"You know what? The bastard blows me out of the water. This guy writes Maine like Ardai writes New York. If you're not reading him, you don't know what you're missing." --Chris F. Holm, author of The Big Reap, The Wrong Goodbye and Dead Harvest.

"Bagley's got the poet's eye, but that doesn't mean everything is prettier in his work. It means the ugly stuff is more vivid. More intense. Like a sudden switch from analog to HD. And that's a trait to very much admire in his work." --Anthony Neil Smith, author of Hogdoggin', Yellow Medicine, The Drummer and Psychosomatic.




Friday, February 27, 2009

Rawson and Bardsley in the new PWG

Keith Rawson, that twisted bastard who was my sort-of collaborator on "One More Mess," has a story in the latest issue of Plots with Guns. Keith's "Clinical Trial" shows us a man tackling his relationship problems in a way that would make Dr. Phil shit himself. There is also story by badass Greg Bardsley. "Crazy Larry Smells Bacon" turned my lifelong hatred of Alvin & the Chipmunks into a new phobia.

If you've never read these guys before, PWG #5 is a damn fine place to start. That way you can brag you were into them before they hit it big. Better do it fast.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

The Lineup for The Lineup #2

The selection process was a long one, but Gerald So, Richie Narvaez, Anthony Rainone and I have finally settled on the material to be published in our second annual anthology of hard-boiled poems. The new installment of The Lineup, due out this summer, will feature these poets:

Patrick Carrington
Reed Farrel Coleman
Sophie Hannah
John Harvey
Janis Butler Holm
Jennifer L. Knox
Amy MacLennan
Carol Novack
Deshant Paul
Karen Petersen
Manuel Ramos
Stephen D. Rogers
Christopher Watkins

Now that's an exciting bunch of writers. If you liked The Lineup #1, then #2 will hit you like a 300-pound gorilla come to collect the vig on that ten large you still owe Vinnie the Squid. The Lineup #1 is still available; just click the link in the sidebar over there. Do it. Do it now.

Author Interview: Tom Bale



I received an advance copy of Tom Bale’s Skin and Bones on Christmas Eve and finished it in time for Christmas dinner. This writer had me hooked from page one and I had a tough time putting the book down, even when the kids were opening their presents. Mr. Bale was kind enough to answer a few questions about Skin and Bones and his latest project.

Give us a quick pitch for the book.
A killer goes on the rampage in a quiet Sussex village before apparently taking his own life. Only Julia Trent knows that the gunman wasn't acting alone, but after being chased and almost killed, no one wants to believe her account of the massacre. Joining forces with Craig Walker, a journalist and son of one of the victims, she sets out to discover the truth. What she finds is that the killing didn't start on that cold day in January, and worst of all, it won’t end there…

How is it doing so far? Have you gotten some good press?
It’s selling well, I believe, and the reaction so far has been very positive. Some great reviews in the national and local press, and from a lot of well-respected crime fiction websites and bloggers. Knowing how many books are out there competing for attention, I’d have been delighted with half a dozen reviews, but so far it’s had about twenty.

Here in the U.S., we’ve grown accustomed to seeing the aftermath of mass killings on the evening news. I found the massacre in Skin and Bones so disturbing because Americans don’t usually think of such things happening in England. Your characters mention other (presumably real) shootings that have occurred. How common are these incidents in your country?
Shooting sprees have occurred in the UK. I'm glad to say they're extremely rare events, but perhaps all the more shocking for that reason.

How did you avoid ending up with a “ripped from the headlines” feel?
I think that's mostly down to the bizarre way in which this story originated. The entire opening sequence, where Julia enters the village and gets chased by the gunman, came from an incredibly vivid dream. I woke up with every detail right there in place, and frankly I couldn't believe my luck! (Normally when I get an idea in a dream, it falls apart under closer examination, but this one didn't.) From that point onwards, I quite deliberately didn't look too closely at any real incidents, either in Britain or elsewhere, although I used the basic structure of the official report into the Hungerford massacre when putting together the police report in my novel.

