Saturday, July 29, 2006

Writing Noir

I finished writing my storyt for Bronx Noir which should be coming out from Akashic sometime next year I think. It's a harsh story from a guy known, if known at all, for writing happy, happy joy, joy* stories. I also finished writing a hard-boiled noir novel. Strange experiences. Apparently I do Noir well. Not sure why. I'm a pretty optimistic guy.

In any event, the novel I wrote previous to the noir one is an amatuer sleuth with a strong female protagonist. It has some of the best scenes I've ever written. My agent called it chick-litty. I suppose it is. She does fall in love. And she does discuss eating (very healthy appetite that Lucy Aponte). But then at least four people are murdered and the heroine shoots someone at point blank range. First time she's ever handled a gun, too. Someone else gets a bullet at point blank. I don't think I've ever read chick-lit (excluding the Bronte sisters and Jane Austen), but I've seen some of the movies. I missed the part where Bridget Jones handles a Luger.

Anyway, the straight-forward noir novel was sent off to my agent after Independence Day. She sent out three chapters and a synopsis a few days ago and got an offer. Can't say more since the offer hasn't been accepted and, who knows, they might read the rest of the book and beg off. Still, that was quick. The editor raved about my writing. The agent raved about my writing**. No one else has read any portion of it.

So I feel like I'm a success at writing Noir. That'll probably wear off. Still, there's no future in all senses of the phrase. Who publishes Noir? And gives writers enough money to live on? Not that I've ever been given enough money to live on, but I have hopes.

That's the other problem with writing noir, I think. I don't believe in a world where you're necessarily screwed from the get go. I don't think Noir is more realistic than cozy. I think it takes all kinds. I think the interest I have in writing or reading a Noir novel is in watching the struggle of a protagonist against ultimately overwhelming odds. The STRUGGLE is what interests me. Tilting at windmills. This is hope and faith. This is love, too. Sometimes, this all gets frustrated. Sometimes faith, hope and love are not enough for a specific outcome to be achieved. That's Noir. But in a good Noir story, those elements are there, possibly even heigthened.

Best Noir novel I've read: Sara Gran's Dope. Manuel Ramos's Moony's Road to Hell is a close second. Of course, these might be the only ones I've read.

*I think that happy, happy... stuff is from Demolition Man starring Bullock, Snipes and Stallone.

** Not always the case. See Chick-lit comment above.

Thursday, July 27, 2006

The Crime Short Story, A Rant In Which Hammett is Berated

It makes you wonder sometimes. My experience has been that there are plenty of places to get a crime story published. People complain about the disappearance of outlets like Black Mask, and they might be right... I've never seen Black Mask, it must have disappeared.

But what about CrimeSpree? A dozen or more stories a year published right there - quality stuff. Sometimes written by me :). Or the anthologies that seem to be all the rage. Not the reprint ones (fine collections though they are) but the Noir series from Akashic or the Damn Near Dead Anthology put out by Busted Flush Press? There are others like the yearly ones put out by MWA or Hard Boiled Brooklyn put out by Bleak House .

Oh, and online places like Tribe's Flashing in the Gutters or SHOTS .* A few others are in the right hand column of this blog.

Now, I know the chorus will say "but most of these places don't pay." True and problematic at the same time. I love getting paid for short stories. This has happened twice with Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine . I'm hoping to pull down another couple of paychecks this year for short stories. But the ratio of unpaid to paid publications on my CV is about 5:1.

Still...Forget the writer's rent or car payments for a moment** For the reader, this, right now, has got to be the Golden Age of Crime Short Stories. If you say, "No, the 1930s were the Golden Age; Hammett and Chandler were publishing back then..." then you've got a very skewed sense of what makes a Golden Age. First, I've read Chandler and Hammett short stories and been unimpressed. Good, but I've read better. Often. A choice between either of them and IJ Parker or Martin Limon*** is no choice at all. Parker and Limon are better at the short story form. Russel Mclean is too, no matter what he says. And Steve Hockensmith is more entertaining by far. In fact, I'd say he's at least 132% more entertaining as a short story writer than Chandler was. Maybe more.

