Here are some great videos! Let them teach you and inspire you and create new questions that might possibly lead you in new directions and toward new heights. I’ve watched some of them several times now because I’m a glutton. Terrific stuff! If you’re seeing this on Goodreads you might have to track back to my website to see the videos. Enjoy!
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.
Happy holidays to all!
Next month I’ll be in New York for The World Mystery Convention (Bouchercon)! Last year I had a blast meeting Les Edgerton, John Connolly, Michael Koryta, Michael Stanley (Michael Sears and Stanley Trollip), Sabrina Callahan from Little, Brown & Co., Michael Connelly, Lee Child, Clair Lamb, and a bunch of other people. The panels were great too and I learned a lot.
This year though I get to take part! I will be on the panel: Worse Comes to Worst (Tragedy as Entertainment), with fellow scribblers Joe Clifford, Johnny Shaw, Nik Korpon, and Vincent Zandri. Our panel will be moderated by Art Taylor.
Awesome. All of my work centers on tragedy.
My best friend and fellow writer, Shaun Ryan, is going, and I’ll get to hang out with Les Edgerton, who is an awesome writer, as well as the very cool writing duo of Michael Stanley (creator of the Detective Kubu series, which I thoroughly enjoy!)
I’ll also get the chance to meet some of my favorite writers again! I see Megan Abbott, Joe Lansdale, Lawrence Block, and a number of others will be there!
It’s a great time. I’ll post pics in a few weeks when I attend the conference! I hope everybody is well!
Last night I finished the first draft of Earthly Things, the first novel I’ve written as Julian Vaughn. I am so excited about this story. Like The Lesser People (which I wrote as Thomas Morgan) it’s a meaningful, beautiful, tragic story full of humanness. I’ve got to start editing it today so I can send it to my pre-readers by April 1st. Can’t wait to hear what they think of it and the feedback they offer. Then I’ll work in their feedback so I can see what Chip MacGregor thinks of it. I’m so excited about it.
That sweetheart Jennifer at Book Den is hosting a 5 copy giveaway for my latest Lee Thompson novel Gossamer: A Story of Love and Tragedy. Go enter! And a big thanks to Jennifer!
Here’s the cover and a quick synopsis:
An ancient witch, Dorothy Good, has lost everything to the vampire who has blown in on the hot desert wind and lain waste to her soul and her town. When a young family arrives at the end of a two week battle, she sees a chance to end the bloodshed and possibly regain a portion of what was stolen.
But they’re heavily outnumbered and night is falling…
Currently reading James Lee Burke’s Cadillac Jukebox. He’s amazing. And fellow Dark Fiction writer Brett J. Talley has sent me a copy of Limbus Inc., which I look forward to checking out this next week! Thanks Brett!
My buddy Les Edgerton has had a bunch of interviews lately. He’s an intelligent, talented and humorous cracker.
I’m also super pumped about Bouchercon. Last year I met John Connolly, Michael Connelly, Michael Koryta, Michael Stanley (Michael Sears and Stanley Trollip), Les Edgerton, and a number of other wonder book lovers there. And this year my best writing buddy Shaun Ryan is going with me! We’re going to tear it up, and learn a lot, and make memories that we can look back on with great fondness later in life.
Anyway, time to knock out some editing on Earthly Things. Go make your dreams a reality.
I went on a little book spending spree since there are a bunch I want to read over the next few months. I might not be online much. 😛
1. Books 3-16 of James Lee Burke’s Dave Robicheaux series
2. Shock Totem #6 (issues for the giveaway and for me and my pre-readers)
3. The Drop by Michael Connelly (Reading now)
4. The Affair by Lee Child (Read yesterday, my favorite Reacher so far)
5. Mystery; In the Night Room; and The Throat by Peter Straub
6. Gods in Alabama by Joshilyn Jackson
7. The Cold Six Thousand by James Ellroy
8. The Wrath of Angels by John Connolly
9. That Which Should Not Be by Brett Talley
10. Sharp Objects by Gillian Flynn
11. The End of Everything by Megan Abbott
12. The Cyrpress House by Michael Koryta
13. Winners copies of A Carrion Death by Michael Stanley
And I have a bunch of books lined up to buy my next go round once I finish all of these and what I have in my TBR mountain. It’s going to be an awesome year!
Well, it’s almost the end of 2012 and I’m having a hard time wrapping my head around what an incredible year it’s been. I may post this early. I will just post it today. Frees up the rest of my year to just read, write and spend time with family. I’ll add any big developments before New Years. There are probably a bunch of things I’m forgetting.
Last summer/fall, when my first novel (Nursery Rhymes 4 Dead Children) and first novella (Iron Butterflies Rust) came out, was a very surreal time. I had been striving to learn how to write well enough to sell my work for almost a decade. It was a relief to sign the contracts, to get my author copies in the mail and see them, to mail copies to my readers, to dedicate the books, to get some feedback and strive to learn more.