Tell us how you came up with your protagonists, Julia Trent and Craig Walker.
Because of the way the opening sequence came about, Julia was there from the beginning. The essence of her character developed quite naturally during those first chapters, where she's already being pushed to the limit. With Craig, it wasn't quite such an organic approach. His character took longer to develop, and actually changed a fair bit during the various drafts.

One of the things I love about Julia is her inner strength. She has experienced terrible things and lives in fear of more, but still she persists in uncovering the truth. Was that mix of strength and terror difficult to get down on paper?
It was a tricky balancing act at times. If she's too scared she’ll come across as drippy and unsympathetic; make her too strong and you risk losing plausibility. In terms of fine-tuning to get the right mix, I owe an awful lot to my editor and my agent, both of whom gave me some very useful advice on that score. It also helped that most of my first readers were female, including my wife, my sisters and my friend Claire. They made it a lot less daunting to create a female protagonist.

Skin and Bones has three main villains (and a small host of hired goons). All three are complex characters and, as much as I wanted to hate them, I found myself empathizing with each of them to a certain degree. How did those characters evolve as you wrote?
I’m glad to hear you empathized with them, as that’s exactly what happens to me during the writing process. I always set out to create bad guys with no redeeming features at all, and then inevitably find myself bringing out their more human, sympathetic qualities.

There are a couple of gruesome scenes involving an electric saw and some nylon cord. As seen through Julia’s eyes, the violence is horrific but it somehow never feels gratuitous. That level of violence is necessary because of what it reveals about the character inflicting it, but did you have to struggle with these scenes?
Not at all! I find the scenes with a lot of action and violence are by far the easiest to write. The ones I really struggled with were those that explored the hint of romance between Julia and Craig. In fact, quite a lot of those scenes ended up on the cutting room floor.

I think Skin and Bones will be well received in the States. Any news on when it’s coming out over here?
That’s very kind of you to say so, but at the moment it doesn’t have a US publisher. I'm hoping that if it does well enough in the UK, it might generate some interest in America. My UK publishers hold World English rights, so I’m sure they’ll do their best to get a US deal if they can.

Who are your main influences as a writer?
Stephen King was a major influence during my teens. Hemingway and Graham Greene are the two literary writers that I idolized, and in terms of crime writing specifically, I’d single out John Sandford, Michael Connelly and Martin Cruz Smith, although there are many, many other writers who I read both for enjoyment and for what I can learn from them.

What were the last three books you read?
Outliers, by Malcolm Gladwell, whose writing is so beautiful he can make anything fascinating; One Under by Graham Hurley, part of a great series of police procedurals set just along the coast from me in Portsmouth, and Gone Baby Gone by Dennis Lehane. I've only recently discovered his work, and after reading just two of his books I'm in awe of him.

Tell us a little about your current project.
The next book is provisionally called Terror’s Reach, and it’s about a criminal gang that seizes control of a wealthy island off the Sussex coast. It introduces what I'm hoping will be a series character: a former cop, estranged from his family and forced to live under a false identity after an undercover operation went disastrously wrong.

Thanks for taking the time to answer my questions. I’m looking forward to your next novel.
Thank you.


***

Note to readers: Even though Skin and Bones is not yet available in a US edition, it can be ordered from Amazon. Just click on the link in my introductory paragraph. And be sure to visit Tom Bale's website for news and sample chapters.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Tune in Tomorrow

Be sure to stop by tomorrow for my interview with UK crime writer Tom Bale, author of Skin and Bones. It's been a busy week on the ol' blog. I'll probably go on hiatus next week, since it's a school vacation.

