The above illustration, "Blowing Bubbles," has been adapted for use here by generous permission from the artist, Cyril Rolando.

March 29, 2010

Short avalanche

In case you somehow missed Keith Rawson's one-man PR campaign on Twitter and Facebook, the second issue of CrimeFactory is now available in pdf form, as well as in format for three e-readers: Nook, Sony Reader, and the other one.  With new fiction by Ray Banks, Dave Zeltserman, Kieran Shea, Patti Abbott, Josh Converse, Stephen D. Rogers, and Gerard Brennan, you wouldn't think the issue could get any better. But add in new features from Jimmy Callaway, Reed Farrel Coleman, Chad Eagleton, and the Nerd of Noir, and it does get better. Add in a two-way interview between Charlie Stella and Craig McDonald, and I start to wonder whether Keith and his posse signed their deal with the devil in their own blood or someone else's.

Beyond that, I've been granted a sneak peek at 21, a volume of short stories by Dave Zeltserman. What a deliciously wicked mind that man has. Mix a shot of Hitchcock with a sip of Serling, top with the Zeltserman whammy, and you've got a reading cocktail that'll put you way over the legal limit. I think Mr. Z plans a Kindle edition for this collection, so be watching for news on that.

The prolific Mr. Z is everywhere these days. Not content with having two novels coming this year, working on his short-story collection, and gracing the pages of CrimeFactory, he will also have a story  in the soon-to-appear print magazine, Needle, which is the brainchild of over-achievers Steve Weddle and John Horner Jacobs. Besides Mr. Z, you'll find stories by Patti Abbott, Sandra Seamans, Eric Beetner, Hilary Davidson, Keith Rawson, and many more authors whose work is usually found only on the web.  Needle will be 100% unadulterated (but with some adultery) fiction. More details on publication and availability as I learn them.

The good folks at Spinetingler have seen fit to include me in their Conversations with the Bookless. If you're having trouble sleeping, try that on for size. Better than that, they have items coming later this week about Adrian McKinty, he of the peerless Fifty Grand, and Ken Bruen's "mythos." Looking forward to those, and I suggest you don't miss them.

March 25, 2010

Lighting up those vertebrae

I'm a long way from being the first to announce the 2010 Spinetingler nominations for Best Short Story on the Web, but then I first had to go through a box of Kleenex and see a grief counselor to help me cope with not finding my name among the nominees. Once I accepted that even the folks at Spinetingler are human, I was happy to note that one of the ten nominees was first posted here on The Drowning Machine, Sophie Littlefield's At Least I Felt Something. Sophie won second place in Corey's Watery Grave Invitational contest last year. Hilary Davidson also gained a Spinetingler nomination, although not for Beast which won the WGI. Like I said, the Spinetingler peeps are only human.

Looking back at the ten writers who initially received invitations to the WGI, besides Sophie and Hilary, there are four more who also received Spinetingler nominations: Michael Moreci, Frank Bill, Sandra Seamans, and Paul Brazill.

The other four authors nom'd for a Spinetingler are John Kenyon, Alan Griffiths, Anonymous-9, and Joseph Kiewlak. I recommend reading all of the nominated stories, as Spinetingler's selection is widely diverse, stylistically. And of course, there will be public voting on these stories soon, so you'll want to be an informed voter.

Webzines Beat to a Pulp had four stories nominated (is that a record?)and A Twist of Noir published three of the nominees. Plots with Guns published two, while  Pulp Pusher and The Drowning Machine each published one. I don't know how Corey feels about it, but to be the original publisher of even one nominated story seems like a pretty big deal to me, particularly as TDM is a blog, not a webzine, and does not regularly publish fiction. I can only guess how proud, and justifiably so, are those editors with multiple noms.

My congratulations to all of the nominated authors, and also to the publishers: David Cranmer, Christopher Grant, Anthony Neil Smith, Thomas P. Flynn, Tony Black, and Corey Wilde.

