"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, 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)
By
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.
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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.