Photo: Crime Writer Chris McGinley
Please, step right up, folks. Unlike Vegas, what happens at Center Stage with your host Mick Rose doesn't stay here at Center Stage. Nope, we share these performances all over Social Media. And today we're casting our eyes once again on the grit-filled crime fiction collection HARDBOILED from Dead Guns Press, co-edited by M. Leon Smith and John L. Thompson.
The challenges backwoods law enforcement officer Curley Knott faces in "River of Nine Dragons" prove difficult. And for author Chris McGinley, answering questions from crime writer Jesse "Heels" Rawlins while knowing full well she'll be stabbing him with an Italian-made stiletto's no simple feat either. So rather than postpone the inevitable, time for me to scoot upstairs to my balcony seat and pour myself some good Kentucky bourbon. Anyone interested in grabbing their own copy of HARDBOILED can find this gem by clicking the Magic Box below the tantalizing cover.
JHR: Hi Chris. Welcome to 6 Stabs. You live and do your writing in Eastern Kentucky, USA. The city of Lexington to be exact. Roughly 320,000 people—just like Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania and Cincinnati, Ohio. Mention Lexington to most people and immediately they think of horses and the festive Kentucky Derby.
But you typically set your fictional crime tales in backwoods Kentucky places: dark Appalachian mountains, where nearly everyone owns guns. Places where “outsiders” are sometimes not welcome. Men are often violent. Illegal drug use common. Some criminal characters live in single-wide mobile trailers “that should have been abandoned.” Beach towels hanging from the windows instead of drapes or curtains.
I’ve heard tales such as yours dubbed Kentucky noir—or Appalachian noir. How do you view your writing? Do you see yourself as adding to this tradition?
CM: Hi, Jesse. Nice to be here. “Noir” is such a slippery term nowadays. In recent years, it seems to have broadened to include all sorts of elements I would never have considered “noir” in the 30's and 40s sense. And yet, I'm not averse to its use, nor do I reject it as a means to describe my writing specifically.
Yes, there are dark elements in all of my stories, absolutely. But as for the people in my stories, I write about crime, so disreputable types appear all over the place—hardly the typical folk of the region—who are genuine, warm, and intelligent. That must be borne in mind: The elements in my work are those of genre fiction, not real life.
Eeriness is also a big goal in what I try to achieve. If I can create a strange mood, something mysterious or unnerving, then I feel I’m on my way to writing a piece that could be successful. Though the term “noir” might be limiting for a writer who seeks to publish “literary” fiction, I feel it suits my work pretty well. I also like to think that extant in the writing are other genre elements, like those of the thriller or even the horror story. If these sensibilities dovetail with what’s considered “noir,” and I think they do, than yes, the writing’s “noir.”
JHR: You drew attention to the “real-life” folks who dwell in regions where some of your backwoods stories are set. Some fiction writers set their tales in actual cities and places. Others create “imaginary” cities and towns. While lots of writers—myself included—use a mix of both.
Without doing a bit of research, fiction readers can’t discern what’s “fact” and what’s “fiction” in terms of geography and setting. Your stories “Hellbenders”; “With Hair Blacker than Coal”; and “River of Nine Dragons”—which appears in HARDBOILED—strike me as good examples.
“Hellbenders” launches with a gruesome murder investigation in the heights of Black Owl Mountain. In the other two tales, we follow the investigations of Burley County sheriff Curley Knott—a Vietnam war veteran, whose combat experiences in the Mekong Delta linger. One of Curley’s manhunts takes him to Red Loon Mountain.
Far as I can tell, Burley County, Black Owl Mountain and Red Loon Mountain don’t exist. But in the mid-1990’s I did a fair amount of traveling through the Appalachian Mountain range: including parts of Georgia, Tennessee, West Virginia and Virginia—where I witnessed living conditions that mirror some descriptions in your stories.
One of my Kentucky excursions included a canoe trip at Richmond’s historic Kentucky River Lock and Dam, roughly sixteen miles southeast of Lexington, near Fort Boonesborough State Park. Most of the decrepit mobile trailers were adjoined by mountains of trash—that towered over their homes. Led me to wonder if some of these poor folks had electricity or running water.
I made this five-mile river trek the week of Thanksgiving: all the trees bare of leaves. But the trees proved far from bare—black, green, and white garbage bags … and trash like fast food wrappers—all clinging to and fluttering from their otherwise naked branches. And I’ve never seen more spent shotgun shell casings, which littered those river banks, in my entire life.
So three-part question, Chris. Have you spent time in Appalachian regions similar to where your stories are sometimes set? Do you get the sense that living conditions have improved in the past twenty or thirty years? And do you use fictional names for your settings as a conscious attempt to avoid creating the appearance of “stereotypes?”
CM: I’ve traveled all around central Appalachia over the years, especially eastern Kentucky, West Virginia and eastern Tennessee. In fact, there are also rural areas just outside of Lexington that are similar in many ways to Appalachia proper. But as for conditions in the mountains, Jesse, some areas have suffered while others have remained economically constant, or even improved—just like many other regions in the USA.
It’s true that the decline of coal over the last several decades has affected the economic heath of the eastern Kentucky region that I write about. But the whole story is so much bigger than coal alone, and far too daunting to discuss here. Sadly, in popular depictions of Appalachia—in Hollywood and TV productions, for example—people are first and foremost portrayed as poor and unintelligent. There are, of course, many reasons for this: not the least of which is a romantic mythos about the region itself, and simple ignorance as well. Yet it’s important to remember that such representation are skewed in several respects.
For anyone seeking to learn about the Appalachian economy, and about Appalachia generally, the Appalachian Regional Commission’s easy-to-access publications, and Elizabeth Catte’s fine book, What You are Getting Wrong About Appalachia, are good starting points.
As for place names, all of mine are fictional. Fictional places give authors a freedom to invent material without worrying about accuracy: Is that mountain really east of the house? How long would it take to drive from point X to point Y in that particular county? Is that old convenience store still on that same road? So, in my stories place names reflect the kinds of names one will find in the region, but they’re all 100% imaginary.
Much of my interest in setting stories in Appalachia has to do with geography. Because I try to create an eerie atmosphere in my work, the wooded hills of the region nicely suit my aims. Appalachia is a place of intense natural beauty. But in any atmosphere where locations are remote and sparsely populated, a writer can create a sense of foreboding or fear—even within a place of great natural beauty. Obviously, there’s a long history of American writers and their engagement with the woods, or with what was once known as “primeval nature” in university literature courses. So, my approach is nothing new, though I hope that I add a new twist to the tradition in some way.
JHR: You also teach middle school children. And I often see on Facebook you keep these kids engaged with vital projects, including growing vegetables. Given the violence in your stories, do you tend to keep your “Writing Life” segregated? Any of the school administrators—or parents of your students—ever express concerns?
CM: The sixth graders I teach are pretty oblivious to the fact that I write stories at all. If it does come up, I always say that the stories I write are geared to adults, and they seem to understand that. On the other hand, a colleague recently taught a unit in creative writing for eighth graders during which the students read one of my flash stories, “The Haint.” I came into her classes and did a tutorial on story arcs, characters, endings, and on the elements of short fiction generally. We talked about my story and how it operated. There’s violence and profane language in that one, and yet the session reminded me of some of the more successful talks I conducted when I taught English and film at the University of Kentucky—completely professional and serious.
Happily, parents and administrators are incredibly supportive of my writing, Jesse. They’re forever asking about my forthcoming book of stories, and about when they can purchase it. Not too long ago I attended a writers conference in Milwaukee for which the school supported me. The principal noted, “You're writing informs your teaching,” and indeed it does.
JHR: In stories like “The Haint”—which appears in online flash-zine Shotgun Honey, and is free for folks to read—we certainly feel that eerie quality you alluded to. Some mention “local folklore” … creepy tales first murmured in the days of yore—even before Kentucky became the fifteenth American state in 1792.
Your approach reminds me of early American writer Washington Irving, and his well known stories “Rip Van Winkle” and “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow.” These tales were published in 1819 and 1820, less than thirty years after Kentucky’s statehood.
Irving drew from Dutch and German folklore—even though Van Winkle’s set in New York’s Catskill mountains, and Ichabod Crane’s Sleepy Hollow takes place in rural colonial Connecticut. Do you turn to “actual” Kentucky folklore when you pen your stories, Chris? Or do you rather use the traditional idea of “folklore” to give your tales a spooky feel?
