Tuesday, September 28, 2010

RAISING THE DEAD by Patricia Abbott

In the last issue of Back Alley (Vol. 3, No. 1), Patti Abbott has one of the most fucked up stories I've ever read.

And I've read some fucked up shit!

Violet is a struggling freelance photographer whose work focuses on the abandoned buildings of Detroit. She's attempting to exhibit her work and failing when her boyfriend (and undertaker) offers her an odd gig--take photos of a young man who was hit by a truck and killed. The family wants one last photo of him decked out in his rugby uniform. She agrees to do this and inadvertently finds a "solution" to her problem: She will take photos of dead young men. Her not-provocative-enough photographs are suddenly extremely provocative. She quickly develops an obsession with her new subject matter and sees her ticket into the exclusive world of art.

Abbott is one of the top short story writers around, and this one, in my opinion, is one of her best. Lucid dialogue, a suspenseful and creepy plot, and a stunning ending. Brilliant stuff.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

TEEN SUCCESS by Jason Comer

Not my normal genre, but this sci-fi piece just slayed me.

TEEN SUCCESS is about Primo Patterson, a teenager growing up in a domed community outside of Pittsburgh. "Community" is probably the wrong word--ultra-conformist prison is more accurate.

Primo is dutifully trying to become a member of the creepy "Leadership Camp" Teen Success, as his mother so desires him to. But then his rebellious older sister, Garter, who's abandoned the domed community, comes back for the weekend and opens his eyes to the wider world. She also opens his eyes to how fucked up and artificial dome life is. Primo becomes frustrated enough with his packaged life that the two hatch a plan for him to escape.

Comer creates a believable, eerie world, which resembles a gated community on crack. And he injects a lot of humor into this perfectly rendered piece. The characters jump off the page (especially Garter, who sort of steals the show) and the ending is satisfying and inevitable. (I've been noticing that more recently--short stories need a solid ending. Otherwise they're not worth it. Novels can get away with average endings if everything else works.)

The piece was posted by Labyrinth Inhabitant at the beginning of the year. That publication has a really interesting niche--all stories about people trapped in artificial environments. Do yourself a favor and check it out.

Changes at Flash Fiction Offensive

Rey Gonzalez has stepped down as the editor of FFO. They've had some cool stories--usually of the very violent/deviant sort, as Out of the Gutter is known for. Here's what's going down:

Rey Gonzalez is unable to continue as editor of The Flash Fiction Offensive. The site will resume regular publishing as soon as we figure out who the hell is going to run it. If you're interested in the editing gig, just drop a line through the CONTACT US page with a couple lines explaining why you're the guy or girl to do the job. Familiarity with all things Gutter is a plus.

I'm hoping someone will answer the call and keep this site going.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010


The new Plots with Guns is out and has one of the coolest cover pages I've ever seen. October will be PWG's horror issue, which I'm looking forward to.

Matthew McBride has a nasty story in this latest edition about a careful, calculating nut with a fetish for chainsaws. He's really just a good guy looking to rid the world of people who need to be "taught a lesson," or so he likes to tell himself. This guy should be pictured in the dictionary next to the definition of "cognitive dissonace," like when he spouts this line: "I offered him a look that implied my deepest sympathies and then I pushed the attack part of the bar deeper into the exposed femur."

McBride creates a unique narrative voice that alternates between first-person and something along the lines of a sales manual on how best to rid the world of people you don't like. The sales manual part is pitch perfect and often hilarious. You would think a story from a deeply delusional murderer's perspective couldn't be funny, but trust me, it is.

HAVE CHAINSAW, WILL TRAVEL proves to be a disturbing, ultra-violent and wild ride. It's the kind of down-and-dirty goodness I've come to expect from both Mr. McBride and PWG.

Monday, September 20, 2010


The good people over at Beat to a Pulp are embarking on an interesting project: Three top writers coming together to produce a classic sci-fi/adventure novella, which will come out in electronic form in January.

Right now the first installment by Chris F. Holm is up at BTAP--and it's the most fun you can have with your clothes on. Anybody who claims reading is boring clearly hasn't read A RIP THROUGH TIME.

Simon Rip is tracking down the villainous Dr. Berlin who's taken off with "the device," which apparently can do some stuff to the space-time continuum, or something, and release all kinds of badness. (Holm actually explains what the device does in perfect clarity, but I have the short-term memory of a fish, so you'll have to go read it for yourself to find out.)

Anyways, Rip goes on a rock 'em-sock 'em ride to other "whenabouts," as Holm terms them, with the hot-and-dangerous Ms. Ludwig, kicking ass and taking names. And this story wins "best scene from a mastodon's perspective" that I've read... except for maybe James Michener.

The next two installments will be by Charles Gramlich and Matthew P. Mayo. Gotta give kudos to BTAP here--this is a really cool, unusual idea--the kind that I hope other zines will try out in the future. 

Friday, September 17, 2010

Friday's Forgotten Books!

I guess one isn't a reviewer until they've been part of Patti Abbott's legendary Friday's Forgotten Books series. So I was honored to be invited! I'm going old school and reviewing a Frederick Nebel book for today's entry.

And some cool links:

Check out the interview with Yellow Mama editor Cindy Rosmus at Jim Harrington's Six Questions For.

And Richard Godwin sits down for a wide-ranging interview with Michael Solender at Chin Wag at the Slaughterhouse.

And Writer's Digest is running a short fiction competition with a $2,500 first prize for winners in each genre. Check it out here.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Writers' Group

So you're sitting at your desk alone, drinking straight from the bottle (or if you're me, consuming a lot of milk and cookies), wondering if the words you're slapping down on the page are a) phenomenal, b) readable, half-way decent, c) definitely could use some work or d) everyone will laugh at me long into the night and then they'll start a club solely dedicated to ridding the world of my writing.

