Sunday, September 1, 2013

TOROS & TORSOS AND THE LABOR DAY HURRICANE OF 1935


This Labor Day weekend marks the 78th anniversary of the Great Florida Keys Storm of 1935 — still the most powerful hurricane to strike the United States. 
The storm is a critical element in my novel TOROS & TORSOS, currently free for Kindle this Labor Day weekend. (Download your free copy HERE.)
The ’35 hurricane occurred at a time before tropical storms were given names. Storm forecasting was an uncertain science. And officials charged with the responsibility of informing and evacuating citizenry in the storm’s path were more grossly incompetent in performing their duties than those who bungled evacuations in the run-up to Katrina.
Toros & Torsos opens in Key West during Labor Day weekend, 1935. It finds Hector Lassiter and Ernest Hemingway preparing for the hurricane and traces their activities during and after the monster storm swept north of Key West.
America’s southernmost island was spared; the hurricane instead swamped and devastated the upper middle keys, killing numerous World War I vets left stranded on low-lying labor camps by dithering federal officials who had adequate time to evacuate them. 
The needless deaths of the vets and others had the effect of politicizing a previously apolitical Ernest Hemingway (admittedly, never an FDR fan) who was among the first to reach the destroyed keys to lend support and aid in collecting storm victims’ swollen, rotting bodies.
Hemingway wrote, “I would like to make whoever sent them there carry just one out through the mangroves, or turn one over that lay in the sun along the fill, or tie five together so they won’t float out, or smell that smell you thought you’d never smell again, with luck when rich bastards make a war. The lack of luck goes on until all who take part in it are gone…You’re dead now brother…Who left you there? And what’s the punishment for manslaughter now?”
In writing the Key West portion of Toros & Torsos, I consulted numerous Hemingway biographies, but the book I leaned hardest on is Phil Scott’s Hemingway’s Hurricane, which is not just the most comprehensive resource for Hemingway’s storm experience, but an excellent overview of the 1935 disaster that will be of interest to anyone who believes Katrina and government officials’ failure to adequately prepare for that gathering storm was an isolated phenomenon.

TOROS & TORSOS, HEAD GAMES FREE ON KINDLE


TOROS & TORSOS is currently available for free download as an eBook exclusively from Amazon.com.

Although it is technically the second novel in the Hector Lassiter series, the book is set decades in advance of number one, HEAD GAMES, and so is a perfect starting point for first-timers. (On that note, during Labor Day Weekend, HG is also available for free Kindle download, giving you a great kickstart if you want to press on to Lassiter's #3 and #4, PRINT THE LEGEND and ONE TRUE SENTENCE, respectively.)

ABOUT THE BOOK:
Hector Lassiter is a legendary crime novelist who writes what he lives and lives what he writes. But Hector frequently goes a step beyond, drawing friends and lovers into the tawdry and turbulent territory of his fiction. Now, the large-living pulp author has at last met his match in the ultimate performance artist: a phantom killer committed to the art of murder… a blood-thirsty provocateur who leaves a string of macabre tableaus modeled on famous works of surrealist painting and photography… 

Against the vivid backdrops of a killer hurricane that nearly destroyed the Florida Keys in 1935, the Spanish Civil War, post-war Hollywood and the first days of the Castro regime in Cuba, Hector engages in a decades-long duel against a cabal of killer artists…

As in its Edgar®-nominated predecessor Head Games, history and myth merge, drawing on recent scholarship pointing to the existence of a dark underground of artists, photographers and art collectors that flourished in Europe and United States through most of the Twentieth Century.

In a blood-limned haze of love, deception, murderous metaphor and devastating betrayal, nothing is what it seems and obsession and creativity collide in a wicked and unexpected climax that will shake the art world to its foundations… 

*********
TOROS & TORSOS was also:

• A 2009 Crimespree Award finalist for Favorite Book

• A 2009 Crimespree Award finalist for Best in an Ongoing Series

• One of Woody Hauts' Favorites of 2009 (You can read his take on the book here.)

Endorsements:
"A bold, ambitious, genre-bending novel from the talented Craig McDonald."
— GEORGE PELECANOS, THE TURNAROUND

"In Toros & Torsos Craig McDonald takes pop culture, real people and invented action to create a powerful novel of suspense. It gives one the slippery sensation of time-travelling with characters you'd always wished you could meet and suddenly you can. McDonald is knowing and artful, and the suspense pushes at a lovely pace until it starts to stomp like Hemingway on an empty bota."
— DANIEL WOODRELL, WINTER'S BONE

"Nothing short of a surrealistic masterwork."
— PAUL GOAT ALLEN, CHICAGO TRIBUNE

"This is granite poetry in all its stone glory."
— KEN BRUEN, PRIEST

"Deftly mixes myth, history... McDonald's imaginative tale takes an enjoyably different approach to art and murder."
— PUBLISHERS WEEKLY

You can also learn more at my official site, and view additional trailers, access interviews and various other extras related to TOROS & TORSOS, including an interview I gave in France regarding surrealism and serial murder, right here.

