~post by Molly and Scott
MysteryPeople’s Molly Odintz and Scott Montgomery were invited to be moderators at the 19th Annual Texas Festival Of Books held at the state capitol last weekend. It was Scott’s fourth time moderating at the festival and Molly’s first time ever. They both survived to tell the tale to report back.
Crime fiction had its strongest presence yet at the festival with six panels and three one-on-one interviews with the likes of Walter Mosely and James Ellroy. Even before the actual festival got underway, I got to sped some time with the authors. Timothy Hallinan, author of the Junior Bender and Poke Rafferty series, shared some BBQ as we talked books and his time working with Katherine Hepburn. I also got to spend some time with friends Harry Hunsicker, Mark Pryor, and the three authors who make up the pseudonym Miles Arceneaux before they went to their panels. Then I had my own.
First up was an interview with Craig Johnson, who’s latest book, Wait For Signs, is a collection of all the short stories featuring his Wyoming sheriff hero, Walt Longmire. He told the audience that Walt’s last name came from James Longmire who opened up the trail near Washington’s Mount Rainer and had the area named after him. He felt the combination of the words “long” and “mire” expressed what his character had been through. He added it also passed the test for a western hero name in that it could easily be followed by the word “Steakhouse.”
My panel panel discussion, Risky Business, had Jeff Abbott and debut author Patrick Hoffman looking at the art of thriller writing. The discussion got interesting when when it got into the topic of being categorized in a genre. Jeff said he wanted to get pigeon holed, “That way I know I’m selling.” He added it has never interfered with the type of book he wanted to write. We also got into an interesting talk about use of location. Patrick Hoffman talked about how he would often use his company car to drive to the location of his San Fransisco centric, The White Van, and write there on his lunch hour. Jeff and I also had fun drawing as much attention we could to our friend, author Meg Gardiner, who was in the audience and should have known better.
By the time the festival was over my body dehydrated, my voice was shot, and my blood alcohol content was questionable. Can’t wait til’ next year.
This past weekend, I had the pleasure of moderating two mystery panels at the Texas Book Festival. This was my first try at moderating panels and I am so thankful to MysteryPeople and the Texas Book Festival for giving me the opportunity to channel an NPR interviewer.The first, a panel on International Crime, featured authors Kwei Quartey, on tour with his latest Darko Dawson novel, Murder at Cape Three Points, and Ed Lin, with his new novel Ghost Month. Kwei Quartey’s novels take place in Ghana and increasingly focus on the economic and social imbalances of modern day Ghanaian life. Ed Lin has previously written novels depicting the Asian-American experience, including his Detective Robert Chow trilogy, set in New York City, and Ghost Month is his first to take place outside of the country.
We talked about what it means to write international crime fiction, the place of food in the detective novel, fiction as a method of dealing with historical and current societal trauma, and how to escape from a crashing helicopter. Both authors are published by SoHo and you can find their books on our shelves and via bookpeople.com.
The second panel, looking at crime noir, brought together authors Rod Davis, with his latest, South, America, and Harry Hunsicker, with his new novel The Contractors. South, America follows a Dallas native living in New Orleans as he finds a dead body, gets tangled up with the dead man’s sister, and must go on the run from mobsters. The novel reaches deep into the twisted Louisiana web of racism and poverty to write a lyrical portrait of two desperate people.
Harry Hunsicker is the author of many previous novels, and his latest, The Contractors, explores the blurred lines between public and private when it comes to law enforcement. His two protagonists are private sector contractors working for the DEA and paid a percentage of the value of any recovered substances. They get more than they bargained for when they agree to escort a state’s witness from Dallas to Marfa with two cartels, a rogue DEA agent, and a corrupt ex-cop following them.
We talked about the meaning of noir, the craft of writing mysteries, the purpose of violence in fiction, and stand-alones versus series. South, America and The Contractors are available on our shelves and via bookpeople.com.
