Interrogation: Frank Portman

PORTMAN 1Who: Frank Portman (a.k.a. Dr. Frank)

What: The singer/songwriter/guitarist of the Bay Area punk band Mr. T Experience and the author of three young adult novels including most recently KING DORK APPROXIMATELY, a sequel to the coming of age cult classic KING DORK.

Where: San Francisco

Interview conducted by email. Some questions and answers have been edited.

You published your debut novel, KING DORK, in 2006. What made you want to write a Young Adult novel at that time? Do you think you will ever write a non-YA novel?

In 2004 my band released it’s final/most recent album and attempted to tour on it and promote it in the usual way, not realizing that in the time since the last time we’d done that the world’s music consumers had all gotten together and decided not to buy records anymore.  The tour disintegrated at the end as they always do, leaving me at a loose end and running out of ideas now that recording another essentially valueless album and touring to promote its valuelessness was out of the question despite it being pretty much the only thing I knew how to do.  Writing a YA novel was suggested to me by an agent who was a fan of my songs and who thought the sensibility in them could work in fiction.  I had nothing but time so I gave it a shot.

King_Dork_coverThere’s a lot of arguing over “what is YA” these days (similar to the “what is punk?” trope that used to bedevil me way back when.)  Teen fiction is certainly where I feel most comfortable, and is a logical place to go from rock and roll, which is teenage music if it’s anything.  As a frame for fiction, exploring the teenage self coming of age has a quite a bit going for it, as I am certainly not the first person to note.  And this tradition is a long and great one that I’m pleased to be a part of.  That said, what makes a book YA is that it is marketed that way.  I’m fortunate that this marketing has worked so well for my books, but even in a different marketing category I’d write them the same way.  Which is a roundabout way of saying, I guess, that I don’t see the great gulf between YA and “non-YA” that the question assumes.

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“New Yorked” Is Out Today

unnamed-1“New Yorked” is easily one of the best debuts I have read. The characters are smart, funny and damaged, and the plot takes some truly interesting twists without tying itself in a knot. Most of all, I liked the tone of this novel, which captures the heart of crime writing in a thoroughly modern way.

I was lucky enough to connect with the author earlier this year. Here is an excerpt from my interview with Rob Hart.

One of the many interesting things about NEW YORKED is the ongoing battle between “old New York” and “hipster New York”. How prevalent is that in real life? 

There’s some goofy shit in this book—like the guy who’s name is Ian but stresses that it’s pronounced “Eye-Anne.” That’s a real thing someone said to me once. I’m worried people are going to say a lot of this is ridiculous, not realizing I’ve seen and heard a lot of it. I’m endlessly fascinated by the new v. old clash. This place really will chew you up and spit you out if you’re not strong enough. People who’ve lasted wear it like a badge of honor, and really disdain people who show up out of nowhere and act like they own it. At the same time, New York is a city where people flock to live out their dreams and fantasies. It’s by nature a point of refuge. I’ve never read a book where I saw that play out, so I thought it would be a fun arena to play in.

hart1Is NEW YORKED a crime novel in your eyes? How important is genre to you as a writer?

Genre discussions make me go cross-eyed. If I was pressed I’d say it’s a little noir, a little literary. But I’m firmly in the class of: A good book is a good book, and I don’t care if it’s YA or poetry or literary or crime or a cookbook.

How did your experience as a former political reporter and a commissioner for the city of New York influence the novel? How did you make the transition from politics to writing fiction?

I was a reporter for four years, two of which were spent as a political reporter, then communications director for a politician, and after I left politics got a call to sit on a redistricting commission, as a commissioner. I got two things out of these gigs: Brutal efficiency and life experience.

The efficiency is—both reporting and politics are professions where if someone has to ask you for something, it’s already too late. You have to be able to do twelve things at once, and be fast and accurate and good at all of them. And I got to do and see some cool stuff that informed my writing. I like writing about New York, because I know a lot about it. The second book, set in Portland, was a little tough. I’ve been there half a dozen times, but I don’t know the beat of it. Which helped, a bit, because the narrator doesn’t either. But it really showed me how much New York is my comfort zone. As for making the transition—I’ve always been writing, it was just hard to find the time. My productivity exploded after I took the job with MysteriousPress.com, because suddenly I wasn’t working 24/7.

Read the whole interview HERE.
Buy NEW YORKED HERE.

S.W. Lauden is a writer and drummer living in Los Angeles. His short fiction has been accepted for publication by Out of the Gutter, Criminal Element, Dead Guns Magazine, Akashic Books, Spelk Fiction, Shotgun Honey and Crimespree Magazine. His debut novel, BAD CITIZEN CORPORATION, will be published in 2015. His novella, CROSSWISE, will be published by Down & Out Books in 2016.

