Online Issue 17: “Living My Best Life”

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This issue begins and ends with mourning. We mark the passing of long-time reviewer and crime fiction enthusiast, Theodore Feit, with his final review.

We’re also reeling with the fresh pain from the news that Evie Swierczynski has passed away after her fight with leukemia. Many years ago, I was hired to travel to Philadelphia and interview Duane Swierczynski for a magazine feature. I got to meet his children and Meredith. I’m lucky enough to say I’ve known Duane for many years, and yet I do not know him and his family well … and yet Duane’s posts over the past several months have made many of us feel as though Evie was a part of our family, because he captured her spirit and shared her with us all.

All I really know today is that their grief is unfathomable. In the days and weeks ahead I’ll be thinking of Duane, Meredith and Parker as they begin the unfathomable journey forward without Evie.

One thing Duane mentioned months ago was that Evie always said, “Living my best life.” For her, it was a statement of sarcasm in response to misfortunes. (DS FB June 7)

May we all cherish the moments we have and truly live our best lives.

Scroll down a bit and you’ll see a list of ways to pay tribute to a loved one’s memory.

Sticking with the Music Theme

Paul D. Brazill’s Supernatural Noir is out in stores now, and he’s sharing his new work’s playlist with us.

Author Interviews

Kelli Owen talks being a Nerdy Klutz, how that impacts her zombie apocalypse plan, and what a vampire story has to do with prejudice.

Brian Lindenmuth chats with Terrence McCauley about writing westerns.

Robert White talks about Thomas Harris, David Lindsey and Martin Cruz Smith, his protagonist’s biggest fear, and how real life events inspired Northtown Eclipse.

When The Hunger Games and The Handmaid’s Tale Collide: Barbara Winkes talks about her Dystopian tale, Cypher.

Reviews:

Sandra Ruttan takes a look at In The Galway Silence, the latest Jack Taylor novel by Ken Bruen.

Brian also has a horror review column up, just in time for Halloween.

And, in sad news, the review of The Line by Martin Limon marks Theodore Feit’s final review. Our condolences to Gloria on Ted’s unexpected passing last month. He was a long-standing reviewer who was committed to sharing his love of books, and will be missed.

Actors Wanted

Tom Leins picks the Actors who Could play Joe Rey, the Gunrunner, Slattery and Wila.

To Be Read Features

Wondering what some of your favorite author are reading these days and hoping to crack open soon?

What Do John Verdon, Annette Dashofy, Gwen Floria, Eric Beetner and Kyle Mills Have in Common? JJ Hensley talks recent reads and more.

J.L. Abramo talks about global events that impact his current reading, works by Erik Larson and Bryan Burroughs and his hopes for new Tim O’Brien novels.

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When The Hunger Games and The Handmaid’s Tale Collide: Barbara Winkes talks about her Dystopian tale, Cypher

Cyphercover1 (2)SR: What’s your new book about?

BW: Cypher is a dystopian novel in which some citizens have signed many of their rights to the “City” government. They give up their names, and become numbers instead, which puts them at the mercy of the Identity Agency. Ami went into the program after being pressured by people close to her, and her fate worsens from there. Katlena, who is an inspector with the Identity Agency, still believes in the system, and she thinks that if she rises through the ranks, she can help change it to the better. Both of them have secrets they guard closely. Mutual attraction might put them at risk, and it’s unclear whether they can trust each other—or who the enemy really is.

SR: Was there a specific issue or incident that really motivated you to write this particular story? What was the prompt?

BW: Part of it was that The Hunger Games, many years after I’d read The Handmaid’s Tale, got me back into reading dystopian fiction. I always add suspense and romance to my books, not matter the main genre. Finally, I looked back on my own experience of being unemployed for a while, and the toll it took at times. It’s not hard to feel like a number—even though my life, of course, was far from Ami’s.

SR: How do you think your protagonist would respond if aliens landed in the center of town on page 57?

BW: Both Ami and Katlena have seen strange things in their lives, but I’m sure that would freak them out on a deeper level. Page 57, it’s the morning after, and Katlena wakes from a nightmare. That would be an interesting time to add aliens…

SR:  Your protagonist has to flee the country. Where are they headed to and why that location?

BW: Mexico perhaps. If I believe HGTV, they could get affordable housing close to the beach, and I think they’d be able to go there with the funds they have.

SR:  What conspiracy theory is your protagonist most likely to believe in? Roswell? JFK? Princess Diana? What about you? Any conspiracy theories that you think might have some truth to them?

BW: These days, I’m extra careful, because there’s so much of it out there and online, sometimes you have to remind yourself that there is still an objective reality. I try to check myself and not fall for something that’s too easy or too good to be true.

SR:  Is your protagonist more likely to go insane or end up in prison?

BW: Since they are working to change the system, and their opponents aren’t happy about it, prison is a likely prospect if they don’t succeed.

SR: What’s your protagonist’s greatest fear? Why?

BW: In the beginning, the greatest fear for both of them would be related to their individual stories—how events could affect their life plans. Later on, it’s the fear of losing each other.

SR: Is there something you hope the reader carries away with them after they’re done reading? An insight or philosophy that you wanted to come through in your work?

BW: All of my works have women coming together to work toward a common goal, if it’s cops hunting a serial killer or characters of a different background hoping to change society to the better (in the case of Cypher, undo some of the cruel reality that is part of their world). I even did it with vampires and witches in RISE. It’s important to me to convey that vision, even if it doesn’t always happen in the real world. I’d like to think that most women and men would prefer equality, but I focus on women(-loving women) protagonists in my books.

SR:  Cage match between you and your protagonist. It’s a fight to the death. Which one of you will be left standing, and why.