This year has been even better. I had a ton of work come out.
The novella DOWN HERE IN THE DARK in Hardcover and digital January.
The novel THE DAMPNESS OF MOURNING in Hardcover, Paperback and digital in February.
The online serial novel THE COLLECTED SONGS OF SONNELION (being published print/ebook in 2013).
The novella IMMERSION in Hardcover, Paperback and digital in May.
The novella WHEN WE JOIN JESUS IN HELL in Hardcover and digital in September.
The novella WITHIN THIS GARDEN WEEPING in digital in November.
But it’s funny how we can roar but still feel like we aren’t doing enough. When I was talking to my buddy Shaun Ryan, which I do so much you’d think we were married, I remembered that I always feared dying young. Like I’d never make it to forty. I think it’s been in my subconscious, spurring me on to write every story taking up space in my heart as quickly as I can before the worms claim me, before the cold, damp earth is my pillow. I do want to leave something behind whether I die prematurely or whether I live as long as Ray Bradbury did. Something of substance, that has meaning for somebody other than myself. I don’t think it’s a lofty goal. I think all true artists, whether they’re successful or not, want to connect with other people and share the beautiful things they’ve seen, and the tragic times that have scarred them, and how the world has shaped them. As writers, or painters, or musicians we hold a mirror up to ourselves and the time we live in, and it’s not easy. We’re a very quiet voice that can easily be lost in a lot of white noise. But I see how important it is to try and keep trying. I’ve gained some wonderful fans. They might not know it but they know me through my work.
My buddy Peter Schwotzer, of Literary Mayhem and Famous Monsters of Filmland, designed a fantastic website for the Division Mythos. Thanks so much, Peter!
Narrator Matthew Stevens recorded my first audio book NURSERY RHYMES 4 DEAD CHILDREN. We’ll also be working on the audio for the sequel THE DAMPNESS OF MOURNING after New Years.
I also had a local paper interview me, which was neat. Thanks to reporter Bill Petzold! That was a lot of fun and I found I enjoy being interviewed much more than I ever thought I would.
Some other highlights this year were meeting John Connolly, Lee Child, Michael Sears, Stanley Trollip, Les Edgerton, Michael Connelly, Michael Koryta and Sabrina Callahan at Bouchercon (The World Mystery Convention.) I don’t know that I would be the writer, or even person, I am, if not for the books my heroes have written.
Some of my heroes (Tom Piccirilli, Jack Ketchum, Brian Hodge, Robert Dunbar) read my work in 2012 and gave me blurbs. Having your heroes read something of yours is one of the greatest feelings there is. It’s fireworks in your head and a sudden jolt to your heart. It’s quite dreamy.
Reviews, which I never get very many of, have really taken off this year. Especially on Goodreads, which is one of my favorite sites. I get to talk to fans on there, too, which has been wonderful. And one of the groups (Horror Aficionados) has invited me to be the guest author for January 2013. They’ll be reading my brutal novella WHEN WE JOIN JESUS IN HELL and we’ll all discuss it. Very neat, yeah? Thanks to Jason and Tressa for the opportunity!
Sales grow as my audience grows. Thanks so much to everybody who has been buying the work and spreading the word about it! Word of mouth is vital. It helps me when I feel like I can’t write worth shit and then I find a stranger who enjoyed something I wrote, which leads to me finding my balance again. To remember that, yes, I’m writing for me, but I’m also writing to connect with other people. It’s weird, but it’s good.
New novels… I wrote three novels this year (The Collected Songs of Sonnelion, The Lesser People, and The Wolverine) and got halfway through a fourth (Gossamer). I have ideas for the next ten books that will range between 70-90,000 words. All I have to do is write them. Easy. My goal is to write four novels a year. I tell myself to take it easy, don’t work so much, but it’s part of my nature. I am an obsessive and the work gives me purpose that life would be too depressing without sometimes.
I signed a three-book deal with Darkfuse/Delirium Books in December. I’m very excited about it since Shane Staley has been awesome to work with and he publishes what he believes in. I’m writing and turning in a standalone novel every March, which works out great too because I have a ton of novel ideas and nothing for novellas or short stories lately.
Since I am quite prolific when it comes to novels, and I write more than just Dark Fantasy, I’ve decided to use several pseudonyms. I’ll keep the Dark Fantasy under my name. Have the name Thomas Morgan for Heartbreaking Coming of Age tales with a Historical Thriller slant; James Logan for suspense fiction that is very tightly plotted but has more hopeful endings than all my other work; Julian Vaughn for novels that are more big-concept with a lot of heart/more touching than horrific.
