Stephen M. Irwin is the author of The Dead Path, and most recently, the amazing The Broken Ones. He was kind enough to answer a few of my questions, so please welcome Stephen to the blog! Also, be sure to check out the giveaway for The Broken Ones at the bottom of the post!
Steve, you’re a screenwriter and the writer of two novels, The Dead Path and your newest, The Broken Ones. When you were growing up, did you want to be a writer? Will you tell us a bit about your journey?
I was born in, grew up in, and still live in Brisbane, Australia. It’s the third most populous city in Australia, which is kind of like saying Norway has the third best basketballers in Scandinavia – in the tally of national populations, Australia’s is pretty small. Brisbane is often called a big country town, and growing up in the seventies and eighties, it certainly felt that way. I have five sisters, so growing up I learned pretty quickly the ninja arts of camouflage and silent breathing so as to avoid experimental makeovers. I was pretty comfy in my own company… well, that’s not entirely true. Happy alone but in the company of good comics, and, later, good books. I didn’t give school and homework a whole lot of time, but I read a lot and I read for pleasure.
Looking back at my school books that my parents kept, it’s clear I enjoyed writing short stories, but I didn’t have a burning desire to be a writer. I wanted to be, as years passed, Jimmy Sparks (the kid who owned Gigantor, the titular robot character of the anime series – man, I loved robots), then an Egyptologist, then an illustrator, and when I began flunking physics and moved to film and television in high school, I wanted to make movies.
I graduated from film college aged 19 more interested in acting than anything, and spent a few years straddled between trying to learn acting craft and trying to eke out a living without a filmmaking specialty – I tried camerawork, stills photography, editing… and so it took some years to discover I was most comfortable writing and directing. I made countless corporate and training videos, then wrote and directed some TV documentaries, moved into short drama, and then began writing short stories. Strange, long full circle. After some success with the short stories, I decided to try a long one… a novel. That was The Dead Path, published in 2009/10. I began writing my second novel, The Broken Ones, about six months later.
The Broken Ones goes to some pretty dark places. Was it tough, emotionally, to write at times?
Graham Greene famously said there has to be a shard of ice in every writer’s heart. I guess mine is pretty solid when I’m doing the ‘fun’ part of my writing process: the big-brushstroke plotting and character invention. It’s kind of clinical for me at that stage, and easy to write notes like, ‘the cops find the mutilated body of a murdered young girl’. But once I start to load flesh on the bones of my characters, and I shut the door to write scenes, it does become a bit harder.
I’m a firm believer that writing is a lot like acting: you can fake it passably and keep the performances cosmetic, or you can try and invest yourself in the moment and try and find actions and words for the characters to do and say that are as honest as possible. This means that, when I’m writing fast and the scene is clear in my mind, the characters aren’t behaving clinically, all obedient to the plot notes on my whiteboard; they are doing their own thing. And when it comes to some of the nasty events in the book – the willful killing of children with physical and mental difficulties – the writing days got quite raw and draining.
What made things tougher was the passing of my father mid-way through the writing of the book. Dad’s death wasn’t unexpected, but I loved him deeply and felt his loss pretty keenly – he was simply the best man I’ve ever met. And seemingly out of nowhere – but clearly out of this – the relationship in the book between the protagonist Oscar Mariani and his father began to play a much bigger part.
What made you decide to set The Broken Ones in the future?
Well, the choice was set the book in the near future, or set it in an alternative present. There’s some fundamental changes to our society’s that are catalytic to the setting of this book. Something happens that causes two big changes to Earth, one physical, and one spiritual: the poles shift and North becomes South, and everyone suddenly finds her- or himself haunted. Everyone has their own personal spectre that shadows them 24/7, there watching them when they wake in the morning, go through their day, kiss their partner goodnight.
I considered setting the book in an alternative present and suggesting that this event might have been the switching on of the Large Hadron Collider in 2008. But in discussions with my publisher, we agreed it was more powerful to set the book in the near future, and suggest that experiments at the LHC were only one possible cause of this cataclysm – no one knows for sure what caused it, and maybe no one will. What is certain is that now everyone is haunted, huge swathes of every country’s population are chronically stressed and depressed. Lots of suicides, lots of people mentally unable to work. Economies crumble, and societal glue with them. It’s in this setting of a world on the brink of total collapse that the book’s hero, a police detective, has to try and find justice for just one more death among the millions, that of a murdered girl.
I think the book has more power if the reader embarks on it thinking: this could still happen.
What are some of your biggest literary influences?
I like to think I read pretty broadly, but if I’m honest with myself, I do return again and again to a few favourite things. Motorcycle magazines, the New Yorker, and the authors that I fell in love with and stayed in love with – some years ago, some more recently. In primary school, the two big-ticket items were horror comics (I remember distinctly The Werewolf Wasp in Ghost Stories, and the fantastically, cheesily named antagonist Professor Larvay), and a great book by Susan Cooper called The Dark is Rising. high school, I went deep into fantasy and writers like Fritz Leiber, Michael Moorcock, Stephen Donaldson, Isaac Asimov… But it is Ray Bradbury who remains The Man, and Fahrenheit 451 the book that really got stuck in my throat. Bradbury could do it all – stunning prose, soaring sci-fi, horror, comedy, dystopia. And Bradbury started a lifelong love for the short story form, and I ate up other masters of the short horror form: Richard Matheson, Shirley Jackson, Ambrose Bierce, HP Lovecraft, Stephen King… these people knew how to come up with a stunning premise and tease it out into a fulfilling story in a few thousand words, and I absolutely loved that.
I think it was around 1990 I read another book that influenced me profoundly: Winter’s Tale by Mark Helprin. It was simply beautiful. Achingly lovely prose, action, great wit, and soul-baring heart. It was a confirmation of the lessons that Bradbury had suggested: you can have it all in one story. Favourites in the last few years include Neil Gaiman, Susanna Clarke, Cormac McCarthy, Hilary Mantel, Joe Hill, Michael Chabon… and hundreds more besides.
What kind of research went into writing The Broken Ones?
I think it was Eisenhower who said famously: plans are nothing; planning is everything. This certainly holds pretty true for the way I write. I had the almost childishly basic idea of writing a detective story with ghosts in it. From there, the planning truly was everything, and by planning I mean thinking about problems and solutions – how did the ghosts arrive? How are people dealing with them? What happens to a murderer in this kind of world? Are the ghosts a help or a hindrance? I was fortunate to know of a brilliant non-fiction book about ghosts: Spirit Sisters by Karina Machado. Reading this was the bedrock of research into ghosts, but more importantly, into the impact that ghosts have on the people who believe they are haunted. The hero of The Broken Ones is a detective haunted by a ghost whose identity is a mystery to him – and that mystery weaves with the mystery of the crime he commits himself to solving.
I am fortunate to know people who’ve worked as police officers and mortuary workers, and to that end, the crime procedural side of the research was able to be examined and put aside pretty easily. I wanted to know the rules about those things, and then break them – because the world of this story is a world of broken rules and new shortcuts, black markets and corruption.
