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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

Monday, March 30, 2009

ITW Award nomination for "Between the Dark..."

While I'm honored beyond saying at being a finalist for the International Thriller Writers Award for my short story "Between the Dark and the Daylight," I am SO not looking forward to the inevitable beatdown I'm going to get from my esteemed and kickass fellow nominees.

Thriller Awards Nominees
The International Thriller Writers proudly announces its nominees for the 2009 Thriller Awards.

BEST THRILLER OF THE YEAR
Hold Tight by Harlan Coben
The Bodies Left Behind by Jeffrey Deaver
The Broken Window by Jeffrey Deaver
The Dark Tide by Andrew Gross
The Last Patriot by Brad Thor

BEST FIRST NOVEL
Calumet City by Charlie Newton
Child 44 by Tom Rob Smith
Criminal Paradise by Steven Thomas
Sacrifice by S. J. Bolton
The Killer's Wife by Bill Floyd

BEST SHORT STORY
Between the Dark and the Daylight (Ellery Queen Magazine) by Tom Piccirilli
Last Island South (Ellery Queen Magazine) by John C. Boland
The Edge of Seventeen (The Darker Mask) by Alexandra Sokoloff
The Point Guard (Killer Year Anthology) by Jason Pinter
Time of the Green (Killer Year Anthology) by Ken Bruen

THRILLERMASTER AWARD
David Morrell honoring his influential body of work

SILVER BULLET AWARD
Brad Meltzer for his outstanding charitable contributions

The Thriller Awards Banquet & Presentation is an event you don't want to miss. Register now for ThrillerFest 2009!Recipients will be recognized and winners announced at ThrillerFest 2009, July 8-11, Grand Hyatt, NYC. The Thriller Awards Banquet will be held Saturday July 11. For more information, registration and tickets, visit www.thrillerwriters.org.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

On the Edge of The Underneath or Pumice to the Pink

I read a lot of writers' blogs, and I'm surprised at how many of them talk abut always meeting their deadlines, always smoothly plotting out the work, always working non-stop for hours on end. Me, I'm here to tell you that, at least for this writer, I hit wall after wall. I fight with doubt and insecurity just about every day. I look at the work and my head spins, my heart sinks, my nerves itch. It probably happens for all of us stuck in front of the computer even on a beautiful day like today, but I'm amused by how few authors admit to it. If I didn't admit to it, I'm not sure what the hell else I'd have to blog about.

Case in point: my latest novel THE UNDERNEATH. This is the story of a young former thief named Terry who returns home to his family of professional card sharps, burglars, and grifters on the eve of his brother's execution. Five years earlier, Terry's brother, Collie, went on a night-long killing spree, murdering seven people for no reason. After leaving his family and the bent life behind, Terry returns when Collie asks him to visit him in prison. Collie admits to six of the killings, including a seven-year-old girl, but claims he's innocent of one of the murders. Why he bothers or even cares at this late date is a mystery, but Collie begs Terry to look into that single killing.

Loaded with his own baggage, Terry returns to his family and must face cops and criminals from the past. He must deal with a younger sister who runs with the wrong crowd, his feeble grandfather dying from Alzheimers, his card sharp uncles who have just cheated a local mobster.

Now, anyone who's read any of my fiction knows that the "ghosts from the past" is a major theme of my work. It's not because my own history is any more dramatic or haunting than yours or anybody else's. But the job of the writer is to constantly scratch at himself and dig up his own feelings, to pick at his scabs and sores and keep them bleeding. And it's in that running blood that he finds his conflicts and tensions and characters.

It takes a toll, this kind of self-rending. It gets me thinking about my older sister, who's mentally handicapped (or mentally disabled, or learning challenged, or whatever the new PC term is nowadays). When I was a kid I recall her growing very angry and frustrated over minor incidents. On occasion she'd lash out with incredible strength, but more often she'd wind up biting the backs of her hands. I remember my mother rubbing lotion on my sister's hands to soften the scars and calluses, and then she'd lovingly scrub them with pumice stone. Afterwards her hands would be pink and raw and shining, the outer layer of dead skin wiped away.

Maybe it's a strained metaphor, but that's how I'm feeling lately. Raw and pink and shiny, missing a few extra layers of hardshell. Some of it has to do with our current economic situation. Like many of you, I'm beating my brains out for a buck. I'm getting shanked everywhere I turn. But more than that, I think it's because each time out of the gate I try to stretch and strain myself to take my old themes and move them someplace new. To expand and expound upon them, to explore them further as my worldview and perspective shift with each passing year.

