Bouchercon 2016! moderating Leather & Lace

Are you attending Bouchercon 2016 in New Orleans? I’ve been going for five years now, and it keeps getting better. It’s a crime and mystery fiction convention for the fans, and the volunteers who run it do a fantastic job. Judy Bobalik and Jon Jordan handled the immense task of setting up panels for over 700 registered writers and this year I’m moderating one, and speaking at another.

I’ll be moderating Leather & Lace: Hardboiled vs. Cozy, which has writers who do both or skirt the middle. Linda Rodriguez, Chris Knopf, Linda Joffe Hull, Clea Simon, and Dave Putnam will be answering my questions and yours. I’m writing a “cozy” now–at least a less gritty and more humorous novel–and those familiar with Jay Desmarteaux, Denny the Dent, and Blade of Dishonor know I also write hardboiled. This one will be great fun. It’s on Friday at 11:00am.

Zoe Sharp is moderating The Boxer panel, which is about writing violence. Having trained in America and Japan and gotten my butt whupped by Keigo Kunihara in the sparring ring (he fought in UFC55) I know why they chose me for that one. But there’s a lot more to writing violence. I’m looking forward to this one. This is also Friday, 3:30pm.

Here’s the card for Leather & Lace:



Stories of Gratefulness – a new book by Jody Lynn Reicher

The most reassuring and simultaneously daunting secret you’ll learn is that incredibly successful people have just as many doubts as those who are just starting.

Stephen King, in a recent interview, talks about how he still struggles with it. Brave heroes will tell you that yes, they were afraid. They just acted anyway. So it should be no surprise that one of my most accomplished friends, Jody Lynn Reicher, struggled with low self-esteem as a child. As a young woman growing up in the ’60s and ’70s, she was told that her dream of becoming a Marine was impossible. Then she was told that her foot problems would stop her from running. but that didn’t stop her from becoming an ultramarathon runner, and holding running events for charity. And in her 40’s,  people told her to forget her dream of becoming a pro MMA fighter… and you know what I’m gonna say. I’ll let the photo speak for itself:

Jody lynn Reicher Stance_080813_sn_tif_Jody taught me not to quit. She helped our trainer Phil Dunlap show me what I could accomplish. I’m a slow learner. I need to know how things work, and it takes time for my muscle memory to kick in. I never thought I’d hold my own on the grappling mats, but by sticking with it, and failing over and over again–“Failing better” as Samuel Beckett calls it–I achieved the goals I set out for myself. The same with writing, work, hiking, and any other goal.

Now Jody didn’t learn this on her own, either. And she’s written a book about it, and the power of gratefulness. This book shows her struggles and introduces us to the people who encouraged her, and who believed in her when she didn’t believe in herself. I was honored when she asked me to write the Foreword to this book, and my foreword, about how “Gratitude is Attitude” is available in:

Reaching God’s Perfection: Stories of Gratefulness, by Jody Lynn Reicher.

1888777_368820859959679_4897422473077368219_oAvailable now for Kindle, cover by Suzanne Dell’Orto, ebook design by JW Manus. Trade paperback will be coming soon. It will also be available on iBooks and Nook shortly.

Jody is an inspiration, so if you enjoy inspirational memoirs this is a great read, introducing you to someone with unbelievable endurance and an contagious, positive spirit.

Welcome to the Asylum

About eight years ago, after I quit video games and lost 135 pounds (or about one Sofia Vergara) by dieting, hiking, and weightlifting, my buddy Peter decided to quit his I.T. job and go to Japan to teach English to schoolchildren and train to fight in mixed martial arts.

asylum sign

Before he flew out, he explored local dojos for a realistic, no-BS approach. He had trained in karate since high school, and then in the backyard of a mutual friend who taught variations of Kali, Pencak Silat, and “whatever works fu.” I’d gone a couple times but I am a very slow learner when it comes to physical activities, and needed a little more structure. Peter found Advanced Fighting Systems, run by Phil Dunlap. At the time, Phil was building a fight cage on his house’s first floor, and transitioning to training fighters full time. But we met at a class at Malandra’s martial arts in Suffern, where Phil taught a few days a week. I had seen Peter come home from class with bruised shins and a big smile. This wasn’t katas. It wasn’t like the Krav Maga class I tried, where the teacher was fatter than me, made us pay him to make us do push-ups and jog in circles, and never spar. No, this was something different.