The toughest part of the research was the third leg of the stool this story rests on: the mythological aspect. I don’t want to give too much away, but I had a strong feeling in those early, planning stages that having a strong undercurrent of ancient mythology in this post-modern dystopia would work. In the end, I did a lot of research into ancient Persian and Mesopotamian gods, and one found her way into the dark heart of the story. There was some nasty stuff that I turned up about, and I picked and chose which of those might be palatable enough to retain.
The Broken Ones has a decidedly noir feel to it, and works perfectly with the dystopian landscape. Do you have any favorite “noir” authors or books?
Absolutely. Raymond Chandler and Robert B. Parker. I am a fan of other detective genre authors like Hammet and MacDonald, but for me the big dogs are Chandler and Parker. Sparse, witty, no-nonsense. Those guys didn’t mince words, yet they made the words dance like boxers. There is always a new lesson in every re-read.
In The Broken Ones, there was one scene that had me especially on the edge of my seat. Seriously, it was the heart-rate-up, almost-afraid-to turn-the-page kind of scary. Have there been any books or movies that have affected you that way? What do you find truly scary?
I was the most fearful child. Seriously, everything: swimming pools, cricket balls, possums, spiders, heights… but one by one, I’ve pretty much got over them – I can swim, I have parachuted, I can have a spider walk up my arm without losing control of muscles essential to public decency… but I’ve never quite got over the unnatural tension of being alone in a house that you think is haunted. A lot of people don’t believe in ghosts, and that’s cool. But if you do believe, and you find yourself in an empty place where something inside you is shouting at you: there is someone else here! That’s hard to control. It’s an irrational fear, and it’s the stuff of my nightmares. Which is great – nightmares make good fodder for the page!
In terms of films, I like well told horror suspense much more than blood’n’guts. I am a huge fan of movies like The Others and The Orphanage. But the stuff that scares me, truly and to the bone, is documentary stuff. Footage of the Holocaust. Footage of the Killing Fields. Footage of stonings and religiously sanctioned executions. Every scary notion I can come up with doesn’t hold a dark candle to the truly horrible things that fundamentalism inspires.
I noticed in your bio that you’ve long been involved with the Australia based beyond blue: the national depression initiative. Will you tell us a bit about that and how it has influenced your writing?
What began as a one-off job designing a cover for a booklet grew into a working relationship that has lasted almost ten years now. beyondblue tries to inform the wider Australian about depression and its risks, to destigmatise it, and to help find ways to prevent it and limit its impact on individuals and families. My work with them has been with developing programs for high schools that help raise awareness about depression and anxiety, how every one of us can be at risk, and how important it is to seek help. As a creative writer, I think two really vital things have come from this working relationship: one is a better understanding of cognitive behavioural theory – the understanding that how a person thinks about things affects their feelings and actions. This is great for both heroes and villains – so I don’t just write what they do and feel, but think about the mental processes that underpin those emotions and actions. The second thing is not to accept stereotypes about mental illness. Film and pulp fiction are thick with ‘crazy’ characters, but I know now that mental health and mental illness exist on a very broad sliding scale, and each of us is on there someone, so don’t propagate cheap-and-easy stereotypes about ‘nutters’.
On a lighter side, I read that you had quite a few interesting jobs before settling into writing! What was the worst, and the best, of the bunch?
Every job has its riches and its punishments. Dad was a carpenter, and I’ve inherited a fraction of his handiness, and in leaner times have put that to use to pay the bills. As a handyman, I’ve unblocked toilets and urinals, and there really isn’t much glamour in that. I’ve worked long shifts at a chip fryer, I’ve hung out of helicopters filming biplanes, I’ve clambered above concert halls rigging lights. I think the worst job was as a call centre operator: taking call after call from people complaining about running out of propane, being stuck in lifts, and wanting to leave drunken messages for their mates was too much for me. . I remember taking a call on behalf of a city council two thousand kilometres away, from an elderly woman whose husband had died and was being pressured by a real estate agent to sell her home, and she didn’t know what to do. It was against the rules to take down caller numbers, and I regret to this day I didn’t take hers – I feel so guilty I couldn’t help her. I think the best non-writing job is illustrating – coming up with caricatures or line illustrations for periodical articles. It is a process for me that satisfies not because the work is perfect – I almost invariably feel it is far from it – but because it starts, ends, and is complete: on a previously empty page, something is created that wasn’t there before. I like that.
When you manage to carve out some free time, how do you like to spend it?
I have two utterly beautiful children (they look like my wife, not me, so I can say that with acknowledged prejudice and complete honesty). They take most of my spare time, and I’m happy to give it. Making them laugh is the best part of my life. But I also like getting out my hand tools and doing carpentry work around the house – you may hear a lot of swearing if you watch me do it, but I’m secretly loving it. I like going for rides on my motorcycle. And I like watching great TV – and this is a golden era of television right now. I just heard there is a new season of Arrested Development coming, and I am a very happy man.
If someone were to visit you in Brisbane for the first time, where would you take them? Any out of the way things you’d want to show a first time visitor?
If you trust me, climb behind me on the bike, and I can take you for a great coffee at my sister’s café right opposite a windmill made by convicts, the oldest of its kind in Australia. I’ll show you Toowong Cemetery, just up the road from where I live, 150+ years old and final home to a former world boxing champion and, at least one person believes, Jack the Ripper. And maybe we can go to the old Museum building, a beautiful building from the 1890s that is now home to the Brisbane Philharmonic Orchestra and, if you believe such things, at least two ghosts.
Is there anything else you’d like to share about upcoming projects or events, or anything at all?
Right now I’m in the thick of writing a screen adaptation of The Dead Path as a feature film (the book has been optioned by a production company Hoodlum Entertainment), and got the great news that a national television network is keen on a crime series I’ve developed. These come as part apology for those waiting on my third novel, which is progressing, but not as fast as I’d like with these other exciting distractions.
Keep up with Stephen: Website | Twitter
At first, the murder scene appears sad, but not unusual: a young woman undone by drugs and prostitution, her six-year-old daughter dead alongside her. But then detectives find a strange piece of evidence in the squalid house: the platinum credit card of a very wealthy—and long dead—steel tycoon. What is a heroin-addicted hooker doing with the credit card of a well-known and powerful man who died months ago? This is the question that the most junior member of the investigative team, Detective Constable Fiona Griffiths, is assigned to answer.
But D.C. Griffiths is no ordinary cop. She’s earned a reputation at police headquarters in Cardiff, Wales, for being odd, for not picking up on social cues, for being a little overintense. And there’s that gap in her past, the two-year hiatus that everyone assumes was a breakdown. But Fiona is a crack investigator, quick and intuitive. She is immediately drawn to the crime scene, and to the tragic face of the six-year-old girl, who she is certain has something to tell her . . . something that will break the case wide open.
Ignoring orders and protocol, Fiona begins to explore far beyond the rich man’s credit card and into the secrets of her seaside city. And when she uncovers another dead prostitute, Fiona knows that she’s only begun to scratch the surface of a dark world of crime and murder. But the deeper she digs, the more danger she risks—not just from criminals and killers but from her own past . . . and the abyss that threatens to pull her back at any time.
