Apr 112014
 
“We don’t want to be hit men. We don’t find them glamorous; we’re repulsed by them. But we want to understand. As soon as we recognize something as being beyond our sensibilities, we have a need to learn why this isn’t the case for others. It isn’t a desire to see them succeed that leads us to crime fiction but rather the chance to stand close and watch how they fail.”

- Malcolm Mackay writes a brilliant piece on hit men for The New York Times. We have the great privilege of publishing his Glasgow trilogy next year!
Jun 172013
 
Hartford Books Examiner: As a child, did you wear your literary lust loud and proud or were you a closet bibliophile?
Marcia Clark: I was a big reader from the first moment I was able to sound out "See Spot Run." The next thing I did was investigate what was making Spot run. I knew there was some nefarious crime afoot. :-)
Apr 172013
 
In Conversation: Paolo Bacigalupi, Lauren Beukes, and Jesse Bullington:

Join us for a Google hangout with Lauren Beukes, author of The Shining Girls, as she talks about all things crime and fantasy with authors Jesse Bullington and Paolo Bacigalupi.

The chat will be taking place next Monday the 22nd at 2pm EST. Do you have any questions for Lauren?

Oct 242012
 

by Gar Anthony Haywood

Three weeks ago, the family and I moved into a new home.  We'd been renting a place in Alhambra until we could find a house both within our budget and big enough to accommodate our ever-expanding need for space, and we finally lucked into a four-bedroom, single-story mid-century number in Glassell Park that fits the bill.  It was a great blessing.  The new joint needs a lot of work, God knows, and most of the heavy lifting has already been done, but there's still a hell of a lot of sweat equity left to invest to make it our "home" --- starting with unpacking all these @!*#%!*@ boxes we've vacuum-packed our lives into.  Boxes just like this one:

If you've ever made a similar move yourself, you know what I'm talking about.  First you spend weeks stuffing and taping everything you own into cartons three sizes too small, and then you spend weeks yanking it all out again in a different place, always thinking along the way:

"What the hell is this?"

"So that's where that damn thing went!"

"Why in the world do I own one of these?"

"I've got absolutely no use for this, and I probably never will --- but as soon as I toss it, I'll find a use for it, so I'd better hold onto it."

You learn a lot about yourself as you take this item-by-item inventory of your earthly existence, and one of the most fascinating is all the things you've accumulated not with the intent of using it in this life --- the one you're actually living --- but in the life you hope to have someday.  Clothes you plan to fit into; brochures for exotic cars you intend to own; toys you're going to play with just as soon as you're making enough money to slow down a little.  Some of this stuff is as new as the day you acquired it; it comes in packages that have never been opened, inside plastic bags that are still sealed air-tight.

These possessions are pieces of a dream you can't let go of.  Giving them away or selling them off at your next yard sale would be a form of surrender, an admission that time has run out on the future you've always thought would be yours.

So when the time comes to change addresses, you stick these things in a box, rather than leave them behind, and then you find a place for them in your new home --- the closet, the garage, the attic --- when the box gets opened again.  If it gets opened again.

Some things go into boxes that stay sealed forever.

Of course, as I'm a writer, most of my moving boxes are filled with ideas.  Fragments of stories yet to be written, dogeared notebooks brimming with single-line plot synopses and half-formed character profiles.  Throw this stuff away?  Are you nuts?  There's a bestseller in there somewhere, I know there is, and one day I'm going to find it.

Ultimately, for all our mindless attachment to them, it's not the things inside the boxes that really count.  It's the things we can't box up: the people we love, the memories of good times past, the hope that tomorrow will only bring more of the same.

As I write this, late at night in my new office upstairs, I see boxes all around me; numbered and labeled, every one filled with odd bits and pieces of this poor man's treasure.  But what I value most isn't in any of these boxes, nor anywhere here in this room.  They're downstairs, occupying three different beds in three different bedrooms.

