"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.

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.

Monday, March 2, 2009

Push That Pulp

The most recent edition of Pulp Pusher has stories by Sophie Littlefield ("Granny Panties"), Keith Rawson ("Memory Lane") and Frank Bill ("Hill Clan Cross"). There's also a Craig McDonald interview by Alison Janssen. If you haven't been reading Pulp Pusher, there's something wrong with you.