Noir

My Top 10 Books of 2016

My Top 10 Books of 2016

While I read fewer books than usual in 2016, this annual edition of my Top 10 lists covers a fairly broad range of styles—a rock & roll bio, some YA classics, poetry, apocalypse lit, historical nonfiction, crime, noir, and more. Despite being a pretty miserable year, the good books kept me going. As usual for these lists, I only include books I’ve read for the first time in 2016, but the books can be from any year, brand new or decades old, so long as they’re new to me. I’d love to know what your favorites were this year as well, so feel free to add those in the comments section! Most of all, I hope you enjoy these if you haven’t yet tried them for yourself.

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NaNoWriMo…or Something Like That

So it’s National Novel Writing Month, and I’m sort of participating. I’m working on my fifth novel and getting about a thousand words a day (average) down, which doesn’t feel like a lot per day but it’s adding up. The “sort of” qualifier comes into play in that this isn’t really anything new for me. NaNoWriMo is every month when you’re working on novels around the year, plus short stories, poems, freelance, and run a lit magazine. So as much as I love everyone (well, writers at least) getting excited about a novel writing month, it’s really just another month for many of us.

But like I said, production levels have been steady. I’m maybe 25K words from the end of this novel so I should be able to finish come December. I’m excited for this one’s potential, and had a revelatory moment while sitting in a mechanic’s lounge waiting on my car about how to better wrap up the ending with more of a surprise connection to how the crime driving the plot started out. Perhaps not thrilling to any reader of this blog, but thrilling to me as I scrambled to jot down all the new details and connections on the back of 23 of the mechanic’s business cards with his dying Bic pen, hoping to get it all down before I forgot anything. So it goes.

By the way, the novel is a mystery based on a real series of disappearances that took place in Vermont in 1945. The working title is The Girl in the Mountain, and I’m really excited about it. More details coming soon.

How Watching Twin Peaks Can Enhance Your Writing and Storytelling

How Watching Twin Peaks Can Enhance Your Writing and Storytelling

Every other year or so I sit down and re-watch the bizarre television phenomena that was Twin Peaks, and it always revives my appreciation for David Lynch’s strange genius. It was as eerie and captivating as The X-Files and True Detective (eh, season one maybe) and for a season or so it had the intense following of Game of Thrones or Breaking Bad, and despite some amusing 80s-styled haircuts and clothing, the show holds up. Created by David Lynch and Mark Frost, with a bevy of other writers to help—including Emmy nominee Harley Peyton, Saturn nominee Robert Engels, Barry Pullman, Tricia Brock, and others—the show became known for its blend of murder mystery tropes, soap opera camp, and spectacularly eerie dream sequences that included a dwarf talking backwards, flashing lights, a giant, white horses, and hip jazz numbers.

Most of all, Twin Peaks was (and remains) a storytelling playland where writers can discover all manner of tips and tricks for their own use. Here are some things that I found helpful with my own writing, and maybe they’ll help you too. Yes, many of these pertain to mystery, crime, noir, and horror stories, but you never know when you might be able to add elements of those genres into your own stories.

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My Top 3: Alan Furst Novels

My Top 3: Alan Furst Novels

A few years ago I discovered the espionage/noir masterpiece that is Alan Furst’s body of work, and I’ve been hooked ever since. The series is called his Night Soldiers series, which includes thirteen novels about the European underground résistance against the Nazis between the years 1932-1945, or thereabouts. Some books focus on Polish army officers, some newspaper reporters, some Russian spies, some Greek detectives, people from all walks, and they all start out fearful of the Germans and unsure of what they can do to stop the rise of Hitler’s mad power, but they each find a way to help, somehow, and I love that the POV isn’t of the usual British or American heroism during the war (which is all fine and good, but it’s nice having this change of pace). Here are my top three selections if I were to recommend his series to you, and I do, very much so! 

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My Top 3: Humphrey Bogart Movies

My Top 3: Humphrey Bogart Movies

Bogie. The Hump. Mr. Sam Spade himself. He’s been one of my favorite film stars ever since my dad started letting me watch some of Bogart's black-and-white classics when I’d visit him over the summer in middle school. I was always drawn to his casual bravado and endless confidence, and he mastered and trademarked the archetype of the law-bending detective with a shady past but a heart of gold. Far too many of his amazing roles will not make this list, but here are the ones that mean the most to me.

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Six to the End (from the pages of Berlin)

My new poetry chapbook Berlin (from Maverick Duck Press) is flying out the door, and I thought I'd throw up a sample poem for anyone who would like to see what the chap is all about. The poems were all written during a week in Berlin, Germany in 2010 and contain plenty of noir sentiments: streelamps, trains, sidewalks, corner cafes, nighttime skylines, hotel ghosts, and more. You can order copies for $6 via the publisher or by emailing me at jhdwriting@hotmail.com. If you already own a copy, you can leave a review and rating at Goodreads.com. Thanks!

 

Six to the End

out go the lights

six to the end like empty chambers

of a smoking gun dead

 

broken heels running in the night

up the wet street, up the wet sky

blonde hair gracing the face of the moon

 

every dream has a hole

and every hole pours red hope

into pools of abrupt sermon songs

 

there isn’t a street without a crack

and there isn’t woman without a spine

to hold up her coat, or feathered summation

 

the women, they reload quick

and then men, they hurry for knives

every villain eager for a hero

every heart beaten to a pulp

 

and the empty shells slip from the gun

clatter onto the glass table

roll across Venetian blinds like mice

 

in the alleys there are tigers

in Macau there are fires

in morgues there are long dreams of masculine fear

 

all down the potter’s lane, cemeteries in a row

six to the end like waiting chambers

six to the end like autumn lovers gone

A Review of 'They Don't Dance Much' by James Ross

A Review of 'They Don't Dance Much' by James Ross

Jack McDonald loses his farm and everything that went with it, save for the debt, and he wanders through the evening until he comes to Smut Milligan’s roadhouse just outside of town. Smut sells him some illegal corn whiskey and offers him a job as the roadhouse cashier. With nowhere else to go, Jack joins on the expanding operation and soon bears witness to the depths of humanity's greed, corruption, and vengeance. Set deep in the south during the Great Depression with a wide cast of believable, rough-and-tumble characters, James Ross’ They Don’t Dance Much is almost Shakespearian in its exposure of the darkness of the human soul, combining the best elements of Raymond Chandler, Flannery O’Connor, James M Cain, Jim Thompson, and even hints of William Faulkner’s Southern Gothic aesthetics.

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