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.

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

Recommended Reads: Stay Ugly by Daniel Vlasty, Let It Kill You by Andrew Rausch

stay uglyStay Ugly by Daniel Vlasty

‘Eric is an ex-con, bareknuckle boxer better known around his Chicago neighborhood as “Ugly.” He wants to shed his past, build a life with his family, but his past won’t be so easily left behind. His junkie brother Joe has stolen $100K from a powerful drug dealer—and Ugly’s on the hook unless he hands Joe over.  Which is gonna be hard considering he has no idea where Joe is.  Ugly and his “business partner” Nicky hit the streets to find him, each step taking Eric back into the violent life he’s desperate to leave behind. Ugly’s done with it all. He’s pissed, sad, and exhausted, but he’s gotta keep moving if he wants any chance of Joe—and himself—getting out alive.’

Daniel Vlasaty’s Stay Ugly is a vivid, visceral and bone-crunching tale of loyalty, loss and redemption.

let it kill youLet It Kill You by Andy Rausch

‘Chino Genetti is about to break one of the first rules of being a hitman: don’t fall in love with your target. The alcoholic assassin’s life changes when he receives the assignment to eliminate beautiful jazz singer Ericka Green. When love clouds his judgement and he forgoes his loyalty to crime boss Cocoa, he ends up a target himself. On the run from assassins, Chino makes a begrudging deal to live in peace, but old wounds and retribution threaten to take away everything he loves. Desperate to protect Ericka, Chino is ready to leave a bloodbath in his wake. But will his trail of vengeance be enough to save her?’

Hardboiled crime fiction turns grindhouse in this fast-moving, high-octane slice of power-pulp!

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

 

John Wisnieski interviews Jason Beech

When did you begin writing, Jason? Did you begin by writing short stories? 

I started writing in the late 1990s, but only to see if I could. I didn’t write anything that a
publisher would touch but the two books did teach me to finish something and to recognise what did and didn’t work.

I’d never thought of writing short stories until I became serious about writing in the early 2010s when I discovered the classic sites of Flash Fiction Offensive, who were the first to publish something I wrote, Shotgun Honey, Pulp Metal Magazine, and more.

Any favorite crime authors?

My favourite crime author is James Ellroy, and that’s just for The Black Dahlia and American Tabloid. I’m into Walter Mosley, Paul D. Brazill, Keith Nixon, Tom Leins, Kate Laity, Ian Rankin, Ray Banks, and lately, Matt Phillips, Paul Heatley, Jake Hinkson, Tess Makovesky, and Thomas Pluck.

I need to read more Aidan Thorn and get involved in Nikki Dolson, Beau Johnson, and Angel Luis Colón.

Could you tell us about writing your novel City of Forts? It is a coming-of-age story as well as a crime novel?

City of Forts is both coming of age story and crime novel. Four kids discover a body in the basement of an abandoned house in an uninhabited development on the edge of a disused, decaying factory. This place is their escape from the town they live in and they don’t want anybody finding out about a body that will bring the outside world into their oasis.

They all have their problems. Ricky’s mum works two jobs to make ends meet because his dad has gone west and seemingly disappeared from the face of the earth. So Ricky has to look after his younger brother, and he hates it – does his best to hide the kid in their home while his mom works so he can go out and live his life.

Bixby is homeless. He’s escaped foster care and has no intention of going back, but it means living in the abandoned houses as social services narrow their search for him 

Lizzie has to contend with a useless dad in mourning for a dead son, with a vicious girlfriend and a drug habit. Lizzie’s looking beyond the town and her teenage years to a life with broader horizons. Tanais just wants friends after being dragged round the country by her parents. She makes a friend in Bixby, but he turns on her when he finds out what Tanais’ dad does. The body they found is not some nobody. A gangster Ricky calls Tarantula Man searches for him, and he’ll kill whoever’s in his way to find his whereabouts. The kids need an ally. Maybe rich man, Mr Vale, will help them out. Maybe Floyd, the greasy wanderer who seems to know everything they’re doing. It all barrels along to a bloody end.

So yes, it’s coming of age, but there’s violence, death, betrayal, and sweaty palms that go along with it.  

Are there any crime films that you like? Any film noir?

I’m behind on a lot of films. I want to see the old Cagney gangster films. I need to see The Kill List. Tons to catch up on. There’s the obvious I like: The Godfather parts 1 and 2, Goodfellas, Casino, Mean Streets, Heat, and so on. My favourite film noir is The Last Seduction, starring Linda Fiorentino. What a twisted bit of work that is. Fiorentino should have been huge on the back of this. Where did she go? I enjoyed Blue Ruin.
And, I know Ellroy dropped some abuse on it recently, but LA Confidential is a great piece of film noir, and Russel Crowe’s best performance in any movie

What makes a good crime novel?