I had a writer I met at the World Mystery Convention (Les Edgerton) refer me to his agent for the pen-named work after he read WHEN WE JOIN JESUS IN HELL. That was really nice of him and whether it works out or not, him trying to help me counts for a lot. I’m really not worried about it since all of my worry is that the books are what I want them to be.
I got to interview a bunch of my favorite writers here. They are amazing.
I sold a couple of short stories. The River to my favorite mag Shock Totem. It will be in issue #6 along with Jack Ketchum and interview with me! And The Most Mysterious Silence sold to Nameless Magazine, owned by Jason V. Brock who made a great documentary about Charles Beaumont.
Tuesday’s Training, my weekly writing advice essays for novice writers, has been a lot of fun. I know it’s helped a few people. That’s nice. I had help too: from things I’ve read, questions I asked answered by people far busier and far more experienced than I am, and help just through the encouragement that comes in something as simple as a smile.
Thanks to the publishers who have put their faith in me, the writers who encourage me, the pre-readers who help so much by offering feedback I can’t come up with on my own, the fans who help pay my bills and continue to come back for more of my work. 2013 is going to be an even more incredible year, which is really hard to fathom. But it will be. What a life. Thanks for helping me live my dream! Now go buy all my books for your friends for Christmas!
“As a writer, you should not judge, you should understand.”
― Ernest Hemingway
A lot of beginning writers worry about finding their voice. They spend money on courses and exert an incredible amount of energy thinking about it. I think it is within us from the beginning. It’s not hiding at all. Our voice is our experience, our biases, our pains, our joys, our passions, the themes of our own lives. We just need to learn and practice our craft so the expression and execution of those things that are ours and of us come across as powerfully as possible.
I believe, at least in my own case, that there is a duality that has to be acknowledged and embraced. My duality is a deep-seated wonder of life and people in contrast to the other side of my nature which is hip-deep in melancholy. I can write with authority in a certain area because I know them, feel them, and they’re of my essence.
I believe favorite writers–like Dennis Lehane, Stephen King, John Connolly, William Faulkner, Hemingway, Michael Connelly–all have a unique voice. Their writing is an extension of them is my bet.
You want to discover your voice? Know thyself. Your voice comes from honesty, reflection, acknowledgment, craft and confidence.
What holds people back from letting their voice out? Fear is probably number one. We don’t want people to hear what resonates in our hearts, what makes us us, and not accept it, or worse, make fun of it/judge it, and in turn judge us. But that’s part of connecting, and we can’t please everybody, so write from your deepest self. I get it, our egos our fragile. Yet I believe that if we’re spending a ton of energy protecting who we really are then we’re NOT expressing who we really are.
It’s also fun to explore the things we squirm away from. The ‘hot buttons’ for us. I think it’s a quick way to challenge ourselves, by creating a character who shares an opposing core belief different from one of our own, and instead of showing the reader how the character is wrong, let the character show why he’s right from his perspective. It’s an important skill learned to grow as a person and a writer. To gain new perspective and tear down the walls we build to protect ourselves from the world.
What do you really want to write, more than anything else in the world? What story are you scared to tell because you’re afraid of what those around you might think of you?
What do you think you need to become a great writer that you lack now? Once you can identify it, you can learn it. You can learn what is important to say and what is wasted breath. You learn what you fear is not insurmountable, even if every fiber of your being cries out that you can’t do it, or think it, or say it. You learn to understand yourself, the good and the horrible. And you learn to understand other people and show their lives honestly, beauty and blemish.
Everything you need voice-wise is already intact. You just have to trust yourself. Refine it. Learn how to express yourself masterly. Expect that not only will you discover the voice already inside you, but it will morph as you experience more, assimilate it, reflect upon it, and share it.
For more writing advice visit this page. If you find any of it helpful, share it with someone else.
Rocking on this Crime novel THE WOLVERINE that I intend to sell under the pen name James Logan. It’s a dark and complexly layered Thriller. Here’s a simple teaser:
A Texas Senator’s teenager is brutally murdered on shamed ex-Governor Edward Wood’s lawn. The Senator and his wife are missing. Eddie Wood claims he saw a man with scars on the backs of his hands beyond the kid as he stumbled onto his property and died from his wounds.
Eddie’s drug dealing son, Sammy, suspects his father of the crime since his old man has snapped once before on a seemingly normal sunny day, when he beat his wife with a lead pipe and crippled her before coming back to his senses.
Sammy searches for the truth in direct opposition of a Corpus Christi detective, risking exposure of his budding criminal empire, and totally unprepared for what he’s about to find.
He said he noticed the tall guy in the black rain slicker and wide-brimmed hat first.
Then he noticed the teenage boy between them covered in blood.
