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"We need to make books cool again. If you go home with someone & they don't have books, don't fuck 'em."--John Waters

I'm the author of more than twenty novels including SHADOW SEASON, THE COLD SPOT, THE COLDEST MILE, THE MIDNIGHT ROAD, THE DEAD LETTERS, and A CHOIR OF ILL CHILDREN. Look for my next one THE LAST KIND WORDS due out May '12 from Bantam Books. Contact: PicSelf1@aol.com

Friday, November 21, 2008

Readers Wanna Know


I see that B&N.com, Amazon.Ca and Amazon.uk. are all listing a new hardcover from Cemetery Dance to be called FUTILE EFFORTS. I’ve checked your blog and your website and even the CD website, but I can find no information about this.–Junior Slappy, Indianapolis IN

Yep, this is an as-yet-to-be-announced collection from CD. At your prompting I contacted the offices at Cemetery Dance and just received word that they’re aiming to get this one out by mid to late January, according to Brian Freeman.

The book received a starred review from Publishers Weekly back in June. You can read PW’s very generous comments here to learn a bit more about the collection: http://www.publishersweekly.com/article/CA6573428.html

Although the book is signed only by me, it features introductions to each of the stories by the likes of our good friends Jack Ketchum, Edward Lee, Brian Keene, Tom Monteleone, TM Wright, Michael Laimo, Ray Garton, Simon Clark, James Moore, Tim Lebbon, Gary Braunbeck, and Christopher Golden.

Whatcha readin'?--Francis "the Decimator" Francino

I just finished up Craig McDonald's second Hector Lassiter novel TOROS & TORSOS following his Edgar-nominated HEAD GAMES. This one has it all folks. It's a historical crime novel that somehow manages to tie in a serial killer, Hemingway, the Spanish Revolution, the Surrealist artistic movement, John Dos Passos, the Black Dahlia murder, Orson Welles, Rita Hayworth, The Lady from Shanghai, Vincent Price and a whole hell of a lot more. McDonald knows how to make these elements come together in an organic and pulse-pounding fashion. If you're not already a fan, get cracking.

Also, my hetero love affair with Don Winslow continues after finishing THE DEATH AND LIFE OF BOBBY Z, which is hilarious and suspenseful and will give your fingertips flashburns from flipping the pages so quickly. Ran out and picked up THE WINTER OF FRANKIE MACHINE and THE DAWN PATROL, which I'm maybe 50 pages into and loving. I still think it was a conspiracy of some sort to hide this guy from me for so long, but thankfully the scales have finally fallen from my eyes.

Quick! Give me a list of three crime films in any sub-genre (i.e., noir, thriller, adventure) I should check out.--Megan Porterhouse

I'll give you the last three I've rewatched and loved to bits all over again:

THE SILENT PARTNER--excellent crime picture about a bank teller (Elliott Gould) who decides to snatch some cash himself when a psycho thief (Christopher Plummer) robs the place. You've heard the term "a game of cat and mouse" to describe way too many movies, but believe it or not it fits this one perfectly. You'll be surprised how tight your nerves will get by the end of this flick.

M--Fritz Lang's genuine classic about a child murderer (Peter Lorre) who is not only hunted by the cops but also by the criminal under-society who want to hold a trial...and execution, natch...of their own. Lorre's performance is breathtaking as he plays a full range of human emotion from wilful evil to horrified guilt and terror in order to define such an inhuman monster. Definitely get the Criterion edition and check out all the many fascinating extras on the two-disc set.

I WAKE UP SCREAMING--my wife thinks this is just a mediocre film noir because it's got a few significant flaws (including an awful "score" made up mostly of two songs, one being "Somewhere Over the Rainbow"). But I love it anyway thanks to stalwart figures Victor Mature and Laird Cregar. When sports promoter Vic Mature meets up with a cutie white trash waitress, he bets his buddies he can transform her into the talk of the town. Once she's a hot property, though, she cuts Vic loose and immediately winds up dead on her living room floor. Vic is innocent, but brutal and possibly psychopathic homicide cop Laird Cregar wants to hang the murder on him and will stop at nothing to harangue and torment Vic. Cregar is a little known B-movie actor but he should be famous for this role alone. He's loathsome, creepy, vicious, and yet he still manages to wring sympathy for the character.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

I Survived the Brian Keene Attack on Wyoming, and I Didn't Even Get a Shirt!

It’s difficult to keep your self-esteem during a five-hour signing/interview with Brian Keene. Note that when I say "with" Brian, I wasn’t actually signing and I sure as hell wasn’t being interviewed. I was just his wing man while hanging around HEROES ONLY (http://www.heroesonly.net/) in Cheyenne Wyoming, a small comic shop run by several nice guys (and apparently their wives, who they leave covering the store while they run out for food and booze) who own the place almost as a labor of love as much as a business. Shout-outs to PJ and Jeremy, the only two names I can remember. I’m old and I was out of my natural element. I mean, I was in Wyoming, man.