It's digging the well deeper and diverting the water. The deeper you go, the more stone you have to cut into. I'm starting to notice it more than ever before. Maybe because the last one, SHADOW SEASON, took a real toll. I had to face head-on my own terror of blindness. Not only face it, but put it to use. Laugh if you want, but I wrote most of the book with my eyes closed, imagining moment to moment, page to page, what it would be like to be blind, how frightened and enraged it would make me. It was like being frightened of heights but writing a book while sitting on the roof. The fear and anger became me, the way I became the book.

With THE UNDERNEATH there are some new pains and aches and unresolved issues to discuss. Some of them will be obvious to my readers, some won't be. Some I'll see clearly and some I won't notice until I'm nearly finished with the novel, or well after. Right now though, there's a couple of things that keep catching in my craw, putting me on edge. It makes me resist the story. The scenes meant to build tension in the reader build tension in me, and who needs that kind of shit on a sunny glorious spring day? I don't. But I still need to keep to my deadlines. I still need to face down the empty page. I still need to face my doubt and fear. I still need to punch through my own hindrance and defense. Once again I need to bring pumice to the pink and scuff another layer off.

And how was your day?

Friday, March 13, 2009

Shadow Season - The Coldest Mile CONTEST


In the neverending effort to hawk wares and win vainglorious emotional validation, I'm holding my first blog contest.

THE PRIZE: From today, lucky Friday, March 13th until your favorite day of the year April 15th, you'll have a chance to win a SIGNED, PRE-ADVANCE READING COPY of my next novel SHADOW SEASON, due out October 27th. This is a printed out copy of the final edited manuscript placed in one of those cheapo binders with the cover art attached. Publishers occasionally send these out extra-early to start some buzz and bring in a few early blurbs. Only about 20 of these have been done, and this is the only one that is signed by me.

HOW TO PLAY: Simple. Buy, read, and promote the hell out of my latest novel THE COLDEST MILE, the follow-up to my Edgar Award-nominated THE COLD SPOT. (Now here is where you get to say, "Well hellooo Mr. Fancypants!") Blog about it, review it on Amazon.com or B&N.com or elsewhere, sing my well-earned praises, and then send me the link. Anybody who makes an honest effort (And I'll spot you lazy lollygaggers, oh yes I will) goes into the drawing.

If you don't already have a copy of THE COLDEST MILE you can click the handy dandy link just to the right there. I know how much it hurts that the other children keep pointing and laughing at you while holding up their copies of TCM and frolicking all about the playground. It hurts me as well. But in this case, it's okay to give in to peer pressure. Seriously. Join the cool kids.

SHADOW SEASON is the story of a blind ex-cop turned teacher at an isolated girls' school. Amid some scandalous events concerning an enamored student, he tries to struggle by with his handicap and a lot of unresolved issues dealing with his girlfriend, his dead wife, and his former partner. When a deadly blizzard hits, it brings along with it a mysterious girl and a pair of killers.

You also might want to consider becoming a follower of this blog (i.e., A Minion in Pic's Dark Legions) so you won't miss out on other promotions, giveaways, news, and writing advice.

Now off you go--

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Some Kind Words


Awesome editor & writer Jeff Vandermeer recently wrote an article for Amazon.com over on Omnivoracious, where he was kind enough to inform folks that "modern noir master Tom Piccirilli brings the heat with THE COLDEST MILE." Check it out when you get the chance, and make sure you also read through Jeff's other incredibly informative posts.

Also, the great crime/thriller writer Sean Doolittle, author of THE CLEANUP and the spanking new hardcover release SAFER, was kind enough to grace me with a blurb: "Tom Piccirilli is fast becoming one of the most notable names among today’s top suspense writers. Join the growing club of Piccirilli fans and you’ll see exactly what everybody’s been talking about. . . "

Bruce Grossman over at Bookgasm gave a spanking fine review of TCM, saying that "the book fires on all cylinders, like a souped-up GTO on straightaway." Sweet.

And thanks to my wife & webmistress Michelle, there's a big update and new look to my official website.

The photo of Mitchum is because, of course, you cannot use the word noir without posting a photo of Mitchum. You know it's true. So tell me, which is your favorite Mitchum noir? OUT OF THE PAST? HIS KIND OF WOMAN? WHERE DANGER LIVES? CROSSFIRE? MACAO? THE BIG STEAL?

Monday, March 9, 2009

The Gift & the Disappointment

The eight-year-old daughter that I don't have rushes into my office, leaps onto my lap, and asks me to help her with her homework. We spend a few minutes doing basic math and practicing her spelling. She's got her d's and b's switched around. She's bright and precocious and she's missing an upper tooth. She's got curly brown hair, like me, and when she zips out of the room she turns her head and her corkscrew curls bounce wildly and she says, "Thank you, Daddy." My dog, Edgar, who is real, runs after her.

