Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Guest Plucker: Craig Wallwork

I met Craig Wallwork on Twitter. As you'll find from his guest spot, Craig writes stories that are delightfully off kilter. His collection The Quintessence of Dust begins with the chilling tale "Night Holds a Scythe," where a father and daughter face an apocalypse where sleep brings death. It is free on Smashwords, and if apocalypse isn't your game, read on... the stories vary far and wide in scope, but the writing is on the level and solid as granite:

Every story is based on truth.  Any writer that says differently is lying, or a thief.  In my case, I have practiced the art of turning truth into fiction to avoid dealing with its severity or consequence.  Quintessence of Dust is my way of dodging bullets, and at times, living in denial. 

There is no secret to this practice.  It happens quite naturally.  I once suffered from chronic constipation one Christmas.  I put it down to drinking excessive amounts of alcohol and not rehydrating my system.  New Years day I end up spending way too much time, and putting too much effort, into a visit to the toilet.  The result of which ended with me making an appointment with my doctor and him talking about a technique that involved eight fingers and a rubber glove.  The basis of this became Anal Twine.  The aforementioned method is not regularly practiced, don’t worry, but it did amuse me.  It was enough of a kernel for me to venture further into the hole (figuratively speaking) where a man who, suffering with anal fissure, discovers a bit of twine hanging from his rectum which, when pulled, removes his short term memory.  Writing that story took my mind of the pain and discomfort I was enduring at the time, more so than the cream I had been prescribed.

Likewise, I was diagnosed with a condition called benign paroxysmal positional vertigo (BPPV).  It is where tiny fragments of debris in the inner ear labyrinth cause short episodes of vertigo when you move your head in certain directions.  Some days it would floor me.  I’d try and get out bed and it would feel like the invisible man had pushed me over.  It dissipates over time as the fragments become lodged in the inner ear, but during the episodes, it’s terrible.  About the same time I heard the term Gutterball, a ten-pin bowling reference that describes where the bowling ball drifts into one of the gutters before it reaches the pins.  I thought it quite an apt analogy for my condition.  But to write a story about this seemed too mundane.  So I asked myself, why would a person veer to one side or get dizzy?  If it was an inner ear problem, then what could be floating around in there instead of calcium deposits?  This led to the protag, Milton Ball, discovering a strange and wonderful truth to why he suffering with BBPV, a truth which pushes the boundaries of reality and brings meaning to his life.

This theme continues in other stories within the collection; A Neck That is Not Thicktells the tale of a man who believes all his bad luck, and all the atrocities he has experienced in life, can be attributed to having a thin neck, so much so he considers hanging himself, his ultimate quandary being how big the noose will have to be.  Next time you see a picture of me, check out my neck.  Night Holds a Scythe is the story of a father chasing the sun to try and keep his three old daughter alive after a strange illness takes over the world whereby to fall asleep means death.  I have a three year old daughter and one of my worse fears was her dying in her sleep.  I once took a coach trip from Middleborough University to Manchester and fell in love with a girl sat next to me, even though I only saw her arm throughout the whole trip.  The basis of this became Morning Birdsong and the Hell Demons.  180 Degrees Shy of Heaven is a story about a person I know, and how the famine of sex in his marriage led to much hilarity in the office.  Skin was loosely based on my morbid fascination to be submerged underwater, the experience being compared, you might say, to returning to the womb. Men of Blood, a story about a Minotaur living in today’s society, was probably the most personal of all the stories, and recounts the life I had while sharing a house with one of my friends, a person I saw as a much stronger character than I.  And the list goes on. 

My truths are so deeply buried in the fabric of these stories that to speak so candidly about them would have been too hard a process to undertake.  Issues of regret, acceptance, love and remorse are so delicate that handled without care or proficiency would do each an injustice.  Therefore, I place these issues within absurd and strange worlds where zoophiles falls in love with a talking camels, a man faces his sins while the devil’s breath is upon his shoulder, and infidelity manifests itself in the art of chocolate making. 
They say truth is stranger than fiction.  After reading Quintessence of Dust you may disagree. 

