Noir on the Radio (and More)

Noir on the Radio (and host Greg Barth) were kind enough to have me on the podcast over the weekend. These kinds of things are scheduled well in advance, so I didn’t anticipate finding myself in the woods (long story) as I answered questions about crime fiction, writing influences, and editing cadence. I’m not always great when it comes to radio and television—if you’re looking for pure comedy gold, dig up some of the interviews I’ve done on BBC and Fox News—but I thought I did a good job of curing my usual interviewing-related jitters, because I was more concerned about being eaten by bears.

Anyway, “A Brutal Bunch of Heartbroken Saps” is officially two months old. I believe the Mysterious Bookshop in NYC is down to its last signed copy, if you happen to find yourself in the area. Otherwise, it’s still available via Amazon, Barnes & Noble, your local indie if you hate massive publishing conglomerates, etc.

I’m also really excited about the short story I have in the newly released “Hard Sentences: Crime Fiction Inspired by Alcatraz” (edited by the always-great David James Keaton and Joe Clifford). There’s a fantastic murderer’s row of crime-fiction writers in this one. Kirkus Reviews called it “an exquisitely moody, searing assemblage of tales, each distinctively contributing to the atmosphere and desperation of The Rock.” Plus, if you’re a fan of Johnny Cash, my story’s got a nice little surprise for you.

If you’re short on time and looking for a bit of moody entertainment, check out the trailer for the “Blade Runner” sequel. Hopefully the actual movie is even better.

Out in the World

“A Brutal Bunch of Heartbroken Saps” has been out three weeks. Actually, it feels a whole lot longer than that. It takes so long to write, edit, and publish a book—even a shortish one—that the actual release becomes something of a blur. Not that I’m complaining; it’s also enormously gratifying to see the thing out in the world.

If you’ve bought the book, thank you. The support means everything to me. If you haven’t yet, it’s available pretty much everywhere, including Amazon and Down & Out’s Website. (And if I run into you in person, I’ll try to think of something witty to write alongside my John Hancock.)

So far we’ve had some solid reviews (such as Out of the Gutter and Do Some Damage), and I’ve done some guest posts and interviews on Writer’s Bone, Crimespree, and Shotgun Honey, among other venues. Plus I did some readings at The Mysterious Bookshop (if you live in NYC, and you haven’t visited, you’re missing an incredible bookstore) and the Queens Book Festival.

But the hustle continues: we’ll have more reviews rolling out over the next few weeks, along with a few additional guest postings. In the meantime, here’s a cool, noir-ish image I found randomly on the Interwebz. It’s sort-of how I picture Fiona, one of the main characters of “Brutal Bunch”:

‘A Brutal Bunch of Heartbroken Saps’ Sample Chapter

“A Brutal Bunch of Heartbroken Saps” releases in all formats May 12 (and I’ve heard that some people who pre-ordered the paperback from Amazon have already received their copies). As we head toward Release Day, I decided to post a chapter from early in the book, just to give you a taste of its gonzo noir. Enjoy!

I’ve always hated the word “killer.”

And don’t get me started on “hitman.”

A few months before we divorced, my now ex-wife asked how I could live with myself. How I could fire a bullet, or press a button, or toss a radio into a bathtub, and end somebody’s existence.

If not me, I told her, then something else would have terminated those people: a heart attack, or cancer, or maybe a nice fiery car crash. I’m just the vessel, a way for the natural order of things to express itself. “I don’t worry whether I’m a bad man,” I added, “any more than a hurricane worries about the damage it causes.”

I would have added a little something about the ultimate meaninglessness of existence, except I noticed she’d already fallen asleep. The story of our marriage, in one priceless interaction.

In those corny action movies that play on cable in the wee hours, the killers dress in black suits and carry violin cases heavy with rifle parts. I always preferred to look as messy and forgettable as possible when out on a job, meaning a standard uniform of faded baggy jeans, a flannel button-down over an old t-shirt with a funny but inoffensive slogan, and a pair of thick glasses. I let my hair grow long, but not rocker-long: just a couple of scraggly inches to suggest a total lack of care.

