Monday, November 28, 2011

How we came to write our stories for OFF THE RECORD

Hi folks,

Over at Patti Abbott's blog, you'll find a series of posts from the writers who contributed stories to Luca Veste's anthology, OFF THE RECORD. Today, I'm one of the writers up, along with Benoit Lelievre. Check it out at:


Blue skies,

Sunday, November 27, 2011

OFF THE RECORD available now!

Hi folks,

This is an exciting day! A book which I am sure will become an instant classic has just been released. Notable noir writer Luca Veste came up with the idea a few months ago to invite a bunch of noir writers from both Europe and the U.S. to submit short stories for a collection he was assembling where he asked the writers to write a story based on a classic tune. The result is OFF THE RECORD and it’s available as of today through Amazon. A print version will also become available soon. The proceeds will benefit two charities on both sides of the Atlantic. Check it out at these links:

It will benefit these two charities:
In the UK, National Literacy Trust. (

In the US, Children's Literacy Initiative. (

I took one of my all-time favorite singers, Tom Waits, and selected my favorite of his songs, “Small Change” to create my story. I imagined sitting in one of my old haunts in New Orleans, The Dungeon, and imagined Waits walking in one day as I sat soused at the bar, looking for material for his music. Now, the “real” story of his classic song can be revealed…

Check out the selections on the juke box below.

1.Neil White - Stairway To Heaven
2.Col Bury – Respect
3.Steve Mosby – God Moving Over The Face Of Waters
4.Les Edgerton - Small Change
5.Heath Lowrance - I Wanna Be Your Dog
6.AJ Hayes - Light My Fire
7.Sean Patrick Reardon - Redemption Song
8.Ian Ayris - Down In The Tube Station At Midnight
9.Nick Triplow - A New England
10.Charlie Wade - Sheila Take A Bow
11.Iain Rowan - Purple Haze
12.Thomas Pluck - Free Bird
13.Matthew C. Funk - Venus In Furs
14.R Thomas Brown - Dock Of The Bay
15.Chris Rhatigan – Shadowboxer
16.Patti Abbott - Roll Me Away
17.Chad Rhorbacher - I Wanna Be Sedated
18.Court Merrigan - Back In Black
19.Paul D. Brazill - Life On Mars?
20.Nick Boldock – Superstition
21.Vic Watson - Bye Bye Baby
22.Benoit Lelievre - Blood On The Dancefloor
23.Ron Earl Phillips - American Pie
24.Chris La Tray – Detroit Rock City
25.Nigel Bird - Super Trouper
26.Pete Sortwell – So Low, So High
27.Julie Morrigan - Behind Blue Eyes
28.David Barber – Paranoid
29.McDroll - Nights In White Satin
30.Cath Bore - Be My Baby
31.Eric Beetner - California Dreamin'
32.Steve Weddle - A Day In The Life
33.Darren Sant - Karma Police
34.Simon Logan - Smells Like Teen Spirit
35.Luca Veste - Comfortably Numb
36.Nick Quantrill - Death Or Glory
37.Helen FitzGerald - Two Little Boys
38.Ray Banks - God Only Knows

With forewords from UK writer Matt Hilton, and US writer Anthony Neil Smith.

This is a rare opportunity to see what some of our deranged minds are creating these days.

Blue skies,

P.S. One of the authors, Court Merrigan, has provided a soundtrack on YouTube with all the songs we chose. How cool is that! Here's the link:

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Review of Julia Madeleine's novel NO ONE TO HEAR YOU SCREAM

Hi folks,

The term “novel” means exactly that; something original, something new. And, each novel should be exactly that.

Precisely what Julia Madeleine’s novel, NO ONE TO HEAR YOU SCREAM is. An original work.

For starters, it takes us inside the mind of a brutal criminal. Madeleine isn’t the first novelist to do so, but unlike many who attempt to convey criminals to their readers, hers rings true. As a former criminal myself, I’m perhaps more sensitive to how writers portray outlaws, and to be honest, most get it wrong. Trust me--Julia doesn’t.

This is a brilliant character study on several levels. Involved is a teenager with mental issues, a father and stepmother with mental and emotional issues, a criminal with mental issues—in short, a typical dysfunctional family. Seriously, the insights delivered into these characters are brilliant and come on nearly every page.

