"You know what? The bastard blows me out of the water. This guy writes Maine like Ardai writes New York. If you're not reading him, you don't know what you're missing." --Chris F. Holm, author of "The Collector" series, The Killing Kind, and Red Right Hand.

"A refreshingly new voice in noir." --Ed Kurtz, author of Nothing You Can Do and The Rib From Which I Remake the World.

"A glorious boilermaker of noir and East Coast gothic. The action is taut as a sprung snare and Bagley tightens the screws with every page." -- Laird Barron, author of Swift to Chase and Blood Standard.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Congratulations, Mr. Watkins

Congratulations to my friend and fellow Stonecoast grad (as well as kick-ass poet, bluesman and all-around cool guy) Christopher Watkins and his wife Amy Marinelli on the birth of their first child, Clara Bay Marinelli Watkins on December 22.

During the fall of 2006, Christopher was writer-in-residence at the Jack Kerouac House in Orlando. His debut collection, Short Houses with Wide Porches was published by Shady Lane Press last spring. He has also released five albums under the name Preacherboy and been awarded a gold record for his work with Eagle-Eye Cherry.

With an artist mom and writer/musician dad, I'm sure the world will see great things from Miss Clara Bay.

Friday, December 12, 2008

The Down-and-Dirty Dozen: Yet Another Year-End Book List

Yeah, I know you’ve all been on tenterhooks, wondering which crime novels I most enjoyed this year. So here it is: the list of my favorite crime reads for 2008. They’re not necessarily books published this year, but all were new to me.

In no particular order:
Money Shot by Christa Faust
Go-Go Girls of the Apocalypse by Victor Gischler*
Mafiya by Charlie Stella
Paying for It by Tony Black
Miami Purity by Vicki Hendricks
Cross by Ken Bruen
Provinces of Night by William Gay
Yellow Medicine by Anthony Neil Smith
The Cold Spot by Tom Piccirilli
Tomato Red by Daniel Woodrell
Dust Devils by James Reasoner
Rilke on Black by Ken Bruen

Don’t ask me to pick one absolute favorite. I can’t do it.

Of course, I’ll probably read five or six more books before December 31st. Libby Fisher Hellman’s Easy Innocence, George Pelecanos’ Down by the River Where the Dead Men Go and Ken Bruen’s Once Were Cops are on the top of my TBR pile. So the “favorites” list might still grow.

You got a problem with that?

*Okay, so Go-Go Girls... is not a crime novel. However, it is chock full of funny, violent Gischlerian goodness and you ought to read it. You’ll like it. Or else.

Monday, December 8, 2008

The Best Thing You Can Do...

I’m going to talk about Chris Holm’s story “The World Behind” again. There is an early scene in which the narrator (an adult looking back on his childhood) is getting his ass kicked by the school bully. A girl comes to his rescue, which is just about the worst thing that could happen under those circumstances. He knows word will get around. He’ll be humiliated and it only makes the bully hate him more. So the narrator has to come up with a bully-avoidance plan.

Rereading that story recently reminded me of something that happened when I was twelve. Those of you who haven’t known me long will find this hard to believe, but I was a scrawny, wimpy little kid. I had a big mouth with nothing to back it up. So anyway, I made some smartass remark to this older kid who lived on my block. Let’s call him Moe. I guess ol’ Moe must have been fourteen or fifteen at the time, and he had at least twenty pounds on me.

As soon as the words came out of my mouth, Moe commenced whaling on me. I’d like to say I fought back as best I could, but that would be a lie. Moe knocked me down with one shove, sat on my chest and used my head for a punching bag. When you’re a wimpy little wiseass, you learn to accept such things as the price of doing business.

In the normal course of events, the beating would have lasted a minute or two. Then the big moron would get bored and wander off. I’d wash off the blood and hope my lips didn’t swell up too much. No big deal. Like Jean Shepherd once said, “In the jungles of kid-dom, the mind switches gears rapidly.”

Here’s where it all went wrong…

My grandmother happened to look out the window. She saw Moe beating the stink out of me right on our front lawn. Grandma grabbed a broom and came screaming out of the house. Busting some pretty good moves for a 78 year-old, she laid into Moe with that broom. Then she chased him halfway down the block.

I knew right then I was screwed. The story of how I let my grandmother fight my battles would be all over town by the end of the day. Worse, Moe wanted payback for getting a broom handle upside his head.

A year or so later, Moe held up a Stop and Shop with a pellet gun. He got away with a carton of smokes and a few bucks’ cash. If I remember right, he barely had time to light one up before the cops snagged him.

So what’s the moral to my heart-warming tale?

It’s simple: sometimes the best thing you can do is just take the beating.

Oh, and: it’s still armed robbery, even if you “only” use a pellet gun.

Sunday, December 7, 2008


I was flipping through The Best American Mystery Stories 2008 (edited by George Pelecanos) yesterday, when I noticed that The Lineup co-conspirator Richie Narvaez got a nod. While his story "Roachkiller" (which appeared in the second issue of the late, lamented Murdaland) was not selected for the anthology, it did make Pelecanos and Penzler's list of Other Distinguished Mystery Stories of 2008. That's still pretty damn cool.

It was also nice to see stories from ThugLit and Expletive Deleted get some love.

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Friday, December 5, 2008


As I've mentioned here before, my short story "Welcome to Wal-Mart, Motherfucker" is coming out this summer in Uncaged, the follow-up anthology to last year's Expletive Deleted. I got an e-mail from Bryon Quertermous yesterday, listing the other Uncaged contributors. It astounds me that editor Jen Jordan thought my story was good enough to share space with work by so many writers whom I admire. Christ on a bike, just take a look at this lineup:

Pierce Hansen
Evan Kilgore
Tim Maleeny
Nick Stone
Simon Kernick
Christa Faust
Victor Gischler
Stephen Blackmoore
Blake Crouch
Declan Burke
Gregg Hurwitz
Brian Azzarello
Simon Wood
Steven Torres
Allan Guthrie
Martyn Waites
Bryon Quertermous
J.D. Rhoades
Stuart MacBride
Patrick Shawn Bagley
Scott Phillips
Greg Bardsley
J.A. Konrath
Maxim Jakubowski
Talia Berliner

Thursday, December 4, 2008


I turned 40 today. I guess it's supposed to be some kind of watershed moment, but it feels like any other day. There were kids to feed, messes to clean, chores to do and pages to write, a class to teach later on tonight. Maybe I just haven't had time to get depressed about it.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008


Patti Abbott tagged me for this meme and I decided to play along. The rules are simple:
1. List authors you read during 2008 who were new to you (that is, authors you read for the first time this year).
2. Bold those who were debut authors in 2008.
3. Tag some other people.

My list (and I may have to amend this as more come to mind) is as follows:

Christa Faust
Nega Mezlekia
Harry Crews
Allan Guthrie
John McFetridge
Wallace Stroby
Tom Piccirilli
James Reasoner
Benjamin Black
Tana French
Don Winslow
Karen Dionne
Tony Black
David Goodis
Leonardo Padura

I'm not one for tagging people. If you want to post your own list, that's cool. Just let me know so I can check it out. Or feel free to just comment here with a list. I'm good either way.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Behind the Story

I recently assigned the students in my Writing Mystery and Crime Fiction class to read Chris F. Holm's "The World Behind." This excellent story appeared in the June 2007 issue of Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine. Track it down if you missed it.

Knowing that Chris is a cool guy, I asked him to write a paragraph or two about what went into the writing of that story. It would be a great help to my students. Well, Chris was more than generous with his time. He wrote four pages about the writing and submission process. With his kind permission, I am reprinting that essay here. Thanks again, Chris.
Behind “The World Behind”

When Patrick asked me to write a few words about the genesis of “The World Behind,” I wasn’t sure what I should say. It’s not that there’s no story to the writing of the “The World Behind”; the problem is, there are two. The first of them plays nicely into the romantic notion of being a writer – you know, inspiration strikes, and suddenly you find yourself scribbling on a Post-it/notepad/the back of an old grocery store receipt in a desperate attempt to get it all down. Thing is, that’s only half the picture. I’ve got dozens – hundreds, maybe – of such notes scattered throughout my house, the vast majority of which are never going to wind up a finished (much less published) story. Some of the ideas I never get around to writing seem to me to be every bit as good as the ones I do, which suggests it’s not so much quality that dictates what gets written as it is motivation. Now, the story of my motivation for writing “The World Behind” isn’t very romantic. In fact, I considered leaving it out entirely, but that struck me as cheating. After all, for most writers, inspiration comes easy – it’s the motivation that’s the tricky part. So, at risk of getting long-winded, here goes.