BW: I’d like to think we’d both turn on the villain that organized the match—though I’d have to admit that the majority of my characters would be better equipped to fight said villain.

SR: What’s the first book you remember reading that had a huge impact on you? How did that story affect you? How do you think it shaped your desire to be a writer?

BW: I think every book I loved, or left me with a strong emotional reaction, has shaped that desire. It’s a rush to experience those reactions while writing and creating a world out of nothing, and it’s even more of a rush when readers “buy it”—pun intended. When a reader tells me they couldn’t put the book down, it makes me completely giddy—because I know how that feels.

SR:  What’s the best thing about writing?

BW: Writing.

SR:  What’s the worst thing about writing?

BW: Not writing (for whatever reason).

SR: Are you drawn to things that are really popular or wary of them? Do you find it helps you to market your work if you’re familiar with what’s currently selling or do you ignore all of that and focus on what you’re interested in?

BW: Sometimes I take a look, sometimes I don’t—it’s often a spur of the moment decision. Sometimes I’m far behind the trend and quickly have to finish the books, because the movie is coming out in a couple of weeks…As for marketing, not all mainstream trends apply to lesbian fiction (where all genres co-exist under that one roof). For example, romance is always the biggest seller here and there. However, when a friend mentioned domestic suspense on social media—often a female protagonist finding out her husband might or might not have some dark secrets—I realized I hadn’t come across any stories of the kind in F/F fiction. Of course, equal marriage written into law isn’t that old, so we have a lot of catching up to do on HEAs first.

SR: What movie or TV world do you wish you could live in? Why?

BW: Ocean’s Eight. How much fun would that be?

SR: You strike it rich. What charity are you going to create or support?

BW: I would love to give a ton of money to organizations that care for women who have experienced violence, be it random, in the home or in a war zone. I think you need to build a good, free society from the ground up, and that includes the eradication of child “marriage,” expanding choice and so many other things. LGBT organizations. Invest in science and also conveying to the public why it matters…how much money are we talking again? I’d also love to go beyond and be able to produce media, increase the representation of lesbian characters in all genres. I have many ideas.

SR: What factors influence you when you’re choosing a book to read?

BW: The blurb, most of all. If the characters sound compelling and I want to know more about them, I’ll want to check out the book.

SR: Where can people catch up with you?

BW: Come talk to me on Twitter (www.twitter.com/barbarawinkes) or Facebook  (www.facebook.com/AuthorBarbaraWinkes), or follow me on BookBub (www.bookbub.com/profile/barbara-winkes) to stay up to date with new releases and sales.

 

Barbara Winkes has visited us to talk about Secrets, done Secrets casting call, chatted about The Amnesia Project and talked about The Amnesia Project’s soundtrack.

Barbara Winkes writes suspense and romance with lesbian characters at the center. She has always loved stories in which women persevere and lift each other up. Expect high drama and happy endings.

Discover a variety of genres, serial and standalone. Women loving women always take the lead.

Robert White talks about Thomas Harris, David Lindsey and Martin Cruz Smith, his protagonist’s biggest fear and how real life events inspired Northtown Eclipse

Fun Fact: Robb tells us, “I sent the manuscript of a crime novel entitled Siblings to a New York City agent who had expressed interest in a separate manuscript. She never responded back, so I assumed she wasn’t interested. Three years later, I retitled it and sent it to an indie press in the U.K. soliciting novels. That publisher sent me three royalty checks in the following year that totaled more money than my other 9 books squared. Since then, it’s been reprinted under another British press and is still chugging along with over 100 ratings on Goodreads compared to 15, my next biggest number.”

Amazon Northtown CoverSR: Was there a specific issue or incident that really motivated you to write this particular story? What was the prompt?

RW: It’ll sound ghoulish, but I was watching the Cleveland news one winter night when a report of a plane being lost over Lake Erie came on; 5 people from two families died in the crash. I used a similar incident of a plane crash into the lake and involved my protagonist, a fledgling private eye, not very sure of himself, acquiring facts about the crash that lead him to conclude the engine was sabotaged.

SR: What conspiracy theory is your protagonist most likely to believe in? Roswell? JFK? Princess Diana? What about you? Any conspiracy theories that you think might have some truth to them?

RW: My protagonist didn’t snap to his own terrible childhood accident being no accident, so he’d be unlikely to believe in those conspiracies.  I, on the other, hand grew up feasting on those godawful alien invasion film and thus am very inclined toward the belief that aliens exist and our government, as well as others, have been too slow to reveal what they know.

SR:  Is your protagonist more likely to go insane or end up in prison?

RW: Definitely prison. And it’ll involve protecting a woman somehow.

SR: What’s your protagonist’s greatest fear? Why?

RW: Fire. He was badly scarred in childhood when a plastic tent burned with him unable to get out.

SR: Is there something you hope the reader carries away with them after they’re done reading? An insight or philosophy that you wanted to come through in your work?

RW: Philosophy is too big a word for my writing but hobby seems too insignificant for an “obsession.”  I’ll always settle for a Damn, I enjoyed that story from a reader. Even better if the reader enjoyed the style.

SR:  If hell was watching one movie over and over and over again, or listening to one song over and over again, what would the movie or song be for you?

RW: Personally speaking, I’m a fiend for watching movies over and over. If I told you how many times I’ve watched Body Heat, you’d pray for my commitment into the nearest mental facility. I’m currently addicted to lousy Korean horror movies full of ghosts and doppelgangers, so watching a bad film ad nauseam in hell won’t be as bad as flames that burn but never consume—as the old, crazy nuns used to tell us in my catechism class. I might make an exception for any Will Smith movie.

