Monday, October 31, 2011

JANUSLOWSKI by Mark Joseph Kiewlak

There's a rip-roaring take on the classic PI story at A Twist of Noir.

This detective, well, he's just all wrong. He doesn't know what being a detective means. He doesn't have the attitude, or the grittiness, or the drive. But he's going to learn. The hard way, of course.

What makes this piece for me is its superior writing. Kiewlak turns common phrases on their head and weaves in perfect, haunting details. Rush over right now and check it out.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

I'm up at The Killing Pandemic

So a couple of weeks ago, AJ Hayes tagged me as next in line to write for The Killing Pandemic. (He had written this excellent prose poem.)

My story is "This Has Been Done Before." It's about a serial killer and I think it's funny.

But that's just me.

I've tagged Darren Sant as the next killer, so expect something from his pen soon.  

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

SMOKE by Nigel Bird

It's about time that Nigel Bird released a full-length work.

His new novella, Smoke from Trestle Press, has everything I like about Bird's short stories -- cracking writing, well-crafted characters, and an emotional punch. He's very at home writing about Scotland and has created a rich atmosphere for his characters to fuck up in. 

One thing that's a bit different about Smoke from his short stories is the pacing. This is fast and violent from start to finish. 

But more than that, this is a story with a lot of heart that focuses on the connections between people in dire circumstances. I found myself in particular rooting for Jimmy, whose fighting for his sister's life and for his own sanity. Highly recommended.

Monday, October 24, 2011


As many of you already know, John Kenyon's firing up a new venture, Grift Magazine, a print publication with fiction, reviews, essays, and interviews. It's due to come out next year and Grift's online presence is already alive and well.

I recently met up with John (we both live in Iowa City) to talk about Grift and crime fiction in general. I took some god awful notes about our meeting, as I'm apparently incapable of writing more legibly than a third grader. 

Anyways, John said he's particularly searching for well-developed non-fiction. He wants more in-depth material so that Grift has a longer shelf life than that quart of milk in the fridge. So, instead of a two-paragraph bit about so-and-so's new book, he's looking for, say, a comprehensive piece on how so-and-so's writing has developed over his/her career. 

In other words, more like the New York Times Review of Books and less like Death by Killing!

For fiction, he's looking for longer material that's not excessively violent, but also not too cozy. (The title, Grift, perhaps gives you something to aim for.) There will also be flash fiction up at the web site.

John said he's looking to create a magazine that's a bit different than what's already out there -- a print/online venture with a focus on non-fiction and short stories. He seems to have a solid vision, and I suspect Grift will be around for a long time to come.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

INTERVENTION by William Dylan Powell

William Dylan Powell's got a screamer of a story over at Beat to a Pulp. A TV writer ditches LA after racking up one too many gambling debts. But just when he's at his lowest, a chance encounter on the road offers him salvation.

Vivid, stylish writing, rich atmosphere and a great twist. This is Texas Noir at its finest.

Friday, October 21, 2011

100-word Stories

Anyone on Facebook should check out Status Stories -- short fiction in 100 words or less.

Regular contributors include cool kids AJ Hayes, David Barber, Paul Brazill, Charlie Wade, and Julie Lewthwaite. And it's a chance to do some fun, low-stakes writing exercises.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Best Cover I've Seen in a Long Time

For Chuck Wendig's upcoming Blackbirds. I mean, there are a lot of rockin covers out there... but this?!*

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Laughing at the Death Grin -- BWU HA HA HA HA!

So I've got a story in here but that ain't going to stop me from reviewing it!

Laughing at the Death Grin from those zany folks over at Pulp Metal Magazine is everything that a PMM collection should be -- stories of the strange that randomly hop around from crime to horror to fantasy to the absurd.

Anyone who hasn't read Ian Ayris's "The Argument Bunny" is an idiot, a dolt and a fool to boot. It kicks off this collection by kicking it right in the ass -- a finely tuned descent-into-madness story by one of the best short writers around.

"Greener" by Heath Lowrance is a hilarious tale of revenge set in the sameness of the American cul-de-sac. This is the dark side of the landscaping business where you have to fight for your territory.

And Paul D. Brazill's "The Big Hurt," well, here's the first line: "I usually consider myself a long distance drinker, perhaps more suited to a cross country run than a one hundred yard dash." Pure gold!

So many other good ones in here by Jodi MacArthur, BR Stateham, Melanie Browne and many more. Go check it out now -- only 99 cents. 

