Saturday, December 29, 2012

Five books I loved in 2012

I don't know when these books were published, I only know that I read them in 2012 and each book, in its own way, took over my life for a little while (the way all good books should).  Here's the list in no particular order with links so you can order them!

Dare Me- Megan Abbott
Cheerleading goes noir.  A beautifully written novel.  I'm always in awe of how Abbot gets into secret worlds, in this case it's the secret world of cheerleaders and teenage girls.

Volt- Alan Heathcock
For some reason, I didn't read many collections this year.  I suppose it was because I was working on a novel, but this one by Heathcock reminded me why I love collections so much.  This guy can write, and though the stories are typically dark and gritty, there is an underlying grace that I really admired.   Well worth checking out.  

The Next Time You See Me- Holly Goddard Jones

A gorgeous novel that switches viewpoints between characters that enthrall and disturb in equal measure.  I loved the middle school angle (I teach middle school), and this novel solidifies HGJ's status as one of my favorite writers.

A Monster Calls- Patrick Ness
I'm a sucker for novels that blend reality and fantasy so smoothly.  Also, I think Ness nailed the teenage angst and confusion when dealing with a sick parent.  A fast, touching read.  Really excellent art, too.

The Devil All the Time- Donald Ray Pollack

A dark, dark midwestern gothic about the wages of violence.  Hell, I'd even classify it as straight up horror.  This book isn't for everyone, but if you like McCarthy, Gay, Franklin, etc., you will devour this one.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

The Next Big Thing or A Day Late and a Tag Short

Apologies to Bracken MacLeod (who so kindly tagged me in this blog tour) for dropping the ball and coming in late with my post.  I'm also going to be one person short, as I only managed to wrangle four of the five people required.

So, rather than waste anymore time, I'll get started.

1. What is the title of your book?
The Year of the Storm.

2. Where did the idea come from for the book?

It came from two places. First, that place inside of me that wonders about missing people. What about the ones who are never found? Where do they go? Letting my imagination run wild with that led to the book. The other place the book came from was a painting. It was passed down to me after my grandmother died, and according to the story my aunt told me, the artist was one of my grandmother’s sisters. My aunt described her as different. Quiet, withdrawn. She wrote poetry and painted. Never married. The painting itself reflects this kind of quiet solitude. It’s just a little cabin in the woods at dusk. There’s a lake nearby. A single light burns inside. I put it aside but never stopped thinking about it. Somehow, it merged with my curiosity about missing people, and I had the seeds of the book. If I say much more, I’ll risk giving stuff away, so… next question.

3. What genre does your book fall under?

Southern Gothic. Is that a genre? If not, I’ll say literary horror.

4. Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition?

Well, the main character is fourteen, and I don’t know the name of a single actor that age, but the secondary character, Walter Pike, is a quick-tempered Vietnam vet, and I think Robert Duvall would be perfect for him.

5. What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?

That’s tough. How about...

Boy tries to find his mother and Autistic sister who have disappeared in the Alabama woods.

6. Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?

I’m represented by Beth Fleisher of Clearsailing Creatives. She’s great! And THE YEAR OF THE STORM comes out in June 2013 from Berkley/ Penguin. You can preorder it here for a very discounted price.

7. How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript?

First draft probably took about eight months. The other drafts took about two years.

8. What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?

That’s tough. Beverly Bambury was kind of enough to read this for me when it was in the final editing stages and she compared it to Boy's Life by Robert McCammon (which I love) and The Thief of Time by Clive Barker (which I’ve never read).

9. Who or What inspired you to write this book?

See answer #2

10. What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest?

Well, as you might expect from a book titled THE YEAR OF THE STORM, there’s a lot of bad weather in there. And ghosts. Murder too. Oh, why don’t I just say it? There’s something for everyone.

I've tagged four others that will posting on their respective blogs sometime next week.  First up is the inimitable Sam W. Anderson.  I've known Sam since 2006, and not only is he a phenomenally talented writer, he's also one of the true nice guys in the business.  Do check out his Money Run stories here.

Next is Usman Tanveer Malik.  I met Usman at the Horror Library on Zoetrope.  He's been extraordinarily supportive of my writing, and I hope to be able to return the favor to him one day. He doesn't have a lot out there right now, but I have a feeling that's going to change soon.