CM: The folklorish elements in my stories are really a synthesis of components found in old American writers like Irving, Hawthorne, Cooper and Charles Brockden Brown. I mix these in with what I know of rural folklore the world over, including Appalachia. Indeed, it’s hard to separate the origins for many of these myths and stories. Even old Gothic tales like those of Poe and Irving can be traced back to earlier, European traditions, as you noted, Jesse.
Though my style is obviously modern, I get a good deal of inspiration from stories like Irving’s “The Adventures of the German Student,” Hawthorne's “Rappacini's Daughter,” and Poe's “Imp of the Perverse,” among others. Sometimes there’s a real-life mountain-type character, like a granny woman or an archetypal midwife, who gets tied into a story with a folklore element. Or I might use an animal, like a hawk or a snake, to create an eerie mood or a scary moment.
JHR: You have strong passions for film, food, books, and architecture to name a few. So what lured you into the writing life, Chris? And when did the desire to see your work published first hit you?
CM: I came to fiction writing late in life, at about age 50, so I’ve only been at it a few years. I produced some scholarly publications way back in graduate school, and I wrote some movie reviews for a local newspaper as well. Though none of it was noteworthy, really. But a few years ago, I read a piece of flash fiction on a friend’s advice, and I said to myself, “Wow, I could do that.”
I did, and online magazine the Flash Fiction Offensive accepted the piece. I felt a little thrill and produced a few more. From there I moved to longer fiction and into forums like Tough, Switchblade, Mystery Weekly, Pulp Modern, and a forthcoming story in Mystery Tribune.
I’ve written a 70,000 word police procedural about cops in the late 70s—a case involving a nun’s convent and a killer who’s taking out pimps. If anyone is interested in this piece, please contact me. The 70s are suddenly topical again!
This whole writing thing just snowballed. A book of my Appalachian stories was accepted for publication, and I'm presently working on a novel that features Sheriff Curley Knott.
JHR: You’ve withstood this stabbing impressively well. But before you get dizzy from too much blood loss, what can you share with readers about your forthcoming debut book. I imagine we may bump into Sheriff Curley Knott out in the mountains. But I’ve also read your story, “Anka” at Story and Grit: an adventurous tale featuring an Inupiak eskimeaux woman the locals in her village call Anna Reed. So will we find more stories like hers that aren’t set in Appalachia?
CM: Shotgun Honey, an imprint and partner of Down & Out Books, is set to publish a collection of my stories called COAL BLACK in December. The book contains about ten pieces, all set in Appalachia—but across different time periods. Two stories include Vietnam Veteran and expert tracker Sheriff Curley Knott. The rest involve a host of miscreants and losers, flawed lawmen and forlorn types generally—along with noble types, too, though they have a tough time. Several feature female characters, both law enforcement types and criminals. Others showcase animals and spirits based on the region’s topography and folklore. Which of these creatures are real might be tough to tell, however.
JHR: I gotta tell ya, Chris. The way your tattered skin's flapping like dying fish gasping for oxygen—while spewing blood like a leaky lawn sprinkler—I can't tell if you're still human or a creature-feature either. So time to turn you over to our Story and Grit Good Hands medical staff, who flew in from Oklahoma to join us once again.
Meanwhile, I'll raise a glass and three cheers to Mick Rose for hosting us! Stay safe, y'all.
Addicted to tawdry tales that sometimes make her blush, Jesse typically writes crime, mysteries, and humor. You’ll usually find her stories on the wrong side of the tracks, including flash-zine Shotgun Honey, The Rye Whiskey Review, and Punk Noir Magazine. She dazedly accepted the online publishing torch for 10-year-old Crime, Pulp & Humor mag the Flash Fiction Offensive in February 2019. And her murderous band of writing cohorts keep Jesse on her “heels.” Wanna say “Hello?” You can visit Jess on Facebook:
Photo: Crime Fiction Writer & Editor Jesse Rawlins
Photo: Crime Writer Donald Glass
Greetings, ladies and gents. Your delinquent crime writing host Mick Rose here. Pleased once again to pull back the stage curtains and fire up the spotlight—which blazes tonight on Pennsylvania writer Donald "Don" Glass. Mr. Glass is one 14 writers featured in the HARDBOILED crime collection, published by Dead Guns Press, and co-edited by M. Leon Smith and John L. Thompson.
I snagged a copy of this collection for several reasons: I'd read stories by some of the featured writers; and I've enjoyed illustrations by John L. Thompson at illustrious Yellow Mama Webzine. Though I'm still delving HARDBOILED, I haven't found a bad apple in the bunch. Sure a lot of the characters are bad apples—but that's why we read hard-boiled crime fiction, yeah?
One of the tastiest apples in this bunch ain't a Red Delicious or a Granny Smith. It's Don's kidnapping tale, "Sibling Rivalry." The suspense in this hard-edged thriller kicks all kinds of ass.
While crime writer Jesse "Heels" Rawlins normally writes interviews for Southern Crime mag Story and Grit, that butt-kicking trailer trash noir saloon is on a well-deserved Holiday. So once again heavy-duty plastic sheathing's now carpeting my hardwood floors. And soon as I grab a balcony seat—far from the pending blood splatter—Ms. Rawlins will skewer Mr. Glass ... presumably for your entertainment pleasure. But more likely cuz she gets off on torturing writers.
You may wanna grab some pizza quick. Or you could wind up with extra sauce. Interested in grabbing your own copy of HARDBOILED? That's easier than pizza pie: just click the magic button below the rockin' book cover.
JHR: Welcome to 6 Stabs, Don. You live and write in Altoona, Pennsylvania—and you’ve seen your crime stories published in online mags like Shotgun Honey, Flash Fiction Offensive and England’s hard-hitting Close To The Bone.
When did you first start writing? What drew you to penning crime tales? And when and where did your first story get published?
DG: I first started sometime in the 90’s. I can’t type for shit and still only use 2 fingers. But along came the computer and modern word processor, making it a lot easier.
I’ve mostly read horror. But horror stories are harder to find online. Crime fiction was exploding and easily available online. I started reading more of it. I discovered I loved the genre, the down to earth feel and realness of it. So when I decided to put some words on paper it became an obvious choice.
My first published piece was “Sucker for a Redhead” in the Flash Fiction Offensive over at Out of the Gutter Online.
JHR: Some of your stories like “Sucker for a Redhead,” “Salvation” (Shotgun Honey), and “Crossed” (Yellow Mama Webzine) involve people with troubled pasts suddenly making radical choices in hopes of “trying to make things right.” What spurs you to write these types of stories, Don?
DG: I’ve never set out to write to write that type of story it just happens. I rarely plot anything. When I get an idea I just fly with it. At times that’s left me with gaping holes that can’t be filled and I have to scrap it. I have an entire folder filled with files like that. I’ve always been a fan of the underdog and believe that every person, no matter how bad they may be, is capable of doing at least one decent thing. Although in my stories usually it’s done for self preservation, as a means to and end, or they are forced into it.
JHR: Some crime writers weave humor into their stories. The stories I’ve read by you tend to focus on the darker side of life. Have you written any humorous stories, Don—and if not why?
DG: It’s easier to write about the dark things in life than the humorous for me. I don’t know why. Maybe it's a personality defect. Don’t get me wrong I’m a fucking funny guy and see humor all around me but I can’t seem to blend it into crime fiction.
JHR: The Author’s Bio you’ve used throughout the years when your stories get published at Shotgun Honey always notes that you’re working “on a lot of stuff.” What kinds of stuff are you usually working on? Or is this a case of if you told us you’d have to kill us?
DG: I always have three or four things started at different stages. I’m also a procrastinator and that doesn’t help. Currently I’m working on one about two stoners that time travel to make some easy cash to finance their demo tape. In time travel there's always something that gets messed up. It’s completely outside the genre I usually write in, and will probably never see the light of day. But it was fun doing something completely different.
JHR: Have you ventured into writing novellas or novels, Don? Or do you stick to shorter tales? If you stick to shorts what keeps you writing them—even if some aren’t likely to get published?
DG: I’ve always liked short stories and flash fiction, both reading and writing them. I have a short attention span and that format suits me better. I have a few ideas for some longer pieces, but haven’t gotten around to them. Working ten and twelve hour days leaves little time for anything else. As far as getting published that’s just a byproduct. When I get something in my head that I think is interesting I just run with it.
