Checking In During the Hahapocalypse / Mystery Writing Class

m1-copyI know. it’s been a while. But it’s a been a rough stretch. One, we have the election, and despite my desire to not discuss politics, I’m finding it harder and harder not to get sucked into the vortex of Internet comments. Even trains don’t wreck this spectacularly.

m2-copyI wonder if it’s always been like this and I just didn’t see it. We tend to bubble. I bubble. More and more, when I see the crazy racist ALL CAPS in my feed, I stop following. (I have angina and an anxiety condition; it ain’t helping.) I wax and wane, but mostly wane, feeling like I should fight back somehow, lend my authorial voice to the cause. I’m just not sure of the cause. Other than preventing the apocalypse, or to borrow a phrase from my good friend Jason Carlson, the Hahapoalypse, which is very much already upon us. Frankly I am not sure I am going to make it to November with my sanity (or what’s left of it) in tact. Part of me wants to go out in a brilliant blaze. The other part, well, makes me want to shut off the world until it’s over. Which depending on election outcomes might be just a couple months. I guess I can hang on.

*

So I’ve been doing stuff. Just finished a couple novels, including the new Jay Porter, Give Up the Dead, which I think is the best yet. I know an author is supposed to say that with every book. Especially in a series, but I really believe it true this time. The best part of a series (also potentially the most hazardous) is you slip into that skin again so easily. In the case of Jay, an anxious alcoholic suffering PTSD, that can be uncomfortable. But it certainly lends verisimilitude and ethos in the character (thank you, grad school).

 

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14379613_978860382223264_2091712943683065937_oThe other novel I wrapped up, The Girl Who Got Away (I know.  Another “girl” title. It will be changed, which sucks because that really should be the title) was equally draining but for different reasons. But who the fuck wants to hear about the writing process, a topic as wholly unoriginal and uninteresting as politics?

14368769_10154063144622737_5249223622294603932_nBack to Jay. With the series, even as you are wrapping up one book and planning the next (the untitled 4th Jay Porter is out June 2018), you still have to promote the most recent. In this case, December Boys, which has been selling awesome. We’ve hit #1 a couple times over at the Amazon with various promotions. So thank you all for that. But the less sexy part is . . . touring.

It is well known there are two things I hate to do: put on pants, and leave the house. And going on a book tour, unfortunately, involves both.

This time I was away from my wife and kids for 10 days, and I know that doesn’t sound like some crazy amount of time. But add in the having to wear pants, and it was hell. It’s funny. Mornings like today, where I wake up and am bombarded with whining, shit in all its various forms (cat, dog, dirty diaper)–both boys are getting over colds–my back hurts, grumble, grumble–I would kill for a moment of silence. Then the silence comes, and a moment later I miss the chaos. It ain’t not sin to be glad you’ve alive. Or admit you need your family.

14369885_10154050024217737_3892815586397023349_nThe you started in Boston and a Noir at the Bar (put together by Chris Irivn), highlighted by my best TV appearance yet, and culminating with a reading at my hometown library in CT before me and my tattoos jetted down to New Orleans for the always-awesome Bouchercon. I won’t list and link the name of every supporter, friend and fan, who came out, because I just did that in the Acknowledgments section for Give Up the Dead (my publisher said the Acknowledgments were so long this time they have to go in the back of the book!), but I love all these people, the BHS Class of 1988, and this mystery-writing community. But fucking tours are fucking draining, and by the end I was coasting on fumes, analyzing every interaction, reflecting on social graces like a never-ending hall of mirrors casting me in a light most unflattering.

The Motley BHS Class of '88
The Motley BHS Class of ’88

Anyway, that’s where I’ve been. And up next: editing and teaching. The first involves the new Johnny Cash anthology I am helming for Gutter, Just to Watch Him Die, as well as a co-editing gig with David James Keaton, Hard Sentences, an Alcatraz-based anthology coming out with Broken River. The second, and sorta the point of this post, I will again be teaching a mystery-writing course over at LitReactor.

Writing, editing, and teaching are, at least for me, a three-headed monster (a delightful, delightful monster). I can’t do one well without working at the others. Given the demands of life (and desire not to wear pants), online course work out great for me. I am way more impressive digitally. Online I don’t panic or fret about fucking up an introduction to a writer I deeply respect. I can edit my thoughts and words. I am sure many writers, anti-social by nature, feel the same way. This format allows me to put my best foot forward. The last class was a blast, as evidenced my several students signing up this time around. There are still a few slots left (I think). The class starts next Tuesday, October 4th. If you’ve want to learn how to write a mystery, we go into great detail, not only about plotting and process, but also how to get agents and editors to look at your work. And compared to most courses, it’s pretty damn affordable. LitReactor is one of the best tools for writers out there. Wonderful community and resource. Hope to e-see you there!

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Release Day & Book Deals & News

December Boys high-res copyI am always wary of plastering social media with too much stuff.

I have A LOT of stuff to plaster. So I figure I’ll plaster it all in one jam-packed, chock-ful blog post.

First, today is RELEASE DAY!

