Wednesday, February 26, 2014


Dan Malmon, Crimespree Magazine, reviews The Year I Died Seven Times by Eric Beetner and released through BEAT to a PULP. And Gerald So attends Robb White's Class Reunion.

Monday, February 24, 2014

Friday, February 21, 2014

What I'm Working On: Simon Rip

The Simon Rip reboot ... A Rip Through Time #1: The Dame, the Doctor, and the Device ... with a fresh edit and a bonus short piece.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

The Shakespeare of the Western Range

I have an article on Max Brand over at Criminal Element, where I review Long Chance, The City in the Sky, and The Big Westerner (an old biography of Brand). Stop by when you have a moment and, if you can, drop a comment there.

Friday, February 14, 2014

Scream Coy At Wandering Walls (A Gift That Lasts)

Let us celebrate the occasion with wine and sweet words. --Plautus

It’s Valentine’s Day, and three years ago on this holiday, I got the greatest gift a person can ever get ... a wonderful baby girl. This past week as my wife and I picked out several gifts for our daughter, everything seemed to fall short. Sure when she opened her presents, she was amused by the toy and loved the book and looked adorable in the new outfit, but what’s really memorable about any of it? (I’m being philosophical here because, of course, she’s still too young to remember—or really appreciate—it anyway.) It’s just something that has been on my mind, brought forward by the gift that my nephew Kyle Knapp had sent to Ava on her birthday last year ... a poem. A very special poem.

“For Ava” arrived in an email with a pithy note that offered no glimpse into the lasting lines that followed. In a very humble and almost apologetic tone, he wrote, “Hey David, I'm broke as shit, but I wrote Ava a poem. Tried to call you guys. –Kyle”

For Ava

And of course, hooray!
Held for us in somber halls
With seldom cheer
In horrid weather,
Still, and so, we’re unimaginably happy!

We can break down to dance
We can scream coy at wandering walls
(Like the impression of you I cherish the most)

The tables are kicked out
And the joy is all around,
Smeared with everything in the universe that’s colored in crayons

And we’re all so wrapped in wonder, or bliss
That life ponders,
And wonders why
The asterisk of the bower
Doesn’t spell out your name
In crude italics

I think we’ll be friends
In fact, I’ve seen it...
If crazy old men can sometimes imagine the future
We’ll go swimming, and share our dreams at breakfast
And reframe the pictures,
That first cast me and your father.

I’m poor!
And strangled and held still!
But I hope that on your birthday,
Since I can’t offer you a real present
You’ll remember my words.

Love you kiddo,

I look back at my response that now seems so … ordinary. I wrote: AWESOME! Denise said "how sweet!" Means a lot, Kyle. Thank you. That was special. ~David

I’m glad I capped “awesome” and added my wife’s heartfelt sentiment but it was written by a tired traveler who was once again on the road for another job assignment. I would probably network on the Internet for an hour after dinner and then go to bed. So the full weight of his gift—in the moment—remained largely unrecognized. His email arrived at 7:14 pm that night and I’m grateful at least I spotted it right away and sent that thank you eleven minutes later. When you have lost someone, sobering experience has taught me, the tiniest of details can bring the largest amount of comfort.

Since I can’t offer you a real present

Words meant a great deal to my nephew, bordering on the spiritual. As a writer, I can’t think of a better present to offer. Words. Distinctive. Sharp. Memorable. Of all the Christmas, birthday, and other gifts I have received and given over the years, what really stands out? I can think of a handful: the prayer my dad had handwritten on the occasion of, I believe, my 8th birthday, the entire set of Hardy Boys books for Christmas in 1980 that skyrocketed my interest in reading (and that Kyle would borrow twenty plus years later and contribute to his own tutelage); the home shared from my in-laws after the loss of ours; and this past Christmas, the sweatshirts adorned with Kyle’s verses.

This is not to say gifts purchased with careful affection aren’t or can’t be special. It just seems too easy to forget that often the best gifts are those crafted from the hands and heart of another—the ones that don’t have the sticky remnants of a once-attached price tag. Kyle’s poem—a “rhythmical creation of beauty in words” as defined by Poe—to Ava, well, it will be remembered long past any present he could have bought. A very real present, and I’m sure in time, Ava will come to appreciate his words just as I do.


