Alive in Shape and Color available for pre-order

If you haven’t read Lawrence Block’s fantastic anthology In Sunlight or in Shadow, stories based on the art of Edward Hopper, you are missing out. Stephen King, Joyce Carol Oates, Lee Child, Michael Connolly, Warren Moore, Jonathan Santlofer, Craig Ferguson, Megan Abbott, and LB himself among others, all contribute to a great collection of stories that run the gamut of genres and tones. And the art is beautifully reproduced in the hardcover edition (can’t speak for the paperback).

unnamed (1)So I’m tickled pink to have a story in his follow-up to this blockbuster, which expands the influence to artists of all kinds. He calls it Alive in Shape and Color, and it includes my story “Truth Comes Out of Her Well to Shame Mankind” inspired by the painting of the same name by Jean-Léon Gérôme. I’m honored to be among fellow contributors Sarah Weinman, Joyce Carol Oates, David Morrell, S.J. Rozan, Michael Connolly, Warren Moore, Jeffery Deaver, Kristine Kathryn Rusch, Joe R. Lansdale, Craig Fergusion, Justin Scott, Lee Child, Nicholas Christopher, Gail Levin, and Jill D. Block. The art chosen ranges from Rodin, Balthus, Art Frahm, Clifford Still, Rene Magritte, Salvador Dali, Hieronymous Bosch, Hokusai, Norman Rockwell, and the cave paintings at Lascaux.

You’re not going to want to miss this one. It’s available for pre-order now.


A Mother’s Day story: Tiger Mother

Made-up holiday or not, today we honor all the good mothers who raised us. This story was originally written for Patti Abbott’s charity challenge, and was inspired by a 1930’s Harlem painting by Reginald Marsh. (Incidentally, Marsh lived in an artist colony in my hometown of Nutley). Happy mother’s day, here’s a real mother for ya.

Tiger Mother
by Thomas Pluck

When her boy Lewis didn’t come home that evening, Caldonia Peele prayed he wouldn’t break her heart. When he didn’t slink in weary-eyed in his slept-in clothes that morning, her chest fluttered with worry. But when he didn’t tiptoe into church, her heart went cold.

* * *

“He’s at the age, Callie,” Mabel said. They both worked at the Harlem post office. Seen each other through three husbands, four children, a riot, and a burst appendix.

Caldonia and Mabel navigated the Convent Avenue throngs after church. Had to get to Sylvia’s quick if you wanted a table. Their children walked behind them in their Sunday best. Jerome, Mabel’s second husband, walked alongside.

“I’m not about to lose my Lewis like his no-account father.”

Lewis Senior was gone five years now, same as Mabel’s first husband. Hard times drove men to gambling and drink, made them quick with their hands.

When they came to the corner Jerome said, “I didn’t think much of it, but I saw your boy with Cat Ferris. I hear he rolls dice behind Netty’s place. I can go ask for him, you like.”

“Thank you kindly, but I’ll handle my own business. Mabe. Will you watch Tara while I’m gone?”

Mabel scrunched up her nose as if offended to be asked. “Course I will.”

Caldonia turned on her heel, yellow taffeta a-twirl, and bent to stroke her daughter’s braids. Tara smiled. Going on five, cute as the buttons on her hand-sewn dress. “I’ll be good, Mama.”

“I know you will.”

“Netty’s can be rough,” Jerome said. “You should leave your purse.”

Caldonia smirked and tapped her carnelian hat pin. “Let ’em try.”

* * *

Nettie’s was by the Hudson, tucked behind a mechanic shop that had sold black market tires during the big war. Caldonia walked with purpose, face firm and lip curled. Angry her boy had been lured astray.

Soon as her boy turned thirteen, his eyes were tugged to their corners by the sight of rough men on stoops, calling out to women walking by, whistling at the fancy cars rolling down Broadway. Looking for a man to fill the hole his father left. Maybe Lewis missed the hard knuckles and cruel smiles.

The jukebox shook the clapboard walls outside Nettie’s. A fat man perched on a stool by the door, like a stout mushroom after September rain. One wooden leg and two mismatched shoes. Alf Nettis shook his head as Caldonia strutted to the door.

