Wednesday, August 31, 2011

RAIN DOG in Crimespree issue no.43

Crimespree Magazine is a great read for crime fiction fans, and I am very proud that my story "Rain Dog" appears in the latest issue, #43. Along with Sara Gran, Declan Burke, Dennis Lehane, Craig MacDonald, Todd Ritter and many more.

You can order copies or subscribe here. It is also available at The Mysterious Bookshop for you New Yorkers, at your local mystery bookshop elsewhere and Uncle Edgar's for my Twin Cities friends.

You will be seeing more of Denny Forrest, the character who appears in "Rain Dog," in the upcoming Pulp Modern quarterly, and the next issue of Plots With Guns.

© 2011 Thomas Pluck

No one thinks they're the bad guy

I can't remember where I heard it first. It's become a mantra, when writing villains. Even Hannibal Lecter thought he was making the world a better place by recycling human failures through his duodenum. Now Han is a great villain, but I prefer mine a little more grounded in reality. And pal Benoit Lelievre has worded it quite eloquently over at his blog Dead End Follies.

© 2011 Thomas Pluck

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Meet me in St. Louis

I'll be at this year's BoucherCon Friday and Saturday.
We'll have a plucking good time.

© 2011 Thomas Pluck

Monday, August 29, 2011

D*cked in a world of sh*t

Some writer friends got together and wrote an anthology of stories inspired by everyone's favorite snarling political wildebeest, Dick Cheney:

Contributors include Eric Beetner, Jed Ayres, Ken Bruen, Jimmy Callaway, Hilary Davidson, Matthew C. Funk, Keith Rawson, Kieran Shea, and Steve Weddle, and many more. Writers I truly enjoy, and seeing them tackle ol' Dick will be a blast... of birdshot to the face, of course.

It is available in a nifty print-on-demand copy, which I bought, for $9.99 or on Kindle (link at end of post)

On their blog promoting the book, they asked for 250 word contributions, and I wrote this one on the fly.

A World of Shit
The lawyer showed the lead nurse the writ. “The living will is contested. The feeding tube stays in. And the morphine drip stays out.”
“He’s in nothing but pain. On the edge of consciousness,” she said.
“The family is concerned that the drip could be construed as assisted suicide. On religious grounds, it stays out.”
She nodded, and the lawyer left.
The old man was little but a bag of wrinkles and tubes, a mottled gray octopus with a strip of iodine down his chest from the heart transplant.
A suit with sunglasses and an earpiece sat by the door. Many people hated this man, and he needed protection.
It would be kinder to let someone in with a gun or a knife. Kineesha wished she was stronger, someone who could forget to erase the “Do Not Resuscitate” notation at the foot of the bed. But his daughter’s wishes would be satisfied. Kineesha wiped the board clean, and taped the lawyer’s writ next to it. She added back the demerol, but thinking of her unemployed brother back from Iraq, and his nifty new arm, neglected to notate the laxative that would alleviate the opiate’s constipating effects.
She leaned in and whispered. “I know you can’t hear me over the millions who suffered in your name. Your daughter wants you suffering to the last second, but you’re gonna drown in your own shit because of me.”

© 2011 Thomas Pluck

Friday, August 26, 2011

do you carry the mark?


A QR code to my stories page. For authors with work on Amazon, you can make one of these to your Kindle page with this QR code generator. More and more people are reading on cell phones and mobile devices. And if you put this on a business card, they get to use their fartphone to get to your site without typing URLs. You can also have this tattooed on your pudenda if you are hardcore.

© 2011 Thomas Pluck

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Writing to Harlan Ellison

I believe the first book I read by Harlan Ellison was his short story collection I Have No Mouth and I Must Scream. Besides being one of the great titles, the story remains a fascinating capsule of humanity at its best and worst. It follows the tortures of a small group of insane and terrible people damned to live within the confines of a Cold War supercomputer gone sentient, a Frankensteinian who despises its former masters with a hate so vitriolic that it has annihilated the planet and kept only five survivors as its playthings. It may not resonate as deeply as it once did, but as a child of the '80s kept up nights by a senile President picking fights with inscrutable nuclear enemies, its palpable sense of dread was quite affecting.