SR: What’s the first book you remember reading that had a huge impact on you? How did that story affect you? How do you think it shaped your desire to be a writer?

RW: I, Jan Cremer, a self-described memoir by an author who went from one half-assed adventure to another much like the French film Going Places with Gerard Depardieu, which I’d seen when my hair was black and he was about 150 pounds lighter. That Cremer book never made me want to be a writer, but I had such pleasure from it that it must have planted a seed. But it wasn’t until I read William Styron’s Confessions of Nat Turner in college that I knew someday I wanted to write.  It just took a longer time than I expected (30 years).

SR:  What’s the best thing about writing?

RW: Disappearing into the writing. Losing yourself so completely that whole hours pass where you are not conscious of anything but the work taking shape in front of you. Narcotic.

SR: Are you drawn to things that are really popular or wary of them? Do you find it helps you to market your work if you’re familiar with what’s currently selling or do you ignore all of that and focus on what you’re interested in?

RW: I’ll admit I’ve been tempted by some of the more popular aspects of horror/thriller writing, but I can’t adjust gears as well as I thought. I gave up on Carrie after 50 pages because the characters were so unlikeable and the prose style so pedestrian, although The Shining was a fine read even if the conclusion made little sense. The stomach-churning horror of the Saw franchise films seems mindlessly juvenile, not to mention insanely improbable.  I have moments but nothing ever pans out. It has to come down to psychological horror for me even in mysteries.

SR: Everyone needs an outlet to help them recharge. What hobbies do you have outside of writing?

RW: Does lawn mowing count?  Lying in a hammock? I might well be the dullest man in Northeastern Ohio.

SR: You strike it rich. What charity are you going to create or support?

RW: Easy. The ASPCA and my local APL.  Animals don’t deserve the shitty treatment human beings inflict on them.

SR: What factors influence you when you’re choosing a book to read?

RW: Three items:  Is the work by Thomas Harris, David Lindsey, or Martin Cruz Smith? If not, I don’t waste my time.

 

RTW Photo ThumbnailRobb T. White was born, raised, and still lives in Northeastern Ohio. He has published three novels in the Thomas Haftmann series, a pair of noir novels, a serial-killer novel, and 3 collections of short stories. Special Collections, a digital novel, won the New Rivers eBook competition in 2014. Many of his crime stories have appeared in magazines like Yellow Mama, Black Cat Mystery Magazine, Switchblade, and Near to the Knuckle.

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Kelli Owen talks being a Nerdy Klutz, how that impacts her zombie apocalypse plan, and what a vampire story has to do with prejudice

Fun fact: Kelli says, “I was an editor and reviewer for over a decade, until they found out I was writing on the side—then they all fired me and told me to work on my own fiction. They were right.”

Teeth - Kelli OwenSR: Practice pitching: tell us what your new book is about in 50 words or less.

KO: In TEETH, I completely reinvented vampires—making them real and explaining all previous beliefs or behavior with science, fact and history.  As part of modern society, they endure all the prejudices and problems any minority faces. Add a serial killer, who may or may not be a vampire, and stir well.

SR: Was there a specific issue or incident that really motivated you to write this particular story? What was the prompt?

KO: Originally it was a conversation that led to a dare between me and another writer—one of us writing vampires, the other werewolves. We shelved the ideas and forgot about the dare. But vampires had crawled into my muse’s peripheral vision and I found myself debating the fang gang on a number of occasions. For over a hundred years they had remained basically the same, so what could I possibly do to make my vampires different?

And again, I moved it aside and went on to other novels. During that time, I dabbled in podcasting, where I vented weekly about the injustices and insanity that I saw in our society and smeared all over social media. And two years after that initial dare, the muse said, “Oh hey, I have an idea…”

SR:  Is your protagonist more likely to go insane or end up in prison?

KO: TEETH has an ensemble cast of characters. There are several teens dealing with the prospect of becoming a vampire—one is afraid of losing friends, one has a parent who hates vampires, and one is well-adjusted and fine, mostly. Then we have the cat and mouse of our serial killer and the detective, weaving in and out of the various storylines. For the purpose of this question, I’ll answer for the detective.

Detective Connor Murphy would absolutely end up in prison first. He’s very open-minded and perfectly fine with the idea of vampires, even standing up for their rights. But if something were to rattle his psyche, I’m fairly certain he’d react with action rather than snapping mentally.

SR: What’s one thing that you and your protagonist have in common?

KO: Much like me, he would never judge an entire group of people, but rather the individual. A minority committing a crime doesn’t make a guilty race or gender, but rather an issue, a criminal, on a personal level. I was raised that way, Connor was written that way.

SR: If you were the right gender could you have a romantic relationship with your protagonist? Why or why not? Would it be a good relationship?

KO: Connor is a stand-up guy, a loving husband, a good cop, and an all around great human. We could totally date based on that. Would I do well as a cop’s wife? (Note: I literally drew a breath through my teeth debating that question.) I’m going to have to be honest and say it would depend on what department he was in and where we lived. Small town detective where things usually don’t happen? We’d be fine. Larger city with more crime? I think I’d worry too much.

SR: What’s your protagonist’s greatest fear? Why?

KO: Something happening to his family. As a detective, he’s used to crime and criminals, and he is generally the one to deal with them and get them off the street. But he also knows how very real that danger can be before caught. The idea of it touching his family, affecting them in any way, would likely give him sleepless nights and a need to do his job even better. Off the record if need be.

SR: Is there something you hope the reader carries away with them after they’re done reading? An insight or philosophy that you wanted to come through in your work?

