One Bite at a Time




Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Bosch

Amazon Prime is through its third “season” of Bosch, their series based on Michael Connelly’s wildly successful books about LAPD homicide detective Hieronymus “Harry” Bosch. It’s a good show—sometimes an outstanding show—but it doesn’t quite push me over the edge of enthusiasm the way Amazon’s Goliath did earlier this year. There are definable reasons for this.

First the good stuff. The producers had the good sense to stick as much within the universe defined by Connelly’s books as possible, unlike what Netflix did with the Longmire series, which has shown wear the last couple of years. No one comes up with better stories than Michael Connelly, and his depictions of police procedure and cops’ lives are unsurpassed.

The casting and acting also express Connelly’s books well. I’ve been in the tank for Titus
Welliver even since he made his first appearance in Deadwood, no matter how badly he needed a haircut. He absorbs the role of Harry so much that when I read Connelly now I think of Welliver in my mind. It’s also nice to see Wire alumni Jamie Hector and Lance Reddick again, though Reddick plays essentially the same role as he did in The Wire, with a little more connivance. (It would be nice to see him walking around without that rebar up his ass, though.) The dynamic between Harry and his daughter (Madison Lintz) always works, and the relationship he has with his ex-wife (Sarah Clarke) is authentically awkward, as opposed to inexpertly done. The overall production values are excellent.

My lack of total enthusiasm comes, in part, from the strengths of the show: how close it relies on Connelly’s books. No one tells better stories than Michael Connelly, but he doesn’t tell them with much flair. Sometimes the books read as if he’s still too closely wedded to the ethos of his journalistic roots. The dialog rarely sings. It’s a talented corps of actors; give them things to say that take advantage of their gifts.

The other problem is Harry himself: he’s an asshole. If not for his obvious affection and concern for his daughter, he’d be an unlikeable asshole. He’s sullen, rude, and always Right, and fuck you if you disagree. That’s okay once in a while as a way to show a character with backbone, but Harry’s like that all the time. As someone pointed out to me (I wish I remember who, but I forget. Sorry.) Harry’s an asshole in the books, too, but the internal monologs help us to understand his thought processes better, so we can at least rationalize some of his more holey conduct. A visual medium loses that, so it might be of value to back off it a little.

Is Bosch a good show? Absolutely. Will I watch Season 4? No doubt. Does it reach the elite level of The Wire, The Sopranos, or Deadwood? Nope. I’d place it about even with Ray Donovan, though better in some ways and not as good in others. A good show well worth one’s time, but not to be included in the conversation when the classics are under discussion.



Friday, June 23, 2017

A Good Time Was Had by All

This is going to be a difficult blog post to write, among the my hardest ever. If all blog posts required this level of gut-wrenching effort to produce, I wouldn’t fool with it. Okay. Enough. Let’s rip this Band-Aid off all at once: I’m going to say nice things about Ed Aymar. Happy?

Ed used his not inconsiderable (and wholly inexplicable) skill at talking people into things to get One More Page Books in Arlington to host an evening of crime fiction last Friday. Ed cobbled together a panel that consisted of Christina Kovac (The Cutaway), Sherry Harris (author of the Sarah Winston Garage Sale series), and Burt Solomon (Killing Willie Lincoln), then risked it all by inviting me.

A crowd of about thirty people showed up anyway and was treated to an evening that showed the uninitiated why crime fiction writers are so often described as the friendliest and most open of all writers: because they are. From Christina’s tales of gruesome dead bodies through Sherry’s cats on her book covers (there are no cats in the books) to Burt’s trials to get the proper Lincoln son on his cover, Ed led an entertaining evening that lasted well past when the good people at One More Page thought they’d be able to go home.

Regardless of who came up with the idea, having a cross-section of crime writers was inspired. Christina writes contemporary thrillers; Sherry does cozies; Burt leverages his non-fiction research skills for historical mysteries; I’m hard-boiled. The audience that appears at such an event is pre-disposed to like crime fiction. Why not give them a taste of what they already like, but in different flavors? The audience questions kept us on our toes and the chats during the signing period were just as good.