Secondly, Hammett and Chandler were just two guys. And they wrote the same sub-genre for the most part: tough guy PIs. There's more variety than that with just the Hockensmith stories. Two guys cannot make a Golden Age. If you don't believe me, look it up, I'll wait. I can name a dozen great short story writers writing in the field today, and I'm not that good with names.

Now, there are at least two flaws with my argument here, but I'll save them for another time. I'll note them now - 1. I don't know a lot about the other crime writers of the 1930s. 2. Aren't short stories mere ephemera anyway?

* Yes, If I mention the title and provide the link, I think you should check it out.

** Difficult if you're the writer.

*** No website??!??

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Bronx Noir and other projects

Finished my story for the upcoming Bronx Noir anthology a couple of weeks ago. In it, bad things happen to good people. Not surprising, I guess. Anyway it's based on the true lief of one of the sweetest ladies I've ever met. She has family, so I won't say her name, but she was a church member where I worshipped in the Bronx. Apparently, long before I knew her, she had been a drug addict and had prostituted herself and one day, in a heroin haze, she woke up to find a strange man in her bed. She grabbed her switchblade and stabbed him in the chest, killing him. It was her husband, and she did some years in prison for that.

I'm also writing a sci-fi mystery in hopes of sending it to Oceans of the Mind in time for a deadline there. That's a deadline I think I'll meet.

Then there is another sci-fi story I started a few months ago, and a couple of crime stories. I'm going to try to crack into both Ellery Queen and Fantasy and Science Fiction Magainze at the same time.

Oh, then I had this story I want to send out to Spinetingler . It's a horror story. I think it's good, but then I don't read horror, and I'm easily scared.

Once all of this is done, I have a much bigger project to discuss in the next post.

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

No Hablo Ingles by Manuel Ramos

In trolling around for good stories to read (avoiding the dozen anthologies I have staring at me from the shelves) I found this nifty little story by Manuel Ramos, author of a half dozen books I reviewed here last year; I loved them.
The story is more of Manuel's jazzy, smooth prose applied to not so much a crime story but an atmosphere of criminality.

A down and out lawyer (Manuel's favorite kind) is sought out by a young lady, but he refuses to help her having troubles of his own. This is happening on the Tex/Mex border, at El Paso/Juarez where hundreds of young women in the last few years have been murdered and mutilated. Anyway, along the way to finding out that he really should have lent this young lady a helping hand, the lawyer takes a surreal trip to Saint of Death and gets shot...Not by the Saint. Anyway. Take a look. As with everything this man writes, you won't regret it.

Monday, July 24, 2006

Demolition Magazine #3 - and a contest

The latest issue of Demolition Magazine is out and it has stories by Gerald So, Paul Guyot, Stephen D. Rogers, Todd Robinson, Justin Porter, Stephen Blackmore, and Jeff Shelby. And me. I thought my story was quite fine until I read it a few minutes ago and found a mistake in it. It's just a letter added to a word that changes it into another word, but the effect is comical to me. Probably just to me.

Anyway, first person to email me with the error gets a free book. A copy of my first book. Or maybe my fourth (but that would mean a wait until it appears in October).

BTW, the winners of my latest contest will be notified tomorrow on this spot.

Sunday, July 23, 2006

More Flashing!

I forgot to announce when my second bit of flash fiction went live. You can find it at Tribe's Flashing in the Gutters. The second story I posted there was the one I thought was best, but it got mixed reviews. Some people loved it (Thanks mom!) and some thought it was pointless because one of the main characters does things without any motive being revealed.

In fact, I was told by one reader that people don't do things without motives - there's always a thought process and a decision (barring, I assume drugs and alcohol, mental illness, etc). I'm not sure about that. I am sure that sometimes it is impossible to know the motive - for instance, if the perpetrator is never found. Then, though there may have been a thought process involved, no one is privy to it.

Anyway, read the stories. Tell me what you think.