NO ONE TO HEAR YOU SCREAM reminded me in a way of Charles Bukowski’s best story (imo), “The Fiend” in that it delivers a man who is presumably totally evil to most who might know him, but shows the spark of humanity that resides in all of us, even the worst among us.

If you like your fiction dark and original and to keep you up late at night turning the pages, this is the novel for you.

Blue skies,

Check out Thomas Pluck's blog today!

Hi folks,

I am totally stoked, jazzed, pleased, honored, humbled... all of that... by what respected noir writer and commentator Thomas Pluck posted on his blog today. Thank you, sir!

Check it out at

I'm smiling so much I split my lip!

Blue skies,

Monday, November 21, 2011

Paul D Brazill's You Would Say That, Wouldn't You?: Out Now: 13 Shots Of Noir by Paul D Brazill

Hi folks,
Check out Paul D. Brazill's new collection, 13 SHOTS OF NOIR, by the master himself. I've read it and it's one of the best reads I've had in a long, long time. I'll be posting a review in a week or so--I'm kind of jammed up right now with books to review but promise I'll have it up within the next two weeks. In the meantime, do yourself a huge favor and check it out!

Paul D Brazill's You Would Say That, Wouldn't You?: Out Now: 13 Shots Of Noir by Paul D Brazill: English writer Paul D Brazill's 13 Shots Of Noi r is a collection of short stories in the vein of Roald Dahl, The Twilight Zone and Alf...

Saturday, November 19, 2011


Hi folks,

I’m going to write a “two-fer” review today. I’m taking a look at Scottish novelist, Helen FitzGerald’s novel, The Donor, along with her screenwriter husband Sergio Casci’s film, AMERICAN COUSINS.


What if you were the only parent of two children and it was within your power to save one of their lives, but not both? How is such a decision even possible? How would you live with yourself whichever child you decided should live? How would the child you decided to sacrifice view you before she died? How would the child you saved regard you?

How would you look at yourself, no matter what choice you made?

I’ve just finished reading Helen FitzGerald’s novel, The Donor, which poses this very same problem for Will Marion whose wife Cynthia left him years ago for her criminal boyfriend, leaving their twin daughters, Georgie and Kay for Will to raise.

Twin daughters who both develop kidney disease and need transplants to survive.

I can’t remark on the plot much because it has multiple twists and turns that the reader should discover for him- or herself. Suffice to say that this is a complicated, multi-layered story that surprises at every turn, the tension building until it’s excruciating. Any parent that reads it will be forced to consider their own children and wonder how they’d react—what they’d do in the same circumstance.

It’s a brilliant character study of the three main players—the father and his two daughters--as each work through the psychological minefield individually. FitzGerald has delivered a powerful drama, gorgeously writ with grace, black humor, and compassion, and is the kind of literature one seizes upon when encountering its like and proclaims to all who will listen: Read this book!

I’m drained.

Emotionally spent.

How did it affect me?

The instant I read the last page, I drove down to my local license bureau and changed my driver’s license so that it showed I’m an organ donor. That’s how powerful it was. As perhaps an interesting aside, in a conversation with Ms. FitzGerald, when I told her what I’d done she revealed that she’d done the same thing in the midst of writing the book. I think many readers will do the same thing. I don’t know of many novels that trigger this kind of action.

…and then, I watched Helen’s screenwriter husband Sergio Casci’s film, AMERICAN COUSINS.


The first time by myself and then my wife came home from work and I watched it again with her.

Simply put, this is what movies, as an art form, are all about. It had every single element a movie should have—intelligent and genuinely funny humor, crime drama, a riveting and thoroughly sweet romance, justice meted out, incredible obstacles, a fantastic character arc, incredible music and wonderful scenery. It made me want to immigrate to Scotland. This is a movie that resonated with me and keeps on resonating. It has a depth to it rarely seen in most films these days.

