Sunday 26 February 2012

Ten Things That Happened While I Was In Bath

Bath in a bookshop in Bath
photo by Janet McKnight
Just back from a short and most pleasant visit to Bath. Still catching up but here's a few things that happened while I was gone:

I: Bloody Scotland launched its website, and very pretty it is too. There's also news of a short story competition that could see you published in a Blasted Heath ebook anthology.

II: Dead End Follies listed Ten Literary People On The Web That You Absolutely Need To Know and were kind enough to mention me. "I suspect Allan has eight pairs of arms, six brains and needs about twenty minutes of sleep a night for optimal functioning." I wish.

III: Anthony Neil Smith made his excellent Choke On Your Lies free for Kindle on Friday. It goes back to 'paid' on Monday so grab it while you can.

IV: Liberties Press has reduced the price of Declan Burke's Irish Book Awards-shortlisted Absolute Zero Cool to £1.95.

V: Speaking of Dec, here's a piece on ebook pricing he wrote for The Irish Times. And here's another interesting piece on ebook pricing from Digital Book World, specifically in relation to the impact of Amazon's KDP Select.

VI: Here's a chance to win Gerard Brennan's chapbook: Possession Obsession And A Diesel Compression Engine.

VII: NoirCon 2012 looms ever closer, with distinguished guest Lawrence Block and keynote speaker Robert Olen Butler (this I'd love to hear: Butler's book on writing fiction, From Where You Dream, is a mind-blower).

VIII: Benedicte Page gave Blasted Heath's February titles. Ray Banks's Wolf Tickets and Douglas Lindsay's The Unburied Dead a nice shout-out in her ebooks round-up in The Guardian.

IX: eBooknewser lists 10 Boards For Ebook Fans from new social networking site, Pinterest.

X: Some much-appreciated and very inspiring Amazon customer reviews have appeared for a few of my books. Two-Way Split is described as having "a gut-knotting finale that unfurls with the inevitability of all great tragedy and the best nasty sex ever" (thanks, Maya!); Savage Night is described as being "Shakespearean in scope and theme, unrelenting, tragic ... a powerful revenge tale, in which violence, fate, love, hate and even humor commingle like blood and wine, one barely distinguishable from the other" (thanks, Marilyn!); and finally "the writing quality is high, the stories are top notch, and this piece is worth your attention" (thanks, Pearce!) is a terrific response to Hilda's Big Day Out.

Wednesday 15 February 2012

Barry Graham interview: When It All Comes Down To Dust

When It All Comes Down To Dust by Barry Graham
£2.59 | $3.99 | $3.99 | $12
Amazon UK | Amazon US | Smashwords | Paperback

Barry Graham is an award-winning novelist, journalist and Zen teacher. He is the author of ten books, including his most recent, When It All Comes Down to Dust. Born and dragged up in Glasgow, Scotland, he currently lives in the urban war zone of Phoenix, Arizona.
Can you sum up your book in no more than 25 words? 