So thanks to everyone at One More Page for having me, thanks to everyone who showed up (especially those who bought every book I carried in with me), and special thanks to Christina, Sherry, and Burt for being such great co-panelists.

And, damn it, special special thanks to Ed Aymar, who was directly responsible for 75% of the events on the Resurrection Mall World Tour™. He teed me up for the moderator’s gig at the Gaithersburg Book Festival last month and invited me to read at the Noir at the Bar he set up later that evening, in addition to the event at One More Page. If one is judged by one’s friends, Ed’s can get away with anything.


One thing about him, though. He has like no back hair. None. It’s weird.

Monday, June 19, 2017

A Conversation With Angel Colon

Officially, Angel Colón is the Anthony and Derringer Award-nominated author of No Happy Endings, the Blacky Jaguar series of novellas, and the upcoming short story anthology, Meat City on Fire (And Other Assorted Debacles). His fiction has appeared in multiple web and print publications including Thuglit, Literary Orphans, and Great Jones Street. He’s repped by Peter Steinberg at Foundry Literary.

Just between us, we’ve been online friends for a few years now and there are few who are more fun to trade ideas with. Read on if you doubt me.

One Bite at a Time: Tell us about this Blacky Jaguar character.
Angel Colon: Blacky Jaguar is the last son of a bitch you need walking into your life. Ex-IRA, current FBI most-wanted, and all-time asshole. He's a swaggering, loudmouth, villainous prick who happens to let his conscience--what little of it there is--get the better of him on most occasions, though, there's usually an obscene amount of collateral damage left in his wake.

I like to say he's a hurricane what walks like a man.

In other words: the ideal drinking partner.

OBAAT: So how’d he get hooked up with the Cool Clux Cult?
AC: Blacky's an idiot, but he's not dumb. After his exploits in The Bronx during Fury the man knows he's working against the clock and will be behind bars before long. That said, he figures a road trip to Graceland is in order as it's been on his bucket list. Unfortunately, Blacky needs money and finds himself wrapped up in an old friend's mess against a shadowy internet cabal making life pretty damn difficult for the residents of a Tennessee town. The Cool Clux Cult is a frustrating problem for Blacky - how does he win against something he can't punch? And how does a man with a background in a heavily political movement (which is me putting the IRA lightly, I know) handle coming face to face with ideologues and modern American social justice?

OBAAT: As a fellow Down & Out author, I was tickled to death to see No Happy Endings was recently nominated for an Anthony Award for best novella. Give us some idea how proud the other nominees should be to have been included in your company.
AC: Who doesn't want to be on a slate with a story about stealing semen in the middle of a hurricane? That's some prestige money can't buy!

All jokes aside, it's insane to see No Happy Endings get enough love to even be shortlisted. I'm proud and also pretty fucking humbled that enough people thought enough of the story to include it in their lists for nomination.

That said, it is infinitely entertaining a novella about a sperm heist and Johnny Shaw's outstanding short story, “Gary's Got A Boner,” were both nominated. I think this year's B'Con may have a subtle theme.

OBAAT: Let’s talk about writing in general for a minute and the process that earned the nomination. Do you edit as you go? Throw anything into a first draft knowing the hard work is in the revisions? Something in between?
AC: It's a big mix but I ultimately edit as I go and then I edit some more followed by ugly crying and more editing. Novellas are a little easier to burn through and come back to sorting out in multiple revise phases. The length is also useful as I can read the story out loud to my wife - which is sort of a tradition for Blacky - and spot where the voice is off or when I use redundant phrases.

Honestly, the hard work is constant. No Happy Endings, which earned the Anthony nomination for Best Novella this year, went through three completely different protagonists and a POV change. It took me a while to find a sweet spot that lived up to my initial "pitch" and even then what was printed was not what I originally had in mind - which is pretty fortunate!

