Friday, February 9, 2024

The Return of All Due Respect


 Yes.

 

The rumors are true.

 

More to come...

Thursday, January 25, 2024

The Unholy Trilogy Revisted: Down on the Street


No book of mine has gotten more reviews at Amazon than Down on the Street. It seemed like things were going up up and up from there. Then I wrote Breaking Glass and the cancel clowns started their campaign against me. First in the shadows, and then on the public cesspool once known as Twitter. The Big Name reviewers who reviewed Breaking Glass emphasized that it was a book with a female protagonist written by a male, and this was somehow supposed to be the reader's focus. To their credit, they seemed to think I did a good job writing from a woman's point of view. It is asinine, however, that that element should even be a part of the conversation. It just so happened I wanted to redeem Chelsea, the young woman from Down on the Street, and allow readers a peek into her mind since we only saw her through Lester's POV in Down on the Street. Because it was the height of the #metoo era, the audacity of a man writing a book from a woman's POV was unforgivable. The war to crush Alec Cizak began and would fully blossom in 2020 when the assholes on Twitter had absolutely nothing constructive to do with their lives.

But I digress.

My initial hope was to have Down on the Street ready for Full Dark City, a publishing venture CJ Edwards and Chris Rhatigan put together around 2012/2013 (it would, of course, eventually become All Due Respect Books). My vision for the second half of the book involved a real pimp teaching Lester Banks a lesson he'd be lucky to have the option of forgetting. It wasn't working, though, for whatever reason. CJ eventually asked for the rights to re-release Manifesto Destination, a novella I'd written ten years earlier. 

I struggled with the second half of the book for quite a while. Finally, I sent the first half to Mav Skye to get her thoughts and she did me the favor of suggesting I make the book much, much darker than it was. She wanted to see Lester do something really nasty to Chelsea, and then have Chelsea exact some sort of revenge.

On the way to finishing the book, I realized almost everything I had ever written had a nihilistic, depressing conclusion. I rarely wrote stories about heroic behavior. So, I combined Mav's suggestions with the intent of redeeming Lester in the very end of the book. People don't often realize it, but Down on the Street has, in my opinion, the most positive ending I've ever written. The fact that I allowed Lester out of the story without too much damage done to him did not please some critics and it made some readers hostile. These things encouraged me to come up with ideas for two more books, each possessing the title of a song from my favorite albums involving Iggy Pop, David Bowie, and Lou Reed. Hence, the next two in the series--Breaking Glass and Cool It Down.

When I brought the idea of a trilogy to my publisher, ABC Group Documentation, I was told to make sure it wasn't a normal series, like Reacher, or something similar, and that each book could stand on its own. One of the strategies employed to accomplish that was to draw on radically different influences for the next two books.

As for Down on the Street, it's quite obvious I was thinking of the old comedy Night Shift when I came up with the story. A woman I dated in the 1990s once told me I should be a pimp, which is one of those suggestions you think about for the rest of time. As in, what in the world did she see in me that made her think I'd make a good pimp? I wanted to write a realistic story about an 'ordinary' working class guy deciding that route might work out for him and learning, of course, that he has no business going into that sort of career.

The original title for the book was Mass Production. This was supposed to reflect Lester's interpretation of everyone around him as clones, sheep, etc. He's an individual in a world of conformists. ABC told me the title was terrible and we worked together to come up with an Iggy Pop-related song that would match the tone of the book better. It took all of five seconds to agree on Down on the Street. At that time, only devout fans of The Stooges would recognize the title. In the last few years, I've heard the song in at least two major motion pictures. That's what the establishment does now--takes radical pop culture from the past and appropriates it until it loses its teeth. Funhouse was such a crucial record to me when I was growing up, I'm both happy people are being made aware of it and sad because it was such a wonderful secret for so long.

Shortly after Down on the Street was published, a producer in Hollywood asked me to adapt it for the screen. I cranked out the best script I'd ever written. The script, in fact, improves on the book (the third act of the book is too quick in my opinion). The producer loved the script and set out to cast it. This was late 2017, early 2018, and the Puritanical offspring of #metoo had already started. The producer sent the script to an agent who had a "sensitivity reader" read the script. The "sensitivity reader," of course, was a young woman fresh out of college with none of the life experiences necessary to understand the script. She referred to it as "pornography" (aside from the profanity in the script, nothing else in it would ever earn even an R-rating). The producer got similar static everywhere she sent it. Hollywood had gotten thoroughly uptight. The producer asked me to write something else for her and the Down on the Street script sits, to this day, in the file cabinet waiting for a producer brave enough to make it.

Wednesday, January 24, 2024

The Stories Behind the Stories: "Last Exit Before Toll"


The final story in Nobody's Coming Home is a thoroughly nasty little piece of flash fiction called "Last Exit Before Toll." It closes the collection for a couple of reasons. Obviously, the title suggests it should be the final story. Also, it tell us what's going on with the young man we met in the very beginning in "Progress" (he's also the jackass in the story "Destroyers" who uses social media to tear down people who have accomplished more than he has in the real world). None of this is ever explicitly stated. One has to read with their thinking caps on to put those pieces of the puzzle together.

"Last Exit Before Toll" originally appeared at the Flash Fiction Offensive the outstanding year that Jesse Rawlins and Jim Shaffer were the editors (I placed three or four stories there that year; clearly, the editors had good taste!). I wrote the story in response to a conversation I had with my biological father. He drives a cab in Indianapolis (proving even your job choices in life are genetic considering I drove a cab at one time as well). He told me Uber and Lyft had cut into his business quite a bit.