I look down at my computer monitor and there's a line about a man who is fighting his friend, trying to stop him from killing someone. I fiddle with the line. I add to it. It becomes two sentences, then a paragraph. Then a page.

I head downstairs. My father, who's been dead for 35 years, is standing on my patio with a spatula in hand, occasionally flipping burgers on the grill. He looks the same as he did when he died at 46. I'm nearly as old as he is now. I have more gray in my hair than he does. I sit at the picnic table and start reading the paper and we talk about...something. I don't know what. I can't really hear him. I don't remember the sound of his voice. I remember his smile though. He's smiling now.

My mother, whose been gone 7 years, is in the kitchen making salad. She calls out to my father and asks him what kind of dressing he'd like. He doesn't respond because he's feeding Edgar one of the hotdogs he's overcooked. My daughter is beside me. She's laughing and her laughter fires through my chest and fills me so much joy that I feel like my heart will explode.

I look down at my computer monitor and there's a line about a woman turning over in bed and asking someone to kill her husband.

Edgar lies down at my feet and nestles his chin on top of my foot. I glance out the window at the back yard. The grill is cold. The patio furniture has been put away in the shed.

My daughter stands in the doorway crying. She bumped her knee. I hold her, shushing her, until she quiets. She goes to sleep in my arms. I press my nose to her hair and breathe in her scent deeply.

I'm chewing on a pen. My hands are a blur on the keypad. The next page is about a Hollywood agent trying to rip off a client.

This is how my workday goes.

Writers slip in and out of identities. We can be cops or gunmen or high-paid assassins. We can be heroes or badasses. That's where the work takes us, into our own fantasies, into romanticized notions of ourselves.

And then drops us back into our real selves. And at least one element of that fantasy is comprised of daydreams–the common and average daydreams that fill out my common and average life. The people I miss are returned to me. The ones who were never born are there for me to cuddle and protect. It's what happens when my mind wanders. I drift. I dive into the page. I call back to memory. I get swept away. Sometimes it goes so far that when I'm snapped back into myself it's something of a shock and I feel like someone's thrown cold water in my face. I suck air through my teeth like I've been holding my breath for minutes. Maybe I have. That's the power, the pain, the gift and the disappointment of trying on someone else's skin. Even if that someone else looks exactly like me.

My daughter asks if I'm busy. I tell her no. She giggles and asks me to read her a story.

My hands flash. I shut my eyes and the writing continues.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Neo-Noir, Baby

The Cold books are heavily influenced by the 50s Gold Medal classic authors such as David Goodis, Charles Williams, Jim Thompson, Harry Whittington, Peter Rabe, Bruno Fischer, Gil Brewer, and Donald Westlake (Richard Stark). For those of you who don't know, Gold Medal was a paperback publisher noted especially for its crime fiction. Unless you live and breathe this kind of writing (and even if you don't, you should keep your eyes open when hanging around the secondhand shops), you've probably only heard of one or two of those names in passing.

But they were all something special back in the day–many of them massive bestsellers--and even if they're mostly forgotten now, they remain special in their own right. You've seen a lot of movies based on their books, even if you didn't know it. Their influence is felt throughout the entire mystery genre. And there's been a recent resurgence in this specific kind of noir/hardboiled material. Current authors like Charlie Huston, Duane Swierczynski, Sean Doolittle, and Ken Bruen (check The Big Adios for interviews with all these guys) have run with noirish tropes and taken them to new heights...or, more accurately put, new depths.

When I started work on THE COLD SPOT and THE COLDEST MILE I went in with the hopes of distilling just about everything I loved about the form, the themes, the action, and the humor, and pouring all of that into my own work. Creating my protagonist, Chase, who lived in the underworld of crime but still had his own code of honor, and finding out what might push his buttons. What might bring out the best in him, and the worst. And what might force him to consider breaking that code and becoming the person that he most hated in the world...his own grandfather, Jonah.

If it's one thing those classic writers knew about, it was how to keep a story moving at full-speed. I also wanted to stomp the pedal and let the engine scream. I wanted to write hardboiled but with some real heart and soul. Moments of grace and reflection. I thought it was important to have more thoughtful elements in the books to help balance the story out. It's a part of who I am and what my worldview is. Action is terrific but you need a greater context. The work has to actually be ABOUT something. I've got things I want to examine and scrutinize. Things that genuinely matter to me. The hardboiled and noir elements are there to underscore and dramatize all the other stuff. The Cold books are as much about family, loss, love, and heartache as they are about guns and scores and wheelmen. And sometimes the bloody action scenes and the emotionally-charged ones are the same.

That's one of the things I like best about the crime genre. You never know when someone is going to shake hands or pull a S&W .38. Or betray a friend or save a life. Or fall in love or dive into lifelong hatred. The whole human condition from best to worst can crop up at any second.