Though December Boys was made available early by the fine folks over at Amazon (it all counts toward the week 1 push for bestseller lists), today, June 7, is the actual release day. Though I’d love for y’all to buy the pretty hardcover edition, the e-book is for a very limited time just .99. The reason my publisher and Amazon did this is simple: the more first week sales, the better my chances of making that coveted bestseller list. So please, buy, share, tell your mom about it (if she is, y’know, cool and hip and likes her mysteries like I like my chocolate, semi-dark and bittersweet. That’s not true I like milk chocolate. Fuck dark chocolate. Dark chocolate tastes like a broken promise).

13246122_503936559803455_940881873_nSpeaking of deals … The fine folks over at Amazon have also made Book One in the Jay Porter Thriller series, Lamentation, a Kindle Monthly Deal, meaning for the rest of June that book too will be just … .99.

And sorta burying the lead on this one … but Oceanview is buying TWO MORE JAY PORTER NOVELS. Which for those of you keeping score at home brings us up to FIVE books in the series. Meaning you can expect a new novel a year until 2019 (holy fuck am I old).

And last I will be launching December Boys with a few readings in the Bay Area in the next couple weeks, starting with Why There Are Words this Thursday, June 9, followed the next night with an In Conversation with David Corbett (Friday, June 10), and capped off a week after that with the formal launch at Pegasus Books (Friday, June 17), where one lucky winner will win a chance to poke Rob Pierce with a stick.

13227871_503866013143843_24893243_nI think that’s it. For now. I’ll be doing a tour of the East Coast, culminating with a trip to New Orleans in September. And there’s the Beast Crawl and Litquake and regular Lip Service West stuff. Also I’m wrapping up Mike Creeden’s All Your Lies Came True for Gutter, and hoping to start tackling the long-alluded to Cash anthology.

And now here is Micah Schanbel of Two Cow Garage singing “Jackson, Don’t You Worry,” the title track from December Boys. Every book of mine gets a soundtrack, and Micah’s song provided a particularly poignant one this time. (And he graciously allowed us to reprint the lyrics.)

 

December Boys Release

December Boys high-res copyThe December Boys‘ release date is technically June 7, but, like when my buddy Rich and I attended Knebworth in 1990, looks like someone opened the gate early (2nd row center sounds great but 12 hours and one perforated bladder later … actually it was pretty great). Amazon has started making the hardcopy available. Kindle, you still have to wait for June 7. Barnes and Noble too. But for those of you champing at the bit (or chomping at the bit, if you are Will Viharo), here you go.

Also gearing up for the release, my lovely wife Justine is giving away copies over at her The Book Contest, a new business enterprise she’s started giving away, well, books. Doesn’t cost you anything to enter, and she’ll soon be extending the service to other authors. I don’t know how she’s making money giving away books, but she has the MBA (I can’t make my joke about her being a closet Republican or she’ll get mad), so it must work out somehow. In the meantime, you win a chance at a free book!

lamatations_featuredAnd, last, in related news, Oceanview has made Lamentation available for Kindle at the low, low price of .99. Since it’s the first in the Jay Porter series, probably a good place to start if you are planning on reading December Boys (though not necessary; DB was written to work as a standalone too), might want to take advantage, since it usually costs like $14 (and to all of you who paid the $14 for Kindle and are now pissed that it’s $13 less: 1.] It’s not my fault; blame capitalism, and 2.] find me at Bouchercon and I’ll buy you drinks to make up for the difference).

Now that class (LitReactor) is over, I hope to get back to blogging more. But chances are, since I had to step down from the Flash Fiction Offensive (don’t worry, my hardboiled friends, Tom is still there, and he’s been joined by the delightful Hector Duarte, Jr.), I’ll still be scrambling for time. Writing books is hard.

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Being Bad Feels Pretty Good

Later on in my scumbag years, anytime the subject of The Breakfast Club came up (and it came up more than you’d think), people naturally assumed I identified with John Bender. The truth is, growing up, I was more on Team Andy. I wanted to be a jock, and I sorta hated the burnouts in high school. Of course, I switched teams, and subsequent viewings of the film found me rooting for John Bender more and more. John Bender is rude, abrasive, brutally honest, cutting, damaged, and kind of an asshole. But Bender is always the most interesting character on the screen.

12924615_507059162831601_7509215167134207243_nWhen you start writing books, you will hear you need to make your characters sympathetic. Well, you’ll hear a lot of shit. Often this information will be contradictory. Like a bird in the hand vs. nothing ventured, nothing gained, life is nothing if not contrarian. You weigh these platitudes, and like they say in AA: you take what you can use and leave the rest at the door. I don’t necessarily worry about sympathetic. I want you to care about and still root for my characters. Similar. But not the same thing.

I just got word I’ll be receiving a very nice review in Booklist for December Boys, next up in the Jay Porter Thriller series. I didn’t get one from them for Lamentation, so it’s very cool. It goes live April 26. I’m not allowed to share the entire review until then, just a sentence or two. This sums it up nicely.

“The author suggests it’s the pain in Porter’s life that has him acting so awfully, but whether readers buy that or not, they’re still in for some fine writing, plus an interesting mix of people and a truly offbeat, if arguably rude, hero.”