Saturday, August 31, 2013

HEAD GAMES, FREE FOR KINDLE THIS WEEKEND


Pancho Villa, Orson Welles, Marlene Dietrich, Jack Webb and an ex-President!

Starting today and continuing through the Labor Day weekend, HEAD GAMES, my 2007 debut novel, is available for free download exclusively for your Kindle right here.


This is the novel that introduced crime novelist Hector Lassiter, “the man who lives what he writes and writes what he lives”—the internationally critically acclaimed character who went on to headline TOROS & TORSOSPRINT THE LEGEND and last year’s ONE TRUE SENTENCE.

HEAD GAMES WAS:

• 2008 Edgar® Nominee for Best First Novel

• 2008 Anthony Award Finalist

• 2011 Sélection du prix polar Saint-Maur En Poche

• 2008 Gumshoe Award nominee for Best First Novel

• Head Games shortlisted for 2008 CrimeSpree Magazine award for Best First Novel

"One of the great American road novels."
—Heirloom Books

"This slick caper novel touches chords of myth, history, loss and redemption just enough so you can hear echoes faintly under the gunfire."
—Publishers Weekly

ABOUT THE BOOK:
“In a dusty cantina on the far side of the Rio Grande, larger-than-life and recently widowed crime writer Hector Lassiter and Bud Fiske, a callow young poet sent by True Magazine to profile Hector, are handed a carpet bag. Inside they find the stolen head of Mexican general Francisco ‘Pancho’ Villa—a long missing relic that may point the way to a fortune in lost treasure or a blood-and-thunder death...

“In the dank, hallowed halls of Yale University creep the members of the Skull & Bones, a secret society shrouded in whispers. They are a fraternity whose members include media barons, über executives and politicians, including three generations of men called Bush—and their sanctum sanctorum's trophy cabinet is purportedly packed with the stolen bones of long-dead luminaries...

“In a '57 Bel Air, Hector, Bud, and the beautiful Alicia tear through the desert with a trunk full of human heads. Caught in a crazy crossfire, they lead all manner of headhunters on a breakneck chase across Lost America. U.S. intelligence services, murderous frat boys, the soldier of fortune who stole Pancho's head from its grave, and the specter of a dead Mexican legend all want Villa's head—though they might settle for Hector's...”



*********************
What some other authors have said about Head Games:

KEN BRUEN
"Head Games is terrific, a real discovery, informed by—but never weighed down by—Craig McDonald's intimate knowledge of pulp fiction, politics, history, literature, film noir and all manner of frontiers. A truly original debut that leaves one eager to see what this writer will do next."
—LAURA LIPPMAN, author of What the Dead Know

"Moves like a bullet, like a trajectory of magnificent artistry and line-on-line of almost casual, throwaway description. The beautiful, understated humor running like a sad song all through the whole novel...I'm beyond impressed."
—KEN BRUEN, author of American Skin


JAMES CRUMLEY
"Reading Craig McDonald's Head Games was like reliving those wonderful and exciting, tequila-fired weekend border-town tours of my youth in the '50's. A different character, vivid and lively, waiting around every new corner of the artfully twisted plot. The time and place are captured perfectly, and story never falters as it dashes to the surprising ending. It made me homesick for El Paso the way it was."
—JAMES CRUMLEY, author of The Last Good Kiss 

JAMES SALLIS
"Few writers can blend a contemporary feel with what drew us to old-style pulp and original paperbacks: that momentum, that craziness, the thrill of the downhill slide and crash. Head Games is smart, it's funny, and it moves like a roach when the lights go on—what's not to love?"
—JAMES SALLIS, author of Drive

"Head Games is fast, funny, furious, heart wrenching, real smart and totally unapologetic...a five-star page turning sizzler in a four-star world. Talk about nailing your debut...Head Games seals the deal and establishes McDonald as the new badass on the writing block. Kick back with a shot of Cuervo and a cold Tecate chaser. Enjoy the search for Pancho's missing head in this fast-paced thriller of lost and sorely missed Americana."
—CHARLIE STELLA, author of Shakedown

