July 27, 2016

Partners in Crime, One Book at a Time: an interview with Eric Beetner and Frank Zafiro, authors of "The Short List"

When Bricks and Cam strike out on their own in the aftermath of their bloody showdown with the Giordano family, not everything goes as planned. Boring, straight jobs aren't satisfying, and their first successful solo hit is a messy one. Worse yet, someone has revenge on their mind. 

Before they know what is happening, Cam is kidnapped and Bricks is attacked by an old enemy. 

Cam uses his wits as he struggles to escape his captors while Bricks frantically searches for her partner in crime. Both hack away at the mystery of who is bent upon vengeance against them. There is a short list in play, and both Cam and Bricks are on it. 

But they're not going to stand still and take being attacked. Not by anyone. They're going to fight back. They're making a list of their own, and it's even shorter than the one they're on...

Gef: So how did you two wind up collaborating on not just one novel now (The Back List), but two with its followup (The Short List)?

Eric: I met Frank when I designed several book covers for him, both on solo novels and on a series he collaborated with another author on (the Ania series which I can highly recommend, co-written with Jim Wilsky) We got on well and when we realized we’d both done cowriting we traded stories and it turned out we both had great experiences. So it was a natural for us to write something together. It flowed really well and we’re excited to keep it right on flowing with The Short List and beyond.

Frank: Additionally, I read Eric’s The Devil Doesn’t Want Me, and knew he could write his ass off, and that we both saw crime fiction through the same dark lens, so I figured it would be a good fit.

Gef: You guys aren't strangers to collaborating, either. What kind of give and take is there between you two when cooking up these stories?

Eric: We outline together, or at least back and forth. We live in different states so this is all over email. Once we have the basic story plotted out we get going and trade chapters. I write Cam and Frank writes Bricks. Once we’re done we trade some notes and make tiny adjustments, but we don’t go to any great lengths to rewrite each other’s work. We have styles that mesh very well together so that helps.

Frank: I think the plotting process itself is one of the reasons the collaboration works so well. While we both offer critiques or suggestions on the other’s chapters, mostly we leave the other guy alone in that regard. We definitely coordinate how things will begin and the general direction they’ll go until they hit a mid-point where a little more coordination is necessary. Also, I think there’s a tacit agreement that we each have final say over the nuts and bolts of our respective chapters and/or how our character is treated in the other guy’s chapter. There’s a healthy respect there – kind of a “hey, that’s your creation and I’m going to be cool with it” thing.

Gef: With Bricks and Cam, and you each focusing on one character, did you just each bring these characters to the story or were they created together and then you had to decide who would write what?

Eric: The original idea was to have these two competing hit men, then Frank brought in the idea of Bricks being a woman and I loved it. It really made the story much more interesting. But we each really developed the character we write on our own.

Frank: It’s like writing half of the book by yourself but planning the whole book with your partner in crime. I’m always excited to get back the next Cam chapter, even if the two characters aren’t interacting at the time. Seeing the book move forward is fun, and definitely motivating.

Gef: Les Edgerton is one of the big hitters in crime fiction to have given these books the thumbs up? Is he an author either of you count as an influence with your own writing? Who else do you look up to in the genre?

Eric: Les is great and an uncompromising writer. I really admire that about him. I look up to so many writers: Joe R. Lansdale, Duane Swierczynski, Roger Smith, Christa Faust, Allan Guthrie, Max Allan Collins, Jason Starr. So many more.

I like stories that propel forward and I like stories that keep me guessing. I should clarify that I don't like guessing who done it, but more a story that doesn’t point the way it’s going like too many traditional mysteries do. I love a book that can fool me or take the story to places I never could have guessed.

I’m an avid reader and I like to try a little of everything in the crime/mystery genre so I feel I get a good cross section. I’m also a tough critic so when I find a writer I like I really champion them.

Frank: It is an exciting time in crime fiction, especially darker stuff. I bounce back and forth between older works like Stark or Block to newer writers like Eric mentioned. You really get a sense of how the genre has changed and how it hasn’t when you do that.

Gef: Who or what initially drew each of you to the crime genre?

Eric: They tend to be stories with high stakes. Life and death. I also like stories about ordinary people drawn into dark places. Vintage Cornell Willrich stories are like that, often featuring an everyman who falls afoul of a criminal element or just blind fate. It’s why I’m drawn to Noir stories, tales of men and women caught in a web of their own making.

I like stories like that I think because it’s so very different from my day to day life. I read (and write) to escape into new worlds.

Frank: The cool thing about crime fiction is that the palette is such a wide one, both in terms of what kind of stories you can get, and in all of the different aspects of the human condition you can explore. I enjoy those stories that really get at the reality of being human, and that tell a tale that is just ambiguous enough to be real…but still amped up for fun’s sake. I think that’s why I enjoyed the Grofield novels better than the Parker ones, and why Matt Scudder is my favorite P.I.

