News Items Various and Sundry

So it’s been some time since I updat­ed. It’s been a hell of a year. My health went to hell in a hand-bas­ket, and I wrote a ton of poems as a result. I read many books, and bought many more. The fam­i­ly went through some junk, and I went through some junk. Boy howdy.

On to the impor­tant stuff: even through the hell­ish land­scape that has been 2019, I have got­ten work done since my last update. A poem appeared in Black Cof­fee Review’s Fall 2019 issue called “Piss­ing In Pub­lic Uri­nals,” which was received with many quizzi­cal looks and side­long grins, but gen­er­at­ed more praise than many things I’ve writ­ten more recent­ly. My sto­ry “Easy Tiger” appeared in The Des­per­ate and the Damned anthol­o­gy. ‘The Russ­ian’ appeared in Mys­tery Tri­bune in Sum­mer 2019, and final­ly, the pieces de resis­tance, the two books I have that have come out this fall, Kraj the Enforcer: Sto­ries, out in Octo­ber from Shot­gun Honey/Down & Out Books, and Apoc­a­lypse in A‑Minor, a mis­cel­lany of poems,from Ana­log Sub­mis­sion Press, due out on Novem­ber 18th. Here is the cov­er copy for Kraj:

Meet Kraj—pronounced krai—a low-lev­el errand boy and hit-man mas­querad­ing as a bounc­er for Tricky Ricky Gutier­rez, nefar­i­ous own­er of the Twist, a club in upstate Elmi­ra NY. A place that has both a LGBTQIA night and a cow­boy coun­try night, this cock­eyed cor­ner bar in north­ern Appalachia sup­ports Ricky’s ille­gal schemes, and serves as a rur­al balm for Croa­t­ian-war refugee Kraj.

Kraj plies his trade over a short span, mov­ing from pet­ty theft to strong-arm­ing tips from peo­ple at the door, break­ing up red­neck fights, pro­tect­ing the club’s nubile female staff and col­lect­ing gam­bling debts owed Tricky Ricky. Kraj even­tu­al­ly gets sucked fur­ther and fur­ther into Ricky’s under­world plans, where he wants to be seen as a man on the come-up, but he has prob­lems mov­ing up in Ricky's orga­ni­za­tion will nev­er solve. His sis­ter Ana, miss­ing since the Croa­t­ian War for Inde­pen­dence, nev­er strays far from his mind.

Kraj, togeth­er with his some­time girl­friend Cami, new­ly become man­ag­er of a fran­chisee McDonald’s, and his man­ag­er Mikael. nego­ti­ates his way through under­ground fight clubs, pros­ti­tu­tion rings, drug deals, pet­ty thiev­ery, and of course, mur­der. Tricky Ricky gives Kraj a great deal of rope and auton­o­my to oper­ate.

Will he hang him­self with it or swing?

As far as the future goes, I have two sto­ries in the final stages of con­sid­er­a­tion for dif­fer­ent antholo­gies, plus the sto­ry “Big Pop­pa” com­ing out in Goli­ad Review. I also have a nov­el. The Enforcer’s Revenge fea­tur­ing Kraj, the pro­tag­o­nist of my most recent book, in edits. I said I’d giv­en up on that one due to a num­ber of com­pli­cat­ing fac­tors. but I may have found ways around. It will take time and oppor­tu­ni­ty that I don’t have right now, so it may be a year or two before I can fix it. I also have anoth­er full, if short, nov­el fin­ished, one whose bones are strong, but no agents are inter­est­ed, because it only runs 55K. Too short for sub­mis­sion. It’s called Sun­set Approach­ing, and it hear­kens back to my ear­li­er work, a more Appalachi­an book in set­ting and tone. I hope to place that with a uni­ver­si­ty or inde­pen­dent press some­time in the near future.

And final­ly, I’m in the midst of col­lect­ing a bunch of Appalachi­an sto­ries that I’ve pub­lished in var­i­ous jour­nals since Most­ly Red­neck came out, some crime and some not. They fit pret­ty well as a col­lec­tion, so I’ll be shop­ping that around soon enough too. I have a pri­vate inves­ti­ga­tor nov­el I’m work­ing on spo­rad­i­cal­ly. set here in Revere, where I live and write. I have high hopes for that, at least high com­pared with my goals for 2019, which was basi­cal­ly to sur­vive. I’ve done that, despite innu­mer­able chal­lenges, and I remain hope­ful in spite of crush­ing depres­sion, anx­i­ety, and psy­chosis, and I only hope I stay well enough to do the work that is in me to do.

