Southern Crime Fiction Panel Discussion – Bouchercon 2018

8 September 2018, at Bouchercon in St. Petersburg, Florida. 3PM Avery-Chancellor Room at The Vinoy Renaissance Hotel. Recorded by Patrick von Wiegandt and Transcribed by Gabriel Valjan. Any errors are my own.

Participants, Left to Right: S.A. Cosby, Alex Segura, Steph Post, and Eryk Pruitt (Moderator). Standing: Ace Atkins.

Eryk: How is everybody? Y’all hear me? How is everybody doing? Y’all here for the southern panel, or for the other one? In case you were confused, we turned the air conditioner off, so you just know where you’re at. Welcome, give me just one second. Alright, I have a little bit of housekeeping. Real quick, just so everybody is aware: this is a piece of fan mail that I received the other day, and I’d like to share it with you.

Dear Mr. Pruitt,

(If you’re not familiar, that’s me). I really took offense today with your crass language at the Blue-Collar panel discussion. You had a mixed audience in there. We weren’t in a bar, nor a bunch of good ol’ boys on a patio somewhere on a Saturday night. I’m not being prude. But really, you’re a writer and those are the best words you’ve got to express yourself?

Hey, this is what I have to say to that. Guess what? It’s goddamn Saturday night. My name is Eryk. I write for Polis [Books]. My book What We Reckon is up for the Anthony. I’ve got Townies, that’s a short story collection and comes out [October 16, 2018]. I’ve got The Long Dance, that’s a true crime podcast. Please check it out, but I want to introduce y’all to my buddies on this Saturday night. Right next to me, we’ve got Steph Post. She’s the author of Lightwood, Walk In The Fire, and her Miraculum, is coming out [January 22, 2019]. Check out EW, Entertainment Weekly; they’ve got the first chapter and cover reveal, check it out and get hooked. Right next to her, we’ve got Alex Segura. He’s also writes for Polis. He’s the author of the [Peter]Fernandez mysteries. And here’s my good friend, SA Cosby, Shawn. He’s written for Polis, and he’s got some short stories but, hey y’all get your britches ready because in January his new novel comes out. It’s My Darkest Prayer, and it’s his first from Intrigue Press, and it’s going to be a mind-blower. Over here, down on the end, we’ve got Mr. Ace Atkins. He’s an author, journalist, crime reporter, and he’s been nominated for the Edgar, the Barry, and if that’s not enough for you, the Pulitzer prize. So, he’s the adult in the room. So, let’s get ready. Thank y’all very much for joining us. I just want to ask everyone a quick question, and we’ll go down the line. I want to you to give your southern street cred. Tell everyone what makes you southern and why you’re here on this panel. We’ll start with you, Steph.

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Steph: Can you guys hear me? Ok. I’ll try to not use my teacher voice since I have a microphone. Southern cred. I’m from rural north Florida, which is basically rural Georgia. I grew up in the middle of a swamp. I’ve been treed by a wild boar. Half of my family is in and out of jail, which doesn’t necessarily have anything to do with southern, but it backs up some of my stories. Yeah, north Florida.

Eryk: Awesome. How about you, Alex?

Alex: I was born and raised in Miami, Florida, which many southerners don’t count as the South, but if you like Latin America that’s pretty much part of it. If you cut me, I probably bleed Cuban coffee.

 SA: As far as southern street cred goes, I was born and raised in southeastern Virginia. Our family legend is my great-great-grandfather, one of his sons was killed in a hit-and-run accident, and he waited 20 years. He got a charter boat, tricked the guy coming onto the charter boat, and chopped him up and put him in a crab pot. My grandfather used to make moonshine, and one day me and my brother got the bright idea to steal some. He caught us and he made us drink the whole mason jar. We didn’t get to stop until my brother couldn’t feel his feet, and I couldn’t see. That’s my story for street cred.

Ace: Southern street cred. My grandfather was a bootlegger. My family has deep roots in SCC football. I played SCC football. Born in Alabama, and now I live in Oxford, Mississippi, so that’s it.

Eryk: I’m going to ask y’all for one word here, but we’re going to get into the head of everybody else. Let’s say, there’s one word that we feel that everybody associates with southern fiction. What’s the one word? What’s the one word that embodies southern fiction? Not your word, other people, whether it’s pejorative or not. Let’s start with Ace.

Ace: I’d say the word brilliant. Beautiful.

SA: If you want to talk about the pejorative, I think a lot of people feel southern fiction is simple, and it’s not. It looks simple but it’s incredibly complex.

Alex: I feel the word you always get is rural. Not all southern fiction is rural. My books are probably an example of that. You’re getting a metropolis that just happens to be in the South.

Steph: Well, the first word that came to mind is y’all. It’s simply because that is the sort of thing I’ve been called out on for not using enough of in my books. Oh yeah, that I don’t use it enough. Not that it describes southern fiction, but people expect that. There are so many dialects in the South, and the South is so broad and not just this one type of jargon to describe us.

Eryk: You think it’s a pejorative when some people talk about southern fiction? Do you think they refer to it as a pejorative?

Steph: Yes. I don’t know. I think people have a misconception that southern fiction is simple, that it’s all rural, that it’s all these same stories. I do write those stories, but I think it should be more of what Ace is saying, that it is brilliant, that it so complex, has a tradition, but more than that, it is extremely broad, from my work to Miami, to going all the way to Mississippi. I don’t know. I think people need to be aware that it is that big and that rich of a tradition.

Eryk: Alex, you pointed out that your stories are set in Miami. With that in mind, with southern fiction, do you have any kind of examples or inspiration that captures southern fiction, but from a more urban point of view?

Alex: For me, the go-to is always Elmore Leonard. His Florida stuff, I love his Detroit novels, too, but his way with dialog, the way he propels a story, and the way he makes you feel that you’re right there. He’s done a lot of stuff in Miami, in Broward County and in the bigger cities of south Florida. That’s been kind of my touchstone for the regional stuff.

Eryk: Sean, one of my favorite things about talking with you is that we’re not trying to put urban, or metropolis, or anything on you. You are rural. You are country. Give us some of your influences.

SA: The biggest thing that I always find when I started writing fiction is that I had a real big chip on my shoulder about southern fiction, because I got sick of seeing of people in the South portrayed as yokels, bad boys, or as inbred, as idiots. Some of the smartest people I ever knew drove tractors…and another thing that also bothered me…I love reading Faulkner, Eudora Welty, Flannery O’Connor, and all that, but, for a story set in the south, there’s an incredible real paucity of black people. It’s like there’s one black person who is a Magical Negro who helps the white person that’s going crazy. When I started writing, and got serious about it, I wanted to change that narrative a little bit. I saw a movie a few years ago, Hell or High Water, and it really touched me. There’s a line there Chris Pine says in that movie: “Poverty is like a disease.” I understood that because I grew up dirt poor. I didn’t have running water until I was 15. People always ask me how I got so big. It’s from chopping wood. I wanted to write a story that was emblematic of that idea, but from the rich history of the African-American in the South because, I think – and I know I’m on a tangent but I’ll wrap it up – I think some people really believe that the heritage, the history, and the literature of the South is the sole provenance of Confederate apologists, and it’s not.

