John Wisniewski interviews Nick Kolakowski

  1. When did you begin writing, Nick?

I’ve always written. Like so many others, I had one of those cliché writer childhoods where I wrote and drew my own little books. I also had an intense interest in crime fiction from a young age, as well — when I was nine or ten, my dad gave me an old paperback copy of “Trouble Is My Business,” which kicked off a lifelong addiction to all things noir. But I didn’t start writing crime fiction in a serious way until my late 30s, after veering through everything else — journalism, nonfiction book-writing, copywriting, etc. Plunging into crime fiction, and finding the community that came with it, felt like coming home.

2. Any favorite crime authors?

Among contemporary authors, some of my most hardcore favorites include Steph Cha (whose “Your House Will Pay” was my favorite book last year; it’s an excellent, searing mystery), Sarah Jilek (who just published “Saint Catastrophe,” a wonderfully weird and sexy book about cults, biker gangs, MFAs, and violence), Sean Cosby (whose ” Blacktop Wasteland” is a hell of a masterpiece), and David Heska Wanbli Weiden’s “Winter Counts” (an incredible mystery set on a Native American reservation). All of them are pushing the boundaries of what crime fiction can be, especially as a lens for viewing some of the biggest issues hitting society at the moment.

3. What makes a good crime novel? How do you create suspense?

If you want to build great suspense, you have to delay gratification. All the common tools of suspense — the cliffhanger, etc. — stem from that simple principle. You delay and delay and delay, in a way that leaves the audience wanting more. When I’m reading a crime novel or short story, I know it’s failing when they’re relying too much on spectacle — when they overstuff it with events because they think those will hold the reader’s attention. That doesn’t do anything but wear the reader down. Teasing them along, though… that’s the magic.

4.Could you tell us about writing “Rattlesnake Rodeo“, one of your latest?

“Rattlesnake Rodeo” is the sequel to “Boise Longpig Hunting Club.” I never intended to write a sequel to “Boise,” but the characters kept speaking to me after I finished the book. Plus, if you’ve read “Boise,” you know that it ends with a lot of plot threads still unresolved. With “Rattlesnake Rodeo,” I wanted to raise the stakes by an insane degree, to put the characters in pretty much the worst type of situation you can imagine any noir characters being plunged into.

5.How did you create the Jake Halligan character?

Jake’s history as a bounty hunter and a former soldier comes from a few people in my life who were former bounty hunters and soldiers. I like the idea of a roughneck who cuffs people by day but comes home and reads a ton of books—there’s a dichotomy there that breaks a bunch of clichés.

Many characters in noir and hardboiled fiction are fundamentally immoral, because that’s how you drive the plot—they’re fighting their dark places. With Jake, I wanted to create a character who was fundamentally good but grappling with some broken pieces (many of those the result of his experiences during the Iraq War). Jake’s sister, Frankie, is the opposite—she’d be a complete psychopath except for whatever wiring in her brain allows her to love her friends and family intensely.

6. Tell us about the Love & Bullets series? How were those characters created?

With the Love & Bullets novellas (“A Brutal Bunch of Heartbroken Saps,” “Slaughterhouse Blues,” and “Main Bad Guy”), I wanted to create something that was action-heavy, funny, and extremely hyperactive. Bill and Fiona, the two main characters, aren’t quite as smart as they think they are, although they’re more than capable of surviving when they rip off their gangster bosses and try to escape to the Caribbean.

The novellas were originally published via Shotgun Honey, which specializes in noir novellas. Then a large German publisher bought and translated the novellas in one volume for the German and Swiss markets, which meant I needed to rewrite the books slightly, in order to ensure the narrative read smoothly as one giant novel as opposed to three shorter ones. Now Shotgun Honey is going to publish the novellas as a complete book in English, which gave me the opportunity to rewrite yet again—and add to it. It’s a rare gift to be able to rewrite and adjust your book repeatedly as times go on; I’ve used the opportunity to tweak issues, improve the plot, etc. So that’s been fun!

7. In another of your most recent novels “Boise Longpig Hunting Club”, Jake Halligan faces many dangers, in a novel full of action. Does this help to draw the reader in, to keep the reader guessing?