I’m not a fan of romantic comedies, but this one was different. In fact, when I was raving about it to my wife, she asked me if I was sure this was a romantic comedy. Are you sure it doesn’t have any helicopters in it or car chases, she asked, suspiciously. When I told her there wasn’t a single helicopter in it, she put her hand on my forehead to see if I was feverish…

I tried to explain to her that while, yes, it was a romantic comedy, it also had “guy” stuff in it. Although no ‘copter crashes there was an explosion… some shooting…

The movie is based on Casci’s own family story, when two cousins immigrate from Tuscany, one to America and the other to Scotland, each vowing to the other that whoever made his fortune first would then send for the other to join him.

Many years later, although each family has become firmly entrenched in his respective adopted country, they’ve remained in touch. When two of the American family, Gino and Settimo, now Mafiosi, find themselves on the run as a result of a criminal deal gone wrong with Ukrainian bad guys, they decide to take advantage of their family ties by flying to Scotland and laying low in their Scottish cousin Roberto’s home. They’ve assumed he’s cut from the same cloth as the American branch—a tough gangster—but they quickly find out he’s a gentle and peaceful man who, along with his grandfather, owns a fish and chips restaurant in Glasgow. From this fish out of water beginning, emerges a story that’s really got everything—the aforementioned elements—all delivered with elegant understatement. Nothing is over the top as is so often in films like this. The violence has a realistic edge, the romance is bittersweet and not syrupy, and just about everyone in the movie is believable. Many times these days, I’ll see the promo and then go to the movie and that’s the best part of the movie. With this film, they could have picked any part of the movie for a promo as the “best part” and would have been spot on. No weaknesses—it delivers throughout.

This is what more movies should be.

Since I’ve read Helen’s novel and seen Sergio’s movie, we’ve become long-distance friends and one time I asked them how they worked. Turns out, they work in the same room and often one turns to the other when he or she encounters a problem and consults with the other. That must be why I feel the same “heart” in each of their works. An amazing couple!

Presently, Sergio is working on developing the screenplay from Helen’s novel, The Donor. I can’t wait until it comes out!

Another “inside” bit of info I learned. Both artists are in the movie AMERICAN COUSINS. They are the windsurfing couple getting ready to launch their—whaddya call it? windsurfer boat?—in the scene at Loch Lomand. Before I’d seen the movie, I’d researched Sergio on the Internet and saw a handsome dude in the photos with his interviews. Just looked like your average successful movie dude—coifed and dressed ala Hollywood “success” style. Then, I saw the scene where he and Helen appeared… and nearly choked. He didn’t look like the photos I’d seen at all. In the movie scene, he was a bit… how should I say this?... a bit portly. When I mentioned my surprise, he laughed and said as soon as he saw the film, he began a diet immediately…

I’m a huge, huge fan of both Helen FitzGerald and Sergio Casci. Check out their work. You’ll be glad you did.

Blue skies,

Tuesday, November 15, 2011


Hi folks,

Couple of things going on today you might want to check out.

First, I’d recommended my friend Lisa Lieberman Doctor to Jennifer Wilkov to be interviewed on her radio blog show on WomensRadio and it’s up! To listen to a truly brilliant writer and Hollywood executive who operated at the highest levels of filmland and television delivering useful information for both screenwriters and novelists, listen to her interview at!--Military-Wife-and-Author-Plus-A-Creative-Writing-Coach/10632.html

Second, I’ll be participating in my second interview today at 6 pm EST on Giovanni Gelati’s radio blog show The GZone. This should be like a fart in a skillet, as I suggested to Gio that instead of just interviewing me, he might consider some other folks as well, in a panel setting. So, it’ll be moi, plus Cort McMeel and Eddie Vega, founders of Bare Knuckle Press and Noir Nation Magazine, along with Sandra Ruttan and Brian Lindenmuth of Spinetingler Magazine and Snubnose Press. I’ve got stuff coming out from all of these guys, so it should be kind of interesting. Listen to us at The interview goes live at 6, but if you miss it, it’ll be in the archives and readily available. I’m kind of excited about this and hope lots of you tune in.

Blue skies,

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Review of ALL THE YOUNG WARRIORS by Anthony Neil Smith

Hi folks,

Here's a review I just completed on Anthony Neil Smith's newest novel, ALL THE YOUNG WARRIORS.

What a brilliant novel! Alternating between the harsh landscapes of two cultures—frigid Minnesota and the searing heat of Somalia—this novel reports on both worlds without politicizing and without moralizing, allowing the reader to arrive at their own conclusions.