My father, my family go back five generations Virginia, in South Carolina as well. There are dozens, hundreds of stories that haven’t been told. I’ll be damned if I’m going to secede – I use that word on purpose – my history, and my heritage to somebody who doesn’t want to hear my story.

Eryk: Ace, I’m sorry but you’ve got to follow that up. Would you please let us know your influences?

Ace: I go with a lot of that. Talking about southern lit, and to be honest there’s been some brilliant voices, and I usually don’t have to make an apology for the great writers from the South. You mentioned so many of them: Eudora Welty, William Faulkner the greatest of all time, and there aren’t a lot of black voices. We now have Jesmyn Ward, which is fantastic, and we’re starting to see that perspective, and I’d like to see more of that. The thing about the South, which is why it so interesting, and I make apologies to nobody about being a southern writer because this is the most rich, fertile ground to be writing about. In this day and age, with the political landscape that we have, this is Ground Zero for talking about American issues. Everything we want to talk about, we have those issues on steroids. And yes, I don’t like the stereotypes of the southerners, with the inbred… however, we do have those people, too. What I tell people about the South, like anywhere else I write about, like Detroit, is that I like to write what I call the Good, the Bad, and the Ugly. I can sit and talk all afternoon about what I love about the South, about blues music, the history of Muddy Waters and Robert Johnson, and I can talk about the great food we can have, about the culture we have, the writers we’ve produced, but I can tell you about some of the most horrific events and crimes we’ve had in the entire country. We have it all, and it’s upon us all as southern to take on those issues.

Eryk: Actually, my next question was: What does southern fiction have that other regions don’t have, and you just knocked that out. Thank you. That leads into another question I had and the South has this rich, layered history that he alluded to, and it’s unique to the nation. This area was once considered the jewel of the whole Union, and after that it was renegades and rebels and then for a while it was occupied territory. The history has often been, lately, the hot topic in national discussion. How does that inform your work? Do you try to avoid it, or do you go face first into it? How do you handle it?

Steph: I’ll jump in, because that is something, of course, I’ve been thinking about quite a bit as a southerner, and as a southern writer, and that’s something I very much identify with, which I own up to. I will be one hundred percent honest that I sort of stay away from it. I think the social issues come out because of the characters I write about. Most of the people I write about are working class, they’re poor, or they are criminals and a lot of times they’re criminals because of circumstance, so I’m really exploring that. In Lightwood and Walk In The Fire and the third book, which I am about to finish, I’m beginning to explore how the town is changing, and how the traditions you’re reading about in Lightwood are being challenged, and how everyone is reacting to that; but, because I’m a fiction writer and I’m most certainly not an essayist, and not a nonfiction writer. I admire anyone who can do that and could write for magazines. I’ve stayed away from that and focusing on the stories and the characters.

Alex: For me, it is more a story of displacement, but not so much for the white South. It’s kind of a Cuban story; you have to leave your country, have to set up this new home, and you’re going to ruffle some feathers when you get there. There’s still a sense in Miami that we were here first and then the Cubans showed up, and then Cubans say we were here second, then other people showed up. Miami is a very diverse city, but it’s also a very sectionalized city. There’s different neighborhoods and you have to navigate that. It’s a personal thing to me, I’m a Cuban-American and I was raised with and this sense of Other, that there’s this island that your grandparents left, parents left, and I’ll never see, probably not. How does that intermingle with the South? Steph writes Florida crime, I write Florida crime, but we write very different Florida crime. She’s in the south South, and I’m in Miami, which is like some people say is Cuba Continued, which it is, and isn’t in other ways. For me, it’s that story of displacement, that sense of not being complete, knowing there’s a part of you elsewhere that you’ll never connect to, and it’s intense.

SA: I go right at it, because I don’t have a choice. I never start out writing a story that I’m going to tell a message, or make the reader listen to what I have to say about this issue. First thing I want to do is come up with a good idea, and an exciting story, an interesting story; but, like Steph said, usually the social issues, the historical issues, the sociological issues come out of the interactions of the characters. I have a line in my book [My Darkest Prayer] where a protagonist is talking about a deputy who doesn’t like him, but he’s a lazy racist. He won’t burn a cross on your front yard, but he also won’t hold a door for you when you’re coming into the store, and that’s something I grew up with and had in my experience. I don’t feel like I have to hit you over the head with that. I hope that if I’m doing a good job, that the implications of that will be clear. Like Steph said, I’m not writing an historical treatise, or an essay or a rant. I’m trying to tell a good story, but a part of that story, the fabric are things that happen to people in the community – to people I know, and things that have happened to me, and how we interact with each other, and how do we get over that.

I was 12 years old, riding the school bus, and I had won a chess competition, and this guy – I’m going to say his name because I know he’s not here – [name deleted], this 12-year old good ol’ boy. I think he was born chewing tobacco, and he just could not stand that I won an award, so, on the following day, he poured a bottle of piss on my head. For a second, I thought it was like water and then when I realized it wasn’t water, I went to his ass. Having said that, years later, my local paper writes up – I got an Honorable Mention in the Best American Mysteries in 2016 – and so my local paper put it in the paper. I saw him at his job at Wal-Mart, and he congratulated me. I said, “Thank you,” but in the back of my mind, I’m still pissed. I’m still upset. We have to learn to let it go. I had to let it go, and learn to live with it, and that’s a part of the racial dynamic in the South sometimes. It’s like, “Is this the mountain I’m going to die on?”

Eryk: How about you, Ace? You’ve been a reporter, so you’ve been on the front-line of some of this. How does this discussion enter your work?

Ace: I can’t get away from it. I live in north Mississippi, and there are so many things I thought – I grew up in Alabama – but there were so many things I call good ol’boyisms: corruption, political corruption, racism – things I really thought had been put to the history books: things that I saw as a teenager in high school on PBS documentaries – I thought that was over. I thought we were in a post-racial South, but let me tell: that’s not happening right now, and it’s not happening in Mississippi. I went down a week ago, for research for my novel called The Nashoba County Fair, and the Nashoba County Fair is the biggest political…stump speech place that you go, the big county fair. The governor is there, people running for state senator, US senator. They’re all there, and to see all the Confederate flags, and see the overt racism and the hate…This is the stuff that, when I was in high school and elementary school, these people still existed, but they were under rocks and they knew they could not act that way and exist in a modern society. They were going to lose their jobs, they were going to be ostracized. They could not act that way in civil society. The lid is off now, and it is Crazy Time and, as a writer if I do not write about it, then what I’m doing is not worth shit. That’s just the way it is. If I lived in another part of the country, I might be writing about something different. That is what is going on right now.

