The Hard Word Book Club Celebrates Springsteen

trouble in the heartland

The Hard Word Book Club meets Wednesday, February 25, at 7 pm, on BookPeople’s third floor, to discuss Trouble In The Heartland, edited by Joe Clifford. Clifford calls in to make this a special Hard Word occasion. All book club books are 10% off in the month of their selection.

Bruce Springsteen is one of the most influential artists out there. Not only has he inspired his fellow musicians, he’s done the same with painters, illustrators, film directors, and writers. Trouble In The Heartland, edited by Joe Clifford, and this month’s subject of discussion at the Hard Word Book Club, meeting Wednesday, February 25, at 7 pm, shows modern crime fiction’s debt to The Boss.

All forty stories, many under five pages, are inspired by Springsteen titles. Authors consist of the likes of Dennis Lehane, Hilary Davidson, and brilliant newcomer Jordan Harper; while most are crime fiction, there is a touch of western and sci-fi as well. Some follow the songs closely; others take the title in a different direction like Lincoln Crisler’s “Born To Run”. All have Springsteen’s working class pathos and raw emotion.

Joe Clifford has agreed to call in to discuss the book with us. He’s a world class author in his own right with books like Lamentation and his collection of shorts, Choice Cuts. On top of that, he’s just a great guy.

We’ll be meeting on the third floor, Febraury 25th, 7PM. The Hard word Book Club meets the last Wednesday of each month. Trouble In The Heartland is 10% off to those who attend. Our book for March 25th will be Ken Bruen’s The Magdalen Martyrs. You can find our book club selections on our shelves and via


MysteryPeople Q&A with TROUBLE IN THE HEARTLAND editor Joe Clifford

One of my favorite books this year is Trouble In The Heartland, forty stories from some of today’s top crime writers, each playing off the title of a  Bruce Springsteen song. These tales capture the emotion and hard luck characters of the singer/song-writer’s work. Joe Clifford was kind enough to talk to us about the project.

MysteryPeople: What was the most difficult part of this project?

Joe Clifford: Honestly, probably the cover. There are two publishers for this thing. It came out with Gutter Books, but Zelmer Pulp’s involved too. There were some (minor) differences of opinions about the cover. Small stuff. But important to the artist. In this case, Chuck Regan, who designed the cover (and obviously did a magnificent job). Still, Gutter has its own aesthetic. I was the bridge between the two camps, so I’d often get caught in the middle. There was a little “don’t kill the messenger” at times, because everyone has their own ideas, and they are, rightfully, passionate about those ideas. But that was it. Overall, it was very smooth sailing.

MP:  Why do you think Springsteen resonates with so many crime writers?

JC: Because he writes about the hopeless, the downtrodden, the beat-down losers who refuse to stay down. The romantics with broken hearts. The dreamers still trying to carve out a better lives for themselves against all odds. Like the Boss sings in “Something in the Night” (which was covered by Mike Creeden in our anthology): those of us “looking for a moment when the world seems right.” Pretty much noir and crime, right?

MP:  What in his music do you hope to capture in your own writing?

JC: Bruce was the first real literary figure in my life. He doesn’t write books, but he’s an author. I didn’t read growing up. Teachers told me to read. So I said no. A little like “Growing Up.” “When they said sit down, I stood up.” Springsteen showed a confused kid in a podunk cow town that a better, bigger world was possible. I wasn’t popular. Wasn’t good at sports. Felt unappreciated. “It’s a town full of losers; I’m pulling out to win” was a driving mantra. Until I pulled out. Still not sure if I’ve won. But I made my move. And it’s that spirit I try to capture. The everyman looking for something more, following that inner voice to be who he or she has to be. Because there is no other way. Win or lose. And there is something inherently romantic about that, I think.

MP: Was there any author who surprised you with how they interpreted their song title?

JC: I’m not just saying this because I edited the thing, but this is as strong an anthology as I’ve ever read. Editing this, I had to read each story half a dozen times, if not more. And the mark of a great story is that it gets better with each read, which is what happened here. I’d love to single out every story, because every author made this a pleasure. A lot of work. But a pleasure. All that said, James R. Tuck’s “I’m on Fire” and Jordan Harper’s “Prove It All Night” were the one that surprised me most (obviously in the best possible way). Chris Holm’s “Mansion on the Hill,” too. But when you have a collection with Dennis Lehane, Hilary Davidson, James Grady, Chuck Wendig, et al., you’re getting the best of the best. Also Rob Pierce’s “Rosalita” still makes me laugh out loud every time I read it. An exercise in economy.

MP: Most authors edit an anthology so they can have a story in it. You don’t have one in here. Any particular reason?

JC: I don’t know. I also feel like putting one of your own stories in an anthology or magazine you edit is tantamount to throwing a surprise party for yourself. I mean, that’s just me. I know a lot of editors do it, and that’s cool. Mostly it’s about hats. When I am a writer, I wear the writer hat, and when I am an editor, I wear the editor’s hat. Those hats don’t go together. When I edit something, I need that perspective. I didn’t want to muddle up that requisite objectivity with having to edit my own story. Writing invites an emotional attachment that the best editing eschews.

MP: How did the Bob Woodruff Foundation become the choice of charity?

JC: We knew we wanted to do something to help veterans, and the BWF were very receptive to the idea. They’ve been great to work with. Not to mention, when you open their webpage, you’ll see a picture of the Boss. So the marriage just made sense.

