Friday, December 30, 2011

Guilty Conscience

Today I'm at Luca Veste's blog Guilty Conscience talking about the Off the Record Anthology that he put together. It's the only place to read my story "Free Bird," and it's only 99c as an e-book right now. The link to by is to the right.

If you read the INTERVIEW you'll get an excerpt, and we talk music, influences, and about Andrew Vachss's "orphan" of a novel SHELLA which you should go read right now (or listen to, it was just made into an audiobook as well)

© 2011 Thomas Pluck

it's a major award!

Lost Children: a Charity Anthology has been nominated for a Predators & Editors Award for best anthology! We'd appreciate your VOTE.

Also, Spinetingler Magazine has their nominations open for best crime fiction books and stories. I made my picks, go make yours!

If I tingled your spine, nominate the story that did it. If you can't pick one (how cocky does that sound? I had 29 stories published this year) perhaps you should read "Junkyard Dog" at Plots with Guns, which the last reader, Joe Myers (a fine writer himself) said brought a tear to his eye...

© 2011 Thomas Pluck

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

You can't say no to those eyes...

I entered the foray of self-publishing this year, sort of. I published Lost Children: A Charity Anthology, edited with my friends Fiona Johnson and Ron Earl Phillips, with stories by 30 writers. And all the cash is going to two causes: PROTECT and Children 1st. One reason I did it was of course, to raise money for these organizations. Another reason was to learn the ropes and see the results, to decide if self-publishing is for me. To see what kind of sales I could generate, and how much work goes into it.

You have to set goals for yourself. My goals were:

Sell 100 copies in the first month (succeeded)
Sell at least one copy per day after that (succeeded, in the long run)

Now I wanted to sell 100 per month, but it didn't happen. We're at 148 sales right now, and I'd be happy to make 150 sales by the end of the year.

According to Dean Wesley Smith, these are excellent sales for a first book. The sales really pile in once you have 4-5 items for sale, because you get repeat business. I never expected this anthology, with a handful of known crime and literary writers and many first-timers, to sell very well. Fiona and I donated $600 of our own cash for the original fiction challenge, and we wanted to generate more for the causes. The project has been a great success in that regard- the royalties aren't in yet, but we're looking at around $350 in two months, and the book will be on sale for three years.

But let me tell you, it's a lot of work. I'm still not sure if self-publishing is the way to go, for me. I don't want to start that debate. It works for a lot of people. Traditional works for others. Dean Wesley Smith says use both to your advantage, and to me, that seems the wisest choice. Of course, you need to talk softly and carry a big lawyer, if you plan on self-publishing and pursuing a contract with a major publisher. Many contracts include non-compete clauses that would keep you from self-publishing, even if you've been doing it prior to the contract. Let the writer beware. But enough about that.

It was an exciting endeavor and now that I've learned it, would I do it again? You bet I would.

But I want two more sales. Really bad. The next two buyers- print or e-book- who email me the receipt (use the "contact me" form on the upper right) will get a copy of Heart Transplant by Andrew Vachss donated to the library of their choice.

© 2011 Thomas Pluck

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Review: The Confidence Course: Seven Steps to Self-Fulfillment

The Confidence Course: Seven Steps to Self-Fulfillment
The Confidence Course: Seven Steps to Self-Fulfillment by Walter Anderson

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This book took me ten years to finish. I let my anger win and set it aside, forgot its lessons, and only re-opened it again recently. I was finally ready to learn. If you suffer from shyness, rage, fear, or lack confidence... it is a fine toolbox to repair the damage done. Every chapter held an epiphany for me. It helped me dig up the roots of my rage, and overcome shyness. And it doesn't let you off the hook for your behavior. The first lesson is accepting responsibility. A great read, and no bullshit included.

I started back on page one as soon as I finished. Some of us need to stay back a grade and keep learning these lessons. I wouldn't call this a self-help book. It's a memoir of an angry, bullied young man who overcame his rage and self-loathing to become a success, and he passes his lessons on to you.