Eryk: I know there’s a term that was picking up a lot more speed a few years ago. It excited me when I heard it, and I don’t want it to go away. It’s “New South.” It was a hashtag for a while. #NewSouth. What do you think of when you hear New South? What do you want New South to be?

Ace: I wrote an essay about this yesterday. I’m not sure if you’re familiar with Garden & Gun Magazine. I did a little tribute to Burt Reynolds, and to me that was who represented the New South. Burt Reynolds, in his movies, in his roles, in what he did, he was like the Southerner in Gator. He was taking on the racists, he was taking on the hypocrites, he was taking on the dirty politicians, the dirty croc cops. It was the South that was going to come back something stronger. It was a post-racial South. It was a stronger South, a more educated South. I wrote a whole essay yesterday. You can read it on Garden & Gun. That was what I thought as a kid, when I was seven, eight, nine years old, I thought we were living in a post-racial South. A new South. A better South. A more educated South. The one thing you’ll hear frequently in Mississippi is, “You think you’re better than me. You have that kind of attitude.” That’s the old way of thinking. Well, yeah. Be educated. Be smart. Be polite. Know how to act. There’s a difference between Right and Wrong. There’s Truth and there are Lies. There is nothing to debate about this. There’s the right thing to do, and right now, the water is muddy as hell. That’s what the New South means: Evolution.

SA: The biggest thing that the New South means to me and, to jump off of what Ace says – I grew up watching Gator and White Lightning, and movies like that. I love White Lightning. My dad took us to the fifty-cent theater to watch White Lightning, and I loved it because I knew people like that. That post-racial South, that new South, educated, more tolerant and understanding South. We’ve had this conversation before, but white and black southerners have more in common sometimes than white and black northerners. I understand that growing up there’s a certain decorum, there’s a certain sense of community that exists in the South. Also, there’s  this unforced, this tacit segregation sometimes. My wife and I own a funeral home, and it’s 2018 and there’s still a white and a black funeral home. I was hoping as a kid that things meld, things come together, and how much we’re alike than we are different. No apologies, I love being a southerner. I love being a country boy. I love the way I grew up, the people I grew up with, but at the same time I’m aware that we have flaws. The idea of the New South is not an all harmonious setting, but the idea that we could at least acknowledge our similarities in a way that make us a stronger community.

Alex: For me, it’s Diversity whether you want it or not. You see it from Miami’s vantage point. There was a Cuban exodus in the Sixties, in the late Fifties, and then it hit this lull where the southern whites were accepting of them, and reached this kind of balance, and then Castro opened up the floodgates in the Eighties with the Mariel Boatlift. That changed the whole game. I think no matter what we do, no matter how people become gatekeepers, that people stop things, Diversity is going to happen and you’re going to have this blend of people, and there’s going to be a new dynamic, and to me that is the New South. Not just this idea of white, Confederate racism. I think that’s going to go away by default.

Eryk: How about you, Steph?

Steph: Actually, all I was thinking with what both of you were saying and I was nodding my head and agreeing, because I grew up in very rural South. I had that idea that things were changing. One of my stepmothers was African-American. We went to that type of church. I was very atypical and the rest of my family, for lack of a better word, was pretty much white trash. I kind of grew up with this dual identity, thinking those things are only on PBS. Race riots – that was back when the world was black and white. I moved away when I was in my late teens. I came to North Carolina, and I had a very different experience. I moved here to St. Pete. I used to live 7 blocks that way. Recently, I moved to Hernando County, which is very rural and it’s been a fantastic experience, but it’s the type of place where you drive down the street and there are Confederate flags everywhere. You go to a bar and — I had someone asked me, rather aggressively a little bit, “I bet you voted for Hillary.” It was sort of like that was what they were going for still. It was this sort of a shock because thinking of New South, I was thinking the way I grew up, believing it was going to be this very diverse thing and we’re heading there, and where I am now, I am aware that it has probably gone further backwards then when I was a child.

Alex: I think back to what Ace was saying. People who kept it behind closed doors have gotten into power to be louder, and we need to push back on that, as much as we can.

Eryk: I know that when I was growing up…the flag, it was Lynyrd Skynyrd, it was the word Rebel. Rebel, when you were a kid, is great. This is a rebel flag. Being white, I didn’t have any other feeling then it was rebel. Of course, it means something more these days. I was in Charlottesville, two days later in Durham when they pulled down the statues, and then a couple weeks later, they pulled another one down at UNC. I’m curious. I know there are many opinions on how the statues should be handled. What’s yours, Steph.

Steph: Oh wow, this kind of goes back to I’m not really sure that I’m the best person to answer that. I say that because, in a way, it is my history. The way I am with my family, I don’t know if I had people serve in the Confederacy. I can’t say that I am attached to it, not attached to it, because I don’t know much about my family. I see both sides of the argument, in a way, as far as history goes, but if we are ever going to get to that New South, if we are ever going to evolve and change, history needs to be history; it needs to be the thing you watch on PBS and you teach your students that was in the past, and we have changed and grown, and evolved from that. I don’t think I’m the best person to explain that; it is something that a lot of us southern writers are struggling with, dealing with and confronting that now. I think history is history.

SA: I think I had a really good idea. I told the people in my hometown: you can keep your Confederate statues, but get statues of Nat Turner, with heads in his hand, and just put that next to the statue. Because if it’s about history then let’s talk about history. You can have good ol’ Silent Sam, but right next to him you have a giant statue of Nat Turner with a machete in his hand, and then we can have that discussion. On a serious note, I went to a town meeting in my hometown. My hometown is really conservative, like really conservative. It was like, growing up, about 8 black people in the whole town. We had people get up and say, “This is our history.” Somebody got up and said, “When this statue was erected, I don’t hear any black people complain then.” Yeah, because we didn’t want to get lynched. I feel like you can have history, but give context. Put a plaque up and say, “Yes, this is a Confederate soldier, this is the statue, this is what happened, but also this was a regime committed to the enslavement of a whole people. I don’t understand why you can’t do that, and why people are so angry about that. To me, that was an idea, a compromise. It’s funny, people in the black community, where I grew up in the South, we were always compromising. We’re always taking a step back, so we don’t upset the Majority. It’s like this thing in the South, of people passing, and children of interracial relationships, who have to decide whether to accept living in the black community or try to make it in the white community. That onus is always on the black community to keep track of that, and understand that genealogy, and so I felt like, if we are still trying to compromise in 2018, and you still have a problem with it, then we have something much deeper to talk about.

Eryk: I want to hear what people think. Let me ask one more question really quick, and we’ll fire it down the line. As far as southern writers go, is there somebody you think everybody needs to get hip to? We all mentioned Flannery O’Connor, and we all probably mentioned Daniel Woodrell. Is there somebody you think we need to know about? Ace?