  A great crime novel induces a feeling of dread. The best ones are those which, when you’ve got your head on a pillow and you’re half-knackered, make you sit right up and lose your breath for a second or ten. It doesn’t always need a mystery. Matt Phillips’ Know Me from Smoke and Countdown both let you sense what’s going to happen, but he builds a fear for the characters he’s drawn so well that your palms become clammy and you want to look away – but you can’t.

Same with Jake Hinkson’s The Posthumous Man. Starts off innocuous, but by the end you’re in full-on “Noooooooo” mode.

What will your next book be about, Jason?

Barlow Vine just killed a man – his lover’s lover. Now he’s heading from Spain back to his
hometown to escape his actions in the vain hope they won’t catch up with him. Never Go Back is a wild ride featuring nurses, strange kids in Edwardian garb, one blinding headache, and dead-eyed killers who want to use him for their own ends. It’s a cold, murderous homecoming – and he’ll need the luck of every bastard to survive it all.
The book is out in November, published by Close to the Bone

Could you tell us about the short story collection, Bullets, Teeth, & Fists. How is writing a short crime story different than writing a full length novel?

The first Bullets, Teeth, & Fists is where I really learned to write. I published all the stories as a way to get my newly minted blog on the road and showcase what I could do. The first one is a mix of crime, thriller, paranormal, and slice of life. My favourite story in there is Bring it on Down, about a shy kid who finds his personality but goes off the rails along with his new-found confidence. A short story is a sugar rush. I often write them when a spark hits. I get it down there and then, if I can. If I’m in the middle of something I’ll take a note so I don’t forget. But it can take a day, sometimes more, and you’re done. You leave it alone for a week, come back, iron out the typos and plot/character missteps, and you can move on. They scratch an itch and explode a
satisfying “Aaaagghh.”

However, there’s nothing more satisfying than writing a full-length novel, knowing you can do it, getting into the weeds and coming out the other side with a full length beard, shattered, and in need of a wild act to celebrate the achievement.

Then I go back to writing a few short stories to make sure I can still write – because I wonder, after I’ve done longer work, if I still have it in me.  Bullets, Teeth, & Fists 2 is a little darker and bigger, and includes a couple of novelettes. Bullets, Teeth, & Fists 3 is out in early 2020, with one of my favourite shorts I’ve ever done.

http://author.to/JasonBeech

jason beech

 

John Wisniewski interviews Albert Tucher

When did you begin writing, Albert? Did you write short stories?

In the mid-1980s I became fascinated with medieval Roman history, especially the tenth century and the story of Marozia. She ruled the city of Rome for several years until her own son overthrew her in 932. (In fairness, she was conspiring to kill him.) I wrote about fifty pages of a novel (on paper with a manual typewriter). I’m afraid now to go back and look at it.

In the summer of 2000 I was suddenly single and looking to make changes. I signed up on a whim for a fiction writing class at the Union County College in Cranford NJ. Tom Cantillon was the teacher. I thought I would work on Marozia, but I took a detour. See below.

I wrote three Diana Andrews novels before deciding that a publishing resume might help me sell them. I got into short stories and have published almost 100 of them. I guess I like them!

Any favorite crime authors?

Ross Macdonald converted me from science fiction to crime. These days Michael Connelly, the Abbotts, Patricia and Megan, Jen Conley, Todd Robinson, Kevin Catalano, just for starters. I’m leaving out more than I can include, or we’d be here all day.

How did you create the Diana Andrews character?

One of Tom Cantillon’s weekly assignments was an action story. From somewhere came a mental picture of a man and a woman standing by a car parked on the shoulder of a deserted highway. I decided she was a prostitute and he a cop, and just to make it interesting I made him the bad guy. He wanted to kill Diana (I knew her name immediately), and she had to stop him.

But I couldn’t think of a motive that would play in 1500-2000 words until I made the cop a woman also, and the motive became sexual jealousy. A man is paying Diana and ignoring the cop.

Yes, I failed the Bechdel test before I even knew it had a name. I hope I have made up for it since, though.

That story because the first chapter in my Diana novel DO OVERS, still unpublished.

How do you add a gritty realism to your writing? 

It turns out I picked a good theme for that, because prostitution is inherently gritty. It’s just a matter of finding the telling detail.