12985571_1122364691118716_3393949242774473043_nI always find it funny when people point out that Jay is a jerk. Mostly because Jay is based on me. He’s based on my brother, Jay (Streeter) too. I steal my brother’s line of work (estate clearing) and other details of his life (he worked in the northern NH mountains for a while and is technologically averse). In fact the entire plot for the new  book (WIP title Cold, Cold Hills, borrowed from the great Paul Kelly, this before I found out there is currently a hot new book called In a Dark, Dark Wood. That’s okay. My agent hated the temporary title. That’s what I have Jimmy for) came from a recent Thanksgiving trip visiting my brother, who is planning on buying the estate clearing business from his boss. Jay (Streeter) was worried about coming up with the cash to buy the business. So the new plot: Jay (Porter) is trying to buy his boss’s business and is worried about how he’ll get the cash. Family is a fucking goldmine for plot. That and crimes in Pennsylvania. 

faa0844c1a1251e11797310d0f155e1cStill, the more I write the character, the more I realize Jay Porter is me. Or more like an idealized version of me. And by “idealized version,” I mean the way I’d act if I didn’t have to worry about getting along with people. Life is hard, and it will beat you down if you let it.

Right now being online is torture. The upcoming election is hell, and keeping my mouth shut (or fingers still) can be murder. But I don’t want to fight. People won’t always agree with your POV. Standing around with my hands clenched in fists of rage helps exactly no one. But I sometimes wish I had two lives. One where I could be like I am now (civilized). And the other where I could say whatever the fuck I wanted.

563b5fba365fb608caffb24770352e8cIt’s nice to say you should always speak your mind. But, like expecting to always be happy, to quote my dead friend Troy (to whom Book 3 is dedicated), it’s not a very grown-up expectation. There are considerations we make to our fellow man in order to share this planet. One of which is you don’t get to be a dick. We must assimilate, conform (in a non-creepy 1984 way). Or you’re in for a bitch of a time.

12963366_1116650135024727_8394743455776426110_nWhen you write fiction you can explore what might’ve been. In the case of Jay Porter, I don’t have many questions. I don’t live like Jay Porter because I am smarter than he is. I’ve learned to not give in to his self-destructive tendencies. Though I have them, and, yes, I flirt with them. I just don’t fully submerge. I wrote the character to be the way he is being perceived (success!), and it’s a fine line. People who don’t like the books often point to Jay’s choices and voice as the main issue.

Talking with my wife the other day, I joked, “I don’t see the problem. I don’t think Jay is a jerk. I think he’s right. He’s based on me, y’know?”

To which Justine replied, “That’s the problem.”

Which was pretty funny. And I imagine it sucks at times to be married to me, because I do have a lot of Jay Porter in me. But at forty-five, I’ve also learned that if I actually did act like Jay, I’d have what Jay does, namely, a lot of hurt and pain. And I’d be alone. He’s a character I wrote to be just short of self-awareness. Or rather, slightly more aware than those around him, which is a horrible fate. To quote Annie from the greatest baseball film of all-time, Bull Durham, “The world is made for people who aren’t cursed with self-awareness.”

12961658_869512909824679_2474471166638443370_nMy publicist at Oceanview, Lisa Daily, said, in response to Jay’s jerkiness, “I nearly always find the outlier, the alternative point of view, to be most interesting.” Marlowe is a bit of a prick. I am reading Holden Catcher in the Rye (he’s 5; it’s time), and I still think Holden Caulfield is right. Rob Gordon too. I rooted for Walter White, and I think most people did as well. Was Walter sympathetic? Maybe when he had the cancer. But once you start dealing meth and killing people, sympathy sorta goes out the fucking window. But like John Bender, Walt was always fucking interesting.

“They loved each other very much and nothing ever went wrong” makes for a shitty novel, and I find Mailer’s edict that heroes must be larger-than-life boring as fuck. I want edge, flaws–I want good intentions gone wrong–because, well, that’s life. And it’s the imperfections that make things beautiful.

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LitReactor: Planting the Clues

joe_banner_datesStarting Tuesday, April 19th, I will be teaching a four-week course over at LitReactor on planning and plotting mysteries. Since it is an online class, you can literally take it from anywhere, meaning, best of all, pants are optional. (Lord knows I won’t be wearing them. Hate the damn things.)

Here’s the thing with mysteries. Writing them doesn’t have to be that mysterious. I know before I started doing this for a living, I had two central ideas: 1.) I wanted to write books, and 2.) I had no fucking idea how to write books. I could write pretty sentences. I’ve always been good with words. It’s why I played in bands for so many years. Wrote great lyrics. Singing was … trickier. 

titleWhen I sat down to write my first book, which, if we skip over the amateurish teenage attempts (and, yes, sadly, they exist) we’re mostly talking Junkie Love. There are those who will argue that Junkie Love is the best thing I’ve done, and I wouldn’t necessarily disagree. I mean, who can forget Joel Landmine‘s riveting performance as a young me? Or the kick-ass Get Set Go soundtrack?

91gncXzx1RLLike a first-born child, Junkie Love will always be special. But it’s also not a traditional book. When I interviewed Brian Panowich, whose masterful debut Bull Mountain will surely be on the tip of many an Anthony tongue this year, Brian confessed part of the reason for BM’s episodic approach stemmed from necessity. Like me, Brian found the story better told via fragmented, interconnected vignettes. That approach works perfectly for Bull Mountain, and I think it works well for Junkie Love, too.

