Monday, January 30, 2012

The Seven Words You Can't Say in Crime Fiction

I'm over at The Crime Factory talking about cussin' in crime fiction. I believe cursing has its place. It will not elevate a mediocre story, nor will it drag a great story into the manure pile.
Here's what I have to say. Also includes my pitch for Lawrence Block's next Bernie Rhodenbarr novel.

I'm also over at Richard Godwin's Chin Wag at the Slaughterhouse shooting the shit.
Richard writes excellent dark fiction, and his novel Apostle Rising is no exception.

© 2011 Thomas Pluck

Friday, January 27, 2012

Review: Fast One

Fast One
Fast One by Paul Cain

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

A deserving classic of the hard-boiled crime genre, Cain's spare prose is riveting with its minimalism. A character in a few strokes and exclamations. Gerry Kells, a hard-nosed crook who skipped to the city of Angels to gamble, goes to collect his winnings and walks into a politically staged murder. From that moment on he plays every operator against each other with ruthless efficiency and a cunning double-cross nature, daring with a level of violence his foes cannot conceive of attempting. Along the way we get a moll and a chubby gunman named Borg who delighted me with their gallows humor in the face of machine-gun slaughter.
Not a bloody novel, its stark brutality lies in its exposure of the ruthlessness of political machines and the rough men who keep them in power.

A must read for any fan of the crime story. No P.I.'s, just dirty cops, bookies and bootleggers scrabbling for each other's naked throats.

View all my reviews

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Crime writers helping Crooks

The price of postage just went up. That means you have stacks of useless stamps lying around. Sure, you could go to the post office and buy 1 cent stamps. You can try taping a penny next to it. You can be extremely lazy and wasteful and use two stamps instead of one.

Or you could donate those stamps to Books Through Bars, who mail books to prison inmates.

They also accept paperback books, but check the page for their criteria. They don't want old textbooks, they don't want your junk. However, they do want poetry anthologies. Now that a majority of older poetry is online in the public domain, you can clear up shelf space by sending them your Complete Poems of John Donne...

I mailed them our old wedding stamps, and I'll be clearing my shelves of books I haven't cracked open in a decade.

© 2011 Thomas Pluck

Monday, January 23, 2012

Where I Write

The tool: 13" Mac Air 128gb

The playlist: Run DMC's first album and Raising Hell (Denny story in progress)

The beer: The Vixen, Samuel Adams chocolate chili bock

The cat: Charlie T. Cat Esq., aka Charliandoc, aka the Gray Siamesey with the One Bent Paw (he is a rescue, his paw is like a hockey stick, he was tossed out of a car as a kitten and rescued by my sister who found him bleeding from the nose and mouth, and nursed him to beer-label-licking health) P.S. support People For Animals

The book: Paul Cain's FAST ONE the collected Black Mask stories of Gerry Kells, bad-ass ne'er-do-well

and Tony Chachere's Creole Seasoning, which Makes Everything Taste Better. Even ice cream. Try it.

© 2011 Thomas Pluck

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Reviews and Interviews and Upcoming pubs

Death by Killing gave Lost Children: A Charity Anthology to Benefit PROTECT and Children 1st a rave review. Chris Rhatigan runs a crime fiction blog but loved stories by crime fiction vets and literary authors equally. He chose stories by Benoit Lelievre, J.F. Juzwik, Lynn Beighley and Roberto C. Garcia as favorites and said "The collection itself lives up to its cover--these are powerful, often shocking, stories."
Read the review here:
Death by Killing

Buy the book in all e-book formats, or trade paperback, here:
Lost Children: A Charity Anthology to Benefit PROTECT and Children 1st

It is still 99 cents on Amazon due to their price-matching. Get it while you can!

Fiona McVie interviewed me at The Inspiration Forum - thanks to Les Edgerton for suggesting me to her. If you head over there, you'll get to read the opening of my novel BURY THE HATCHET.

I will be interviewed by Richard Godwin at Chin Wag at the Slaughterhouse next week, and I'll share that as well. Amazingly enough, in the three interviews with me this month, we don't cover the same material.

