Belly Up to the Bar with Stephen Blackmoore

Stephen Blackmoore is the author of CITY OF THE LOST and DEAD THINGS, hard-boiled urban fantasies where demons and deadbeats commingle with necromancers and the Cosa Nostra. I enjoyed the hell out of the delightfully profane and imaginative CITY OF THE LOST, where a foul-mouthed fist for the mob finds himself blessed and cursed by a powerful artifact that denizens of the L.A. “underworld” will do anything to get. He returns with DEAD THINGS, out this month from Penguin, about a necromancer seeking answers and vengeance after his sister is murdered.

Dead Things cover

Tom Pluck BeerTP: Welcome to Belly Up to the Bar, Stephen. What are you drinking?
 
 
 

stephen blackmoore bw_300SB:  A Manhattan.  Bulleit rye, sweet vermouth, Angostura bitters and a couple maraschino cherries.  The cherries make me question my manhood. BUT I DON’T CARE.

I might also be slightly drunk.
 

Tom Pluck BeerTP: Number one with a Bulleit. Fine drink. I will admit that I was not a fan of urban fantasy until I read City of the Lost. Just the right amount of menace, and I felt like the world was just a shadow game for the sinister goings-on of the underworld. The closest I ever liked was that HBO movie “Cast a Deadly Spell,” which brought magic to Chandler’s L.A. Tell us about your new one, DEAD THINGS.

stephen blackmoore bw_300SB:  Funny thing, Cast A Deadly Spell was actually one of the inspirations for City Of The Lost.  Ever since I saw it in the 90’s I’ve wanted to do something with magic and hard-boiled pulp.  The gremlin scene is priceless.

DEAD THINGS is an urban fantasy about a necromancer, Eric Carter, who bailed on his friends and family fifteen years ago after he avenged his parents’ death by killing their murderer.  He was given a choice.  Get out of town or his sister gets it next.

Well, now his sister has turned up dead and the whole thing stinks of magic.  Carter comes back to Los Angeles to find out who did it and things go rapidly downhill.

Tom Pluck BeerTP: I found you through your blog L.A. Noir, when you wrote about the underground lizard people conspiracy. What do you like best, and least about the city you call home?

stephen blackmoore bw_300SB:  They’re actually the same thing.

I had a conversation with a friend of mine a couple years ago that went something like:

“You’re pretty hard on L.A.”

“What do you mean? I love this town. It’s so fucked up.”

“That,” he said. “That’s what I’m talking about.”

It’s true.  I am hard on L.A.  It’s a beautiful mess.  It’s got too much sunshine and not enough rain.  Plastic tits abound and starstruck hopefuls come out from the middle of bumfuck nowhere to try their hand at the illusion of being somebody.  It’s got a weird history that nobody knows about that gets bulldozed daily.

I was in a coffee shop one time and overheard a woman talking with a prospective agent about representing her in her acting career.  It was surreal.  And sad.  And more than a little cliché.

She’d come out from Kansas and was “dancing” and hadn’t been able to get any parts.  He was very professional and very blunt and as kind as those two things can allow a person to be.  And he had to tell her that he didn’t think working with her was going to benefit either of them.

To her credit she didn’t cry, but she was crestfallen.  It was a disturbingly public display of something that should be very personal and very intimate, but out here that’s just what happens.  Careers are made or lost over a latte.

It’s depressing and it’s fascinating at the same time.  It’s that dichotomy of dystopia and the sense that any dream is attainable that makes me love it so much.

City of the Lost cover2-199x300

Tom Pluck BeerTP: In writing horror, the characters bleed. But with humor, it’s the writer who bleeds. It’s the toughest to write, if you ask me. But you made me laugh quite a bit in CITY OF THE LOST, especially with the demon bartender. I grew up on Mel Brooks and George Carlin when I was way too young to get the jokes. Who do go to for laughs?

stephen blackmoore bw_300SB:  The thing with a joke is that sometimes it tells the truth a lot better than the truth does.

I have a pretty dark sense of humor.  That’s just how I’m wired.  I’ve been called cynical and a pessimist, which I am to some extent, I suppose, but some of it comes from seeing things the way they are and knowing that they could be, that they should be, better.

For me my go-to for comedy are things like The Onion.  It’s funny but it’s brutal.  Headlines like “Ugly Girl Killed: Nation Unshaken By Not So Tragic Death” say a hell of a lot more than they look like they’re saying.  I prefer humor that pushes me to think and question my assumptions.  Especially if it’s the sort of humor that makes me wonder if I should laugh.

I try to capture that same sort of humor with the L.A. Noir blog.  It isn’t for everybody.

So I like guys like George Carlin, who liked to slap you upside the head with the truth as much as he tried to be funny.

But sometimes I just want some slapstick.  And that’s the Marx Brothers for me.  I love watching the mirror scene in DUCK SOUP or the suitcase packing routine in A NIGHT IN CASABLANCA.

Tom Pluck BeerTP: And on the flip side, there’s definitely a horror vibe in the first book. Now that I’m older, horror doesn’t affect me as much. The scariest movies to me as a kid were? For me, it was the trinity of Alien, The Thing, and Poltergeist. Especially the last one, with that damn tree swallowing a kid. I sneaked in to see that movie, and when I got home, there was a tree branch rattling my window. So what scared the shit out of you as a kid?

stephen blackmoore bw_300SB:  A lot of horror isn’t very frightening to me.  It’s gross and ridiculous and fun to watch, sure, but actually scary?  Not a lot of those.

There are some obvious ones.  The Shining, particularly the bathroom scene in room 237, got to me.  Some of the more gore-filled ones where the scares were the kind that jumped out of the screen.  But those are more startling than anything else.

But the one that really got to me was one I’ve never actually seen.

It’s a movie called BUG.  Came out in the seventies.  I was about six at the time.  It’s about these mutant cockroaches.  They cause fires, maybe eat people?  I don’t know.  Like I said, I’ve never seen it.

But there was my older brother who had.  And he liked to fuck with my head.

Kids are assholes and if I’d been the older brother I’d have done the same thing to him.  We shared a room and I remember him freaking me out about these giant fire-breathing cockroaches come to eat me, or some shit.  I’m a little fuzzy on the details.  I just remember being terrified.