"Head Games is contemporary noir at its finest. Prose that bites like a guillotine blade. A voice that sings in your skull. And in aging pulpster/adventurer Hector Lassiter, a hero who's the real deal—morally complex and damned funny."
—ALLAN GUTHRIE, author of Hard Man

Selected as one of The San Francisco Chronicle's Top 10 crime books of the year: "Craig McDonald, a genuine expert on the history of crime fiction, gives free rein to all his obsessions in a debut novel that's a berserk 1957-based caper running roughshod through the politics and pop culture of the latter half of the 20th century. Strap in, hold on, enjoy the ride."
—EDDIE MULLER, SAN FRANCISCO CHRONICLE

"Head Games is a gravel and mescal cocktail, a one-day burn, a novel of genuine piss and vinegar, the kind of book you thrust on people with the wild eyes and intent of a PCP freak. It's Tom Russell singing ‘Tonight We Ride’ with a gut full of tequila and a loaded Colt. Craig McDonald knows the tough guy, has created one of the very finest, a pulp writer called Lassiter who knew Hemingway, Welles and Dietrich, and who I wish wasn't fucking fictional so I could hunt for his books. He spits in the eye of the pansy-ass authority hero that has glutted the crime market, reminiscent of Crumley at his best and with Ellroy's sick historical verve. Bottom line, McDonald's a talented bastard."
—RAY BANKS, author of Saturday's Child

"A booze-soaked tribute to those great gonzo noir writers of days gone by."
—ANTHONY NEIL SMITH, author of The Drummer

"Yeah, I'm late catching up to this guy, but damned if this 1950's set tale of a crime writer carrying the head of a Mexican rebel in a bag across some kind of crazy road trip didn't set my pulse racing. There's a strange switch at a late stage in the novel which might divide some readers in the way the ending of No Country For Old Men did its audience, but for my money it's a bold move that more or less works exactly as intended. This McDonald guy is definitely one to keep your eye on."
—RUSSEL D. MCLEAN


Tuesday, August 20, 2013

TRIBUTE: ELMORE LEONARD, THE ROGUE MALES INTERVIEW

The following is the interview I conducted with Elmore Leonard in 2007. The interview originally appeared in my second collection of author interviews, ROGUE MALES.


ELMORE LEONARD: TEN RULES

Elmore “Dutch” Leonard was born on October 11, 1925 in New Orleans. During World War II, Leonard served in the U.S. Naval Reserve from 1943-46. (Vision problems kept Leonard out of the marines, with whom he’d tried to enlist.)
Following his military service, Leonard studied at the University of Detroit, graduating in 1950 and launching a 17-year career in advertising.
Leonard published his first piece of fiction — a Western short story — in Argosy in 1953 (he scored a $1,250 advance for his 1961 Western novel, Hombre; so he was a long while quitting his day job to write fiction fulltime).
After a long run writing Western novels and short stories — and faced with the decline of the genre he’d made his name in — Leonard shifted to crime fiction in 1969 with the release of the paperback original The Big Bounce. That novel’s publication followed a reported 84 rejections.
His crime novels drew critical praise for their taught, clean prose and ear-true dialogue, but his audience didn’t really begin to grow until the 1980s. Leonard’s ’83 release, LaBrava, earned an Edgar Award. In 1985, Newsweek published a cover story on Leonard, declaring him “the best American writer of crime fiction alive.”
On his way to that success, Leonard quit drinking in the 1977. He endured the break-up of his long, first marriage to his college sweetheart (the couple wed in 1949) and struggled with a middling screenwriting career (among his screen credits is an ill-advised TV-movie sequel to High Noon that starred Lee Majors).
In the late 1970s, “Dutch” (the nickname is a nod to a Washington Senators’ pitcher) began to hit his stride with Detroit- and Miami-based crime novels such as Stick, Swag and The Switch.
Leonard’s 1985 novel, Glitz, hit the best-seller lists and sat there for sixteen weeks — Leonard’s breakout book had finally arrived after 32 years as a published author.
Elmore Leonard was interviewed in conjunction with the publication of a slim little book entitled, Elmore Leonard’s 10 Rules of Writing. The interview was conducted the day after Leonard celebrated his 82nd birthday.

***

Let me start off by wishing you a happy birthday.

Oh, thanks, that was yesterday. I got a lot of calls, too.

Did you do anything grand for the day?

I tried to work, but I don’t think I wrote anything down. Maybe a line. The phone would ring. So then my family — we all went out to dinner last night and that was it.

Are you one of these writers who feels a driven need to write every day?

