Wednesday, November 18, 2015

A Conversation with Andy Henion

David Cranmer: So, what is Andy Henion reading?

Andy Henion: At the top of my print stack is Best American Mystery Stories 2015, edited by James Patterson. This is a yearly tradition for me. Inspiring. I haven't made the cut yet, though last year I had a piece in the "Other Distinguished Mystery Stories" shortlist. I'm also reading California by Edan Lepucki (a literary apocalyptic tale that's starting out slow, so far) and Pulp Fictions, edited by Peter Haining. On the Kindle is Gutshot, a collection of stories by Amelia Gray, and USA Noir, the Best of the Akashic Noir Series. I just finished a novel called Haints Stay by Colin Winnette that was excellent. How about you, David?

DC: I’ve been on a Martin Amis run for a couple of months having already devoured Night Train and London Fields. I’m currently enjoying his breakthrough Money from 1984. Guess I’m enjoying that prose stylist approach, you know, the flowering language. He’s a disciple of Saul Bellow who I admire a great deal myself.

You mentioned not making the cut yet for Best American Mystery Stories. Do you, deep down, have a need to appear in such an outlet to feel like you have arrived as a writer?

AH: No, but it’s a nice honor for a short story writer. A certain validation after publishing more than 100 shorts in the past 15 years. I’ve been shortlisted for a Derringer and nominated for a Pushcart as well; that stuff helps keep you going. Arriving, to me, implies more of a commercial breakthrough—topping the NY Times bestseller list, lunching with the Coens to discuss the screen version.

DC: For me, it’s making a living publishing books and writing. To be able to look back over a decade and be able to say I didn’t punch a clock. Speaking of publishing, BEAT to a PULP released your recent novella, The Devil in Snakeskins, which is described as a surreal post-apocalyptic Western. What are the influences for this offbeat mashup?

AH: Devil started as a short story I wrote for the now-defunct Thieves Jargon. I wanted to write about a bad-ass western gunslinger is all, something I hadn't done before. My imagination took it from there, filling in the odd world around him. As with most writers, I didn't purposely set out to make the story like anyone else's (and thankfully, several reviews have discussed its uniqueness), but looking back there were definite influences: Clint Eastwood's spaghetti westerns and Stephen King's Dark Tower chief among them. Also: a nod to post-apocalyptic fare such as The Book of Eli and Cormac McCarthy's The Road.

DC: One of the reasons I wanted to publish The Devil in Snakeskins is that the professor is completely amoral. So often in current fiction we have bad guys that only kill other bad guys or serial killers like Dexter who have a moral code. Blah! I want a bad guy to be like Henry Fonda in Once upon the Time in The West. 100% evil and I think that’s what you’ve done with your creation. Do you plan on writing more of the professor or is it back to crime fiction for you?

AH: He’s got a brutal past and a bullet lodged in his brain—damn right he’s cranky! And yes, he’s back, this time dealing head-on with the long-simmering effects of said bullet. And men with pinchers. And neck-eaters. And, well, I’m only 6,000 words in …

I believe the professor does discover a shred of morality, by the way. Once he meets Delmer (an ill-treated orphan boy much like himself) and decides to give him a chance, he realizes some folks are worth fighting for, even if the vast majority of humanity is wretched.

DC: On your Facebook page I see lots of pictures and videos of cuddly animals doing cute things. How many furry critters are running loose around the Henion household?

AH: Monkeys loving puppies, baby hippos, hand-holding otters ... it all warms my noirish little heart. There's a black cat sitting next to me right now waiting for a "man scratch." Another upstairs working on her 18-hour nap. And then there's Parker, our Labradoodle/golden lab mix who's just smart enough to play dumb.

DC: Which writers have influenced you?

AH: I started reading horror early on—middle school through my Army days. Stephen King, Peter Straub, Dean R. Koontz. I read Catcher in the Rye about a half-dozen times as a high school senior—couldn’t get enough of it. The Bell Jar. The Shipping News. These stories really tapped in to my feelings of isolation and dissension. As an adult, I dove headlong into crime and noir, and short stories (both because I wanted to start writing them and because I love the form). Some of my favorite crime series writers are John Sandford, Michael Connelly, James Lee Burke and James W. Hall. Top noir guys are Elmore Leonard and Stark/Westlake. Short story masters: Denis Johnson (his Jesus' Son collection will blow your mind), Tom Franklin, Raymond Carver, Wells Tower and Ottessa Moshfegh. Favorite short story: “The Cavemen in the Hedges” by Stacey Richter.

DC: My early influences were The Hardy Boys and that led straight into Robert B. Parker who enlightened me on Raymond Chandler. About the same time as Chandler (about fifteen-years-old I’d say) I began reading The Nick Adams Stories by Ernest Hemingway which I still turn to today. No less important: Agatha Christie, Ruth Rendell, Edward D. Hoch, James Reasoner, and Wayne D. Dundee.

Andy, Your blog is called Searching for the perfect sentence. Let me hear your top 10 sentences in Devil?

10) “I kilt another feller and threw him to the beasts.”

9) Billy went to his knees trying to scream but found this impossible without a tongue, the resulting sound like something from a nightmare.