Kim Zupan‘s debut, The Ploughmen, has been getting much deserved critical praise and is our MysteryPeople Pick of the Month for October. The story concerns Valentine Millimaki, a sheriff’s deputy in a small Montana town, and John Gload, an old hired killer, who has finally been caught after a half century of murder and mayhem. Valentine must watch over John through the night shift. The book looks at both men as they develop a unique bond. Kim was kind enough to talk about writing, Montana and his first novel with us.
MP: How did the idea for The Ploughmen come about?
KZ: A friend of mine, who just retired from the ATF, had been a Montana sheriff’s deputy in the early 80s. He had many stories to tell, some truly hair-raising—and they clattered around in my head for many years until they demanded to come out as this story, The Ploughmen. There was a character like John Gload roaming around the west in the 60s, 70s and 80s quietly sowing mayhem and my buddy got to know him while the man sat waiting in jail. I tried to put myself in that chair and carry on a conversation through the bars in the late desolate hours.
MP: The book at times has the feel of a classic western in its use of landscape. What did you want to convey about Montana?
KZ: I certainly don’t think of The Ploughmen as a western in the classic sense—Louie L’Amour, Zane Grey, even Ivan Doig—though I know it will be talked about in those terms because of its setting. The landscape, for some, acts as merely a backcloth upon which characters move, but for me it becomes—in that it can move the story forward, affect other characters, affect the outcome of events—another character.
I wanted to convey the sense of this place, or some places in it, as a sort of lethal character, however breathtakingly beautiful. It can still kill you. A month ago, for example, I was fishing on Belt Creek, near where I grew up in central Montana, at a place where the stream dumps out of the Little Belt Mountains. The country there is all steep hills and thick brush and cottonwoods.
I stopped to eat a bit of lunch—some cheese and an apple—and I wound up taking a one of those perfect naps lying on the bank. After awhile I woke up and decided I’d better get back to work, so I crossed the creek and started fishing again and I looked up to see a black bear ramble across the creek and head for the apple I’d just left behind on the gravel. If I’d slept five minutes longer he would have stepped right in the middle of me. Whereas he might have scented me and turned away, he also could have worked me over. So it’s wonderful evocative country that I dearly love, but without much trouble you can wind up dead if you don’t keep your head on straight and pay attention.
MP: John Gload is interesting not only in who he is, but how he’s presented. We want to like him, yet we’re always reminded to know better. How did you approach him?
KZ: John Gload is just another thing out there that can kill you—as if bears and blizzard and snakes aren’t enough. I knew I had to find a flicker of humanity in him or he would have been just a kind of grisly cartoon, a cut-out. That was the challenge. And whereas I hate when writers quote themselves, this sort of sums up how I approached him:
“Perhaps he was somehow exempt from responsibility at all, could no more be blamed than a child born without feet could be blamed for his inability to run. …Gload seemed capable of kindness, but it may have been just a kind of vestigial feature, like the webbed and blunted limbs of thalidomide children—a half developed grotesquery that made him more pitiable for the reminder of what I might have been like to be whole.”
Gload isn’t likeable, exactly (though I’ve developed an affection for him—what that says about me I might not want to know) but I think Millimaki is. And the fact that Gload is fond of Millimaki makes him, sort of by extension, likeable. But then liking him may be a mistake, too.
MP: This being your first novel, did you draw from any authors who inspired you or did you simply expand the voice on your short story work?
KZ: Certainly a little of both. My short stuff, as I look back at it, dealt with much of what The Ploughmen is attempting to get at: love, loss, the healing power of the human touch or a kind word. Loneliness exacerbated by big open country.
There are certainly authors who inspire me and like all writers—I mean every swinging dick— I borrow from those who’ve gone before, to one degree or another. That’s just how it works. Poe, Hemingway, Faulkner, Walker Percy, Graham Greene, Robert Stone, Cormac McCarthy—I love and admire their work and it’s shaped me as a writer of fiction.
MP: Besides length, what was the biggest change going from short stories to a novel?