Fiona Griffiths is bored of the case she’s working on, going over the financial records of an ex-cop turned thief, when another case comes up, and it’s about much more than theft. A prostitute and her young daughter are found in a squalid house, and the manner of murder of the little girl is horrendous. Something about the case captures Fi’s attention, and she begins to insert herself into the investigation any way she can. Focused, intense, and a little strange, Fi is determined to find out who killed this little girl, and the killer may be connected to her current case. A credit card belonging to a very wealthy man, who supposedly died in a plane crash, is found at the crime scene and it turns out Fiona’s thief may have more to do with this case than she initially thought, but he’s keeping things close to the vest. Unfortunately, Fi has a tendency to go off on her own, at the consternation of her boss. As she follows the clues and turns up evidence of abuse and victimization of the most horrifying kind, she also has to confront her own mysterious past.
Talking to the Dead is told in Fiona’s voice, and what a voice! Brilliant, odd, and very self-aware, Fiona is as fascinating, maybe even more so, then the actual case she’s working. Yes, this has all the hallmarks of a procedural, and the desire to see justice done for these women, and especially for the little girl, April, is strong. However, it’s also a study of a young woman still finding her way after a horrible experience with mental illness as a teenager. For Fiona, every emotion, every feeling is a gift, because she went so long without feeling anything. Her struggle to live a normal life (or be a part of Planet Normal, as she puts it) is poignant and bittersweet, and the author keeps you guessing about the origins of her illness until the end. The author navigates Fiona and her world with a deft touch, and yet doesn’t shy away from her willingness to see justice done and go to nearly any lengths to do just that. Talking to the Dead reminded me quite a bit of Sara Gran’s Claire DeWitt and the City of the Dead, mainly because of the protagonists, but also in how Harry Bingham uses the Welsh setting to contribute much of the mood and heft to the story, while brilliantly profiling a driven woman that is so often at odds with herself and her world. I’m officially a Bingham fan, and will eagerly look forward to his next novel.
Today I’ve got a sci-fi review from my guest reviewer, Peter (husband and resident sci-fi guy), and Ace was kind enough to offer 5 copies for giveaway, so check out the details at the bottom of the post!
Lost Stars: Tarnished Knight by Jack Campbell
Publisher: Ace/Oct. 2nd, 2012
Kind thanks to Ace for providing a review copy and my guest reviewer Peter
The authority of the Syndicate Worlds’ government is crumbling. Civil war and rebellion are breaking out in many star systems despite the Syndic government’s brutal attempts to suppress disorder. Midway is one of those star systems, and leaders there must decide whether to remain loyal to the old order or fight for something new.CEO Artur Drakon has been betrayed. The Syndic government failed to protect its citizens from both the Alliance and the alien enigmas. With a cadre of loyal soldiers under his command, Drakon launches a battle for control of the Midway Star System—assisted by an ally he’s unsure he can trust…
CEO Gwen Iceni was exiled to Midway because she wasn’t ruthless enough in the eyes of her superiors. She’s made them regret their assessment by commandeering some of the warships at Midway and attacking the remaining ships still loyal to the Syndicate empire. Iceni declares independence for the Midway Star System on behalf of the people while staying in charge as “President.” But while she controls the mobile fleet, she has no choice but to rely on “General” Drakon’s ground forces to keep the peace planet-side…
If their coup is to succeed, Drakon and Iceni must put their differences aside to prevent the population of Midway from rising up in rebellion against them, to defend Midway against the alien threat of the enigma race—and to ferret out saboteurs determined to reestablish Syndic rule…
“Treason could be as simple as walking through a doorway.”
So begins Jack Campbell’s latest novel, The Lost Stars: Tarnished Knight, a spin off of his Lost Fleet series. As first sentences go, this one not only piqued my interest, it also set the hook firmly in my mouth and began reeling me in. Usually it takes me a few dozen pages to get into a new book and feel comfortable in the world. Tarnished Knight had me joining the wild ride right out of the gate.
The Lost Stars series focuses on the collapse of control of the Syndicate Worlds. Like all empires throughout time, no matter how firm the control, eventually the empire crumbles be it from external pressures or internal rot or both. What happens as a society wrests control of their worlds/lives from the distant overlords and struggles to create a new order while protecting their hard won gains. I have always been fascinated by the transitions more than the results. People seem to think, for example, that the time from the surrender at Yorktown and the birth of the United States is only backstory. In reality that time is a massive upheaval where different factions competed for their own objectives. This is truly the time when small differences can bring about large changes.
Tarnished Knight begins the coverage of this transition time. The Midway system is the focus where threats from an alien race (the Enigmas) and other humans (the Alliance) are everyday concerns. The collapse of the Syndicate strength leaves the Syndicate not only unable to defend the far flung reaches of their empire but also requires them to pull resources back to protect their own necks. Two of the leaders (referred to as CEOs in Syndicate speak) in the Midway system, Iceni and Drakon, are not comfortable with being left unprotected and stage a coups of the system under the very noses of the “snakes” of the ISS, the Syndicate’s not-so-secret police.
In reality, this is a story about trust. Things would go so much easier, if people were able to trust one another and not worry about ulterior motives. Two CEOs who have grown up and risen in the ranks of a system that rival the worst excesses of Stalinism, are now forced to trust one another in order to succeed. To have reached the level they have has required them to never give trust to anyone for any reason, never provide anyone with information that can be used against you and never let your guard down. Now with the limited forces available to them, they need to consolidate their position to prepare a defense against the Alliance, the Syndicate or worse against the alien Enigmas! It’s a race against time. How much easier everything would be if both could be sure of the other’s motives.
The Lost Stars: Tarnished Knight is a true page turner as Jack Campbell takes you from one cliff-hanger to the next before you’ve had time to readjust to the newest twist. You feel just a little bit of the paranoia and fear that is an everyday accompaniment to a world that is just getting its first taste of freedom. I look forward to the next book to continue the adventures!
Velveteen by Daniel Marks
Publisher: Delacorte/Oct. 9, 2012
Kind thanks to Delacorte and the author for providing a review copy
Velveteen Monroe is dead. At 16, she was kidnapped and murdered by a madman named Bonesaw. But that’s not the problem.
The problem is she landed in purgatory. And while it’s not a fiery inferno, it’s certainly no heaven. It’s gray, ashen, and crumbling more and more by the day, and everyone has a job to do. Which doesn’t leave Velveteen much time to do anything about what’s really on her mind.
Velveteen aches to deliver the bloody punishment her killer deserves. And she’s figured out just how to do it. She’ll haunt him for the rest of his days.
It’ll be brutal . . . and awesome.
But crossing the divide between the living and the dead has devastating consequences. Velveteen’s obsessive haunting cracks the foundations of purgatory and jeopardizes her very soul. A risk she’s willing to take—except fate has just given her reason to stick around: an unreasonably hot and completely off-limits coworker.
Velveteen can’t help herself when it comes to breaking rules . . . or getting revenge. And she just might be angry enough to take everyone down with her.
