About Me

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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

Wednesday, December 17, 2008


All right, we expect strange and unusual things from the people who worship Jerry Lewis, but I've got to say, the French really get seriously weird when it comes to their cover art. Or at least their cover art of my books. For A CHOIR OF ILL CHILDREN they had had a Raggedy Ann doll holding a hatchet. What that had to do with the book, I have no idea, although I thought it was pretty cool.

Now they give us the French translation of THE DEAD LETTERS, retitled THE REDEMPTION OF THE SANDMAN. This is much more in keeping with my original title THE REPENTANCE OF KILLJOY, which my editor considered to be too oddball. Maybe that's why the French embraced it. In any case, the cover art really caught me left-handed when I first viewed it, but I admit that it's growing on me now. In fact, I completely missed out on why the teeth were so much of a caricature until my French publisher reminded me that my protagonist has fits of rage where he champs on things like the trunk of his car. (Hey, I've written about 400k words of fiction since TDL, I can't remember everything).

So, let me know what you think.

Saturday, December 13, 2008


Here's the cover of the German edition of The Midnight Road, retititled as the soft, warm, and fuzzy PAIN. Our German friends certainly do like their horror to be at least as hardcore as their music. In fact, the horror line itself is called HEYNE HARDCORE, and if you check the reviews of the German edition of KILLZONE (The Dead Letters) over on Amazon.de you'll see it gets pretty badly bashed by readers who find that it's not nearly gruesome enough as they've been led to believe. Well, anyway, you'll see that if you can read German or if you spend a large part of your morning cutting and pasting into the translator over at Dictionary.com.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Best Mystery Stories of 2008

Also wanted to drop a quick note to say that my tale "Between the Dark and the Daylight," originally published in Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine, was chosen for BEST MYSTERY STORIES OF 2008 ed. by Ed Gorman & Martin H. Greenberg. A real honor for me.

All You Despise now shipping

Publisher Tim Deal of Shroud Publishing has informed me that my novella ALL YOU DESPISE is now shipping.

Here's the product info from Shroud's homepage:

Shroud Publishing (http://www.shroudmagazine.com/) is proud to announce the upcoming publication of a new novella by one of the most respected and dynamic voices in the horror and suspense genres: Tom Piccirilli.

In All You Despise, a signed, illustrated, limited edition hardcover, Piccirilli's characteristically lean prose grimly illustrates the high price of redemption and the violent limits of brotherly love.
When a nameless man awakens to find his blood-spattered brother passed out in his trailer it sets off a chain of painful, hard-hitting events that tests family loyalty and shows the savage impact of a father's dark legacy.

Fast-paced and packing a visceral punch, All You Despise will keep the reader anxiously turning pages all the way to its unexpected conclusion.

This exclusive offering from Shroud Publishing features a special introduction penned by Bram Stoker-winning author Brian Keene and stunning illustrations by veteran illustrator Alex McVey. Both contributors will also sign this special limited edition alongside the author.

Limited to only 500 copies and available only from Shroud Publishing, All You Despise will be a unique addition to your quality book collection.

All You Despise will be priced to move at only $29.99.

Tom Piccirilli is the author of twenty novels including THE COLD SPOT, THE COLDEST MILE, THE MIDNIGHT ROAD, A CHOIR OF ILL CHILDREN, and THE DEAD LETTERS. He's won the International Thriller Writers Award, is a four-time winner of the Bram Stoker Award and has been a finalist for the World Fantasy Award and Le Grand Prix de L'Imagination. Learn more at http://www.thecoldspot.blogspot.com/

Brian Keene is a two-time Bram Stoker Award winning horror author. His novels include Dead Sea, Ghoul, City of the Dead, Terminal, The Conqueror Worms, Fear Of Gravity, and many more. Several of his books and stories have been optioned for film, video game and comic book adaptations. The New York Times, Fangoria, the History Channel, and others have credited Keene with ushering in the new era of zombie popularity in pop culture.

Alex McVey is an award-winning illustrator whose work has been published internationally, ranging from album art to graphic design to book illustration. He has illustrated the works of Stephen King, Joe R. Lansdale, Gahan Wilson, Brian Keene, Ramsey Cambpell, and Richard Matheson, among others. His clients include ad firms, gaming companies, film studios, bands, and book and magazine publishers.