OBAAT: I know the feeling. I was 40,000 words into my third Nick Forte novel when I realized I had a tar baby on my hands. I outlined what had been done, outlined what else needed to happen, and threw away a bunch of stuff. End result was a Shamus nomination. My current novel, Resurrection Mall¸ started out as a Forte story until I realized 50,000 words in it didn’t belong there, so I threw away almost everything and started over with it as a Penns River novel that eventually got a contract from Down & Out. At what point did you realize you had to go back to the drawing board, and what was your reaction when you decided you had no choice. Mine was, “Awwww, fuck.”
AC: It's a palpable, ragged breathing, veiny-necked anger when you have that moment of "Awwww, fuck." It happened with Blacky Jaguar Against the Cool Clux Cult, too. I had entire subplots in this bad boy that forced two from-the-ground-up rewrites. One bit: there was going to be a pair of teenage girls on a Bucket List style road trip—one was dying from leukemia—and  they literally latch onto Blacky in the middle of this whole mess. Ultimately, they were a distraction and had their own legs. Silver lining there is maybe that becomes its own thing. Really, that's about what keeps me sane sometimes - the idea that what I throw out isn't necessarily a wasted effort. Sometimes it's just meant to fit somewhere else.
OBAAT: You’re into novellas, as No Happy Endings and the Blacky Jaguar series all fit the form. What appeals to you most about novellas? Do you have trouble getting your stories to fit comfortably between short stories and novels?
AC: I've actually completed five novels now. One is with my agent and the other two are being retooled. What I like about the novella is the format allows me to tell stories that aren't 'aligned' with whatever the latest flavor of the month 'sure path to publishing success' may be. I can chase those random concepts that have legs longer than flash or short fiction would allow without having to pad the damn thing into oblivion.

Let's be honest, Blacky Jaguar is fun as hell and I love that people always ask for more of the character, but I truly believe I would not get that response if I made you read through 300-plus pages of the character. I think writers need to recognize that finding the right length for a project is just as important as the actual project. I can't tell you how often I read a novel that could have lost 100 pages easily or read a short that has the legs to be novella/novel length but falters.
Writers have so many options these days. Exercise them!

OBAAT: Excellent point about how Blacky—all characters, all projects—have a prime length. Too short and people feel unsatisfied. Too long and you’re trying to wring blood from a stone. (We’ve all read books—and series---where that happens.) You and I have a similar take on that. The catch is that the archetypical “best seller” has an approximate length that people expect, and one deviates from that at one’s own peril. As a fellow deviant, what are your feelings about writing books that may limit your mass appeal? More to the point, who do you write for?
AC: I write for my kids - weird answer, so let me elaborate. I write material that makes me happy and doesn't necessarily compromise my specific vision because I want my rugrats to see that this pursuit, and all the goddamn work that comes with it, is meant to be satisfying to the artist as much as to the consumer. Can I write to the market? Sure. Will I? Maybe. I can't say for certain an idea might grab me that leans heavily to the mainstream. (Hell, one or two novels I'm working on just might). That doesn't mean I'll ever sacrifice my voice, though. It took me a long damn time to be comfortable with my voice and I don't want to walk away from that.

In short - if I can be an example to my kids in that sense - it's 100% worth it. I don't want them to believe the payoff has to be money or fame. Those things are certainly nice and definitely something to strive for, but the satisfaction of creating and sharing is something that I am so happy to have had the good luck to experience.

OBAAT: Novellas have made a bit of a comeback recently as e-books, largely because production costs make it difficult for print publishers to find a good price point. Down & Out is bringing Blacky out in paperback. Was that your idea, or theirs, and how did it come about?
AC: Down & Out rocks? It's a pretty cool partnership now that Shotgun Honey and Down & Out have joined forces. That said, I've been lucky that all of my releases so far have been available in print and digital! I am that damn cool. On a more professional note, though - I think there's still something to holding a physical book no matter the length. With the way Amazon and other sellers are built, I think it's ridiculous to not offer readers an option - especially if the cost is at a minimum.

