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

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

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

Saturday, January 24, 2009

The February Flash Challenge

On February 10, I will post a new piece of flash fiction here. It's to be part of a project cooked up by Patti Abbott, Aldo Calcagno and Gerald So—that triumvirate of twisted minds who brought us last year’s Valentine’s Day flash fiction challenge. This year’s challenge has nothing to with Valentine’s Day or love.

The rules for this new challenge were simple: all we had to do was write a strong opening paragraph and send it to Patti. She then shuffled the ‘graphs and dealt one to each of the participants. Our job was to write a flash piece from the assigned opening. I don’t know who got mine, nor do I have any idea who wrote the one I received—that’s part of the fun. It’s like one of those prompts you get at a writing workshop, only with extra helpings of violence, sex and general nastiness.

So be sure to check Patti’s blog on 2/10 for links to all the stories (and I think some of them are getting posted on Aldo’s flash fiction site). Just look at this list of writers. You know it’s going to be time well spent.

Sandra Seamans
Sandra Scoppettone
Paul Brazill
Kieran Shea
John McAuley
Scott Parker
Megan Powell
Patrick Shawn Bagley
John McFetridge
Stephen Blackmoore
Sophie Littlefield
Keith Rawson
Steve Allan
Cormac Brown
Jerry Houser
Gerald So
“Welles Fan”
Thomas Miller
Pamila Payne
Aldo Calgagno
Jacob Weaver
Patti Abbott

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Lunatic Fringe, We All Know You're Out There...

I went into town this morning, which is something I normally try to avoid. But it's a beautiful winter's day and things are looking up. I felt good. So, of course, the first person I encountered was a wingnut. The guy was ahead of me in a store checkout line. He spouted off to the clerk how it was a sad day for America; how Obama would never be HIS president; how he doubted Obama's citizenship; how Obama was going to cut off diplomatic ties with Israel and let Hamas massacre thousands of innocents; and--yes, this one just keeps on going--that Obama is secretly a muslim.

What's my point in telling you this? Simple. The right-wing crazies are still out there, spreading the hate-fueled lies they've picked up from talk radio, Fox News and "newspapers" like the Washington Times. So while we're celebrating Obama's inauguration--and it should be celebrated as a milestone in American history--we would be wise to remember that the war against ignorance, fear and bigotry is not over.
Enjoy today because it is only a lull.
The hard work begins as soon as President Obama takes the Oath of Office.
President Obama...feels damn good to say it.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

A Maine Writers' Lexicon

As a service to anyone who wants to write fiction set in Maine, I have put together an informal guide to help you understand the way we talk in this neck of the woods. NOTE TO MAINE WRITERS: This list is by no means comprehensive, so post a comment to let me know if I've left anything out (or frigged it all up).