No, I don’t feel driven, but when I’m writing a book I definitely want to write every day, because if you miss a day, you forget. You’ve got to keep it with you. You’ve got to keep it going all the time in your head.

There are writers who claim they get knocked off stride for a week or so, and then the book dies on them.

Oh yeah. If you are away from it for a week it will take more than a week to get back to it.

Do you practice the Hemingway technique of re-reading what you’ve written every day to kick-start the writing process?

Yeah, or in the morning, before I’ll start out, I’ll read from an older book. One that I like. I like ’em all, but I’ll read something just to get the sound back that I want. The attitude. Then I’m off. Once I start to write, then I’m into it. I get lost and the time just flies by. That’s the beauty of this work. I look at the clock and it’s three o’clock in the afternoon and I say, “Good, I’ve got three more hours.” You know — after fifty years.

Is there still an excitement for you when a book comes out? You’ve had this extraordinary run. Not to say you’d be jaded about it, but…

My last two or three books, I’ve gone back into the 1930s or 1940s, beginning with the serial in the New York Times. That was a different pace. I was experiencing different things then in the research. Memories. I was in the service at that time — in the forties. So many things came back to me, like food rationing…gas rationing. That kind of stuff. That was interesting. I’m glad to get back to the contemporary. I like to keep my books fresh — references to what’s going on today.

I interviewed a lot of crime writers immediately after September 11, 2001 and the terrorist attacks. They all said they were having a hard time writing anything contemporary or relevant in the wake of those events. It swamped their ability to write and seemed to shrink the importance of what they were writing. Several subsequently began to write books set in pre-911 eras. Was any of that sentiment factoring into your decision for your own writing trips back into the 1930s or ’40s?

No, no I hadn’t thought of that. There are writers of course who have used it — working it (the attacks) into a plot.

The novel you’re writing now is going to bring back Foley from Out of Sight?

Yeah. In fact, I’m bringing back three characters from three different books. Right away, I thought well, “Foley, definitely. I’m going to do Foley because George Clooney likes Foley.”

That’s a compelling reason to do it…

And Foley is easy to write for me because I know him pretty well, now. So then I brought another character in, Dawn Navarro, who is a psychic. I brought her in out of Riding the Rap and then Cundo Rey. Cundo Rey is a character in LaBrava. He was a very smalltime hustler and a Go-Go dancer. He was just a hip little guy. I was hoping that he was still alive. I didn’t remember.

So you had to go back and revisit your own book?

Yes, I had to look it up. He got shot, three times, in the chest. And I thought, “Oh my God.” But Joe LaBrava shot him and then immediately left. He knows he’s dead. But he wasn’t.

You had some wiggle room…

Yes, the emergency guys picked him up and see, “My God, he’s bleeding, he’s bleeding.” He’s still alive. So they rush him to the hospital and he’s in a coma. He extends the coma — pretends to be in a coma longer than he is — to find out where he is and what’s going on. Then he has one of the guys working in the hospital who was also Cuban, also in the boatlift — the Mariel boatlift — sneak him out. Then he goes to L.A. and gets into dealing drugs to people in the movie business. He makes a lot of money, but then he’s arrested but they’re not sure they can convict him in California. So they send him back to Florida where there’s a detainer on him on a homicide. He gets a very good lawyer and he’s out in seven-and-a-half years.

Now Foley, he’s back in prison, so he’s talking to Cundo Rey. Foley is facing thirty years. He doesn’t think he’s going to make it — this is terrible. Cundo Rey says, “Hey, I’ll get you my lawyer,” who is a young woman — very very savvy…knows what she’s doing. She gets Foley’s conviction reduced from thirty years to thirty months. And so they both get out about the same time and go out to Venice, California where the story then will take place.

And that will be an ’08 release. Let’s talk about the book coming out now — Elmore Leonard’s 10 Rules of Writing. The rules have been around for a while. What was the catalyst to put them out in book form now?

My researcher is the one who kept pushing me.

Greg Sutter?

Greg Sutter. Yeah. He’s been getting stuff for me for, say, 25 years. He said, “It’s time to have these rules published because people are using them all the time…referring to them.

They are all over the Internet

Yeah. We proposed it my editor at HarperCollins and she thought it was a great idea so we did it. We have it illustrated (by Joe Ciardiello).

It’s a slim little book. Were you under pressure to throw in another ten rules?

(Laughing) No, we got 95 pages out of 10 rules.