Around that same time, story after story appeared on the news about horrible things happening with Uber and Lyft--be it drivers attacking passengers, or passengers attacking drivers. In the interest of protecting all cabbies (it is a kind of brotherhood), I decided to wield the power of fiction to point out the flaws in the ride sharing scheme. How easy it would be for a serial killer to pose as an Uber drive and put another notch on his or her murder belt.

The title comes directly from a sign that appears on either 90 or 95 as you're leaving Indiana and going to Chicago. Just one of those perfect moments in the writing life when everything falls onto the table at the same time.

Tuesday, January 23, 2024

The Stories Behind the Stories: "The Thing About Padlocks"


Over Christmas I gave my dad who raised me a copy of Nobody's Coming Home. He is a bit of a limousine liberal and has been brainwashed enough by MSNBC to think stories with "unlikeable" characters should be avoided. He read the first three stories in the book and had his usual reaction. He's getting old, he doesn't want to be upset by anything too real in the fiction he consumes. I pointed out that he raised me and if there are any faults in my personality, a shrink would no doubt put the blame on him. Finally, I told him to skip ahead to "The Thing About Padlocks." I found him a short while later in his room crying. He'd read the story three times and finally admitted I know what the fuck I'm doing as a writer. 

I bring all this up to say that "The Thing About Padlocks" may be the most emotional story in the book. It features the detective from "Miscarriage," only it's no longer 1978. It's (roughly) 2018 and Lake County has radically changed. The detective is in his seventies. His wife has passed from cancer. He raises chickens and catches a young man trying to break into the coop to steal a bird for who-knows-what. It's the least crime-y story in the bunch. I never placed it with a magazine because it's just not what people are expecting from me. It is, in fact, the only story in the book that wasn't published elsewhere before I put the collection together. It's brief, so I'll be brief. For anyone who thinks I just write nasty grime fiction, this story should compel a second look. 

All the stories in Nobody's Coming Home are emotional, as far as I'm concerned. While Big Time publishers yip-yap about telling the stories of marginalized Americans (all the while publishing the same old vanilla noir they've been publishing since giant corporations scrunched everything into three or four publishing houses), I actually do write about marginalized people. My characters aren't "low-lives," as idiots in the MFA program I endured once referred to them as; they're human beings struggling in a system that abandoned them a long time ago (or, in some cases, asked them to come here and then treated them like shit once they got here). 

I'm telling the truth about America, whether people like or not.

Wednesday, January 17, 2024

The Stories Behind the Stories: "The Old Pissing Wall"


Years ago when I lived in Los Angeles, whilst shooting a movie in downtown, I found I had to go the bathroom and I couldn't find a public restroom anywhere. The producer on the movie, a young dude who'd grown up in L.A., told me about the concept of a pissing wall--a wall in public you could always count on to provide privacy while you unloaded any recently consumed drinks. I chose a wall between two abandoned buildings in the Toy District (which may or may not still be part of Skid Row). So, long before the Fox News enthusiasts were complaining about public places being used as toilets, I was already contributing to the problem. The thing is, most public establishments won't let you just walk in and use the restroom. I find that to be a rather uncivilized character of American society. So much so that I wrote a brief piece about it at Medium.

But I digress.

"The Old Pissing Wall" marks a point in Nobody's Coming Home where the demographic shifts taking place in northwest Indiana become apparent. As you can imagine, Hoosiers have not always been on their best behavior when it comes to shifting demographics. Like the rest of the country and the western hemisphere, for that matter, traditionalists insist such shifts will destroy culture. Well, whatever. As I argued in my last novel, Cool It Down, history is about the movement of people. Nothing more. Nothing less. Right now, there is a movement of people from the south toward the north.

Why do I bring all that up? Because the story "The Old Pissing Wall," while being an intriguing examination of conscience, is also a send up of anyone upset by those shifting demographics. The "right" is taken to task for its stubborn, traditionalist stance, and the "left," as always, is lampooned for being (mostly) nothing but a barrel of bourgeois yuppies trying to score points off of luxury beliefs. And when I lampoon the left, take heart--I grew up a liberal. I'm usually just poking fun at myself when I write stories like this.

"The Old Pissing Wall" first appeared in Switchblade Magazine. The story originally took place in L.A., but I changed the location for this collection and I think it fits neatly in the timeline all the stories are presenting. It also helps prepare the reader for the next story, "The Thing About Padlocks."

Friday, January 12, 2024

The Stories Behind the Stories: "Cymbaline"

 


"Cymbaline" is the final story in Nobody's Coming Home that features the young woman we first met in "The Bag Girl." She is also the young woman in "The Bunker Girl." It isn't until "Cymbaline" that we fully learn her name. The story was originally written for a Pink Floyd anthology, but it far exceeded the word limit for that project, so I sent it to Guilty Crime Story Magazine, one of the only decent indie print journals still going today. The editor of Guilty has rather high standards for fiction and so I thoroughly recommend reading it if you enjoy quality crime stories.

Obviously, the genesis of "Cymbaline" was the Pink Floyd song from their soundtrack to the movie More. Just a wonderful, mellow song about drugs. The story is told from the POV of Raven, an escort working with a new girl, Cymbaline. They rob some rich guys in Lake County and flee south. As one might expect, plans don't go the way they should. Raven has a mother-like affection for Cymbaline and learns the hard way that Cymbaline has affection for no one (if we are to believe the timeline in the entire collection, Cymbaline has been a drug addict for a while and is probably incapable of the brand of empathy Raven seeks).