JHR: Like your hard-edged tale, “Crossed" your HARDBOILED anthology story, “Sibling Rivalry” tosses us some curve balls and keeps us in suspense. We can never get “comfortable” about where these tales will take us. As the name suggests “Sibling Rivalry” involves a brother and a sister: both with dreams and ambitious … but in dramatically different ways. The brother you created also happens to be a “writer.”
What led you to make this character a “writer?” And did this story take shape fairly easy for you? Or present a bit of a struggle?
DG: That one was interesting to write. It started out as a straight forward kidnapping tale with a twist at the end. I shelved it for about a year because I thought it was too short. Then I got the idea to write a story about someone who journals their crimes. That story evolved into one about a writer who uses his own crimes in his stories. I know that’s been done but I gave it a shot anyway. I didn’t work out so I decided to combine the two and it led to the additional twist at the end. Of course it also left me with multiple endings that took a while to work out.
JHR: Well, Don, I love how the story turned out. But since you're bleeding copiously from multiple wounds and I'd hate to see you suffer a gruesome ending, now's a good time to turn you over to the Story and Grit medics who flew in from Oklahoma just to stitch you up. And I wanna grab some pizza while it's still hot.
Anybody wanna help me clean up this mess after I'm done gorging? Sigh. Guess not. Cheers ya'll. And thanks for hosting us Mick Rose!
Addicted to tawdry tales that sometimes make her blush, Jesse typically writes crime, mysteries, and humor. You’ll usually find her stories on the wrong side of the tracks, including flash-zine Shotgun Honey, The Rye Whiskey Review, and Punk Noir Magazine. She dazedly accepted the online publishing torch for 10-year-old Crime, Pulp & Humor mag the Flash Fiction Offensive in February 2019. And her murderous band of writing cohorts keep Jesse on her “heels.” Wanna say “Hello?” You can visit Jess on Facebook:
Photo: Crime Writer & Editor Jesse Rawlins
MR: Hi Kate, glad you could join us here at Center Stage. You live in Scotland but work as an educator at the College of Saint Rose in Albany, New York—which tends to keep you hopping back-n-forth across the Atlantic salt pond. Meanwhile I noticed your book SATAN’S SORRORITY is set not far from New York in the state of Connecticut, which your central character Sandra DeLites alludes to as a Godforsaken wilderness. Were you born here in the states? And did you attend college in Connecticut by any chance?
KL: Hahaha—well-spotted there! I did indeed go to a certain state university in the wilds of Connecticut. I moved there from Cambridge and it was a bit of a culture shock. My brother had gone to SUNY New Paltz, so I expected this little college town with cafés and bookstores and there was…cows. Don’t get me wrong! I love the countryside. In the NY half of my life I live in a leafy village. But at that point I wanted intellectual excitement—not moos.
MR: Knowing you teach college courses—and as the title suggests, SATAN’S SORRORITY is set on a college campus—in what ways do think your work in academia has shaped you as a fiction writer? I know for example you write fiction under the pen name Graham Wynd, which I imagine may confuse folks on social media.
KL: My different noms de plume are just a way to label genres. The biggest complaint I hear about my writing is that it’s never the same thing twice. I’m a genre-hopper! I admit it. So when I can stick to a genre—like crime—I use Graham Wynd to reassure readers that it fits. Teaching is where I try out ideas I’m thinking about. Like my Writers on Film course: I’m working on a book about that and I float ideas and let my students tear at them. Sometimes it gives me little epiphanies about the work. Teaching, like all service professions, gives you an opportunity to meet all kinds of different people. Writers always need material. The best thing about academia is the flexible schedule. I was never good at working 9-5.
MR: You’ve described the books you write as “noir-ish.” What do you mean by that phrase? And did you have a particular kind of audience in mind when you wrote SATAN’S SORRORITY, which published in May 2018 if I understand correctly?
KL: SATAN’S SORORITY was in part an homage to some of the favorite horror films I grew up with on 70s television. As for audience, anybody who loves those old made-for-TV horrors and Hammer films will find it fun. I’ve written about that inspiration before, but it’s also noir. For me the appeal of noir is people who feel trapped with few options when a crisis pushes them to make desperate choices. Of course there’s a lot of occult stuff piled on top of that story but the thing to remember is while the gals believe completely in its reality, there’s nothing in the story that can’t be ascribed to over-heated imaginations.
LOVE IS A GRIFT on the other hand is much more purely noir. It takes place across four cities but the ambience is the same in each of them albeit with the local flavour. Dodgy men and seductive women who don’t trust anyone—and why should they? Your heart is a sucker who will let you down every time.
MR: Given the orgiastic sex-capades the gals in SATAN’S SORORITY wildly embrace, their libidos seem more over-heated than their imaginations, Kate. Are you sure “intellectual excitement” is what you were craving when you woke up in Moo-Ville, Connecticut back in the day? A mousey lassie you refer to as “The Demonic Virgin Mary” ultimately proves that actions speak louder than words. Sure the gal’s a headcase—but I admired her enthusiasm. One simply can’t learn everything just by reading books—or chatting in coffee shops.
KL: Experience is the first and most lasting teacher. About my own history I will say memory is unreliable. Was it Proust who said that you can’t remember things like they were or maybe it was Pete Shelley. I forget. There is some bona fide intellectual excitement in the perusal of ancient tomes and I spent a lot of my time in that institution deciphering a lot of texts hundreds of years old.
MR: You recently wrote a musical composition for LOVE IS A GRIFT. And since you study films, if you were directing a movie for SATAN’S SORORITY, how would you portray the sex scenes in terms of audio and visual? Would we more likely see a PG-13 or an NC-17 Adults only rating?
KL: I think SATAN’S SORORITY would have to break through all the milquetoast puritanism and show pure unbridled sexuality as joyful and wild. Pagan feasts of the flesh! Make people envy memories they don’t have. Absolutely a better sell in the European markets—though we’d have to have an alternate cut for China. More silk wafting around like they do in wu xia. I wrote a story years back inspired by one of my favourites, The Bride with White Hair.
MR: The college girls in SATAN’S SORORITY outlandishly behave with reckless abandon—to the point of committing murders. Yet you weave serious threads into this tapestry at times. One of these spurious creatures also gets sucker-punched by love … and not just in the heart. Considering the book’s zany nature, what prompted you to sew these serious patches into this quilt?
KL: Oh I don’t plan anything in life much. Honestly when I started I had a jumble of those old films, an idea about stealing the Munich Handbook and oh murder, as you do. Serious ideas come from my subconscious and we’re not really on speaking terms at the moment.
MR: Oh-oh, Kate—
I recognize that rat-tat-tat—Jesse “Heels” Rawlins just entered stage-right and she’s waggling a knife. Hope you remember those Emergency Exits I shared with you in email ….
Gee, Jess. Surprised to see you here. Thought you were stuck at Flash Fiction Offensive dreamin’ up a scheme to extort Bruce Harris and Bill Baber.
JHR: Nice to see you, Kate. But first of all Mick I would never extort Bruce and Bill. I’d merely make them a “mutually-beneficial” offer they couldn’t refuse: and they’d happily pay us to keep possibly embarrassing photos and tawdry crime details from ever becoming public.
Meanwhile you didn’t seriously think I was gonna leave you and Kate to play Center Stage footsies all night did you?
JHR: That was a rhetorical question, Mick. Everybody knows your mind is always in The Gutter.
As for Dr. Laity, she hasn’t bolted for an exit. So my intuition tells me she wants to play 6 Stabs. Knowing the hounds of hell couldn’t keep Mr. Messy Business Jason Beech from attending this show—and since you cherish these hardwood floors, Mick, I asked Jason to bring a roll of heavy-duty plastic sheathing.
Ha! Here’s Jason right on cue. Guy’s a true professional. Why don’t you dim these lights, and then join your lovely audience. I see one empty seat between Douglas Cronk and The Professor on the center balcony in Julian Gallo’s private box. Jim Shaffer and Paul D. Marks are up there, too. And Beau Johnson’s got paper bags in case you hyperventilate.
For readers unfamiliar with the 6 Stab format, I’ll ask Kate Laity six quick questions. And in turn I get to stab her each time she answers one. So let the fun begin.
JHR: Math ain’t my forte, Kate. But LOVE IS A GRIFT contains about 27 stories of sex, death, and crime—with the central stories that you mentioned taking place across four key cities. What are those four cities?
KL: GRIFT takes place in Galway, Brussels, Helsinki, and Dundee. The short stories after happen all kinds of places: Dundee, New York, Houston, London—yeah, a bunch are in London.