Gef: How big a role does pacing play when writing a book like The Short List? Is it something that has to be fine-tuned a lot during the revision process?

Eric: Pacing is pretty important when alternating between two sides of a story the way we are. We don’t have to revise too much for pacing issues since we plot out where we’re headed from the start.

Frank: I think pacing is one of those things that some writers feel the way some musicians can just sense tempo. And just like when two musicians can read each other’s tempo and adjust to complement it, Eric and I seem to sense what kind of chapter ours needs to be, or how it needs to be told, based upon how the pace feels at that time. I can only think of one time we made a major revision to adjust for pacing. We’re usually pretty solid out of the gate in that department.

Gef: What books are you reading this summer? Fiction or nonfiction? Something outside the crime genre? Too busy with your own writing at the moment?

Eric: Never too busy to read. I just picked up the new Terrence McCauley, A Murder Of Crows. I loved his first in the series, Sympathy For The Devil, so I’m excited for this one. I’m currently reading Neal Griffin’s A Voice From The Field, his second Newburg novel. Great stuff.

Duane Swierczynski’s Revolver is out soon and a new DS books is always an event for me. My TBR pile is massive and I try to get in a fair amount of classic crime fiction each year too so I have my eyes on some of the William P. McGivern I haven’t read yet. I have yet to let down by one of his books.

When I step outside of crime fiction it’s usually to entertainment biographies, but I haven’t read a good one in a while. The Martin Short book was fantastic last year. There’s a bio of Keith Morris, vocalist for Circle Jerks and Black Flag that I’m looking forward to to revisit my punk rock youth.

Frank: I’m usually reading one fiction and one non-fiction at any given time, plus an audio book for the car. At the moment, the audio book is a G.R.R. Martin history of Westeros (weird that I’m reading a history book on a made up world, but whatever). Fiction is Dune Heretic by Frank Herbert, part of the Dune series. I read the first one as a teenager and just came back around to the whole series recently. Non-fiction book is Max Bazerman’s The Power of Noticing, but more often the non-fiction book is a history book of some kind. That was my undergrad major, and I dig history. There’s so much turmoil and conflict and nobility and…humanity.

Gef: What is the worst piece of writing advice you ever received? Or what piece of writing advice do you wish would just go away?

Eric: I wish “write what you know” would go away. Write what you want to know. That’s interesting. Make something up. I think people tend to get too bogged down in what they think is interesting to them and many times that doesn’t translate to the rest of us.

Frank: When I was thinking about becoming a cop, a guy I knew who had the same aspirations told me not to bother. “They’re only looking for guys who have gone through the CJ program at the community college, and there’s a two year waiting list for that.” Nine months later, I was hired on and was at the police academy. That guy never got hired as a cop anywhere, even though he did go through the program.

When I was submitting my novel after having established a pretty good short story CV, quite a few people said that the only path to publication was to get an agent and get with a NY publisher. Ignore mid-sized publishers that accept unagented material, ignore small presses, and definitely ignore self-publishing. Since then, I’ve published almost twenty books. One of my textbooks is with the publisher who has the largest CJ imprint out there, another is self published. My novels have been published by small presses or I’ve published them myself. I decided that it is ultimately up to the reader to decide whether a book is a good one or not, and not anyone else.

That doesn’t mean to ignore all of the sound craft advice out there. Don’t rush to publication – learn the craft. Produce a solid piece of work. I’m just saying that the worst piece of advice anyone can give anyone is “You can’t do it that way” or “This is the only way to do it.”

Gef: How has the relationship with your publisher been so far?

Eric: Down & Out are real champions of the indie crime world. They are so great to work with and it is a true collaboration. Eric Campbell and his team are really poised to make an even bigger impact with their books going forward. Just getting things like a Publisher’s Weekly review for The Short List (spoiler alert - they liked it!) is huge for a smaller press book. And with so many D&O books getting nominated for Shamus awards, Anthonys, Edgars, all that stuff…big things are coming for Down & Out, I predict. Lets hope it starts with The Short List!

Frank: Hands down the best publishing experience I’ve had. Open to ideas, quick to respond to any emails, obviously passionate about what they do, and damn good at it. I feel privileged to be part of what they’re doing, and moving forward, I think they’ll only become more and more impactful. Of course, they like our work, so I am a little biased, eh? Stay tuned, though, and you’ll see we’re right.

Gef: What projects are you cooking up that folks can expect in the near future, and how can folks keep up with your shenanigans?

Eric: I have another busy publishing year. I just put out the sequel to my novel The Devil Doesn’t Want Me and the new one is called When The Devil Comes To Call. Book 3 in that trilogy will be out next year called The Devil At Your Door. Then in November I’ve got my prequel to my novel Rumrunners called Leadfoot. At some point the second Western novella I wrote in The Lawyer series will be out. I’ve got some short stories in some great anthologies too including Mama Tried which are stories based on outlaw country songs and the Bouchercon anthology, Blood on the Bayou. Plus some others without release dates yet.