Monday, October 17, 2011


Paul D. Brazill's Drunk on the Moon series featuring Werewolf PI Roman Dalton started with his original story (review here) over the summer. Now the cross-genre smash is into its fifth edition with Richard Godwin's "Getting High on Daisy," a surreal tale of carnage in Godwin's inimitable style.

Each writer has taken the series in a different direction while staying true to Brazill's original vision. From battling zombies in Julia Madeleine's "Fear the Night," to eluding federal agents in Allan Leverone's "The Darke Affair," to encountering other werewolves in "Insatiable," the series is packed with action, humor and a lot of booze served up at Duffy's.

The Drunk on the Moon series is a noir/horror roller coaster that shouldn't be missed. Each writer has a creative interpretation of the life of the Werewolf PI -- and there are many more to come!

Saturday, October 15, 2011

New Yellow Mama!

The Halloween issue of Yellow Mama is here.

AJ Hayes has one of his finest with "The Gift." It's the origin story of Padre, whose also featured in the Pulp Ink story "Padre." This quiet, intense piece is just gorgeous. But what else would you expect from Mr. Hayes?

Richard Godwin has a funny, quirky story with "The Plumber." Love the interactions between this comic duo. Entertaining stuff.

Cindy Rosmus is up with "Bruja," a menacing little infidelity story that sneaks up and bites you right in the ass. This one rattles with tension.  


Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Bargain of the Year

I like that description for Pulp Ink from top writer Heath Lowrance.

I'm going to be incommunicado for a few days, but reviews a plenty when I return.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Saturday, October 8, 2011


With Toxic Reality, Katherine Tomlinson mixes up, mashes up, and messes up genres, blending crime, sci-fi, fantasy and horror into a wonderfully varied collection.  

From the quick and quirky AI story "The Singularity of Orlando T. Baker" to the funny and bizarre stripper tale "Gun Control," I really had no idea of what to expect when I pressed the page flip button. In an era where publishers are always striving for "consistency," this was refreshing. (Although I will say that few writers can pull of what she does here -- her ability to genre jump seems as natural as breathing... for many writers, myself included, it would be about as natural as hopscotching across five states.)

What is consistent is Tomlinson's unhinged imagination. Mermaids, trips to Mars, remixes of Shakespeare tales, prophetic killers -- they're all here. The other consistent aspect is her voices -- she writes with authority and originality. If she wrote a diner menu, I would read it.

But more than any of this shit, Toxic Reality is fun and thought-provoking. Highly recommended.

Friday, October 7, 2011


I've got a weird, absurd story up at Pulp Metal about a guy who walks into a coffee shop bathroom and finds a head under the floor. Yep. The kind of story I thought fit right in with the delicious weirdness that is Pulp Metal. It's called "Squishy Tendrils" and I hope you enjoy it. Also stories by the likes of Jason Michel, Melanie Browne, BR Stateham and a bunch of other folks.

And while you're at it, you should check out Laughing at the Death Grin, the new Pulp Metal anthology. Just read the first few stories in there last night -- "The Argument Bunny" by Ian Ayris (one of my favorites of his), Melanie Browne's freaking hilarious werewolf story, and this kickass pulp gore fest by Danny Hogan. Complete review coming in a couple of days.

Monday, October 3, 2011

Interview with R. Thomas Brown

Be on the lookout for R. Thomas Brown.

He sneaks around at his blog, Criminal Thoughts, pops up at classy zines across the web, and has a novel coming out from Snubnose Press.

His collection of short fiction, Mayhem, features stories of modern crime. Brown demonstrates remarkable range in these stories. “Skinner’s Child” takes place in dystopian future, where prisoners are reprogrammed to play by the rules. “A Cheap Babysitter” is a story of quiet desperation, and “A Serendipitous Stumble” is a sharp and funny PI story.

His stories tend to be slow burns, sometimes embracing and other times shedding the conventions of noir.

I sat down to talk writing and crime fiction with Mr. Brown at a smoky little dive bar in a forgotten city… or we emailed back and forth…

DBK: One of your stories, "Hurt," tells the story of a woman numbed by banal, modern life who is pursued by a "teacher," a man who, through violence, reconnects her with basic human feelings. "The Lesson" tells a very similar story but from the perspective of the teacher instead of the student. Why did you choose to write this story from two perspectives? How did changing the perspective alter how you told this story?