My old man swore this is what he noticed first, but I had a hard time believing him because he’d had history tormenting this kid, and there was the day he’d snapped and beat my mother into a coma, not to mention my father had made a career based on lying.
The day the boy and the stranger made their grand appearance it’d been raining all morning, the quiet street close to the bay lost beneath the drumming of nearby thunder, the quick etch of lightning across car windshields, these cars more upscale than most, parked in front of the fancy houses lining the cul-de-sac. It was a peaceful street in a town on the southeast Texas coastline, not far from Corpus Christi. My father had watched men and women go about their business, fretting over things that didn’t amount to more than strands of plastic, polished steel, fake tits and even faker smiles. Once he’d been one of them, the great Edward Woods, but after a nervous breakdown, he beat our mother with a lead pipe, cracked her skull. She was in the coma for a week and the neurosurgeon said her chances of ever walking again were slim. After that I was done with him, and our mom left us all, as if even seeing the children she bore with her husband and attacker was too much to handle. Our father gave his resignation as governor before they could fire him.
After his resignation he seemed quiet and peaceful again for the most part, but every once in a while, for what appeared no reason at all, he’d tormented some of the neighboring children by making his big Shepherd, Grendel, chase them down the road.
What a bad joke.
But he’d learned that someone seriously bleeding wasn’t a joke. Whether it was strangers in a bar fight, some brothers dishing each other pain, or friends cutting each other over some girl who wouldn’t be there for either of them in a year, blood wasn’t stingy.
Blood came like rain, sometimes a trickle, other times a cascade.
He didn’t know why the kid was bleeding, though it was easy to give into speculation, the way the world fed on its own dark center, lost in some numbing agent or another to tide them over until things got better, and deals made in those trades along the coast—drugs, booze, prostitution, gambling, arms dealing—sometimes went wrong.
The teenager stumbled forward into his yard, looking at nothing, his face slack. He was seventeen, the same age as my little sister Delilah. My father sat there on the porch with Grendel.
The kid, Shaun Garrett, had one hand raised toward my father, a gash in his forehead leaking fluid in his eyes. He said, loudly, “Anna?”
The man in the slicker paused at the end of the block, his face a pale mask beneath the hat, the only thing remarkable about him sticking out sharply in contrast to the gloom. My father remembered thinking he thought the stranger had thick white scars running from his knuckles up to where his jacket covered his wrists.
For some reason those scars frightened him, reminded him of something painful from childhood that he’d thought he’d hidden away for good.
The boy slowly assessed where he was, the condition he was in, and that there was help waiting for him on the porch. He tried to take a step forward, tripped over his own feet, and landed heavily in wet grass, a geyser of water splashing in front of his face like a load of buckshot.
He tried to rise, a few dozen holes in his pants and tee-shirt showing all the red ravaged flesh beneath. He slipped again on his hands and knees. He shook his head, trying to get his bearings. Some people think that’s the beauty of violence; that it leaves you so shaken, so essentially you, that the act committed strips you of your masks and leaves you stark naked, and defenseless, and wholly you.
The stranger, as much as he hated seeing his quarry escape for a moment, didn’t make a move. He just watched with the rain dripping from the brim of that hat. My father couldn’t see his face clearly. He didn’t want to. For years, other than the children who had learned to avoid him, Eddie Woods had done his best to avoid eye contact with anybody.
His hand was a foot from his cell phone. It lay on the small table where his tall boy of Labatts rested. He stared at it dumbly for a second before casting his gaze back across the lawn.
The kid sobbed and rolled onto his back, let the rain pummel him.
The three of them held their positions a moment longer.
My father thought he heard the roar of the tide close by, even though he lived a mile from shore, as the stranger turned his back to them and wandered up the street from the direction he and Shaun Garrett had come. The drizzle swallowed his form. My father blinked. He looked at the boy in the grass. His fingers brushed the phone and he was dialing before he realized what he was doing. Grendel tramped into the soggy turf and approached the boy.
My dad’s chest hurt, he thought he may have a heartattack. He spoke numbly into his cell once the 911 operator answered. He gave her the necessary information and explained what he’d seen. Wiping his eyes, he sighed deeply, and said, “Yes,” though he had no idea what he was saying it in response to.
In his yard, Grendel whined and nudged the motionless Senator’s son with his muzzle.
The detective’s name was Jim Thompson. He looked like a fire hydrant with a thick trunk, a low center of gravity, short arms and a shot of bright red hair. He didn’t like me and I tolerated him, but he had a lot of respect for my father and seemed friendly with my brother Andy who worked for the local paper. Jim questioned my father while the forensic team worked over the boy’s corpse, it firmly planted in his mind that the great Edward Woods had fallen far and fallen fast, yet still retained something that most people just didn’t have.
Too bad he was the only one who could see it.