Frank: Well, The Short List, of course. And Eric and I are about to get to work on a third Cam & Bricks Job. Beyond that, I’ve got another collaboration coming out in January from D&O called The Last Collar with Lawrence Kelter. It was a different collaboration approach, and I was pleasantly surprised at how well it worked in terms of creating a single voice. Plus, Larry is a cool guy. On the solo front, I’m working on a stand alone set against the back drop of an outlaw motorcycle gang, tentatively titled In the Cut. After that, it is my intention to return to my main River City series and write book #5, and I’ll stick to that plan unless something else makes enough noise to drown it out.

July 26, 2016

Violence: a poem by Dane Cobain, author of "Eyes Like Lighthouses When the Boats Come Home"

Author and poet, Dane Cobain, offered up an exclusive poem for the blog. This one is a bespoke poem in which I gave him five words, which he then used to come up with this piece. Enjoy!


I don’t have time
for violence;

my TV screen
seems to bleed
and there are people out there
who want to climb inside your mind
and come out fighting;

their ammunition
puts us in a position
of innocence,
ain’t no-one got time
for that my friend.

I don’t have much time
for anything;
I pound the pavement
walking straight towards
a gaping jaw,
taking shallow breaths
like I’m marked for death
and still pensive.

I don’t have much time
for animosity,
and the streetlights’ luminosity
is possibly cross with me,
and so I cough quickly
and walk across the street.

And the pavements
are a strain of concrete
that replaced the grass
we laughed at,
like a wildcat
with a poleaxe
like the thorax
of a snorlax
in the boardroom.

Violence is not the right answer;
in fact,
violence ain’t an answer
at all.

One day,
people will notice
and they’ll question their motives
and their intelligence quotient,
but until that day
we must treat this evil
like a pox on the people
but I don’t speak
for all of us.

You must draw
your own

Eyes Like Lighthouses is Dane Cobain’s first book of poetry, distilled from the sweat of a thousand memorised performances in this reality and others. It’s not for the faint-hearted. “I’ve never seen anyone do a stream of consciousness piece as talented as that. Very impressed.” – Mark Allard-Will, author of Saskatch-A-Man and co-founder of Cuckoo’s Nest Press “Dane’s poetry is a multi-layered spiral of the macabre, quirky humour and disjointed imagery. Not only does he make you think, he captures the small forgotten moments of everyday life.” – Nikki Dudley, co-editor of Streetcake Magazine “…[Dane] combines concrete detail with socioeconomic concerns.” – Lorna Wood, associate editor of Gemini Magazine.

Dane Cobain (High Wycombe, Buckinghamshire, UK) is an independent poet, musician and storyteller with a passion for language and learning. When he’s not in front of a screen writing stories and poetry, he can be found working on his book review blog or developing his website, www.danecobain.com

July 25, 2016

Which Character Are You Most Like?: a guest post by Kelley Kaye, author of "Death by Diploma"

Emma Lovett leaves her philandering husband and crosses the country to begin her teaching career at a high school in Pinewood, Colorado.There, she meets Leslie Parker, a fellow teacher given to quoting Shakespeare to fit all situations, and the two become fast friends.

Arriving at work early one morning, Emma discovers the body of the school custodian, a man who reminds her of her late father. When the police struggle to find the killer, the ladies decide to help solve the murder. Their efforts lead them to a myriad of suspects: the schizophrenic librarian, the crude football coach, the mysterious social studies teacher, and even Emma’s new love interest.

As Emma Lovett discovers the perils of teaching high school, she and Leslie learn more than they ever wanted to know about the reasons people kill.

One of the normal questions I get when I am doing an interview for a blogger is "which character are you most like?" and today I am thinking about that. Usually I say I am most like Emma, my main character. But today I think I feel (!) like I look for the very best and very worst of me and everyone around me when I am choosing idiosyncrasies for my characters. I pick the most noticeable ones and disperse them throughout my character landscape. For example, let's talk about the librarian, Edward Dixon. Edward gives the term anal-retentive a bad name, but he has this huge heart, and I might love him the most.

My heart breaks every time he minces across a room or says something particularly geeky, or his owl-eyes pop out of his head when Leslie says 'Fuck' (which really she does quite often, but because this is a cozy mystery, I have to cleverly allude to that master swear word instead of stating it outright. Which is a whole 'nother blog unto itself.) Anyway, I think Edward is a part of me and people I know when we felt most left out on the playground, or in the tryouts for the sports team, or waiting to be asked to the dance. Poor Edward lives perpetually in that world!