That’s impressive…

That’s not bad at all. You see, this started in the year 2000. I was guest of honor at Bouchercon. That afternoon in the hotel in Denver, I wrote up these 10 rules. They’re in much different form. Then, when I came down off the stage, a guy approached me and said, “Can I have those?” These two pieces of yellow paper… I said, “Sure, here,” and handed them to him.

Hell of a collectible…

Well then, a few years later, The New York Times asked me if I would do something for their column Writers on Writing. I made up the 10 rules again and put them in an order that I thought was right. I also made reference to different writers who wouldn’t need my rules. For example the rule about don’t describe your characters in detail. I said, “Hell, Margaret Atwood can do it all she wants because she’s good at it.”

It’s funny, because the two sheets of paper all of the sudden appeared for sale at a bookstore on the Internet. My researcher who was just looking around happened to see them the day that they were offered. A friend of his was a lawyer in L.A. and he told him about it and bought them immediately. Then Greg said to the lawyer, “I was going to get them.” The lawyer said, “We’ll both put in to buy them.” They got this page-and-a-half, at most, for six-hundred bucks. If the guy had waited until the rules book came out…

He’d have had a five-figure collectible…

I know! My researcher has for years been trying to get me to save all my papers because I write everything in longhand.

I would think universities would be all over you to donate those manuscripts.

I tried saving the longhand sheets but it’s not a perfect sheet. It’s mostly just crossed out. There’s more crossed out than is there. That’s why I started doing it longhand because it’s so hard to x-out things on a typewriter.

This might be too precious a question, but I’m wondering if the rules and your instinctive commitment to them — even if you hadn’t formalized them or written them down — shape you as a writer? I’m trying to chicken and egg it a little…

When I started out, I thought they’re kind of tongue-in-cheek. But then the more I looked at them I realized “No, they’re not.”

A lot of people certainly don’t read them that way.

The way I wrote the rules seven years ago, I say, “Forty-nine years ago last month, I sold my first story. Since then I’ve come up with 10 rules for success and happiness in writing fiction. One: try to leave out the passages that readers tend to skip. It’s the ones you spend the most time on. Number two: Never open a book with weather.” That is number one, now.

You mention exclamation points and that you only get to use two for about every 100,000 words. I think it’s a great rule.

Two or three.

Two or three. I was at a book conference recently and I picked up the paperback Three-Ten to Yuma and other stories. I started reading the very first story, “Calvary Boots.” By my count, you’ve got about 11 exclamation points in that story which can’t be more than four or five thousand words long.

Don’t tell anybody! When those stories came out again, ones that I wrote in the 1950s, I hadn’t read them in more than 50 years.

I wondered if you have a real strong temptation to go through and kind of massage ’em.

No. No, I had to leave them alone because this is what they sounded like.

I also wondered if editors had inserted some of those exclamation points.

Maybe. I had adverbs in there, too… “ly”-adverbs. That’s the worst sin of all.

You praise some contemporary writers in the book, but also, obviously, Steinbeck and Hemingway are prominently mentioned. Are there writers working today whom you admire for having tight, clean economical prose?

There was one I learned a lot from in the fifties and that was Richard Bissell. He’s probably very hard to find right now, but I loved his books set on the Mississippi River. He was a pilot. “7 1/2 Cents” became The Pajama Game. Then he wrote a book, Say Darling, about the making of the play. I learned more from him than I did from Hemingway. Because Hemingway I learned a lot from, I know. But he didn’t have a sense of humor.

I’ve seen you remark on that before, and I’ve heard a lot of people say that, I see some humor in some of the early stories and novels. A Moveable Feast is funny in places, though it’s a nasty kind of funny…very mean humor in that one.

I was giving a talk and someone said, “What do you mean he doesn’t have a sense of humor?” I said, “What are you going to tell me about? Sordo’s stand on the hill (in For Whom the Bell Tolls)? Because that’s very ironic what he’s yelling at and so on.

Which of Hemingway’s works do you admire? In terms of the novels I’d guess For Whom the Bell Tolls.

Yeah. And of course I couldn’t wait to read The Old Man and the Sea when that came out. I was working at an ad agency and I remember getting the issue of Life Magazine at the cigar store downstairs in the General Motors Building and running back up to my office and starting to read it right then. I was really in love with his prose at that time. I still have his Forty-Nine short stories on my desk. And I can look at those at any time. Some of those are really terrific.

I notice there are no Faulkner references in the 10 Rules of Writing.

No, I’ve never been able to read him.

Hemingway remarked, “Writing is architecture, not interior design.” That sounds like something you would subscribe to as an axiom. You say in the Rules that if something reads like “writing” you have to strike it. It sounds from your description of your hand-written drafts that’s still something you do quite a lot of.