Ten Authors on Their Pivotal Books

Last week, I asked people to send in comments on “pivotal books.” It was a slightly different take on the “book that made me want to be a writer” theme—which has been done a gozillion times. What interested me were the books which, when read by someone who was already writing, affected the direction of that reader’s work. I received great responses from nine authors whom I admire: Michael Haskins, Lyman Feero, Kieran Shea, Patti Abbott, Sophie Littlefield, Dave Zeltserman, Dawn Potter, Clair Dickson and Sandra Ruttan. We’ll start with my pivotal book and move on to theirs.

By 1987, I’d been writing for a decade but was only then becoming serious about it. Most of my stories were lousy pastiches of Michael Moorcock, H.P. Lovecraft and Roger Zelazny’s “Amber” novels. I was spending weekends at my then-girlfriend’s house, and one rainy Sunday needed something to read—hey, our activity choices were limited with both of her parents home and on the alert.

Anyway, I was tired of flashing swords, cunning sorcerers and eldritch terrors from beyond the stars. Nothing wrong with those things, but I had the urge to try something new. Tonia’s father had just finished reading a novel called The Beans of Egypt, Maine by Carolyn Chute. Now, I’d heard of this book, which had been out for a couple of years. It was the center of regional controversy for its unflattering take on rural Maine life. I picked it up and figured what the hell.

This novel floored me; not because it was a brilliant piece of writing, but because the language and the subject matter were so raw and honest. Chute wrote about the Maine that I knew. Her characters—warts and all—were people I saw every day of my life. Many of the books I read in high school left me cold because I could not relate to the characters. The very idea that someone could write a novel about common, salt-of-the-earth people in an empathic and nonjudgmental way came as a revelation. It was also the first time I became aware of how the landscape of a story shapes character and plot, how the setting itself can be a character. Reading The Beans of Egypt, Maine became my road to Damascus moment as a writer.

Since my first encounter with Beans, other writers and books have affected my work—hell, most of the good ones do. But it was Carolyn Chute who set me on the path I’ve been following for the last 22 years. It isn’t a great book, but I still love it and reread it every couple of years.

Michael Haskins (author of Chasin’ the Wind): An interesting question! I would have to say it was James Lee Burke's In the Electric Mist with Confederate Dead. Two reasons for that, 1) he had his character, Dave Robicheaux, see ghosts (Confederate soldiers), 2) I'd been reading his books in order and I realized at this point that Burke is one of the greats because you smelled the aromas of New Orleans and stench of the swamps while you read. I would kill to have those abilities!

Lyman Feero (genre-defying author of “The Switch” and other stories): The seminal work that shaped my writing career is actually the oeuvre of Edgar Allan Poe. I started writing because of Stephen King but it was Poe that shaped me. As a kid I loved "The Raven" and started writing poetry when I was ten. At the same time I found King and read his works voraciously. I started reading Poe's short stories and found them just as appealing as King's. "The Tell Tale Heart," "The Cask of Amontillado" and "The Pit and The Pendulum," became easy favorites. Still it was King I fashioned my works after in high school.

Then came college. I branched out and read more obscure works by Poe. I read his Dupin detective stories, his essays on short stories and the creative ideal, his minor short stories like "Eleonora" and "Hop Frog." I always felt a little stifled by one genre. As I looked at the broad spectrum of Poe's work I realized that he was not simply a horror writer of the American Gothic tradition. Instead he was a storyteller who used many means to tell a story, even going so far as to create his own genres to do so. It was then that my long journey to tell stories beyond genre began.

Kieran Shea (author of “Shot Back,” “Thoroughly Yours” and other kick-ass crime stories): I'm not going to bullshit you, I mean every single book I read has me second guessing ANYTHING I attempt.

About twenty years ago, just before I was scrabbling in the Washington-DC theater scene and getting my first understudy acting gig (equity mind you) I picked up Sam Shepard's (out of print) short story/essay collection The Motel Chronicles.

Fuck me. That is it....that is all. All...I...ever...want...to...achieve.

When I read SS's TMC one night I bitch cursed that talented fucker like I was lanced with a cod hook. I had no idea, none, ZERO...just how hard so little words could slash.