With “Boise Longpig Hunting Club,” I was inspired by “The Most Dangerous Game” and other novels and movies over the past hundred years that have featured people hunting other people for sport. Given the political and cultural polarization in America, I thought it’d be interesting to revamp that story with a lot of contemporary subtext.

At the same time, I also wanted “Boise” to be something of a mystery, because that would keep the reader engaged until it was time for the big hunt to kick off. I was borrowing a little bit from the Lee Child playbook with that one—if you’ve read the Reacher novels, you know that Child is very good at weaving together mystery and action to keep you glued throughout the entire book.

8. What will your next book be about?

I’m actually working on *two* novels right now. One is an Agatha Christie-style locked-room mystery that takes place in a highly unusual time and location; the other is a ticking-clock mystery/action novel that goes in a really odd direction for its final act. I’ve been increasingly interested in what happens when you mix genres together—comedy and horror, mystery and horror, and so on. These two manuscripts are experiments in that vein, and we’ll just have to see how I do.

Recommended Read: Blood by Choice by Rob Pierce

Uncle Dust is out for revenge after two woman an a child are murdered. Teaming up with his old crony Karma, he sets about killing the perpetrators.

Rob Pierce’s Blood By Choice is a brutal gut-punch of lowlife crime fiction with a great cast of characters. Cracking stuff.

Bishop Rider Week: Monday – Fire In The Hole by Beau Johnson

This story is part of Rider’s early days, before he finds a certain video and tracks down the men who killed his mother and sister. This is also Batista’s first appearance in a Rider story, and as you’ll see, the Detective isn’t as onboard with Bishop’s brand of justice as he’d come to be. Either way: the struggle begins.        

FIRE IN THE HOLE

I push the steel harder into the back of Terrance’s shaved head. 

            “C’mon,” he says. “You and me, Rider, we’ve similar goals.”  The scum was right as well as wrong.  Where I saw him and his kind as a means to an end, he only wanted atop the pile.  “We’re businessmen, you and I.  Way I see it, the info I’m givin’ you, I should be gettin’ a free pass.” 

“Anne-Marie Shields.  Did she get a pass?”  Terrance was smart, played dumb, but I already knew.   Put a bullet in his crotch to make him understand.  I unloaded the remaining five just to let off steam.

            “And this piece of shit, this Terrance, he said Toomey and his men are coming in night after next?”  Batista continued to look out over Culver, the city he’d sworn to protect.  Duty and honor are the things which make up Detective John Batista; what made up most of the men he stood in line with.  That he now found himself in my world was something we rarely discussed.  It was a given, what I did.  And he’d yet to try and turn me in.

In him I see myself, a time when belief had been the norm; that this world did in fact not kick at its dead.  Detective Batista and I, we have our demons, sure, each the thing that drives us on.  But to be fair, that is where the similarities end.  No matter how much he might think otherwise.

Toomey, though…Toomey was the here and now.  And Toomey was trouble.  Aggressive. Ruthless.  Feral.  He was high end too, lacking the moral compass most considered a conscience.  Word on the street was he kept a portable wood chipper now, and that the man was unafraid to take his time if given the chance. 

Bangers wouldn’t use him, slingers either, which left me two choices, both of which I could work with.  Russians or Italians.  Little more re-con and Bobby Carmine popped into view.

“Head-shit looking to take you out, I see.”  Batista runs a hand through his greying hair, goes down about his goatee and finishes with a sigh.  Politics notwithstanding, I swear the man’s as textbook as they come.

“What it looks like, yeah.”

“And just what is it you want from me?”  I looked to the city’s lights behind him, looked down into the valley which had claimed so many.  Culver was not the place I’d been born, but I was certain it’d be the place I’d die.       

“I want unobstructed access to the south side when this goes down.  I’m not looking for collateral damage.  Ensure the night’s patrol is light.”

He looks at me, shakes his head, and then says he’d work on it: Batista-speak for yes.

“You’re going to need ordnance, then.”  I told him yes, but that it wouldn’t be coming from him.  As ever, he’d already done more than enough. 