Quintessence of Dust is available to buy from KUBOA in paperback for $2.95:
Or you can download an e-version for free via Smashwords:

Craig Wallwork is the author of the novels To Die Upon a Kiss, and The Sound of Loneliness.  He lives in West Yorkshire, England with his wife, daughter and two chickens.  Find out more about him via his website:

© 2012 Thomas Pluck
I post on Twitter as TommySalami ~ My Facebook Page

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Review: City of the Lost

City of the Lost
City of the Lost by Stephen Blackmoore

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I love pulp. I especially love well-written pulp, and this is great pulp. It's also my kind of urban fantasy: a bad-ass hard-boiled crime tale that begins with a living death worse than zombies, delves into Nazi mad scientists with razor-fanged homonculi, demonic barkeeps and a sharp urban bruja. Blackmoore keeps you guessing and the story is full of surprises, from this world and the beyond. He keeps it on the level and never wipes out into the realm of the ridiculous. I hope there are more Joe Sunday tales in the haunted L.A. that Blackmoore has envisioned in this balls-out entertaining psychotic romp through the underworld.

View all my reviews

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Car Culture

Cars are part of the American DNA. Other countries have car culture, but the closest to America's suicidal romance with hot rods is Australia, home of Mad Max. The open space helps. In Britain, they can tell your caste by your accent. In America, it's often by your car. And if you ride the bus, you're at the bottom of the pole. In suburban New Jersey 'riding the bus' is racial code for poor and black.

I saw this old Charger for sale on the way to work today. The body is in good shape, it has the floor shift, but unless the badges were lost, it's a six-banger or a 318 V8. It got me thinking about how cars are the face we wear. Some dream of cars they could never afford to own, others just want to get from point A to point B. For the latter, these rules don't apply. But in America, land where advertising controls the language, everything means something. In the novel in progress, Tony "Baloney" Giambotta is the friend of our protagonist. He went to school for computer science, but became a mechanic when his father died, to honor his blue collar roots, in self-destructive fashion. Let me get inside his head and give you...

The car castes of New Jersey.

You drive a beater, we know all about you. You either can't afford better or you just don't care. Either way, we judge you.

If it's a minivan or a wagon, you're a hard-working parent with too many kids, and we get out of your way. You're either distracted by them if you're mom, or pissed off that you're stuck with a minivan, if you're Dad.

A hopped up old Civic, lowered to asphalt-scraping depths, a coffee can for a muffler and the tires spaced out wide for tight turns? Odds are you're Hispanic, and you want to race to the next light.

Old BMW, in nice shape with a sweet set of rims? You're a young black man with a good job. You've got the good tunes cranked up, you're cruising the limit because the cops pull you over for breathing the wrong way.

A used SUV with a red Rutgers 'R' sticker on the back? You're a college girl driving mom's old car so you don't die after you crush some poor working family in their beater, while texting.

A new SUV with a Montclair State sticker, and you're the mom worrying about your daughter in your old SUV. You are yelling at her on your phone, telling her not to text and drive.

If you drive a new BMW, Audi or Acura, you're a single male, probably white, with more money than brains, driving too fast for your skillset. You are most likely listening to Disturbed or some angry band that makes you think Fight Club wasn't a satire about how stupid you are.

Prius. Okay, we get it. You saved the planet. We're not worthy.

Mustang, 350Z or Camaro, your Dad is working class and spoils the shit out of you. You think you deserve it. You wish you could put the pedal down for more than 2 seconds in this tiny, congested state, and you like watching people flinch at your exhaust note. A Challenger, and same thing but you're over 50 now and had to buy it yourself.

Escalade, Infiniti or a Lexus, and you're trying to be an extra on Jersey Shore, if you get your tan just right. Sure, Dad co-signed the lease, but you're money. You get in the clubs, don't you? Why don't these drivers get out of your way, don't they know who you are?

Buick or a Cadillac and we pass you, because you're too old and driving too slow.

A late-model Nissan, Toyota or Honda sedan, or a Ford Escape and you're just trying to get to work alive.