KZ: Largely, the difference has to do with a matter of commitment. The novel is more like a marriage than a fling or a dalliance. You have to decide that you’re in it for the long haul and drive on. By necessity, I wrote this book in three-month increments as I was otherwise concerned, for the remaining months, with the problem of making a living. I knew, then, for years that when I shut down my time at the desk that it would be months before I could return in any meaningful, productive way to the project. With a short story, there was a fair chance (no guarantee—I work glacially) I could button something up during my writing period. But with the novel, I knew—and this was a painful thing—that it would take a number of winters to complete.
MP: I already can’t wait for your next book. Can you tell us anything about it?
KZ: Oh, man. I’m kind of superstitious about saying much about it. As Hemingway said, I don’t want to “put my filthy mouth on it”. The setting is a small town in central Montana—I think I can say that without jinxing it. In any event, I’m looking forward to sitting down with it while a blizzard is burying everything outside my window. The way things are looking out there right now, it shouldn’t be long.
Wait For Signs by Craig Johnson
2015 will mark ten years for Craig Johnson’s Walt Longmire series. It’s fitting as we approach the holidays and this anniversary that fans can now get Wait For Signs, a collection of all the short stories Craig has written about the Wyoming sheriff. It fills in the history of the character, catching him at quieter times between all the murders, escaped convicts, and conspiracies. In these stories, the reader learns that Walt’s life is still not totally quiet.
Much of the collection is composed from the annual stories Craig sends to his newsletter subscribers around Christmas, but they deal with more than just the holidays. “Thankstaking” allows Walt’s Cheyenne buddy Henry Standing Bear not only an opportunity to save the day, but the chance to voice his opinion on a certain November celebration. One of the Christmas stories takes place before the series, at one of the lowest points in Longmire’s life, when he is mistaken for the son of God. On New Year’s Eve, he and previous Sheriff Luican Connally solve a crime both old and new at The Durant Home For Assisted Living. Even the Jewish New Year is used for suspenseful and humorous effect. Johnson avoids the schmaltzy trappings of many holiday stories, making them appropriate to read at any time of the year.
There are also other pieces of short work. The very first Longmire story, “Old Indian Trick,” puts the myth of the criminal mastermind to rest. Two e-book specials “Divorce Horse” and “The Messenger” are available in mass print for the first time. “The Messenger”, a comedy of manners, errors, and situation involving Walt, Henry, foul mouthed deputy Victoria Morretti, a bear, and an owl trapped in a Port-A-Potty, is worth the price of the book alone. There is also a new story “Petunia, The Bandit Queen” that tackles domestic discord, Wyoming history, and sheep.
The collection gives a clearer picture of Walt, seeing him more in his day-to-day life. In many of the Christmas stories we get a deeper understanding the effect that losing his wife Martha had on him and how he got through it. Two stories that seem to happen back to back, one with a hitchhiker, the other with a marine, reminds us that Walt’s main goal is to heal, even though he avoids opportunities to find his own peace. We also see more of his connection to spirituality than he typically admits to.
Without the need to deliver the tropes of a mystery, we see Johnson’s strength’s as a writer on full display. Without a grim murder, his use of humor is able to flourish. We also get to fully appreciate his gift for misdirection that we associate with how he takes our attention away from who done it. Here he often shows how it helps provide theme and internal conflict without being heavy handed.
Wait For Signs gives us an extra glimpse at one of the best mystery heroes of this new century. We get a better understanding of his strengths, flaws, and what sustains him. All in all, we get the hope that old fashioned virtue can trump even the most modern problems. Boy Howdy.
Wait For Signs by Craig Johnson is now available on our shelves and via bookpeople.com
Joe R. Lansdale is one of our favorite authors, in and outside of the mystery section. He is the author of dozens of books and stories, including the wonderful Hap Collins and Leonard Pine mysteries. He recently wrote a piece called The Workplace, Wet or Dry on his early days as a writer for the Mulholland Books website. Not only do you get a look inside his writing past, you also get a look at his approach to the craft.
One of our recent stories was a Lawernce Block tale featuring Matt Scudder, the PI hero featured in the film adaptation of A Walk Among The Tombstones. This Friday we have a short story written by the writer-director, Scott Frank, that was on Popcorn Fiction. Scott Frank is the screenwriter of the acclaimed films Little Man Tate, Dead Again and The Lookout. He has also adapted a number of titles for the screen, including Get Shorty, Out Of Sight, Minority Report and most recently, Marley & Me.
