Category Archives: Michael MacLean

Gambling casino online.

Looking for a good time sailor?  How about checking out a book signing? 

Okay, I know.  I’m preaching to the converted here, but I’ve really enjoy book signings.  Admittedly, there have been a few duds.  On more than one occasion, my ass has gone numb sitting on a folding chair, listening to a writer ramble on and on about some plot device I could care less about.  For the most part, however, they’ve been great.  Going to see Charlie Huston and Marcus Sakey a few weeks ago reminded me of that. 

Put simply, for the low, low price of one book, I get to listen to an author I admire wax poetic on the craft I love.  What could be better?

But try telling your non-writer pals this.  The words will barely leave your mouth before you see their eyes glaze over with stupification.  You can read it in their faces, plain as day.  "Why would anyone want to a book signing?"

Because they’re damn entertaining, that’s why.  And I’ve got the list to prove it.

What follows are some of the most entertaining authors I’ve gone to see.  My criteria has nothing to do with their insights on the craft, or the thought provoking discussions they inspired (that’s another list altogether).  Instead, I picked them for one reason and one reason only–they made me laugh.


Jen3 I’m the first to admit, I wasn’t thrilled about being dragged to a Jennifer Weiner signing.  My wife absolutely lovers her books, and I have no doubt she’s a very good writer.  But frankly, I’m guy.  And I’m guessing the main character of IN HER SHOES rarely if ever breaks out in a killer, karate rage.  With that established, I’m here to tell you Weiner is one of the funniest, most engaging speakers I’ve seen in a very long time.  I’m not exaggerating.  This woman could give up writing for a career in stand-up.  She was so funny, I quickly forgot that I was one of only four people in the room with testicles.


JamespattersonI understand the criticism of Patterson’s work, but I also admire his ability to create page-turning plots, and I’m fascinated by his phenomenal success.  So when Mr. P visited the Poisoned Pen on the Jester tour, I jumped at the chance to hear him speak.  To give you an idea of the pull Patterson has, the president of Time Warner books traveled with him, introducing the mega-seller at each stop.  After a few minutes of gushing by the pres., Patterson regaled the audience with funny vignettes about his life, his fans, and about the wild ride of success.  In his most endearing story, Patterson described going to his local bookstore and counting copies of his novels on the shelf to see how many had been sold.  I guess multimillionaires are neurotic just like the rest of us.   



You can call James Ellroy many things, but boring isn’t one of them.  Ellroy has earned a reputation for being cocky, outrageous, and totally uncensored.  And it’s all true.  Sans microphone, his voice boomed over a crowd of fans, answering questions with a wit and style all his own.  I vaguely remember the mention of his unrequited love for his dog ("She’s a dyke," said Ellroy) and his opinions of then presidential candidate John Kerry ( who he described as a donkey filater).  But through all the bravado and cursing, I heard glimpses of Ellroy’s brilliance and saw a true appreciation for his fans.   


Bio_pic_2 At last year’s Thriller Fest, when I heard children’s author Stine was speaking at a luncheon, my first reaction was, Well, I’ve already paid for the grub so I might as well go.  I don’t remember what I ate, but I do remember Stine.  In a convention full of highlights, this man was a star.  He had the whole audience quivering in their seats with laughter.  From tales of his early writing careers, to descriptions of fan letters, each story was better than the last.  Walking out of the ball room, I noticed just about everyone had smiles stretched across their faces.  A complete stranger turned to me, shook his head and said, "I can’t believe how good he was."   

I can’t help but notice each of these writers is a huge bestseller.  Is this a coincidence?  Or is there a correlation between being an engaging public speaker and a bestselling author?  What do you think?


Let me hear some of your picks.  Who should I go see next if I need a good chuckle?

The Big Adios

by Mike MacLean

As I write this, my wife’s laptop taunts me with robotic DOS curses, refusing to work even after hours on the phone with the tech-support guy.  My wife is frustrated.  My baby girl is crying.  And I’ve got the mother of all migraines.

Wish I could say this is a one-in-a-million bad day, but it isn’t.  Lately, STRESS has been my co-pilot, and I so wish I could toss him screaming from the plane. 

This is life sometimes.  You either roll with the punches, or grab a rifle and find the tallest clock tower.

I don’t see any clock towers, so I gotta roll.  That means setting priorities and making tough decisions.  Sometimes, it also means giving up things you enjoy.  And that’s just what I’ve had to do.

Today is my last blog post for Murderati… at least for a while. 

I do this out of necessity.  As my wife returns to school in the evenings, I have to step up my role as Mr. Mom.  Which means less time for writing.  In the end, I had to choose between blogging and fiction.  As much as I’ve enjoyed Murderati, fiction wins every time.

I’d like to thank all the Murderati (Pari, J.T., Louise, Ken, Rob, Dusty, Simon, Alex, Naomi, Toni, Elaine, and Paul) for teaching me so much these past months.  You’ve spoken with experience and listened with patience.  Terrific writers one and all.

I’d also like to thank all the murder fans out there, the authors and the readers, who have indulged my ramblings.

Despite my whining at the top of the page, the last couple years have been very good to me.  A few of my stories have seen print and now reside in the same books as authors I’ve idolized for years.  I’ve gotten a paying gig, building a screenplay for B-movie legend Roger Corman.  And of course, there is my little girl, who reminds me of all the mystery and wonder in the world every time she peers up at me with those big eyes of hers.    

The migraine’s fading now, Chloe is asleep on the sofa in her momma’s arms, and even the broken laptop seems to be on the mend.  Everything will be just fine.         

Next week, Bryon Quertermous, writer and editor of Demolition Magazine will fill in.  Then, starting in September, Toni Causey will take my regular Sunday spot.  Be nice.



Promote Your Book… the You Tube Way

By Mike MacLean

Even bestselling authors don’t have many avenues to promote their books.  There are reviews of course, and signings.  A few score local radio spots; fewer still are lucky enough to nab some TV time.  But a national commercial?  Unless your name is J.K. Rowling, Steven King, or James Patterson, forget about it.

Maybe this is why more and more novelists are turning to You Tube and promoting their latest offerings with video trailers.

"The battle is ongoing to grab some attention," said Shotgun Opera author Victor Gischler.  "I’ve been told my novels are very cinematic, so maybe a trailer was the natural way to go."