The first story begins with a walk.

I suppose all writers have their rituals, their habits – their ways of recharging the well when it runs dry. For me, that way is walking. Maybe it’s that walking, like writing, has its own natural rhythm. Maybe it’s the fact that while you’re walking, you can lose yourself in the details of the world around you, or the thoughts inside your head. Maybe all of that is crap, but either way, it works for me.

Anyways, this particular walk took place in the dead of summer (August 10th, to be exact. Yes, I checked the Word file, and yes, I know that makes me a dork.) Mine is a quiet neighborhood at the edge of town, where dead-end streets give way to forest. I remember seeing, at the end of one street, two houses in the midst of being built, and a narrow path worn through the weeds between them. I guess it got my wheels spinning, because when I got home, I wrote this:

Timothy lived in a well-manicured little house in a bland little suburb at the edge of town. At the end of his street was a turnaround, around which sat the Tyvek-clad skeletons of three houses, identical to each other, and, for that matter, nearly every house on the street. They’d been erected years ago, when the market was better, but then the market declined and the money dried up, and so now they sat, hollow and empty and unfinished. A dense thicket of brambles lay beyond them, encroaching on their uneven, rock-strewn lawns, and fading gradually into an old-growth forest. A single, winding path of bare dirt cut through these brambles into the forest beyond.

When Timothy was eleven, he set out to find where that path led. He struck out through the brambles on the path scarcely wider than the shoeprints he left behind. He pushed through them for what seemed like forever, mindful of thorns and poison ivy and bees and the like. Eventually, the path widened and merged with another, larger path, and that path, with another. He followed them until dusk, amazed at where they led – he could see his school, and his doctor’s, and the Quick Stop at the edge of town. They seemed to go on forever, to lead everywhere – invisible, anonymous. The world behind the world.

Problem was, that’s all I had. I had no idea where the story was going, or even what kind of story it would be. Fantasy, maybe, or psychological horror. So, not knowing what do to with it, I shelved it, not even looking at it again until the following April.

Which brings us to the second part of the tale. This one begins with a rejection.

A lightning-fast rejection, to be precise. I mean, I didn’t think the staff at Ellery Queen could possibly process submissions fast enough to get a rejection to my door a mere twenty-eight days after I dropped my story in the mail. And yet there it was, staring back at me from an envelope addressed in my own damn handwriting. “Dear Writer,” it began. Shit. Not even a personalized response.

I admit, that rejection threw me for a loop. Never mind that Ellery Queen is one of the toughest markets in genre fiction to crack, or the fact that this particular story (a nasty little hard-boiled throwback) wasn’t all that well-suited for their pages. I was pissed. I was determined. So I resolved that I was going to sit down and write a story they couldn’t possibly reject.

It’s worth noting, I think, that trying to change your style in a crass attempt to crack a particular market is a bad idea. If you don’t have a passion for the story you’re writing, it’s probably not going to turn out very good. So the trick was, I had to come up with something that fit within my own style, but would also appeal to the tastes of Ellery Queen’s editorial staff. So I thought to myself, for the first time in my fledgling literary career, “What would Stephen King do?”

The answer I came up with was a coming-of-age story, in the vein of King’s “The Body” (or at least, as I remembered “The Body” to be, since I hadn’t read it in damn near twenty years). The way I figured it, there was a certain innocence and relatability inherent in all good coming-of-age stories, and those traits might prove the spoonful of sugar to make the violence go down. And once I knew what kind of story I wanted to tell, I realized I’d already started telling it – I just hadn’t known it at the time. So I dusted off the old file and got writing. The first draft took me three weeks. Editing took another two, and then “The World Behind” was out the door.
Now, you might question the logic of writing a story that includes cursing, animal deaths, and a child murderer in an attempt to crack a magazine known (erroneously, in my opinion) for sleuths who knit and crime-solving cats, but luckily, I was too stupid to let that stop me. When I dropped my story in the mail, I was simultaneously certain they’d accept it, and that I’d wind up one month later with a form rejection. Such is writing, I suppose.

As it happens, my story was accepted on Friday, October 13th – a lucky day in my estimation. It was to appear in the April 2007 issue, but got bumped at the last minute in favor of a story by Joyce Carol Oates. Janet Hutchings, the editor at Ellery Queen, had the unbelievable good grace to apologize. Then she informed me I’d be in the June issue alongside Lawrence Block – a living legend, and one of my all-time favorite authors to boot. I swear I could’ve kissed her.

So there you have it. The story behind the story. Probably not as few words as Patrick had in mind, but brevity has never been my strong suit. And there’s still plenty of stuff that I left out. Some, like the inspirations for specific bits within the story, are just plain dull. Some, like using the short form as a lab of sorts (with a nod to fellow writer Lyman Feero for stealing his term) to experiment with new techniques (in the case of “The World Behind”, with a present-tense frame around a past-tense story told in flashback), just didn’t fit into the neat little two-story thesis I was shooting for. And there’s always the chance that my Muse is off somewhere stewing, because this ain’t the way things really went down. Still, it’s as close as I can manage.

So if you’ve read this far, then thanks. I hope you found it helpful. Oddly, I’m pretty sure I have.

Chris F. Holm
October 2008

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Is it possible to revise 156 pages in a single nine hour period?

Yes it is.

Now I need a shower, a burger and a beer.

Not necessarily in that order.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Ray Dudgeon Returns

Trigger City by Sean Chercover
William Morrow, $23.95

When I finished reading Sean Chercover’s Big City, Bad Blood last year, I wondered how he could follow up such a strong debut novel. He put his protagonist Ray Dudgeon, one of the most original PI-types to come down the pike in a long time, through a physical and emotional wringer. I’ve never been to Chicago, but Chercover made it live for me on every page. Big City, Bad Blood was one of the best novels I read in 2007.

Well, no worries about sophomore slump because Trigger City, the second Ray Dudgeon novel, is even better. Dudgeon is still recovering from injuries he suffered during the events of the previous book. His principles have cost him clients and made new enemies. He needs money to pay for surgery on his shoulder. Enter Isaac Richmond, who wants Dudgeon to uncover the truth—no matter how unpleasant—about his murdered daughter’s life. Ray doesn’t want to take the case, but the $50K retainer is hard to pass up. The deeper he digs, the further Dudgeon sinks into the shadowy world of covert intelligence and government corruption.

Sean Chercover is a powerful, gifted writer who knows his stuff. He’s exactly what the PI genre needs right now. I predict he will be as influential to the next generation of crime writers as Robert B. Parker was thirty years ago.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

New Author Photo

I’m not the most photogenic guy around, but I need a decent author shot. We have a couple of possibilities. Thought I’d run them by you. Here’s the first. What do you think?

Saturday, November 1, 2008

The Envelope, Please…

Noralyn Smith of Lompoc, California is the winner of a signed copy of The Frailty of Flesh by Sandra Ruttan. Thanks to everyone who entered the drawing, with extra big honkin’ thanks to Sandra.

Friday, October 31, 2008

Spooky Books

Kelly Link--one of the coolest people on the planet, as far as I'm concerned--picks five spooky books for your Halloween reading pleasure. They're all new to me, and sound good.

So what five horror (or just plain spooky) books would you recommend?

My list includes:
I Am Legend by Richard Matheson
The Sandman series of graphic novels by Neil Gaiman
The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson
Dracula by Bram Stoker
The Complete Works of Edgar Allan Poe

Kelly's new collection, Pretty Monsters, is chock-full of eerie goodness, too.

When the Clock Strikes Twelve…

You still have until midnight tonight to enter my drawing for a signed copy of Sandra Ruttan’s latest mystery, The Frailty of Flesh. Go here for more details.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

The Awful Tooth

I know there's a grand tradition of authors cranking out novels while wallowing in a narcotic haze. I just don't see how they pull it off. I'm having problems with my teeth. Again. Looks like I'll be saying goodbye to my last wisdom tooth.

Vicodin to the rescue.

Damn, that's good stuff. I can understand how people get hooked on prescription drugs. I only take a vicodin when the pain gets too intense--it's kind of like being stabbed in the side of the head--but there's always that temptation to gobble down a fistful like they're Smarties. The thing is, I can't figure out whether the vicodin actually relieves the pain or just makes me not care about it.