Hey, what do want from me?  I was six-years-old.

But that’s still an impressive feat.  And I think it shows, to me at least, that sometimes the most effective scares are the ones you don’t see.  The ones where it’s just your own imagination filling in the blanks and you end up scaring yourself.

The best horror stories are the ones that let our brains do all the heavy lifting.

Blair Witch Project did it surprisingly well.  At its core it’s just a bunch of morons who get lost in the woods.  But it’s done in such a claustrophobic way and through such a tight view, that it pokes at your mind and lets it do all the work.

Tom Pluck BeerTP: As you noted on your blog, violent crime is way down across the nation. But it seems to me that fear is at an all time high. Gun sales are through the roof, zombie apocalypse is mainstream and doomsday preppers have their own reality shows. What do you think we’re afraid of?

stephen blackmoore bw_300SB:   I think we’re afraid of losing control. Not that much different from our fears at any other time, though years ago, at least here in the U.S., it had the face of the Evil Empire of the Soviet Union, to put on to that fear.  Despite some people’s best efforts to use [Insert Ethnic Group Of Choice].  They’re our friends and co-workers.  Husbands and wives.  They’re *gasp* real people!  Makes it hard to see them as Objects Of Evil.

I think it’s actually pretty hard to dehumanize people in the internet era.  Not that a lot of assholes don’t do a bang up job of it, of course.  There’s simply too much information showing people at their best and their worst.  If you can easily dehumanize another human being in this day and edge it’s willful ignorance and you’re a dick.  You really have to work at it.

I think it’s that lack of a face to assign our fears that has given rise to zombie apocalypse horror.  Zombies are dread writ large, our anxieties made manifest.  They’re the inexorable procession of doom that will consume you and you’re powerless to do anything about it.  They the stand-in for rapid change, advanced technology, the invasion of languages you can’t speak and new foods from other cultures. They’re all the things that are changing faster than we can keep up with.

You can’t really humanize a zombie without turning it into something else.

Kind of like with Frankenstein.  In Shelley’s novel he’s intelligent and educated and you side with him.  In the Karloff movies he’s a mute beast.  The minute you give the monster a voice it ceases to be a monster and starts to become a person.

I think this kind of faceless anxiety gives rise to the hoarders, and doomsday preppers and people freaking out that Obama will take away their guns.  It’s a knee-jerk reaction to anxiety, only couched in the disguise that we’re doing something.  We’re not, really.  We’re letting our anxieties rule us.  Not the other way around.

If you’d asked me the same question 20 years ago I think I’d have had the same answer.  Or at least something similar.  Instead of zombies it would be, going back to your earlier question about horror, the loss of identity and paranoia inherent in The Thing, loss of self in Cronenberg’s body horror, losing yourself to the overwhelming appetite of vampires and Barker’s Cenobites.

It’s all loss of control, isn’t it?  Even death pales in comparison to paralysis.  Who is the more tragic figure?  The child dying of cancer or the father who can do nothing to stop it?

Tom Pluck BeerTP: You’ve written about Chandler. The classics still speak to us. I think Crumley echoed Chandler with The Last Good Kiss and updated it to the post-Vietnam era. What’s your favorite book or author from the old days, and how does it matter today?

stephen blackmoore bw_300SB:  I respect Chandler, though I don’t always like him.  I like his voice.  Most of the time.  His plots are a meandering mess.  He can’t even keep track of his murder victims.

But I think he and Hammett, Caine, Goodis, Thompson and all the old pulp novelists who jumped into the noir pool show us something about the way people work that literature didn’t dig into much before they showed up.

It’s been said that Hammett pulled murder out of the drawing room and stuck it into the gutter where it belonged.

Same is true of the rest of these authors.  They took the most visceral experiences of humanity and let them be visceral.  They fight and swear and fuck and kill and they only shied away from something because their editors insisted.  And even then they got some things through.

Their influences, obvious and subtle, have invaded the landscape.  To me they’re important because I don’t think I’d be able to write the way I want to if they hadn’t shown me how.

Tom Pluck BeerTP: Death row, Stephen. They’ll give you a movie to watch, an album to spin and of course, the last meal. What are yours?
 

stephen blackmoore bw_300SB: Movie: The Lion In Winter.  It might help me think of something snappy to say as they lead me to the chair.

Album: Anything that isn’t Jethro Tull.  I’ll be fine as long as I don’t have to go into the afterlife with “Bungle In The Jungle” stuck in my head.

Meal: A big old, fart inducing meal of Mexican food.  Those fuckers want to kill me then the least I can do is make it messy for ’em.

Tom Pluck BeerTP: I love Lion in Winter. Emotionally brutal. And I can’t find a good clip of it, but Terence Hill did exactly did the electric chair bean-bomb in Super Fuzz. A ridiculous Italian superhero cop comedy with Ernest Borgnine. I highly recommend it. Thanks for coming by, Stephen. I look forward to reading DEAD THINGS. What’s next for you?

stephen blackmoore bw_300SB: Well, I’ve got another novel coming out as part of Evil Hat Productions’ SPIRIT OF THE CENTURY Kickstarter from last year, KHAN OF MARS.  It’s gone out to the backers of the Kickstarter over the weekend, so we’ll see what they think of it.  So far signs are good.

I’ve also got two more books that will continue to chronicle Eric Carter’s unfortunate life choices, BROKEN SOULS and HUNGRY GHOSTS, coming out in 2014 and 2015 respectively.

After that, who knows?

~*~

Stephen Blackmoore is the author of the novels CITY OF THE LOST and DEAD THINGS and his short stories have appeared in the magazines NEEDLE, PLOTS WITH GUNS, SPINETINGLER, THRILLING DETECTIVE, and SHOTS as well as the anthologies DEADLY TREATS, DON’T READ THIS BOOK and UNCAGE ME. He also writes about true crime in Los Angeles at the LA Noir blog (http://la-noir.blogspot.com) and co-hosts the bi-monthly reading event Noir At The Bar L.A. (https://www.facebook.com/NoirAtTheBarLa).

BW Beer Mug

Manly Wade Wellman

manly wade wellman

One of the lesser-known giants of the golden age of pulp is Manly Wade Wellman. He is best known for the “Silver John” tales of a folk singer with a pure heart and a silver-strung guitar who wanders the hills and hollers of Appalachia seeking “the old music,” who often runs into evil magics and “the old ones” instead.

