Sunday, June 15, 2008

For anybody keeping score...

This week, I received word from Richard Helms, editor of The Back Alley webzine, that my story The Big Score will be appearing in their July issue. The Big Score was originally written for an anthology of Maine crime fiction that sadly never came to pass, and I'm delighted that it's found a good home. It's without a doubt the most classically pulpy of all my shorts, complete with McGuffins, double-crosses, triple-crosses, guns, drugs, and, um, herring. It is gratifying, then, that it would wind up being published by an editor with a deep appreciation for all things noir and hard-boiled. In fact, each issue of The Back Alley features a classic noir story from the public domain, a very cool idea if you ask me.

So yeah. When my story goes up, I'll be sure to let you know. In the meantime, go check out their current issue. And if that's not enough to tide you over, some dude named Bagley has a killer story in the summer issue of Spinetingler. What's that? You want more? Fine. Go check out Lyman's post on mental health awareness for writers. Seriously, it's interesting stuff, and you'll be glad you did.

Friday, June 13, 2008

Friday's Forgotten Book: THE ELEMENTALS

When the lovely and talented Patti Abbott asked me to contribute a book to her Friday's Forgotten Books series, there was no way I was gonna say no. For one, I think the series is a phenomenal idea. For two, I've read Patti's stuff, so I know that beneath her pleasant exterior lies the heart and mind of a hardened criminal, and crossing her didn't strike me as a good idea. But finally, and most importantly, I couldn't say no because I had in mind the perfect book, particularly for Friday the 13th: Michael McDowell's The Elementals.

Stephen King once called Michael McDowell "the finest writer of paperback originals in America today." Though his is not a household name, many are familiar with McDowell's work in movies, as he penned both Beetle Juice and The Nightmare Before Christmas. McDowell's work spans a multitude of genres, but it's in the Southern Gothic tradition that he really shines.

At its root, The Elementals is a simple tale. Two families, linked by marriage, spend a summer vacationing on an isolated jetty on the coast of Alabama known as Beldame. Beldame is really nothing more than three old Victorian homes on a strip of sand that, at high tide, is cut off entirely from the mainland. The McCrays occupy one house, and the Savages another. The third house, long vacant, is overrun by sand dunes, and it soon becomes clear that sand is not all that waits inside.

Like I said, the story is simple enough. But what makes The Elementals more than the sum of its parts is its pace, its tone, its vibe. Simply put, The Elementals is one of the most terrifying books I've ever read. McDowell ratchets up the fear by increments, using the oppressive Southern heat and the families' isolation from the outside world to his best advantage and never giving the reader a chance to breathe. In this era of wiz-bang thrillers, it's wild to experience a story that takes its time, and is no less riveting because of it.

Sadly, The Elementals is long out-of-print, but believe me when I tell you, this is one worth hunting for. Although if I were you, I'd read it with all the lights on, and for God's sake, don't bring it to the beach.

Monday, June 09, 2008


This past weekend, I read Dead Harvest through for the first time, marking it up as I went in anticipation of the first serious polish. Since I'll be adding a B-story as I go, I expect it'll go through another polish once that draft is done, and then I'll pass it on to Katrina, my final arbiter as to whether or not it's any damn good. (As I've said before, she's pretty darn incapable of lying, so the fact that she's married to me aside, her read-through is a useful litmus test.)

Now, The Angels' Share went through several drafts before I was willing to show it to anyone (seven or eight, I think), and the editing process took damn near a year. This time, I'm shooting for a month or two, tops, and I think it's pretty doable. Why? Because when I wrote The Angels' Share, I really had no idea where a given scene should begin or end, and it took a lot of experimentation to really get it right. But even more importantly, during those early drafts, I had no faith in my own voice - I'd change words, phrases, even whole scenes in one draft, only to waffle and change them back in the next. This time around, I'm trying to trust in the fact that the me who wrote the scene had some idea what he was doing, and the me who's doing the editing is really no more qualified to make judgment calls with regard to usage or rhythm than he was. Simply put, structural stuff, typos, and continuity problems get changed. Matters of taste, not so much. Why? I guess because I think this story has some life to it, some spark. What I want to do is fan the flames, not blow it out.

Now, that's not to say The Angels' Share doesn't have spark, or that it would have been better off with less editing (it does, and it wouldn't have been, believe me). It's just that I learned a lot writing the last book, and I'd be a fool not to put that knowledge to good use.

Besides, if it sucks, one look at Kat's face should be enough to let me know...