OBAAT: So I’m guessing I’ll see you in Toronto. Tell you what, if you don’t win the Anthony, first drink’s on me. If you do win, first drink’s on you. I mean, you’re celebrating and almost certainly wouldn’t have won without the OBAAT bounce, right?
AC: For sure I'm in Toronto, but I'll be on a plane when they don't call my name. Scheduling demands my ass back in the States on Sunday afternoon. My wife and kids give me a wide berth for this stuff, but being gone from Thursday is pushing it. (Also, the only other flight out would have me landing later than I need to be driving on the Jersey Turnpike than I'd enjoy). Still, we'll certainly have a drink or two and I'll bitch about something involving the current state of crime fiction politics as is required at Bouchercon.

OBAAT: We’ll just have to have that drink in advance. I’ll buy and you can pay me back after you win—with interest—in St. Petersburg.


Thanks, Angel. This was great fun. Looking forward to more from you.

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

A Conversation With Nik Korpon

Here’s Nik Korpon’s Amazon bio:
Nik Korpon is the author of The Rebellion's Last Traitor (Angry Robot 2017), Queen Of The Struggle (2018), and The Soul Standard, among others. (Editor’s note: Plus my personal favorite, Stay God, Sweet Angel.) His stories have bloodied the pages and screens of Thuglit, Needle, Out of the Gutter, Crime Factory, Shotgun Honey, and a bunch more. He lives in Baltimore.

That’s fine as far as the writing credits go. It’s the “He lives in Baltimore” part I take issue with. He doesn’t just live in Baltimore. He absorbs Baltimore. He squeezes the life out of Baltimore then shakes it back into existence. To say “Nik Korpon lives in Baltimore” is like saying “Batman lives in Gotham City.” Marlo Stanfield crosses the street to avoid Nik Korpon. Anyone who doubts this didn’t see Nik’s precedent-shattering performance at last month’s DC Noir at the Bar. You don’t fuck with Nik Korpon.

He’ll talk to me, though. And did.

One Bite at a Time: Let’s start with how glad I am we finally got together here. We talked about doing an interview a while ago and things never quite came together. Tell me a little about your new book, The Rebellion’s Last Traitor.
Nik Korpon: Thanks! I'm glad to be here too. The Rebellion's Last Traitor is about a former revolutionary-turned memory thief called Henraek. About ten years before the book starts, he and his best friend Walleus led the rebellion against the brutal authoritarian government party, but when it became clear that the rebellion wasn't going to succeed, Walleus went turncoat, trying to talk Henraek into coming with him. (This all happens in the first chapter so I'm not spoiling much.) Henraek flipped his shit and started a riot, which accidentally killed his wife and son. So the book starts with Henraek stealing memories for the Tathadann, and selling some on the side on the black market where they're consumed like drugs. But after one mission, he finds a memory that suggests the story he'd heard about the riot isn't quite true. The book follows him as he searches for the truth about his family. And obviously, a ton of shit goes massively wrong along the way.

OBAAT: I tend to say writers are tripping over ideas and the real challenge is to find the one we like, suits our abilities, and we feel like living with for a year. The concept for The Rebellion’s Last Traitor isn’t the kind of thing one trips over every day. Where did you come up with that one?
NK: This book has been through a ton of different iterations, but, if I'm remembering correctly, it started with wanting to write about a thief, but a thief who steals something other than money or jewels or whatever. Eventually I stumbled over the idea of stealing memories. It ended up tying in well with other themes I tend to write about: what it means to be family, relationships between fathers and sons, the idea of having a homeland, how memory intersects with our conception of ourselves. And overall, I thought it was just a cool twist on the usual mystery novel.

OBAAT: I love that concept. When everything else is taken away from us, all we have left are our memories and whatever comfort they can bring. The idea of memory theft risks the removal of much of what makes us who we are. That’s got to be the scariest part of the book, the concept of memory theft.
NK: I definitely agree. Part of it comes from reading a lot of books on Buddhism, which looks at your relationship to the concept of self and reality. That easily slips into "Well, if I'm not really happy/angry/mad/hungry, I'm just experiencing a mental reaction to certain stimuli, then what if that stimuli is just a reaction to something else," and suddenly you're living in a simulation or whatever.