View all my reviews

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Don't be a Tool

THE LAUGHTER SHACK is a new humor venue started by a friend of mine. They publish everything from surrealist ridiculousness to lowbrow, and I have a 'piece' up there this week entitled... "Citizen Tool." (The humorous illustration is NSFW, so be warned)

I mention this story because I first wrote it in high school for Pulphouse magazine, and it was one of three tales I sent to Dean Wesley Smith ana Nina Kiriki Hoffman, the triple-named editorial whizzes who ran the acclaimed hardcover mag. I sold my stack of hardcover editions to pay off debt ages ago, and regret it. I found the mag via Harlan Ellison, whose story "She's a Pretty Young Thing and Can't Leave Her Mother" appeared in it, and since I was damn sure going to be a writer, I decided to send Pulphouse everything I wrote.

Dean and Nina? I apologize.

They were very gracious and kind editors. The original version of "Citizen Tool" is much longer, and like many new writer's work, begins with a laboriously detailed explanation of our character getting out of bed, going to a nondescript job, acting like a dick, and slowly transforming into one. Dean or Nina- the letter was merely signed 'editors'- rejected it because "the story lacks a clearly defined setting," which was true. They were kind enough not to tell me that a story about a guy who turns into a big dick for no real reason, and then meets a woman who seems to be turning into a giant vagina because people call her the C-word wasn't exactly great reading, and I kept writing. I sent them another story called "Love is a Chainsaw," about a man who loves slasher films and jerks off to them, goes home and hits his wife, and is really not about anything except that I dislike the now endlessly deconstructed sexual politics of slasher films. I still plan to use that title someday. Finally, they accepted a college story called "We're All Guys Here," but the magazine closed down before it ever saw print. That story may see print soon, we shall see. I've revised it with my newly sharpened gimlet eyes.

I'd forgotten all about "Citizen Tool" until David- I mean B.J. Titzengolf- of Laughter Shack asked for a funny story, and I had an epiphany- my story idea wasn't much different than "The Metamorphosis," so why not pay homage to Herr Kafka with the opening line? And the rest flowed from there. I also realized that the story didn't have much steam, so it had better end quickly. And with our current economic conundrum, I knew what to do.

So if you need a laugh, go check it out. It's very short and readers got a kick out of it. It's also a lesson, that there are no bad ideas- just bad writers. And bad writers, if we practice enough, become good ones.

© 2011 Thomas Pluck

Friday, December 23, 2011

Merry Christmas!

My mom spent a few years tracking down A Christmas Gift For You From Phil Spector, which is a record album, not a euphemism for being shot by a crazy record producer with a three foot afro.
Once she found it at a record store on St. Mark's Place, we carved new grooves in that sucker spinning it on the turntable. The songs were further immortalized in Goodfellas, and here are a few of my favorites:

They can still belt it out!

Darlene Love can SING. I'm glad I got to see her in the Hairspray musical on Broadway as Motormouth Maybelle. She's amazing, and Christmas ain't Christmas until I hear her sing "Baby Please Come Home!" You can buy it here: © 2011 Thomas Pluck

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Review: Dove Season

Dove Season
Dove Season by Johnny Shaw

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Subtitled "A Jimmy Veeder fiasco," this was one entertaining read. A boy who fled farm country returns home when he learns Pop is dying, and finds his hometown barely recognizable. His father's dying wish sets in motion a sequence of events that boot Jimmy from his extended adolescence into the tough decisions that make him a man. The story is compelling and deftly set as grim desert backdrop to a colorful crew of characters, real people who never mug for the camera. Full of belly laughs, excitement and lots of heart. Shaw paints a border town with alternating strokes of piercing honesty and bittersweet nostalgia, but like the oleander flowers that decorate each chapter, a poisonous secret lies beneath its beauty, and I enjoyed discovering it. A great debut, and to echo the blurbs- I hope there are many fiascoes to come!

View all my reviews

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

We got the Funk

Here's what Matthew Funk has to say about my story "Junkyard Dog," which he chose in his top 5 at Chris Rhatigan's DEATH BY KILLING "Five You Can't Miss" series:

"Keeping you in the action while transcending time and place, JUNKYARD DOG assembles a complete character from a scattered history of violence. The worse it gets, the more you care. And Thomas Pluck knows how to make it get real damn bad." --Matthew C. Funk

Thank you Matt, for choosing my story and for such kind, kind words... from a writer with similar drives, to show the brutality we ignore every day, that means a hell of a lot.