But I wanted to venture into more mainstream, commercial fiction after Junkie Love, which is, let’s face it, a one-off story. I chose to tell the tale of my addiction and redemption via a highly stylized form of narration. Again, this isn’t to disparage the end result. I love Junkie Love and would never distance myself from it. But it’s not a commercial mystery. It’s not conventional, period. Part of the reason it took so long to find someone to take a chance on it (thank you, Vagabondage Press!). In fact, without my MFA (the degree always a controversial topic), I don’t get that book published period.

December Boys high-res copyBack to wanting to write a novel. I always figured I would someday. Once I figured out how. That took longer than I thought. Turns out writing a book is really, really fucking hard. Part of my time as a junkie I swear was research (though my tax person still won’t let me write-off the years of addiction. Too bad. We added up all the money I spent on dope as part of a rehab class. Conservative estimates placed the amount around $325K).

What I learned getting my Master’s in creative writing is that writing can be taught. There are some writers, like my buddy Tom Pitts, who understand the process inherently. Without an MFA, Tom has written several pulse-pounding thrillers. If you can do that too, good on you. I needed school. And, in particular, Lynne Barrett, who showed me how to write a book via causality, a concept I just couldn’t grasp until she broke it down. This instruction is the only way Junkie Love was seeing the light of day, and it also helped me forge a successful career writing mysteries. This causes that. Sounds simple. And it is. Try putting it in practice. But there are tricks, tips, techniques, and, not to bust my arm patting myself on the back, I’m good at explaining them. In addition to Lamentation, December Boys, the second in the Jay Porter Thriller series, is out in June (and off to some rave reviews), and we’ve sold Book 3 in the series, the tentatively titled Cold, Cold Hills, which takes its name from this bone-chilling Paul Kelly song.

angermanagementsessionWhile this is a pitch to get folks to sign up for the class, it is also a confessional. Combining my rich junkie history with how to write mysteries is a (wait for it) novel approach. But this is me. This is how I talk. How I convey information, straight from the heart, heart on the sleeve, no punches pull, name your cliché. Part of the benefit of living the way I did involves certain communicative skills. Maybe I always had them. Maybe it was the years on the street, nursed via survival, second chances, augmented with an education. I’ll never be sure. But I do know this: I can teach writing. I do it all day, every day. I have people–strangers, friends, everyone in between–writing me, and we talk writing, mostly because I am a lonely, lonely man desperate for validation, but also because I love to help.

33_03photoNot people at large, mind you. I still possess disdain for mankind in general. But writers? Artists? I’d bleed for them. Especially ones who desperately want to be published–want to be published so bad the desire feeds off the marrow of their bones as they scream into a infinite abyss like Natalie Portman. I care about those people. Because that was me. And it sucked. I had all this stuff in my head and heart and I couldn’t get it out, and it ate me up. Cost me a wife. And it almost killed me. But then CCSU, FIU, Lynne, and I learned.

Now I want to teach other people how to do it. Because writing a book, specifically mysteries, is a formula. Note: NOT formulaic. As Lynne used to say, “All art is contrivance. When someone says something is contrived, what they are really saying is the author/artist has done a bad job in concealing the puppet strings.” I am paraphrasing.

10799702_306820702848376_1014875482_nI fully expect to end up in academia someday. My dream job is to buy back the old family homestead in Berlin, and teach at my alma mater, Central Connecticut State University (Tom Hazuka, my number is the same). Until then, I’ll be ramping up classes like this (and the one I taught at Josh Mohr‘s place, the Writer’s Grotto), because I love talking shop, and after having slagged off so many years, it’s a joy to find something I’m good at that’s a benefit to others. Being a cynical bastard, I know I should caveat that with something snarky. But I can’t. When it comes to writing, I mean every goddamn word.

Hope to see you there!

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Left Coast Crime 2016: A Lamb Is a Baby Sheep

lcc-2016-e1448205825557Just got back from my first Left Coast Crime. (Actually I am sitting in the airport waiting to board my flight. I have a feeling upon returning home, where my wonderful wife Justine watched the boys for the past three days I am not going to get a lot of “me” time to write this.)

As you may’ve noticed (or maybe not), I don’t blog much these days, and if I promise to do better, it’ll be like Dave Pirner says, “One more promise I couldn’t keep.” Just no time to blog. And I can’t get over the feeling that blogging has become like playing music live, a terribly invasive, in-your-face medium. At least with blogging I don’t have to haul my amp up a flight of stairs on a Wednesday night to “headline” (i.e., play last). Plus I get to include memes, which I realized at LCC is 99% of my material.

That and stories I’ve told a hundred times.

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Rock and roll IS a crime, as evidenced by this pic.

Sharing a cab ride to the airport Sunday morning with S.W. Lauden, he joked he was going to finish my “A lamb is a baby sheep” story that I’d told the previous night at the bar, which was probably the 7th time over the weekend I’d told that same story, replete with the same inflection, same manufactured observation, same, well, everything. (The story: about 2 years ago I dropped Holden off at preschool where they had adult and baby animals on the wall–cow, calf; pig, piglet, etc. When I got to  “sheep/lamb,” I exclaimed, rather loudly, in a room full of moms and kids, “Holy shit! A lamb is a baby sheep!” Just never dawned on me. There’s more to the joke, which I am sure I will repeat another hundred times. See you all at Bouchercon.)