Allen’s Coffee Brandy: The unofficial Maine State Beverage—consumed with milk.
As if: An expression of disbelief.
Ayuh: Only Maine “humorists,” characters on Murder She Wrote or lobstermen born before 1960 ever use this.
Bean Hole Beans: They’re beans baked in a hole in the ground. Good eatin’.
Bean Supper: How churches and grange halls pay their oil bills.
Beano: It’s what we call bingo. No relation to the pills that stop you from farting.
Ben’s 100: Fly dope. It keeps the bugs from bugging you.
Blackflies: They’ll suck every last drop of blood out of you quicker than your Aunt Ethel can scarf down a loaded pizza.
Blue Tarp: A blue plastic tarp we use to cover things in our yard…wood piles, ATVs, the wife’s corpse. No one will ever look under your blue tarp.
Bottle Club: BYOB joints, usually with live country music. Not many of these left.
Bush Hog: If you have a piece of land overgrown with weeds, pricker bushes and small trees, you hire a guy to come in and bush hog it for you.
Canadians: Annoying and possessed of strange habits, but they spend money here.
Chowder: pronounced “chowdah”…clam, corn or fish. Forget that Manhattan-style crap.
Christless: adjective. As in, “I’ll knock your christless teeth out.”
Christly: adjective. As in, “That christly car broke down again.”
Chuck: verb. Throw, toss. As in, “Chuck me one of them beers.” See also, “Huck” and “Wing.”
Clean Fill Wanted: This sign is posted in the front yard of every third house, often for years at a time (var. Good Clean Fill Wanted).
The County: Aroostook County.
Cribbage: If we had an official State Card Game, this would be it.
Cunnin’: Adorable, precious. As in, “You seen my little nephew? He’s so cunnin’.” Also: “Wicked Cunnin’.”
Dooryard: This word is often misused for “driveway.” It is, in fact, the yard outside your door. Hence, “dooryard.”
Dubbin’: Doing this and that, a way to kill time. Also: “Dubbin’ Around”
Dynamites: Take a can of tomatoes, throw in some chopped celery, onions, a little hamburg and a few spices, heat it up and pour it over hot dog buns. Yeah, they’re as nasty as they sound.
East Bumfuck: A town that’s a wide spot in the road out in the middle of nowhere.
East Overshoe: This is the term you use if you want to say “East Bumfuck” but can’t because the pastor of your church is visiting.
Educated Idiot: Anybody who went to college or made the high school honor roll.
Ell: Connects the main part of your house to the woodshed or barn.
Fiddleheads: A type of fern that we pick in the spring. Boiled and served with butter or vinegar. Good eatin’.
Flatlander: Anyone from outside Maine, even if their home state has higher mountains. Flatlanders can never be trusted. Ever.
Frenchman: derogatory term for Canadians or anyone you think is dumb. As in, “Why’d you drop that hammer on your own foot? You a Frenchman?”
Frig: Interchangeable with “fuck.”
Frogs: see "Frenchman."
From Away: see "Flatlander."
Frost Heave: A big-ass bump in the road caused by the expansion of ice beneath the pavement. A frost heave can frig up your suspension somethin' awful.
Home Baptist: Someone who is a hard-shelled fundamentalist Christian, but can’t be bothered with church.
Hornpout: A small catfish.
Hot Top: Asphalt.
Huck: verb. To throw or toss. See also, “Chuck” and “Wing.”
I ‘bout ‘magine: An expression of disbelief (“I about imagine”).
Italian: A sandwich made on a long roll, filled with ham, turkey or salami, green peppers, onions, pickles, black olives, tomatoes and American cheese, doused with oil. Often pronounced "eye-talian."
Jackin’ Deer: Hunting deer at night by shining a spotlight in their eyes. The deer become entranced, making it easy to blow their brains out. Remember, it’s only poaching if the game wardens catch you.
Mainecare: Unreliable state-funded health insurance which guarantees most healthcare professionals will treat you like a second-class citizen.
Masshole: Anyone from Massachusetts.
Mill Rate: One of the things we get pissed about at town meetings, even though most of us don't understand what it is.
Moxie: The nastiest drink ever invented. It tastes like carbonated NyQuil.
Muckle: verb. To grab something. As in, “Muckle onto the other of that log, will ya?” Brought over by Scottish settlers.
Mud Season: April through mid-June.
Nippy: Chilly. "Kinda nippy" is any temperature between 25 and 32 degrees F.
Noseeums: Blood-sucking insects smaller than blackflies.
Nosuh: No. Only used by the same people who say “Ayuh.”
Numb: Stupid.
Numbnuts: Unbelievably stupid.
Old Orchard: A beach town north of Portland where all the Canadian tourists and fat Mainers who wear thongs go to play in the sun and surf.
On the County: On relief.
On the State: On welfare.
The Other Maine: Everything south of Augusta, where the rich and bossy people live.
Popple: A poplar tree.
Reef: verb. To pull on or yank something. As in, “That door sticks and you gotta reef on it.” See also “yard.”
Right-of-Way: A narrow road or someone’s right to cross your property to get to theirs (if it lacks road access).
Skidder: A virtually indestructible vehicle used in wood yards.
The Smell of Money: The sulfurous stench from a paper mill.
Smeltin’: The act of catching smelts. This involves standing knee deep in an ice-cold river late at night.
Smelts: Small freshwater fish caught in the early spring. Roll them in cornmeal and fry them up. Good eatin’.
Son-of-a-Whore: What you call someone who’s worse than a son-of-a-bitch.
Snow Machine: A snowmobile.
Spleeny: Wimpy, whiny, given to complaining.
Stove: verb. As in, “It stove the front of my truck in pretty good when I smacked into that tree.” Also an adverb. As in, “I ain’t paying ten buck for that splittin’ maul. The handle is all stove up.”
Summer Complaint: Tourists. See also, “Canadians,” “Flatlander” and “Masshole.”
Tree Hugger: Anyone who recycles or drives a fuel-efficient car.
Ugly: Grouchy. As in, “Don’t talk to him. He’s being ugly today.”
Uncle Henry's: A weekly swap-it-or-sell-it guide. Placing your ad is free. Uncle Henry’s is read by more Mainers than the Bible, Hustler magazine and all of Stephen King’s novels combined.
Uncunted: Undone, broken, gone to hell. As in, “I thought I had that transmission fixed, but she come all uncunted on me.” I have only heard this one used in the Midcoast and Downeast regions. Probably another legacy of British or Scottish settlers, as they do love the "C-word."
Up the Ying Yang: To have a lot of something. As in, “He’s got money up the ying yang.”
Upcountry: Everything north of Greenville.
Whoopie Pie: A sandwich of two big cakey chocolate cookies with a thick layer of lard-based vanilla frosting between them. Part of the reason we’re so fat. Good eatin’.
Wicked: Good, great, cool, nice, etc. Used in place of “really” or “very.”
Wing: verb. Throw, toss. See also “Chuck” and “Huck.”
Woodshed: Where we keep our wood and/or beat our kids.
Wung: verb. The past tense of “Wing.” As in, "I wung a brick through his friggin' window."
Yard: verb. To haul or yank on something.
Yessuh: Yes. See explanation for “Ayuh” and “Nosuh.”

