"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 Big Reap, The Wrong Goodbye and Dead Harvest.

"Bagley's got the poet's eye, but that doesn't mean everything is prettier in his work. It means the ugly stuff is more vivid. More intense. Like a sudden switch from analog to HD. And that's a trait to very much admire in his work." --Anthony Neil Smith, author of Hogdoggin', Yellow Medicine, The Drummer and Psychosomatic.




Thursday, January 31, 2008

"Seven Days of Rain"

Congratulations to Chris Holm. His “Seven Days of Rain” has won the Spinetingler Award for Best Short Story on the Web. Go read it if you haven’t already. Hell, go read it even if you have. It’s that good.

The list of the other winners and nominees is impressive. Check it out at the new Spinetingler sister site, At Central Booking, which is a portal to all kinds of cool crime fiction-related stuff.

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Traditions

What follows is the final section of the 15-page preface to my MFA creative thesis (which consists of the first 125 pages of Bitter Water Blues). It's as close as I'm likely to get to an artist's statement.
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V: Traditions

My fiction has its roots in the darker aspects of rural life. I came to Maine when I was 14 years old and lived with a working-class family that held few aspirations for the future beyond having food on the table and a roof overhead. Reading was something you only did when required by a teacher. Unless it was part of an assignment, writing of any kind was viewed with open contempt. My father labeled all writers, musicians and artists as "faggots." I was a stranger, a family member who had lived all of his life until then in a small city in upstate New York. I might as well have been from Mars.

I spent a lot of time locked in my room with books and records. When I did interact with other people, it was mostly as an observer. Since I did not fit in, I decided to sit back, to watch and listen. I learned the speech patterns and mannerisms of Mainers. I saw the inherited traits in faces, in ways of walking or standing. All the while, I dreamed of finishing high school and getting out…but by then the place and the people were under my skin and—after a few months in Hollywood—I came back to stay.

Rural life is far more complex than city dwellers might think. There are unwritten rules that we all learn. To break them is to be branded for life; in some cases, that stigma goes on for generations. People can become trapped by their environment here just as surely as in some urban ghetto.

When I was 18 years old, my girlfriend’s father loaned me a copy of Carolyn Chute’s The Beans of Egypt, Maine. It was a revelation. I had grown up reading the fantasies of Michael Moorcock, Robert E. Howard, Roger Zelazny and Fritz Leiber, as well as the horror novels of Stephen King. Literature, as it had been taught in school, held little interest for me. With few exceptions, the stories were all about upper-class Englishmen, while the poems were about Greek gods and long-dead kings. Such material was irrelevant to my life.

Chute’s writing was raw and intense, her characters alive. More to the point, I knew these characters. They were just like the real people among whom I lived and worked. I have read that novel many times over the last twenty years and, though the writing no longer impresses me as it once did, the characters still break my heart. In some ways, Hag is a bastard son of Reuben Bean.

As an undergrad working toward my BFA, I wrote stories about such hardscrabble characters. I was obsessed by their troubles and their small triumphs, by the strength that kept them going through tough times. John Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath, Cormac McCarthy’s Child of God and Blood Meridian, Erskine Caldwell’s Tobacco Road and Charles Bukowski’s Ham on Rye, all of which I read for the first time as a college freshman, were major influences on my developing stories.

I discovered crime fiction in 1993, when I read James Lee Burke’s Dixie City Jam. Though Burke’s hero, Dave Robicheaux was a detective, the story bore no resemblance to the polite drawing room mysteries my grandmother had loved. In those stories, the solving of the puzzle was everything, and all the characters were flat. Burke wrote down and dirty fiction that lived, breathed, kicked and screamed. His protagonist was a sort of knight errant who often came close to crossing the line into criminal behavior himself. I started writing crime fiction myself, at first imitating Burke’s style.

After Burke, I moved on to Walter Mosley, Elmore Leonard, then Raymond Chandler, Dashiell Hammett and James M. Cain. More recent writers like George Pelecanos, Ken Bruen, Victor Gischler, Daniel Woodrell and Scott Wolven—especially Wolven—have also affected my work.

Crime fiction is the best way to explore the themes that matter to me: loss, poverty, abuse, and the consequences of violence and of keeping secrets. My characters steal to eat or pay the rent or support their meth habit. They drink, smoke, burp, fart and use foul language. They commit violent acts and attempt to cover them up. I do not glorify violence, though. I try to portray it realistically: brutal, ugly, degrading and messy, as when Hag makes his first kill. Many of my characters come to bad ends, sometimes dragging their loved ones down with them. This is what novelist J.D. Rhoades has called “redneck noir.” It is what I do, and I hope that Bitter Water Blues will someday be considered a classic example of this sub-genre.

Monday, January 21, 2008

Today’s Word Count

This morning I wrote 2,107 words of a short story called “Welcome to Val-U-Mart, Motherfucker.” It’s for an anthology, and is due soon. I want to make sure I get it finished in time to do some revisions.

I'll work on Bitter Water Blues after the kids are in bed tonight. I expect to get in another thousand there.

NOTE: Having just Googled "Val-U-Mart" and found it to be a real store, I now have to come up with a new name. No big deal.

Friday, January 18, 2008

2008 Edgar Awards

The Mystery Writers of America’s 2008 Edgar Award nominees have been announced. A complete listing is available on their website, but here are the categories and nominees that interest me:

Best Novel
Christine Falls by Benjamin Black
Priest by Ken Bruen
The Yiddish Policemen's Union by Michael Chabon
Soul Patch by Reed Farrel Coleman
Down River by John Hart
My pick: Priest by Ken Bruen

Best First Novel By An American Author
Missing Witness by Gordon Campbell
In the Woods by Tana French
Snitch Jacket by Christopher Goffard
Head Games by Craig McDonald
Pyres by Derek Nikitas
My pick: no opinion

Best Paperback Original
Queenpin by Megan Abbott
Blood of Paradise by David Corbett
Cruel Poetry by Vicki Hendricks
Robbie's Wife by Russell Hill
Who is Conrad Hirst? by Kevin Wignall
My pick: Cruel Poetry by Vicki Hendricks

Best Short Story
"The Catch" - Still Waters by Mark Ammons (Level Best Books)
"Blue Note" - Chicago Blues by Stuart M. Kaminsky (Bleak House Books)
"Hardly Knew Her" - Dead Man's Hand by Laura Lippman (Harcourt Trade Publishers)
"The Golden Gopher" - Los Angeles Noir by Susan Straight (Akashic Books)
"Uncle" - A Hell of a Woman by Daniel Woodrell (Busted Flush Press)
My pick: "Uncle" by Daniel Woodrell

Discuss (vermin and riff-raff, too).

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

What's with the new blog?

Hillbillies and Hitmen was fun, but it became a caricature of itself (or maybe of me). How much of a hick can I be today? That sort of thing. Sure, I’m a hick—and proud of it—but that often seemed like the entire focus of the blog…that and whatever dumb topics happened to catch my attention. The fact that it was a writer’s blog somehow got obscured by the silliness. Mea culpa.

So here it is: a brand-spanking-new blog. Maine Crime Writer. I think the title is descriptive enough. This one will be more about writing—and being a crime writer in Maine—than the old one. I’ll also do a lot more with book reviews and author profiles. There will still be links to other writers’ sites, as well as my friends’ blogs; I’ll get those up as soon as possible.

Exciting things are happening with my career right now. I hope to be able to share that news here soon.

Thanks for coming by.

P.