And that's what makes this home.

May 152012
 

by Gar Anthony Haywood

Brace yourselves, people.  You're about to meet Schreck.

No, not "Shrek."  Schreck.  Tom Schreck.  This guy:

Tom Schreck is a multi-talented author who's written on topics as diverse as boxing, business, pets, fitness, psychology, relationships, golf, diners, drive-ins and prison, all for publications that include The Business Review, Fightnews.com, Westchester Magazine, American Health and Fitness, Professional Counselor and Catfancy, among others.

So far he's written five novels, including his latest Duffy Dombrowski mystery, THE VEGAS KNOCKOUT, which was just released today.  Tom's a graduate of the University of Notre Dame and has both a master’s degree in psychology and a black belt.  (Don't those two things always go hand-in-hand?) 

Having formerly worked as the director of an inner-city drug clinic, Tom today juggles several jobs: communications director for a program for people with disabilities, adjunct psychology professor, freelance writer, and world championship boxing official.

Now, about his Duffy Dombrowski mysteries: These books chronicle the life of a not-so-social social worker who's always on the brink of getting fired.  Duffy's a bad professional boxer by night, part philosopher, part Robin Hood by day, and he's always all heart as he throws himself into helping those who can't help themselves.

 

But the real star of the series is Al --- Duffy's obstinate basset hound, who prefers cheeseburgers for their laxative effect, hates sparrows, and prefers good looking Corgi's as sex partners. Oh, and Al seems to show up exactly when it matters.

Ladies and gentlemen, I give you Schreck . . .

Gar: Okay, let's get the obvious question out of the way first: How many times a day do you get a "green ogre" joke?

Tom: More often I get the knowing smirk and a shake of the head. I love the twenty-something hotel clerks who have no idea that anything else ever existed before the last decade.

I use the stock line, “Hey, I had the name first.”

Gar: Duffy drinks a lot of Schlitz.  For those in the audience who think Schlitz tastes like a warm Budweiser poured out of a septic tank, please make your best case for drinking the stuff.

Tom: Man, defend Schlitz? C’mon Gar, how about a little willing suspension of disbelief?

Actually in the early 90’s Men’s Health said it was one of the best values in beer so I tried it and it wasn’t half bad. Since then the company has been sold a few times and I’m not so sure. They now make a sort of “craft brew” that has returned to the original “60’s recipe”. They can’t keep it on the shelves in Milwaukee.

I want to be careful here, I’m still looking for an advertising endorsement deal.

Gar: What fighter, alive or dead, do you most wish could be a fan of your writing, and why?

Tom: John Duddy.

The Derry Destroyer just retired and I had the privilige of judging a few of his fights. He was a blood and guts fighter who the NYC fans love. He’d sell out Madison Square Garden with Irish nationals. His uncle Jackie, his namesake, was the first man killed on Bloody Sunday in Northern Ireland.

John got out of the game a couple of years ago and I admire him for that.

If my books were published in Spanish I’d like Hector Camacho to read them too.

Gar: The previous owners of Duffy's basset hound Al (Allah-King) were members of the Nation of Islam, yet there's no indication in the books that he's partial to bean pies.  Why not?

Tom: One word: flatulence.

Gar: How would you compare writing to the sweet science?

Tom: It hurts less.

Both take concentration and the ability to empty your mind while you perform. Boxing asks you to do that while being punched in the face.

Both require strategy and forward thinking.

Writing taxes the cardio vascular system less—have you seen many of our peers at cons?

Gar: What's the hardest you've ever been hit in the ring, and who nailed you?

Tom: I was sparring with a pro that I heard was mad at me. The last time we had got in the ring he hit me in the head and broke a small bone in his forearm. A couple of years later we were in the ring going nice and light which is how a pro will work with a guy like me.

Then he threw one shot that knocked me down so fast that I was disoriented because of going vertical to horizontal so quickly. Oddly enough, because I went down so fast it didn’t hurt my neck that much but my head swam for a little while and I was actually kind of giddy.