Either way, it's affected my work this week. I have a lot to do, but it's hard to write or do revision when I keep nodding out. Forget about dropping acid like Kesey. I can't even handle vicodin.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Deep Thoughts from Tough Guys: The Saturday Boy Edition

“Morality’s like some twisted fucking thing you never get to understand because no matter what you do, there’s always someone waving a pamphlet, denouncing you as an animal. There was always someone, thought they knew better than you, lived more than you, understood the ways of the world more than you. What did they understand? They understood fuck all, just meshed their experience into some kind of bullshit ethos. The parents who despised corporations, booking their kids into a McDonalds party because they were too fucking weak to say no, had no way of explaining it. Fighting for multiculturalism and crossing the street when they saw a gang of pakis coming.”

—from “Money Shot” ©2007 by Rank Banks, in Expletive Deleted (Jen Jordan, editor)

Fridays: Forgotten Books

John the Balladeer (1988)
Manly Wade Wellman (1903-1986)

It’s hard to categorize the stories in Manly Wade Wellman’s John the Balladeer. They are at once works of dark fantasy, horror and an entirely original kind of American folklore. Haunts, witches, demons, familiars and other fell creatures skulk through the forest-shrouded mountains and valleys of Wellman’s Appalachia. Some seek only to waylay and devour travelers in lonely places; some are vengeful ghosts; others would spread their malice across the world…if not for John.

John (a.k.a. “Silver John” or just plain old “John”) wanders through the countryside, playing songs on his silver-strung guitar, learning new tunes and bits of lore wherever they come. The guitar and the clothes on his back are all he owns, and he’s happy with that. We know little of John’s past, except that he is a veteran of the Korean War. Quick with his wits and good with his fists, he is a loyal friend to any who need him and just as determined an enemy of evil.

Besides the ever-present darkness, Wellman’s writing is alive with old-time music, memorable characters and a strong sense of place. These twenty-five stories and vignettes are meant to be savored like down-home cooking, and rereading them is always a pleasure. My favorites are “Call Me from the Valley,” “Shiver in the Pines,” “Walk Like a Mountain,” “The Spring” and “Owls Hoot in the Daytime.” Wellman also wrote five Silver John novels—The Old Gods Waken (1979), After Dark (1980), The Lost and the Lurking (1981), The Hanging Stones (1982) and The Voice of the Mountain (1984). They aren’t bad, but I prefer the short stories.

Wellman immersed himself in the culture and folkways of rural North Carolina. His love for the music and the landscape are a great contrast to the sense of menace and fear running through the Silver John stories. John the Balladeer is out-of-print, but Night Shade Books has reissued many of these stories and novels in hardcover editions. They’re expensive but worth it.

The complete list of this week's Forgotten Books picks is on Patti Abbott’s blog.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Win a Signed Copy of Sandra Ruttan's THE FRAILTY OF FLESH

In case you missed the notice tucked away at the tail end of my interview with Sandra Ruttan, you can win a signed copy of her latest novel, The Frailty of Flesh. How? Keep your pants on, I’m getting to it. Just send your name and address to patricksbagley@yahoo.com (with the subject header RUTTAN DRAWING). I will throw all entrants' names into a hat and let one of my kids pull out a winner. The deadline for entries is 12:00 a.m. (Eastern Time) November 1.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Speaking Canadadan: An Interview with Sandra Ruttan (and how you can win a copy of her latest novel)

Sandra Ruttan is the author of Suspicious Circumstances (Tico Publishing, 2007), What Burns Within (Dorchester, May 2008) and The Frailty of Flesh (Dorchester, October 2008). The latter two novels feature her series characters Nolan, Hart and Tain. Sandra is also the head honcho at Spinetingler Magazine and a reviewer for Mystery Bookspot. A native of Canada, she recently relocated to the U.S.

Give us a quick pitch for your latest novel, The Frailty of Flesh.

Nolan confronts one of his demons, Tain wrestles with a crushing wound from the past and Hart suffers a devastating loss as the personal and professional lives of the constables collide with tragic consequences. Sounds cheery, doesn't it?

Tell us a little about the genesis of your three protagonists: Constables Tain, Craig Nolan and Ashlyn Hart.

Craig Nolan has a lot of personal issues that he's been trying to control, and in The Frailty of Flesh they come bubbling to the surface. Craig's work, and his identity as Steve Daly's son, are his salvation. When his image of his father is threatened and there are problems at work Craig starts to come unglued.

This has a direct impact on Ashlyn Hart, who's personally involved with Craig. Ashlyn is a level-headed person and usually handles things better than Craig and Tain. Due to the subject matter of the first book it was necessary for Ashlyn to be physically attractive, but I don't think of her as quite the knockout some have assumed she must be. I think of her as pretty, but with such a compelling personality people warm to her quickly.

Tain is the closed door of the bunch. He tries to keep everything buried, to keep his personal life completely off limits to his coworkers. In reality, he doesn't have much of a personal life now, but that's because of the tragedy that haunts him, and in The Frailty of Fleshreaders will learn about the personal loss he's suffered. Frailty tests his relationship with Ashlyn as well.

The dynamic between these characters is one of the more interesting aspects of the series. How much planning goes into their relationship and how much is just a matter of putting the three of them together and seeing what happens?

A lot of it is about putting the three of them together and seeing what happens. There were certain things I knew when I started What Burns Within. I knew how it would end. I also knew that the second book would test the relationship between Craig and Ash.

Beyond that, I don't know that much book to book. I look at the natural reactions these individuals would have to each other and the situations they're dealing with, and that's how things unfold. By focusing on character impact and reaction I think it helps me keep the characters consistent. It also allows them to evolve organically as the series progresses. I really like having three protagonists because you can show the reader different facets of the character's personalities through the different interactions. It's also a lot easier to nudge one person to cross a line than it is to get two people to look the other way when you're doing something you shouldn't do. This adds an extra layer of personal tension to the story arcs that makes writing them interesting.

Your series has dealt with some heavy issues like religious fanaticism, rape and child abuse. How have readers responded?

A few people have been wary about the subject matter, but I haven't received any hate mail or strong complaints. Reviewers seemed to pick up on the sensitivity displayed in dealing with the subject matter of the first book. I don't try to exploit these types of stories for shock value, or just use them to manipulate the reader into caring more. The reality is, cops who are confronted with a murdered or missing child are usually going to find it harder to cope with than the murder of a prostitute. I've dealt with child issues in the books because I had a lot of things I needed to get out of my system after working with abused children.

I think my biggest challenge centers on the fact that I don't try to give easy answers. The conclusion doesn't come wrapped up with a bow on top. The stories center on how the events affect the protagonists, and while other lives are touched on, I don't try to give the "sexually-abused-as-a-child-in-front-of-the-fireplace-so-he-became-a-pyromaniac" answer. In a procedural the focus is more on the evidence than on the psychology, and there's almost a sense of reluctant acceptance on the part of the constables. People commit atrocious acts, and they have to see them with their own eyes. Sometimes it really gets to them, but they have to try to focus on the investigation rather than their feelings. That's a tough thing to do when you're confronted with the body of a four-year-old child, just weeks before Christmas, which is the situation Tain and Ashlyn find themselves in at the beginning of The Frailty of Flesh.

So what's next? Are you working on the next novel in the Nolan, Hart and Tain series or something else?

Yes, and yes. The deal for book three in the series, Lullaby for the Nameless, has just been announced. In Lullaby readers will finally find out what happened on the first case Nolan, Hart and Tain worked together when a new case directly connects to the old one. It will be told with intersecting timelines, and should be published next November.

I'm also working on another book that isn't a procedural. It's a real departure for me from what I've done to date, but that's all I'm saying.

You've lived in Maryland a few months now. Are you pretty well settled in or still adjusting to life in the States?

Still adjusting. Every now and again I get called out on speaking 'Canadadan', as my stepdaughter calls it. It's the little things you don't realize you can't get here that sneak up on you. A few weeks ago Brian and I were heading to Baltimore to pick up Jon Jordan, Ayo Onatade and Penny and Denny, to deal with some pre-Bouchercon things. Jon asked if we were bringing donuts and I just about said, "There's no Tim Hortons here."

And last weekend we went to Gettysburg. How weird is that? I live where Civil War battles were fought. I'm fascinated by the local history. I've always loved Baltimore, since Homicide was on, but getting to live here and explore the area is wonderful.