Send check or money order made out to
Be sure to include your current mailing address and enough to cover shipping:
US SHIPPING - $3.50 for first book, add $1.00 for each thereafter; CANADA - $4.50 for first book, $1.00 thereafter; UK - $8.00/$2.00
Be sure to indicate "All You Despise" in your order.
Check out the website at http://www.shroudmagazine.com/

Saturday, December 6, 2008

My Broken Bushy Tail

In the past couple of days two successful writer buddies of mine dropped me lines saying they were thinking of pulling out of the publishing biz. Their emails were practically identital. It was too difficult to make a buck. It was too hard on the ego to try to write quality fiction only to be told by one's editor that it wasn't commercial enough. Sales were down. Advances were down. The magic was gone.

Crises of faith, rages at peers, editors, and fans, disgust with the quality of work you read and the work you write, bouts of bitterness, thoughts of quitting, it's all a part of doing this insanity we do for a living. It's a part of the process, right up until the day that one of us actually quits and decides to 9-to-5 it and nab some health benefits.

One pal said that writing just wasn't fun anymore. It was a painful experience now having to make deadlines. Picking up the published books and seeing his work in anthologies and magazines didn't give him the same thrill anymore. The overwhelming, profound grandness of literature had downshifted into malaise. Writing had become just a job.

It's a lesson we all learn. Some early on and some later in life. I lost a lot of my bushy-tailed and bright-eyed sensility of fun early in the game. It's probably served me well over the long haul.

Listen well, chillun. We're about to go into a flashback sequence here, where the screen gets wavy and squishy, the film desaturates, and here we are in the yellowed past.

After my novel DARK FATHER came out I received a very positive review from Charlie Grant, which thrilled me to no end (I was always thankful to him for that, even though he seemed to hate my fucking guts in all the years that followed). A few days later I met Joe Citro for drinks at a bar on LI, which was a big thing since he was the very first living, breathing horror writer I ever met. If you haven't heard of Joe, he had a number of eerie novels out at the time, most famously THE UNSEEN. Talking to him was like being welcomed into the inner sanctum. Then Doug Clegg called me to say how much he dug my work. Another writer taking the time to chat with insignificant me.

I was 25 and still riding a high when a few months later I picked up the latest issue of CD--which was still pretty much in its infancy at that time--only to read an interview Citro did with a dude named Richard Weilgosh.

Who the fuck is he? asks you.

I'm still not sure. He was a reviewer, and who interviews reviewers asks I.

I'd never heard of him before or since, but Joe treated him like royalty. Of course, the inevitable question, "And what's the worst book you read this year?" came up, and--as if you couldn't see this coming--Weilgosh responded DARK FATHER.

Oh, my heart, my broken bushy tail.

He said it was both unreadable and predictable.

How can you predict what you can't read asks I.

To know there was some cat out there I'd never met before who actually HATED my book, called it THE WORST...well, that was an eye-opener. That was a bright-eye dimmer. And here it was in black-and-white for all to see between the pages of my fave mag.

But that's a part of the game. You need a thick skin to survive attacks from the outside, but you need to know that there's just as many skirmishes and wars going on inside. The doubts, the fears, the rust, man...you quit writing for two or three days and the rust just builds and clots and covers. It's a hellacious ordeal trying to break free.

You bitch and moan and vent. You try to keep the faith between the battles with frustration and disappointment. In the end it all comes back to being a part of the thing you love most...that searing, overhwelming, breathtaking feeling you get when words on a page are strung together so well that they come to life and squeeze your heart.

That's why we keep returning to the desk and doing what we do.

Well, that, and the hot chick groupies, of course.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Novembre De Luto

For all you Pic completists (Hi, Grandma!) the Spanish edition of NOVEMBER MOURNS is currently out from La Factoria De Ideas. They're the good folks who also brought out translations for THE NIGHT CLASS and A CHOIR OF ILL CHILDREN. Since I don't read Spanish, I'm only taking a guess that you can order a copy here. I haven't received my author copies yet, but their books are very quality products, printed as huge trade paperbacks that have those cool dust jacket flaps attached right to the covers. They even lifted a photo from my website of me mugging for the camera and holding up our chihuahua Byron.

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.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

GUN WORK is David Schow's return to hardboiled/neo-noir novels after the haunting asskicker BULLETS OF RAIN. This time out he gives us the revenge-bent Barney (yes, really), your typical ex-soldier, dangerous man of action who wants to help a buddy out and winds up being woefully mistreated in a Mexican "hostage hotel."
You can check out my interview with David over at THE BIG ADIOS, where he schools us in just who was the best Mike Hammer on TV, why his stepmother took him to Mexico to get haircuts, the world of masked wrestling, and whether it really is possible to have your trigger-finger amputated and still fire forty rounds in thirty seconds with your fuck-you finger.

