Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Feero, Bagley, Feral, and Me

A few weeks back, writer, editor, and all-around ass-kicker Lyman Feero hit me up to write a story for a new venture he had cookin' called The Feral Pages. Never one to turn down a submission invite, I said sure.

Problem was, I had nothing.

When I had four weeks to come up with something, it was no big deal. Three weeks left, and I was fine. At two weeks, I began to sweat. When this weekend rolled around, and I realized I only had four days to get my ass in gear, I started thinking maybe I wasn't gonna come through. Skipping deadlines, even deadlines set by friends, is the height of writerly bad form, and I didn't much relish the thought of missing this one, but every story I sketched out sucked, and the ones I'd started never seemed to cross the finish line. My head was too full of book-thoughts; short stories just wouldn't come.

So yeah, I got nervous. I tossed. I turned. And somewhere along the way, I got to wondering what that scratching in my walls was all about.

The result of that wondering is a short story called A Better Life. I started it on Saturday, and finished it today, the day that it was due, in the wee hours of the morning. Not bad for 2,500 words and five freakin' drafts. And actually, I quite like it. Lyman seems to, as well, because it's gonna appear in The Feral Pages premiere issue, set to go live sometime in October (details and links to follow).

So that covers the Feero, Feral, and Me, but what about the Bagley? Easy -- Patrick's also got a story in The Feral Pages, and I was lucky enough to get a peek at it. You know what? The bastard blows me out of the water. The Cove is all I've come to expect from him and then some; an inimitable voice, stunning characterization, and an ending that's pure poetry. This guy writes Maine like Ardai writes New York. If you're not reading him, you don't know what you're missing.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Call for Submissions (Talk Like a Pirate Day Edition)

Avast, ye mangy scallywags! There's somethin' comin' up on the horizon! 'Tis the first ever print edition of Beat to a Pulp, it is! An' it seems they're in need of rum an' women (er... war stories, sea yarns, and cozy mysteries.) Of course, my readin' of cozies is why me mates cut off me leg -- so it's up to you to give 'em what they want!

Here's the good word from the the Dread Pirate Cranmer hisself:

Spread the word, please! There will be only a few openings, but the first print anthology for BEAT to a PULP is in the works. To round out our usual, diverse array of pulp genres, we are actively seeking war stories, sea yarns and cozy mysteries. 4,000 words or less. The BEAT to a PULP print collection will be released in 2010.

Need more details? Find 'em here. Now get writin', or risk a keel-haulin'!

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Depp, Powers, and Pirates?

A few years back, upon the release of Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest, I wrote a post lauding one of the best and most unsung pirate stories of all time, Tim Powers' On Stranger Tides.

Yesterday, Disney announced that the title of the new Pirates flick is Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides, fueling speculation that Powers' book will be the basis for the story.

Honestly, I'm not sure what to make of this. Verbinski et al. have proven they've got the chops to make a kick-ass pirate movie (some would argue only one, but still), and On Stranger Tides may be the most cinematic of Powers' works. On a personal note, though, I freakin' love this book, so it'll hurt if they go and screw it up. (An aside: despite what I think was a valiant effort on the part of Zack Snyder, I didn't last ten minutes into Watchmen. For me, a great read isn't necessarily begging to be movie-ized; a great read stands on its own, and sometimes, frankly, shouldn't be mucked with.)

Of course, all of this is still in the fanboy rumor stage. But if it proves to be true, one of my favorite authors should be cashing a fat check, signed by the mouse himself -- and even if the movie sucks, it'll likely boost his book sales. Those seem to me to be good things. And fingers crossed the movie doesn't suck, in which case everybody wins.

(Aside #2: On Stranger Tides was also an inspiration -- along with the original Pirates of the Caribbean ride -- for the fantastic Monkey Island series of video games. So who knows? Maybe P4:OST will rock. Though I'd recommend against abbreviating it in the promo materials; it just plain looks weird.)

Friday, September 04, 2009

"Papa," or "Why I Write Crime"

Photo courtesy Stephanie MacDerment

The other day, I was poking around my cousin Steph's blog, and came across the picture posted above. She'd taken it at the Syracuse PD tent at the New York State Fair. Seeing it rocked me back, because the scrawny young man receiving his Police Academy diploma is my grandfather.

My grandfather (Papa, to us grandkids, because nobody, but nobody, called him Grandpa) was a great many things. A decent man. A stern disciplinarian. A fierce competitor. A consummate storyteller.

But most of all, my Papa was a cop.

A damn good one, by all accounts. Papa rose through the ranks of the Syracuse PD from beat cop all the way to Deputy Chief, and despite everything he'd seen along the way, the man still never locked his doors at night. "If they want to get in, they'll get in," he'd say. "No point having them break a window to do it." This from a man who thought if it couldn't be fixed with a hammer and a flat-head screwdriver, it couldn't be fixed.