Oh yeah. If it sounds like writing, re-write it. Someone will ask me, “What do you mean by that?” And I say, “Upon entering the room…”

There you go. Knocks you right out to the story.

That’s it. It’s the way we were taught to write in school, with the dependent clause first.

I guess what you’re saying is a key to good writing is unlearning formal writing, first.

Yes.

You wrote an introduction to George V. Higgins The Friends of Eddie Coyle a few years back. In that introduction, you quote Higgins as saying “Writing can’t be taught.” Do you subscribe to that notion? Is it an innate skill?

My son just got a two-book deal at St. Martin’s. He started writing fiction two or three years ago, maybe. He started out writing screenplays because he figured that would be the fast buck. I said, “You’re crazy — you’ve got to be out there if you’re going to be a screenwriter. You should be out there because all of the people who went to film school, that the screenwriter went to film school with, they’re studio executives and they’re buying the stuff.” Then he started to write a book. All of his friends and his sons loved it. They told him, “This is great. This is bound to sell.”

Then I read it, and I said, “Who’s the main character?” He said, so-and-so is. The woman.” I said, “Well, she doesn’t come off as the main character to me.” So he sent it to my agent in New York, Wylie, and they gave it to eight different publishers and they all said the same thing: “Who’s the main character?” So now he listens to me. He’s really into it. He’s older — he’s in his fifties. I said, “Why didn’t you start earlier?” He said, “I didn’t want to.”

Is he going to publish under the name “Leonard?”

Oh yeah, Peter Leonard. Sure. They just made a deal for him in England with Faber. He’s really into it now. He’s got his own company — an ad agency. He’s got two partners and he’s just trying to write his way out of it the same way I did back in ’61.

There’s much said now of the death of midlist authors, and the death of book reviewing, and the computer monitoring of sales and the effect of that on writers who don’t sell great numbers of books. What would your advice be to someone just going out into the market as a beginning author? I mean, you’re above and outside much of this because of your level of prominence and your readership…

But I don’t sell nearly as many books as…

…As I would think?

(Laughing) Yeah. If I sell 100,000 hardcover, that’s good.

That is a hell of a lot, still.

It is, it is, but there are people who their first printing is 800,000 copies or two-million.
That guy, James Patterson, he’ll have three books sometimes on the list. But you know that the other guy whose name is printed much smaller on the cover than his (Patterson’s) is doing all the work.

Patterson has more or less become his own corporate brand now.

And his chapters are never more than three pages.

If that. Do you still regard The Friends of Eddie Coyle as the best crime novel ever written?

Definitely.

You’ve had this extraordinarily long career…do you think a career like yours can be replicated in today’s market?

I think the reason that I’m still going is that I didn’t really hit the big time until the mid-eighties. But I started in the 1950s.

You more than paid your dues.

Yes. By the time I got on the Times list, boy, I had a backlist, you know? And that was great. Then the backlist gets bought by whomever is publishing me.

You finally get your money back on those early works?

That’s right — everything…everything. Even the short stories that I got two-cents a word for. Like Three-Ten to Yuma I got ninety bucks. I sold the screen rights for $4,000. The publisher of Dime Western could take twenty-five percent of a film sale and he did because the pulps were starting to go out of business then.

All the magazines…there were so many magazines that would publish short stories in the 1950s. You’d aim for the Saturay Evening Post and Colliers. Then you’d come down through Argosy, and then the pulps. There were a couple of dozen pulps, at least.

What’d you think of the new Yuma film?


I liked it. It looked good. The ending made no sense at all… But on the whole, the reviews have been good.

Ever get the itch to write another western novel?

If they were to pay as much as crime novels do, yeah, I could do one.

I was Googling you earlier today and I came across an item that for the first time in years, Halloween costume rentals of western outfits are up. They attribute the spike to the new Yuma film.

There’s another use of Yuma in Cuba, where they call America “La Yuma.” And individuals from the United States are referred to as “Yuma.” And this is because of that movie that was released in the 1970s in Havana, because Castro wouldn’t allow the picture to show originally.

Did you find yourself watching Deadwood on HBO?

No, I never got into that. The language amazed me.

You’ve often cited movies as an early influence on your writing. Do you still find films you can enjoy? So many seem to be put together by committee and test-audience…

As many as I’ve sold and have been made from my work, there have only been a few good films. I think it’s mostly luck that good movies are made because there seem to be so many people in the business, studio people, who are just trying to wreck things. There’s that joke about the two agents who are out in the desert. They’re dying of thirst. Finally, they come to this well. “Oh, here’s water we can drink.” And the one says, “Wait, let’s piss in it, first.”