RTB: I wrote The Lesson a decade ago. That's true, by the way for most of the stories in Mayhem. I wanted to write a story about a villain who saw himself as a hero. Not the first story ever to have that premise, but I felt I found something that could connect with readers if I did it well. Many people find themselves unfulfilled by the things they fill their time with. So, I took that notion to an extreme and imagined someone who felt a calling to break people out of the trance like existence.

As I was going through the old material, having decided to give writing a go again after the long layoff, I found myself drawn not just to villains who felt heroic, but to the impact of crime and violence in general on people. This got me thinking about the other side of the story. What happened inside that other person to make them act out? How did she really feel? So, I started into it, wrote way too much, and pared it down to a story I thought worked. Reading over it, I am surprised that I find “Hurt” a more impactful story.

“The Lesson” focuses on the disturbed person, the one we may understand a bit, but don't know. We know Cami. We could be Cami. We can place ourselves in her shoes and wonder how would we react. Shrink away? Lash out? I think the story needs both sides, which I didn't consider at all when I first wrote it.

DBK: You mentioned that you were writing about a decade ago and recently took it up again. What motivated you to start writing again?

RTB: A few months ago I found the crime zines through a very serpentine path that started with following the Castle cast on twitter. Reading them, I found homes for what I used to write. Back then the markets were few, but with a seeming surge in places for pieces to be seen, I figured I'd try my hand at it again. 

I wrote a violent little story and it was accepted at The Flash Fiction Offensive. When David accepted it, and I got some nice comments, I felt that urge come back to put the ideas in my head onto a page.

DBK: Your work is difficult to classify in a sub-genre. I want to call it noir -- certainly it's dark crime fiction -- yet the endings of many of your stories deviate from that tradition. Not that everything is Disney Happy at the end, but you might catch a character when they're looking up, when they're hopeful. Things don't usually completely fall apart for them. Why do you think those kinds of endings work for you? Or does it depend on the individual piece? Lastly, do you write with an ending in mind, or do you discover it as you go?

RTB: "Your work is difficult to classify." Just what every writer wants to hear, right? I usually just refer to it as crime fiction. Yes, it's usually dark, but that stems from the basic idea of dealing with crime. Coming out the other side, even if you’re not damaged, is a tough road. I guess that's why sometimes the ending is hopeful. Sometimes a person gets hit. Knocked down and around, but comes out the other side okay. Not great. Not without scars. But okay. Other times, not so much. If I tend toward the hopeful side more often, it’s because that's an emotion that hits home for me. Resilient characters strike a chord with me as a reader, and when I write, I find that characters find a way to salvage something.

I don't plan endings for the most part. Usually a short story idea starts with the climactic act in my head. I can see the act of revenge, or loss, or rage. I then think about what happened to get there, and then about what that journey means to me and how to convey that as best I can. What happens after, the actual ending, is left until the end and I have the complete picture. That's when the character is real enough to me to know if he or she collapses, goes for a pyrrhic victory, or finds a way to get through the other side. When I have tried to drive toward an ending, either because of reader comments or a desire to be more noir-ish, it always falls flat.

DBK: Who do you consider to be your literary influences?

RTB: Like anyone who writes crime fiction, I'm influenced by Chandler, Hammett, Thompson, Cain, etc. Even if you don't read their work, they have influenced the entire genre. If you're influenced by Bret Easton Ellis, then you are influences by Jim Thompson. Of those great writers, I think Cain has the biggest impact for me. His work dwells on the twisted logic behind criminal acts, the seduction of the possible benefits of crime and the impact it has on the victims and the perpetrators. Mildred Pierce is similar, though crimes are not committed.

I would say though that I am inspired by much of the work of Stephen King. The ease and power of his story telling always comes through. He finds a way to give all the details and emotions that matter, while leaving a great deal to the imagination of the reader to fill in the blanks. That is a powerful combination and I will continue to strive to work that into my writing.

DBK: What drew you to crime fiction? 

RTB: I'm really drawn to stories that force people to deal with unexpected events. I love the mix of internal and external tension. Trying to make sense out of what's happening, while also in a rush to escape or uncover something. In my writing, this tends to involve a crime or violent act. That's not always the case, though. A good horror story does the same, as do works like Mildred Pierce. I guess crime fiction is a natural place for the kinds of stories I write. I dabble in other areas, but seem to always find my way back there.  

