Tag Archives: Jack Cady

Ideas for Christmas Book Buys

Hey there you sexy pilgrims. I hope everybody is well. I’ve bought a bunch of books recently and figured, hell, why not do a suggestion post of some of my favorites old and new to help you with your merry holiday shopping list! Keep in mind that most of these are dark, heartbreaking tales, not feel-good reads, although there are a couple on the list that have moments of wonderful humor (like Grendel, Beautiful Sorrows, and Savage Season).

Darkfuse Book Club: It’s a hell of a deal! Top-notch writing from established writers on both sides of the pond, as well as up & comers like myself. They used to be Delirium Books and have since branched out into Dark Fiction of all styles, which I think is truly awesome. Got a hankering for Horror, Sci-fi, Mystery, Techno-Thriller, Noir, Coming-of-Age, etc., Darkfuse has you covered!

GRENDEL by John Gardner: Easily in my top-three of all-time favorites. Beautifully written, tragic and funny.

THE LAST KIND WORDS by Tom Piccirilli: Pic is a master of Noir. The sequel to his novel was released recently. Check them out!

WILLY by Robert Dunbar: A truly underrated author who, with this novel, captures some of my favorite things a great story can produce. This novel still sticks with me.

THE BLEEDING SEASON by Greg Gifune: Another underrated author. This novel is extremely atmospheric, as is all of Gifune’s work, and the story is a perfect example of why craft is so important.

THE RAPIST by Les Edgerton: This is one wicked read but don’t be scared by the title. It’s a terrific book!

THE DAMNED by John D. MacDonald: I heard of John D. MacDonald through John Connolly’s BOOKS TO DIE FOR… MacDonald quickly became my favorite of the old pulp crowd. He’s a master of characterization and most of his stories zip along. This one is brilliant in a very subtle way, kind of like WINESBURG, OHIO by Sherwood Anderson. He was one of Stephen King’s and Dean Koontz’s favorite authors too.

WATER FOR ELEPHANTS by Sara Gruen: Still one of my favorites, and the book is a thousand times better than the movie. Read it!

MORDRED, BASTARD SON by Douglas Clegg: Like EDGERTON’S The Rapist, this short novel will not set well with the PC crowd, but it’s brilliant and I think Clegg’s best.

BEAUTIFUL SORROWS by Mercedes M. Yardley: Mercede’s first short story collection. Dip your toes and imagination into an assortment of tales that are at once disturbing and humorous. This gal is a sweetheart and so incredibly talented.

THE GIRL NEXT DOOR by Jack Ketchum: Ketchum’s novel pulls off that tough to do ‘I want to punch this protagonist in the face,’ thing. At it’s heart it demonstrates the damage done when we stand by and watch horrible things happen. Sadly, I think this is one of the truest novels there is.

SAVAGE SEASON by Joe Lansdale: The first Hap & Leonard novel and a great introduction to these two raw-boned characters. What a great series!

SHARP OBJECTS by Gillian Flynn: A short novel with a terrific punch!

THE END OF EVERYTHING by Megan Abbott: Still my favorite of her novels. Haunting and fast-paced and has a perfect ending.

THE CYPRESS HOUSE by Michael Koryta: I met Michael at Bouchercon and he signed a book for me. Such a nice guy and terrific writer. In many ways he reminds me of a cross between two other favorites–Michael Connelly and Dennis Lehane.

WHITE DOVES AT MORNING by James Lee Burke: Great novel!

CABAL by Clive Barker: This was one of the first Barker books I read and certain moments are still vivid in my memory. He’s such a talent at showing how our hunt for excitement and pleasure can transform us.

THE BOOK OF LOST THINGS by John Connolly: Still my favorite of Connolly’s!

THE HAUNTING OF HOOD CANAL by Jack Cady: Read it!

And for a shameless plug, add WHEN WE JOIN JESUS IN HELL by me. It’s my most popular release so far and a quick, powerful read that heroes like Tom Piccirilli and Jack Ketchum read and blurbed.

If you’re on Twitter, give me a follow. If you’re on Goodreads, friend me. And don’t forget to subscribe to my website newsletter since I have a lot of big news coming in 2014!

Happy holidays to all!

Random Fun Stuff…

It’s been a crazy and exciting year so far, and it’s hard to believe that it’s almost over.

Right now I’m working on an interview for @HarperCollins author Michael Stanley (Michael Sears and Stanley Trollip) who I met at Bouchercon a month ago where they won the Barry Award for Best Paperback Original for the third novel in their series. They’re such lovely guys and the Detective Kubu series is so unique. I think the interview will be a lot of fun for everybody.

In the past couple days I’ve knocked out some serious story wordage in a new Thriller novel–The Wolverine. I expect I’ll finish the first draft by the end of the month if life doesn’t throw me too many curve balls. It’s about a dysfunctional family and a complex killer, a book that will explore the bonds of family, forgiveness, death, and maturity. This is another novel that I intend to sell under a pen name to keep separate from my Horror/Dark Fantasy work. It’s a lot of fun writing this book like it was to recently write The Lesser People. I see my career branching off, and like the idea of it, since most of my favorite work is more Literary Crime/Thrillers (think Dennis Lehane, John Connolly, Michael Koryta, Michael Connelly, Lee Child.) I’ll still write under my own name too, because I love Dark Fantasy in the vein of Clive Barker, Joe Hill, Brian Hodge, John Gardner, Jack Cady, Neil Gaiman, Robert Dunbar, Greg Gifune, and Peter Straub. So it’ll be a doubly fun adventure to do both genres under different names.

My latest novella (When We Join Jesus in Hell) from Darkfuse is doing well. If you’ve read it, share it with a friend and leave a review somewhere please.  I also picked up two new pre-readers yesterday and look forward to their feedback from a reader’s standpoint to balance my writing buddies that pre-read from a writerly/reader angle.