What was fascinating for me was that it read as an intense psychological study of very disparate personalities that, at the end, created an understanding and empathy for every single character. With what is really an economy of words, Smith shows a true complexity for each character’s actions. This is a doctoral thesis in understanding how motivations drive people. What’s even more remarkable is that we see four very different people with four entirely different goals and each one is carefully and expertly drawn. There are no “good” guys nor any “bad” guys per se. There are just people who do good things and people who do bad things, with each of the four performing both kinds of actions, but each, no matter what they may do is clearly drawn with not only a deftness rarely seen in but the best of fiction, but each a person driven by forces completely understandable.

Very good literature allows us to see into the hidden soul of one character. Literature that deserves the epithet of being great, allows us to see into the deepest recesses of more than one. All the Young Warriors gives us an unprecedented view of all four of the major characters. I’m sure there have been novels which have done this before, but I confess I can’t recall which ones those were, and that tells me perhaps that I haven’t yet read them. Perhaps I just imagine they’re out there…

But, I’m not imagining this one.

As a writer, I open books for two reasons. One, to be entertained and secondly—which is at least equal in importance to me—to learn how to be a better writer by what and how the author has crafted the work. This novel succeeded on both levels.

I simply cannot get over the characters Smith has created. What’s revealing about his craft is how he delivers each character—not through introspection or peeking into their minds, but mostly by their actions. That’s hard to do!

First, you have what at first glance appears to be the standard issue cop/detective in thrillers, Ray Bleeker. Quickly, however, he becomes much more than a version of the stereotypical veteran cop solving a crime or mystery. His motivation is powerful. He does what he feels he has to do because of the love of a woman and a sense of honor he feels due her memory. He knowingly sacrifices his future and his life for what he holds to be a just cause. His quest becomes noble and this alone transforms him and makes him different than many similar fictional characters. This is no “Jack Reacher” embued with a superman physique and supernatural physical skills, kicking ass ala a cartoon superhero. This is no “Sherlock Holmes” with a superior intellect. No “Virgil Flowers” with an entire and impressive state crime-fighting bureaucracy behind him. This is a solid detective who can handle himself physically but isn’t a superhero, able to vanquish a dozen ninja warriors, but just a better-than-average fighter who’s getting a bit long in the tooth. His detecting skills are not inborn in him by virtue of some detective “gene,” but have been acquired by years on the job and from intelligent observation gleaned from many cases. He’s kind of an Everyman and what distinguishes him is the level of love he holds for a woman and his child. He embodies what used to be known as “Yankee ingenuity.” He doesn’t own a bunch of power tools; he owns an inventive, practical mind. What distinguishes him from other popular detectives in fiction is that he has a character arc. He is a man who will be an entirely different person at the end of the story, unlike most series characters who remain largely unchanged by the struggle they go through.

The second major character, Mustafa Abdi Bahdoon, was utterly fascinating. Easily the most complex character in the cast. At one time a powerful gang leader, feared by friend and foe alike, he has long since walked away from his past and is living the “straight” life, working at a Target store. This, despite the knowledge that he might be murdered at any time by his former gang members. He’s of Somalia extract, but all he wants to do is be American, despite his violent background. He also is driven by love. The love of his son.

His son, Adem, is as complex as the others, and shows perhaps the biggest character arc of all. He begins as a college student who is somewhat popular, but possessed of a follower’s personality. He’s the dutiful child, who gets swept up unexpectedly in politics and a murder and ends up in Somalia as he flees a murder charge and prison time, and at first is idealistic about the cause he has joined, but soon discovers he has neither the firmness of belief in that cause that is necessary but that he’s pretty much a coward. He mostly remains a coward until near the end and through a series of events, he becomes a sort of Goebbels. Why Goebbels, you ask? Well, because that’s kind of what I was reminded of in this story—it could have been structured from a study in how two powerful Nazis became who they were. Adem is Goebbels and the last character…

Jibriil… is the “Hitler” character. Indeed, I kept thinking of Hitler as Jibriil moved through the pages. Not the finished-product-Hitler, whom most see in their minds’ eye, ruling over the Third Reich as the hob-booted despot he became, but the Hitler who was a failure as a painter and mostly a nobody until he found himself in the right place at the right time and took advantage of the situation. Jibriil is the young Hitler, at his late childhood and early rise to power. What is fascinating is that through Smith’s depiction of his character, it becomes clear how an insignificant nobody can emerge as a cruel tyrant like Mein Fuhrer when the planets align and the circumstances allow.