And here are the upcoming publications you can look for this year:

"Raker: A Review," in Blood and Tacos
"Firecracker," in Hardboiled Magazine (available from Gryphon Books)
"Gumbo Weather," starring Jay Corso, in Needle: A Magazine of Noir Spring 2012 (Jay is the lead cause of mayhem in my novel Bury the Hatchet)
"Lefty," in Crimefactory Magazine #10
"White People Problems," in All Due Respect April 2012
"Play Dead," in Yellow Mama, April 2012
"We're All Guys Here," in Dollar Dreadfuls: Dirty Noir Quarterly
"Tiger Mother," in Noir Nation #2
"Donkey Dick," in Big Pulp March 2013
"Six Feet Under God," in Grift Magazine Quarterly

© 2011 Thomas Pluck

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Interview and Thank Yous

First off, pulp master, wester-writin' workhorse and all-around stand-up guy David Cranmer - editor of Beat to a Pulp and author and creator of the Cash Laramie & Gideon Miles franchise- as it is quickly becoming- invited me to answer a few questions down at the U.S. Marshal's office. I took a shot of Maryland Rye and told him some tales... I'm no rat, but that ornery cuss is generous with his .45 Colt, and I wanted to walk out of there, so here's the malarkey I spouted:

7 Questions, at The Education of a Pulp Writer

And I have a story up at Pulp Metal Magazine called "Gunplay." It's kinky and weird and I have a sick sense of humor...

I'd like to thank a few writers and bloggers for their reviews this week:

Katherine Tomlinson of Kattomic and NohoNoir, used my 100 word story "Faggot" as an example of how to write very short fiction that still tells a powerful story. "if you haven't read it, you need to. In fewer than 100 words, he'll take your breath away." Thank you, Katherine... it was tough to write, and I'm glad my my punch connected!

Chris Rhatigan of Death by Killing and All Due Respect also reviewed "Faggot" on the very cool Short Story 365 project, where you read a short story every day and write a short review of it. "If you’re not reading Thomas Pluck yet, you should change that." Thanks, Chris!

and Johnny Shaw, author of Dove Season, also chimed in at SS365 about "Little Sister" in the Lost Children Anthology, saying "If you don’t know who Thomas Pluck is, you will soon enough. His short fiction is all over the internet and he combines jabs of clever humor with full-impact gut shots."

© 2011 Thomas Pluck

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Occupation Viking: Valhalla Snoozing

I have been on a quest for the best Viking movie. My travails are logged in my posts marked Occupation: Viking, and I've found gems and turds along the way. A tracker once told me the first rule is "watch out for the shit turds," and that applies to movie reviewing as well.

VALHALLA RISING is by director Nicholas Winding Refn, better known for his garish and contemplative adaptation of James Sallis's kick-ass noir novel DRIVE. I enjoyed Drive very much, even as it diverged from the novel. I did think the director lingered too long on many shots, perhaps hoping to be mistaken from Michael Haneke or Werner Herzog, but a long shot is not always a deep shot.

Valhalla Rising begins without introduction or fanfare at a warrior's fight ring in what I think is Scotland. A one-eyed competitor is uncaged and defeats his opponents with unrivaled brutality. He is kept leashed to a pole in the ring because no one can stop him, otherwise. He fights two men, a ditchy enterprise in reality, but it plays out for real. One-Eye bites a chunk of one man's neck out, spits it at the other, and then strangles him with his own lead rope. Later he bashes someone's skull open, brains aplenty. Disembowels another. But instead of being a portent of the brutal reality of combats to come, the story fires its bloody wad in the first reel, and never recaptures the energy it released.

The rest of the picture has One-Eye (who is presumably a captive Viking) led by Christian Scots to the Holy Land to fight the heathen. They wander in the mists on a boat. They arrive in a strange land they believe is hell, and go mad as their belief systems crumble. It has been compared to AGUIRRE, THE WRATH OF GOD, but I like that film quite a bit. Herzog knows how to make a static shot interesting, and how to build tension with the unknown. Refn is still learning. Drive was a huge improvement over this film. Valhalla Rising is the secondmost disappointing Viking film I've watched, the absolute worst being Severed Ways. I watched an actor shit on camera and wipe his ass with leaves in that one. This was a lot better, but that is faint praise.