A neo-noir tale of love, sex and murder in which a woman confronts a man who did unspeakable things to children – including her.
What's unique about it?
Without giving anything away, I’ll say that the characters, the situation and the way it turns out all combine to make it a book that’s unlike anything else you’ve ever read. All my other books have been preparation for writing this one. The French magazine Transfuge called it “one of the great post-realist novels” - and it hasn’t even been published in French yet!
What have you done/are you doing to market it?
Sending out press releases, appearing at book festivals and various venues where I’ll recite chunks of it from memory. Posting on social media, and mentioning it on my blog and website. Asking bloggers to review it.
What are your expectations for the book?
I’m not sure, but I’m fascinated to find out how it does. I walked away from a likely offer from a major publisher, because I sincerely think this is a great book, and I got tired of waiting for them to decide what to do about it. Responses from readers so far suggest that I’m right.
What did you learn while writing it?
That when I looked in the darkest and most frightening places I could imagine, what I found there was compassion.
Do you bear the reader in mind when you're writing? If so, how does that affect the way you write?
Never. I don’t write for the reader, and I don’t write for myself - I just write. I write at the service of the story. When the story is as good as it can be, I thank it for what it taught me, and then I put it out there and let it find its readers.
How important is talent?
Considering the amount of drivel that’s published by the big houses, I’d say talent isn’t important at all when it comes to getting a deal with them. When it comes to writing a good book, I think some talent is necessary, but work and perseverance and honesty are more important.
Provide a YouTube link to a song you'd like to be the title track to the movie adaptation of your book.
Western Wind by The Heroes Are Horses
Who would you like to direct the film adaptation?
Jean-Luc Godard.
To what extent do you view writing as a business?
I view writing entirely as an art, and I view publishing entirely as a business. I write for love, and publish for money.
How would you describe your taste in books?
Very broad. I read everything from pulp crime to critical theory to history to philosophy to Japanese and Chinese poetry.
What was the last good eBook you read?
Your novel Slammer. But, to be honest, I don’t think it’s a good book. I think it’s a terrific book.
What are you reading now?
Black Hornet by James Sallis. A weird, brilliant novel.
Which writer do you most admire?
That’s a tie between Shakespeare, T.S. Eliot, Alain Robbe-Grillet, Jean-Patrick Manchette and Nakagami Kenji. When it comes to living writers, it’s a tie between Daniel Woodrell, Larry Fondation and Elmore Leonard. In nonfiction, Michel Foucault. He’s probably influenced how I write and think more than any other.
What do you do when you're not writing?
Practice and teach Zen Buddhism, read, watch films, cook, hang out with my girlfriend and our cats, watch boxing, go and hear live music, wander around Phoenix, Arizona while carefully watching my back.
How much do you read?
At least two books a week, usually more. I don’t watch TV at all.
How much time do you dedicate to writing? How much time would you like to spend writing?
I write every day. My fiction and my blogging probably add up to eight or ten hours a day. I’m satisfied with that amount.
How much time do you dedicate to promotion?
I’m not sure. I use Twitter, Facebook and Google Plus almost every day, and I send out mass emails letting people on my list know what I’m doing. I blog every day, and have a lot of readers, though I’m not sure how that impacts book sales, or even if it does. I also do performances of my work just about anywhere they’ll have me.
What are your ambitions for the next year?
To finish another novel and publish it, and to publish a collection of my journalism.
What are your long-term ambitions?
To keep writing, be as kind as possible, and see where this life takes me.
Which author should be much better known?
Larry Fondation and Lynne Tillman. 
What's the book you've recommended most to friends?
The Friends of Eddie Coyle by George V. Higgins, my favorite novel ever.
Do you write outside of the crime genre? If not, would you like to?
My first novel was a horror novel set in Glasgow My next three weren’t in any genre, though I’d say all of them have a kind of noir atmosphere, and all contain crime and violence. I don’t know how to write about this world without writing crime fiction. I also write poetry and essays.
Where do you write?
In a recliner in a corner of my living room (see photo)
How do you feel about reviews?
Anything that lets people know about a book’s existence is good. I don’t understand writers who get upset about bad reviews - it’s a review of your book, not of you. I’ve bought books after reading bad reviews of them, because the book sounded like my kind of thing. I’ve read good reviews of books and not bought the books, because the book didn’t sound like my kind of thing. I’m grateful for any.
Do you have any other projects on the go?
I’m writing a short novel, a sort of techno-thriller. Then I’ll finish a sequel to When It All Comes Down to Dust. I’m also putting together a collection of talks I’ve given at The Sitting Frog Zen Center, where I serve as Abbot. The next book I publish will probably be my collection of reporting and commentary, Your Doctrines I Must Blame. 
When It All Comes Down To Dust by Barry Graham
£2.59 | $3.99 | $3.99 | $12
Amazon UK | Amazon US | Smashwords |Paperback

Monday 6 February 2012

Bonnie Kozek interview: Just Before The Dawn

Just Before The Dawn by Bonnie Kozek
Amazon UK|Amazon US

Bonnie Kozek is the author of the Honey McGuinness hardboiled grunge thrillers, Threshold and Just Before the Dawn.  Kozek has received awards from the National Endowment for the Arts and the Rockefeller Foundation.  Learn more about her work at: or contact her at: 

Can you sum up Just Before The Dawn in no more than 25 words?

Psychedelics, psycho-killers, and a lethal XXX-Rated nightmare of biblical proportions: Welcome back to the twisted world of Honey McGuinness.

What was your motivation for writing it?

Truth is often unearthed in the most unexpected places, utilizing the most unconventional methods, which requires an author to be willing to get her hands dirty.  I like getting my hands dirty.  I like plunging the depths of a damaged psyche.  Noir grunge fiction provides me a perfect vehicle and offers a bottomless pit of grime.  It’s a match made in heaven, I guess.  Plus, it’s a challenge – like having a dinner party and serving T-bone steak without the meat on it.  Stripped of the traditional pulling of heartstrings – stripped of prettified, multisyllabic, adjective-laden language – I have to try to deliver a bone so tasty that my guests won’t notice.  Not so easy. 

So, I’m always on the lookout for a concept, a core – something around which I can construct a story and use the vernacular of the genre.  Perhaps surprisingly, for Just Before the Dawn, I found that kernel in a small book called The Prophet.  Written by the great Lebanese poet, Khalil Gibran, I read these words: “ . . . when good is hungry it seeks food even in dark caves, and when it thirsts it drinks even of dead waters.”  And I thought: Bingo!  That’s it!  See, I’ve got this protagonist, Honey McGuinness, who’s so starved that she could actually travel that road.  So, I set out to test her limits – physically, emotionally, ethically and morally.  In all these areas, I tried to explore the depths to which she would allow herself to sink.  I tried to take her to – or let her hover just above or below – that “point of no return.”  I wanted to answer the question: Could Honey descend to a place so dark and deep that she couldn’t claw her way out? 