Thursday, January 11, 2024

The Stories Behind the Stories: "The Bunker Girl"

 

"The Bunker Girl" is one of the newer stories in Nobody's Coming Home. I wrote it specifically for the collection as I wanted to write something that would bring most of the characters from the previous stories together in one piece. The excellent editors at All Due Respect published it both online and in their annual roundup of stories (very sad to see ADR close for business by the way. All the old dogs that published hardcore crime fiction are now gone).

The story itself is a bit rambling, but it includes Gilbert (from "Polite Society"), the bag girl (who eventually gets named in "Cymbaline"), Crank Baxter, Mitch the junkie (from "Nasty Habits" and Crank Baxter's first story), and the crime boss of Lake County who appears in most of the stories (while never actually having one devoted specifically to him), Seth Short. We see the unfortunate evolution of Crank Baxter, who now kills people for Seth Short without giving it much thought (he drags a piece of shit snitch named Bobby behind a pickup truck and then burn his tattered corpse; one of the more graphic moments in the entire collection).

And Gilbert, sad Gilbert, he finally gets back in good with Seth, can finally work like he did in the old days, only to be thwarted by the bunker girl. As violent and nasty as this story gets, the final paragraph is devastatingly sad.

Tuesday, January 9, 2024

The Stories Behind the Stories: "Nasty Habits"


The story that follows "The Radical Mr. Bogata" in Nobody's Coming Home is "Nasty Habits." "Nasty Habits" examines the issues of obsession and addiction. It argues some are more or less harmful than others. It originally appeared in the only indie crime journal that could ever legitimately call itself punk rock--Switchblade Magazine.

I wrote "Nasty Habits" in late 2016/early 2017, when a lot of establishment periodicals online were attempting to push the idea that pedophilia is "just another sexual orientation." This seemed like quite a horrific direction for society to go in. The authors of those articles argued that most pedophiles don't act on their impulses, which statistics show just isn't the case. Lots of people (if not all) have a few bad habits. Most only hurt themselves. The ones that hurt other people? Well, we need to 86 those without guilt or shame.

In the years since I wrote that story, it seems stories about pedophiles getting beaten up (or beaten to death) have become commonplace. I suppose that's provided a good push back against the sickos trying to normalize it. Some authors, it seems, have a fetish for writing about the violent deaths of pedophiles. I understand, believe me--every woman I dated in high school and college, at one point or another, revealed they'd been tampered with by an adult when they were still little girls. When I taught at Crenshaw High School, a counselor informed me that "at least 80 percent" of the female students there had been tampered with by an adult (usually a family member). That means this isn't a "Southern thing." It's not limited to any demographic whatsoever. Adults need to learn to keep their fucking hands to themselves! However, at some point, if all an author writes is the same story about some superhuman badass who beats the shit out of pedophiles, over and over, one begins to wonder what that author actually has on his/her/their mind...

Wednesday, December 13, 2023

The Stories Behind the Stories: "The Radical Mr. Bogata"


"The Radical Mr. Bogata" is one of those rare stories that starts with a title. Somewhere during my time in Montana, I thought of the name Mr. Bogata and the rest of the title came to me. The word radical made me think of all the wealthy socialists in the United States who like to lecture the working class but have no intention of ever giving up their own material wealth.

i.e., Fucking hypocrites.

I had briefly taken a job with a school photography company. That's where I got the idea to have one of Mr. Bogata's victims be a school photographer leaving picture day with an envelope full of money. I'm not going to say which company I worked for, but it's not difficult to figure out on your own. I went through the training program and the Big Boss was impressed enough with my performance to start advancing me to sports photography. I learned, however, on my first regular gig (photographing a small town peewee football league) that the company was not honest about working hours. I was told on that day I would be off by noon. My wife was patiently waiting for me while the work day stretched all the way to six in the evening. When I asked my coworker why we weren't going by the schedule, she told me the schedule could not be relied on. I quit the next day.

Anyway...When we were scheduled for school picture days, we were only going to accept cash. This of course rang alarm bells in my mind. Another great opportunity for a heist! For "The Radical Mr. Bogata," I cast an Indian-American as the POV character manipulated and eventually lectured by the didactic Mr. Bogata on what it means to be working class (the POV character is working class, Mr. Bogata, of course, is bourgeois).

I read this story at a Noir @ the Bar in Montana. I could tell a number of people in the audience were upset that I'd targeted upper-class corporate leftists for ridicule. One gentleman attempted to discredit the story by suggesting Dodge Darts were no longer manufactured. A group of younger men and women in the back row who were clearly amused by the story, understanding exactly the nature of the story's criticism, quickly corrected the gentleman for me

"The Radical Mr. Bogata" is placed in Nobody's Coming Home right after "Destroyers" as both stories deal with my dissatisfaction with the appropriation of liberalism by corporations for nefarious purposes. They are the most overtly political stories in the book. It first appeared in the only magazine willing to publish stories that take shots at the petty bourgeois, the legendary Switchblade Magazine.

Monday, December 11, 2023

The Stories Behind the Stories: "Destroyers"


"Destroyers" is one of the most talked about stories in Nobody's Coming Home. It addresses the horrific reboot of the Salem witch trials that has been occurring in the West since social media became a thing that mainstream society actually takes seriously.