JHR: Do the suspense tales in these four cities all revolve around one particular femme fatale? If so, then what’s her name—and can you share a few bits about her or the demons that drive her?
KL: It is one femme fatale but you can’t ever really be sure what her name is because she uses a different name in each chapter of the novella. When she discovers that a certain kind of men can be wrapped around her finger she finds ways to make that pay. The theme song for the book gives hints about the truth of her story but you’re not going to believe anything she says, are you? I wouldn’t. She’s the kind of woman for whom too much is never enough. Looking for that big score but it won’t give her peace.
JHR: Meanwhile you’ve got a story in this collection titled, “Psycho Motorcycle Dolls.” Sounds like an acid trip. Without giving away the plot what drives the action in this tale about these crazy babes?
KL: A young woman and her too-posh fiancé are going out into the West Country to visit his parents’ place and have her looked over (and probably down on, too). But before they get there they have a run in with a gang of motorcyclists. To their surprise, the bikers are all dames--or is that witches? Anyway, they have a yen for bloody magic and things are about to get real dark. Think Hammer Horror…
JHR: Two part-question; two stabs, Kate. Back in Europe once again, readers will encounter a tale called “Somewhere in Slovenia.” Have you been to Slovenia, Kate? And if you don’t plan much—and you and your subconscious aren’t on speaking terms—how do you choose the locations and settings for your stories? Do you toss knives at wall maps and see where they stick?
KL: I have been to Slovenia! I was invited to the fab Alibi crime writers conference where Renato Bratkovič makes sure all the writers are given superb food, Gora pod Lipo and all the Laško Noir they can guzzle at Bar Grega. All you have to do is write a story to read for the Sunday night presentation in the wine cellar. I highly recommend it. Slovenia is a gorgeous green country. It seemed unkind to write crime stories about it, but all that food! Heh, so I managed it and had fun and then even when I got back found I had a few Slovenia stories to tell—some inspired by Slovenian punk legends Res Nullius. And the other cities in GRIFT I have spent quality time in—I lived in Galway for a year, a good friend used to live in Brussels, I have cousins in Helsinki, and of course Dundee is where I love to be. All the pubs and restaurants are real, of course!
JHL: Since this stiletto-blade has got ya singin’ like a punk canary, how did you wind up writing the musical composition for LOVE IS A GRIFT?
KL: I wanted a title for the novella that captured the feel of noir and mistrust that’s always a part of the genre I guess. Musing about titles in general as I drove around on errands, I recall I was in the parking lot at the bank and I thought LOVE IS A GRIFT and then suddenly it was turning into a song in my head. I scribbled it down on an envelope. I didn’t think it would actually be recorded but why not? I’m grateful to Julie Beman and Eric Bloomquist at Cool Ranch studio for making it happen. They brought in the other musicians that made it really swing. Maybe I’ll hang out a shingle on Tin Pan Alley!
JHR: Well folks, I need to get Dr. Laity stitched up. And Douglas Cronk just handed me a note from Mick and Jason saying, "Your mess, Rawlins. We've hauled ass to do some drinking. You clean up."
Only fair I suppose. But sure glad that you could join us. I'm including some links below for anyone who's interested in listening to Kate's song composition LOVE IS A GRIFT, or reading some of her thoughts on films. One of these influences includes the book, OFF THE RECORD 2-AT THE MOVIES, a charity anthology co-edited by crime author Paul D. Brazill. Y'all stay safe out there. Cheers!
M.R. Thanks for joining us Ann Marie—you’re the first visual artist to appear at Center Stage. And I hear you like peppermint, so we’re serving Rumpleman’s tonight. Care for a nip?
A. Sure Mick, cheers! Thank you so much, I’m happy to be here!
Q. Writer Cindy Rosmus, who also edits crime and horror webzine Yellow Mama first drew my attention to your paintings. How did you get involved working as an Illustrator at Yellow Mama? And how long have you been at the magazine?
A. I met Cindy about 3 years ago in Lot 13—which happens to be Yellow Mama’s signature craft beer bar. I’d stopped in after participating at a local art show. The rest as they say is history.
Q. For folks who don't know, you live in New Jersey. How far are you from NYC? And do you spend much time in the Big Apple?
A. I live in Hudson County NJ right across the river. I’m a native New Yorker—originally from the Bronx—so I love the city. I don’t get to visit as often I’d like. But I’ll be going to see MUSE at Madison Square Garden in April when the weather’s warmed up.
Q. Meanwhile, you're sporting a CAS hat: Catskill Animal Shelter. Are you actually at the shelter in this photo? And is the shelter located in the Catskill Mountains like the name suggests?
A. The photo was taken in Pennsylvania. But yes, I support the Catskill Animal Sanctuary in upstate New York—as well as the Skylands Animal Sanctuary and Rescue in New Jersey. They’re all beautiful, dedicated people who do great work.
Q. So when did you first start painting?
A. I was into art in childhood and loved painting and sketching but lost the connection when my mom passed away. I never thought 30-plus years later I would be doing this again. But in 2016 I met a local artist who inspired and encouraged me to get back into it. So here I am!
Q. So did you take any classes during your journey? Or are you completely self-taught?
A. I took art classes in high school but that’s about it. So mostly self-taught.
Q. You recently mentioned going out for a "commission." And I've seen on your Facebook page you've done "commissioned work" before. How many such pieces have you done? Any idea?
A. In the past 6 months I’ve been commissioned to do 5 portraits. One I’m still working on. This is all still new to me. It's such an honor to be asked to do a portrait.
Q. Do you find doing commissioned portraits intimidating? I'd be scared witless!
A. It is intimidating! I have to connect with the photo I’m given to paint. But I love a challenge.
Q. Interesting. So you're painting these portraits alone, not forcing people to sit still in a chair and try to smile for hours. How long does a portrait typically take you to paint? And do you have a studio where you typically work?
A. It depends on the painting how long it takes to complete. When I’m painting it’s usually on my day off, and I'll work for the entire day. I’m hoping to get studio space at some point. But I’ve been working in a small, cozy, space at home for now.
Q. What are some of the things you've done to promote your work during the past 3 years?
A. Mostly by submitting my work to art shows. If I discover a show that seems like a good fit for one of my paintings I’ll send it. As you mentioned, I also share my work on my Facebook art page.
Q. What subjects do you usually like to paint? And why, Anne Marie?
A. I paint all different subjects. I love painting musicians, animals—and a lady in a red dress. One day while I was shopping that idea came to me, the lady in a red dress.
I kept thinking about her and wanted to see how she would turn out. I went with the flow and painted “Stood Up.” I had fun working on that one. I like when my art tells a story and has different interpretations.
Q. What sized canvases do you usually work on?
A. Usually 11x14 or 12x16. I don’t have much room right now—but I’d love to work on a large canvas at some point.
Q. What's your idea of a "large canvas?"
A. Huge! One that takes up an entire wall.
M.R. How fun. Hope you get that wish, Ann Marie! Best of luck with your ventures. And thanks once again to our fine audience for joining us here at Center Stage.
Folks can visit Ann Marie Rhiel on Facebook
and also on Instagram @annier.arts:
Q. Welcome to Center Stage, Mendes. You dwell in the land of Italy, which spurs visions of pizza, pasta, and meatballs. As well as some grape beverages folks call wine. Much to my surprise you also mentioned that large semi-aquatic rats called nutria—which I tend to equate with the swamps down in New Orleans, USA—also happen to be “your neighbors.” So what’s the landscape like where you live?
A. First of all, Mick, thanks for having me. Indeed, we have nutria too!
I live near the Po River, the longest river in Italy. My town is surrounded by water like Venice—and has palaces created by Renaissance artists like Florence. So we mix those characteristic with swamps, cultivated fields—and nutria.
If you want a better description of where I live, you can read “Georgics” by the poet Virgil. He was a fellow citizen of mine. Those funny rats are a real pain in the ass for many farmers here. Just as I suppose they are for those who live in New Orleans. We probably share more things with that city than we imagine. We have even a crocodile dangling from the nave of a church. But that is another story--
Q. If I understand correctly, you hold a college degree in Philosophy. So who do you feel was born first: Mendes Biondo The Poet? Or Mendes Biondo The Philospher? And do these two aspects of your personality get along well—or do they tend to squabble?
You’re right about my degree. I wrote a few poems about those days. Funny times.
Probably neither The Poet nor The Philosopher exist. Those words are more like adjectives. I mean, you can be many things but still be the same complex and unique person.
