Must You Finish a Book to Have an Opinion on it?

The excellent Mysterious Matters blog this week talks about the 50/100 page rule. That’s the number of pages that a reader will read, waiting for a book to “grab” them. Of course, some throw the book down on page ten, and others must finish it, either because “hope springs eternal,” as Agatho at MM says, or because of a neurosis. I used to compulsively finish the book. I remember the first one I quit that I actively disliked, a bio of Houdini that concentrated on his Oedipal complex rather than his act, and seemed indignant that escape artists hide keys and use trickery instead of superhuman powers. I loathed that book. But I gave it well over 100 pages, and I damn sure wrote an Amazon review excoriating it.

If that were my book and the reviewer slammed it, I’ll be honest, it would annoy me. I wouldn’t go on a tantrum and rend my garments and call attention to it, but I would likely be upset about it.

And I would be wrong.

You see, the reader owes me nothing. They have bought my book, and I am thankful. They do not owe me a review, good or bad. They do not owe me a ‘like’ or a retweet, or word of mouth. Of course, if they like the book, I would be exponentially appreciative if they told their friends about it, or reviewed it. But they don’t owe it. They don’t owe me anything.

I owe them.

You earn the reader with every line. Now, some readers skim; I try to write like Elmore Leonard said, and skip what most readers skim. (I stand corrected- Harry Crews said this, and Mr. Leonard repeated it. –ed.) We can justify it all we like, when we lose a reader. They had hemorrhoids, they have bad taste, they were tweeting and not paying attention. But in the end, we can’t really blame them. We have to do our best to write the best book we can, and if a reader doesn’t like it, they have the right to say so. Their “didn’t finish it, it was boring, it sucked” is just as valid as the equally vague “OMG I loved this book, I finished it in one sitting.” It doesn’t say why the book’s so great. We don’t even know if they paid much attention. But we don’t complain about these reviews, even if finishing the book in one sitting is unlikely because of the length.

We don’t like those “didn’t finish” reviews, but they’re the equivalent of walking out of the theater. They didn’t like the movie. They paid for their ticket and decided the next hour or two of their lives were better spent elsewhere. The same with a book. They walked out. Their review may not hold the same weight as Pauline Kael’s, but it’s as honest as any. Move on, and let it go.

But to quote the Dude, that’s just like my opinion, man. And the bad review is theirs.

What’s yours? Do you think it is okay to review a book you couldn’t bear to finish? Would you say page 50 or 100 was enough? Ten pages? One?

The Next Big Thing: BLADE OF DISHONOR

I got tagged by Ed Kurtz, author of Bleed, Control and others, to join in The Next Big Thing blog tour. Normally I don’t jump in for these things but he’s a good guy and it’s an easy way to talk about works in progress, and let readers know about other writers they might enjoy.

1) What is the working title of your next book?

Blade of Dishonor, a novella for Beat to a Pulp. (I’ve mentioned Bury the Hatchet a lot on the blog, and it is still in progress, but this will be done first.)

2) Where did the idea come from?

David Cranmer asked if I’d be interested in writing about an MMA fighter tussling with ninjas over a stolen sword. How could I say no to that? David published my mixed martial arts fighter tale “A Glutton for Punishment,” and I grew up on ’80s ninja movies and the Shogun Assassin “baby cart” samurai films. It is set in the present day, but the action begins in World War 2. I enjoy writing this so much that there may be a prequel written in the era of feudal Japan.

3) What genre does your book fall under?

Adventure. Pulp is not a genre and “men’s adventure” paperback originals aren’t either, really. Adventure covers it, with a little War thrown in.

4) What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?

Mixed martial arts fighter Reeves comes home from Iraq to help his wheelchair-bound grandfather run his Army-Navy store, and becomes embroiled in a centuries-old battle between ninja and samurai over a priceless and powerful Japanese sword.

5) What actors would you choose to play the part of your characters?

