Thursday 30 June 2011
You’re English, right? So what qualifies you to write about the US?
I’m an outsider, so things people take for granted stick out like sore thumbs. I sometimes feel like the little boy from the Emperor’s New Clothes story. People either ignore or skip the fact the emperor is nude and I’m the one saying, “Did anyone catch that?” And being an outsider, I’m always paying attention because I’m not sure how things operate and what behavior is expected of me. So a lot of things that escape people’s attention run slap-bang into me. Observing someone else’s culture has proved to be a great source for stories. My first novel, ACCIDENTS WAITING TO HAPPEN, was inspired by something that is outside of my cultural norm that it grabbed my attention immediately. The book deals with the true but the bizarre practice of the trading of life insurance on the living. If I wasn’t here, I would have missed that.
Oscar Wilde said he was mad, bad and dangerous to know—how about you?
I’m more cranky, silly and jinxed. I’m very passionate about things that matter to me, which can make me a little bit of a handful. On the other hand, I’m very laid back and flippant about things I’m not serious about. I do possess a small talent for disaster. I have a skill for being in the wrong place at the wrong time. So, I’ve crash landed aircraft, gotten trapped in a lift, interrupted a hit man on a job, been stranded numerous times and generally burned up my nine lives.
What comes first—Plot or character?
Neither really. Usually a notion or a situation comes first. I’ll want to write something where blame or guilt or revenge or something is the fuel for the story. From there, I’ll construct a plotline to support that idea and populate it with the kind of characters that would work well for that idea, usually damaged heroes and flawed people where there's some growth during their adventure. My characters tend to be story specific, which is why I tend to write standalones.
Who is Simon Janus?
Simon Janus is my penname for my horror fiction. I like to flit between genres but that was confusing my readers and making them a little unsure of what to expect, so I developed a pen name for my darker work.
What book do you people do you wish knew well?
I would have to say, TERMINATED. It’s a thriller that focuses on workplace violence. I came across that unusual statistic that 20 people die as a result of workplace violence every week in the US. That seemed like a huge number. I looked into the subject and researched some of the root causes and some of the methods employers use to protect people. I was very much inspired by the idea of “how well do we know the person across the desk from you?” TERMINATED centers a female boss who has to stand up to an employee who’s out to get her. The book came out last June and was gone from bookshelves by August when the publisher hit financial troubles. You can still find the paperback if you look hard and I resurrected it as an eBook earlier this year. I hope it’ll find a new print home soon.
You write short fiction—why?
A good short story possesses a lot of power. There are some stories I read as a child that have stuck with me and will continue to do so. You can really get a message across in a short story because it is so compact and lean in its telling that it’s impossible to miss. There's nothing to distract from the sheer power of an idea, a conflict or a character. Also, some stories work best in the short form because their idea and setup don’t lend themselves to the long form. Short stories aren’t as popular as I would like, but I’ll keep writing them.
Who do you wish you could write for?
I would have loved to have written for Alfred Hitchcock and Rod Serling. I think both recognized the frailty of the human condition and shined a light on it in their work. It would have been fan-bloody-tastic to have collaborated with them on a movie or on TV.
You're dyslexic—so how you do make that work?
It’s a little awkward in that I’m an unreliable narrator because I can’t read my own work properly, so I have to work around the problem. Dyslexia has nothing to do with imagination and storytelling. It’s more of a hand-eye coordination thing and marshalling my thoughts in a logical manner. I do that by working closely with my wife. She acts as my eyes. She reads everything aloud to me so that I can hear my words and we make it work that way.
What’s a bad guy look like?
A bad guy can look like anyone. There's not a factory somewhere pumping them out on some production line. I think any one of us can be a bad guy. We’re all capable of anything—good or bad. It’s just a matter of circumstances that determines whether we follow a certain path or not. I’m sure we all consider ourselves law abiding and honest people, but we break laws all the time. We litter. We ignore posted speed limits. We fib on our tax returns. There are consequences for our actions and sometimes, they catch up with us in a big way. We either face the music or dig ourselves a bigger hole. And that’s what draws me to crime fiction. I’m forever exploring a character’s ability to stay on the straight and narrow. I tend to create scenarios for knocking them off and I put them in the thick of potentially life changing situations.