So, I read Sam and kept pushing the slim volume on my friends, saying...read THIS.

Only a decade later did I realize the accuracy of Shepards's hawkish aim....

Sam Shepard.

Pure. Acid. Watershed.

Patti Abbott (Derringer Award-winning author of “My Hero” and other stories): For me it would the series of short stories (mostly published in The New Yorker) written by John Updike about the Maple family. They were eventually collected in the volume Too Far to Go: The Maples Stories and filmed in TV drama starring Blythe Danner and Michael Moriarty. The stories took the couple from their first married days through the dissolution of their marriage. My very favorite of the stories is titled "Giving Blood," where the two lie at right angles to each other giving blood, and thinking about the state of their marriage. It is incredibly sad.

Sophie Littlefield (author of the forthcoming A Bad Day for Sorry): When I stumbled on an early short story collection by T. Coraghessan Boyle in the 1980s - not even sure which it was, though a quick search gets me thinking it might have been Descent of Man - I was riveted. I was in my first year or two of college, home for the summer, broke, bored, and trolling for something new at the local library. I was shocked that you could write in such an unvarnished way about human appetites and still get published. There was also an element of emotional violence in Boyle's work that struck a resounding chord in me, one which, it turns out, later formed the basis for most of my own work. Also, some of the stories were also just so wonderfully, unapologetically, fantastically weird. I had certainly never heard of magical realism and, if I had, would have assumed it wasn't allowed in Missouri.

I wondered which of the librarians had test-driven the book - I was under the impression there was some round-table vetting process - and hoped I would not meet her eye by accident, because surely she would know: reading the book, I was convinced, had marked me forever.

In those days I felt deeply ashamed that I was so viscerally attracted to raw writing. A decade later, books like Mona Simpson's Anywhere But Here made me see that you could reveal the drama at the core of human relationships without necessarily having to introduce sex and violence into the story. Though damn if those don't make handy story elements.

Dave Zeltserman (author of Fast Lane, Small Crimes and Pariah): This one’s easy. A Hell of a Woman by Jim Thompson. The book blew me away, and changed the way I thought about writing. I realized after reading this book that you could break every rule in writing if you can make it work.

Dawn Potter (author of Boy-Land and Other Poems, Tracing Paradise: Two Years in Harmony with John Milton and the forthcoming How the Crimes Happened ): David Copperfield by Charles Dickens. I've recently finished an essay called "Dickens the Novelist: A Love Letter," which is coming out someday in The Sewanee Review.

Here's the final paragraph of that essay: I love David Copperfield so much that I can hardly bear the idea of taking it apart to critically examine its insides. I really don’t care how or why it works. All I want is to keep rereading it forever. As David says about his friend the Micawbers, “I had grown so accustomed to [them], and had been so intimate with them in their distresses, and was so utterly friendless without them, that the prospect of being thrown upon some new shift for a lodging, and going once more among unknown people, was like being that moment turned adrift into my present life.”

Clair Dickson (author of the “Bo Fexler, PI” stories): The book that impacted my writing the most would be Raymond Chandler's The Lady in the Lake. I read the book in college, maybe seven or eight years ago now. I'd been writing for years before then, even dabbling in mysteries. In my quest to better understand the genre I was writing in, I came across Raymond Chandler. And I fell in love with his prose by the end of the first page. By the end of the book, I wanted to be the next Raymond Chandler. I love the way that Chandler plays with words. Everything I've read since then has not been able to compare. Chandler was my first taste of darker writing-- where bad things do happen to good characters and where no one bothers to find a silver lining. My kind of writing.

Sandra Ruttan (author of the Nolan, Hart & Tain series and editor of Spinetingler Magazine): "Criminous kids are bad enough, but Ruttan, a disciple of the Val McDermid school, takes things a bit further. To say more is to give away a terrific plot."