A Subaru, you have children. You can't afford a Volvo. You think 3 days of bad snow a year is worth investing in all-wheel drive, because you worry about everything. Also, you are considering a colon cleanse.

A pickup truck, and you run a landscaping business and like Toby Keith.

A Chevy or a Charger, and you're a cop.

A Corvette or a Porsche, and we all know the penis pump didn't work.

New Mercedes or Jaguar, and you're a boomer or just shy of it, and think you did enough for the Earth, and now it's time to do something for you. You're talking on the bluetooth that your son set up for you, and why don't these other cars realize you're in a hurry, and get out of your way. The nerve of some people.

Ferrari, you work down the port for your uncle. You look at porn all day and are paid $400,000 a year for it.

Bentley. You're not a rapper, and you can't name any rappers, either.

Chrysler 300. You can't afford a Bentley or a Cadillac.

Rolls Royce. You are former Newark Mayor Sharpe James. You are in jail.

And if you drive a Mini Cooper S, you're a snarky crime writer who just commuted through all that. You think you look like the Italian Job, but look more like 'clown car.'

© 2012 Thomas Pluck
I post on Twitter as TommySalami ~ My Facebook Page

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Review: Killing Floor

Killing Floor
Killing Floor by Lee Child

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I had to see what all the fuss was about. Jack Reacher is coffee-junkie drifter who strolls into a sleepy Georgia town looking for the grave of an old bluesman. He's also a retired Marine MP, so when the cops converge with riot shotguns to frame him for murder, he convinces them he's not the killer, and decides he'll solve the crime himself. He charms a hot policewoman, and when the bad guys play rough, he churns through them like a harvester. The story is good, light fun. The novel is now 15 years old, and we've come to appreciate shorter, faster thrillers, but this one still holds up. Oh, there's one coincidence to swallow when we find out who the murder victim is, but Reacher is an amicable hero and I like a novel that admits killing people is not all that difficult with the proper weapons and inclination. The tricky part is getting away with it. When it comes to unstoppable killing machines, I prefer Joe Pike, but Reacher is a good read if you know what you are getting into. And to get into the movie discussion, Tom Cruise is a horrible choice. I imagined Reacher as a big blond chunk of American prime for the ladies (and 10% of the men). That dude playing Captain America should have fought for the part.
Verdict: This is a good story that feels a bit dated and unsure of itself, the shaky start of a series that eventually defined its thriller genre. If I'd read it in '97, I'd give it another star. The teaser for the 2nd Reacher novel, DIE TRYING, felt like a huge leap forward. I'll be giving it a try soon.

View all my reviews

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Make good art

No matter what, make good art.
Fake it until you make it.
Don't worry.
Enjoy life, especially the success.
You'll do well if you are pleasant to work with, good at what you do, and submit your work on time. And you'll likely do fine if you only do two of those.
Make up your own rules. The rules are changing; no one can predict them. So go do amazing things, successes and mistakes, and make your own rules.

 © 2012 Thomas Pluck
I post on Twitter as TommySalami ~ My Facebook Page

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Noir at the Bar NYC: June 3rd.

Crime writers Todd "Big Daddy Thug" Robinson, former editor of ThugLit, and Glenn G. Gray, author of unforgettable medical tales that make your innards squirm, are throwing a Noir at the Bar shindig in NYC on June 3rd. I'll be there, and you should be too. There will be story readings, revelry, and prizes. Because these guys are a real prize.

It will be held from 6pm to 9pm on Sunday June 3rd 2012 at Shade NYC, right off Washington Square in Greenwich Village. Address is 241 Sullivan Street.

If you're planning on coming or would like to read, contact me via the "Kontactr" button to the right, and I'll hook you up with Todd and Dr. G.

Let's do this thing- we can't let sunny CA and St. Louis have all the fun. 

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© 2012 Thomas Pluck
I post on Twitter as TommySalami ~ My Facebook Page

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Book Blast: Bird, Ellison, Abbott, Beat to a Pulp and more

Several books by authors I admire have hit the streets recently. But first, let me get this out of the way. My friend Sabrina graciously opened the door of her blog to me, and I have a guest post up about why I wrote "Little Sister," my story for last year's Lost Children Charity Anthology.  Sabrina is a great friend, and my ideal reader: a passionate fan of crime fiction, who likes a story fraught with action, real stakes, and bloody thrills. She always puts her heart into her reviews, and if you like thrillers and noir, I highly recommend you follow her blog.