Okay, pimp your work. And don’t get carried away.
2011 is proving to be a bumper year for new titles. My
new collection of crime stories, ASKING FOR TROUBLE, came out in
paperback and as an eBook. DID NOT FINISH, which is the first in a
new mystery series set in the world of motorsport, came out in
hardback in the UK last month and will be out in the US in
September. In November, my crime thriller, THE FALL GUY, which
has done well in eBook format, will be out in paperback. Lastly,
I’ve put out my entire backlist of work in eBook format. Curious
people can learn about all my titles at www.simonwood.net.
Wednesday 29 June 2011
KC: Hello Kathryn.
Kathryn: Well, hello to you. It’s a pleasure to meet you.
KC: Likewise, I’m sure. Will you tell us a little bit about yourself? Start with why you became a writer.
Kathryn: The truth is that it’s all I’m suited for. I’ve wanted to write since I was a kid. I worked as an editor about six years out of college, a Texas Town & Country-like magazine. That was fun. Lots of ritzy parties and the like. But in truth, I’m rather a solitary creature, and it didn’t suit me. By then, I’d already started writing freelance magazine articles, so I kept that up for the next dozen or more years, traveling and writing for national magazines. I loved it.
KC: So, how did you go from socialites to crime?
Kathryn: I’d like to say it was part of some grand plan, but it truly just kind of happened. Early on I started covering sensational crime cases, and it appears I have some kind of strange knack for it. I don’t know how else to explain it. I also have never had a problem knocking on doors, probably dating back to my college years when I sold swimming pool vacuums door to door. We true crime writers do that a lot; salesmen call it cold calling. At least those of us who go out and do our own work investigating the cases.
Anyway, I found a magazine case I decided would make a great book, and before long I was writing true crime books. I did that for a long time. I still do, in fact. I’ve just finished my seventh true crime book, this one on the Matt Baker case in Waco, Texas, a Baptist minister convicted of murdering his wife, staging it to look like a suicide. Matt was having an affair at the time with the music minister’s daughter.
KC: You’ve been very successful at true crime. Ann Rule has even called you “one of the best in the genre.” So, why did you start writing fiction?
Kathryn: That just kind of happened, too. First off, I write crime fiction, adhering to that write-what-you-know edict. I’ve spent a couple of decades or more in courtrooms, talking to victims, their families, lawyers, forensic types, going into prisons and interviewing murderers. The true crime writing has been akin to a grad school course in the criminal/law enforcement/judicial world. So I had the background for crime fiction.
But the real reason I branched out into fiction is that being a journalist can be frustrating. I go to the trials, interview dozens and dozens of sources, talk to everyone willing to talk to me, but I’m never in a position where I know everything. One of the beauties of fiction is that I know it all, because it unravels in my own imagination.
KC: So, you write fiction so you can be a know it all?
Kathryn: You could say that. And to occasionally be in control. I can’t, of course, change anything with true crime. The characters are the people involved and the plot is comprised of real life events. If I don’t like a main player, I can’t write him or her out. If a character’s actions don’t make sense, I can’t change them. Let’s face it; in real life people often do things that make absolutely no sense.
KC: Very true.
Kathryn: With fiction, for the first time after twenty-five years as a journalist, I’m in charge. I can alter a character’s description, actions, even sex. If I don’t like where a plot is leading, I back up and rewrite. It’s actually rather exhilarating.
KC: And who did you invent to populate your novels?
Kathryn: My first three books are mysteries, a series, and the protagonist is a Texas Ranger named Sarah Armstrong. I made her a ranger so she’d be able to travel Texas solving crimes without worrying about crossing jurisdictions. In the first three books – Singularity, Blood Lines, and The Killing Storm – Sarah does just that, traveling the Lone Star State tracking down bizarre criminals. I really love writing about Sarah. She’s gutsy and dedicated and doesn’t mind breaking the rules.
KC: The novels, I hear, have been well received?
Kathryn: Very much so. Singularity and The Killing Storm were both included on best-books-of-the-year lists, by Booklist and Library Journal respectively, great honors.