Smeared with everything in the universe that’s colored in crayons

Aside from our contribution in keeping Walt Disney solvent with our purchases for Ava’s birthday this year, I pulled out a piece of construction paper, and with her mom’s help we drew a picture of our house and happy family. Denise sketched the home because she’s pretty good at that, and I took care of the sun with beaming rays and trees, which I’m not so good at, but I can make it resemble the intended. Artists we’re not! The drawing’s not much, but, then again, it’s everything. And Ava loved it, deciding which stick figure is Daddy, which one is Mommy, and which one is her. And knowing her great ability in using childhood imagination, later she will take that drawing, place her little toy people on it, and have them playing with our stick figure family in the yard under the trees.

Kyle would have been endeared by Ava’s imagination. When he had replied to my email, he'd certainly made use of his … I smile at his offbeat sense of humor and give him the last word:

I'm glad that you guys liked the poem, it’s all I could think of to do. It’s definitely a bit rough drafty. I want to discuss this novel I'm writing at some point. I'm on chapter 4 and I'm pretty confident that I can get through a full length piece this time. Maybe you can sell the s--- out of it and we can both retire, dig a moat around the property and fill it with exotic sea-dangers (like an octopus or something).

Best thoughts,

Friday, February 7, 2014

A Conversation with Steve Weddle @ the Sunset Blvd

It’s 4:45 in the afternoon, and a handful of barflies are enjoying the cheapest beer on tap at the Sunset Blvd cyber bar. I’m here to meet Steve Weddle, and I recognize him immediately by the flame of red hair and matching beard. I wave and head over to the table in the far corner, hailing the waitress on the way. Sometimes I wonder why I come here with the ‘Ms. Fiorentino’ barmaid’s saucy I-don’t-give-a-damn attitude (appropriately Lizabeth Scott, 1945), and her preference for watching the barking clowns of reality TV shows and listening to the sugary beats of pop music … all of it tilts me the wrong way. But the dive atmosphere is pitch perfect, and I find I’m able to drown out the blaring Auto-Tuned vocals of Miley Cyrus with the sounds in my head of Thelonius Monk’s fingers be-bopping across 88 keys in seamless harmony.

I sit down and ask for my usual Sam Adams. Steve orders a “Jack Daniel’s. No ice. No water. No umbrella.”

I grin at his sense of humor, “So glad you had some time to spare, Steve, before you gotta get back to Virginia. You know, I’ve worked out of the Northern Virginia/Washington DC area for a long time. When I first went there in ‘97, a place like Front Royal or Warrenton was still rather quiet … not the same bustle of the DC metro area. Last year as I drove through, the sprawl had already snapped them up. I guess that’s progress, right?”

Steve rubs his beard, which, honest to holy, is the brightest crimson I’ve ever seen up close. “Just so happens that we were in Warrenton yesterday for a family event. We stopped in the old downtown where my wife went to the knitting store, while I sat in the coffee shop next door and ate some butternut squash soup while I read the paper. The last time we were there, my son and I went to a used bookstore in the basement of some government building, while my wife and daughter hit antiques and crafts stores at the other end of town. I ended up with an old paperback ‘Making of Indiana Jones’ that I promptly mailed to Jay Stringer. Also, I now have one of those cool tweedy caps that the good guys wear in the Inspector Morse mysteries. And yet, they are a sprawling town, aren’t they? A few miles from the little Irish pub downtown you can find a huge grocery store right across the eight-lane from a huge grocery store. Office Max and Office Depot, I’d imagine, are also nearby. That’s the sort of area where you could walk from Chili’s to Applebee’s to Ruby Tuesday’s, if you wanted. Not that anyone in that strip mall area walks anywhere except from car to the automatic doors of Five Below.

“On the way home, we drove through Culpeper, stopping at a Super Target for electronics we didn’t need and a four-pack of fat-free Greek yogurt.

“I like being able to get fresh spinach-feta bread in a downtown coffee shop and a $6 bag of socks on the edge of town. For me, it’s good planning. Like keeping your living space beautiful by putting the outhouse on the edge of your field.”

I chuckle at his analogy, and expand on the thoughts on bookstores. “I’ve always found good used bookstores in Virginia, no matter where I’ve traveled in the state. And, of course, there are so many cultural highlights like Monticello and Montpelier. I even enjoyed visiting the real Walton’s mountain (no kidding … my wife surprised me with a day trip and we had a lot of fun visiting the area that inspired the TV series). One thing, unfortunately, I haven’t explored in the state is the writing community. What’s it like in your part of VA?”

