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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

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Living with Fear, Anger, Anxiety, and the Deep Need to Smack the Shit Out of Almost Everybody

Okay, I admit it. I’m moody.

We all have days when we wake up edgy. Today was one of mine. Sometimes there’s a reason for it, sometimes there isn’t. Sometimes you come up out of your dreams or nightmares already in the throes of an anxiety attack. I don’t get them much anymore, but when they hit they usually nail me as I’m falling asleep or just waking up. My heart is hammering and I can’t quite move yet, and my woes and worries and regrets are all melted together into one great iron anvil set down on my chest. It kind of sets the mood for the rest of the day.

So, besides being rattled off my pillows by a phone call at 7:30 am by some guy trying to sell me new windows ("But it’s not a sale, we DO NOT want your money, Tom! We want to GIVE YOU these windows! All we want you to pay for is...")...

And besides being shook out from under the covers at 7:45 by the same prick who clearly didn’t understand the implications of my saying, "FUCK YOU! DO NOT CALL BACK!" and slamming the phone down in his ear...

Besides being set on course by a panic attack about a half hour after that, no doubt due to the adrenaline already surging through my system...

Besides the fact that my wife’s credit card was hacked and maxed out by some online scammers who have the audacity to put their phone number and website right there on the cc bill...and if you hit the site you find a page that states: "If you want to know why you are being charged, put in your credit card number..."

Besides the fact that the shit economy, the closing of bookstores, and the loss of a literate culture is putting even more pressure on the publishing companies to only put out "commercial fiction" despite no one knowing what is commercial and just what might make for a major seller...

Despite my work being just about anything but commercial, and my hitting an oil slick of the spirit that has me rolling and tumbling along the open road, unsure of what direction the next book should go...

Besides the fact that after the Edgar Award nominations were announced a week or so ago I’ve seen at least three brouhahas burst out about how political awards are, how meaningless, how stupid, how discouraging, how empty, and how mercenary they are, all of which tends to overshadow my sixteen seconds in the sunshine and detract from my own Edgar nod...

Despite the fact that I just finished Sean Doolittle’s new novel SAFER and it’s brilliant and I’m green-eyed and slathering with jealousy...

Despite the fact that I just started Charlie Huston’s new bestselling novel THE MYSTIC ARTS OF ERASING ALL SIGNS OF DEATH and it’s brilliant and I’m green-eyed and slathering with jealousy...

Despite today being the official start of our one-month countdown until THE COLDEST MILE hits bookstore shelves, and I’ve got that burning stomach pain of eagerness as I wait to see what fans will think of the novel...

Regardless of ALL that, I still plan to get my ass in gear, walk the dogs around the lake, smile and wave to the neighbors and strangers as well, then sit my fat ass back in the desk chair and stare at the empty page until the next part of the story slithers into my brain, creeps down through my nervous systems, fills my heart, and pumps power into my hands to type out the next word, the next sentence, the next paragraph, the next page...until the story is done and the next one begins...and the next...and the next...

So that’s where I am at the moment–

And how was your day?

Sunday, January 18, 2009

New Interview Up

There's a new, brief interview with me up over at Ed "the man" Gorman's PRO-FILE. We cover the ground of career highs and lows, new work, and lots of groovy stuff in between. If you haven't already checked out Ed's blog, make sure you stick around and scroll back through his archives. It's funny, informative, and full of Monk-love.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

THE COLD SPOT nominated for an Edgar Award

Yesterday the Mystery Writers of America announced the nominees for the 2009 Edgar Allan Poe Awards, honoring the best in mystery fiction, non-fiction, television and film published or produced in 2008. And it is with complete jaw-dropping awe that I can say that THE COLD SPOT has made the list in the Best Paperback Original Novel category. The Edgar(R) Awards will be presented to the winners at our 63rd Gala Banquet, April 30, 2009 at the Grand Hyatt Hotel, New York City, even as we celebrate the 200th anniversary of the birth of Edgar Allan Poe.