Velveteen Monroe is dead, murdered at the hands of a brutal killer, Bonesaw, who’s taken no less than 3 more victims. Being dead doesn’t make her less of a force of nature though. When she’s not working with her team of Salvagers in the City of the Dead (aka Purgatory), she’s taking forbidden trips into the daylight, haunting her killer. She’s particularly fond of destroying his house and belongings, his infuriatingly normal house and belongings (well, ok, except for that weird salt and pepper shaker collection.) Bad news, though. Bonesaw has another victim now, so Velvet must rescue her before she meets a fate much worse than death. Unfortunately, Velvet can’t stay too long in the daylight, or her absence will be noticed, and haunting is punished severely, so she has to time her clandestine jaunts just right, and hope that Bonesaw keeps this girl alive long enough for Velvet to rescue her, and just maybe, destroy him in the process.
Think Velvet has enough on her plate? Well, she does, but fate continues to hand her more. During what will be her fifty-seventh soul extraction, she finds herself faced with one newly dead Nick Russell and is undeniably attracted to him (and he to her), but when he’s assigned to be on her Salvage team, the hope of any sort of relationship is dashed, since fraternizing with coworkers is a huge no no. Oh, then there are the revolutionaries that are wreaking havoc and burning effigies all over the City of the Dead, and things are escalating fast. A growing group of souls are not happy with the status quo and aren’t afraid to show it.
Velveteen begins with Velvet haunting her killer, and it’s immediately obvious that Daniel Marks is really good at piling on the creepy. I’m an old hand at reading thrillers involving serial killers and he even got my little neck hairs to stand on end. Bonesaw is one nasty, evil guy. That said, Velvet still has a job to do back in the City of the Dead and when she returns there, you’ll really see why this author is one to watch. Imagine entering a world where everything is various shades of grey, there’s no electricity, so gas lamps light the streets, and a mountain with a train station atop, and tracks radiating out of it like arms of an octopus dominates the landscape. The souls glow so brightly that they are forced to cover themselves with ash so as not to hurt each other’s eyes. Clothes and anything else of material value has to be stolen from the daylight (the living world), so buildings are an amalgamation of different styles and building materials. I particularly enjoyed the scenes in Purgatory, because it reminded me quite heavily of the movie Dark City. Yes, I realize that dates me a bit, but there it is. Did I mention I love Dark City?
One of my favorite things about The City of the Dead is the Paper Aviary. Velvet is friends with the proprietor, Mr. Fassbinder, and he’s been a particular comfort for her since her death, not only because of his wonderful, animated origami collections, but because he’s always been kind and willing to talk about things she loved in life, such as old movies. We meet him right away, and it served as the perfect intro to Purgatory. The only thing I had an issue with in this book (and it’s my fault, not the book’s) is that some of the interactions between Velvet and Nick (who’s a bit of a puppy dog, when it comes to Velvet), pulled me out of the story. As I said, this is my fault, because I’m not a teen anymore, so teen romance is a thing of the past for me. I think teens (teen girls especially) will LOVE the romance, but I found myself wanting to get back to the politics of Purgatory, the impending revolution, and Velvet’s killer.
Daniel Marks has a wonderful, fertile, sick, and awesome imagination. Since this is technically YA, I feel I have to mention that some parents may take issue with some of the language and his frank handling of Velvet’s killer (nothing is gratuitous, but her killer is a psycho, after all). However, I think older teens will love this book, and I appreciate the fact that the author never talks down to his readers, and indulges his wonderfully obscene sense of humor to great effect. One of my favorite scenes involves Nick taking over a rotting body at a body farm where Velvet is conducting his training for the Salvage team. It’s hilarious. Trust me on this one. Velveteen is a smart, scary read, rich in atmosphere, and Velvet, in spite of her perennial crankiness and the constant chip on her shoulder (which I find endearing), is a heroine to root for. I can’t wait to return to this world and considering the ending, I have no doubt there will be another installment. Velveteen is top notch storytelling, and I highly recommend it!
I’ve got an extra copy of Tarnished by Karina Cooper to give away, so check out the book and giveaway details, and good luck!
About Tarnished (read my review):
My name is Cherry St. Croix. Society would claim that I am a well-heeled miss with an unfortunate familial reputation. They’ve no idea of the truth of it. In my secret world, I hunt down vagrants, thieves . . . and now, a murderer. For a monster stalks London’s streets, leaving a trail of mystery and murder below the fog.
Eager for coin to fuel my infatuations, I must decide where my attentions will turn: to my daylight world, where my scientific mind sets me apart from respectable Society, or to the compelling domain of London below. Each has a man who has claimed my time as his—for good or for ill. Though as the corpses pile, and the treacherous waters of Society gossip churn, I am learning that each also has its dangers. One choice will see me cast from polite company . . . the other might just see me dead.
Bones Are Forever (Tempe Brennan #15) by Kathy Reichs
Kind thanks to Scribner for providing a review copy
A woman calling herself Amy Roberts checks into a Montreal hospital complaining of uncontrolled bleeding. Doctors see evidence of a recent birth, but before they can act, Roberts disappears. Dispatched to the address she gave at the hospital, police discover bloody towels outside in a Dumpster. Fearing the worst, they call Temperance Brennan to investigate.
In a run-down apartment Tempe makes a ghastly discovery: the decomposing bodies of three infants. According to the landlord, a woman named Alma Rogers lives there. Then a man shows up looking for Alva Rodriguez. Are Amy Roberts, Alma Rogers, and Alva Rodriguez the same person? Did she kill her own babies? And where is she now?
Heading up the investigation is Tempe’s old flame, homicide detective Andrew Ryan. His counterpart from the Royal Canadian Mounted Police is sergeant Ollie Hasty, who happens to have a little history with Tempe himself, which she regrets. This unlikely trio follows the woman’s trail, first to Edmonton and then to Yellowknife, a remote diamond-mining city deep in the Northwest Territories. What they find in Yellowknife is more sinister than they ever could have imagined.
Tempe Brennan is back in Quebec and three babies are dead. Such is the beginning of Bones Are Forever, Kathy Reich’s last Tempe Brennan mystery. The identity of the infants’ mother soon becomes evident, but tracking her down will be no easy task. Ryan and Tempe set out to find her, but it won’t be just the two of them. Enter one Sergeant Oliver Isaac Hasty. Turns out Hasty and Tempe have a scorching past (way before Ryan), and Hasty is more than willing to pick up right where they left off, but Tempe is not so receptive. This causes some serious tension between the trio but Hasty has a stake in this case that can’t be ignored. He’s part of Project KARE, an RCMP task force created to investigate the deaths of women in and around Edmonton, concentrating on at risk women and girls. The infants’ mother, Annaliese Ruben, certainly falls into this category, since she’s a known prostitute. What first begins as a search for a woman that most would think is a ruthless killer, turns out to be very different, and devastating. Tempe, Ryan, and Ollie journey to the outer reaches of the Northwest Territories and find themselves in the sights of a killer, and a conspiracy that has them baffled.