9954745 According to Gischler, the  "fine folks" at Bantam Dell surprised him by producing a trailer for Suicide Squeeze.  He was so pleased with the results he asked them to do another for his novel Shotgun Opera, which was later posted online. 

"I didn’t even know about the Shotgun trailer at first," said Gischler. "A friend e-mailed me and said, ‘Dude, I just saw your book trailer on the Onion AV website!’  I was thrilled.  Not only was the trailer cool, but it was apparently getting in front of the right demographic."

Monster novelist David Wellington claims his own demographic as "The entire population of planet earth." 

"It’s a very competitive industry out there and it’s not just a question of periodically crossing over into another audience anymore," said Wellington.  "These days you have to be constantly broadening your appeal and finding new markets to serve."

After brainstorming with his Webmaster and wife, Wellington came up with 12698706 a concept to showcase the anti-romantic vampires of his newest book Thirteen Bullets.  The result was a You Tube trailer entitled the "Evolution of Horror."

"I’ve tried a lot of different ways to reach people with my books," said Wellington.  "…putting them online, putting them on iPods, putting them in bookstores, and now this video."

Author Don Bruns didn’t stop at You Tube when promoting his upcoming crime novel Stuff to Die For.  A 30 second version of his trailer will also play in 20 theaters in the Miami area.  According to Bruns, four grad students from the University of Miami produced, wrote, cast and directed the video, which has already created quite a buzz.

"I think anyone who is intrigued with action and adventure will like the video," said Bruns. "It’s well acted, has plenty of action and hopefully it will attract new readers."

12711785 Bruns went on to say that he has received very positive feedback from the trailer.  He even heard from several agents who thought it had feature film possibilities.

But the question remains, will these trailers actually garner increased book sales?  And how can their success be measured?

Both Bruns and Wellington have been contacted by readers who bought their books after seeing the trailers, which suggests the videos are doing the job. 

Yet Victor Gischler perhaps described the possibilities of video promotion best, saying, "If you can produce a really cool trailer, get readers jazzed for your story, provide a link to Amazon or something … hey, I have to think it’ll help."

To check out Victor Gischler’s trailer click HERE.

To check out David Wellington’s trailer click HERE.

To check out Don Bruns’ trailer click HERE.

And this just in, a first look at Alexandra Sokoloff’s trailer for her upcoming release The PriceDownload ThePrice_v004.wmv

As always Murder fans, I have questions.  To the writers, would you ever consider creating a video trailer?  Do you think this is a good vehicle for book promotion?  To the readers, could a video trailer convince you to buy a book?

And, if you know about any great book trailers out there please feel free to post a link in your comments.

The Dark, Dark World of Dave Zeltserman


Interview by Mike MacLean

If you read Dave Zeltserman’s guest spot here at Murderati last week you know all about his trials and tribulations in the publishing world.  While many a man would’ve folded under such adversity, Dave kept swinging.  And we’re all better off for it.

Not only did Dave pen the critically acclaimed Fast Lane, and the soon to be critically acclaimed Bad Thoughts, but now he has a well-deserved three-book deal with ultra cool Serpent’s Tail publishing.  And if that isn’t enough, Mr. Z. runs the HardLuck Stories webzine, providing a place for new noir voices.

Dave’s latest novel, the aforementioned Bad Thoughts, is a hardboiled mix of detectives and supernatural horror.  To quote Edgar-winner Steve Hamilton the book is "hypnotic, gripping, even terrifying."  High praise indeed.

Dave was kind of enough to chat with me about his book, noir on the web, and writing in the dark.

MM: What inspired Bad Thoughts?

DZ:  I was reading a lot about metaphysics and astral projection around that time, doing some experimentation with it, and it had a heavy influence on the book. The PI in the book, "Pig" Dornich, who is one of my favorite characters that I’ve written, was inspired by an ex-Boston cop who was working as a PI and taught a one-day PI course that I took. Mostly, though, Bad Thoughts came about by working out what I thought would be an exciting story, with of course a thematic subtext worked in.

MM:  Considering the number of serial killer books out there, did you have any reservations about writing this story?

DZ:  I wrote Bad Thoughts over 10 years ago, and I don’t think there were as many serial killer books then, but I also don’t think of Bad Thoughts as a serial killer book. Yeah, there’s a serial killer in it, but it’s more an exploration of evil and rage, and at its heart it’s about survival-about going through tremendous emotional and physical abuse, and somehow surviving it. My dad would always say whenever someone was going through something tough, "ah, jeeze, he went through hell". Well, without any exaggeration, my main character in this one goes through hell.

MM: Writing Bad Thoughts required you to get into the head of a sadistic killer, which you pull off quite effectively.  How did you do it? 

DZ: It’s a gift. Some people can throw a baseball 95 miles an hour, others can sit down at a piano and play a piece perfectly after hearing it once, while still others can do magic with landscaping. Me, I can get into the heads of losers, psychos and sociopaths. My wife and parents are very proud…

MM: Did you face any personal repercussions delving into such dark material?

DZ: None. In a way it’s therapeutic. I work out a lot of issues in my writing. BUT as dark as my fiction might be, there’s nothing nihilistic about it. Justice is preserved in my fictional worlds. The guilty pay a price for their crimes. Now if evil triumphed in my books, it probably would have some effect on my psyche.

MM: Why are serial killer books so popular with readers?  Why are we so fascinated by the twisted and terrifying?

Badthoughtsfront DZ: I don’t know about serial killer books, but with the brilliant psycho noir books that Jim Thompson wrote, it can be an exhilarating experience being suckered into the head of someone you think is maybe a down on his luck loser, but who’s still sane, and turns out to be completely crazy. I don’t know why this is, but few books have given me the ride that Thompson’s "Hell of a Woman", "Pop. 1280", and "Savage Night" have.

MM: One of the most gripping scenes in the novel is the confrontation between the killer and Shannon’s lovely therapist.  While you’re in the thick of writing it, how can you tell when a scene like this is working?

DZ: I think I can read my books mostly objectively and can tell when I’ve written something that’s working or just plain sucks, and I keep hammering away at the sucky parts until I’m relatively happy with it. With scenes like the one you mentioned, yeah, I can usually feel a buzz when I’m writing it-I guess it’s the lizard part of my brain taking over, and I just kind of go along for the ride.