KO: Actually, yes. While I don’t generally have any type of lesson or moral, TEETH absolutely has a social statement written into it. In my opinion, the reasons for the prejudices and problems that minorities face in this country every single day can be reduced to fear or ignorance, or both. So much hate is based on not knowing the facts, so much is because the minority in question is outside the wheelhouse or knowledge or personal experience of the haters. If we could just open up a little. If both sides simply took two steps toward the center, they may be close enough to listen. Not necessarily agree, but at least they could listen. No one said you had to agree with everyone, but being able to listen to an opposing view and accept it as its owner’s, is part of being an adult, and it’s vital to a sustainable community.

Social media was supposed to unite us. Ignoring the advertisements and celebrities, it was meant to make the world a smaller place for people, to bring us closer together, to make distance unimportant. But sometimes, it seems all it’s done is curl hatred into a cone, which can be used as a megaphone of hate or fear or lies to the masses. We should get along better. Or at least try.

SR:  If hell was watching one movie over and over and over again, or listening to one song over and over again, what would the movie or song be for you? For your protagonist?

KO: Probably an unpopular opinion, but my hell would be the movie A Christmas Story. My ex father-in-law was a big fan, and actually watched the weekend marathon once. I don’t mean it was on the television while he went about doing other things, I mean he actually watched it. Over and over and over. Fourteen times one year was enough to ruin it for me forever.

My protagonist would probably be drenched in torture if forced to watch Mall Cop or some other comedy, which makes fun of the uniform he proudly wears.

SR: Roadtrip. What’s on your protagonist’s playlist? Yours?  (changed slightly from karaoke because I couldn’t pinpoint it)

KO: Connor was in high school in the 90s and while he may be a police officer now, he once thought he’d be something else. Anything else. He’s got an entire backstory that never hits the pages, but I can tell you he still listens to industrial and grunge, with a strange blend of Nirvana and Nine Inch Nails and everything in between.

I on the other hand, am very eclectic, though most believe I’m a metal head. Yes, I loved rock before it was segregated into the double fistful of subgenres, but it’s more than that and can includes anything from Mötley Crüe to Linkin Park, Chris Cornell to Breaking Benjamin. And just when you think you’ve figured out my tastes I’ll pull out The Avett Brothers, Pink, or maybe Fleetwood Mac. I do have links to playlists on the sidebar of my website—8tracks.com let’s you listen to the playlist I listened to while writing a particular piece of fiction (playlists are titled by book).     

SR: What’s the first book you remember reading that had a huge impact on you? How did that story affect you? How do you think it shaped your desire to be a writer?

KO: Frankenstein. Always and forever. I was in kindergarten and brought home the little kid’s watered-down version. It immediately struck me as sad because the monster wasn’t the monster. My teacher explained that’s how Mary Shelley wrote it and a lightbulb went off in my head. I’d heard you could be a doctor or lawyer or fireman, but writer? That was a thing you could actually choose to be? Done.

How I ended up the darkened path that separates horror from thriller likely started there as well. Beyond that, my mother enjoyed horror movies, and my father’s bookshelf was rife with fodder for a darker imagination—introducing me to both Koontz and Lovecraft, which sent me searching for everything in between. My parents never told me to read something lighter or nicer. They never frowned on me asking the scarier questions or my “what if” scenarios. And I’ve been chasing the idea of the monster not being the monster since that day in kindergarten.

SR: What detail in your writing do you obsess over the most? Character names? Locations? Description? Dialogue? Research?

KO: My first thought was research, because I would never want someone in the character’s profession to tell me I did something wrong. But that’s not an obsession, that’s just required. Locations, on the other hand, oh my.

I’m freakishly methodical about the locations I use. It’s born of the idea that everything must be logical, and ring true, and never pull the reader from the world I’ve created. So I’m always extremely careful with the physical layout of the story—the locations of action. I’ve drawn maps for imaginary towns. I’ve printed Google maps for actual towns. I’ve clocked how long it takes to get from A to B. And I’ve made several of those locations important to the story itself, such as in FLOATERS, with the location of both the graveyard and the burial grounds on Wisconsin Point. In TEETH, I simply had a drawn map for my town, so I knew where every single thing I described was, but also everything I didn’t mention but may have needed—just in case.

SR: What do you think the hardest emotion to elicit from a reader is? Why?

KO: Happiness. Happiness is so personal and so internal, it’s almost impossible to elicit that full, deep, warmth in fiction. You can scare someone by triggering their fears. You can make someone uncomfortable and nervous with atmosphere or anticipation. You can make someone laugh with a good joke or big personality. But to make someone actually feel happiness? Sure, if you propose marriage to them in writing maybe. But as a story? As an outsider reading a story? Even a happy ending isn’t happiness, it’s just relief—being content or glad for the characters.

SR: Did you set yourself a specific writing challenge with this book? What was it, and what was the reason?

KO: As I mentioned above, the driving questions for me was, “how do I make my vampires different?” Once I had that figured out, the story needed to portray that within the confines of its own challenge, which was to present the current social climate from a neutral ground—showing the extremes of both sides of various topics. I believe I succeeded on all counts, and I’m thrilled and humbled that my novel is receiving wonderful reviews due to the characters, world building, and yes, the vampires who are very different than everything that’s come before them. 

SR: Are you drawn to things that are really popular or wary of them? Do you find it helps you to market your work if you’re familiar with what’s currently selling or do you ignore all of that and focus on what you’re interested in?

KO: It’s not that I ignore what is popular, because I do pay attention to what’s going on out there. Back when I was starting out and everything was print, no ebook, and publishing houses, no self or vanity publishing, there was an 18-month rule. In general, if something became popular (say vampires), you were warned off of trying to get in on the wave, because by the time it was written, submitted, accepted, edited and published, it would be 18-24 months later and the popular craze had likely moved on to something else by then.

