Reviews During Wartime

Happy new year!

I’m getting over the flu, which I contracted while researching the next Jay Desmarteaux novel, wandering around Iberia and Vermilion Parishes in Louisiana. I visited the grave of bluesman Slim Harpo and the Louisiana Capitol Building, where Huey Long was assassinated. You can read about it at Do Some Damage, where I call it Research Without a Cause.

Which answers the question to the first review of Life During Wartime, my new story collection, up at Out of the Gutter: “Amazingly, the dialogue, settings, and situations all ring true. Either Pluck has done some serious research or he’s lived a life on the move!”
I love to travel, and I love writing stories that use what I see and learn from new places and people. If you haven’t pre-ordered Life During Wartime, Down & Out Books has a 60% discount on the ebooks. I will be signing the book at Mysterious Bookshop and Watchung Booksellers in February, and I will put the updates on my Events page. If you can’t get one in person, Down & Out Books has all the links to your favorite suppliers.

Life During Wartime Paperback

Some of my research had a cause, like dropping into Vermilionville, a living Acadian village rather like Colonial Williamsburg, stopping by to see the Evangeline Tree in St. Martinsville, a memorial to Longfellow’s poem of the same name, based on people who lived in the area.  One of them is name checked in James Lee Burke’s latest novel Robicheaux, which I reviewed for Criminal Element. I did stop to eat at Victor’s Cafeteria where Dave Robicheaux and Cletus Purcell grab breakfast in New Iberia. You read about my adventures in Cajun Country at SleuthSayers, and you can also see my pictures on Instagram, on Facebook, or Twitter.

Another story that drew from my travels is “Truth Comes Out of Her Well to Shame Mankind,” in Alive in Shape and Color. I’ve received a lot of emails about this one, which Liz French of Library Journal called “stunning,” and the reviewer at the New York Times found disturbing enough to call me out by name. Robert Lopresti loved it but wasn’t sure if it was “crime”, but I think murders at an archaeological dig in Germany are criminal enough.  So, if you haven’t jumped on Alive in Shape and Color, you don’t want to miss it. Like its Edward Hopper-themed forebear, it’s making a splash.

Life During Wartime events! Don’t say you weren’t warned…

Thursday, February 8th at 7:00 PM: The official launch of my story collection Life During Wartime at Watchung Booksellers in Montclair! Snacks and a brief reading and a Q&A.

Wednesday, February 21st at 6:30 PM: Life During Wartime  and Slaughterhouse Blues signing event with Nick Kolakowski at The Mysterious Bookshop. Join me and Nick for a night of noir. One week after Valentine’s Day, your heart will have recovered.

Thursday, March 8th at 6:00 PM: A Montclair Authors Meet & Greet at Sotheby’s, 32 Valley Rd, Montclair, NJ. Come join us for wine and cheese and rub suede elbow patches with local Montclair authors! I’ll be in the corner eating all the Gruyere.

Murder & Mayhem in Milwaukee!

I’m honored to be a guest at Murder & Mayhem in Milwaukee this year. Thanks to the Jordans and everyone involved. I was planning on attending anyway–I’ve heard so much about this great convention/party–but this makes it extra sweet. I’ll be on a panel moderated by Shaun Harris, author of The Hemingway Thief, which is a great fun read whether you love or hate Ernest, so check it out.

The Malmons will be there as will by publisher, Eric Campbell of Down & Out Books, with copies of Killing Malmon, where 30 writers (including myself) killed Dan in amusing ways, to raise money for the MS society. If you can’t make it for a signed copy, get yours here.

Of course I’ll have Bad Boy Boogie and I’ll be writing Born on the Bayou, so if you want to influence a scene that I’ll write hungover on Saturday or Sunday morning, or late in my motel Friday night, now is the time. I can’t incorporate the Bronze Fonz, as it is all set in Louisiana, but I may have Jay meet the statue of Ignatius Reilly from A Confederacy of Dunces… I’m 17,500 words in and having a blast. Which I hope means you will too, when you get to read it next year.