Ace: I’ll start it off. Being from Oxford, Mississippi, which is kind of a literary hub. We have some wonderful writers there. As far as what we call classic stuff now, we’ve got Larry Brown. Larry Brown was just fantastic, and he was a crime writer. He wrote noir, dark fiction there is. Father and Son is about as dark and gritty as you can get about it. Sheriff Bobby has a run-in with a guy who is a convict. I’m sure all of you know James Lee Burke, the true living master of southern noir. Faulkner was noir, Larry Brown was noir. The list goes on. There’s a writer now, a guy I really like now, a writer named David Joy. David Joy is out of North Carolina. David wrote a book called The Line That Held Us, which I finished last week. I’m not prone to say something knocked me out, but it was fantastic, and it was about all these subjects we’re talking about.

Let me digress for one second to talk about the statue issues. We’ve had some heady issues in here. I thought we were going to talk about things like, “What’s your writing schedule like? Do you outline, and you’re like, “What do you think of the Confederate statue?”

 

Eryk: I think we’d leave the fluff for the Yankee panels.

Ace (continued): When I was a kid, I came from a family with roots in Alabama back to the settling of Alabama. My roots go way, way back, on both sides of the family. When I was a kid, we had a Confederate flag in my room. I used to watch the Dukes of Hazzard, and I never thought to think about it, to say, “I’m from the South. I’m a rebel.” That symbol has become something else. The villain. They’ve owned it and it’s become something else. It probably has always been something else. The same way I used to like the character The Punisher in comic books, but now all these assholes have ruined the damn Punisher for me, so I don’t wear my Punisher tee shirt anymore…These people that are so vocal about heritage and what they stand for – their ancestors and all this bullshit – what they need to understand is my South and my roots in Alabama go back as far as it is, from the time of the native Americans were kicked out.

I had a French interviewer come in, to do a documentary, and he got very vocal with me. He said, “You’re a southerner. Are you proud to be a southerner?” I said, “I am.” He asked, “Did you have family fight in the Civil War?” I said, “I did. The Atkins family did fight in the Civil War and they were from Mississippi and he said, “And you’re proud of them?” I said, “Yeah, I’m proud of them.” What he didn’t ask, the context and what people don’t understand is my family from Mississippi joined the Union, and they fought for the Union. It was not the story of every southerner fighting for the Confederacy. There were southerners who fought for the Union; they wanted to see the Union upheld, they wanted to see slavery abolished, and so it is a much more complicated story. The story of The Lost Cause, and that kind of bullshit, that stuff started in the Twenties to keep oppression going. That’s why those statues need to come down.

SA: To the author question, I’m not sure if anyone is familiar with Ernest Gaines. A Gathering of Old Men. A Lesson Before Dying. Not so much country, rural noir, but really, especially A Gathering of Old Men, an intense book. If you haven’t read it, do yourself a favor and read it, if you can find it.

Alex: I’m going to keep being the Miami outlier. When I was thinking I would take a crack at this, all the PI stuff was New York, DC, Baltimore, north and mid, and east coast cities. I was desperate to find someone writing a Cuban-American PI. I found Carolina Garcia-Aguilera. She hasn’t written one in a while, but she was hugely impactful for me to find someone that wrote PI fiction in Miami. She wrote a character I can relate to, and that got me rolling. I think she deserves more attention.

Ace: She’s fantastic. Where is she now? What happened to her?

Alex: I believe she is writing romance, the last I heard. She’s around.

Ace: She’s terrific.

Steph: I’m going to jump in, and throw out some female names, because it’s a bit of boy’s club sometimes. The first one that came to mind was Dorothy Allison and Sheri Reynolds. I remember back in college. “Do I want to be a writer?” I read Bastard Out of Carolina and I realized, “Okay, I want to be a writer.” It’s not necessarily a crime story. Anytime you have something bad happen to someone, it’s a crime. Sheri Reynolds and Rapture of Canaan. Same thing. That changed me completely because I like southern fiction very much, but I had never seen my story. I grew up reading Faulkner and reading all those types of things. I hadn’t seen anything that was poor southern and female. They had a completely set of issues that they were dealing with, and contemporary because both of those writers are writing about now. I say, if you haven’t read Bastard Out of Carolina, then please do. Look up Sheri Reynolds because she is absolutely fantastic.

Eryk: I’m a big William Gay man myself. Anybody have question? I’m dying to hear what you’re thinking.

Question inaudible.

SA: I think what’s going to need to happen is…the hatred is out, and it’s going to have to die in the sun, like a slug with salt on his back.

Ace: I think you have to call people on it. I guess you can call it casual racism, but you have to call it out. Friends, family. It’s not okay. You see it now. Things on TV that you couldn’t say 5 or 10 years ago. Now it is okay, and it’s a strange time.

Alex: You have to call people on it. It’s happening. You see Me Too. People are talking about what they’re experiencing, being vocal, and if you let it simmer underground then it’s going to get hotter. We don’t want that.

Ace: I have one comment about William Gay, though. He was a big crime novel fan. He was a friend of mine and he loved crime books. If you’ve ever read William Gay, he was a master and a wonderful man, but he loved John D. MacDonald more then anything. He told me, “I read John D. MacDonald straight through. All the Travis McGee novels at one time.” He said, “It helped me get through my divorce.”

Eryk: [William Gay 1941-2012] When his crime novel Stoneburner  came out, it made me realize that we’ve been robbed.

Ace: He was a lovely man.

Steph: I want to jump in on that, because I was, up to very recently, a high school teacher. I worked in Tampa. It’s a very mixed school, a Performing Arts school in downtown Tampa. 50% ethnicity. To me, a lot of these kids didn’t have anyone calling them out. They didn’t have anyone standing up for them. They didn’t have anyone say, “You can’t say that, be or act this way.” Not to get on the soapbox, but teachers are often the first line of defense. They are the one who can really, really influence kids. This hatred might have to eventually die out, but we have a whole generation of kids and we need to get to them now.

[Eryk introduces members of the panel again. SA mentions that Eryk is called Big Texas, and Ace jokes that SA Cosby had put something in his drink.]

Question from Audience: “Texas. Southern or West, or both?”

Eryk: I think the rules are that the South ends in Dallas and the West begins in Fort Worth. I’m an east Texan, which the only boundary between Texas and Louisiana is imaginary. I definitely think where I’m from in Texas is the South.

SA: I don’t think it’s a problem so long as people coming in are able to become a. part of the community, and part of the fabric of your society. I think as long as people coming here are willing to work hard and want to succeed will be fine. I grew up with folks who worked really, really hard and still couldn’t get ahead. And that’s what a lot of my crime fiction is about, I’m writing about people who are doing everything they can – going to the bank and getting the loan, getting up at five o’clock in the morning, trying to get crab pots, trying to get on the boat, and work at an auto mechanic shop, and you still can’t make it. You have to choose between the light bill and food. You might maybe have to hunt because you don’t have enough money to go to the grocery store. I think that’s what makes southern writing kind of universal. That struggle, and it’s different in the southern areas, whether it’s rural Canada, rural part of America or the rural part of England, there’s something different about growing up in a rural environment. There’s something different about having this wide-open space and you’ve got enough room for everyone but, at the same time, you feel confined within your house. I grew up in a house with my grandma, my grandpa, and my mom, and my brother. Even though we were in a field in the middle of nowhere, it still felt confined. Those stresses that rear their head in the way we react in society. We have Muslims, and Pakistani people coming in from Canada, people from Cuba, and those stories are still universal. That’s how you make society work by telling those stories.