Outside Carmine’s place I load the launcher as soon as I see Toomey and his crew are given the go through.  Ten minutes later and I light the night.  Upon entering, I can’t help but think back to men like Toomey.  Hell, to men like Carmine himself.  Lowlifes who think they deserve; men arrogant enough to believe the streets were theirs; who would rob and kill and extort and have others do the very same thing in their name.  I picture Mick the Fish, Danny Dolan, and Marcel Abrum.  They were special, each of them, all receiving a little extra piece of my time.  To Toomey I would do the same.  He of the wood chipper fame deserved no less.

As the Kevlar takes two to the chest I turn, dive, but take one in the side of the leg as I return fire.  I hear a click.  Another.  And then the gun as it’s tossed aside. 

“Come if yer comin’ goddammit!”  I did.  It was Toomey, of course.  Why men like him never died like the rest of them I will never know for sure.

Through the debris and flame and smoke I see what he’s become—intestines that stream outwards, flowing in place of his legs.  Thick, they wind around brick and plaster like pregnant string.  He gurgles, spits up, and as I approach I step on as much of him as I can.  In the end I don’t need bullets.  I only look him in the eye. 

To protect and serve, Batista says.  To protect and save, I respond.

I admit the difference is vast.

Beau Johnson lives in Canada with his wife and three boys. He has been published before, usually on the darker side of town. Such fine establishments might include Out of the Gutter Online, Spelk Fiction, Shotgun Honey and the Molotov Cocktail. Besides writing, Beau enjoys golfing, pushing off Boats and certain Giant Tigers.

Find Beau Johnson online …

Website: https://www.beaujohnsonfiction.com/
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100007691865781
Twitter: https://twitter.com/beaujohnson44
Amazon Author Page: https://www.amazon.com/Beau-Johnson/e/B079MHF7RG/
Goodreads Author Page: https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/17692442.Beau_Johnson

Pre-order RATTLESNAKE RODEO by Nick Kolakowski

PRE-ORDER NOW! Available 10/26/2020. RATTLESNAKE RODEO by Nick Kolakowski, A Boise Longpig Hunting Club Noir, 2nd in series (October 2020)

• Trade Paperback (ISBN-13: 978-1-64396-128-6) — $14.95 includes FREE digital formats!
• eBook Formats — $5.99 SPECIAL PRE-ORDER PRICING: $3.99

The download link for the ebook (as a .zip file with three popular digital formats) will be included in the customer receipt when the order is completed on or just prior to the publication date.

Also available from the following retailers …

• Amazon — Trade Paperback | eBook
• Amazon UK — Trade Paperback | eBook
• Barnes & Noble — Trade Paperback | eBook
• Kobo — eBook
• Play — eBook

The fiery sequel to Boise Longpig Hunting Club is here…

Three nights ago, Jake Halligan and his ultra-lethal sister Frankie were kidnapped by a sadistic billionaire with a vendetta against their family. That billionaire offered them a terrible deal: Spend the next 24 hours in the backwoods of Idaho, hunted by rich men with the latest in lethal weaponry. If Jake and Frankie survived, they’d go free; otherwise, nobody would ever find their bodies.

Jake and Frankie managed to escape that terrible game, but their problems are just beginning. They’re broke, on the run, and hunted by every cop between Oregon and Montana. If they’re going to make it through, they may need to strike a devil’s bargain—and carry out a seemingly impossible crime.

Rattlesnake Rodeo is a neo-Western noir filled with incredible twists. If you want true justice against the greedy and powerful, sometimes you have no choice but to rely on the worst people…

Praise for RATTLESNAKE RODEO:

“Nick Kolakowski is known for his insightful essays on complex social issues and controversies within the world of crime fiction but, for those unfamiliar with his fiction, Rattlesnake Rodeo (and its fantastic predecessor, Boise Longpig Hunting Club) are terrific starting points. At turns ruthless and intimate, but always with a touch of humor, Rodeo takes readers on a violent, memorable journey through the new American West and the dark violence plaguing his characters’ souls.” —E.A. Aymar, author of The Unrepentant

New from All Due Respect: Man of the World by Paul D. Brazill

Buy the trade paperback from the Down & Out Bookstore and receive a FREE digital download of the book!