My father sipped his beer, a deep chill running through him after Jim said, “You know whose son that was, correct, sir?”
My father nodded, once, slowly. He said, “Marcus Garrett’s son.”
Mr. Garrett was Texas’s senator, a big jolly man who claimed it his God-given calling to clean our state’s streets of all the things that stained them. He’d grown up poor on the streets of Dallas and worked hard to get ahead and establish a legacy his children and grandchildren could be proud of and adhere to. Under the first year of his term, things began to change on the street, which was an unexpected occurrence and one I wasn’t particularly fond of since it cut into my business. But it proved beneficial because most of the criminals in prison are the dumb ones, or those who act on a whim, or those with no long term plan. I wasn’t brilliant but I wasn’t retarded either. I had things firmly established, a great product that not just any jackass could get their hands on, and if a situation arose that required drastic actions I’d sleep on it—sometimes for a couple nights so I could move with a clear head and an iron-clad alibi.
At first I, like my father and brother, thought all of Senator Garrett’s hyperbole was a political move, just another blowhard with no backbone. But old Mr. Garrett was just as fervent in action as he was in his speeches to the communities he visited. He was a man who caused ripples. Some people don’t like ripples, which is probably why Detective Thompson said, “We can’t find them, sir.”
“What?” my father said. “Who?”
“Mr. Garrett and his wife.” He leaned forward, said, “Do you have any idea of their whereabouts?”
My father, Eddie, stared at the Jim’s shoes. They were black with thick rubber soles that gave him an inch or two of extra height. “No, I haven’t got a clue.”
The rain let up and the air grew humid. A stray spray of rain stabbed a puddle in the road. The detective sat on the top porch step. He said, “Why did their son run into your yard, sir?”
“I have no idea what the kid was thinking,” my father said.
“And your daughter,” Jim said, looking at his notepad. “Delilah? She knew him well, didn’t she?”
Eddie swallowed hard. He took a long slug and set the empty can down. He went inside the house to retrieve a new can. Detective Thompson turned and sighed, placing his back to the porch support and leaned hard into it. He’d had some suspicions but knew he had to keep them in check and let the evidence lead him toward what happened here. To most people he’d tell them that he hated cases like this, ones involving murder, but secretly they were his favorites. Cases like this were the only time he slept well at night. It fed his belief that his job was making a difference. He believed that if there was any justice in the world it was that everybody’s humanity was laid bare beneath the harsh light of tragedy. He and the stranger had that belief in common. And I had to agree with them. You didn’t know somebody well when all you saw was their happy-go-lucky side. You had to see them broken and so broken they were unashamed and unguarded. That’s who they really were.
Jim smiled a little, feeling guilty for it. He wasn’t sure if Eddie was coming back out, which didn’t bother him too much, he’d gotten most of the information he needed, though he thought the old man was holding some things back. Then again, everybody held some information back. He ascribed the need to keep secrets as a basic human function. Hell, he still did it with his wife, sometimes to protect her, sometimes just because he didn’t think it was any of her business. And he was certain she did it to him, just like they both did with their parents, telling them they were as happy as they’d ever been and never broaching the defeat they felt since finding out they couldn’t have children.
Children and parents, he thought. What a strange dynamic.
He wondered where the senator and his wife had gotten off to, it still too early for him to expect anything suspicious regarding their whereabouts since the patrolmen he’d sent to their house down the street reported it undisturbed.
He scratched his head, wondering where the kid had come from then, rolling with a theory that he’d been abducted for ransom, escaped, and suffered the consequences of escaping. Sometimes all it took to fuck you up was bad timing, or not enough endurance.
He glanced at the team working over the body, catching glimpses of the corpse they knelt before. The kid was chewed up. Looked like somebody had used a meat grinder on his legs, arms and torso. It tainted the puddle of water he lay in pink. Upon first arriving and seeing Grendel with his bloody snout, Jim had feared the dog finally went and did it after the last few years of Eddie encouraging him to attack the kids who lived down this way—which he never understood in the first place since the old governor was one of them, even if two of his three kids didn’t have respectable jobs—and he thought that maybe Eddie hadn’t been able to stop the mutt once the leash slipped from his hand. But the forensics team concluded that the punctures weren’t caused by a dog, and Grendel had been sitting there next to Shaun Garrett, whining, his teeth clean. It seemed good natured. A kind of dog he’d always wanted. It crossed his mind to take it with him when he left until he realized how stupid that sounded, thinking that a moment later if nothing else it’d at least bring a glimmer of the old Edward Woods back.
Jim rubbed his head then stood. He tried to peer through the screen door and into the darkened interior of the house. He wondered what keepsakes the old man had on the mantel from his glory days as governor. He wondered how my dad slept at all when he had a son—me—who lived a life he didn’t approve of, and he had a daughter who ran the fringe as well. He thought Andy was probably the saving grace and had been the only one to inherit Eddie’s better traits: balance, honesty, fairness.