Reeves, the MMA fighter, would be played by Joel Edgerton. He was in Warrior, he played a fighter and made it look real. Plus he’s got those sad eyes that women like, and looks like someone went over him with coarse grit sandpaper. My kind of hero.

Joel Edgerton vs. Hiroyuki Sanada

His grandfather Butch, the wheelchair-bound war vet would be played by Ed Asner. He’s big, old, and angry as hell. Better known for comedy, but the man is a firestorm. The villain is a Japanese businessman, who could be played by Tadanobu Asano, best known for his role in Thor.

Hendricks drives and Ed is Bad-ASNER

And his brutal henchman Mikio would be a good role for Hiroyuki Sanada, who is in “Revenge” and the new Wolverine film. He has the scruffy, beat down look. Tara, the gal with the suped-up muscle car, could be Gina Carano, but Tara is an art major, not a fighter. She’d break a fired chunk of pottery over your head, not try the flying armbar. She’s more of a Christina Hendricks, tough on the inside.

She’ll be in my next story, I promise.

6) Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?

It is a work for hire for Beat to a Pulp press.

7) How long did it take you to write the first draft?

8 weeks.

8) What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?

Action-oriented thrillers like the Jack Reacher novels by Lee Child and the Pike novels by Robert Crais, but grittier. War novels like The Short-Timers, James Brady’s The Marines of Autumn. I won’t say there’s nothing like it out there, but I haven’t read anything close. Maybe my readers can enlighten me.

9) Who or what inspired you to write this book?

My great-uncles all fought in World War 2, in Europe and the Pacific. The book is dedicated to them. They never talked in detail about the War, but their feelings were made clear. And I’ve been fascinated with Japanese culture since I was a kid. I loved Clavell’s Shogun, the Lone Wolf and Cub manga–I read all 28 volumes–Musashi, the yakuza gangster movies of Suzuki, Takashi Miike, Takeshi Kitano, and of course, the samurai films of Kurosawa and Hiroshi Inagaki, any movie with Toshiro Mifune in it.

10) What else about the book might pique the reader’s interest?

The story follows Reeves in Part 1, then his grandfather Butch Sloane, in Part 2.  Butch was a commando in the Devil’s Brigade. It is meticulously researched, and while we are in the trenches for all of the story, if you look up the battles date by date, what weapons, who fought in it, and how they won, it will satisfy all but the most unforgiving. It’s fiction, after all. I took license here and there, but I put the characters into real situations. The Devil’s Brigade existed, they fought the battles in the book, and if I change history, it is to insert the lost history of a grand plan that failed. The Devils were the inspiration for Tarantino’s Inglourious Basterds, only they were even badder.

And if you enjoy mixed martial arts, I trained in them for seven years. I write them realistically. I know a pro and amateur fighters and trainers, and I write them with respect. But also show just how brutal this training translates into combat outside of the ring.

This story is as tight and intense as anything I’ve written, fast-moving and thrilling while giving you plenty to think about. With enough action for three movies, much less one.

I’m tagging five writer friends you may know about already. If you don’t, I recommend you get acquainted with them, they are fantastic. I will admit, they have all talked to me about their projects or mentioned them on social media, so I dub them not only to spark your interest, but because of my own. They haven’t let me down yet, and I want to know what irons they got in the fire.

Josh Stallings is a film editor by day, and the author of the Moses McGuire crime thrillers by night. And I mean long into the night. We shared a hotel once, and when our sleep apnea machines were not dueling into the night like two Darth Vaders arguing over a dinner check, he was tip tapping away into the small hours. And the work shows. The McGuire books, Beautiful Naked, and Dead and Out There Bad, are two excellent tales about a bad-ass Marine who survived Beirut but never really came home. He’s a strip club bouncer, muscle for hire, and when he’s not trading slugs and elbow strikes with the bad guys, he’s at war with the demons within himself. The poetry of James Crumley’s sad, elegiac prose and the rip roaring action of Robert Crais.