8) For the next hour they conversed as enlightened beings in a barbaric world, the professor discussing his love for biology and psychology, in particular Pavlov and Freud, men who attempted to get at why people did what they did, while Kinsey leaned toward the classics, the fables and—winking here—those no-war scribes, that fella from Dee-troit being his all-time favorite, his characters so unvarnished it was like looking straight through to their souls.

7) She looked at him as if he had just squatted down and shit a hog-beast.

6) She was the most ancient thing he had ever seen, little more than a child-sized bag of wrinkles.

5) “Shit on my hospitality and I’ll use yer fuckin’ brainpan for a spittoon.”

4) Gray stringy hair clung to her skull like a helmet; a mass of skin tags covered her jaws and neck, a live, fluttering scarf.

3) He was a blowhard, this Shakespeare feller, yet somehow she brought his melodramatic drivel to life, reciting the lines with unbridled conviction.

2) The professor’s funk turned to familiar thoughts of vengeance, to the mechanics of killing, an almost comforting state of mind for a man whose world was defined through the sight of a pistol.

1) He was fine dying here, long as this motherfucker died first.

Friday, September 25, 2015

Miles to Lost Dog Creek by Ron Scheer Scheer completed “Miles to Lost Dog Creek” in 2012. Unfortunately, I was top heavy at the time with Cash Laramie and Gideon Miles stories, so I set it to the side with the intent of publishing it much sooner than this. In the interim Ron approached me about publishing his How the West Was Written series, and I jumped at the chance.

Sadly Ron passed away in April, and after releasing the last in the How the West Was Written books, I turned my attention, once again, to “Miles to Lost Dog Creek.” However there were several developments in the Miles character over the past three years that needed the writer’s touch, but I didn’t have my friend Ron to turn to. So I went to two mutual friends of ours and fellow Western authors, Chuck Tyrell, aka Charlie T. Whipple (who’s worked with me from time to time on this series) and Richard Prosch. I sent it their way for their skilled eyes to run through the pages … thank you, both!

Knowing that “Miles to Lost Dog Creek” may very well be Ron’s final published work, I wanted the cover art to be special. I asked Chuck Regan, whose talents have been previously on display with another BTAP cover, and he turned in this exceptional piece. Many thanks, Chuck.

"Miles to Lost Dog Creek” is available as an ebook and later this week in print. Because it’s a long short story I’m pricing the ebook at the affordable $1.49. But if you are a fan of the series and of Ron’s work, I really recommend the print copy which is a beauty.

Sunday, September 20, 2015

A Brief Q & A with Garnett Elliott, author of Dragon by the Bay

David Cranmer: In your latest novella, Dragon by the Bay, you seem to have found the true cause of the 1906 San Francisco earthquake, right?

Garnett Elliott: I don't want to commit any major spoilers here, but let's just say it was not due to tectonic activity as people claim. Generally, it's not a good idea to steal things from the lairs of Chinese dragons, as they have both a strong sense of propriety and a direct influence over natural forces. Especially when pissed off.

DC: There's definitely a homage to Big Trouble in Little China.

GE: Oh yeah. The movie was originally written as a western, and being a huge fan, I'd been trying to track down the original script on the net. When I couldn't find it, I decided I'd just go ahead and write my own version. It's not the same story, mind (so no lawsuits, please), but it's got a lot of the elements. Also, like the movie, it's been heavily influenced by Shaw Brothers kung fu films.

DC: Tell us a little bit about the plot.

GE: It's a buddy story, of sorts, packed with action and supernatural elements. The protagonist Carson Lowe is the son of missionaries to Kwangchow, so he speaks Cantonese and isn't a total fish out of water when exposed to Chinatown. But the real hero of the story is Liang Man, or "Manny," a chubby dumpling chef with as much courage as Kung Fu skill. Together, they go up against the corrupted Taoist immortal Twin Fury Xue, and his evil henchman Nine Serpents Hsien. The next to last chapter is a battle royale.

DC: You mention the Shaw Brothers. Any particular film a favorite?

GE: Since the arrival of Robert Rodriguez's awesome El Rey Network, I've been treated to dozens of Shaw Brothers' flicks. My favorites involve the 'Venom Mob' actors, most notably 'The Five Deadly Venoms,' 'Crippled Avengers,' and 'The Kid with the Golden Arm.' The stories are inventive and the athleticism on display will make your jaw drop.

Another fun fact: My connection to Kung Fu movies predates El Rey. Back in 2001, my sister's house was used as a location set in Jet Li's The One. It's not a great movie by any stretch, but it sure was fun watching wire-work stuntmen make forty foot leaps from my niece's bedroom!

DC: What's next for Garnett Elliott?

GE: Well, I've got a story landing in Craig McDonald's anthology Borderland Noir, due out in October. Among others, it features work by Ken Bruen and James Sallis (of Drive fame), so I'd say I'm in good company. I'm also planning to start on a new Drifter Detective novelette entitled Two-Trick Pony.

DC: There are rumors it's curtains for Jack Laramie, The Drifter Detective. What can you reveal?

GE: You know what they say about rumors . . . though the full title of the novelette is Two-Trick Pony: The First and Last (?) Cases of Jack Laramie.