Right now I’m reading William Faulkner’s Snopes Trilogy, and Mercedes M. Yardley’s Beautiful Sorrows. Recently finished John Gardner’s Freddy’s book, which I enjoyed but Grendel (my favorite read so far this year) it is not. 

Some things I’ve found interesting around the web lately…

Shock Totem, my favorite Dark Fantasy magazine, shared a bunch of covers here.

Jane Friedman from Writer’s Digest shared this post on her blog: 2 Critical Factors for Successful Stories. It’s a simple way to stay focused and on track in your story.

I love old blues and thought this was a pretty neat movie: Lead Belly.

My hero Tom Piccirilli needs help. You can read about it on Brian Keene’s website.

 

Tom Piccirilli blog tour/interview

Reposting this interview with Pic from earlier this year. We’re getting close to the release of The Last Kind Words! Make sure you snag a copy and see why this guy deserves so much praise.

It’s no secret that Tom Piccirilli is my all-time favorite writer. Why, you may ask, especially if you haven’t read him… Here’s why: his work is beautiful, expertly crafted, memorable, and haunting. It’s stimulating. It’s challenging. It’s entertaining. I could go on. It’s a mystery to me why he isn’t on the bestseller’s list constantly with some of my other favorite writers (like John Connolly and Dennis Lehane.)

I named one of my characters (Red Piccirilli) from my Division series after him. I’ve asked Pic questions over the last few years (and have seen him gladly welcome them from others via Facebook every week) and he’s always kind, always helpful. What’s not to like? Well, if you want a by-the-numbers formulaic story you might not like him, but that’s your loss now isn’t it?

He has an incredible back catalog, from early horror works at Leisure to amazing offbeat dark fiction from Bantam like A CHOIR OF ILL CHILDREN, SHADOW SEASON, THE MIDNIGHT ROAD, THE COLD SPOT, THE COLDEST MILE, etc. And an incredible and huge collection FUTILE EFFORTS, featuring short stories, poetry, and the wicked cornerstone novella FUCKIN’ LIE DOWN ALREADY. Plus fantastic noirellas now available on Kindle: EVERY SHALLOW CUT, THE NOBODY, FRAYED, THRUST, LOSS, THE LAST DEEP BREATH, and ALL YOU DESPISE, among others. And there’s still an iceberg of books buried beneath the water. Tom is one of those writers who have the magic (and the discipline it takes to fine-tune said magic.)

I’m incredibly happy that Pic has agreed to an interview. Enjoy!

Me: Thanks for taking the time to answer questions, Pic!

Tom Piccirilli: My pleasure, Lee, thanks for having me on the blog. As always, I appreciate all your interest. This game is an incredibly difficult one, but having fans like you make it all worthwhile in the end.

Me: My pleasure. Even your crime fiction is beautiful and haunting, where does that stem from?

Tom Piccirilli: From years of honing your craft, finding your narrative voice, and learning how to say what you want to say the way you want to say it. I’ve always felt that it was important to find the innate beauty of the language as I wrote. I never wanted to be a plain writer, but at the same time you always have to be careful not to write as if each sentence is taking a bow, which I was probably guilty of earlier on in my career. That “haunting” aspect is important to make the reader feel something deep for the work. Like a ghost, I want the story to hover and flit in the audience’s mind. I don’t want to just entertain them, I want to move them.

Me: Ever plan to update your wonderful writing book WELCOME TO HELL? Possibly with a crime slant? What have you learned since then and can you share it with us if we give you a lot of money?

Tom Piccirilli: Probably not. The more I learn about writing, the more I realize how little I know about it. What makes it work, what drives the narrative, what people take away from my words. It’s a magical, mystical process. You find a topic, theme, or concept that matters to you, and then you do your best to communicate that to someone else. You draw them through a world of your own perspective and hope that they see and feel things the same way that you do.

Me: You’ve kept your voice (which shouldn’t come as a shock, I guess, since a writer’s voice stems from their soul and perception of themselves and the world around them, right?) What challenges did you face in switching from Horror to Crime fiction?

Tom Piccirilli: Well, a writer’s voice, like the writer himself, is always changing to some degree. We’re living, breathing things and our narrative voice is organic as well. My worldview has shifted, the motifs and themes that interest me are slightly different now at the age of 46 than they were at 25. I care about things now I didn’t understand then. The great fantasy author Jack Cady once told me never to throw any of unfinished fiction out, because somewhere down the line I’d have the skill and control to write about certain things I wasn’t capable of writing about at the time, but I also wouldn’t have the fire and rawness that I had then. And he was right.

As for challenges: Horror and noir writers are always indulging in their darkest, ugliest fantasies. They’re drawn to the awful matters. That’s where they find their drama. That’s where they find their love. They’re tearing into their own scars and making them bleed all over again. And it’s off that blood that we make our art. If it’s art, in the end. But whatever it is, we create it by invoking anguish and conflict and scenes of blood and wreckage. I’ve said it before, but it bears repeating. For me, it feels as if the horror genre is a young man’s game, whereas noir is for older men. When I was young, I was drawn to Horror because Horror is fantasy that focuses on the fear up around the next corner. Whereas now at 46 I’m drawn to crime and noir, because noir is about the fear that’s tailing you, coming up behind you. It’s the embodiment of your disappointments and mistakes and regrets.

Me: Where do you see yourself going next? Or are you happy where you are, with what you’re writing?

