"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.

Wednesday, December 30, 2009


I've been away from blogging for a while. Miss me? Be honest now. Things are looking up here, job-wise and health-wise, and that means I'll do a better job of keeping up with ol' Bitter Water Blog.

Last month, I talked about setting up a separate blog just for book reviews and author interviews. I even asked you guys to come up with a name for the thing. The deal was that I'd pick a winner and award him or her a copy of Sam Millar's The Dark Place.

Well, I'm going to stick with having just one blog, as that seems more than enough to occupy my spare time right now. But that doesn't mean I've forgotten about you people who submitted blog titles for the contest. I threw all of your names into a hat and drew out two. That's right, I have two copies of The Dark Place and I'm giving them to...

Kieran Shea and Alan Griffiths. Send me an e-mail with your mailing address and I'll get them out to you right away (or what passes for right away in my world).

Watch this space for reviews and interviews (including Sam Millar) over the next few weeks.

Thanks for hanging around.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

The Road Goes on Forever

Over at Hardboiled Wonderland, Jed Ayres has been running a brilliant series of guest postings about crime songs. My little contribution, in which I talk about Robert Earl Keen's "The Road Goes on Forever," went up yesterday. Hope you guys like it. Thanks, Jed, for letting me sit in.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Name That Blog Contest

I keep getting free books from publicists and authors who want me to review them here at Bitter Water Blog. That's not what this space is all about, so I'm starting a new blog that will feature reviews of crime/mystery novels and anthologies, author interviews, guest posts and other writerly bullshit. But it needs a name. That's where you people come in. If you have a good idea (hell, even a bad idea's better than what I've come up with so far), post your blog title suggestion in the comments section here. I'll choose the winner (by which I mean the one I think sounds coolest) on November 30.

Now don't worry...I wouldn't ask you to wrack your brain without due compensation. The lucky winner will receive a copy of Sam Millar's latest Karl Kane novel, The Dark Place. If you dig Irish noir, you'll love this guy. If you don't dig Irish noir, there's something wrong with you.

Bitter Water Blog will still be the place to come for all my blatant (if sporadic) self-promotion.

Okay now: start thinkin'.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Poetry Readings

I want to tell you about a couple of exciting poetry readings happening this month.

On October 22, the KGB Bar at 85 East 4th Street in New York will host a reading of work from The Lineup: Poems on Crime from 7 to 9 p.m. Karen Peterson, Gerald So, Jennifer L. Knox, R, Narvaez, Carol Novack and Anthony Rainone are the featured poets. In addition, I've just learned that Anthony will be reading my poem "11o M.P.H. in a Stolen Pickup" (from The Lineup's first issue).

On October 24, The Bangor Public Library (145 Harlow St., Bangor, ME) presents a 350 Poetry Reading: 13 Poets and a Chemist from 12 to 3 p.m. This reading is part of the International Day of Climate Action.

From the press release: "The world has only a very narrow window of opportunity to undertake a dramatic shift towards a low-carbon society and prevent the worst scenarios of scientists from coming true. In anticipation of the UN Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen thisDecember, an International Day of Climate Action has been spearheaded by 350.org, the brainchild of environmental writer Bill McKibben. More than a number, 350 signifies the safe upper limit of CO2 in our atmosphere. Join an impressive gathering of Maine poets for readings that reflect their concerns for the environment. The afternoon will be hosted by Kathleen Ellis & will include live jazz, a closing reception, & book sales & signings."

Featured poets include Christian Barter, Henry Braun, Linda Buckmaster, Cheryl Daigle, Kathleen Ellis (with chemist Francois Amarleonore Hildebrandt), Gary Lawless, Kristen Lindquist, Carl Little, Dawn Potter, Candace Stover, Elizabeth Tibbetts and Jeffrey Thomson.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Call for Submissions: The Feral Pages

Lyman Feero is taking submissions for his new cross-genre e-zine, The Feral Pages. The October/November issue goes live on 10/15. Featured stories include Chris F. Holm's wonderfully disturbing "A Better Life" and my own "The Cove." Submission guidelines can be found here. I hope all of you writers and readers will help support what promises to be a unique new venue for short fiction.

Friday, September 25, 2009

What I've Been Doin' Lately

I just submitted a short story called "The Cove" to Lyman Feero for his forthcoming e-zine The Feral Pages. I don't know if my story will make the grade, but I'm interested to see the debut issue of this new cross-genre 'zine. "The Cove" is, of course, just the sort of heart-warming tale you've come to expect from me. Just messin'. Don't panic. It's another down-and-dirty Wesserunsett story.

Jed Ayres is posting a series of narratives about crime songs on the Hardboiled Wonderland blog. He's going to run them over the next few weeks. I wrote a piece about Robert Earl Keen's song "The Road Goes on Forever." When I told my wife about it, she said, "Big surprise there." So maybe I do play that tune a bit too often.

On the novel front, there's bad news and good. The bad news is that Bitter Water Blues hasn't found a publisher. The good news is that Bitter Water Blues hasn't found a publisher.


That's right, I'm happy with rejection because it made me take a serious, critical look at the manuscript. Right now, I'm working on a complete rewrite, including the removal of one of the major characters and his entire storyline. Hey, I've told you people before that revision doesn't scare me.

I'm also working on turning some previously-trimmed sections of BWB into a short story. We'll see how that goes...

Monday, September 14, 2009

I Do Miss The Little Buggers, But...

Just as Dawn Potter predicted, my writing output has shot right up since the kids went back to school. I'm working on two new manuscripts (one short, one long), revising an older short story and finishing up a nonfiction piece. It's nice to just put on some tunes and work straight through the morning with no distractions.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Muckle Onto a Free Copy of UNCAGE ME

Want to win a free copy of Uncage Me? Of course you do. Who wouldn't? Well, Terrie Farley Moran has one to give away at the Women of Mystery blog. She also says some nice things about my story, "Welcome to Wal-Mart, Motherfucker." Go on over there for all the details. The entry deadline is this Saturday.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Notes from the Backside of Nowhere

There hasn't been much of anything to report here lately. I'm writing the first draft of a new novel while revising some older work. I don't have anything new coming out for a while. I'm teaching two writing courses this fall and trying to snag some more freelance work.

And that's pretty much it. School begins September 2. My youngest starts kindergarten this year and my oldest hits the sixth grade. With the house empty every morning, I ought to be able to get a lot of work done.

(The picture was taken from the edge of my front yard.)

Monday, August 10, 2009

David Anthony Durham Wins the John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer

Congratulations to my friend and former mentor David Anthony Durham, who just won the John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer for his novel Acacia. It's odd to see David get a "Best New Writer" award when he has four published novels under his belt, but Acacia was his first work of fantasy. David's other books are Gabriel's Story, Walk Through Darkness, Pride of Carthage and the forthcoming The Other Lands (second novel in the Acacia Trilogy).

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

You'll Be Sorry If You Don't

Sophie Littlefield's debut novel, A Bad Day for Sorry, hits bookstore shelves today. Go on out a get yourself a copy.

Stella Hardesty dispatched her abusive husband with a wrench shortly before her fiftieth birthday. A few years later, she's so busy delivering home-style justice on her days off, helping other women deal with their own abusive husbands and boyfriends, that she barely has time to run her sewing shop in her rural Missouri hometown. Some men need more convincing than others, but it's usually nothing a little light bondage or old-fashioned whuppin' can't fix. Since Stella works outside of the law, she's free to do whatever it takes to get the job done—as long as she keeps her distance from the handsome devil of a local sheriff, Goat Jones.

Normally, when I read the words "sewing shop" on the back of a book, I drop that sucker and run for the nearest restroom to wash my hands. But Sophie's got proven noir chops and a sick sense of humor I admire. Damn, she can write. I'm looking forward to finally getting to read A Bad Day for Sorry.

Monday, August 3, 2009

Damage, Inc.

If you haven't already, you should take a look at Do Some Damage. It's a new group blog by crime writers Steve Weddle, Jay Stringer, John McFetridge, Dave White, Russel D. McLean, Scott D. Parker and Mike Knowles. What's it all about? I'll let them tell you:

Do Some Damage is a group of seven crime writers, each with a different voice and something to say. From grizzled vets to grizzly rooks, they pull back the curtain on the way the industry works. Whether beating deadlines or beating characters, each week they share their thoughts on reading, writing, plot, voice and all the sordid junk that goes through a writer’s brain.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

I've Never Been Called "Top Quality" Before...

Blogging at Women of Mystery, the perspicacious Terry Farley Moran has many nice things to say about Uncage Me, including this: "I was delighted to see so many top quality contributors: Declan Burke, Tim Maleeny, J.D. Rhoades and Patrick Shawn Bagley to name a few."

Among her favorite pieces in the anthology is Steven Torres' "The Biography Stoop, the Thief." I agree it's a great story and, given just how much reviewers seem to dig it, I'll be surprised if it fails to garner Steven a few award nominations next year.