First up, my friend Nigel Bird- one of my favorite short story writers- has written his first novel. Some are calling it "teacher noir," about a Scottish schoolteacher who tries to help one of his troubled students, and ends up in over his head. Nigel is the author of the excellent story collection Dirty Old Town, and last year's smashing novella Smoke. In Loco Parentis is available at Amazon.

Megan Abbott is one of noir's rising stars. She began with powerful nods to the classics, and last year she wrote The End of Everything, a daring novel about an abducted girl in the Detroit chi-chi suburbs. I first read her in the L.A. Noire story collection, where her tale of Hollywood sleaze "The Girl" knocked me out of my socks and into next week at the same time. Now she's tackled the high octane and brutally competitive world of high school cheerleading with DARE ME, and Dave White gives it a great review at his new blog, Beer 'n Books. Dave is an IPA hound, but he has great taste in beer. He also writes a pretty good yarn himself, like Witness to Death.

Buy Dare Me at Indiebound
Beat to a Pulp Round Two is out, and editing superstar David Cranmer has put together another stunner of a collection. This time Charles Ardai, Bill Pronzini, Patricia Abbott, James Reasoner, Glenn Gray and Steve Weddle are on the card, among other champs, contenders and ringers. And look at that cover. David is one of my favorite editors to work with, and he really knows how to rope together a collection. Maybe he learned a little from Cash Laramie, his western marshal?

And last but not least, the first author to influence me and make me pick up the pen was Harlan Ellison. Maybe you've read of our infamous correspondence? Well, Harlan began writing juvenile delinquent tales, before he broke the chains from pulp SF and created his own audacious flavor of speculative fiction. And some of those tales were racy, collected as "Sex Gang," under the pseudonym Paul Merchant. They've been out of print, until now. Kicks Books is releasing them with the only slightly less squirmy title, Pulling a Train.

I don't see the Ellison book available at my local indie or at Amazon yet, but these are what I'll be reading this summer... once I catch up and read Dead Harvest, The Adjustment, City of the Lost, Edge of Dark Water, and That's How I Roll!

© 2012 Thomas Pluck
I post on Twitter as TommySalami ~ My Facebook Page

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Demand Respect (Writing Horror Story)

Before we begin, no matter how long you've been writing, hie thee to these two excellent resources for vetting publishers, editors, agents and other professionals:
Writer Beware
The Absolute Write Water Cooler

I came across this horror story on Facebook, shared by F. Paul Wilson.

The short version:
Writer submits to an anthology, signs contract, never receives her comp copy; a friend mails her a copy at considerable expense, and she finds her title has been changed with a typographical error to "She Make's Me Smile," and a superfluous scene of animal abuse, a suggestion of rape, and other edits have been made without her approval. She writes to the editor, saying in polite terms, "What the hell?"

Her questions, paraphrased (If this was me, it would make Chuck Wendig's colorful vulgarian exclamations seem tepid):

1- Why there was a mistake in the title
2- Why my bio was shortened? There were much longer ones (like his own) so it wasn’t for space issues.
3- Why the story was changed?
The publisher's response:
lets see.on the contract, it clearly says publisher has the right to EDIT work. you signed it. are you saying you are a dishonest and immoral person and will now try to deny you signed the contract? well i have a copy right hereand as for the story. the editor had a hard time with it, it was very rough and he did alot to make it readable. despite what you think, your writing has a long way to go before its worthy of being printed professionally.we did what we had to do to make the story printable. you should be thankful, not complaining. ah, the ungrateful writer, gotta love it
Now, writers can be a touchy lot. We are very eager to see our work in print. Not everyone responds to edits in a professional manner, but you do NOT make edits without approval unless they are correcting typographical errors, streamlining usage to the publisher's stylebook, or other minor changes. And you do not write your own paragraph to insert into someone's story and call it an edit. It is not an edit, it is a collaboration. Or in this case, a defacement.

