"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.




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)
By
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

Uuuhhh...bacon

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.
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.

Twice.

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.