When I say the place is small, I’m talking small, sparky. I’m talking "you can barely swing a cat in the middle of the room" kind of small. But what they lack for in size and space they make up for in enthusiasm. These dudes apparently called everybody from their local high schools, newspapers, cable stations. Maybe, just maybe, they stopped short of phoning Newsweek.
Now, you never know which way a signing is going to go. At least, I don’t. I might have 20 folks show up, or I might wind up flirting with the chick working the coffee counter at B&N because I’m sick and tired of making sad puppy dog eyes at stone-faced customers walking past at a brisk pace. Occasionally, the coffee counter chick might front me a biscotti for my trouble at a 20% discount, which she probably pockets anyway. In general though, my signings definitely fall to the puppy dog eye extreme.

I suspect such is not the case with Brian.

He downplayed it. He hoped to fake me out. He tried to tell me nobody would show. He said I would be bored shitless. He mentioned I could take the rented car and go off and get lunch and try to keep myself entertained, go see a movie, go find a holdover frontier whorehouse, rather than sit around with nothing to do. He even talked me into bringing a Don Winslow novel along so I could read in the comic shop while he sat alone in the center of the store with nothing but the sound of crickets to keep him company.

HEROES ONLY ordered tons of Brian’s titles, from THE RISING, CITY OF THE DEAD, KILL WHITEY, GHOUL, DARK HOLLOW, and GHOST WALK to the first three issues of DEAD OF NIGHT: DEVIL-SLAYER, which had all been bagged and backboarded and laid out on a table like a buffet at Sizzler. They had signs up. They had pictures of Brian in full gangsta pose in all corners. They lose two points for stopping short of having a life-size Brian Keene cut-out which you could pose beside. Or better yet, one with the face cut out saying YOU CAN BE BRIAN KEENE FOR A DAY!

I never got a full head-count of how many guys actually run HEROES ONLY as opposed to their close pals who were just hanging around, but it had to be around seven or eight. Including the missile silo dude who keeps our country safe from evil foreign powers, so long as he’s not needed to push a button on comics day while he’s flipping through the latest issue of the Teen Titans.
Then the interviews began, the first conducted by store employee Jeremy on camera. As you might guess, this consisted of many super-hero and super-villain questions. If you had to face down a zombie apocalypse, what super-hero or villain would you want at your side? (Brian answered, of course, Wolverine. With a codicil of "or maybe Galactus.") Fun questions handled easily and with good grace and lots of laughter.

Next came the interview by a group of three young guys from the YMCA who apparently were putting this up on a website. They had a laptop with a camera set-up and just faced it at Brian. They hit him with a load of questions, some sharp, some stolen from the previous list (Yes, still Wolverine, yes still Galactus).

Then the cutie but professional high school reporter chick showed up and asked pointed questions about writing, his personal history, day jobs, his new baby boy, his wife, writer’s block, inspiration, his parents. The local news channel wafted in about this time, set-up camera, and glommed onto the interview until Brian made an off-hand crack about religion in a red state. For a second it seemed like he might be going into a Glory Hallelujah Obama speech, at which point Brian got his microphone yanked off.

The second round of high school reporters came in and essentially asked all the same questions again, which Brian responded to for the third time. (Yes, still Wolverine, yes still Galactus. Yes, he gets frustrated with writing and considers bowing out and finding a day job. No, he doesn’t get the urge to call up his Mom on weekly basis and ask her for story ideas).

A few fans had been stepping in and out and roaming around the entire time Brian’s been talking. During a free moment here and there, Brian shook hands and signed books and bonded with guys in full military Desert Storm gear who’ve run over from the nearby military base during their lunch hours.

Then the rest of the zombie fan hoards started to show up.

Okay, I’m an old man. Two whole years older than Brian. I have more gray in my hair (but I do have more hair. Take that). And I guess I write for an older crowd. A mature crowd, a crowd that doesn’t say "awesome!" every fifteen seconds. Who think you spell dog D-O-G and who believe said dog is something that wags its tail when you feed it Milk Bones, rather than D-A-W-G and is something you call each other while your oversized pants are falling off your hips. A crowd that has refined tastes. A crowd where every guy doesn’t have peach fuzz on his chin and every girl has been out of her training bra for more than six months.

Boy, have I been a dick.

I SHOULD be writing for the kids, because the kids get wild. The kids are enthused, man, the kids fill the room with energy. While my crowd is reading my shit between subway stops and dragging their asses home from a ten-hour day, the kids are pumped and wired and jittering in their seats like Marcia Brady at a fucking Davey Jones concert. Their eyes are filled with glee and unabashed love. They tremble and go "yeeeee." And they buy loads of books and bushels of comics.