“Used bookstores seem to be fading away, though, don’t they? I don’t know how they stay in business. Now the biggest surprises I find are in the backs of thrift shops. Writing groups puzzle me. I don’t know what groups you’ve been involved in, but there seems to be one in each town or region around here. You pay $100 a year to belong and that allows you to volunteer a few times a year at their fundraisers. Seriously, though, they seem to have some nice events. There’s one in Charlottesville that I belong to called Writer House, which hosted Chad Harbach the other night. The people I’ve met have seemed pretty cool.

“But what seems the most beneficial to me are the emails and chats, much like this one, in which writers who genuinely care about each others’ work pass around drafts and ideas. Sitting around after MFA classes was good, of course, but I’m not sure how you get that back. Sitting around a fire pit in the backyard would be good, too. Or a bar with a bottomless pitcher of good beer. As it stands, these electronic chats work because you’re not limited by a geographic group. All of us — in the woods of Virginia or Maine or wherever — can be isolated geographically, yet have a handful of talented writers in our genre read our work, listen to our ideas. I’m sure you’ve often found the “virtual” writers’ groups to work better than sitting around a table in the public library, trying to figure out a nice way to tell Nancy that her narrator isn’t believable.”

“Yeah, I get that.” Ms. Fiorentino interrupts us with a fresh round of drinks, “The Internet is a great equalizer. I mean, I was able to ‘meet’ the distinguished likes of Bill Pronzini, Ed Gorman, and Vin Packer and publish them! But back to brick and mortar stores, how was is it to get out there for your first book launch with COUNTRY HARDBALL? Did you imagine everyone in their knickers, break out in a cold sweat, stammer, or was it just plain easy-peasy?”

Steve lifts up the Old-Fashioned glass filled halfway with Jack, “What I hadn’t anticipated about the readings is wondering whether I’ve made it worth the trip for people. You’re asking people to give up a couple hours of their night, drive out somewhere, and so forth. I wonder whether my standing up there and reading a few pages and answering questions is enough reason for people to go to the trouble. I mean, it’s great for folks to head out to an indie bookstore. That alone is worth the trip. I taught college for years and stood in front of a few dozen people who would rather be anywhere than in a tight, fluorescent-lit room listening to me blather on about how American jazz influenced the poetry of Philip Larkin. So speaking with smart readers about a book they’ve read or want to read is much easier. I still stammer, of course, but that’s from the self-medicating.

“You’ve been to readings or giving readings, of course. I’m sure it’s much the same for you.”

I don’t have the heart to tell him I can count my public speaking on one hand, but I draw from what I have in the back pocket of my mind. “I’ve found I get the shakes heading up to the podium and then … it more or less comes naturally. I might waver a little mid-stream when I realize what I am doing, but I can usually right the course with what hopefully appears to be a long, pensive pause. It does help, for sure, being surrounded with like-minded aficionados. Speaking of your peers, The New York Times said, ‘Steve Weddle’s writing is downright dazzling.’ You going to be dining with John Grisham and Martin Amis now?”

Steve rolls his eyes ay my suggestion with a modest ‘yeah, right’ look, saying, “I thought it was mighty nice of The New York Times to run such a positive review. I figure that had a great deal to do with the publisher’s getting the book in front of the right people. I never could have done that. I could have sat there at my desk every morning, typing away, carving away bits of a sentence that didn’t fit. My understanding is that a review like that one in the NYT helps publishers position and market the book. That’s what’s so cool about having a great editor and publisher and publicist and so forth. I sit at my desk and scribble down some sentences, while they go out there and chat with people about this book, send review copies in the mail, talk to film agents, and do all sorts of work I can’t begin to imagine.

“As you know, the legwork it takes to get a book into the hands of readers is monumental. I don’t see how you do it with all the westerns and the Beat to a Pulp site and books, and on and on. It makes me sleepy just thinking about it.”

“Well, I’m just a regular guy, Steve, with hired hands to help me put my pants on one leg at a time.” He courteously laughs at my lame joke. “Slight change of topic, recently Xiaolu Guo, author and film-maker, said American literature is ‘massively overrated.’ What are your thoughts?”