How long did it take you to write?

About four years total.  I put it down for a number of years and then came back to it. 

How much difference does an editor make?

Working with an editor is detrimental to my mental and physical health.  Here’s why:

I had a literary agent and editor at a distinguished New York agency.  Things went swimmingly for a while.  He used words like “remarkable” and “brilliant” about my work.  He awaited each new chapter with bated breath.  He said he loved the novel (which, by the by, is yet unpublished) and was certain he could get it published by a well-respected house.  We worked closely over a two-year period – speaking daily.  During this time he suggested editorial changes, which I made without fuss.  After the two years, when the book was finished, he decided to have his new assistant read the manuscript, explaining that the work needed “fresh eyes.”  After reading the manuscript, this prepubescent moron told his boss that he “couldn’t follow the story” and his boss, my agent/editor, sent me an email saying that he had decided he couldn’t sell the book, ending the email with one word: sorry.  Immediately after receiving the email I fell down two flights of stairs.  Later that day I drove my car into a ditch.  The following night I walked in a zombie-like state into the home of complete strangers and proceeded to join the bewildered little family at their dinner table where they were just about to partake of a really nice home-cooked meal.  (Unbelievably, they let me stay.  Oh, the kindness of strangers.) 

I’ll take a good proof-reader over an editor any day of the week.  If a proof-reader fails to catch a mistake, it may be temporarily embarrassing (i.e. “Ghengis Kahn” instead of Ghengis Khan”), but at least it’s not permanently disfiguring.

Who designed your cover?

Cornelius Drake, which may or may not be a pseudonym for a designer/photographer who may or may not make his or her bread and butter by designing the covers of children’s books.

How much difference does a good cover make?

A good cover can’t “make” a book, but it can help get a book into the hands (virtual or actual) of a potential reader.  No question about it.  Conversely, a lousy cover can definitely “break” a book.  My philosophy is: if you’re going to invest some serious money, this is the place to do it.

How important is a good title?

A title can be of greater or lesser consequence, depending on the content.  In this case, Just Before the Dawn, the title was crucial.  Because of the XXX-Rated adult content, I wanted to prepare and caution the reader.  I wanted the title to be unambiguous: “You’ve been forewarned!  Enter at your own risk!”  

What's the best piece of business advice you've been given?

My father only gave me one piece of advice: Even the grandest ideas start with a small spark.  Even the greatest fortune starts with a single dollar.  So, when you find a passion for something, start small – even if it means starting in your garage or your basement. 

What's your favourite part of the writing process?

I’m obsessed with words.  They’re powerful and endlessly mysterious.  I believe that each and every single word has a secret code – something that lies beyond its obvious meaning.  The key to breaking the code is finding the right word and then finding the right word to follow that word and then the next, and so on.  I adore spending time finding just the right word – even when it takes me days or weeks, which it often does.

Also, writing grounds me to the earth – to time and space – which fulfills a hunger I have for terrestrial connection.  It’s funny because, theoretically, fiction writing wouldn’t seem a natural conduit to “reality” – yet somehow it works for me. 

What are your strengths and weaknesses as a writer?

I think people become artists for varying reasons.  Some are born with immense talent, others make art to survive.  (The two-time Pulitzer prize-winning journalist and author J. Anthony Lukas once said, “All writers are, to one extent or another, damaged people.  Writing is our way of repairing ourselves. ”  Lukas, diagnosed with depression ten years earlier, hanged himself in 1997.)  It’s fair to say that I started out as a member of the latter category.  It’s a less intellectual approach – at least in the beginning.  And the risks are titanic, because talent not wholly inborn is learned and earned through the sweat of the flesh and the letting of blood.  So, in the beginning, I fought demons on the battlefield of the written page.  That has changed over time.  I think that knowing why I write is my strength.

My weakness is that when it comes to writing I’m a “one verb at a time” type of gal.  When I’m writing I can’t take breaks.  I can’t take a walk.  I can’t answer the phone.  I can’t interact with other people.  I can’t make any type of plan – even if it’s something in the far distant future.

What aspects of marketing your book do you enjoy?


As a reader, how would you describe your taste in crime fiction?

I don’t read really scary, gory books – books with deranged killers or the likes – or any mass-market crime fiction.  Other than that, I’m open. 

What are you reading now?
Magic Mountain” by Thomas Mann

If you had to re-read a crime novel right now, what would you choose?

“The Burnt Orange Heresy” by Charles Willeford

What's the best collection of short stories you've read?