Also available from the following retailers …
Print: AmazonAmazon UKBarnes & NobleIndieBound
eBook: KindleKindle UKNookiTunesKoboPlay

Synopsis … Ageing hit-man Tommy Bennett left London and returned to his hometown of Seatown, hoping for respite from the ghosts of the violent past that haunted him. However, things don’t go to plan and trouble and violence soon follow Tommy to Seatown. Tommy is soon embroiled in Seatown’s underworld and his hopes of a peaceful retirement are dashed. Tommy deliberates whether or not to leave Seatown and return to London. Or even leave Great Britain altogether. So, he heads back to London where violence and mayhem await him.

Man of the World is a violent and darkly comic slice of Brit Grit noir.

Praise for the Books by Paul D. Brazill:

“If you took Ken Bruen’s candor, the best of Elmore Leonard’s dialogues, sprinkled in some Irvine Welsh, and dragged it all through the dirtiest ditch in South London, the result will be something akin to Brazill’s writing.” —Gabino Iglesias, author of Zero Saints and Gutmouth, for The Last Laugh

“A broad range of cultural strands come together in the melting pot and form a delicious stew of criminal adventure… The observations are sharp and the characters create small nuclear explosions as they collide with each other.” —Nigel Bird, author of Southsiders, for The Last Laugh

“Brazill offers a series of amusing episodes filled with breezy banter in this offbeat slice of British noir.” —Publishers Weekly, for Last Year’s Man

“It’s all here, everything you’ve come to expect from a Paul D. Brazill caper—the fast pace, the witty banter, the grim humour and the classic tunes—except this time he’s REALLY outdone himself. Unlike the lament in the song the title takes its name from, Paul’s best years are surely still ahead of him.” —Paul Heatley, author of Fatboy, for Last Year’s Man

“Paul D. Brazill is the Crown Prince of Noir. That’s my opinion, granted, but I stand by it. For those who require proof, just pick up his latest novel, Last Year’s Man, and it will be clear why I make that statement. All hail the crown prince!” —Les Edgerton, author of The Genuine, Imitation, Plastic Kidnapping, Just Like That and others

“Brazill is brilliant, a unique voice which stands out from the crowd.” —Keith Nixon, author of the Solomon Gray books, for Last Year’s Man.

man of the world final

COLDWATER by TOM PITTS is out MAY 18, 2020

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Synopsis: After a miscarriage, a young couple move from San Francisco to the Sacramento suburbs to restart their lives. When the vacant house across the street is taken over by who they think are squatters, they’re pulled into a battle neither of them
bargained for. The gang of unruly drug addicts who’ve infested their block have a dark and secret history that reaches beyond their neighborhood and all the way to the most powerful and wealthy men in California.

L.A. fixer Calper Dennings is sent by a private party to quell the trouble before it affects his employer. But before he can finish the job, he too is pulled into the violent dark world of a man with endless resources to destroy anyone around him.

You know those times when your reading slows down and you can’t find the right book to read next? Tom Pitts’s Coldwater was the book I needed to pull me out of those doldrums. I tore through it, gripped by every page. Simply put, Coldwater is a damn good book. A thoughtful and violent tale of bad luck and bad choices. I loved it.” —Johnny Shaw, author of Big Maria and Undocumented.

PRE-ORDER NOW!

Meet the Author: Tom Pitts is a Canadian/American author and screenwriter who received his education on the streets of San Francisco. He remains there, working, writing, and trying to survive.

Tom Pitts_mkrajnak_061618_DSCF3236

John Wisniewski interviews Paul Heatley

paul heatley

When did you begin writing, Paul?

I’ve been writing stories since I was very young – any scrap of paper I could find I’d scribble a story on, usually about existing characters In was aware of, like the X-Men or whatever other cartoon I’d been watching. In high school I wrote a lot of horror, then after that I tried to write what I guess you would describe as ‘literature’. Nothing really seemed to click until I tried my hand at crime fiction, about eight or nine years ago, and I’ve been getting steadily published since then, starting with my short story ‘Red Eyed Richard’ in issue three of Thuglit.

Any favourite crime authors?

My top three are Jim Thompson, Chester Himes, and James Ellroy, probably on the basis that these are the three crime writers I read first. I’ve imitated the style of Jim Thompson most of all, I think, and Chester Himes‘ influence is most apparent in my Eye For An Eye books. I haven’t tried to ape Ellroy yet, but I’ve got plans… Others include Richard Stark, James M Cain, Alan Parks, Matt Wesolowski, Attica Locke, Joe Lansdale, Marietta Miles, Nikki Dolson, Tom Leins, Shawn Cosby, Hector Acosta, Will Viharo, Daniel Vlasaty, Rob Pierce, Beau Johnson, and Gabino Iglesias, among many others.