Speaking of supportive, I've also tagged Erik Smetana.  Many of you probably know Erik as the editor of the sports infused journal, Stymie, but Erik is also a very talented writer in his own right.  I'm looking forward to seeing what he's working on next week.

Finally, I'd like to introduce Danny Evarts.  He's not a writer.  He's an artist.  And a damn good one too.  I know because Danny did the interiors for my collection, Shoebox Train Wreck, and if you've seen the book, you've seen how amazing they are.  Like all the others I've tagged, Danny is one of the good guys, and I'd love to work with him again.

Well, that's it.  Go ahead and check out the other blogs and be on the look out for their posts on Dec. 12.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012


Slip is no more.  Well, the book still exists, but the name is history.  The new title is The Year of the Storm.  I think this is a better fit and will work better with expected cover art, not to mention that it's more evocative than Slip.  It was tough to let go at first, but now I'm completely sold on the new title.  Just need to get used to referring to it as The Year of the Storm.

Another change is the release date.  Instead of the fall of 2013, the book will be out in June of 2013.  Very excited about this as well.  Less than one year!

More later.

Saturday, June 16, 2012

I Officially Have Something to Post About

I don't update this blog much.  Mostly because I'm pretty boring.  I teach.  I write.  I read.  I do the family thing.  I check email for good news from my agent.  That's pretty much it.  That and fail miserably at trying to promote my fledgling writing career.

Then one afternoon, my humdrum existence was interrupted when I innocently checked my email and found one from my agent (the talented Beth Fleisher).  It said that an editor from Penguin wanted to talk to me on the phone about possibly revising Slip (that's my Southern Gothic, murder mystery, coming of age story set in rural Alabama).  I immediately emailed Beth back and said I might possibly be able to make some time to discuss Slip with an editor from Penguin (actually I said, ARE YOU EFFING KIDDING ME? OF COURSE I'LL TALK TO HER).

From there, things got crazy.  The editor, Amanda Ng (smart editor that she is) said the book needed to be pushed a little bit in a certain direction (I'm not telling what direction), and I agreed.  So, I immediately spent the next two weeks pushing.  Pushing very hard.  I pushed and I pushed and I pushed some more until I had a much better book.  I sent it back in, and five days later my agent texted me and said we had an offer.  Who said publishing was slow?

Did I mention the offer was from Penguin?  I'm still reeling a little from it all.

Details?  I'm glad you asked.  Trade paperback and e-versions, due out in the fall of 2013 from Penguin/ Berkley.

That's all I know for now.

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Free Story

Here's a free one from my collection, Shoebox Train Wreck.  If you enjoy it, please consider picking up a copy.  Links to buy are here.

Originally published at Thuglit.