I may be the only one who looks at this novel this way, but I can’t help seeing these kinds of parallels. Whether Smith intended it or not, he’s created a case study in how otherwise ordinary folks, under the right circumstances, can become the Hitlers of the world and how the same thing can happen today. And perhaps is.

What is one of the most amazing things about this book is that every single one of the major characters undergoes a significant character arc. How in the hell does Smith do that?! That’s remarkable. In practical terms, that means this novel is perfect to be made into a movie. You’ve got not one, but four characters A-list actors would kill to play.

This is a brilliant book, possibly the best novel of the year. It's for sure in the top three or four. I've read more great books this year than I ever have--great time for top novels!

Blue skies,

Monday, November 7, 2011

HOOKED... for free?!

Hi folks,

Well, I woke up today thinking it would just be another ho-hum day in Mudville... when I clicked on an email from an editor I really respect and discovered that Writer's Digest was offering my book HOOKED for free! (It wasn't a WD editor who notified me.)

Now, I know how Anthony Neil Smith (Doc Noir) felt in his blogpost:

My sentiments, exactly... Although, I have a sneaking suspicion Mr. Smith's publisher let him know what they were going to do before they did it. And, they only did it for a day... And, I'll bet he gave his okay.

What bothered me is that WD didn't see fit to let me know that they were doing this. Did I say "bothered me?" I guess that's the most accurate terminology to describe my initial reaction where I kicked my cat, threw a book through the window, cursed at the top of my lungs, and some other similar actions...

The thing is, I don't believe in ever giving away my work for free. Perhaps WD knows that and is why they didn't inform me.

I know there are writers out there who profess their desire is only to "get people to read them." Well, that ain't my desire at all, unless they pay for the hours and days and weeks and months and years it took to get that book written. I rarely see plumbers giving away free work to "get people to notice them." Figure my work is just as valuable...

I understand the impetus behind this "freebie" thing. That it create a fan base who will then buy other work. I guess. I'm just not a believer in this strategy.

Maybe it will turn out just fine. Just went to the Amazon site and saw Hooked's rank:
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #8 Free in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Free in Kindle Store)
    • #1 in Kindle Store > Kindle eBooks > Nonfiction > Reference > Writing > Fiction
    • Now, I'm not as mad as I was... I don't know what to think. Maybe they know what they're doing. The other thing that bothered me was that it was done as a promo for NaNoWrit or whatever they call it. That's an event I'm solidly... against. In fact, I tell my students I recommend they avoid participating, as in my opinion it only leads to bad writing habits. But, that's me. I do have many friends who participate in it and if they enjoy the experience, I'm glad for them. I just think it doesn't lead to many positive things for a serious writer. And, since I think it's more of a negative thing for a writer who wants to create good writing habits, I kind of resent my book is being given away free to promote it.
      I realize my thoughts here may alienate some folks. That's okay. If a writer doesn't have an opinion and is unwilling to express it, what kind of writer is that? One who would do well working for Pravda, I guess... Not this boy-o.

      I have nothing whatsoever against anyone who takes advantage of Writer's Digest largess... I'd do the same thing. In fact, I emailed some friends to alert them that they could get it for free and even Twittered about it. If you can't fight 'em, join 'em... At least if folks can get a free copy, I'd rather it be people I know and like.

      I think what bothered me the most was that WD couldn't even be bothered to let me know what they were going to do. The author isn't important in these things, I guess. It occurs to me that this may be one of the contributing factors to the demise of print publishers... how they view their authors and how they value their input and opinion, especially of their own work.

      Now, I'm going to lie down and try to practice my own philosophy of "not letting others rent space in my head."

      I just wish I had the power to give away all of Writer's Digest books for the next year... And not let them know until it was a done deal... Tell 'em if they didn't like it, too bad--it's in the contract...

      Sign me:
      P.S. What gripes me is that Hooked was still on a number of Amazon's best-selling lists, mostly in the UK and other European lists...