But that's just one of Mr. Ellison's stories. A true master of the short story, I read everything by him I could get my hands on. Deathbird Stories is a favorite of mine (and Neil Gaiman) where Harlan plunges into myth and religion. He's run the gamut, but they all have one thing in common: a monolithic moral foundation and deeply emotional underpinning. While ghettoed as a science fiction writer, he prefers the term speculative fiction. As tribalist monkeys, we humans love our categories. He's written magic realism, he's written fable, such as "Repent, Harlequin! Said the Ticktockman," which is one of the most reprinted stories in the English language. He wrote that in six hours, in one draft. The man's a storytelling genius.

Energetic and opinionated, he became infamous among science fiction fans as ill-tempered. I drove to Long Island in a '65 Mustang with leaky brake lines to meet him at a convention at Stony Brook college. To me, he just seemed like a confident man who didn't take any shit. It bemuses me when people expect someone to take shit. He was heckled on stage about his height, and I imagine some came merely to heckle, to set him off. What struck me most that he was a champion of others' work more than his own. Dan Simmons was there promoting his latest- Summer of Night- and Harlan found a copy of Simmons's first novel, Song of Kali, and read the excellent opening paragraph aloud. That doesn't sound like an asshole to me.

Admittedly, I met him only once, but he was quite gracious at the book signing table and signed things I purchased that I didn't even ask to be signed. But I've been amused for his reputation. Surely he is no saint, and during that minor epoch of the '70s when science fiction writers were rock stars with big collars and enormous eyeglasses, perhaps he rubbed some the wrong way. He also made it very clear that he didn't want your damn fan letters. They were a distraction, he said, from writing. Like many prolific writers, he was driven. Whatever his voluminous pagecount was, it was never enough.And like a stage star who says they never read reviews, he may have excoriated fan letter writing, but he interrupted his day to read them.

Now, I've never been good at taking no for an answer. And as I was adrift as a young man and seeking a father figure, I had a habit of contacting writers and celebrities I admired, in my search for a male role model. I think I called his house, once, and sat tongue tied until he hung up. I'm not proud of that. And of course, knowing that he didn't want people writing him, I wrote him. In one of his stories, he quotes Gerald Kersh, a writer he admired greatly. I remembered the quote, but not the source. And in those days before the internet, I would have had to go to the Nutley public library and skim every Harlan Ellison story until I found it, if they had the book, and hope that he footnoted the origin. So I used that as an excuse to write him a letter. And lo and behold, he answered, and of course, chewed me out for busting his balls with my request:

I did find Gerald Kersh. I found Nightshade and Damnations, the collection Harlan edited. I read his excellent novel set in a London slum, Fowler's End, which is on Kindle for 99 cents, so you have no excuse. I read his other collection, Men Without Bones, which is also on Kindle. Kersh writes like a dream. He's a writer's writer. Clever stories, and a style so effortless it inspires awe and envy. He lacks the raw emotional power of Harlan's best work, but he is also one of the best writers of the last century, and four a lousy four bucks you can take a bite of the heart of his best work. Have at it.

As for Harlan, I wrote this because I sent this letter to Shaun Usher of the excellent Letters of Note blog, and it was showcased a year or so ago. Shaun contacted me after he spoke with Mr. Ellison on the phone, and my letter came up. Harlan said I was an idiot for not selling it on ebay, because of the 200 or so letters he receives a week, mine remains one of the few he's responded to. I wish I'd kept my copy, no doubt scrawled in my stout lazy cursive, or more likely printed on the daisy wheel printer I had back then. I don't recall if I begged or beseeched, or merely kissed ass. But it felt good to be remembered. I lay the blame on my Plucky surname, but my head was a whirlwind of formless, aimless energy back then and I'm sure I wrote a few lines that would defy explanation today.