MM: What is the advantage to working with a smaller publisher like Five Star?

DZ: To quote the coach of the three-time Super Bowl Champions, the New England Patriots, (I never get tired of saying that) "it is what it is." Five Star sells mostly to libraries, and aren’t really geared for bookstore sales. Their discount policy really only allows bookstores to carry your books if there’s an authors event involved. Practically speaking, with a publisher like Five Star you’re only going to sell 1,000-2,000 copies. I knew this going in, and everyone at Five Star has been great, very professional, but a newer writer is obviously better off if they can get their books into a larger house. BUT-smaller publishers like Five Star are more open to certain books that the larger houses won’t accept.

MM: How do you plan to promote your novel?

DZ: I’m going to order MWA’s library listing and try to contact as many libraries as I can to try to do Fllarge readings. I’ll also try to organize some bookstore events. Small Crimes is out in March and will be much more widely distributed, and probably much more widely reviewed-and I’m hoping that will get people searching out Bad Thoughts.

MM: In addition to writing, you’re also the editor of the very cool HardLuck Stories webzine.  What motivated you to launch HardLuck?
DZ: I had a bunch of reasons initially for starting Hardluck. Early on I justified the time I was spending on it as a way to promote myself as a writer, but I was doing it more as a creative outlet and to publish something that I was proud of–if I wasn’t I would’ve pulled the plug. What’s kept me going, though, is what Hardluck’s been able to do for newer writers. A lot of very generous writers–including Ed Gorman, Vicki Hendricks, Ken Bruen, Jeremiah Healy and Bill Crider to name a few, have been amazingly helpful to me as a newer writer, and I’m happy that I’ve been able to give back a little with Hardluck.

MM: Despite the fact that HardLuck offers zero compensation to its writers, you’ve been able to nab some heavy hitters of the crime fiction world, including Ed Gorman, JA Konrath, and even Murderati’s own Ken Bruen.  What drew these guys to HardLuck?

DZ: Generosity of spirit. The writers you listed, plus the other professional writers that I’ve published,  can sell everything they write. The reason they’ve provided stories to Hardluck-and in the cases of Ed Gorman, Jeremiah Healy, O’Neil De Noux, Miki Hayden-also acted as guest editors, was to promote a crime fiction magazine that’s helping to draw attention to newer writers. That’s really the reason. These writers can all be described by the Yiddish word "mensch", it’s in their makeup to give of themselves to help us guys coming up, and it’s something that has made a big impression on me.

MM: What future do you see for fiction on the web?

Hitman  DZ: I think the quality on Hardluck and other sites like Thuglit and PulpPusher is very good-we’re probably publishing some of the best short noir and pulp fiction available anywhere. The problem is 99.9% of the readers for this type of crime fiction have no clue that these web-zines exist. You see stuff about these web-zines being the new pulps. Well, that’s true in the sense that these zines are a breeding ground for some very talented new writers, but there’s no money in it. With the pulps, writers could make a living, plus readers knew about them. It’s going to take a cataclysmic event to change that-something like USA Today, New York Times, or maybe CNN, championing these zines. If that were to happen, it would cause a chain reaction that would change everything. Readership would jump to the point where these zines would be able to charge for advertising and then be able to pay a good rate for stories. This is mostly a pipedream on my part, but I’m giving it a shot with Hardluck’s Stephen Colbert "truthiness" issue. If I’m able to pull it off I’m pretty sure I’d get Colbert mentioning it on their show-they jumped on putting the call for submissions on their web-site. At the moment it’s not looking like it’s going to happen, though-I think the theme ended up being too conceptually difficult. We’ll see, I still have some more submissions to go through. If this doesn’t work out, Todd Robinson at Thuglit will probably be the guy to make something happen. He’s in New York, which is the right place to be, he’s got a ton of energy, and has been doing a great job branding Thuglit. If anyone’s going to do it, I think he’s the guy.

MM: We share an interest in martial arts.  What drew you to Kung Fu?  Has the study of martial arts had any impact on your writing?

DZ: I knew little about martial arts when I started. I always admired people who had the tenacity to stick with it and get a black belt, and it was something I always wanted to try. When my cousin started working on his black belt in Karate and I saw the physical changes in him, I made up my mind to finally do it. The first guy I talked with had a third degree black belt in Aikido, and he got me psyched to do that, but a little research showed Aikido probably wasn’t a good idea for someone with back problems. There’s a Kung Fu studio a few miles away from me, I liked the head instructor, so I gave it a shot. At first I was pathetic, maybe one of the worst students he ever had, but six years later I’ve gotten pretty good at it and will be testing for my black this October. The first few years we did Northern-style longfist, weapons training, and Southern-style Hung Gar. The last three years the focus has been purely Hung Gar 5-animal form. I enjoy it a lot. It’s a great mix of aerobic, strengthening, self-defense, and meditative movement. The last couple of years I’ve also been doing Tai Chi with a martial arts focus. Love that internal stuff! It’s helped a lot with my Kung fu, especially balancing and rooting.

I don’t know if it’s had any impact on my writing other than I understand fighting much better now and how much damage you can do, and my fight scenes-or more accurately-my beating up scenes, are more realistic.

MM: What will we see next from Dave Zeltserman?   

DZ: I have a noir trilogy being published by Serpent’s Tail. The first book, Small Crimes, will be out next March, the second, my South Boston Irish Mob book, Pariah, will be out 1/09, and the third, Killer, sometime after that. I’m very excited about this-Serpent’s Tail is doing great stuff and is a publisher I’ve been wanting to get into for a long time. What’s also pretty cool about this is that all three books start the same way-a dangerous guy being released from prison, and Serpent’s Tail is going to be marketing these as a "Badass out of Prison" series.

Another project that I’m very proud of is a Western Noir anthology that I’m co-editing with Ed Gorman and Martin Greenberg, and is being published by Cemetary Dance. This is an offshoot of Hardluck’s Western Noir issue. All 14 stories from that issue are being included, as well as 7 other original stories and an introduction by Jim Sallis. All of these stories hit what Ed and I were originally going after-a mix of very noir and western, the type of stuff fans of Deadwood are going to like. There are some great stories in this anthology, and one of the things I like most about this is that for at least one issue of Hardluck, I’m going to be able to pay my writers the going rate for stories. Who knows, maybe we’ll be able to turn more issues into print anthologies. I always thought the Bank Robbery, Horror Noir and Borderland Noir issues were deserving of an anthology.