Kathryn: Thank you.
KC: So, what’s next?
Kathryn: Publishing is changing, and I'm excited about the new opportunities for authors. Currently, I’m putting up pieces I've written about sensational murder cases as ebooks. I'm calling them "true crime shorts," and they're available on Nook and Kindle. The first two are already available: THE DRAG QUEEN MURDER and BLUES & BAD BLOOD. The ebook I'm just finishing up is called THE TEXAS LOVE TRIANGLE MURDER, and it explores the first murder case I ever covered. All the pieces have been fleshed out and updated, including what happened after the trials. I have one more ebook short to complete after this one, and then I’ll start a new novel, a stand-alone.
KC: And it’s about?
Kathryn: I’m not ready to talk about that yet. I’ve enjoyed talking with you, though. You seem to have a remarkably intuitive understanding of my work. Have you read any of my books?
KC: Actually, no. Perhaps in the future. At the moment, I’m just rather busy.
Kathryn: Oh well, no problem.
KC: I hope I haven’t hurt your feelings. To be entirely truthful, I’m not into mysteries and crime books. I’m really more of a psychological thriller reader. As a matter of fact, I’m considering writing my first book in that genre.
Kathryn: And what will that be about?
KC: A crime author with a split personality; one who interviews herself and is afterward unable to reunite the two personas. She spends years in therapy, attempting to recover from the experience but instead turns to a life of crime. When I sell it to Hollywood, I’ll package it as Sybil meets Dexter.
Kathryn: Sounds like a best seller.
KC: Undoubtedly. And how can people learn more about you and find your books?
Tuesday 28 June 2011
Debuts. Don't you just love them?
Here are a couple of them which stand out for me.
When Two Way Split was released as Allan Guthrie's debut novel, I happened to be in the audience. I'm not sure how that happened, but I'm awfully glad it did.
It was a brilliant hour. He came across as such a great bloke and when he read from TWS he pretty much had me in his palm.
I've read all Allan's novels (and I can't say that about many) and have loved them all for different reasons. Two Way Split remains one of my favourites and it's not just because of sentimental reasons.
If you haven't read it, please do. It's now available as an ebook and is a must for your electronic collection. You'll thank me in the end, honest.
The only thing I'd have changed, by the way, was the original cover. Now that you can buy the book as another Kindle Bargain at 99p, even that's now top-notch.
Talking about covers, how do you like the one at the head of this page?
It's a beautiful thing, a piece of art put together by Boden Steiner for the second story in the mighty Speedloader. If you read the story, you'll see just why this is so well put together, to say nothing of the use of colour, wording and subtlety. I love it. Boden was also the designer of the cover and I'm sure you'll agree that the guy's something special.
Someone else who is special is the other debutant I'd like to mention here.
Dave County's interview with himself is about to follow. Just keep reading.
If you read my Speedloader review, you'll know how much I rated his piece.
He takes a dark theme most people wouldn't dare to touch, takes us to the pit of its hell, then releases us with the craft and style of a very-practised hand. This man will go far, I'm telling you. It's one of the stories you must read this year, for your own good.
Here's Dave, old WD himself. A big Sea Minor welcome.
Q1. The press releases for Speedloader refer to you as a newcomer. When did you start writing?
A1. I'm honored to be included among the excellent authors in the Speedloader anthology. Every story is unique, every one captivating and a pleasure to read. I've enjoyed writing since drafting my first short story in high school four decades ago, but my first serious work was a fantasy novel based on a Dungeons and Dragons campaign that I'd played with my sons. The book took ten years to write. I was in love with it, but it didn't sell. So I wrote a few short stories, and another novel, none of which sold. By then I was hooked on writing; I couldn't stop, and I didn't know what was wrong with my creations, so in 2008 I went to a writing workshop. In ten days at the Writing Retreat Workshop I learned more than I'd figured out in ten years of trial and error. The following year I sold my first short story, "My Name is Priscilla" to Spinetingler magazine. Now I go to a writing workshop each year, and every month participate in writing critique groups. 'Newcomer' is the right word for me ... I'm still learning, and soaking it up like a sponge.