And of course, I just wrote him again. On his web page. That way, instead of intruding on his mailbox, if he reads the forum for his readers, it is of his own volition. But yeah, I'm gonna refresh that page daily to see if he replies. And I know Harlan is yanking our twig about replying to few letters, as a few years later I told an eccentric old lady and voracious reader I knew from delivering medicine at the drug store, Mary Brasseur, about my letter, and she wrote him as well. She said he was a curmudgeon, and he corrected her, he was an 'irascible sonofabitch' (or some such; good Mary has passed to the great used bookstore in the sky). I've always felt like I knew Mr. Ellison a little, and that he was a bit like Busto (read the letter) and that's why the quote resonated with him, and with me. I wouldn't presume to know him from his writing, but as Andrew Vachss says about "children of the secret," veterans of the same war are attuned to each other's frequencies.

© 2011 Thomas Pluck

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Review: Miami Blues

Miami Blues
Miami Blues by Charles Willeford

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Dark, absurd, and cynical, this tale of an ex-con on a blitz through '80s Miami flows like water. Willeford writes like a Zen master. Detective Hoke Moseley is pathetic, but somehow good company. Junior Frenger is a perfectly conceived psychopath and Susan Waggoner, the abused prostitute he hooks up with, is a mystery. Willeford does so much with spare details. It's not a mystery, it's just a story, about two desperate people who collide with a cop at the bottom of his downward spiral, told as spare and lyrically as a haiku.

View all my reviews

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Why Writers Should Train in Martial Arts

Sparring with Keigo Kunihara, fighter in UFC55
  1. You should balance mental exhaustion with physical exhaustion. Does your head ever just hurt from jumbling ideas, characters and motivations? Or is it just me? Maybe I have a brain fever. You will persevere. Many people write because English composition was easy for them. In martial arts there is always someone better than you. You must slog and train to improve. Same with writing. The only thing that makes you better at it is more writing.
  2. Daily beatings prepare you for criticism. Let's face it, your friends and writer pals aren't going to be completely honest with you. They want to encourage you, so you keep writing and improve. Then the big nasty critics from the big leagues savage you like that bear in the joke who sodomizes the hunter. And you write another book, and they do it again. Then you write a third book, and the bear-critic says, "You don't write for the advances, do you?" and you have a laugh before he sodomizes you again. Bears are assholes.
  3. Most writers suck at writing fights. If you don't think this yet, get in a few fights, and you will. I've only been in one fight and I got my ass kicked. But the adrenaline, the fear, the speed of it has stuck with me. I mix those emotions with the physics and footwork of fighting that I learned from years of sparring. I don't know if people think my fight scenes are realistic. But I try.
  4. People won't think you're so damn lazy. Or if they do, you can break some boards, preferably load bearing beams in their house.
  5. Fat writers die sooner. It's a sedentary profession. We need all the help we can get. Do you really want to have a coronary embolism when you find out your manuscript was accepted? Or Michael Bay wants to make a trilogy out of it, except your carefully crafted tragic heroine will be played by Shia LaBeouf?
  6. It builds confidence. And writing requires it. A lot of it. Otherwise, why bother writing for hours every night, revising line by line, persevering rejection after rejection? Because like hitting your face with a mallet, it feels so good when you stop? No, because you believe in this story. Your voice is worth being heard. God dammit, your life has value. You're mad as hell and you're not gonna take it anymore. Remember, the guy who said that got shot at the end. So maybe it's more like Cool Hand Luke. Never mind.
  7. Because I will wrestle you on the convention floor. You're lucky I'm not able to make BoucherCon this year. Because I'd totally take you down and get some knee on belly action until you signed my copy of your book to "Uncle."

© 2011 Thomas Pluck

Monday, August 15, 2011

Southern Gods

An excellent debut and gripping mix of Lovecraftian horror, Delta blues, and '50s noir. Bull Ingram is a terrific character, a hulking bruiser on a mission for a race records producer seeking his promo man and a singer he'd love to sign- Ramblin' John Hastur. John Hornor Jacobs builds a compelling mythology that hints of Lovecraft and Blatty's exorcist, but makes it all his own. With an opening line that rivals the infamous first line to Stephen King's The Gunslinger- no I'm not kidding- and rich voice throughout, Southern Gods will keep you turning pages and draw you in to its dark world.
A treat for fans of the Cthulhu mythos, or anyone wanting to fall into a new dark world and be lost for the duration of the read.