“As Ivan slowly let Rima slip from his grasp, he had no idea that her fall would become the stuff of Big Top legend everywhere. If you could have seen his face that night, you would have seen that Ivan’s mind was clearly somewhere else. Before this particular night, Ivan had caught Rima over thirty-five hundred times without incident. Theirs was a relationship based on trust; Rima knew that Ivan would always be there with strong hands and perfect timing. And Ivan knew that Rima would always be there, hanging in space, reaching for him. Sure, there were many close calls: Rima would step on his shoulder, scrape his ear with the point of her heel. Ivan would flinch from the pain, and loosen his hold on her leg, but in the end, he would always catch her. And sure, there had been hundreds of times where he almost dropped her. But he had never completely let go before. He was always there. He had always caught her. But, unfortunately, on that fateful night in Jnimski, he was thinking about something else.”
New Pulp, one of our favorite publishers, and source of such modern classics as Hard Bite and Frank Sinatra In A Blender will soon have a new operator. NewPulp author Jonathan Woods has bought the publisher and will be running it with Shirrel Rhoades. We caught up with Jonathan to ask him about his plans for the imprint.
MP: What possessed you to be a partner in New Pulp?
JW: The devil made me do it.
Seriously, Jon Bassoff did a wonderful thing in creating and nurturing New Pulp Press for eight years into a prize-winning, genre bending small press. But he wanted to focus more on his writing. Plus he has a full-time day job as a teacher. So the opportunity was there. Being a student of the literary life, I’ve read about some of the great small presses. The Olympia Press in Paris that published Lolita, Tropic of Cancer, Donleavy’s The Ginger Man and one of the great noir novels, Alexander Trocchi’s Young Adam. The Hogarth Press founded by Leonard and Virginia Woolf. And the original Black Lizard Books from Creative Arts Book Company in Berkeley, founded by the inimitable Barry Gifford. So I thought, why not! Something to keep me out of the bars at night.
MP: Where do you hope to take the imprint?
JW: I want to continue to publish fine and edgy crime fiction by writers new and old. Names you may have heard of and new voices. We’re already working hard on the list for 2015 and we’ve got some great books in the line up.
Thriller Award-winning and Edgar-nominated short story writer Tim L. Williams has given us a book of creepy noir tales called Skull Fragments set in the quiet towns and haunted back roads of the coal mining country of western Kentucky.
Lynn Kostoff, author of the noir classics A Choice of Nightmares and Late Rain, has provided another dark and sinister tale. This one, entitled Words to Die For, involves a fixer for a public relations company who sells his soul to protect his clients.
A new writer publishing under the pseudonym Rowdy Yates (and who is an editor at Bull) brings us a tale of gangsters on a quest, called Bring Me the Head of Yorkie Goodman.
Mark Rapacz (author of numerous short stories and the novel City Kaiju) has penned a tale of murder and mayhem, with the tentative title of The Foreigners (or Waeguk in Korean), about American expats and Korean gangsters up to no good in beautiful downtown Seoul, South Korea.
And, oh yeah, yours truly has a new novel coming called Kiss the Devil Good Night about…,well, it’s about Bill and Aunt Ida and revenge and Mexican drug lords and William Burroughs’ lost suitcase.
This is just the beginning.
MP: Can you tell us about your partner in the endeavor, Shirrel Rhoades?
JW: Shirrel has had a long and varied career in publishing including a stint as Fiction Editor for the Saturday Evening Post and EVP and Publisher of Marvel Comics. A year or so ago he started an ebook publishing venture based in Key West, Florida called Absolutely Amazing eBooks. AAeB publishes a broad spectrum of books, from mysteries to pulp classics to adventure and science fiction. Shirrel brings to the table marketing and technical know-how that I don’t have. I will be responsible for the editorial side of New Pulp Press and for building and maintaining relationships with authors, bookstores and reviewers.