© 2011 Thomas Pluck

Saturday, December 17, 2011

I never said I was an artist

 I work for a company that is big into giving back, and this year we helped several NYC schools. My project, with 70 others, was to pair murals and paintings for PS 196 in Williamsburg, which is very old and in need of update and repair. But being New York, there's no money for it. Kids have to suffer so investment bankers can hire NYPD police as their own private army...

We repainted their mascot images on the walls, and also filled many canvases with colorful and educational messages to brighten up the old institution. Here are the two I did:

The top one is from "If You Bring a Mouse to School." A coworker named Ed drew the art in pencil and I was the "tracer" who colored it all in. I'm proud to help the school and if I can help just one kid snicker at an old man's terrible artistic skills, I feel I have improved the world in one small way.

If anyone wants book covers painted by me, I work cheap.

© 2011 Thomas Pluck

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Great Plucking Reads

Everyone's picking their favorite books of the year it seems. I reviewed all my favorites here over the months, but I'll collect them here for you.
I'm all about emotional impact. I appreciate a clever twist or a brilliant storyline but one of the enduring phrases from my youth is from Harvey with Jimmy Stewart and his pooka pal the invisible rabbit. "You can be oh so clever or oh so pleasant. For years I tried clever. I'd suggest pleasant." Meaning, it's good to be clever, but don't be cocky about it. These writers are clever, but they aren't about being clever. They pack a wallop with their stories and it's not there to shock, but to shake... to shake you out of jaded ordinary life and make you think, or heaven forfend, care.

So here are my favorite reads of the year. You may truncate them to five or ten to make a handy list.

Out There Bad, by Josh Stallings
A strong new voice and a powerful character blasting onto the scene, Mo McGuire is a dark hero, a wounded warrior, who dares shove our face in the evil we tolerate every day. This is the second book by Stallings and kicked my ass. He takes you on a hellride through L.A.'s human meat grinder and hunts it to its source with a two chilling and remorseless killers at his back. Moses is forced to acknowledge his own complicity as a strip club bouncer, and learns what it takes to stand up for those he cares about. L.A. has a new crime boss, it just doesn't know it yet: and his name is Stallings.

The End of Everything, by Megan Abbott
The most daring novel of the year, exposing the rotten heart of suburbia. This one's on a lot of end of the year best-of lists and I will smugly say I TOLD YOU SO. Back when I reviewed it this summer. Nya nya nya NYA nya.  A profoundly disturbing look at the dangers young women face on the verge of womanhood, and a story that will defy your attempts to predict its outcome. When Lizzie's best friend is abducted, she begins her own investigation... starting with the secrets only best friends would share.

Choke Hold, by Christa Faust
It flies like classic pulp, it reads like truth and it hits you with a smart left hook that leaves you as stunned as a fighter wobbling through his first standing eight-count. There are no slick twists, only artfully written characters, broken down gladiators from the sex and violence trades who've battled for our entertainment. They are writ large but speak to a deeper truth. Angel always lands on her feet, but the fear level was the highest for me in this one. The axe is always ready to fall.

Crimes in Southern Indiana, by Frank Bill
A brutal emotional dispatch from the war zone in your backyard. The debut of the year, this is blood feud poetry. Desperate situations where beat-down people stand on the line between what they know is wrong and sheer survival in a hardscrabble emotionally jagged landscape. Staring into the abysmal latrine of humanity, it is easy to sink to nihilism, to embrace the banality of evil, but Frank Bill refuses to take the easy road. People beyond forgiveness seek mere understanding. Desires criss-cross and hurtle together like jalopies down a one lane dirt road. Anyone can write brutality. Giving it a dark but honest human heart takes guts and a keen sense of people, and this novel speaks volumes of messy truth.

