About Me

My photo
"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

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.