Reminded me of I Heart Huckabees and Jude Law’s Shania Twain story. (I can’t find a clip from the actual movie, but here is the audio over Adventure Time.)

cockroach-far-side-1-780x1024It’s a default position, I suppose, and I imagine I’m not alone, especially at a crime writers conference. Left Coast Crime features many of the same players as Bouchercon. This year when AWP rejected all three panels, I was, like, fuck it. Why give AWP money to feel even weirder? I’d rather be among my own kind at LCC. And it was a great decision. Because, let’s face it, I am going to feel awkward and out of place wherever I go. It’s a feeling that only gets worse as I get older. I become more self-concious, feel more like a phony, but every time I come back from seeing my fellow crime writer friends I also experience a strange sensation: I feel loved.

Don't even ask...
Don’t even ask…

And I know that sounds a little goofy. I’m six foot one, covered in tattoos, have a criminal record. At this point I should be able to get a coffee and not feel like my buddy Clayton once described David Byrne (“He was getting a coffee, all twitchy like everyone was watching him. No one was watching him!”). But it’s important to recognize your limitations, know what you are good at. I suck at math. Don’t ask me to hang a curtain rod. Some things I do well. Some I don’t. Just like everyone else in this life. In the middle of the conference we got a great write-up in the Washington Post about a new anthology I am in re: gun awareness, and some yahoo called me a “social justice warrior,” which caused me to panic, which makes no logical sense. He wasn’t even talking about me, but every author in the collection. I am an introvert. Big deal. But the only time I get close to feeling like I belong is a crime writers convention, where (like Frank sings) the best people I know are looking out for me.

11990408_10153248763672737_4992777054754062145_nI could list all the names–Sara J. Henry, Steve Lauden, Holly West, Josh Stallings, Matt CoyleLou Berney, Hilary Davidson, Jay Stringer, Tyler Dilts, Christ Faust, CW DeWildtMichael PoolJohnny Shaw, and so many more names I am forgetting (I am not including Rob Pierce because I see that mutherfucker almost every day). I am doing the whole stream-of-concious thing. Oceanview sent me the final proofs to December Boys. These people, my mystery-writing friends, continue to hold me up. There is a line in the new book, which I steal from Scrubs, the best sitcom ever, a variation of, “Only the weak need help.” I know that’s not entirely true. But there are grains.

I am glad I made the switch to genre and get to go to conferences like Left Coast and Bouchercon because as much as I fear/hate/loathe leaving my house, it is necessary. Unless I want to be one of those weirdoes with a car packed full of newspapers who listens only to transistor radios, I have to force myself to mix and mingle, and not only because my career demands it; it’s part of being human.

Drugs-Not-Hugs-Don-t-Touch-MeSo that’s it. A big goddamn thank you to Left Coast, and specifically Ingrid Willis and Deborah Lacy, and all the folks who put these things together and make oddballs such as I feel so welcome (and a special thanks to Catriona McPherson, one of the very few whom I willingly hug!). As I prepare to hunker down indoors until New Orleans, I can’t express how much I need to do this. It’s a lot like working out. You don’t exactly look forward to the process, you know it’s going to be hard, but when you are done it was so fucking worth it.

Joy of Series

meandmylittlebrainjohndfitzgeraldBefore I started doing this writing thing as a career, I’d see a novel series and wonder what the appeal was for the author. I mean, as a reader–and more accurately movie viewer–I enjoyed going back and revisiting the same characters. (I’ve seen The Force Awakens four times so far. For my son’s sake, you understand.) My favorite book as a kid was The Great Brain series. I loved Tom Fitzgerald’s boy genius. I devoured those books. Mostly because I secretly hoped that I, too, was special and could have the run of my hometown (it didn’t quite work out that way). We get invested in characters and their worlds, and when a book is really great, we don’t want it to end; we want to stay there.

dreamsdemotivatorFor the author, however, this is tricky. I figured a writer creates a book with a beginning, middle, and, most importantly, an end. Closure works because of that whole “ending” part (and that’s really the most important part of the ending process). Of course back then I was a kid, and I believed silly things like dreams come true if you follow your passion and do the the thing you love most. But you eventually have to grow, and for me that meant waking up naked in a Massachusetts’ jail on my 30th birthday (unfortunately for me, the thing “I loved most” was heroin).

Now that I have been blessed to write books full-time (mostly due to a bus God threw in my path. The Lord works in mysterious ways), I see why authors enjoy writing a series so much. And it’s pretty much the same reason readers enjoy reading them: familiarity.

December Boys high-res copyLast October I began a new novel, Through a Glass Darkly, which I aimed to finish before starting the new Jay Porter novel, already sold to Oceanview on spec, final product due June 2016. We did the same thing with December Boys (which will be out when the next installment is due in June) last year and the timing worked out well. Start new book in January, be done by June. I like patterns. Appeals to the OCD in me. The first week of January, I was still wrapping up Darkly, and my wife was nudging me to get started on the book I’d already sold. But I had to finish Darkly because it’s fucking awesome and it features a female protagonist (a first for me), and I couldn’t enter a new world until I left the old one. Just how I am wired.