The advent of ebooks and self-publishing makes it much easier to jump on the current fads and bandwagons of genre, trope, or metaphor, but years of ignoring those have been burned into my soul. So I tend to write the stories my muse needs to tell. Those stories are not always delivered by the monster of the week, or even carried by the metaphor of the month. And when they do seem to fit what’s going on around them, it’s purely accidental. My stories tend to be about the people rather than the issues they face—the situations only test them, teach them, or otherwise help them grow.

SR:  Is there something you’ve experienced that’s affected your view of life? Tell us about it and how it changed you.

KO: Absolutely. The death of my father.

I was unable to do anything creative for quite a while after we lost him, finally forcing myself out of my cave by acknowledging he wouldn’t want me to wallow. My view on a lot of every day things has changed in the shadow of his memory, and my ability to deal with certain dark aspects of life have been tainted by the touch of real death.

Do I still write thrillers and horror? Yes. There’s just a slight turn on my dial, which I don’t even know if my readers can see or if it’s only noticeable to me.

SR:  If you have to live in a potential natural disaster zone, would you pick blizzards, hurricanes, tornadoes, earthquakes or volcanic eruptions? Why? If you had to describe your protagonist as a weather system, what would they be?

KO: HA! I grew up in northern Wisconsin. On that big old temperamental body of water we call Lake Superior. I’ve suffered the extremes of blizzards and forty below (before windchill), and I wouldn’t wish it on anyone. But that doesn’t mean I would choose any of those others over it. I at least know how to deal with the blizzards, so I’ll stick to those.

My protagonist? As a detective, he’s methodical but flexible. If he were a weather system it would be the lava flow after the volcanic eruption, the flooding after the hurricane. Something calm and predictable, after something more violent and unforgiving.

SR: It’s the zombie apocalypse. You have to pick a weapon from what’s currently within 10 feet of your present location. What will you defend yourself with?

KO: I’m all good! I actually have swords and a blow-dart gun within reach. My office, affectionately referred to as The Morgue, is decorated with bookshelves, horror movie memorabilia, Universal monster trucks and horror Hot Wheels, Living Dead Dolls, scary and/or creepy knickknacks, and yes, a sword rack with a katana, two wooden practice swords, and a blow-dart gun on it. I’m going with the sword.

SR: How long will you survive in the zombie apocalypse? How long will your protagonist survive? Why?

KO: While there are weapons near me, I will be handing those off to someone else. We’ve had the zombie apocalypse conversation in our house. My job is to think outside the box, plan, prep, deal with food and wounds, and stay inside—out of danger. I’m a klutz, and the idea of me getting hurt because I tripped on grass is just too funny to allow it to become truth. Though even inside I’ll be armed, albeit with a more manageable weapon for indoors. Hint: it’s a lovely little clawed weedkiller that’ll take care of those undead brains no problem!

My protagonist? As a detective he’ll be armed and well prepared for such an event. But as a good guy with a big heart, if anything takes him down it will be trying to help someone who is beyond his aid. Until that point, he’ll do great.

SR: Everyone needs an outlet to help them recharge. What hobbies do you have outside of writing?

KO: I’m going to ignore the obvious answers of “reading” and “conventions” because all writers should do and list those. They are powerfully magical for the muse. Instead, I’ll move right on into the fun and bizarre.

For downtime, to recharge, I’m a super nerd. I play both “Magic the Gathering” and “Dungeons and Dragons” (long enough that in my mind it’s D&D, not AD&D—the other nerds will get that), as well as any number of board and card games. Interaction is good fodder for the characters in my head.

When I’m working on something and need to reboot, I’ll work out the logistics of a scene or issue I’m having while loudly playing Guitar Hero. Note, loudly. I complain if they turn the movies up too high, but you can bet my Guitar Hero is growling out on at least 75 on the televisions 100 max volume setting—and on expert no less, because there have been many scenes to work out over the years and I’ve actually gotten good at it.

SR: You strike it rich. What charity are you going to create or support?

KO: I already give to a couple specific charities and if anyone wants in feel free—scaresthatcare.org and stjude.org. I would absolutely up those amounts, but to create something new?

A health insurance fund for writers.

I’m not sure whether or not it would just take care of medical bills or would perhaps pay a portion of their insurance (because the cost of insurance in this country is ridiculous). I would have to bring in, create, and discuss with my panel of experts (who could become the board of directors). The sheer number of times I’ve seen a writer struggling with medical bills or medical surprises is boggling. If given a bottomless wallet, I’d like to do something to alleviate that situation.

SR: Now for fun, if you were stuck on a deserted island and found that magic lamp with a genie and the genie had the power to bring any character in any of your books to life to be your companion, who would you pick and why?

KO: Mark from WHITE PICKET PRISONS. He’s a truly good guy with a solid heart and loving soul, and we’d get along great. Just as important, he’s capable. I’m on a desert island? I don’t just want a companion, I want some I can talk to, play with, but who can also build shelter, hunt, and help us look way better than any of those couples on Naked and Afraid. I’d like to succeed, survive until that freighter goes by and sees our S.O.S. signal, so Mark is definitely my choice.

SR: And if the genie would only bring characters from works by another author to life who would you pick to spend eternity on that deserted island with?

KO: Stu from Stephen King’s THE STAND, and for almost the exact same reasons. The only additional thought would be that I didn’t write him, so I don’t know him. It would give us lots of things to talk about as we get to know a stranger’s memories.

SR: Do you have any special events coming up? Where can people catch up with you in person or on a podcast?