“When the Messenger is Hot” by Elizabeth Crane

Ever tried your hand at poetry?
I have one book of published poetry, “Mania” – which has original artwork by the American/Dutch artist, Jan Frank.  Lately, I’ve been writing rhyming poems, which I’ve found to be surprisingly un-childlike.

Do you read outside of the crime genre?

For a long time I only read and related to really tortured writers, poets, artists: Baudelaire, Rimbaud – the usual suspects.  I remember reading an interview from 1919 with the writer Djuna Barnes.  The interviewer asked her why she was so morbid and she answered, “Look at my life.”  I mean, that’s what I related to.  Not anymore.  Now I like rhyming poems and Artaud.  In the noir crime fiction genre of the Honey McGuinness books, I’d say my favorite writers are Jim Thompson, Charles Willeford, Charles Bukowski, Raymond Chandler.  Outside of this genre?  Oh, there are so many.  Among contemporary writers I’m crazy for Jeanette Winterson, Jonathan Lethem.  I read Alice Munro, Carl Hiaasen, Walter Mosely, David Foster Wallace.  Then there’s Jean Rhys, Virginia Woolf, Anais Nin, Henry Miller – that crowd.  There’s Hemingway, Fitzgerald, and Steinbeck.  And Gabriel Márquez, Thomas Mann, Alexander Dumas.  I’m sure I’ve missed some but as you can see, my stock is eclectic.  Once you clean house, there’s room for everything.  I like that.

Do you enjoy writing?

Beyond words.

Do you have any other projects on the go?

I’m currently working on a novel (the working title: The Woman Who Was Good Enough to Eat), which was inspired by the true story of a 55-year old woman who met a 30-year old man and, two days later, married him.  Before the honeymoon was over he ate her, literally.  

Just Before The Dawn by Bonnie Kozek
Amazon UK|Amazon US

Saturday 4 February 2012

Free For Two

These two very fine books are free on Kindle over 4th and 5th Feb.

The Unburied Dead: Amazon UK|Amazon US
Yellow Medicine: Amazon UK|Amazon US

A stark and edgy new police thriller from the creator of the Barney Thomson series.
A psychopath walks the streets of Glasgow, selecting his first victim. He sees his ex-girlfriend everywhere, and he will have her back.

When a woman is savagely murdered, her body stabbed over a hundred times, the police know from the nature of the crime that the killer will strike again. DCI Bloonsbury, the once-feted detective, is put in charge of the investigation, but as the killer begins to hit much closer to home and an old police conspiracy starts to unravel, Bloonsbury slides further into morose alcoholic depression.

In the middle of it all is Detective Sergeant Thomas Hutton, juggling divorce, deception, alcohol, murdered colleagues, and Dylan. He could use a break but the dead will not rest and the past will not be buried until he can catch the latest serial killer to haunt the streets of his city.

Praise for Douglas Lindsay:

"The plot, Russian literature fans, is a modern spin on Dostoyevsky’s Crime and Punishment. The bloody ending, movie buffs, is pure Reservoir Dogs."
– The Mirror

"This is pitch-black comedy spun from the finest writing. Fantastic plot, unforgettable scenes and plenty of twisted belly laughs."
– New Woman

"This chilling black comedy unfolds at dizzying speed... an impressive debut novel."
– Sunday Mirror

"A flawless follow-up to an impressive debut, this is extremely well-written, highly amusing and completely unpredictable in its outrageous plot twists and turns."
– The List

"Lindsay’s burlesque thrills offer no sex, no drugs, no desperation to be cool. Just straightforward adult story; fantastic plot, classic timing and gleeful delight in the grotesque. With more talent than Irvine Welsh could dream of, Lindsay has crafted a macabre masterpiece where content lives up to style."
– What’s On

About the author:

Douglas Lindsay is the author of the Barney Thomson crime series, which begins with THE LONG MIDNIGHT OF BARNEY THOMSON, and is currently seven novels and a novella (THE END OF DAYS) strong. He is also the author of LOST IN JAUREZ. THE UNBURIED DEAD is his most recent novel. Douglas lives in Somerset.

Deputy Billy Lafitte is not unfamiliar with the law—he just prefers to enforce it, rather than abide by it. But his rule-bending and bribe-taking have gotten him kicked off the force in Gulfport, Mississippi, and he’s been given a second chance—in the desolate, Siberian wastelands of rural Minnesota. Now Billy’s only got the local girls and local booze to keep him company.

Until one of the local girls—cute little Drew, bassist for a psychobilly band—asks Billy for help with her boyfriend. Something about the drugs Ian’s been selling, some product he may have lost, and the men who are threatening him because of it. Billy agrees to look into it, and before long he’s speeding down a snowy road, tracking a cell of terrorists, with a severed head in his truck’s cab. And that’s only the start.