OBAAT: I think of you as a crime fiction and noir guy. Is this your first foray into science fiction?
NK: Pretty much. A lot of stuff I've written crosses the genre line—I think it's called slipstream but I can't keep up with all the categories—but this is the first real sci-fi thing I've done. And technically it is sci-fi, but part of me feels weird to say that because it's definitely not hard sci-fi. The comparison I always give is think X-Files, not Star Trek.

OBAAT: We met at a Noir at the Bar event a few years ago, I think it was at Slainte in Baltimore. I mean, we knew each other online, but we met face to face there, and I always think of you when a Noir at the Bar is scheduled for DC or Baltimore. How did you get hooked up and what keeps you coming back for them?
NK: Yep, Slainte is right. That was a great reading. The weather sucked but all the readers killed it.

I ran a reading series called Last Sunday, Last Rites for three years with my buddy Pat King out of the hostel where I worked at the time. I eventually stepped away because my son was born and I was too busy, but I missed being involved in them. So Brian Lindenmuth and I started talking about setting up crime readings in Baltimore, maybe a year before we did that first Baltimore N@B, but it never came together. Then Kieran Shea hit me up because he and Steve Weddle were looking at doing an N@B in town and thought I could help find a place to do it. Kieran lives in Annapolis and OC, NJ, and Steve is in Virginia, so it made sense that I would be the one who kept doing them. I don't do as many as I'd like, but the answer's somewhere between being really busy and being kind of lazy. And also because Ed Aymar does such great ones in DC that I have a hard time keeping up.

OBAAT: Speaking of Aymar, he set up the DC Noir at the Bar event we both read at last month. You and I are also on a panel with Cristina Kovac he’s running this Friday at One More Page in Arlington, assuming he’s not a ward of the state by then. (It will be the next Friday by the time this runs. Don’t panic.) How did you get hooked up with Ed, assuming you’re allowed to tell?
NK: When I was little, Ed was famous. He was the greatest Samurai in the empire, and he was the Shogun’s decapitator—wait a sec, wrong story.

Ed came to that Noir at the Bar we were talking about earlier, at Slainte, and introduced himself. We've become good friends, in large part I think, because he pulls me into a lot of his schemes, and man does that dude hustle. He's always organizing a reading or a panel or some kind of event, and he's really generous with his time and making sure to include local readers. I'm thankful for him because I get to participate in a lot of things that I'm too lazy or busy to set up myself. 

OBAAT: The Noir at the Bar Ed pulled off last month in DC was, I think, the best I’ve been to. The quality of writing was exceptional, as was the quality of the reading. Eryk Pruitt won the machete, but you stole the show with your performance art piece that put me in mind of the Reverent D. Wayne Love from the group A3. This may be of interest primarily to those who were there, but where the fuck did you come up with that? It was the single most memorable thing I’ve seen at a Noir at the Bar event.
NK: Thanks for saying that. It was a lot of fun to do. It started after Ed told everyone he got an engraved machete as the Audience Favorite prize. Then he texted me, saying Eryk had given him a clip of his shit-talking video and we'd all better bring it. So my goal was, basically, to out-sacrilege Eryk. The whole thing was a story at first, then I thought it'd be cooler to have it be more of a performance art kind of thing, and it all went to hell from there. But I think the main thing was to be entertaining. We're lucky at N@B because many of the readers are characters and sarcastic loudmouths anyway, so the readings are interesting. But a lot of readings are quiet, navel-gazing events, and I wanted to do something off-the-wall that people would remember.


OBAAT: I know there are writers who don’t like to read in their own genre when they’re working on a book. They think they’ll fall into the other writer’s style or voice. What—and who—do you like to read, and does that ever enter into it?
NK: It doesn't bother me much anymore. I think I'd avoid reading people when I started writing books, but by this point my own voice is fairly defined (or is evolving constantly enough) so it doesn't affect me much. I guess I try to read in the genre I'm writing to sort of get my head in the game. But I do read certain authors before starting a book if I want to try to channel them. Don Winslow and Dennis Lehane are two I fall back on frequently. I'm really looking forward to having time to read their new books this summer. Tana French is another one. Her writing amazes me because she'll have nine pages of interrogation—and that's nine pages of small type and narrow margins—but they're absolutely riveting. I don't understand how she does it. Gabino Iglesias is another writer I read when looking for inspiration for the book I'm (hopefully) starting soon.