The Silver John tales evoke the purely weird through an American folk lens, where creatures of the age before mankind leave their footprints through the hollers and hoodoo men hold sway. John has only his wits, his silver-stringed guitar and his powerful faith in good to wage battle with evil. The tales are laced with subtle humor and Wellman masterfully describes a character or a place with few sharp words, bringing you into his fantastic realm where the world may have waged two wars and split the atom, but somewhere in the mountains there still lurk creatures we cannot begin to comprehend.

There were a few movies based on them as well, but none seem to have captured the magic. Wellman’s fiction was a huge influence on my long short story “Black Shuck” in Protectors: Stories to Benefit PROTECT.

who fears the devil

Manly Wade Wellman was an American original, a stunning fabulist who painted haunted murals of the Appalachian mountains using the language of the people who live there as his handmade oils and brush. His books are mostly out of print, but Baen has graciously included a collection of Silver John stories in their free electronic library:

John the Balladeer

I highly recommend the entire collection, but especially  “O Ugly Bird,” “The Desrick on Yandro,” and “Nine Yards of Other Cloth.” They are set after the second World War, but feel timeless and ancient, like the mountains themselves. He wrote several novels starring Silver John, such as The Old Gods Waken, and I purchased some on eBay. My local used bookstore didn’t have any. I look forward to seeing what John does with some room to stretch his legs in a story.

john the balladeer

Acapulcolypse, and more in NIGHTFALLS: Notes from the End of the World

Katherine Tomlinson’s new anthology, NIGHTFALLS: Notes from the End of the World  is now available from Dark Valentine Press. It includes my story “ACAPULCOLYPSE,” about a nebbish mass murderer with biological weapons on a cruise ship set to view the world’s final solar eclipse. It’s a comedy.

plus stories of armageddon from Patti Nase Abbott, Nigel Bird, Col Bury, Chris Rhatigan, Matthew C Funk, Richard Godwin, Sandra Seamans, Veronica Marie Lewis-Shaw, AJ Hayes, Allan Leverone, Jimmy Callaway and more.

If you read it before 12/21/12, you can say “I’ve got Mayan, where’s yours?” and be all smug before the sky bursts into flame.

nightfalls cover

Belly Up to the Bar with Wayne Dundee

Wayne D. Dundee is the author of the Joe Hannibal P.I. novels, a number of westerns, and founded Hardboiled Magazine. He wrote the original western “Adeline” for the Protectors anthology, a horror novel called Night Spoor, a Cash Laramie novella for Beat to a Pulp, a novella in the Fight Card series, and most recently released a collection of Joe Hannibal short stories for Kindle. That was my introduction to Wayne; we both appeared in David Cranmer’s Beat to a Pulp: Hardboiled collection, and his story blew me away. He imbued a tired hit man with real humanity. Not a character you’d want to meet, but a human being nonetheless, not the stock heartless killer we often get. I’ve read a lot of Wayne’s stories since, and that’s what stands out- once you settle into his comfortable storytelling manner, he introduces you to characters heart and soul, whether they be the good guys or the bad guys. A villain might be a no-good SOB, but you’ll understand him as you cheer for his demise.

TP: Wayne, welcome to Belly Up to the Bar. What’ll you have?

 

 

WD: My serious beer-drinking days are behind me. Back in the day, I paid for A LOT of the hay that went into the feed bunks of those Budweiser Clydesdales … These days, most mornings start with a couple mega-cups of Folger’s Black Silk coffee blend; then, through the balance of the day, it’s copious amounts of an ice tea/lemonade mixture, sometimes a Diet Coke in the afternoon if I need a caffeine boost … For a special occasion such as this visit to the Belly Up to the Bar, however, I’ll have an ice cold bottle of Miller Chill or maybe a vodka gimlet.

TP: You have the voice of a natural storyteller. I was writing flash fiction when we first met, and reading your stories showed me it was okay to relax and let the voice do the talking. You also have a knack for choosing stunning locales, as in Reckoning at Rainrock. The land is its own character. Does that come from living in your part of the west?

WD: Yes, very much so. Out here—in west central Nebraska and bordering states to the west—people are very aware of the land. They recognize they are OF the land, whereas to the east and in most urban areas it’s more a case of people thinking of themselves as simply being ON the land … In my writing, I’ve always used “the elements”, if you will, to help anchor my story, set my moods. For my Joe Hannibal stories when he was still operating out of Rockford, Illinois, I used weather, etc. But even then, for rural settings, I took extra time to paint the scene. I was raised on a series of farms (changing jobs and moving was my old man’s hobby) so deep down I’m just a big ol’ plodding farmboy who’s always felt more comfortable in rural/small town settings. Hence, when I write about them I do so from a more comfortable and self-assured standpoint … And for my Westerns, like RECKONING AT RAINROCK, an appreciation for the land is essential … If you respect the land and write about it from the heart, it DOES become a character.

TP: I already mentioned how strong your characters are, but you’re pretty strong yourself. I seem to recall you telling how you wrestled a bear, back in the day. I won’t ask you to tell the whole story, but what made you get in the ring with a five hundred pound killing machine?

WD: Classic case of open mouth, insert foot … I wasn’t yet 30, had just made 2nd Shift foreman at the factory where I worked. I was 6’1″, about 265, in pretty good “big guy” shape and had a reputation of sorts around the shop for the strength I displayed during the course of doing my production work before going into management. At a large nearby shopping mall they were featuring, as an advertising gimmick for some event, Tuffy Truesdale and Victor “the wrestling bear”, who had been featured as part of AWA pro wrestling shows around the Midwest. Tuffy and Victor were at the mall over a three-day weekend putting on three shows a day, part of which included challenging guys to come out of the audience and wrestle Victor. One night at work, I made the comment that it might be fun to go accept that challenge for the sake of having something to tell the grandkids — BOOM! just like that I was locked into following through …

So on a Sunday afternoon a week or so later, there I was in front of about 500 people mixing it up with Victor in the center court of the Cherryvale Mall. I had a plan going in, having gone and watched him the day before. But considering that Victor (who was advertised as standing 7 feet tall and weighing more like 700 pounds, by the way) had wrestled about a gazillion other guys in his career, he’d seen about everything anybody could think of and my plan didn’t amount to spit. We danced around a little, tugged and pushed on each other a little, he knocked me on my ass two or three times, and finally I was too out of gas to get back up. I lasted a little under two minutes, it felt more like two hours. He ended up laying on top of me, licking the sweat off my face. I think he liked me — Luckily not in a romantic way, because I don’t know if I could have found a second wind to fight him off.