I remember clear as day the joy of riding with him in his tobacco-scented Caddy (he always said when he made it, he was gonna get a Cadillac, and even though that piece of junk wound up going through engines like it went through gas, he loved it just the same) on his weekend rounds, my feet not even touching the floor mats. To the newsstand, for a Batman comic (mine) and a Sunday paper (his). To the bakery, where we'd pick up doughnuts for the family to nosh on after Sunday dinner (that's right -- the man was thin as a rail, but I'll be damned if he didn't love his doughnuts, and don't you even think of cracking a joke). And to the Public Safety Building, where every cop in the place would stop and say hello like I was some kind of VIP. (Yeah, okay, my cousin Joey was usually there too, but if he wants to tell his side, he can get his own damn blog.)

I remember, a few years later, me and Joey heading to the basement of the PSB with one of Papa's friends -- for what, exactly, we didn't know, because all Papa'd say was that it was a surprise. See, like most young boys, we'd developed a fascination with firearms, in that harmless, cops-and-robbers kind of way. Common enough, I know (even if my liberal leanings may retroactively make that sound a little scandalous). What's less common is getting to go to the official police firing range with a member of the SWAT team to learn to shoot one (or five or six, as was the case that day.) But that was Papa. Tough as he could be, the man was a marshmallow when it came to his grandchildren.

I remember Papa whisking me, Joey, Steph, and Sarah to Friendly's for ice cream ("For God's sake, don't tell your grandmother.") The post-Sunday-dinner candy lottery, where the names of all the grandkids (and mine is a Catholic family, mind, so there's a lot of freakin' grandkids) are put into a hat, and the order in which they're drawn dictates when you get to pick from the candy bowl (winner=Caramello; loser=Necco Wafers.) Waiting for Papa to get up off his spot on the couch, so that we kids could pile on and wait for him to come back and forcibly remove us (and if you don't think tickling can be forcible, then you haven't ever really experienced tickling, says I.)

I've got a thousand stories like that about my grandfather, sweet remembrances of kindnesses big and small, but there is nothing he passed on to me that I treasure more than my love of books. The man went through mysteries like he went through cigarettes (he could kill a smoke in three good drags), and when he finished them (the books, that is), he passed them on for the rest of the family to read. They'd circulate from house to house like holy relics, each read leaving them more dog-eared and broken-spined than the last, until, finally, they found their way to me.

I couldn't have been more than ten when I traded up from my Holmes and Christie and Hardy Boys to Papa's MacDonald, Sanders, Wambaugh, and McBain, and believe you me, it was a revelation. Their books were filled with men who smoked and cussed and fought and loved and never failed to crack a joke, men who lived in the darkness and the muck, but who were never of it. Men that, to my young mind, looked an awful lot like Papa.

It's taken me a long time to realize just why the archetypes of crime fiction are so resonant for me. Papa died ten years ago this summer, cancer withering in mere months a man that I had thought was cut from stone. But looking back, I'd say the origin of my passion for writing crime is pretty clear.

Okay, I've probably got my mom crying pretty good now, so I think it's time to close this down. And since no words of mine could do so eloquently enough, I leave you with this quote from Raymond Chandler, taken from his landmark essay, The Simple Art of Murder. I don't know if Papa ever read any Chandler, but I have a feeling he'da liked him if he did:

"[D]own these mean streets a man must go who is not himself mean, who is neither tarnished nor afraid. The detective in this kind of story must be such a man. He is the hero, he is everything. He must be a complete man and a common man and yet an unusual man. He must be, to use a rather weathered phrase, a man of honor, by instinct, by inevitability, without thought of it, and certainly without saying it. He must be the best man in his world and a good enough man for any world. [...] If there were enough like him, I think the world would be a very safe place to live in, and yet not too dull to be worth living in."

Tuesday, September 01, 2009

And now for something completely different (non-zombie edition).

Okay, this post isn't, strictly speaking, about writing (nor zombies, as my last "And now for something..." proved to be). But I hadn't properly put pen to paper for years before putting down roots in Portland, so every once and a while, I like to celebrate what makes my little burg so damn inspiring. Sometimes, it's zombies. Sometimes, killer book-signings.

But today, it's all about the food. That's right, baby -- Portland, Maine, the first, best Portland in all the land, has been named Bon Appetit's 2009 Foodiest Small Town of the Year, for both quality of food and drink. And how could they not? Miyake. The Bear. Geary's Hampshire Special. Hugo's, home to James Beard Award-winning chef Rob Evans. Haggarty's. One of the ten best French restaurants in America. Two Lights. More fresh seafood that you could shake a lobster buoy at. 555. And mmm, Gritty's Halloween Ale.

A hat-tip to the fantastic Portland Food Map for getting the scoop. Oh, and note to self: get famous enough so that you get free stuff for mentioning purveyors of tasty, tasty food on your blog...