MM: What’s that you say…a Borderland Noir anthology?  Sounds like a great idea.  And that’s my totally unbaised opinion.

Thanks for taking the time to chat Dave.

DZ: Mike, it’s been an absolute pleasure talking with you.

Kiss Her Goodbye Paperback

Interview by Mike MacLean

I read much of Allan Guthrie’s latest novel sitting in a baby’s nursery, surrounded by painted flowers and cute stuffed animals.  As you might guess, I wasn’t in the appropriate setting. 

Photobymaryreagan Hard Man, like the rest of Guthrie’s writing, is a million miles away from cute.  It’s a nasty story… a dark story… a story with grit under its fingernails.

Right up my alley.

So of course, I jumped at the chance to interview Edinburgh’s Guthrie concerning his new book, his work as an editor for the very cool Point Blank Press, and his sideline as a crime fiction agent.   

MM: Thomas Perry says about Hard Man, "I promise this is a story you haven’t read before."  I’d say Perry is dead on in his description.  What makes Hard Man so different than most books on the shelves?Hard_man_us

AG: That’s very flattering of both of you. If Hard Man is different, then I don’t think there’s one single thing I can pinpoint. Let’s see. Could be that most crime novels tend to deal with heroes and/or detectives, and have author-smart protagonists. Hard Man has none of those. Or it could be the nods to Jacobean Revenge tragedy, Grand Guignol, Theatre Of The Absurd. Or the multiple character-specific voices. Or it could just be the very high level of swearing. Or the combination of humour and horror. Could also be that I break the rule about having an active protagonist. Not only is Pearce (my protagonist) passive and largely reactive, but he spends the first third of the book trying his hardest to do nothing, and then when he does try to do something, he’s quickly incapacitated and rendered immobile for a good chunk of the rest of the novel. But whatever the reason, it’s great to hear you think it’s different.

MM: It seems your writing style has changed since Kiss Her Goodbye?  How do you think you’ve evolved as a writer?  Were these changes the result of a conscious effort on your part?

Two major changes between Kiss Her Goodbye and Hard Man, I think. First, the latter was written to be read aloud – a decidedly conscious effort on my part so’s I wouldn’t have to edit the book for reading aloud at events after it was published as I had to with the previous one. That’s why Hard Man has far more dialogue attribution than Kiss. The other major stylistic difference is that whilst both books are written in multiple limited third person, Hard Man is also character-specific. There’s an indication of that in Kiss, where I use a teenage suicide’s diary to tell part of the story. But in Hard Man I had to come up with a raft of different voices (seven, I think), and tell the chronological narrative in their voices, with their vocabulary, linguistic tics, etc. Technically, it was a much, much harder book to write.

MM: Instead of chapters, Hard Man is divided into sections that are given movie titles (Ghost Dog, History of Violence, True Romance).  What made you break up your novel this way?

AG: Kiss_her_goodbye_2 I’ve never been a big fan of numbering chapters. Seems pointless, unless you’re counting backwards. So in the original draft I gave each ‘chapter’ a heading, but those were deemed a little cumbersome and disappeared in the edit. Consequently, I needed to link the headings that remained, and movie titles seemed appropriate and added a little metafictional touch. I especially like the one that’s called "EI8HT". I’d have used Jacobean revenge tragedies as titles, but I already used a lot of references to those in Kiss.

MM: What role do you think setting plays in your books?

Oh, various, I think. It’s crucial for my debut novel, Two-Way Split. Edinburgh’s a divided city. There’s the Old and New Town. And the city’s volcanic legacy (the Old Town is built on a volcanic ridge) is a spectacular visual backdrop, which at the same time conjures up images of massive violent activity. For Kiss, part of the action takes place on a remote Scottish island, so there’s a lot of interplay between urban Edinburgh and the rural Orkney. With Hard Man, setting’s least important. After all, a large chunk of it takes place in a dark cellar! I’m always aware of trying to ground the reader in the physical world, though. So in that sense, setting is the first thing I think about in every scene I write. I always ask myself the questions: what can the point-of-view character see, what can they smell, is it hot or cold, what’s that noise, etc …

MM: There are a few instances in Hard Man where the internal dialogue of characters disintegrates into streams of consciousness, which isn’t always easy to follow.  It was a bold choice and pretty effective.  What made you write these scenes like this?  Were you ever afraid of loosing readers?

AG: A terrific Scottish writer called Ray Banks made me write scenes like that. Twoway_split Seriously. He’s my first reader and provides invaluable editorial feedback. After reading an early draft of Hard Man he mentioned that he thought some of the characters sounded too similar. So I decided to give him different. With knobs on. I confess it never occurred to me that anyone would find the various narrative voices difficult to follow. To me, they’re all just third person written as if first (or at least that’s the idea). I have heard that some people don’t like multiple viewpoint novels at all though, preferring to stick with just the one viewpoint throughout. As a writer I usually find single-viewpoints too restrictive for the stories I tell. Although, come to think of it, I did write a single-viewpoint novel between Kiss and Hard Man but it never got out to play.

MM: A character in Hard Man who believes he is Jesus is literally crucified.  Is there a statement about religion here?  If not, what made you include this image in your novel?

AG: Walter Mosley. Originally Jesus was going to be Satan, but Mosley brought out The Man In My Basement, which was just too close for comfort (I won’t spoil it by saying why). So I performed a 180, decided to see what happened if Jesus was in the basement instead. First thing that occurred to me was that he’d have to be crucified. Otherwise, he wouldn’t be a very convincing Jesus. And there’s a sort of shared insanity going on, where Jesus and his captor both, at times, believe that he really might be Jesus. I’m hugely drawn to the idea of shared insanity – a fascinating concept, brilliantly exploited in a terrific Belgian horror movie called Calvaire, which I hadn’t seen at the time I wrote Hard Man or it might have been a section header. Anyway, in Hard Man, the guy who carries out the crucifixion has something of a God complex – and I figured that crucifixion would spring rapidly to mind. He’s not the kind of guy who’d just give you a stiff reprimand if you piss him off, and he’s really pissed off, so crucifixion seemed a good choice.

MM: According to the Point Blank Press website, you are an acquisitions editor.  What exactly do you do for Point Blank?