What is the scene like in the U.K. with crime/noir writing?

I think it’s healthy. There are people like Tom Leins, Aidan Thorn, Paul D Brazill, and Tess Makovesky, to name a few, who are all flying the flag and making a name for themselves. I’m not sure whereabouts I fit in it, personally. Sure I’m British and I’ve set some stuff here in the north east where I live, but I made the decision to set a lot of my stuff in America. When I come to write a story I always think about first which setting will suit it best, and the US tends to win out, and that’s based on my interests and influences. I read and watch (television and movies) mostly American, and so I think that’s the voice that flows strongest through my writing. The two I have coming out this June, however, are both England-set. Cutthroat takes place in Newcastle, in the 70s, with a little bit of Northumberland and Scotland in it too, and Just Like Jesus is set in Northumberland, predominantly in Amble, the town I grew up in. One thing I always enjoy writing, and switching up between the two settings, is dialogue. It’s fun to write the snappy, one-liner style of Americans, and it’s just as fun to write the colloquialisms of Geordies in the north east of England.

What makes a good crime/suspense story?

For me, I like them to be dark. I’m not averse to some humour – Elmore Leonard and Carl Hiaasen spring to mind – but I like my crime to be of the noir variety and to be exactly as described: pitch black. That’s one of the reasons most of the authors I listed above work primarily in the indies, as that’s where the darkest, most brutal stuff is. Of course, I also want them to have some great characters and some real stakes that they’re working towards. This is what I try to inject into my own writing, and what I’m looking for in other people’s.

Are there any crime/noir film’s that you like?

Drive instantly springs to mind. Blue Velvet, Scorsese gangster movies, Killing Them Softly, Touch Of Evil, Niagara, In A Lonely Place, The Big Sleep, Kiss Me Deadly, Chinatown, Drunken Angel, Stray Dog, Nightcrawler, Get Carter, The Long Good Friday, Hell Or High Water, Stoker, Stormy Monday, Payroll, A Prophet, Killer Joe, City Of God, A Bittersweet Life, Sin Nombre, Heat, Wild At Heart, Fresh, Brick, Dead Presidents, Reservoir Dogs, Blood Simple – there’s a lot, I could probably go on. Also, like a lot of people, I really enjoyed Uncut Gems recently.

Paul, could you tell us about writing “Guillotine”? It is full of twist and turns, and often surprises the reader. How do you handle dialogue and pacing?

Guillotine started life as a short story a few years before I actually decided to take the characters I had and insert them into a novella. I felt like I had too much content for a short story, it needed to be something longer, so I basically fleshed out and added background to the scenes I’d already written, then extended the ending. All the stuff with Lou-Lou, especially the second half of the story, was brand new. The pacing for it came as I wrote it, as if usually the case. I’ll start writing something and get a feel for how fast it’s going to move – whether it’s going to be a little more paced and thoughtful, or if it’s going to be breakneck, like Guillotine is.

Dialogue is one of my favourite parts of writing – it not THE favourite. It keeps the story moving, it reveals the characters, their drives, how they act and react. I’m a big fan of George V Higgins and how he tells the bulk of his stories in dialogue. I started using this approach (though maybe not to the same extreme) when I came to write Fatboy, or rather the second draft of Fatboy. When I read through the first draft I found the dialogue was good, but I disliked the exposition. So I focussed more on my strengths.

Could you tell us about the trilogy “The Motel whore”, “The vampire” and “The Boy”? They feature recurring characters and a dark, gloomy atmosphere is created. How do you create this dark world for the reader?

The Motel Whore series was something I wrote very early on. I think it was an effort to get a lot of dark ideas out of my system, and it grew to include The Vampire and The Boy when I started getting the ideas on how to incorporate them into the world of the original story and utilise pre-existing characters. The three tales are quite possibly some of my darkest stuff, not necessarily in terms of violence, but certainly in the way that these characters suffer and the kind of lives they lead. They all in some way rotate around the town’s motel, and the eponymous prostitute that lives there. The printed collection of these tales also includes two new short stories, The Painter and The Shoot.