Q2. Both "Priscilla" and "Plastic Soldiers" are dark stories. Why did you choose the horror genre?
A2. Actually, most of my novels are Techno-Thrillers. But my short stories are dark, because horror's so good at packing emotional wallop into a small number of words. Danger puts every sense on alert, tenses every muscle in readiness for flight or fight ... the closer death stalks, the more passionately we want to live. Whether I'm reading horror, or writing it, my brain goes into overdrive. Time slows. Every detail takes on significance. Every puzzle piece frantically searched for a fit, every choice desperately analyzed for chance of survival. Horror makes me feel keenly, supremely, alive.
Q3. Who are your favorite authors?
A3. So many! Here are the top contenders: for horror, Steven King, Dean Koontz, and F. Paul Wilson. For SF, Orson Scott Card. And I grew up enthralled with Isaac Asimov, Larry Niven, Frank Herbert, Ray Bradbury, Robert Heinlein .... and the list goes on....
Q4. What interests do you have outside of writing?
A4. Well, I am fond of driving my Miata with the top down, wind in my face, slicing through life with no barrier to attenuate the sounds and smells of the world. Grinning with the feel of the road and car embracing on sharp curves.
But, if it's raining or I can't afford gasoline, I play chess, listen to music, or cuddle with my wife. Not necessarily in that order.
Monday 27 June 2011
You’re a very busy writer, and yet your hair and skin are lustrous. How do you manage it?
I sleep fourteen hours a day, and I bathe in the pulp of my remaindered books.
Other than the fact that dead people can’t sue you, is there an advantage to being a historical novelist?
You get an excuse to sit around reading. “Don’t bother me, I’m working on my verisimilitude.” Plus you can model characters on friends and family members without their knowing. The character of the evil missionary lady in “Mr. Timothy” is based entirely on a church-lady neighbor of mine. She loved the book.
So what was the School of Night?
A group of renowned Elizabethan intellectuals who were rumored to meet in the black of night to engage in heresy and dark arts. They included the likes of Walter Raleigh, Christopher Marlowe, and Henry Percy, the so-called Wizard Earl. Individually and (perhaps) collectively, they challenged the orthodoxy of their day, and they paid the price: arrest, imprisonment, untimely death.
The name, by the way, was not theirs. It’s drawn from “Love’s Labour’s Lost,” which some scholars believe to be a satirical thrust at the School.
Was Shakespeare part of the School?
He was conspicuous by his absence – and by his ability to weather all the shifts in political momentum that ensnared the School’s members. I think it’s one of the main reasons Shakespeare’s work has endured: He endured. Otherwise, there might never have been an “Othello” or a “King Lear.”
Does Shakespeare appear in “The School of Night”?
A cameo appearance but a pivotal one.
Of all the great men who congregated at this School, why did you pick Thomas Harriot as your protagonist?
I’m always attracted to the people who haven’t had a hearing. Ralegh is a known quantity; so is Marlowe, to some degree. But with Harriot, we’re still figuring out what he knew and when he knew it because he was afraid to publish during his lifetime. We now know, for instance, that he was doing everything Galileo was doing while Galileo was doing it, that he discovered a key law of refraction decades before the man credited with it, that he was tracking Halley’s comet 75 years before Halley. He was also the first English scientist to explore and catalogue the New World. So I figured he would be the ideal linchpin for a U.S.-Anglo adventure yarn that spanned past and present.
Speaking of present, this is the first of your historical novels to have a 21st-century strand.
I thought that part would be a hell of lot easier to write than it was. I had to do nearly as much research as I did for the historical segments. It also took on a much more larkish tone than I anticipated. These modern-day scoundrels just refused to take themselves too seriously.
Do you hear from readers when you get historical details wrong?
Do I ever. I once made the mistake of referring to those readers as “old ladies with cats,” because so many of them seem to be. But, of course, I also hear from old gentlemen with cats. “There were no poinsettias in English drawing rooms in 1842….Mockingbirds hadn’t migrated as far north as the Hudson valley by 1830….” It’s good to know these things, but being a novelist, I try not to sweat it too much. The story comes first.
If your publisher could change you, what would you now be?