Terry plans on raffling off a copy of Uncage Me next month, so check back at Women of Mystery for further details. Of course, you could always buy a copy from your local independent bookseller (or order online). No pressure. I'm just saying.

Saturday, August 1, 2009

...And Leaving the Party Early

Okay, I gave up on Michael Connelly's Echo Park. About halfway through it, I had an epiphany: Hey, waitaminute. This really is just another serial killer novel.

Have I mentioned before that I don't like serial killer novels? Nor do I give a rat's ass about profiling and forensics.

Throw in the fact that the dialogue is stiff (it must be odd living in a world where people hardly ever use contractions) and Harry Bosch is a jazz snob, and I'm outta there. I had to reread my ARC of Gischler's The Deputy just to cleanse the ol' palate.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Late to the Party

This is probably a strange admission, coming as it does from a writer of crime fiction, but I've just started reading my first Michael Connelly novel. I hear you out there: Are you nuts, Bagley? How can you NOT have read Michael Connelly before now?

Easy. I've always hated going along with the crowd, whether we're talking about politics, religion or books. Another reason I avoid the big bestsellers is that they're often overrated. I'll admit I'd long dismissed Connelly as just another guy who wrote serial-killer stories. But I recently read a fascinating interview with him in Craig McDonald's Art in the Blood. I began to think that maybe I've been missing out on something good by avoiding Connelly's novels.

I'm only about a third of the way through Echo Park. It's the twelfth book in the Harry Bosch series--my local library doesn't have the earliest installments. So far, I've been pleasantly surprised. Connelly's prose is terse, his characters well-drawn. On top of that, the man has something to say.

What about you? Are there any "must-read" authors you avoided, only to discover that you liked them? 'Fess up now...

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Uncage Me Reviewed at BSC

Over at Bookspot Central, the infamous Nerd of Noir has given his blood-stained seal of approval to Uncage Me. His Nerdness says, "A whole fucking fleet of the Nerd’s personal faves are writing sans-fucking-abandon in Uncage Me. Favorite novelists Allan Guthrie, Scott Phillips, Victor Gischler, and Christa Faust are rocking the fuck alongside short story extrordinaires like Greg Bardsley, Patrick Shawn Bagley, and Stephen Blackmoore...The range in this motherfucker is simply from rock-solid to fucking brilliant." You can read the full review here.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Uncage Me Unleashed

Uncage Me went on sale today. Yeah, I'm probably biased because I have a story in it, but I think it's a helluva good anthology. Editor Jen Jordan put together new work by some of the best writers in the crimefic biz: Christa Faust, Scott Phillips, Victor Gischler, Greg Bardsley, J.A. Konrath, Stephen Blackmoore, Allan Guthrie, Declan Burke and more, with an introduction by none other than John Connolly. Ask for it at your local bookstore or order online ($24.95 cloth/$14.95 trade paperback).

Monday, July 13, 2009

August Hanrahan is Dead. Long Live August Hanrahan

Not long after my short story “Pandora” appeared in Thrilling Detective, I began taking a fresh look at it and wondering if it could be expanded upon. I was mostly pleased with the story as written, but felt there might be more to it. So I sat down and started diddling with the thing. After a couple of days, the realization crept up and kicked me in the nards: I’d begun turning “Pandora” into a novel.

For those of you who haven’t read the original story (you bastards!), August Hanrahan was a private investigator until he lost his license for interfering with a police investigation (and inadvertently causing the deaths of two people). His left hand was also maimed during that final case and can no longer play guitar. He’s embittered, angry and prone to violence. A couple of old hippies convince August to search for a missing child, goading him into it by mentioning his murdered nephew. Wind him up and off he goes…

Now. Here’s the problem.

I hate August’s name.

Sure, I came up with it, but I’ve come to hate that fucking name. It sounds like I tried too hard to give him a unique moniker, something along the lines of Elvis Cole, Derek Strange, Harry Bosch, Easy Rawlins, etc. I like those characters, don’t get me wrong. It’s just that August sounds gimmicky.

Before he was called August, the character’s name was Gideon “Giddy” Cross. Yeah, I know that’s even worse. I was going to keep it though, until I discovered it had been the name of an obscure comic book character from the ‘70s. But Gideon Cross wasn’t the character’s original name, either.

The character who later became Gideon Cross and then August Hanrahan began life in a story called “The Western Gate,” which was published in issue #53 of The Iconoclast (1998). He wasn’t a detective then, but crime was a central element. The character’s name at the time?

Harris Tilton.

The idea was that he hated the name Harris (and hated being called Harry almost as much), so he always insisted that people call him Tilt. I’ve mulled it over for a while now, and I’ve decided to reinstate the character’s original name. Does it matter to anyone but me? Probably not. But writing Pandora-the-novel feels much more natural in Tilt’s voice than it did in August’s…even though the voice is essentially the same. “It’s all in your head…it’s all in your head…”

So I’ll leave you with a treat (depending on your idea of a “treat”). What follows is the opening page of “The Western Gate,” the very first Tilt story, as published in The Iconoclast eleven years ago. Warts and all. The title, by the way, is taken from Edwin Arlington Robinson’s poem “Luke Havergal.”


My father sits there smoking a Lucky Strike, watching Rollo State Penitentiary and the eight grid-patterned streets of Rollo, Wyoming getting smaller in the passenger’s-side mirror. When finally there is nothing behind us but mountaintops and nothing ahead but rolling pasture and the arrow-straight macadam, he looks at me and says, “Thanks.” His first word to me since I picked him up outside the gate. Hell, his first word to me in my whole life as far as I can remember. I’d never even gotten a letter from him until about three months ago.

He’s clean-shaven with a fresh haircut to match. His hair’s mostly gray and his skin’s surprisingly tan for a guy who’s spent twenty-three of the last thirty years in prison. Other than the hair, a few wrinkles and a small fish hook-shaped scar below his left earlobe, he looks just like me. No wonder my mother couldn’t stand the sight of me. She saw in me the man who’d left her, seventeen years old and eight months pregnant, in the middle of the night; the man who’d run off to the west for God knows what reason, only to end up killing some stranger in Wyoming. She saw in me the man who drove her to the bottle, to Jesus, and back to the bottle. Walter Tilton. What could she do with a baby who was the spitting image of Walter Tilton but dump him on her older sister and crawl deeper into booze and religion.

“Harris,” Dad says. We’ve been traveling about two hours now. “Harris, I got to make a piss stop.”

“Nobody calls me Harris.”

“Why not?”

“’Cause I hate it.”

“It’s your name, the one your mother liked best for a boy.”

“It’s a faggoty name. Sounds like a character off Mawsterpiece Theater.”

“So what do people call you? Harry?”

“Tilt. Just Tilt.”

“Izzat what your Aunt Polly and Uncle Ray call you?”

Ray’s still snoring in the backseat, too overwhelmed by the idea of being out from under Aunt Polly’s thumb to take in any of the sights.

“Uncle Ray calls me Tilt,” I say, pulling onto the shoulder. “Polly usually just refers to me as You or That Boy.”

Dad snorts, gets out of the car to do his business by the trunk.

Saturday, July 4, 2009

Update: John Connolly in Waterville

As previously mentioned, the short film John Connolly: Of Blood and Lost Things will be screened next Friday at Waterville's Railroad Square Cinema, at 6:45 pm. Beginning at 8:15 that same evening, John will sign copies of his latest novel, The Lovers, at Children's Book Cellar (52 Main Street in Waterville). I'll be there to help my friend Ellen Richmond with this special event. We're going to have a great time. I hope you can join us.

Tuesday, June 30, 2009


The spring '09 issue of Spinetingler is live, locked and loaded. This time around, there's new fiction by Anthony Rainone, Stephen D. Rogers, Fiona Kay Crawford, Graham "Crimespot" Powell and others. Sandra Ruttan interviews Russel D. McLean. Jim Napier talks with Phyllis Smallman. Brian Lindenmuth grills Craig McDonald. There are reviews of books by Linda L. Richards, Sean Chercover, Tom Schreck and more, more, more. All of that, plus an excerpt of Declan Burke's hard-hitting novel The Big O.

Short Houses with Wide Porches

There is an excellent review of Christopher Watkins' debut poetry collection, Short Houses with Wide Porches, at the Hayden's Ferry Review blog. Reviewer Meghan Brinson writes, "the relish with which the language of these poems captures and caresses the seen world is a reminder that though there may never be enough time to experience every detail of the ever-changing world, there is, however, enough time to enjoy it."

Friday, June 26, 2009

John Connolly: Of Blood and Lost Things

The 12th Annual Maine International Film Festival runs from July 10-19 in Waterville. This year’s Lifetime Achievement Award winner is Arthur Penn, director of Bonnie and Clyde and Little Big Man.

