Anthony! Ant’nee! Ant! Tony! Tone! Tee!!!

That’s Italian mother for “Anthony.” You’re welcome.

And thank YOU and everyone who nominated Bad Boy Boogie for an Anthony Award for best paperback original! The good folks running Bouchercon this year in St. Petersburg Florida announced this year’s nominees, and you can read them all here at the 2018 Anthony Awards site.

I’m thrilled that my first Jay Desmarteaux crime novel was nominated, and it’s in great company:

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Honored to be nominated with Lori Rader-Day, Nadine Nettman, James W. Ziskin, and Eryk Pruitt! The winner will be announced on Saturday September 8th at the convention.

This is my second nomination, Protectors 2: Heroes was nominated for best anthology in 2016, but there were so many great authors in that one, the honor was shared. And so is this one. My publisher Down & Out Books and editor Chris Rhatigan helped me get the book into fighting shape, and early readers Holly West, Elizabeth Kracht, Lynn Beighley, and others all had a hand. Thank you all, and thank you readers for your great reviews on Goodreads and Amazon, for spreading the word, and everyone who put Boogie on their Anthony ballot!

I’m hard at work on Jay #2, Riff Raff, set in the wilds of Louisiana, and this will kick me in the pants to get it done a little more quickly.

Congratulations to all the nominees. Here are a few I’m especially happy to see:

Jen Conley and Hilary Davidson for their short stories. They are both two of my favorite writers to read, and spin a great story. Special congratulations to Susanna Calkins, whose first published story was nominated! Alex Segura and Joe Clifford for their Bill Crider award nominations for best novels in a series, they’ve created great characters we love to follow. Dan & Kate Malmon for their best anthology nom for Killing Malmon, which was a hilarious theme and inspired so many great stories. Eric Beetner and S.W. Lauden of Writer Types Podcast, my fellow damaged writers at Do Some Damage, the folks at Jungle Red Writers, and Kristopher Zgorski of BOLO Books for creating great online content. Jordan Harper, Kristen Lepionka, and Christopher Irvin for their best first novel nominations. This is always a tough category and they wrote their hearts out. She Rides Shotgun was one of my favorite recent crime novels, and deserves the Edgar it nabbed. Attica Locke and Don Winslow for best novel. Bluebird, Bluebird and The Force were both great reads.

There are folks I nominated who didn’t make the top five, it seems, and that’s rough for everyone. I had given up on this one, and woke up to a surprise. Want proof? I wrote about Awards Season Depressive Disorder at Do Some Damage. It’s still something to keep in mind, even if I am a firm believer in the “it’s an honor to be nominated” mantra. It is an honor.

Keep writing the books you want to see, and you can’t lose.

 

Writer’s Mog – Thomas Pluck

Nic Parker asked me to contribute to her ongoing series, Writer’s Mog, about writers and their cats. Learn all about Charlie and Louie and Cat Loaf!

devoted to thrills

26219665_10213766951300689_8883333762655910216_n Louie keeping informed about world politics

Tell us a tiny bit about yourself and a whole lot about the mog(gies) that share your current and/or past life.

My name is Thomas Pluck and I am a powerlifter and martial artist who Joyce Carol Oates calls “a lovely kitty man.” I write both funny and “tough” tales, from the rollicking adventure novel Blade of Dishonor, which was called “The Raiders of the Lost Ark of pulp paperbacks” to Bad Boy Boogie, a “tough slice of New Jersey noir,” about ex-con Jay Desmarteaux, who served time for killing a vicious school bully, and has only learned how to get away with it. Two cats have the run of my domain, a rescued Siamese named Charlie, and an enormous shorthair tabby named Louie. Charlie is older, and curls up near me while I read or write, sometimes on the back of the sofa…

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Greetings from Asbury Park, this Sunday!