AG: The title says it all, pretty much. I acquire and edit books. That means I’ll read submissions (when we’re open), negotiate contracts and carry out all forms of story- and copy-editing.

MM:  What can a small press like Point Blank do for its authors that a bigger company cannot?

AG: We’ve always seen PointBlank as a potential launching pad for new writers. The original novels we publish are primarily by debut novelists, and for the first five original novels PointBlank published, it’s certainly been significant in terms of getting deals with publishers who actually pay advances (those four novels are my own Two-Way Split, Ray Banks’s The Big Blind, Duane Swierczynski’s Secret Dead Men, Dave Zeltserman’s Fast Lane and Anthony Neil Smith’s Psychosomatic). So I guess we can get writers noticed, generate some critical acclaim, occasionally sell a few books, and provide a foot on the lower rungs of the publishing ladder.

MM: You wear three hats in the publishing world: writer, editor, and agent.  How does being a writer affect your work as an editor and agent?

AG: I don’t think being a writer makes much difference to how I edit. It makes a lot of difference as to how I am as an agent, though. I spent a long time in pursuit of an agent myself, and dealt with various frustrations along the way that only writers are familiar with. I know how it is to feel out of the loop and utterly ignorant of what’s going on. I know how it is to feel like I’m the lowest priority. So I use all of that to MAKE MY CLIENTS’ LIVES HELL.

MM: As an agent, what makes you decide to represent a writer?

AG: I tend to take on clients because I want to spend time with them and their manuscripts and because I think those manuscripts should be published. It’s hard to be specific. 

MM: As an editor, what do you look for in a book?

AG: You’ve probably heard of manuscripts getting rejected with the phrase "It’s good, but I just didn’t love it enough." I don’t think I appreciated what that meant until I starting editing. On average, I’d say that I’ve ended up reading the manuscripts I’ve edited up to half-a-dozen times each, so I have to know that the book is one that can stand up to a lot of readings. And that’s a tall order.

MM: What are you working on now?

AG: I have a novella, Kill Clock, for adult reluctant readers coming out in August. That’s another Pearce story, written with typical Guthrie adult content but for anyone with a reading age of 8+. Working on the edits for that was a terrific learning experience. It’s fascinating to know what readers struggle with. And I’m now finalizing my next novel, Savage Night, before embarking on the screenplay for Two-Way Split.

My thanks to Allan for taking the time to speak with me.

So Murder fans, here is a question for you.  If you were a small press editor like Mr. G, what kind of books would you publish and why?

Don’t forget to watch Murderati’s own Ken Bruen on THE LATE LATE SHOW with Craig Ferguson tomorrow night!!! (technically Tuesday morning)


Text_4 She sat, eyes glazed, clutching her cell phone like it was a bar of gold, little thumbs "click-clack-clicking" away.  I asked her again some question about old, dead white guys, maybe the Bolsheviks.  I might as well have been in another room.  Her eyes never wavered from the tiny screen.

She was one of my students, and she was a text message zombie.

I’m turning 35 in a few short months, still young by many people’s standards.  I should be hip to the whole text message thing.  But whenever I think about this new form of communication, I start morphing into OLD MAN MACLEAN. 

Old Man MacLean gets riled up when someone’s car cuts off his driveway.  Old Man MacLean wants to call the cops on the shrieking college bimbos, keeping him up with their party.  Old Man MacLean hates the rudeness that cell phones have created.

And Old Man MacLean is scared of the impact of text messaging on reading and writing skills.

Apparently, I’m not alone.  According to a report from an Irish Examination Text_3_2 Commission, "Text messaging, with its use of phonetic spelling and little or no punctuation, seems to pose a threat to traditional conventions in writing."  The report goes on to site a frequency in punctuation and grammar errors among 15-year olds who participated in the study.  The same teens were also "unduly reliant on short sentences, simple tenses and a limited vocabulary" (Reuters 2007).

I’m no Luddite, throwing my body into the cogs of technology.  I realize new mediums often add to the existing language rather than destroying it.   In fact, without the personal computer, I wonder if I would’ve ever become a writer (and oh what a loss that would’ve been for the dozens of you that have read my work).  But time and time again, I’ve looked at my students’ schoolwork and found the letter "U" standing in for "YOU."  One student even drew an arrow pointing upwards instead of writing the word "Up" (It’s a friggin’ "U" and a "P."  Come on, how hard is that?).

Now, I’ve got some wonderful students.  They’re bright, intuitive, and (hopefully after our school is done with them) well read.  But I’m still worried.

Text_2_2 It takes effort to enjoy a book.  The better the book, the more that effort pays off.  Will a generation too busy to write the word "you" take time to read a novel just for fun?  Will well-crafted, descriptive language be replaced by long matrix strings of BFF’s, P911’s, and F2T’s?

Or am I just being OMM–Old Man MacLean?

So what do you think Murder fans?  Anyone out there share my concerns?  What impact will texting have on language and literature?   

How to Piss Off a Fan

Mike MacLeanX3p_003_2

I zombie-walked through Wal-Mart Friday afternoon, pushing a baby carriage and looking for a deal on formula.  No, I’m not proud of it.  I know Wal-Mart is the evil empire.  But when you have a little one and your wife is going back to school, you’ve got to save a few bucks.  That’s right, I sold my soul for low, low everyday prices. 

Little Chloe started crying, prompting my wife to give me a worried look.  "Don’t worry," I told her.  "This is Wal-Mart.  If you can’t bring a crying baby here, where can you bring one?  In fact, the other customers look at you funny if you DON’T have a crying baby."

But I digress.

Among all the cheap crap I don’t need, I spotted a movie on the DVD rack.  Not just any movie, but a movie that haunts my dreams.  A movie that answers the question, "How can I piss off a fan?"

X-Men: The Last Stand.

If you’ve read my posts you might know by now that I’m a comic book nerd.  And while I haven’t read the X-Men in almost 10 years, the mutants still hold a special place in my heart.  They are the heroes of my childhood.

If I divorce myself from the comic book, the third installment of the X-Men films wasn’t bad.  It’s a summer, popcorn movie that delivers decent action sequences, cheesy one-liners, and cool special effects.  Though bloated as sequels tend to be, the film brims with conflict, and even makes a social statement or two between super-powered beat downs. So as a casual viewer, I dug it. 