For me, though, the big excitement comes from a short film about one of the best novelists in the crime biz, John Connolly. Check out this description from the festival's website:

John Connolly: Of Blood and Lost Things
Ireland 2009 Digital Projection 52 Minutes in English
Director: Maurice Sweeney
Print Courtesy: Tyrone Productions

Why hasn’t Irish born, best-selling author, John Connolly ever set one of his books in Ireland? His signature character, former NYPD officer, now P.I., Charlie Parker lives in Maine. Maine figures predominately in almost every one of his twelve books. In the latest Parker novel, The Lovers, the lead character works as a bartender at the Portland landmark, The Great Lost Bear. Shooting the majority of the film’s footage in Maine, director Maurice Sweeney shows the influence of the place on the writer and looks at how Connolly’s oeuvre constitutes its own universe, creation myth or parallel Bible. The topography of Maine and its bloody history reaching back to the early settlers are well used by the author in the crime genre, which has a long tradition in the US. Fans of Connolly’s writing will be delighted to learn more about him. Those unfamiliar with his books will be lead on a journey of discovery through images of Maine in winter combined with excerpts from his stories.

This film will be shown 6:45 pm on Friday, July 10 at Railroad Square Cinema. For ticket information and directions, visit MIFF’s website. In addition to attending the screening, John Connolly will sign books at The Children’s Book Cellar (owned by my friend Ellen Richmond). The Children’s Book Cellar is located at 52 Main Street in Waterville. The time of the signing has not yet been set, but you can bet I’ll post it here as soon as the information becomes available.

See you there.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Can't Get Enough Stark?

Over at Sarah Weinman's blog, there's an excellent post about Richard Stark's Parker novels, Parker's work ethic and Darwyn Cooke's soon-to-be-released adaptation of The Hunter. She's included some links for further reading and the whole thing is well worth your time. As much as I enjoyed most of Donald Westlake's work, the books he wrote as Stark remain my favorites.

Sunday, June 21, 2009


Having a good Father's Day so far. I got some books that I'd wanted. This afternoon, we're grilling brats and burgers to go with Tonia's kick-ass potato salad. The kids are happy and having fun, despite the dreary weather. So, yeah...it's shaping up to be a nice, peaceful day.

I need to get some work done. Been having anxiety attacks about what passes for my writing career. I'm talking about bouts of panic that keep you awake until 3 a.m. because your heart races every few minutes and your mind can't shut down. All you want to do is turn off those negative thoughts and get some sleep, but they won't leave you alone. It isn't just Bitter Water Blues and the WIP that wound me up; there are other, more mundane problems, too.

So I'm working today. Writing, even if it's only revision, makes me happy and takes my mind off everything else. It's what I need right now.

Song for the day: "It Ain't Easy" by Shooter Jennings

Monday, June 15, 2009

A Good Day for Sophie

Sophie Littlefield's debut novel, A Bad Day for Sorry, has garnered positive reviews from both Kirkus Reviews and Publishers Weekly. Kirkus says, "First-timer Littlefield creates characters with just the right quirks who charm even in the face of unrealistic plot turns." A Bad Day for Sorry is coming in August from Thomas Dunne/St. Martin's Minotaur ($24.95). Watch for it.

Call for Submissions

Gerald So has announced that he and his co-editors (Richie Narvaez, Sarah Cortez and Anthony Rainone) are now taking submissions for the third issue of The Lineup: Poems on Crime. Go here for all the info. The Lineup #2 has been out for a month or so, and issue #1 is still available. And if you're a real fan--and you are, aren't you?--you can now buy The Lineup hats and t-shirts.

Hey, you didn't think I'd stop hyping this thing just because I'm no longer on the editorial board, did you?

Friday, June 12, 2009

Hey, Get a Load of Quertermous

Bryon Quertermous has put together a little collection of some of his nastiest (and that's saying something) short stories. But, wait a minute...I'll let Bryon give you the lowdown himself:

I collected three of my favorite stories that had been previously published online or in small circulation magazine but are now almost impossible to find and bundled them together in a collection I'm calling A Load of Quertermous.

Featured in the collection are the following stories:
"Load" - The tale of a sperm back robbery in Detroit gone off the rails.
"Mr. Saturday Special" - A little ditty about a private detective inFlint, MI who spends his daughter's birthday helping his ex-wife's lawyer save his son from jail.
"Alter Road" - A story that follows a preacher with a violent past whofaces the greatest test of faith and grace when his son is murdered by hillbilly meth dealers.

I've also written brand new introductions for all three stories discussing their creation and the inspiration behind them. This collection is available now for the amazing low price of $1.99 and can be had as PDF file for reading on any computer (or for printing to read on the train or in bed or wherever) or as a download for the Amazon Kindle. The Amazon download is immediate but the PDF will come once PayPal sends me an email indication a donation has been made and then I'll zip it off to the email address used for the donation. You can find all of the necessary information at http://loadofquertermous.blogspot.com

Here's a Question for You Readerly and Writerly Type People

Short stories that get expanded into novels.

Good? Bad? Cheesy? Drawbacks? Advantages?


Wednesday, June 10, 2009

The Sign of Four

J. Kingston Pierce and the Rap Sheet mob challenged crime writer/bloggers to play this "Fours" meme. Since I was a good boy and got some writing done today, I'll take a shot at it.

4 movies you would watch over and over again:
The Big Lebowski
L.A. Confidential
The Goonies

4 places you have lived:
Utica, New York (I was born there)
Herkimer, New York
Hollywood, California
Friendship, Maine

4 TV shows you love to watch:
Doctor Who
Battlestar Galactica
Law & Order

4 places you have been on vacation:
The family camp on Haymock Lake
Pemaquid Point/New Harbor, Maine (my favorite place to go)
Tijuana, Mexico (don't ask)
New Hampshire

4 of your favorite foods:
tomato sandwiches
Spanish rice

4 web sites you visit daily:
Confessions of an Idiosyncratic Mind
The Huffington Post
Bill Crider's Pop Culture Magazine

4 places you would rather be right now:
At Pemaquid Point, no matter what the weather.
Heading due north.

4 things you want to do before you die:
See Bitter Water Blues get published.
Write and publish several other novels.
See polar bears in the wild.
See great white sharks from inside a diving cage. Seriously.

4 books you wish you could read again for the first time:
The Long Home by William Gay
Blood Meridian by Cormac McCarthy
Norwood by Charles Portis
The Grifters by Jim Thompson

Tag 4 people you think will respond:
Chris Holm
Stephen Blackmoore
Keith Rawson
Clair Dickson

Kieran Shea in EQMM

Kieran Shea is one of my favorite "new" writers. The man has some serious chops. His story "The Lifeguard Method" appears in the August issue of Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine, available at newsstands and bookstores everywhere. It's a P.I. story, which Kieran admits isn't his usual thing. I can't wait to see what he did to put his own blood-stained stamp on the genre. You'll be sorry if you miss this one.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Carl Brookins Digs UNCAGE ME

Carl Brookins, author of several mystery novels, read Uncage Me without flinching. You can check out his insightful review here.

Hat tip to Stephen Blackmoore.

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Where’d I Put Those Finnish-Language Instructional Tapes?

Juri Nummelin reports that the third issue of his flash fiction magazine Ässä is about to be unleashed upon the Finnish-speaking world. This time around, Ässä features translations of short-shorts by Joe R. Lansdale, Sandra Scoppettone, James McGowan, Patti Abbott, Paul “Braz Knuckles” Brazill and yours truly in addition to new writing by Tapani Bagge and Juri himself.

Cool thing #1: “One More Mess” is the first of my stories ever to be translated into another language. I'm still riding the buzz from that.

Cool thing #2: I have a story in the same magazine as Joe R. Lansdale, author of the "Hap and Leonard" series and Bubba Ho-Tep. That's not to say any of the other featured writers are slouches. They're all damn good. But I've admired Lansdale's work for at least twenty years and it's a treat to share literary space with him, even though I can't read a word of Finnish.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

The Queen of the Blues

Koko Taylor died yesterday, from complications during surgery. She was 80 years old. I had the great pleasure of seeing her perform at the North Atlantic Blues Festival in 1995. Man, what a show. Koko Taylor was one of the blues' most powerful, soulful and distinctive voices.

Monday, June 1, 2009

Maybe It's Just Me, But...

Most books in which the protagonist is a novelist, poet or reporter bore me to death. There are a few exceptions, like Tony Black's Gus Dury, Quoyle from The Shipping News or Laura Lippman's Tess Monahan.* After writing fiction most of the day, I don't usually want to read fiction about writers.

*Yes, I realize that Dury and Monahan are ex-journalists.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009


"It's not enough anymore to sit back and expect the publisher to do everything, or people to notice you simply because you've published a book, or another book. Plenty of people publish books every year, but how many of them get the attention they deserve? You have to find a way to separate yourself from the herd, to make yourself something more than just another name on the shelf."
--John Connolly, interviewed in Crimespree #30 (on sale now).