Going back to my “man-of-the-river” roots, it’s all about the flowing of things. “But this is philosophy you can say—this is Heraclitus.” Yes, you’re right. But do not forget he wrote his thoughts using verses—as many other philosophers in the past did. And so we return to the starting point.
Q. Besides being both a philosopher and a poet, you also work as a journalist in order to keep pasta on your table—as well as those Food Pyramid essentials like “fruit" (wine) and “grains” (malt beverages). To make your life even more complex, you write in English as well as Italian. How old were you when your first learned English. And what maddening devil also coaxed you into writing poetry in English as well as Italian?
Take a seat, because this answer will be quite long. It happened many years ago, way back in history, when Caesar passed the Rubicon …
No, OK, maybe I can flash forward a bit. I started learning English during kindergarten, that’s the truth. My classmates and I were part of an experimental program about learning foreign languages. I suddenly fell in love with English and I kept studying it during the high school period, but not as much as I wanted. I have a high school diploma in classical languages—yep, I studied Greek and Latin too—and English was a subject like all the others. But I was lucky because all the teachers and the professors I met helped me to learn English the best.
Then, why I decided to put a virtual rucksack on my shoulders and wander into the English poetry world? As you said before: madness, a desire for adventure—and because of that demon. Did you know there was a little demon in Latin culture who pranked medieval writers and copyists? Search Titivillus on Google. He was a funny guy.
Q. Your first book foray wasn’t a solo project. You partnered with Catfish McDaris in Wisconsin and Marc Pietrzykowski in Rochester, New York. The three of you then collaborated to form the international magazine Ramingo’s Porch. Please share how you guys met—and what spurred the creation of this first poetry project. Since I once again sacrificed too many brain cells to the gods of fermented grains I can’t recall its name.
A. I met Catfish and Marc when Cat was working on an anthology of tribute poems dedicated to the work of Vincent Van Gogh. Marc was the publisher. The anthology about Vince Van is titled “Resurrection of a Sunflower” and contains the work of poets from all over the world. Cat did a great work with that killer book.
We liked each other as authors and I came up with the mad idea to start a print magazine. Now we publish only digital—easier but, first of all, cheaper. But we will publish a printed version of the “Best Of 2019.”
Q. Poetry books typically involve themes. Did you have a thematic approach in mind when you decided to write your first solo collection SPAGHETTI AND MEATBALLS? How do you view the poems in your collection?
A. Differently from what some might think, this is not a book of Italian recipes; but I’ll probably write one of those when I’m an old relic.
In this book I mostly collected poems I considered right to put together. To be honest, part of this effort was made by my sweet-half Elena. She did great work and I’ll never be able to thank her enough for being so supportive and patient with me.
The book is a collection of worries, pains, and pleasures I’ve felt in this part of my life. I wrote about the fear of being without a job good enough to pay bills. I also tried to push out of my pen all the difficulties of a long-distance relationship like mine. It’s a book for people in love and in anger. It’s for the “love-lorn.”
Oh, and it is for Italian language lovers too—because there is the Spaghetti version of all the poems on the front.
I keep on writing new stuff. But I promise the next collection will be easier to put into a bookshelf with tags.
MR: Well congratulations Mendes on your first published book of poetry. And I’m glad you’re forging ahead on life’s metaphorical river as you continue to write new works.
A Canadian poet who also has a sweet-half and lives in mounds of snow higher than his eyeballs—but who’s perilously surrounded by bears in his neighborhood rather than sharp-toothed-nutria—describes your book SPAGHETTI AND MEATBALLS this way:
“Mendes Biondo’s words are words of conflict, words of voyage and longing. They are the words of a man trying to find his place in an unstable modern world in constant flux. There is a yearning for the old, but with a candid realization that modernity stops for no one and that the technology we have all become so reliant on in our daily lives has stripped us in many ways of our identity and humanity and isolated us from our place; our hands in the dirt. There is much wrong with what is clean and easy and Biondo’s work is one of sensual refutation.”
Deep thoughts without a doubt. But I guess when you get that deeply buried in snow—and can’t get to the liquor store so you can freely practice the ritual sacrificing of brain cells to the gods of grain and malt beverages .... Well, then one has plenty of time—as well as a surplus of healthy brain cells that allow for such deep reflections.
Thankfully, fine audience, I’m not in a similar state. So I’m going to get down-n-dirty with this bottle of Four Roses. Perhaps you’ll join me in lighting a candle to the gods of grain in hopes they will keep our Canadian friend alive and sane through the winter. And likewise that they’ll keep the nutria in Italy from gnawing their way through Mendes Biondo’s book collection. Heaven knows my idea of worship sounds a whole lot safer than visiting a church that’s got a crocodile dangling from its nave!
“Spaghetti and Meatballs” is on Amazon:
You can also visit Mendes at
the Ramingo's Porch blog.
RAMINGO! Facebook Page:
Welcome to Center Stage, Julian. I first discovered your work at The Rye Whiskey Review in the form of a short story called ‘Patriots.’ I next saw an enticing review of your latest novel EXISTENTIAL LABYRINTHS, which a Brit Grit crime author shared on his Facebook page.
Curious, I recently ducked over to your Amazon author page and discovered you also penned 16 prior novels and 9 books of poetry—and that Alpha Beat Press published your first book—a poetry collection entitled, “Standing on Lorimer Street Awaiting Crucifixion” in 1996. That’s a helluva lot of writing, sir! Congrats on your achievements. But since you live and write in New York City, let’s put to you to the Test: please sum up your entire writing career in a New York-Minute. Sixty-second-sound-bite. Ready? Set? Go!
Just kidding, Julian.
Q. At what age did you feel you wanted to be a Writer? And how did your Writing Life evolve once you embraced that Revelation?
A. I’ve been writing in one form or another since I was a kid. But for most of my youth music was my main love and I played in bands for years. Whatever writing I did, I did purely for myself and my own amusement. I wrote silly surrealistic short stories in composition notebooks that I never intended to let anyone else see, never mind publish. None of it was any good, anyway.
I always had a plan that if the music didn’t pan out, I’d turn to writing. But it wasn’t until I was around 30 years old that I began to make a serious go. I began with poetry since it seemed to be a natural extension from songwriting.
I was going through a particularly rough period in my life, and I followed William S. Burroughs’s lead by trying to “write it out” of me as a “therapeutic thing” with no intention of publishing. Before long I had a stack of poems … and not knowing what else to do with them, I thought I’d try submitting them to the literary magazines. This eventually led to the publication of my first poetry chapbook in 1996 with a very small press. The book only had a limited run of about 200 copies—but they did sell out and I suppose that gave me the confidence to make a serious go of it.
From then on I jumped headlong and continued to follow that path. At the same time I always wanted to write fiction, and I began writing my first novel, “November Rust”—which took years since I really didn’t know what I was doing. Once completed, since most of my favorite writers are novelists, I decided fiction was what I really wanted to write. So poetry slowly took a back seat, and I’ve been working on the fringes of ‘the literary world’ ever since.
Q. Set in NYC, your coming-of-age tale ‘Patriots’ takes place during the so-called Cold War with Russia. Meanwhile, the events surrounding EXISTENTIAL LABYRINTHS also occur in NYC—but this time in the late 1990s. Is there something about “the past” that calls to you when you’re writing? Or is the fact that both these works are set in the past merely coincidental?
A. Not everything I’ve written takes place in the past—or is even drawn from events in my life. I think every person’s life is a well of material a writer can draw from, but isn’t necessarily autobiographical in the strictest sense. I tend to follow Raymond Carver’s notion that a little autobiography and a lot of imagination can go a long way.
‘Patriots’ for example was drawn from my early teenage years. But the story itself is pure fiction. None of those events actually happened. The same goes for “Existential Labyrinths.” It’s rooted in the social circles I was running with in the mid- to late-1990s—dysfunctional writers, artists, photographers … all groping in the dark and trying to find their way.
I suppose in some ways I’m trying to work out past events or the “age” in which I was growing up. But I think this comes from using the past as a starting point, then finding a fictional framework in which to tell a story. I tend to explore issues of identity, memory—how events of the past figure into who you are in the present; existential issues and so on.
Q. My thoughts are traveling in two completely different directions here. You mentioned your early love affair with music. What kind of bands did you perform in, Julian? And does music directly or indirectly find a place in any of the novels you’ve written?
A. Over the course of my life I played in three bands. I joined Distorted Youth, a punk rock band, when I was 15. Though short-lived, we played a few shows at the now-renowned A7 club on the Lower East Side in 1982. Our “claim to fame” was that we once opened before Sonic Youth when they were just starting out.