And… Let's see. Let's talk about Charlie Foreman, the jerk of a coach who is the superintendent's son, who gets everything he wants because he is the superintendent' son. See, I was also an acting teacher when I taught high school English, and it was sort of a built-in rivalry, or annoyance, between the artsy-fartsy teachers and the coaches--we thought they were mysogynistic and clueless, and they thought we were pretentious and condescending. Which some of them were and some of we were, I'm sure, but this character of Charlie took two of the worst coaches I knew and mashed them together into one big douchey sandwich.

Probably I should've been more careful and self-aware about this. My mean characters are much more one-dimensional than the nice ones, and I make the excuse that it's for the sake of the light-hearted cozy, but really I just don't like 'em. Prefer to give 'em less screen time. I’d much rather spend twenty pages talking about Edward and his ‘banned’ list (he bans kids from the library when they don’t respect books enough, and he keeps this ever-expanding list on the corkboard behind his desk) than about Charlie and his sexist jokes and his desire for Leslie Parker to ‘Parker” self over on his lap. But I dunno, that joke is kinda funny. I laughed a little bit when I wrote it.

So I feel my characters are all like me, and hopefully a little bit like you and you and you and YOU, at our best and worst and most fascinating moments.

I’d love to hear your views… Until next time: Stay Mystified!

Kelley Kaye

July 21, 2016

Using Your Brain on Zombies: a guest post by Stephen Kozeniewski, author of "The Ghoul Archipelago"

After ravenous corpses topple society and consume most of the world’s population, freighter captain Henk Martigan is shocked to receive a distress call. Eighty survivors beg him to whisk them away to the relative safety of the South Pacific. Martigan wants to help, but to rescue anyone he must first pass through the nightmare backwater of the Curien island chain. 

A power struggle is brewing in the Curiens. On one side, a billionaire seeks to squeeze all the profit he can out of the apocalypse. Opposing him is the charismatic leader of a cargo cult. When a lunatic warlord berths an aircraft carrier off the coast and stakes his own claim on the islands, the stage is set for a bloody showdown. 

To save the remnants of humanity (and himself), Captain Martigan must defeat all three of his ruthless new foes and brave the gruesome horrors of...THE GHOUL ARCHIPELAGO. 


by Stephen Kozeniewski

Thought exercise time!
I know, I know, you didn’t come to Gef’s blog to do mental gymnastics.  But what you didn’t know was that sitting under your chair as we speak is a bomb, set to go off if you start reading this post at less than fifty-five words per minute.  So pop quiz, hotshot!
First, I want you to imagine the zombie apocalypse ravaging the world.  Whatever your particular vision of it is.  Fast zombies, slow zombies, fungus zombies, whatever.  It’s going down, and you, my friend, are the shit-hot hero of the piece.  You’re the lone wolf, the sole survivor, the man or woman with no name, the protagonist of the piece.  Maybe you have a posse.  Maybe you don’t.  Maybe you have a chainsaw.  You definitely have a shotgun, though.
You ready?  You got it?  You got a vision of it in your mind?  Okay, now here’s the question:
Where are you?
What’s the location?  What are your surroundings?  You can be as specific or as general as you want.  A particular place or a type of place, whatever floats your boat.
You got it?  Okay, I want you to label this “Zombie Location.”  You can write it down if you want.  At a minimum remember it.
Now I want to take it down a notch.  That was pretty harrowing, that last thought exercise, wasn’t it?  Not this next one.  This one is going to be easy.  Easy like Sunday morning.  You’re already relaxing just reading these words, aren’t you?  Okay, good.  Let your troubles melt away.  I want you to take a few deep breaths.  Stop worrying about whatever your workaday troubles are.  It’s time to imagine yourself on vacation.  You’re leaving the ratrace behind.  You can go anywhere you want.  You can go for as long you want.  Much like in the Nexus, time has no meaning in imaginary vacation land.  The important thing is you’re happy.  You’re calmer than calm.  All your troubles are melting away as you just enjoy being away from it all.
Okay, have you got that crystallized in your mind?  Okay, now here’s the question:
Where are you?
What does it look like?  What does it sound like?  What kind of place is it or what exact spot is it?  It can be generic or specific, as exact or vague as you like.
Now I want you to label this “Vacation Location.”  You can write that down, too, if you want, or you can just remember it.
Now, I’m not Kreskin.  I’m not even (shudder) Criss Angel, but I may be about to freak your mind.  Now, I may be completely wrong (and if I am, please let me have it in the comments below) but here are my guesses about our little game here. 
I’m guessing that your Zombie Location was an urban center in North America or maybe Europe.  Atlanta, New York, maybe London or Philadelphia.  A place with lots of glass and asphalt and buildings.
I’m also guessing that your Vacation Location was a beach or a shoreline in the Caribbean or Polynesia or maybe a coast near you.  Tahiti, Bermuda, maybe the Outer Banks or Cozumel.  Somewhere with beautiful blue water, chirping birds, and a crisp ocean breeze.
So how’d I do?  About right?  Completely off the mark?
I’d be willing to bet that I guessed correctly in both instances for about 75%-85% of you.  (As I said, if I’m wrong, sock it to me in the comments section.)  But the reason I think I’m right is because we’re conditioned to associate these places with these particular events.  Years of “The Walking Dead” and every zombie movie ever made or book ever written has made us associate zombies with an urban apocalypse.  And, similarly, since the days of Elvis (if not before) every movie and TV commercial about vacationing has used white sands and cool salty sprays as a shorthand for relaxation.
I, however, being a perverse sort of person, decided to flip the script in my sophomore novel THE GHOUL ARCHIPELAGO.  When the zombies take over the world, our heroes find themselves in the picturesque Curien island chain, a place of coconuts, ocean breezes, and sunny weather.  My goal was, of course, to ruin vacations for everyone forever.  And judging by the reactions of reviewers, I may have succeeded.  I’ll leave you with a quote from one of my very favorite reviewers (er…aside from Gef, of course) the very talented Sylvia Bagagalio:
“…it just happens to feature more undead creatures. Ones that aren’t friendly. Mostly on a series of islands in the tropics. Thanks for ruining THAT vacation idea, Kozeniewski!  Buy It. Then read it with the lights on or out in the sunshine. Just not on a tropical beach.”

