The Peepland Tour with Christa Faust

A while back the unsinkable Christa Faust was in New York for Comicon, and we went on a tour of Times Square, looking for unDisneyfied corners and found quite a few. The peep shop she worked in is an empty storefront but we visited the last remaining one in the area and even sneaked into the long-gone area where the peep girls once worked. It’s all video now.

So drop by Criminal Element for a tour of old sleazy New York and make sure you pick up Peepland, a great gritty and sentimental visit to ’80s Times Square, by Christa and Gary Phillips, for Hard Case Crime’s new comic imprint. It’s great so far. Issue #1 is out, and #2 streets Nov.30th

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and a peek at the villain to come… look familiar?

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Bouchercon 2012

A great time was had by all. Some visual highlights. I have a big post tomorrow about paying back the reader, so here is some eye candy before I ask you to eat your veggies and think about the reader-writer relationship.

That slinky siren on my arm is the magnificent and multitalented Christa Faust. Her novel Choke Hold- one of my top reads last year and still the best story I’ve read with an MMA fighter- was up for an Anthony Award. If you haven’t read her work yet, she is a noir original. Her scientific knowledge of the genre on film and paper gives her work depth and originality, and Choke Hold tells a great story while giving us a peek at the modern gladiators of the American Colosseum: fighters and porn stars.

This is the voracious and adorable creature known as Sabrina Ogden. Like a blonde baby wolverine, she will claw her way through your heart to get to a cupcake. She is eating a donut here, but we also saw her obliterate french toast, bacon, a bacon cheeseburger, quesadillas, mini cupcakes and 42 ounce steak. At least I think it was a steak, it might have been the remains of a rude con-goer. This dear friend is the beneficiary of the Feeding Kate anthology that you so graciously funded on IndieGogo last month.
So yes. she ate all that with jaw damage.
I shared the burger with her because I am dainty.
She blogs and reviews at My Friends Call Me Kate.

That is Johnny Ramone’s guitar and Some of Joey’s jacket. The opening ceremonies were at Cleveland’s Rock ‘n Roll Hall of Fame. Sorry if this is the gem of Cleveland, but it’s kind of like a giant Hard Rock cafe. They had a Linkin Park guitar there. I’m not even sure that the Elvis, early R&B and Beatles stuff can erase that indignity. But it was nice to visit it, and they have a giant hot dog that belonged to Phish:

Best meals of the trip? Pierogies at a diner and bratwurst at the casino buffet. There were some fantastic restaurants nearby that served roasted pig heads and the hotel bar made a damn good burger, but this is a Polish town and the good eats of our vowel-challenged brothers Wzsgbgnyzcwz are the finest fare. This was a good bar town as well, with plenty of local beer on tap. The hotel had four Great Lakes beers and I enjoyed them all. The Tilted Kilt (Scottish Hooters) had the double IPA Nosferatu, which kicked ass (or bit neck, perhaps). And speaking of bars:

Noir at the Bar was held at Wonder Bar, a fine establishment with patrons of discriminating taste. Meaning they listened while Snubnose Press authors Eric Beetner, Jonathan Woods, Les Edgerton, John Kenyon, Jedediah Ayres and Josh Stallings read their work. Good beer, better stories. Great time.

Josh and Les are buds whose work I’ve talked about before. Out There Bad by Stallings is like James Crumley’s brutal action film put to paper by a street poet. Edgerton’s career speaks for itself, the heir to Ed Bunker, the real ex-con who writes sharp-edged truth. They are both featured in the Protectors Anthology (link to your right) as well.

Bouchercon was a great time- a celebration hosted by readers where the writers go to pay back. Even the mightiest like Lee Child and Mary Higgins Clark (who I met on the plane, and who was as gracious as you could imagine) mingle with the crowds and are as friendly and approachable as can be. If you enjoy crime fiction, this is your Comicon, except you don’t pay for autographs and you can rub elbows and have a drink with the people you came to see.

I met a lot of new people and had great times with them and the “old” friends I met last year. Glenn Gray and Todd Robinson, Johnny Shaw, Stephen Romano, Neliza Drew, Kent Gowran, Joe Myers… it’s a crime family reunion, and a trip I will gladly make every year.