Coming off of the relative lightness of Flash and Bones, Kathy Reichs take us back into the dark in Bones Are Forever. The first few pages describing the discovery of the dead infants are very hard to read, and set an undeniably serious tone. You’ll begin the book wanting to see the mother arrested and given the harshest punishment, but as the story unfolds, your perception of this mother will change drastically. Not only does the book shine a spotlight on the sad stories of the many women and girls that run away from home, only to find themselves being used and exploited, but also provides quite a bit of insight into the Canadian diamond industry. I had no idea Canada was such a big player, but they are, and this directly ties into the murder investigations. The Northwest Territories is a desolate place, but there’s also a sense of community and kinship that seems so rare these days. Amidst the investigation, Tempe also had to deal with Ryan’s inexplicable cold shoulder, and Ollie’s flirtation. In the scenes with all three, you can cut the tension with a knife, and Ryan makes no, er, bones about what he thinks of Sergeant Hasty. By the way, Project KARE is a very real, and sadly, much needed task force. It was originally formed to examine the deaths of several “High Risk Missing Persons” who were found in rural areas around Edmonton. It has since expanded to include all of Alberta. These law enforcement agents fight for justice for the most vulnerable victims, and you can learn more about the task force, and how you can help here (http://www.kare.ca/) Also, if you’re interested in the booming Canadian diamond industry, Diavik’s website is a great source of info. Bones are Forever is another fascinating installment to one of my favorite series, and I can’t wait to find out what Tempe’s up to next!
I’m so excited to have John Shirley on the blog! He’s the author of over 30 novels, and is considered a pioneer in genre fiction. Please welcome John to the blog, and be sure to check out the giveaway details, because we’ve got 3 copies of Resident Evil: Retribution (Official Movie Novelization) up for grabs!
John, you have quite a varied background, not only as a writer (of award winning novels, essays, screenplays,and lyrics), but also as a trailblazer. You’ve been called the original cyberpunk and are known for pushing the envelope in horror, scifi, and noir. When you were growing up, did you always see yourself as a writer?
I think it was a possibility germinating in my mind early on because I was always gravitating to the library and I told stories to other kids…I pretended they were dreams I had, and the other kids listened with some fascination because I made them into big adventures. Later it was one of the few things I was good at, so that encouraged me. I published my first story when I was a teen.
In writing, what do you consider “pushing the envelope”?
I’m really always pushing the envelope of my ability to put the reader into the point of view character. If you can make them identify with a character in fantastic circumstances, or perhaps a villainous character whom they don’t really like, then you’ve really got their attention. So I push the envelope to find new ways to get readers deeply involved, to really make them feel like they’re in the story. I experiment with that a lot. I’ve also tried to get readers to accept the incredibly surreal as gritty real, and the gritty real as surreal–and that’s pushing it. I push for new ways to convey a bit of a social message, too, without laying it on thick…
What were some of your biggest early writing influences? Was there one or two works that influenced you more than others?
Edgar Allan Poe–his Tales of Mystery and the Imagination influenced me; Harlan Ellison, his story collections, eg I Have No MOuth and I Must Scream; Madelaine L’Engle and Mary Norton, both writers for children (but bright children and teens) were great influences on me. Also I read a good deal of HP Lovecraft and Edgar Rice Burroughs and Robert E. Howard when I was young. So I got my pulpier moves from ERB and REH and HPL stimulated my imagination…Later I was influenced by Ray Bradbury and Richard Matheson. Movie dirctors, too, influenced me, like Alfred Hitchcock…and Todd Browning (“Dracula”) and Jacques Tourneur.
When it comes to darker elements of horror and sci-fi, is there anything that you’d consider off limits?
I couldn’t get into any kind of detailed description of abuse of children, I’m just too sympathetic to children, I couldn’t bear it. I sometimes write some pretty violent fiction but it’s never really something a sadistic person would enjoy–if anything it would make them feel guilty. I don’t like “torture porn” films…popular horror movies that are really cruel and seem to involve the audience in the cruelty in a sadistic way…At the same time I can appreciate a violent Sam Peckinpah film. But I know where the line is.
You’ve also been praised for some of your more noir flavored work, especially Black Butterflies. What makes a book fall into the “noir” category, in your opinion?
For me, it’s probably about the dark side of “real life”–it might have a detective in it or a mystery, the hero might be a cop, but usually it’s about people being caught up in crime as if it’s a dilemma, it feels like the only way out to them. Or they’re so damaged it comes naturally. It’s exploring crime from the inside out or exploring the moral ambiguity of life. It may relate to dark emotions that are in the service of good, perhaps–or dark emotions that start that way and then destroy the person who thinks they’re doing good. It’s about the darkest sides of modern life, to me–and it has that shadowy “lighting”…even when it’s a short story on the page. And it’s about the horror of inevitability…
You don’t shy away from exploring the human condition in your work. What themes do you enjoy writing about (and reading about) the most?
I seem to be pretty well known for looking at how people suppress empathy and how that suppression of empathy for people can be one of most destructive social forces…and how it can be manipulated. In my cyberpunk trilogy, A SONG CALLED YOUTH–it’s now out as an omnibus from Prime Books– oppressors use media and propaganda and fear to get people to suppress their empathy for others so they can promote elitism of the worst sort. I write about the excesses of social inequity, sometimes, about finding the courage that can come beyond despair–about finding hope when it seems hopeless.
You’ve written quite a few tie-ins and novelizations, which, of course requires you to write within the parameters of someone else’s world. Which has been one of the most enjoyable for you to write?
Batman: Dead White was probably the most fun because I simply like Batman. The Borderlands novels are riotous fun–they’re inspired by the videogame. The new novel is Borderlands: Unconquered. I enjoyed the novelization of Resident Evil: Retribution because it’s very energetic stuff, with some interesting ideas in it, at times, and monsters are always fun (unless they’re killing you, of course, that’s not as fun).
Speaking of movies, any recent favorites?
I liked The Woman in Black as it seemed like a very old fashioned horror film, very stylish; I liked Chronicle, a clever well made exploration of what it would be really like if people got super powers and how it could go very wrong indeed. It explores the psychology of power in a smart way.
You’re obviously a music guy, and you penned quite a few songs for Blue Oyster Cult. What are some of your other favorite bands (new or classic)? What was a good year for you in music?
Well if you’re talking rocknroll… I’m an Iggy and the Stooges fan, and that was mostly the early 1970s, for the Stooges. I guess I like 1969, for great work form Jimi Hendrix, for example, but also 1977 for the great punk bands like the Sex Pistols and the Ramones and the early Clash. But there was great music, if you knew where to find it, in any decade. The Blue Oyster Cult did some of their best stuff in the 1980s; so did David Bowie…I like a lot of more modern stuff too like the Black Rebel Motorcycle Club and Le Butcherettes.
I’m sure you’re a very busy guy. When you manage to get some free time, how do you like to spend it?
I do this weird thing people used to do, you might remember it. It was called “reading books”. I still do that. But my wife Micky and I go to the movies. I just went to a rock concert saturday night and heard some classic punk bands in a live reunion like the Mutants and the Avengers and the Next. I also go to art museums. My wife gets me to watch television with her sometimes and she’s gotten me into the newest version of Dr Who, and into the Walking Dead…and we watch most of the HBO original series and some on Showtime…God I’d like to develop a series for HBO or Showtime…
My son Perry works part time in a comic book store and he gives me graphic novels to read so I can get caught up on that. (I just wrote one myself, The Crow: Death and Rebirth, for IDW comics. It’s a variant of The Crow…I co-wrote the movie…but with a new character and set in Tokyo).
