"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.




Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Marketing

"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

Yeah

"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.