And for all of you out there who are currently curious about Tony Hillerman's novels because you just heard he died, then shame on you. You should've been reading him all along, Spanky. Luckily, he's got a hell of an amazing canon. In the early part of his career he wrote about the wise lieutenant Joe Leaphorn. After Joe retired, Hillerman introduced us to the young and occasionally brash Jim Chee. After several solo Chee novels, Hillerman decided to write novels featuring both characters. They're all worth your time and effort. I personally dig the Leaphorn novels best, but you really can't go wrong with any works by the master.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

ACC #60 - I'm a Cyborg...And That's Okay!

The latest issue of Asian Cult Cinema features my article about Chan-Wook Park's I'M A CYBORG...AND THAT'S OKAY. Park is primarily known to action and horror film fans as the director of the brilliant and bloody OLDBOY, SYMPATHY FOR MR. VENGEANCE, and LADY VENGEANCE.

His most recent film though is a beautiful and endearing fantasy about an emotionally unstable young woman who, after her schizophrenic grandma is carted off, comes to believe she is a cyborg. Committed to a mental hospital herself, she and a fellow patient begin a strange and poignant courtship even while she grows more and more delusional. Like Park's other films, CYBORG is moving and haunting, and it's been unfairly overlooked by his own legions of fans.

Also in this issue is an article by Max Allan Collins about two recent Mongol-mania films about Gengis Khan; Ric Meyers' take on the 50 best Shaw Brothers Kung Fu flicks; an interview with Bong Jun-Ho, the director of MEMORIES OF MURDER and THE HOST; and tons of essays and reviews on Asian horror/action/samurai/yakuza flicks. If you're a fan of Asian flicks, defintely subscribe to the magazine. Also check out their website for some good prices on rare imports.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Readers Wanna Know

I received a lot of questions this week about my work, process, etc., and figured I'd answer a few of them in one fell swoop. So here I am, falling and swooping.

Why did you make the switch from horror to crime fiction?

The older I've gotten the less interested I've been in the fantastical, for some reason. Maybe it's just yet another sign of my mid-life crisis, but I find the world at large to be a more disturbing place than anything I'm likely to find in horror/dark fantasy fiction. Maybe this was always the case, but it never felt like it before. As a young man I suffered from Luke Skywalker syndrome as so aptly pointed out by Yoda, poking him in the ribs: "A Jedi must have the deepest commitment, the most serious mind. This one a long time have I watched. Never his mind on where he was. Hmm? What he was doing. Hmph."

That describes me pretty well. The need to fantasize has always been with me, but in my younger days those fantasies--the form my writing took--always involved the supernatural, the world beyond our own. Now, I'm more focused on the world we live in, and what lives inside of us. Our own capacity for evil, for being the outlaw, for violence.

I really enjoy your horror, but I'm not all interested in crime fiction. I want blood, death, and frights. Why should I tackle your newer novels and stories?

Because I'm considered part of a school called neo-noir. The tales are usually action-packed but bleak, bloody, authentic, and dark as hell. Check out Allan Guthrie's SAVAGE NIGHT if you really want some blood, death, and frights. That kid doesn't hold anything back. He comes out of the corner swinging and by the end of the first chapter you've got a headless corpse and a murdered young man on your hands. Read his previous title HARD MAN. In that one you've got a crucified dude in the basement and a hero who's tied up and tortured for a fair amount of the novel.

Read Duane Swierczynski's SEVERANCE PACKAGE, where a group of corporate peons discover they've been working for a black ops government bureau that's about to be terminated. And so are they, by their own boss.

Go buy yourself some Ken Bruen, and visit with his Irish PI Jack Taylor, who is probably the most put-upon character in all of modern crime fiction. This guy gets beat to shit in every novel he appears in. Physically, emotionally, and spiritally. He's had his teeth knocked out, his knees crushed, and wound up catatonic in a mental hospital. You want horror, check in with Ken Bruen.

My own THE MIDNIGHT ROAD features a man revived after nearly a half hour in a frozen lake, who suddenly becomes the target of a murderer. THE COLD SPOT deals with a young thief who has to fight his own stone cold killer grandfather, first to break away and then again when he needs help getting revenge on the people who executed his wife.