Dan Brown. Failing that, I would be an enthusiastic chronicler of sex. And I would write faster. It takes me two years to churn out one novel. I could probably cut that time in half if I wrote in a series.
So why don’t you write in a series?
That’s a good question because I love reading series. It’s boredom, mostly. I get antsy for new faces, locales. And a part of me thinks of books as commencement exercises. You raise your characters to legal age and then you send them out into the world. The only one I’ve been tempted to call back is Vidocq, the great roguish French detective who starred in “The Black Tower.”
You also do a lot of book reviewing on the side. Do you feel being a reviewer takes away from your fiction writing?
On the contrary, I think the two activities complement each other. My books tend to interpret other writers – particularly Dickens and Poe. And, of course, reviewing gives me yet another professional excuse to read. Otherwise, I’d have to clean the house, put up wallpaper, rejoin society. Reading has saved my life.
King James I has just assumed the throne and Thomas Harriot [he wasn't really known as that then, does it matter?], England's Galileo, ponders the universe from his modest home on his friend's estate. Measuring gravity almost 60 years before Newton, noting the pattern of a comet named, in the next century, by Halley, discovering the law of refraction. Harriot, the mathematician, astronomer, ethnographer and translator, is also a member of a group of five brilliant scholars who meet under the cloak of darkness to discuss God, politics and the black arts. When the estate provides him with a housekeeper, he has little idea how important she will become—in his studies and in his heart.
In modern day Washington, D. C., disgraced Elizabethan scholar Henry Cavendish has been hired by a ruthless antiquities collector name Bernard Styles. It's rumored that Styles will do anything to get his hands on what he wants, including murder. But Henry is desperate for money and Styles has offered him a large sum to recover a letter he claims was stolen by Henry's oldest and dearest friend, Alonzo Wax. Henry overcomes both his suspicion of Styles and his bereavement over Alonzo's recent suicide and sets out on the trail of the missing letter.
Joining Henry in his search is Clarissa Dale, a mysterious woman who suffers from visions that only Henry can understand. In short order, the pair find themselves stumbling through a secretive world of ancient perils, caught up in a deadly modern-day plot and ensnared in the tragic legacy of a forgotten genius and the woman he loved.
In The School of Night, Bayard folds his two narratives around one another—two different centuries sharing one shocking secret—and creates a gripping story of mysteries and intrigue and a spellbinding portrait of timeless love.
Friday 24 June 2011
What do you see as your greatest skill as a writer?
My agent and editors would say that it was my ability to create and sustain a voice when I write, but I disagree. I think I am totally awesome at constructing or deconstructing books. I like to think of myself as a book architect. There is nothing I love more than outlining the book, mapping out a book, creating a schematic, moving plot elements around, tweaking the pacing, creating a dual emotional storyline to fit with the action storyline, helping other writers brainstorm plot points or plot twists or suggesting ways to cut or combine scenes. God, I love that stuff. It's the equivalent of a painter who first sketches in a scene and then very carefully puts on overlay after overlay of paint and color. I just love working on the fundamental structure of a book. One nice bonus to this is that when you are finally ready to write the book, you have a great road map in front of you of where you want to go. That really frees you up to concentrate on your word choices and it ensures that you never suffer from writer's block. You always know where you are headed.
Does the writing life come naturally to you?
Yes, in the sense that both of my parents were journalists and I spent my youth creating homemade newspapers and books. No, in the sense that it conflicts with my fundamental nature. Writing is a very solitary occupation. I was raised in a family with six kids, theater was a big part of our lives — and you can imagine the crowds there — and I am an extrovert. I’m always having to balance the push of wanting to be around people and the pull of needing to be alone to write. This results in odd behaviors, like me attending an event and partying furiously and then abruptly disappearing at some point. Fortunately, one silver lining in getting older is that you can work a reputation for being eccentric to the max.
Do you think you will ever write outside the crime fiction genre?