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Hello Again

FRiGG splash page

I promised to post more dur­ing this peri­od of time, but…stuff got away from me. On the pub­lish­ing news front, I've man­aged to place poems in four jour­nals over these last few months, Plumb, Ginosko, BEAT to a PULP amd FRiGG. I'll also have anoth­er Kraj sto­ry in Mys­tery Tri­bune com­ing up soon, and anoth­er in Goli­ad Review this fall. 

I'll be at Boucher­con in the fall too, late Octo­ber, ear­ly Novem­ber, so look me up or drop me a note via social media before­hand. I'd like to get togeth­er, as I don't get to min­gle very often. That's about all for now.

BEAT to a PULP splash page
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Happy New Year!

I pledge to post a lit­tle more, which means I have to have news to share or per­ti­nent info. You can find two recent sto­ries, one in Goli­ad Review, a long sto­ry I'm par­tic­u­lar­ly proud of at 9000 words, and anoth­er in Mys­tery Tri­bune. Oth­er­wise, I've added a page for my newest nov­el The Last Dan­ger, sequel to Ridgerun­ner, in which Matt Rid­er gets into even more trou­ble with the rene­gade Pittman clan and clings to his instincts to the detri­ment of near­ly every­one around him. Jay Gertz­man wrote up a nice pré­cis of the nov­el on Ama­zon if you care to look it up. I'll repro­duce some rel­e­vant bits here.

_Ridgerunner_, the first nov­el in this pro­posed tril­o­gy, showed Matt Rid­er as a man capa­ble of pro­tect­ing his fam­i­ly from the bel­liger­ent, bul­ly­ing Pittmans, who con­trol the region­al drug dis­tri­b­u­tion in upsate NY and PA. Matt con­fronts them with the steely (as in guns) res­o­lu­tion of a West­ern home­stead­er pro­tect­ing his domain from cat­tle­men who want to run him off it. Per­haps the name Matt Rid­er is meant to sug­gest this kind of clas­sic rur­al Amer­i­can inde­pen­dence, which came through vio­lence. The Pittmans kill Matt’s broth­er and Matt has killed two of them. As _The Last Danger_ opens, Matt knows he is a hunt­ed man. He also knows, as anoth­er fight­er against crim­i­nal says, PI Phillip Mar­low says, “I was part of the nas­ti­ness now.”

His broth­er, wife, and daugh­ter all won­der what Matt has become. Traps are many-lay­ered in this nov­el. The Pittmans have forced him to do drug runs. That at least pro­tects wife and daugh­ter. But Matt expos­es them, and his loy­al best friend, to increas­ing dan­gers as the nov­el pro­ceeds. So his des­per­ate need to pro­tect just increas­es a quick­sand-like immer­sion. His own vio­lence increas­es, and he rel­ish­es it. The more he tells him­self he is pro­tect­ing the fam­i­ly (which is his chief aim), the more his behav­ior makes that sin­cere con­vic­tion a Kafkaesque entrapment. 

I hope to pub­lish even more in 2019, includ­ing a col­lec­tion of Kraj sto­ries as well as some poems and short sto­ries. I'll attend at least two, pos­si­ble three con­fer­ences in 2019, so get­ting to hang out and have a beer with some of you is a very real pos­si­bil­i­ty. Thanks for hang­ing in there with me, and here's hop­ing for the best in 2019

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In the House of Wilderness, by Charles Dodd White: Q&A

What were the orig­i­nat­ing images in this nov­el? I imag­ined as I was read­ing it had to be the open­ing eight pages, where you set up the con­flict beau­ti­ful­ly, but I'm pre­pared to be wrong, as you could have writ­ten the Strat­ton chap­ters first.