Interrogation: Eric Campbell

E Campbell-2012Who: Eric Campbell

What: Owner of Down & Out Books, an Indie publisher focused on great crime fiction with a slant on the harder side of life.

Where: Florida

Interview conducted by email. Some questions and answers have been edited.

Tell me about the moment that you knew you were going to start Down & Out Books. What was the inspiration? 

The short answer is that in 2011, after Ben LeRoy and I sold Tyrus Books (I was an investor and CFO), I still had an itch to be in the publishing business. So I blew the dust off of a business plan I had put together in mid-2009 and started D&OB. The initial goal was to be a vehicle for authors, who didn’t want to self-pub, to have their titles published as ebooks. I had no intention of releasing previously unpublished books, but the company soon blossomed into that arena.

Texas NoirWhat was the first book that D&OB published? What did you like most about that manuscript and/or author?

The first title published by D&OB was Crimespree Magazine #40. Jon Jordan and I had been talking about Tyrus publishing the ebook for him. With the sell, he said why don’t you do it under D&OB.

The first book published by D&OB was TEXAS NOIR, a short story collection by Milton T. Burton. He was a wonderful writer and someone I enjoyed calling a friend (he passed away on December 1, 2011). When I told him I was starting D&OB, he said I had to publish a short story collection for him. Who was I to say no?

Ladies-Night-CoverWhat is the most recent book that you published? What did you like most about that manuscript and/or author?

Well, I had four books drop on June 1, including: OVER THEIR HEADS by JB Kohl & Eric Beetner; LADIES’ NIGHT: Sisters in Crime, Los Angeles 2015 Anthology edited by Naomi Hirahara, Kate Thornton and Jeri Westerson; RULES OF HONOR by Matt Hilton, and TALES FROM THE BLUE LINE by Rob Riley. Continue reading

Quick Quotes—The Week In Publishing

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—Joyce Schnieder at Twitter

“I believe that reading only packaged microwavable fiction ruins the taste, destabilizes the moral blood pressure, and makes the mind obese. Fortunately, I also know that many human beings have an innate resistance to baloney and a taste for quality rooted deeper than even marketing can reach.” —Ursula K. LeGuin at Book View Cafe

“Pride is difficult to parse in the present moment. Pride is not the same as vanity. Pride is what makes a young writer believe that her words are worth reading, despite a world, a culture, that might prefer her silence.”—Nick Ripatrazone at The Millions

“Social media is a tricky thing. And it gets trickier when you start to run a business. Around April of 2013 I went from a degenerate loser with a big mouth to someone tasked with responsibility, namely for the folks gracious enough to let me publish them. I had to switch my game up. As a friend told me over beers: ‘You have responsibilities now. You need to shut the fuck up.'” —J. David Osborne at Gods Fare No Better

“One of the things I’m most thankful for, in terms of being an author and managing my career, is my day job experience as a publicist. Not just because of the contacts I have, but also because I know publicity – and building a career – isn’t about a flurry of activity. It’s a marathon. It’s about knowing when to go loud, when to step back and when to ramp up. It’s about knowing when to step back and ‘go quiet.'”—Alex Segura at Do Some Damage

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“I write to keep myself relatively sane. I write to give my existence on Earth a purpose. I write because it’s emotionally, intellectually and spiritually stimulating and compulsive. I write because I never knew my schizophrenic mother and I was raised within a right-wing guru cult in New Jersey and then thrust out into the big, scary world (Los Angeles) alone at age 16 and I kept writing to survive my own intense loneliness, isolation, confusion and fears.”—Will Viharo at Bad Citizen Corporation

“Not everything we do has to result in a book sale, but it can result in a connection, a relationship that may at some point lead to a sale. The point is to focus your message so your readers can find you, and engage with you but more importantly, you with them.”—Rachel Thompson at Bad Redhead Media

“The most rewarding books are the ones where the finished story almost lives up to the idea that sparked it.”—Stephen King at New York Times

“Man, woman, cyborg — no matter what kind of writer you are, if you want to win a major literary award, there’s just one thing you have to do: Make sure your main character is a man.”—Claire Fallon at Huffington Post

S.W. Lauden is a writer and drummer living in Los Angeles. His short fiction has been accepted for publication by Out of the Gutter, Criminal Element, Akashic Books, Spelk Fiction, Shotgun Honey and Crimespree Magazine. His debut novel, BAD CITIZEN CORPORATION, will be published in 2015. His novella, CROSSWISE, will be published by Down & Out Books in 2016.