I have tried and the book always comes back around to being a crime-related book in some way. I have never been able to pinpoint whether that is because it is easier to write when you have the parameters of that genre to guide you. Certainly, the conventions of crime writing give you something to hang your hat on and at least get started and they help you put boundaries on your plot and scenes. I find writing pure fiction a little terrifying. One thought in my brain tends to explode into 25 thoughts. When anything is possible, as is the case with fiction, it’s like having fireworks exploding in your head constantly as you are trying to write. The ideas just keep coming and it's just overwhelming. Where do you stop? So I think that for this, and other reasons, including a love of looking at people at their very best and their very worst, I'll be sticking with the crime fiction genre. At least in this lifetime.
What's the greatest epiphany you've ever had as a writer?
What's the worst thing to ever happen to you as a writer?
I don't know that I've ever had anything truly terrible happened to me that stands out. I've had a long line of smaller annoyances that have cumulatively chipped away the joy of being a writer. I think the time some low level publishing house hack decreed that I could not have my baby daughter in my author photo is one good example. I mean, people were posing with their dogs, for god sakes. I wanted to show my readers what I’d been up to (and prepare them for ever fatter photos of me to come, of course, as I entered middle-age momhood) but, no – this nameless and faceless person decided that if I showed my kid, everyone else would want to show their kids. To which I wanted to reply, so what? You're not paying for the photo and who are you anyway? I've never heard of you in my life and you certainly have not done a damn thing for my career. But that was just a little thing, and as you can see it, it hardly bothers me. Why, it's only 12 years later and I'm still pissed off about it. But it symbolizes all the little things that have happened to tax even my vast innate optimism. As Gilda Ratner would say, "it's always something." I've had publishers go under right after signing me. I've been the featured selection of a national book club that went under the month before I was due to be highlighted. I've had a TV series based on my books lose out to being part of a national network’s line up by one show. I had all kinds of near misses like this because, that's what life is all about and it is surely what the writing life is all about. You just have to put them behind you and move on. All of which brings me to the answer to this question: I think the worst thing that ever happened to me as a writer was when I decided I was going to be a writer.
What's the best thing that ever happened to you as a writer?
Without a doubt, the e-book revolution. I never thought I would ever live to see such a fundamental shift in the balance of power between writer and publisher. I, in fact, could not even conceive of what that change might even be. I saw it happening in the music world about 15 years ago, when people started releasing their own CDs and building audiences on their own. But I always figured that there were too many people who wanted to be writers to sustain an e-book market where you could actually get through to enough new readers to make it worth your while. I am very happy to report that I have been proven wrong. E-books are a great way for writers to connect directly with their readers, without having a middleman. And because it dispenses with all of the time and money constraints of producing a physical book, you can sell your work for so much less than you would otherwise — and still make a much bigger profit than you would if you were in traditional print. That is a wonderful formula for writers. Yes, there are all kinds of problems that this new market will present. How will readers find good writers and be able to weed out all the crap being self-published by bad writers? Who will do that final edit that often brings a book into the readable stage, even for experienced writers? But those are all things that can be worked out. As a fundamental creative and business concept, e-book publishing is a huge change. It is a life-changing development in the life of writers.
What would you be if you weren’t a writer?
I have always been something else other than a writer, as I am a firm believer in continuing to go out there into the world each day. It keeps you collecting characters, it keeps you grounded to the real world and what real people think, and it keeps you from going crazy when you have something else to feed your ego with. I work as a communications/advocacy specialist in the nonprofit world in addition to being a writer. But if I could have any career in the world, I would be a union organizer. I get so angry that we have become a world of haves and have-nots. I get angry without the people at the bottom of the ladder don't even know how badly they are getting screwed or don't seem to care. Instead, they worship the very people who are taking the bread off their table and out of their mouths. There is no reason in the world for a CEO to make $6 million a year while the legions of people doing the actual work in his company are making $6 an hour. I worked in that world for decades. There is no way in hell top executives are worth that amount of money. I want to see the workers of the world band together and head for the barricades. I’d like to see a rebirth in the union movement. I want to be alive when that revolution happens. I was raised in a pro-union, activist family and you can never get rid of that influence. I am very proud to say I have never crossed a picket line in my life, with one sole exception — I ate at the 42nd St. Oyster Bar in New York City during a strike when my daughter was very young, because she was hungry and we were desperate. It was a horrible experience, both morally and from a service standpoint, and I have never crossed a picket line since. Never will.