© 2011 Thomas Pluck

Friday, August 12, 2011

Meeting Andrew Vachss

I met Andrew Vachss (pronounced like tax) back in '99 or so in Madison, Wisconsin during his book tour. It was a 5 hour drive from Minneapolis, but I wanted to meet him. I'd written him earlier that year, after my petition to keep a child murderer in prison succeeded. The killer was now wheelchair-bound and wanted early release. He was in for abducting a child from a church social, raping and killing her. He was a cab driver who drove the mom and her kids to church. I'd read about him in John Douglas's FBI profiling memoir, Mindhunter, and recognized his name in the newspaper.

When you have a violent offender like that, you don't depend on ankle monitors and sex offender registries to keep him from his victims. You need to contain them:
There are individuals who are so toxic that their presence threatens us all. They self-identify by their conduct. And we cannot protect ourselves from monsters by calling them by another name. If prison cannot rehabilitate, it can at least incapacitate. If we cannot transform sexual predators, we certainly can contain them. -- Andrew Vachss, How to Handle Sexual Predators.

I wrote Mr. Vachss back when he accepted books to be signed. I wanted him to sign "Down in the Zero," because it was the first book of his I'd read, and "Born Bad," because I believe the title story in that collection to distill the essence of his most important message: We Make Our Own Monsters. By averting our eyes when a child is abused: sexually, physically, or emotionally. By snickering at the prevalence of rape in prison, the Animal Factory as ex-con Edward Bunker called it, where we breed future predators.
He wrote back with a kind and touching letter:

click letter for readable version

It meant a lot to me then. Mr. Vachss and I have had minor correspondence since then. He's got work to do and so do I. He wrote for a cause, and made art that made a difference. He's more than a writer I admire, he's a hero, in a time when that word is bandied about lightly. In person, he is respectful. More of a political organizer than a self-promoter. With the PROTECT PAC that he helped build, the abused have a voice. And when politicians talk of "protecting the children," they are there to make them put their money where their mouth is.

If you haven't read Andrew Vachss, I'd recommend you begin the Burke series at the beginning with FLOOD. Then Strega, Blue Belle, Blossom, Hard Candy, Sacrifice and Down in the Zero. As pulse pounding and gripping as any crime fiction you'll find. If a series is too much for you, his standalone novel SHELLA is an amazing story.

Join PROTECT and make a difference. These issues aren't even on the politicians' radar. The NRA and AARP know how to get politicians to listen, and PROTECT has started off strong. They deserve your support.

© 2011 Thomas Pluck

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Meet Fiona Johnson...

Every bird's got to leave the nest, but sometimes they need a little push. Or a three-toed kick in the arse. That's what my friend Fiona gave me back in March when I wrote "The Last Sacrament," and wondered if I should submit it anywhere. She told me to, gave me suggestions, and I got my first publication.

A short while later this fine judge of good writing asked me if I thought she should submit her own stories. Now, I'd been reading her tales of Gemma the Scottish police investigator for some time, drawn in by their gritty reality and Gemma herself, a fiercely alive character you should drop by Fiona's blog- or Shotgun Honey- to meet. So I got to return that kick in the arse. I'm not sure if she believed me, or if it took our mutual friend Kate, but she's got two great stories in The Flash Fiction Offensive and Shotgun Honey,  venues that keep getting better.

Fiona is interviewed today at Sea Minor, the blog of Nigel Bird, a fine writer himself. Please drop by. She gives me a great shout-out, but honestly, I'm sending you that way in the hopes you'll read her stories "Saying Goodbye" at TFFO and "Hard as Nails" at Shotgun Honey, and see what a talent she has. If crime stories aren't your game, "Saying Goodbye" is as good a coming of age tale as I've read in a long while. Read her now, so you can give a smug sniff a few years from now when Gemma stars in the gritty procedural from Scotland that everyone is scrambling to read.