Tom Piccirilli: For the time being I’m happy writing noirish dark crime fiction. One of these days I think I’d like to do a bigger novel that has less concentration on the crime stuff and more on other concerns, whatever they are. Family matters, relationships, and all that other shit that is the focus of so much modern literature. I think I’m finally at that point of my life when I see enough humor and darkness and oddity in the so-called “normal” everyday life that I don’t need the storytelling conventions of genre material. The guns, the double-crosses, the heist gone wrong. Maybe one of these days I’ll get around to writing that book, and then again maybe not. Part of the fun of being a writer is not knowing what’s going to suddenly become of interest to you somewhere down the line. You can’t guess at it, you just have to let it persuade you.

Me: I’d love to read that! What have you found most rewarding in your career? What have you found most disappointing?

Tom Piccirilli: The most rewarding aspect is when someone reacts to the work the way I hoped they would. When they’re moved and shocked and come to love the characters the way I do, and the writing has a real meaning for them.

The most disappointing aspects–well, I’m as needy and greedy as the next guy. I’d like to make more cash, I’d like to have greater Hollywood interest, bigger sales, more brouhaha made over my work. I don’t expect lear jets and stadiums full of screaming readers, but hell, I live in my imagination, so I dream big.

Me: You appear a perpetual student of life and the craft. How important has searching for answers been in your growth as a writer and man? Did you study your favorite writers to see what they were doing right and why you loved it?

Tom Piccirilli: You study the things that matter to you, grab your attention, and hold sway over you. I did study my early favorite authors, which generally means that I began to copy the way they did things in a search for my own voice. They spoke to me, and I wanted to do what they did. I wanted to be a part of the overwhelming grandeur of literature. I wanted to impress myself upon it. Your loves shape who you are and how you come at the world, for better or worse. The same holds true for your hatreds, and your frustrations, and your needs. The more self-aware you are the more aware you are of what goes on in other people too. The truth of what drives them. And as such you can convey that through your work.

Me: Is there any story that you’ve wanted to write but haven’t? If so, why?

Tom Piccirilli: I’d love to tackle a huge, sprawling Science Fiction/Fantasy novel, but I just don’t think I have the chops for it. My mind doesn’t work in that way, in those patterns. I love reading it, and I can appreciate all the effort and imagination that goes into such works, and I pine to do something like that eventually, but it’s just not my strength.

Me: In what ways has writing your stories tested you?

Tom Piccirilli: In every way conceivable. The life of a writer tests your sense of self, your knowledge of the world, your understanding of people. It teaches you how to pay bills with late checks, with no checks, how to call back painful incidents in the most excruciating detail. You wallow in your insecurities because this is such a lonely craft. You crave feedback but you’re constantly worried about failing to meet your goals. It’s a constant struggle with self. It’s so easy to be unsure of who you are because all day long you’re slipping in and out of other identities.

Me: I’ve always thought of you as an original and boundary pusher. Do you purposely shy away from the formulaic?

Tom Piccirilli: I try to keep myself as entertained as I hope the reader will be, and since I’m extremely well-read, I get bored easily. I try to find new ways to say things, and find new things to say as well. The authors who’ve meant the most to me over the years, the ones that impacted me the most, are the ones who found offbeat, quirky, sometimes surreal ways to say the great truths of their lives. Whether they were telling stories that focused on life, love, death, fear, redemption, heartache, whatever, they found an original and grabbing way to pull the reader in. I try to do the same.

Me: I’d recommend three of your works for new readers to see your range: A CHOIR OF ILL CHILDREN, THE DEAD LETTERS, and EVERY SHALLOW CUT. Which of your novels would you recommend for new readers to try? Do you have favorites?

Tom Piccirilli: Those three are at the top, so I’d probably recommend them as well. I’m very proud of those particular titles because each one seems to be a slight turning point for me so far as my direction and focus were concerned. My new one THE LAST KIND WORDS is probably my favorite among my crime novels, so I’d promote that one too. I think it’s something of a cornerstone among my books. I pushed myself pretty hard to reach new ground, discuss new topics in new ways, and yet also stay in touch with all the other themes and stylistic elements that I think my readers expect from me at this point.

Me: With THE LAST KIND WORDS coming out next, do you feel you’ve hit a milestone? Can you tell us a little bit about the book?

Tom Piccirilli: It’s the story of a young thief named Terrier Rand who returns to his criminal family on the eve of his brother Collie’s execution. Collie went mad dog for apparently no reason and went on a killing spree murdering eight people. Now, five years later, Collie swears he only killed seven people, and the eighth was the work of someone else. Terry not only has to deal with an ex-best friend, a former flame, some mob guys, and other assorted badasses, but he’s also forced to investigate that night his brother went crazy and find out if Collie is telling the truth. But more than anything, he really wants to know the reason for why his brother went on a spree, in the hopes that Terry himself is never pushed to that kind of edge.

The novel is due out June ‘12, and I recently turned in the follow-up entitled THE LAST WHISPER IN THE DARK.

Me: Can’t wait to read them! Thanks so much for spending time with us, Pic!

Tom Piccirilli: Anytime, man! Thanks for having me!

Tom Piccirilli is the author of more than twenty novels including SHADOW SEASON, THE COLD SPOT, THE COLDEST MILE, and A CHOIR OF ILL CHILDREN. He’s won two International Thriller Awards and four Bram Stoker Awards, as well as having been nominated for the Edgar, the World Fantasy Award, the Macavity, and Le Grand Prix de l’Imaginaire.

Tom Piccirilli’s website

Tom Piccirilli’s blog

Feel free to leave a comment and spread the word! Thanks!

Tuesday’s Training: Your muse

Our creativity comes from what has touched, scared and stimulated us before this present moment as well as through thinking on what has never been, what could have been, and what might yet be.

We form narrative from light and shadow, wisps of smoke, whispered prayers, all in hopes that the finished product will connect with and move someone else (hopefully a lot of someones.)

Our muse, our inspirations, come from a number of places and take various processes from quick absorption, a streak of lightning, or the slower, gestating movement that rattles us to our core and takes our breath away. Sometimes the lightning strike produces the gestation, but no matter what inspires us a key aspect of a healthy writing career is to STAY inspired.