Friday, January 16, 2009

Money Shot and The Cold Spot

The MWA has announced this year's Edgar Award nominees. Two of my favorite novels from 2008 are up for Best Paperback Original: Christa Faust's Money Shot and Tom Piccirilli's The Cold Spot. It would be great to see either one of them win, but I think I'll be rooting a little more for Money Shot. Angel Dare is one of the most unusual and compelling protagonists to hit the crime scene in a long while.

Congratulations to Ms. Faust, Mr. Piccirilli and all the other nominees.

Thought for the Day

"Poetry is the art of using words charged with their utmost meaning. A society whose intellectual leaders lose the skill to shape, appreciate, and understand the power of language will become the slaves of those who retain it--be they politicians, preachers, copywriters, or newscasters."

--from Can Poetry Matter? Essays on Poetry and American Culture (Graywolf Press, 1992)

Thursday, January 15, 2009

A Mind of Winter

One must have a mind of winter
To regard the frost and the boughs
Of the pine-trees crusted with snow;
--from “The Snow Man” by Wallace Stevens (1923)

It’s cold this morning: -10°F. Small icicles form in my mustache just walking to the barn and back. The Jeep doesn’t want to start, and I can’t say I blame it. The hard-packed snow in the dooryard squeaks under my boots. Even with heavy gloves on, my fingertips start to go numb. The dog does his best to get around on three legs—not due to any injury, but because he is alternately keeping his right and left hind foot off the ground. Normally happy to make his rounds of the yard and the forest fringe, this morning he does his business as quick as possible and runs straight back to the porch.

In other words, it’s a damn fine day to stay inside and write. That won’t make me feel any warmer, though. The new novel takes place during winter.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Get Some Thrills

The new issue of Thrilling Detective is up and running with new fiction by Stephen D. Rogers, Kieran Shea, Mark Troy and me. “Pandora” marks the debut of my series character, ex-PI August Hanrahan. Check it out and—if you get a chance—drop a comment here to let me know what you think. Be sure to read the other stories, too. Stephen, Kieran and Mark are writers to be reckoned with. Thrilling Detective is one of the best e-zines out there and it’s, well, a thrill to see my work published there. August is in good company.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Taste the Pulpy Goodness

Beat to a Pulp is a hard-hitting e-zine with the ambitious goal of publishing a new story every week. Check it out here.