In 2006 I met a young woman in the business. (I found her online. The internet has completely remade the business of prostitution, but that’s a topic in itself.) I planned to interview her for an hour or so, but I ended up meeting with her about a dozen times until she left the business in 2008. She gave me such great material that I’m still living off it. Quite a few of my short stories come straight from her casebook.

She told me, for instance, about a realtor client who always had her meet him at whatever property he was showing that day. The idea was to come as close as possible to getting caught. Of course I had to use that, and of course Diana and her client had to get caught. (The story is “The Full Hour,” in the anthology Black Coffee.)

She also read my stories and commented on them—on her own time. I doubt many women would have done that, and it shows how lucky I was to meet her. Above all, I learned that within fairly wide limits I couldn’t get it wrong. If something sounds plausible, it is plausible, and someone in the business does it or would do it if the situation arose, whether it’s a sexual practice, a business practice, or a way of relating to a client.

In my Hawaii stories I get a lot of mileage from inserting Hawaiian Pidgin phrases into my dialog. Which is more evocative—“They have good food,” or “They get da ono kine grinds?” I use Pidgin sparingly, largely because I am not an expert in it, but I think it zeroes the reader into the setting.

What will your next book be about?

The next book in my Big Island of Hawaii/Detective Errol Coutinho series is tentatively titled Blood Like Rain. I’m starting to enjoy the ensemble cast of these books as much as Diana herself, and that’s saying a lot. They give me two more tough chicks to write about, criminal defense attorney Agnes Rodrigues and Officer Jenny Freitas, and that’s what I live for.

Any favorite crime/pulp authors?

’ll name a few and undoubtedly feel like crap when I leave someone out: Jen Conley, Patti Abbott, Anonymous-9, Paul Brazill, Todd Robinson, Kevin Catalano, Kristen Lepionka, for starters.

FIND OUT MORE ABOUT ALBERT TUCHER HERE.

SH-THJG-Full-Cover-Tucher-150dpi

 

John Wisniewski interviews Tom Leins

How did you begin writing, Tom? I believe you were a film critic before you started writing books?

I started writing fiction in around 2002 – half a lifetime ago – and my first ever short story, ‘The Box’, was included in an anthology by a UK publisher called Skrev the following year. I notched up a bunch of publications in small-scale British literary magazines over the next five years, and switched to writing crime fiction in 2006-2007, when my reading tastes shifted.

I have managed to make a living from putting words on a page since about 2006 – agony uncle, film critic, telecoms journalist – but I don’t think I’ll be paying the bills with my fiction any time soon! Watching and reviewing films for a living was fun while it lasted, but a job that combined DVDs and print media already feels like something from a bygone era…!

I took a break from fiction between 2011 and 2014, but I haven’t really looked back since. Last year I published two short story collections: Meat Bubbles & Other Stories (Close To The Bone) and Repetition Kills You (All Due Respect), and I have two more books on the way this year: Boneyard Dogs (Close To The Bone) and The Good Book (All Due Respect).

I’m really proud of all of these books, but the stuff I’m working on at the moment is even better: darker, nastier, funnier. I can’t wait to share it with people!

Any favorite pulp authors?

To be completely honest, there is a gaping hole in my traditional pulp fiction reading list.  I’ve got a box in my loft full of unread Hammett, Chandler, Spillane, MacDonald etc, and while I’m sure I’ll get around to reading them one day, they are fighting for attention with a lot of new content.

I think publishers such as All Due Respect, Close To The Bone and Shotgun Honey are the ones delivering the pulp fiction goods nowadays. They all specialise in short, violent books with a solid emotional core. I also gravitate towards the kind of writers who publish multiple books each year, as that kind of work ethic appeals to me, and stays true to the old-fashioned pulp sensibility. There are too many great writers to namecheck here, but pulp enthusiasts should definitely make a beeline towards those publishers.

Your books, like “Slug Bait” sometimes contain horror elements. Do you like horror and mystery writing, as well as crime/pulp?

Yes, very true! In recent years my raw, undiluted approach to crime fiction has started to blur at the edges: the story titles have got more visceral, the antagonists more ghoulish, the imagery more horrific and the sense of foreboding more pronounced. I find a lot of contemporary crime fiction – especially at the mainstream end of the scale – too bland for comfort, so I’m doing my best to redress the balance!

This whole ‘Paignton Noir’ world that I have strived to create over the last decade or so is highly stylised, and I like to use that to my advantage. There were some notable supernatural elements in both of my short story collections – Meat Bubbles & Other Stories and Repetition Kills You – but these sporadic incidents are viewed with the same sense of hardboiled cynicism as Joe Rey views the rest of his cases, and hopefully they don’t drag unsuspecting readers too far out of the narrative.

