-publishing is here to stay, and today’s authors need to view it as a great resource and opportunity. When I signed my first book contract in 2008, electronic rights seemed irrelevant; by 2009, thanks to the Kindle, they had become crucial.

How can readers get in touch with you and find your books and stories?

My author website is at I blog with other mystery writers on Poe’s Deadly Daughters at   Death Will Get You Sober and Death Will Help You Leave Him are still available in online bookstores, by order from bookstores, or if you want a signed or inscribed first edition, from me at

Here are links to the stories that are available in e-editions:

“Death Will Tie Your Kangaroo Down”

“Death Will Trim Your Tree”

Good luck with that Agatha, Liz.  If you'd like to read her story, follow the link in the interview.

Monday 18 April 2011

Dancing With Myself: COPPER SMITH interviews COPPER SMITH

Smile of the week for me was this at Bill Crider’s. Amazing. Thanks everso Bill. And here for us today, the man with the blue yuke and Pandora's box, Copper Smiiiiiiiiith.

Q: So I hear you're a musician?

A: Well, yes, but not really.

Q: Okay, Mr. indecisive, how are you a musician but not really?

A: Well, I play many instruments: the guitar, the keyboard, the mandolin, the ukulele and the bass, but I mostly play them pretty badly – not professionally at all, just for my own amusement.

Q: How is it possible to play the ukulele badly?

A: Shut up, that's how. I savor the process of making music without the pressure of having to make beautiful music. Given how much of a perfectionist I tend to be with my writing, it is something of a relief to embrace my mediocrity as a musician. I also find it helpful to my writing to understand how things like harmony, melody, counterpoint and composition work.

Q: I should warn you in advance that if at any point you make a pretentious analogy illustrating the similarity between the writing process and jazz I'm going to punch you in the throat.

A: Fair enough. Well, the main thing is to understand that a story is structured similarly to the way a song is structured. They both begin with an opening premise, then tension is introduced and ultimately resolved. Of course, the process is often a bit more complicated if you're talking about an avant-garde jazz composition such as the John Coltrane classic -- OUCH!

Q: I did warn you.

A: You did.

Q: Okay, on to the requisite influence question.

A: Okay. Richard Price, Raymond Chandler, James M Cain. George Pelecanos, Martin Scorsese, Max Allan Collins, Chester Himes, Larry Cohen…

Q: Hey, some of those guys aren't writers!

A: Yeah, the thing is I've always been a big reader, but I haven't always been a big reader of crime fiction. I'm fairly new to the genre. That means my exposure to Scorsese films and blaxploitation and cockney accented heist movies probably had a bigger influence on me than any particular writer.

Q: Based on your short stories, you seem to take a dark, cynical view of humanity. True?

A: Guilty. Maybe my problem is I've read too much classical literature and drama. The Greeks, for example, seemed to reject the idea of humanity's perfectibility. Classical tragedy is based on this premise. It is a reminder that even those with the potential for greatness will fall short in some horrifying way. The Greeks were so committed to the idea of human frailty that even their gods were weirdly and wickedly human. Much of my writing is based on the idea that human vices such as greed, envy and hubris will always be with us. If there is a recurring theme in my work it is that no matter how far you go in life, you can't get away from being human. Having said all that, another innately human quality is the desire for justice. You'll find plenty of that in my work as well. The good guys don't always win, but there's always hope.

Q: What are you working on right now?

A: Well, I'm working on Uppercut Avenue, which is something the kids apparently call a "web-site." Would you like to hear about it?

Q: Um… I'd love to, but I've got some errands to run…

A: I do 'pulpcasts' – audio versions of my short stories. I'm also starting a serial fiction piece called Kitten in the Crosshairs, a tawdry, pulpy tale of an inmate in a woman's prison who falls for a prison guard in the hopes that he can prove her innocence and all that jazz – OUCH!

Q: Sorry, just a reflex. You did say 'jazz,' after all.

A: All is forgiven.

Q: If you could have dinner and a conversation with any person – living or dead – who would you select?

A: I'd probably select living, because in my experience, the living tend to be more animated, more responsive. And they have much better table manners than the deceased.

Q: Okay smartass, any living person, in particular?

A: I suppose I'd chose someone who knows a lot more than me in a field I find intriguing. So let's go with Steven Pinker, a linguist and cognitive scientist whose brain I'd enjoy picking. And in exchange I could teach him to play 'Get up offa that thing' on the mandolin, because, really, whose life would be complete without that knowledge?
Bad things done beautifully

Saturday 16 April 2011

One Man's Opinion: Psychosomatic by Anthony Neil Smith

Anthony Neil Smith’s debut novel Psychosomatic was released earlier this year for Kindle and what a debut it was.

The book has a plot that drives forward like a tank with broken steering, crushing everything in its path. It has great dialogue and the interplay between characters really sparkles.

As a starting point, we come across Lydia, a foxy lady with no arms and no legs. She wants to gain revenge on her husband for having sex with a younger woman in front of her. It’s not the unfaithfulness which upset her, rather the fact that they turned her on and left her without satisfying her needs. She employs the local thug, Cap, to beat up her husband, but he finds out about it and turns to Alan Crabtree, a small time crook, to film the fake beating he’s managed to organise.

During the fake beating the camera rolls, Cap takes things to far and kills Lydia’s husband. While they clean things up, Crabtree kills Cap during a moment of madness and then returns to Lydia to explain.