Lynn Beighley delivers pills of sharp and subtle humor hidden in the steak of her fiction… like she’s sneaking medicine to one of her two Bernese Mountain dogs. She cut her teeth as a tech writer, but her short stories have appeared in journals and all over the web. She brilliantly depicts our fractured modern lives, interweaving social media personae with cold splashes of reality.

Steve Weddle is the editor for Needle: A Magazine of Noir and the creator of hitman Oscar Martello. Steve often combines hardboiled grit with absurd and fatalistic humor, but is also capable of fascinating introspection, as in the story he wrote for the Protectors anthology.

Jen Conley is an editor for Shotgun Honey, and no one captures the attitude and dialogue of New Jersey like she does. Her stories have appeared in ThugLit, Protectors, Beat to a Pulp, Out of the Gutter and elsewhere. Her characters are so full of life they claw their way off the page.

Chad Eagleton is a two-time Watery Grave International finalist and Spinetingler award nominee. His socially conscious crime fiction packs a wallop. Chad has also been researching novelist Shane Stevens, who wrote the first serial killer novel and was the basis for Alex Machine in Stephen King’s The Dark Half, and also happens to be one of the most underappreciated writers of his time.

I’m eager to hear what their fierce imaginations are up to… aren’t you?

And if you want a taste of how I write Edo Period Japan, with samurai and yakuza… read “Shogun Honey,” which I wrote for Sabrina Ogden when she was at Shotgun Honey.

 

Salute These Shorts

I love short stories. Otherwise I wouldn’t write them, because they are a pain in the ass. Sure, you can get the whole idea in your head at once, but there’s no room for error. So when I read a great one, I sit in awe. Here are a few of my favorites. What are yours?

The Creature from the Cleveland Depths, by Fritz Leiber

This one felt silly when I first read it, but now that we have cell phones, ol’ Fritz is laughing in his grave.

In the Cemetery Where Al Jolson is Buried, by Amy Hempel

Amy Hempel paints pain so beautifully, without ever using fancy brushes.

The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas, by Ursula K. LeGuin

An incredible fable that puts civilization in perspective and asks us why we can’t walk away.

The Gentle Way, by Lawrence Block (available in his collection “Enough Rope”)

Mr. Block writes damn fine short stories. This one, about an animal shelter dealing with a vandal, resonates deeply. His excellent story “See the Woman” is available online.

Placebo, by Andrew Vachss (Available in his collection “Born Bad,” and also in Protectors: Stories to Benefit PROTECT.) You can read the also-excellent “Working Roots” free here on his website.

Placebo is a pared down work of great power. Working Roots is a gritty urban fairy tale. I wish Andrew Vachss would write a novel about these kids.

Houston, Houston Do You Read? by James Tiptree, Jr. aka Alice Sheldon.

How do you end violence? The answer is simple, if unpleasant.

Speech Sounds, by Octavia Butler
The last Ms. Butler is interviewed by Charlie Rose here:

The late, great Ms. Butler captures the terror of a true apocalypse and losing the power to communicate in this gut puncher.

The Man from the South, by Roald Dahl

One of my favorite horror tales. You’ll be clutching your fingers!

The Chaser, by John Collier

One of the funniest and best short story writers, Collier is oft forgotten but has many lessons to teach writers today and many joys to bring readers for centuries hence.

The Appointment in Samarra, by Somerset Maugham

A classic bit of flash fiction.

Why I Live at the P.O., by Eudora Welty

A great picture of a family from one of its loony members.

A Good Man is Hard to Find, by Flannery O’Connor

If you don’t like this story, hit yourself in the face.

Who Goes There? by John W. Campbell

The inspiration for “The Thing,” this one is terrifying on a cellular level.