Doug settles back down on the couch with a fresh beer, as Martin starts another porn flick. Doug doesnt say anything, opting to drink his beer in silence while Martin adjusts the volume. A girl saunters onscreen, her silicone implants rigid, her shorts so tight they might as well be painted on.
            The sex starts without preliminaries. Its cruel and mean and soulless. Doug focuses on the trees outside Martins trailer, and thinks today might be the day to leave.
Two weeks ago, Doug was fired from his job at the Honda plant because the shift foreman smelled alcohol on his breath one time too many. When his wife found out, she told him not to bother coming home until he had another job. Hes been with Martin ever since.
He looks over at Martin, high as the cow jumping over the moon, grinning stupidly at the television. Martin, whom Doug has known since grade school, lost his job three years ago and just look at hima sack of shit, true, but a happy sack of shit. He lays around most of the day, taking hits of crank, then doing something asinine like shooting a hole in the side of his trailer or running laps around his above-ground pool. Sometimes, after a few hits, he just sits and picks at his toenails for hours, mutilating them until they look like tiny, bloody faces, leering back at him. Once he got scared and tried to cut them off, but Doug managed to talk him down. Mostly, though, Martin just sits on the couch, watching porn, raving about some whore hes done or wants to do, waiting for the doorbell to ring. The doorbell rings, he gets up and answers it. Trades little homemade baggies for government-issued green. Saturday nights, he might shower, go to a bar, pick-up a twenty-three-year-old in high heels and a mini skirt looking for some free crank.
Doug and Martin have an agreement. Doug can stay indefinitely as long as he is willing to help out when some fellow named Snakeskin shows up. Doug isnt even sure if Snakeskin is a real person or just another one of Martins drug-induced delusions.
            Snakeskins going to be by one of these days, and when he comes, hes coming to kill me,Martin told Doug a week into his stay.Thats when youll earn your keep, Dougie. Youll know its him by the sound of his truck. Its geared low, so youll feel it in your gut.
            Unable to deal with more porn, Doug leaves Martin alone and escapes through the back door to light a cigarette on the tossed-together deck. The air out here smells good. Another downside of living with Martin: his trailer smells like chemicals and stale beer. Not that the happy bastard ever notices. Doug glances back over his shoulder and is grateful for Martins darkened windows. Sheathed in black trash bags, the windows remind him of something. Today is Halloween. He thinks about his daughter, Maci. Is she old enough to go trick or treating? Probably not, maybe next year.
He stands, watching the afternoon sky. Theres a good breeze, but its cold, too cold for late October in Alabama. Winters coming and its going to be a  bitch. Especially without a place to stay or a job. He tries to convince himself that he can find work again. Tries to believe he can patch things up at home. Tries to imagine how next Halloween will be: Maci waiting for him to come home from work. Shell be standing in the driveway dressed as Tinkerbell or some princess. He likes this image. He wants to go back home.
As he starts back inside for a beer, he stops, frozen by a loud rumbling out on the road. He waits, hoping it will pass. When it doesnt, he feels torn between going back inside or taking off for the woods where his truck is parked.
The trailer shakes as the truck eases up the gravel drive.
            Doug. Hey Dougie boy,comes Martins voice from inside.Its show time.
            He could run up through the woods and be at his house in no time. He could convince his wife to take him back. He could help Maci make a costume and together they could go trick or treating.
Where would they go?
He laughs at the prospect of coming to Martins door. What would he put in Macis bag? A joint? Its not funny, though he has to laugh anyway.
            And just before Martin swings the door open, Doug feels it. A burning inside of him to get the hell away from Martin. Back in school, Doug always managed to get wrapped up in Martins stupid schemes. The door is open. Martin stands at the threshold.
Shake your thang, man. Its time.
Doug hesitates, maybe even steps away from Martin.
Martins smile vanishes.You arent thinking about bolting, are you?
Doug doesnt speak, his eyes down.
Hey, theres nothing to it. I need your help, Doug. Just like you needed mine.
            Doug steps back inside.