I've discussed this story before; what strikes me about it today is what it doesn't address. So, it goes after the pathetic social media trolls who get no pleasure from life beyond ruining other peoples' careers and reputations (and really, what kind of joyless, soulless piece of shit do you have to be to sit around on Twitter calling people "garbage human" all day long?). At this point in history sane, rational people know what the problem is--Social media is trash and the people who use it to attack other people are bile. They are lower than petrified dogshit caked into the spaces between Satan's toes. We get it. We all see it. "Destroyers" never addresses the question that needs to be addressed:

If everyone knows the trolls are energy suckers harshing the world for everyone else, why isn't something being done about it? The narrator in "Destroyers" is quick to judge the Internet troll Brian Klein (Brian, in case you didn't guess, is the unnamed manchild in the flash fiction piece "Progress" that opens the entire collection; he shows up in the very end as well). But what did the narrator do to stop Brian and people like him? The narrator is content to punish the trolls verbally, but he never once suggests he's done or is willing to do what people like Bonks Webster, the other main character in the story, ends up doing: personally confronting the troll.

What it comes down to is cowardice. It's the same thing that happened in Salem. The majority knows what's going on is bullshit. And they do nothing about it. What is it that fuels this cowardice? The proponents of this deplorable online behavior aren't tough guys. Not by a long shot. They're the same guys who, unfortunately, got wedgied and stuffed into lockers in high school. I feel bad for them. I went to an inner-city public high school, so I never had to contend with anything like that. The Internet, and social media, for that matter, have allowed the formerly bullied to become bullies. As our parents used to tell us, two wrongs don't make a right. The righteous path, of course, is forgiveness. This is something the ubernerds of social media don't understand. We can see what cowards they are when they do get confronted. Taylor Lorenz is a fine example. The moment she got a taste of her own medicine, she cried on camera and claimed to be a victim. This is the disingenuous 180 all bullies make when they're called out. The problem is, hardly anybody has the guts to do it. And that needs to change.

I bring up these things because I realize "Destroyers" doesn't address them thoroughly and that may be a flaw in the story.

Wednesday, December 6, 2023

The Stories Behind the Stories: "The Bag Girl"


"The Bag Girl"  introduces the main female character we follow through the story cycle in Nobody's Coming Home (whose name we learn, much later, is Cymbaline). 

The initial idea for "The Bag Girl" came to me while shopping at an Albertsons in Missoula back in 2017. It's the kind of crime fiction story the universe drops in your lap nearly in one piece. I watched customers use their debit cards to get cash back from the cashier and I realized that would be a great way to rob people--have a lookout inside the store signal to someone outside the store who's walking out with money in their pocket and who isn't.

I have written about the opiate problem in the United States since it first became clear meth had been shoved aside for the more pleasant self-destruction that accompanies opiate addiction. I decided to motivate the couple in the story with a petty pill habit. Those familiar with opiate addiction know the habit sometimes causes problems in the bedroom. This would help motivate the rift between the main characters and spawn the real conflict.

I didn't give the characters names. I wanted to demonstrate it's possible to care about characters even if they don't have specific names. In fact, I think this technique has the effect of pulling the reader in for even closer empathy since the lack of names forces the reader to fill in those blanks on their own. My wife, who always goes over final drafts before they go to press, claims this is her favorite story in the book.

Monday, December 4, 2023

The Stories Behind the Stories: "Crank Baxter Ain't No Goddamn Christian"


"Crank Baxter Ain't No Goddamn Christian" is the fourth story in Nobody's Coming Home. It is the most recent version of a story I first wrote back in 2009. It's a rendition of my favorite kind of character arc--the journey of a character being told to change and realizing he was just fine the way he was; 

Having studied Joseph Campbell and story structure in graduate school, I understand why stories have characters who "grow" as the story progresses. But seeing bad people become good people in story after story after story gets tiresome. This is a great way to subvert that pattern.

The element that finally made this story work was the main character, Crank Baxter, spending his evenings working on model cars. The dichotomy of him bashing in skulls during the day and then using those same hands to delicately paint the panels on a model Chevy Bel-Air made him an interesting human being. 

I enjoyed building model cars when I was a kid. A few years ago, I noticed model car kits are no longer sold in major stores. You have to go to hobby stores or buy them online. That's too bad. Another element of American childhoods for several generations swept to the side. I guess it's more important for youngsters to cash in their spare time looking at videos on their phones or something. I know, "Old man yells at sky!" Whatever. Things that happen in the real world, and not on a screen, will always be superior!

"Crank Baxter Ain't No Goddamn Christian" was originally published in Guilty Magazine,  a crime fiction publication that always puts together a solid lineup of the best writers currently working in the genre.


Thursday, November 30, 2023

The Stories Behind the Stories: "Polite Society"


 "Polite Society" is actually the oldest story in Nobody's Coming Home. I wrote it in 2014 and James Ward Kirk published it in Indiana Crime Review 2015. 2014 was a rough year. That was the year I was persecuted by the Title IX office at Minnesota State University in Mankato (the U.S. Department of Education has since agreed that both Linda Hanson, the corrupt Title IX officer responsible for the persecution, and Matthew Sewell, the incompetent English department chair at the time, engaged in egregious misconduct and ruled that their behavior violated my First Amendment Rights; the result being my student loans from MNSU were wiped out). 2014 was the year I wrote "Columbus Day," a wildly violent story that kicked off Crooked Roads (and appeared, unfortunately, in Dark Corners, an indie journal whose editor would turn out to be quite the scumbag). I was very angry. And "Polite Society" reflects that.