Monday, May 25, 2009

Hit List

Hit List: The Best of Latino Mystery
Edited by Sarah Cortez and Liz Martínez
Arte Público Press, 2009 ($19.95)

I’m always wary of any anthology that purports to present the “best” of anything. Editors who set such a high literary mark often fail to reach it. However, Hit List: The Best of Latino Mystery delivers seventeen top-notch stories by established and lesser-known writers. Among my favorites in this anthology are Manuel Ramos' "The Skull of Pancho Villa," Carolina Garcia-Aguilera's "The Right Profile" and "In the Kitchen with Johnny Albino" by Richie Narvaez. I'm a sucker for Steven Torres' Precinct Puerto Rico novels, so the inclusion of a Luis Gonzalo story was a great treat. There's also a Chico Santana story by A.E. Roman. This was my first exposure to Roman's fiction, and it has me looking forward to his debut novel, Chinatown Angel.

As co-editor Sarah Cortez notes in her introduction, the stories in Hit List run the range from hardboiled to cozy. While I don't much care for the latter, this antho's strength is that it offers a good sampling of Latino crime writing to suit just about any taste. Do these short stories truly represent the “best” of Latino mystery? I don't know. But it's a damn fine anthology that deserves to be read, passed around, and read again.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

"Go blind from overexposure to pure awesomeness."

Got the page proofs for Uncage Me yesterday. I caught a mistake (my own, not an editorial one) in "Welcome to Wal-Mart, Motherfucker." It was an easily fixed continuity error. Here's the big surprise, though...it was the first time I'd read my story since last May and I'm actually happy with the thing. I feel good about it and, as you may know, I'm one of my own harshest critics.

I've been working my way through the other stories in Uncage Me. Tell you what; they kick ass. John Connolly rightly points out in his brilliant introduction that these stories assembled by editor Jen Jordan are not for the squeamish, but if you're a fan of modern noir fiction you need get your blood-stained mitts on this anthology. It comes out swinging July 24. The hardcover edition is $24.95, though there will be a simultaneous paperback release for $14.95. The special Evidence Collection version is $45.

So what do you get for your hard-earned bucks? Well, let's see how this lineup grabs you...

Ten Gallons of Infected Saliva by Scott Phillips
No Thanks, Please by Declan Burke
Games by Bryon Quertermous
The Biography of Stoop, the Thief by Steven Torres
Roy by Brian Azzarello
Back and Forth by Gregg Hurwitz
Prisoner of Love by Tim Maleeny
Paper Thin Hotel by Nick Stone
Threat Management by Martyn Waites
Players by J.D. Rhoades
Robert Hayer’s Dead by Simon Kernick
Welcome to Wal-Mart, Motherfucker by Patrick Shawn Bagley
Fire Girl by Victor Gischler
Hotshot 52 by Greg Bardsley
School Daze by J.A. Konrath
Like that Japanese Chick What Broke Up Van Halen by Stephen Blackmoore
The Ballad of Manky Milne by Stuart MacBride
The Turnip Farm by Allan Guthrie
The Footjob by Christa Faust
*69 by Blake Crouch
Dinner for Toby by Simon Wood
Cow Palace by Talia Berliner
We Mate in the Dark by Maxim Jakubowski
Spin the Bottle by Pearce Hansen

Still can't quite wrap my head around the idea of being in such company.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

HOGDOGGIN' Virtual Motorcycle Rally Day Three

Guest blogger Anthony Neil Smith continues to let us roll around in the pure noir nastiness that is his latest novel, Hogdoggin'.

In the Last Episode, Kieran “Irish” Shea beat the shit out of The Wolfman, then reminisced with Fry about the bad ol’ days.

When Detective Grieg took the assignment going undercover with the Unholy Bastards, he mostly got what he expected--small time meth and heroin operation, brutal rivalries, and hedonism that really pushed the envelope, especially considering he’d always been heavily active in his church until the divorce, his wife running off with Grieg’s former partner. They weren’t even much of a gang anymore, and the Head Bastard had even stashed the bike.

But they were still pumping out the fresh-baked meth. So Grieg figured why not push himself. A solid undercover gig was a surefire way to pogo on up the ladder a few rungs at a pretty young age. Leapfrog right over that bastard ex-partner Lee and his rugged bullshit façade. Lee was as metrosexual as a three dollar bill.

But it meant having to drink, snort, and smoke whatever the rest of the gang was imbibing. Meant he had to sleep with some women he would’ve avoided with a ten-foot pole back in his married days. He justified it, saying It’s just a job. It’s for the greater good. Jesus understands.

Then out of nowhere, the Head Bastard--Christian name of “Bagley”--gets a call from some guy talking about Steel God and a Rally, and the next thing Grieg knew, the old crew of Bastards was on the highway, heading for a small town on the border of Minnesota and South Dakota. Turned out to be he flattest hell he’d ever seen, like the Wild West but without the stagecoaches. And the Rally, well…he actually started to see the appeal of meth after staying up forty-one hours straight.

He watched as men he knew turned into stone-cold lunatics. He watched men and women gangbanging on the streets. He heard more gunfire in one day than he had in eight years on the force. The fumes from all the bike exhaust seemed to exhilarate his fellow Bastards, but it just made him nauseous.

But then he saw someone he had never expected to see. Maybe the hair was longer, beard covering most of his face, but those eyes and that grin were famous. He was staring at Public Enemy Number One. Billy Lafitte.

He’d heard about it on the news--Lafitte a corrupt lawman who may or may not have had ties to a terrorist cell, becoming an overnight celebrity before he beat a Homeland Security agent nearly to death before disappearing into the Midwestern prairies.

And here he was, apparently one of Steel God’s men, from the jacket. Laughing and having a good time at the expense of all the brave law officers he wouldn’t have had one moment’s pause over before mowing them down. Drinking a beer, listening to a band on one of the side stages, relaxing with his lady, a young girl must be fresh out of high school--or even in high school, the way these guys work.

If Grieg could get close enough. If he could call in for help without blowing his cover, this would be the one to make his career. Picture in the paper, face on TV. A book deal. A veritable buffet of career advancement. Maybe he could even go Hollywood as a consultant. He did have this script for a Christian cop show, maybe for TBN.

All he had to do was keep it together, not blow it. And step one was to stop staring straight at Lafitte.

Problem was, while he was thinking all that, Lafitte had already found him in the crowd.

Oh Jesus. Oh…damn. Damn it. Sorry, Jesus. Help me.

Striding over. Eyes locked. Guy had beefed up since the photos on the news last year. Ragged, tired, but still like a panther with his reflexes--locked in on Grieg but still able to avoid a couple of wild punches and wild dancers.

Face to face, nearly the same height. Lafitte mushed his lips around like her was chewing on a thought.

Then just said it. “You’re a cop.”

“Fuck off, man, you’re a cop. Fuck, you want to say that to my face again?”

Lafitte said, “You’re a cop.”

Grieg had worked really hard to penetrate this group and keep his cover deep, which wasn’t the easiest thing to do in rural Maine. People know people there. So unless his cover had been see-through from day one and the Head Bastard just didn’t care, he was still cool.

So how did Lafitte pin him right away?

Easy. Grieg hated the answer, but that’s the only one: if you can’t sympathize with the ones you’re in deep with, then you’ll always stick out.

He got right in Lafitte’s face and growled. He said, “You want to end this, let’s go out there on the prairies and end this. You and me, like men.”

That grin again. “You’d like to try, wouldn’t you? Make your big bust. Got a hard-on just thinking about it, I can tell.”

Grieg stood there another moment, nostrils flaring. Fight or flight? He couldn’t keep up the bravado. Others would start to notice. They would join in. A full-fledged gangfight. Not that. Couldn’t afford that.
Didn’t matter. He didn’t get to make that choice.

Lafitte said, “Here’s the deal. I’m giving you ten minutes. A head start. Say because I still have a soft spot for the job. Then I tell the Head Bastard about you. If it ere me, I’d try to see how much space I put between me and this town. I wouldn’t even go back home. Just run. Run forever.”

“Ain’t no one going to believe you.”

“They don’t have to. As long as I plant the seed of doubt, your days are numbered.”

Grieg felt his throat burn. A pain deep in his eyes. Mouth going dry. What else could he say? “Please, don’t.”

Lafitte shrugged. “Choice is yours. I’ve made mine.”

Grieg didn’t get it at first, but as Lafitte turned and walked back over to his girl, the real meaning of Lafitte’s warning struck him. Lafitte didn’t want Grieg killed. He was trying to save the guy. Give him a fighting chance. So maybe it meant that really, if Grieg stayed to do his job, Lafitte would respect that.

Yeah. Another swig of awful tasting beer. But Grieg barely registered it this time. He’d just gotten a confidence boost. He wasn’t going anywhere.


It was long after midnight and still a long time until sunrise, Grieg staring at the cell phone in his hand while sitting in a tattered lawn chair out behind the Dive Bar. The smoker belched out smoke and the aroma of brisket, sausage and ribs. Everyone else was either asleep, having sex loudly in car hoods, pick-up beds, or out in the fields, or wandering around on a speed fix, looking for something constructive to do.

He was staring at the phone trying to decide if he should turn in Lafitte to the Feds, the cops, or the national news. It wasn’t a question of “if” anymore. It was just how to pull it off, stay alive, and make a name for himself.