TP: Tell us about Joe Hannibal. You have a new novel coming out, and you just released a collection of his short stories. What were his beginnings, where is he now, and what makes you return to him as a character?

WD: Joe Hannibal made his debut in the Fall 1982 issue of Spiderweb Magazine, making this his 30th year in print and marking the Hannibal stories and books as one of the longest-running, still-active PI series on the scene. We’ve always enjoyed good reviews (when we got any at all) but sales have never been strong. We’ve been nominated for an Edgar, an Anthony, and six Shamus Awards; never won diddly but, like they say, it’s an honor to be in the running … I wrote the first Hannibal story (“The Fancy Case”, reprinted for the first time in the just-released short story collection BODY COUNT: The Joe Hannibal Case Files, Volume I) while I was recovering from kidney stone surgery. That was back in the pre-lithotrypsy days when they cut you damn near in half to get at the pesky damn pebbles. It was the first story I was ever satisfied enough with to submit and I had the unique experience of having it accepted first time out of the chute … I always knew I wanted to write a hardboiled “tough guy” series in the fashion of my personal Holy Trinity of fiction: Mickey Spillane (Mike Hammer), John D. MacDonald (Travis McGee), and Donald Hamilton (Matt Helm). During the years I tinkered with creating my own character, Joe had many different names and many different backgrounds. I finally settled on Joe (good old basic American name) Hannibal (powerful like the Carthagean general who invaded Rome, and at the same time American folksy like Mark Twain’s hometown on the Mississippi River). And he’d be a private eye, albeit with the distinction of operating out of my own small city of Rockford, Illinois … In the beginning, other than the setting, Joe was pretty much just another sock-and-shoot Mike Hammer wanna-be. It didn’t take long, though, before I started putting my own stamp on him.

I mellowed him somewhat, grounded him with a blue collar farm kid background, and made use of the smaller city setting as far as plot lines and characters (very few stereotypical thugs and gangsters, for instance). This especially evolved when I started doing novel-length work … I also began (subconsciously at first) to invest a lot of myself into Hannibal. His tastes in food, personal biases, his actions based on the way I think *I* would act if caught in some of his situations, etc. Of course Joe gets shot at a lot and conked over the head now and then (neither of which I have experience in, and don’t necessarily want any) but he also runs across lots of hot dames (which I would be willing to endure, although at my creaky old age they’d probably kill me). In more recent years, the similarities between Joe and me have been more purposeful on my part. My draft number never came up, so I never served in the Army (Vietnam era). Therefore I never made that part of Joe’s background either, even though this was practically a prerequisite for protagonists of his ilk. Since I write Hannibal in the first person, I couldn’t bring myself to try and convey any associated feelings since I had never experienced anything close. Another example, since I suffer from bum knees as a result of age and abuse in my younger days, is inflicting Joe with a bum hip as a result of getting caught on the periphery of an explosion — much more dramatic circumstances on his part, but nevertheless in keeping with my desire to keep his capabilities somewhat close to mine … Perhaps the biggest move to keep us linked, was to bring Hannibal out here to Nebraska with me. And that brings us up to date. Joe ostensibly runs a private secure patrol serving homes and businesses around popular Lake McConaughy. He carries a Nebraska PI license mostly out of habit and to add credibility to his business, yet he doesn’t actively solicit investigative work any longer. Still, being who he is, trouble seems to seek him out and can’t resist getting involved … As far as why I keep returning to Hannibal as a character? Hell, that’s simple: I like the guy. A partnership like ours wouldn’t have lasted 30 if otherwise. From a more practical standpoint, you might say I’ve got too much invested in Joe to back out now. We’ve got more work to do, and I’m the guy who always says “persevere”, remember? … A writer pal who has his own series character once asked me if I ever had trouble coming up with stories in which to use Hannibal. My answer? “No, I have trouble coming up with stories that *don’t* have Hannibal in them.”

TP: What inspired you to found Hardboiled Magazine? I was just a teen back then, but I remember noir and hardboiled being kind of forgotten in the culture, and spoofed at the time. Now it’s back with a vengeance, and you had no small part in its resurgence.

WD: After selling that first story on the first try, I proceeded to run into a wall and started getting stories rejected so fast the envelopes came back with skid marks on them. Spiderweb, where “The Fancy Case” appeared, had ceased publication. The rest of the market was pretty limited and what was out there didn’t seem to be interested in my stuff. Generally speaking, they weren’t interested in harder-edged stories—the kind I liked to write—at all. In talking with some other, more established writers I had gotten to know, I learned that even they were having trouble placing harder, tougher stories. I’d had some exposure to small press publications on various subject matter. Many of these were little more than typed, photocopied, stapled pages (all of this was before the internet or blogs or e-zines, remember) yet some of them drew quite a respectable following. It occurred to me: Why not a small press publication offering a showcase to the kind of fiction (also some reviews and other features) that there was limited outlet for? After contacting some of those same peers who shared my lament for lack of same and getting their verbal agreement that they would support such an undertaking with both subscriptions and stories, I decided I would start my own publication.

Hardboiled was born in the summer of 1985. We paid a penny a word on publication. Todd Moore, a local high school teacher I had gotten to know who was an “outlaw poet” and also a writer of Jim Thompson-style prose, agreed to assist me. He did story editing, wrote features and reviews, helped with collating; I shared in editing chores, did the layout and typing (yes *typing*, not PC or word processor, and even a MANUAL TYPEWRITER at first – I didn’t upgrade to an electric typewriter until the third or fourth issue). I even did most of the illustrations for the early issues … I was totally up front right from the get-go: Hardboiled was a paying market for all writers and it was also a showcase for my own material and a way to get my name out in front of people … We did twelve issues before handing HB over to Gary Lovisi, who continues to put out the magazine yet today. We featured well-known and also new writers, many of whom went on to bigger things, and whose names you would easily recognize. I’m proud of every issue we put out. Hardboiled did everything it was meant to do — except make money. And, really, that was never a big part of the goal anyway.