Starting to catch on, Skippy? Crime fiction can be just as bold and wrenching as horror. Maybe even more so, since the rules are understood from the very opening. No angels are going to show up in the final chapter to draw your ass out of the fire. No holy water is going to stop your foe, no last minute antidote to the killer virus will be found. It's just you and someone who wants to kill you, and you live or die by just how much pain you can take and how much smarter and tougher you are over the other guy, or how much smarter and tougher he is than you.

Some of your fiction deals with personal loss and tragedy. I can't face such pain head-on in my own work, so how do you find inspiration in it?

Most writers will tell you that writing about something painful is a kind of purgation. It's a way of purging yourself of the burden and weight of that experience. We all have a monkey on our back, something that holds on year in and out. A lost loved one, a tragedy of some sort. And it doesn't even have to be that big a dramatic or even interesting moment. Some small embarrassment or slight that happened twenty years ago can still contain a certain kind of power. You plug into that power and see where it leads you. Maybe down into hell, maybe towards redemption, maybe you even finally manage to divert some of its impact and find humor or enlightenment in it.

Inspiration is always inherent. It comes from within you. Sure, looking at the ocean or having a conversation with a great wit or listening to a favorite song might fire you up, but it's how you process that information, what it instills inside you or dredges up that is really the stuff of your work. You distill it. You absorb it. Your inspiration becomes you.

Oh my fucking god, don't you ever shut up about this deep crap and just talk about movies or something?

Okay, here's one that's a guilty pleasure. The film version of James M. Cain's BUTTERFLY finally hit DVD this week. Starring Stacy Keach, Pia Zadora, James Franciscus, and Orson Welles, the film made a splash at the time (1982) for its incestuous theme, Pia's uber-sensuality, and a pretty exploitive script. This film has been roundly thrashed for nearly 30 years, but after watching it again I think it's actually a pretty faithful adaptation of Cain's material and has been unfairly maligned.

It's the story of a hermit-like silver mine guard (Keach) living out in the Nevada desert during the Depression who is visited by the teenage daughter (Zadora) he hasn't seen for over ten years. She's been raised by her prostitute mother and is now a woman-child who knows how to wrap men around her finger. She's had a baby out of wedlock and is hoping for her young wealthy boyfriend to marry her. In the meantime, she intends to get her father to help her mine what little silver is left in the mountain to get her some start-up cash.

Make no mistake, it's not a good flick. It's equal parts arthouse movie and exploitation, meaning it's pretty and very slow and theatrical, but there's a nice undercurrent of steamy sexuality and rage. From the onset Keach is attracted to his own daughter, who seems perfectly willing to let daddy do the deed. She's hyper-sexed herself and only knows one way to get the things she wants. Cain's hardboiled and streamlined style is submerged here. The original novella is brimming with these very dark elements, but the filmmakers decided to home in almost entirely on the incestuous angle so we could see Zadora's tits in the bathtub. This is not an entirely bad thing.

But if the crime angle had been better balanced into the equation, we could've had a more compelling and suspenseful story, which really doesn't pop until the last twenty minutes or so when Keach finally stops being so tormented by his conflicted nature and finally acts. Zadora was never a good actress but the film and her career were primarily sunk due to the fact that she married the very wealthy producer of the movie. When she won a golden globe for a film that hadn't yet been released in the US, everybody cried foul and said her husband had bought the award for her. Listening to the commentary on the film, her husband acknowledges the fact that she only won because the other nominees for the golden globes spit the votes among them, leaving Zadora a wildcard who only beat them out by a single vote in the end. At any rate, if you've got an afternoon to kill, there are worse ways to spend it than looking at Zadora's supernatural beauty in Butterfly.

Friday, October 17, 2008

The Well - Jack Cady

Centipede Press has reprinted the late Jack Cady's first novel THE WELL in a beautiful cloth hardcover editon.

From their website: "Jack Cady's classic novel of evil is brought to new life in an expanded edition. Built by three generations obsessed with satanic superstition and violence, the house of the Trackers is a monstrous labyrinth of horrors designed to thwart the devil. This edition of THE WELL features a new introduction by Tom Piccirilli and two of Jack Cady's best short stories, "The Sounds of Silence," and "I Take Care of Things." Also reprinted is Cady's Hugo and Nebula-winning novella "The Night We Buried Road Dog" and a fourth piece, the stunning war novella "By Reason of Darkness." Signed by Tom Piccirilli. Limited to 250 copies. Cover image: J.K. Potter. Cloth, $75."