What would you change about publishing if you could?
If I were Queen of the Publishing World, I would decree that, henceforth, no book could be published unless it was actually well written. All books would come to me, and I would scan the first three pages of it and then I would toss it into one of two piles: the “off with its head" file or the “okay, this is worthy and may live” pile. People would whine and say, “But that's just your opinion. Who are you to make that call?” and I would say, “I'm making that call because I'm willing to. God knows, someone ought to been doing this for the last 45 years.” It wouldn't matter what genre, it would not matter if it had talking cats in it or if it was a searing exposé of the seedy underbelly of life. What would matter would be that it had to be well written and that it had to offer readers something new, be it a new voice, a new viewpoint, a new character, anything but the same old crap recycled. I don't think those are abnormally high standards, do you? Just think of what it would be like to be a reader if you could go to the bookstore and no matter what book you picked, it was, at the very least, unique in some way, respectful of your intelligence and followed the basic rules of grammar and style. This will happen when hell freezes over, of course. Those kinds of books are harder to sell as they tend to not fit into marketing pigeon holes and there were too many people out there who think they are good writers when they are not. Who am I to pee on their parade? Write on, people – write on.
What do you hate most in other writers?
People who judge the talents of other writers without actually reading them, and that's most of the time. I am appalled by how few other writers read. Truly appalled. I also cannot abide other writers who think that by tearing you down, they are somehow lifting up their own careers. Trust me, it doesn't work that way. Don't drink the Kool-Aid. And I am also convinced there is a special corner in hell for writers who relentlessly flog their books on their personal Facebook pages. It's stupid, but I just think that it's transparent and useless and obnoxious. I like to use Facebook to share my life, my actual life, with other people, including readers. If I want to flog my books, I could always set up a page just for my books. Come to think of it, I think someone has set up a Facebook page for my books and I really must start feeding that beast more.
What are your guilty reading pleasures?
I am a cheesy true crime junkie. This year, my favorite book in that genre was about a former Las Vegas dancer and 80s-era stripper who was a do-it-yourself whiz and, after dispatching with her husband, went on shopping sprees at Home Depot and Lowe's, mounted a dozen home projects shortly thereafter, and is thought to have disposed of her husband all over her newly renovated house. I just love the image of a hard body, steroid-using, face-lifted former stripper wielding a band saw working through the wee hours of the night to conceal her crimes. I also love nonfiction books whenever I'm working on a new book, which is nearly all of the time. When I find myself in between my own books, and I can risk steeping in another author's voice, I love to read in my genre – which is crime fiction – or dive into really beautifully written books that are beyond my skills. I find the craftsmanship inspiring.
Katy Munger is the author of 14 crime novels. She currently writes under the pen name Chaz McGee. She is also the author of the Casey Jones series, writing as Katy Munger. She began her career writing the Hubbard & Lil series as Gallagher Gray. All of her books can be purchased in various e-book formats. Her new Chaz McGee, Angel of Darkness, will be published in early 2012 by Severn House."
Thursday 23 June 2011
The first thing I need to do here is to declare some self-interest. I've written one of the stories in this book. I have a huge respect for the publishers and I love short fiction. I want Speedloader to sell in huge numbers.
With that out of the way, I'd like to offer my opinion of this collection.
The opening story is my own. It’s a tale set in World
War 1 and the years of its aftermath. The intention
of the story was to look at the large scale crimes and
the individual stories of the war in a compare and
contrast kind of way. I hope I managed to achieve
some of that.
WD County was billed as a newcomer on the
Speedloader Press release. If I hadn’t seen him in
the list of email addresses or read his bio, I’d have
sworn it was some big-time author writing under a
pseudonym. Some big time author like Stephen King,
perhaps. His story blew me away. Apparently he’s
working on a debut novel called ‘Sammi and the
Therapist’ and I can tell you now that I’m at the head
of the queue for getting hold of a copy.