Canada is not known as a hotbed of crime fiction. I think a lot of Americans have a notion of Canada as a sort of idyllic place where nothing bad ever happens. That's mostly because we're too lazy to learn about other countries. Did your agent or publisher try pressuring you to set your novels in America or to "write American"?
My first agent did talk to me about relocating the series. He was Canadian though. I think it was harder years ago, and that things have started to open up a bit. I don't blame Americans. I think this trend goes down to unoriginal promotional platforms because of the constraints of the publishing industry. The same standard things are done for most books, to greater and lesser degrees, and publicists don't really have the proper time to come up with a specific marketing campaign for each book. If they did they could find ways to sell Canadian content easily. The 2010 Olympics are in Vancouver and Whistler, and there have been all sorts of interesting issues with protestors and construction. I have three RCMP officers in the Greater Vancouver Area. There's so much material I could mine there, and people often like to read books set where they're traveling. There isn't a lot of well-known commercial crime fiction set in the GVA, and this seems to me like a natural sales avenue for the books, but it's outside the scope of what the publicists are usually able to do.

That said, the publicists at Dorchester have been fantastic, and I feel they've done everything possible to work my books. I've been fortunate. They're big fans of the books themselves and it's great to know that you have a supportive team working with you. The Canadian setting hasn't been an issue for my editor at all and they want a third book, so obviously the books can sell.

Now that I live in the U.S. I think I'd feel more comfortable with a U.S. setting.

As for "writing American" I do have to use American spelling, and occasionally I slip up. Last week my stepdaughter asked, "What's this word? C-o-l-o-u-r?" She's in grade 1 and she knows how to spell tougher words than that, but the Canadian spelling threw her off. She's always reminding me I live in Westminster now, so I have to say and spell things right. She gives me a harder time than my editor does.

How are things going with Spinetingler? I got the impression for a while last year that you might ready to call it day.

It was very hard to stay on top of it when I was getting divorced. I do feel that if it can't be done to a certain standard, it should fold. Having said that, it's hard to balance life and writing and the ezine. I've been fortunate. Bookspot Central adopted Spinetingler and they handle the web design and uploading. Jack Getze has joined as a regular editor. James Oswald was reviewing submissions for most of last year, and did a fantastic job. The team that works with me is what keeps Spinetingler going.

Who is your all-time favorite crime writer and who do you think is an up-and-comer?

Ian Rankin. I know, I know. One of these days people will start asking who my second favourite is, just to get a different answer. :)

As for an up-and-comer, that's hard. It's easy to point to Sean Chercover and Cornelia Read, both of whom inspire me. I think Steve Mosby is poised for a major breakthrough, and I also think Russel D. McLean has a long career ahead of him. There are a few debut authors I'm looking forward to reading, including Grant McKenzie, Kelli Stanley and Rebecca Cantrell.

Of course, there are several others. It's impossible to come up with a conclusive list.

Parting shot time: what do you most want everyone to know about Sandra Ruttan?
Recently, on a panel at Bouchercon I said that people who encounter me online often seem to think I'm a hard ass. Someone from the front row piped up with, "Yes, you're a lot different in person!" I'm actually pretty easy-going.

I have a real split personality. By nature I'm an extrovert, but because I can get intimidated easily I tend to shy away sometimes. It's something I have to work on.

Want to win a signed copy of The Frailty of Flesh? Damn right you do. So send your name and address to patricksbagley@yahoo.com (with the subject header RUTTAN DRAWING). I will throw all entrants' names into a hat and let one of my kids pull out a winner. The deadline for entries is 12:00 a.m. (Eastern Time) November 1.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

The Wild Man of Borneo, Disney Fatigue, Crime Poems and Short Fiction Mayhem

My eight days in solitary ended Sunday when Tonia and the girls came home from Florida. Sarah, who turns five next Saturday, slept from 3:30 Sunday afternoon until just after 8:00 Monday morning. Rowan was tired too, but spent the day doing the homework she had promised to do while she was gone. I think she was actually glad to head back to school this morning.

I got a call from my brother Rob yesterday. It was the first time I'd heard his voice since the middle of June. He's a lieutenant on a submarine, and they've been out on a cruise or mission or whatever it's called. Rob called from a hotel in Borneo. It was the first time he'd been above the surface of the ocean in 42 days. 42 days! I'd go nuts.

Rob's a golfer, and he played a round at the local course, which is surrounded by jungle. Golf balls are five bucks apiece in Borneo, but whenever he hit one into the jungle he said fuck it. He wasn't going to lost, stung, bitten or possibly eaten for a stupid little ball. A few monitor lizards hung out on the green, too. Rob and his buddies gave those monsters plenty of room. It was weird to hear Rob complain about the heat so close to the equator when our weather forecast for today calls for rain that might turn into snow this evening.

I read 81 pages of poetry submissions for the Lineup and sent my ratings to Gerald So. We got at least twice as many submissions this time around. That's a good sign. I think next spring's anthology will be even stronger than the first one.

I started work on a new short story--something I haven't had time to do since last spring. This one is about a gay gun-runner with serious anger issues. I have no idea where the story will go, though. All I have so far is a couple of pages.

Got confirmation yesterday that my story "Welcome to Wal-Mart, Motherfucker" will appear in Uncaged, editor Jen Jordan's sequel to Expletive Deleted. The new anthology comes out in the spring, courtesy of Bleak House Books.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Bitter Water Blues, the New Novel and Other Stuff

I've been too busy to blog lately, which is probably a good thing. So, to catch up...

I'm finishing up some revisions that my agent suggested for Bitter Water Blues. My wife and kids are in Disney World, so I have plenty of peace and quiet in which to work. Yesterday was tough. They left midmorning and I spent the rest of the day just sort of dubbin' around. Today I got more used to their absence and was able to focus on working. I told Renee she'd get the manuscript by the 20th, and it looks like I'll be able to live up to that.

I've also been working on novel number two, which--contrary to what I said a few months back--will not be a sequel to BWB. After five years of working on that book, I need a break from the characters.

The new novel is the first in a proposed series about ex-PI Gideon Cross. "Pandora," a short story introducing Giddy, will appear in an upcoming issue of Thrilling Detective. I won't say much about the novel right now, except that Giddy gets sucker-punched on the first page and things go downhill from there.

In non-Patrick news:

The latest issue of Mystery Scene has interviews with Tana French, Richard Stark and Marcus Sakey. There is also an interesting article by Art Taylor about crime novels from the civil rights era. And thanks to Kate Stine for yet another freebie issue. She's so cool.

Russel D. McLean interviews Tony Black and Reed Farrel Coleman talks about teaching a writers workshop in Crimespree #26.

I recently asked Chris F. Holm to write a paragraph or two about what went into his EQMM-published short story "The World Behind," which my crime-writing class is asigned to read next week. Chris went way above and beyond, sending me four pages of "the story behind the story." It's great stuff and it will be good for my students to learn about the writing process from someone other than me for a change. Some of them have been taking my classes for three semesters now, and I worry about repeating myself. Okay, this last bit was semi-Patrick news. Sue me.

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

It’s a good day for an old poem about Richard Brautigan.

It is Tuesday

And I’ve bought a used copy
of In Watermelon Sugar
and underlined on page 2 is
“It is Tuesday
and the sun is golden,”
and it makes sense
in a way I could never

©1995 Patrick Shawn Bagley
from Kumquat Meringue #6 ©2001 Kumquat Press
Kumquat Meringue was (is?) a great little ‘zine “dedicated to the memory of Richard Brautigan.”

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Once You’ve Had Black…

Paying for It by Tony Black
Preface/Random House (July 2008)
ISBN 978-1-84809-020-0
£16.99 Cloth

Gus Dury used to be a hotshot investigative reporter. Now he’s a soon-to-be-divorced, unemployed drunk living in a cheap flat above an Edinburgh pub. Col, the owner of the pub, asks Gus for a favor. Col’s son Billy has been tortured and murdered in what the cops dismissed as a gang killing. Gus is reluctant, but he owes Col a favor. Before long, Gus is in deep shit, crossing paths with bent cops, human traffickers, a woman trying to work every angle and the sleazy politician who cost him his job and—as a result—his marriage. If he’s careful, Gus might just have a chance to regain a semblance of his old life. Then again, he might end up like Billy.

If you’ve read Tony Black’s short stories for e-zines like Spinetingler or Plots with Guns, you know his writing hits like a sharp jab to the gut. His Edinburgh is a darker place than Ian Rankin’s, and that’s saying something. In Black’s hands, the city is more like Ken Bruen’s Galway.

Nor is that the only similarity between Black and Bruen. Inevitably, readers will compare Gus Dury with Jack Taylor. Both men lost their job after decking a government official. Both take shelter in booze or drugs. Like Taylor, Dury is quick to use his fists and is just as likely to end up in the emergency room as a result. Both know the law has little to do with justice.