© 2011 Thomas Pluck

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

How Slavery Ruined My Vacation

A snarky title for my comedic tale, where Barry and Miranda find the world getting smaller and smaller.
Read my story at Pure Slush, #10 in their Travel month series. They take the wank out of flash fiction. A worthy endeavor I'm proud to be a part of.

© 2011 Thomas Pluck

Friday, August 5, 2011

Shogun Honey

Art by Derek Chatwood, prints available at PopRelics
Inspiration can come from anywhere. My friend Sabrina Ogden, book reviewer extraordinaire, made a typo on twitter. She'd meant to mention the great online short fiction site Shotgun Honey- not coincidentally the host of my first fiction publication- but instead, she typed "shogun honey."

And me being me, I made a joke, saying they should do a week of all samurai fiction. (Samurai Fiction, by the way, is a great movie you ought to rent right now). She seemed dubious, and I came up with the first line of the story in a flash of inspiration, limited by twitter's 140 character limit. I used to sneer when my poetry teacher, Rachel Hadas, said the limitations of form made you a better writer, but twitter and flash fiction have helped me follow Strunk's law, "omit needless words," which will make anyone a better writer.

Sabrina loved the line and asked me to keep writing. A few days later I had written "Shogun Honey," and while far from a masterpiece, it was a lot of fun to write, and I hope you like it. It begins:
Ishikari took the job for three rice balls a day and a dry place to sleep. By dark, he’d wished he drowned and starved. 

read the rest at Shogun Honey... I mean Shotgun Honey.

© 2011 Thomas Pluck

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Guest spot at The Flash Fiction Offensive

My friend David Barber, editor of The Flash Fiction Offensive, has been so gracious to give me the coveted Guest Writer spot this month. David and I became fast friends after I learned my first lesson as an impatient young writer: read the friggin' rules. He was kind enough to forgive me, and accept my story "Van Candy," about two loan shark thugs who wind up with a smart-ass kid stowing away in their van. Hijinks ensue, and you can read that story by clicking on the link in the sidebar to the right, in the pink stuff.

This month's story is twice as long, two thousand words. Guest writers get twice the space, and all it costs them is as many beers as David can drink, the next time they meet him. So that means I have to go to Scotland, land of the deep fried haggis burgers and rolling green. I plan to make that trip soon. They invented Scotch, didn't they? Anyway, the story is "The Forest for the Trees," set in my home turf, Branch Brook Park, during cherry blossom season. Hop on over for a '70s tale of guns, young love, and muscle cars racing in the night.

The Forest for the Trees

© 2011 Thomas Pluck

Monday, August 1, 2011

Cowboys & Aliens

Had a great time with this summer excitainment. Like Jon Favreau's Iron Man movies, it's light and enjoyable, just enough tongue in cheek. He makes a traditional western first, and a science fiction blockbuster second, and that is why it works.

He also gives us characters. Jake Lonergan and the Colonel aren't always likable. Taking a hint from his pal Vince Vaughn in Swingers, he has always given us characters we're not sure we like in the beginning. Now, they're not on par with Downey's over the top Stark, but they fit the Western archetypes and flesh them out. I'd watch this movie if no aliens were involved. He peoples his cast with colorful character actors, like Clancy Brown's preacher and Sam Rockwell's Doc. Who's a bartender. The women get a little short shrift, except for Olivia Wilde's character, and she's too mysterious to have much substance. But it works, and once the aliens show up we care what happens to these people.

It's funny how Westerns come and go. We haven't had a real resurgence, just a few here and there. I'd like to see more. Japan still mines their samurai era past, but we've left ours behind our myths. We are uncomfortable destroying them.

3/4 - Worthy

© 2011 Thomas Pluck

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All writing © 2011 Thomas Pluck and may only be reprinted with express written permission of the author. You may link to pages at will. If you wish to repost anything on your website you must contact Thomas Pluck using the contact form. Thank you for your cooperation. -Robocop