Well, wonder no more, because you can join our interweb writers' group! It's called Short Crime Fiction Writers and, you guessed it, it's for writers of short crime fiction (the occasional other genre piece is cool too) who are looking for feedback and are willing to offer critiques of other people's work. It's a fairly new group, started it just last month, and right now we have 14 members. 

Just go to that link above to join or e-mail me at crhat23@gmail.com for more info.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Dancing with Myself

Over at Sea Minor, Nigel Bird came up with a novel concept: Let people interview themselves, asking questions they wished they were asked in traditional interviews.

And then he recruited a bunch of awesome crime fiction folks--Patti Abbott, Chris F. Holm, Christopher Grant, Keith Rawson, Lawrence Block. Really top-notch writers talking about their craft and the business and their personal lives and everything in-between.

Oh yeah, and, for some reason, he also asked me to join in as well, which was posted yesterday. Very cool of him.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

BYE BYE BABY by Allan Guthrie

Jay Stringer over at Do Some Damage wrote that Allan Guthrie's novella BYE BYE BABY is a police procedural... but it's so drastically different from every other police procedural (from subject matter to the characters) that it shouldn't really be grouped into that genre.

I agree. This is a purely original, funny, sharp piece of writing. It has a plot that develops in an unorthodox, non-linear fashion--hardly resembling many of the police procedurals I've read. It's often noted that Guthrie is one of the top working mystery writers, and he certainly lives up to that reputation in BYE BYE BABY. 

The story centers on Frank Collins, a detective who weaseled his way in via a powerful uncle. Collins, who is resented and bullied by the other cops, is assigned a case concerning an eight-year-old boy who's gone missing. The mother of the boy, Ms. Wilson, features prominently in the story, and Guthrie deftly constructs her character with an economy of details. I don't want to give away too much more, as there are two twists that knocked me flat on my ass.

Collins narrates the novella, but it was Ms. Wilson who narrated of the original short story that was the basis for the novella. Guthrie includes this story at the end, which provides a fascinating take on the same events, presented as a grim, sparse tragedy.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Where I take my NEEDLE

Reading on a grave marker seemed appropriate for the summer edition of NEEDLE, filled with death and destruction. Especially when that grave marker is a statue of a black angel. Legend has it that Rodina Feldevertova cheated on her husband, so karma got back at her by turning the angel from bronze to black... or the natural oxidation process kicked in and took its toll on the metal. For an actual history, check this out.

Anyways, this is, literally, the only cool thing in Iowa City, where I live.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010


Simon Wood knows suspense.

All of the seven stories in this collection kick into hyperspace real quick. Wood throws you out of a plane with an anvil strapped to your back . . . or another, better metaphor. 

My personal favorite is A Break in the Old Routine, which fully embraces the thriller genre. Sam is taking the subway to a meeting where he will pitch a big advertising campaign when he notices a ridiculously hot girl is, for some reason, checking him out. She approaches him as they get off the subway and nearly begs him to get a coffee. Like every other wishful dude, Sam obliges.

But he gets into hot water when he finds out that a violent man is following his love interest. The climax is perfectly executed--I was racing to find out what happened and whether Sam would be able to escape his predicament. And Wood knew exactly when to stop, not filling up the ending with a bunch of epilogue.

Parental Control is another standout and demonstrates how ethical questions can be explored through suspense. (On a related subject, if you have read Ken Bruen's awesome post over at Mulholland Books, you should.) In this story, the uber-successful Preston shows his neighbor how to give the kind "tough love" kids need. His version of tough love is probably more like an insane behaviorist's experiment. But if your kid was a gang member, like Preston's was, how far would you go to "reinforce" the right behavior?

The other four short stories are also solid (My Father's Secret won the Anthony in 2007) and highlight Wood's ability to craft speedy, satisfying short works. A novella, The Fall Guy, rounds out the collection with the adventures of epic loser Todd Collins, who is launched into a world of pain after he bangs up the wrong guy's Porsche.

You can find this WORKING STIFFS for $2.39 for the Kindle edition and $2.99 on Smashwords.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

The Sins of Maynard Shipley by David Cranmer

If you haven't picked up the second issue of NEEDLE, you're missing out... and, to be honest with you, a loser. It's as solid as the first with a mix of established and newer authors. For an excellent roundup, check out Naomi Johnson's post at The Drowning Machine.

I'll focus on one particular story that I really liked, The Sins of Maynard Shipley by David Cranmer. Crime fiction writers are perpetually faced with the question, "Why does this person do what they do (kill, rob, use drugs, etc.)? Why don't they stay home on the couch watching Wheel of Fortune, eating snack cake after snack cake like the rest of us?" Usually the criminal's inspiration is money, or revenge, or envy, or some combination thereof.

But not Maynard Shipley. He's a nursing home caretaker (ha! that's a funny word in this context--he sure does take care of 'em) who kills old people for a simple reason: he hates them. I found this refreshing. It has to be the oldest (and probably, underneath other excuses, most real) reason for murder--the killer just doesn't want to live on the same planet as the other person.

Add in Cranmer's colorful prose, a cool twist and some heartbreaking details (like the cute, lovey old people couple that Shipley breaks up), and it makes for a great story.

On an unrelated note, here's what I'll be up to in the near future. Posts may not be as often because I'll be doing some novellas and short story collections, though I may mix in some individual short story reviews in between:

Simon Wood's short story collection WORKING STIFFS
Allan Guthrie's novella BYE BYE BABY
Whit Howland's novella HUEY DUSK
Debbi Mack's short story collection FIVE UNEASY PIECES