Are you comfortable with gauging or trying to characterize your own influence on crime writing?

I really don’t know what that is. I hear good things from George Pelecanos and some others. My editor will tell me more and more books are sounding like mine and that I’ve opened the door for a certain type of writers. It’s funny though, because when I’m sent a manuscript by the publishers, there’ll be a reference to the fact that this guy supposedly sounds like me. I don’t see it at all.

Sunday, August 18, 2013

SITTING ON THE OTHER SIDE OF THE INTERVIEW TABLE

I more or less first planted my flag in the crime novel world as an interviewer, having conducted discussions with a wide range of authors that eventually resulted in two interview collections focused on the craft of writing and gathered under the titles ART IN THE BLOOD and ROGUE MALES.

In recent years, I've mostly found myself on the other side of the interview process.

In addition to all of the interviews I've been engaging in on radio and in newspapers in Mexico in recent weeks, a couple of other interviews Stateside are now available in eBook or paperback format.

A few years back, I participated in a Q&A with Jean Henry Mead for her site that has since been collected along with interviews by Lawrence Block, Sue Grafton and J.A. Jance, among many others, in Mead's THE MYSTERY WRITERS: INTERVIEWS AND ADVICE.

My discussion with Ms. Mead focuses largely on Hemingway and my third novel, PRINT THE LEGEND, about Papa's death and entanglements with the FBI during his latter years...about Hemingway's legacy to present-day writers and so forth.

In addition to the interview, I also contributed an original essay on the craft of writing that is only available in Ms. Mead's book.

You can find it on Amazon.com for Kindle here or in trade paperback here or visit Ms. Mead's site for newer interviews here.

Casting farther back in time, when HEAD GAMES, my debut was fairly new, fellow novelist Tony Black interviewed me from his base in Scotland.

That interview, along with others by Ian Rankin, Ken Bruen, Andrew Vachss and a number of other crime novelists is now available in Black's HARD TRUTHS: CROSS-EXAMINING CRIME WRITERS.

Saturday, August 17, 2013

NEW INTERVIEWS FROM MEXCIO, #3 ZÓCALO SALTILLO

Original illustration from
Zócalo Saltillo
Number three in a series of English translations of new interviews I've given to newspapers and radio stations in Mexico over the past several weeks in support of the first Spanish-language edition of HEAD GAMES (Or, in Mexico, LA CABEZA DE PANCHO VILLA).

This interview is with Sylvia Georgina Estrada who is based in Saltillo, Coahuila (north Mexico) and it appeared originally in Zócalo Saltillo. (You can read it in the original Spanish here.)


Q) How did your interest in Pancho Villa’s life start? Why did you decide to write a book about the stolen head of this brave man?

A) I first heard of Villa because a famous fiction writer from my birth state, Ambrose Bierce, disappeared into Mexico allegedly trying to meet Villa. To this day, nobody knows what became of Bierce. There were also two men in my hometown (I use their names in the novel) who were part of the Pershing Expedition, and who chased Pancho Villa through Mexico after the 1916 attack on Columbus, New Mexico. One of them shared a photo album of that campaign with me one afternoon when I was a young reporter. That started me reading novels and histories in which Villa figured, and I became fascinated by him.

Ambrose Bierce

I was also seized by the robbing of Villa’s grave and the theft of his still missing head. As I began to write my novel, I ran across this newish biography about the man who was arrested for stealing the head, and the fact he supposedly did so under the payment of President George W. Bush’s grandfather, Prescott Bush. That suggested the entire plot, in a flash.

Q) Sometimes we forget that people could move history. Do you think that Pancho Villa changed, one way or another, the perception of US about Mexico?

A) In a word, yes. It’s interesting to me to read contemporary newspaper accounts of Villa and his early efforts in the Revolution when he was kind of America’s great hope or favorite son in terms of the various players in your Revolution.

There’s that famous photo of Villa with General Pershing (and Rodolfo Fierro lurking in the background) when Pershing was taking Villa’s measure as an ally or figure to potentially support. Villa was regarded as a kind of Robin Hood crossed with George Washington here, at the time. Then President Wilson chose poorly in casting his lot with other, less worthy figures in the Revolution and the attack on Columbus ensued. And, of course, of all men sent to lead the chase for Villa, it was Pershing. I think Villa has a very mixed reputation in the borderlands and American Southwest to this day. Elsewhere in America, his reputation has drifted back into a more romantic/heroic light.