Take this gun,Martin says, opening a drawer that contains several dirty needles, a pair of womens underwear, and the biggest handgun Doug has ever seen.Go to the lab and—”
            Lab? I—”
            Martin holds his hand up.The fucking closet.He motions to a door with the gun.Flip the vent up so you can see. If Snakeskin makes a move, shoot him right between the fucking eyes.He holds out the gun.
            Doug looks at it but nothing else.
            You think Im fucking with you, Doug?Martin shoves him hard in the chest.You think Ive just been letting you lay on my couch and drink my beer for free? Take the gun. Now.
            Doug hears someone outside fiddling with the gate. A coldness grips him, and all of the beer he drank today feels like its in his bladder. He reaches for the gun.
            Doug doesnt know guns. The one in his hand is so heavy, the barrel so thick, he is sure it can destroy a man, obliterate him, change his face to pulp, from something thats recognizable to something that isnt.
            Thelabis dark and smells like ammonia. He finds and opens the vent enough to see out into the room where Martin is taking a final hit before facing Snakeskin.
            Doug doesnt want to shoot anyone, but the second Martin opens the door and Snakeskin walks in, he knows that he may not have a choice.
            He wonders sometimes if he has ever really had a choice. Martin reminds him of better times, and better times is all hes got. He wishes he could forget Martin completely, but he feels powerless to do so. His life seems like a series of inevitabilities, like he is rolling down a hill, continually picking up speed. One of these days, he knows that the bottom will come and when it does, all those inevitabilities will crush him.
            From the open vent, Doug watches Snakeskin come in. He is a small man, but muscular. His complexion is dark, as if he has spent many days in the sun. His dress is minimala white tee, blue jeans that fit tight around a trim waist, a pair of shit kickers that look at least a size too big. Doug unconsciously raises the gun to the open slat.
            There are hundreds of men just like Snakeskin all over the county. He looks not unlike Doug himself, perhaps a little more muscular, his clothes a little tighter. The real difference is in the eyes. They look wild. Reckless. Doug knows those eyes. They belong to men who have stopped caring a long, long time ago.
            Snakeskin exudes a confidence that sets Doug on edge, and he grips the big gun a little more tightly, lifting it closer to the open slat.
            Behind Snakeskin comes a tall razor blade of a man. Hes younger than Snakeskin, but only his flesh shows it. His eyes look tired, so lazy that they are intense, so unconcerned that they are hard.
            Snakeskin asks Martin how hes been doing.
Martin, nervous, jumpy Martin, manages to say,Lifes good, man. Whos your friend?
            Snakeskin frowns at the floor. Then thrusts a thumb at the tall man.This is Rodney. Rodney, this is Martin.He looks at Martin eye to eye and adds,The one I told you about.
            Rodney barely glances at Martin and says,The one that sells good shit or the other one you were telling me about?
            Snakeskin says,The other one, man. The other one.
            What I thought,Rodney says.
Martin glances quickly at the closet door and says,Fellas, Im just trying to run a lab here. If it aint about crank, you probably got the wrong guy.
            Oh, I think we got the right guy.Snakeskin pulls a switchblade from his back pocket. He nods at Rodney.Go get her.
            Rodney bobs his head as if to some unheard music and says,Hell yeah.
            An awkward moment passes as Snakeskin keeps his eyes trained on Martin, and Martin shakes and fidgets like he needs a hit of something bad.
            Rodney returns with a young girl, maybe seventeen. She walks in front of him, and he stares at her ass, barely covered by a pair of tight cut-offs. Prime jailbait, the type of girl whos been living a life unfit for any age, much less seventeen, the type of girl who wears her sadness underneath hard looks and snarled lips. She doesnt meet Martins eyes, and Doug knows why Snakeskin is here.
            Martin, you know Emily?
            Martin shrugs.I think Ive seen her around.
            Seen her around.Snakeskin nods slowly.Seen her around.
He makes like he is about to stroke his chin in a thoughtful manner with the hand that does not hold the switchblade. The blade is still unexposed, and he is twirling it between his fingers as if this might just be a nervous habit, nothing more. Then suddenly and with great force he thrusts the palm of his free hand out, catching Martin hard in the nose. Martins head snaps back. He shakes it once and thick streams of blood pour from his nostrils.
            The switchblade is open and at his throat.You seen her around, huh? If by seeing her around you mean sticking your dick in her, then yeah, I suppose youve seen her around.
            No,Martin says. Hes crying.No, I aint never fucked her, Snakeskin.
            Oh, am I mistaken? Let me check my source.He turns to Emily.You and this fella ever do anything?
            Emily looks at Martin then.Well, yeah,she says.A couple of times. It was a trade. He gave me what I wanted. I done told you all this before, Snake.
            Yeah, but I needed to hear it again, baby.He looks at Martin.You knew me and Emily had a thing going right?
Martin doesnt respond.
Answer me!
Martin shrugs.She offered.
You should have said no,Snakeskin says and grins. A boyish grin. It makes him look younger, maybe less dangerous. This is only an illusion, a trick.Im not into sharing her. You think I get off on her being with another man?
Im telling you, it was a fair trade. I didnt make the offer. She did. I didnt know you two had a thing. How could I have known that, man?
Snakeskin turns to Rodney.You believe this shit? First he didnt fuck her. Now he fucked her but it was just a fair trade. Whats next? He going to ask me for a refund?