But Dury is no Jack Taylor clone, and Tony Black, though clearly influenced by Bruen, writes with his own strong voice. While Taylor’s life tends to spiral further downward with each novel, Dury might be able to pull himself up out of the tidal wave of misery. Or maybe not, since the title of the next book in this series is Gutted. Does that refer to a killer who disembowels his victims or is does it reflect the way Dury will feel by the end of the case? I like to see writers run their characters through the meat grinder, so I’m good either way. It's the whole that-which-does-not-kill-us-makes-for-damn-fine-entertainment thing.

Tony Black is the real noir deal and Paying for It is one hell of a debut.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Forgotten Books Friday

Hell House
by Richard Matheson (1971)

Fall is my favorite season and Halloween is the best holiday of them all. To get into the spirit, I’ll devote my next couple of Fridays posts to rereading some novels that I consider overlooked classics of horror. I can’t think of a better way to kick off the Halloween season than by visiting Richard Matheson’s Hell House.

The Belasco House in Caribou Falls, Maine is the “Mt. Everest of haunted houses.” For years a haven for acts so depraved they would have made Caligula lose his lunch, the mansion earned its title of Hell House after all of Belasco’s guests were found dead of various nasty causes. The body of Emeric Belasco was never discovered, though some believe that he or his spirit still haunts the house forty-three years later. An aging bazillionaire has recently bought the house, and he offers one hundred thousand dollars for proof (one way or the other) of life after death.

Enter Professor Lionel Barrett and the best anti-spook technology that 1970 has to offer. Barrett, who makes Egon from Ghostbusters look like a wannabe, is out to prove once and for all that ghosts are merely a form of electromagnetic radiation left behind when a person dies. His Reversor is designed to set up a countercharge that will “clear the house.”

Barrett is accompanied by his wife Edith—a woman with more repressed desires than the priest at an all-boys parochial school—and a pair of mediums. Florence Tanner is the leader of the Temple of Spiritual Harmony. She hopes to commune with and free the spirits trapped within the house; the big paycheck will also make it possible for she and her followers to build a real church. Benjamin Franklin Fischer is known as one of the most powerful mediums in the world. He is also the sole survivor of an earlier attempt at uncovering the mystery of Belasco House. Fischer has spent years trying to drown his power in alcohol and hide from the past, but events in the house force him to fight back.

Hell House is one of the best works by the true master of horror. Fear oozes from its pages. Richard Matheson’s other books include I Am Legend, What Dreams May Come, A Stir of Echoes and The Beardless Warriors. He was also one of the writers for the original Twilight Zone series and huge influence on some guy named Stephen King.

As always, you can check out the full list of today’s forgotten books recommendations on Patti Abbott’s blog.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008


Last week, I interviewed for a job that interested me and paid decent money (a rare combination around here). I thought the interview went well, but I got a “thanks but no thanks” letter in Saturday’s mail. I’m just finishing up a freelance copyediting assignment and I’ve picked up some freelance writing work with a monthly paper, but a job with regular hours and steady pay would have helped solve a couple of money problems.

The high point of the weekend was receiving a signed copy of Kelly Link’s latest collection, Pretty Monsters. The inscription reads “For Patrick from a fan. Love, Kelly.” How cool is that? If you haven’t experienced Kelly’s slipstreamy genius, then you’re missing out on some beautifully disturbing stories.

I wrote the opening scene of the new novel yesterday. Felt damn good.

It was difficult not to turn last Thursday night’s class into a lecture on James Crumley. I settled for reading aloud the opening line of The Last Good Kiss and talking briefly about its place in the crime fiction canon.

A couple of things coming up on the blog this week: my review of Tony Black’s debut novel, Paying for It; my review of Sandra Ruttan’s The Frailty of Flesh; my contribution to Forgotten Books Friday will be Hell House by the great Richard Matheson.

Joan Jett turned 50 yesterday. I remember buying “I Love Rock and Roll” as a 45 in 1982. That was twenty-six years ago? Jesus.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

James Crumley (1939-2008)

James Crumley, one of the most original voices in crime fiction, has died. Crumley, author of The Last Good Kiss (which boasts the greatest opening line ever written), passed away at a Missoula, Montana hospital yesterday. He was 68 years old.

The Mexican Tree Duck (1993) won the Dashiell Hammett Award for Best Literary Crime Novel. His most recent novel was The Right Madness (2005). Though he only published eleven novels during his career, Crumley leaves behind an amazing and important body of work.

“Today’s Special is Memphis Soul Stew…”

I’m reading George PelecanosSoul Circus. No surprise, the novel is a fine, intense read. One of the things that strengthen Pelecanos’ writing is his love of music. A typical Strange/Quinn novel has a soundtrack ranging from soul to hip-hop to Morricone western scores, and Soul Circus is no exception. Thanks to that title and the old Motown tapes Strange listens to in his car, I’ve had King Curtis’ song “Memphis Soul Stew” stuck in my head for the last couple of days. It’s a good song, so I’m not complaining. Hip-hop ain’t my bag, though; I’m not familiar enough with it to get a track jammed in my skull.

I love books that are steeped in music, from Roddy Doyle’s The Commitments to William Gay’s Provinces of Night or Anthony Neil Smith’s The Drummer. What songs have gotten stuck in your head lately? Is that good or bad? What put them there?

Monday, September 15, 2008

When the Wind Blows

Strong winds knocked out electricity on my road for more than six hours today. I managed to finish and file a pair of newspaper columns just before my laptop's battery ran down. The biggest problem was getting water for the animals. Note to self: buy that Bison handpump for the well.

Inconvenient as it was, it was still nothing compared to the problems faced by people living in areas hit by Ike and Gustav. I can't even imagine what that must be like.

Right now, an owl is calling from a tree outside the kitchen window. The coyotes are at it again, too, but they have not come close to the house since last week. It's nice to have the lights on.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Assigned Reading

This semester, I’m teaching a course called Writing Mystery and Crime Fiction through the local adult ed. program. Besides doing craft exercises and working on their own stories, my students are also reading short fiction by published writers. Here is the list of stories I assigned for the class:

“Until Gwen” by Dennis Lehane
“Skeleton Rattle Your Mouldy Leg” by Bill Pronzini
“The Parker Shotgun” by Sue Grafton
“Too Many Crooks” by Donald E. Westlake
“Grit” by Tom Franklin
“The Takamoku Joseki” by Sara Paretsky
“The Crack Cocaine Diet” by Laura Lippman
“The World Behind” by Chris F. Holm
“El Rey” by Scott Wolven
“Suffer” by J.A. Konrath

The course runs fifteen weeks, with the final five spent on workshops. I might also let them tear apart one of my stories if there is time. I did that with another class, and the students got a kick out of critiquing the teacher.

Thursday, September 11, 2008


“They who can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety.”—Benjamin Franklin to the Pennsylvania Assembly, February 1775.

"I would rather be exposed to the inconveniences attending too much liberty than to those attending too small a degree of it." —Thomas Jefferson, 1791.

“There ought to be limits to freedom.” —George W. Bush, May 1999.

“I’m the decider, and I decide what’s best.” —George W. Bush, April 2006.

“America, we are better than this.” —Barack Obama, August 2008.

Deep Thoughts from Tough Guys: Rock Bottom in Edinburgh Edition

My father had tried to shape me with lashings and harsh words, but look what he’d done. Look what I was. A waster, basically. An alkie loser. Deep down though, I knew I couldn’t blame him. If I’d had it better, who’s to say I would be any different?

—Gus Dury in Paying for It, ©2008 by Tony Black

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

In Which I Make Ready to Go All Davy Crockett on Some Coyotes, or “You Damn Varmints Get Off My Lawn!”

Wild animals are a fact of life out here in the sticks. After twenty-five years of living in Maine, I’m still excited when we see deer, moose or a group of wild turkeys crossing the yard. One summer day not so long ago, I watched a snapping turtle lay her eggs in a sandy bank along the side of our dirt road. But sometimes our encounters with the animals are unpleasant: squirrels and raccoons raid the garbage, a skunk sprays the dog or the dog tries to bite a porcupine, turkeys and deer tear up the corn patch, a fisher eats the cat (okay, that last one isn’t too bad).

I’m talking about coyotes. The howl of a coyote in the night is a sound you’ll never forget. A whole pack howling and yowling together brings a chill to the back of your neck. It’s creepy and beautiful at the same time. There has been a pack of coyotes denned up in the woods just beyond the lower field for years. They don’t usually bother us, though some nights they run close to the house. No big deal. I’m a live-and-let-live sort of hillbilly.

For the past week or so, the coyotes have been running right across the near field. When they start howling, it’s so loud that it sounds like they’re on the porch. Two nights ago, they began howling about an hour before sunset—something I’ve never known them to do. Just after dark, they crossed the yard, singing as they went. I flipped on the outside light, and they went quiet. That’s how close they were.