Pym, by Mat Johnson
Not a crime novel, but one of the funniest and honest books on race and English literature I've ever read. It turns a brutally racist Poe tale on its head and has a snicker on every page while doing it. An African-American professor of African-American studies is fired because he won't be the token African-American on the diversity committee. While looking for a slave narrative to base his next thesis on, he finds an intriguing document that suggests Poe's Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym was based on fact, and gathers together a crew to find the islands it described. A bizarre and hilarious adventure through American literature commences, and not a week goes by where I don't think of this book.

A Drop of the Hard Stuff by Lawrence Block
The grandmaster shows us how it's done, returning to a place in Matt Scudder's past where he was less experienced and more vulnerable. There is little action, but you can't tell from the tension level. No one writes New York like Mr. Block, and he explores new ground by taking us to Scudder's past. A crook in AA is killed when he begins asking forgiveness, and Matt needs to know why. With his usual bulldog tenacity he explores a rogue's gallery of human frailty while keeping a slippery grip on his own sobriety. I liked the story, the mystery of High Low Jack's murder and his shady past, but the characters are what keeps this book in my mind.

The Weight by Andrew Vachss
Character-driven fiction at its best, we meet "Sugar," a weightlifter and con who takes the rap on a crime he didn't commit to protect his crew. What happens after he takes the weight is nothing you'd expect. Mentors and feet of clay, and a lead you'd trust to spot you under the bar when the weight is damn heavy.

Frank Sinatra in a Blender, by Matthew McBride
From the title, to its meaning, to its hard-drinking anti-hero and fully-fleshed hard luck villains, not since early Carl Hiaasen has vicious comedy of human existence been so entertainingly portrayed. I still sometimes remember a scene or a line, stare into space and laugh, and everyone around me takes a few steps away from me. Just a great read.

Fun & Games by Duane Swierczynski 
It plays on Hollywood conspiracies and the starlet meat grinder, all while telling a fast paced, thrilling and very funny tale. Duane the Brain can come up with stories I can't even imagine, and he fleshes them out with hilarious and cynical prose that keeps the pages turning.

Headstone by Ken Bruen
My introduction to Ken's unique style and fierce heart, I am told this isn't the best Jack Taylor novel. All that means is the others are even better. A back alley tour of Galway, a city I've only seen as a tourist, that was a hell of an eye opener. Taylor tackles mindless hate and nihilism and tears its tongue out at the roots. He fears no evil and leaves no villain spared. Truly excellent writing from a master I will read every word of, before I die.

The Outlaw Album by Daniel Woodrell
I let this slip by because it's a short story collection. But these stories, like Crimes in Southern Indiana, are all about a place and a people and make a patchwork that becomes a tapestry as you step back. This was my introduction to Mr. Woodrell, and I've picked up several of his novels since. He has an economy with words that leans toward poetry, and a blood-borne knowledge of the human heart. This is an excellent introduction to the author, who'd be called the Raymond Carver of the Ozarks... if he wasn't an equally adept novelist as short story master.

© 2011 Thomas Pluck

Monday, December 12, 2011

Top Fives

I chose my top 5 stories of the year at Chris Rhatigan's Death By Killing blog today. Drop over there and see who I chose. I know you're waiting with bated breath. Or with baited breath, like the cat who ate the cheese. (And then cut the cheese. I had to get a fart joke in here somewhere).

I've been honored to be chosen by a few of my fellow writers in their top 5 stories of the year. Truly an honor and an inspiration to work even harder. Thank you all.

Nigel Bird liked "Candle" which you can read at Grift Magazine:

It’s a wonderful tale as TP keeps his foot off the gas. The events are almost incidental, but the story packed in there is huge. I really loved it.

R. Thomas Brown picked "The Forest for the Trees" which is at The Flash Fiction Offensive:
I felt for the young couple struggling to find their place, and particularly for Paulie as he fought against bigotry of many forms and handled himself with the kind of confidence and class you'd hope to see in someone. His affection feels genuine, which makes the ending hurt even more.

Sandra Seamans chose "The Uncleared" at Twist of Noir:
"You don't expect a happy ending when you start reading this story, but the ending still slaps you in the face and leaves you reeling."