Although I wrote three mysteries early in my career, and although some of my later titles such as NOVEMBER MOURNS, THE DEAD LETTERS, HEADSTONE CITY, and THE MIDNIGHT ROAD are all horror-crime fusions, THE COLD SPOT is my first real crime novel.
As a genre, Crime wasthe last that I tackled. I'd been a staunch reader of science fiction, fantasy (especially sword & sorcery), and horror, but it wasn't until I tackled Raymond Chandler's THE LITTLE SISTER about 20 years back that I really launched into reading the field. Odd that it should take me those 20 years to really dive in and write it.

In an interview, Harry Crews once said that he didn't much admire "science fiction and detective stories" because they weren't close enough to the real blood and bone of life. In a fashion, I suppose that's why it took me so long to come to writing crime. At first, I was more eager to get away from the world and create my own, than to tackle deeper issues that my mid-life crisis (or more properly crises) have hurled me into. We all have doubts and questions about our lives, especially when we start to hit the hill. We fear the waste, we fear the inevitable. We search for answers about our own morality and mortality. And I can't think of a better genre to delve into those issues than in Crime.

Not because it's a genre that deals with black and white, but because it features a wider horizon of gray. To me it's a much truer parallel of the real world. Of the place closest to blood and bone. It's where the confusions an frustrations of our lives are pared down to a single thread. One mission, one cause, one ambition. Whether it's to score a bank or to have your righteous revenge, the world is narrowed and focused down for you. As a writer, I suppose in some bizarre way that's my favorite element of the genre. I can distill all my daily fears and pains and regrets, and I can plant them into a story where some fucker has a halfway decent shot of figuring the world out. Even if he does so from a prison cell or a police station or a morgue slab. In the end, he gets his answer.

In any case, let me just say that I'm flattered and honored as hell to make the Edgar list. Good luck to all my fellow nominees.

You can check the complete list HERE.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

I went to a funeral today for a man I'd never met

I went to a funeral today for a man I'd never met.

He shot himself after some binge drinking at a local dive bar. His friends wouldn't let him drive and called him a cab. He got home in a foul mood, argued with his wife, and in a fit of depression where he kept calling himself a loser, he grabbed up a gun. He threatened that he'd kill her with it and then turn it on himself. She ran from the house to a neighbor's place, and while she called 911 they heard a single gunshot. The cops told her not to check on her husband and stay at the neighbor's with the lights out. The cops found him dead while she huddled in the dark.

It's an awful story, and it's easy to make knee-jerk judgments. He must've been a gun freak. He must've had a drug problem. He must've been a drunk. He must've been bitter, mean, guilty, or insane. A loner, someone with a dark soul, a black or empty heart.

But at his memorial service I heard one testimonial after another from his friends and family about how much they loved him. About what a positive influence he was on their lives. I've never heard people sob like this before. After five days of weeping his wife could only whimper throughout. his children found the strength to say a few words about how wonderful a father he was. All their hearts were genuinely broken. His younger brother gave a poignant yet amusing memoir about their time as boys. He spoke of his brother's encouragement, protection, aid, and affection. His taste in books and music, much of which I shared.

I learned some things about him. He was a well-educated man. He had a job working in nuclear waste disposal. He was a mechanic, someone who loved to take apart cars and put them together again. He owned motorcycles. He had a large house in the country. It was full of every tool someone might ever want or need. He had a loving family. He had many neighbors who all thanked him for always helping each one of them out many times over.

Most of us know that loser feeling. We all have different definitions of it. Most of us might feel it when we're too deep in debt. When we can't afford a house. When we're unemployed. When we're incapable. When we're alone and drifting.

I'm trying to figure out what his definition might have been. In all the ways that I understand the word "loser," I can't find how he might have applied it to himself. So far as I know, no one else can either.

I keep looking at his photo from the memorial. He's what some of my buddies and I would call a hip older brother/a cool hepcat dad. He's got a vibe about him, something that makes you think, Hey, I'd like to hang out with this guy. He could show me a great deal about the world, we could have heavy discussions, he could teach a bookworm like me about the forests and lakes and mountains, about tools, about cars, the way my own father never got a chance to.