The first thing Phil asked me to do was punch him in the face. I mimicked the karate punches I’d learned, six inches from his face. Phil gave a classic eye roll and said, “Would that have hit me?”

Peter and Phil smile

I threw a punch that would have struck 3 inches past the base of his skull. He parried it, slow enough to show me the move. We hit focus mitts, but when it came time to learn roundhouse kicks (which strike with the shin) we put on thin pads and kicked each other in the thighs. I came home with the bruises Peter had. We knew they worked when we winced and fought the urge to complain. When it came time to learn submissions and chokes, Phil performed them on a student so you could follow, then on you, so you could feel it. And if you’re not doing it right, he lets you perform it on him, until you make him tap. I’d never been at a dojo where the teacher allowed that.

I was sold.

peter and phil choke

Nowadays there are a lot of MMA dojos, some of them converted karate factories, some hardcore fighting gyms, but I’ve found none as casual, cool, and friendly as the ironically named Asylum Fight Gym. One of the students came up with it. The class is addictive, because there’s so little ego there. If you want to spar or grapple (we say “roll”) with the teacher, you can. It was a badge of honor, to wait in line at the end of class to have your rounds with Phil. Because like the best teachers, he transformed his style for each student. He was that guy who was just a little better than you, a little faster, smarter, and yes even stronger, whether you can out-bench him or not. It’s incredibly frustrating at first, until you concede that you will never win. It becomes a challenge to make Phil whip out one of his better moves to finish you. And if you do the move right, he lets you do it… until the counter moves come in.

asylum heavy bags

The gym is a family, no less dysfunctional or nurturing than any other. Want to train on Christmas Eve? Come on in. We call it “Season’s Beatings.” We take care of each other, go to each other’s fights, help each other out. And then we jump in the cage to punch each other in the face, or relish locking down the scorpion leg lock until you tap. I’ve made a lot of friends there. Derek, Jodi-Lynn, the many Kyles (we have young Kyle, li’l Kyle, medium Kyle, and big Kyle) and of course, Phil himself.

If you live anywhere near Mahwah, New Jersey and want a gym to learn mixed martial arts for sport or self-defense, Burmese boxing and grappling (Kachin Bando), Sambo, Celtic wrestling, or fitness kickboxing, drop in to Asylum Fight Gym to train as hard as you want to.

And if you can’t make it, do me a favor and vote for the gym in Mission Main Street Grants. The gym could use a boost!

Phil and me


Do you have a ninja infestation? Call ‘Rage Cage’ Reeves.

Meet ‘Rage Cage’ Reeves. MMA fighter. Marine. Back home from Afghanistan, looking for his Grandpa Butch, who he finds mixed up in a centuries-old battle between ninja and samurai over a stolen Japanese sword.

If your home has become overrun with ninjas (sic) or shinobi and yakuza, the Warriors of Hachiman will send Rage Cage Reeves to help, at reasonable rates.

He will be available starting September 10th, so set your appointments early.

If you review books for a blog, publication or website please contact me for an Advanced Reading Copy for review.

My friend & sparring partner Jody-Lynn Reicher

My friend and occasional training partner Jody-Lynn Reicher was interviewed by a local paper about what it’s like being a kick-ass MMA fightin’ mom.

I weigh almost three times as much as Jody, and she fights me like a rabid wolverine defending its kill from a lumbering lard-ass grizzly (aka me). When I talk about heart, she is forefront in my mind. If anyone’s got a Steel Heart, it’s Jody.

She just turned 50, and tours the country to fight opponents half her age. When she can find someone who’ll get in the cage with a rampaging stone-fisted little dynamo. Read on, she’s led a very interesting life, from the Marines to ultramarathons, and she’s a damn fine example of a human being.

Jody lynn Reicher Stance_080813_sn_tif_


Steven Seagal Pooped Himself

Steven Seagal Pooped Himself

I was recently contacted by Dave N, promoting Steven Seagal’s new direct to DVD movie, despite my contact form stating that I do not do promotion for movies, books, music, flea circuses, donkey shows, or flatulent rhinoceros extravaganzas and anything in between.

His letter:

“Message: We wanted to inform you and your readers about the giveaway for “Deadly Crossing,” the Steven Seagal movie which hits Redbox May 14.

In exchange for posting their best Steven Seagal action pose, fans earn the chance to win an Aikidogi, MMA fight gloves, or a wooden bokken signed by Seagal.

Given your awesome movie content, we’d be honored if you could post about this. Below is a quick synopsis of the movie as well as a link to the contest page.”

So here is my favorite Steven Seagal pose: Pooping your pants after being choked for talking smack.



Video interview of judoka Gene Lebell describing the incident.

Belly Up to the Bar with Frank Bill

Frank Bill may need no introduction. His work has graced the pages of Granta and Playboy, Hardboiled and the New York Times. He writes hard-hitting fiction set in his home region, which first collected in his stunning debut of connected stories, CRIMES IN SOUTHERN INDIANA. I had the pleasure of reading his first novel, DONNYBROOK, where he deftly forges a near-mythic tone of hardboiled action with gothic literary sensibility into a gripping story of marginalized people doing their damnedest to claw their way out of the hardscrabble hell of America’s heartland. Centered around the Donnybrook, a sleazy saturnalia of underground bare-knuckle fighting, it reads like gritty action-adventure filtered through the fierce gaze of Flannery O’Connor. I invited Frank to Belly Up to the Bar after meeting him at an event with John Darnielle of the Mountain Goats, where he had a chance to talk fighting, martial arts, and its primal influence on our so-called civilization.

Tom Pluck BeerWelcome to Belly up to the Bar, Frank. What are you drinking?

frank billFB: Makers on the rocks.

Tom Pluck Beer I didn’t bring you here to flatter you, but you wrote a hell of a novel with Donnybrook. Tell us a little bit about it, and where the title and inspiration comes from.


frank bill FB: Thanks. Basically a few things. Guy I trained with back in the mid 90’s always talked about guys he worked with and they talked about these underground fights in abandoned warehouses and other unknown locations. We never went but it kinda stuck in the back of mind regardless of existence. When I started writing the novel, it didn’t have a name. I knew I wanted to incorporate what I knew about meth/drug culture in general, working class or the struggling class and fighting. My good friend who is a cop said something one day when I was doing research with him when he was shooting the shit with some other cops.

It was a helluva Donnybrook, he says.

I asked who is Donny Brook?

Not a he, he tells me. An Irish fighting festival.

Hence I looked into it. Then my novel had a name.

Tom Pluck Beer You know there’s a Donnybrook musical, based on The Quiet Man? Back in the ’60s. I’m not sure your novel would translate, but I liked how you put a soundtrack to the action. If you could hand the reader a bunch of CD’s to listen to while reading, who’d be on them?

frank bill FB: No I didn’t know that. Interesting. CD’s, easy: anything by Ray Wylie Hubbard, Scott H. Biram, The Drive By Truckers, Patterson Hood, Chris Knight, Eagles of Death Metal, Slayer, John Prine, Bob Dylan, Gutherie Kennard, Hayes Carll, Hank III, James McMurtry, Son Volt, Johnny Cash, Lincoln Durham, Lightin’ Hopkins, Slipknot, Pantera, Lucinda Williams, Johnny Dowd, Steve Earle, too many to name. I’m a big music fan.

Tom Pluck Beer Whoa, hell of a playlist. I loved Son Volt’s first two albums, I have to get more of them. I recall that you have a fighting background in kung fu. And it shows in your fight scenes. They’re brief, vibrant, and realistic. I train in Thaing and Bando, Burmese boxing and grappling. Fu, the Chinese enforcer, was one of my favorite characters. Have you gone past black belt, or tried other styles? And what made you put on a gi in the first place?

frank bill FB: I began studying Korean martial arts when I was 11. Earned my black belt by fourteen or fifteen. When I turned 18 I began studying closed door Chinese Kung Fu or Gung Fu as some pronounce it. And there are no belts involved. Just levels. As I progressed in age I left my studies with my first teacher. Cross-trained in western and eastern (Thai) boxing. Dabbled in Ju-Jit-su. Found another closed door kung fu teacher. I started studying martial arts as a kid because I was small. Boney. But had this crazy fascination with the old Shaw Brothers kung fu films.