This is the added paragraph. If you read Ms. DeGeit's post, you will notice that she intentionally made her character gender neutral; the editor made him male, and sexually aroused by an animal getting beaten. This isn't a "this line is awkward, can you reword this?" or a "Can you give us a little background as to why this character beats his dog?" It's "I've decided your character is male, and to give him this backstory."

“Something strange happened then. I recalled a moment when I was a boy. I was playing in my backyard when the dog in my neighbor’s yard escaped through an open gate. My neighbor, an elderly man who lived alone and spoke in a thick accent (I later discovered that is was German), managed to corral the dog back into his yard. I watched, fascinated as the man ripped his long black belt from the loops at his waist and brought it down with a hellish fury upon the dog’s back. The dog slunk down and rested it’s head upon its paws, resigned to its fate. Why didn’t it fight back? Why didn’t it bite the hand of the master?
With the only friend I ever truly had writhing between my legs, I became aroused.”
Ugh. For one, this is just awful writing, and awful characterization. If you want someone to be erotically aroused by animal abuse, it does not happen from seeing your neighbor do it once. May I recommend this fine article, if you want to incorporate this sort of life-changing event in a disturbed character's life: Frenzy, at Alice Miller's site.) But it doesn't matter if it was brilliant; this is not Mrs. DeGeit's work. This isn't an edit, it is an insertion, without approval. The lack of professionalism in his response is galling. Pluck smash!!

Now, I've had edits I don't like. I had one editor cut the first five paragraphs of a story. It was one of my first publications, of a very profane and silly story about four metalhead stoners who become the horsemen of the apocalypse. I hastily signed the contract, didn't see the attachment, and missed the edits. And I did complain upon publication, and the editor pointed me to the previous email, and he was right. I didn't complain publicly, because they did not rewrite my work, they trimmed it. I promoted the story to my readers without grumpiness, and I submitted the "unexpurgated" version to another zine, which accepted it without edits, and even had their artist make a nifty illustration:
Not with a Bang, but a Squeaker, at Schlock Magazine.

No matter how excited you are to be published, remember:
Yog's Law: Money Flows TOWARD the Writer.
There is no publishing without the writer. The writer must whip themselves into shape, and the writer's every word is not always honey, and the writer does need to learn to edit- but have some self-respect. Mandy DeGeit is perfectly in her rights in this, minus the fact that the contract was vague and she assumed she was dealing with professionals. Don't let publishers treat you like shit. Like accepting bad treatment in any relationship, it becomes a habit.

And this is not to excoriate editors. I know plenty, and I appreciate their hard work. It is no picnic.
I am an editor, for the Lost Children anthologies. I respect the writer's work. I've corrected authors with a dozen excellent novels under their belts, writers I idolize. We all make typos and mistakes.
And I've had to ask for rewrites from fine writers who I consider friends. You need to be tough, to respect the reader as well as the work. But I didn't write a damn word of the rewrites. I made suggestions, and one writer went so far as to change the ending in a way that really made the story stronger than I imagined it could ever be. I don't consider myself a great editor. I get gut feelings with a story, that I visualize as "holes" in the world it creates inside my head. I try to explain how to fill that hole. I don't get the can of spackle and fix it myself.

So, vet who you submit to. READ the magazines you submit to. For one, this saves time on rejections because your story isn't a good fit. Secondly, you see the level of professionalism. Do they accept just anything? Does it look more like your little cousin's Facebook status than a well-edited publication? Do the same writers keep showing up, issue after issue, a circle jerk of buddies who might deign to let you into their club if you kiss enough pimply ass? This is beyond the ripoff artists who charge "reading fees," who mention payment but never pay, who accept your work and sit on it without a contract, and so on. The one editor who taught me the most about being a pro is Alec Cizak, formerly of All Due Respect, now editing Pulp Modern. He had serious edits for a story, but went about it professionally. He mailed two copies of a contract. He published on time, he sent payment promptly, and he made my story look damn good.