Nothing was ever said. It might have been a coincidence. Whenever I see him now we do a big bro-hug.

He was a good pro and at one point was like 15-0.

Gar: If book reviews were judged like fights, what would your record be?

Tom: I’d be undefeated, of course. Four and O. Though one or two might have been split decisions based on who the judges/critics would be.

Gar: They say the kind of dog a person owns says a lot about them.  What does your love of basset hounds say about you, besides how difficult you are to house break?

Tom: Gar, my incontinence was a secret between me and you and mostly with the medication I can control it.

As for what it says . . . I think it means I’m a masochist who has the distinct need of being humiliated by long-eared short-legged creatures that believe I was born to serve them.

Gar: Duffy's boss Claudia Michelin is a real pain in the neck.  Considering her last name, in what ways is Claudia similar to a steel-belted, all-weather radial tire?

Tom: They are both inflexible, unattractive and round.

Gar: In your opinion, which game is more fair and honest?  Professional boxing or the publishing industry?

Tom: Fair, huh? Like you could fight your heart out and still get screwed by judges? And fair like you could write a book that’s heralded and loved by everyone who reads it but the publisher doesn’t back it and it never makes it to shelves?

At least in boxing you can knock someone out in the ring and they can’t take that from you.

Gar: Complete this sentence: "If I could get ten rounds in the ring with anyone in the world, it would be _____."

Tom: There’s this guy who does reviews on Amazon . . .

Gar: You and Duffy are both huge fans of Elvis Presley.  Who is your favorite among all the King's leading ladies in film?

Tom: Man, you’re asking me to pick from Ursula Andress, Ann-Margaret and Juliet Prowse? You know what --- I’m going off the board --- Shelly Fabares.

Gar: Duffy lives in a converted Airstream trailer.  Why an Airstream and not, say, a Winnebago?

Tom: C’mon Gar, it’s class thing. Airstreams are THE RV for those of us with style and class.

Gar: Who would you rather have watching your back in a dark alley --- Floyd Mayweather or Reed Farrel Coleman?

Tom: Easy, Coleman’s from Brooklyn and wouldn’t fight fair. Plus he might have Ken Bruen with him.

Sure Mayweather is a brilliant counterpuncher but if you crowd him and put pressure on him he can’t turn a metaphor like Reed.

Gar: The plot of THE VEGAS KNOCKOUT involves the Russian Mafia, prostitution, and illegal immigration, among other things.  If you could have crammed one more hot topic into the book, what would it have been?

Tom: That’s even easier, I would’ve added more basset hounds.

 

Mar 282012
 

by Gar Anthony Haywood

(Yeah, I know what you guys are thinking: "Two posts by Haywood back-to-back?  Really?"  Well, don't worry, it's not a sign I'm taking over this joint.  It's just a Murderati scheduling quirk.  Won't happen again soon.  I hope.)

This weekend, like many of you, I'll be attending the Left Coast Crime Convention in Sacramento, and one of the two panels I'll be sitting in on is all about noir.

I find this somewhat amusing, as I don't really write noir.  I skirt the edges sometimes --- ASSUME NOTHING, my latest novel, comes the closest to making the noir grade, as I perceive it --- but I don't "do" noir.  And this isn't by accident.

Here's why:

Not so long ago, I did something I really didn't want to do: I watched the movie Precious.  Lord knows I'd tried to avoid it; critical acclaim or no, any film about a poor, obese, teenage black girl growing up as the live-in slave of an equally obese, abusive, welfare-queen mother has to be the cinematic equivalent of root canal surgery, right?  Why would I ever want to subject myself to that kind of misery?

Well, surprise, surprise --- the film was brilliant.  Well written, smartly directed, and performed by a cast of actors deserving of every accolade and award nomination it received.  In short, I'm glad I saw the movie.