Alex: I want to chime in for a second. I’d be a hypocrite if I said to anyone that they couldn’t come in here and try to make a life for themselves. My mom, my grandparents came here. My mom got on a plane and flew here by herself. They had nothing. They had the shirts on their back and they joined society and became a part of it. That’s what the country is built on. Immigrants. To say you can’t come in, that you don’t fit the bill – that’s the problem.

A comment from the audience, about Birth of the Nation.

(From Wikipedia: “a 1915 American silent epic drama film directed and co-produced by D. W. Griffith and starring Lillian Gish. The screenplay is adapted from the novel and play The Clansman, both by Thomas Dixon Jr., as well as Dixon’s novel The Leopard’s Spots…. The film was a commercial success, though it was highly controversial for its portrayal of black men (many played by white actors in blackface) as unintelligent and sexually aggressive towards white women, and the portrayal of the Ku Klux Klan (KKK) as a heroic force… The Birth of a Nation was the first American motion picture to be screened inside the White House, viewed there by President Woodrow Wilson.”)

Ace: I agree and I think it’s a great point. The gentlemen here is talking about The Birth of the Nation and Gone with the Wind and its negative impact, especially on southerners.

Movie poster advertises ‘The Birth of a Nation’ directed by D.W. Griffith, 1915.

Tying this whole thing back to immigration, I think for some southerners who fell asleep in their history class, they really think Gone with the Wind is their history. They think that it is a documentary. I was reading recently where I live, which is the deepest of the deep South, in Oxford, Mississippi that many of the storekeepers that were running businesses on our town square during the Civil War were all from other countries. They were Germans, Italians, and they were speaking all these different languages. It makes a point that if you were walking in the square before the Civil War, chances are you would hear a lot of people speaking foreign languages because they were all foreigners. The thing about our immigrants…they think of Gone with the Wind. My family, the Atkins family, sure as hell didn’t have a plantation. They were poor sharecroppers, working on the dirt farm, and that is the key to what we are all writing about. The worse thing in current day, in the deep South, is if the working man, the redneck, and the working-class people of color get together then that’s trouble for the Elite. If that happens, it’s trouble, and that what they didn’t want to see during Reconstruction, and what they don’t want to see now. Divide and Conquer. The great point about Gone with the Wind. I hate that damn movie.

SA: I want to say something quick. HBO has got a new True Detective coming out and it stars Mahershala Ali, and he’s the first black investigator for the Arkansas State Police. I think that’s how you bridge that gap, that’s New South. I said it earlier and I think it bears repeating. White southerners, black southerners, Hispanic southerners, indigenous southerners have way more in common, and they have a certain understanding of where they live.

I got my book rejected 62 times, and one of the comments I got was, “There’s a lot of drinking and sex in your book, and I can’t believe that much sex and drinking goes on in a small southern town.” I’m like, “Do you know where the South is? On Friday night, it’s fighting and drinking, and not always in that order.” I make this point often. I have a friend from Chicago, and he’s a great writer. His name is Danny Gardner. We were talking about the differences in communities in the South and in the North. I said one of the things that kept us from fighting with each other and getting into a lot of violence is that whenever you went out on a Friday night and you go to a party, and you have to go 60 miles somewhere and sometimes you had to get in a car with people. People go to the party, get drunk, fight, and then make up and get back into the car and come back home, because you can’t walk 60 miles in the dark, in the middle of the country. It ain’t happening. Mosquitoes eat you up alive.

Eryk: I’d love nothing more then to sit here and talk all day, but people are coming in for the next panel. Y’all put your hands together for this panel.

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From Holmes to Sherlock: An Interview with Mattias Boström

Mattias Boström Won Half the Prizes on his US-Tour

An interview with Sölve Dahlgren. Published by Boktugg, 29 April 2018

Translated from the Swedish by Dean Hunt, 30 April 2018

Photo: Anna-Lena Ahlström

This past weekend author Mattias Boström traveled to the United States, having been nominated for two prestigious prizes for his non-fiction book Från Holmes till Sherlock [From Holmes to Sherlock, published by the Mysterious Press in the US]. He won one of them —the Agatha Award for Best Non-Fiction [at Malice Domestic, an annual fan convention in the metropolitan DC area that celebrates the traditional mystery.]

It is not easy to distinguish between all the various honors and prizes around the world.  We reported earlier that Mattias Boström had been nominated for the Edgar Prize (named after Edgar Allan Poe [by the Mystery Writers of America]). The Edgars have been handed out since 1946.  In 1971, Sjöwall & Wahlöö received the Edgar for Best Crime Novel for Den skrattande polisen (The Laughing Policeman) —the only Scandinavian book that has ever won an Edgar.

In addition to the Edgar nomination, Mattias was also nominated for another prestigious prize— the Agatha Award (named after Agatha Christie).  Furthermore, both prizes were given out in the USA within two-days, in New York and Washington DC respectively.  It was Friday night, Swedish time, when Mattias participated in the Edgar Award ceremony in New York.

“It was a magnificent evening with over 600 guests at the dinner and many of the USA’s foremost crime writers were present, all of them dressed to the nines. A festive atmosphere reigned.  When the prize ceremony had begun, my heart started to pound even more, but when we came to my category Best Critical/Biographical and it was announced which book had won — and it was not mine —my heart calmed down. Remarkably enough, I did not feel disappointed, something that I usually am in such situations. Being nominated for an Edgar is a win in itself, so I am still tremendously pleased.”

The winner was Lawrence P. Jackson’s Chester B. Himes:  A Biography.

Did the right book win in your category and have you read it?

“It was absolutely the right book that won, and it was also the very book I’d guessed would win. I have the book at home but have not been able to read it yet.  What I have understood is that it is indeed an important biography about an equally great and important author.  Moreover, it is a more academic and analytical book, while the purpose of my book is to entertain. I will never be able to write in any other manner. So whether I take home any nominations or prizes in the future depends in part on what people want out of a non-fiction book.

Has the nomination opened any new doors for you as a writer?

The doors have certainly opened, but I don’t believe I will be seeing too much from it until I write a new book that’s suited to an international market.  Still, the nomination helps to get people to take notice of the book and read it, in particular when the comes out in an American paperback edition in August.

How big is Sherlock Holmes today and what is it about the books that have made them survive when many other books written at that time are out of fashion?

Today, there’s a greater interest in Sherlock Holmes than there has been since the 1970s. At that time, a blockbuster Holmes-pastiche and a theatrical play in London and in New York were the starting point; today it is mainly the BBC series with Benedict Cumberbatch that has gotten huge numbers of people interested in the detective. But other movies, TV series and books have also contributed to the boom that has been taking place the last eight years, Mattias Boström says.