Jack and I only met once in the meat world (at the Seattle World Horror Convention in 2001), although we were penpals for a dozen years before his death in early 2004. Over the course of those years he taught, influenced, and encouraged me like no one else ever had before or since. He was a father figure, a mentor, a friend, a kind of crazy philosopher uncle, a true confidante, and someone who not only understood the trials of publication but also the uphill battle of trying to do something that might live on after we're gone.

After reading his brilliant novella "By Reason of Darkness," originally published in Douglas Winter's sterling anthology PRIME EVIL, I had a whole new world opened to me. The story was enigmatic, human, twisted, spiritually encompassing, and wholly authentic, even the ghostly parts. It showed me that dark fantasy fiction could have emotional layers beyond merely fear and torment. It was a tale about blood, war, brotherhood, betrayal, and how one's life can be set on and driven off course by his own character flaws, loves, cowardice, and courage.

"By Reason of Darkness" spoke to me as a person the way very little fiction ever had before. But more than that, it showed the young, stumbling writer in me the potential of fiction itself. How good it could be, how poignant, how grand and touching. Of course I'd read stories that I loved and valued before this, but nothing that had had such an impact on my sensibilities. It was a welcome sign. It was a lantern in the dark. It was a father's embrace upon a lonely child.

I was so affected by the work that I immediately set off to read whatever else he had published. In a couple of days I scoured the libraries and secondhand shops and managed to pick up THE WELL, THE JONAH WATCH, and THE MAN WHO COULD MAKE THINGS VANISH. The novels proved that "By Reason" wasn't a fluke, hell no, his other work held the same kind of sway and power over me.

I also went in search of Jack's address so I could fire off a fan letter. This was in the pre-Internet days (and even after the Web took over as the primary way for folks to drop a line to each other, Jack and I almost never emailed; he preferred to type out his letters on a typewriter and mail them off the old-fashioned way) but I had recently joined the Horror Writers of America and received their membership directory. And there was Jack's name and address.

I wrote him my most fervant thoughts about his work and my own fiery desire to write fiction at a level that might impress an audience the way his fiction had impressed me. I was impassioned and young and naive and unsure of my own footing in life. As a teacher, Jack could see a willing pupil before him and did everything he could to impart on me his own hard-fought life lessons. He'd been a truck driver, a lumberjack, had served in the coast guard, had lived a varied, fascinating, red-blooded American life.

Me, I was a punk couch potato who'd rarely been off Long Island. But he didn't hold it against me. For years the letters and lessons continued. He was kind enough to read a first draft of one of my early novels and red-penned the first eight pages. And I swear on any stack of holiest of holies you care to name that he taught me more in those eight pages of notations than all my high school and college English and Creative Writing classes combined. And there were a fucking lot of them.

In my life I've buried friends and loved ones, but only three deaths affected me in the same kind of shattering way as Jack's death did. My father, my mother, and Dick Laymon. I learned of his death when a friend IMed me to say, "Hey Pic, did you hear Jack Cady died?"

All of you who know true loss understand how cold and empty it makes you feel. That chilly, floating feeling when shock and trauma set in. Blood in your belly, your nerve-endings burned out. Staring at that IM on the screen, I think I may have blacked out for a few seconds. I know it was a while before I could find my fingers again and respond, "God fucking damn it."

Some of that cold and emptiness remains within me to this day. But I'm a better person for having been lucky enough to know Jack Cady as well as I did. And I'll always be thankful to him for that fatherly embrace. That light in the night.


I know a $75 price tag is stiff for a book, especially in our current economic enviornment, but trust me on this, this book is worth it. The novel is wonderful, the two novellas even more so, and the two short stories first-rate. This is the kind of fiction that will drive deep into you and stir you in places rarely, if ever, stirred before. Yes, Jack Cady really is that good. Do yourself a favor and nab the book now.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

The Underneath

See, this is good. People ask questions, and I don't have to write about pasta fasool. Mama would be proud that I haven't let out her secret recipe.

So, some readers wanted to know a little more about the novel I'm currently working on called THE UNDERNEATH. As mentioned yesterday, I'm trying to bridge the gap between my suspense fiction and my world of crime fiction with this book. Those two sub-genres might seem essentially the same to an audience, but to me they're two very distinct forms and call on me to get my head, my heart, and my craft into two different places.