KO: I actually just shut down my podcast, The Buttercup of Doom, but the episodes are still available to my patreons. In general, I can be found on kelliowen.com — and from there you can find my Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Patreon. With the death of the podcast, I’m going back to blogging more often on the website, and have recently created a Facebook group for my readers and fans to get insight, goodies, and enjoy random conversation. I’m out there, all over social media, and easy to find. Come find me!

 

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Born and raised in Wisconsin, Kelli Owen now lives in Destination, Pennsylvania. The author of over a dozen books, she’s attended countless writing conventions, participated on dozens of panels, and has spoken at the CIA Headquarters in Langley, VA regarding both her writing and the field in general. Her works include the novels TEETH, FLOATERS, and SIX DAYS, novellas WAITING OUT WINTER, WILTED LILIES, and FORGOTTEN, more of both, as well as her collection BLACK BUBBLES. Visit her website at kelliowen.com for more information.

Interview with Terrence McCauley

Bullets.jpgBrian Lindenmuth: Why did you decide to write a western?

Terrence McCauley: I decided to write a western because I had always been a fan of the genre. I grew up watching westerns with my dad and, later in life, began to enjoy reading them as well. A lot of writers I admire, including Elmore Leonard and Richard Matheson, wrote westerns and I wanted to give it a shot, too. It continues to be a great experience.

You’ve now worked in two separate genres. What were those experiences like? Any notable differences? How was Bouchercon different from the western convention you went to?

I’ve actually written in three separate genres. Crime fiction (my 1930s books PROHIBITION, SLOW BURN and THE FAIRFAX INCIDENT) and my University Series (SYMPATHY FOR THE DEVIL, A MURDER OF CROWS, A CONSPIRACY OF RAVENS). Westerns are different in that a writer doesn’t have modern conveniences to rely upon to move the plot along. Even in my 1930s novels, the telephone, radio and automobile were in use at that time. Not so much so in westerns set in the late 1880s. Distance and a lack of technology play an important role in the stories which, in my opinion, allows for a rich story-telling environment.

Bouchercon is always a great experience and an opportunity to see some friends I haven’t seen in a while. The Western Writers of America convention is much smaller, but every bit as impressive. The amount of scholarship in that community is absolutely incredible. People tend to think of westerns as just shoot ’em ups with cowboys and Indians and bank robbers. One glimpse at the various categories will prove that it’s a very diverse genre. I had the good fortune to make a lot of new friends at this year’s convention and I look forward to going next year as well.

There is an idea that westerns are just crime fiction in a historical setting, do you believe this to be true?

I believe that’s partially true. I also believe that the west is broad enough to encompass quite a few genres. Just look at the amount of westerns for sale on Amazon and you’ll see a good number of them are romances. One could also write an epic novel about the plight and struggles of various groups in the settlement of the west and never have a shot fired or a murder committed if they crafted the story properly. Historical fiction, crime novels, noir, romance and classic stories all have a home in western fiction. And virtually every type of non-fiction is covered under western history and current western affairs as well.

What is your favorite western movie?

My favorite is THE SEARCHERS. It’s an imperfect movie that hasn’t held up as well for me over the years, but I still consider it my favorite. The iconic performances and scenery. The open bigotry of Ethan Edwards, the clashing of cultures and the memorable characters all serve to make it my favorite western.

What is your favorite western novel?

West Texas Kill by Johnny Boggs. He writes a classic western with a modern take that appeals to all audiences. It has some great characters and fantastic action pieces that make it my current favorite. However, I read quite a few books in the genre, so my favorites do change from time to time.

Who is your favorite western writer?

I’ve got a few. Peter Branvoldt, Johnny Boggs, Larry Sweazy, Charles West.

What recent release western novels are worth checking out?

Peter Branvoldt’s Stagecoach to Purgatory, A Bad Place to Die by Easy Jackson, Copper Sky by Milana Marsenich and The Promise Bride by Gina Welborn and Becca Whitham.

What do you most value in the fiction you love?

I value the ability to lose myself in another world. I love reading new takes on old genres and learning something new about myself in return.

Who is your favorite violent western character?

Josey Wales is a tough character to beat. The movie was fantastic and one of my all time favorites.

Is the western genre dead, dying, in a state of disrepair, or doing just fine?

I’d prefer to say it’s in a state of transition. If you look at the book stores that carry westerns, you’ll see no shortage of new releases every month. And if you look online, the selection is even greater, albeit the quality is sometimes a bit suspect. Although a majority of the western e-books selling for $0.99 are bargains, many others should have gone through a more rigorous editing process.

Then/Now/Next: what book did you read last, what book are you reading now, and what book will you read next? (any genre)

Hot Springs by Stephen Hunter / Law at Randado by Elmore Leonard / Hombre by Elmore Leonard.

What was the last great western that you consumed (watched or read)?

Bone Tomahawk was the last great western I consumed. I desperately wanted to like Hostiles, but found it sullen and smug. Bone Tomahawk showed everyone at their rawest form and was a special movie, although not always pleasant to watch.

***

Terrence P. McCauley is an award-winning writer of crime fiction and thrillers. He is the author of the James Hicks series, which include:  THE FAIRFAX INCIDENT, , A CONSPIRACY OF RAVENS, A MURDER OF CROWS and SYMPATHY FOR THE DEVIL, published by Polis Books. He has also written two award-winning novels set in 1930 New York City – PROHIBITION and SLOW BURN. 

In September 2018, Kensington Books published Terrence’s first western WHERE THE BULLETS FLY as part of his new Sheriff Aaron Mackey series. The second entry in the series – DARK TERRITORY – will be published in 2019.