There will be a lot of beer. I’m going to the Lakefront Brewery to see the Schlitz bottling line filmed in the opening credits of Laverne & Shirley and I will only answer to the name The Big Ragu during this trip. I do not care if Milwaukee is “trying to shed the L&S image” as I read on one website… embrace it. You are so much more, I am sure, and I will see that, but come on. Hassenpfeffer Incorporated! Bah. It’s like Jersey trying to shed The Sopranos. It’s not like Laverne and Shirl were the cast of Jersey Shore.

And I’m jealous that your city has such a great song named after it. Written in 1903 by Dan Quinn before Jerry Lee Lewis made it (more) famous… I like this version:

What Made Milwaukee Famous Made a Loser Out of Me

And in case you missed it, I went as Bluto for Halloween. S.W. Lauden went as a California Highway Patrolman, mirror shades and all. If he brings his costume, we may walk around the con looking like half of The Village People.

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Shot as a mark of affection from his brother

This is a somewhat famous tombstone, because if you read it quickly, it reads “accidentlly shot as a mark of affection from his brother.” I took this photo in the nineties on Madeline Island in Wisconsin, hunting this grave marker down after hearing about it.

I was also lucky enough to see the island’s secret replica village in the woods, tiny concrete buildings made to look like the town at the tip of the island. I took photographs (real ones!) and they are in a box somewhere. I kept my secret for twenty years. I don’t know how to get there. There’s a fine story called The End of the Season by Trent Kollodge in the Autumn Cthulhu anthology that is set in this little fake village. If I dig up my photos, I’ll share them. They do nothing to reveal the location.

tombstone_madelineisland2

Bouchercon 2017: Elsinore Brewery Edition

I look forward to invading Canadia for the fourth time in my life this week. Sadly I will not be reenacting the greatest film of all time, Strange Brew. But I will try!

October 11-15th, Toronto: Bouchercon. I am booked and eager to visit Toronto again. I’m moderating a panel on Friday at 8:30am, Beautiful Brutality? The panel consists of Chris Holm, Joe Clifford, E. C. Diskin, Amy Stuart, and Sara Jayne Townsend.

On Wednesday I’ll be reading at the Bouchercon Noir at the Bar hosted by Rob Brunet and Tanis Mallow, 9:00PM at Rivoli, 332 Queen Street West, Toronto: 21762633_879082205601399_491421483206650408_o

And that’s it. I’ll have copies of Bad Boy Boogie in the book room at Sleuth of Baker Street’s table, and I’ll be carrying copies of it and Blade of Dishonor around with me if you want a signed one. And I’ll be at the bar and the lobby and various panels, when Sarah and I aren’t exploring museums and breweries and the delicious poutine mines.

Hope to see you there, eh?

If you got any Elsinore beer, bring it along.

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There Used to be a BallPark… in Weird NJ

Weird NJ is one of my favorite magazines. It only comes out twice a year, in full color, and is full of the weirdness that makes the Garden State unique. I’ve been reading for decades, and I’ve had a few articles published, but none recently. Check my publications list for what I had in their past issues.

Until I found an abandoned ballpark in the Meadowlands on one of my rambles. You can read all about it in issue #48, the one with a big Mighty Joe Young on the cover (one of my favorite old Ray Harryhausen flicks).

You can pick up Weird NJ at local bookstores like the Montclair Book Center, and Barnes & Noble stores across the state, or at their website www.weirdnj.com

weirdnj48

 

You call that a shank, eh? The Canadian Penitentiary Museum

My friend Andi Jones, artist extraordinaire, Mad Max post-apocalyptic road warrior, Gamma Terra enthusiast, Vault Dweller, and collector of illegible dice, visited the Canadian Penitentiary Museum. And I’m jealous. Because while they don’t spend much time on Maple Syrup Heists (which are a thing) they do have a great collection of prisoner-made makeshift weapons that put ‘Murican ingenuity to shame. You call that a shank, eh?