Could you tell us about writing your latest “Bad Bastards”? What inspired you to write this one?

I’m always looking to write a concise piece of noir, stuff like what Jim Thompson and James M Cain did, with distraught lovers and jealous men and a hitman, so sometimes I’ll write an opening and create some characters without any real idea of where things are going. I did that with the first few chapters of Bad Bastards. It starts almost as a kind of exercise, just to see what I can come up with and where I can go with it. So I had this opening, and I thought it was pretty strong, but then I had to take a seat back and decide what came next – which is when I created the Bad Bastards Motorcycle Club. The original working title of it was Trailer Park Hitman, obviously based round the character of Harvey and his young girlfriend Cherry, but that was literally just a working title. Once I had the motorcycle club’s name I knew that had to become the title. The motorcycle club themselves are kind of background, save for a few characters, but I have plans to make them more central going forward, so let’s hope that comes to fruition.

What will your next book be about?

I’ve got two books coming out this year, both in June. First is Cutthroat, which will be released by All Due Respect. It’s set in Newcastle in 1978 and the best way I can describe it is Get Carter as written by a Geordie Richard Stark. Rob Pierce has edited it and he seemed to like it.

A week after that comes Just Like Jesus, coming out with Close To The Bone (who released my Eye For An Eye books) and this tells the story of two young drug dealers on the Northumbrian coast. They spend their summer days driving round, selling drugs, and hooking up with girls, but petty jealousies and a dangerous boss threaten to destroy everything in their idyllic existence. The front cover is done and I’ve posted it on all my social media if people want to check it out, and the pre-order will probably be available soon (maybe by the time this interview is published) so keep an eye out for that.

PAUL HEATLEY IS UNDER HOUSE-ARREST HERE.

 

John Wisniewski interviews Daniel Vlasty

stay ugly

When did you begin writing, Daniel?

I remember writing a few really terrible stories when I was younger, probably in high school, and some embarrassing poetry too. But I didn’t start to really write until I was a sophomore in college. I took a creative writing class to fill some credit hours I needed and I’ve been writing ever since.

Who are some of your favorite authors?

Off the top of my head — Kurt Vonnegut, Dennis Lehane, George Pelecanoes, Sam Pink, Justin Grimbol, Carlton Mellick III, J David Osborne, Stephen Graham Jones, Jonathan Lethem, Ken Bruen, Ed Brubaker, Jason Aaron, Rick Remender, Matt Fraction.

Could you tell us about writing “Stay Ugly“? What inspired you to write?

STAY UGLY is actually like two or three others stories I was failing at writing mashed together. It’s not that complicated of a story but writing it kicked my ass. Probably took me a year to write the first draft and I finished that back in 2018. Just for reference of where this stacks up with my other first drafts: The Church of TV as God took me three days to write, Amphetamine Psychosis took about four, Only Bones was about a week, and A New and Different Kind of Pain took a week and some change. But with Stay Ugly I just felt like I could never get it right and I just kept working at it. I rewrote it in third-person and then back to first person (even tried like half a draft in second person), added characters, removed characters, changed major and minor details, and generally just fucked around with it non-stop until Chris at All Due Respect picked it up and we were able to find some focus on the story.

I’m really glad the book’s out now so I can just move the fuck on. And I love it. I think it’s a great story. But I was also starting to hate it toward the end there.

I really just like Ugly as a character. I like flawed characters. I like bad people. I like to see some shit get dirty and messy and grimy. I like the idea of trying to do better and be better but just fucking up everything and making it all worse.

I think that is human.

Can we speak about “A New and Different Kind of Pain”, Daniel? What inspired this book?

I didn’t think about this at the time I was writing it, but it was definitely because my wife was pregnant with our daughter. I guess I put my fears about not being able to protect/provide for my family in there.

Writing A New and Different Kind of Pain was kind of weird. I had just taken a new job as a counselor on the night shift at a psych ward. But there was some kind of bureaucratic/political whatever bullshit going around and we never ended up getting any patients. So for about 5-6 months I “worked” alone on an empty psych ward over nights. In that time I wrote a New and Different Kind of Pain and most of the first draft of another book that will probably never get finished or touched again or see the light of day.

