PLUS I made it as cheap as CreateSpace would allow...plus fifty cents. I'm cost conscious, people. I know that every dollar of your hard-earned cash is important, so there's no reason for you to spend more just so I can, you know, eat and pay my mortgage and shit.
And thanks to the amazing J.T. Lindroos, who graciously amended his cover art to include the spine and back. And to Kyle MacRae and Allan Guthrie for being this incredibly visionary and author friendly.
Just wrote most of the opening scene of the next Lafitte book. That's usually the key--mull on it for months, sometimes years, and then finally realize how to get it onto the page. I might not be working on it immediately, but once that first scene or image clicks on a Lafitte, the rest starts to flow pretty steadily.
Realized this past week that my primary editor for the past nine years has been Allan Guthrie. He's worked on every book since The Drummer. Actually, our first project together was the book that became XXX Shamus, since I wrote that before Yellow Medicine. I will say that I learned my craft in the Center for Writers at USM with the Barthelmes, but I learned to be a cult crime novelist working with Allan Guthrie. He made me better.
Also realized that PLOTS WITH GUNS will hit the fifteen year mark this coming Fall. Yeah, we took a break from 2005 to 2008, but let's just view that as a stint in jail. It didn't count. PWG came out of it a much better reprobate.
I've got a lot of shit to write this year. I'm digging it.
I wrote this book right after The Drummer. I was pissed at publishing. I felt the urge to write a novel based on my foul little short story "Find Me" (in Expletive Deleted). So I did. It was like an exorcism. The damn book scared me. But I liked it. I thought it was a damn fine book.
We tried it with some larger publishers. We tried it with an indie I really liked. We got some nice rejections and one low offer. I turned it down. Just didn't feel right. But when it came time to decide if we wanted to try other smaller publishers, something seized me. I didn't want it to go out into the world. I shoved it into a desk drawer and told my agent to drop it. I finished Yellow Medicine and we sold that instead.
But goddamn, there was always this raw nerve digging into me. Maybe, ya know? Maybe this "porno p.i." novel could find another home. But I sat on it for years and kept writing.
I sent it to a couple of friends--a writer, a director. They loved it. But still, I couldn't imagine publishing it.
Why? Because I was just afraid that it was too much. I mean, the book doesn't glorify sex or porn at all. It's not even a dark comedy, which is what I thought as I was working on it. It's just...depressing. But in a very entertaining sort of way. I wanted to make fun of all the "pan to the curtains" oversexed (but never on the page/screen) private eye novels and movies. Kiss Me, Deadlywas a fine example. But after writing it, it was something else. It was about a man who couldn't help what he was getting involved with (so was his excuse) all the while as it drained him, body and soul. And, yes, the dirty, unappealing sex scenes were just...tough to take.
That raw nerve. Years of it. Going back and forth between trying and not trying.
And then I got the nerve, finally. Showed it to one editor. Nope, but, ya know, not bad.
The pseudonym: I thought it up already. Always thought "Red" as a man's name was cool. I was going to choose something else for a last name, one in my extended family, but decided that was too "on the nose". Instead, I wanted to keep it linked to Louisiana. The city of Hammond is the halfway point between my Gulf Coast hometown and Baton Rouge. Sounded good together.
Should it be a "see-through" pen name? Or should it be an obvious "character" like my buddy Victor's alter ego Emerson LaSalle? Should we just toss it out and see what people thought (or how quickly it would take them to find "Find Me", which I had published under my own name like an idiot. Same characters, same town, same conceit.
"Here's something. But it'll have to be under a pen name."
Less than a day later: "I want it."
Ain't that a tale? Good lord, Broken River has some incredible covers, incredible reach into the literary and bizarro writing worlds, and an incredible sense of daring. Fuck profit. They want to sell the kinds of books they have been dying to read.
I've got another book that I've worked on for a long time. Not featuring Hopper, but it feels like it might end up as a Red Hammond novel. Just that level of nuts.
Marshall, MN grows writers. It just does. Something in the soil or the water or the wind, but writers grow and words bud. At the SMSU Creative Writing Program for undergraduates, the faculty tends the crop. Feed it, believe in it, and prune the branches of bad habits and writer's block so the imagination can have a clear path to the sun.