Sometimes you kick, sometimes you get kicked

You’ve probably heard of Kickstarter, the crowdsourced funding site. Most commonly used to generate revenue and interest in media projects such as indie films, albums and books, it has also been used to fund everything from designing parks, building better earbuds, flashlights and other gadgets to a bluetooth wristwatch that puts your smartphone apps on your wrist.

Recently I’ve seen many authors use it, some to great success. The biggest one I’ve seen recently (and one I contributed to) was for Dinocalypse Now, a role-playing game universe. They surpassed their goals so superfluously that backers will be getting over a half dozen e-books by various authors for their donation. They had a huge audience, and writers with large fanbases, such as Chuck Wendig behind them.

Other friends have kicked off campaigns, and some are a great deal. When it is tiered like a pre-order, and you get the e-book for the same price as you’d pay when it was released, it’s very easy to jump in and support an author whose work you know you enjoy. Those are my favorites, and I usually end up buying a higher level goodie, like the very cool Ace Double paperback of Butch Fatale that Christa Faust is offering for her campaign: Butch Fatale 2: The Big Sister

Other writers have been just as successful, asking you to pony up $10 or more for an e-book that will go on sale for $4.99, and more power to them. Personally, I don’t want my readers and supporters to pay extra for me to write a book. I’d prefer to think of it as a true advance. How well this works, remains to be seen. The books haven’t been written yet. I trust professional writers like Ms. Faust and Mr. Wendig to provide quality reading on deadline. They’ve done it for years, and there’s no reason to expect them not to keep kicking ass.

I’m not sure I’d be so willing to pony up for a first novel or novella by someone without a proven track record. I’m not being self-effacing here, but having self-published and edited an anthology, if I used Kickstarter to fund my own story collection, I would keep the price very low. (Self-publishing is work, but it doesn’t require cash up front. That’s one reason everyone is self-publishing.)

What do you think?

Christa Faust: Double D Double Cross

How can you not love a title like that? Especially if you dig classic pulp.

We immediately know the character. She’s butch, but she’s a fatale. She is a dyke, and she is a (private) dick. And there will be plot twists with twists who sport hefty hardware. I’m a sucker for alliteration, and it takes a cunning linguist to come up with a title like that. Ms. Faust takes the spirit of that cheeky title along for the full monty, dishing up a great read with lusty shenanigans, sharp humor, and a classic noir sensibility.

Butch is an ex-cop turned shamus, who hangs her shingle in Echo Park. An old flame drops by and she is nearly caught in flagrant delicto (well, she’s licking something, but it’s not her toe) when a client knocks on her door. It’s Mickey, a line cook at a top restaurant, who hires Butch to find her missing girlfriend. From there, the story bounces along through back alley Los Angeles, Armenian gang wars, high priced escort services, and sleazy politicians- everything you’d expect from a classic P.I. story that doesn’t just tease the tropes of the genre but delivers a rogue’s gallery of endearing characters with lives of their own. It’s a thrilling and campy caper that I truly enjoyed. The story plays your heartstrings, funny bone and gets your thumbs flicking pages faster than Butch’s tongue on a Pinkberry… smoothie. Did I mention that it’s also hotter than hell? Butch beds more broads than Bond on a Viagra bender.

I enjoyed Christa Faust‘s excellent novel (CHOKE HOLD), so I jumped on this e-book original like Butch Fatale on a busty femme. If you like your capers campy and your noir down and dirty, this read is for you.

http://rcm.amazon.com/e/cm?t=plyoto-20&o=1&p=8&l=as1&asins=B0076OEOG4&ref=qf_sp_asin_til&fc1=000000&IS2=1&lt1=_blank&m=amazon&lc1=0000FF&bc1=000000&bg1=FFFFFF&f=ifrAlso available for Nook.

© 2012 Thomas Pluck

Nut Up or Shut Up… Goals and Accomplishments

I’m very grateful for an amazing year. I’d like to thank my family and friends, most of all my wife Sarah, for all your support. I’d also like to thank all the writers and readers I’ve met over the last year. I’ve made some great new friends, and got back with some old ones.

I’m far from done with my goals as a writer. But I’ve covered more ground than I ever thought possible in a year. I’m beginning to understand the phrase make your own luck. I used to think it meant fixing the odds, breaking the rules. But all it means is working hard toward your goals. I’ve seen it time and time again with writers I’ve met over the last year. They’ve struggled and kept busting their behinds, and are reaping the rewards of that hard work.