I have to admit I'm as fascinated by it all as I am moved. I see a handsome woodsman in his early 50s with a thick beard that has less gray in it than my own. He's tall and virile yet unassuming. There's towering douglas fir behind him. He's squinting straight into the camera but he isn't smiling. I noticed in the slideshow presentation at the service that he rarely smiled. He made goofy faces and looked cool, hep, brawny, knowing, but he rarely grinned. Out of 100+ photos of him I only counted two where he smiled.

I try not to make too much of that but perhaps it's a statement of itself. Or maybe not. Maybe he was someone who just didn't mug for the camera. Who didn't like to hit a pose because someone told him to say cheese.

In most of the pictures he's outdoors. In the mountains, in fields, the desert, or on the road. He's straddling a motorcycle or hanging with groups of buddies, kissing his ma. In one, he and his family are all dressed up as characters from the Wizard of Oz. He's the wizard, of course.

In a lot of the photos he's holding tightly to his wife. She's a very pretty lady and she's always lit up brightly. She holds on to him too, as if she fears that he might slip away if she doesn't.

It's an odd feeling, wanting to meet a stranger who's dead by his own hand. But I'm not as interested in his last ugly minutes as I am in meeting the man he was up until that final day.

I'm looking more closely at the memorial photo and I see now that his lips are slightly parted, as if he's just about to say something or just come to the end of a sentence.

I keep wondering what he's said, what he's saying, and what he has left to tell us.

Thursday, January 1, 2009

RIP Donald Westlake


One of the grandmasters of the mystery genre, a true giant in the field, DONALD WESTLAKE, passed away yesterday while vacationing in Mexico. God love his heart, he was writing right up to the end, and will have a new Dortmunder novel GET REAL out in April, and Hard Case Crime is reprinting his first novel THE MERCENARIES under the title THE CUTIE, due out in just a few weeks. His Parker books, written under the pseudonym Richard Stark, is one of the most influential series ever to hit the crime field. Westlake got down and dirty with that, giving us a memorable anti-hero professional thief who had no compunction about taking out damn near anybody who got in his way.

His novels THE AX and THE HOOK are brilliant and gut-wrenching suspense novels that do double duty as satires of the job market and publishing fields. Even during the most gripping and bloody parts of those books, you can almost hear Westlake chuckling to himself.

We exchanged a few letters back when THE AX was published in '97. I reviewed it for B&N.com or Mystery News, I forget, and it just knocked my legs out from under me. I'd never read a novel that was true at its core, so painfully honest, so powerfully told, and yet was so nihilistic and blackly humorous that you couldn't help laughing at the pure ludicrous nature of the story. For those of you who don't know, it's about a recently unemployed white collar worker who decides to bump off his top half-dozen rivals for a similar position. This isn't a man who's killing because he's evil or because he wants to knock over a bank or inherit millions or for the sake of vengeance. No, this poor schlep just wants a job.

Anyway, I mailed the review to Westlake and he responded with a lengthy letter saying that I had "gotten it," that I understood exactly what he was going for when writing the book. Although the reviews had been positive, he felt that most of the reviewers seemed to miss the point. He was heartened by my comments, which thrilled me to no end, let me tell you, Sparky.

His early Parker novels have recently been reprinted, beginning with THE HUNTER (PAYBACK). It kills me to know we won't have any new ones. That we won't see a new Dortmunder adventure every year. Thankfully he was amazingly prolific and his work from four and five decades ago is still first-rate and still being reprinted. If you haven't already parktaken of Parker or Dotmunder or Grofield, if you haven't read the hilarious standalones like SOMEBODY OWES ME MONEY, GOD SAVE THE MARK, PUT A LID ON IT, MONEY FOR NOTHING, COPS AND ROBBERS, BABY WOULD I LIE? or HUMANS, then do so asap. Nab whatever you can, you won't be sorry.

Godspeed, Don!