The Viking Rankings, so far:

The 13th Warrior (Antonio Banderas as an Arab, veers from the book's undead, but great fun)
The Vikings (A ridiculous Hollywood sword epic but loads of fun)
How to Train Your Dragon (much better than you'd give it credit for)
Outlander (Vikings vs. Predator... great dumb fun!)
Beowulf & Grendel (an overlooked "what really happened" tale, quite enjoyable)
Erik the Viking (Terry Jones of Monty Python, with predictable absurdity)
Beowulf (the Zemeckis 3D-animated one; pretty but boring)
Pathfinder (A great premise stupidly ruined. Vikings don't know ice breaks?)
Valhalla Rising
Severed Ways (must be seen to be believed)

Yet to see:
When the Raven Flies
The Long Ships
The Norseman
The Viking Sagas
The Last of the Vikings
Embla: The White Viking

© 2011 Thomas Pluck

Monday, January 9, 2012

Review: BEAT to a PULP: Hardboiled

BEAT to a PULP: Hardboiled
BEAT to a PULP: Hardboiled by Glenn Gray

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Disclaimer: I have a story in this anthology.
But leaving that out, this was a great read. You got some quick hard slaps of pulpy goodness from John Hornor Jacobs, Amy Grech and Ron Earl Phillips, a heartbreaker from Patti Abbott, a great tense tale by Kieran Shea, a yakuza black comedy by Garnett Elliott, shenanigans at the morgue with Glenn Gray, and one hell of a finisher: a Joe Hannibal tale from Wayne Dundee, which shows us all how it's done. Written with the ease of a natural storyteller, his tale of a hitman popping up at a lake resort didn't go where I expected, and introduced me to a trio of masterfully crafted characters. The kind of writing that makes your inner reader joyful and your inner writer humbled.
Overall an excellent collection spanning the legacy of hardboiled, from newcomers like myself to a legend like Mr. Dundee, who began Hardboiled magazine.

And to toot my own horn, the story of mine in here is "Black-Eyed Susan," picked out for several top-5 lists at Death by Killing, and winner of the Bullet award in September.

Check this one out, you won't regret it.

View all my reviews

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Review: Ayiti

Ayiti by Roxane Gay

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

When I received this book, I did not know what Ayiti meant. It is the Haitian Creole pronunciation of Haiti, of course, but Americans have a preconception of the country. Our media tells us what to think of Haiti. It is a hopeless place. Dictators. Tragedy. They can't govern themselves, we need our soldiers there, to treat them like little children. After reading Roxane Gay's short stories, I have a better idea of the place and the people. I wouldn't profess to know it, but her raw and emotional tales of love and loss, hate and pride, the defensiveness and criticism of a country that only someone who has lived there and left and returned can give, they paint a picture that will forever remain in your mind. Some stories are a mere page long, flash fiction, short sharp cuts that sting long after the page is turned. Longer works are dreamlike and engrossing, immigrant tales, survival tales, as dark and brutal as hardboiled crime fiction with their relentless truth and emotional power.
"Things I Know About Fairy Tales" is a story of a kidnapping that hangs over my shoulder like a ghost with fetid breath, days after reading it. [A Love Story], a zombi tale, chilled me to the bone. A ledger book of expenses required to escape on a boat to Miami made me want to curl up and eat my own heart. But there is also joy and playfulness, as a Haitian girl confronts the ignorance of her college friends, and a news article that Nicaragua is now the poorest country in the Western hemisphere is rife with her darkly cynical humor.
I was surprised and impressed, and I'll be lending this book to readers and writers alike. A slim 120 pages, it can be read in an afternoon. I'll warn you, it packs emotional power that belies its size, and you'd do best to savor one story at a time.

View all my reviews

Fight Abuse for Under a Buck

For a limited time, I have reduced the price of Lost Children: A Charity Anthology to Benefit PROTECT and Children 1st to a mere 99 cents on Kindle and Nook. I don't believe in selling things below their value, so this WILL NOT last for long. Do me, PROTECT and Children 1st a favor and spread the word. Give it as a gift. I have to sell 6x as many at this price to generate the same donation. It is an experiment, and I need your help to make it work.

Read what hardboiled legend Wayne Dundee says is "equally haunting and powerful and as painfully timely as today's headlines" and support two causes that are fighting child abuse and not just spouting platitudes about it: PROTECT: The National Association to Protect Children, and Children 1st.

Stories by Paul D. Brazill, Fiona Johnson, Ron Earl Phillips, Chad Rohrbacher, James Lloyd Davis, David Barber, Erin Zulkoski, Luca Veste, J.F. Juzwik, Ingrid Hardy, Seamus Bellamy, and many more.

And remember... I read most Kindle books on my PC. You don't need an e-reader. You can read any e-book you buy on Amazon on the web, at their Kindle Cloud Reader.