My resolution is to keep on working hard and aiming high. One goal is to complete my first novel and get it published. I have a second book of the Lost Children anthology in the works. The writers have been chosen and you’ll see it next autumn. It will be bigger, with many more voices joining the cause to support The National Association to Protect Children. I’d like to write more short stories and crack some new markets. My goal last year was to get in as many different venues as possible, and this year I am going to concentrate on some big targets such as Alfred Hitchock and Ellery Queen, Hardboiled, The Strand, Shock Totem, and so on. However, a goal is something within your control. Dean Wesley Smith and my friend & personal trainer Peter V. Dell’Orto both have good posts about setting attainable goals. Here are my attainable goals.

1) Write every day. Writing, and getting back to writing, are not daunting tasks. I will set aside more time to write and not follow distractions.
2) I will write the best stories I can and continue to keep them constantly in one editor’s hands or another’s. They will never lie fallow.
3) I will write the best novel I can. I will edit it diligently. I will not rewrite it for rewriting’s sake.
4) I will find the editors and agents of the writers I admire most, who have accepted work most like my own, and I will get my novel in their hands before year’s end.
5) I will not be a slave to my anger and I focus my rage on the page. 
6) I will go to MMA class once per week.
7) I will resume a healthier diet… beer is not a food group.

You set goals and they become accomplishments. Here are my accomplishments of 2011, in vague order. And a few great things that happened that were outside my control, but made me happy.

January.
Completed my first novel, The Garage. Drawer fodder. Currently rewriting it, using the characters and concepts I developed in this 115,000 word monster born of NaNoWriMo 2010.

February.
Wrote my first short stories in ten years.

March.
First story published in ten years, Punk Dad Manifesto, at the Morning News… And was paid for it!
Married my Firecracker, Sarah. Love of my life, who keeps me centered and in line. Had a beautiful wedding and a wonderful time with friends and family, and a relaxing honeymoon with my new wife.

April.
Began writing for flash fiction challenges, met Fiona “McDroll” Johnson online and she told me to submit my work to crime venues. Pointed me to the magnanimous Sandra Seamans, who lists all the markets. I began reading them all, finding many new-to-me writers and all sorts of inspiration. I never forget to thank Fiona Johnson for that first kick in the ass. I wouldn’t be writing the way I do today if it wasn’t for her.
This led to 33 stories accepted in 2011, appearing in anthologies and journals alongside Lawrence Block, Wayne Dundee, Ray Banks, and many, many other writers whose work I admire.

May.
First crime story published in Shotgun Honey, “The Last Sacrament.”
I met Lawrence Block at a signing at Watchung Booksellers. Since then we’ve chatted online and at the Mysterious Bookshop. One of our great living writers and a hell of a guy, it’s always humbling to meet your literary heroes.

June.
Rode on the Star Ledger Munchmobile with Peter Genovese and crew, got my picture in the state newspaper stuffing my face with a sandwich.
Made print in The Utne Reader, when they reprinted Punk Dad Manifesto.

July.
Ron Earl Phillips asked me to be a moderator at Flash Fiction Friday.
My story “A Glutton for Punishment” debuted at Beat to a Pulp, and Lawrence Block not only read it, but commented on it. A few short words that still mean a lot to me. Thanks, Mr. Block.

August.
“Rain Dog” published in Crimespree #43, first crime story in print.
Wrote back and forth with Harlan Ellison, another literary hero and influence, who tells readers not to write to him. But always replies.

September.
Won the First place Bullet Award for my story “Black Eyed Susan,” which was also favorably reviewed by James Reasoner and hardboiled legend Wayne Dundee.
I ask Fiona Johnson to write a fiction cue for Flash Friday and she comes up with the Lost Children Challenge.

October.
Pulp Modern #1 released, putting me twixt the same covers as Lawrence Block.
Made tons of friends in the crime fiction community online and at Bouchercon. Most of all Josh Stallings and Sabrina Ogden, who felt like old friends, but also Glenn Gray, Christa Faust, Matthew Funk, Johnny Shaw and Kent Gowran. We joke that crime writers are the friendliest bunch of murder-minded mothers around, but it really is true. Everyone I met was friendly, from Harlan Coben to Joelle Charbonneau, even when I was a babbling idiot.