MP: Will you still be writing for the imprint as well?
JW: New Pulp Press has been good to me, publishing my three books: the award-winning Bad Juju & Other Tales of Madness and Mayhem, my police procedural A Death in Mexico, which you, Scott, were kind enough to name one of the five best debut crime novels of 2012 and which Booklist recently compared to Orson Welles’ A Touch of Evil, and my new collection of noir tales, Phone Call from Hell. So, yes, I m going to remain with New Pulp Press. When you’re on a roll…
MP: How will Jon Bassoff still be involved?
JW: Jon is absolutely committed to this transition being seamless and a perfect ten. For a year after the turnover he will continue to be associated with New Pulp in an advisory role as Editor Emeritus. I’m lucky to have his wealth of experience to call on when I get in a tight spot.
MP: What do you think will be the most fun about running your own publishing company?
JW: Cutting the first movie deal for one of our books.
-Post by Molly
For October’s International Crime Fiction pic, I’ve chosen Kwei Quartey‘s latest novel, Murder at Cape Three Points. This is Quartey’s third novel to star Detective Inspector Darko Dawson of Accra and his unique mixture of deductive brilliance and synesthesia-based lie detection (his left hand tingles whenever he hears an untruth, making him excellent at interrogations).
As the novel opens, workers on an oil rig off the Ghanaian coast spot a canoe traveling a bit too close to sensitive underwater equipment. Their initial annoyance quickly turns to horror as the contents of the boat become clear. A man and a woman lie dead in the canoe. The woman has been shot, and the man has been both beheaded and shot, his head stuck onto a pole. The occupants turn out to be Charles and Fiona Smith-Aidoo, a wealthy middle-aged couple with as many enemies as friends. When the local police fail to solve the crime in a timely manner, the dead couple’s relatives file a petition to reopen the case, and Detective Inspector Darko Dawson, with his particular mixture of intuition and detection, gets his next assignment.
Dawson accepts the case with reluctance – his son has just had open-heart surgery, and he would much rather stay home during his son’s recovery than travel to the other side of the country. However, after listening to the couple’s heart-broken neice and realizing how badly the local detectives have mishandled the case, Darko sets out to solve the murders with grim determination. As Dawson first begins the investigation, he looks into numerous avenues, including the possibility of a ritualistic killing by a fetish priest. He quickly realizes that the way to a solution requires stepping on a whole lot of toes, particularly in the oil industry. As he delves deeper into government cover-ups and corruption, the question becomes not can he solve the murder, but will he be allowed to solve the murder, and if so, what consequences will the criminals actually face.
Kwei Quartey was raised in Ghana, then moved to the United States as a teenager, and his crime novels thus far have all taken place in Ghana. Quartey travels to Ghana regularly to research his novels, and the smells, sounds, tastes, conflicts, and diversity of Ghana are present throughout the novel. Murder at Cape Three Points highlights the stark contrast between old and new, between the struggle for basic services and the privileges of the wealthy, between the modern medical technology and animist healing practices, and, in particular, between economic development versus environmental protection. In the context of a world still working on cleaning up the Gulf of Mexico oil spill, and where oil companies’ main hope of expansion comes from high-risk deep water drilling, Quartey’s message could not be more timely.
-Post by Molly
Jonathan and Jesse Kellerman have just released The Golem of Hollywood, a novel of epic proportions and many genres. This is a truly a novel that could only be written by two people, yet the collaboration is so successful that the reader feels little dissonance between the parallel narratives. The book is organized into two main plot lines. In one, written by Jonathan Kellerman, a modern-day detective, Jacob Lev, is assigned to a case involving a head with no body and the Hebrew word for justice scrawled in ash on a countertop. As he works to solve the case, he must travel to Prague and London, and, along the way, strengthen his connection to his Jewish heritage and faith. In the other, Jesse Kellerman takes an unorthodox approach to the story of Cain and Abel, and, along the way, introduces an entirely new origin story for the ancient figure of the Golem.