I’ve heard tons of people talk about writer’s block. Don’t have a clue how to get through it because I’ve never had it, but I think one of the reasons I haven’t is because of variety, multiple points of inspiration, and a pretty simple approach to life (kinda black and white actually, which isn’t always good but isn’t always bad either because it keeps me focused.)

So, let’s look at the various parts that feed and sustain our muse, our energy, and make our time more effective both before and after creating something new, and hopefully makes what we put ourselves through worthwhile…

Knowledge:

It’s easy to stay inspired when you have knowledge that you’re passionate about, whether it be some aspect of the writing craft, or some aspect of what it means to be human, or the importance of stories, or a deep and abiding knowledge of human emotions. Some of it we pluck consciously from every day life, some floats up like gold-encrusted debris from our subconscious, from lessons learned that can only be learned via hindsight.

But how we come by inspiration isn’t as important as acquiring the seeds that produce more of it.

Inspiration:

That spark of an idea that stirs something in us is always exciting. But we also get inspiration from other places and probably should. Those who wait for inspiration to strike them are happy when it does and tortured when it doesn’t. Who wants to live and create like that? We can make our own inspiration a lot of times by reading books that level us, by reading those that have before, by participating in other creative endeavors (which also bleed over into our writing in a cross-pollination sort of way!), by listening to the wind, watching the stars, letting our minds wander and by remembering what it was like to be a kid without our parents around, when the world held possibilities and not an endless, bone-crushing grind. I find inspiration in all of those things, a little every day, plus in studying beautiful and striking artwork, in playing guitar, in talking to a best friend, in listening to (and sometimes mishearing) a family member. Don’t always wait for inspiration. Breathe life until you’re about to burst so that there is always material creating itself in your subconscious.

Trust:

Trust in our heart-of-hearts that what we write about matters to us and means something is incredibly important. If we don’t trust our process then it’s already standing on shaky ground. It’s easier to be inspired and find inspiration when we know deep in our gut that we’re going to find something worth saying, with characters that bleed and bond together, with dialogue that crackles, with obstacles that push our characters to their limits, and in turn, the reader.

What I’ve done to build trust in my process is to accept that nothing I ever write will be perfect, not to me, not to anybody. It takes some of the pressure off, lets me say, “Hey, I’ll just do my best and that’s all that’s required.” Then I go do my best and more often than not I’m mostly satisfied with the results.

Imagination:

Your muse will probably kick you in the nuts or vagina if you never let your imagination run wild and naked through the forest or bound recklessly down slick city streets. Imagination is paramount. It’s as important as the execution of a tale. It’s details, the way they’re told, the massive scope of the project, and it carries the weight of stars and land and sea. All of the greats had bucket loads of it pressing at the walls of their brains. They dipped their pen in that gushy mass of nerves and created what wasn’t there before.

When I read slush for Horror Library Vol. 4, back before I’d ever sold a story, one of the things that struck me about most of the rejected pieces was a lack of imagination. You know why? Because the majority of them would tell the same stale tale and how do you get excited about that?

We’re all given and nurture (or not) a certain volume of imagination. Those gifted with a lot must be wary that it doesn’t override the story because its easy for the very imaginative to let that fire burn away the story and diminish it. We learn through experience when we have too little or too much. Those who lack imagination are in a similar predicament, but theirs is that their work can come out too bland, bound by the constraints of what their logical, rational minds allow. We have to let go of our place in the world if we’re to let our imaginations grow. I think part of what holds us back is conditioning by parents and preachers and school systems. When we chase security it flees from us because it doesn’t exist. It’s a mirage.

There are many writers but only a handful who have truly inspired me, muses many times in their own way down dark passages and those open, lovely times that are crowded by bliss: William Faulkner, Tom Piccirilli, Stephen King, Ray Bradbury, Mr. Poe, Jack Cady, Greg Gifune, Robert Dunbar, Sara Gruen, Dennis Lehane, John Connolly, Peter Straub, Douglas Clegg, Clive Barker, Cormac McCarthy, John Gardner, Gary Braunbeck, Jack Ketchum, Brian Hodge, Lee Thomas, and Neil Gaiman. I’m going to dedicate my serial novel THE COLLECTED SONGS OF SONNELION to them because they are all in this, hidden between pages and crowding sentences with their undeniable mark.

So, go find those seeds that you can toss to the wind. Be patient while you work and every now and then as you toil away in your closed little world, eyes straining and heart aching, you’ll peek over your shoulder and see those seeds have taken root. What will grow? God only knows. But that’s part of the fun.

What’s going on?

Lots of fun stuff here. Should have an interview with Greg F. Gifune up this week and working on questions for Jack Ketchum’s interview! I’ve been handcopying my Gauntlet edition of Ketchum’s Only Child along with Jack Cady’s The Well to learn some more. Good times.

It’s been a long while since I’ve been to Barnes and Noble but I went yesterday and loaded up on some books I’ve wanted for a while: Dennis Lehane’s The Given Day, Cormac McCarthy’s Outer Dark, Joe Hill’s Horns, William Faulkner’s Light in August, Guerrilla Marketing for Writers, and John Connolly’s The Gates. Tons of great reading for the next couple weeks! I think I’m going to go back to the way I used to read (one book at a time). I think I get more out of it that way. What are you reading?

Also turned in a very neat thing on the Division mythos for Darkfuse so readers can see how the novellas and novels weave a bit. Will let people know when it goes live!

Working hard on the 3rd Red Piccirilli book. Very excited that Darkfuse/Delirium has taken a chance on me like this. You can read the first chapter now and new chapters will be added every Friday by noon as I write them!

If you have a digital reader go snag an awesome deal with Delirium’s Book club. Cutting-edge fiction to help you live longer.