He's an ideal publisher; there are plenty more. Your work deserves that kind of treatment. If you don't believe that, than why are you sending it out? If it's not good enough to deserve respect, rewrite the damn thing or throw it out.

~ the Plucker

© 2012 Thomas Pluck
I post on Twitter as TommySalami ~ My Facebook Page

Friday, May 11, 2012

Screaming for Avengers: Two Confessions

I have a confession to make.

I never read comic books as a kid.

The earliest I remember was picking up an issue of Star Brand for 35 cents in junior high, trying to get into it, and failing. I always liked the Hulk, but that was from the TV show. Same with the Superman movies, and the Batman TV show. I came into it second hand. I've enjoyed many comics and graphic novels since, from The Dark Knight Returns, to the first Marshal Law books, to Kurt Busiek's excellent Astro City, which remains my favorite superhero series. And if you don't like superheroes, his standalone "The Tarnished Angel" is a great noir story.

But as someone who didn't grow up with comics, or love them wholeheartedly later, I have some unpopular opinions. I think Zak Snyder's ending to Watchmen was an improvement. I like Ang Lee's Hulk movie better than the Ed Norton one. I find the X-Men annoying, because the mutie as race minority allegory is patronizing and doesn't make sense when mutants can zap you to dust by forgetting to wear their sunglasses. We have reason to fear them. But that's an argument for another day, maybe when the Wolverine movie comes out.

I was not sold on Marvel's lead-ups to the Avengers. Iron Man, I loved that movie. The rest were all flawed in some way. Captain America probably the least, but it needed more action and less montage. And he should have punched out Hitler. Thor was good fun, but there was a lot of running and silliness and the Devastator was a boring villain. The Incredible Hulk had its moments, but I doubt I'd watch it again.

I was worried about the Avengers when the opening and villain introduction were rather tepid. Nick Fury and SHIELD were not sufficiently bad-ass. That is rectified by the end of the movie, thank goodness. My review will be short and sweet. Every character shines in this one. Much has been said of the fantastic interplay of the heroes, and that is a great strength. But even alone, they are the best incarnation on-screen, even Stark as Iron Man. Let's face it, they all have issues and spending time with any of these guys gets tiresome. It's a testament to Robert Downey Jr.'s characterization that we don't want Rhodey to drop a deuce in every one of Stark's suits by the end of an Iron Man movie. And that's fine, he should be a flawed man.

But in the Avengers, they can be more annoying than ever, because the doses are smaller. Cap can be an out of touch goody-good. Banner can be aloof, condescending and always have "You won't like me when I'm angry" unspoken, on the tip of his tongue, a passive-aggressive bully. Thor's elevated speech and godliness can be more than a joke. The best scene is likely when the gang is all arguing due to trickster god Loki's manipulations, aboard SHIELD's hovercraft air carrier. And that includes the Hulk going apeshit, which should be my favorite scene.

Well played, Whedon. That's confession two. Despite being a Firefly fan, I've always been very critical of Joss Whedon's writing. It's very good, but there was always fan service, which rubs me the wrong way. I find it condescending, especially when superhero movies have been blockbusters for a decade. But I will humbly say this is his best script yet. I forgot he was attached to it until an hour in. He's very subtle, he is respectful to the material, but makes it his own. And he has given us iconic characterizations of superhero icons that will be the measuring stick for many years to come; they all come into their own. He makes Black Widow much more than sexy kick-ass window dressing, and damn, he knows how to use effects. This is the first movie in years where the CG effects haven't required me to forcibly suspend disbelief.

And this is a comic book movie. It is not a movie with superheroes in it. The heroes clobber each other, change sides multiple times, begrudgingly become a team, just like they do in the comics. It's like pro wrestling. They get a lot of things pitch perfect. The Hulk is played as terrifying to anyone who's not a god or wearing armor. The bad guys, armored aliens, aren't just ugly, violent and stupid, but they have a goofy menace to them like all good comic book cannon fodder does, laughing and shooting their laser guns right up until the Hulk pops their head like a grape. The dialogue is fantastic, and the back and forth banter in battle makes the long, repetitive slugfest remain exciting.