Terrence’s World War I novella – THE DEVIL DOGS OF BELLEAU WOOD – won the Silver Medal for Historical Fiction from the Military Writers Society of America. Proceeds from sales go directly to benefit the Semper Fi Fund.

Online Issue 16

Lots of crime fiction and horror goodness with Eryk Pruitt, Lucy A. Snyder, Lee Murray and Dan Rabarts, plus a resurrected article on doing great bookstore events (with insights from someone who does this for a living!) and thoughts on authors and social media and toxic tropes.

 

First, an important public service announcement:

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Here on Toe Six:

Eryk Pruitt on truth and storytelling, reading bad books and the appeal of writing short stories

Eryk Pruitt talks about the appeal of writing short stories and how the process helps him focus on lean, mean writing, as well as the inspiration he took from a man with Parkinson’s and The Knockout Game.

The Journey to Publication, Axe Throwing and Tough Protagonists: Lucy A. Snyder talks, snakes, spiders and Garden of Eldritch Delights

Your female horror fix is in: Lucy A Snyder’s Garden of Eldritch Delights puts a lot of female protagonists into stories with titles like “The Yellow Death”, “Blossoms Blackened Like Dead Stars” and “That Which Does Not Kill You” – just in time for Halloween.

Lucy A. Snyder’s Purrbuddy, Monte

Lucy shares about her author assistant, Monte.

Teeth of the Wolf authors Lee Murray and Dan Rabarts talk spending eternity with Hermione Granger, Geysercon, fighting zombies with measuring tapes and hair clips and more

Lee Murray and Dan Rabarts talk about whether or not they relate to their characters and who’s tougher. Dan tells us, “Matiu would kick my butt with one hand in his back pocket, and still look chill while he does it.” Plus, Lee and Dan share their casting call for Teeth of the Wolf.

Reviews:

Review: Dead Man Running by Steve Hamilton  Reviewed by Theodore Feit

Review: Desolation Mountain by William Kent Krueger  Reviewed by Theodore Feit

Bonus:

Flashback Feature: Having a Successful Bookstore Event

Trying to figure out what will work and what won’t? Author Sarah L. Johnson speaks from experience – both as an author and as a bookstore events coordinator.

 

Over at The Big Thrill:

Facebook? Twitter? Instagram? How much value do authors place on social media? This week we’re joined by ITW Members Colin CampbellEllen ByronLee MurraySandra Ruttan and DiAnn Mills as they discuss authors and social media. Scroll down to the “comments” section to follow along!

What did we all have to say? Check out our thoughts in the comments and chime in with questions or insights. Initially, I’d planned to post a short response about most authors overestimating the value of sites like Facebook for selling books; however, recent events prompted me to expand. The other authors have weighed in as well. If you’re considering how to use social media as an author there’s plenty of food for thought.

And On Twitter:

I don’t need to rehash what was covered in my thoughts at The Big Thrill, so if you want to see what I think about the Caffeine Nights debacle and the Chuck Wendig situation, head on over to the ITW post linked to above.

However, I did see this particular gem on Twitter and thought it was worth sharing:

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And what may be the best book dedication ever goes to Megan Spooner. From her book, Hunted:

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Eryk Pruitt on truth and storytelling, reading bad books and the appeal of writing short stories

“The title story in TOWNIES takes place in a honkytonk just outside of an unnamed East Texas town. When a series of accidents cause the bar staff to systematically die off, one-by-one, it’s up to Darcy, the new manager, to determine the cause.”

“I have been kicked out of a bar, a school, a church, and a country.”

 

SR: You’ve released a short story collection. Tell give us a teaser for the oldest story in your collection.

Townies-Cover-DesaturatedEP: The oldest story is probably “An Afternoon with the Parkinson’s,” which was published in the literary journal where I went to college. I fixed it up and had it republished by The Avalon Literary Journal in 2012.

SR: Where did the title come from?

EP: I once worked a summer with a man who had late-stage Parkinson’s disease. This was my attempt to get inside his head.

SR: Tell us about one of your favorite stories that’s included in your collection.

EP: Out of the Gutter’s Flash Fiction Offensive published my short story “Knockout” in 2015. It was a revenge tale about a victim of The Knockout Game, a fad where kids posted videos to YouTube of knocking out strangers with one punch. When I traveled to Detroit that summer, I was terrified of getting hit by some kid, so it manifested into a story. I was super stoked later that year when it was named a finalist for the Derringer Award.

SR: What is it about writing short stories that appeals to you?

EP: It lets me suss out a plot or character without having to commit to a full novel. Every short story I’ve written was a novel I didn’t have time to write. So that’s forty-plus novels I can come back to when the well runs dry!

SR: How do you think short story writing has strengthened you as a writer overall?

EP: It’s helped me make things lean and mean. The first time I wrote a 5000 word story and had to edit it for a 3000 word market was brutal. So brutal. But every one of those cuts made the story stronger, and I learned from it. Even now, I trim my chapters in a novel to 3000 words before I send it to the betas.

SR: Do you have any recurring characters you feature in more than one short story? If so, what is it about the short story format that suits those characters?

EP: I have a character named Deacon Easter who pops in and out of stories. He’s a fuck-up who ends up in bad situations. I actually snipped a couple of the Deacon Easter stories out of TOWNIES, so only two survived the cut. But the most recurring character isn’t a person, but a locale. The setting of my novels—Lake Castor, the fictional Virginia mill town—makes several appearances throughout the book. There’s even a glimpse of Lake Castor in the 80s with the story “It’s Morning Again in Lake Castor.”

SR: Which story in the collection is the most personal story for you? Why?