"Polite Society" introduces readers to Gilbert, a large, middle-aged man who lives with his mother and yearns for a return to a more, in his mind, glamorous lifestyle working for a local hillbilly gangster named Seth Short (who appears throughout the collection without ever having a story specifically about him). Gilbert is based on my old friend Stuart, who, sadly, passed away in 2022. Stuart was one of the last surviving friends of mine from my less-than-lawful days in the late 1980s and early 1990s. It's amazing he lived as long as he did. Stuart and I had a habit of getting wasted and going out in public to make "normal" people nervous (he was a big guy, in those days I was scrawny, so we looked like Hunter Thompson and his lawyer).

The story also features a character named Crackers the Clown, who was a real person in the 1990s--a clown in a wheelchair who used his earnings from working birthday parties for children to fund his cocaine habit. Additionally, the story features a dead guy named Paul. If you read my post about the story "Miscarriage," you know who Paul is/was.

The yuppie gangster Gilbert rides with in the story is an invented character inspired by a few of my friends who raised hell in the early 90s and quickly became sellouts by the end of the decade. I wanted to contrast the hypocrisy of the yuppie's lifestyle with the integrity of Gilbert's. Gilbert may be broke most of the time, but his conscience is clean all the time.

I don't know that "Polite Society" follows any traditional story structure. For me, it was always a story about characters and I think that sustains the reader's attention.

Monday, November 27, 2023

The Stories Behind the Stories: "Miscarriage"


The first full length short story in Nobody's Coming Home is "Miscarriage." This story began life as my contribution to Naptown Noir, an anthology that never happened because, well, people don't give a shit about Indianapolis, apparently (and literacy, as any profits from the anthology were intended to go to a literacy foundation in Indiana). I wanted to write a story inspired by the wild tale of Tony Kiritsis, who marched a financial predator through the streets of Indianapolis at gunpoint in 1978. Among the many things of particular interest was the fact that Kiritsis held the shotgun in place with a wire hanger wrapped around the banker's throat. The photographs from that day are wild (I've included one here).

In addition to the Kiritsis story, I wanted to slip in a bit about a murder that took place on the north side of Indianapolis in the 1990s. A piece of shit named Paul stabbed a girl 99 times in her face with a pair of scissors. Paul was, among other things, a male prostitute, a drug dealer, and a police informant. That is how he got away with murder (and never got arrested for openly selling drugs in Broad Ripple). Paul, as a character, in fact, appears in the next story in Nobody's Coming Home, but I'll get to that in the next installment here. Paul was a weasel who not only sold drugs right under the cops' noses, but sold fake drugs to younger teenagers. He often sold sheets of LSD that had never been dipped in acid to fourteen year old skater punks. A friend of his would walk up to the skaters after they bought the bogus sheets and tell them, "You're gonna be trippin' so hard you won't even know it." I always wondered what the parents of the girl Paul murdered thought about their daughter's killer walking free simply because he was an informant for the police.


As these two elements came together, the story formed in my mind of a detective sent to talk down the mother of a victim of a rich boy (the son of a politician) after she's duct taped a gun in the mouth of the lawyer who got the killer off in court. The drama regarding the detective and his wife's inability to conceive a child formed as I was writing the story. The result is, despite its gruesome conclusion, a rather emotional piece about parents and what their children mean to them. A very odd development considering I have no children of my own (that I know of).

"Miscarriage" is a deeply personal story and it's among the more "mature" crime fiction pieces I've written. I decided to kick off the short stories-proper in the collection with it because it takes place a great deal earlier than the majority of the other stories and I wanted readers to understand right away that this collection is more than a glorification of bad behavior. The detective, like all the characters in the book, is very human. I'm moved by the story and I hope readers are as well. Ironically, it is the most recent story to appear in print, having been picked up by the editors at Starlite Pulp (for which I am very grateful).

Saturday, November 25, 2023

The Stories Behind the Stories: "Progress"


When Crooked Roads was published way back in the prehistoric year of 2015, I wrote several entries here detailing the histories of the short stories in the book. Nobody's Coming Home is my first collection of short crime fiction since Crooked Roads, so I thought we'd continue the tradition.

Nobody's Coming Home is framed by two flash fiction pieces that appeared at the now-defunct Flash Fiction Offensive, a great online site that used to have revolving editors. In 2019, I managed to get several pieces published there, including the stories that begin and end Nobody's Coming Home.

I honestly can't recall where I got the idea for "Progress," other than I've had to listen to people my age bemoan the perceived worthlessness of the younger generations for some time. I tell my students not to worry too much when the old folks go on about how 'soft' the new generation is; They said all sorts of nasty things about Generation X when we were young (remember the popularization of the term 'Slacker'? That all came about because of my generation. Apparently, we were too lazy to be redeemed. Then we went on to demonstrate to the rest of the world how to turn the Internet into a cash machine. Not the most admirable accomplishment, but an accomplishment regardless).