Unfortunately for Crabtree he’s in a tough spot with Terry and Lancaster, the car thieves from whom he bought his car. Lydia offers him a way out and at the same time manages to take over his body and mind.

This is only the beginning.

What happens next is a fizzing plot, driven by the needs of this crazy bunch of characters Smith sets against each other.

There’s planing and counter-planning, guessing and second-guessing and ignoring every bit of logic they’re capable of.

Crabtree and Lancaster become crazed killers, Terry and Lydia pulling at the stings with all their might. They head to the airport for a final showdown and I guarantee that you’ll get a buzz from the way it all plays out.

To my mind it’s as if Smith has taken the main characters, thrown them in a blender and pressed the button for a minute. He’s opened the lid, added a beautiful woman dressed as a nurse and pressed the button for another while.

The lives of these people may be chaos, but the writer never loses control. He’s always there as an invisible hand crafting the scenes and the dialogue to make sure there’s not an ounce of fat left to trim.

Fast-paced, stylish and brutal, it’s an absolute must for any fans of crime-fiction.

An absolutely ridiculous bargain at 69p from:

or $1:13 at:

Warning: This book will have your Kindle smoking – do not throw water over it after downloading.

Sunday 10 April 2011

One Man's Opinion: Truth Lies Bleeding by Tony Black

I had an impressive review today over at the excellent Dark Valentine. Heather Faville of Doubleshot Reviews rounds off a well-considered piece by saying:

‘Nigel Bird’s Dirty Old Town is the introduction to an author I will most definitely keep my eyes on. I didn’t just enjoy a few of the nine gems in his collection; I revelled in each and every one of them. There was something, some tiny glimmer in each story that kept me hooked until the very end.’


I also did an interview for Alive With Words and that was posted last night. You can find it at

Another thing happened to me last night. I completed Truth Lies Bleeding.

I don’t get out much these days. Three young children and working too hard tend to get in the way. On Friday night it was a rare treat to get on the glad rags and head into Dunbar for what promised to be an outstanding party – the birthday girl, Pippa, used to work in the music biz, so there was going to be plenty to dance to.

The baby-sitter arrived at 8 o’clock and Isobel wasn’t going to get to the party till half past nine. You’d think I’d have sprinted off to get there early. Instead, I parked myself in a local hotel bar to read an hour’s worth of Tony Black’s Truth Lies Bleeding. If that’s not a testament to how good a book is, I’m not sure what is.

I don’t read too many police-procedurals these days. It’s not that I don’t really like them, more that I’ve read a lot and worry that I’m going to find myself in the land of same-old, same-old. The last one I read was by RJ Ellory, A Simple Act Of Violence, and that set the bar very high indeed.

So I opened Truth Lies Bleeding in hope more than expectation. Not even the ‘Tony Black is my favourite British Crime Writer’ quote from Irving Welsh had pumped up my enthusiasm, nor the fact that I’d read a short by Tony a while ago and found it to be of the highest order.

It opens with the discovery of a girl’s body. Her arms are missing and she’s in a dumpster. No one knows who she is and not many of the locals care. So far, so standard.

In chapter 2, Inspector Rob Brennan walks in. He’s been away for a while, off on psychiatric leave following the death of his brother. Turns out Brennan has few friends – not in the force, not in the community and not even in his family. As soon as he appeared I was fully engaged. Of course, you can’t get into a character immediately, but he was clearly someone I felt comfortable with straight away. The man’s idea of giving up smoking is to change his brand to Silk-Cut, for goodness sake.

From there the plot unravelled, thickened, sped up, intensified and had me hook, line and sinker.

There’s little about the story that I want to give away because I’d like to recommend that you find it out for yourself.

Brennan turns out to be a terrific character who has enough individuality to stand head and shoulders from the masses within police fiction. He seems to be haunted by the past, the present and the future all at the same time. The past has him by the short an curlies, the present (the case) certainly isn’t revealing itself to him in the way he might like and the future, well that could be anything, but most likely will have him directing traffic and being thrown of his home by his wife.

Of course, a great cop does not make a book by himself. We have all the tensions between him and his bosses that put his career on shaky ground. We have a group of colleagues who can’t stand the sight of him. There is the action of the case itself and then there’s the seedy, dark world of the criminals he’s after. I think that it’s the painting of the bad-guys that got Mr Irvine Welsh excited, and rightly so.

Black doesn’t mess about. There are no fluffy edges to the lives of the junky couple we get to know. Their dealer, Deil (the devil), has no redeeming features whatsoever – he’s all bad and then some. Gunter is a shadowy figure from one of Europe’s paedophile rings who is cool and efficient and full of sleaze. Edinburgh itself is painted in browns and greys with a touch of the scent of deisel fumes and there’s an unhinged psychotherapist to whom Brennan has become too close.

The case is complicated, a series of broad strokes within which Brennan struggles to see the detail. He turns to his old mentor, Wullie, for advice and he begins to see the way he needs to think.

Brennan is a complex man. What impressed me most were his levels of self-control when on the job. No matter how his life spins out of control he manages to apply super-human discipline to keeping things straight at work. He also has an excellent perspective on what he does. He’s one of those real cops that couldn’t do anything else.

‘There’s no winning in the force, only degrees of losing,” is the way he views things. Even a positive result must have been gained from someone’s pain; it’s just the way it is.

It’s a great book. Shaprly written. Brilliantly plotted. Page-turning and thought-provoking at the same time. Highly recommended.