“I Have No Mouth and I Must Scream,” by Harlan Ellison. He has written a ridiculous amount of great short stories. How to choose one? This has always been the most memorable to me. A supercomputer destroys humanity in retribution for creating him–a genius who cannot truly move, feel or love– but he saves five individuals to torture for eternity. Misanthropy at its most dire. A close second is “The Paladin of the Lost Hour,” a wonderful fantasy story about a man who guards the “clock” that keeps the world from doomsday, and how he shares a moment with a veteran wracked with survivor’s guilt. The first is available in the collection of the same name, the second is in “Angry Candy.” I am also fond of the entire collection :”Deathbird Stories,” especially the title story, which retells Genesis from Satan’s–I mean “Snake’s” point of view.

Night falls out of the gutter…

First, Ryan Sayles interviewed me for Out of the Gutter. He has a column there called The Noir Affliction. Ryan is a very funny guy, though I had to throw him around a bit, and he took a few shots at me. Probably the most entertaining interview I’ve done in a while. He asks me to define noir, and I turn into the Hulk.

Read it at The Noir Affliction.

Secondly, I’m very proud to be in Katherine Tomlinson’s NIGHTFALLS anthology, out soon from Dark Valentine Press. The last day on Earth… how would you spend it? If you’re Terence Nightingale, star of my story “Acapulcolypse,” you want to take out as many human beings as possible on your own, which is a real bother when you faint at the sight of blood. The anthology benefits Para los Niños, an organization in Los Angeles that helps at-risk kids and their parents succeed in education and in life, and contains 28 more tales from the likes of Matthew Funk, Sandra Seamans, Allan Leverone, Nigel Bird, Chris Rhatigan, Col Bury, Christopher Grant, Patricia Abbott, Jimmy Callaway and Veronica Marie-Lewis Shaw.

 

 

 

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.

 

Belly Up to the Bar with Patti Abbott

I’d like you all to welcome Patti Abbott to a new feature of the blog, where I interview folks at the imaginary tavern in my head. If you’re not familiar with Patti’s work in the crime fiction genre, you’re only hurting yourself. She’s written more than 80 stories, including “My Hero,” the Derringer Award winner for 2009. Her collection MONKEY JUSTICE (love that title!) is published by Snubnose Press, and she is co-editor of Discount Noir. Let’s give her a cheer.

Tom:
Good evening Patti, and welcome to Belly up to the Bar. What are you drinking?


Patti:
White Wine, Savignon Blanc, very cold, preferably from Australia with South Africa being the runner up. Marlborough’s Nobilio is my cheapy favorite. I never pay more than $12 a bottle because I can’t tell the difference. As long as its dry and fruity, I’m good. Hate wines with the oaky taste of Chardonnay though.Or Bell’s Two-Hearted Ale (from Kalamazoo, MI. I like any wheat beer really.
I didn’t start drinking beer until the last Noircon. And I haven’t looked back.


Tom:
Well, beer drinkers are certainly welcome here. I’ve had Two-Hearted, a long time ago. Reminds me of that Hemingway tale, “Big Two-Hearted River.” But enough about beer, it’s for drinking, not talking about.

First let me say that I’ve admired your stories for some time, and the first I remember reading is “The Perfect Day.” It was so far above what I’d been reading that it inspired me to aim higher myself. That’s why I approached you for the Protectors anthology, and your story for it, “The Search for Michael” opens the book. Would you tell us a little about the story and the history behind it?


Patti:
“Perfect Day” was a story I couldn’t get published in a literary zine. I tried a few first since the crime element is so slight that I thought most crime zines would not take it.
I felt blessed when Chris Rhatigan published it in ALL DUE RESPECT and was astounded at the great response. This story will be part of my novel in stories HOME INVASION (Snubnose Press). It is heartbreaking to me that children have to grow up with monsters like Billie and Dennis Batch as parents. The children quickly become the parents and never recoup their loss. However as you will learn from the novel in stories, Billie’s childhood was dreadful too.