The film is full of nice touches, and I plan on watching it enough times to catch them all. Now if you don't mind, I want to go get some shawarma.

© 2012 Thomas Pluck
I post on Twitter as TommySalami ~ My Facebook Page

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Mind Your Business

The first American coin, the Continental Dollar, was not emblazoned with the motto "In God We Trust." Nor E Pluribus Unum, the unofficial motto of the 13 original colonies, "One of many, One."

Treasurer Salmon P. Chase urged that "In God We Trust" be  put on coinage during the Civil War to suggest that God was on the side of the Union, and it was added to our paper currency in 1956 after lobbying by The Fellowship, the group that created the National Prayer Breakfast.

The original coin was labeled with "Fugio," Latin for "to fly," and a sundial meaning Time Flies, and more importantly, three words long forgotten from our lexicon:

Do we even know what that means anymore? Everyone's business is our business now. We watch reality shows, to discuss the petty peeves and peccadilloes of otherwise unaccomplished people. "Mind Your Business" was not a finger-wagging phrase to chide you for nosiness. It stated a simple fact: if you are overly concerned with your neighbors' business, you cannot adequately mind your own. The penny version, shown below, was designed by Benjamin Franklin, that coiner of aphorisms.

Other writers find me to be prolific. I consider myself rather lazy as a writer. I write one or two times a day, at lunch and after dinner, every day. Sometimes I only eke out 500 words, but I always write something. Where do I find the time? By minding my own business. I don't care if two women want to get married. Or if some guy wants to hoard guns. Or if a has-been movie star went on a self-destructive rant again. This is not my business. Oh, I have political opinions, and I vote religiously. But unless someone's basic human rights are being violated, I don't care what other people do. Some woman wants to have 30 children to serve the Lord? Go right ahead, I'll even pay taxes for their health care. A guy likes to rock climb and sucks at it, and we have to pay to put him in a cast every six months? Have fun, maybe you'll write 127 Hours 2: Another 48 Hours.

You want to make snarky comments about someone's lifestyle choices, cluck your tongues and shake your heads? By all means, have at it. But don't expect me to take you seriously.

Time flies; do your work.

That's my two cents... or $1.01, actually. On another note, I collected coins as a kid, until my collection was stolen by movers. I never owned a real Continental coin, they range from thousands to hundreds of thousands. If I am ever shamefully rich, I will buy one of these and keep it in my pocket. 

© 2012 Thomas Pluck
I post on Twitter as TommySalami ~ My Facebook Page

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Angola: The Farm

The Louisiana State Prison, nicknamed "Angola" after the plantation land it sits on, is unique, infamous and impressive all at once. They also call it "The Farm," because all prisoners work, and the farms on the grounds feed the inmates. Some have likened this to slavery, but a working man gets in less trouble, and Angola has over five thousand prisoners, a large percentage of which will never walk free again. Louisiana's sentencing guidelines are some of the toughest, and the prison has a hospice for all the elderly cons it must take care of. And not all are convicted of violent crimes.

Angola has a great variety of programs to keep the prisoners involved. There is the Angola Rodeo, which is as dangerous as any other, and garners criticism comparing it to the Roman gladiatorial arena. There is also a golf course for prison staff, where prisoners with the best behavior records can work as caddies, and recreational grounds and ball parks they can use as well. There are two programs for fathers in prison where they can meet with their families once a year.
Angola Prison Rodeo

However, the last thing you'd say about Angola is that it coddles prisoners. The prison has a long history of violent abuse and it was only turned around in the last two decades. Sex slavery rings were common, the "Red Hat" cell block was a pit of inhuman misery, and the guards were among the lowest paid in the nation. It has turned around, and while at first glance this may look like a country club, when you watch these prisoners or read their articles in The Angolite, the prison magazine, you see they are different from most convicts in other prisons. They have some dignity. They are not marking time in a cell, they can see the fruits of their labor, whether they sport a silver rodeo belt buckle, harvest crops, or ease a fellow con's pain in the hospice. And according to the Shreveport Times, Angola has a lower rate of recidivism than local facilities, but this may not be correlated to these programs.