“I’ve been seeing more and more people say they want to read more international books. I just started THE INHERITANCE OF LOSS by Kiran Desai, which is swell so far. And I’ve enjoyed OUT STEALING HORSES by Per Petterson and WHISPERING MUSE by Sjon and much of the Haruki Muramki. I just ordered two of Xiaolu Guo’s books, so I’m looking forward to that. I’m sure I could fill my house with authors I’ve read from the UK and North America, while I could probably fill only a shelf or two from others. French and German, sure. Italian. But have I ever read an author from Malaysia?

“As for ‘overrated,’ I’m not really sure what they mean by that. She said that seven of the ten best novels listed in an Italian newspaper were American novels. OK. Why is that? Who picked the list? Italians? Do the Italians prize American novels over works of fiction from Chile? I don’t know. Why would they?

“Is it easier to sell a book worldwide if the book is in English? I’m not an international bookseller, but I’d bet it was easier.

“What I appreciate, from a completely self-serving point of view, is that when people start to have these discussions, I’m pushed in a direction that helps me discover new writers, new voices I hadn’t know. That’s how I ended up reading the Sjon, thanks to a discussion about international authors. So, my thought about the argument is, you know, ‘thanks.’”

“That’s a good point,” I reply. Ms. Fiorentino turns up the volume when a Justin Bieber tune starts playing. I lean in closer, shouting, “You’re popular within the social networking circles. Do you mind shedding some light on authors, readers, etc. who you’d recommend following?”

Steve signals for the check. “I don’t know about ‘popular,’ but I’ve certainly been thrilled with all the folks I’ve met online. Most of them, I mean. Many of them. Anyway, in addition to you, of course, worth following would be everyone in my Twitter feed and my RSS reader. Well, not all of them. I guess I should weed some out. Narrowing it down, I guess, you’d want to keep an eye on who the most active and inter-active people are. Who are the most engaging? I also like to have a variety of topics, as well as voices. For example, Chris and Kat Holm have recently shared great literature news and songs and general interest articles. I find myself interacting with readers and writers who I don’t really know that well, but said something interesting while I was looking.

“That’s the rough thing about Twitter and Facebook, isn’t it? You have a paperboat with brilliant scrawls floating down the stream. If you’re not looking down the hill at just the right moment, you’ll miss it. Then, maybe you see someone say something about the thing someone said. So you have to look back on the thread to find out what the original hullabaloo was. So, that’s kind of a pain, isn’t it?

“What’s wonderful, though, is seeing people who are really enthused about a thing and you get to check out a writer or band you didn’t know existed. The trick is popping in and out and still keeping time to read and write yourself.”

“So true,” I yell in agreement, the Bieber tune coming to a close, as was our tête-à-tête. While we walk to front door, I ask a parting question, “Are you a Belieber, Steve?”

“I saw a video of that guy as a little kid playing the drums and he seemed to have some real talent there.”

I nod my head, admiring his diplomatic approach. A cliché comes to mind, one that holds true—a southern gentleman. We shake hands and with that I watch the Old Dominion Troubadour exit into the fading sunlight of the day’s end.

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Ron Scheer

Patti has an update on our friend Ron Scheer. I hope you click over there and leave a comment. Ron's one of the good guys and I know will appreciate the well wishes.

Sunday, February 2, 2014

BEAT to a PULP is Back!

Our sixth year begins at BEAT to a PULP (really the seventh if you count the first few stories at the very close of  '08), and I don't say this every January but I'm certain it will be one of our strongest years to date. The main reason is Scott and I are welcoming Chad Eagleton to the team and appreciate his fresh perspective in selecting stories and his eagle eye (bad pun intended). Also our web mistress, dMix, has sharpened our look with a more eye-popping site that's still easy to navigate but looks damn good if I do say so myself. Of course, there're still a few kinks to work out like adding back our ENTIRE archive. Yep, again. *GULP!* Give us a few weeks to accomplish that chore. And we have a couple of glitches to work out for those of you who prefer to read on mobile devices. Please let us know if you see any problems so we can work out all the issues.

But look who we are honored to have returning to BTAP--Frank Bill. Freshly back from distinguished excursions like Oxford American Magazine, The New York Times and Playboy.  Frank is the author of the widely acclaimed “Donnybrook" and the forthcoming, The Salvaged & The Savage.

This week Frank Bill is at BEAT to a PULP with "Life of Salvage."