Greetings from Asbury Park! Well, not at this exact moment, but on Sunday 4/29, I will be reading at Noir at the Bar in Asbury Park at Capitoline’s. They have a lovely bar with a band called the Black Flamingos playing in between stories. Hosted by Jen Conley and Jay Butkowski, it’s a bit of a sausage fest but I promise I’ll be a hot Italian sazeech:
Me – with copies of Life During Wartime to sign sell and raffle
Scott Adlerberg – author of Jack Waters, a thrilling New Orleans to Caribbean adventure
Angel Luis Colon – author of the Blackie Jaguar and Fantine Park crime novellas
Lee Matthew Goldberg – author of The Mentor
Alex Segura – author of the Pete Fernandez Miami PI series
Dave White – author of the Jackson Donne Jersey PI novels
and Wallace Stroby, author of the Crissa Stone series, my favorite thief since Parker, and his latest thriller, Some Die Nameless.
details: Sunday April 29th from 6pm to 9pm at Capitoline’s 639 Cookman Ave, Asbury Park NJ

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Great reads: Little Fires Everywhere, by Celeste Ng

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The buzz for this one built up quickly, and now it has been picked up for development as a series. I rarely jump on books or anything else while it’s hot, but I managed to read Celeste Ng’s Little Fires Everywhere while it is warm, and it’s a great read.

It begins in Shaker Heights, the tony neighborhood outside Cleveland that was the United States’ first planned community, named after the celibate sect who had a rule for everything, in the name of simplicity. This isn’t a story about a Housing Association nightmare, it is about two very different ways of living and how they collide. Ng writes wonderful and compelling characters, deftly using the third omniscient to effortlessly shift points of view without confusion. It’s a writing style that has fallen into disuse, some self-proclaimed writing gurus even call it “instant death,” but like any tool, in the proper hands it can be used masterfully.

This is Ng’s second novel. She dodges the sophomore slump and created a real rocket. The story begins in the ’90s, as the Richardsons, led by Mrs. Richardson, a lifelong resident of Shaker, whose family has lived there for three generations, watches her beautiful house burn to the frame. We get a hint of the story; a mother and her daughter zip away in a battered VW Rabbit packed to the roof with their belongings; the fire, set by the troublesome youngest Richardson daughter Izzy, is the new subject of neighborhood gossip, supplanting the controversy over baby “Mirabelle McCullough/May Lin Wong”, who we learn about in due course. The story moves quickly. This is the kind of novel where you might be concerned there is little plot, as it focuses on two women and the successful lives they’ve build, their secret philosophies, and the events that created them, but the story moves along at a brisk pace, and never drags for a moment. It is as skillful as a great thriller in that regard, elegant and spare in its prose, and moves the “camera” of its point of view like a master documentarian, observing its subjects, and informing us when we see things the others can’t possibly know.

The story skips back to the “beginning,” when Mrs Richardson rents a Shaker duplex to a woman her age, artist Mia Warren, and her teen daughter Pearl. Mrs Richardson (Elena– but almost always referred to by her “title”) is a journalist for the town paper, and never broke out to the Cleveland Plain-Dealer, to her chagrin. Her husband is a lawyer, and their four children are all in high school, one year apart, like clockwork: the popular Lexie, about to graduate; Trip, the jock; Moody, the aptly named bookish introvert, coming to an MFA program near you; and Izzy, the troublemaker, who wears Doc Martens under her designer jeans, who asks the questions no one wants to answer.

Mrs Richardson likes to rent her duplex cheaply to “good” people who could never afford to live in her Utopian community, like Mr Yang, a hard-working immigrant, and the Warrens: a single mother (a political football in the ’90s, if you remember, Murphy Brown and all. My mother raised us from when I was seven, so I’m quite aware of the judgments Americans put on these families, and how they were pawns in politics, a moral problem to some, a hero to others). Mia is a fascinating character, a mystery. She and her daughter live like nomads; she turns their apartments into her studio for photographic art, and sells her work at a gallery in Manhattan. There is much more to this than it seems, and as young Pearl becomes a part of the family, she feels entitled to investigate Mia’s life using her journalist skills. Mia works as an artist, and in a local Chinese restaurant to make ends meet, where the flexible hours and leftovers help out.