Grieg barely heard the Head Bastard come up beside him dragging his own lawn chair. He unfolded it and took a seat to Grieg’s right, exhaling like a slit tire.

Bastard pointed at the phone. “Forgot to call Mommy?”

Grieg shrugged. “We’ve all got someone back home. They’ll be worried.”

“I thought you was divorced?”

“Yeah, but it’s still my turn with the kids this weekend. I forgot.”

Bastard slipped his arm around Grieg and gave him a squeeze. “That can be tough on a man, having to decide who he’s loyal to. I mean, all you’d have had to say was ‘It’s my kids, man’ and you think I would’ve made you come all this way for meat, booze, and pussy? Shit, you can get that in the KFC parking lot at home most weeknights.”

“Maybe I just wanted to. I mean, she left me. So if that ruins her weekend palns, me riding with you, then so be it.”

Got a good chuckle out of the main man. A strong clap on the shoulder. “I hear you, I do. That’s too bad. All of this is. And now she’s going to have to find a sitter every weekend. Her mom live close?”

“What do you mean? We’re going home in a couple of weeks, right?”

Bastard’s eyes got wide. “We are. You ain’t. Like I said, it’s hard choosing sides, so I hear. But…” He leaned over and plucked the phone from Grieg’s palm. “Seems to me it’s not as difficult for you as for others.”

No. He couldn’t know. Lafitte couldn’t have told him. It was mean tot scare him off, give him a head’s up. Lafitte wouldn’t actually go through with fingering a fellow lawman, would he?

Grieg caught a glimpse of someone on his left flank. These minutes he’d been buddy-buddy with Bastard, someone had sneaked up on him. Grieg jumped and turned his head. It was Lafitte, alone, hands in his pockets.

Grieg pointed. “This one? This one’s a fucking traitor, man. You’ve seen him on the news.”

Bastard said, “Steel God trusts him. That’s enough for me.” He reached behind him and pulled a small pistol from his waistband. A .22. Just enough. He stretched out his hand to Lafitte while keeping the other one gripped tight on Grieg’s shoulder.

“You figured it out. You take him down.”

Lafitte didn’t take the gun. Took a step back. Grieg was trying to meet his eyes, plead, beg, anything. Lafitte wouldn’t look him in the face.

Lafitte said, “Not my problem. But if no one else was going to tell you…” Hunched his shoulders. “I’m cold. I’m heading inside.”

And he was gone.

Bastard clapped Grieg on the shoulder again, then pushed out of the chair, dragging the undercover cop with him. Almost like a brotherly embrace, these two. Grieg could’ve sworn he heard the big man sniffling a bit.

“Please, you don’t have to. You and me, Bagley. We can take down Lafitte. That would forgive every bad thing you’ve ever done. Come on. Have I ever given you any reason to doubt me before?”

Bastard clamped his hand over Grieg’s mouth, shushed him. Then said, “I promise it won’t hurt. As easy as I can. No sir, it’s not right to suffer.”

Grieg was going numb, like all the energy he’d had during the day was now zapped. Not even training to fall back on. Crashing on the meth, sleep-deprived, like a rag doll in Bastard’s arms. They continued out into the corn field, the stalks barely knee high this early in the season. Behind them, a cleaver and hatchet slung over one shoulder, followed Gorilla Gowran.

Grieg tried to talk again, but not to Bastard or Gowran. He was talking to his Lord. Bastard even loosened his grip on the man’s mouth as he prayed for forgiveness, for a miracle, for God to touch the Bastard’s heart.

Bagley laughed. He said, “Amen. I been asking for that all my life, too. When I get to Hell, I hope I find out why he never did.”

They kept on walking…


Country noir writer. Check.

Poet. Check.

Put those together with the man from Maine with the blues in his heart, and what to you get?

Some mighty Bitter Water. And damn good writing.

When you’re a poet, you think about language more than most people. You look for the perfect word for the perfect moment. You break down language and glue it back together in never before seen combinations. You tell the story with the most impact in as few words as possible. And it’s got to have rhythm.

So listen to Patrick Shawn Bagley (and the rest of the Lineup crew, too. Good stuff) read his poem “110 MPH in a Stolen Pickup”, and see if that doesn’t jazz you to the possibilities of crime as poetry: “When I saw those flames, I thought my Jesus Freak foster parents were right and I’d gone to hell.”

Check out how he gets you into the story in Bank Job:

She says she’s afraid of death, but we’ve only been together two weeks now, and I’ve figured out she’s only scared of dying a nobody.

Or this description of a living room from Pandora:

The air smelled bad in there too, a commingled funk of stale pot smoke, body odor, incense, cat turds and patchouli. A big-screen TV dominated the room, stacks of DVDs and videocassettes rising from its top like battlements. More trash bags, duct-taped to the window frames. Maybe that was why they never took out the garbage; all the bags were being used as drapes.

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.

When asked by Brian Lindenmuth what he values in fiction, Bagley answers, “The best fiction, regardless of genre, is an exploration of what it means to be human. Most of the time, that entails a great deal of loss and suffering peppered with small moments of hope or contentment. More than one person has pointed out that I don’t write happy endings. As far as I’m concerned, there is no such thing as happily ever after. I prefer happily for a little while because some other problem or some new desire always comes along. We’re all restless. Once we get what we thought we wanted, it’s never long before we want something else. The desire for the thing is greater than the thing itself. That’s what keeps us reading and writing.”

I understand exactly what he’s talking about.

Hogdoggin’ felt like a rural noir to me as I wrote it. I’m in my fourth year of learning what it means to live in farm country, vast stretches of prairie surrounding our small town. Even growing up in the South, it wasn’t quite as isolated. So I think I know why Patrick, living in a “one-stoplight town”, focuses on the characters in his work. It’s because they’re the ones you can’t help but see when there aren’t so many people around. I think of Flannery O’Connor, when asked why the Southern writers focus on the “freaks” of society, answering, “It is because we are still able to recognize one.” Not just recognize, but empathize. They’re part of the great swirling stew of life, not a sideshow. So deal with them.

Lafitte had to learn the truth about himself in order to hang with Steel God. So does Deputy Colleen and Special Agent McKeown. And in order to save their marriage, Rome and his wife must do away with the masks and protective walls and deal with each other, no frills, no flinching.

But you’ll find out more about those folks in Hogdoggin’ when you put your order in on June 1st (HOGDOGGIN’ Monday) or pick it up at the indie bookstores I’m dropping in at in May and June (see Crimedog One for the dates).

Next up, Hawaiian Dick author B. Clay Moore crashes the party. Literally.

ON STAGE TONIGHT: Steve Earle, “To Live is to Fly”

Friday, May 15, 2009

Blood, Beer, Bikes and Books

The Virtual Motorcycle Rally in support of Anthony Neil Smith's new novel, Hogdoggin', is tearing a bloody path through more than twenty blogs. Keep track of which noir-dealing hardcases bring their biker gangs to the rally at Neil's world-infamous virtual dive bar, Crimedog One. I'll see you there on Sunday with my gang, The Unholy Bastards.

Author Interview: James Hayman

James Hayman is a former creative director for a New York advertising agency who now lives and writes on Peak’s Island, Maine. Jim was kind enough to answer a few questions about his debut crime novel, The Cutting (St. Martin’s Minotaur, June 23).

PSB: Give us a quick pitch for The Cutting.

JH: On a warm September night in Portland, Maine, a pretty blond high-school girl is found dead in a vacant scrap yard, her heart cut from her body with surgical precision. The very same day a young business woman is abducted while jogging. Are the two crimes related? Ex–New York homicide cop Michael McCabe, now head of the Portland’s Crimes Against People unit is convinced they are and the race is quickly on to find the second victim before she suffers an identical fate.

With help from a mysterious Frenchwoman, McCabe and his team zero in on a sexual psychopath who’s been harvesting human hearts for both profit and sexual thrills. In the middle of it all McCabe finds he has to worry about less lethal matters, like the reappearance of his faithless ex-wife in both his and his daughter’s life.

PSB: Chicken or the egg time: which came first, McCabe or the idea for the main plot?

JH: McCabe. I knew I wanted to set my story in Portland. I also knew I wanted a hero who, like me, is at his core, a native New Yorker.

Like they say, write what you know about. McCabe and I have quite a lot in common. We were both born in New York, McCabe in the Bronx, me in Brooklyn. We both married beautiful brunettes and we both live with and love women who are talented artists. We both flirted with careers in the movie business. We both are die-hard New York Giant fans. We both moved to Maine. And we both enjoy rare New York strip steaks and good Scotch whiskey.

PSB: Though it stands on its own, The Cutting reads like the first book in a series. There are a lot of series characters out there—forensic pathologists, police detectives, PIs, bounty hunters, etc. How does a new writer make his or her character stand out in such a crowded field?