WD touches on a subject that is a taboo to many. A
group of boys is held captive by a couple of sick
individuals who use them for sex, entertainment and
profit. The author deals with the whole thing
masterfully, not flinching from the horror of what
takes place yet introducing a subtlety that keeps it
entirely in focus from start to finish. The ‘Plastic
Soldiers’ title refers to the platoon the main
character, one of the young hostages, keeps in his
pocket. To help him through the ordeal, his mind has
turned the soldiers into living, breathing and talking
entities who shore up his courage and remind him of
There’s something of the structure of the work that
had me thinking of Tim O’Brien’s ‘The Things They
Carried’. That could just be me being fanciful, but I
really think it’s a piece of writing that is to be admired
for a hatful of reasons.
Read it here and you’ll be able to say you were on at
the ground floor.
Matthew C Funk is anything but a newcomer. He’s
impressed me with everything I’ve seen from him to
date. No surprise that I was bowled over by his work.‘Cuffs’ is a marvellous piece of storytelling. Driver,
happy man, is pulled over by a cop. The cop’s a
crazed lune - for a while he seems so spectral I
thought we might be in ghost story territory. It
begins badly for our driver. It gets worse. It’s the
kind of dark tale that would grace any campfire and,
having read this and ‘Plastic Soldiers’ I was beginning
to wonder how on earth I got into the anthology at
all. Another A+ Mr Funk.
The next night, having recovered from the exhaustion
of such quality reads, I continued with Nik Corpon’s
Mori Obscura. Surely there was going to be a dip in
I should have known better.
‘Mori Obscura’ is another tale that has the edge of horror to it, yet
it’s entirely human and touching.
Our protagonist is a photographer for ‘The Sun’ doing some
undercover work in a boarded up slum house where junkies shoot-
up and pass their lives away. Thing is our main man is also an ex-
addict. The smells and sights are those from Heaven and Hell and
as he ventures into this micro-world, he is to be faces with a
decision he’s not going to find easy to make. Loved it. I felt like I
was actually there on the scene, in need of a shower and a scrubbing brush. It feels dingy and low and the photographer’s emotions are all too easy to understand.
‘Herniated Roots’ by Richard Thomas. What can I say, the man’s a
genius (where did Snubnose find so many in the one go?).
This one rang a little too true for me at times. I’ve not had a drink
for 6 years. Neither has Michael.
Michael’s been getting on with his life without alcohol by going
through the motions of work and sleep. Needless to say, it feels to
him like he’s had something cut out from him, his heart perhaps or
whatever it was that made him who he was.
It’s Michael’s shell that we meet as he shops in a local
supermarket. He’s approached by a woman. Nothing in her basked
suggests danger, the body lotion, avocados, banana, olive oil, dark
chocolate and small honey bear. Maybe the snake tattoo around her wrist should have been a warning. As you can imagine, there’s a sexual chemistry between them and it leads to a dilemma for our
alcoholic. Should he follow his instincts and leave well alone or
dive in head-first and find an organ transplant for whatever it was
way back when. This one starts gently, but pressure is gradually applied until it starts to hurt. Shades of ‘Leaving Las Vegas’ and more touches of brilliance.
One more story to go, I was ready for a rest.
Instead I went on.
‘Crash And Burn’ by Jonathan Woods is bafflingly good. It’s the
longest piece here and it’s fantastic.
It’s set around the Amer-Mex Anti-Drug Taskforce Southwest
(DRAMA) as they make war on Mexican cartels. The story is
divided into sixteen sections which come together outrageously to
form a glorious whole.
There’s a bit of everything: sex, violence, bombs, car crashes,
political intrigue, booze, crabs and sunshine.
As I read this I had the feeling that there was something familiar
about the voice. I ran through it and played with it like a
connoisseur might do in trying to identify a fine wine. I have
neither the breadth of experience or the memory to be able to do
that, but I can point at the flavours I think I caught – Kurt
Vonnegut, Joseph Heller, Gabriel Garcia Marquez played at 45
instead of 33 (reaching) and something European (who knows?).
It’s a terrific work, weaving lives together like a master of the
Throw in a cover that has me purring and it has to be 5 stars.
There’s no choice. You’ll not be disappointed by any of these and
for the 99c price you’re getting a lot of talent on the cheap.A final word for the editors. To put such a varied, consistently excellent collection such as this together, you deserve a round of applause. Can't wait for your next publication. And thanks for having me.