Mrs Richardson’s desire for control leads her to offer Mia a job as their housekeeper. Out of kindness, of course. Pearl is over the house all the time, anyway! But partly, she is driven by her mystification of how Mia can live untethered to a house, free to move whenever she pleases. They get more entangled when Mrs Richardson’s oldest friend Linda McCullough, who can’t have children, adopts a Chinese baby that was abandoned in front of a fire department in town. The mother turns out to be Mia’s coworker, the young Chinese immigrant Bebe. She tried to get her baby back the next day, but was told she had surrendered all rights, and gave up hope. Mia gives her hope, and tells her how to get help.

Character is revealed through plot, and the plot moves forward driven by character. We know it all ends in “little fires everywhere,” and the mysteries of Mrs Richardson’s need for rules and order and her short temper with her youngest, rebellious daughter Izzy, and why Mia and Pearl are seemingly on the run, are revealed as they take different sides in Bebe Wong’s mission to get her daughter back. It’s divisive, and the narrator lets us decide who to side with, and while this is a subplot given the backseat to the main characters, the teens as they fumble through life, some faced with difficult decisions of their own, and the parents as their past choices define who they have become, it drives the whole novel: how important are the rules?

It’s a subject I try to tackle in fiction, though I am not as skilled as Celeste Ng. In my hands, it’s a battle between Love and the Law. You’ll be seeing more of that underlying my stories. I burned through this in a day or two, because the story was so compelling. I’m eager to see it expanded into an eight episode series on Hulu, with Reese Witherspoon as Mrs Richardson and Kerry Washington, who I assume will play Mia Warren. There are many great characters for actors to chew on. I saw Mrs Richardson as a young Alison Janney, and Mia as Sonja Sohn, Moody as Lucas Hedges (Danny from Lady Bird) and Izzy as Hannah Alligood (Frankie in Better Things, a great show).

 

Short Story Challenge: Old Leech, new crime, giveaways and great reads

Kitsch Confidential,” by Janice Leagra, at Ghost Parachute. This is an amusing surreal story about Anthony Bourdain, explaining it would ruin it.

We Go Together,” by Eric McMillan in One Story. The story of a moto (overly motivated, oo-rah type) US Army combat infantry NCO who gets command of a support platoon in 1996 on the South Korean border. It captured the character well, and brought back the pre-9/11 military feel, when the peace seemed a possibility, but it’s really about how racism doesn’t seem like racism when you’re racist.

Faint of Heart,” by Amanda Rea in One Story. I liked this one a lot, a woman about to be married inadvertently rescues a child, and becomes obsessed with the criminal. Their paths meet again. It’s different than the usual stories of its kind, and a great small-town tale.

I finished The Children of Old Leech, edited by Ross Lockhart, an anthology of stories set in the cosmic horror mythos of Laird Barron. Barron is one of my favorite writers, and while he doesn’t contribute–that would be silly–the writers all did a fine job of tackling subjects dear to his heart. Some standouts were stories by Gemma Files, Orrin Grey, Jeffrey Thomas, T.E. Grau, Paul Tremblay, Michael Griffin, Joseph S. Pulver Sr., Daniel Mills, John Langan, and Scott Nicolay & Jesse James Douthit-Nicolay. Overall, an excellent anthology. I really enjoyed the last one by the Nicolays, about a gutterpunk and his dog riding the rails to flee pursuers who want a book he’s scavenged.

run, Jennifer” by doungjai gam at Tough Crime is a cathartic read for anyone who’s worked front of the house in a restaurant, or dealt with a douchebag in general. My first read by gam, and it won’t be my last.

Chris McGinley returns to the holler for a longer haint tale at Tough Crime, with “And They Shall Take Up Serpents.” Both McGinley and Gam are a little raw, but they both show a lot of promise and potential, and know how to spin a good yarn, which is the heart of being a writer. The polish comes later.

Our New Lives,” by Helen Coats in One Teen Story was a compelling read, about a big sister going off to college, right after her younger brother loses a classmate in a tragic accident. It captures the sibling dynamic and how much we communicate with siblings without saying a word. A fine read.

I picked up The Highway Kind again, so that will be my next story collection.