© 2011 Thomas Pluck

Friday, January 6, 2012

Review: The Bitch

The Bitch
The Bitch by Les Edgerton

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

If you want a real crime story, this is for you. Like Ed Bunker before him, Les Edgerton knows of what he writes, and he writes it damn well. Jake's story is pure noir: out of prison, he's married, has a business he's starting, and everything looks great until it all turns to shit when his cellie comes asking to have a favor repaid. And as you'd expect, it keeps getting worse. And worse. And always believable, but even worse!
With Jake we're not given a hero who always makes the right decision. Driven by mortal fear of "The Bitch," or life imprisonment as a "Habitual offender," he is forced into more and more horrible dilemmas as his pregnant wife and criminal past collide in a scheme to rob a diamond merchant. Great reading with characters who pop off the page with a realism I can confirm. A dozen years at the port, working with shady jewelers and growing up in a town peppered with loudmouth small-time mobsters, this story is the real deal and a gripping read.

View all my reviews

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

A short sharp anti-bullying piece

My story "Faggot" was written for Chuck Wendig's 100 word anti-bullying challenge a few months back. It's now up at Shotgun Honey, and if you leave a comment with your thoughts, or experiences with bullying, I will donate $5 for each comment to It Gets Better to support anti-bullying campaigns and gay teen suicide prevention.

You Can Donate Too.

It is not an excerpt from my novel in progress, but involves two characters- Brendan and Joey Bello, and is written from the bully's perspective.

© 2011 Thomas Pluck

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Nut Up or Shut Up... Goals and Accomplishments

I'm very grateful for an amazing year. I'd like to thank my family and friends, most of all my wife Sarah, for all your support. I'd also like to thank all the writers and readers I've met over the last year. I've made some great new friends, and got back with some old ones.

I'm far from done with my goals as a writer. But I've covered more ground than I ever thought possible in a year. I'm beginning to understand the phrase make your own luck. I used to think it meant fixing the odds, breaking the rules. But all it means is working hard toward your goals. I've seen it time and time again with writers I've met over the last year. They've struggled and kept busting their behinds, and are reaping the rewards of that hard work.

My resolution is to keep on working hard and aiming high. One goal is to complete my first novel and get it published. I have a second book of the Lost Children anthology in the works. The writers have been chosen and you'll see it next autumn. It will be bigger, with many more voices joining the cause to support The National Association to Protect Children. I'd like to write more short stories and crack some new markets. My goal last year was to get in as many different venues as possible, and this year I am going to concentrate on some big targets such as Alfred Hitchock and Ellery Queen, Hardboiled, The Strand, Shock Totem, and so on. However, a goal is something within your control. Dean Wesley Smith and my friend & personal trainer Peter V. Dell'Orto both have good posts about setting attainable goals. Here are my attainable goals.

1) Write every day. Writing, and getting back to writing, are not daunting tasks. I will set aside more time to write and not follow distractions.
2) I will write the best stories I can and continue to keep them constantly in one editor's hands or another's. They will never lie fallow.
3) I will write the best novel I can. I will edit it diligently. I will not rewrite it for rewriting's sake.
4) I will find the editors and agents of the writers I admire most, who have accepted work most like my own, and I will get my novel in their hands before year's end.
5) I will not be a slave to my anger and I focus my rage on the page. 
6) I will go to MMA class once per week.
7) I will resume a healthier diet... beer is not a food group.
You set goals and they become accomplishments. Here are my accomplishments of 2011, in vague order. And a few great things that happened that were outside my control, but made me happy.

Completed my first novel, The Garage. Drawer fodder. Currently rewriting it, using the characters and concepts I developed in this 115,000 word monster born of NaNoWriMo 2010.

Wrote my first short stories in ten years.

First story published in ten years, Punk Dad Manifesto, at the Morning News... And was paid for it!
Married my Firecracker, Sarah. Love of my life, who keeps me centered and in line. Had a beautiful wedding and a wonderful time with friends and family, and a relaxing honeymoon with my new wife.

Began writing for flash fiction challenges, met Fiona "McDroll" Johnson online and she told me to submit my work to crime venues. Pointed me to the magnanimous Sandra Seamans, who lists all the markets. I began reading them all, finding many new-to-me writers and all sorts of inspiration. I never forget to thank Fiona Johnson for that first kick in the ass. I wouldn't be writing the way I do today if it wasn't for her.
This led to 33 stories accepted in 2011, appearing in anthologies and journals alongside Lawrence Block, Wayne Dundee, Ray Banks, and many, many other writers whose work I admire.

First crime story published in Shotgun Honey, "The Last Sacrament."
I met Lawrence Block at a signing at Watchung Booksellers. Since then we've chatted online and at the Mysterious Bookshop. One of our great living writers and a hell of a guy, it's always humbling to meet your literary heroes.