12540637_10208069719197515_5028869841085160058_nI was pretty shocked to finish an 80,000-word novel on January 10, only to begin the next Jay Porter book on the 11th, writing another 30K more in less than two weeks. While that is a #humblebrag, it’s only a slight one. Because it wasn’t very hard to slip back into the world of Ashton, New Hampshire (really Berlin, CT). Darkly was a very difficult novel to write. The subject matter is particularly gruesome, I was writing a female POV, and experimenting with narrative (going 3rd person, which is more of a challenge for me than 1st). This’s both good and bad. It’s good to be challenged and to push yourself. Returning to Jay Porter was effortless. Like an old pair of running shoes* (*note: wait for motif payoff next paragraph).

There are other challenges, of course. I think December Boys is an improvement on Lamentation, and I can’t write a 3rd without trying to up the ante. I don’t want to tread water; I want to forge new ground* (*I didn’t say it would be a good payoff).

2016: Ten Years Later

walkerOn New Year’s Day, I realized it had been ten years since my near-fatal motorcycle accident. I threw up an old post talking about that other life-changing event (the first being my near-fatal drug addiction. Though, granted, that one crept at a slower pace). I was surprised how many people read that post, especially since, like I said, it was old. But it got about 10x the hits I usually do, even when I write something new. Of course nothing sells like death and consumption (though not necessarily in that order).

Everyone loves a good “coming back from the dead” story. How else do you explain six thousand shows about zombies and vampires?

BmFw8J4IIAAGbqk.jpg-mediumChrist, 2006 sucked. In a life defined by bad news, underachievment, and breaking your mother’s heart, I kicked off the year by seriously underwhelming even by my own lackluster standards. I’d gotten divorced, blown five years of sobriety, and was close to pissing away my last ticket out: grad school. Sticking to my clichéd script (albeit a few years too soon), I chose to end this disastrous year by getting a motorcycle. In Miami. The city with the absolute worst drivers in America.

By the end of the year, it looked like I’d put my shit back together. I was on the straight and narrow, almost done with my thesis draft, and then … the crash.

Waking up unable to walk is a lousy way to start any New Year. Although, in all fairness, I’d woken up plenty of times in the previous decade highly immobilized. But this was worse. Despite the “freelapse” (a word I just learned from Josh Mohr’s forthcoming biography) and a steady stream of morphine (my “favorite” part of the crash was after the paramedics found me spitting up blood, I managed to mumble, “Can’t … have … morphine … I’m … a … recovering … addict,” and the paramedic took one look at me as he loaded up the shot and said, “Oh, you’re getting morphine”), I was in agonizing pain.

That older blog post details the recovery from the accident, which saw 2007 kick off in bed, then a wheelchair, walker, crutches, cane, until I was finally walking again without assistance seven months later.* If you want to read about the gruesome parts (with pictures!), just hit that link. The quick version is I almost died, and it sucked. But I got better.

(* I’ve returned to using a cane over the last couple years, but only when I know I am going to be on my feet all day long. Like Disneyland or Bouchercon.)

psycho-the-rapist-its-one-word-george-psychotherapistDuring my weekly sessions with Dr. Goldberg, we frequently address my … reluctance … to accept the good. I prefer to focus on the negative. Just how I’m drawn up. I see the bad much more easily than I do the good, or to quote Mike TV, I’m the sort of guy who can snatch defeat from the jaws of victory. Just like fiction can’t exist without conflict, why the fuck else would I need a psychiatrist?

Likewise, I tend not to recognize all the adversity I’ve overcome. Mostly because I was the dumbass who put himself there in the first place. Overcoming a drug addiction is cool, I guess. Sort of. Except that, yeah, I probably shouldn’t have been taking drugs. Where’s the glory crawling out of the hole you dug? The crash is a little different. A lot of people ride bikes, and they are dangerous. It’s not a question of “if” (re: crashing) but “when” and “how bad?”

1339311729431_6857957When I met my lovely wife, Justine, she asked why I had so many women’s names tattooed on my body. “There’s a certain kind of guy who gets a woman’s name tattooed on his body,” I said. “I’m that kind of guy.” My answer seemed to suffice. It’s less about trouble seeming to find me, and more that I drove to trouble’s house and taunted it by throwing rocks at its doors and pissing on its lawn.

But maybe I am doing it again, not accepting the good, the blessings that have been granted to me, unconditionally. Regardless of what I did to land in some pretty bad situations, I still got out of them (right?), if only by learning how to step aside, stop fighting so goddamn much, just let the good things happen. The Universe/God had been doing me a solid for a while now. And I certainly have an awful lot of good things to be happy about as 2016 kicks off. My health, (most of) my hair, the books, 13% body fat, and these guys below. They are the best part about surviving that accident. I got to see this happen. I got to meet this amazing woman. I get to see my boys grow up, and, I hope, live long enough to see them become men. Taking those two boys to see the new Star Wars (for the 3rd time!) this weekend, watching their eyes light up like mine did in ’77, was pretty fucking amazing. Life is a pretty sweet fruit.