We keep chickens for eggs and meat. The barn is still under construction, so the birds are kept in a makeshift pen for now. A coyote would not even get winded breaking into that chicken pen. The pack came back three more times that night, each time howling just beyond the edge of the yard. We didn’t get much sleep Monday night. I got good at loading my shotgun in the dark (I also have a rifle; it hits harder, but I’m a lousy shot so the twenty-gauge is a better choice). The chickens still have all their limbs and feathers. No shots were fired.

It rained last night, and we never heard so much as a yip from our noisy neighbors. Today is cool and clear, so we’ll have to see what the night brings. I hope their boldness has reached its peak and the coyotes have enough sense to stay out of the yard. Feral dogs tend to mix into coyote packs and crossbreed with them, which—I suspect—is what happened to make our group start coming so close to the house. Always a few troublemakers…

Sunday, September 7, 2008


You don’t think you’re getting old until something comes along to smack you upside the head with a fistful of reality. Say you’re in the grocery store, bobbing your head to the muzak while comparing prices on low-fat granola. Some small part of you is into the music, though you can’t say why, but the rest of your brain goes about its business.

Later on, maybe as you’re picking up the kids from soccer practice, you realize the tune was “I Wanna Be Sedated.”

Played with violins and flutes.

Maybe a bit of hammered dulcimer in there to really bring it on home.

And you sit there gripping the steering wheel, thinking, Jesus H. Christ, how did that happen?
You know you’re about to begin that downhill slide when songs your parents and teachers considered dangerous become acceptable as shopping music…or for a middle school chorus.


My oldest daughter started fifth grade this year. In our town, that means it’s her first year of junior high. We wanted her to take part in a school activity. She surprised us by signing up for chorus, Rowan being normally too shy to sing anywhere but her bedroom with the door locked and the stereo turned up loud. But she attended her first practice the other day and came home excited. The chorus is going to sing three songs for a Halloween concert.

What are the songs?

“Iron Man” by Black Sabbath.

“Godzilla” by Blue Ӧyster Cult.

“Dream On” by Aerosmith.

Okay, I don’t get the Aerosmith song’s inclusion, either. It’s not exactly spooky material. But if you had told me twenty years ago that my kid would someday belt out I! Am! Iron Man! in a school production, I’d have you needed to stop chugging those two-liter wine coolers. So much for heavy metal’s rebelliousness. What’s next? David Lee Roth turning into a Las Vegas lounge singer? Slash in a car commercial? Oh, wait. Never mind.

Maybe my grandchildren will sing something by W.A.S.P. or Anthrax in grade-school music class.

If it’s too loud, you’re too old.

Friday, August 29, 2008

Plots with Guns

The third issue of Anthony Neil Smith's resurrected Plots with Guns is up and in your face right now. This time around, you get stories from Kent Gowran, Tony Black, Kyle Minor, Glenn Grey, Jedidiah Ayres, Fred Snyder, Mark Joseph Kiewlak and Garnett Elliot. Tony's story alone would be worth the price of admission....if you had to pay for PWG, which you don't 'cause Neil's a cool shit. So why the fuck are you hanging around here? Go read it.

It’s Not You. It’s Me.

You may have noticed that there are fewer links down the right-hand side of this page. About a month ago, I went through the list and deleted any dead links as well as those to sites/blogs that I just don’t often visit. It wasn’t a judgment on the person who maintains a particular site. It was not even a case of disliking those sites. The problem was that I had an ever-growing list of links to pages I seldom read.

For example, I removed the links to a few blogs that are wicked cool and full of funny or insightful stuff. Why? Well, I live in a desolate region known as Dial-Up Land. The blogs in question are image-heavy and it just takes too damn long for my glacial-speed Internet connection to load the pages. Broadband is not an option here. Hell, it takes me the better part of an hour just to open and answer a few e-mails every day. I can’t spend a lot of time waiting for websites and blogs to load when I need to be writing or working around the house.

At some point, I caught up in the whole hey-let’s-exchange-links thing. Other writers e-mailed me and offered to link to my blog if I’d link to theirs. Fair enough. But it got out of hand, kind of like the whole friend thing on the social network sites. I linked to pages I’d only read once. My blogroll went on and on. There are still a few links here that came to me this way, but they’re for blogs that I actually do visit on a regular basis. My new approach to putting up links is this: if I like your blog/site and go there at least once a week, I link to it here. I don’t care whether or not you reciprocate. There are plenty of blogs listed here that do not link to Maine Crime Writer. It doesn’t hurt my feelings. I link to those blogs because I like them. Weird, huh?

So that’s pretty much it. Everything you never wanted to know about linkage at MCW. Now go on and enjoy your long weekend (assuming you get one) by getting outside and spending time with people instead of reading blogs. Maybe talk about that great speech Obama gave last night, or play ball with the kids, or pick the last of the tomatoes in your garden or just sit under a tree with a good book. Go on. It’ll be fun, trust me. You won’t even miss the Wide, Wide World of Web.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Classics, Illustrated

I just re-read this collection of strips from 1986-87 (my senior year of high school), before Bloom County began its long and painful slide into mediocrity. Can't find the record, though. It must be in a box somewhere. Most of the strips in Billy and the Boingers Bootleg are still pretty funny. I mean, when's the last time you heard a good Ed Meese joke? Oop ack!

Friday, August 22, 2008

Fridays: Cruisers by Craig Nova

Cruisers (2004)
Craig Nova

Russell Boyd and Frank Kohler are haunted men. Boyd is a Vermont state trooper who patrols the highways by night, where he wrestles with literal and figurative darkness while trying to come to grips with events from his childhood. Kohler is a computer repairman living in the home of his murdered mother. Their lives, unconnected at first, converge to a point that is violent and inevitable.

Nova is a writer’s writer, which means he produces amazing work in relative (and unjust) obscurity. The structure of Cruisers is a work of art in itself. Then there are the haunting and haunted characters that move through the starkly distilled rural setting. Cruisers works as both a “literary” novel and a country noir. If you’re a fan of Wolven, Woodrell or Gay, you’ll find a lot to like here.

I have to give a shout-out to Brad Barkley and David Anthony Durham, both of whom recommended this book when I attended their workshops at Stonecoast. David took it a step further when he became my mentor and made me read Cruisers. I’m glad he did because I might have missed it otherwise.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Book Review: HARDLY KNEW HER by Laura Lippman

Hardly Knew Her by Laura Lippman
Introduction by George Pelecanos
William Morrow, $23.95
October 2008

A quick glance through my list of favorite authors reveals that I mostly read books by men. That’s not to say I hold to the Penzlerian notion that women are incapable of writing noir. Ladies like Vicki Hendricks, Megan Abbott and Christa Faust write some of the hardest, darkest crime fiction you’ll ever encounter. Non-crime greats Flannery O’Connor and Annie Proulx have influenced my own work. When I thought about my favorites recently, it troubled me that women were a clear minority. I don’t—at least I like to believe I don’t—pick up or dismiss a book based on the author’s gender. So lately I’ve been making a conscious effort to read more books by women.

Which brings me to Laura Lippman and her short story collection, Hardly Knew Her. I’m a latecomer to Lippman fandom, having previously read just two of her novels (In a Strange City and Every Secret Thing), but I’m trying to make up for lost time. Hardly Knew Her reprints sixteen short stories and delivers a brand-new novella, “Scratch a Woman.” The latter is an amazing piece of writing that Lippman herself describes as “a straight-up homage to James M. Cain.” There are stories about prostitutes, stone-cold soccer moms, snooping babysitters who find more than they bargained for, cheating husbands, drug dealers, and every one of them cuts deep. “The Crack Cocaine Diet” and “Scratch a Woman” are about as noir as noir gets. The title story is a perfect combination of heartache and small, secret triumph. There is darkness (a pair of female Mardi Gras revelers tearing a tough guy to shreds in “Pony Girl”) and bitter humor: Her father was so gullible that he could be duped by Mennonites (from “Hardly Knew Her”). Lippman has a keen eye for society’s quirks and minor faults, as well as its flat-out nasty side.

Hardly Knew Her is one of the finest single-author collections I’ve read in a long time. Get it. Read it. Find some guy who only reads male authors, make him park his ass in a chair and read it. He’ll thank you before he finishes the first story.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008


Stopped by one of the vendor tents to pick up some HP Sauce during my annual pilgrimage to the Maine Highland Games last weekend, and discovered true love.
Smoky bacon crisps.