Authors have a lot of signing stories. Fun ones, crappy ones, fascinating ones, bizarre ones. They talk about how they signed a tit here, a right buttock there, signed dogs and infants and chastity belts and colostomy bags. Me, I’ve only ever signed books. Maybe once I signed a photograph or a sheet of paper that turned out to be a bench warrant.

But I’ve never signed a guitar. I’m not sure why anyone would want a writer to sign a guitar. I’m not entirely sure how you make the transition from "I love this guy’s books" to "I need his autograph on my Fender, man!" But despite my confusion, I watched Brian sign a guitar. I watched a young man cry "awesome" with tears pooled in his eyes.

Did I mention the damn near full-page newspaper article with the two-inch heading that read HORROR AUTHOR BRIAN KEENE FINALLY MEETS FANS IN WYOMING! Did I mention Tony yet? The dude who drove two hours through the fucking barren straits of Wyoming to meet Brian? Did I mention Owen, the three-year-old who nabbed a signed comic which he hopefully hermetically sealed so that by the time he graduates high school he’ll be able to eBay that bitch and pay for his college tuition? Did I mention the autistic kid who came in with his Dad? How about Kate? Who came this close to folding up Brian and putting him in her pocket and bringing him home to live in a terrarium in her living room? That’s what it looked like she wanted to do to him to my eyes anyway.

Did I mention Brian got a very cool HEROES ONLY T-shirt? I didn’t even get a biscotti.

But hey, I know how to handle. I don’t rattle. My upper lip is always stiff, baby, same as my naughty bits. I deal. I’m stone. I’m ice. I’m the Sultan of Swat, the King of Swing. I’m the fucking rock of Gibraltar. But I do get that sinking feeling below my loving and generous heart when only one person the whole day asks, "So, Tom, do you write too?"

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

THE COLD SPOT makes Amazon's top ten list of Best Mysteries and Thrillers of 2008

A bit of cool (ha ha) news:

As chosen by the editors at Amazon, THE COLD SPOT makes their top ten list of Best Mysteries and Thrillers of 2008! Click the link to check out the other titles. Needless to say, I'm humbled to be associated with such talent.

Saturday, November 1, 2008

Aiming for 46


I'm still getting to know my father, and on Nov. 4th he'll have been dead for thirty-six years.

This time of year always makes me think of him. In the last few months of his life he knew how ill he was with lung cancer, and he apparently wanted to spend a lot of time with me sharing one of his own great loves: horror movies. He took me to early runs of THE ABOMINABLE DOCTOR PHIBES and WAR OF THE GARGANTUAS when I was six. We used to spend Saturday afternoons and evenings watching Creature Features and Chiller Theater. I think back on just how many flicks we watched together and I think, Jesus, how could we have packed so many of them into so little time?

Autumn and especially Halloween always makes me really focus my attention on him. I can't even call him my "old man" because he died young, at the age of 46. My brother is 54 and older than our father ever made it. I'm 43 and I've got to admit that it's a weird thing, wondering if I'll make it over the hurdle of the next three years. His age is something of a benchmark. 46 is a number that threatens and haunts me. It says to me, "You think you can make it this far? You think you can last longer in life than he did? No way. It can't happen. You'll never reach it."

I can't remember much about him, and it's been a very long time since I've dreamed of him, but I wonder if we'd be able to hold a conversation if we met today. He was a sports nut and I know nothing about sports. He was a machinist, an engineer, and I can't even use a hammer correctly. But at least there'd be one common interest: horror flicks. We could at least talk about that.

Last night my wife and I watched CASTLE OF EVIL. If you haven't seen it, don't bother. It's a pretty awful flick. But there were scenes in it that I recalled from when my father and I watched it some Saturday afternoon nearly forty years ago, and a few years back I picked up a copy of CASTLE OF EVIL on VHS. Watching it last night, I could almost imagine that he was in the room with us, maybe seated over in my recliner. (It's one of the last images I have of him, sitting in a leather recliner in '72, weak in a red robe, with his throat deeply scabbed from failed surgeries.) Maybe he's sitting over there with his feet up, chuckling at the film, and looking around the room at the various signed horror film posters on the walls, and pointing out which ones we watched together when I was a kid.

The mind plays tricks. I have my memories of the man and I have my fantasies of the man. He appears in a lot of my fiction, in one form or another. Sometimes he's my father. Sometimes he's me. Sometimes I'm him, or trying to be, or failing to be. I don't write about him as much anymore because I don't need to. He's still heavy in my mind but perhaps not quite as much as when I was younger. Maybe if I hit 46 I won't Feel his ghost watching me from every corner. And maybe it's me keeping him here. Maybe if I hit 46 I'll finally let him go enough so that he can find his own his own peace.

It's something to try for.