OBAAT: I need to read Winslow. I’ve been tripping over his name for a couple of years now. I’ve been in the tank for Lehane for quite a while. I’ve heard him say he writes about the people he writes about—basically the working class and criminals—because he understands them and doesn’t give a shit about the rich. Stay God, Sweet Angel revolved around characters—notably Damon—who can’t catch a break. It doesn’t sound like Henraek and Walleus exactly have the road rising to meet them, either. What attracts you to these kinds of characters and stories?
NK: Winslow is fantastic. For my money, one of the best writers working today. I was lucky to get to interview him when he was touring for The Cartel (again, thanks to Ed pulling me in) and kind of froze, so I ended up asking him about surfing and fish tacos (which, if you've read the Boone Daniels books, makes sense). But he was really nice the whole time and I think happy to get different types of questions. I'm really looking forward to the books he's doing with Michael Mann. 

I'd put Lehane in the same boat, too. What I like about Lehane is the focus on working class people, people I know and grew up with, which is probably the reason I write about who I write about. Maybe it's the class-warfare chip on my shoulder, but I don't give a shit about the rich. Rich people problems are boring. Most people have no conception of what $50,000 is really like—like, in cold, hard cash—much less millions, so there's inherently more drama is someone scrambling to find $20,000 or something because you can imagine yourself in the character. It's like that old Elmore Leonard maxim: "Never have more money than you can fit in a suitcase." And people always want to root for the underdog, the downtrodden and the dispossessed. Although I torture characters in books, I think I tend to write happy endings (relatively speaking) and if I wrote about rich people, I'd just destroy their lives and not give them any hope for redemption.

OBAAT: What are you working on now?
NK: I've been writing a ton of essays and lining up interviews to promote Traitor, so that's taken up a lot of my (scant) free time. I also pitched on two really cool projects that didn't pan out but had a lot of fun with them. In between that, I've been working on a synopsis for a new thriller, which I'm really excited about since I've never written an out-and-out thriller before. Or at least my version of one. I've found that if I have a good, detailed synopsis, writing the book is a lot easier because I'm not constantly worried that it's going to fall apart at any moment and allows me more mental space to have fun with it. Which has been a good thing, because I've rewritten this story from the ground up about six or seven times. I'm pretty sure I found the right one this time.





Friday, June 9, 2017

Movies Since Last Time

It's movie time again. A mixed bag this time.

Fate of the Furious (2017) Every so often The Beloved Spouse has a hankering for mindless “blow shit up” movies; this franchise is a favorite in that genre. I once in a while am not as attentive a husband as I might should be and feel a need to make it up to her. Fate of the Furious came out about the time these two personal traits required reconciling, so we actually went to a theater and saw it opening weekend. I’d seen a trailer and assumed there was a tongue-in-cheek element, which was my first mistake. I was familiar with director F. Gary Gray from his deft handling of the remake of The Italian Job. Gray should have watched that one again, like a hitter watching video or past at bats when a slump has him down. (Actually, we should have watched that one again.) Kurt Russell tries and Helen Mirren succeeds, but the only time the movie’s potential for comic absurdity works is near the end, when Jason Statham and a baby shoot their way out of an airplane in flight. I didn’t expect much and was greatly disappointed.

Drive (2011) Ryan Gosling does his considerable best, and I know this is a cult film and James Sallis is a cult author I’ve read and enjoy, but there’s no there there. The film has potential, and it has moments, and it’s a great set-up for a noir story, but there’s something missing. I’m willing to admit this might just be me, but the high hopes I had from the first 20 minutes did not hold up.