Quick Quotes—The Week In Publishing

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“The Internet has ruined our collective mind for being able to rationally deal with news and issues. You need to come up with ever more vile headlines to get a few more clicks from the other 400 news outlets and sites that are doing the exact same story based on the same tiny bit of information.”—Ken Layne at Los Angeles Times

“Throw in several big-deal, massively popular series that are really single works split into volumes—a small platoon led by Elena Ferrante and Karl Ove Knausgaard—and it’s tempting to proclaim this the era of the Very Long Novel (VLN).”—Boris Kachka at Slate

“For me the great lesson was that what we do during the day bleeds over into what we do during the night. The immersion online is always in some ways shadowed, if you will, by this constant reminder that we should be doing something else, too; that our email is just a click away; that there is this almost incessant feeling of ‘Well, I should go faster,’ instead of ‘I should immerse myself.'”—Maryanne Wolf at NPR

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“One thing I really like about our books is the variety – on the face of it there’s little in common between Den Bleyker’s deep, intense psychological noir and Stateham’s hardboiled pulp thriller. The only real connection is intelligent, quality writing about crime.”—Christopher Black from Number Thirteen Press

“I do think I can get a lot more kids reading. The mission is simple. Any kid who finishes a Jimmy book will say, ‘Please give me another book.’ ”—James Patterson at New York Times

“If there’s a Raymond Carver of short crime fiction, Art Taylor would be him—but, you know, without the chain-smoking and boozing.”—Keith Rawson at LitReactor

“While we’re sad to discontinue the print edition of Print Lovers Magazine, we’re very excited to see how the advantages of digitizing will benefit our publication.”—Lucas Gardner at McSweeney’s

“Now I’m a pretty grounded cat. Outside of writing and make-believe worlds. High strung, sure, but grounded. Yes, I talk to myself. Yes, sometimes I answer myself. I had a brief bout where the state declared me mentally unstable in the mid-90s, but I bounced back from all that. Growing up is hard to do.”—Joe Clifford at Candy & Cigarettes Blog

S.W. Lauden is a writer and drummer living in Los Angeles. His short fiction has been accepted for publication by Out of the Gutter, Criminal Element, Akashic Books, Spelk Fiction, Shotgun Honey and Crimespree Magazine. His debut novel, BAD CITIZEN CORPORATION, will be published in 2015. His novella, CROSSWISE, will be published in 2016.

Eryk Pruitt’s HASHTAG Is Out Today

Eryk Pruitt is screenwriter, author and filmmaker living in Durham, NC. His short films FOODIE and LIYANA, ON COMMAND have won several awards at film festivals across the US. His fiction appears in THE AVALON LITERARY REVIEW, PULP MODERN, THUGLIT and ZYMBOL, to name a few. His novel DIRTBAGHashtagCover350S was published in April 2014, and his follow-up novel, HASHTAG, was published today by 280 Steps.

I was lucky enough to catch up with the author last month between book and film projects, long enough to have him answer a few questions. Here is an excerpt from my interview with Eryk Pruitt.

How does your new novel, HASHTAG, differ from your debut novel, DIRTBAGS?

HASHTAG, for one, is a little longer. Much like DIRTBAGS, it is told in three parts. It also gets a prologue and an epilogue, which I’m pretty happy about. Our characters get a chance to leave town some in HASHTAG, which is fun. I think there’s no place more beautiful, more sinister, more dangerous and more blessed than the American South, and I wanted to take the readers on a little ride, so we manage to get out of Lake Castor. How we do it… well, that’s a different story.

rsz_screen_shot_2015-04-05_at_73753_amWas writing a novel easier the second time around? 

I was fortunate enough to have already written HASHTAG by the time DIRTBAGS was published. However, after having gone through line edits and copy edits, it fiddled with my head during HASHTAG rewrites. I kept rewriting it and rewriting it, and even after 280 Steps took it, I still emailed them and asked if I could rewrite it one more time. Since I’ve been lucky enough to get some good reactions from people regarding DIRTBAGS, I put a lot of pressure on myself to make a book that people will like. I kind of forgot that I was supposed to have a lot of fun and that’s what people will respond to. It took me a while to get that through my thick skull, but I think I’ve got it down now. Have fun while you’re writing and everything will be just fine… I hope.

Read the whole INTERVIEW HERE.

Buy HASHTAG HERE

S.W. Lauden is a writer and drummer living in Los Angeles. His short fiction has been accepted for publication by Out of the Gutter, Criminal Element, Akashic Books, Spelk Fiction, Shotgun Honey and Crimespree Magazine. His debut novel, BAD CITIZEN CORPORATION, will be published in 2015. His novella, CROSSWISE, will be published in 2016.