“If you were interested at all in preserving our marriage,” my wife said, toward the end, “you’d spend more time looking presentable. And would it kill you to work out a bit?”

I had spent the previous night in The Hole, dealing with one of my employer’s accountants. The man wanted to live, but I had other ideas. Even after I pumped four bullets in his back, he kept crawling through the weeds, as if he had a chance of reaching the road at the end of the field. My fifth bullet won that race.

“Hey, I get exercise,” I told her.

She rolled her eyes. “Yeah, right. You do reps with a vodka bottle, is how you exercise.”

A week later, she left me. One of my colleagues joked about finishing her off (“How do hitmen get divorced?” he asked, slapping my back. “With a hacksaw!”), but I had no intention of finishing her existence on this miserable rock. What was the point? If she told the world what I did to make ends meet, she would need to explain how she lived with me for so many years without running to the police, and that would make every Thanksgiving really, really awkward for the rest of her life.

I took her departure hard. On a recent morning, while cleaning my guns in the garage, I shoved my newly reassembled .44-caliber revolver in my mouth, loaded, just to see how the barrel tasted as it rubbed against my palate. The gunmetal thick on my tongue, I felt a little tingle of fear in my gut, and that was good. It meant I wanted to live, rather than practice Russian Roulette after breakfast every morning.

As I pulled the pistol out of my mouth, my phone rang. I placed the weapon on the bench beside me and answered it. “Yeah?”

The voice was rocky as ten miles of dirt road: “You available for some tax work?”

“Not for another two months,” I said.

“Sorry, wrong number.” Click.

I put away my gun-cleaning kit and drove over to Long Island City, at the edge of the East River, where the industrial yards and ratty Irish bars of my youth had given way to gleaming glass condos and overpriced gastro-hubs. I headed into the Pot O’ Gold, the last true bit of scum on this particular toilet bowl, and found a seat across from the Dean, dressed as usual in one of his natty three-piece suits. On the table sat a large plate of shucked oysters, half of them already eaten. I had to hand it to the man: why bother trying to prove your courage in a shootout when you can order the shellfish in an establishment where the cockroaches are big enough to work an NFL defensive line?

“How goes it?” The Dean always sounded like he swallowed a wad of sandpaper every morning, his syllables rough yet velvety.

“Oh, you know, divorced, drinking too much, can’t sleep. The usual.”

The Dean was not in a joking mood. “Are you becoming a problem?”

“Just to myself,” I said. “So what’s next? Jimmy’s settled.”

His eyebrows arched. “Um, Bill’s still drawing breath, when last I checked.”

“I prefer if you used someone else for that one,” I said, and meant it. I’d always admired Bill’s disregard for keeping a low profile. You needed a pair of shiny brass ones to go out the door every morning and rip people off while dressed like a magazine model.

The Dean shrugged. “Jimmy tell you what they did?”

“All Jimmy said to me was ‘no’ and ‘I don’t want to die.’ Like he had a choice. From what you told me before, I know they took some money.”

“Oh, they did more than that.” The Dean’s face reddened. “The last time I met with dear Bill, he had the phenomenal cheek to pickpocket me, like some rube on the street. Specifically, he removed my black titanium credit card, the one with the infinite credit limit. And do you know what he did with that credit card, before taking millions from us?”

“Blew it on hookers who take plastic?”

The Dean paused to slurp down a new oyster, his eyes blazing with rage. “Worse. He donated a hundred thousand dollars online to an organization that helps children with cancer. He knows how much I hate moral quandaries, despite my chosen profession. It’s not exactly the sort of sum you can take back, at least without looking like a total scumbag.”

“So what did you do?”

“What do you think? I took the money back. Sent the organization a very nice note. Blamed it on the accountant, which is true, in a certain way.” Another oyster down the hatch. “But our friend Bill wasn’t done yet, no sir. Having donated to cure childhood cancer in our lifetimes, he further abused my poor, suffering credit card by taking Jimmy to lunch at the Caviar Room in Midtown, where they ordered a Balthazar of Château Margaux 2009 for the low, low price of fifty thousand dollars, along with their three-hundred-dollar meals.”