Then I played in a band called Third Eye Butterfly. We had some nominal success: appeared on a few compilation albums; released a few records; and got some decent press before disbanding in the late 1990s.
I spent the bulk of my youth with this band, and it was one of the greatest experiences I’ve ever had. Not only for the music, but also for exposing me to what was going on in New York City’s art, music, and literary circles at the time. It opened me up to a new world of creativity and possibilities—and also steeled me against the types of folks I’d eventually encounter afterwards.
I then went on to play for the band Bitterweed, who did two albums and toured quite extensively.
My experiences in music did work their way into my fiction. In fact, music’s rather prevalent in three of my novels --
“Be Still and Know That I Am” is set in and around the punk rock scene in the early 1980s. The protagonist in “Breathe” is an ex-singer/songwriter from the 1990s Anti-Folk scene who’s living in self-exile on a Greek island. While my more recent novel “Maqām” involves a composer. This novel is set in Tunis at the beginning of the ‘Arab Spring.’ There are a lot of allusions to experimental and avant garde composers in this one—as well as traditional Arabic forms such as the ‘maqām’—from which the book earned its title.
Q. Wow, that’s quite a musical career as well. I’m glad we didn’t limit our chat to a New York sixty-second soundbite.
When you mentioned “existential issues” what specifically were you referring to? Because of my school days, when I think of Existentialism as a literary genre, I tend to think of Franz Kafka—and his works “The Metamorphosis” and “The Hunger Artist.” In “The Metamorphosis” Kafka’s character Gregor turns into a giant bug. Odd event to say the least.
How do you portray Existentialism in EXISTENTIAL LABYRINTHS?
A. I would say it’s existential with a small ‘e’ and not necessarily the philosophies of Sartre, Jaspers, or Camus—though there are some allusions to them throughout the novel via the protagonist’s worldview.
It’s not a “heavy” novel by any stretch of the imagination, more like a presentation of a social circle I used to run with in the 1990s. The book doesn’t pretend to answer any existential questions. There’s a lot of brooding and introspection on the part of the protagonist who’s meandering the labyrinth of his life trying to find his place in the world—though not having an easy time of it.
He’s a young man, not only in age but emotionally and mentally as well. He sees his problems as the worst thing that can happen to a man and is so self-absorbed he doesn’t realize that he’s really engaging in extreme solipsism. The main protagonists in this novel are not likable people. They’re full of drama and themselves. They’re based on an amalgam of people I’d known—as well as their attitudes and worldview—which is why I needed to make a break from them and rediscover my own path.
Q. When you say “solipsism” in this instance are you referring to an individual who’s so “wrapped up in himself” he has no awareness of other people’s feelings?
A. Exactly. He sees the world through a straw with himself at the center. His relationship to the world is fraught with nonsense and trivial matters, but they become of great importance. His pursuit of an obviously emotionally unstable woman and not having his desires reciprocated—at least in the beginning—is tantamount to “abuse.” The world is “against him” because he’s not where he wants to be in life. He “suffers” more than anyone else, ever.
I knew a lot of folks like this at the time, and perhaps I was a little like this myself. It takes a lot of effort to open one’s eyes and see the wider outside world—to have empathy, to understand that the world doesn’t revolve around us. There are far more important matters to consider; things could be a lot worse.
Q. Regarding “characters”—your story ‘Patriots’ largely hinges on a selfish-duplicitous young lady who’s learned quickly how to “prey” on individuals still living in a state of so-called “innocence.” When reflecting on your musical endeavors you mentioned that touring exposed you to certain types of people you learned to “steel” yourself against.
Generally speaking, what kinds of “circumstances” did you suddenly find yourself in? And have your personal learning experiences shaped you as a writer as well as an individual? For better or worse, I met a lot of creeps before I turned 7—and its people who darkly possess a “hunter-prey” mentality that spurred my interest in Crime Writing.
A. Whenever someone decides to pursue any artistic medium, one usually enters innocent and naïve. You have all these ideals and you think everyone else shares them because you’re all doing the same thing. But you soon learn this isn’t the case. You encounter a fair amount of pettiness, envy, needless competition, jealousy, criticism, and drama—and these attitudes are more prevalent than one might think.
I’ve always been a huge fan of Noir fiction and films and you see the hunter/prey mentality taking place in virtually all of those stories. A shadowy element always lurks behind what people see as ‘normal’—and naïveté often sucks good people into a darker existence. My novels ‘Mediterráneo’ and ‘Europa’ have a strong Noir influence and explore these themes. While they aren’t ‘crime novels’ both deal with the hunter/prey mentality you referred to.
A similar dynamic also runs through my novel, “Last Tondero in Paris.” Two selfish, aging individuals are both hunter and prey as they try to exploit each other for various reasons, mostly sexual—but with disastrous results. To me, it’s a dark comedy. A sort of satire on the film Last Tango in Paris. The film figures heavily in the story— and the narrator is fully aware of those parallels.
In ‘Patriots,’ the three boys are going through puberty—just dipping their toes into the waters of adolescence: discovering drugs and girls. Some of this story is drawn from my own experiences, and works its way into the writing. The boys are growing up under the specter of nuclear annihilation, and have already learned that the adults who were supposed to nurture them perhaps didn’t have their best interests at heart. So they’re adrift without a rudder, vulnerable to anyone willing to exploit them.
Q. Speaking of exploitation ... did I mention that I'm now charging my guests $25,000 if they want their appearances on Center Stage to go Live?
Yeah, you got me. Just kidding again. Truly appreciate you joining us under the spotlight, Julian. Same goes for our fine audience. And yes, folks, audience admission to Center Stage stays free as well. I've always been a lousy capitalist.
Speaking of free, if you haven't experienced any of Julian's work, you can read his story, "Patriots" at no cost whatsoever at the Link below. You can also visit Julian on Facebook and find scores of his books easily on Amazon.
Mick Rose (Amazon Author & Reluctant Poet)
Today I’m pleased to shine the spotlight on Bibliophile Extraordinaire Douglas Cronk down in Vero Beach, Florida. I know few Artistes in my social circle who don’t feel warmly indebted to Douglas for sharing their stories, poems, and artwork on his Facebook Page. He also brightens our days with some fantastic ocean-side photos—taken on his ever-present iPhone.
So welcome, Douglas! Nice shirt—it looks Jimmy Buffet festive.
A. Thanks, Mick. My wife Liz took this photo at the Pomodoro Grill last May. And hey, I live in Vero Beach: we’re all Jimmy Buffet festive.
Q. You belong to a Facebook Group called Read or Die. You even sent me an invitation to join this group. But every time I see the name Read or Die I envision a defunct underground nuclear testing facility full of jail cells that make Alcatraz seem like a five-star hotel. And the guards? Yeesh. I don’t even wanna go there. I also worry that if I were to join, this shady guy who lives in the Las Vegas dessert might get the drop on me while I’m wandering the corridors trying to get acclimated.
So what can you tell us about this reading group? Or is this a classic case of “if you told us you’d have to kill us?”
A. I started Read or Die for a friend because he wanted to be able to find my “literary” posts in one place. Initially a closed group, I made it an open group so the same friend could share anything posted there.
The “shady guy” you’re referring to is known as The Professor—and is a legendary figure to the denizens of the Vegas netherworld. He is not to be crossed.
Q. Well, Douglas, you’ve resolved the mystery about Read or Die’s origins. But I see you slickly avoided affirming or denying the presence of jail cells or prison guards. Since I’m not inclined to believe you either way on these two topics, why did you name your group Read or Die? The name certainly screams extreme.
A. On an episode of No Reservations, Jim Harrison says his motto is “Eat or Die.” I borrowed from that line.
Meanwhile, all individuals who run afoul of the group are immediately dealt with by The Professor —so we have no need for jail cells.
Q. You have nearly 1,300 Friends on Facebook. What year did you first join Facebook?
A. I joined Facebook and other social media sites in the fall of 2013.
Q. Any idea how many of your Friends are not Writers, Poets and Illustrators? And how and when did you initially start following Writers on Facebook? Like did you do a Facebook search for “Starving Artists?”
A. No idea about the numbers. The first writers I followed were people I’d read before I joined Facebook. Somehow that had a ripple effect in the waters that managed to lead us here.
Q. How many hours each day do you likely spend reading—then commenting and posting on Facebook?
And how does your wife Liz feel about your Read or Die addiction? Is she happy to have you out of her hair? Or does she have to costume herself as a book cover in order to get your attention?