I have no idea whether my genre-blurring tactics are too horrific for crime fans or too tame for horror fans, but it’s a risk I’m willing to take. I’ve also got some grisly new material up my sleeve which plunges deeper into horror territory than ever before. Watch this space!

As far as horror fiction goes, it represents a pretty minor component of my overall reading experience, and I watch far more horror movies than I do read horror books – something I should definitely rectify. That said, I always appreciate it when writers manage to successfully fuse crime and horror to create something new and warped. That always piques my interest!

What have the reviews been like for your books? How do reviewers describe your writing?

The reviews have been pretty good so far. I’m always delighted when anyone takes the time to write about something I created – and other people’s interpretations of my work are endlessly fascinating! A lot of people enjoyed my debut e-book, Skull Meat – which is pretty extreme in places – and those endorsements gave me a lot of confidence, and made me realise that I didn’t have to tone down my vision.

When a reader really connects with a book it’s an unbeatable feeling. That said, I’m disappointed that Repetition Kills You – my literary jigsaw puzzle – sank without a trace, as I’m really proud of that book: concept, content, everything. Not every book is going to find an audience, but I was looking forward to see what people made of it. (I’m working on an appropriately brutal sequel, so hopefully that will give the first book a much-needed boost!)

Reviews are also a useful supply of feedback, and I try to respond to any points that reviewers touch on in my subsequent books. Readers expect a series character to evolve, and any question marks over Joe Rey’s persona are really useful to me.

Words like brutal, gritty and violent are pretty commonplace in the reviews – all of which are highly appropriate!

Could we talk more about “Repetition Kills You”? How was this book different than your others?

Repetition Kills You comprises 26 short stories, presented in alphabetical order, from ‘Actress on a Mattress’ to ‘Zero Sum’. Combined in different ways, they tell a larger, more complex story. The reader has to join the dots and choose their own beginning and ending. The alphabetical angle was inspired by an old J.G. Ballard story from the 1960s, but the ruptured narrative owes as much to Quentin Tarantino’s movies Reservoir Dogs and Pulp Fiction.

Repetition Kills You was actually the first book I completed, and everything else I have written has slotted in around it. Because of that, I think that it works well as an opener for the uninitiated, but it works even better if people read the books in the ‘official’ order!

It’s a self-contained book, but I’m enjoying the task of joining the dots and exploring the events that precede Repetition Kills You. The book also digs into certain aspects of Joe Rey’s past, and introduces a few key characters who figure heavily in the sequels. I like trilogies, and this book is the first of three interlinked books. Make no mistake, Rey is about to enter a world of pain in the next book, and it all goes downhill from there…

Anyway, I think that anyone who enjoyed Skull Meat, or Slug Bait, or Meat Bubbles will enjoy it as much, if not more, but the non-linear A-Z concept must be a little bit too jarring for readers, which is a real shame!

Bio: Tom Leins is a disgraced ex-film critic from Paignton, UK.  He is the author of the Paignton Noir novelettes SKULL MEAT, SNUFF RACKET, SLUG BAIT and SPINE FARM and the short story collections MEAT BUBBLES & OTHER STORIES (Close To The Bone, June 2018) and REPETITION KILLS YOU (All Due Respect, September 2018).

A Ticket To The Boneyard - Tom Leins Boneyard Dogs feature 2

 

Taco Truck By Nick Kolakowski

 

finest shit

She doesn’t look like much, Jesus sometimes mused, but she gets us through.

Under his baby’s dented hood roared a Chevy 350 V8 capable of zero to sixty in a blistering twenty seconds, provided you pointed her down a steep hill before you hit the gas. Inside the onboard kitchen, the exhaust fan hacked and wheezed louder than a lifetime smoker running a marathon. But the electrical system kept the fridges under the prep counter running without a hitch, and the griddle could fry up pork and chicken like a champ, and that was good enough for Jesus.

Today’s lunch spot: a mall parking lot in scenic Duke County, Kansas. As he propped open the taco truck’s customer window, Jesus scanned the storefronts, half of which stood empty and boarded up. The big blue box store to his left spat out customers every few minutes, their arms heavy with plastic bags. No fast-food establishments in sight meant more hungry patrons meant more money for fuel and food—enough to get his crew to the next state, at least.

Beside Jesus, Luis knelt and fiddled with the valve of a fresh 20-pound propane tank, their second this week. Business had been good: the retail workers and idle kids who populated this winding stretch of subdivisions and strip malls loved their tacos.