TP: When did you begin to write, and what inspired you to start the hard work of coming up with stories and putting them on the page?
 
 

WD: I started writing somewhere around the fourth or fifth grade and never stopped. I liked to draw, too, so at first I blocked out squares on sheets of paper and did comic-book style stories. It didn’t take long, however, before I decided that the story was where my strongest interest lay so I dropped the comic panels and concentrated on just the writing. I never really finished anything because my focus would go off in another direction, but I wrote all the time so I was constantly honing my skill even if there was no “finished product” to show for it. My mom and dad bought me a huge old used black Royal typewriter at an auction when I was in eighth grade, that was their contribution to encouraging my writing goals.

They never really discouraged me, either, but in my blue collar family the concept of actually growing up to do something outside of manual labor just didn’t fit. In high school I couldn’t wait to take a typing class because I knew I would be putting it to use one day. After we were married, my beloved wife Pam was my first really big supporter. We eloped right out of high school and at a point when we were lacking all kinds of furnishings and eating with plastic forks and spoons, the first big item we bought on time payments was a new typewriter for me. That’s how strongly she backed me (actually in pretty much everything, not just my writing). She lived to see me have some modest success, but she died in 2008 and it was only after I retired the following year that my writing output and publications (thanks largely to eBooks and breaking into Westerns) really ramped up. I regret and feel a curious kind of guilt that she’s not here to share that with me … Yet, although I’m not a very religious person, I know that somewhere she is aware and happy for me. So I’ll keep writing, mostly because that’s what I was born to do—but also because I owe it to Pam’s faith in me.

TP: Outside of your writing, what are you most proud of?
 
 
 

WD: Not to be redundant, but I’m proud to have had a 41-plus year marriage to the greatest gal I could’ve ever hoped for. And proud of the daughter and grandchildren that came along as a result. Since Pam’s passing, my oldest grandson and I live in the basement half of the house Pam and I bought here in Ogallala, my daughter and the rest of her family live upstairs. Sometimes it’s a pain in the ass having everybody so close but, with Pam gone, I think I’d feel a greater emptiness without them “around” — and they all know to respect the privacy I need plenty of … Additionally, I am proud of having climbed through the ranks of the company I worked with for nearly forty years. With no education beyond high school, I started as a 3rd Shift furnace operator for Arnold Engineering in Illinois in 1969 and retired in 2009 as the General Manager of the Ogallala facility. I didn’t do it by kissing ass, either. I did it by applying myself to whatever job I was assigned. I had some mentors who gave me chances along the way, and to them I’ll always be grateful. Sadly, there are very few (if any) chances for people to be promoted in that manner any more these days. Management positions are filled from the “outside”, and guys at the production level — along with valuable floor-level input and ideas they could bring with them — stay right there. A manager, once so designated, can be overseeing the production of baby powder one day and move to taking over a napalm plant the next. Knowing the core business is considered incidental, as long as they know how to count the beans and make the margins and the EBITDA … Excuse me, that’s a rant for another time.

TP: I enjoy the movie reviews you post on your blog, as well. You’re always digging up some gem I haven’t seen in ages, or want to hunt down. What are some favorites that have stood the test of time?

WD: If I made a list of my 20 all-time favorite movies, about 15 would be John Wayne flicks. So whenever I talk favorite movies I basically have to make two lists … We’ll get the top John Wayne-ers out of the way first: Red River; The Searchers; Rio Bravo; The Quiet Man … Others: King Kong (the original); Once Upon a Time in the West; True Lies; Gran Torino; The Best Years of Our Lives; Born Losers; Longest Yard (the original); Escape From New York; Lonesome Dove (I know it’s made-for-TV, but it’s too damn good not to include); Rocky; Rocky Balboa; Ride Lonesome; Dr. No; The Thing (the original) … I could go on and on. You get the idea. I love movies.

TP: I’m guessing the original Thing for you is the John Carpenter, because you like Snake Plissken in Escape from New York. We have similar taste in films, King Kong and Mighty Joe Young are favorites of mine as well. I think I feel too much in common with a big ape sometimes!

WD: By the way, my favorite THING movie is the 1951 black and white version. It’s referred to as “The Thing From Another World” these days, I guess, since all the modern remakes. It was produced by Howard Hawks and *allegedly* directed by Christian Nyby (who was Hawks’ production assistant for many years). But Hawks is one of my all-time favorite and it is widely agreed that his persona stamp is all over the movie, meaning he actually had a pretty heavy hand in the direction of it … So there’s more than you probably ever wanted to know about the history of THE THING.

TP: You’re making great use of your retirement, writing like a bat out of hell. What are the next few books we’ll be seeing from you?
 
 

WD: My new Joe Hannibal novel, BLADE OF THE TIGER, is due out in December; eBook first, print version to follow in a few weeks … Currently about two-thirds through a new Western titled “Trail Justice”, which is the first entry in a projected series called THE WESTWARD TIDE, about emigrants in the late 1840s/early 1850s on the Oregon Trail. I’m doing it with Mel Odom, who is a writing machine. We’ll write alternating books and put it out under the “house name” byline of Jack Tyree. It’s planned as an episodic series of 25-30,000-word novellas, the journey of a particular wagon train being completed after four or five of these and then issued as a whole in a print version. Hope to have this initial segment done late this month/early December and out before Christmas … After that I plan on doing book #3 in my Bodie Kendrick-Bounty Hunter series. It’s tentatively called DIAMOND IN THE ROUGH and is plotted around a little known episode of the U.S Cavalary when they imported camels and attempted to use them in place of horses in the Arizona desert … In March, I owe a segment to the Western Fictioneers’ WOLF CREEK series … After that I’ll do book #3 in my Lone McGantry series, tentatively called THE FOREVER MOUNTAIN … Next, David Cranmer is interested in letting his popular character come out and play on my keyboard again in another Cash Laramie novella … And somewhere by late summer/early Fall I’m sure I’ll be itching to start the next Joe Hannibal book, tentatively called BAGGAGE.

TP: What’s your all-time favorite meal?
 