After all these years, it's easy to fall into something of a pattern, to attack a story in the same way, to find an easy groove. I try to shake up the material every time out of the gate, not just to make the readers happy but to also keep myself nailed to the seat. Who wants to write the same book over and over? I do what I do in an effort to explore my own life, my own values, my own past, my own priorities. The work has to bring me surprise and discovery, otherwise there's not much point to it.

Anyway, THE UNDERNEATH is the story of Terrier Rand, raised by a family of criminals who strikes off on his own after his older brother Collie goes on a murder spree killing several innocents. Now, five years later on the eve of Collie's execution, Terry gets word that his brother wants to talk to him and he returns home.

On death row, Collie admits that he killed several people, but claims that he's innocent of murdering one of his supposed victims, a teenage girl. While in prison he's learned that several other girls have also been killed in similar ways and he wants Terry to look into it for him.

That's the basic thrust of the narrative. A criminal investigating his brother's crime even while having to deal with his own madcap and quirky family of grifters and thieves, as well as facing up to other personal troubles from the past.

You don't have to be too sharp-eyed to see that I've used elements and themes here that I've used before. We all have themes and metaphors that help to shape our own lives. We all have a monkey on our back. Something we can't let go of. Something that, no matter how often we ponder it and hold it up to the light, we can't fully make sense of. It haunts us. It tempts us. It revisits us. It reveals itself a little more every time we attack it, but we never discover its true nature. Our own true nature.

The themes of my own life still resist my efforts to understand them, which is why I continue to write about them. They're puzzles, they're small dramas, traumas, things that have followed me across the arc of my life. They flit at the edge of my vision. They present themselves in the dark. But I fumble after them time and time again, which is maybe why I've written so many books. If I ever catch my answers and fully comprehend them, I'm not sure I'd still feel any real burning need to write. It's the pressure that drives the engine.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

The Great Blog Experiment V 2.0

Even in this age of blogging about every shittin' thing that a person does, wants, eats, humps, and bears witness to, it isn't always easy for writers to discuss their personal lives or even their work. There's a reason I'm an author of fiction. I'm boring as fuck. I live vicariously through my stories. This is no great revelation, especially to anyone who's ever met me.

All that preamble is merely to state that unlike a lot of folks, chattering about myself doesn't come naturally. Except as its hidden (sometimes only in a shallow grave) in my books.

I've been blogging off and on over at MySpace for a year or two now--yes, I KNOW you had no idea--but it's just too difficult to reach any kind of an audience there. Maybe because of all the bells and whistles, the music and the video clips and IMs and chats, the extensive photo galleries and the pornie chicks wanting to chat u up, sexy chile. Distractions abound.

I've also come to realize that as a publicity tool, as well as for a chance to feel like part of a community, to hear back from readers and fellow writers, blogging & comments have replaced letter-writing, phone calls, and in some instances even email.

So, I'm on blogger now. Go, boy.

Okay, some news:

In late February Brantam will be bringing out my next novel THE COLDEST MILE, sequel to THE COLD SPOT, which continues the story of getaway driver Chase and his stone cold killer grandfather Jonah. In this one, Chase is left drifting after the death of his wife and plans to score a local lady mob boss to get the cash to go after his grandpa and save a kidnapped child.

Following shortly thereafter is SHADOW SEASON, a standalone suspense novel hitting in May. SS is about a blind ex-cop turned English teacher at an isolated girls' school who has to deal with some serious emotional baggage as well as two redneck killers on the prowl.

I'm extremely proud of both books, but especially SHADOW SEASON. It was difficult as hell writing from the point of view of a blind man. Since my eyes have been crapping out on me for years (see photo of horrifically myopic dude with the uber-thick glasses) blindness is a major fear of mine. This book dredged up a lot of personal terror for me and took me to black (ha ha, but still witty) places and really made me reach for a fresh kind of narrative edge.

Bantam has been publishing my novels one every nine to eleven months, so having only a three month window between two titles is something new. But they want to jockey the novels into a position where they might help build momentum together for the big srping-summer sales push. Both books are available for pre-order at the usual places.

Currently I'm working on a new novel tentatively titled THE UNDERNEATH (my editor makes faces every time she says the title aloud...how do you kids feel about it?) The past few years my work has been pretty evenly split between crime fiction and suspense fiction. In this one, I hope to bridge the gap between the two.

Anyway, that's about it for our first episode of PIC UNDER GLASS. I could tell you about the big pot of pasta fasool I'm making, but hell, I need something to blog about later on in the week.