Snubnose Prestidigitation

snubnose press

~ post by Chris M.

The world of crime fiction is an insulated entity. Many of my favorite reads in the genre have been recommendations from other crime writers, and those authors always seemed elated to tell me all about their friends. That, in essence, is what I love about this particular genre; it’s familial. Crime writers have each other’s backs, and they all cheer when one of their own makes it to the big time.

I can’t remember who introduced me to Snubnose Press; it was most definitely a crime writer…Joe Clifford perhaps? At this point it doesn’t really matter, because I know they weren’t telling me about this little indie press so that I would come back and thank them. No, the only real way to say thank you, in my opinion, is to read the books; so that’s what I did.

After a cracking through Eric Beetner’s Dig Two Graves and R. Thomas Brown’s Hill Country I was officially a believer. I couldn’t believe Snubnose Press was basically an online only publisher. I mean seriously, this is good! Shortly after my introduction to SNP, BookPeople’s Mystery guru Scott Montgomery informed me he had struck a deal with them and that BookPeople would now be the only bookstore where you could find their catalog. Needless to say, this was big news for us.

The kind folks over at Snubnose sent us a little care package containing a smattering of their catalog, which Scott and I fought over like two kids who’ve just been told there is only enough ice cream for one person. In the end I ended up grabbing a few collections of short stories and in doing so, exposed myself (pun not intended…unless Jed Ayres is reading this) to three fantastic authors; Court Merrigan, Joe Clifford, and Jed Ayres.

I had heard of all three authors in passing, but never actively sought out their work, mostly because it was a little harder to find than the average Big 6 crime writer. But, as my personal history has proven, I’m occasionally an idiot. I immediately fell in love with these collections and began fervently hand-selling them to any customer who would listen.

Court Merrigan’s Moondog Over The Mekong was the first collection I read. I don’t know what I was expecting to find when I cracked the spine on this one, but I know that what I found was a hell of a lot better than what I’d imagined. In Moondog, Merrigan takes his readers on a journey from the slums of Thailand to the dregs of Wyoming. Merrigan’s style is a clever take on pulpy noir that is both punchy and laced with imagery.  My favorite story in the collection is “We Would Start Here,” a tale set in an unnamed coastal city and told in the form of flashbacks and the present. It’s a story that really highlights Merrigan’s ability to humanize his characters and break his reader’s hearts into a millions pieces.

Joe Clifford’s collection, Choice Cuts, is an example of how much fun one can have with gritty noir. The majority of the collection is rooted in the noir tradition. Clifford is careful not to rehash old clichés, though, and does an excellent job putting his own spin on a genre that can stagnate easily. For me Clifford’s strongest trait as a writer is his ability to use scope and show his readers just how big the world is and how insignificant one person can be. For me, the most affecting story in Choice Cuts is “Favors,” which tells the tale of a grubby lawyer who is asked to look in on his addict stepbrother. Clifford’s characterization chops strip away the gloss of hidden family tensions, and show us the aging and calloused reality of life in a broken family.

The last collection I read was Jed Ayres, F*ckload of Shorts, and it is absolutely brilliant. The stories in this collection are twisted, violent, touching, and hilarious. The thing I love about Jed’s writing is the way he is able to immerse his readers into a completely ludicrous situation as if it’s just another normal day. Of all the stories in F*ckload of Shorts, my favorite is “The Whole Buffalo,” which tells the tale of a shady funeral home owner who has been thrown in jail for questionable practices like reusing caskets, giving the bereaved the wrong ashes, and chopping the feet off of a dead body so it will fit into a coffin. It’s a ridiculous story told with conviction, and that’s what makes it so damn funny. I had the pleasure of meeting Jed at an Austin Noir at the Bar last summer and this was the story he read to the audience, which was a real treat for me. Jed is also a stand-up guy, so buy him a beer.

If you can’t tell by now, Snub Nose Press is putting out great material. Their roster has a lot of heavy hitters who don’t get the recognition they deserve; and so I feel it is my duty to inform you, dear readers, of some great new crime fiction. If you are familiar with publishers like New Pulp Press and Beat To A Pulp, you will most certainly enjoy what Snub Nose is doing. If you have no idea who those publishers are, great! You are in the enviable position of going in blind, so have fun, but beware, because these stories might make you something of a hermit.

