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.Read More
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.
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.Read More
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!Read More
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.Read More
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 firstname.lastname@example.org. 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
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.Read More