But as a fan, X-Men: The Last Stand left me feeling… pissed on.

It’s not that director Bryan Singer’s first two X-Men movies were perfect recreations of the mutant myths.  He and screenwriter David Hayter played fast and loose with a few of the characters and with the comic’s chronology.  But while they deviated, they always gave the impression that they respected the story and the story’s fans.  I didn’t get the same feeling about director Brett Ratner and the other creators of Last Stand.

The most glaring disregard for the comic nerds everywhere was the treatment of Cyclops. 4821432 

(A quick spoiler alert for those who haven’t seen it).

I could’ve forgiven the filmmakers for murdering this character if it was done in dramatic fashion.  But instead, they reduced him to little more than a minor plot-point, a Star Trek red shirt if you will. 

Wait.  Don’t roll your eyes at me. 

What you don’t understand is that Cyclops is a major character in the Marvel Comics world, one that has been around for more than 40 years.   Imagine one of your favorite mystery sidekicks being knocked-off like that with barely a word mentioned about his death.

Now, I understand and respect artists who take chances.  If you always second-guess yourself wondering what others will think, you won’t create anything worth a crap.  When dealing with long beloved characters, however, you should tread lightly.  This holds true even when the characters are of your own creation.

What if Dave Robicheaux and his best bud Clete Purcel physically expressed their love for one another in a drunken night of passion? 

What if Jack Reacher, having an epiphany, decided to follow Mahatma Gandhi’s philosophy of non-violence?

What if Harry Potter got strung out on meth and ended up living in a ramshackle trailer with some muggle prostitute?

What if… You get the picture.

Which brings me to the part of the post where I ask questions.

I’ve been given the advice that you can’t write for an audience, you must first write for yourself–write what pleases you.  But does this hold true for authors who’ve created popular series characters?  Do these writers give up some of their ownership of the characters to the fans who have supported them for years?

Yada, Yada, Yada: The Role of Dialogue

By Mike MacLean

Dialogue_ctr_2 Working on the screenplay got me thinking about the nature of dialogue. 

It can be argued that dialogue plays two major roles in storytelling. 

First, it may expose something about a character–their background, personality, temperament, etc. 

Secondly, it can be a means to move the story along, revealing important details about the plot.

But is one of these more important than the other?

Those who write character driven stories would likely argue that dialogue is best when it helps paint human portraits.  When done well, slang or accents are like brushstrokes, adding layers of color and depth.  They wrap the raw bones of a character with flesh so they read like real human beings.

However, when not done well–when reduced to the level of stereotype–slang and accents can have the reverse effect.  Hit a false note, and you risk making your reader cringe.  Instead of ringing true, the character’s voice sounds like a construction, and the character then becomes merely a plot device.  Nothing pulls me out of a story quicker.

Even if dialogue rings true, too much regional flavor can wear thin.  The British pulp classic Yardie is a prime example. N69468_3  

I admired author Victor Headly’s ruthless, stripped-down prose.  His dialogue, however, was so filled with Jamaican and British vernacular that I got lost in all the verbiage. 

I didn’t doubt the authenticity of Headly’s characters, and their words added spice to the story.  But all in all, I would have preferred to know what the hell they were talking about.  At least once in a while. ‘ere da ting star, guess me no boo-yackiest!  (For the record, I still give Yardie a thumbs up and would like to see more of his work hit the States)

Those who see dialogue primarily as means to move the plot along face the opposite problem: creating dry, inhuman voices.  Sure readers will understand every word uttered, but we won’t care because we won’t identify with the characters.  We won’t feel they are truly human.

In my work, I tend to write lean dialogue with occasional dashes of vernacular sprinkled in for flavor.  When it works, I feel I’ve skated between the two roles of dialogue, achieving the best of both worlds.  When it doesn’t work, (which is more often than I’d like to admit) my characters sound like automatons, each speaking with the same voice.

So let’s hear it, murder fans. 

What style of dialogue do you find most effective? 
When reading dialogue, what makes you roll your eyes?

Dreams of Pulp: a Q & A with Hard Case Crime’s Charles Ardai

Interview by Mike MacLean

Grifters and pimps.  Pushers and killers.  Dirty angels and righteous whores.  They all lurk in the world of Hard Case Crime, the coolest publishers ever to hit the paperback stands.  So cool, they even punched out a couple titles by Murderati’s own Ken Bruen!

I say with no embarrassment, I’m a fan boy.  From the moment I saw those first Hard Case covers—the smoking guns and fem fatales—I was hooked.  And while the art drew me in, the words kept me in my seat, flipping pages.   

Ardai3_2Hard Case creator, editor, and author Charles Ardai was nice enough to sit down for an interview, answering questions about publishing in the world of pulp. 

MM:  Murderati readers may or may not know you were the founder and CEO of Juno, a popular Internet service provider.  What drew you from the dotcom world to the publishing world?

CA:  Actually, the right question to ask is the opposite one: What drew me from Cover_big5_2 the publishing world to the dotcom world?  I started out as a writer, at age 13, publishing reviews of videogames in magazines with names like ELECTRONIC FUN WITH COMPUTERS AND GAMES; I sold my first short story to ELLERY QUEEN in 1987, when I was 17; and a few years later, I started editing anthologies of short fiction for QUEEN and ALFRED HITCHCOCK and ISAAC ASIMOV’S SCIENCE FICTION MAGAZINE.  By the time I graduated college I’d published several hundred reviews and articles and stories and edited a dozen books, and I was certain I’d always be a writer and an editor and nothing but.

So how did I wind up starting an Internet company?  It’s a long story, but the short version is that back in 1992, mostly to make ends meet, I accepted a job offer from a company called D. E. Shaw & Co. (where Jeff Bezos, later the founder of, was also working), and around 1994 Jeff and I and a third guy who now runs a hedge fund were assigned to look at commercial opportunities on the Internet.  Jeff came up with the idea for Amazon; the other guy started an online stock trading service that Merrill Lynch eventually bought; and I came up with the idea for Juno.  Seven years and 10 million subscribers later, I merged it with NetZero and went back into writing, editing, and publishing, which were always my
first and greatest loves.  I still spend part of my time working on business matters — most recently overseeing a couple of biotechnology companies — but publishing is where I began, and I imagine it’s where I’ll end.

MM: What’s so great about the pulp tradition?  Why do you like treading on the dark side?