In the front seats, the third partner in this little entrepreneurial venture, Raoul, spun the dial on the ancient dashboard radio. Every station blared a repeat of the Orange One’s three-hour State of the Union address. “This puta is everywhere,” he called out.

“It’s the law,” Jesus said. “They have to play the whole thing.”

Through the crackling speakers, the Orange One launched into the most controversial part of last night’s speech, something about dropping a nuke on The New York Times for releasing his tax returns. Jesus wasn’t sure what bothered him more: the President threatening a newspaper with a missile, or the President comparing that missile to his manhood every few minutes.

“His pene is really like a little Cheeto,” Luis laughed. “The color, the size…”

“Stop it,” Jesus said. “What did Cheetos ever do to you?” He leaned out of the customer window, checking that the chalkboard pinned to the side of the truck had all the day’s specials written on it. When they had started out a month ago, in New Orleans, they had no problem finding catfish and crab, and Jesus and Luis cooked up seafood tacos every day. This far inland, Jesus had a hard time trusting that anything with fins was fresh enough to meet his demanding standards. Their headliner special today: sizzling pork tacos with finely chopped onions and oregano.

Raoul had no opinion on the specials. In fact, Jesus had a hard time picturing Raoul on a prep line, or cooking meat without burning it to charcoal. Raoul’s skills lay in other areas.

The Orange One’s latest rant sputtered to its conclusion, replaced by regular programming. With a feral yelp, Raoul worked the dial until he landed on a station thundering drums and guitar, a solid backbeat for Luis and Jesus slicing and shoveling mounds of peppers and onions and pig. The music blasted the asphalt amphitheater of the parking lot, signaling that the truck was officially open for business.

The first customers drifted toward them. Give me your hungry, your nearly broke, your masses yearning for lunchtime deliciousness, Jesus thought as he wiped his hands on his apron and prepared to meet the first of the lunch rush. And I’ll give you two tacos for three dollars.

One of the first customers to the window was a teenage girl with neon-red hair pinned beneath a black baseball cap, dressed in a pair of paint-stained white overalls. She had enough steel studs in her face to set off a metal detector. “Two pork,” she said, slapping three soft dollar bills on the counter.

“Sure,” Jesus said, and threw a pair of tortillas on the griddle to heat.

“Where you guys from?” she asked.

“Miami,” he said. “We’re headed to Los Angeles. Little cross-country food tour.”

Luis shot him a dark look.

“Haven’t had Mexican in a long time,” the girl said, her eyes drifting. “Even fake Mexican. There was one place, but it…”

“It what?” Jesus asked, flipping the warm tortillas onto his workstation.

“Burned,” she said, staring at the pavement. “After the election.”

Jesus tried to keep his tone friendly. “Accident?”

She shrugged. “You know.”

“Know what?”

“Idiots.” She glanced around the parking lot. “I’m cool, okay? But a lot of folks here are not.”

Jesus pursed his lips as he handed over the steaming tacos. “Sure, you’re cool,” he said.

“I’m sorry,” she muttered, before darting away with her food.

As he pocketed her money, Jesus turned toward Raoul, who slouched low in the passenger seat. Raoul had slid his sunglasses over his eyes, but Jesus could still read his thoughts in the twist of his mouth. He had overheard the girl’s every word.

The crowd thinned out, and they had a few minutes without customers. Luis took the opportunity to jab his steaming spatula at Jesus. “Why did you tell her?”

“We’re not going to California,” Jesus said.

“Not that part. What’s with the ‘food tour’ crap?”

Jesus shrugged.

“We’re on a mission,” Luis said, shaking his head. “Remember what the lieutenant used to tell us? Operational security. It means not sharing details, even fake ones.”

Jesus jutted his chin toward the parking lot. “Watch it.”

In the distance, a mini-van shimmered into view on the access road that traced the perimeter of the mall. It was an older model, its blue paint mottled like a lizard’s skin, creeping along at walking pace. When it disappeared behind the box store, Jesus allowed himself a little bit of hope. There was a loading dock back there, where you could load televisions or appliances directly into your car. Maybe inside the vehicle was a happy family out for a deal on a washer-dryer combo.

When the mini-van reappeared on the far side of the store, its engine roaring in mechanical fury, Jesus groaned. Optimism these days, he thought, is just a lack of information. Raoul took his feet off the dashboard and straightened up, unzipping his military-surplus jacket. Luis braced his hands against the counter, as if expecting a collision.