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Snubnose Press titles are available on our shelves at BookPeople. You can also order them via our website, bookpeople.com

MP Q&A: SCOTT PHILLIPS & JED AYRES

We are looking forward to our Fathers Day Noir At The Bar Summit this Sunday. Austin founders Scott Montgomery and Jesse Sublette are meeting up with Scott Phillips and Jedidiah Ayres at Opal Divine’s  (3601 South Congress) for a night of music and crime fiction readings. Here’s a little background: Scott Phillips’ latest, Rake, is a tale of an American actor in Paris juggling four women, his violent temper, and a crime while trying to execute a movie deal. We sold out our initial run of Jed’s A F*ckload Of Shorts (there will be more at the event), and if you’re offended by the title don’t bother cracking the book. In fact you may want to avoid the interviews we did with them.

First, Scott-

MysteryPeople: I believe this is your first time to get out of the Midwest for a novel. I know you spent time in Paris, but other than experience what drew you to use it?

Scott Phillips: It was originally written for a collection of novels from a French publisher, La Branche, all of which were intended to be made as TV movies. That plan never went anywhere, but the idea was that it had to be a thriller, it had to be filmable in Paris, and it had to have Friday the 13th in it somewhere.

MP: I didn’t realize until after the book that your protagonist has no given name just the one of the doctor he plays on TV. Was there a specific intention of that?

SP: Not really, but at a certain point I realized I hadn’t given the actor his own name and I left it at that. The friend I based the character on was really a soap opera actor, the star of a show called Santa Barbara, which was enormously popular in prime time in France, and it occurred to me that almost no one in France knew his name, the fans always referred to him by his character’s name. We really did try and make a movie about the arms of the Venus de Milo; in retrospect we’re probably lucky we failed. A lot of the events in the book are exaggerated versions of things that really happened back then.

MP: As a writer, what makes him a fun character?

SP: He’s a self-deluded narcissist, always trying to convince the reader (and himself) that he’s a swell guy, always looking out for other people. And that sort of supreme self-confidence of his is amusing to write. Not dissimilar to Bill Ogden, from The Walkaway and The Adjustment.

MP: While you show the film business, warts and all, isn’t the normal skewering of it that you get with many authors that use it as a backdrop. As somebody who is involved with the industry, how do you view it?

SP: As I say above, many of the events described in the book really happened in the course of trying to get that movie made. People are always trying to get people to work for free, always trying to scam money out of backers, always trying to screw their way into the movie business.

MP: Sex plays a large part in Rake as well as your other work. What’s the best way for an author to approach it without coming off as porn?

SP: I have no idea. I love to write about sex, but it never occurs to me that anyone might find it arousing. I suppose I try and depict it in a matter-of-fact way, awkward and sometimes embarrassing and often thrilling. The worst kind of sex writing, I think, is when the writer tries to idealize it, all arching backs and glistening torsos and simultaneous orgasm. Also terrible is the sort of thing where the author gets overly hyperbolic and starts comparing genitalia to foodstuffs and planetary bodies and automotive parts.

MP: You’re doing our Austin Noir At The Bar with your friend and cohort, Jedidiah Ayres. What do you like about his writing?

SP: He has a willingness, or maybe it’s a compulsion, to go too far. Where a more psychiatrically stable writer might pull back, Jed plunges ahead, damn the torpedoes. The one about the groupie, the dead rock-star and the groupie’s boyfriend is one of the funniest and most disturbing stories ever written, and yet he manages to bring a kind of sweetness to it.

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Crime Fiction Friday: JEDIDIAH AYRES

Jedidiah Ayres is one of the up-and-coming authors in the world of crime fiction. Dark and, at times, sick and twisted, he tends to focus on losers clinging to the lower half of the ladder. His short story collection, A F*ckload Of Shorts has sold out at MysteryPeople. However, more will be here when Jed shows up for our Fathers Day Noir At The Bar with Scott Phillips at the South Congress Opal Divine’s. One of the collections’ stories, Amateurs, recently appeared on the Mullholland Books Blog. Check it out.

http://www.mulhollandbooks.com/2011/10/12/amateurs-a-short-story-from-the-first-shift/