Chizine still has the second Red Piccirilli novella Within This Garden Weeping under consideration but another publisher is interested if they decline. Very sweet! I’m looking forward to getting this novella sold because it’s the second in the Division mythos series. Once it’s out we’ll have the first 8 books of the 13 book series published!

1. Before Leonora Wakes (Big novella. Red Piccirilli Book #1.)

2. Within This Garden Weeping (Big novella. Red Piccirilli Book #2. Under consideration with Chizine right now)

3. Collected Songs of Sonnelion (Novel. Red Piccirilli Book #3. Current Project, serialized on Darkfuse’s website!)

4. Nursery Rhymes 4 Dead Children (Division Novel #1, Delirium Books, May 2011)

5. Iron Butterflies Rust (Frank Gunn novella #1, Delirium Books, August 2011)

6. As I Embrace My Jagged Edges (Sideshow Press, Digital 2011/ Hardcover 2012)

7. The Dampness of Mourning (Division novel #2, DarkFuse, February 2012)

8. Down Here in the Dark (Frank Gunn novella #2, Delirium Books, April 2012)

9. The Patron Saint of Infinite Sorrow (Division novel #3)

10. She Collects Grave Nectar (Michael Johnston novella)

11. Proserpine’s Story (Ravaged Gods novel #1)

12. Lord of the Damaged (Ravaged Gods novel #2)

13. Violent Races (Ravaged Gods novel #3)

Everything comes to him who hustles while he waits- Thomas Edison

Returned the galley for my standalone novella When We Join Jesus in Hell (Delirium Books). And expect news in the coming month about my standalone  novella from Thunderstorm Books, Immersion.

Wherever you are, enjoy yourselves. And thanks for all the support!

Interview: Tom Piccirilli

It’s no secret that Tom Piccirilli is my all-time favorite writer. Why, you may ask, especially if you haven’t read him… Here’s why: his work is beautiful, expertly crafted, memorable, and haunting. It’s stimulating. It’s challenging. It’s entertaining. I could go on. It’s a mystery to me why he isn’t on the bestseller’s list constantly with some of my other favorite writers (like John Connolly and Dennis Lehane.)

I named one of my characters (Red Piccirilli) from my Division series after him. I’ve asked Pic questions over the last few years (and have seen him gladly welcome them from others via Facebook every week) and he’s always kind, always helpful. What’s not to like? Well, if you want a by-the-numbers formulaic story you might not like him, but that’s your loss now isn’t it?

He has an incredible back catalog, from early horror works at Leisure to amazing offbeat dark fiction from Bantam like A CHOIR OF ILL CHILDREN, SHADOW SEASON, THE MIDNIGHT ROAD, THE COLD SPOT, THE COLDEST MILE, etc. And an incredible and huge collection FUTILE EFFORTS, featuring short stories, poetry, and the wicked cornerstone novella FUCKIN’ LIE DOWN ALREADY. Plus fantastic noirellas now available on Kindle: EVERY SHALLOW CUT, THE NOBODY, FRAYED, THRUST, LOSS, THE LAST DEEP BREATH, and ALL YOU DESPISE, among others. And there’s still an iceberg of books buried beneath the water. Tom is one of those writers who have the magic (and the discipline it takes to fine-tune said magic.)

I’m incredibly happy that Pic has agreed to an interview. Enjoy!

Me: Thanks for taking the time to answer questions, Pic!

Tom Piccirilli: My pleasure, Lee, thanks for having me on the blog. As always, I appreciate all your interest. This game is an incredibly difficult one, but having fans like you make it all worthwhile in the end.

Me: My pleasure. Even your crime fiction is beautiful and haunting, where does that stem from?

Tom Piccirilli: From years of honing your craft, finding your narrative voice, and learning how to say what you want to say the way you want to say it. I’ve always felt that it was important to find the innate beauty of the language as I wrote. I never wanted to be a plain writer, but at the same time you always have to be careful not to write as if each sentence is taking a bow, which I was probably guilty of earlier on in my career. That “haunting” aspect is important to make the reader feel something deep for the work. Like a ghost, I want the story to hover and flit in the audience’s mind. I don’t want to just entertain them, I want to move them.

Me: Ever plan to update your wonderful writing book WELCOME TO HELL? Possibly with a crime slant? What have you learned since then and can you share it with us if we give you a lot of money?

Tom Piccirilli: Probably not. The more I learn about writing, the more I realize how little I know about it. What makes it work, what drives the narrative, what people take away from my words. It’s a magical, mystical process. You find a topic, theme, or concept that matters to you, and then you do your best to communicate that to someone else. You draw them through a world of your own perspective and hope that they see and feel things the same way that you do.

Me: You’ve kept your voice (which shouldn’t come as a shock, I guess, since a writer’s voice stems from their soul and perception of themselves and the world around them, right?) What challenges did you face in switching from Horror to Crime fiction?

Tom Piccirilli: Well, a writer’s voice, like the writer himself, is always changing to some degree. We’re living, breathing things and our narrative voice is organic as well. My worldview has shifted, the motifs and themes that interest me are slightly different now at the age of 46 than they were at 25. I care about things now I didn’t understand then. The great fantasy author Jack Cady once told me never to throw any of unfinished fiction out, because somewhere down the line I’d have the skill and control to write about certain things I wasn’t capable of writing about at the time, but I also wouldn’t have the fire and rawness that I had then. And he was right.