DBK: What inspired you to start your blog, Criminal Thoughts? As anyone who reads your blog knows, you read a hell of lot of short crime fiction. Who are some of your favorite short story writers right now? Whose work do you make it a point to never miss?

RTB: I love short stories. They tend to get right to a character, hit a conflict and move along. Sure, it’s usually just a scene, and not a whole story arc, but it's amazing how much emotional punch you can get in so few words. Also, the short form allows a writer to experiment with some things that may not be fully developed in the mind. A character to try out. A setting to play in. A time period to explore. You need just enough to get by, because the length limits it.

When I found so many short fiction zines around, it was great. I wasn't sure how many readers the places had, or if anyone would care about reviews, but I felt something from so many of the stories, that I wanted to put that out there. Both to highlight some great stuff for other people who might be looking for a story, but also as a comment to the writer that they got something across at least to one reader.

There's so many writers right now that put out great material. It's tough to pick favorites because so much of it is good (and I hate leaving people out. After answering this I'll agonize about the people I don't mention.)

My single favorite short I've read this year is from Chris F. Holm. His collection, 8 Pounds, is fantastic, and I think everyone should read The World Behind. That's a story I've read several times and adore.

Of the British writers going now, I'm a huge fan of Nigel Bird. He manages to be both brutal and hopeful at once in many of his stories.

Keith Rawson's The Chaos We Know is a wonderful collection of noir. Less hope there than I tend to go for, but the pain feels real in those stories.

A never miss for me is Matthew C. Funk. His stories always have a layer of meaning that jumps out of the story for me. They make me think not just about the people in the story, but about how the ideas extend into anyone's life. Combine that with great characters and dialog, and I'm all over anything he puts out there.

DBK: Are there any up-and-coming writers you've noticed? Writers who the rest of the crime fiction community might not know much about yet, but they soon will?

RTB: I think everyone's aware of Thomas Pluck by now. He's jumped out with an incredible amount of material, much of it great, and much of it brutal. I've got my eye on Court Merrigan. He seems to be getting some traction, and his most recent couple have been impressive.

DBK: So you have a novel coming out next year through Snubnose Press. Tell us (or, um, me) about that.

RTB: It's a story of a man who stumbles home to find a mutilated corpse on his porch. A man who had beaten him earlier. After puking, he finds a makeshift animal sacrifice behind his house. The next day, his life gets complicated.

His home is broken into. He’s beaten by a stranger. Seduced by another. Told his disowned brother is dead. And threatened unless he can find the valuables his dead brother supposedly sent to him.

Ignoring advice to run, Gabe searches for answers. He finds evidence of a brother unlike the drug addicted young man he forgot. He finds stolen goods and the dirty money that acquired them. He finds new threats, new enemies, more dead bodies, a courage he didn’t think existed, a love that he didn’t expect and a truth that he feared.

DBK: What's your writing process like? Do you punch the clock for a certain amount of time every day or do you get it in whenever you can? Do you have a specific process you follow, or do you let the particular project direct how you approach it?

RTB: I write when I can. Between work and time with the family, it's a struggle sometimes. I have a goal of a thousand words a day, and work hard to keep that up. When code's running, or at lunch I'll squeeze it in. After I hit that mark, if I can get time to concentrate I'll do some more, but that's hit and miss.

For longer material, I tend to outline a few milestones in the story. Big scenes, climactic moments, pieces of dialog that popped in my head and inspired the story. Then I'll rough outline the full story arc. Once I start writing, I tend to write and circle back and edit as the process goes along. I want a thousand words I at least like okay, and I want to be happy with how the story is progressing. As needed, I make notes about how the story is changing. By the time the first draft is done, I have a good handle on the story and start the clean up. For shorter material, I just write and see where it goes. With less complexity of plot, I can keep the whole thing in my head.

DBK: Have any stories in the pipeline?

RTB: I have some short stories set to come out soon. One at Yellow Mama around Valentine's day, and one at All Due Respect in May. I'll also have a story in Luca Veste's compilation, Off the Record, with a story inspired by Otis Redding's, “Dock of the Bay.”  I'm working on some other shorts, as well as a new novel also set in South Texas.

Find Mayhem here and check out R. Thomas Brown on Twitter, @rthomasbrown.

Sunday, October 2, 2011


The best of Pulp Metal Magazine, Laughing at the Death Grin, is due out soon, which will include my bizarro little tale, "It Wasn't Slim Ricky."

With this ridiculously cool cover from Editor Jason Michel and that list of contributors... it's going to be hot!