JH: Good question. As you point out, it’s all been done. Every size, shape, occupation, ethnicity, color and sexual orientation. About all that’s left for the new writer is create a sleuth who’s a trans-gender Siberian dwarf. On the other hand, that’s probably been done as well.

In the end, I decided not to even try to make my hero weirdly different. Instead, I simply tried to make him genuinely human.

McCabe, on the face of it, is the stereotype of all stereotypes, an Irish cop who drinks too much. I suspect a number of publishers rejected the book for that reason alone. What makes him work, I think, and why I think a couple of publishers were interested enough to make good offers, is that McCabe comes across as a real person with real flaws and real problems that other real people, the ones who read books, can relate to.

PSB: I like the notion that McCabe is haunted by the past, but must concern himself more with the present and future because of his daughter. He tries to shelter Casey, not only from the dangers of the world, but from her own narcissistic mother. Will you extend this subplot over successive novels?

JH: Yes. Casey, in The Cutting, is thirteen years old. At the cusp of the most difficult seven years in any parent’s life. She’ll be back. And so will Sandy. They’re both very much part of who McCabe is and what makes him interesting.

PSB: Let’s talk about the setting. You’re “from away,” like me, but you write with confidence about southern and coastal Maine. How tough was it to capture such a strong sense of place? Did McCabe’s status as a flatlander make it easier?

JH: I first came to Portland in the late 90’s and instantly fell in love with the place. For me, it seemed a natural place to set a suspense thriller series. It offers a gritty urban setting. Great architecture. Vibrant street life. Great bars and restaurants. The working waterfront. A lively arts scene. A long and rich history.

I’m very much an urban person. I could no more write a novel set in a rural landscape than I could jump over the moon. But writing about Portland? That was easy.

PSB: In a recent column for Crimespree Magazine, Craig McDonald noted that the events of 9/11 “…simply dwarfed any sense of urgency or gravitas one might try to build into a private eye novel or police procedural.” McDonald did a clever end-run around the whole thing by setting his novels in the 20th century. Do you think 9/11 is an obstacle for writers? If so, how do you make readers care about your protagonist’s fictional problems when the real-world stakes are so high?

JH: I couldn’t disagree more. I think the human tragedy and challenges of 9/11 offer a treasure trove of material for fiction writers.

This is obvious for writers of political and espionage thrillers. But I believe it’s also true for detective fiction and for literary fiction.

One very interesting “straight” novel I read recently is Netherland by Joseph O’Neill in which 9/11 serves as the catalyst for the break up of a marriage and all the events that follow.

PSB: Now it’s time for the mandatory question: who are your influences?

JH: Two obvious ones. Michael Connelly’s Harry Bosch novels which are set in L.A. and Ian Rankin’s John Rebus series set in Edinburgh. McCabe has much in common with both characters. I like the writing. And I like the urban settings.

Others are less obvious. Peter Abrahams, Richard Price, Ian McEwan and Robert Stone.

PSB: What are reading now and what’s in your TBR pile?

JH: I’m halfway through what Rankin says is the last in the John Rebus series, Exit Music.

I’m also just starting my first George Pelecanos, who I think I’m going to like. Also Roxanna Robinson’s Cost.

PSB: Can you give us a teaser for your next novel?

JH: A young schizophrenic woman witnesses a horrendous murder. Unfortunately, nobody believes her. She is, after all, crazy.

Thursday, May 14, 2009


"Keep your head down and write."
--Craig McDonald, interviewed by Jedidiah Ayres. Now tool on over to Hardboiled Wonderland and read both installments of this excellent interview.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

UNCAGE ME Gets Some More Love

Declan Burke has some nice things to say about Uncage Me at his Crime Always Pays blog, such as: "Among the very fine writers contributing are Scott Phillips, Allan Guthrie, J.D. Rhoades, Simon Kernick, Patrick Bagley, Tim Maleeny, Nick Stone, Martyn Waites and Maxim Jakubowski." However, the best part is that Declan also posts John Connolly's introduction in its entirety. Mr. Connolly's piece is an erudite history and vindication of transgressive fiction that will likely become required reading for anyone working in the genre.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Fiction's Primary Purpose

"Were you schooled to believe that fiction’s primary purpose is to examine society? I sure was. But more and more I find said members of this society don’t read sweet fuckall. Like the former President. This is distressing. Then there are the boobs who don’t read fiction. Yeah, yeah…that doorstop on Alexander Hamilton is real cheery, but fiction can tell you how the meat tasted back then, how the streets sounded, what a whore really smelled liked. Next witness.

--Kieran Shea, interviewed at Bookspot Central.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Publishers Weekly on UNCAGE ME

They didn't mention my story, but I didn't expect they would since I'm one of those "unfamiliar names." I can only hope that "Welcome to Wal-Mart, Motherfucker" wasn't one of the stories they considered "duds." Overall, it's a good review.

Uncage Me
Edited by Jen Jordan. Bleak House (www.bleakhousebooks.com), $24.95 (296p) ISBN 978-1-60648-015-1; $14.95 paper ISBN 978-1-60648-016-8

While John Connolly (The Reapers) rightly notes in his introduction that this all-original anthology isn't for the fainthearted, noir lovers will find plenty to savor among the 22 stories from both familiar and unfamiliar names. Steven Torres offers the most moving selection, “The Biography of Stoop, the Thief,” in which a 14-year-old boy tries to save the mother who abandoned him for a life on the streets as a substance abuser. Tim Maleeny's “Prisoner of Love” not only features twists and betrayals but manages to make an ambiguous resolution satisfying rather than frustrating. There are some duds, like Maxim Jakubowski's shocker “We Mate in the Dark,” with its pointless savagery, but on the whole the contributors demonstrate the ability to create believable and memorable characters as well as settings in a few pages. (July).

Review ©2009 Publishers Weekly.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Don't Tell Mom (Unless She's Sick Like You)

Yeah, it's Mother's Day and you'd better be treating Mom right. But afterward, be sure to tool on over to CrimeWav for their special podcast of selected work from the first two issues of The Lineup: Poems on Crime.

Big honkin' thanks to Aldo "Mysterydawg" Calcagno and Seth Harwood for making it all possible. And, hey, don't forget that Seth's novel Jack Wakes Up is now available in bookstores everywhere (and racking up some killer reviews).

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Get Lined Up

The Lineup: Poems on Crime #2 (my final issue as a member of the editorial board) is on sale now. Thought I'd post the introduction I wrote for this issue...
Introduction: Crime Poetry?

What does poetry have to do with crime?
Almost a year after the first volume of The Lineup: Poems on Crime was published, and two or three years since Anthony Rainone’s article on noir poetry appeared in Mystery Scene Magazine, I still hear that same question. The people who seem most bewildered by the notion tend to be fans of mystery and crime prose. I suspect their last exposure to poetry came in high school, where they were likely forced to read odes to various sorts of classical pottery, sonnets comparing summer days to dark ladies and verse after verse about tasting liquor never brewed, mending walls or daring to disturb the universe.

So what does poetry have to do with crime?

Poets do not ask that question.

People for whom poetry is a vital part of their reading life do not ask that question.

They do not need to. One cannot separate the medium’s affinity for what Czeslaw Milosz called “luminous things” from its need to examine the darker side of nature, society and the self. American poets have long dealt with the consequences of criminal acts. For a mere handful of examples, track down Claude McKay’s “The Lynching” (1920), Robert Hayden’s “Night, Death, Mississippi” (1966), C.K. Williams’ “Hood” (1969), Ai’s “Child Beater” (1973) or Amy Uyematsu’s “Ten Million Flames of Los Angeles” (1998). With his 1968 poem “Hard Rock Returns to Prison from the Hospital for the Criminal Insane,” Etheridge Knight accomplished in just six stanzas something that took Ken Kesey an entire novel.

Weldon Kees’ “Crime Club” (1947) screamed “that nothing can be solved.” So why do we write crime fiction, let alone crime poetry? One may as well ask why we write—or read—anything at all. We do it in an attempt to understand. We do it to find some kind of meaning in events that all too often leave victims, perpetrators and everyone around them damaged or destroyed.

The poems in this volume of The Lineup carry that tradition forward. In the following pages, you will find prison guards, losers heading for the final fall, burned out detectives, victims of sexual abuse, victims of random violence, shoplifters, rubberneckers and people who slide into crime as their only remaining means of survival. Here you will find proof beyond any reasonable doubt of poetry’s relevance to modern life.

Any questions?

Patrick Shawn Bagley
Madison, Maine
March 2009

Friday, May 1, 2009

Society for the Advancement of Young Writers

Please take a few moments to read this guest posting from Lyman Feero...

A Statement of Need

The legacy of the Bush administration can be seen in the scars left on elementary schools across the country. So much focus is placed on assessment that many lesson plans can only make room for “teaching to the test.” Adopted assessment tools like “Six Traits of Writing” successfully teach the basics but whole portions of writing education are being lost.

Creative thinking is quickly being replaced by critical thinking. Essays rule over poems or stories. Teachers are frustrated by the lack of support for such programs as creative writing. Kids’ imaginations are evaporating under the pressure to meet state and federal testing standards.