As for challenges: Horror and noir writers are always indulging in their darkest, ugliest fantasies. They’re drawn to the awful matters. That’s where they find their drama. That’s where they find their love. They’re tearing into their own scars and making them bleed all over again. And it’s off that blood that we make our art. If it’s art, in the end. But whatever it is, we create it by invoking anguish and conflict and scenes of blood and wreckage. I’ve said it before, but it bears repeating. For me, it feels as if the horror genre is a young man’s game, whereas noir is for older men. When I was young, I was drawn to Horror because Horror is fantasy that focuses on the fear up around the next corner. Whereas now at 46 I’m drawn to crime and noir, because noir is about the fear that’s tailing you, coming up behind you. It’s the embodiment of your disappointments and mistakes and regrets.

Me: Where do you see yourself going next? Or are you happy where you are, with what you’re writing?

Tom Piccirilli: For the time being I’m happy writing noirish dark crime fiction. One of these days I think I’d like to do a bigger novel that has less concentration on the crime stuff and more on other concerns, whatever they are. Family matters, relationships, and all that other shit that is the focus of so much modern literature. I think I’m finally at that point of my life when I see enough humor and darkness and oddity in the so-called “normal” everyday life that I don’t need the storytelling conventions of genre material. The guns, the double-crosses, the heist gone wrong. Maybe one of these days I’ll get around to writing that book, and then again maybe not. Part of the fun of being a writer is not knowing what’s going to suddenly become of interest to you somewhere down the line. You can’t guess at it, you just have to let it persuade you.

Me: I’d love to read that! What have you found most rewarding in your career? What have you found most disappointing?

Tom Piccirilli: The most rewarding aspect is when someone reacts to the work the way I hoped they would. When they’re moved and shocked and come to love the characters the way I do, and the writing has a real meaning for them.

The most disappointing aspects–well, I’m as needy and greedy as the next guy. I’d like to make more cash, I’d like to have greater Hollywood interest, bigger sales, more brouhaha made over my work. I don’t expect lear jets and stadiums full of screaming readers, but hell, I live in my imagination, so I dream big.

Me: You appear a perpetual student of life and the craft. How important has searching for answers been in your growth as a writer and man? Did you study your favorite writers to see what they were doing right and why you loved it?

Tom Piccirilli: You study the things that matter to you, grab your attention, and hold sway over you. I did study my early favorite authors, which generally means that I began to copy the way they did things in a search for my own voice. They spoke to me, and I wanted to do what they did. I wanted to be a part of the overwhelming grandeur of literature. I wanted to impress myself upon it. Your loves shape who you are and how you come at the world, for better or worse. The same holds true for your hatreds, and your frustrations, and your needs. The more self-aware you are the more aware you are of what goes on in other people too. The truth of what drives them. And as such you can convey that through your work.

Me: Is there any story that you’ve wanted to write but haven’t? If so, why?

Tom Piccirilli: I’d love to tackle a huge, sprawling Science Fiction/Fantasy novel, but I just don’t think I have the chops for it. My mind doesn’t work in that way, in those patterns. I love reading it, and I can appreciate all the effort and imagination that goes into such works, and I pine to do something like that eventually, but it’s just not my strength.

Me: In what ways has writing your stories tested you?

Tom Piccirilli: In every way conceivable. The life of a writer tests your sense of self, your knowledge of the world, your understanding of people. It teaches you how to pay bills with late checks, with no checks, how to call back painful incidents in the most excruciating detail. You wallow in your insecurities because this is such a lonely craft. You crave feedback but you’re constantly worried about failing to meet your goals. It’s a constant struggle with self. It’s so easy to be unsure of who you are because all day long you’re slipping in and out of other identities.

Me: I’ve always thought of you as an original and boundary pusher. Do you purposely shy away from the formulaic?

Tom Piccirilli: I try to keep myself as entertained as I hope the reader will be, and since I’m extremely well-read, I get bored easily. I try to find new ways to say things, and find new things to say as well. The authors who’ve meant the most to me over the years, the ones that impacted me the most, are the ones who found offbeat, quirky, sometimes surreal ways to say the great truths of their lives. Whether they were telling stories that focused on life, love, death, fear, redemption, heartache, whatever, they found an original and grabbing way to pull the reader in. I try to do the same.

Me: I’d recommend three of your works for new readers to see your range: A CHOIR OF ILL CHILDREN, THE DEAD LETTERS, and EVERY SHALLOW CUT. Which of your novels would you recommend for new readers to try? Do you have favorites?

Tom Piccirilli: Those three are at the top, so I’d probably recommend them as well. I’m very proud of those particular titles because each one seems to be a slight turning point for me so far as my direction and focus were concerned. My new one THE LAST KIND WORDS is probably my favorite among my crime novels, so I’d promote that one too. I think it’s something of a cornerstone among my books. I pushed myself pretty hard to reach new ground, discuss new topics in new ways, and yet also stay in touch with all the other themes and stylistic elements that I think my readers expect from me at this point.

Me: With THE LAST KIND WORDS coming out next, do you feel you’ve hit a milestone? Can you tell us a little bit about the book?

Tom Piccirilli: It’s the story of a young thief named Terrier Rand who returns to his criminal family on the eve of his brother Collie’s execution. Collie went mad dog for apparently no reason and went on a killing spree murdering eight people. Now, five years later, Collie swears he only killed seven people, and the eighth was the work of someone else. Terry not only has to deal with an ex-best friend, a former flame, some mob guys, and other assorted badasses, but he’s also forced to investigate that night his brother went crazy and find out if Collie is telling the truth. But more than anything, he really wants to know the reason for why his brother went on a spree, in the hopes that Terry himself is never pushed to that kind of edge.

The novel is due out June ‘12, and I recently turned in the follow-up entitled THE LAST WHISPER IN THE DARK.

Me: Can’t wait to read them! Thanks so much for spending time with us, Pic!

Tom Piccirilli: Anytime, man! Thanks for having me!