“The Search For Michael” is 2/3rds true and happened to a woman I came to know in my book group. She died rather suddenly (although she was a generation older than the rest of us) and another member told me her story after her death. And then, since her husband had taught at the school where I worked, another friend told me the same story. How the parents eventually spent all their money looking for the son who walked out the door in his twenties, all his meds left behind. Everything left behind. The father quit his job, even hired PIs in various cities to look for him. After his death, the mother indeed went to psychics all over the country, taking what comfort she could. The third part is an invention although he did have a sister who was a physician. I felt the story need resolution so I gave it a likely one and then took it back a little. The woman in my book group read a draft of the story and was really angry with me because I had betrayed the woman’s use of psychics, which she thought made her friend look crazy. Not crazy to me at all-I would have done it and cops do it too. I hope she has softened on it by now.



Tom:
I’ve felt an underlying anger in your work, or maybe a disappointment. Am I projecting this, or are you looking at the world and finding it wanting?



Patti:
You are an insightful reader, Tom. If I write in the first half of the day, as I usually do, it is in a black mood. A mood that awakens me every morning and I have trouble shaking off. Maybe the Irish in me. Or maybe the childish belief I harbor in fairness.

The world is not sentient I remind myself.
Yes, I have a lot of trouble with the world we live in and tend to see the dark side of even the most neutral events. I find the world wanting in how we treat children, the elderly, the sick, the poor, and the mentally challenged. If we are ever judged, it will be on this ground–what we did for the least of them.
Once in a while, I can pull off a cheerier story, but they are not my best usually. I am also more likely to write about victims of crimes rather than perpetrators. I just don’t find perpetrators that interesting with a few exception such as Walt White. His is a journey from goodness to evil and that does interest me.
If you take a show like DEXTER though for instance, is it the serial killers that really interest us? They are almost exchangeable. Did someone give them a rule book?



Tom:
I’m with you on that. The banality of evil has been written about by better thinkers than me, but you’re right, when humans go really bad they tend to a pattern. Psychopaths or severely abused children robbed of any empathy by a litany of pain and neglect. Dexter is amusing for the characters, not the serial killer concept. Would you say we glorify crime more, as society and the law becomes more and more regimented? Or is it mere wish-fulfillment, vicarious violence meted out on our peers (which is what I think of the zombie phenomenon, but that’s a whole ‘nother can of worms)?



Patti:
In terms of books, television and movies, a lot of people. especially men, like to see violence and power. They identify with and watch those people who wield power–not the ones who are victims of it. I don’t think they are necessarily rooting for the bad guy, but instead rooting for the guy who is in charge, be it a mobster, a super-hero, a cop, a hit man. I think certain incidents bring out our sympathy for the victim of a bully, for instance. But at the same time I think we are suspicious of those who can’t solve such problems. We are about to perhaps elect a President who has said, let these people fend for themselves. And that sort of thinking filters down. If you are not popular or rich or successful, it is probably your fault, many would say. They never seem to acknowledge the fact we don’t all start from the same place in terms of money, color, family, IQ.
I am all over the place here but you get the drift.



Tom:
Writer interviews always go to “influences,” so let’s turn that around a bit. You run a web series called Friday’s Forgotten Books. If you could pick one author who is not generally taught in schools, and put them on the curriculum worldwide, who would it be, and what book?



Patti:
Now that’s a question I have never considered. I think I would chose Margaret Millar. She is a beautiful prose writer with great psychological depth. I don’t think you could go wrong reading her books. Dorothy Hughes and Patricia Highsmith would be two more.
I am not choosing these three because they are women but because they are interested in character and place above plot.



Tom:
I’ve never read Millar or Hughes, but I will. Patricia Highsmith is also one of my favorites.

You’re from Detroit, right? I’m from Jersey, so we both must have a love-hate relationship with our region, because we’re still here and not crazy. What do you love about your city, and what do you hate? And if you could hand me a book that revealed its heart, which one would it be?