“There were a lot of French words in there I didn’t understand.”

“Château Margaux is a very expensive bottle of red wine, you idiot. Try to keep up.”

Although I refused to take crap from just about anyone on the street, I always made an exception for my employer, in light of the enormous amount of money he paid me every few weeks. Not that the cash stopped me from spending a few lovely moments imagining an alligator tearing the Dean apart limb from well-tailored limb.

Turning my head, I flagged the joint’s lone waiter, a sad sack of middle-aged flesh named Ivan. I needed my morning alcohol something fierce. “So he took your card, and then…”

“Their very satisfying meal completed, they proceeded across the street to one of our banks, to try and screw us thoroughly.” The Dean sighed. “Jimmy could access too many accounts. If the banker hadn’t called me right after they left, the money would have been on a round-the-world laundering tour, never to be seen again. Pop is so pissed, we had to give him a shot so he’d calm down.”

“Speaking of shots, I need a beer,” I told the waiter, who had drifted into our orbit.

“Kinda beer?” Ivan asked.

“Guinness, if you haven’t already watered down the keg too much.” Once he lurched away, I returned my attention to the Dean, offering up the obvious: “Bill’s probably out of the country by now. He’s too smart to stick around.”

“He was dumb enough to trust in Jimmy’s so-called intelligence. We already have two people on his trail, but I haven’t heard from them in two days.” He shrugged, as if losing a pair of trained assassins was a daily occurrence. Maybe it was, in his life. “So now I send you in. You’re my backup. And I expect you to make Bill regret what he did.”

“If it’s an out-of-town job, I’ll need more money.”

The Dean smiled wide, exposing his perfect teeth as he went for the kill: “Of course. You need a great divorce attorney, no?”

A day later I found myself on the road, halfway between Who Knows and Who Cares, listening to my ex-wife’s Cat Power albums and trying not to cry as I thought about our best moments, like the time she overcame her weak stomach to help me dissolve a mob informant in a bathtub full of acid. Go ahead, call me a wimp: I can kill you thirteen different ways with a penknife.

‘A Brutal Bunch of Heartbroken Saps’ Pre-Order

So the Amazon pre-order for my new noir novel, “A Brutal Bunch of Heartbroken Saps,” is live (for those who prefer their books electronic, there’s also the Kindle version, as well as the Nook). There’s a Goodreads page, complete with a short excerpt, and the publisher (Down & Out Books’ new Shotgun Honey imprint) has its own page on the book up and running. Check it out!

Here’s a shot of the cover in all its spangly-suited, rifle-toting glory:

Here’s the description:

Bill is a hustler’s hustler with a taste for the high life. He pulls off big scores for one of New York City’s more vicious gangs…until he suddenly grows a conscience. However, living the clean life takes a whole lot of money, and so Bill decides to steal a fortune from his employer before skipping town.

With a bag of cash in the trunk of his car, Bill heads west, ready for a new life. But all that money makes him a tempting target for some bad people he meets on the road—and if that wasn’t dangerous enough, some old friends are close behind him, and they intend to make a trophy of his head.

Pursued by crooked cops, dimwitted bouncers, and a wisecracking assassin in the midst of a midlife crisis, Bill will need to be a quick study in the way of the gun if he wants to survive his own getaway. Who knew that an honest attempt at redemption could rack up a body count like this?

‘A Brutal Bunch of Heartbroken Saps’ is a gonzo noir journey into obsession, violence, and the power of love.

Release date is May 12. Pre-order for the e-book version will go live before that.

Word Crimes Podcast/’A Nice Pair of Guns’

On the excellent Word Crimes podcast, Mary Wilson (you may know her voice from NPR) reads my short story “A Nice Pair of Guns,” which originally appeared in ThugLit in late 2015. (Shameless plug alert: if you’re filling out your Anthony Award ballot, I have another ThugLit story, “A Bad Day in Boat Repo,” that’s eligible!) Seriously, her reading is amazing; I wish she could narrate all my stuff.