But yeah, sitting through it was a living nightmare.

In part because its subject matter was cringe-inducing, yes, but mostly because it was real.  The people who made this film --- and I would assume this is also true of Sapphire, the author of the book upon which the film was based --- didn't pull any punches.  Hell, no.  They took a story dealing with some incredibly sordid characters and situations and presented them in all their horrific, obscene, and gut-wrenching glory.  It could be argued that the language in Precious alone should have earned it an NC-17 rating.  I mean, nothing Linda Blair ever regurgitated in The Exorcist comes close to the bile that comes out of the mouth of Precious's mother, in particular, throughout the course of this film.

And all for only one reason that I can imagine: authenticity.  A commitment to depict these people exactly as they would appear in the real world, grotesque warts and all.  Choosing to hew this close to the ugly truth could not have been an easy decision; the filmmakers had to know that doing so would cost them a sizable part of the crossover audience movie studios so covet.  Yet they held to their convictions and did it anyway, trusting that the quality of the film would win out over the criticisms it was bound to receive for its almost unrelenting darkness and vulgarity.

So what does any of this have to do with my aversion to noir, you ask?

Well, only days before popping Precious into the ol' DVD player, I'd finished reading my first Richard Stark (aka Donald E. Westlake) novel, THE HUNTER.  Following my reading of James Crumley's THE LAST GOOD KISS, this was Step Two in my ongoing effort to finally read masters of the mystery/crime/espionage genres I should have read a long time ago (Ian Fleming, George V. Higgins, Rex Stout, etc.).  I had a particular interest in THE HUNTER --- one of a series of books Stark wrote about a ruthless professional thief simply named "Parker" --- because it served as the basis for one of my all-time favorite movies, 1967's Point Blank, starring Lee Marvin.

In the film, Parker (renamed "Walker" for some odd reason) is a single-minded, sociopathic killer relentlessly blasting his way through the Mob in order to get somebody, anybody to pay him the $93,000 they owe him.  Walker is also driven by revenge --- his former partner double-crossed him, stole his wife, and left him for dead in the aftermath of a heist, then used Walker's share of the take to buy his way back into the Mob's good graces --- but his primary interest is recovering his money.  Because it's his money, he earned it, and he wants it back, goddamnit: $93,000, not a penny more and not a penny less.

You've gotta love that kind of manic tunnel vision.

(Of course, were the film remade today [as it was earlier in the form of the 1994 Mel Gibson stinker, Payback], Walker would find his motivation in the fact that his backstabbing partner, who raped and killed Walker's parents and kid sister fifteen years before, is now holding his wife and two children hostage in an impenetrable Mob fortress guarded by an army of ex-Special Ops psychopaths blah-blah-blah-blah-blah...)

I'd been warned by fans of Stark/Westlake that Point Blank's Walker, as cold and violent as he was as portrayed by Marvin, paled by comparison to THE HUNTER's Parker, so I was prepared to meet a somewhat less likable protagonist.  But damn!  Parker makes Walker look like a Salvation Army Santa Claus.  It isn't so much that the body count in THE HUNTER is higher than it is in Point Blank, it's the ease with which Parker adds to it that makes for such a jarring contrast.  Parker may only kill those who "need" killing in THE HUNTER, but it doesn't take much in his estimation for someone to meet that qualification.  Simply being in the wrong place at the wrong time, or knowing something he doesn't want getting around, is enough to make you better dead than alive in his book.  And remorse?  Forget about it.  That's for relative softies like Darth Vader to fret over.

What I'm describing, of course, is the archetypical noir protagonist: a deeply flawed, self-serving lead character, who's usually surrounded by a supporting cast cut from the same nasty cloth.  Altar boys and Girl Scouts need not apply.  To write fiction deserving of the "noir" designation, an author has to accept the fact that his work will probably turn off a lot more potential readers than it turns on.  He has to write about unpleasant people doing terrible things to innocents and scumbags alike, without remorse or regret, and to do it realistically, he has to show little or no regard for the reactions of his reader.  I call this "going there," "there" being a place not everyone will care to visit, and I think embarking upon this journey is one of the most courageous moves any writer can ever make.