It was a good experience, gave me a ton of time to write. But when they finally closed the unit it took me some time to adjust to “normal” life again. I’d spent six months alone — pretty much — and basically forgot how to talk to people or function in everyday life. (And I’m still not convinced that I wasn’t unknowingly involved in some kind of isolation experiment — that shit, and all the amphetamines I was taking at the time really fucked with my head).

What makes a good crime novel?


For me, in my opinion, I like my crime fiction to be based in reality. I want to see “real” people reacting to fucked up shit. I want to see characters making the worst possible decisions — decisions so bad that me as the reader (or writer, I guess, too) I can’t do anything but shake my head and maybe cringe.

I was reading a book review a while ago (can’t remember which book it was, not one of mine though) and the reviewer spent most of the review talking shit about how all the characters kept making bad decisions, and how it was so unrealistic because no one ever made a single good decision. But that review was bullshit because people, in the real world, are constantly making bad decisions. That’s basically all people do. If people didn’t make such bad decisions my day job wouldn’t exist (I work at a methadone clinic).

It was also a bullshit review because if all your characters make good and smart and rational decisions then you don’t have a story.    

Can we talk about The Church of TV as God? What inspired this book?

I don’t know that anything really “inspired” The Church of TV as God. I wrote it because back when I was in like my mid-20s I was super into Bizarro Fiction. (If you’re not familiar with Bizarro Fiction the simplest way I can think to describe it as a Troma movie in book form — just weird and crazy and fun and messy, sometimes sexy, often violent).

Every year Eraserhead Press puts out a series of books called the New Bizarro Author Series. It’s for (obviously) new authors and it used to be more of a competition, where the author who sold the most copies would get a contract with Eraserhead. They’d dropped the competition aspect of it before my time in the NBAS — but basically we had a year to prove ourselves, build up an audience and it was a way for Eraserhead to test out new and “unproven” authors, give us little people a shot.

Carlton Mellick III (who is generally known as the Godfather of Bizarro) was once telling me how he writes all of his books in marathon sessions. Where you basically lock yourself in a room, away from the distractions of everyday life, for a few days or a week or however long it takes, and you don’t come out until you have a finished book.

I’d been writing Bizarro short stories for a while and when Eraserhead put out the call for that year’s NBAS I decided to try my hand at something longer. During my time in the NBAS the word count max for the books was either 20,000 or 30,000. So I took CMIII’s advice and locked myself away and just went to work on the craziest fucking thing I could think of. I took me three days to finish writing The Church of TV as God.

It’s about a dude with a TV for a head and his talking dog. They get kidnapped by this cult that calls themselves The Church of TV as God because they believe that he is their savior and that he will help them to fulfill their prophecy, which is written about in their good book, a TV Guide or some shit.

I don’t even know. It’s wacky and violent and bloody as hell. It was a lot of fun to write. I love Bizarro Fiction, still read it often and have plans to hopefully write in the genre again, but right now my interests have shifted to crime fiction.

What will your next book be about?

Man, that’s kind of a BIG question. But right now I’m “working” on three books. I guess, maybe, kind of. They’re all in pretty early outline stages and I’m just waiting for one of them to jump out take up all my attention. This is what I’ve got so far.

Please Come Back to Us is the sequel to Stay Ugly. It’s set two years after the events of Stay Ugly and not to spoil anything but our boy Ugly’s back and shit’s obviously going to get bloody.

Them Animals is my return to the very specific sub-genre of Chicago bike messenger crime fiction. This one doesn’t have anything to do with my other Chicago bike messenger crime fiction book, Only Bones — I guess other than being about some dudes riding bikes in Chicago, drugs, crime, violence, blah blah blah.

The Death of Everything is me venturing outside of crime fiction into… horror maybe, I don’t know yet. I actually just started fucking around with it today. I think it’s going to be about a father and a daughter trying to survive in a post-pandemic world.

This is kind of part of my process I guess. I always fuck around with a few stories until one of them takes over my every thought and it will become my next book.

But also I’m sure if you asked me this same question yesterday or tomorrow I would have a completely different answer for you.

Are there any crime films that you like?

I like a lot of crime films. So many this is an impossible question to answer. So I’ll just list off a few of the last crime films I watched and enjoyed.