“That Sherlock Holmes has held up so well 130 years after he was created is due to his being so versatile and malleable —he can be recast in numerous and different ways to suit modern consumers of entertainment.  A development that has really been going on ever since the 1890s, while at the same time he lived on in his original form. Apart from Sjöwall & Wahlöö’s win there are only five Scandinavians who have succeeded in being nominated for an Edgar:  Peter Høeg, Anne Holt, Jo Nesbø, Karin Alvtogen and non-fiction author John-Henri Holmberg. But how big are the Edgar Awards?  It’s not something we talk about in Sweden at all. Perhaps because Swedish authors rarely are nominated.

“For an American author it is the finest prize there is.  It is enough to be nominated in order to have it as a permanent title for life:  ‘the Edgar-nominated author’ or ‘the Edgar-winning author.’  It is blurbed on the front cover of all the books and used in all the PR and marketing materials. Everyone I’ve spoken with here in the US says it has enormous significance, especially as a door-opener,” Mattias Boström says.

Even though he did not win an Edgar, just the nomination itself has had significance and a concrete effect.

“It has been the ultimate confirmation that the book I have written truly has lasting value.  Scads of congratulations have streamed in since it was nominated in January and many have taken notice of the book; in Sweden, too. Quite concretely, the nomination has meant also that Piratförlaget will publish the new version of the book in the fall, the edition that has come in the USA and has 25 new chapters!”

And Matthias Boström’s trip to the US wasn’t over, either; he traveled on to Washington, D.C. to be present at another prize ceremony. He was, it turns out, also nominated for an Agatha Award for Best Non-Fiction.  This is the first time since the prize was established in 1989 that a Scandinavian author has ever been nominated in any of the categories. Agatha Awards are given out to honor the traditional detective story in Agatha Christie’s spirit.

And this time it was Mattias Boström who took home the prize.

“It is a tremendous honor, especially when you consider how many books of non-fiction about crime literature and true crime come out in the US.  The Agatha Award is one of the finest detective-story prizes one can win and it felt fantastic just to be nominated. Moreover, winning an Agatha as a Swede is something I couldn’t have dreamt of doing,” Mattias Boström said in a press release after receiving the prize Saturday night Swedish time.

Piratförlaget published Från Holmes till Sherlock in 2013.  Earlier, it had been awarded Svenska Deckarakademins pris (The Prize of the Swedish Detective-Story Academy) for the year’s best book of non-fiction and was nominated for Stora fackbokpriset (The Great Non-Fiction Prize) and has come out in Danish, Norwegian and German.

In 2017 the book was published in a revised and expanded version in the USA and Great Britain with the title From Holmes to Sherlock: The Story of the Men and Women Who Created an Icon. Consequently, in September Piratförlaget will bring out this revised and expanded edition again.

Mattias Boström is one of Scandinavia’s leading Sherlock Holmes experts and in 2007 was inducted into the foremost Holmes society, The Baker Street Irregulars, where he has also been awarded prizes for his writings about the detective.

So what happens now, will you become a full-time writer and write new Sherlock Holmes novels in a bungalow in Thailand?

I’ve never been attracted to Thailand – I’m more a Scotland man – and we’ll just have to see how the combination job and writing plays out over time.  Really, though, I don’t think that there will be a big change. I’ve toyed with the thought a little about writing novels instead and doing it on a regular basis, but after now having spent the last few years writing a turn-of-the-century detective story (it is almost finished), I have come to realize it’s easier to write entertaining non-fiction literature.  We’ll see. It really depends a great deal on what ideas I get. The books of non-fiction I am planning cut very close to the novel form in their telling, Mattias Boström says.

 

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2018 Anthony Award Eligible Titles

This list is not exhaustive. I’d suggest readers reference Steph Post’s Anthony 2018 page or Do Some Damage

(A) indicates a title also nominated for an Agatha Award. For anthologies, I name the editors. If I’ve understood the rules right, duplicates are allowed (example: Best, First, Original Paperback)

Best Novel

  • Bruce Robert Coffin, Beneath the Depths
  • Micki Browning, Adrift
  • Louise Penny, Glass Houses (A)
  • Renee Patrick, Dangerous to Know (A)
  • Steph Post, Lightwood
  • Alex Segura, Dangerous Ends
  • David Swinson, Crime Song
  • Rob Hart, The Woman from Prague
  • Allison Brook, Death Overdue (A)
  • Ellen Byron, A Cajun Christmas Killing (A)
  • Annette Dashofy, No Way Home (A)
  • Margaret Maron, Take Out (A)
  • Nik Korpon, The Rebellion’s Last Traitor
  • Ivy Pochoda, Wonder Valley
  • Claire Booth, Another Man’s Ground
  • Tom Pitts, American Static
  • James L’Etoile, Bury the Past
  • Danny Gardner, A Negro and an Ofay
  • Jordan Harper, She Rides Shotgun
  • Denise Mina, The Long Drop
  • Ann Cleeves, The Seagull
  • The Force, Don Winslow
  • Clea Simon, World Enough
  • Bill Loehfelm, The Devil’s Muse

Best First Novel

  • Micki Browning, Adrift (A)
  • Hank Early, Heaven’s Crooked Finger
  • Winnie M Li, Dark Chapter
  • M. Burns, The Plot is Murder (A)
  • Kellye Garrett. Hollywood Homicide (A)
  • Laura Oles, Daughters of Bad Men (A)
  • Kathleen Valenti, Protocol (A)
  • Kevin Catalano, Where the Shines Out
  • Chris Irwin, Ragged

Best Paperback Original

  • Eryk Pruitt, What We Reckon
  • Angel Luis Colón, Blacky Jaguar Against the Cool Clux Cult
  • Lori Rader-Day, The Day I Died
  • Thomas Pluck, Big Bad Boogie
  • Annette Dashofy, No Way Home (A)
  • Gabriel Valjan, The Company Files: The Good Man
  • Casey Doran, The Art of Murder
  • Terrence McCauley, A Conspiracy of Ravens
  • Rhys Bowen, In Fairleigh Field (A)
  • Jessica Ellicott, Murder in an English Village (A)
  • Jon Bassoff, The Blade This Time
  • Edith Maxwell, Called to Justice (A)
  • Susan Ella MacNeal, The Paris Spy (A)
  • James Ziskin, Cast the First Stone

Best Critical or Nonfiction Book

  • Jess Lourey, Rewrite Yourself (A)
  • David Grann, Killers of the Flower Moon
  • Tatiana de Rosnay, Manderley Forever (A)
  • Martin Edwards, The Story of Classic Crime in 100 Books (A)
  • Matthias Boström, From Holmes to Sherlock (A)
  • Monica Hesse, American Fire (A)