Margaret Cannon's review (of The Frailty of Flesh) in The Globe and Mail hit the nail on the head: a key book that had an undeniable influence on my writing was Val McDermid's Wire in the Blood. I read it at a time when I was exploring new-to-me authors, and much of what I'd read to that point had followed the point of view of the protagonist, who was almost always a cop. WITB chilled me to the bone with scenes told from the killer's perspective, and through the eyes of victims.

This one book, more than any other I can think of, made me consider carefully the use of point of view in storytelling. The added perspectives give the reader a God's Eye overview that allows you to see how it is - or isn't - coming together, and heightens the suspense as the investigation unfolds. I had always thought not knowing who did it, or why, kept people turning the pages, but WITB taught me that a great writer can divulge details and draw you in deeper at the same time.

WITB was also one of the first books I read that forged a bond between the reader and a central character and then killed the character. The sense of loss only amplified my desire to see justice done by the final page.

Every time I sit down to write I carefully consider the point of view I'm using, and what perspectives I'll use in the work as a whole to tell the story, and whether or not I'm limiting the perspectives to cheat the reader into false suspense, or whether the other perspectives add depth and richness to the story, and sometimes, I ask myself if letting a character live is pulling a punch that weakens the overall effect of the story being told. These are valuable lessons learned from one of the greats of our genre, and lessons I'm glad I learned early on.
***

There you have it. I want to thank everyone who took time out from their busy schedules to respond. If anyone else wants to talk about a pivotal book, feel free to add a comment.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Required Reading

I’m teaching fiction writing for the local adult education program again this semester. Nine students signed up this time around. That’s a good number. Over the last three years, I’ve taught classes with as few as four and as many as fourteen students.

Besides reading and critiquing each other’s work, they’ll also be reading and discussing these stories:

“Uncle Sidney and the Mexicans” by James Lee Burke (from The Convict and Other Stories)
“Alabama Jones” by Howard Frank Mosher (from Where the Rivers Flow North)
“Ernie’s Ark” by Monica Wood (from Ernie’s Ark and Other Stories)
“Snake” by Brady Udall (from Letting Loose the Hounds)
“The Possibility of Evil” by Shirley Jackson (from Just an Ordinary Day: The Uncollected Stories of Shirley Jackson)
“Two Kinds” by Amy Tan (from The Joy Luck Club)
“The Lions are Asleep This Night” by Howard Waldrop (from Feeling Very Strange: The Slipstream Anthology)
“Geraldine Loves” by Keith Lee Morris (from New England Review, Fall 2002)
“The Token Booth Clerk” by Sara Gran (from A Hell of a Woman: An Anthology of Female Noir)

It's tough to choose from among all the stories I've read and liked, I think it's a pretty good mix of styles and voices. We workshop two student-written stories or novel chapters a week during the final third of the semester, so I end the reading assignments at week 9.

Monday, February 9, 2009

February Flash

It’s time to post my contribution to Patti Abbott’s latest flash fiction challenge. The deal was simple: write an opening paragraph and send it to Patti; she shuffled them all and dealt one paragraph to every player; we then had to finish the story begun in the paragraph we received. None of us know who wrote our opening.

This thing was a hell of a lot of fun. Check out
Patti’s blog for links to the other stories.

And here’s what I did with my assigned opening…


One More Mess
By Patrick Shawn Bagley (opening paragraph by Keith Rawson)

The bath water is near freezing by the time I get out of the tub. I barely noticed the temperature when I first lowered myself into it. I vaguely remember it being close to boiling; my skin turning bright red, my pores opening wide and yawning; dripping sweet, cutting small rivers through the grit and blood that covered me from head to toe. I recall vomiting over the side of the tub, a thin yellow acidic drool that filled my nostrils and burned my gums. I only remember that because my first step out of the tub is into a slick puddle of it.