Stephen Kozeniewski (pronounced "causin' ooze key") lives with his wife and two cats in Pennsylvania, the birthplace of the modern zombie. During his time as a Field Artillery officer, he served for three years in Oklahoma and one in Iraq, where due to what he assumes was a clerical error, he was awarded the Bronze Star. He is also a classically trained linguist, which sounds much more impressive than saying his bachelor's degree is in German.

July 18, 2016

On Writing and Arousal: an interview with Will Viharo, author of "Hard-Boiled Heart"

Gef: So a year ago we chatted and Double Life Press had re-issued your pulp noir line-up of novels. This year, DLP is no more and you've struck out on your own with Thrillville Press. How bumpy was that transition for you? And how has the foray into being your own curator, so to speak, been thus far?

Will: Actually, when my career as a film programmer suddenly ended back in 2009, I returned to my first love, writing fiction, which has been my main passion and life goal since I wrote my first novel “Chumpy Walnut” as a teenager, over 35 years ago.

Back in 1998, right before The Parkway Speakeasy Theater in Oakland opened and I was asked to create my own midnight movie show, which became my locally infamous “cult movie cabaret” called became “Thrillville,” I started a novel called “A Mermaid Drowns in the Midnight Lounge.” I quit after maybe 25 pages and focused on my new job, which was really the first one I ever had I actually liked, and felt qualified for, after a long series of random survivalist gigs from busboy to blood bank driver. Ironically, the owners of the Parkway had published my novel “Love Stories Are Too Violent For Me” back in 1995, via their first business, Wild Card Press, which never took off. Later, in 2001, the novel was discovered by Christian Slater in a L.A. bookstore and optioned for a film, but that’s a whole other saga.

Anyway, back to “Mermaid,” I wasn’t sure where I was going with it. The title just popped in my head and I just started typing whatever it inspired, which is my typical process. So when Speakeasy Theaters sadly folded, I had a lot of time on my hands, and I decided to pick “Mermaid” up and finish it. What began as a pretty standard crime story about lost, desperate people – inspired somewhat by my very brief, failed first marriage – rapidly morphed into an extremely bizarre, surrealistic, pornographic, horrific and multi-layered fever dream, no doubt due to the literally hundreds of B/drive-in/grindhouse flicks I had been hosting for the past dozen years.

When I finished it, I showed it to one agent who didn’t connect with it, and so I decided to self-publish it via Lulu. One reason I was so impatient was that I felt I had wasted so much time already, but also I’d played this game already. I had a New York agent for about 10 years that did nothing for me, and via my own connections celebrity editor Judith Regan contacted me out of the blue back in 1992 expressing interest in my work, but after keeping me dangling for two years, she unceremoniously dumped me. So screw “the establishment,” I thought. I’ll just do this myself, because by then, the DIY industry had taken off, and while the stigma of self-publishing remained – and still does, IMO – the creative freedom and immediacy were too rewarding to ignore.

After “Mermaid” I self-published “Chumpy Walnut,” “Down a Dark Alley,” “Lavender Blonde,” and the four sequels to “Love Stories Are Too Violent For Me” that Wild Card Press never got around to: “Fate Is My Pimp,” “Romance Takes a Rain Check,” “I Lost My Heart in Hollywood,” and “Diary of a Dick.” All of these works were completed before the Parkway even existed, but now, thanks to Thrillville, I had my own public platform from which to promote them.

When Craig McNeely contacted me in early 2015, wanting to know if he could reissue my self-published books via his new venture, I suggested doubling them up in separate volumes and issuing them under my “brand name.” Hence “The Thrillville Pulp Fiction Collection.”