Cover_big2 CA: Well, to start with, pulp is not always dark — there’s plenty of light, exciting, action-packed pulp, and it’s fun, too.  But I’ve always
gravitated toward the dark side.  Chalk it up to a tortured adolescence; chalk it up to growing up in cynical, grubby 1970s New York City, where everyone I knew had been mugged at least once, the lucky ones at gunpoint, and where the back pages of NEW YORK magazine and THE VILLAGE VOICE were an out-in-the-open market for sexual services of every description.  Chalk it up to being reared by two Holocaust survivors who told me bedtime stories that would make Stephen King look like Dr. Pangloss and whose repeated lesson to me was that you always have to keep a suitcase packed for the day when things inevitably (but without warning) turn bad.  Chalk it up to a lot of things — all I know is that when I first read writers
like Thomas Hardy and Camus, and then James M. Cain and Cornell Woolrich and Lawrence Block, I knew instantly I’d found kindred souls.

And then, of course, as a writer I love dark pulp fiction for its velocity, its concision, its storytelling efficiency.  Page one: a corpse. Page two: they’re running for their lives.  Page three: a man with a gun. You can’t resist the pull of writing that immediate, that grab-you-by-the-throat.

MM: As an editor, what criteria do you follow when picking a vintage book to reprint?

CA: It’s simple: I have several thousand old crime paperbacks on my shelves and I’ve read most of them, and I ask myself, which ones do I remember That eliminates 90 percent.  Then I ask, which of those do I remember fondly?  That eliminates another 9 percent.  Then I pull the rest off the shelf, reread them, and ask, "Would a reader who is not already a pulp aficionado or a collector enjoy reading this book?"  Because we’re not archivists; we’re entertainers, and we want to deliver a great reading experience to a member of the general public, not just to hardcore fans. This process eliminates most of the books on my shelves.  The ones that are left we reprint.

MM: What do you look for in new authors? 

CA: It sounds trite and obvious, but the main thing I look for is goodCover_big4   writing.  And that’s awfully hard to find.  We get about 1000 submissions per year and in a typical year 990 of them are badly written.  The writers have the best intentions in the world and sometimes they even have an interesting story to tell, but their writing just isn’t of professional quality.  Of the ones that are well written, some just wouldn’t be appropriate for us — they’re set in the Middle Ages or are about vampires and ghosts or they’re really horror novels or modern thrillers rather than the sort of classical hardboiled/noir crime fiction we publish.  Or I just don’t like them personally, for whatever impossible-to-define reason.  But once in a while I find a book that’s well written, that’s crime fiction, and that I like — and that’s what I look for.

The hardest of these elements to define is the last one: what I like.  The best way I’ve found to describe it is to pose the question, "Could you imagine this having been published by Gold Medal in the 1950s?"  Now, Gold Medal published a pretty wide range of books, everything from Westerns to joke books to adventure novels — but there’s a certain type of crime fiction you associate with the Gold Medal name, and generally speaking that’s the sort of story that belongs in Hard Case Crime.  There are exceptions, of course — what’s a rule without exceptions? — but it’s a reasonable guideline.

MM: If you could pick any author to write a book for Hard Case, who would it be? 

CA: Oh, that’s tough — there are so many.  Elmore Leonard would be a natural, and we’ve exchanged letters with him over the years, but I doubt it could ever happen.  Robert B. Parker is terrific when he writes lean and quick. Dean Koontz started out writing hardboiled crime novels and I bet he’d enjoy doing it one more time.  Jonathan Lethem’s a fan of our books, as is George Pelecanos, and I’d love to have either of them take a crack at
writing one.  My favorite fantasy is that Philip Roth would write one — I spoke to him once, when THE HUMAN STAIN came out, and he described the scene at the end on the frozen lake as his first chance to write suspense fiction.  I’d be glad to give him another chance.  But these are dreams.  I don’t expect it to happen.

MM: Okay, Sophie’s choice time.  Everyone knows how great Hard Case’s covers are.  Do you have a favorite?

Cover_big3 CA: That’s even tougher!  We have some fantastic artists and choosing among them is impossible.  How do you rank a McGinnis against a Manchess or an Orbik?  You don’t, is the answer.  You can’t.  Within each artist’s work it’s easier, but only a little.  Bob McGinnis’ best for us is probably either THE GIRL WITH THE LONG GREEN HEART or THE LAST QUARRY (though I think the girl on KILL NOW, PAY LATER has the most beautiful face of any he’s painted for us).  Greg Manchess’ FADE TO BLONDE has become almost an iconic image for us (though his VENGEFUL VIRGIN is a popular favorite as well).  Glen Orbik’s SONGS OF INNOCENCE has a special place in my heart,for obvious reasons (though his BRANDED WOMAN and BLACKMAILER give it a run for its money in terms of sheer wolf-whistle-inducing sex appeal). And then there’s Chuck Pyle, with his dead-on period stylings in LUCKY AT CARDS and A DIET OF TREACLE, and Rick Farrell who did such a gorgeous job SLIDE and LEMONS NEVER LIE, and…  Okay, it’s impossible.  All I’ll say is this: If you think you have a favorite now, wait till next month.  And that goes no matter what month it is.

MM: In July, (or is it June?) Songs of Innocence hits the shelves, written by Richard Aleas, AKA you.  I’ll skip the usual pen name questions.  Songs is a follow up to your first novel, Little Girl Lost.  What challenges did you face writing a sequel? 

CA: It’s July, though copies probably will show up in some stores at the end of June.

The main challenge, frankly, was finding the time to write it.  I wrote LITTLE GIRL LOST over the course of 60 days, while SONGS took me the better part of three years, and it wasn’t because the book was harder to write, it was just because it’s tough to find time to write when you’re publishing a book a month and doing all the copy editing and proofreading yourself (not to mention reading 1000 submissions/year, not to mention overseeing a couple of biotech companies…).

The other challenge had to do with trying to be true to the story I wanted Cover_big to tell.  I started by asking the question, "What would it do to a sensitive young man, in the real world, to go through the events of the first book?"  And the answer was clear, it seemed to me: It would severely damage him.  So as tempting as it was to just write a conventional second novel, in which the hero of the first is hale and hearty and raring to go, I decided that John Blake would start the second novel on the edge of a precipice.  That’s a difficult place to start a novel, because where is there to go but down?  But that’s noir.  If you can’t stand the heat, etc.