As the idea gestated, I decided to make it a bit of a dark comedy, the kind of which Alfred Hitchcock might have approved. The idea of a mother upset by her psychopathic son's inability to bury the dead bodies in his room, as opposed to, say, being upset the boy is a psychopathic murderer with dead bodies in his room, seemed funny to me. It's the kind of brutal humor that, in just four short years, is no longer acceptable in any way according to the zeitgeist. Twenty years of terrorist attacks and a pandemic has left the masses scarred and, I believe, unable to contend with the kind of humor necessary to make the most brutal comedy of all, mortality, tolerable.

The story has, however, become more relevant as the elder generations fret over the horrific damage technology is doing to young people. We cannot blame the youth, however, for rotting their minds with social media, video games, and pornography. Who gave them the electronic gadgets they use to access such filth? I remember the early 2000s, when many of my friends were raising young children. Their kids had cell phones and I would ask the parents, 'Why are you giving an eight year old a cell phone?' to which they'd respond, 'For safety. I want to know where my child is at all times.' 

Well, okay, Hoss, you fed the child some poison. Don't be surprised by the results.

The final sticking point of humor in "Progress" is the happy ending. I won't give it away, but ever since I wrote the novella Down on the Street, I have taken great delight in, every now and then, redeeming characters most writers and, most importantly, readers would consider incapable of redemption. I often wonder, in fact, if turning Lester Banks into a hero at the end of Down on the Street put me on the radar of the New Puritans in the crime fiction "community" who have openly stalked and harassed me for the last four years.

Either way, I decided to let "Progress" kick off Nobody's Coming Home because it sets the tone for the entire collection. There's humor. There's seriousness. And there's family issues, a surprising theme I didn't notice until the stories were assembled.

Wednesday, November 15, 2023

THINGS CHANGE: A Tom Boyle Mystery...Now at The Yard!


The world of crime fiction is huge. The venues printing crime fiction are everywhere. One of the more dedicated spots today is The Yard. They published "Darklands," a seriously hardboiled detective story of mine earlier this year. I enjoy writing that kind of writing and so wrote a follow up story, "Things Change." That story is now available for your reading pleasure right here.

Tuesday, October 31, 2023

NOBODY'S COMING HOME

 


My collection of crime fiction short stories is now available from ABC Group Documentation. Enjoy!

Wednesday, June 21, 2023

DARKLANDS is live at THE YARD

 


“It’s funny.” He scratched his khaki pants, picked at the sleeves of a pink button-down shirt. “A couple of nights ago, my daughter asked what it means to die. I always figured the sex talk would be the toughest. Turns out, explaining to a child that someday she’ll no longer exist, well, that’s about as difficult as you can imagine. In my line of work, I discuss these things with strangers all the time, no hassle. When it’s your family, for reasons even I can’t figure out, it’s quite a bit tougher.”

I offered up an indifferent grunt. I’d overslept and missed my morning fix. The sun beat in from the window behind me. I sweat more than usual. Felt like ripping off my skin and howling like a dog. My patience with the toothpick sitting on the other side of the desk begged to skedaddle. Cunningham, the man called himself. Dr. Dennis Cunningham. Couldn’t find his sister.

“I’m a divorce specialist,” I said. “I don’t dig these sorts of gigs.”

“We talked on the phone,” said Dr. Cunningham, pushing his Lennon specs higher up his nose, maybe thinking it a show of strength. “You assured me you had no problem taking this case.”

“We’ve spoken before?”

“You quoted me an extraordinarily decent price. The best in Indianapolis, according to my research.”

I leaned forward. “You’re kidding.”

“Fifty a day plus expenses.”

“I would never work that cheap.” I slapped the desk twice. “Sorry, Dr. Cunningham, but you’ll have to take your troubles somewhere else. Now, if you’ll excuse me…”

“We have a verbal contract, Mr. Boyle. You don’t honor it, I’ll call my attorney.” He folded his left leg over his right knee. He looked like the kind of guy who’d never been in a real fight. All bones covered by the meekest layer of skin. Middle-aged. Balding with a capital U-shape on his scalp. A thick, manicured professor’s beard. Like a walking circumcised penis who relied on the system to keep his knuckles polished. The mention of a lawyer made me grind my teeth. I wanted to bash his face in and dump him in the White River.

He must have considered my momentary silence a concession. He pulled a photograph from a pocket inside his tweed jacket and put it on my desk. His sister, I assumed. He’d already told me her name: Lorraine. Invisible for over a month.

“Mother called me,” he said. “She wouldn’t have made the effort if she didn’t believe something was wrong.”

I rubbed my eyes. I hated serious work. My forte? Taking stills or video of husbands cheating on their wives or vice versa, doing my part to enhance the divorce rate and destroy Western civilization. Missing persons involved interviews and contact with the squares out there in the real world. The best I could do? Poke around until Dr. Cunningham considered me unqualified for the work. Pick up some dope money in the meanwhile. “All right,” I said. “I need the first week’s pay in advance.”

The bastard wrote a check. Uptight people always did business like that. He told me how to get in touch with his mother. Then he went back to his practice: Psychology. Second, in my book, on the greatest hits list of sleaze. Right behind lawyers.

Soon as he left, I put on a CD of whale songs and opened the top drawer of my desk. Using yellow water from the sink in the bathroom, I cooked up the day’s first dose of smack and plugged it into a vein in my ankle. Once the junk warmed my heart, I felt omniscient, better equipped to think.

I stared at the woman in the picture. She had wild, wavy brown hair. Deep green eyes. Wore a flimsy blouse with the shoulders sliding down, allowing a glimpse of a black bra underneath. Sexy. Desperate. My kind of woman.