Instead of ramming them, the mini-van drifted hard to the left, its undercarriage spewing gray smoke. The daredevil behind the wheel must have stood on the brakes, because the back wheels rose in the air for a moment before thumping down, hard, with a tortured creak of old shocks. The mini-van bumped to a stop behind the taco truck, boxing it in.

Raoul scooted into the driver’s seat, his hand on the keys in the ignition.

Jesus took a deep breath, held it for a three-count, exhaled. Keep cool, he told himself. You’ve seen this before.

The mini-van’s doors banged open, disgorging three men who looked like suburban dads gone to seed. They were balding, and out of shape, but their eyes burned with high-octane rage. For a moment they stood shoulder-to-shoulder, thick arms crossed over their chests, and the image almost made Jesus bark with laughter. Hey, he wanted to yell, it’s the world’s softest gangsters. Want some tacos?

Out of the corner of his eye, he noted Luis gripping a long-bladed knife in his left hand, just out of sight beneath the counter. Jesus raised an eyebrow. Not now.

Raoul sat rigid in his seat, watching in the side mirror as the men strode for the customer window. The one in the lead, a portly gentleman with a graying widow’s peak, wore a faded ‘Trump That Bitch’ t-shirt. Fast on his heels was an even beefier dude in a red polo shirt, with the ruddy cheeks and broad shoulders of a high-school football champion well past his prime. A runt with a scraggly excuse for a beard brought up the rear.

“Can I help you gentlemen?” Jesus asked, keeping his smile fixed wide.

“Yeah, um, can I get six tacos? Three pork, three beef?” asked Polo Shirt.

“Sure.” Jesus cast a glance at the other two. “Is that all you want?”

They shook their heads. The runt stared at the sombrero painted on the side of the truck with sullen eyes. He had a bulge at his waistband that his shirt barely covered. The outline looked like a pistol grip.

While Luis spread out a couple servings of diced pork on the griddle, Jesus prepped boxes and napkins.

“You boys legal?” Polo Shirt asked.

“Born and raised in the U.S. of A,” Raoul shouted from the driver’s seat, loud enough to make everyone jump.

Jesus had done five years in the Marines, where he learned that tension was more than something you felt in your body. It was also something in the air, clear as a radio signal, that made your heart accelerate and your palms sweat. He sensed it now, beaming from the men as they paced in tight circles alongside the truck. The rest of the parking lot was empty as the lunch rush cycled down.

“What you doing here?” asked the one in the t-shirt.

“Food tour,” Jesus said, patting Luis on the back. “Going from city to city, selling tacos. We started out in Atlanta. There’s a lot of hatred and division in this country, you know, so we figured we’d go around, spread a little love.”

Polo Shirt spat on the asphalt.

“You know what my Mama taught me,” Jesus continued, his smile making his cheeks ache. “Way to someone’s heart, it’s right through their stomach. People can break bread together, they start to feel a little better about each other, you know?”

“I don’t know about that,” Polo Shirt said. “But I do know, you’re not welcome here, you hear?”

“What do you call a redneck bursting into flames?” Raoul announced from his seat. “A firecracker.”

The man in the t-shirt spun on his heel, fists balled. “You racist…”

Jesus raised his hands, palms out. “Gentlemen, please.” Lowering his arms, he took three cardboard trays of tacos and set them on the counter outside the customer window, along with napkins. “Ignore my friend. There’s only love here.”

Polo Shirt took one of the trays, stepped back, and dropped it between his feet. Pork, vegetables, and sauce left a brightly colored splatter. Wiping his hands with theatrical flourish, he turned and headed for the mini-van without looking back. In other cities, that sort of thing had signaled the end of it: a flash of anger that might have stayed bottled up in a different time, followed by a screech of tires as the offenders headed for the nearest exit.

Only the runt had other ideas. Unzipping his fly, he yanked out his acorn of a puta and proceeded to unleash a fragrant stream of piss on the side of the truck, swirling his hips as he did so. It reminded Jesus of a dog marking territory. When the yellow stream slackened, he stuffed himself back in his pants and trotted toward the van, where his buddies already waited in their seats.

Luis snatched up a blade and stomped for the rear doors of the truck, his hand on the handle before Jesus managed to grab his elbow. “No,” Jesus said. “Not like this.”

Swiping away his hand, Luis turned, his eyes wet. “They started it,” he snapped, loud, over the growl of the mini-van pulling away.

Jesus stepped back, shaking his head. “Not like this.”

Amigos,” Raoul called from the front. “We got company.”