Copies of Trouble In The Heartland are available on our shelves and via 

Top Five Short Story Collections of 2014

2014 has been an excellent year for short story collections, and whether you have a taste for themed compilations or single author explorations of the short story form, we have a short story collection for you! Here’s our top five of the year, plus an honorable mention from 2013 that we just couldn’t leave off the list.

wait for signs twelve longmire stories1. Wait For Signs by Craig Johnson

These stories give us a look at Johnson’s Sheriff Walt Longmire between his cases. Whether dealing with a questionable hitch hiker, robbery at The Red Pony bar and grill, or an owl trapped in a Porta-Potty, we learn that his down time is both eventful and often funny.


2. Trouble In The Heartland edited by Joe Cliffordtrouble in the heartland

Forty stories inspired by Bruce Springsteen titles. Full of midnight roads, last shots, heartache, and hard boiled love, this collection gives off the vibe of a great concept album.


phone call from hell3. Phone Call From Hell by Jonathan Woods

From the wonderful warped imagination of Jonathan Woods, the second installment of twisted satiric tales. From an out-of-control swingers party to a man getting a phone call from Charles Manson, Woods proves he is the mad scientist of short fiction.


shots fired4. Shots Fired by C.J. Box

All of Box’s short work collected through the years, including many stories featuring his game warden, Joe Pickett. Standout tales feature a group of immigrants dumped in Yellowstone and two old mountain men trying to put up with one another during a harsh winter.

prison noir5. Prison Noir edited by Joyce Carol Oates

These tales of incarceration from different prisons around the country, most written by current or former inmates, deliver a cold hard hit to the bones. You won’t take freedom for granted after reading these stories.


GlennGray_TheLittleBoyInsideSpecial Mention – The Little Boy Inside & Other Stories by Glenn Gray

It came out last year, but I was finally able to read it in 2014 and it’s too damn good to be omitted from this list. Gray mixes crime, horror, and sci-fi in these stories where the thing a person can trust the least is his own body. Both well crafted and outrageous.


All of the books listed above are available on our shelves and via Look out for more top lists later in December!



MysteryPeople Review: TROUBLE IN THE HEARTLAND, edited by Joe Clifford

“Don’t like Springsteen?” Eddie asks. She huffs. “I’m one wrong turn from being a character in one of his songs.”

-Jen Conley’s “It’s Hard To Be A Saint In The City”

trouble in the heartland

No character escapes that fate in Trouble In The Heartland. Editor Joe Clifford has gathered forty strong voices of crime fiction, each contributing a story inspired by a Springsteen title. Dennis Lehane turns the ignition with a skillful look at paranoia after a crime with “Highway Patrol,” sending us along on a careening midnight road of working class last  shots, violence, and heartache, and proving that there’s a lot of range to a Springsteen character.

Many of the stories mirror the singer/songwriters work. Jordan Harper proves to be a perfect pick with “Prove It All Night,” hitting the cadences, word play, and hard lyricism of an Seventies Springsteen tune. It is a story that makes a stand. James R. Tuck captures the creepy and compelling vibe of “I’m On Fire,” giving it a dark twist, giving it a dark twist. Benoit Lelievre plays off the lyrics of “Atlantic City” in gruesome fashion.

Others simply use the title than full song. Hilary Davidson explores the obsession that sometimes gets lost in the upbeat tune “Hungry Heart.” The story leads up to a line that is hard-boiled heartbreak. Todd Robinson uses “We Take Care Of Our Own” to look at retribution on an inner city basketball court. Lincoln Crisler takes “Born To Run” for a clever tale of revenge and long distance running.

Springsteen’s themes even work outside of the crime fiction genre. Court Merrigan’s  “Promised Land” casts an outcast woman in a modern western that has the grit of the earth. Chuck Reagan takes Springsteen both literally and figuratively as far as you can by setting “Radio Nowhere” in a space satellite.

By the time you hit Richard Brewer’s pitch perfect and perfectly placed “The Last One to Die” at the end, you have the experience of a well executed concept album. All the authors find a way to tap into emotions that are heartfelt without being maudlin. The collection gives you all the colors of a world where life goes on, even though there is decay all around. The Boss would be happy.

Copies of Trouble in the Heartland are available on our shelves and via

Three Picks for December

December is here; a time of family, friendship, perhaps some frost, and most certainly murder most foul. Here are some of our favorite novels to usher in the New Year. You can find copies on our shelves and via

trouble in the heartlandTrouble In The Heartland edited by Joe Clifford

Over forty of the best crime writers out there, including Eric Beetner, Hilary Davidson, and Dennis Lehane, each tackling the title of a Bruce Springsteen song and turning it into a story. Full of losers, longing, cars, desired women, and working class drive, these stories do the Boss proud.


bite harderBite Harder by Anonynmous-9

Paraplegic vigilante Dean Drayhart and his helper monkey Sid are back. When a hit is put on the both of them and and Cinda, Dean’s sex worker girlfriend, Dean has to break out of prison, get Sid and fight back. This fun follow-up to Hard Bite ups the ante in blood and laughs.


a song to die forA Song to Die For by Mike Blakely
A rollicking novel of crime and music in 1975 Austin that brings together a singer-songwriter, a Texas Ranger, and a murdered Mafia princess. Blakely gives us an Austin where the attitude and the music was truly outlaw. Meet Mike with Robert Knott on January 14th during our western night.

Crime Fiction Friday: IF YOU COULD READ MY MIND by Joe Clifford

crime scene
Joe Clifford is one of our favorites. His short story collection, Choice Cuts, looks at the darker side of humanities fringes. Here he gives us a tale of family and fate recently published at Shotgun Honey.


“I’d tried warning my mother.

‘But she knew his favorite color,’ Mom said.

‘She knows how much you miss Dad. It’s how all these charlatans get on. They pick up on the clues you give them.’

‘This has always been your problem, Dwight. Too skeptical for your own good…’”

Click here to read the full story.

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.


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