Since I've been talking up Corey's Watery Grave contest, this is probably a good time to announce its return on May 1. There will be some minor rule changes regarding word count and eligibility announced at that time, so stay tuned. I'll probably be soliciting volunteers for judging at that time as well.

But before that happens, Jen's Book Thoughts will be hosting Detectives Around the World Week in April, and I plan five consecutive days of posting in support of that event, including an author interview (only the second ever for TDM) and a mystery contest complete with (oo-ooh) prize. You don't want to miss it.

March 15, 2010

The Influence Peddler

A result of my recent encounter with Craig McDonald was that his great respect for Hemingway's work has influenced me to pick up an edition of Papa's complete stories. I've only ever read a few of them, mostly in the distant past of my formal eduction. I can't recall ever reading Hemingway for pleasure. But as a direct result of a conversation with The McDonald, I plan to read Indian Camp tonight, and a few others.
But this also got me thinking about how much my favorite authors influence my reading, at least in the realm of crime fiction, and I began to think that no other author has influenced my reading as much as Ken Bruen has in recent years. Just off the top of my head I came up with a list of authors that I know I made a point of reading because Bruen either quoted them in an epigraph, or his characters were reading works by these authors, or he gave a positive blurb to a book, or simply because he dedicated a book to some of them and I had to find out who rated such an honor. And of those authors several of them in turn have influenced me to read yet other authors, a la McDonald and Hemingway.

So I've been scribbling down as many names as I can recall, and I know this is the merest fraction of all of the authors Bruen has given free PR to (not to even touch on the musicians or movies he's mentioned in his books). A number of the writers he quoted or made reference to I'd already read (Auden, Beckett, James Lee Burke, Robert Crais, et al), but that's only another small fraction. There's a wealth of reading Bruen has done that I haven't begun to touch. Even so, his influence and the ripple effect of it, has been significant for me. In the style of Bruen begat A who begat B, here's what I've come up with so far:

               ---> JAMES SALLIS
               ---> THOMAS MERTON
               ---> BILL JAMES
               ---> CHARLIE STELLA
               ---> DUANE SWIERCZYNSKI
               ---> DAVID PEACE (TBR)
               ---> DAVE ZELTSERMAN
                               ---> ROGER SMITH
                ---> DECLAN BURKE
                               ---> DECLAN HUGHES
                               ---> BRIAN MCGILLOWAY
                               ---> TANA FRENCH
                               ---> ALLAN GUTHRIE
                                          ---> RAY BANKS
                               ---> ADRIAN MCKINTY
                               ---> STUART NEVILLE (TBR)
                               ---> GENE KERRIGAN (TBR)
                 ---> JASON STARR
                 ---> REED FARREL COLEMAN
                 ---> CRAIG MCDONALD
                              ---> JAMES CRUMLEY
                              ---> ANDREW VACHSS
                              ---> ERNEST HEMINGWAY
                              ---> CRAIG HOLDEN

How about you? What writer has most heavily influenced your reading? Or are you a more independent reader than I?

March 12, 2010

Short takes #7 and miscellany

Take a gander at some of the good short crime fiction gracing the web these days:

 The Redemption of Tom Chatham by Garnett Elliott, at Beat to a Pulp. You don't see a lot of pirate pulp these days. Or have I been missing it?

The Master Bedroom by Anonymous-9, also at  Beat to a Pulp. Worthy of a Hitchcock episode. When will Anon make her/himself known? Can't hide that writing light under a bushel forever!

Cheryl's Whims, from Keith Rawson, is about a man who just can't find the strength to say no to his lady. This one has Keith's deliciously vulgar sense of humor all over it. (Relax, Keith, that's a compliment.)

The most compelling series I've seen online in quite a while, and it's really just in its infancy, is underway over at A Twist of Noir. Christopher Grant's flash-fiction contest entry is aptly titled Reverberations because it struck such a chord with other writers that they have scored new works based on Grant's original character, an unnamed deaf man. Right off, the irrepressible Jimmy Callaway followed Grant's story with Close-Captioned and Joyce Juzwik has done Christopher proud with her outstanding contribution, Blind Date.

And of course, I mentioned in a previous post a new short story featuring Hector Lassiter from Craig McDonald, Colt. You won't find this story on the web. This one is in a limited edition chapbook and you might still be able to land a copy at one of his future signings, but my copy is #248 out of 250, so maybe haunting eBay would give you better odds. Or you could visit Craig's blog and, if he has any copies remaining, you could try sucking up to him. Although I have to warn you, he has a pretty good BS detector. Those newspapermen, y' know.

I was delighted when CrimeFactory went live on the web, bringing a new outlet for short crime fiction and features. Now I'm happy to note that a paper-and-ink collection of short stories is in the works. Needle: A Magazine of Noir will be the result of a collaboration between Steve Weddle and John Horner. They already have a classy group of contributors lined up, including Patti Abbott, Hilary Davidson, Kieran Shea, and Jedediah Ayres. And Dave Zeltserman. Yeah, the one and only DZ. Imagine, a short crime story mag in old-fashioned paper, and it isn't named Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine. Nothing against EQMM, I am a subscriber (and that last issue is a total winner), but I think there's room for a mag that features edgier material. Stay tuned for news about Needle's first issue.

March 11, 2010

SRO: Craig McDonald

It was standing-room only last night at Foul Play Mystery Books for native son Craig McDonald. Okay, so maybe that's a bit misleading as the store's square footage doesn't exactly rival that of a chain store. But it's a rarity nonetheless to have the little store quite so crowded for any author. And it was the first time in my memory that the store ran out of copies of an author's newest book, in this case PRINT THE LEGEND, before demand was satisfied. May all his future book signings be plagued with such good fortune.

A huge thanks to Craig, whose busy workday would leave most of us staggering under the pressure, for making time not only to appear and sign, but to truly give of himself during his talk. I know that I was not the only one delighted and intrigued by the bizarre bits of history Craig wove throughout his presentation.. A good blend of humor, history, mystery, and crime -- just like his books. When an author can make his audience feel like they've been clued in to government secrets, behind-the-scenes details surrounding Hemingway's death, and the bizarre events involving a nationally prominent family -- hell, yes, we were lining up for the Kool-Aid.

Book buyers also came away with a special prize from Craig: a chapbook containing Colt, a short story that details how Hector Lassiter came by the 1873 Colt Peacemaker that is his truest companion throughout his life. Don't think for a moment that this is just some fluff story to make the book buyer feel like he got a bargain. This story is a matched bookend to The Last Interview, the first published story to feature the Lassiter character. And of course, he wouldn't be The McDonald if he didn't use the story to blend fact with fiction, and fiction with fiction, and generally mess with your head just a little into the bargain.

Adding to the special nature of the event, it was a pleasure to meet Pete Guzzo, a fan of Corey's blogging for some while. I know Corey has friends, but who knew he has fans? Thanks for making yourself known, Pete.

And thanks to everyone else present, particularly the gracious author, who all tolerated my fangirl behavior and helped me with all the books I needed signed. (No, Jen, I wasn't quite as bad as that guy in Dayton but it was a near run thing, if I may quote the Duke of Wellington.)

In case you missed last night's event, Craig is also scheduled to appear:

Saturday, March 13 at 1 p.m.
Books & Company at the Greene
4453 Walnut Street
Dayton, OH
(937) 429-2169

Saturday, March 20 at 1:30 p.m.
Aunt Agatha's
213 South 4th Avenue
Ann Arbor, MI
(734) 769-1114

Tuesday, May 18 at 7 p.m.
Marysville Friends Author Series
Veteran's Memorial Auditorium
233 W. 6th St.
Marysville, OH
(937) 642-1876

Wednesday, July 28
Thurber House
77 Jefferson Avenue
Columbus, OH
(614) 464-1032 

These books by Craig McDonald are available at a fine indie store near you or online by clicking the links:

The Hector Lassiter series:

ART IN THE BLOOD: Crime Novelists Discuss Their Craft
ROGUE MALES: Conversations & Confrontations About the Writing Life

March 8, 2010

MEMORY by Donald E. Westlake

Forty years before Memento made moviegoers aware of the problematic condition of short-term memory loss, Donald E. Westlake wrote an amazing novel called Memory in which he explored the links between memory and identity, and what happens when those links are broken.

Written in 1960 and being published for the first time this April by Hard Case Crime, Memory is almost certain to have literary stylists bemoaning what further profundities Westlake might have written had he not spent so much of his time on more commercial fare. This book may even leave a few of his Parker and Dortmunder fans wishing the author had forever stuck to the kind of books they most enjoy. Me, I fall in the middle. I would love to have seen what Westlake could do if freed from the pressures of sales and marketing and the need to make a living, because there is no doubt about the brilliant talent on display in this book. On the other hand, I would never surrender one minute of the immense pleasure I continue to derive from his more commercial endeavors in exchange for anything he might have written.

Memory is the story of Paul Cole, an actor, whose memory is damaged when he is badly beaten by a man whose wife Paul has been sharing. Hospitalized and unable to continue with the touring company who employed him, Paul finds himself in a strange town without funds or friends or a memory capable of helping him locate either. His few clues to his home and work are the contents of his wallet. When he takes a job as an unskilled laborer in order to earn money for a bus ticket to New York City -- and the address on his driver's license -- Paul encounters indifference, cruelty, suspicion, fraud, and above all, a lonely isolation. There is a kind of Pac-Man inside Paul's brain, eating up the dots of his memory faster than he can produce them. Every time he discovers a dot has been eaten, the fear and panic nearly consume him as he fights to find his reality again, a reality that is ever changing, ever disposable, ever obsolete. He is man who cannot counter accusations because he cannot remember his actions, does not know his own character.

Equally sad and horrified, the reader watches helplessly as Paul fumbles at living, sometimes remembering a  face or name only to have that remembrance disappear into the ether within hours, his world spiraling down and down into a self-contained singularity that can never be more than the here and now, for whatever here and now are worth without any theres and thens to lend structure and context to his life.

Westlake nails the harsh indifference of social systems -- including or even especially those social service systems that have little or no use for people who cannot help themselves but depend almost entirely on those services. With no money, no place to stay, no job skills that he is aware of, Paul is one of the walking wounded, looking as healthy and normal as everyone else but damaged in ways no one, not even he, can fathom. It all begs a re-working of the old 'if a tree fell in a forest' question: If a man can no longer remember his life or identity, is he dead? And if he is, what is he supposed to do with the body that's still walking around? What is a man in our culture, when his identity, his entire being can be reduced to a driver's license, a couple of union cards, and a Social Security Number? Without those identifiers, can he even be human? Can his existence be tolerated?

A story without graphic violence, sex, or profanity, Memory yet isn't light reading and is never less than compelling.  There is a tinge of irony in the fact that this unforgettable story is being published posthumously, right when those Siamese twins, the memory and identity of Donald E. Westlake, are beginning a slow fade into history.

Here is an excerpt from Memory, in which Paul Cole, alone in a cheap hotel room in a town whose name he can't remember, has just written down as many memories as he can, in the belief that they will eventually trigger other memories.
He spent a long while sitting on the bed, occasionally writing something else down on the paper, and when he was finished he had a list seven lines long, and on all of the lines at least two names with an arrow between.

When he looked at his wrist, after putting the pen and pad away, he had a sudden feeling of dread, because his watch was gone. It was a dread for more than the loss of the watch; he could lose everything, be reduced to nothingness, and he was helpless.

But then the memory of Artie Bellman came back, and he remembered that Bellman had the watch, and he felt so relieved he had to sit down on the bed again for a while. He sat there with his head bowed and his hands dangling between his knees, and after a while he shook his head. Speaking aloud, he said, "What a sad war. What a slow sad war."