Happy New Year from the Cliffords!

1510428_10153449725737737_990584345921415869_n

A Force Awakens: A Sort of (Not Really) Review

aqBeym1Yes, we get it. You don’t like Star Wars. All six of you.

I waited 33 years for last week. The release of a brand-new, actual sequel to Star Wars. Of course, there was an actual sequel called The Empire Strike Back, and then a few years after that we had Return of the Jedi. There were the dreaded prequels. But for most Star Wars fans, of which I am very, very much one, these movies fall in two groups: the awesome original trilogy, and then the nearly unwatchable drek, Episodes I – III. Of which only the last 20 minutes of III is watchable. (Although I do enjoy Ewan McGregor’s Alec Guiness impersonation.)

10437325_972875009438388_8955436106138305972_nWe are a funny lot, us humans. Or maybe it’s an American thing. I don’t know. I don’t leave my house much. I used to joke that one day I’d live virtually, and that has sorta come to fruition, given the amount of time I spend online, which is where my job is, my writing network, etc. As such, my take on reality may be skewed. But I have picked up patterns–and maybe this is accentuated by the online, anonymous culture–but the reaction to mainstream, populist culture always amuses me. And by amuses I mean bugs the fuck out of me.

funny-man-halloween-smallDoesn’t matter what the “thing” is, if it’s popular enough, someone is always there to tell you how much they hate it. Which is really quite silly if you think about about. You have hundreds talking about how much they love something, but Bob over there feels compelled to let you know that he doesn’t like that … thing!

I wish I could say I was better. But I’m really not. Ask my wife.

bmlj6cpcaaanwxsAnytime Justine is watching some insipid reality show, whether it’s The Bachelorthe Bachelorette, or American Idol (or any number of the crappy ones she watches), I can’t walk in the room without letting her know how much I hate it. What does it matter if I think reality television is stupid? It’s not like my wife is asking me to watch it with her. But I do it every time. I’ll walk by and have to make a snarky comment about how lame I think that shit is. They get millions of viewers, every week–or else they wouldn’t be on the air–so clearly many, many people enjoy them. But I don’t. Like Ray Davis, I’m not like everyone else.

Of course I am right and they are wrong, my tastes correct, and if you don’t agree with me you are fundamentally lacking in aesthetic appreciation and artistic acumen. Duh. In short, I am no different than anyone else.

starwars_forceawakens

 

tumblr_nruaxcLzVS1uvm6rjo1_1280I bought advance tickets for Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens, and was super stoked to see it (so much so that I am using phrases like “super stoked”). For the past 20-odd years (or whenever I got off dope/signed on to the Internet), I’ve had my morning ritual. I make my coffee and I click through my sites. The pattern has always been the same, some sites get added, others get dropped, but it’s basically this: Email. Social Media. Sports. Pop culture. Book sales. It became habit to type one of the two phrases into a search engine: “Pink Floyd reunion album” and “New Star Wars movie.” Did this, regularly, for years. Nothing on the former (I want a new record with Roger), but about two years ago, after all the fruitless searches, I got a hit. Disney had bought Star Wars from George Lucas, and we were getting an honest-to-God sequel. Everyone was happy. Then came the haters.

I hate the term “hater.” Much like I loath the phrase “disrespect” (respect is something you give–how can you impact in the negative?). But it’s part of the lexicon, and it fits here, so who am I to rage against?

12391807_1653624958238446_7541737088376461463_n33 years of waiting came to an end last Thursday. I woke up in the morning, tingling with little kid Christmas morning excitement. Just like when I was 10. Star Wars has always been–like it is for most boys–something of a religion to me. Everyone has his/her favorite. I liked Luke. (I also like Springsteen, Catcher in the Rye, The New York Yankees, Taylor Swift, blue jeans, white tee shirts, motorcycles, tattoos, short jail stints, and am pretty much a walking talking American boy cliche. Even had a drug problem I kicked [and then wrote a book about it!]) The wheel works fine. I see no reason to reinvent it.

All day Thursday leading up to the movie, any time I’d check social media I’d see the gleeful masses waiting in eager anticipation, friend after friend brimming with (a new) hope that this new Star Wars wouldn’t suck. Resoundingly positive stuff, recollections of the first time they had seen the movie, or how, now, they were now taking their own children. Oh, what a glorious day! And then there would be that one killjoy who felt the need to let you know how much he didn’t like Star Wars. No, he just didn’t like it, he hated it, had never seen one movie, didn’t get, couldn’t understand what the big deal was and couldn’t care less (although they’d often phrase it “could care less,” but whatever). And he wouldn’t shut up about it.

Fuck that.
Fuck that.

I read some spoilers in Rolling Stone so it wasn’t that. Although some people felt compelled to do their best to ruin the experience any way they could, offering spoilers, trying to ruin the ending, etc. Again, I rag on the shit I don’t like, so this isn’t a “I’m better than” comment. More a commentary. What we don’t like shapes our identities as much as what we do. You have all these people super stoked to see a movie, with which they deeply identify, but it is every bit as important for another group (albeit statistically smaller) to let the world know they don’t like it! It’s the “I don’t watch/own TV” argument from Pulp Fiction.