A Million Ways to Die in the West (2016) Seth McFarland tries to do for the old West what he did in Ted, one of the funniest movies I’ve ever seen. A Million Ways has its moments early—describing Parkinson’s Disease as “another way God shows us he loves us” and the listing of several of the ways one could die in the American West that are often overlooked in romanticized versions—but overall it’s sophomoric in the execution as well as the writing. I can forgive one or the other. Not both.

Silverado (1985) Lawrence Kasdan’s homage to 50s Westerns. I didn’t like it as much as I remembered and near the end I remembered why not: there’s a lot of crap in 50s Westerns. Give me the revisionist stuff that begins around the time of Sam Peckinpah, such as Ride the High Country and The Wild Bunch. Wonderful production values and a great cast, though Kevin Kline is miscast. Homage is great, but this needed more originality in doing so.


The Right Stuff (1983) Damn, this is a great movie. It won four Oscars and anyone who doesn’t think it’s is a better movie than Terms of Endearment probably shouldn’t be voting. Perfectly cast and executed. I even loved the soundtrack and I’m a notorious prick about soundtracks. (Bill Conti did win the Oscar.) Perfectly cast and hits all the right pitches, though not a “Make America Great Again” gloss-over; it shows the early space program warts and all. Now I’m going to have to read Wolfe’s book again.

Monday, June 5, 2017

A Conversation With Tom Pitts

Tom Pitts is one of those writers who lingered on the periphery of my attention for quite a while before forcing his way to the head of the queue. I’d heard his name bandied about by people I trusted and heard great things about Hustle. Still, I hear good things about a lot of writers, and justifiably so, but there’s not time to keep up with all of them. Then I helped The Sole Heir move to Connecticut (did I mention she’s in medical school?) and needed something to read on the train ride home. Pitts’s Knuckleball was on my Kindle so I gave it a tumble. The book was a pleasant surprise from start to finish, my only disappointment due to its brevity. Not that anything seemed incomplete. I just wanted more. I then moved on to Hustle, which was completely different but just as good.

Tom’s new book, American Static, drops later this month. He was good enough to take time from a hectic pre-launch period to chat with me.

One Bite at a Time: First off, thank you, Tom, for stopping by. I’m a big fan of your work and very much looking forward to American Static. Tease us a little about it.
Tom Pitts: Without getting into the synopsis, American Static refers to the undercurrent of violence in America, that constant buzz resonating through our culture. It’s a book that starts of as a happenstance meeting, but it’s like meeting the devil at the crossroads. The buzz begins and builds till it deafens you, stuns you, and wrings you out. At least I hope that’s what it does.

OBAAT: A lot of people would describe their book the way you just did and I’d think, “Uh-oh. Gratuitous violence displayed as hip, cool, and groovy. Tarantino in print.” In your case, I’ve read Hustle and seen how you handled the life of street boy addicts in an unapologetic and non-sensational manner, so I’m not concerned. Unlike a lot of neo-noir writers who seem to want to revel in the story’s depravity, you always keep the characters foremost. How do you decide how much is enough, or too much, of the peripheral stuff like the drugs and violence?
TP: I wish I could decide. Each book I’ve written, I’ve thought, “I’m going to sit down and write something lighter, something more character driven,” and what comes out is a crime novel.
As far as the drug use goes, balance is not a consideration. In a world of crime, drug use is always out of balance. That’s why most crimes are being committed. It’s the drug use behind them. I have a brother-in-law that just served 18 years and 9 months for a stack of crimes, but there wasn’t a single drug charge among ‘em. However, it was the drugs that drove him to all of those offenses. That’s the great unreported statistic in prisons. They consider prisoners drug offenders when they’ve been collared for drug crimes, but most of the time guys serve is because of their addictions—one way or another.