Any guilty pleasures?
The Western Channel. Like…Gunsmoke. And the better old westerns in general. I really enjoyed John Carter–thought that movie was way under appreciated. And rewatched it just for pure escapism recently. Oh and my wife and I love RuPaul’s Drag Race. That’s the only reality show I can get into. When I’ve watched other reality shows they usually make me tear my hair out. Or fee like it anyhow. They seem abusive to the people who “perform” in them somehow…
Is there anything else you’d like to share about upcoming projects or events (or anything at all!)?
My newest novel is EVERYTHING IS BROKEN –a horrific near future coming of age story with a bit of a western built into it, and more than a bit of political allegory. That’s been out for a few months and is doing well. I’ve got a new television pilot script–back in the day I wrote for Deep Space Nine, and other TV shows–and we’re taking the pilot out to see if it’ll pilot through the reefs or crash on the rocks…The pilot’s called Intruder Town, it’s science fiction, set in our time…it’s dramatic, funny, entertaining–and pretty damn crazy.
Keep up with John: Website
Flash and Bone (Tempe Brennan #14) by Kathy Reichs
She lived for speed—and vanished without a trace. . . .
As 200,000 fans pour into town for Race Week, a body is found in a metal drum near Charlotte Motor Speedway—a discovery that has NASCAR crewman Wayne Gamble urgently seeking out Tempe at the Mecklenburg County ME’s office: twelve years ago, his sister, Cindi, then a high school senior and aspiring professional race car driver, disappeared along with her boyfriend, Cale Lovette, who was linked to a group of right-wing extremists. The FBI joined the investigation, but it was soon terminated. Is the body Cindi’s? Or Cale’s? Tests reveal that a toxic substance was in the drum with the body—just as another disappearance occurs. Who is orchestrating the mayhem behind the scenes at NASCAR—and what government secrets might have been buried more than a decade ago?
NASCAR is in town, and unfortunately with it, it seems to have brought a fair bit of trouble for my favorite forensic anthropologist. When a body is found, in a barrel, encased in asphalt and dumped at a landfill right next to the track, Tempe is called to the scene. The body is rather well preserved, but can be loosely dated by the strata of the garbage layers. ID will be tough, and a NASCAR crewman, Wayne Gamble, is convinced it may be that of his sister, Cindi, who disappeared 12 years earlier, along with her boyfriend, Cale Lovett. Cindi was set to be a NASCAR superstar, and Wayne is concerned that the investigation wasn’t handled the right way. It doesn’t help the confusion that the FBI also seems concerned about the new body, and Tempe eventually finds out that they also became involved in the original investigation into the disappearance of Cindi and Cale. Tempe’s usual curiosity gets the best of her, and she ends up assisting Detective Erskine Slidell in the now reopened disappearance case, with the dubious help of the FBI. The FBI connection starts to makes more sense when it’s discovered that Cale had ties to a local militia group, the Patriot Posse, who also were known for their similarities to the Klan.
Flash and Bones, even with Ms. Reich’s usual attention to forensic detail and seriousness of the cases, manages to take on a bit of a lighter tone this time around. Adding to that tone considerably is Detective Erskine “Skinny” Slidell. The scenes with him and Tempe were among my favorites, as he throws his considerable weight around trying to get to the bottom of things. He’s a good cop, if a bit rough around the edges, and Tempe’s patience is legendary, which comes in handy around Slidell. On a more personal note, Tempe’s soon-to-be ex-husband Pete is engaged to a woman named Summer, whose bubbleheaded beauty grates on Tempe’s nerves, and makes her seriously concerned about Pete’s sanity. Can you say mid-life crisis? Summer and Pete are in the middle of wedding planning, and Pete couldn’t be less interested. He asks Tempe to talk to Summer and this leads to a few humorous mix ups and a serious desire to slap Summer, but I digress. Summer’s not the only distraction that Tempe is facing, though. The other comes in the form of Cotton Galimore, former cop and head of security for the Charlotte Motor Speedway. Tall, green eyed, handsome Galimore wants to help with the investigation and also has his eye on Tempe. Problem is, he was bounced from the force because of drinking problems and another situation which he insists was a set up. Set-up or no, Slidell doesn’t trust him, but Tempe recognizes that Galimore could provide invaluable help. That and her libido sits up and takes notice every time he’s around, which, frankly, I thought was kind of adorable. Flash and Bones was a fast, fun read, and I’m never disappointed in this series. I’m actually hoping we’ll see much more of “Skinny” Slidell in the future, and wouldn’t even mind seeing a bit more of Galimore in Tempe’s life. Yes, I’m partial to Detective Ryan, but he’s a busy guy back in Quebec and Tempe deserves some personal happiness. If you adore this series as much as I do, Flash and Bones won’t disappoint!
Please welcome Stephen Romano, author of Resurrection Express, to the blog! Also, be sure to check out the giveaway details at the bottom of the post for a copy of Resurrection Express!
Stephen, you have a long list of accomplishments to your name, including work in screenwriting and illustration. You also co-authored Black Light, and your brand new book, Resurrection Express, just came out! How long did Resurrection Express take to write, and what inspired you to write it?
I was broke and I needed to sell my soul in a big hurry! (Laughs) Seriously, though . . . in every joke there’s always a weak ray of truth, right? And the truth is that, yes, I have done a lot of stuff in a lot of mediums, including a great deal of raw, violent, uncompromising work that the “cool people” have found mighty darn awesome, particularly SHOCK FESTIVAL and THE RIOT ACT. You get great reviews and your contemporaries pat you on the back and call you a genius, but none of it pays the rent. If you don’t have a day job—if being an artist is all you know how to do professionally—then you’d better make money doing it or you’re just washing dishes on the day after the wrap party, you know? SHOCK FESTIVAL was a project I put my heart and soul into for two years and it got really dumped on by the publishers. It came out in 2008 and was a big disappointment to me on many levels. I ended up penniless and starving. So it was time to pull myself up by the bootstraps and do something about that.
I needed a few projects that could put me on a bigger, more commercial radar. I got a dialogue going with an influential editor named John Schoenfelder at Little Brown, who’d just been hired to head their new Mulholland Books thriller imprint. I didn’t have an agent at the time, but John and I really hit it off, and he was always interested in any story pitches I had, so I just kept throwing stuff at him until he liked one. That was Elroy Coffin and Resurrection Express. I just kind dreamt Elroy up on the phone one day when we were talking. He liked what he was hearing and I burned through a really hungry first draft of the entire novel on spec in just under two months—because I had to make a sale, like really damn soon, or I was gonna to be out on the street—then presented it to John. And that was when things got a little complicated. Basically, we disagreed about the direction I’d taken the story in. But Schoenfelder still liked my writing a lot, and he invited me to work with Melton and Dunstan on Black Light instead. I appreciated the offer and it was a deal that paid my rent for a while and got me an agent, too. I’d never had one before, always kinda taking it to the street, you know? But it’s a luxury I can definitely appreciate, and David Hale Smith is one of the best out there. He and I agreed that I’d nailed the character of Elroy Coffin with that tortured first draft of Resurrection, so we stuck by our guns when it came time to jump ship later and take it to Simon and Schuster.