© 2011 Thomas Pluck

Thursday, December 8, 2011

a kick-ass reader

I'd like to thank everyone who reads this blog, and my stories. Folks who tell others about my writing, I owe you a beer (or equivalent) whenever we shall meet. But here's a reader who showed her true colors, and they are true blue:

Dear Thomas:
Nancy made a gift to PROTECT in your honor on 12/2/11.
Since 2002, PROTECT has moved mountains with very little money. Whether winning equal protection for incest victims in the statehouses of Arkansas and California … or getting millions out of Congress to stop child pornography trafficking across the nation, PROTECT has never had the resources of other well-oiled special interest lobbies.
That’s why Nancy's generosity means so much.
Best wishes,
I sent Nancy a signed copy of the Lost Children: A Charity Anthology, and a story, but I wanted to thank her publicly for taking this extra step. I'd love to sell a million copies of the charity anthology, but if we generate this kind of support for the causes it benefits, that's good enough for me. 

Thank you, Nancy. You're the best.


© 2011 Thomas Pluck

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Review: Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption

Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption
Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption by Laura Hillenbrand

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Louie's story gets more stars than were awarded during the whole war. The man's legendary endurance is an inspiration and shows the brutality from whence a man can rise to do good. It is a chilling tale of political expedience that the war criminals who ran the Japanese POW camps walk freely. The engineers of our own internment camps were never called to task, but these POWs endured hardships and atrocities far beyond the tragedies that occurred on our own soil, and seventy years later justice was never done. The ultranationalist movement in Japan is shameful and I respect any Japanese citizen who shuns or fights it.

Louie Zamperini is a hero and an inspiration. He was a bad kid who did well when given a focus like running; he nearly broke the 4 minute mile before being called to war. He endured, came home haunted and scarred, and rose above his wounds to become a hero again, dedicating his life to wayward youths who needed a guiding hand. As testimony to his spirit... he lives today, in his nineties, and forgave his captors... not to absolve their atrocities, but so he could move on and do good with his life.

Infamy still lives, but heroism lives forever.

View all my reviews

Monday, December 5, 2011


If you need a dose of immature potty humor and '80s metal nostalgia, or if you don't, check out my story "Not With a Bang, But a Squeaker," finally published in fully unexpurgated form at the beautifully designed Schlock Magazine's Apocalypse issue.

They got Marco Attard to draw a stunning tableaux of our four heroes and their dark lord before they embark on the metalest armageddon ever. Meet Carl, Arf, Eddie and The Incredible Hersch as they bargain with the devil himself to become The Four Horsemen, which they only know about from the song on Metallica's first album.

And check out the whole issue, they did a great job...

© 2011 Thomas Pluck

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Pluck in Print

I dig the e-book revolution and my Nook overfloweth, but I love books. Real, hefty, books. Flipping through the pages. Slick covers, matte covers. Raised print on dust jackets. Beautiful and grabby cover designs. I thought breaking into print would be "the I made it!" moment. Now thanks to Dean Wesley Smith, I know all those moments are myths, but anyway, it felt great to be in Pulp Modern #1, which is a great collection and available on the right. It's also the only way to read Denny's first and most powerful story, "Legacy of Brutality," so if you enjoyed him in Plots With Guns, get Pulp Modern. There's a story by Lawrence Block, a Cash Laramie adventure, a great Indiana Jones style pulp tale by Chris LaTray, and brutal, gripping tales by Glenn Gray, David James Keaton and John Kenyon that still disturb me.

The latest appearance in print of the Plucker is in Luca Veste's amazing Off the Record anthology, which benefits two children's literacy charities, one in the UK and one in the US. 38 stories total, with names like Les Edgerton, Heath Lowrance, Matthew Funk, David Barber, Julie Morrigan, Fiona Johnson and I dunno, two guys named Ray Banks and Steve Mosby. Maybe you've heard of them. Maybe you haven't, and should get thee to a library. Or you could buy this and get an introduction to two excellent writers who never let you down:

Lulu paperback is available here. 312 pages, 38 stories, by writers you can trust...

© 2011 Thomas Pluck

disclaimers of legal bull shitte

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 3.0 Unported License.

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