 
 

WD: Got to go with two — Chicago style hot dogs; New York style thin-crust pizza.
Let me expand on that a bit.
A proper Chicago style dog is as follows: You start with a steamed all-beef Vienna red hot; place it gently, lovingly in a poppy-seed bun, also steamed; slather on yellow mustard; add green relish, diced onions, fresh tomato slices; top off with a quarter-slice of crunchy pickle and a couple sport peppers. Place on a sheet of aluminum foil, drop alongside a handful of french fries, and wrap together; let the dog and the fries get to know each other for a couple minutes; unwrap, salt the fries, and start eating. IMPORTANT: It is a felony of the highest order to put ketchup on such a masterpiece and a serious misdemeanor to even have ketchup in the same room while preparing.
Thin-crust pizza: (I’ve never actually had pizza on any of my visits to New York so I can’t say from experience, but am allowing them the thin crust title based on what I’ve heard and read elsewhere.) Start with a thin, faintly crispy crust; tangy sauce; cheese (mozzarella/cheddar blend — and lots of it); add toppings to one’s taste (I like ’em all, depending on the mood I’m in, but easy on the pepperoni); when it comes out of the oven, the cheese should be thick and have little puddles of grease standing in some of the dimples; and when you take that first bite (knowing damn well you’re going to burn your gums or the roof of your mouth or both) the cheese should stretch at least three-quarters the length of your arm as you pull the remainder of that first piece away; now that you’ve sufficiently burned you mouth and formed a layer of numb scar tissue, you can dive into the rest of the pie with abandon … These are the kind of pizzas you could find in mom-and-pop pizzerias all over southern Wisconsin/northern Illinois where I grew up; unfortunately, most of these seem to be fading out as the dreaded franchise chains are overwhelming the market; but it’s worth the search if you can find the right hole-in-wall joint that still makes their pies this way.

TP: Pizza and hot dogs. A man after my own heart. Thank you for coming by, Wayne. It’s an honor to know you, and I always enjoy talking with you. Hopefully someday we’ll have a drink in person.

For the full story of Wayne vs. the Bear, drop by his blog.

Five Big Things (safe for work)

The 5 people I tagged last week for The Next Big Thing have posted their posts:

Jen Conley talks about her novel NIGHTMARE.

Lynn Beighley at her aptly named site, Should Be Writing talks about her anthology to benefit folks hit by the superstorm, Oh Sandy! An Anthology of Humor for a Serious Purpose. You should submit a story.

Josh Stallings… Bueller? I know Josh is working on his next Moses McGuire novel. Hoping for a tease. The big lug’s birthday was yesterday, so I hope he’s sleeping late after a great evening.

Chad Eagleton talks about his ’50s greaser noir anthology HOODS, HOT-RODS, AND HELLCATS. I can’t wait to read this one. I have a story in it, and Chad’s sounds like a doozy.

Steve Weddle at Do Some Damage keeps his cards close to his chest and goofs around.

Belly up to the Bar with Andrew Nette

Andrew Nette is one of the founders and editors of Crime Factory, and the author of Ghost Money, a gritty crime novel set in Cambodia and published by Snubnose Press. His fiction has also appeared in Noir Nation and Phnom Penh Noir. Welcome Andrew to Tommy’s Tub, where we serve up the suds… 

TP: Welcome to Belly up to the Bar, Andrew. What are you drinking?
 
 
AN: It’s hot in Melbourne today, so I’ll have a Pacifico and a tequila chaser.
 
 
TP: I looked forward to meeting you in New York before NoirCon, but Hurricane Sandy put the kibosh on that. The City has inspired plenty of writers, and many readers who never visit love to read about it, to tour it vicariously. You chose Cambodia as the setting for your first novel. Have you lived there, and what makes you passionate about it?

AN: Yes, I glanced at some pictures on Facebook today of people yukking it at Noir Con and saying what a good time they had and I’m deeply jealous. Now I’m thinking of hitting the northeast of the US in the first half of the year now.

I started writing the book that eventually became Ghost Money in 1996 when I worked for several months in Cambodia as a wire service journalist.

I’d first travelled to Cambodia in 1992. It was a desperately poor and traumatised country. The Khmer Rouge, responsible for the deaths by starvation and torture of approximately 1.7 million Cambodians during their rule in the seventies, were still fighting from heavily fortified jungle bases. The government was an unstable coalition of two parties who’d been at each other’s throats for the better part of a decade and whose main interests were settling historical scores and making money.

Phnom Penh, the crumbling capital of the former French colony, was crawling with foreigners; peacekeepers sent by the West and its allies to enforce peace between the various factions, and their entourage of drop outs, hustlers, pimps, spies, do-gooders and journalists. The streets teemed with Cambodian men in military fatigues missing legs and arms, victims of the landmines strewn across the country. There was no power most of the time. The possible return of the Khmer Rouge caste a shadow over everything.

Cambodia fascinated me from the moment I first arrived. The people, the contrast between the anything goes, Wild West atmosphere of Phnom Penh and the hardscrabble but incredibly beautiful countryside.

History oozed from the cracks in the French colonial architecture and protruded from the rich red earth, sometimes quite literally in the case of the mass graves that litter the countryside. Things happened every day – terrible events and acts of heart breaking generosity you couldn’t make up if you tried.

I always thought Cambodia would be a good setting for a crime story. But I also wanted to capture some of the country’s tragic history, the sense of a nation in transition.

I was too caught up in the day to day reporting of events and trying to make a living as a freelance journalist to put much of a dent in the book. That didn’t come until nearly a decade later, when one day I sat down and started reading through some old notes.

TP: My dream is to travel as widely as Lawrence Block, probably my favorite New York writer. He’s been all over. He was in Japan, and missed the storm, in fact. I know from your blog Pulp Curry that you love the old stuff, but who are your favorite living writers, and why?

AN: Well, a number of your countrymen and women make the list. James Ellroy, because his LA quartet blasted a huge hole in crime fiction that a lot of others were able climb through and do interesting stuff.

I’ve loved everything Megan Abbott has ever written. An enormously talented woman and a master of allowing class, sex and social observation to collide in a way that does not take away from the precision of her plot and characters.