As far as story inspiration goes, I just invent these things as I write them. That’s an approach that tends to scare the hell out of a lot of editors, because sometimes they wanna know up front what you’re doing. That was part of the reason John and I parted ways in the end. But, you know, if it hadn’t been for John’s initial enthusiasm for the project, I probably never would have written it in the first place. Define irony, man. (Laughs.) I did have a pretty solid idea of what I wanted to do—an angsty, claustrophobic heist/chase thriller that erupts on a far more epic scale—but I literally threw the early rough outline over my shoulder past a certain point and let Elroy run into a very dark night. He came in and took over the story! You have to let that happen or it just kinda devolves into cookie cutter bullshit. Outlines can be the death of true creativity when you’re on the front lines of something that feels like it could be special.
I made a conscious effort this time, however, to ratchet down the intensity of the violent stuff, so the book would be appealing to as many people as possible . . . but, well . . . even “toned down,” you can’t really take me anywhere. My stuff is very smartass, very full of a worldview, you know? It’s hard to calm that raging beast, even when you cut out a few exploding heads or usages of the word “fuck” or whatever. The attitude is always there. So I made an uneasy peace with a slightly cleaner direction, and when it went to Simon and Schuster, my brilliant new editor made the suggestions that aimed the novel into that elusive wider audience demographic. The final solution was something so simple, and it had been lurking right in front of me the whole time. Ed Schlesinger and the ladies who run Simon and Schuster/Gallery Books are geniuses, and Resurrection owes a lot to them, too.
What would be your elevator pitch for Resurrection Express?
In an overall sense, pitching it to a reader now, I would say it’s a dark action suspense piece with a strong obsessive romantic undercurrent and a real ‘anything-goes’ attitude problem. I wanted to take the idea of the male dominated action thriller genre and kind of turn it on its ear a little, while tackling the equation of a techno-thriller with all the boring parts cut out. The whole series character thing has been really played to death—it can be very predictable. And ‘cyber-crime’ stuff can get quite bogged down in its own technobabble BS. Nobody understands that shit anyway, so screw it, you know? What’s really important are your characters, and how they exist in the action. Nothing is predicable or dull in Resurrection Express. And the narrative flow is very front-loaded with a lot of literary devices that harken closer to guys like Chuck Palahniuk. I go around saying it’s MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE meets THE GETAWAY by way of Jason Bourne, directed in a tag team by Quentin Tarantino and Christopher Nolan.
What are a few of your favorite thrillers/crime novels?
SHELLA by Andrew Vachss is my all time favorite thriller. If you wanna see what fuels the “dark” in Resurrection Express, read that bad boy. It’s astonishing. Filled with truth. Hard and unflinching. Elegant and stylish, written in first-person from the point-of-view of a truly horrifying character, with a sensitivity that makes him totally accessible, and not a trace of wasted muscle anywhere on the damn thing. Almost perfect storytelling. And the thing with Andrew is that most of his books are very real—as in, he usually never makes any of this shit up. The awful beats and backstory that make up SHELLA are one hundred percent authentic. I think the best, most lasting works of fiction in this or any genre, have a lot truth to tell, and Andrew is a master of that truth. But do not come unprepared. It will shock the hell out of you.
Also, I would recommend, in no particular order: THE GAME OF THIRTY by William Kotzwinkle (see below), FREEZER BURN by Joe R. Lansdale, MONEY SHOT by Christa Faust, SAVAGES by Don Winslow, THE RAP by Ernest Brawley, THE RUNNING MAN by Richard Bachman, LOGAN’S RUN by William Nolan and George Clayton Johnson, A QUIOR OF ILL CHILDREN by Tom Piccirilli, GUN WORK by David J. Schow, NEUROMANCER by William Gibson and RUN by Blake Crouch. Those are some classics, with a few newer ones sprinkled in.
I like Christa Faust a lot. She’s a classic original. I love the tacky way she puts that quote from Quentin Tarantino on her books: “Christa Faust is a Veronica in a world of Betties.” I think I’d like it if John Waters called me a “Patty Hearst in a world of Hannibal Lecters.” Seriously though, these guys are all awesome. I’ve even been privileged to work with Lansdale, who is a true hero and mentor. We’ve done movie stuff together and he was my martial arts consultant on Resurrection Express and Black Light.
Are there any authors that particularly inspire you?
William Kotzwinkle is my favorite living author. He has written so many things in so many styles and categories and has excelled so well in all of them that I’m sort of convinced he’s not of this earth. I wrote a long gushing piece about him recently over at Criminal Element. You can read it here: http://www.criminalelement.com/blogs/2012/09/william-kotzwinkle-mastery-in-disguise-stephen-romano The Kotz is the kind of writer everyone should read if they are learning the craft, because he teaches you that there is no such thing as genre. His magic stretches across those battlements and has created a truly astonishing body of work, from his early masterpiece THE FAN MAN, through NIGHTBOOK and JACK IN THE BOX, then holding steady with THE BEAR WENT OVER THE MOUNTAIN and his masterful mystery thriller THE GAME OF THIRTY. If you are not a writer, read him anyway. The latter two books I mentioned, BEAR and THIRTY, are great primers to his work. He is amazing. Oh yeah, and he even wrote one of the NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET films, too, so he’s also super cool!
You’re well known for your love of film (and success in the industry). What are some of your favorite crime films?
Oh, now you went and did it. Get me started on all this shit . . . (laughs) . . . oh, and by the way, what success in the industry are you talking about? My colleagues on BLACK LIGHT are a lot more successful than I am in the film business, that’s for sure. The bastards. (Laughs.) But I do like me some movies, in all kinds of genres. At my blog, I tend to concentrate more on film than literature, because it ain’t very healthy to shit where you eat, if you get me. I’m gonna get all kinds of hell just for talking smack about Christa Faust over here. (Laughs again, looking around nervously.)
Well, okay, let’s see. DIE HARD is still a real favorite of mine, even though that might seem like a cliché to some people in this day and age. I was blown away when I first saw that one and I still love it now, because it does what I’d partially hoped to do with Resurrection Express, in combining elements of rapid-fire action with a super-slick heist scenario, some shocking, brutal moments and a really believable central protagonist that you truly care about because he comes off like a guy you could have a beer with. But he’s also conflicted and vulnerable. The film does veer out of control in a few places, and I still think they have one too many cutsie joke moments, but it’s basically a really good synthesis of grit and crowd-pleaser beats.
NEAR DARK is a vampire thriller without vampires that almost everyone has forgotten about—and when I say that, I mean that the film is set in a world where the word “vampire” is never spoken. It kind of takes back the street cred from cute hipster stuff like (the original) FRIGHT NIGHT and LOST BOYS, which are set in the “real world” where everybody knows about these bloodsuckers and all the ways to kill them and the mythologies and such. NEAR DARK not only aces all that up front, but it really rewrites the whole idea of what a vampire is—these fellas don’t have fangs, they don’t turn into wolves, they don’t even dress very nice—and then tosses it with some real badassery. The scene in the bar where the vampire gang just rolls in and kicks ass is legendary. And Bill Paxton was never better.