121507_600I’ve been writing this blog for a while, so I know, like my 83-year-old shrink, that I repeat myself. But I’m getting old too. About the time Return of the Jedi came out, I was taking art in high school with Miss Wilensky (I think I have that right), and she introduced this concept called Notan, by which drawings are defined by negative shapes. That’s always stuck with me. I have a remarkable memory. I can’t remember stuff like receipts and taxes, but the important (barroom trivia) stuff stays in there.

Anyway, the movie was fucking awesome. I can’t talk about it because it just came out and I would’t want to spoil it for anyone else. Thomas Pluck does a good job capturing the emotions in a (spoiler-free) review over at his place. I can just say that it was worth the wait. I have a few minor quibbles, like I do with every movie, but Star Wars finally seems to be in the right hands (I love George, but anyone who calls Empire Strikes Back the worst in the canon clearly can’t be allow to oversee the project anymore. Once an artist creates, especially a defining work that resonates as much as Star Wars did/does, propriety is out the proverbial window). Overall, I was thrilled with The Force Awakens. Especially since I was able to take my boy. (The circle is complete.)

201206151258As for the rest of it, no big deal. Got a couple funny texts/emails, like, “Did you unfriend me over Star Wars?” And the answer is, yes. But I didn’t mean to. I tried to unfollow certain naysayers because I wanted to enjoy the movie and not deal with the negativity (how’s that for irony?), but when that didn’t work I had to block the worst offenders. Apparently when you block on Facebook, you unfriend, so that was a little embarrassing. But not really. I might have to do it again. The Force Awakens reestablishes the Star Wars franchise in a big, big way, which means we can look forward to a couple absolute certainties: more Star Wars movies, and more people who feel compelled to tell you how much they hate a make-believe galaxy far, far away.

Better Than the Beatles

If you follow me on Facebook, you know I recently discovered Frank Turner, an English singer/songwriter from, well, England. How this artist has alluded me, given my constant search for new, life-affirming music, mystifies. Then again, not really. My ability to compartmentalize is legendary, if only in my kitchen, where I spend 99% of my time (Brian Fast once said: no matter how I treat my guests, they always like my kitchen best).

10348204_680049412099995_5254871434238716560_nAnytime you discover a great new artist, you push it down the throats of tell your friends because you want them to feel good too. One of these friends is a guy named Petersen who lives on the East Coast. A surrogate father, Petersen grew up in the ’60s, which as everyone from that generation knows boasts the best music, the best movies, and best athletes of all time. And if you’d don’t believe me, all you have to do is ask; they won’t shut up about it.

Whatever era you came of age, nostalgia always holds a special place in your heart, but it’s tough to argue with the music one. I mean, all anyone has to say is the Beatles.

I know people who claim to dislike the Beatles (I don’t believe them), but only an idiot will deny the band’s place in the pantheon on rock. Some purists/contrarians will go back to Robert Johnson or even earlier, talk about purer blues, and I won’t argue. I mean, I don’t give a shit. The Beatles were the first band to put it together in the modern pop culture vein. But that doesn’t make them “the best.”

My buddy Petersen, like a lot of … older … people frequently complains about how “there is no good new music.” The rub being when you try to introduce good new music to someone who lived in the ’60s, you are up against not only the Beatles, but the Stones and the Who and Dylan and the list goes on. No matter how good an artist is, you can’t beat the Beatles.

12241272_932149966839988_8204072385303865074_nExcept you can. Now I love the Beatles. Or rather I appreciate their place in the lineage of rock and roll. Like I said, only a moron would deny that. But does that make them the best? Because there are bands I like a fucklot more: Springsteen, Gaslight Anthem, Hold Steady, and, now, Frank Turner and the Sleeping Souls. I mean, literature has deigned Don Quixote the first novel. Don Quixote isn’t close to being the best. In fact, it’s rather unreadable. Author Miguel de Cervantes did as well as he could given that he was fucking inventing a new form. But art dictates evolution. How sad would it be if music never got better than the Beatles?

12304300_875686839212943_4952939902542458265_oThis all started when I told Petersen “Frank Turner is a better songwriter than the Beatles.” Petersen treated the comment as though I’d just took a dump in church. Which made me almost retract. Then I thought about Cervantes. Fuck, there are hundreds of songwriters better than the Beatles. And the Stones. And Dylan. Every time Rolling Stone comes out with a list of the best songwriters, you know damn well it’ll have Paul and John, and Mick and Keith. You’ll get a nod to current trends with a rapper or two, Tupac or whoever. But mostly that list will revolve around ’60’s icons, despite there being literally thousands of artists coming after–artists who took an original statement and then used it to create something better. How–or rather why–would anyone expect the dialogue to retard? How many times do you need to hear fucking Hotel California?

enhanced-16976-1439320460-1I’m not immune. In my world Springsteen and Westerberg reign. Because I came of age to their music. I had a girlfriend, or maybe a wife, who loved Pearl Jam. Personally I’d rather get Chekhoved by Kahn than listen to Eddie Vedder sing, which sounds like a very short man taking a shit with a mouthful of peanut butter. I like Frank Turner because he sounds like the music I already like. But as good as I think he is, I’d never think the dialogue ends here. The best music is yet to come. I’ll just be too old and/or dead to appreciate it.