Visited Italy with Sarah, experienced the ruins of Pompeii, the bustle of Napoli, the decadence of Capri, the old and new of Rome, and spent time with our friends David and Courtney. Everyone needs a break, and someday I’ll write about a chase through Pozzuoli between a tourist and the Gomorra to write this off as research. Hell, my honeymoon trip inspired my longest short story, “White People Problems,” which will be at All Due Respect this year, and be expanded into a novel … eventually. I really want to introduce you to Bobby and the Five Stages of Grief… you’ll get a taste soon at ADR.

November.
Published Lost Children: a Charity Anthology to support PROTECT, and spoke to Executive Director  Grier Weeks about the project.
Corresponded with another hero, of mine, Andrew Vachss. We’d written before, but never so often. A pat on the shoulder from a veteran warrior in the fight against child abuse and exploitation, who became a lawyer and an incredible writer to fight this fight… well, it means more than I feel comfortable sharing.

December.
I deadlifted 555lbs and I benched 260lbs. I pursue goals other than writing. I added 60lbs to my deadlift and began benching again after tearing both my rotator cuffs two years ago. I surpassed my old record of 250 on the bench. All by adding 5lbs a month using the 5/3/1 lifting regimen. A slog, but with great results. Last year I was deadlifting 400lbs for 10 reps. Now I’m lifting 510lbs for 5. And I stopped a falling refrigerator with my chin.

I’ll diverge because it amuses me. Pulp queen Christa Faust got a kick out of me crowing about my personal record and said we should fight crime as Max Deadlift and Pixie Cockpunch. We shall see. She’s a busy writer with a lot of irons in the fire, but I just might suggest a collaboration…

I made quite a few best-of lists for short story. According to the readers, my best stories are Black-Eyed Susan, Shogun Honey, Candle, The Forest for the Trees, Junkyard Dog, and Legacy of Brutality.

We sold 150 copies of the Lost Children Anthology in 2 months.

It’s been a hell of a year. I’m sure I’ve missed some. And I could have expended as many words thanking everyone by name. Thank you for reading, and spreading the word. Writing is the most solitary art. The feedback is delayed and muted, so when someone takes the time to tell you they liked what you wrote, it has great effect, no matter how we try to make our response as cool as can be.

So, don’t make resolutions. They sound like U.N. agenda items, and we know how useful they are, with China and the Sudan on the human rights committee. Set realistic and attainable goals, with milestones and measurable markers of success. “Eat better” means little. “Don’t go back for seconds, and do not snack after dinner, and walk 30 minutes a day” is controllable, and will guarantee results. Eight years ago I weighed nearly 400 pounds. I began by walking an hour a night, and not eating bread and sweets. A year later I’d lost 140 pounds. Every day adds up. If you fail, get up immediately… don’t give up. What’s one day of missing your targets out of 366? Nothing. A pittance.

Here’s wishing you all a happy new year… now get to work on making it that way. 

Great Plucking Reads

Everyone’s picking their favorite books of the year it seems. I reviewed all my favorites here over the months, but I’ll collect them here for you.
I’m all about emotional impact. I appreciate a clever twist or a brilliant storyline but one of the enduring phrases from my youth is from Harvey with Jimmy Stewart and his pooka pal the invisible rabbit. “You can be oh so clever or oh so pleasant. For years I tried clever. I’d suggest pleasant.” Meaning, it’s good to be clever, but don’t be cocky about it. These writers are clever, but they aren’t about being clever. They pack a wallop with their stories and it’s not there to shock, but to shake… to shake you out of jaded ordinary life and make you think, or heaven forfend, care.

So here are my favorite reads of the year. You may truncate them to five or ten to make a handy list.

Out There Bad, by Josh Stallings
A strong new voice and a powerful character blasting onto the scene, Mo McGuire is a dark hero, a wounded warrior, who dares shove our face in the evil we tolerate every day. This is the second book by Stallings and kicked my ass. He takes you on a hellride through L.A.’s human meat grinder and hunts it to its source with a two chilling and remorseless killers at his back. Moses is forced to acknowledge his own complicity as a strip club bouncer, and learns what it takes to stand up for those he cares about. L.A. has a new crime boss, it just doesn’t know it yet: and his name is Stallings.

The End of Everything, by Megan Abbott
The most daring novel of the year, exposing the rotten heart of suburbia. This one’s on a lot of end of the year best-of lists and I will smugly say I TOLD YOU SO. Back when I reviewed it this summer. Nya nya nya NYA nya.  A profoundly disturbing look at the dangers young women face on the verge of womanhood, and a story that will defy your attempts to predict its outcome. When Lizzie’s best friend is abducted, she begins her own investigation… starting with the secrets only best friends would share.