They made a frickin’ crossbow out of toothbrushes and it works:

Canadian Prison Crossbow

Now,

You can see more photos and read about Andi’s visit on his Tumblr, Black Ray Gun, which gives me a daily dose of Mutants from 2051 A.D. I’ll definitely try to drop by the museum when I am in Toronto for Bouchercon. It’s almost 3 hours from Toronto, but I can take an alternate route…

And if you want to read a great crime novel set in the bush up in Canader… I recommend Rob Brunet’s Stinking Rich. It’s hilarious and thrilling, like Hiaasen moved up north.

 

 

Visiting the U.S.S. Arizona Memorial

When we visited the U.S.S. Arizona Memorial, I was reminded that tourists are ugly from all over. Not long after 9/11, I noticed people coming to take photos of Ground Zero. I can understand that, I like taking photos as well. What bothered me was how they posed in front of it, smiling. It just seems disrespectful. I saw the same oblivious ugliness as tourists posed in front of the list of those who died at Pearl Harbor.

The viewing platform.

The memorial is hallowed ground; the ship is below you. The platform crosses it just behind the front turret, which remains above water. This was a clever way to mark the grave of nearly 1200 men who died during the sneak attack, an enormous cross that’s not there unless you think about it. The bow and stern are marked with white buoys. Around the harbor you see cement markers memorializing the other ships sunk on that day.

The list of those who died at Pearl Harbor, without a smiling idiot.

It’s eerie, looking down through the crystal blue water and seeing the rusted hulk of the ship just below, occasionally seeping oil. Small colorful fish dart around the structure. A sign asks you to not throw coins, which contribute to the decay.

The remains of the front turret, gun removed.

The immensity of the battleship is not readily apparent below the surface. Even when you see the buoys, it’s hard to imagine. I’ve seen larger boats, like the ore boats of the Great Lakes, but not from above. The sailors who shuttle you to the platform remind you that this is a cemetery at sea, and to be respectful, but it’s quickly forgotten.

The ship stretches into the distance.

The small white dot below the other ship marks the stern. That and the slightly rust-colored tinge to the water gives you an idea of the Arizona’s size. A torpedo pierced the bow, but it sank with the superstructure otherwise intact. It’s a solemn place, or should be. Maybe they need more soldiers there to give a presence of authority; at Arlington National Cemetery, people were well behaved, especially during the changing of the guard at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. I think people posed in front of the Eternal Flame, which is still pretty lame.

I didn’t see any people doing this at Bergen-Belsen, or in front of Anne Frank’s grave. Soldiers vs. civilians, I guess. Ground Zero is certainly hallowed ground to the families of the dead, yet tourists feel compelled to smile and pose in front of the empty hole. The stereotype of the Ugly tourist isn’t just for Americans anymore.

The anchor of the U.S.S. Arizona

We visited the U.S.S. Bowfin while we waited 2 hours for our shuttle to the platform. It’s parked right nearby and a good way to kill time while you’re waiting, without sweating with the mobs in the museum and souvenir shops.

The U.S.S. Bowfin, aka “Pearl Harbor Avenger”

It’s about the same as the U.S.S. Growler near the Intrepid museum in NYC. If you’ve never been on a sub before, it’s a good look into the life of a submariner. The cramped beds, the hatchways, the claustrophobic spaces; it makes Das Boot seem roomy.

On the old subs everything is make of brass and looks like antique steampunk machinery. It seems out of place next to the large mechanical switches and analog gauges. It’s sort of in-between the brass equipment of old sailing ships and the voting-booth look of switches and knobs on war machinery of the 70’s and 80’s.

I’m not sure if they allow you on the deck of the Growler, but we got to crawl all over the cannons and guns on this one. And take clever photos. And while I would not pose smiling before 1,177 watery graves, or a list of men who died in combat, I believe the stern of the Pearl Harbor Avenger and Old Glory are perfectly fine.