My next book, “A Brutal Bunch of Heartbroken Saps,” now has an official release date: May 12. More (believe me, much more) on that later, including a cover.

Writer Types and Hard Sentences

If you’re in the mood for a crime-fiction podcast, noir authors Eric Beetner and S.W. Lauden have launched a new one titled, “Writer Types.” Episode 1 features bestselling authors Megan Abbott, Lou Berney, and Steph Post. I also read from my short story, “Whoops,” which appeared in Shotgun Honey this time last year. Give it a listen if you’re so inclined:

Update #2: Editors (and fantastic authors) David James Keaton and Joe Clifford are throwing together an anthology of crime fiction centered around the island of Alcatraz. It’s due this summer, and I’m in it with a little tale titled, “Live at Alcatraz.” The main character is one of the 20th century’s most iconic musicians, thrown into a situation best described as “The Rock” (the iconic ’90s action movie, not a certain ‘roided-up wrestler-turned-actor) mixed with a bit of the supernatural. Yes, it’s as weird as it sounds. Release date TBD.

All Dog

In the latest issue of Plots with Guns, a short story: “All Dog.” What happens when a Mississippi detective decides that behaving like Rust Cohle in ‘True Detective’ is a good way to pick up women? Short answer: nothing good. The longer answer involves everything from poisoned meat and fighting dogs to junkie love and shotguns.

In the latest issue of Cleaver Magazine: a poem, “Illuminati Dance,” and a short story about the fallout of 9/11 and Hurricane Sandy, “Alone with Your Own Disaster.”

Bloodshed and “Drive”: New Nonfiction Noir

On his excellent blog, S.W. Lauden and I recently chatted about the current state of the noir short-story market, the writing process, and how comedians like Patton Oswalt inspired the order and rhythm of tales in “Somebody’s Trying to Kill Me.”

Speaking of blogs, I have a guest posting at Do Some Damage about the ethical implications of writing fictional violence in a world that already sees enough (real) bloodshed.

And speaking of bloodshed, over at All Due Respect, I have a piece on “Drive” (2011) and the all-American tradition of the psychopathic anti-hero. If there’s one thing that’s always weirded me out about that film, it’s how many people regard Ryan Gosling’s character as a straight-up hero, when he has more in common with the great white shark from “Jaws.”

If you’re interested in potentially winning free books, we’re also hosting a giveaway on Amazon through August 18.

Somebody’s Trying to Kill Me

Over the past couple years, I’ve published a series of crime-fiction stories in a number of venues, including Shotgun Honey, Thuglit, Carrier Pigeon, Crime Syndicate Magazine, and others. Those yarns were fun to write, but the downside of short stories is they have a tendency to fall off the collective radar after a few weeks, doomed to the archives sections.

With that in mind, I made a point a couple of months ago to start assembling a collection of these stories in one place. The result is “Somebody’s Trying to Kill Me,” which includes 17 noir tales. Some of these are flash fiction; others are much longer; the titular story is a full-fledged, never-published novella that takes place in gentrifying Brooklyn (with the requisite seedy underbelly). The book’s rogues’ gallery includes college dropouts who decide to go full Bonnie & Clyde, tattooed freaks, damaged supermodels, hipsters who can’t shoot straight, and many more.  

The book is available in paperback and Kindle, although if you order the paperback version, you get the wraparound cover designed by award-winning editor (and incredible graphic designer) Michael Bailey:

Somebody's Trying to Kill Me

The Last Redemption of Bill

Last week, as part of the monthly “Noir at the Bar” readings at Shade in NYC, I read an abridged version of “The Last Redemption of Bill,” a hardboiled story narrated by an ultra-intelligent parasite living inside a corrupt public-health inspector. Noir meets Cronenbergian body horror, in other words. You can check the live reading out in the video clip above; the full version of the story appears in Somebody’s Trying to Kill Me, a book of noir tales coming out next month.