Friday, July 21, 2006

Wonder of Wonders...

Did you want to read one of my short stories? Well, at a local bookstore, I found the October issue of Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine , an excellent publication. This one was made even better than most (as far as I'm concerned) since it carries one of my short stories. This behemoth, The Valley of Angustias weighs in at a massive 12,500 words. It tells the story of how Luis Gonzalo, my series protagonist, came to be sheriff of Angustias. If you've been wondering how to get into my series, this would be a pretty good place to start. It's set right after Gonzalo has graduated from college in 1964.

Now, why the October issue is out in July, I'm not sure, but it was a real pick-me-up. Rush out and buy a copy today. Or, even better, get the first novel in the series, now published by Dorchester Publications, a very smart set of people.

Galveston Gunman by Bill Crider

Bill Crider has written many books. For a slow reader like me, there's almost no point in trying to read everything he's written - there's over fifty of them if I recall correctly. At the recent ConMisterio I picked up a paperback copy of Galveston Gunman and started reading.

The story concerns a young man in 1880 who has a large sum of money stolen from him. The problem is that he'd like to have it back and the guys who took it from him are opposed to this proposition. The book moved at a quick pace, had just enough turns and twists, and action was even coupled with romance in the second half. I've never read a western before, but I'm heartily glad I've read this one.

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Did I mention...

My website is now back up to full strength: click here. You can read the first Viktor Petrenko story by linking from the homepage. The second one is at Demolition Magazine. Another V.P. story comes out from CrimeSpree a little later this year. By the way, if you troll around at CrimeSpree, you'll see a bunch of hats for sale. My beautiful and talented wife Damaris made those.

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

If you want to read about Viktor Petrenko...

Bryon Quertermous has been kind enough to publish one of my stories over at Demolition Magazine Since the site is dedicated to stories of violence and its aftermath, you can guess that this is a bloody Viktor P. story. There really isn't any other kind. Still, I thank Bryon and can't wait until SHOTS publishes one of my other bloody characters, Sheriff Molina from the Precinct Puerto Rico series. He gets into a little bit of a scrape while serving in Korea during the war in a story called "The Tent of Babel". For now, check out Demolition.

Wednesday, July 12, 2006


I don't usually do negativity - sure there's the fear of alienating other writers, but more importantly, unless I'm going to take the trouble to write up a careful critique, I don't like to say something was bad. It seems a bit like throwing a stone and running away. What follows is not an entire review...

I read a novel recently by an author I’ve wanted to read for a while. Robert Barnard knows how to write and write well, but I read his Bones in the Attic and didn’t much care for it. In fact, there was something in it that deeply disappointed me. Though there is a clear case of homicide – the police don’t ever actually get around to investigating. Charlie Peace, who I’ve heard spoken of as one of the better protagonists going today, barely makes an appearance and when he does, he’s only advising a civilian who wants the case solved more than the police seem to. In this sense it was an amateur sleuth novel more than the police procedural I was hoping it would be.

Now, for an amateur sleuth novel, this was quite excellent. The prose style is a masterclass. The main character was well drawn as were several of the minor ones. In this sense, it was worth reading, but I was simply looking for something else and the fact that the amateur sleuth is the lead investigator still grates a bit. In my thinking, unless there’s a really good reason otherwise, the police should be the ones investigating. No really good reason was ever put forward that I ever saw.

Anyone know if this is typical Barnard?

All Clear

For those who have been concerned (and outraged) that was off the air, never fear. It's back on. Click!

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Website Woes

Daniel Hatadi was the first to let me know, but I should say that I'm in the process of fixing the main entry to my website. You can still get THERE but you need to go another route. Anyway, it has taken three days to get my ISP to say they'll have the glitch fixed within 24 hours. Sorry about this to anyone who has tried to get to my site: so far, that's about 900 error messages.

I should note that clicking on the link above (mine, not Daniel's) will lead you to a contest that there is still time to enter. Check it out.