After making a call to the mother and setting an appointment, I rested my head in my hands and let the dope and the whale songs transport me to a place where bills didn’t need to be paid and children didn’t ask questions about death.

 

So begins DARKLANDS, an epic short story currently available at The Yard Crime Blog. It features a junkie snoop named Tom Boyle. There will be much more featuring this character in the future. 


 

Monday, May 22, 2023

Waylon Jennings Anthology Now Available!


A collection of crime fiction/noir stories inspired by the music of Waylon Jennings is now available. I edited this little beauty, but the credit belongs to the writers who contributed amazing stories and Gutter Books for carrying on despite the prevailing, fascist winds of New Puritanism stinking up the entire publishing industry. We've got a variety of tales here to delight anyone who enjoys stories about bad behavior. Just looks at this roster of talent:

  • January Bain
  • Meredith Craig
  • Burke de Boer
  • Christine Boyer
  • Michael Bracken
  • John Floyd
  • Tom Hoisington
  • Trevor Holiday 
  • Ian Klink
  • Matt Phillips
  • Russell Thayer
  • Joseph S. Walker

The kindle version is now available for your reading pleasure. As always, please read it and review it at Amazon no matter what you thought of it.

Tuesday, January 10, 2023

Pulp Modern News

 Pulp Modern is officially closed to submissions until further notice.


Wednesday, March 9, 2022

We'll Make Great Pets

 


Maybe I've been wrong all these years.

I remember standing up for myself in junior high when the school's army of yuppie scum decided they'd try to bully me. First I pulled a switchblade knife and threatened to kill them (it was the 1980s, guns were still just used for drug business in school at that time). Then I wrote horror stories in which I did just that and passed them around for the yuppies to read. They labeled me a psychopath, which was fine by me. I never got bullied by yuppies again. Not to my face.

The reason the yuppies tried to bully me is because I didn't wear designer clothes like they did. That automatically meant I didn't think like them because, well, I didn't give a fuck what clothes I wore. The rest of my life I battled against conformists of all stripes. I always thought that was the correct thing to do. That being your own person (i.e., developing your own opinions about each and every issue) was noble. Being a follower was looked down on. Not intellectual. A sign of not much going on in the brain department.

But it has proven a losing battle. Conformity is constantly enforced by the brainless twits who weasel themselves into positions of power and influence. It could very well be that oddballs like me just weren't meant to survive. Especially at this point in the human adventure. I constantly see calls for the "post-biological" society to snuff troublemakers like me who refuse to do what the masses are doing. It could well be that the human adventure is over. That the conformists have won and are ready to merge with technology and become perfect circuits in a bigger machine.

A circuit must be obedient, attend to its task without hesitation, without questioning why it's doing what it's doing.

I apologize to the masses. I will not stand in the way of your glorious march to joining with technology once and for all and surrendering your humanity to the ultimate collective.

God speed. You won't remember what humanity actually was when you finally get your way. You can always look in your electronic library for my books. One thing I will not do is cease writing about actual human beings, actual human behavior. And if it makes you weep for a time when you had the option not to be a conformist pig, so much the better.

Friday, February 4, 2022

New Stuff!


 To my many loyal readers of this here blog, I apologize for not posting more often. I've become busier than I can handle over the last few months, so some things, unfortunately, get neglected. I'll try to "do better," as the New Puritans frequently instruct celebrities they believe actually give a shit about their opinions...

But I digress.

Tis the season to read books by Alec Cizak! 

First off, we have COOL IT DOWN, the final book in the Unholy Trilogy that started with DOWN ON THE STREET and continued with BREAKING GLASS, the book I believe got me on the radar of the New Puritans infecting crime fiction. Cool It Down tells the story of what happened to Lester Banks, the protagonist of Down on the Street. Will Chelse Farmer get her revenge on the old pervert? You have to read and find out...


Next, there's L.A. STORIES, a project years in the making. It's a collection of three novellas that would have made great grindhouse movies in the late 70s and early 80s. My contribution, TEMPLE OF THE RAT, was originally my novella for DRIVE-IN FICTION, way back in 2012, when there was still some sense of civility in the indie scene. I ultimately decided it was too sick for a collection of drive-in novellas and worked on it over the years until I got the idea, back in 2017, to find two other writers familiar with Los Angeles to write companion novellas. The two other writers, Scotch Rutherford and Andrew Miller, have generated controversy themselves, making this just about the most appropriate inappropriate book to show up in 2022. Additionally, the book opens with an outstanding foreword by Rex Weiner. 

I'm very proud of TEMPLE OF THE RAT because it is not in any way biographical. I had to conjure these characters who are nothing like me and inhabit their shoes for the many years I worked on revising the piece. It freaked me out at times, but eventually, as with all characters I invent, I found ways to have empathy with them and that, of course, is the key to creating three-dimensional characters. It's a very, very sick story (the original title, in fact, was...Sick). I know some people don't like trigger warnings, but I think this is a case where readers should be warned. There are stomach-turning moments in the novella, and I don't want anyone who's used to the more refined way I normally tell a story (even about bad people and bad situations) to be shocked by how far I've gone in this novella.

Both books are currently available and I encourage anyone willing to read them and leave a review. If you don't like them, feel free to leave a critical review, just don't click one-star and leave it at that. Always let an author know what you think could be improved.

Thursday, September 16, 2021

So Much Things To Say!