Jesus ducked his head through the customer window, expecting to see the mini-van circling back for round two. Instead it was the girl in the overalls, hands clapped to her cheeks as she ran up to the counter. “I’m sorry,” she said. “I’m so sorry. We weren’t like this before.”

“Who are those guys?” Luis asked.

“Just guys.” She shrugged. “What can I say?”

With a loud sigh, Jesus pushed the two remaining trays of tacos in her direction. “Want some free food?”

***

 

They left the parking lot at dusk. Following their usual plan meant sticking to secondary roads, followed by an overnight at any truck stop that would give them service. As their mobile kitchen wobbled its way to forty miles an hour, Jesus finished counting up the supplies and the cash from the afternoon. A hundred-fifty bucks from the pre-dinner rush. At this rate, they would have a nice little pile of money when they reached the safe haven of Chicago.

Luis drove, sticking to the speed limit in case any cops wanted to make their ticket quota for the month. “Should have let me take them,” he shouted over the rattling dashboard.

“Little one had a gun,” Jesus said. “And you know our rule…”

“No starting shit unless someone starts shit first,” Luis sang, enthused as a fifth grader in detention.

Jesus placed the cash in the lock-box on the top shelf, stepping over Raoul, who knelt to hook his fingers around a seam in the flooring. A lid hinged back, revealing a shadowy compartment beneath.

Amigos,” Luis called out, jabbing a thumb over his shoulder.

Leaping to the rear doors, Jesus peered through the milky porthole at the mini-van a couple car-lengths behind them. The truck shuddered as Luis lead-footed the gas pedal, buying a little distance, and the mini-van responded by flashing its lights and swerving into the oncoming lane. Jesus bet they would try to pass the truck, maybe try to run them off the road, and that wouldn’t do at all.

“They starting shit?” Raoul asked from the floor, elbow-deep in the compartment.

“Maybe,” Jesus said.

The mini-van’s front passenger window hissed down, and an arm emerged. Jesus recognized Polo Shirt’s red cuff. The thick hand at the end of the arm held a pistol, which flashed and boomed. They heard the bullet skip like a stone along the truck’s left side.

“Yes,” Jesus said, “they’re starting shit.”

Luis cursed, but Raoul flashed Jesus a genuine grin. You were supposed to tolerate bigots. Turn the other cheek, as the Savior once said. But when they tried to kill you—and so many of them did, these days—well, all bets were off.

With a nod from Raoul, Jesus flipped the lock, braced his foot against the rear door, and pushed as hard as he could. The door flopped open wide enough for the howling slipstream to hold it in place, and Jesus stepped back so Raoul could have an unobstructed view of the target. The driver—it was the runt—had maybe a quarter-second to recognize the high-powered assault rifle in Raoul’s hand before a full clip of armor-piercing rounds burst through the windshield, turning the interior into a mess of torn plastic, shattered glass, and premium ground long-pig.

Out of control, the mini-van swerved off the side of the road, leaving a plume of pale dust as it crashed down the weedy, littered slope.

Luis swerved the truck onto the shoulder. Reaching into the floor compartment, Jesus retrieved a shotgun and leapt out the rear door, following Raoul down the incline.

The impact had crumpled the van like an empty can of Coke. Jesus knelt and peeked inside, counting three dead men. A small doll of the Orange One, stuck to the dashboard with a suction cup, offered the destruction two hearty thumbs up.

Standing again, Jesus reached into his apron pocket and retrieved a small black notebook with a pen clipped to the front cover. On the latest page, he made three small marks, adding to the hundred and four on the preceding pages.

It was a long way from New Orleans to Chicago. A lot of territory to cover. A lot of love to spread, one way or another. It was too bad there couldn’t be a taco truck like theirs on every corner, but Jesus liked to think they were doing their part to make America great again.

Bio: Nick Kolakowski is the author of the new short-story collection Finest Sh*t!” His other works include “Boise Longpig Hunting Club” (Down & Out Books) and the “Love & Bullets” novella trilogy (Shotgun Honey). He lives and writes in New York City.

What can be more noir than February? – #Fahrenbruary by Aidan Thorn

rival sons

If you’re a reader of these pages I imagine you like your entertainment dripping in noir and with the spirit of punk running right through its core. So, I probably don’t need to introduce you to Fahrenheit Press and its hard-boiled and experimental imprint, Fahrenheit 13. But you may not be aware of the levels of dedication Fahrenheit readers have for what this wonderful small press is doing. Next month is February, and I know I didn’t need to tell you that because if you’re like me you’ll dread its arrival every year. It’s just far enough away from Christmas that it feels like a distant memory and the green shoots of spring and summer feel like they’ll never arrive. But this year the fans of Fahrenheit Press have decided to brighten things up with a celebration of dark, disturbing, funny, experimental, engaging, sad, heartfelt and just plain brilliant fiction. Yes, for fans of great fiction from this year forward February has been re-branded – .