Rodolfo Fierro


Q) What kind of research did you require to write this book? Did you find something unusual? I like the references to the golden age of American cinema or Yale fraternities such as Skull and Bones.

A) In a way, all the many college years and those after I spent reading about Villa and the Revolution represent my research efforts. All of my (eight) novels with Hector Lassiter turn on historic events to one extent or another, but I don’t really choose topics or events and then research them to write about them. I have longstanding preoccupations I write books around, so I end up doing more fact checking against memory than digging around for materials.

On that note, Orson Welles is another of my preoccupations, and in his classic film, TOUCH OF EVIL, that is featured in my novel, Welles doesn’t just direct, but stars in the film as an aging, once macho, grieving widower moving through a dark border town on a dubious quest. In a sense, that pretty much describes my narrator Hector Lassiter’s status in the novel, as well. Skull and Bones required a bit of light research, but it’s a self-declared Secret Society, so it lends itself to informed invention.

Hector Lassiter, by Kevin Singles, from the forthcoming
graphic novel of HEAD GAMES.


Q) Hector Lassiter is a veteran writer and also daredevil, How did you create this character?

A) I first created Hector for a short story contest and that story got a fair amount of attention and was anthologized in a book or two. I decided to take the character and put him in a novel, which quickly grew into a series. Hector started as a kind of blend of the great crime writer James Crumley and a bit of Ernest Hemingway, but evolved quickly into being his own man, who has become known, to his frustration, as “the man who lives what he writes and writes what he lives.”

As the Lassiter series unfolds, I also explore the life of the writer and this notion of a man who lives his life with an eye to how it will play on the page, and more frighteningly, how those around him start to adopt the same attitude and strategies in terms of how they will appear in Hector’s novels. You get some of that in the Villa novel, particularly with the character of Alicia, who starts to model herself after a Lassiter heroine.


Character concept
sketch of "Alicia"
by Kevin Singles
for forthcoming
HEAD GAMES
graphic novel.


Q) What are the satisfactions behind Head Games? The novel was a finalist for the Edgar, Anthony, Gumshoe and Crimespree Magazine Awards for best first novel. I read that you also have more books about Hector Lassiter…

A) I spent many years and wrote a number of other novels before Hector’s first book found an agent, a publisher, and then went on to be translated in many languages. Hector is an engaging character who I never seemed to run out of material about and who constantly surprised me when I was writing him. He appeals strongly to male and female readers who “get” the books and the character. Hector has opened the world up to me and my family, as we’ve gone here and there (Paris, Quebec and other wonderful places), as Hector has gone out into the world through translations and I’ve had to promote the books.

I wrote a total of eight novels about Hector (four have been published here in the States and in Europe; four are pending). Seven of them were complete before the first even appeared. The series is tightly interconnected, yet isn’t chronological in its presentation. I wanted to do what nobody else to my knowledge has ever done, and essentially write a planned, contained series with a beginning, a middle and an end. For me, too many genre writers just reel off an endless cycle of novels around the same character, and, sometimes, the author dies and the series passes into other hands. I’m offering eight novels about this man, his life and times, and that’s all. I don’t want Hector or the series to wind down like some boxer who doesn’t know when to leave the ring.


Q) What do you like about Mexico and the Mexican border? It’s a recurrent theme in your books.

A) I love Mexican culture, art, music…everything. The second Lassiter novel published here in the States, in fact, uses a painting by Diego Rivera, whose rights I negotiated for myself with the Bank of Mexico. Like Hector, one of my favorite songs in life is “Cancion Mixteca,” and my iPod is jammed with various versions of that song ranging from Mexican folk singers, to pub performers, to the great Tom Russell and the American actor Harry Dean Stanton.

Also, immigration is a huge issue where I live, even now, in this still-shattered Obama economy, and it drove much of the news I have covered as a journalist. Most of all, I have a deep regard for Mexican literature and poetry, and read as much of it as I can get my hands on.

(By the way, Hector Lassiter ventures into Mexico, significantly in two others of the seven books remaining.)



A) Head Games is available in the libraries of Mexico and is about a character who is in love, particularly, with the north of Mexico. What would you like to say to your readers?

A) I would thank them first and foremost for being readers. As a journalist and an author, I value every person who still finds the time and takes joy in reading.

Like my character, I am an ardent student and lover of your culture and history, and while I’m writing fiction, I do so always with the notion that fiction can bring us closer to truth than history or nonfiction. That might be a startling assertion for some, coming as it does from a man who is still a fulltime journalist, but it is what I truly believe, and, as they say, journalism is, at best, merely history’s first draft.