I wouldn’t have argued with him. I never claimed to be a good guy and I knew my sister was always one step away from lock-up because she couldn’t keep her mouth shut or her hands off what didn’t belong to her. And that was partly my fault and partly my parents.
The day the stranger with the scarred hands turned his back on my father and Shaun Garrett, Delilah was smoking weed in a small apartment overlooking main street, perched on the corner of a mattress in a bedroom full of stolen goods. She was built like a gymnast with dark eyes and pale skin. Pretty much everybody who met her loved her. She drifted off into a netherwhere from time to time when she was alone, like now, as she moved into the living room and reclined on the sofa, knowing that Shaun would be back soon with what she wanted from his dad’s house, and then they could celebrate.
Delilah usually attracted the wrong kind of people, and by people I mean men. She didn’t live in one of those fairy tales where she thought she could take some ex-con and mold him like clay, her deft fingers shaping him into what she thought he could be instead of what he really was. She went for the good boys instead and chose to corrupt them.
She’d known Shaun Garrett since they were children. They’d gone through private school together until Dad had his breakdown and she ran away. Garrett watched her from afar, crushing hard and then harder as the years passed and they’d matured. It’d taken her running away at fourteen for Shaun to go looking for her. At first he’d went to Andy, who our sister never much liked—her always believing him a people pleaser—but our brother didn’t know where she was or he would have told our father, not that he claimed to care since seeing or talking to her reminded him of conversations he’d shared with our mother. After discovering from Andy that I was the closer brother to Delilah, Shaun came looking for me. He found me, but on a bad day, and he got lippy, the kid frustrated that nobody seemed to care about my sister’s welfare or his puppy love. He demanded I tell him where she was hiding, and if he didn’t have a valiant stead and a Knight’s armor, I’d imagined he did. Something about his attitude got to me and I hurt him a little, needing somewhere to direct my anger with my father even though in many ways I was just like him.
I punched Shaun hard enough to make him bleed but soft enough that he could try and fight back.
It went on for twenty minutes.
The whole time his face shifted from my father’s to his father, never either of them for more than a few seconds. My partner, Levi, he said nothing, just watched with sad eyes as if I’d disappointed him. After it was over, after I went and found Delilah and ran her to meet the kid at a café downtown, I told Shaun if he let her hurt him it’d teach him an important lesson. Delilah smiled, sitting across from him, because she saw what I did, this helpless, spoiled brat who didn’t know what he was stepping into by opening up his heart.
He’d kept up appearances with his parents but disappeared nightly to join Delilah in some scheme or another, both of them thinking the beliefs of the young—that they’re eternal, indestructible, and wise.
Shaun hadn’t been eternal, indestructible or wise enough to avoid overdosing once. Delilah had left him in a stinky basement to die if the other people there couldn’t get him help. Luckily for him one of the girls still had enough wits about her to dial 911 and scram. But he went back for Delilah after his father disowned him and his mother sent him to rehab. A few months later he took the fall when Delilah fumbled a burglary. And he came back after a ninety-day stint inside the Wargrove Correctional Facility, a little more cautious around everybody except my sister.
Our father heard about it all through Andy. The two of them were concerned that she was headed for a hard road, unable to accept that she’d been on it for the last couple years, and it was a road that she chose to travel willingly, much like I chose to do what I did despite having other dreams, and they did what they did because it was what came natural, or caused the least amount of discord in their lives.
Don’t rock the boat… Eddie Woods had lived by that until he couldn’t anymore and just gave up because giving up was easier than caring or being responsible for your choices. It’s hard to respect your father when he goes from an employed shit bag to an unemployed one. I’ve never trusted people who spout common catchphrases as if they hold some incredible philosophical meaning. Life isn’t even that complicated. You live and you die. So does everybody you love, and thankfully, everybody you hate.
I can’t say that I hated my sister, but I can’t say that I loved her either. She was talented in what she liked to do, but selfish. I didn’t trust her, even though, in a way, I watched for a glimmer of some kind of goodness she kept suppressed to protect herself.
Even back when Dad was governor, and we’d spent a bunch of time dressed up at a party with his constituencies, I’d find myself bored out of my skull, while Andy smiled and made conversation with those boring, rich assholes, and Delilah teased many of them, saying, “It’s funny how unaware people are that sociopaths are some of the most charming people in the world.”
And those people would laugh and nod, imagining that somehow they could win her affection or acceptance. She had a throaty voice for her size, and when she wasn’t staring directly at you, she was playing at the innocent little girl who needed a knight. So many suckers fall for that. Among them lot of old men in powerful places who enjoy the flesh of an underage girl, especially the daughter of a man they pretended to like but secretly despised, or envied, or simply yielded to.