The brain-child of two book bloggers, The Beardy Book Blogger (https://beardybookblogger.wordpress.com) himself (a man I only know as Mart) and Matt Keyes from It’s an Indie Book Blog – (https://itsanindiebookblog.com), will be a month-long celebration of some incredible books and authors that perhaps fly under your radar, but really shouldn’t. I was a fan of Fahrenheit Press before I ended up on their author list and so I’d have been supporting this initiative regardless of personal interest. But with Fahrenbruary nearly upon us I would like to highlight a format that’s much overlooked in literature that the likes of Farhenheit Press (through Fahrenheit 13) and Shotgun Honey are helping to give a voice to again, the novella. OK, so I do have to declare an interest – I write novellas (I may even have just shamelessly plugged both of my publishers in the last sentence), but I was a fan first, and I reckon if you’re reading these pages you might be too – but there’s a chance you don’t even know it yet.

when the music's overBetween 2013-15 an incredible project popped up called Number 13 Press. The mission, publish 13 novellas in 13 months. It was run by Chris Black and fuck did he achieve that mission. He published 13 brilliant individual pieces of fiction that found wide critical acclaim and gave readers new voices to read. I was lucky enough to be the tenth ‘Thirteener’ and I found myself amongst some truly astonishing company, the likes of Matt Phillips, Grant Nicol, Paul Brazill, Graham Wynd, B. R. Stateham, Robert White, Mark Ramsden, Richard Godwin, Ariana D. Den Bleyker, Steve Finbow, Michael Young and Turlough Delaney.  All unique voices bringing something different to the shorter form of writing. And, having recognised what a great and diverse collection of books Chris Black had put out, at the start of 2018 Fahrenheit Press took Number 13 Press under its wing and Fahrenheit 13 was born. So, this post is not only here to make you aware of the wonderful reader led initiative that is Fahrenbruary but also to make a pitch that if you want to take part – and you should – you consider taking a look at these atmospheric noir novellas, I don’t believe you’ll regret a moment.

For me the novella is the perfect form and the Fahrenheit 13 collection are the perfect example of it. We constantly hear that people don’t read anymore, I get it, we’re all busy – I know I am and that’s why I discovered the novella. I found novels that I used to be able to read in a week were taking me a month or more to get through – I was forgetting what had happened at the start by the time I got to the end! Step up the novella. For me this form is so gripping, let’s take the Fahrenheit 13 releases as an example of why. The author has to quickly pull the reader into the story with atmosphere and a hook, just look at the opening of Stateham’s A Killing Kiss. Fans of Stateham will be familiar with his Smitty character and here the reader is dragged into a criminal underworld with our hero. The characters have to be so well formed that the reader will instantly understand and form a connection with them – you don’t have to like them, or even be like them but they have to be well drawn so you go with them. Take Phillips’ title character Calvin Redbone in the pressure cooker piece that is Redbone, the reader feels every injustice, every emotion and every bit of pain along the way – we feel the book. In novellas we have to be quickly emerged into the world and therefore the setting is equally important, take Finbow’s Down Among the Dead where during its short length we move between modern day London and twenty years before in Belfast, both locations and time periods are described vividly and yet not a word is wasted. Then of course there’s perfect plotting – perhaps the most important element of all, whether it’s the unfolding in front of your eyes unknown even to the lead character plot of Young’s Of Blondes and Bullets or the manipulative and seductively brilliant rise of Sandra Delites in Satan’s Sorority these novellas are plotted to the nth degree.

So here ends my brief love letter to the novella, with their cinematic length, rich characters, atmospheric writing and page turning plot there’s really nothing a fan of great fiction shouldn’t love. In this time pressured world, where everything and everyone is screaming for our attention why not spend a few hours each week in the company of a good short book – and I promise there’s no better place to start than at Fahrenheit 13. This Fahrenbruary, pick up a novella or two (fuck it, buy the lot) directly from the Fahrenheit Press website and fall in love with reading all over again.

a tYou can keep up with what’s going on and tell others about your experiences this Fahrenbruary across social media by searching and using .

Bio: Aidan Thorn writes dark fiction about families and conflict. His short stories have been widely published across various anthologies and web mags.

His novellas When the Music’s Over and Rival Sons are available to buy now.