Knives Out, Skin, The Fighter, Uncut Gems (I loved this and if you haven’t seen it, you should), The Long Kiss Goodnight, Good Time (This is the movie that in a few ways inspired Stay Ugly), Premium Rush, Brick, Pulp Fiction.

My takeaway/advice: get down with the Safdie Brothers, my favorite current filmmakers.

Book Review Kraj the Enforcer: Stories (Rusty Barnes, Shotgun Honey) By Chris McGinley

kraj the enforcer

Kraj is unlike any tough guy you’re liable to come across in hard-boiled fiction. If he’s cool, it’s not because he delivers “tough guy” dialogue before he sorts someone out. And if he’s feared, you wouldn’t know it by the reactions of those around him. No, what recommends Kraj as a character, and this new book of stories by veteran Rusty Barnes, is his ordinariness, which is to say, Kraj’s motivations are often the same as ours: to get a pizza, drink a Pepsi, rent a better apartment, down a domestic beer, have sex. But in Barnes’ capable hands, Kraj’s earthbound desires, and his highly ordinary reluctance to go to work, are what recommends him most to readers.

Kraj (pronounced Krai) is a Croatian immigrant, a veteran of the Balkan conflict of the early 1990s, something which uniquely shapes his psychology and the ways in which he works—more on that later. He operates as a loan shark collector for a low-level mobster who runs a dance club in central New York near the Pennsylvania border–what setting could be more ordinary?– but he also moonlights as a petty thief and underground street fighter in a gambling ring. He just wants to do his job and collect his pay, however unpleasant it may seem at times. Indeed, Kraj seems to accept his place in the pecking order, though he’s not overly joyed about it. Nor does he relish the bone breaking and general ass kicking he carries out daily. In fact, he’s unnerved and physically sickened when he has to bust up a client in the presence of his wife and kid. But this is what he must do, go to work, like all of us who serve bosses not unlike Tricky Ricky, who can be demanding and unsympathetic, even downright exploitative. To be sure, Kraj is no mob boss, not even a “made man.” He’s a mere employee. Barnes explains it well: “Johnny was a target, his wife and son would be collateral damage. Tricky Ricky lived for the collateral damage, because his reputation got made that way. Only difference was that Ricky never had to worry about going to jail. Kraj had trapped himself on the wrong side of the power equation. It wouldn’t last forever, but Kraj had to live with it now, even if memory told him he’d be here forever and then some. He shook his thoughts away. There was work to be done.” 

The dark “memory” Barnes refers to surfaces much in the book, and it’s central to Kraj’s ability to do his job, but also part of his malaise. Kraj has seen horrors, including the rape of his sister and the disappearance of his mother and father in a war zone famous more for its war crimes than for any conventional military conflict. In another writer’s hands, the material could easily come off heavy handed, but Barnes’ weaves in the references in clever and subtle ways, and always in such a manner as to give the reader a suggestive glimpse of Kraj’s complex psychology, of what he might be thinking or feeling, but without laying it out there too plainly.

It must be noted that, although Kraj lives an “ordinary” life in some respects, his daily rounds are nothing but that. The book is filled with tension, with clever moments of detection, realization and action. Whether on a white-water rafting trip where he must avoid a den of snakes, or on a collection stake out, the energy is high and the pace is quick. What Barnes has managed to do in the Kraj stories is deliver a psychologically complex character, one whose violent past intersects with his day-to-day work to create a kind of writing that’s gripping for both its action and fully formed main character.

Kraj, the Enforcer is a fine book, a unique and refreshing addition to the hardboiled genre, and something readers would be remiss not to pick up.

Recommended Read: Coal Black: Stories by Chris McGinley

Chris McGinley‘s Coal Black is a brilliantly powerful collection of short stories set in the hills of east Kentucky. This is a world of poverty, deperation, drug addiction, and crime. These are stories of good people and bad people living on the razor’s edge. The stories and the characters in Coal Black overlap, intertwine and interconnect to create a whole that is as just as good as its parts. The tales are social realist with a strain of magic realism and every single story is great. These are artfully crafted stories to savour. Coal Black is simply one of the best short story collections that I’ve read, and I look forward to rereading it. Very highly recommended.

coal black