            While Snakeskins eyes are on Rodney, Martin looks in Dougs direction. He nods his head quickly as if to say, now or never.
            Doug already knows this, yet he feels no real obligation to Martin. He doesnt even like him. Maybe he did once. A long time ago, when they were young. When the world was different. Somehow, Martin reminds Doug of that place, that youth, that happier time. Yet, he still considers briefly just letting Martin get what is coming to him. If he could get away with it, he might, though he realizes that the situation is more complicated than that. Snakeskin will likely cut Martin. In which case, Martin will scream for Doug to shoot them. In which case, they will come for Doug too.
            So, it really is now or never. Martin glances nervously over at Doug again, his lip trembling.
Snakeskin says to Martin,Rodney, we got us a little weasel here. A lying weasel. Know what that means?
Rodney shrugs and scratches his ass.
Means Im going to have to cut—”
            The sound is deafening, the recoil sudden and harsh and for an instant Doug thinks that the gun has misfired and he has been the one shot instead of Snakeskin. He sees Snakeskins body jerk back, sees the blossom of blood soak through the white t-shirt, and Doug knows that the bullet has hit its target. Its like somebody presses a slow motion button. Snakeskin grimaces and lurches, tries to find where the shot came from. Doug feels like vomiting, but grips the gun tighter and squeezes off two more shots. One sails over Rodneys head. The next one collides with his mouth. For a second Rodney twists his face up as if he has only swallowed a bitter pill instead of a bullet. His mouth begins to leak blood. He falls down hard. Doug drops the gun, doubles over, and pukes on the floor.
            Emily is screaming.
            The next thing Doug knows, Martin is standing over him, ordering him to get up andshoot the bitch.Doug shakes his head and throws up again between his knees.
            Martin reaches into the puke, retrieves the gun. Doug hears the front door bang shut behind him. There is another blast from the gun.
Doug pulls himself up, wiping off his knees and hands.
Martin comes back in and tosses the gun on the couch. He pumps his fist in the air a few times and fumbles inside a chest of drawers for his stash of crank. He does a line, inhaling hard and shadowboxes the air, shuffling his feet, bobbing and weaving like some hick parody of Cassius Clay.
We got to clean up this mess and hide the bodies!He shouts and does a little two-step around the den.But hell yeah, Martin lives on! Dougie saves the day!
            Martin does his little jig, flailing around like a man who has just won the lottery. His face is flushed, splashed with tiny beads of blood and sweat; his nose is swollen from where Snakeskin hit him, and its still bleeding, staining his smile red. Doug sees the gun on the couch, blood and vomit around the trigger. Its time to act.
            He has it before Martin even stops dancing. He aims it at Martins head and waits.
            It didnt have to end like this. There were places, bumps along the journey where he could have jumped off the Martin train. He simply chose not to because the ground looked too hard and rocky and the ride was just too much damn fun. So he had held on for this.
            The gun is warm in his hand, his pulse like thunder.
            This could work. The bodies, the drugs. He could put the gun in Martins hand. He could be home in fifteen minutes, maybe less, leaving this part of his life forever. He could start over.
            Martin still has not noticed Doug or the gun. He is jiving to some soundtrack in his head, oblivious to everything except Martin.
            Hey, Martin?Doug says.
            The soundtrack ends. Martin shimmies to a stop. He turns, sees Doug, sees the gun, makes a face like he cant believe Doug is pointing a gun at his head. Then he scoffs, making some half-assed noise in his throat, making it sound like he thinks its funny Doug is pointing a gun at him.
            Stop playing, Dougie. We got some work to do.
            You shouldnt have gotten me mixed up in this, Martin. This wasnt any of my business.
            You got your ownself mixed up, Dougie. I didnt pull the trigger. You did that, man.
            Its true, what Martin says, and somewhere below all of Dougs anger and his shock, he realizes that the best thing to do would be to put the gun down and leave. But Dougs best is already behind him. He has reached survival mode. Here there can be no black and white, no right or wrong, just shades of gray, melting together to form something he can barely recognize.
            There is only one way out now.
            Doug pulls the trigger. The bullet hits Martin in the chest and he woofs loudly. Martin staggers and then collapses. Doug goes over and watches him gurgle and spit blood. Martin wants to say something, but there will be no more words from Martin. Doug aims again, this time at Martins forehead. He fires once and then twice, ripping chunks of flesh from bone, obliterating his friends face.
            He drops to one knee and carefully pries Martins fingers open. He almost puts the gun in Martins hand before realizing there is a better solution. Wiping it clean of blood and puke, he slips it inside the waistband of his jeans. On the way home, he will toss it into the river.
            He leaves Martins trailer. The wind has picked up, howling through the bare trees, banging the back door of Martins trailer. He steps over Emily, feeling sorry for her. Shes just one more piece of debris caught in the windstorm hes been plunging headfirst into his whole life.
            Out by the road, someone has thrown a pumpkin from their car, and Doug starts toward it, thinking Maci might like to have a Jack-O-Lantern to put on their doorstep. As he gets closer, Doug sees that the pumpkins been smashed, and the orange pulp lay in glistening strings against the blacktop. Its gone rotten and stinks. Doug turns away and circles the trailer, beginning the walk into the woods where he has parked his truck, hidden away from a world where things so often go to ruin.