Rode on the Star Ledger Munchmobile with Peter Genovese and crew, got my picture in the state newspaper stuffing my face with a sandwich.
Made print in The Utne Reader, when they reprinted Punk Dad Manifesto.

Ron Earl Phillips asked me to be a moderator at Flash Fiction Friday.
My story "A Glutton for Punishment" debuted at Beat to a Pulp, and Lawrence Block not only read it, but commented on it. A few short words that still mean a lot to me. Thanks, Mr. Block.

"Rain Dog" published in Crimespree #43, first crime story in print.
Wrote back and forth with Harlan Ellison, another literary hero and influence, who tells readers not to write to him. But always replies.

Won the First place Bullet Award for my story "Black Eyed Susan," which was also favorably reviewed by James Reasoner and hardboiled legend Wayne Dundee.
I ask Fiona Johnson to write a fiction cue for Flash Friday and she comes up with the Lost Children Challenge.

Pulp Modern #1 released, putting me twixt the same covers as Lawrence Block.
Made tons of friends in the crime fiction community online and at Bouchercon. Most of all Josh Stallings and Sabrina Ogden, who felt like old friends, but also Glenn Gray, Christa Faust, Matthew Funk, Johnny Shaw and Kent Gowran. We joke that crime writers are the friendliest bunch of murder-minded mothers around, but it really is true. Everyone I met was friendly, from Harlan Coben to Joelle Charbonneau, even when I was a babbling idiot.

Visited Italy with Sarah, experienced the ruins of Pompeii, the bustle of Napoli, the decadence of Capri, the old and new of Rome, and spent time with our friends David and Courtney. Everyone needs a break, and someday I'll write about a chase through Pozzuoli between a tourist and the Gomorra to write this off as research. Hell, my honeymoon trip inspired my longest short story, "White People Problems," which will be at All Due Respect this year, and be expanded into a novel ... eventually. I really want to introduce you to Bobby and the Five Stages of Grief... you'll get a taste soon at ADR.

Published Lost Children: a Charity Anthology to support PROTECT, and spoke to Executive Director  Grier Weeks about the project.
Corresponded with another hero, of mine, Andrew Vachss. We'd written before, but never so often. A pat on the shoulder from a veteran warrior in the fight against child abuse and exploitation, who became a lawyer and an incredible writer to fight this fight... well, it means more than I feel comfortable sharing.

I deadlifted 555lbs and I benched 260lbs. I pursue goals other than writing. I added 60lbs to my deadlift and began benching again after tearing both my rotator cuffs two years ago. I surpassed my old record of 250 on the bench. All by adding 5lbs a month using the 5/3/1 lifting regimen. A slog, but with great results. Last year I was deadlifting 400lbs for 10 reps. Now I'm lifting 510lbs for 5. And I stopped a falling refrigerator with my chin.

I'll diverge because it amuses me. Pulp queen Christa Faust got a kick out of me crowing about my personal record and said we should fight crime as Max Deadlift and Pixie Cockpunch. We shall see. She's a busy writer with a lot of irons in the fire, but I just might suggest a collaboration...

I made quite a few best-of lists for short story. According to the readers, my best stories are Black-Eyed Susan, Shogun Honey, Candle, The Forest for the Trees, Junkyard Dog, and Legacy of Brutality.

We sold 150 copies of the Lost Children Anthology in 2 months.

It's been a hell of a year. I'm sure I've missed some. And I could have expended as many words thanking everyone by name. Thank you for reading, and spreading the word. Writing is the most solitary art. The feedback is delayed and muted, so when someone takes the time to tell you they liked what you wrote, it has great effect, no matter how we try to make our response as cool as can be.

So, don't make resolutions. They sound like U.N. agenda items, and we know how useful they are, with China and the Sudan on the human rights committee. Set realistic and attainable goals, with milestones and measurable markers of success. "Eat better" means little. "Don't go back for seconds, and do not snack after dinner, and walk 30 minutes a day" is controllable, and will guarantee results. Eight years ago I weighed nearly 400 pounds. I began by walking an hour a night, and not eating bread and sweets. A year later I'd lost 140 pounds. Every day adds up. If you fail, get up immediately... don't give up. What's one day of missing your targets out of 366? Nothing. A pittance.

Here's wishing you all a happy new year... now get to work on making it that way. 

disclaimers of legal bull shitte

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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