Patti:
I lived in New Jersey for five years so I know it a bit too.
I would give you THEM by Joyce Carol Oates, which I think is her finest book even if she wrote it forty years ago. Paul Clemens MADE IN DETROIT is terrific too.
Detroit has all the cultural institutions of a major city–I like that about it. What you may not realize is that Detroit is surrounded by some very affluent suburbs that have art houses, theaters for plays, bookstores, things to do. I like that Detroit keeps fighting back with its music, its attempts to rebuild through attracting younger people to various areas. It is a great food city. A great sports city. We have every ethnic group you can name. If I walk the campus at WSU, I see young people from every region of the world. WSU had the largest Middle Eastern contingent anywhere but also huge numbers of students from Africa, Asia, Europe.

I hate the constant corruption, callousness and incompetence of Detroit politics. I hate that Detroit has allowed hundreds of architecturally important buildings to come down without thought. I hate that only twenty-some percent of students in Detroit itself finish high school. I hate that there are many, many, many city streets where only a few houses now stand. It is ugly outside of a few cultural areas. Although they have begun developing the waterfront, why not years ago like Baltimore? Why did Cleveland build the HALL OF FAME when Detroit has produced tenfold the music? Because, as usual, Detroit dropped the ball. I cannot tell you how much federal money was lost because they could not write the grants or hold on to them. It is a city filled with patronage jobs held by completely incompetent or corrupt people. Witness Kwame Kilpatrick, the scourge of the early 2000s.



Tom:
I will definitely check those books out, and if I make it up to America’s Mitten again, I will ask you for places to visit.

What would you say is the one topic you hope to have the last word in your fiction, and if you can’t be the one… is there someone else you’d be OK with taking that ring from you?



Patti:
At this point, I would say victims. I am really comfortable writing about victims. I am not sure who else victims interest. I don’t read too many stories about them.



Tom:
I think maybe the thriller genre has a lock on them, but I think they have a home in noir and the crime story, and I’m glad you’re telling their side.
It’s getting near closing time, so what do you have out there
that readers need to check out, and what is next down the pike?



Patti:
I have a story coming out in Crime Factory’s Horror Issue. I have a story coming out in Ed Gormans’s latest anthology. One in Mysterical-E, one in an anthology on Lee Marvin, one in a new Beat to a Pulp anthology, one in Katherine Tomlinson’s new anthology on the last day, one in Shotgun Honey next month. Probably too many.

Have you noticed how bees become very active just before they die?



Tom:
I know I’m not the only one who hopes you’ll be buzzing for a good long time, Patti. Thank you for dropping by. I’ll keep a case of Two-Hearted Ale cold for you.

Hills of Fire: Bare-Knuckle Yarns of Appalachia

I’m very proud to open Hills of Fire: Bare-Knuckle Yarns of Appalachia with my story “Rockridge Ringer,” where Jay Desmarteaux finds his old cellmate fighting for a crooked sheriff in a mountain town… and busts things up the only way he knows how, with his two quick fists. You won’t want to miss this one.

I was a big fan of the Dukes of Hazzard as a kid, and since then “Justified” and the Appalachian tales of Manly Wade Wellman and many others have intrigued me. I visited West Virginia a few years ago on a road trip- we stopped at Hillbilly Hotdogs and the Mothman Museum, and found folks as friendly as you could want- and I felt a kinship with the state, because like New Jersey, it is sometimes the recipient of jokes from those who’ve never stepped foot there. It’s a beautiful state and I’m proud to be in a collection by Woodland Press, a regional publisher that showcases writers from it.

Now I don’t know if editor Frank Larnerd showed the cover artist my story, but it sure looks like he read it. And while my image of Jay Desmarteaux was a Fred Willard in “Remo Williams” with a nod to author James Lee Burke, I am hard pressed not to see him as the brawler on this cover. And that don’t bother me one bit. I hope you’ll pick this book up, it has stories by Steve Rasnic Tem and a fantastic bootlegger adventure by Amber Keller as well.