An excellent documentary on Angola and prison life in general is The Farm: Angola USA. The film documents the hospice, the rodeo, and the difficulties in housing a large prison population, many for life sentences. At least three of the prisoners featured were released after long legal fights over their convictions. Which is available to view on Liveleak:

Direct Links to: Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4

I found out about The Angolite through my writer buddy and ex-con Les Edgerton, author of The Bitch, Just Like That, The Perfect Crime, Gumbo Ya-Ya and many more. Subscriptions are $20 a year, and having read my first issue of this slick and well-written magazine, it is quite a bargain. The July/August 2011 issue had an in-depth article on illicit cell phone use in prisons, plus articles on the "Long Termers," cons in Angola for 25 years or more, the Returning Hearts family visit program, plus short "expressions" and poetry by convicts, including a touching elegy to a lifer who'd rehabilitated himself yet died behind bars, an old trusty they called "Papa Smurf." It's great reading, and gives an insight into prison life.

Subscribe to the Angolite

© 2012 Thomas Pluck

I post on Twitter as @TommySalami ~ My Facebook Page

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

The Nutley Brass

Even before the tanning mom, I was embarrassed to come from my hometown of Nutley- where Martha Stewart spring like a decorating demon in a puff of brimstone and potpourri- at least until the Nutley Brass covered the Ramones and the Misfits.

This came about at the height of the lounge resurgence, when everyone loved Esquivel and Richard Cheese was covering everything. I like what the Brass does better. They infuse their versions with an unironic glee. I wonder if they learned music from Mr. Kohere, like I did? From the sound of our band, he was a great music teacher, but I had him for Humanities, an advanced course that mixed art, history and literature. We learned music history, but all I remember is how pop singers were terrible because they need microphones, and abortion was wrong because you might abort Beethoven (The flip side to his logical fallacy, that you could also abort Hitler, was overlooked).

There's still plenty to be ashamed about in Nutley, like the whites-only swimming pool*, but the town always had its share of free spirits and iconoclasts. The area called "The Enclosure" was an artist colony in the 1800s, and is listed on the register of historic places. Today, it is just a bunch of expensive homes by Mill Pond (which everyone calls the Mud Hole). There was also Angelo Nardone's sculpture garden, a glorious eyesore of overgrown Roman sculpture, that the town fought for decades, tearing it down the moment its owner fell ill and was admitted to the VA hospital.
Nutley also stars in my novel, mostly as backdrop to one story arc where a kid from out of town moves in and faces off with a brutal bully. The Nutley Brass won't be making an appearance in this one, but I'll give them a homage someday when I make a character an aging band geek.
* Update: the swimming pool owners settled for $1 million, sold the pool and moved out of state. The current ownership does not discriminate.
© 2012 Thomas Pluck
I post on Twitter as TommySalami ~ My Facebook Page

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Spinetingler Awards

No, not that Tingler!

First of all, congratulations to everyone who was nominated for a Spinetingler Award this year. The winners are listed here: Spinetingler Awards

I'm very proud to have a story, "Black-Eyed Susan," in the winner for Best Anthology, Beat to a Pulp: Hardboiled. Special thanks and congratulations to David Cranmer for editing the anthology, and calling me at the last minute when he needed a story.

It is 99 cents for Kindle; check out what the fuss is about.

© 2012 Thomas Pluck
I post on Twitter as TommySalami ~ My Facebook Page

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Crime Factory 10

This is how they do it down under...

The Crime Factory issue #10 is out, with an interview with Megan Abbott, a deposition by Josh Stallings and my story "Lefty," about some goombahs on a fishing trip to the Louisiana bayou. It is available as a PDF from their website (Follow the Crime Factory link) and will soon be available for Kindle. I wish it was available in print, but they only do that for special issues like Kung Fu Factory. I wonder if Createspace could turn this PDF into a print on demand zine, or Lulu? I think it would be worth the trouble. So read it on your PC or your e-reader, it's free and they always get a great line-up of contributors!

© 2012 Thomas Pluck
I post on Twitter as TommySalami ~ My Facebook Page

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