Some other faves are Luc Besson’s LEON: THE PROFESSIONAL, John Woo’s THE KILLER, John Carpenter’s ASSAULT ON PRECINCT 13—all films that favor style and soul and heart and attitude over narrative logic. I think the overarching themes and noble ambitions in those films outclass most anything being made today. On the more plotted and thoughtful side is L.A. CONFIDENTIAL, which I pretty much believe to be the best tough guy cop thriller ever made. Also you can’t go wrong with RESERVIOR DOGS, CHINATOWN, RISKY BUSINESS (yes, I think of that film as a thriller—watch it again!), FAST WALKING, I SAW THE DEVIL, THE MAN FROM NOWHERE, U-TURN (based on an equally amazing novel by John Ridley), VIDEODROME, THE BROTHERS BLOOM, BLOW OUT or John Carpenter’s ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK. The latter is another example of style and attitude over substance, but it’s a badass show of muscle, man. I never get tired of watching Snake Plissken. I almost cried in the theatre when ESCAPE FROM LA came out, though. So awful. Too much light and not enough shadow in that one.
You’re a man of many talents, but is there any particular medium that you prefer to work with over others?
Well, I was put on this earth to write, so that’s the medium I prefer . . . but I get ants in my fucking pants alla time, you know? (Laughs) I do those other things to keep from being dominated by all the Veronicas and Hannibal Lecters out there. I think if I only made music or movies or paintings or books, I’d go crazy. You gotta be well-rounded, right? It’s funny, because before SHOCK FESTIVAL, I was never a finishing illustrator. I dabbled here and there, but I never took any artwork to completion. I had to teach myself how to do that because the book’s art requirement was so massive, and I ended up becoming so good at it that real movie guys were suddenly asking me to do their posters! It sustained my life when the writing dried up for a while. That just blows my mind when I think about it for more than a few seconds. So it’s all served a very valuable purpose . . . but writing is what I always come back to. She’s my first true love. And I feel I’m better at it now than I ever was before. You know you’ve kind of arrived at a certain mastery of your craft when you can look back at something you wrote a few years ago and not be completely embarrassed by it. There’s still some early stuff out there that makes me feel like a Muppet in a world of Darth Vaders.
When you manage to find some down time, how do you like to spend it?
Christ . . . down time? What the fuck is that? (Laughs) Seriously, when it’s time to blow off steam, I get busy with nerd things and man things. I collect trashy paperbacks and movie tie-ins. I got really obsessed this year with stockpiling old Super-8 movie loops from the 1970s—films like REPTILICUS and KONGA, which are just about the coolest things in the world. I found a color/sound ten minute “best of” reel for a film called CREATURE OF THE LIVING DEAD, which is this fantastic cheeseball horror action jungle thriller made in the Philippines by Eddie Romero. It was a sequel to THE MAD DOCTOR OF BLOOD ISLAND. I was obsessed with the film for years, then found it on Super-8 on Ebay! I like shooting and hiking—I own a lot of the high caliber hardware depicted in Resurrection Express. I think most thriller writers who deal in this type of heavy weapons stuff should at least go out to a gun range once in a while. There’s nothing quite like holding one of those bad boys in your hand and exploding a target at fifty paces, man. You start realizing how tough your characters really have it. The recoil alone from a Mossberg 500 pistol grip assault shotgun will put you in the hospital if you’re not careful, man. I’m the only liberal you know who has a collection of firearms to beat Sarah Palin. (Laughs.) Ted Nugent could still kick my ass, though.
As a fellow Texan, I have to ask, what’s your favorite thing to do in Texas on a Saturday night?
A lot of times I’m a total shut in. I’ll spend months on projects and it’s hard to unwind after a day of writing or editing or whatever. I discovered Blu-ray in the past year, though, which is great if you’re a couch potato or a film nerd. Seriously, if that sort of thing means a lot to you, there’s nothing better than re-discovering ALIEN in Hi-Def. It’s like being a kid again, only better. But I also like the lakes in Austin, and Barton Springs. We have amazing sushi joints here, too, and I’m a junkie for all of them. Alamo Drafthouse is a great place for revival cinema, but that’s never on Saturday—it’s always Terror Tuesday and Weird Wednesday!
I also used to really love going out to the Continental Club on Tuesday to see Toni Price, who as you probably know, is an amazing folk blues singer. She has a whole cult of followers that totally pack that place every time she plays. It’s a real shot of concentrated Texas honkytonk culture. I was part of her congregation for more than two years. But I stopped going because I saw that Toni was drinking herself to death on stage every night, and I couldn’t bear to watch that. I hope she’s slowed down a little since then. People sometimes ask me if I named my femme fatale in Resurrection Express after her . . . but that’s a big no, no, no, folks. Actually, Toni Coffin is named after a rather feisty lady I briefly dated a few months prior to writing the book. If you know me long enough, you always end up as a character in one of my crazy stories. For the record, Elroy Coffin is named after the youngest Jetson and Eli Wallach’s “Adam Coffin” in a 1977 film called THE DEEP. Shit . . . see how boring I am? You ask me what my favorite Saturday nightspots are and I tell you about my characters. I should just stick with gun club stories . . . (Laughs)
Is there anything else you’d like to share with us about upcoming projects or events (or anything at all!)?
Well, there is a film in development based on BLACK LIGHT, which is being done by Michael DeLuca, the super-producer responsible for just about every cool movie you’ve ever seen, including MONEYBALL and THE SOCIAL NETWORK. We’re working on that right now. Everyone seems to want a film based on Resurrection Express, too, so we’re looking into that. And there will be a sequel in print to Resurrection, too. Actually, I finished the first draft just a few weeks ago. It’s called The Suicide Contest. Always gotta keep that ball in the air, baby . . .
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About RESURRECTION EXPRESS:
There is no code Elroy Coffin can’t break, nothing he can’t hack, no safe he can’t get into. But for the past two years, he’s been incarcerated in a maximum-security hellhole after a job gone bad, driven to near-madness by the revelation of his beloved wife’s murder.
Now a powerful and mysterious visitor who calls herself a “concerned citizen” offers Elroy his freedom if he’ll do another job, and sweetens the deal with proof that his wife might still be alive. All Elroy has to do is hack into one of the most complicated and deadliest security grids in the world—clear and simple instructions for the best in the business. Or so he thinks.
Quickly drawn into the epicenter of a secret, brutal war between criminal masterminds, Elroy is forced to run for his life through a rapid-fire labyrinth of deception, betrayal, and intrigue— where no one is to be trusted and every fight could be his last . . . and the real truth hidden beneath the myriad levels of treachery may be too shocking to comprehend. . .
Here’s my roundup of book news (and other fun stuff) around the web for the week!
Interviews and more:
Excerpts and such:
Any news you’d like to add? Let me know in the comments, and have a great weekend!