Tom Piccirilli is the author of more than twenty novels including SHADOW SEASON, THE COLD SPOT, THE COLDEST MILE, and A CHOIR OF ILL CHILDREN. He’s won two International Thriller Awards and four Bram Stoker Awards, as well as having been nominated for the Edgar, the World Fantasy Award, the Macavity, and Le Grand Prix de l’Imaginaire.

Tom Piccirilli’s website

Tom Piccirilli’s blog

Feel free to leave a comment and spread the word! Thanks!

Interview: Robert Dunbar

I’m going to focus on things that are the most important to me this year, and one of those things is pointing out writers who deserve credit based on the sheer talent, intensity and honesty of their work in contrast to those sadass writers who rely on throwing money into getting their names out there or who constantly kiss ass or manipulate to get ahead.

These writers I’m going to interview are Pros in every sense of the word. And they show it where it fucking matters. On the page. In the residue their stories leave behind in your head.

I’m honored that Robert Dunbar is the first. He’s the author of THE PINES, THE SHORE, MARTYRS & MONSTERS and WILLY. He’s also the publisher/editor for Uninvited Books, a wonderful addition to the genre that is focusing on dark literary work and has released two of my top books of 2011 (Greg Gifune’s GARDENS OF NIGHT and Robert’s novel WILLY).

WILLY is a wonderful novel full of quiet intensity, beauty and sadness. It was my introduction to Robert, made my top five reads for 2011, and I can’t wait to dig into his other work. This is how it goes for me. (It happened when I first read Tom Piccirilli, Douglas Clegg, Peter Straub, Greg Gifune, John Connolly, Dennis Lehane, William Faulkner, Jack Cady, Clive Barker, et al.) I’d stumble onto a book by an author I’d never read and the lightning hits. All of the things I love most about a story are there in spades. Robert Dunbar did that to me too, the bastard. Now I have catching up to do. But it’ll be good fun.

Thanks for taking time with me and the readers, Robert!

My pleasure, Lee.

How did you start as a reader? Were you raised in a household where reading was encouraged and respected? Or did you have to sneak books and hope that if you were caught with one that you wouldn’t be ridiculed?

Was I raised in a cultured environment? Yes. Yes, I was. Absolutely. In fact, my governess went to great lengths to instill a love of the arts and …

I’m tripping. In our neighborhood, it was more socially acceptable to be caught with syringe than a book. A handgun involved fewer explanations. Something tells me you can relate.

When and how did you cross that line from fan to fan/creator?

I was never a fan. A connoisseur, perhaps. A passionate advocate. Certainly. But a fan?

Me?

Not that there aren’t artists I intensely admire.

By the way, that’s an amazing list of writers you mentioned, and I’m very conscious of the honor in being included, but I’d like to make it clear that I’m not above ‘kissing ass and manipulating’ to get ahead. I just suck at it is all.

Who has influenced you, Robert? Did different writers offer different things? (Did you love one for their lyricism and another for depth of character, etc.? Or just soak it all in?)

I can’t even enumerate all the crisis points in my life where I’ve asked myself, “What would Barbara Stanwyck do?” Oddly, I never seem to have a riding crop with me at such moments. Oh, but you probably meant literary influences, didn’t you? On that level, I’m easy to please. A book just needs to be brilliant.

You’ve already touched on a few of my personal heroes, but there’ve been others.

I admired Poe very much as a child but had already begun to find him rather tedious by the time puberty hit. (Actually, it didn’t hit so much as fall on me.) When I was about fourteen, I had the requisite weekend where I found Lovecraft to be intense and hypnotic but by Monday had decided he was jerk. (Don’t you hate relationships like that?) It didn’t take me long to discover Edith Wharton and Henry James and Willa Cather and E. M. Forster and Saki – wonderful Saki – and Shirley Jackson and Algernon Blackwood and Oliver Onions and Robert Aickman and Fritz Leiber. (Faulkner and Henry Roth and James Baldwin all affected me like heroin.) I don’t know what I would have done if not for the public library. Killed myself probably.

How much of your work is mined from real life’s joys and sorrows? Are any of your characters a mirror into your soul?

People are always advising me to write about my family. What the hell do they think I’ve been doing? Making shit up?

(It’s probably just as well I don’t have that riding crop.)

Yes, my work seems to get more personal all the time. WILLY in particular was a cri de coeur – and very therapeutic too, you know, turning it loose in the world where it could haunt others (instead of me). And a few of the stories in MARTYRS & MONSTERS are more intimate than I’m entirely comfortable with discussing. Some things can only be addressed in fiction.

I know most writers see somebody who has gained some recognition and think that said writer somehow found a magic key (surely that must be it) to appear out of nowhere. What has your journey been like as a writer?

Isn’t that hilarious? So few people have any sense of the commitment, the discipline … or what it all demands from you. When most “aspiring writers” ask for advice, what they really want are marketing tips. Actually, it’s not hilarious. It’s quite sad.

The times we live in…

This particular journey has taken us all to a lot of strange places. Austin Considine had a brilliant piece in the Times a few weeks ago in which he compared living through the AIDS fatalities in the nineties to surviving a war. In 1995 alone, more than 50,000 people died of the disease. New York especially was devastated, but all the big cities were hard hit. People complain all the time about how the arts suffered, but it wasn’t just because a big part of an entire generation of painters and musicians and writers and actors were wiped out. It was also because legions of people who appreciated what they were doing were also lost, people who understood the ballet, who attended plays (and I don’t mean Spider-Man), who read and discussed books. Good books. Intelligent books. Demanding books. The cultural repercussions are ongoing, and we feel it all too clearly within the genre. Democracy has no place in the arts – the best and brightest should naturally flourish. But somehow the most ordinary have inherited the earth. Or at least the genre.

I was going to say ‘don’t get me started,’ but clearly it’s too late.