And Delilah loved every second of seeing their hidden faces, all the desires they kept in check against close scrutiny in their political circles. But she’d always find one, like Shaun Garrett’s father, who her charms didn’t work on, which only made her want to disprove their honor even more. In a way I used to enjoy watching her trap them, but it grew tiresome, just more logs she was tossing on an already out of control fire.
She shifted on the couch that morning, the television’s volume low enough that she could hear car tires squealing and someone yelling down the street. When the news showed our father’s house surrounded by cruisers, their lights flashing, a strange feeling ran through her, soft and quiet at first, but quickly growing in volume and intensity.
She reached for the phone blindly and pressed it tight to her thin, hard stomach. The television showed our father’s house from a different angle as the cameraman shifted, following the reporter, showing at first a smidgen of Edward Wood’s front porch, the end of a scuffed black shoe, then the camera jerked up and she saw our father sitting with a detective. One was in his prime, clean cut, clean. The other, the old man, was wrinkled, shoddy, hunched. He had dark circles beneath his eyes and a can of beer resting in his lap.
Delilah squeezed the phone, felt a tear slip down her cheek, and lowered her head before letting out a long breath. When she looked up again the camera was on the lawn and a group of men discussing something at their feet. One of them shook his head, scratched some notes, while another looked directly at the camera and asked a policeman at the crime-scene tape to get the reporter out of there. The patrolman shrugged then told the reporter to back up.
Delilah waited for the camera to swing back to our father. She waited a long time, long after the report had ended and moved on to other things, before she gathered her senses. She called Andy, plowing through the noise she heard in the background at his office, overriding him as he said, “It’s not a good time, Dee, I—”
“Something happened at Dad’s,” she said.
Hearing grief in her voice, a quality he had come to suspect she lacked, he said, “I don’t have anything on it here. Hold on.”
She was about to tell him that no, she wouldn’t hold on, but decided against as she chewed on a fingernail and stared at the clock hanging between the windows, above the TV. She thought Shaun should have been back an hour ago. A pang of something she’d never call worry bit deep into the pit of her stomach. When Andy came back on the line his voice startled her. He said, “Okay, Dad’s okay, but somebody murdered a kid. You remember Shaun Garrett? The senator’s kid? I don’t have all the details yet but I’ll have them in a bit. I’m going to head over there to talk to him in a few, you’re welcome to ride with me.”
She shook her head. “I can’t.”
“He’d be glad to see you, Dee. He might even need you right now. May be he’s needed you for the lp /spanspan style=”font-size: 12pt; line-height: 200%; font-family: ‘Times New Roman’, ‘serif'; color: #000000;”ast couple of years but you’re both too stubborn to apologize to each other.”
“Let me know what you find out,” she said, not wanting to hear him.
She ended the call and set the phone on the arm of the couch and wrapped her arms around herself. She sat that way for about ten minutes before she slapped herself once, the sting hot across her cheek, nestling up beneath her right eye and burrowing into the smile line at the corner of her lips. She jumped up, went into the bathroom and pulled off the back of the toilet. Knowing it could just be the dope fucking with her head, but thinking it better to be safe than sorry, she withdrew a clear plastic bag, half filled with light blue pills, from the water. After she dried it off with a towel she snagged a garbage bag from the kitchen and slid the first bag into it. She knew it’d be a couple of hours before Andy called back and filled her in on what happened.
She thought, Somehow Sammy found out.
With the package tucked beneath her arm she fled the apartment and disappeared in a throng of the people Dad both pitied and hated, allowing the violent sea of flesh and concrete to swallow her.
If you haven’t read my latest Horror/Noir WHEN WE JOIN JESUS IN HELL, give it a chance. It’s been getting some great feedback, which I’m excited about, and I’m very proud of it. Thanks to those who have already ordered and read it!
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.
While at Bouchercon 2012 in Cleveland last weekend I attended a fun panel about the pleasures and perils of writing a series character. Since series are such a hot commodity, and we as creators are prone to believe our characters are big enough to sustain several books, I figured I’d share a little of what I learned from the panelists (Karin Slaughter, Ben Coes, Michael Sears, Reed Farrill Coleman, and Robin Burcell.) I’m paraphrasing what they said and have possibly misinterpreted some of their comments (if so, my apologies.)
Some of this may be obvious at first glance but how are these things pulled off? That’s what we need to discover.
Some of the writers believe that readers read series because they come to love the character and that the plots are the more forgettable part of the equation. I tend to fall into that camp in belief as well.
Plot serves the story (which is created by the character’s choices.)
Thanks to Karin, Reed, Michael, Robin, and Ben for the great panel at Bouchercon!