I go down, slamming my knee against the cracked and pitted linoleum. One more pain among a dozen others, it helps jar me into full wakefulness. I grab two towels from a shelf above the old claw-footed tub: one to wipe the puke off my leg, one to dry myself. Knowing I shouldn’t, I take a look in the mirror. My lips and nipples are blue from the cold. No surprise there. But the sight of my face makes me want to turn away and puke all over again.

J.P. had gone upside my head with a stick of cedar kindling. Then, when I was kneeling on the floor and holding a hand to my bloody ear, he’d started in with the belt. “Let’s see how many men want you after this,” J.P. said. He grabbed a fistful of my hair to keep me from running off. If I tried to pry his fingers loose, it left my face exposed to the belt; if I tried to cover my face, he yanked my head back and forth while lashing my breasts, back and belly.

Now my face is cross-hatched with purple welts and stipples of dried blood. I wrap the towel around myself, walk into the bedroom. My breath hovers in the air. The woodstove downstairs must have gone out hours ago. Dropping the towel, I open my bureau drawers and try not to look at the mess on the bed. It doesn’t matter. That’s a picture I’ll never get out of my head…Tom Moody grunting away on top of me, telling me to hold still and stop my fucking crying…then his face erupting in a red shower, followed a heartbeat later by the roar of J.P.’s 20-gauge.

It takes me a few minutes to pull on clean underwear, a pair of jeans and my red sweater. God, I move like an arthritic old woman. My face feels like I got stung by a hundred wasps. My ribs ache so much that it hurts to raise my arms or take a deep breath. There’s a knot on the side of my head where J.P. smacked me with that piece of cedar. I hobble down the stairs, my knuckles white as I grip the banister.

Once at the bottom, I stand there with my eyes closed and wait for my breathing to slow. I could keep walking, go right out the front door, get in the truck and drive away. But somebody would come by looking for J.P., not tonight but probably in a day or two. They’d see the bodies and call the cops. Sooner or later, I’d get picked up. So I sit on the bottom step, right where J.P. left me after he dragged me down the stairs, and try coming up with a plan.

“Bastard got what was coming to him.”

I jump at the sound before realizing it’s my own voice. That’s it. I can’t sit here waiting to get busted. There’s blood to clean up, corpses to dump. I’ll roll my husband and Tom Moody into a couple of tarps. If I weigh them down with J.P.’s skidder chains, I can sink them in the bog down at the far end of the old pasture.

Yeah, that’ll work. It has to work. I’ll get the house cleaned and try to cover my welts and bruises with make-up. Anybody comes by the house, I’ll just tell them J.P.’s gone down to visit his mother in Solon…which everybody knows means he’s really whoring over to Millinocket. That gives me a couple days to heal up and decide where to go, maybe find some of the money J.P.’s got stashed here or out in that old falling-down barn.

First thing is heat. I have to start a fire in the stove, so I get up and walk into the living room. J.P. lies there on the floor in front of the couch, his belly a ragged red mess where I emptied both barrels of the 20-gauge into him. He had been whipping me so hard and fast that the belt flew out of his hand. When he let me go to pick it up, I grabbed the shotgun. He even stood there laughing while I loaded it, was still laughing when I thumbed back both hammers.

Looking at him now, all I can see is the mud on his work boots—it would never occur to J.P. to stomp his damn feet off outside. No, he’d come tromping right in and get mud all over the house, then yell at me for not keeping the place clean. I shake my head, tell myself to get busy. The woodstove door squeaks when I open it to lay in some crumpled newspaper.

“Carol…”

I jump again. Then I smile and tell myself to get a grip. The worst is over.

“Carol…”

Oh, Jesus. Still crouching in front of the stove, I pivot on my feet and look over at J.P. His eyes are open and he licks his lips. “Help,” he says.

If he’s still alive, then it’s not too late. I can get him to the hospital. They’ll fix him up. I won’t have to go to jail or on the run. I can tell the cops about Tom Moody coming here, saying he had to leave a chainsaw for J.P. to fix, but forcing his way into the house to attack me instead. They’ll believe me when I say my husband killed Tom. They’ll believe I only shot J.P. out of fear for my own life. J.P.’s a vicious son-of-a-whore. Everybody around here knows that.