Monday, January 5, 2009

Tagged for Random Stuff

Sandra Ruttan tagged me for a "16 Random Things" meme. Why 16? I have no idea. So anyway, here you go...16 random things about me:

1. I'm not a native Mainer. I was born in Utica, New York and didn't move to Maine until 1983.
2. I've never been no Valentino, but I had a girl who lived in Reno. She left me for a trumpet player, but it didn't get me down.
3. My parents met at a mental institution. They both worked there, but still...
4. I figured out The Usual Suspects right away, but never caught on to the fact that the kid in The Sixth Sense was dead until that ohhhhh moment.
5. I learned to play The Simpsons theme on bass to impress my kids. And it didn't.
6. Twenty-two years into the relationship and I still have no frickin' idea what my wife sees in me.
7. The smell of Ivory soap makes me gag. That's because my mother used to make me eat it as a punishment. I don't mean getting your mouth washed out with soap for saying a dirty word or talking back. I mean eating the goddamn soap. She died 32 years ago, but I still can't stand that scent.
8. I flunked my senior year of high school and got my diploma through adult ed. a year later. So I guess was inevitable that I'd get a master's degree in creative writing.
9. When I was a little kid, the only thing I wanted to be other than a writer was a marine biologist.
10. I think William Gay is the greatest living American writer.
11. I started out writing fantasy and horror stories.
12. I hate soda.
13. Instead of writing, I played in the snow with my five year-old today.
14. I hitchhiked from Madison, Maine to Herkimer, New York when I was 17.
15. I'm hooked on Doctor Who. And Freema Agyeman.
16. I'm even more boring in person. Hard to believe, I know.
Well, that's it. Sixteen tidbits about me you were wetting your pants to know. As usual, I'm not going to tag anyone. Play along on your own blog if you want, or feel free to post your list here.
Extra points to anyone who names the author of the lyrics I rippped off in #2 (and no fair looking it up on The Google).

Saturday, January 3, 2009

A Sort-Of New Year's Resolution

Richard Stark was the most famous of Donald Westlake's many pen names, but over the last couple of days I've read some blog posts about one of his lesser-known aliases. As Tucker Coe, Westlake wrote a series of five novels about private eye and ex-cop Mitch Tobin. I had never heard of it. But when guys like Ed Gorman, James Reasoner and Kevin Burton Smith all rave about a series, you know it's worth reading.

The Coe books are all out-of-print, but I'm going to do my damndest to track them down. It could take a while if they're expensive or not available through inter-library loan. So that's one of my goals for 2009: finding and reading all five Mitch Tobin novels. I have a better shot at keeping that resolution than the usual bullshit ones about losing weight or being a nicer person.

Friday, January 2, 2009

Celebrating Westlake

I've been thinking about this since last night, and I realize I helped perpetuate our narcissistic culture by blogging about how I felt about Donald Westlake's death. Being depressed about his passing serves no purpose. Instead, we should celebrate the brilliant (and huge) body of work Westlake left behind.

Here's my suggestion: put a copy of one of Westlake's books in the hands of someone who has never read him. Give a friend a Dortmunder novel or a Parker novel (my favorites) or one of the gozillion others he wrote. Help someone discover the joy of reading Donald Westlake. Make it the literary equivalent of an Irish wake. I can't think of a better way to honor such a great writer.

I have a battered, much-read paperback copy of Bank Shot for anyone who leaves a comment asking for it (I'll throw your names in a hat and pick one out Monday). The catch is that you have to be a Westlake virgin...and I'll have to take your word for it.

Thursday, January 1, 2009

Donald Westlake

2009 is off to a lousy start. Donald Westlake, one of the greatest and most prolific writers in the crime field, has died of an apparent heart attack. He was 75. I can’t even begin to stress how important his work, whether under his own name or the Richard Stark pseudonym, has been to my writing. The man was a genius. I never met Mr. Westlake, but I miss him already.