If you've been asleep for a while, you're forgiven for missing the fact that my imprint, Uncle B. Publications, LLC, has been busy putting out books.

In addition to the latest, greatest Pulp Modern, Uncle B. released a Johnny Cash tribute called Now, There Was a Story!, featuring crime stories by Stephen J. Golds, Jackie Flaum, Don Stoll, Robert Petyo, C.W. Blackwell, and many others. The stories are all based on the covers Johnny Cash recorded for his landmark record, Now, There Was a Song!

In conjunction with David Cranmer and Beat to a Pulp Press, Uncle B. has released the first of two volumes collecting the complete adventures of the Drifter Detective. Jack Laramie, aka the Drifter Detective, roams the Texas landscape of the early 1950s doing freelance P.I. work. Volume One features novellas and novelettes by Garnett Elliott, Wayne D. Dundee, and me. Kevin Tipple provides the foreword.


Uncle B. is also publishing poetry books and the first up is legendary Verna Hampton's Sister FM Diva Poetry Inna Mi Yahd. Hampton's poetry is lively and timely and I'm thrilled we're helping her get her verse out to the world.

Cool It Down, the followup to Breaking Glass and Down on the Street, will be here within the next few weeks from ABC Group Documentation. For those of you patiently waiting to find out what happened to Lester Banks, here's a gift:




Behold, the cover art for Cool It Down...



Tuesday, May 25, 2021

Pulp Modern 2.7 Lineup and Mr. Cizak Appearances in the Wild


Choosing stories for the latest issue of Pulp Modern was more difficult than ever. The best writers, both independent and "established," are eager to see their work in the digest and there's only so much room. The decision to cut great stories has never been more painful. Here, however, is the lineup for the first of two issues celebrating Pulp Modern's 10th anniversary:

SARAH CANNAVO
C.J. DOTSON
STEPHEN J. GOLDS
EDWARD A. GRAINGER
KAREN HARRINGTON
TIA JA'NAE
ANDREW MILLER
NATHAN PETTIGREW
ANTHONY NEIL SMITH

The issue will also feature another article by Anthony Perconti. The usual cast and crew will be involved in putting the issue together, including art director Richard Krauss and illustrator Ran Scott.

As you wait for the new issue to arrive, feel free to read some of my work on the Internet and in print publications, including:

"Levels," a controversial flash fiction piece (that would not be controversial in a rational world) appears at Punk Noir.

"The Little Dizzies" appears in 4:20 Noir, a collection edited by J.Travis Grundon and produced by Richard Krauss for Uncle B. Publications, LLC.

"Cymbaline," a more traditional Alec Cizak crime fiction story, appears in the brand new magazine Guilty. Make sure you buy the book and give this new market some business.

At some point this year, my novel Cool It Down should be available. It picks up the story of Les Banks two years after the events of Down on the Street.

Finally, Uncle B. Publications, LLC, will begin a regular publication schedule in September. Look for a Johnny Cash-inspired anthology, a volume of Drifter Detective novellas, and a new line of poetry chapbooks.

This is it, folks. This is the revolution we've been aiming for since 2010, when I started All Due Respect and started this amazing journey.




Friday, January 29, 2021

PULP MODERN 2.6 Available!


The latest issue of Pulp Modern is now available.

Monday, December 28, 2020

Holiday Madness!


 In addition to finally choosing three correct point-spreads last week and winning back all the money I'd lost so far this football season, this last week has brought several new appearances by Mr. Cizak and/or his fiction.

A story of mine originally titled "Old 55" appears at a relatively new publication, NOVEL NOCTULE. The editors went to town on the story, making my clipped, obscure prose more articulate. They also changed the title of the story to "Civilized Folk." I appreciate the work they put into preparing the story for their publication, so I'm not going to argue with their decisions. They have a vision, they made the story coincide with that vision. The reader will be better off for it. I'm very impressed with this publication and I encourage readers to support it and writers to submit stories that are genre appropriate.


Speaking of editors, as editor of PULP MODERN, I was interviewed by the folks who put together the ALIEN BUDDHA ZINE. I discuss a lot of things. One thing I say in the interview might cause some controversy. I'm not going to go into it unless someone brings it up. Long story short, I should have articulated myself better. We'll see how it goes.

On the horizon is the next issue of Pulp Modern (look for it in early 2021) and my novel Cool It Down, which completes the unofficial trilogy started with Down on the Street and Breaking Glass.

Good way to end 2020 and start 2021. Let's hope 2021 is a better year for everyone!

Wednesday, August 5, 2020

C.W. Blackwell at Pulp Modern Flash

If you haven't already done so, please stop by Pulp Modern Flash and check out C.W.Blackwell's story, "Memories of Fire." If you dig it (and, I know you will), let C.W. know in the comments section. C.W. Blackwell is one of, if not the, top writers in the indie scene today. If anybody in New York has half a brain, they'll sign this guy real soon.

Thursday, July 30, 2020

PULP MODERN FLASH LAUNCH

With the end of summer comes the beginning of the next chapter in the online independent fiction movement. Here's your lineup of authors for August:

August 3 - C.W. Blackwell
August 10 - Tom Leins
August 17 - Ara Hone
August 24 - Gabriel Hart
August 31 - Michael Bracken

The year is almost booked, so get your flash fiction in ASAP. Keep in mind that we are looking to book all horror for the month of October, so stories in those genres go to the front of the line.