I’m a big fan of Martin Limon’s books featuring Sueno and Bacom, officers in the Criminal Intelligence Division of the US military based in South Korea. They are among the small but growing number of good, hardboiled/noir books set in Asia.

Donald Ray Pollock’s The Devil All the Time is a work of genius. I read it in January this year, and it’s still my best book for 2012. Rural noir with major kick, but no matter how sexually and physically deranged things get, Pollock avoids the temptation to play the story for cheap thrills. There is real humanity in these stories, even the most wretched of his characters struggle for meaning. Can’t wait to see what he does next.

In terms of non-US writers, let me see. UK author David Peace is up there for his quartet, Nineteen Seventy Four, Nineteen Seventy Seven, Nineteen Eighty and Nineteen Eighty Three. It is possibly the best crime series I’ve read. His depiction of northern England is incredible. And, unlike Ellroy, many aspects of what Peace writes about are familiar to me because of the cultural transference that took place from the UK to Australia.

I’d like to be able to list a lot more Australian writers as being major influences, but the crime scene here can be a bit pedestrian, partly, I suspect because we are so small (numerically not in terms of land mass). Garry Disher, who writes the Wyatt books, is a great writer and a great guy. The Cliff Hardy books by Sydney writer Peter Corris, have to get a mention, especially the earlier ones, for their depiction of class in eighties Australia. Western Australian writer, David Whish Wilson is also terrific. His debut crime novel, Line of Sight, is the best piece of crime fiction written here in years, an incredibly evocative depiction of Perth in the seventies as well as a great study of organized crime and corruption.

TP: I appreciate your rigor with research. I try to do the same. While not all stories require it, I think the attention to detail allows you to paint a picture with a few strokes and not set off the reader’s bullshit detector. Ellroy and Abbott are two of my favorites as well. They’re like archaeologists unearthing the history of human weakness. What do you strive for in your own fiction?

AN: I think I am still trying to figure that out. Indeed, I suspect writing is a continuous and ever evolving act of try of trying to figure out what you want to do. For now, I’d say I’m striving for to entertain but also deliver grit, authenticity and, as I said above, a convincing sense of place and history, one that hopefully sheds some light on a few little looked in nooks and corners.

That’s why Abbott and Ellroy are so interesting. Ellroy’s books read like a parallel history of the second half of the 20th century in the US. Abbott’s work exposes alternative histories. My favourite of her books is The Song Is You, the story of Gil ‘Hop’ Hopkins, a movie studio publicity man/fixer/pimp whose life unravels when he is confronted with the consequences of a seemingly insignificant act one night. It’s a wonderful counter narrative to the myth of Hollywood.

TP: I’ve never been to Australia, but will be visiting soon enough. My wife has always wanted to tour the whole continent. When I think about pop culture that’s affected me, it always goes back to Australia. My favorite band? AC/DC, preferably the Bon Scott years. He had that outlaw edge, and that really influenced me. We spoke a bit about musical influences, I think they get overlooked with writers. Who doesn’t write with music playing these days? Who are your favorite bands, and do they influence your writing at all, in tone, subject or rhythm?

AN: Bon Scott’s time with ACDC is still incredibly influential in Australia. The way ACDC played, their incredible outlaw rock and roll life style, it contrasts so sharply with the sanitized mainstream rock scene today, it’s almost like they were from another planet. I remember very vividly watching TV with my parents in late seventies and witnessing their sense of shock when ACDC came on. They simply could not get why Angus would wear a school uniform when he played, in addition to so many other things about the band. Interestingly, there is very little writing, and certainly no crime writing, I’m aware of, that’s captured this.

I have to say, the only music I ever listen to when I write is jazz and only the jazz up until the late sixties, Davis, Coultrane, Mingus, Cannonball Adderley. I’ve never really thought about it, but if I had to answer why this is the case, I think it’s as much about the incredible sense of history I get from listening to jazz, as the music itself. History is very important to me and this is reflected in how I write. I don’t know whether my style hardboiled, noir, pulp, whatever those labels mean, but I always try and inject a sense of history, of paths taken and not taken, into my characters. It slows me down as a writer. I like to get the history right, but each to their own.

TP:  Movies are another influence. I’d be nowhere without Mad Max. Australia has a great film industry. You had a grindhouse era, but also haunting films like those of Peter Weir, and ones that are just plain fun like Starstruck, the new wave musical. Hell, I even liked Young Einstein, and I’ll admit it. You write about crime films on your blog as well. What are some that you think deserve to be better known?

AN: I think we used to have a great cinema scene, one that was not afraid to put out gutsy, capital ‘G’ genre films, like the ones you mention, that were either terrifying or funny. These days we still put out some great films, but are funding bodies are dominated by film academics, so preference seems to go to long, ponderous art house films, which usually seem to involve a torturous coming of age story in some dreary working class suburb or depressed rural town.

Related to this, we have a rich history of directors doing an incredibly kick arse genre movie as their first film, then going onto to make progressively more mainstream fare, usually overseas. Not that there’s anything wrong with mainstream, but it’s almost as though they are afraid to touch another local genre film once they get a hit under their belt.

Bruce Beresford’s first movie was Money Movers in 1979. I’d argue it’s one of the best heist movies around. Phillip Noyce’s first movie in 1982 was Heatwave, a terrific noir based on the real life murder of an anti-development campaigner in NSW in the seventies. More recently we’ve had Animal Kingdom, Red Hill and Snowtown, all terrific crime films by actors who are now going onto more mainstream fare.

In terms of other must see films. Anyone with a thing for rural noir should check out the 1971 film Wake in Fright, about a mild mannered teacher who gets stranded in a hard scrabble town in the middle of the Australian desert. One of the most overlooked Australian films in my view is The Cars That Ate Paris, a 1974 horror/comedy by Peter Weir. It’s about a rural town whose inhabitants make a living from causing car accidents and scavenging the remains, both materials and people. Weir also made an excellent film in 1977 called The Last Wave, about a Sydney lawyer whose life falls apart in steange ways after he becomes involved in defending an Aboriginal man accused of ritual murder. Last but not least, I would encourage people to check out the little known 1979 film, Thirst, a uniquely Australian take on a vampire film.