Best Short Story

  • Bill Baber, “No One Heard” in Betrayed
  • Susanna Calkins, “Trial of Madame Pelletier” Malice Domestic: Murder Most Historical
  • Sarah M. Chen, “Missouri Waltz” in  Just to Watch Them Die: Crime Fiction Inspired by the Songs of Johnny Cash
  • Dana Cameron, “Episode IV: Raven and the Cave Girl vs. Dan Malmon!” in Killing Malmon
  • Jen Conley, “God’s Gonna Catch You Down” in Just to Watch Them Die
  • Micki Browning, “Thicker Than Water” in Busted
  • Christine Bagley, “On A Winter’s Night” in Snowbound
  • Maurissa Guibord, “The Explorer” in Snowbound
  • Greg Herren, “Keeper of the Flame” in Mystery Week Magazine
  • Renee Pickup, “Thirteen” in  Just to Watch Them Die
  • Connie Johnson Hambley, “Black Ice” in Snowbound
  • S.W. Lauden, “25 Minutes to Go” in Just to Watch Them Die
  • S.W. Lauden, “Reunion” in Killing Malmon
  • Paul D. Marks, “Bunker Hill Blues” in Ellery Queen
  • Paul D. Marks, “Windward” in Coast to Coast
  • Karen E. Olson, “The Boy” in New Haven Noir
  • Renee Pickup, “Salsa Verde” in Switchblade Issue 2
  • Debra Goldstein, “The Night They Burned Down Ms. Dixie’s Place” in AHMM. (A)
  • Art Taylor, “A Necessary Ingredient” in Coast to Coast (A)
  • Art Taylor, “Fairy Tales” in Black Cat Mystery Magazine
  • Mary Lederman Sutton, “Far End of Nowhere” in Fish Out of Water
  • Mary Lederman Sutton, “Home Front Homicide” in Malice Domestic: Mystery Most Historical
  • Mary Lederman Sutton, “A Family Affair” in Killer Wore Cranberry
  • James L’Etoile.  “When the Music Stops” in Betrayed
  • Shawn Reilly Simmons, “Burnt Orange” in Bouchercon Anthology 2017
  • Alex Segura and Dave White, “Shallow Grave”
  • Travis Richardson, “I Know They’re In There!” in The Obama Inheritance
  • Gretchen Archer, “Double Deck the Halls” (A)
  • Barb Goffman, “Crazy Cat Lady“ in Black Cat Mystery Magazine
  • Barb Goffman, “Whose Wine is it Anyway” in 50 Shades of Cabernet (A)
  • Gigi Pandian, “The Library Ghost of Tanglewood Inn” (A)

Best Anthology

  • Killing Malmon. Down & Out Books. Editors: Dan and Kate Malmon
  • Betrayed. Authors on the Air Press. Editor: Pam Stack
  • Noir at the Salad Bar. Level Best Books. Editors: Verna Rose, Harriette Sackler, Shawn Reilly Simmons
  • Snowbound. Level Best Books. Editors: Verna Rose, Harriette Sackler, Shawn Reilly Simmons
  • Just to Watch Them Die. Gutter Books. Editor: Joe Clifford
  • Malice Domestic: Murder Most Historical. Editors: Verna Rose, Rita Owen, Shawn Reilly Simmons
  • The Obama Inheritance. Three Rooms Press. Editor: Gary Phillips
  • Sisters in Crime/Los Angeles Presents LAst Resort. Down & Out Books. Editors: Matt Coyle, Mary Marks, and Patricia Smiley
  • Passport to Murder: Bouchercon Anthology 2017. Down & Out Books. Editors: John McFetridge and Janet Hutchings
  • Coast to Coast: Private Eyes from Sea to Shining Sea. Down & Out Books. Editors: Andrew McAleer and Paul D. Marks
  • Where Crime Never Sleeps: Murder New York Style 4. Level Best Books. Editor: Elizabeth Zelvin.

Online Websites or Blogs

Bill Crider Award for Best Novel in a Continuing Series

(At least 3 published books in series, the book published in 2017 can be one of the 3)

  • Joe Clifford, Give Up the Dead. Jay Porter Series
  • Matt Coyle, Blood Truth. Rick Cahill Series
  • Cynthia Kuhn, The Art of Vanishing. Lila Maclean Mystery Series
  • Lynn Marron, ORR: Murder Genetically Engineered: Grace Farrington Mystery Series
  • Karen E. Olson, Betrayed. Black Hat Series
  • J.D. Rhoades, Hellbound on my Trail. Jack Keller Series
  • Patricia Smiley, Outside the Wire. Pacific Homicide Series
  • Nancy Cole Silverman, Room For Doubt
  • Dave White, Blind to Sin. Jackson Donne Series

Link to Do Some Damage for this category and other nominations.

 

 

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Killing Malmon is Kenny from South Park meets Groundhog Day

Poor Malmon! Dan Malmon is a cross between Kenny from South Park and Phil in Groundhog Day. He dies somehow every time. 30 creative crime fiction writers had a lot of fun chalking the outline around Mr. Malmon. You know you’re in for a good read when you laugh when you shouldn’t and you’re just waiting to see how Dan will meet his demise. Spoiler Alert: Dan Malmon dies, duh. Oh, Dan’s wife Kate frequents the area around the yellow Crime Scene tape.

Dan catches no breaks. Everyone wants him dead for a reason. Two guys argue like wise guys from Goodfellas about how to best kill Dan (Eric Beetner). Dan ends up in a Marvel Comics universe in Josh Stallings’s story, which includes a cameo from crime writer Ms. Christa Faust. In another story that is as surreal as a Coen Brothers movie, our mensch Dan is the unintended victim of the Pogo Stick serial killer (Hilary Davidson). Watch out for Kit Kats! If you have ever suffered in line at Starbucks and heard an absurd order when all you wanted was a simple coffee, you’ll achieve sweet release with Ed Kurtz’s “Nebbish.” Dan the schmuck. Like a Trainspotting or In Bruges dark comic vibe next time Malmon appears on the slab? Angel Luis Colón will introduce you to Blacky Jaguar. Will he or won’t he dodge his fate in Sarah Chen’s “Masterpiece”? We know the answer. Dan is that guy with the red stapler in Office Space in Holly West’s “Money for Nothing.” He gets lucky before he’s unlucky. Want to practice your Spanglish chops before tackling Gabino Iglesias’ Zero Saints, then turn the page with Hector Acosta’s “Rojo Muerte.” Danny Gardner’s “Straight Fire” will tell what it feels like to be the only black guy in Wonderbread Wonderland with a hot new book (he’s the author of A Negro And An Offay), while hankering for an Old Fashioned and ribs until Malmon enters the picture. Dan is the shlimazel who tries to order a pastrami in Thomas Pluck’s “Russian Roulette.”

There is some profanity. All I can say is that 1) a lot of people love this Dan Malmon, even if they want to kill him on the page, and 2) this is a charity anthology that directs proceeds from sales to the National MS Society. I’m also convinced Malmon loves Kit Kats. Last point: the publisher Down & Out Books must believe in keeping it in the family because it’s fast becoming a reputable stable for up and coming talent. Many of these authors have been nominated or won prestigious awards. The anthology concludes with three previews of works from Jack Getze, J.J. Hensley, and Trey R. Baker. They don’t kill Malmon.