MM: Both you and your partner in crime Max Phillips have published your own novels under the Hard Case banner.  How did you handle the editing duties on these books?  Were there fistfights involved?

CA: We agreed more than we disagreed, but sure, there were moments.  I did a detailed mark-up of his manuscript and he ignored at least half of my suggested edits, and of course his book went on to win the Shamus, so I guess he was right.  He did a detailed mark-up of my manuscript and though I actually did take most of his text-level edits, I ignored the main plot-level point he made, and LITTLE GIRL LOST went on to be nominated for both the Shamus and the Edgar, so I guess I was right.  In the end, you have to let the author make the final decision; it’s his book.

Cover_big6 But the simple fact is that Max is both a more seasoned and a better writer than I am, so it’s appropriate for me to follow his lead a bit more than the other way around.  I was grateful to have his help.

MM: Do you feel Hard Case has made an impact on the publishing world?

CA: I’d like to think so.  Sometimes I see another publisher doing a cover that looks a bit like one of ours and I think, "They clearly were inspired by us" — but of course we can hardly claim to have invented our look, so who knows.  Maybe they were inspired by the same old books that inspired us.  I do think more people are aware of old-fashioned pulp crime fiction now than were in 2004, when we started; I also think there are more publishers reprinting undeservedly forgotten crime fiction than there were when we started, and I know there are readers who have been turned on to the work of writers like Day Keene and Gil Brewer who might never have been if we hadn’t reprinted them.  That feels good.

But how much of an impact is it really?  We’ve published some good books; we’ve given a few hundred thousand people a pleasant night’s reading.  That’s nothing to sneeze at, but it’s hardly going to shake the publishing world to its foundations.

MM: What can you tell us about the movie deals?  Can you drop any names?  Are there any directors lined up?  Any stars?

CA: Alas, it’s too early to say anything about movies.  Papazian-Hirsch isCover_big7  very enthusiastic and so are we, but enthusiasm is just one of the ingredients you need in order to get movies made; another is money, and we’re in the process now of rounding up the necessary financing.  That’s got to be done before you lock down directors or actors or, hell, even the makeup and hair people.  But I’m optimistic.  These books would make terrific films and enough people in Hollywood agree with us about that that I’d be surprised if we didn’t see some of them up on the silver screen in a few years.

MM: If you could pistol whip anyone in the world, who would it be and why?

CA: What, anyone?  Really?  Will the Secret Service come knocking on my door if I say "Dick Cheney"?  (Just kidding.  Don’t arrest me.  My bag’s not packed.)

Oh, I don’t know.  I’m not a violent sort.  There are people I don’t like, but I’d sooner excoriate them verbally than slap ’em with the butt of my roscoe.  ("The Butt of My Roscoe."  Now there’s a great title for a book.
Although I guess maybe not the sort we publish.)

MM: What’s next for Hard Case?

CA: Bea05a2_2 Another book every month, at least until either the reading public gets tired of it or I do.  We’ve got some great writers coming up (Woolrich, Spillane, Robert Bloch), plus more from some of our old favorites (Lawrence Block, Ken Bruen and Jason Starr, Max Allan Collins, John Lange).  We have our first ever female author: Christa Faust, whose MONEY SHOT is already looking to be one of the more talked-about books of ’08. And I’ve got something fun in mind for book #50 — but I’m not quite ready to describe it yet, just in case I don’t manage to pull it off…

(Mr. Ardai and his hard-boiled pals at Book Expo America) 

My thanks to Charles Ardai for taking the time to chat. 

Now let me throw some questions at you, Murder fans.  Who would you like to see write a Hard Case book?  Are there any old noir classics you’d like to see reprinted?  And while you have your thinking caps on, come up with a great two-fisted, steamy title for a pulp novel.

Coming soon:  An interview with Hard Case alum and author of HARD MAN, Allan Guthrie 

Sopranos: Onion Rings and Loose Ends


by Mike MacLean

If you haven’t heard about the Soprano’s finale perhaps you should crawl out of that cave you’re living in for a little sunlight.  For you, my pasty skinned friends, I respectfully offer this SPOILER ALERT.

The whole season, I’d anxiously waited to find out Tony’s fate.  Would he end up in prison?  The grave?  Maybe he’d wind up in a white-bread suburb somewhere, a guest of the witness protection agency.  Sunday night all my questions would be answered.  I couldn’t wait.

As the final minutes ticked off, the tension was masterfully brought to slow boil—impending doom contrasted brilliantly with cheesy 70s arena rock.  Then the music cut out and the screen went to black.

Instantly, I fell into the stages of grief.  Shock.  ANGER!  Despair.  I didn’t make it to acceptance.  Perhaps I never will. 

Love or hate it, you can’t deny the final episode was something to talk about.  For me, it sparked questions about the nature of storytelling and the responsibilities of the storyteller.Emmyhboptys1

I’m not someone who needs to be spoon-fed his fiction.  Writers don’t need to provide all the answers.  It’s far more gratifying to interpret and speculate.  Why were there so many oranges in film version of The Godfather?  Why does Hannibal Lecter really agree to help Clarice?  What’s with Hemmingway and the bulls?    

And the Sopranos finale surely created a buzz of speculation.  It brought the audience into the creative process, allowing them fill in their own blanks and to create their own ending. 

Was this a brilliant, thought-provoking move, or was it a cop out?

I’d like to don my artsy-fartsy, literary cap and vote brilliant.  But the storyteller in me leans towards cop out.   

David Chase is obviously a fantastic writer who has given us a groundbreaking show.  After several remarkable seasons, he must have faced tremendous pressure to create a fitting ending.  In the end, he didn’t do his job.  He brought us to the edge of our seats, made us sweat, and then failed to finish the story. 

070606p9_2 You might say it was a bold, artistic move on Chase’s part, but I wonder if fear didn’t rear it’s ugly head.  Tony’s final chapter couldn’t live up to expectations, so he put the burden on us, the viewers.

Of course, that’s just my opinion.  And you know what they say about opinions.  Whatever the case, I still thank Chase and HBO for a great show that raised the bar for TV storytelling.    

So I ask you murder fans, what did you think of the ending?  Would you have written it differently?  And of course, what do you think was Tony’s fate?