Say something new about a character in every book…
When this is done right we come to know the characters better than we know most of our family and friends. This creates an incredible bond between fictional character and reader. Plus it’s just plain fun for the writer to discover things about their story’s hero. Everybody has their secrets, their families secrets, things they’re embarrassed of, uncomfortable around, tastes that have changed, failed relationship partners that haunt them, etc.
Karin also believes that the “Mystery of the Character and What Will This Character do Next?” is a driving force that keeps readers coming back for more…
I agree. A character that will fight for what they want (even if what they want is only for their world to return to normal), and one given certain qualities (like a strong moral compass that can be slightly skewed in certain situations) will surprise us. One of the reasons we read is to be surprised by a character’s actions and what those actions and their consequences teach us. Plus we just like a hero that will stand like we wish we could stand if only we weren’t so busy, or such cowards.
Get under the skin of the crime…
I’m not sure exactly what she meant by this, but I assume (I know, that could be a mistake) that she meant the affects the crime has on the main players involved. Exploring a character’s emotions and how they grapple with something like a serious crime, and the complications they may face in finding justice, open up all kinds of possibilities for the hero’s journey.
You have to put stuff in the book that is only for you…
I like this because I do it in my work too. Things that will mean nothing to nobody else, but they’re a part of me, or part of someone I have loved and who’s gone from my life, fall naturally into certain sections. A song that strikes a certain emotional chord from a pivotal moment in my life. Personal regrets. Even more personal Joys.
Don’t contradict yourself too much because it annoys readers…
Michael Koryta had mentioned this on a panel with Michael Connelly. In one story he had a football field where the end-zones faced north, south, east and west in different sections of the novel. It’s something to ask your first readers to watch for.
If you put everything about the character in the first book you’re left with very little to reveal in subsequent books.
Robin Burcell, being a former police officer, believes that authenticity in location, and on the job, are essential ingredients in forming a solid and believable series…
Get your facts right and learn to show them in a manner that moves the story forward even as it reveals something about your character.
She also believes it helps to have a road map…
If you’ve built the rules of your story world you’ll know when you’re straying outside them.
You have to make it work logically…
It’s incredibly important for your story to unfold logically. If not, you’re insulting your reader’s intelligence and the story will lose steam, become fragmented, and the focus–your character, their motivation, and their plight–become murky.
According to Reed Farrill Coleman, series protags are like “Nuns fret not…”
He spoke of the Wadsworth poem and explained how nuns live a very structured life and how they learn to find satisfaction in that, as well as learning how to find their greatest strengths in the confines of those limitations. And so it goes for your series protagonist… He or she is locked firmly into the books they were in before, and must find ways to get the job done within the limits of those boundaries (history, personality, values, morals, etc.) This also creates a believable character with true inner strength.
Avoid static characters…
There doesn’t have to be growth, it can go the other way. But strong characters do things. They propel the story forward instead of letting things just happen to them.
Keep it fresh for the writing and the reader…
It’s up to you to find ways to keep the characters, and the stories they’re involved in, fresh for you and your readers.
When asked about when to end a series…
Reed said it’s best to allow for a natural progression and to quit when it stops being fresh for you: A good time to quit is when you have nowhere else to take the protagonist and they have nowhere else to take you.
When asked about a protagonist’s family being endangered…
Reed said, If you can make it work, it works. If not, forget it. Don’t force something into the story that doesn’t belong there.
The Whole Point of P.I. Fiction…
Reed said, “The whole point of P.I. fiction is to give the protagonist a tough moral choice.”
I couldn’t agree more.
Michael Sears stated that it is important, both for the writer and the reader, that a character learn over the course of a series to see things in a different light…
In other words, as tough and independent and grounded as our protagonist may be, he or she can’t be narrow-minded forever.
Michael said that solving day-to-day crimes doesn’t keep a series alive…
Take a look at the big picture of your protag’s life, their work, and their place in the world.
On keeping track of events and facts in your series…
Michael and his writing partner, Stanley Trollip, keep a detailed file of pivotal moments and a time line.
On the protagonist’s family being endangered…
Michael said it’s important to learn when to tone it down.
Of his protagonist, he said, “Not exactly a good guy, but he has a good heart…“
I think that most well-known protagonists can be summed up the same. They walk that line between dark and light, but they want the light to win because they know somebody has to do something about it.
On keeping track of events and facts in your series…
Ben said that it’s pretty easy for him since each book is related to the one that came before it and the one that will come after it.
On the subject of the protagonist’s family being endangered…
Ben said that it is unrealistic if nobody important dies. He mentioned the Game of Thrones, and how you come to care so much about these characters and then your heart breaks when one of them is murdered. (I’m a big fan of that type of fiction and think it’s very realistic as well. To me that is real life. None of us are as safe as we’d like to think we are.)
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