OBAAT: That’s a great point. One of those that I knew was right as soon as you said it, but never occurred to me before, at least not in those terms. Now that you got me thinking about it, drug addiction is a terrible thing for the addicts and those close to them, but the societal effects are all due to ancillary things: robberies and burglaries to get money to buy drugs, or the seemingly motiveless violence that can come from being high on the wrong thing, or too badly strung out. Americans as a society tend to look at all problems as enforcement issues. Where do you see the optimal line between law enforcement and treatment?
TP: Truly a tough question. It’s like when mayors are asked, “How would you solve the homeless problem?” No matter what solution you suggest, it’ll have unpleasant fallout. I think the most basic thing we can do is to do our best to take the drug use out of the equation. Not through tougher borders or longer sentences, but by recognizing that it’s drugs that drive most of the petty crime. People still think greed is the most powerful defect in human nature, and I wonder if it’s not the need to be comfortable, to have those pleasure receptors ringing all day and all night. We do it with food, TV, all sorts of things, but most of all we do it with substances.

OBAAT: It didn’t take long for you to become one of my favorite writers. I read Knuckleball a couple of years ago, and Hustle last fall. What sticks out in my mind is how different the two books are. You have a wide range of stories you tell well, but the core elements of the writing are still there. How do you decide which ideas are worthy of the time and effort of making into a book?
TP: You know it’s a blessing to just get one good idea. And when you have it, you know it. When the lightning bolt hits, you gotta run with it. I still remember the exact time and place when the ideas for both Hustle and Knuckleball hit me. American Static too. Although, that one took a bit longer to gestate.

OBAAT: Like a lot of my favorite authors, you work both sides of the street in the publishing business, as you’re also acquisitions editor at Gutter Books and Out of the Gutter Online. How did you get into that?
TP: I was an editor at Flash Fiction Offensive—a job that Joe Clifford dragged me into when he scored the gig way back when—and Matt Louis, the man behind the curtain at Gutter Books, said he wanted to step up the amount of books he was releasing. Matt, Joe, and I had lofty plans at first, but we quickly learned it’s a difficult task to take on what’s needed—what’s really needed—to run a small press properly. Acquisitions editor looks nice on the bio, and I’ve put a few books out there, but I don’t really consider myself active. I think the best small presses are run by guys who are not writers.

OBAAT: Do you find you work with Out of the Gutter has any effect on your own writing, either for good or ill?
TP: I think the Flash Fiction job exposed me to a lot of writers who I otherwise wouldn’t have read. I’m a notoriously slow reader, and I tend to stick to well-known authors, playing catch-up for the many years I was too distracted by addictions to experience all the great books out there. At Gutter I came across guys like Beau Johnson, Nolan Knight, and Jon Ashley. Guys who have a great feel for the language and who are in my wheelhouse as far as genre goes. I don’t think there were any negatives. It trained me to be more disciplined with my schedule. My life is always full and crazy, so I needed to have strict times to read submissions, days to publish, times to promote. Unfortunately, I did most of that at my old job, working graveyard at a taxi company. When I switched to a day job, I couldn’t sneak my Gutter time onto the company clock anymore.

OBAAT: What do you like to read and how does it affect your writing? Or does it?
TP: Sounds trite, but I like the good stuff. Books that are so good they either inspire me to become a better writer, or make me want to give up because I know I’ll never come close. Particularly when I’m editing one of my novels, I feel like I need something that’ll elevate my own work. I want works that’ll lift me up, artistically anyway.

OBAAT: What writers or filmmakers or artists in general have influenced you the most and in what
ways?                                                                                                                                                                                
TP: It a dangerous line to toe when one talks of influences. You don’t want to give the impression that—because you say you were influenced by an author, you think you’re on the same level. For me, that’s never the case. Here’s a weird example, Don DeLillo’s Libra was a huge influence on me. The way he shifted PoVs with ease. I loved that, and I do it in my own work. It drives some of my editors nuts, but I feel like the shifting PoV, or omnipresent PoV, can make a story so much more cinematic. That’s the way film works. You don’t actually get a PoV from a film, it’s a roving eye.

OBAAT: Is there anything you wish interviewers would ask about more? Some topic you’d like to see writers discuss more in forums such as this?
TP: I know it’s boring for a lot of people, but I’m always interested in the process. It’s the discipline that intrigues me. Guys like Elmore Leonard, how the hell was he so prolific? I tend to compare it to my own habits and see if there’s something I can extract from the writer I can apply to my own life.