Jonathan and Jesse Kellerman both have impressive writing resumes prior to this collaboration. Jonathan Kellerman has written dozens of New York Times-bestselling crime novels and has won many of the industry’s most prestigious crime fiction awards. Jesse Kellerman has a longtime career as a playwright, and has written five novels. The two also practice Orthodox Judaism, and the beliefs and practices they follow in their own lives come across beautifully in the narrative. During the High Holidays, I set out to read as many Jewish-themed books as possible, and The Golem of Hollywood, along with David Liss‘ recently released Day of Atonement, are my top mystery picks to enjoy as 5775 gets going.
The Golem of Hollywood is a detective story. It is also, in many ways, a horror story, and readers who like the supernatural side of a murder investigation will enjoy this book thoroughly. The Kellermans, together, have seamlessly integrated Jewish theology and history into genre fiction, making this a perfect choice to start out the New Year. This may be the most entertaining work of Jewish-themed speculative fiction since Michael Chabon’s The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay, and a comparison between the two is particularly apt given that each novel completely restructures the narrative of the Golem to fit in with the American Jewish experience.
Copies of The Golem of Hollywood are available on our shelves and via bookpeople.com.
On Wednesday, October 22, at 7 pm, we will have the pleasure of hosting Walter Mosley at BookPeople. He will speak and sign his latest, Rose Gold, the thirteenth book featuring Easy Rawlins. It made us want to go back and pick five of the detective’s best cases.
The one that started it all. Getting laid off from the aircraft factory gets Easy pulled into being a P.I. when he’s hired to find a white woman known to frequent black clubs. This book announced a new voice to the genre with jazz-style prose, violence, and racial themes popping off the page. It is also has one of the best character arcs as Easy comes into being his own man.
2. A Red Death
Easy is forced by the FBI to ferret out communists. His infiltration of a union gets him involved with murder and the moral dilemma of setting up a person and ideal he’s come to respect. This is the book where Easy becomes keenly aware of the world outside his own.
This is Mosely working perfectly on all cylinders. When a white college girl is murdered in Watts in the same fashion as two black women, the police become interested and ask Easy for help. The color of place and period are incredibly vivid, plot, character, and them are vividly woven together.
Easy is once again asked to look into a matter. This time, he’s been hired to search for a white suspect in the murder of a black woman during the Watts Riots. Mosley completely plugs in to the aftermath of the riots in vivid detail and emotion. One passage alone that deals with a group of scared white folks and their perception of Rawlins as a black man makes the book worth reading.
5. Little Green
Mosley resurrects Easy and treats him like Rip Van Winkle as Easy takes a trip over to the psychedelic Sunset Strip, looking for a young Compton man known to drop out with the hippies. Easy comes back full force with an engaging mystery that provides a great backdrop for his changing life and changing LA.
Please join MysteryPeople on Wednesday, October 22, at 7 pm, for an evening with Walter Mosley. He will speak and sign his latest novel, Rose Gold, available now on our shelves and via bookpeople.com. This is a ticketed event. You will receive a ticket upon purchase of Rose Gold. The speaking portion of the event is free and open to the public. The event will take place on BookPeople’s second floor.
Gary Phillips has been a favorite of ours for quite some time, and we are happy to present his work as part of our Crime Fiction Friday series. This week we’re doing something a little different for Crime Fiction Friday. We’re providing a link to Capitol & Main’s site that features the first part of Gary Phillips’ The Dixon Family Chronicles, an online serialized novel in the tradition of Dickens. The story looks at a working class family in South Central, dealing with life and issues of the day, something Gary has written about for close to two decades. You can go to Capitol & Main next week for the next chapter…
“You don’t know what the hell you sayin’,” the red-eyed man blurted. He came off his barstool too fast, knocking it over as he did so. Drunk, he teetered over to Hank Dixon, who’d turned on his stool toward him but remained sitting.
“Best slow your roll, Al,” the one-handed bartender Pierre Gaston said languidly. He took hold of an empty glass between the pincers of his prosthesis. Behind him and above the bottles on a flat screen TV, played a near mute newscast about a truckers’ job action at the port…