EP: I wrote a story titled “The Only Hell My Momma Ever Raised” for inclusion to an outlaw country anthology published by Down & Out Books. It tells the story of the black sheep of a family who comes home to see his mother before she dies from disease. Between the second and third drafts, my mother was diagnosed with cancer. The fourth draft took on a new trajectory.

SR: Is there something you hope the reader carries away with them after they’re done reading? An insight or philosophy that you wanted to come through in your work?

EP: I want folks to have a good time, have some laughs, and hopefully get a little weirded out. As for philosophy: I hope they see dark fiction from the South in a slightly different light. But most of all, I hope they want to see some of these stories on the big screen and help us get them made.

SR: When you looked at your stories as a collection did you notice anything about your writing or themes that hadn’t really stood out to you before?

EP: Said once or twice while choosing these stories: “Dang, I used to be a lot angrier than I am now.”

SR: What was the first short story that you had published? Tell us a little about it and how it got published. How did that experience impact you as a writer?

EP: Outside of the lit journals in college, my first published short story was “Coda,” published by MAD SCIENTIST JOURNAL. It was (and still is) a paying online market that requires you to fashion your story after a journal entry written by a “mad scientist.” At the time, I had a story about two mismatched lovers with a penchant for violence, but I couldn’t think of an interesting enough way to frame it. When I saw the MSJ challenge, a light clicked on in my head, and I jumped at the chance. They accepted it and suddenly I had something to put in my bio. I really think that helped, having publications listed in a bio, because it convinced other markets that I was worth taking  a chance on. At any rate, I revisited that couple several other times in fiction, ultimately later including the two starcrossed lovers—”Sweet” Melinda Kendall and Sam Tuley—in the final third of my second novel HASHTAG. So often, people want to know what happened next for Sweet Melinda after the final pages of HASHTAG…I’d recommend they hunt up “Coda.”

SR: What’s the first book you remember reading that had a huge impact on you? How did that story affect you? How do you think it shaped your desire to be a writer?

EP: AGATITE, by Clay Reynolds. I had taken a bunch of lit classes and reading started to get on my nerves. Mr Reynolds made reading fun all over again, and set the book in rural Texas, which was an area I knew all to well.

SR: What do you think the hardest emotion to elicit from a reader is? Why?

EP: Humor. Laughter. It’s hard to suss out a laugh because my sensibilities are so dark, it’s not always going to strike a chord. What one person might find funny, another will find offensive. So it’s a fine line and a huge challenge, but that doesn’t keep me from trying. The biggest compliment I’m ever given is when somebody tells me they laughed throughout my books. There will always be a warm place in my heart for the dearly departed reviewer William E Wallace for calling DIRTBAGS “the funniest serial killer novel ever written.” Thanks, Bill.

SR:  What’s the best thing about writing?

EP: Exorcising demons. It gives me the opportunity to zig when I could have zagged, or to take the road less traveled.

SR:  What’s the worst thing about writing?

EP: Doubt. Usually during rewrites.

SR: What detail in your writing do you obsess over the most? Character names? Locations? Description? Dialogue? Research?

EP: Tone. I waste a lot of drafts trying to get the tone I want.

SR: What was your journey to publication like? What kind of obstacles did you have to overcome?

EP: I queried agents and editors every day when I was shopping DIRTBAGS. If there wasn’t a rejection letter in my Inbox when I woke up each day, that meant I wasn’t trying hard enough. Six months of that and when I finally got the acceptance, I stared at it for an hour.

SR: Are you drawn to things that are really popular or wary of them? Do you find it helps you to market your work if you’re familiar with what’s currently selling or do you ignore all of that and focus on what you’re interested in?

EP: I rarely stand things that are popular. Every once in a while, I get surprised. For example, I expected to hate Gillian Flynn, but man was I wrong. If I see everybody going one way, my natural inclination is to try something from a different way or POV or genre. It’s not me trying to be contrary, but I find little reason in chasing something.

SR: Do you relate more to Sherlock Holmes or Professor Moriarty? Why?

EP: Moriarty. I like to break things.

SR: What’s your personal life motto?

EP: Never let the truth ruin a good story.

SR: Tacos or Burritos?

EP: Tacos

SR: Chinese or Italian?

EP: I like to cook for myself so Italian

SR: How long will you survive in the zombie apocalypse? How long will your protagonist survive? Why?

EP: I’ve been waiting my whole life for the zombie apocalypse. When I die, the credits roll. I make it to the end.

SR: What movie world do you wish you could live in? Why?

EP: More of a TV show. I’m a WALKING DEAD guy. I’m tired of the way things are. I’d like to hit the reset button and have a chance to shape how things will be from now on. A good old fashioned zombie apocalypse might be what we need to get that started.

SR: Everyone needs an outlet to help them recharge. What hobbies do you have outside of writing?

EP: I have a vegetable garden and I’m pretty obsessive about it. I also live near a river and a state park, so I’m a hiker.

SR: You strike it rich. What charity are you going to create or support?

EP: I’ll do something for the arts. Not like an arts council, which is basically worthless. Maybe I’ll do something that makes arts councils obsolete.

SR: What advice do you have for aspiring authors?

EP: You learn more from reading bad books and watching bad movies than you do from good ones.

Eryk Pruitt is a screenwriter, author and filmmaker living in Durham, NC with his wife Lana and cat Busey.  His short films FOODIE and LIYANA, ON COMMAND have won several awards at film festivals across the US. His third novel What We Reckon can be found on bookshelves across the country. Be on the lookout for his first short story collection Townies and Other Stories of Southern Mischief, due from Polis Books this October. He is the host of the Noir at the Bar series in Durham. A full list of credits can be found at erykpruitt.com.