Saturday, July 08, 2006

Show Me Yours – Robert Reed

I know what you’re thinking: Wasn’t the actor who played Mike Brady on The Brady Bunch named Robert Reed, and isn’t he dead? But you’ll quickly surmise that this is an entirely different Robert Reed. This one wrote a very nasty little story about a man who is a dog and who gets his comeuppance for said doggish behavior. Of course, some reading this may say “But aren’t all men dogs? And isn’t the idea of men getting their comeuppance for behaving this way really the realm of Fantasy?” Of course, anyone thinking this may well be right. The story was published in the May 2006 edition of The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction .

There is a creepy sexuality exposed in the first half of this story – nothing explicit (which I guess adds to the creepiness more than it does the sexualness) but somehow disturbing nonetheless. There is a jump of some decades within the story which was, I think, handled quite well (that is, as opposed to getting me all confused). You don’t see the ending coming (certainly the cretin didn’t see it coming) and there is a strong revenge motive revealed, so this is in some ways like a mystery or crime story though there is one fantasy element that perhaps means it was published where it most properly belongs. A very good read.

Thursday, July 06, 2006


Thought I’d let all seven of you know that I’ve got a piece of flash fiction up at Flashing In the Gutters. You can find it here: CLICK.

It started out as a much longer story, and I thought I had to fit it into just 500 words, as opposed to the 700 that Tribe allows. That is to say, it was HARD to put together. It’s my first flash piece, so be gentle.

My second piece of flash fiction (also written to fit the imaginary 500 word cap) is, I think better. Let me know what you think.

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

You Have to Hand It to Them – Neil Schofield

The July/August 2006 AHMM carries a story by Neil Schofield. (See above for title.) I’ve reviewed a couple others by this author on this blog. He’s a cool writer and this story cements this. The last page or two have enough twists for a corkscrew. The writing throughout is smooth – English reserve put to paper. The story deals with a house party that fairly quickly turns into a bit of a home invasion. I’ll let you figure out where it goes from there. In any event, you’ll like the narrator, and I think you’ll like the ending as well. I say, but I remind you that I’m not that hard to fool. Still, I think extra care went into this one. Good work.

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

The Vigil – Terence Faherty

The June 2006 EQMM has a story by a writer I was first introduced to last year, Terence Faherty. He wrote a very short novel called In a Teapot. Marvelous stuff. “The Vigil” is another great story. A little girl is praying for a new roof to her church. The previous year, she had prayed for a car for her mother…and got it. A cynical newspaper editor sends out a reporter to investigate. The reporter, working on Christmas Eve, finds some surprising information during his background check, but will he find anything to discredit the girl or to prove that the car her mother received the previous year was NOT gifted by the Virgin Mary?

The story moves seamlessly from plot point to plot point, the main character, the reporter, has a wry outlook on his predicament, and several minor characters are well fleshed out complete with motives for the things they do. That is, motives that work – motives that make them seem like real people – the things they do like the things done by real humans. Over all, very fine work.

I should note that the drawing on page 12 by Mark Evans is something rather spectacular. There has to be a trick to it, I’m thinking. It’s that good.

Monday, July 03, 2006

Politics and Poker – Sarah Weinman

This is a nifty short story from the June 2006 AHMM . In it, a man is accused of killing his rabbi. The fact that the rabbi pretty clearly seems to have deserved it only complicates matters. You see, when a person is bad, it isn’t usually reserved for one particular victim. Bad people spread their badness around. Rabbi Kranzman was no exception to this rule. So who had motive? Better question: where does the line for those with motive begin? For a moment, I thought this would turn into one of those “Orient Express” stories. Ms. Weinman fooled me.

Perhaps the most interesting thing in the story for me was the flavor of Orthodox Judaism that runs throughout. I worked at Yeshiva University for four years. Enjoyed every minute (except for end of term reports) and this story was a little like revisiting that time. The introduction to a culture that is both near to us and far at the same time reminded me of the experience of reading G. Miki Hayden’s “Murder on 123rd Street.” My rave for that story is somewhere below.

Anyway, well written, fast paced, and more than enough twists to make it worth the $3.99.