Choke Hold, by Christa Faust
It flies like classic pulp, it reads like truth and it hits you with a smart left hook that leaves you as stunned as a fighter wobbling through his first standing eight-count. There are no slick twists, only artfully written characters, broken down gladiators from the sex and violence trades who’ve battled for our entertainment. They are writ large but speak to a deeper truth. Angel always lands on her feet, but the fear level was the highest for me in this one. The axe is always ready to fall.

Crimes in Southern Indiana, by Frank Bill
A brutal emotional dispatch from the war zone in your backyard. The debut of the year, this is blood feud poetry. Desperate situations where beat-down people stand on the line between what they know is wrong and sheer survival in a hardscrabble emotionally jagged landscape. Staring into the abysmal latrine of humanity, it is easy to sink to nihilism, to embrace the banality of evil, but Frank Bill refuses to take the easy road. People beyond forgiveness seek mere understanding. Desires criss-cross and hurtle together like jalopies down a one lane dirt road. Anyone can write brutality. Giving it a dark but honest human heart takes guts and a keen sense of people, and this novel speaks volumes of messy truth.

Pym, by Mat Johnson
Not a crime novel, but one of the funniest and honest books on race and English literature I’ve ever read. It turns a brutally racist Poe tale on its head and has a snicker on every page while doing it. An African-American professor of African-American studies is fired because he won’t be the token African-American on the diversity committee. While looking for a slave narrative to base his next thesis on, he finds an intriguing document that suggests Poe’s Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym was based on fact, and gathers together a crew to find the islands it described. A bizarre and hilarious adventure through American literature commences, and not a week goes by where I don’t think of this book.

A Drop of the Hard Stuff by Lawrence Block

The grandmaster shows us how it’s done, returning to a place in Matt Scudder’s past where he was less experienced and more vulnerable. There is little action, but you can’t tell from the tension level. No one writes New York like Mr. Block, and he explores new ground by taking us to Scudder’s past. A crook in AA is killed when he begins asking forgiveness, and Matt needs to know why. With his usual bulldog tenacity he explores a rogue’s gallery of human frailty while keeping a slippery grip on his own sobriety. I liked the story, the mystery of High Low Jack’s murder and his shady past, but the characters are what keeps this book in my mind.
The Weight by Andrew Vachss
Character-driven fiction at its best, we meet “Sugar,” a weightlifter and con who takes the rap on a crime he didn’t commit to protect his crew. What happens after he takes the weight is nothing you’d expect. Mentors and feet of clay, and a lead you’d trust to spot you under the bar when the weight is damn heavy.

Frank Sinatra in a Blender, by Matthew McBride
From the title, to its meaning, to its hard-drinking anti-hero and fully-fleshed hard luck villains, not since early Carl Hiaasen has vicious comedy of human existence been so entertainingly portrayed. I still sometimes remember a scene or a line, stare into space and laugh, and everyone around me takes a few steps away from me. Just a great read.

Fun & Games by Duane Swierczynski 

It plays on Hollywood conspiracies and the starlet meat grinder, all while telling a fast paced, thrilling and very funny tale. Duane the Brain can come up with stories I can’t even imagine, and he fleshes them out with hilarious and cynical prose that keeps the pages turning.
Headstone by Ken Bruen
My introduction to Ken’s unique style and fierce heart, I am told this isn’t the best Jack Taylor novel. All that means is the others are even better. A back alley tour of Galway, a city I’ve only seen as a tourist, that was a hell of an eye opener. Taylor tackles mindless hate and nihilism and tears its tongue out at the roots. He fears no evil and leaves no villain spared. Truly excellent writing from a master I will read every word of, before I die.

The Outlaw Album by Daniel Woodrell
I let this slip by because it’s a short story collection. But these stories, like Crimes in Southern Indiana, are all about a place and a people and make a patchwork that becomes a tapestry as you step back. This was my introduction to Mr. Woodrell, and I’ve picked up several of his novels since. He has an economy with words that leans toward poetry, and a blood-borne knowledge of the human heart. This is an excellent introduction to the author, who’d be called the Raymond Carver of the Ozarks… if he wasn’t an equally adept novelist as short story master.

© 2011 Thomas Pluck