TP: I honestly think the latest generation of writers, especially plot-driven fiction, are as influenced by film as they are by books. Let’s go back to New York. I’m sorry you didn’t make it this time. New York is one of those cities that means a lot of things to different people. What were you looking forward to most?

AN: For me, New York summons up the ghosts of so many books and films, it’s hard to know where to start. 2012 has been a bastard of a year, the low light of which was my mother dying of cancer in January. It left me exhausted and, to be honest, what I was looking forward to most, aside from meeting you and a number of other writers, was a couple of weeks to myself to walk about a city I’ve heard so much about. Aside from attending Noir Con in Philadelphia, that’s really all I had planned. Like I said, next year.

TP: Going back to the Hurricane, folks in Coney Island are refusing to evacuate because of looting. Do you think people are generally good or bad, and either way, do you think the veneer of civilization make us more likely to behave badly when it is broken?

AN:I think we are both good and bad and I’m not sure it has much to do with our so-called level of development or economic advancement. I spent nearly seven years working as a journalist in Asia in the nineties, including in some of the poorest countries in the region. Obviously, I saw some dreadful things. I also witnessed and been on the receiving end personally of some incredible acts of generosity.

TP: Crime Factory just put out a Horror issue. I think both genres are similar in many ways. They can be a response to fear, and they can be cautionary tales. Are you a fan of horror fiction, and what do you make of the recent popularity of supernatural crime novels?

AN: I read recently that Western society’s interest in supernatural and the occult increases in times of great social dislocation and upheaval. Certainly, that makes sense if you think about the upsurge of films and books about the supernatural in the late sixties and early seventies.

I can’t stand a lot of the stuff that passes for horror these days. As far as the films go at least, there seems to be a hell of a lot of incredibly violent, gratuitous stuff around.

I am interested in some of the books and films that came out in the sixties and seventies, like The Mephisto Watlz, Rosemary’s Baby, The Exorcist and The Omen, Race with the Devil, The Wicker Man, to name just a few. Back then there was much more of a focus on the genuine weirdness and horror of the occult and the people who practiced it, rather than demons or whatever slashing up teenagers.

TP: I’m with you on the gratuitous horror. I think young men especially try to shock, to show we’re unafraid of flinching from the dark, but it gets tiresome. I call it squalor porn, and I agree that Mr. Pollock managed to evoke some sick individuals without crossing that line. He’s one of the best of the bunch. Frank Bill excels at it too, but he’s a lot more raw. You can shine a light on the depths of human depravity without drooling over it. If you’re just showing it to show it, it’s been done a thousand times before. Evil is banal, serial killers are boring once you catch them. They’re all the same, broken machines. People are interesting. The choices they make, and how they live with them.

I’m glad you gave us some Australian novelists to check out. I think with the shipment of criminals in the 18th and 19th centuries, people expect Australia to have a lot more crime fiction, about guys like Chopper Read. Does the outback give Australians the same sense of wild pioneer spirit that Americans get from the West, like you could run off and be an outlaw?

AN: I have to say I am not a fan of Chopper. He is basically a violent career criminal who has made a living writing books of questionable authenticity and accuracy about what he’s done. We are very into true crime in Australia at the moment and at the risk of annoying a lot of people, most of it is sensationalised crap. That’s not meant to sound squeamish, I just think the reality of Australia’s past is much more interesting than it is usually portrayed in the true crime books or shows in TV. Virtually the only exception I can think of now, is a series called Blue Murder, about a career criminal in Sydney called Neddy Smith and his relationship with a legendry hard man and cop, Roger Rogerson. It is the best true crime TV ever made in Australia.

Regarding how we view our outback, that’s a very interesting question and in answering it, I’m probably talking as much about my own feelings on the issue as I am trying to sum up any sort of consensus about what Australians think.

Most Australian, like me live on the coast. I think for a long time we were basically terrified of our interior, which is beautiful but also incredibly vast and inhospitable. Linked to with is the incredibly brutal nature of our establishment as a British colony that I think we are still a bit in denial about.

I mentioned Wake in Fright earlier. It’s a great example of the fear about the bush semi hard-wired into the psyche of most city dwelling Australians. The movie is also excellent but when it first showed in the late sixties, people walked out in disgust at its – very accurate – depiction drinking and male violence. Another movie that deals with our extreme ambivalence about the outback is Walkabout by Nicolas Roeg. It’s an incredibly haunting film about two children stranded in the outback. They are befriended and saved by a young Aboriginal boy but the two cultures simply cannot understand each other.

Improved transport and technology have broken down the remoteness of the outback and with it a lot of our fear. But what we have now is a sort of enforced bullshit nationalism that idealises the bush and our past relationship without, I think, really understanding it. We don’t really want to come to terms with things out our treatment of the original inhabitants, which was/is bloody shameful.

Interestingly the outback is now the scene of a huge mining boom. It’s provided a second chance for a lot of people. You can, literally head out there and make a fortune, which fits into the pioneer notion you talk about. The boom is delivering great prosperity but also damaging the environment and dislocating small rural towns.

So, in terms of how this has been reflected in crime fiction and film, the results have been pretty unsatisfactory. There have been a few road movies of varying quality. In terms of crime fiction, Auther Upfield wrote a series of great books in the sixties featuring a black police detective called Boney, which are worth reading. More recently, Adrian Hyland has penned two novels set in the outback and featuring an Aboriginal policewoman. I have to say I’ve not read either of them but they are supposed to be excellent. I am waiting for a really good crime novel to use the mining boom as a setting.

TP: One last question. What’s your death row meal?
 
 
 
AN: Anything Mexican.
 
 
 
TP: Thank you for coming by, Andrew. It was great having a drink with you. I hope we meet sometime, in New York or on your side of the world.
 
 
 
AN: Thanks for having me.
 
 
 

Prepare to be Stupefied

I have a li’l shorty in the excellent new issue of Stupefying Stories, a speculative fiction magazine edited by Bruce Bethke. The best review I’ve read of it is by Wag the Fox: “You can no longer say they don’t write ’em like that anymore,” and I’m proud to be a part of it.

You can buy it for Kindle here:


Stupefying Stories: Mid-October 2012

I also have a poem in Gerald So’s anthology,  The 5-2: Crime Poetry Weekly, Vol. 1 which is now available on Kindle, collecting one year of crime and noir poems from The 5-2.