People are forever asking me what makes a work literary. It’s one of those “I can explain it to you, but I can’t understand it for you” situations. I mean, what can you tell them? Obviously, talent is the most essential (and most nebulous) criteria, but intellect is also necessary, as well as passion, seriousness of intent, even courage. (There are “writers” out there who won’t have a clue what I’m referring to here.) I think if you look at a lot of what’s out there now, the first thing that strikes you is that – pretty much across the board – the component of intellect appears to have been excised. (There are exceptions of course, artists like Gifune or Laird Barron, that Thompson guy, a few others.) The whole culture has been drastically dumbed down. Horror novels, ostensibly intended for an adult readership, these days all seem to have been written for children.

Some of them appear to have been written by children.

What was the question again? Oh. My journey. Right. You’re sure you want to hear this? I’ll keep it brief. In my twenties, I imagined myself a poet, and my work did get published here and there, mostly in the smallest of avant-garde journals. In retrospect, I can see they weren’t very sophisticated poems, but the readings I forever seemed to be giving did attain a certain intensity, I suppose. Actually, I didn’t read the pieces so much as perform them, and these gradually evolved into experimental plays. (That’s the word people used to describe them. Experimental. Sometimes this was intended kindly.) The astonishing thing was how many of these scripts got produced, mostly at theaters that resembled storefronts or warehouses or garages. In fact, the one thing they never seemed to resemble were theaters. By then I’d started working for so many different newspapers and magazines that I lost count. Mostly, I did reviews and interviews, but these led to my writing similar bits for a couple of radio stations … and eventually to some television work.

It was only when I began to concentrate on my fiction that the true path revealed itself. Why do I suddenly sound like the I Ching?

Lol. What is your proudest moment?

Every night when I look across the bed.

What has surprised you? In the world of publishing? In creating your stories? In building your readership?

Funny you should ask. I wasn’t anticipating the impact WILLY has made. And I mean that. I’ve been shocked and quite moved by the passionate response. I suppose I must have lost faith in the book somehow. Or perhaps it was the genre I’d lost faith in. I certainly never expected much in the way of support. The book is so subtle – I figured horror critics, if they bothered to acknowledge it at all, would simply blast it for being “too literary.” As it turned out, I’ve wound up feeling both humbled and inspired by the number of reviewers who have championed WILLY. Maybe there’s hope for the genre after all.

If you could recommend only one of your novels (or the collection) to new readers, which would you choose? Why?

So many people have found me through THE PINES, and I’m always touched by that, even now. But MARTYRS & MONSTERS is the one I’d personally recommend. It’s a little hard to explain really – what this book has meant to me, how important it’s been in my life. Over the years, I’d grown so frustrated with reviews. A critic would rave that THE PINES was a “masterpiece of genre fiction” or that THE SHORE was “surprisingly good for a horror novel.” With MARTYRS & MONSTERS – for the first time – reviewers began to discuss my work purely in terms of merit, without the qualification. And that made all the difference. Writers are such sensitive creatures. Without this level of support, I’m not sure I would have had the courage to attempt a novel as complex as WILLY.

Well, I’m certain many people are glad you had the support that produced the courage. WILLY is fantastic. If you couldn’t write (say you lost your hands by poking them into a parallel universe) what would you do to let your creative side breathe?

I’ve always wanted to be an international jewel thief, like Raffles or Kay Frances in whatever the hell that old movie was called, but no one ever seems to be hiring. I must remember to ask Mannetti how she got started. Friends in low places probably. That may be the problem – I’m overqualified.

Sorry. I don’t mean to dodge the question. It’s just that I can’t even imagine not writing. It’s an identity issue, not an occupational one.

Do you have other passions? Do they feed/compliment your stories?

Yes, but you can’t get it anymore.

What do you wish the genre had more of? And less of?

More of me. Less of everyone else.

Did I say that out loud?

Seriously, I can’t imagine anyone who gets more of a thrill out of a really first rate horror novel than I do. I remember discovering Sarah Water’s THE LITTLE STRANGER last year and going into raptures. Then I read an article praising the distinctiveness of a handful of supposedly literary horror novels that had made it to the bestseller list. I rushed to read them all … and was sorely disappointed. It’s not that these books were bad exactly. No. Each had been professionally crafted, which was part of the problem. They all had a soulless, manufactured quality.

The genre needs more artists. The world needs more artists.

Amen. I’ve read three novels that Uninvited Books has published (your own, Gifune’s and T. M. Wright’s) and to say I’m impressed in quality, story, and craftsmanship would be an understatement. How did Uninvited Books find life? What is your number one goal with opening your own publishing company?

Greg and Terry are both extraordinary. As writers and as people. (Sandy DeLuca just scares me.) There’s this cheesy piece of corporate motivational advice I seem to keep stumbling across lately. “Celebrate what you want to see more of.” Generally, I abhor such drivel, but a note of truth resonates through the self-help-inspirational-speaker-jargon here … because there are amazing talents like Gifune and Wright out there, even in this godforsaken genre, brilliant writers who are not churning out Zombie Kong or Yeti Massacre but creating intelligent, textured, profoundly satisfying works of dark literature. One doesn’t encounter genius so often that one should overlook the need to celebrate it. That’s what we’re all about. Our first paperback at Uninvited Books was an anthology called SHADOWS, Supernatural Tales by Masters of Modern Literature – conceived as a sort of mission statement. May we never set our sights any lower.

Is there anything else you want to mention?

Just to remind folks to keep an eye out for my new novella – WOOD. It should be out from Uninvited Books quite soon.

Excellent. Thank you so much for taking the time to share with us.

Thanks, Lee. And best of luck with your own work! I hear wonderful things about NURSERY RHYMES 4 DEAD CHILDREN, and my copy just arrived. Can’t wait to dive in!

Learn more about Robert Dunbar.

Find out more about Uninvited Books.

What a brilliant man. Feel free to spread the word. Thanks!