If you’re a writer, think back to the first piece of creative work you published. Many of you were still in grade school when you saw your first byline. Remember that feeling? The founder of the Society for the Advancement of Young Writers (SAYW), Lyman Feero, certainly does. “In the Forest ,” one of his first poems, appeared in the pages of an anthology put out by the Young Author’s Society of Maine in 1979. That first acknowledgement in print in that anthology, has compelled him to write, publish magazines and become involved in the teaching of writing for the past 28 years.

SAYW seeks to give that level of inspiration to the young writers who are being abandoned by the need to meet standards. It’s not an easy journey due the pressures put on our teachers. Through SAYW’s programs, those pressures can be assuaged. Creative writing can return to the classroom and assessments will only improve. SAYW is developing a supplemental curriculum for creative writing that dovetails with current assessment writing programs. SAYW is also involved in a web publication for fourth, fifth and sixth graders (Kidlits Webzine) that will give children who wish to be published an opportunity to see that critical first byline every writer remembers.

Most importantly, SAYW is compiling a database of professional writers who are willing to help improve the schools in their local communities and perhaps their state. The database is intended to provide contact information so that schools and professional writers may join together in educational partnerships to inspire and support young writers. This contact information will serve as a free clearing house for teachers and administrators. The information required for this database is minimal as to preserve privacy.

This is an opportunity to make a difference to kids who may not have any contact with working writers otherwise. Often teachers are afraid to ask local writers for their time for workshops, lectures or simply a classroom visit. SAYW wants those teachers and administrators to feel comfortable contacting professional writers for those purposes.

Writers of all walks are needed. Poetry, nonfiction, fiction all need to be in the mix. Whether your genre is horror, romance, sonnet, haiku, spec articles or memoir, your experience as a writer is what matters most.

Please take the time to consider becoming a SAYW writer. There are no dues and your membership may lead to a child beginning a lifetime of creative fulfillment.

For more information on SAYW and its Professional Writer Outreach program please visit http://sayw.kidlitszine.com for further details on the philosophy behind this endeavor.

Let's Be Independent Together

Today is International Buy Indie Day, the brainchild of novelist Joseph Finder. It's a great idea, celebrating and supporting that most endangered of literary species: the independent bookstore. So whatever your plans for the day, be sure to visit your local indie bookseller and buy a book or two (or five or ten).

My friend Ellen Richmond owns the Children's Bookcellar in Waterville, Maine and I know she'd love to have some extra customers today. And while Ellen specializes in kid's books, she also does special orders. I'm going down there today to pick up a copy of Joe Lansdale's Savage Season, which she ordered for me. If you're near Farmington, Maine, pop into Devaney, Doak & Garrett.

Stay away from the chains today. They'll be fine without you. It's time to give back a little of the support the indies have given writers.

The Children's Bookcellar is located at 52 Main Street, Waterville, ME. 207-872-4543.
Devaney, Doak & Garrett is located at 193 Broadway, Farmington, ME. 207-778-3454.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

A New Blog and a New Story from Kieran Shea

Kieran Shea has a new story up at Pulp Pusher and spankin' new blog, too. In spite of its title, "Angel" is a nasty tale of revenge, betrayal and more revenge. So read Kieran's latest and then go visit his dark corner of the blogsphere to tell him how much you liked it.

Morons on Board

This story comes from Michael Haskins (who likes e-mailing me in January to let me know about the beautiful weather in Key West) and it merits your attention:

Free Speech Groups Criticize Dismissal of Wisconsin Library Board Members
By Lynn Andriani -- Publishers Weekly, 4/29/2009 8:01:00 AM

Four members of a library board in West Bend, Wis., were dismissed last week for refusing to remove controversial books from the library’s young adult section—and yesterday, the American Booksellers Foundation for Free Expression, the National Coalition Against Censorship, the Association of American Publishers and PEN American Center criticized the firings.

The groups sent a letter to the West Bend Common Council stating that the dismissals threatened free speech in two ways: punishing the board members for attempting to apply objective criteria in the selection of books, and pressuring the library to remove the controversial books. The letter said, “The role of a public library and its board members is to serve the entire community and to evaluate books and other library materials on the basis of objective criteria. By removing half the members of the library board, the Common Council is imposing its opinions on the rest of the community.”

The controversy began in February when two patrons complained that the library’s YA section included fiction and nonfiction books about gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender issues. The patrons accused the library of promoting “the overt indoctrination of the gay agenda in our community” and demanded that the library add books “affirming traditional heterosexual perspectives.” They also insisted that the library remove books from the YA section including Brent Hartinger’s Geography Club (HarperCollins), Stephan Chbosky’s The Perks of Being a Wallflower and Esther Drill’s Deal With It! A Whole New Approach to Your Body, Brain and Life as a gURL (both Simon & Schuster).

Last week, West Bend Mayor Kristin Deiss submitted the names of four members of the library board for a new three-year term, and the council voted 5-3 to dismiss the board members.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Interviewed at Bookspot Central

Brian Lindenmuth recently interviewed me for a series called "Conversations with the Bookless" at Bookspot Central. Over the last couple of weeks, they've posted fascinating conversations with people like Patti Abbott, Greg Bardsley, Frank Bill, Keith Rawson, Jedidiah Ayres and others. My interview went live today. Check out it and leave a comment when you get a chance.

Friday, April 17, 2009

May 10 on CrimeWAV: The Lineup Podcast

On May 10, Seth Harwood and Aldo Calcagno will present a special poetry episode of CrimeWAV. These guys have done an amazing job podcasting crime and mystery short stories, and they're kind enough to give The Lineup some airtime (webtime?). So be sure to listen.

The featured poems are:

From The Lineup #1:

"110 M.P.H. in a Stolen Pickup" by Patrick Shawn Bagley
"Prayer of an Arson Investigator" by Sarah Cortez
"Metro" by R. Narvaez
"Don Henley Will Be Mine" by Misti Rainwater-Lites
"Four Minutes" by Gerald So

From The Lineup #2:

"Visiting Hours, State Pen" by Amy MacLennan
"A Whisper of Smoke" by Stephen D. Rogers
"A Wild Flaw Amongst Us" by Christopher Watkins

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Don't Mess with Frankie B.

Frank Bill, a short story writer whose stuff I dig, has started a blog: Frank Bill's House of Grit. Tool on over and check it out.

An Unpublished Review

I was cleaning out some old files this morning when I came across this book review I wrote almost two years ago. It was written for a magazine that never used it. Re-reading the piece now, for the first time since I turned it in, I don’t think it’s all that bad.

Ken Bruen and Jason Starr
October 2, 2007
Hard Case Crime/Dorchester

When last we saw Max Fisher and Angela Petrakos (in Bust, 2006), their fortunes had taken a nosedive. Max lost his computer company and narrowly escaped a murder rap for the deaths of his wife and her cousin. After learning the hard way that immersion in Drano is not the best method of dissolving a corpse and that wheelchair-ridden metalheads sometimes have issues, Angie swiped ten grand from Max and high-tailed it to Ireland. As Slide opens, both of these characters are lower than they’ve ever been.

Max wakes up hung over in an Alabama motel room with no memory of how he got there. His wallet is empty. His ass is sore, and the Chinese guy the clerk says he checked in with is long gone. Max’s brilliant plan for getting back to Manhattan is to mug the chambermaid and hop a Greyhound.

Angie is in Ireland, down to her last few Euros. Tired of waiting for a rich man to come along and give her a nice home and happy children, she decides to be more aggressive. Unfortunately, the man she targets, a guy who calls himself Slide, is in the kidnapping business. Slide hasn’t had much success as a kidnapper, mostly because he keeps butchering his victims. Angie doesn’t know this, though. When Slide suggests kidnapping Keith Richards, she goes along with the plan. It sounded like a good idea after all that Jameson’s.

Max sets himself up as a crack dealer, getting his stuff from an evangelical Southerner. He’s back on top, living in a penthouse, rolling in money and insisting everyone call him “The M.A.X.” He has even found a silicone-enhanced replacement for Angie (whom he hates but can’t stop thinking about). Things go sour when some Colombians demand a meeting and Max’s new girlfriend gets ideas of her own.

Slide and Angie come to the States when things get too hot in Ireland, the Keith Richards job having gone balls-up. Slide tries to go native, figuring it will help him fulfill his dream of becoming a famous serial killer. For a while, Angie believes Slide will set her up in a big house, just like in The Sopranos. She leaps to a few faulty conclusions about her new man, but he turns out be even worse than she’d imagined.

Bruen and Starr once again prove that they are the masters of dark humor and even darker motives. The characters will often make you laugh out loud, but you are never allowed to forget that these are bad motherfuckers; while you’re laughing, you’re also feeling a twinge of unease in your guts.