They all know it.

They’ve always known it.

“Carol,” J.P. says again. The words come out wet and thick. “Call…help.” And there it is; that light in his eyes, the same light I see in them when he hits me or calls me a stupid cunt. How long will they keep him in prison for killing Tom? Eight years? Twelve? Maybe even twenty? That seems like a long time.

And yet, it doesn’t.

I pick up J.P.’s 20-guage and the box of shells I had dropped on the couch. He tries to move his head, tries to watch me. I step over to where he can see me loading the gun again.

“Carol…”

I shush him before pointing the barrel at his head. I’ve already spent fourteen years cleaning up his messes. I don’t mind one more.

God's Middle Finger


Against the advice of his friends and people who know the area, British writer Richard Grant takes it into his head to travel alone through the Sierra Madre and chronicle the experience. The result is God's Middle Finger: Into the Lawless Heart of the Sierra Madre (The Free Press, 2008), a book that combines ethnography and history with the Tim Cahill school of gonzo travel writing. In other words, it's a fun, compelling read full of narrow escapes and real-life characters who would feel right at home in a Charles Portis novel.

Grant drives into a world that hasn't changed much since the days of B. Traven's Treasure of the Sierra Madre. If anything, it's become more dangerous for a gringo on his own: lions and bears roam the high country, Tarahumara groups struggle against logging industry thugs for land rights, narcotraficantes rule the mountains, bandits haunt the roads, corrupt cops and trigger-happy army units enforce justice for the highest bidder. Grant gets a first-hand education in the region's problems and talks with reticent locals, starry-eyed American aid workers, pot growers, expatriates, farmers, widows and crooks. He eats their food, drinks their beer, smokes their dope, snorts their coke and listens to their stories.

In a place where arguments are resolved with AK-47s, Grant does his best to ask questions without giving offence, but doesn't always pull it off. In fact, some of the book's best moments come when he is afraid for his life. That's not to say there aren't any good people in these pages. There are quite a few, without whom Grant would not have gotten more than a couple of days into his journey.

God's Middle Finger is a hell of a trip. Grant's prose hits like a shot of lechuguilla. He has delivered a book that makes readers long to travel the Sierra Madre themselves while feeling fortunate to be safe at home. It also takes a lot of our arrogant, comfortable assumptions about life in Mexico, turns them upside down and slaps the shit out of them. As Grant writes near the end: "...here I was getting my kicks and curing my ennui in a place full of poverty and suffering, environmental and cultural destruction, widows and orphans from a slow-motion massacre. I tried to persuade myself that I was going to write something that would make a difference and help these people, but my capacity for self-delusion refused to stretch in that direction."

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Pivotal Books

What one book had the greatest impact on your writing? I don't mean the book that made you want to be a writer. I'm talking about a novel or short story collection that hit you so hard it changed the direction of your work. For me, it was Carolyn Chute's The Beans of Egypt, Maine, which I first read in 1987. I'll explain why next week.

I'm interested in hearing from the rest of you. If you have the time, e-mail me (patricksbagley at yahoo.com) a paragraph or two about your "pivotal book" and how it has informed your own writing.

I plan on posting the responses here next Wednesday, so try to get them to me by February 10.

Sunday, February 1, 2009

Deep Thoughts from Tough Guys: The You're in Jock Country Now, Aye Edition


“I told you I thought I could see the answer. You don’t want to give these cunts what they were after. Or turn them into the police. No, I see what you want. You want to fuck them up. Show them who the real hard man is. And you can dress it up however you like, because you like to pretend you’re the hero. Makes you feel better, right? But in the end, it comes down to one simple thing: you’re spoiling for a fight.”

—David Burns to J. McNee in The Good Son, ©2008 by Russel D. McLean