Because "going there" is entirely counter-intuitive to what we authors are hardwired to want from Day One: a wide, all-encompassing readership.  Deliberately choosing to write the kind of book you know going in will have only a limited appeal, and then writing that book as faithfully to the form as possible (which is to say, without artificially toning things down to soften the blow), is gutsy as hell, and not every writer has the cajones to do it.

Most only have enough to do the job halfway.  These people write, either consciously or subconsciously, what I like to call "Noir Lite": novels that feature noirish characters and situations, but none of the hair-raising dialogue or on-screen violence that should naturally follow.  The latter elements have been either sanitized or, worse, excised altogether, to better reduce the author's chances of offending those readers for whom "noir" is a dirty word.  This, to me, is a joke.  A kinder, gentler noir?  There ain't no such thing.

Which is why I've actively avoided trying to write a legitimate noir novel to date.  I don't want to go there.  I've got no problem writing dialogue that could peel paint off a wall, or describing certain acts of violence in gruesome detail, but I don't want to write stories in which the good guys are, to all extents and purposes, completely indistinguishable from the bad, and can only end on a definite downer, as all true noir stories must.  It's just not my thing.

And neither is faking it.

To write noir, you have to do what the people behind Precious did: You have to go there.  Not part way, not halfway, but all the way to that dark, funky, foul-smelling place in which noir resides.  Some readers won't be able to stand the heat of your kitchen, but those are the breaks.

As I'm sure Parker would say were he around to ask for an opinion: "Deal with it."

Questions for the Class: What examples of "Noir Lite" --- or, worse, downright fake noir --- can you name?

Mar 272012
 

by Gar Anthony Haywood

Like far too many Americans these days, I'm out of work.  Which is to say, I don't have a day job that pays my bills.  I haven't had one, in fact, for over three years now, or since I was laid off as a production artist for these people.  (The most rewarding and enjoyable work I've ever done, by the way.)

I've been in this position before, just as, I suspect, many of you have.  The writer's lot, after all, is not generally filled with long, unbroken stretches of gainful employment.  So this vicious cycle of apply, wait, get rejected is nothing new to me.

Part of the problem in landing something is that I'm very rarely applying for the perfect job.  I apply for things I can do, and do well, but postings for work I know, absolutely know I could hit out of the goddamn ballpark are few and far between.

Go ahead and say it.  All together now: "Awwww, poor Gar!"

And that's the proper response, of course, because there might be one person in every thousand in this world who holds his or her "perfect job."  A job that is absolutely, ideally suited to one's unique skill set and personal interests.  Everyone else, if they're lucky enough to be employed at all, is doing work just for the sake of the paycheck.  Respectable work, maybe even enjoyable work, but work that falls short of making them deliriously happy, nonetheless.

Hey, there's nothing wrong with that.

But, hell.  This is Wildcard Tuesday, isn't it?  If a man can't dream on Wildcard Tuesday, when can he dream?  Today, I think I'll stand this whole job search process on its head and, instead of yearning from afar for the positions of my fantasies, I'll just openly state my interest in them here and hope the right personnel directors take note.  What have I got to lose?

Here, then, are my seven Perfect Dream Jobs:

Screenwriter of Dirty Harry 6

I've shown my mad man-love for Clint Eastwood's seminal Harry Callahan character here before, so it should come as a surprise to no one that I'd love to write the last---and it would, sadly, have to be the last---cinematic chapter in that series.  Eastwood's reluctance to play Callahan again, at this late stage in his life, is understandable, but I think I've come up with a story that addresses all the credibility issues such a sequel could present.  All I need is a phone call from Malpaso to run out to the Warners lot and pitch it to the man himself.