A. Liz is fine with my Read or Die addiction. She spends at least as much time as I do on her iPhone or Kindle. She just doesn’t post as often as I do.
I probably spend four hours a day between reading and social media; sometimes more, seldom less. If this seems excessive I would defend myself by saying that I don’t watch television, nor do I have a social life.
Q. Trying to keep to the shadows and avoid sparking The Professor’s ire is a full-time job in itself—so I can understand your lack of a social life. Not to mention the amount of time he freelances at your place drinking coffee. Fortunately for us, you spend a lot of early morning hours combing the beach and taking photos. How long do these strolls tend to last before you head home for coffee elixirs? And do you tend to start and finish about the same time every day?
A. I don’t start and finish at the same time because my walk is based around when the sunrise occurs. The duration of my morning walk is between 90 minutes and 2 hours.
Q. I’m curious about your reading life prior to becoming an extremist-fundamentalist Cult Leader. At what age did you first fall in love with books and stories? And how much time passed before you became a Fanatic?
A. Very young. My parents bought a set of Collier’s Encyclopedias that came with a collection of books on myths and fables. I read them all cover-to-cover.
Q. Anyone who routinely visits your Facebook page should quickly intuit that your taste in reading material and friends is eclectic. You’ll drink morning coffee with the miscreant Professor and read barroom poets at The Rye Whiskey Review one minute. Then share historical artwork and stories from an endearing female fiction writer who lives in Turkey the next. What draws you to such varying characteristics in Literature, Poetry, genre fiction, and people?
Or are you merely conducting a diabolical long con designed to lure people into Read or Die?
A. That answer is quite simple: Vanilla is boring.
Q. Unfounded rumors of unknown origin were circulating last year ... talk of how you might actually be an alien from another planet. Hypothetically speaking, if you were in fact an alien—what planet or star system would you be from? And what type of civilization would we find? Would we also see The Professor’s doppelgänger there?
A. I’m almost certain those scurrilous rumors were started by The Professor—or his Evil doppelgänger—who hates rabbits. People who hate rabbits are not to be trusted.
Hypothetically speaking, the society I’d prefer to come from would have less institutional intervention (government, school, church, or business) in our personal lives. I’m not an anarchist, but I’m close.
And, yes, there would be a place for both versions of The Professor.
Well, Douglas, our audience and I here at Center Stage can’t thank you enough for the fun and generous ways you and Liz have kindly made us part of your lives down in festive Vero Beach.
I was hoping we could chat longer. But I get this strange feeling I’m being stared at by someone hiding behind the stage curtain … and something tells me it’s The Professor.
So best wishes to you and Liz in all things—and we’ll all catch each other on Facebook. Cheers, Douglas, and to the rest of our fine audience as well.
Anyone with an interest can also visit Douglas on Instagram, where he shares a fine array of photos.
Author Interview: Beau Johnson (Crime fiction & horror writer) by Crime Writer Jesse Rawlins, creator of Ink-Quisitions
Here's your chance to get up close and personal with Canadian crime fiction and horror writer Beau Johsnon as only the Ink-Quisitive crime writer Jesse "Heels" Rawlins can present him.
This zany expletive-riddled interview humorously explores Johnson's published story collections A BETTER KIND OF HATE and THE BIG MACHINE EATS--which feature his larger-than-life anti-hero Bishop Rider--while also giving us some insights into the author who pens his tales.
This Ink-Quistion interview first appeared at Southern crime mag Story and Grit, courtesy of crime writer and publisher Mark Westmoreland. So naturally I'm pleased by this chance to feature the work of both Rawlins and Johnson here at Center Stage. You can find them in all their crazy splendor by clicking or tapping the Magic Box below.
Photo: Jesse "Heels" Rawlins
Publisher, Editor & Crime Writer
Cheers and thanks for Visiting!
Amazon Author Mick Rose
(Crime writer & reluctant Poet)
And Your Host at Center Stage
Photo: Crime Author & Editor Mick Rose
Photo: Crime Author & Editor James "Jim Shaffer
Since giving Facebook a gander in March 2018, my spare time’s usually devoted to devouring flash fiction, poems, and short stories—penned by a cast of writers I’ve recently met online.
But crime fiction’s my favorite genre (sorry Poets). And today I’m pleased to shine the Center Stage spotlight on Jim (James) Shaffer—whose crime tales I winsomely discovered during my early wanderings.
While I’ve spent my life as an American nomad, wandering the United States in a Quest for the Perfect Pizza, Jim—who spent his formative years on his grandfather’s Pennsylvania farm, before moving to New York, and later Berkeley, CA—presently pens his tales across the Big Salt Pond in England. So some of you folks may not have met him yet. And I’m grateful for this chance to merrily remedy that!
Readers familiar with England’s hard-hitting online magazine Close To The Bone have likely read Jim’s crime tales there—since Shaffer’s made nine appearances at this fine outlet since summer 2015. Meanwhile, Craig Douglas at Close To The Bone’s book publishing operations inked Jim’s debut novella BACK TO THE WORLD into print in August 2016.
Before diving into Facebook, historically I read novels—loosely classified as mysteries—purely for the “chase.” I rarely read story collections. Nowadays at times I read as many as fifty works by fifty writers daily. I imagine many of you who’ve been on Facebook for years routinely read even more, especially you impassioned poets … who I can’t possibly keep pace with.
Just as my reading habits have changed dramatically, so have my reading experiences. While I take time to reflect on the works I’ve read, instead of spending extended stretches with one solitary writer, these days I feel like I’m playing Pac-Man—dashing against the clock, gluttonously and frenetically gobbling down stories and poems before sleep finally claims me. No different really than wolfing down a breakfast sandwich bought at a drive-thru window. Or snatching a slice of pizza for lunch to tide me over till dinner.
Dinner, if we’re lucky—or brunch on a relaxing weekend—proves more leisurely, unfolds at a stately pace, and allows us time to savor. I mention these activities because based on the works I’ve presently read by Jim, if we attempt to inhale his stories like fast food on the run we will likely cheat ourselves and Mr. Shaffer.
His stories resemble a five-course meal: prepared with fresh ingredients, and crafted with quality care. No cookie-cutter recipes developed in a fast food chain’s industrial laboratory kitchens. Their mechanized products eventually served in a paper sack or tossed haphazardly on a plastic tray.
I’m not suggesting by any means that any of the writers I routinely read online are lousy chefs: scraping roadkill off filthy asphalt, or deluding us into eating nutria (large semi-aquatic rats, known to ravish wetlands, including Louisiana’s swamps). But I liken flash fiction and poems in this instance to chowing down appetizers and sweet confections. Cream puffs; mozzarella sticks; stuffed mushroom caps; grilled shrimp. All good—but not what I’d call dinner. Or a quality brunch.
Hoping I’ve now adequately set the stage and the dining table, I’d like to draw your attention to three of Jim’s stories; all which first appeared at aforementioned Close To The Bone. And I’ve included the Links below. Each one is a type of Love story. Though in completely different ways.
The first story in this list, “Life Number Ten”—tips the scales just over the standard 1,000-word flash count with 1,120 words. But Shaffer’s tale packs punch: as we witness the bond between two brothers … their backs against the wall. Shaffer plies us with gallows humor. Yet this humor magnifies the severity of their situation, rather than adding levity.
Shaffer’s second enclosed tale, “The Brass Redemption” vastly moves up in class. Not only in terms of total word count (3,840). But also in terms of intrigue. Here we meet a thief: a common yet-not-so-common criminal. Like Jason Statham’s character in his movie The Transporter, our new-found thief lives by a Code—designed to protect his interests. But his life likewise becomes endangered when he violates this code. So the type of love we see in this tale proves as old and primal as life itself. Because self-preservation is now his only raison d’etre (reason to exist).
As this first-person narrative unfolds, we start to see Shaffer’s skills while he tosses his words around—but always with precision. For again we experience humor. And this time the narrator’s quips have impact. But as quickly as lightning fades, the scenes grow dark again. By story’s end we hold no doubts: this thief is not a “common criminal.” And I suspect you’ll also glean that Jim Shaffer’s no “common” writer.