Anyway, less than a year later, DLP abruptly went belly up, much to everyone’s surprise and chagrin, but I retained rights to all the files, included the cover art, which I had commissioned personally. The text had been already cleaned up and stripped of the typos that had plagued my Lulu editions, so now that my babies were finally in relatively pristine form, I wanted to keep them out there on the market with as brief a pause as possible.

My fellow Seattle author Michael Pool hooked me up with a professional interior formatter from Canada named Rik Hall, who made the books look even better. Dyer Wilk, who designed the original covers, created a logo for me, and voila, Thrillville Press was born, and “The Thrillville Pulp Fiction Collection” lives on.

Sorry for the long-winded answer, but as you can see, it was both a circuitous and circular path.

Gef: When it comes to re-releasing a book, do you find yourself tempted to tweak things here and there, given the years since completing it and growing as a writer in the ensuing years? Or are you resolute in "this is the story, this is where I was at as a writer, and where I was mentally and emotionally"?

Will: I totally tweaked them. “Chumpy Walnut” was completed when I was only 19, and “Lavender Blonde” when I was 24. Famous film noir expert and author Eddie Muller thinks those are my two best books, so maybe I peaked early. (“Mermaid” is my personal favorite, though.) But both are very unconventional, like all of my books, and proved impossible for my agent to sell back in the 80s. So when I finally published them myself via Lulu, I went back and edited out huge chunks and rewrote other portions, while adding some new material. This way the works retained their original intent and integrity, but had been refined and updated to adequately represent my current body of work and sensibilities, as opposed to just dusty pieces of my past pulled out of the drawer and dressed up for public consumption. I am very proud of them, and of all my books, at least the ones I’ve chosen to share. I have a stack of typewritten (that’s how old they are) manuscripts that will never see the light of day because they’re just not good enough, so I chalk them up to self-education, for my eyes only.

The Lulu, DLP, and now Thrillville Press editions of “Chumpy” also include my original, crudely drawn, Thurber-esque illustrations. It’s by far the most family-friendly of all my books, though the short stories it’s packed with in “The Thrillville Pulp Fiction Collection” Volume 3, spanning my so-called career, are much more typical of my more mature, adults-only Ĺ“uvre.

When Gutter Books reissued “Love Stories Are Too Violent For Me” in 2013, when the movie deal was very hot and looked like it was about to finally reach the screen, I re-edited parts of it that had always bugged me, and also added in some insider nods to Christian Slater, with whom I was then collaborating on the screenplay, which is now on “indefinite hiatus” again, sad to say. Anyway, storyboard artist Matt Brown depicted Christian as my protagonist Vic Valentine on the cover, and the text even includes a few bits from our script. Acquisitions editor and rightfully acclaimed author Joe Clifford (“December Boys”) gave me complete freedom. So it is now the “definitive” version.

Gef: Pulp fiction tends to drudge up some nostalgic imagery, especially for folks with only a passing familiarity with it. How would you gauge the genre's fit with contemporary settings? I mean, every genre has its evolution over the decades. How would you say pulp, particularly noir, is faring these days and moving on? 

Will: Funny, when I published “Mermaid” in 2010, I described it as “Neo-Pulp Fiction Fantasia” on the cover. I seriously had no idea that there was a whole new pulp fiction category being marketed already. I thought I was the only one! But then I was out of the loop, inside my own head. Once I started networking with other contemporary authors on Facebook and elsewhere, I discovered an entire community of like-minded people out there, though the vast majority self-designated as “crime authors,” which frankly is a much more commercially viable niche than “pulp.”

The reason I still describe myself as a “pulp author” is because I combine so many different genres. I prefer hybrids so I don’t feel the need to conform to any preconceived tropes and standards. Unfortunately, while artistically satisfying, this is precisely why it’s so tough to crack that stubborn barrier between cultish obscurity and wider popularity. I am simply not appealing directly to any particular genre fan. I make and break too many rules. But I just don’t know how else to do it. I write the types of books I enjoy reading, and I’m heavily influenced by the types of movies I enjoy watching, from vintage horror to David Lynch, and so my books are all exploitative yet esoteric nature. But they’re not “pulp fiction” in the classical tradition of Tarzan, Doc Savage and The Shadow (all of which I loved as kid). I give them that label since I really don’t know how else to categorize them, though I guess if I had to choose a predecessor in the history of pulp that mostly closely approximates what I’m doing, I guess I’d cite H.P. Lovecraft. But again – completely different styles, preoccupations, and perspective.

Gef: This year you're delving into erotic horror? How has that journey been for you and what brought about that shift?