In the winter, when the winds howl and the snow piles high, students will be surrounded with others in the same situation. Friendships form, writing happens and gets passed around, critiqued, suggestions offered, new ideas injected. There are plenty of readings, both from students and through the Visiting Writer Series, bringing in national and regional authors of all sorts--poets, novelists, cowboys, city folk, genre, literary types. We've got the map covered.
Our students can work on many projects that keep them thinking about writing all year long. We've got the on-campus student writing magazine Perceptions. We've got the online journal Bare Root Review. We've got the acclaimed indigenous writing journal Yellow Medicine Review. There's the Spur, our campus newspaper. Every week, you can meet with the English Club, a vibrant club working to help students attend the annual AWP Conference as well as holding readings, poetry slams, bake sales, and raffles. Sometimes people bring food and a party breaks out.
We've got a core faculty of award winning poets and writers, dedicated teachers, and every one of them is rooting for our alums to succeed out there in the world after graduation. They'll work hard to make sure each and every graduate who has put his or her all into the work gets a fighting chance at grad schools, internships, and other jobs in the literary arena.
Come on over for a visit. Check us out. Bask in the mango-painted Walt Whitman Lounge (or as our students call it, the "mac and cheese" room).
I wanted to share with you this bad review of The Baddest Ass (not the review itself. He doesn't like Baddest Ass is what I mean) because Ray Garraty has been a great supporter of my work and the Lafitte books especially, but this third one really rubbed him the wrong way.
I respect his critiques, and even if I disagree with him about this particular book, I have no problem sharing what he had to say about it with all of you.
No worries, folks. Everyone dislikes something from time to time, and I appreciate the way Ray says what he thinks.
I'm writing. I feel that I'm not doing the story justice. I felt that way about Yellow Medicine too and we all know how that turned out. (Smile!)
When wine won't do, a bit of Coke Zero and Kraken Rum will suffice.
So far, movie and TV for the new year have just left me...meh.
I am becoming more and more impressed with small presses popping up and making a go of it. Broken River, Lazy Fascist, Exhibit A (not exactly small), Dark Fuse, etc. Plus my own brethren Blasted Heath, Snubnose, Dark House, Swallowdown (is that a real press? I like em, though)...
Which convinces me more than ever that if you write the best stuff you can, regardless of the marketability of it, you're more likely to find good presses and editors who want to share it with others because of their love of the work more than the bottom line. Kudos.
Reminds me of this movie I watched last night: Deceptive Practices: The Mysteries and Mentors of Ricky Jay. There was something to this, the history of sleight of hand, passed down from person to person--carefully chosen persons, it seems--practiced until flawless, then expanded as each generation learns more and more, regardless of the pay (or lack of) involved.
Most days, we have to ask ourselves "Why we do this?" Why do we choose to write noir or bizzarro or hardcore crime fiction? Why do we keep practicing this old art, always looking for ways to make it new, knowing that at best, it will only appeal to a particular cult of readers?
Because, much like sleight of hand, somebody's got to do it, even in the lean times, in order to pass it along to the next generation, until the generation arrives that could give a damn.
Am I contradicting stuff I've said on this blog before? Maybe. But then again, learning about writing often means realizing that long-held "gospel" beliefs about the craft are wrong, wrong, wrong.
I told this story the other day: By the time our students get to Advanced Fiction Workshop, they think we've shown them the ropes. They know the tricks. They can get a bit cocky, and it's all my fault. So then I read a student's story that, at first, looks like a mess. It breaks all the "rules". It is outrageous and hard to believe. But halfway though I knew that no matter what the errors, I had fallen for this story deeply and knew I would never forget it. It deserved publication, almost exactly as is. Then, in class, the students went though the issues, one by one, confidently pointing out all of the errors and problems and suggesting boring, run-of-the-mill "solutions". Once they were done, I told them they were probably right, but I loved the story as it was and that the author shouldn't change much at all. And for the next forty-five minutes, they argued bitterly with me that everything I had already taught them was right and that in this case, I was wrong.
But hey, if you can't be surprised by fiction because you think you know how it all works, what's the point of writing it?
Just so you know, I wrote this super fast, by the seat of my pants. I was absolutely thrilled to be asked to be a part of the new POPCORN! imprint (thanks Matteo!), and especially thrilled to try my hand at a WWII tale, even if my research was fast and loose and mostly improvised. And now that I read it again, the first paragraph makes no sense to the rest of the story...