“Your man ain’t here, and if he was, he’s gone now.”

“I’m here for my boy Lewis. I’m told he’s with Cat Ferris, one of your regular customers.”

“Where’d you hear that nonsense?”

“Everyone knows he rolls dice in back of your place.”

“Anyone knows that, they’re lying. Don’t serve boys, only men.”

“A churchgoing man told me otherwise,” she said. “His word’s worth a damn sight more than yours.”

The alleyway was filled with bald tires and trash. Only way in was through the door. Or maybe the car shop. Caldonia pointed her chin that way.

“Maybe you prayed, your boy’ll be home when you get there,” Alf called.

Caldonia felt her slender fingers turn to fists. She spun and stomped to an inch from his face.

“Alfred Nettis, unless you want me to burn up every disability check you get from now on, you will stand aside.”

His sleepy eyes had skin tags around them like flies, swatted by his girlish lashes. They blinked.

“You have a cruel soul, Caldonia Peele,” Alf whispered. “What your Jesus think about that?”

“He says the Lord helps those that help themselves,” she said, and sashayed past.

* * *

The joint was crammed with hunched-over men nursing dirty glasses, a low buzz of mutter and chuckle muddling the ears like the scent of unwashed bodies and whiskey did the nose.

There was a brief silence as drinkers assured themselves their wife wasn’t the one invading the place. The bartender, lean as his brother was fat, sneered and wiped out a dirty glass with a dirtier rag.

She paid them no mind and ducked out the back door.

* * *

The caged-in yard was a mess of lawn beaten down by feet. Cat Ferris sprawled in a Chrysler’s leather bench seat planted in the grass, resplendent in his turquoise suit. Before him, Lewis ran dice for three men huddled over a slab of slate. Lewis wore his Sunday shirt and shoes, suit coat folded beside him.

Caldonia cocked her hips and planted a fist on each. “Hope you ain’t betting that suit of yours,” she said. “That’s my property.”

“Mama,” Lewis gasped.

The dice men laughed, and Ferris leaned back, baring golden fangs. “Your boy’s a man now, Mrs. Peele. He’s about to run off like his father did. Man can’t take a six-foot hellion telling him what to do.” He took a long pull at his can of Rheingold.

Caldonia’s cheeks went to stone as she saw her boy blush.

“My boy was a man, he wouldn’t be fawning over a coward in a silk shirt.”

“Who you callin’ a coward, woman?”

She slipped the .32 from her purse and fired, punching a ragged hole in the seat by Ferris’s crotch. Ferris kicked and squirmed into himself, spraying himself with beer foam. A dark stain spread across his slacks. Before the report was done echoing off the tin roof, the dice men had snatched their bills and scattered.

Lewis huddled in the grass, hands covering his head.

“Get your suit on, son. We’re going to supper.”

Lewis threw on his jacket, straightened his tie.

Caldonia offered him her arm, and they walked out primly.


Here’s the painting, by Reginald Marsh:

reginald marsh_high_yaller_print_1200

RIP HR Giger


The man who first really scared the living shit out of me was HR Giger.

Oh, Ridley Scott gets some credit. And Bolaji Badejo, the guy in the alien suit. One of the most memorable and effective horror movies of all time, Alien played on HBO in 1980. I crept out of my bedroom to sneak-watch it, ignoring my mother’s warnings that it’ll give you nightmares.

And boy, was she right.


It plays equally well to men and women. The creature that crawls from the eggs those astronauts find in the belly of the wrecked ship makes impregnation by rape an equal opportunity nightmare. Everyone remembers the scene at the table where John Hurt really gets hurt. Talk about an unwanted childbirth. For men, these scenes give a horrific glimpse of what it’s like to not have control of your own body, to imagine what it’s like to know there’s a creature out there that wants to use your body for its own purposes. The story is pure genius that way. Apparently, that’s how tsetse flies reproduce. I’ve never been happier to be a mammal, than after learning that.