Interrogation: Christopher Black & Matt Phillips

Redbone_CoverThis week we’re interviewing a publisher and one of his newest authors at the same time. Should be interesting. Let’s see what happens…

Who: Christopher Black & Matt Phillips

What: Christopher Black is a noir writer of little note and editor-in-chief of Number Thirteen Press—a project to publish thirteen quality crime novellas, one on the thirteenth of each month for thirteen months. He is passionate about crime fiction and films with a special interest in all things noir.

Matt Phillips’ short fiction has appeared in Pulp Metal MagazineFlash Fiction Offensive and Powder Burn Flash. REDBONE, from Number Thirteen Press, is his first short novel. A new novella, MESA BOYS, will be published this year by Severest Inks.

Where: Christopher Black lives in London. Matt Phillips lives in San Diego.

Interviews conducted by email. Some questions and answers have been edited.

Number 13 pressChristopher, how did you come up with the concept for Number Thirteen Press?

C.B.: The driving idea was that I love novellas and short novels and see these as the perfect format for a certain style of crime/noir writing—think of THEY SHOOT HORSES, DON’T THEY? or THE POSTMAN ALWAYS RINGS TWICE, or the more recent work of people like Allan Guthrie. Novellas have been out of fashion in mainstream publishing for a long time, but with e-publishing they are suddenly back with a vengeance and I wanted in on the action. But I didn’t want an open-ended project that could fizzle out: thirteen seemed a good, memorable number, it gave me definite end date and one book a month provides an impetus while being something to keep readers interested and coming back for more.

Matt, what made you want to submit REDBONE to Number Thirteen Press?

M.P.: Number Thirteen Press is publishing thirteen crime novellas/novels in thirteen months, consecutively, on the thirteenth of each month. When I heard about this, I thought—that takes some balls. I mean, think of the work involved. Why submit? Here’s a simple answer: Quality. The books they’ve published are good, damn good. A more nuanced answer is that REDBONE, to me, was pure noir, but I thought it was just different enough from what Number Thirteen had already published—it’s sort of a murder ballad-noir. Last year, I had a novella rejected by Number Thirteen (now, that sucker is in a fourth draft).

So, I did what any real writer does, I sat my ass in the chair and wrote another book.

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Christopher, your most recent release, REDBONE by Matt Phillips, is the seventh—so you are half way through. What have you learned about publishing along the way that you didn’t know before? What has been the most rewarding part of this experience so far?

C.B.: The most rewarding parts are the beginning and end of the process: going through submissions and getting excited about a writer with a lot of talent and a story with potential, and then finally seeing the end product and how excited the author is to get their book out to the public. In between is a lot of hard work, but all the authors have been really up for it and produced some stunning stuff.

As for what I’ve learned: everything else, from typesetting to social media. In particular: e-publishing is easy but producing quality manuscripts and books takes an incredible amount of time and effort.

the-mistakeMatt, do you feel any special honor or burden being the seventh release in a thirteen book cycle? Other than your own, which Number Thirteen Press release is your favorite?

You know, any time your work is published, it’s an honor. Halfway to thirteen is pretty damn cool in this case. Like we say in California, I’m stoked. This is my first book, so I feel a huge sense of pride and disbelief. I mean, I actually did it, right? But also, it’s like, I made all this stuff up… in my head. And now it’s out in the world. Kind of a trip.

Alright, at the risk of being pummeled by my fellow thirteeners, I’ll pick two favorites: OF BLONDES AND BULLETS by Michael Young and THE MISTAKE by Grant Nicol. The first is Number Thirteen’s initial release and it sets the tone—hard-hitting noir about how a good deed can really put a guy in some shit. The second is so atmospheric and well-written… Noir at its best. And, for good measure, it’s set in Iceland.

Click here to read the rest of the Christopher Black INTERVIEW 

Click here to read the rest of the Matt Phillips INTERVIEW

S.W. Lauden is a writer and drummer living in Los Angeles. His short fiction has been accepted for publication by Out of the Gutter, Criminal Element, Akashic Books, Spelk Fiction, Shotgun Honey and Crimespree Magazine. His debut novel, BAD CITIZEN CORPORATION, will be published in 2015. His novella, CROSSWISE, will be published in 2016.