Donald E. Westlake
April 2010

Hard Case Crime
ISBN: 0-8439-6375-1
Cover art by Glen Orbik

Other reviews:
Ed Gorman 
Publishers Weekly

March 3, 2010

SEATTLE MYSTERY BOOKSHOP: Our Indie Store of the Month

The only thing better than a book is a lot of books. That's why indie bookstores are my idea of a real tourist attraction. Not only are there lots of books, but in an indie store I know I'll be among like-minded people. Who else would be devoted and courageous enough to run an indie bookstore in today's economic environment?

In that spirit, Corey and I would like to honor the indie mystery bookstores of the world. Against the tsunami of chain stores, mass merchandisers, e-books, and a broken publishing model, the indie bookstores continue their campaign to serve, and serve well, those of us who crave good books.

And our first ever Indie Store of the Month is the one and only Seattle Mystery Bookshop. The store was opened at 117 Cherry Street, in 1990, by Bill Farley. The store, located in the historic Pioneer Square district, had only been open for a couple of days when artist JB Dickey wandered in, opined that Bill needed some help, and became a part-time employee. In 1999, Bill and JB traded places. JB bought the store and Bill stayed on to work part-time.

The store stocks not only new books, but also used and collectible titles, which makes their selection far more broad than anything the chain-stores can offer. For online browsing of the collectible or out of print titles; click here. And JB is happy to send your books to you anywhere in the world. Best of all, what JB and Bill and the rest of the store staff can offer is a wealth of knowledge about crime fiction. Try getting that down at the chain-store. And if you happen to be a Rex Stout fan, you've come to the right store as Bill is a "completist." If you've ever been a truly serious collector of anything, you know what the word "completist" implies. And if you don't know, click here for the revelation.

And if, like me, you love a book signing, the Seattle Mystery Bookshop has a constant flow of authors through their doors. Yes, they are fortunate to have a number of outstanding crime writers living in Washington state, but the range of authors who make a point of visiting this store goes well beyond the local crowd. This month alone JB and his staff will host seven signings: Stella Cameron, Bethany Maines, David Corbett, Cara Black, Kelly Theron, Jo Nesbø, and Cornelia Read. And if you think that lineup is impressive, here's the list of eight authors who will visit the store in April:  Lisa Lutz, Alafair Burke, Peter May, Jacqueline Winspear, Shirley Tallman, C.J. Box, Larry Karp, Amanda Quick, and William Dietrich. I'm telling you, it's enough to make me want to move to Seattle right now.

JB's crew also provides a newsletter with information on events and new titles. If you live in the Seattle area or plan to visit soon, it would behoove you to sign up for it. And now, for what Declan Burke calls "rubber hose time," here's JB  himself to answer a few more questions:

Are there any pets in residence at the Seattle Mystery Bookshop?
My yellow lab, Abbey, is often here on Fridays but no animals that live here.
Can you talk about your most memorable customer?
Hard to say. Tom Hulce (Amadeus), John Ratzenburger (Cliff from Cheers), Harry Anderson (Night Court), Tom Skerritt (MASH), John Hall (Hall and Oates) and then there are the hundreds and hundreds of authors who have passed through our doors.
What is the last crime novel you read that just blew your socks off?
Just recently - Lou Berney's debut, Gutshot Straight.
What as yet unpublished book are you looking forward to reading and selling? 
Scott Turow's (sequel to Presumed Innocent), Innocent.
Who is your favorite author? Living or Dead?  
Very difficult to narrow it down. Dead - Chandler. Living - James Lee Burke? Dennis Lehane? Carol O'Connell? Lawrence Block? Impossible to narrow it down to just one. Maybe top 5?
For a more enlightening and entertaining interview with JB and Bill about their store, have a read of this 2006 article. These are definitely men after a booklover's heart!

Thanks, JB, for taking time to answer my questions so graciously. I hope to make it out there someday and pay a visit. Your store could easily become my home away from home. And JB is too right about Lou Berney's debut novel, Gutshot Straight. It's a definite winner. You can order it by calling the Seattle Mystery Bookshop at  206-587-5737 or emailing your order to
Seattle Mystery Bookshop
117 Cherry St
Seattle, WA  98104