Where have these fucking things been all my life? You think I’m fat now…if I’d been born in the UK and had ready access to these smoky bacony crispy beauties, I’d make Robbie Coltrane look like Hugh Laurie. My new career goal is to get stinkin’ rich and have them airlifted in.

Tune in Tomorrow

On tap for Thursday: a quick review of Laura Lippman's forthcoming short story collection, Hardly Knew Her.

On Friday, I'll continue my sporadic participation in Patti Abbott's Forgotten Books project with my take on Craig Nova's Cruisers.

Don't want to miss out on any of that, now do you?

Monday, August 18, 2008

Zombie Noir

Stephen Blackmoore has some great news of his own. Head on over to his blog and congratulate him on landing Allan "Hard Man" Guthrie as his literary agent. If you don't think that news kicks ass, there's something wrong with you.

He Returns with News

Been offline for a week or so, but I’ve come back with good news on the Bitter Water Blues front. I am now represented by Renée Zuckerbot of the Renée Zuckerbrot Literary Agency. Renée is working with me on some further revision of BWB before she starts shopping it around. Her ideas have helped me strengthen the manuscript, and I’m excited to have her as my agent.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

A Tribute to James Patrick Kelly

Jim Kelly, my former mentor, was Guest of Honor at Readercon last month. Sandra McDonald and Erin Underwood put together a chapbook of short essays about Jim by his current and former students in the Stonecoast MFA program and some of the most prestigious speculative fiction workshops. They surprised Jim with the book during the convention. It was a privilege to take part in creating this gift for a guy who made me a better writer. Here is the essay I wrote for the tribute book:

It’s a hard admission to make, but I ain’t the sharpest crayon in the box. I applied to Stonecoast, not knowing what I’d take away from those two years—aside from an MFA. I had a BFA in creative writing. Some of my stories and poems had already seen publication in dinky little journals, and I wanted to move on to the next level. I’d started a novel, a sort of Erskine Caldwell-meets-Elmore Leonard kind of thing, but it was adrift after only about seventy pages. Maybe I could get help pounding the goddamned thing into shape at Stonecoast.

Yeah, I got some help. Even better, I got Jim Fucking Kelly. Jim is a one-man fiction program. If there’s anything he doesn’t know about story—and I doubt there is—then you won’t need it. Jim taught me how to round out my characters more fully. He taught me how to make plots work without planning out every little detail in advance. He showed me ways to up the tension. He read my packets and asked the big questions: “Why?” and “So then what?” and “How will you do that?” He helped me rein in my usual nihilistic impulses (it’s a good idea to have at least a couple of characters still alive at the end of the book…readers like that kind of thing). He rode my ass to get things done. More importantly, Jim taught me to trust my instincts.

MFA? Jim Kelly don’t need no steenking MFA. But Stonecoast ought to give him an honorary one anyway. He’s earned it, and then some.

If your writing doesn’t improve after spending a semester with Jim then, sporty, you just aren’t trying. I graduated from Stonecoast ten times the writer I’d been during my first residency, largely because I had James Patrick Kelly as a mentor.


So I still ain’t the sharpest crayon in the box, but I am one lucky bastard.

The Case of the Missing Comments

A couple of comments on Tuesday’s post about comic book characters have gone missing. The comments showed up in my e-mail, but not on the blog. They don’t appear to have been deleted by their authors, and I didn’t shitcan them, but they’re gone anyway. Blogger glitch? Conspiracy?

So here are those comments, salvaged from my inbox:

Jon Jordan said:
Cool post. however... :) You forgot Gregg Hurwitz writing Fool Killer, Gary Phillips has been writing comics, and DC Vertigo is launching Vertigo Crime which will bring some more familiar face to comics. Rankin is doing a Hellblazer. Max Allan Collins also did Batman and Ms Tree and WILDDOG! Going the other way, Brian Azzarello is writing a short story for Jen Jordan's next anthology.

Stephen Blackmoore said:
If I could get the rights I'd totally do that Buster Brown thing. I think the Brown Shoe Company might have a problem with it, though.Bastards.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Hey Kids, Comics! Crime Writin’ Comic Book Geeks

The subject of crime novelists who’ve been working in comics came up during a conversation I had with another writer last week. We agreed that it was cool thing. Charlie Huston found new readers with his work on Marvel’s Moon Knight. Denise Mina had a successful run on DC’s Hellblazer. Duane Swierczynski’s Cable is popular, and he’s now writing The Immortal Iron Fist as well. Victor Gischler recently gave us his take on The Punisher in the Little Black Book one-shot, and now he is writing issues 71 through 75 of the regular Punisher comic. Then there’s Greg Rucka, who has written Batman, Wonder Woman, Spiderman and Checkmate (my personal favorite of his comics work), among others. Rucka was also one of the co-writers of 52, which—love it or hate it—made big news.

I grew up on comics, and have long wanted to write for them (Dark Horse and DC take note). Realizing I’m not alone in that, I asked some other crime writers which comics characters they would most like to get their hands on. Here’s what they had to say…

Bill Crider (frighteningly prolific author of mysteries, including the Sheriff Dan Rhodes series and the Edgar Award-nominated/Derringer-winning short story “Cranked,” horror novels and westerns): Plastic Man. I'd go back to the original, but I'd never be able to do as well. Zany, stretchy crime-fighting goodness.

Scott Wolven (author of Controlled Burn: Stories of Prison, Crime and Men): The Winter Soldier. Almost assassinating Red Skull? That's badass. 'Nuff said.

Anthony Rainone (New York Editor, Crimespree Magazine; Contributing Editor, January Magazine; book reviewer, The Lincoln Journal Star; co-editor of The Lineup; novelist and short story writer): was/am a big comic book fan. I read more when I was younger than now, but I still keep up.

I read widely and admired so many comic book characters, but I am partial to Iron Man. Maybe it's because he has the same first name, maybe because he grew up on Long Island near my home, maybe it's because he was a military weapons genius and I was into war too, or maybe it was the cool metal armor. Yeah, I think it was the armor.

I liked the vulnerability of Tony Stark, the bad heart, but the good soul. The fact that he was rich was appealing in an altruistic way: the man could do anything and go anywhere, but he chose to help people. He was that white knight that patrolled the dark streets for those in need of help. He had his dark side, yeah. I liked that too. Getting back to that armor, it not only protected him, but shielded him from others. In a way, it made him an outsider.

If I were asked to write a comic, it'd be Tony Stark.

Victor Gischler (Edgar Award-nominated author of Go-Go Girls of the Apocalypse, Pistol Poets, Gun Monkeys and others): First, I'm grateful and glad to be writing some issues of Punisher. No complaints. But I'd love to take a crack at the old Weird War Tales or Sgt. Rock. Challengers of the Unknown and Doom Patrol would be cool too. These all had a great pulpy feel, and as a 10-15 year old I couldn't get enough.

Gerald So (fiction editor of Thrilling Detective, founding editor of The Lineup): If the question is really who I'd most like to write, I'd have to go with Superman/Clark Kent. Sure, he's been around forever, but I've always related best to the strange visitor believing in the core values of his new home such that he'd want to live the American Dream himself.My single- or six-issue run would have Clark either powerless or unable to change into the Superman outfit—lost at Metro Dry Cleaners?!!—because I like the idea of Clark working in secret, doing what he can without the swooping gesture that gathers a crowd. The storyline might be that Clark has sworn not to don the tights and cape in an effort to show Lois they can have some semblance of a "normal" relationship to together. And yet, do-gooder that he is, he can't resist helping people where he can.

Anthony Neil Smith (author of Yellow Medicine, The Drummer and Psychosomatic; editor of Plots with Guns): I want to write Sgt. Rock. For some reason, I loved those when I was a kid, and have rediscovered him in the last few years. Solid war stories, but sometimes they'd throw in something weird--Sgt. Rock in the future, or an annual where he has to face down his evil brother. Plus, you always felt the violence meant something deeper than simple superhero stuff. You actually had drawings of dead soldiers on those pages. You grieved when someone from Easy Co. died (but the core of them remarkably survived, of course).

And in a related side note, would also love to re-launch The Unknown Soldier (he was a guy with his face all bandaged up fighting all over the place).

Stephen Blackmoore (author of “Come to Jesus,” “Sumo” and other ass-kicking noir stories): Buster Brown. Only instead of some moralizing little punk I'd make him a 40-year-old, ether-binging, psycho midget with a thing for straight razors and little boy's outfits. Feeds the carved up scraps of his victims to his dog, Tige. So far gone he thinks it's Tige who plans the killings, Tige who tells him to cut off a nose, slit a throat. Hell, maybe he's right.