I consider the third tale in this trio—“Eyes Closed”—a true Super Heavyweight. Not only in terms of word count (4,480). But also by means of punching power. Switching styles once again, Shaffer delivers another third-person narrative involving the ageless classic story, “Boy loves Girl.” Once more, as this tale unravels, nothing proves easy for Shaffer’s characters. Blows rain down upon us at unexpected times … and we struggle to keep our composure …. Because this time the pain feels real. While his characters are fabricated, Shaffer’s focus—and therefore ours—involves the suffering endured by probably unknown millions since Homo sapiens have roamed this planet.
Our daily lives are hectic; even more so this time of year. If you’ve never read Jim Shaffer, I hope I’ve tempted you to read his work—and I invite you to Bookmark this performance so you can easily find these stories for whenever you find convenience. For those familiar with Jim’s work, I suspect he’s just begun to hit full stride. Jim’s got forthcoming stories in online magazine Story and Grit as well as a noir called “Bit Player” at Retreats from Oblivion.
Going forward, when I discover Jim Shaffer’s work online, if the piece doesn’t appear in a flash fiction magazine with a hard cap of 1,000 words tops—I plan to bookmark his stories to ensure I can read them later at a leisurely pace.
Meanwhile, for those who love print books, especially those with great cover art, Jim has a story called “Dessert Requiem” in the HARDBOILED collection from Dead Guns Press, which just released this week. And yeah, I’m aware some of us know some other cool writers who also have stories in HARDBOILED. But since this is Jim’s solo time under the spotlight I AIN’T gonna mention their names!
I will make mention that Jim’s interest in writing stories springs from a long-term love affair with movies … a relationship that began in earnest during his college years, when he studied both film and social sciences: “If you gave me a camera and a bunch of actors (and a lot of cash), I could make a movie of each one of my stories. They are visual and it’s intentional. For each story, I see the scene, the different shots. I hear the dialogue. It plays in my head. I try to re-create those images in the stories I write. And, because to me they are movies, I love making them.”
For those as addicted to Jim’s work as he is, Shaffer’s 11,500-word story “All That the Case Is” now appears in the Blunder Woman Productions debut anthology WRONG TURN. And even more exciting for Jim, while the e-book and print editions are already available on Amazon, an audio version is expected sometime this December. And like many kids this month, I can imagine Jim’s eagerness ….
“I’m looking forward to hearing the story outside my own head,” he noted during one of our exchanges.
So am I, Jim. So am I. And I’m glad you and our fine audience could join us here at Center Stage.
Season’s Greetings everyone!
(Amazon crime author & reluctant poet)
1. Life Number Ten (March 2018) WC 1,120
2. The Brass Redemption (February 2016) WC 3,840
3. Eyes Closed (July 2016) WC 4,480
Crime fiction writer Travis Richardson hog-tied my attention— when his story “A Misunderstanding” —juked and jived across the pages of Flash Fiction Offensive online magazine back in late May.
Richardson’s joining us under the spotlight because his latest book, BLOODSHOT AND BRUISED, now sits cocked and loaded and ready for release on November 27th.
Described as a blistering exploration of crime, retribution, and fragile humanity, this battered, tattered collection contains sixteen stories: including a lopsided battle between an aged arthritic grandmother and an evil sheriff, whose power and reputation make him seem “untouchable.”
The son of an air force pilot, Travis was born in Germany, but left that country when he turned two—and spent the next two decades living in a small Oklahoma community—where the Arkansas River snaked between his family residence and the larger city of Tulsa.
Like many folks before him, Richardson heeded the call to “go west, young man.” At age twenty-two, he set forth for California; and sojourned in the Berkeley Bay area before calling Los Angeles home.
No surprise at all then that the stories in this collection take place in the American South, as well as the West Coast. Indicative of the title, writer Hilary Davidson, Anthony Award-winning author of ONE SMALL SACRIFICE, describes these assembled tales as: “Steeped in blood and grit …. Travis Richardson’s stories represent the dark side of the American Dream, and they are unforgettable.”
Richardson’s skills with paper and ink have earned him the distinction of seeing his work nominated and short listed for crime writing achievements that include the coveted Anthony, Macavity, and Derringer Awards.
And after reading but a handful of Travis’s stories, I can certainly see why. Two of my favorites at the moment include “A Misunderstanding” and “How I Got in the Navy.” Both appeared in Flash Fiction Offensive. And folks can read these gems for free at the Links below. As an added bonus, you can listen to the latter on audio—though Travis is not the reader for this well-constructed production.
As readers can see in “How I Got into the Navy,” Richardson writes with intelligence, but gets down in the mud with ease. And he keeps his characters in action—a skill that’s especially evident in his suspense tale “A Misunderstanding.”
In these two particular stories, I see three simple yet invaluable writing techniques that Travis routinely uses—but which many of today’s best-selling authors don’t. And these techniques make his writing fluid.
Except in cases of gravity, Richardson employs contractions. Contractions roll off the tongue, and they sound less formal—which makes both narrative and dialogue more realistic—because most of us typically use contractions when we talk.
To additionally propel his readers, Richardson routinely uses Fragments rather than complete sentences.
We find evidence of these two techniques in the following passage:
There’s a Cadillac in the driveway. Victor’s hit squad. Shit. The family took too long. Should’ve ran solo.
Not: “There is a Cadillac in the driveway” and “He should have ran solo.”
I’m not suggesting by any means that all sentences and fragments by any writer appear this short and clipped.
In another passage Richardson writes:
I’d say hello in class or the cafeteria and she’d give me a bittersweet smile.
Not: “I would say hello in class or the cafeteria and she would give me a bittersweet smile.”
Both the stories I’m referencing contain about a thousand words. Yet only once does Richardson elect not to use a contraction—and I imagine he made this decision based on the “gravity” in this scene—because in the subsequent sentence Travis uses a contraction once again:
After the call ends, Russell cannot stop his hands from shaking. He’s screwed up before, but nothing on this scale. “Fuck me.” He sprints up the stairs. Entering his bedroom, he wakes his wife, Phoebe.
The third technique Travis uses to make his prose fluid and propel his readers involves avoiding the word “had” much more often than not. In fact (excluding dialogue) his story “A Misunderstanding” employs “had” just once. While in “How I Got in the Navy” (again excluding dialogue) we find the word “had” only six times. A total of only seven times in nearly 2,000 words.
In complete contrast, I grabbed a best-selling book from my nightstand, which a friend beseeched me to read. I painstakingly discovered (as I sadly suspected) that this particular author employed “had” eighteen times in a mere 2,000-word span.
That’s three times more than Travis.
And the author whose words I counted is certainly not alone in this regard. Assuming this particular writer followed this trend throughout the course of the 400-plus page novel … readers will trudge through repetitious “hads” nearly 2,000 times (1,800).
I've actually read the entire book. And no way in hell do I feel like counting. But I wouldn’t be surprised if the total count proved higher.
To help clarify this point, I constructed the following passage—which resembles the type of writing I all-too-often find when opening books in bookstores:
“He had realized that he had been holding his breath during the entire time that the bank robber had been in the bank.”
Writing like I just penned bores me to tears: while reading Richardson’s work so far has undoubtedly proven a pleasure.
Whether readers agree with my analysis or not, Spinetingler Magazine listed Richardson’s novella LOST IN CLOVER in their Best Crime Fiction of 2012. Besides penning his second novella KEEPING THE RECORD (released in 2014), Travis’s stories also appear in numerous anthologies—including THE OBAMA INHERITANCE—an award-winning collection that happens to feature work from renowned crime writer Walter Mosley. And that ladies and gents is an accomplishment I wish I could claim!
For those who will be in greater Los Angeles on Wednesday, November 28th, Travis will host the book launch for BLOODSHOT AND BATTERED at prestigious West Hollywood’s Book Soup at 7 p.m.—and he’s got an interesting line-up scheduled.
His wife, Teresa Wong, will read a poem that she penned—based on Travis’s story “Maybelle’s Last Stand.”
Meanwhile actor and attorney Sachin Mehta will entertain attendees by reading Travis's comic short story “Here’s to Bad Decisions: Red’s Longneck Hooch.” And if the crowd proves lucky, Travis may also sing a tribute to the West Hollywood metal scene of the late 1980s. The tribute springs from one of his stories, “I’m Not Sure Which Way I’m Headin’”—and since he ain’t sure if he’s gonna sing yet … then I guess some things ain’t changed.
His singing ventures aside, Travis appears poised for greater things—and I for one certainly hope so.
Heartfelt thanks, Travis, for joining us here at Center Stage. And cheers to our fine audience for attending this show as well.
Folks can visit Travis Richardson on Facebook and also at his website:
You can also find Travis's work at Amazon: