Let’s get Nutley… Crime and Goombah Gumbo at TAPinto Nutley

Reporter and Louisiana native Pennie Landry was kind enough to interview me at TAPinto Nutley, a local news site for my hometown, where Bad Boy Boogie takes place. Being a Cajun out of water like Jay Desmarteaux makes her the ideal interrogator!

Hop on over to read about Crime, Nutley, and Goombah Gumbo.

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A Night of WhoDunnIts in Montclair, Thursday 4/27

Join me and Alex Segura as New Jersey author Dave White, of the Jackson Donne thrillers, interrogates us about our latest books at Watchung Booksellers this Thursday night April 27th, beginning at 7:00 PM.

pluck-seguraAlex is the author of the Pete Fernandez P.I. novels set in Miami, the latest of which, Dangerous Ends, dives into the violent past of Cuba. And I’m the author of Bad Boy Boogie, about Jay Desmarteaux, who is out of prison 25 years after killing a brutal rapist in high school, trying to live a normal life…. but old friends and new enemies won’t let him.

Drinks and snacks will be served, we will read briefly from our books and sign them. There will be copies of Dave and Alex’s series, as well as my adventure novel Blade of Dishonor, and both Protectors anthologies, which have stories by me, Dave, and Alex, if you want the trifecta!

Can’t make it? Order a signed copy from Watchung Booksellers or The Mysterious Bookshop! They both also have signed copies of Protectors 2: Heroes, which funds the HERO Corps, wounded vets fighting child abuse.

I wrote a profile of Watchung Booksellers for LitHub, they are great people. Drop by sometime if you can’t make it Thursday.

Dave also lives in Nutley, so afterwards we will meet on “Church Hill” to settle things…

Watchung Booksellers, 54 Fairfield Street, Watchung Plaza, Montclair, NJ
973.744.7177

 

Bad Boy Boogie uncovered!

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Ain’t she a beauty? Designed by James Ray Tuck Jr., a fine author in his own right. Working with Eric and Lance at Down & Out Books has been a dream. The book will be published in April. It will be available for pre-order soon, and I will share the links once they are live.

So you can’t read it yet, but here’s what people who have read it have to say:

“Thomas Pluck has with this novel launched himself into the rare category of … must-read novels … must re-read … must tell all and sundry about. It is that fine, that compelling. Made me relive all that a wonder novel yields. Just tremendous.”
Ken Bruen, author of the Shamus and Macavity Award-winning Jack Taylor mysteries

“Thomas Pluck’s BAD BOY BOOGIE is a vivid dose of New Jersey noir with heart, soul and muscle.”
– Wallace Stroby, author of the Crissa Stone series

“Thomas Pluck is a crime writer to watch. Steeped in the genre’s grand tradition but with heart and bravado all his own, his writing is lean, smart and irresistibly compelling.”
Megan Abbott, author of You Will Know Me and Queenpin

“Jay Desmarteaux is a worthy addition to the list of crime fiction protagonists.  He’s Louisiana heart mixed with pure New Jersey grit.  Thomas Pluck’s prose is taut, muscular, and pulls the reader through the book’s violent bursts at a light speed clip.  Look out for this one.”
– Dave White, Shamus Award Nominated writer of the Jackson Donne series

“My first Thomas Pluck novel won’t be my last. Bad Boy Boogie is a superb, taut, little thriller that hits all the right notes and sustains its central conceits to the very last page.”
– Adrian McKinty, author of the Sean Duffy crime novels

“Beautiful Bad-assery. Full of lyrical longing for a youth unfulfilled and the brutal truth of an adulthood gone dangerously wrong. Brilliant. Thomas Pluck may well be the bastard love child of James Lee Burke and Richard Stark.”
– Josh Stallings, author of Anthony and Lefty Award nominated Young Americans, and the Mo McGuire series

And here’s a little taste:

When Jay Desmarteaux walked out the gates of Rahway Prison, the sun hit his face like air on a fresh wound. The breeze smelled different, felt charged, electric. He had spent twenty-five years as a monk locked inside a dank Shaolin temple dedicated to violence and human predation while the men who put him there lived free from fear.

Men who needed killing.

I’ll be touring, so if you want to hear me read, grab a beer, arm wrassle, or set my beard aflame, check out my Events page.

 

Spoilers Without, Review I Shall

While I could easily nitpick the new Star Wars movie, I greatly enjoyed watching it. My pal Johnny said to him it approximated what it must have felt like to see the original trilogy in theaters; having seen all three in theaters back in ’77, ’80, and ’83 at the long-gone Franklin Theater in Nutley, I will concur.

I had a smile chiseled into my face for much of the running time. There were missed opportunities, and some of it was a little too familiar, but as a whole I can compare it favorably with Mad Max: Fury Road. Don’t make me choose which is better; I’d say that Fury is more focused, because it didn’t go in with the intention of two more sequels. The Force Awakens (unlike the original Star Wars) knows we’re along for two more films, so introduces many new characters and doesn’t give them all complete story arcs, but lets us get to know them enough to know we’ll want to see more.

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I’m no fan of JJ Abrams; he’s really good at making cotton candy like Cloverfield that thrills you until you start asking basic storytelling questions like “who’s that stupid?” and so on. There’s some of that here, where a character is given more camera time because of the upcoming Rogue Squadron spin-off, but it’s not blatant and the film captures the wonder of the original movies, at least in spirit.

What I loved:

The background is as detailed as the original movies (which I watched last week, so the memory is very fresh). And unlike the prequels, it’s not in love with itself. We notice a lot of detail while the story is focused on the characters. It feels a lot like the best video games LucasFilm came up with, like Knights of the Old Republic (which is begging for a direct screen adaptation). The fight choreography in The Force Awakens is quite good, and forgoes the crazy anime / Matrix style that made the prequels just not feel like a Star Wars movie at all. The originals are based on Westerns, World War II films, and samurai movies after all, not Chinese wire-fu flicks. The fights in this one are exciting, and the Stormtroopers can hit the side of a barn.

What I didn’t love:

JJ Abrams action set pieces and the lack of tension. Because we’re only just meeting everyone, and some things plotwise are a little too close to the original, there’s nowhere near as much tension as there was in the first trilogy. I’ve seen those movies dozens of times, and my heartbeat still quickens when they are taking out the Death Stars, Han is being frozen in carbonite, and during the lightsaber battles. Here the dogfights are a little more about spectacle, the bad guys aren’t as chilling, so there wasn’t as much riding on the stakes. John Williams is kind of phoning it in, there were many calls to the original themes, but I didn’t recognize or remember any leitmotifs or themes for the new characters.

I’m looking forward to the second and third films, and I hope they keep the faith; in Empire, Luke is not truly a Jedi but he’s quite capable; in Jedi, he’s no Obi-Wan but the Force is with him, and you don’t want to cross him. It would not be terrible to give the new characters similar story arcs. The last thing I want to see is a Jedi who can give into his anger or hatred, and then just go mope and feel guilty about it for a while. The high road is difficult. Luke telling the Emperor he’d have to kill him, that was a tough choice. In the era where Superman snaps people’s necks because it’s easier than dealing with the existence of evil, I sincerely hope the Jedi don’t take that path.

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Here’s a photo of the old Franklin Theater. I was six when I saw Star Wars with my father; all I remember is seeing Uncle Owen and Aunt Beru’s barbecued corpses and looking to my Dad to see if it was okay. He kept watching, so I did too. I remember the collective gasp during Empire when Vader says “I am your father…” and the line around the block for Jedi, and how much we loved it, ewoks or not. While my joy during The Force Awakens was not quite that level, it was close. This is a good fun movie and avoids the mistakes of the prequels, so go see it with an open mind and enjoy.

 

 

The Nutley Brass

Even before the tanning mom, I was embarrassed to come from my hometown of Nutley- where Martha Stewart spring like a decorating demon in a puff of brimstone and potpourri- at least until the Nutley Brass covered the Ramones and the Misfits.


This came about at the height of the lounge resurgence, when everyone loved Esquivel and Richard Cheese was covering everything. I like what the Brass does better. They infuse their versions with an unironic glee. I wonder if they learned music from Mr. Kohere, like I did? From the sound of our band, he was a great music teacher, but I had him for Humanities, an advanced course that mixed art, history and literature. We learned music history, but all I remember is how pop singers were terrible because they need microphones, and abortion was wrong because you might abort Beethoven (The flip side to his logical fallacy, that you could also abort Hitler, was overlooked).


There’s still plenty to be ashamed about in Nutley, like the whites-only swimming pool*, but the town always had its share of free spirits and iconoclasts. The area called “The Enclosure” was an artist colony in the 1800s, and is listed on the register of historic places. Today, it is just a bunch of expensive homes by Mill Pond (which everyone calls the Mud Hole). There was also Angelo Nardone’s sculpture garden, a glorious eyesore of overgrown Roman sculpture, that the town fought for decades, tearing it down the moment its owner fell ill and was admitted to the VA hospital.
Nutley also stars in my novel, mostly as backdrop to one story arc where a kid from out of town moves in and faces off with a brutal bully. The Nutley Brass won’t be making an appearance in this one, but I’ll give them a homage someday when I make a character an aging band geek.
* Update: the swimming pool owners settled for $1 million, sold the pool and moved out of state. The current ownership does not discriminate.
© 2012 Thomas Pluck
I post on Twitter as TommySalami ~ My Facebook Page

Captain Purple vs. the Guido Bullies of Nutley

Yesterday people wore purple to support LGBT teens, and fight bullying. I don’t have a lot of purple since when I was really fat it made me look like Grimace, so I wore my LSU rugby shirt- their colors are purple and gold. I look like the purple Michelin Man instead. Let’s go back in time to the ’70s, and let me lay a story on ya. We like to think that things are constantly getting more progressive or morally bankrupt, depending on what TV news you watch. But we’ve gotten consistently more conservative, easily offended, and prudish if you ask me. Sure, we didn’t see “wardrobe malfunctions” on TV back then… it was called streaking, and people laughed about it. We didn’t freak out.

When I was a kid we watched the Osmonds. Things were so permissive back then that we let Mormons on television. The Osmonds are about as boring as you can imagine, and the only thing I liked was when Donny would do wear a ridiculous sparkling superhero costume and pompadour, and declare that he was “Captain Purple.” Somewhere between the period when I wanted to be The Hulk (documented here) and when I wanted to be B.J. and the Bear (mentioned last week) I decided that I wanted to be Captain Purple. Thankfully this was not near Halloween, so I don’t have any photos of my little round-bellied self in sparkly purple tights. If I did, I’d share them. Why? Because I dressed in a lot more embarrassing Halloween costumes as a kid, and I never got bullied over them. The country was simply not as religious, conservative or homophobic back in the ’70s as it is post-Reagan and post-W. We were not innocent. No one in their right mind can look at The Village People and tell me that we did not know they were gayer than a bouquet of dicks.

When I was a kid, it was funny to dress as a girl. One kid went to school with two Nerf footballs for boobs under a t-shirt, with a big white wig, as Dolly Parton. He was later asked to remove the boobs, but slipped them back in when we filed out for the Halloween parade. That year I was dressed as Agatha Crumm, an old grouch from the comic strips that I used to think was funny for some reason. It also helped that I lived with near my grandmother, and could grab a bunch of her old clothes instead of buying a costume. Later costumes included a ghost that looked way too much like a Klansman now that I think about it, and the Grim Reaper. Walking home from the high school Halloween party dressed as the Reaper, and using a payphone, almost caused a car accident as the teens burst into laughter. “Death is calling!!”

I wanted to grow up to be a Hulk.

So yeah, I dressed as an old lady for Halloween. No one called me a fag or beat me up. I remember the first time I heard the word “gay” was probably in 3rd grade, as we waited to file in for home room. An older kid was trying to trick me into saying “I’m gay.” I could tell he was being cruel, so I said “I’m happy, but I’m not gay.” This was when “gay” was still used as a synonym for that. Then I asked my mom what he meant and she probably made up some shit, because I didn’t learn what it meant until middle school, where the real bullying begins. I grew up with a friend or two who were most certainly gay, and I remember one older kid throwing his hat in the creek. But he was never called a faggot, or anything like it, when anyone else was around. I’m sure he was bullied- we all were- by the shit heads of Nutley high school, Guido capital of the eastern seaboard.

Luckily I didn’t grow up to be a prison inmate.

I was mostly safe because by the time high school came around I was wearing shredded Army fatigues, Dead Kennedys t-shirts, sporting a humongous Italian afro and carrying a Nepalese kukri in my bookbag. I slowly lost the punk look as college approached and switched to a trench coat, Pre-Columbine, waiting to happen. There was a little guido midget who kept wanting to fight on “Church Hill” but he never showed. But then, one day I was unarmed and three coked up guido douchebags jumped me outside my house- apparently because I didn’t get their basketball as it bounced past me one day in gym class. It was utterly idiotic, but this is how wars are started. They jumped me outside my house, sucker punched me in the nose and ganged up as I strangled the living shit out the first one who hit me, flying into my patented Hulk rage. I went to the cops, but nothing came of it. Later, one died of a heroin overdose, another one stole his mother’s car to sell for drugs, and the main jerk-off flipped his Monte Carle and cracked his skull, but survived. Later he apologized to me, years later. I can’t even remember his name anymore. Now that I do mixed martial arts, I’d love to tell him that his jab sucked.

If I met High School Me today, I’d probably beat him up too…

What spurred this post was an article about parents freaking out because their sons want to dress as a princess, or their daughters are tomboys. Kids do stupid shit as we try to figure out what we want to be. I wanted to be a garbage man, and sometimes I still yearn for the simplicity of crushing stuff in a garbage truck. I think it is monumentally more important that you worry about raising your kid to be an asshole more than if your kid wants to wear a tutu and pretend to be Princess Headbutt or if Daddy’s little girl wants to wear combat boots and watch monster trucks. Getting bullied doesn’t build character- if you think it does, you have no character- but choosing to be yourself, despite the booger-flings and spitballs of outrageous douchebags, does build character. Don’t be the rock that crushes the spirit of your children. That’s the job of school and the workplace.

The fallen caryatid carrying her stone, by Rodin.

© 2010 Tommy Salami

We don’t need no stinking badges!

When I go hiking, sometimes I see a couple loitering around a boulder looking suspicious. I used to think they were looking for a place to take a dump, but it turns out they were Geocaching. What’s geocaching, you might ask, and how is it pronounced? It is the hobby of seeking out hidden containers in the woods, using an overpriced gadget that has since been replaced by an iPhone app. The container is anything from a surplus ammo can to a waterproof plastic box, and treasures unheard of are held inside. And like geoduck, it is pronounced gooey-kaching, for the amount of money you’ll spend on a GPS to get into this amusing hobby, for which they are now awarding a Boy Scout badge.
Milky and I got into geocaching while hiking the wilds of northern New Jersey and seeking out strange locations depicted in Weird NJ magazine before a bunch of teenagers could burn it down, or cause such a nuisance that police officers began patrolling them to rake in lucrative trespassing fines. We both bought Magellan GPS units that are now horribly uncool and obsolete, despite still working fine. The new ones have the internet, so you can download new caches while you’re sitting in a port-a-potty near the Appalachian trail. Maybe there’s a cache in the toilet? As we would learn, this wasn’t that unlikely. You locate nearby geocaches by looking them up on Geocaching.com, where cache planters will post hints and coordinates to the nearby area. After that, it’s a treasure hunt fit for a pirate with an annoying, clumsy device instead of a cool map. And instead of doubloons and blunderbusses for the treasure, you usually find toys from gumball machines and Happy Meals. The real treasure is the logbook, where you record your precious victory and sickening internet neologisms such as “TFTC” (thanks for the cache) and “RMcDMMAAC” (Ronald McDonald molested me as a child).

Our first geocache was a puzzler in a Bloomfield cemetery that tried to teach you some World War 2 history, by making you find the grave marker of a veteran awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor, and then using his birth date as coordinates. This was fun, until I located what should have been the spot, got frustrated and grumbly, and began kicking the tree stump in hopes that the treasure of the Sierra Madre would fall out. Milky instead looked inside the large stump and found the cache, a plastic waterproof case, suspended inside. He didn’t even have a GPS at that point, which infuriated me. I had been betrayed by technology! The Happy Meal toys were rightfully his! Once he got his own GPS, I had to resort to giving him incorrect coordinates to get a fighting chance, as he was as crafty as a bloodhound in sniffing out these hidden coffers of treasures. And he still holds that against me.
Our next puzzle was a series of caches hidden in the parks of Nutley, our hometown. Best known as the butt of Futurama jokes, and the hellhole from whence decorating demon Martha Stewart sprang in a puff of brimstone and potpourri, it’s the kind of place that if you walk with electronic devices looking under the bridges that span its many babbling brooks, it’s likely someone will report you as a terrorist. Just try to explain geocaching to a small town cop, a few years after 9/11. Luckily we never saw the inside of the local jail, but our behavior elicited a many stares and awkward questions from dog walkers and parents who wanted to make sure we weren’t trying to blow up the Mud Hole, the affectionate local name for Mill’s Pond. Which when seen up close, looks like an open sewer populated with carp, turtles, and enough geese to cover the county with green poop, which they do nightly.

The problem with caches in populated areas is the chance that the average person will find your Tupperware container full of Happy Meal toys and a logbook, and mistaking this treasure for garbage, toss it in a trash can. So, many urban geocachers place what they call “micros” in tiny 35mm film canisters or prescription bottles everywhere from cracks in a building to behind false bolts in telephone poles. We tired of the constant subterfuge required to keep kids from hanging around until you’re done and tossing the cache- and the precious logbook where you record your victory- into a storm drain. So we opted for caches near hiking trails, because I thought it would be fun to mix hiking and geocaching, to get some exercise for the feet and the brain, by solving puzzles deep in the Jersey woods. Maybe the treasures would be greater than little plastic soldiers and battered Matchbox cars, and the odd Where’s George? dollar that Milky would inevitably pocket.
Instead of combining two activities into one, this ended up making our “hikes” consist of a drive to the parking lot closest to the caches, hiking as directly as possible toward it, and then stumbling around the woods for a half hour or so before we gave up and went to the nearest diner for pizza burgers. Oh, we found some caches. Many actually led us to interesting areas we might not have discovered while hiking, otherwise. Master New Jersey explorer and cacher Brian Sniatkowski stumped us many times with his deviously hidden treasures, but he also shared peaceful and interesting spots in the woods with us. Oh, how we cursed “briansnat” as he’s known on the internet, for hiding his ammo cans and film canisters with such cunning! I think we found one, total. And when we cracked it open, we found… Happy Meal toys! But as they say, the real treasure is in the journey. At least the Boy Scouts will get a colorful badge at the end of their journey. Maybe they’ll leave it in a cache? I sincerely doubt it.

© 2010 Thomas Pluck.