Quick Quotes—The Week In Publishing

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“As we’ve found with movies and TV shows, the most popular books set in each state can be pretty surprising. For every obvious To Kill a Mockingbird, there’s the unexpected appearance of a lesser-known novel, like Dan Brown’s Digital Fortress in Maryland.”—Kevin O’Keeffe at .Mic

“It might sound cheesy, but I think writing is a kind of a journey. For me, especially if I’m working on a novel, it takes at least a year of fumbling around before I really get anywhere. As you try to imagine yourself into this world, it’s a process of writing stuff, throwing it out, writing, throwing it out. You’re trying to create this place for yourself inside your head; it’s very hard to get to that place, and it takes a long time to get there. But then, finally, there is the sense that maybe you’ve arrived, though you’ve had to discard a ton of stuff along the way.”—Anna North at The Atlantic
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Sometimes The Best Short Story Is A Song (#4)

I finally got around to watching “Filmage,” the amazing documentary about legendary SoCal punk band Descendents. It had been on my to-do list for a while, but I kept talking myself out of watching it. I knew it was going to be great no matter what, but having idolized them as a teenager I wanted to be able to give it my undivided attention. And then I got sick and was stuck in bed for a couple of days. It was time.

One of the many triumphs of this film—other than officially giving Descendents the credit they deserve for creating “pop punk”—was outing drummer Bill Stevenson as the band’s mastermind. It was also nice to see lead singer and anti-rock star Milo Aukerman acknowledged as one of the best punk singers of all time, without making the film about him. And I loved how the film spends a lot of time exploring ALL, the Milo-less band that emerged from the ashes of Descendents and has lived a parallel existence since the 80s. So, if you have read this far and still haven’t seen “Filmage”—you totally should, bro.

But today we’re actually here to discuss a Descendents love song that is also a great short story. “Clean Sheets” really showcases the band’s signature sound, straight-ahead punk energy mixed with Beach Boys hooks. But “Clean Sheets” is also a devastating tale of love, betrayal and the no-frills punk life. The moral? Even punks can get their hearts broken. Again and again.

Read the lyrics for “Clean Sheets” by Descendents right HERE.

 

Previous installments in this series:

S.W. Lauden’s short fiction has been accepted for publication by Out of the Gutter, Criminal Element, Dark Corners, Dead Guns Magazine, Akashic Books, WeirdBook, Spelk Fiction, Shotgun Honey and Crimespree Magazine. His debut novel, BAD CITIZEN CORPORATION, will be published in October 2015. His novella, CROSSWISE, will be published by Down & Out Books in 2016.

What Inspires Your Flash Fiction?

Yard Sale

The inspiration for a piece of flash fiction can come from the strangest places.

For example, we had a yard sale (a.k.a. “garage sale,” “tag sale,” etc.) a few months back. I hung some handmade signs up on telephone poles the night before and rolled our junk out onto the driveway at dawn the next day. A few people were already waiting when I opened my garage door that morning. Half my stuff was sold before I even had my first cup of coffee.

After that, business died down. The initial flurry of activity had wiped out most of the furniture and electronics I was selling, so the rest of the day was all about unloading knick knacks at a dime a pop. That gave me plenty of time to do some people watching and work on a sunburn. It wasn’t long before a short story began forming in my head.

That first version was about an unhappy suburban family (daddy, mommy and a teenaged son) who were cleaning out their garage in preparation for two big life events: junior going to college, the parents getting divorced. The story was told from the father’s perspective, an abusive corporate sales guy who only sees the world through the lens of negotiation—whether it’s dimes at a yard sale, sneaking a drink at lunch or cheating on his wife with a country club waitress. It came in at just about 1,500 words and, of course, ended in murder.

I submitted the story to a handful publications and watched the rejections roll in. A few weeks later I decided to rework it by changing the father from a corporate sales guy to a high-paid assassin. I liked the idea that he had this double life that his miserable family knew nothing about. In that version of the story, he leaves the yard sale after a fight with his wife and goes to the country club to negotiate his next hit.

I sent that version off too. It also got rejected. Rightfully so.

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The assassin interlude was interesting, but it felt forced. So I took that out and developed it into its own piece of flash fiction that I called “Range Life”. That one didn’t get rejected. In fact, it’s up on Shotgun Honey this week!

As for the yard sale piece? Well, I did the only logical thing and turned that into a story about a murderous clown. It’s with a magazine now and I am REALLY hoping it gets accepted because, you know, murderous yard sale clown.

What inspires your flash fiction?

S.W. Lauden is a writer and drummer living in Los Angeles. His short fiction has been accepted for publication by Out of the Gutter, Criminal Element, Akashic Books, Spelk Fiction, Shotgun Honey and Crimespree Magazine. His debut novel, BAD CITIZEN CORPORATION, will be published in 2015. His novella, CROSSWISE, will be published in 2016.