Master of the Flying Guillotine

Tom Pluck Beer I want to train with Joe Lansdale down in Texas sometime. His fight scenes are always on the money. But DONNYBROOK is a lot more than fight scenes. You have a real cavalcade of characters, each of whom could break out and have their own novel. And while there’s not an ambiguous ending, it does feel like the beginning of a new adventure. Will we see more of Purcell and Jarhead?

frank bill FB: Thanks. Too kind. You’ll see more from the characters in Donnybrook in a follow-up, titled The Salvaged and the Savage with new characters and story lines.


Tom Pluck Beer Great to hear it. Meth carves a swath of destruction through your stories like flesh-eating bacteria. The meth-head has become the new crack-head, a cautionary tale, a lost cause, the walking dead. How hard has it hit your home region, and if you could change one thing about how we deal with it, what would it be?

frank bill FB: Meth has hit my area hard. Not many counties can say they’ve a lawyer who dated a client and started cooking it in their kitchen. It’s worked its way through the heartland. I don’t know what can be done at this point other than to keep educating people about what it does. You can make all the laws you want but it’s almost too little too late. Meth was an issue in this area in the ‘90s but no one paid attention to it.

Tom Pluck Beer If you could pick three writers that everyone would have to read in school, who would they be?

FB: Larry Brown. Ernest Hemingway and Cormac McCarthy.
frank bill2

Tom Pluck Beer I heard Larry Brown’s JOE is getting the movie treatment. Maybe that will introduce him to more readers. David Gordon Green’s a hell of a director, too. The memoir piece you wrote for the New York Times–about your grandfather chasing down a deer with a club to put meat on the table–really hit home. I’ve always been a city boy, but my great-uncles are children of the Depression and were avid hunters, long into their eighties. They did what was necessary to provide. It seems like as a culture, we’re losing touch with what it means to be a man. And you explore that tangentially with the three bare-knuckle fighters who converge on the Donnybrook. Do you think boys learning to fight- whether it’s wrestling or kung fu- might give American manhood back its center?

frank bill FB: I think every child, male or female should learn to box but also they should learn about or some form of spirituality. Not be a brute or a Buddhist but to learn discipline, how their body operates and how all of this links to the body and mind. For manhood, you have it or you don’t. I was fortunate to be around many great men growing up who been educated by life, but never appreciated my history or where I came from until I got older and began to read and write. A lot of it, for me anyway, comes from how one is raised.

I’m big fan of boxing and MMA and I respect all those involved, those guys and gals have guts and heart and the training they endure, the level at which they strive for is beyond amazing.

cool hand luke 1967 1

Tom Pluck Beer Yeah, you can only get so much discipline from physical training. I was talking with Zak Mucha about this too. We’re working on ways to make ‘manhood’ center around protecting those who need protecting. But any change will be glacial.

We tackled music and books, but for the finisher, it’s death row time. What are your last meal, and the last movie you get to watch?

frank bill FB: Last meal. Big ole thick ass Rib-eye, medium-rare. Cesar salad. button sized mushrooms sautéed in butter and soy sauce, fried potatoes with onions/peppers and a half gallon of Pappy Van Winkles. Movie, High Plains Drifter or Cool Hand Luke.

Tom Pluck Beer Luke’s a fave for me too. And before you go, what are you working on next?

frank bill FB: Follow up to Donnybrook and a project I signed on for but can’t announce yet. Thanks for the generous words and having me over.

Tom Pluck Beer Thanks for coming by, Frank.

DONNYBROOK hits the streets on March 5th, from Farrar, Strauss & Giroux . If you want a fierce read by a hardboiled warrior-poet, a backwoods Breaking Bad meets Bare-Knuckle Brawls with a dash of kung fu and American gothic, get in line for this one. You won’t be disappointed.

Frank Bill blogs at House of Grit. You can follow him on Twitter at @houseofgrit and find his work wherever fine books are sold:

Donnybrook at Indiebound
Crimes in Southern Indiana at Indiebound

Donnybrook at Amazon
Crimes in Southern Indiana at Amazon

“Bill portrays depravity and violence as few others can—or perhaps as few others dare to do . . . The plot builds relentlessly to the final round of the Donnybrook and gives the reader unexpected jolts all the way through . . . Bill is one hell of a storyteller.”
—Kirkus Reviews

BW Beer Mug