Some great reads, lately:

Salvage the Bones, by Jesmyn Ward. A sad, and stunningly beautiful book about the lead-up to Hurricane Katrina, in the part of the country hit hardest, the Mississippi Gulf country. Not that New Orleans didn’t have it bad, but the levees breaking are what did them. Mississippi took the direct brunt of the storm. Ward’s story centers on the Batiste family, from young woman Esch’s point of view, as her father tries to fix up a truck to get clean up work after the storm, her brother Randall hopes to go to basketball camp where he can get a scholarship, and Skeetah dotes on his pit China’s newborn pups, hoping to sell them to pay for Randall’s camp, and to keep their family going.

I’m in the middle of The Thicket by Joe R. Lansdale, and it’s one of his best. I love Hap & Leonard, but his young adult tales like The Bottoms and Edge of Dark Water are my favorites, and this is in that vein, sort of a mash-up of True Grit and The Searchers, in a story only Joe could write.

I’m also reading Blackout, the latest Pete Fernandez mystery by Alex Segura, who never disappoints. He plumbs the darkness with a sensitive hero who unlike fairy tale knights, can’t escape battle unscathed. Start with Silent City, Down The Darkest Street, and Dangerous Ends.

Oh, Green Sun  by Kent Anderson turned out to be as excellent as his earlier Hanson novel, Night Dogs, one of the best police novels ever written. This one is ever so prescient, even though it is set in 1983 in Oakland, long before gentrification was a glimmer in a city planner’s eye.

If you’ve stuck around this long, if you don’t subscribe to my newsletter, today is the time. I’m posting a book giveaway at 3:30pm EST, so jump on the bus before then. I also have a Last Jedi movie poster that’s up for grabs.

 

Story Challenge 3/31: Thor, Lovecraftiana, and death row.

The best stories I’ve read since my last Short Story Challenge post are:

The President of Costa Rica,” by Shane Jones (thanks to Matthew Robinson for the rec). A good transgressive tale that reminded me of Katherine Faw.

Thor Meets Captain America,” by David Brin. A classic of SF alternate history, this was Brin’s snarky answer when solicited for an anthology in which the Nazis won WWII. It’s brilliant, ugly, horrifying, and somewhat offensive, when you think about it, but no more than any other “what if” story about Nazis.

Ain’t That Good News,” by Brit Bennett (Thanks to Nikki Dolson for the rec) A great story about grief and vengeance in Louisiana. One of the best I’ve read this month.

Another strong tale of grief is by Beau Johnson, “My Kingdom for a Fence,” at Spelk Fiction.

The Litany of Earth,” by Ruth Anna Emrys (Thanks to Rob Lawson for the rec). The other great story I read this month, is about the last living former resident of Innsmouth. She has “the look” and we learn what happened to her people. The story references the internment of Japanese people by the U.S. government and includes characters who were victims of it, but doesn’t use them lightly.

The Crossing,” by Matthew Robinson. A nasty shard of post-apocalyptic flash fiction that leaves you begging for more.

Neighbors,” by Shayne Terry (thanks to Matthew Robinson for the rec). A creepy quick read that didn’t work for me.

Rations,” by Ravi Mangla. This very short piece was called an essay, but it could be a story, for how it’s told. It’s about last meals, from the most famous to the personal.

You can read all the Short Story Challenge posts.

What great short stories have you read lately? Please share in the comments! I’ll read them if I can.

 

You down with KGB? Yeah, you know me… join me on April 3

This Tuesday I’ll be one of many authors reading at the glorious red room of the KGB Bar in Manhattan. Come join me with Tim O’Mara, Laura K. Curtis, Alex Segura, Carrie Smith, RG Belsky, Leanna Renee Heiber, and Wallace Stroby. They have a nice selection of Russian beers and it’s always a good time. Come and drink to our new overlords!

I’ll be giving away a copy of Life During Wartime and reading a new story.

KGB

When: 6:30 PM, Tuesday April 3rd

Where: The Red Room (upstairs) at the KGB Bar, 85 East 4th Street, Manhattan.

Who: You and Me and a Dog Named Bee.