Will: As you can discern yourself by now, it is not a shift, but a continuation of a direction I’ve always been heading. My recent books all fall under this category, even “Hard-boiled Heart” to an extent. But definitely “A Mermaid Drowns in the Midnight Lounge” and “Freaks That Carry You’re your Luggage Up to the Room” (which I self-published via Lulu in 2011, now both are collected in “The Thrillville Pulp Fiction Collection”). And “Lavender Blonde” which as I said was first written in 1987 when I was only 24, but both the 2011 Lulu edition and the current Thrillville Press edition (and formerly the DLP incarnation) are the revised, “definitive” versions, considerably more explicit and horrific than the original draft.

Both of my retro sci-fi collaborations with Scott Fulks, “It Came from Hangar 18” (2012) and “The Space Needler’s Intergalactic Bar Guide” (2015) contain elements of erotic horror, too.

I think some people mistakenly think of primarily as a crime/noir guy because Vic Valentine is my best-known property, thanks to the well-publicized movie deal. But other than that six book series (Gutter published the latest, “Hard-boiled Heart,” directly inspired by my experiences with Christian, in December 2015), and “Down a Dark Alley,” which I first wrote in 1992, most of my work could not be defined as “crime.” As a young author I was influenced by Raymond Chandler and Jim Thompson (also J.D. Salinger and Damon Runyon), and during the 90s read almost nothing but crime books by brilliant guys like James Ellroy, Walter Mosley and James Lee Burke, but I never felt like I was one of them. As I’ve said many times in public, I am much more interested in voice than plot, and crime fiction generally features desperate characters living in impoverished situations that I could personally relate to. But I don’t give a damn about “crime” per se. That to me was always incidental to the appeal. I have no subconscious desires to rob a bank or kill anyone. I think many fans of that genre, and maybe even the authors, vicariously enjoy stories about people living above or beyond the law, especially if they get away with it. Me, I just wanted to know what was going inside their heads.

Plus I’ve always been much more interested in gratuitous sex than graphic violence. Many crime books, particularly from original pulp fiction’s heyday, offered a healthy (or unhealthy, depending on one’s ideology) mixture of both, but the emphasis was always on the violence.

When I write, I get horny. I can’t help it. Even my early “literary” works contained very detailed sexual encounters and fantasies. I was a lonely guy, but very sexually obsessive from a young age. I sublimated much of my repressed lust into my work, even the Vic Valentine books.

I hardly read any straight-up horror as a young man, though I loved horror movies. But I was always much more of a “Videodrome” and “Re-Animator” guy than, say, a “Fright Night” or “Lost Boys” type, which to me were examples of mainstream movies that played it way too safe. I respected Stephen King and consider myself a fan, but despite their expertly constructed terrors his books were too prudish for me, as was most modern fiction in any genre, and pop culture generally.

For me, the issues of sex and death, especially when intertwined, distill life in this world to its essence, and that scares a lot of people that don’t want to consider these inescapable aspects of our common human dilemma. It seems so many people are both ashamed of and attached to their own fragile, mysterious, tragically ephemeral physical forms. For whatever reason, mortality and sensuality are two of the most controversial and taboo topics in our society, since both engender fear, one of finality, the other of intimacy. In works of erotic horror, whether literature or film, the artist is confronting both subjects directly. I find this corporeal combination irresistibly seductive, both as a creator and as a consumer. Most of my fiction, both short and long form, is drenched in bodily fluids, virtually speaking. Even “Lavender Blonde” can be classified as psychological erotic horror noir. It’s my natural inclination, so I’m just going with it.

I’m working on a new one right now, called “Things I Do When I’m Awake.” It’s partly inspired by 1970s giallo cinema. It’s going very well so far. I hope to issue it via Thrillville Press later this year.

Gef: Speaking of erotic horror, it's an election year in America and the GOP has doubled down on their brand of regressive social conservatism. They've even gone so far as to declare all pornography a "public health crisis." Does that feel like one of those slippery slope deals, where first they come for PornHub and then they come for erotic fiction?

Will: I love it! For one thing, stupid stuff like this only backfires in a big way. The X-rated film craze of the 1970s was a direct reaction to the moralistic oppression and censorship of the 1950s. These selfish, career-oriented politicians – who have no problems with gun-crazy bigots, and hateful shooting sprees kill way more people worldwide than masturbation, statically speaking - are pandering to a minority of the population, anyway. Studies show that countries where porn is outlawed actually suffer the most cases of rape and other sexual crimes. I also agree with Bill Maher that much of motivates modern Muslim terrorism is their culture’s own self-imposed sexual repression, which only results in uncontrolled rage at more permissive societies, like ours (at least relatively).

Nothing makes people want something more than you when you tell them they can’t have it. That’s why Internet porn is actually most popular in “red” states, where it’s at least superficially prohibited. Plus attempting to legislate this prehistoric mentality actually gives my fiction a dimension of subversive rebellion, even though I have no other agenda than to entertain, both the reader and myself.