It would make my day.

Joke Writer for Bill Maher

Maher can be a sexist ass at times, but when he's on, he's funny as hell.  While, generally speaking, we see eye to eye politically, I think it's the thing we least have in common that would make our partnership a winning one: Maher's a raging atheist and I'm an imperfect Catholic.  Sometimes, when worlds collide, funny happens.

I'm down to write a few New Rules if Bill's willing to give me a shot.

Staff Writer on Justified

Television and I don't often get along, I must admit.  The only two series I've ever written for taught me I'm about as well-suited for turning out standard boob-tube fare on a timely basis as Rick Santorum is to be a tattoo artist.  But given the right, smart, kick-ass show to work on---say, one not only based on a character created by Elmore Leonard, but actually committed to representing that character faithfully---I'm sure I could churn out a teleplay or two worthy of WGA accreditation.

Publisher's Weekly once called one of my standalone thrillers "the best Elmore Leonard rip-off since Elmore Leonard," and I've never been prouder of a potential blurb in my life.  If I can do it in prose, why not in television?

Graphics Designer for the Los Angeles Lakers

I don't often mention it here, but I am a crazed fan of the Los Angeles Lakers, and more than once I've used the team's victory in a championship series to strut my stuff as a poster art designer.  For instance:

My skills as a renderer are severely limited---I can only draw something with any degree of accuracy if it's sitting directly in front of me---but I wield a mean copy of Photoshop.  Should Kobe and company find a way to win it all again this year (and right now that seems rather unlikely), I'm sure I'll create another masterpiece suitable for framing just to celebrate their achievement.

But I'd much rather do it not as a sycophantic fan, but as an employee on the Lakers payroll.

Audio Book Reader for the Works of Daniel Pinkwater

As stated here, Pinkwater is a favorite author of my entire family, and I used to get a real kick out of reading his wacky books aloud to my two youngest children at bedtime.  I'm quite a ham, as anyone who's ever seen me perform at conventions can attest, so I never did fewer than six different voices when reading a Pinkwater book.  It was loads of fun, and the idea of getting paid to do it all over again, for middle-grade readers around the globe, damn near moves me to tears of joy.  Hamlet?  Forget about it.  But a Daniel Pinkwater recital?

I'm your man.

Book Cover Artist for the 6.4 Million Self-Published Authors Who Desperately Need One

Los Angeles Lakers championship posters aren't all I like to design.  Every now and then, I try my hand at doing book covers, as well.  Severn House had their own ideas several years ago regarding the cover art for my novel CEMETERY ROAD, and fine ideas they were, too, as things turned out.  But before the ink was dry on my book contract, I'd created two mock-ups based on ideas of my own.  Like this one:

And this one:

Most recently, I did the cover art for SHAKEN, the short story anthology Tim Hallinan put together to raise funds for the earthquake and Tsunami victims in Japan last year:

Again, as I admitted in my paragraph about Lakers poster art design above, I can't do everything a real artist can do.  But give me a premise and a subscription to a few good stock photography sites, and look out.  I can be dangerous.

An Actor on The Good Wife

Okay, I'm no Sir Laurence Olivier, but I've got a pretty face and I once had a speaking part in an Audubon Junior High School production of The Pajama Game.  Plus, I have real on-screen presence, as this clip from the book trailer for Michael Connelly's ECHO PARK clearly demonstrates:

No, I couldn't carry a show of my own, but I think I could handle playing Archie Panjabi's latest love interest quite easily.  Or a witness being grilled in the courtroom by Julianna Margulies.  A FedEx guy delivering a package to Christine Baranski?

How about a lawyer being fouled by Josh Charles in a basketball game at the gym?  You haven't heard someone cry "And one!" convincingly until you've heard me cry "And one!"

What about you, my fellow 'Rati?  What are some of your Perfect Dream Jobs?

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