Buster takes orders from William Randolph Hearst. Assassinations, random murders. Gives the old man fodder for his papers, takes out his enemies. Fucking with Buster's head with these twisted, psycho-sexual mind games. Hearst would be like this fucked up Charlie giving Buster orders recorded on wax cylinders delivered to his Brooklyn brownstone by a prostitute named Mary Jane. Sometimes Buster calls her his sister and sometimes his mother. Sometimes he just screams at her and calls her whore.

I mean, seriously, have you seen this fucker's face? Straight out of a gothic nightmare, those Marty Feldman eyes burning holes right through you. Imagine seeing that sitting on your chest and flashing a straight razor at your eyeballs in the middle of the night. I'd shit myself right there.

"Good evening, Buster." Hearst's voice scratchy and distant through the phonograph's horn, the words ones that Buster has learned to dread. "I have a job for you."

Buster puts the ether soaked rag to his face. Lets the fumes drift him away.

"Better?" Hearst's voice says, thick and slow like molasses. Like he's in the room. Watching him. Fucker knows Buster too well. And Buster doesn't like it.

"The fuck d'you want," Buster slurs. Knows it's a recording. Knows it can't hear him.

"Ignore it," Tige says from the floor, gnawing at a tick on his balls. "He's just using you. Using us."

"I need something done, Buster," Hearst says. "A little thing. Just light a match. Nothing more. On a boat. In Cuba. Do you think you can do that, Buster? Can you do that for me, son?"

Tige perks up. "Fire?" he says. "We can do fire."

"And cutting," Buster says, hands clenched tight, licking his lips. "Can't forget the cutting."

Patti Abbott (Derringer Award-winning author of "My Hero"): I'll choose Lana Lang in her incarnation as Insect Girl. Always found the Superboy/Lana Lang romance a sweet one.

Stephen D. Rogers (poet and short story writer): I'd have to go with Captain America, aka Steve Rogers. Besides the name thing, I'm a World War II buff, so Captain America's a great fit. I'm no artist, however, so you'll have to find someone else to do the illustrations. How soon do you need a storyline?

Sandra Ruttan (author of Suspicious Circumstances, What Burns Within and the forthcoming The Frailty of Flesh; editor of Spinetingler Magazine): Snowbird. With the news that Wolverine has been robbed of his Canadian heritage in the new Wolverine movie, I found myself wondering what I, as a Canadian, could offer to Wolverine that perhaps a non-Canadian couldn't. This led me in the direction of Alpha Flight, a rare Canadian superhero team that originally contributed to Wolverine's back story.

Snowbird is one of the Alpha Flight characters. Alpha Flight drew heavily on Canadian Aboriginal myths and legends, which I find fascinating, and that's one of the reasons I have a Native protagonist as part of my series. I've also had a long-standing love affair with the north, which is part of the reason I find Snowbird particularly interesting. Any creature that can become a white wolf is one that has my interest.

In truth, I find it more interesting to consider characters that aren't as popular or overdone. I'm a fan of Batman and The Dark Knight, but I feel that with characters that are already well established you have less leeway with them, more confinement in how you write them. The thing that would be most fun about going back to original Alpha Flight members is the fact that they're not as well known, which allows you to put more of your creative stamp on them and redefine them for a new audience.

Daniel Hatadi (founder of Crimespace, poet, author of “Buddha Behind Bars” and other stories): Back when I was young enough to be doing a morning paper delivery run, I used every single one of the thirteen dollars I earned each week to buy a handful of comics. Although dark and alternative stories had started coming out from the smaller presses around this time (1985-1990), I was exclusively a Marvel fan. Spiderman, The Hulk, The Fantastic Four and DC's Batman, Superman, The Green Lantern were also something I avoided. I'd watched enough of those on Saturday morning television.

So I found myself going for the fringe dwellers of the Marvel universe. Lines like Wolverine (in his own stories), The New Mutants, Doctor Strange and Hellstorm were more to my thirteen-year-old taste, but it was a little known and not hugely successful series that brings back my fondest memories: Cloak & Dagger.

Cloak and Dagger were both teenage runaways who hooked up on the streets of New York. Like most new super heroes around the time, they were both mutants, although their latent abilities were brought out by criminals who used them as guinea pigs for experimental drugs.

Dagger's power was the ability to generate light, which could be used as an offensive weapon, or a tool for removing drugs from a person's system. A polar opposite to Dagger, Cloak wielded an extra-dimensional cloak that sucked all the light out of its surroundings or people trapped within it, who would quickly end up catatonic from fear and despair.

Yeah, a little like the Harry Potter universe's Dementors.

Unlike these inexplicable beings, Cloak and Dagger both had a fairly fleshed out back story, with Dagger being an uptown girl whose parents never paid her any attention; and Cloak, whose speech impediment led to the death of his best friend. What also makes them special is their somewhat symbiotic relationship. Cloak's darkness was always held at bay by Dagger's light, in a very literal sense, as both became self-styled vigilantes who punished the criminals that experimented on them, before moving on to take down other criminals.

Seeing how I have such an interest in the crossover of horror and crime as genres, Cloak and Dagger would be something I'd jump at in a second. First thing I'd do would be to get rid of Dagger, just to see how I could handle Cloak's inevitable spiral into doom and gloom, with maybe a little redemption thrown in just before it all gets too much. Maybe.

What I learned just now while looking up these old faves is that Marvel is working on some new stories for these two, albeit in a limited series. I'm looking forward to seeing how they tackle it, and that means I'll be buying my first Marvel comics in almost two decades.

And what about me? I’d love to write a story for Eric Powell’s The Goon. Or better yet, a one-shot about Willie Nagel, one of Goon’s supporting cast; he’s a small-time grifter who just happens to be a zombie. Or Frankie. The scary thing about Frankie is that Goon is his moral compass. Think about that shit.

I also want to write Jonah Hex because Hex is such a badass and he’s one of the few comic book heroes uglier than me. The Suicide Squad would be dark and nasty fun, too. Maybe some odd/obscure DC characters like Baron Winter, The Creeper, The Losers or Creature Commandos. And Batman, of course. He’s been my favorite character since I was just a little bastard. I want to replace Grant Morrison on Batman. That’s not asking for much, is it? Give me Batman.

Mucho thanks to all the writers who played along. It was fun reading your answers. Except for Blackmoore’s. I feel dirty for liking his Buster Brown idea.

Friday, August 1, 2008

Work, Work, Work

I wrote three pages of the sequel to Bitter Water Blues today. Not a great amount, but I’m happy with the way the words came together. The story picks up seven months after the events of the first book, and I sort of have somewhat of an idea where it might be going.

Also, I just got a gig copy-editing the first novel in a new mystery series by an established author. It’s freelance, but the pay’s decent and the publisher might throw some more work my way. Looks like we’ll be able to buy some groceries in August after all.

Reason Number 5,690 Why I Am a Dick

My kids live in fear. They dread next spring, when all the TV networks make the big switch to HD. Why? Because I keep telling them I don’t care enough about television to buy a new set, or even to shell out thirty bucks for one of those converter boxes.

TV sucks ass. Now, you can go into an evangelical fury and tell me how something like The Wire is the exception to the rule, but you’d be wasting your time. I'm sure it's a wonderful show, well-written and brilliantly-acted. So what? The fact that a few programs are good enough to transcend the usual level of swill which makes up the other 99% of broadcast time isn’t enough to win me over. Shitty shows aren’t going to be any better in high-def.
Ooh, American Idol. Ooh, America’s Best Dog. Ooh, CSI Kalamazoo. Why does that kind of trash sell? Because it's what most people want. In too many cases, it's about all they can handle.

The only reason I even have a TV is to rent DVDs from Netflix…and most of those are older movies. I don’t even watch TV news. I listen to NPR and read newspapers and reports online. I don’t want the news to entertain me. I just want the fucking info.

My in-laws subscribe to the Dish Network. 35,000 channels and all they do is bitch that there’s nothing on. My father-in-law switches back and forth from the History Channel to the Weather Channel all day long. And they pay something like eighty bucks a month for the privilege. Now there’s a hell of a bargain.

But the girls will bat their eyes at me. Their chins will quiver. They’ll try to hit me with “We only want to watch PBS Kids.” Never mind the fact that PBS runs the same episode of any given children’s show three out of five days a week. Never mind the fact that my girls are only allowed to watch one hour of TV a day anyway.

I’ll stand my ground. I’ll be the bad guy. And then next spring I’ll drink the Kool-Aid with everybody else and shell out the money for a new TV.

But I’ll still be right, even if I am a dick. And that’s what counts.

I think.