The fact that my work would piss off these self-righteous, morally superior hypocrites only adds more fuel to my creative fire. Speaking of which, I can only hope some right-winger religious nut-job would organize a ban of my books. I can really use the publicity.

Gef: What kinds of stories resonate with you as a reader? What books are you reading this summer?

Will: As I’ve explained I’m much more inspired by cinema (and music) than literature when I write. I often cite David Lynch as an influence but I don’t consciously try to “copy” any of his work. It’s more like we just happen share similar sensibilities, so I naturally relate to his films. But my work is wholly my own, since my main source of inspiration comes from my own life. Most of my fiction is semi-autobiographical, but creatively filtered through my demented imagination to the point of unrecognizability.

As for what I’m reading, I read almost nothing but books by my fellow authors on Facebook these days, so I can post supportive reviews on Amazon. There are several authors that write books in the same general vein as mine, though again, the fact that my books are totally unlike anyone else’s is my main source of pride as an author.

Recently I’ve read, and strongly recommend: The “Selena” trilogy by Greg Barth; “The Train Derails in Boston” by Jessica McHugh; “Graveyard Love” by Scott Alderberg; and “Zero Saints” by Gabino Iglesias. There are so many talented authors in my social circles, though, that it often makes me feel insignificant by comparison. It’s truly overwhelming.

Gef: How can folks keep up with your shenanigans?

Will: I’m easy to find. My website, www.thrillville.net, has been on the Web since 1998. I even have the same web guy, Michael DeWeil, that posts all my stuff for me there. But it’s evolved from my B movie impresario days into a platform to pimp my pulp fiction. It’s all there, for anyone interested, including contact info. I always answer my emails, too. Besides Facebook I’m also on Twitter, https://twitter.com/ThrillPulp. Though I don’t engage there much. As the saying goes, “I’m getting too old for this shit.”


July 1, 2016

The Making of a Monster: a guest post by Carl Alves, author of 'Conjesero'

About Carl Alves' CONJESEROSan Francisco homicide detective Kevin Russell has arrested serial rapists, murderers, and more sadistic thugs than he could remember. Nothing he has ever accomplished can prepare him for Conjesero, a supernatural serial killer who has been terrorizing the Americas for centuries. Conjesero—a creature with extraordinary intelligence and a vicious nature that has created a trail of bodies from Mexico to San Francisco—has always made law enforcement cower in fear and pretend that he doesn't exist. Only Kevin is willing to stand in its path. His desperation takes him on a journey inside the killer’s twisted world. There is nothing that he is unwilling to do, even if it means making a deal with the devil, to stop Conjesero or die trying.

The Making of a Monster
by Carl Alves

When I set off to writing my novel Conjesero, the idea behind the story started with a monster, and I built a story around it. But the question was, just what type of monster was I looking for? I certainly didn’t want to use any of the usual suspects: vampires, werewolves, zombies, etc. Nothing against them, but it would not exactly be a fresh concept. I also didn’t want to use any well-known cryptids such as The Jersey Devil, chupacabra, Bigfoot, a manticore or anything of that ilk. I wanted something for off the normal type of creatures found in horror novels and movies, but I wanted something similar all at the same time. A bit confusing, right? Well, that was how Conjesero first germinated in my mind.

The very first thing that I thought about was a werewolf. I didn’t want to use an actual werewolf as my monster, but when I started writing my opening scene, I wrote it with that type of creature. I liked the scene, but I knew I had to deviate from that type of monster, since this would not be a werewolf novel.

What about a chimera? Not exactly a chimera, but something similar to that. A creature that had more than one aspect of its being. Perhaps a combination of a lion and a serpent. Maybe even some elements of a dragon—at least the fire breathing aspect of it. Now that would certainly be a devastating creature, but it wasn’t different enough for my liking. After all, a chimera is a creature found in Greek mythology. This had to be a monster all of my own making.

Why not all of these and more? I wanted to make Conjesero completely and utterly unique—a creature truly of my own making. With that in mind, the story began to be made flesh. It was the very uniqueness of the creature that helped me formulate the plot. There was a mystery, not just in what was committing these killings, but for the reader, what would be coming next. If you read my novel, every time the creature attacks, it’s never quite the same. Detective Kevin Russell, the story’s protagonist, is often left with the aftermath of the killings, just as the reader is. My hope is that the reader will be scratching their head just the way Kevin must be doing in the story. And that is how Conjesero was born. 

Carl Alves went to Boston University majoring in Biomedical Engineering.  He graduated with a BS degree, and has since worked in the pharmaceutical and medical devices industries.  He later graduated from Lehigh University with an MBA degree.  He is the author of three published novels.  His most recent novel, Conjesero, was released in 2016 by End of Days Publishing.  His short fiction has appeared in various publications such as Star Quakes, Crossroads in the Dark, and Dark Eclipse.  He is a member of the Horror Writers Association and has attended the Penn Writers Conference.  You can visit his website at http://www.carlalves.com