Two of the funniest moments come in the brutal killings of a pair of well-known crime writers. One, “a thin figure, leather jacket, shades, white hair, skinny as a rodent, lined face,” gets greased in Dublin. The other, a guy with “long straight hair, a strong jaw—kind of looked like a poor man’s Fabio,” meets his end behind a Dumpster in New York. The writers are never named, but you’ll figure out their identities.

The prose is as taut as piano wire digging into your neck. The dialogue burns. Max and Angie cross paths once again, but not in a way you will expect. Slide is one of those rare sequels that lives up to the excellence of its predecessor and, at times, surpasses it. Best of all, Bruen and Starr have left room for a third novel. Let us hope these twisted noir geniuses team up again soon.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Deep Thoughts from Tough Guys: National Poetry Month Edition

Small wonder that the case remains unsolved,
Or that the sleuth, Le Roux, is now incurably insane,
And sits alone in a white room in a white gown,
Screaming that all the world is mad, that clues
Lead nowhere, or to walls so high their tops cannot be seen;
Screaming all day of war, screaming that nothing can be solved.

--excerpted from "Crime Club" by Weldon Kees (from The Collected Poems of Weldon Kees, edited by Donald Justice, ©1975 University of Nebraska Press).

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Pimpin' My Friends: Derringer Awards Edition

The Short Mystery Fiction Society has announced the finalists for the 2009 Derringer Awards. Two of my writer pals made the list, and I'm here to cheer them on.

In the category of Best Short Story (1,001 to 4,000 words):
"Taste for It" by Sophie Littlefield.
In the category of Best Long Story (4,001 to 8,000 words):
"The Big Score" by Chris F. Holm.

These are fine stories by fine writers. I hope they both win.

Monday, March 30, 2009

Go Vote

It's time to cast your votes for the Second Annual Spinetingler Awards.

Stepping Down from The Lineup

I just finished writing the introduction to this year's volume of The Lineup: Poems on Crime. It feels good to have it done because Richie, Gerald and Anthony have been waiting for it. At the same time, I'm saddened because this is my final issue as a co-editor of The Lineup. With so many things competing for my time, I haven't been able to give the project the attention it deserves. Rather than make the other guys carry my weight, I decided it would be best to bow out. My great thanks to all three of them for their hard work and dedication. It's been fun and rewarding. There will be a new co-editor taking my place for volume three, but I'll leave that announcement to Mr. So.

The Lineup: Poems on Crime #2 comes out this summer.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Flush That Flash

I’ll just come right out and say it. Most flash fiction is crap. I see you out there, your mouth hanging open, your head shaking. Did Bagley mean that? Yeah. I did. I’ll say it again. Most flash fiction is crap. Ca-ca. Excrement. Shit (or shite, for my friends across the pond). And for those of you ready to point a finger at me and say, But you write it too, you hypocritical prick, I’m including all but a couple of my own pathetic attempts.*

Here’s the problem: flash fiction (or a short-short or whatever term you prefer) is passed off as a legitimate form of short fiction. That means "short story." The keyword here is story. If a piece of flash fiction is to be accepted as a short story, then it must satisfy the requirements of story. It needs round characters, a vivid setting, convincing dialogue, a plot, rising tension, a climax and resolution that brings about some sort of change in the protagonist. Fiction Writing 101.

That’s a tall order for “stories” of 2,000 words or less, and it’s why I say most examples of flash fiction cannot be considered short stories. At best, they are only scenes; at worst, they’re nothing more than literary masturbation. In our genre, flash writers tend to go for shock over substance. That will only take you and your readers so far. I rarely write or read flash anymore. I’m tired of all these empty little sketches.

Look. If you want your flash fiction to be taken seriously, you had better put in the proportionate amount of time and effort as you would for a 10,000 word story. Too many beginning writers think that shorts are mere practice for the “real” work of writing novels. So it’s okay if their flash fiction fails to deliver the basic elements of story because it is, after all, only a warm-up for the real thing.

Bullshit. Writing good short fiction is tough. There are successful novelists who could not write a decent short if their lives depended on it. As in a poem, every phrase—every word—of a short story has to pull its own weight. I just don’t see that attention to craft reflected in the majority of flash fiction appearing on the web. I wish to hell I did. Instead, so much of the stuff out there reads like the author chugged a twelve-pack before cranking out 800 words and sending their masterpiece off to some flash forum where editorial input is either weak or nonexistent.

Now bring on the angry villagers with their pitchforks and torches…

*There were a few good stories posted on the old Flashing in the Gutters, but mine were lousy and I’m glad they’re gone. I wrote more than my share of shitty flash fiction. Only “Bank Job” and “One More Mess” work as stories. I’m not saying they’re perfect, just that they work.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Carver on Gardner on Revision

I print this out and give it to my students every semester:

“It was a basic tenet of [Gardner’s] that a writer found what he wanted to say in the ongoing process of seeing what he’d said. And this seeing, or seeing more clearly, came about through revision. He believed in revision, endless revision; it was something very close to his heart and something he felt was vital for writers, at whatever stage of their development.” —Raymond Carver, from his foreword to John Gardner’s On Becoming a Novelist.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Messing with Finland

A Finnish translation of "One More Mess" will appear in an upcoming issue of Juri Nummelin's magazine Ässä. It's my first publication in a foreign language, so I'm excited. Many thanks to Juri and Keith Rawson.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Hitting the Wall

This is where I am right now. Stuck here staring at this wall. I was working on the new novel, making decent progress until the middle of last week. Everything I've written since Thursday is crap and I'm not getting anywhere. The only thing I can think to do is just keep hitting the damn wall until one of us breaks. A couple of editors have kindly asked me to write short stories for them, but I don't know if I can afford that much distraction.

Pass me that sledgehammer...
Oh, and swing on over to the blog of kick-ass crime writer and all-around nice guy Declan Burke to wish him a happy 40th.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Junk Mail

Want to see my head explode like that guy in Scanners? Tell me you're a writer (or want to be one), but don't have time to read. Look. My right eye is twitching right now, just from thinking about it. Here is an excerpt from a long e-mail I received yesterday:

"I have now sent this manusript [sic] to nine publishers and it keeps getting rejected. The last editor suggested novels for me to read. I'm too busy for that. And I already wrote the book anyway. I don't need a reading list, I need a publisher. A co-worker says I should get an agent. Do you have any recommendations? How much do they charge up front? I would be happy to send you [novel title] if you think it would interest you're [sic] agent."

Hey buddy, do you have any idea how idiotic that sounds? Apparently not.

Imagine a wanna-be composer who doesn't listen to music.

Let me get this straight: you've written a novel, but you don't read. So why would you expect anyone else to be interested in your manuscript? You are either too stupid to understand that a grounding in both contemporary and cannonical works is essential to a writer's development or you are simply so arrogant that you do not think it matters.

You say you can't find a publisher for this opus?

There's a surprise. You're lucky the last editor was kind enough to give you advice instead of a form rejection. Oh, and legitimate agents don't demand money in advance.

Do I have any recommendations? Yes.

Read a book.

Then read a lot more.

You don't have time? Boo-frickin'-hoo. Make time. I assume you had plenty of time to crank out a novel that no one wants.

I have to say good-bye now. My head hurts.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Gischler Takes on That Guy with the Claws and Crazy Hair

I haven't read a Wolverine comic since the early '80s, but I'll pony up a few bucks for this summer's Wolverine: Revolver one-shot. You should, too. Why? Victor Gischler wrote it, that's why. Comic Book Resources has an interview with the good doctor here.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

The Souls of Poets

“I love crime fiction, especially when the authors harbor the souls of poets—my favorites are Walter Mosley, James Lee Burke, Ace Atkins, George Pelecanos. And as far as fiction is concerned, Daniel Woodrell is in a class by himself.”—Patricia Smith (author of Blood Dazzler, National Book Award finalist in poetry and four-time National Poetry Slam winner) quoted in the January/February issue of Poets & Writers.

Saturday, March 7, 2009

How'd You Like a Punch in the Mouth?

I finally got back to work on the new novel, chalking up about 1,400 words this afternoon. That’s not much, but it felt good anyway. So what’s this sucker about? I'll tell you as soon as I figure it out. All I’ll say for now is that August gets punched in the mouth by the end of the opening paragraph. As far as he's concerned, things go downhill from there.

Friday, March 6, 2009

Devil in a Blue Dress

I just re-read Walter Mosley's Devil in a Blue Dress for the first time in about ten years. Know what? It floored me all over again. The narrative voice, the characters, the stark and violent depiction of postwar L.A. that is nevertheless shot through with small moments of peace...all made for a powerful debut that still holds up. I think I'll work my way through the whole series again.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

My Agent Rocks

The January/February issue of Poets & Writers featured a round-table interview with four young literary agents. My agent, the amazing Renee Zuckerbrot, was one of the participants. They had a long discussion of things like the state of publishing today, publishing's future and what they look for in a client. If you've ever been mystified over what agents do and how they do it, you should read the interview. I'll tell you this: Bitter Water Blues is a better, stronger novel because of Renee's input.

Thanks to Kevin St. Jarre for the link.