Thursday, November 3, 2011


Hi folks,

When I first picked up Ed Lynskey’s novel, Lake Charles, I was excited to read a book set in a place I used to live and had fond memories of—Lake Charles, Louisiana. As I began reading, I got a bit confused as the setting didn’t sound anything like the place I’d lived in.

Turns out, it wasn’t. The Lake Charles of Lynskey’s novel was another lake entirely, a man-made body of water created by the TVA in Tennessee.

Also turns out, it didn’t matter. This was as dark and as Gothic as anything else Southern, and it could have worked just as well if it had been set in the Louisiana town of the same name.

And, it is dark and very Gothic! Atmosphere up the yazoo. Or… kudzu… Precisely my cup of tea. An absolutely amazing novel.

Rather than go into the plot points, which others, better qualified for that kind of stuff do a better job than I ever could, I just want to talk about my visceral reactions. First, I never consciously seek out symbolism in novels. Symbols mostly just get in the way of enjoying the story. But, there are some in here that were so well-done and so organic to the tale that not only did they not interfere with the reading pleasure, but caused it to transcend what will be termed “genre” literature by some into something I feel would more accurately be looked at as simply literature. Good and even great literature.

The lake itself is the most pervading character in the novel. Its water is slimy, odoriferous, and malignant. I’m assuming Lynskey intended it to stand for things manmade, things our modern civilization have wrought to what used to be a wondrous example of nature with a capital N. It reminded me of what uber-agent Donald Maass once related to me as being one of the elements that all great books contained—a magical place. A physical place in the best novels where seminal events took place. We were talking about that at a workshop we were both appearing at a couple of years ago, and it dawned on me that he was exactly right. “Like the street in Dennis Lehane’s Mystic River,” I exclaimed. “The story begins there with the boy’s kidnapping and it comes up at crucial times and ends there—in the movie with the Sean Penn character, where he slumps to the curb when he realizes the monstrosity of his murder of that same boy now grown, years later.”

“Exactly,” Don said, and we were off to a discussion of similar mystical/mythical places in literature.

Well, add Lake Charles to that list. Like Dennis Lehane with his Boston Southy street, like Raymond Chandler with L.A., like Ellen Gilchrist with New Orleans, like Russell Banks with various locales—Lynskey has made a setting a living, breathing character.

A dark,foreboding, malignant, malevolent character. Since reading this book, I’ve seen the lake in my nightmares at night and I always awake drenched with sweat. Only the best of books have that power and this one qualifies. It’s a story of loyalties—both familial and friendship, a tale of the evilness of drugs and what they’ve done to society, and, in the end, and for me, most of all it’s a look back at the days of my youth growing up in East Texas where people took care of their problems themselves and if it took violence to enact justice, well, violence is what took place. We didn’t look for the police or the courts or lawyers to solve our problems, but acted as men and took care of them ourselves with whatever it took. In these days of “social consciousness” or whatever they call it, taking matters into one’s own hands is frowned on and will likely get you called out on talk shows, but… man-oh-man! I long for those days!

This is a vigilante novel and an example of how vigilantes aren’t always the bad and nasty thing they’re often made out to be. It seems to me that this and novels and movies of this sort are hugely popular simply because there are a lot of us who long for those “good old days” when people took care of their own problems and didn’t depend on others. Brendan Fishback, the protagonist, hooks up with his best friend’s father, Mr. Kuzawa, as they team up to avenge the murder of Kuzawa’s son and Brendan’s best friend, Cobb, and to find the kidnappers of Brendan’s twin sister Edna by the same folks, and the result is Southern justice of the sort that makes you jump up and cry: “Yeah!” when they triumph over evil.

This is just one of the best novels I’ve read this year, simply put.

Blue skies,

Tuesday, November 1, 2011


THE SATURDAY BOY: HAPPY BLASTED HEATH DAY!: And here it is, Merry Blasted Tuesday, folks! Now you can officially purchase any number of the fine novels those dastardly f**ks have...

I'm reading both of their first novels now and they're fantastic! This is an absolutely terrific deal for books from a couple of the best writers working today--Anthony Neil Smith and Ray Banks. I highly recommend both.

Also, check out Doc Noir's blogpost at

Blue skies,