Giger’s creature gave me great nightmares. The one I remember most is a huge fly with the face of the alien chasing me, with its toothy double mouth. I told you so, Mom said. But I didn’t care. I loved being scared. Especially by an eyeless black monstrosity made of bones and fangs, the stuff of pure nightmares that looks as if it crawled from the cesspit of the human id.

Giger’s art was hard to find back then. I found it on the cover of a Debbie Harry album. And then one of my favorite bands of the time, Dead Kennedys, became embroiled in a pornography trial. Which made listening to them all the more rebellious. Their album Frankenchrist included a poster with some HR Giger art of decaying sex organs lined up in a row. It grossed me out, but I mailed in for the poster- they couldn’t sell it with the album during the trial- and hung it on my wall to be shocking.


I still don’t know what Giger was trying to say with it. Or any of his art, except the more overtly political stuff, with guns and jackbooted thugs. Over the years I collected many of his books, such as Necronomicon II. His art was disturbing on the subconscious level, reminding us that we’re all meat and parts, like offal at the slaughterhouse. He had a unique imagination, and I am glad he lived a long life and shared it with us.

Don Kenn’s Sticky Note Nightmares

don kenn

These are Post-It Monsters. Or Sticky Monsters, after the trademark dispute. John Kenn draws them on sticky notes. Someday I will own one of these tiny monstrosities. He is boundlessly creative, and I adore his Ed Gorey and Gahan Wilson-inspired nightmares. Click the image to go to his website and see many more.

Blade of Dishonor raises over $300 for Aero Cares

Yesterday I helped paint and spruce up ElmCor, a community youth, senior and rehab center in Flushing Queens. Here is a photo of us painting the boxing gym:

boxing gym


Afterward we had our holiday party, which included a silent auction for Aero Cares, a charity that helps fellow employees in time of disaster or hardship (it helped a lot of employees out during Sandy, Katrina, Irene, and recent snowstorms). I donated three signed copies of Blade of Dishonor, and raised over $300 for the cause:

Blade - Aero

I also bit on a nice lino print of an Imperial Walker from Star Wars and lost, but I did win a funky archival ink print that reminded me of the writing process. I’ll share a photo once I pick it up.



Meet the Blade Brigade: Roxanne Patruznick

roxanne patruznick

Meet Roxanne Patruznick, the artist who painted the cover of Blade of Dishonor! I discovered Roxanne’s fantastic art through the knockout covers she did for Blood & Tacos, the magazine homage to the men’s adventure novels of the ’70s and ’80s by Johnny Shaw. She is a marvel at realistic figures and choosing the perfect model. You can see more of her art on her website, Art by Roxanne Patruznick. If you want to rock one of these t-shirts  you can get them here (along with signed copies of the paperback).
Blade of Dishonor T-Shirts

And here is a sample of her great talent, from her noir pinup series:

legsprint roxanne patruznick

Unoppressive Non-Imperialist Bargain Books


My bookstore haul days are limited, now that Firecracker and I share a modest apartment. Despite my admiration for the ease of e-books- I wish every new book gave you an e-book download code, like many music and movies do- I love books for their design elements and other physical qualities that add up to more than the sum of their parts. I’d line the walls with shelves full of them if I could.

I visited Unoppressive Non-Imperialist Bargain Books on a walk through the West Village with Zak Mucha last week. They mostly sell remainders of class-conscious tomes, lots of books on Blake, Bob Dylan, President Obama, and so on. I picked up an art book of The Sketchbooks of Hiroshige to give me some visual inspiration for the short novel I am writing, which is set partially in Japan. I also snagged a box of greeting cards printed with portions of M.C. Escher’s mural “Metamorphosis.” I’ve always been fascinated with woodcuts, and Escher was my introduction to them. At the register, there was a stack of postcards with William Blake’s “The Red Dragon and the Woman Clothed in Sun,” which played a big part in one of my favorite novels, Red Dragon by Thomas Harris. For me, it was the first serial killer novel that delved into how we make our own monsters, treating him with sympathy but also firm in showing that true psychopaths cannot be rehabilitated, because they like what they do.

So that was my haul, for twenty bucks. Not bad. An interesting little book shop with a nice selection of books you might not find in a chain store, at bargain prices.