Amazon

Down & Out Books

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Every story is worth reading to #EndDomesticViolence

This is a hard review to write, and not because the stories are a mixed bag, and not because the writing is bad. No; in fact, the writing is that good, the stories are that compelling, and— wow, this collection is twenty-one body blows with a novella for the knockout punch. Excuse the allusion to boxing, but the subject of this anthology is Domestic Violence; its purpose is to raise awareness and funds for victims of Domestic Violence. Shy of 500 pages, Betrayed showcases the insidious horror and terror DV visits on women, children, families, and the corrosive damage it inflicts on first-responders and those working in the legal profession and social services.

Without spoilers: every story is worth reading. Anthologies tend to be a hit or miss affair, so my advice is dip into one story at a time, think about it, and return for another story. Terri Lynn Coop’s “Legal Aid” conveyed the frustrations and the nuances lawyers face advocating for their reluctant victims. Wendy Tyson’s “Soap,” for reasons I won’t explain, reminded me of Hitchcock’s Rear Window, but with a twist: Clint Eastwood instead of Jimmy Stewart. Liam Sweeny’s tale, set in Houston, has a noir atmosphere with some humor mixed in, and folds in an ethical decision for his PI. James L’Etoile’s “When the Music Stops” is poetic with its recurring image and metaphor. You may think of Maya Angelou’s “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings.” I did. No spoilers, but D.V. Bennett’s “The Sound of a Wound” reads like an updated “The Most Dangerous Game” from Richard Connell. Bill Baber’s “No One Heard” chronicles ‘trickle down misery’ in simple understated prose, and deviated from the norm in that a mother’s physical and emotional abuse altered a young man’s life.

Elizabeth Heiter’s “The Second Shot” and Allison Brennan’s novella, “Mirror, Mirror” were a one-two combo that hit me hard. Heiter’s courtroom scenes are realistic as anything you’ll read from Scottoline or Turow. You learn why the lawyers ask the questions they do. Allison Brennan’s novella, a story with its double-whammy of a husband and wife — he’s a trauma nurse with military experience he won’t talk about and she’s a cop and both deal with DV — hit me hardest because of the ending. You have to read it.

Betrayed contains occasional profanity and brings the car accidents close to your window. Read. Rest. Return.

Amazon

Authors on the Air

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Big as a phone book, but good enough to dial in Hammett

There is no dearth of commentaries on Hammett’s contribution to crime fiction, or reviews of his Continental Op stories. The foremost value of Richard Layman and Julie M. Rivett’s Big Book of The Continental Op, a door-stopper of a book, is its most obvious appeal: all twenty-eight Op stories are in one place. Organized. Annotated. The works. The double-column format is a matter of taste, but a future Kindle version could change the layout. Hint. Hint, Vintage Crime.

Less obvious, though more valuable to me are the essays that preface each block of Hammett stories. The stories are organized chronologically and by editor at Black Mask. This is a rare opportunity for readers and students to learn about a writer’s development. Hammett did not start out as a great writer, but he certainly showed up with an abundance of talent. Hammett was a natural at dialog. He also latched onto the idea that readers, regardless of genre, were tired of ponderous prose. He wrote lean journalistic prose. Hemingway was another such writer. Hammett worked with his editors, and the writing shows that he gave them what they wanted. And they also mentored him, though not with Max Perkins’s kid gloves. Both sides of the desk were clear on one objective: make money. Faulkner’s advice to writers to “write about your postage stamp” is evident in Dash’s hard-boiled creations. Hammett wrote about his days as a Pinkerton detective, but few writers can write to specification. He could.

You’ll notice that, with each successive editor, Hammett’s stories become increasingly violent. His chops for description and dialog sharpened. While one can argue that Hammett wrote to market, ‘sold out,’ the introductory essays make it clear that ill health had driven Hammett to the typewriter. Literally. He didn’t have time to have principles. He had a family to support. Off-and-on again with disability, he scrambled. At one point, Hammett had a ‘real job’ and made the princely equivalent of $50,000 in today’s dollars in 1926, and then he was alone, coughing up blood, isolated in an apartment to avoid infecting his family with TB. His stories earned him a few hundred unreliable dollars a year. With each new editor, he had to prove himself. Hammett honed the voice he already had – and I don’t think any editor or amount of study can give a writer that elusive ‘extra.’

This volume includes the serialization of Poisonville stories that became Hammett’s first novel, Red Harvest. I pulled out my Library of America edition of Hammett for comparison, and I was stunned at how the Knopf editors touched every single paragraph. Every. Single. One. Hammett howled and complained (Knopf would later do the same to The Dain Curse). I leave readers to decide which version of Red Harvest they like better. I prefer the Black Mask version.

Note: Otto Penzler and Keith Alan Deutsch’s The Black Lizard Big Book of Black Mask Stories (2012) shows readers what the Knopf editors did to the original text of The Maltese Falcon. My Hammett on Hammett blog post provides a glimpse into the editing process on The Maltese Falcon between Hammett and his editors. Hammett could edit himself, but it’s a real crime scene with what the Knopf editors did to his Op novels, in my opinion. Perhaps, scholars should revisit his five novels and offer fans of crime fiction the original texts.

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Everton is a noir version of George Bailey’s Bedford Falls

The Night of the Flood is a collection of fourteen stories framed around a catastrophic flood in the fictional town of Everton, Pennsylvania. Misdirection is already afoot since the flood is not a natural disaster, but an act of vengeance for a miscarriage of justice. David Brooks at The New York Times once said that Pennsylvania is Philadelphia at one end, Pittsburgh at the other, and Alabama in the middle. Everton is in the Alabama part, and the fourteen authors here do their best in the short fiction format to show characters and situations that could have stepped out of the pages of Daniel Woodrell’s Winter’s Bone or J.D. Vance’s Hillbilly Elegy. Each story has voice and style, drama and pathos. No small accomplishment. Be forewarned that there is profanity and violence.

These dark tales will make you think uncomfortable thoughts, of how the judicial system dispenses Old Testament justice rather than New Testament compassion and understanding, of how a small town in America is easily forgotten, swept away because it is poor and invisible. I couldn’t help but think of recent disasters such as the floods in Puerto Rico and the aftermath of Katrina, or the lethal interactions between citizens and Authority, past and present. The worst of times test the individual and society. Readers can choose between cynicism or cautious optimism in the stories. How would you act? What would you do? Everton is a noir version of George Bailey’s Bedford Falls.

I’m grateful to NetGalley for the Advance Reader Copy.

Release Date: 5 March 2018.

Amazon link (PB): http://amzn.to/2qjW6sr

Amazon link (Kindle): http://amzn.to/2CH5mcn

Down & Out Books: http://bit.ly/2lFR4ke

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