Yeah, I was real­ly drawn in by this idea of three very dif­fer­ent peo­ple trav­el­ing togeth­er through a kind of over­whelm­ing land­scape. I actu­al­ly spent a year com­mut­ing along that stretch of inter­state that pass­es from west­ern North Car­oli­na into east Ten­nessee, large­ly in the predawn hours, so it was nat­ur­al to lull into a kind of dark imag­in­ing. In a very real sense, the land gave me the sto­ry. Also, I was in the process of mov­ing into a new state for a job and the idea of home and how that can change at dif­fer­ent points in a life was very much on my mind as well. Those two ele­ments nat­u­ral­ly coa­lesced into what became the cen­tral con­flict of the book.

When did you real­ize you were pit­ting the triumvirate–Wolf, Win­ter and Rain–so bald­ly against against con­ven­tion, and what did it mean for the book, par­tic­u­lar­ly for Rain,? Was it a process of dis­cov­ery, this nov­el, or the ful­fill­ment of a plan? It all seems inevitable, as it ought to, though not in the ways you expect, which is what I read for, mostly.

That oppo­si­tion was there from the start. Part of it was my sense of the dual­i­ty of wilder­ness. For me that word has psy­cho­log­i­cal as well as phys­i­cal impli­ca­tions, which is at the heart of the para­dox in the novel’s title, i.e. how can a struc­ture man­age to be tru­ly wild? I think Rain is the most dynam­ic char­ac­ter in the sto­ry, large­ly because she defies what the men around her want her to become. Yet, she still lives with­in a very real world that shapes how we think, feel, and act. So there’s a sense of what things must be con­front­ed, but her sense of self makes that some­thing that’s not nec­es­sar­i­ly easy to pin down.

What made you decide to pair up Strat­ton and Rain? I talked about it with my wife as I read, which I don't usu­al­ly do, won­der­ing how you were going to make it work, which I has­ten to say, you did, very well.

I didn’t want it to become a clichéd May/December pair­ing that pop­u­lates so many sto­ries. This was about find­ing some­thing of val­ue in anoth­er per­son with­out the for­mu­la of a con­ven­tion­al romance. So, their con­ver­gence need­ed to be inex­tri­ca­ble tied to the land. Their way of being and know­ing is drawn direct­ly from that fact.

I dig the ref­er­ences through­out, to the Gar­den and Gun arti­cle about the dog with can­cer, and the Jason Isbell/DBT, and the clas­si­cal music ref­er­ences. They give the book a good con­tem­po­rary feel, but I won­der, do you wor­ry about dat­ing your mate­r­i­al? Or do you just count on hav­ing picked up on the good stuff and the good stuff lasting?

I think it’s just a mat­ter of telling the specifics of the world I care about. Good nov­els should doc­u­ment the world they’re try­ing to por­tray. If you wor­ry about how peo­ple might react to your work down the line I’m afraid you can become too self-con­scious. That’s the big dan­ger in get­ting involved too deeply in writ­ing workshops/groups. You start writ­ing to please a cer­tain group when you should be writ­ing to con­front them.

On page 113, Loy­al acknowl­edges his trou­ble with women via the baby. A nice moment, and fun­ny. He pro­vides a nice coun­ter­point to Strat­ton. Did he always have as large a role to play, or did he grow into it with the writing?

He grew out of the edit­ing deci­sions. That scene, as well as oth­ers, came out of a direct con­ver­sa­tion with my edi­tor, Gillian Berchowitz, about who he was and why he mat­tered to the rest of the book. I’m real­ly grate­ful for this because it’s unusu­al to have such a thought­ful and inci­sive read­er. I real­ly can’t thank her enough for mak­ing the nov­el the best ver­sion of what it could be.

Page 117. I cringed a lit­tle at 'Oba­ma the Reneger." See­ing those things are part of the land­scape, and I find Stratton's pol­i­tics inter­est­ing, though maybe not sur­pris­ing, giv­en his occu­pa­tion. His uni­ver­si­ty friends seem more con­ser­v­a­tive, but he doesn't. Were you set­ting up oppos­ing view­points, or was it just the way Strat­ton rolls? He seems like a mav­er­ick to me.

I think he’s fair­ly typ­i­cal for some­one teach­ing col­lege in South­ern Appalachia. He’s a Demo­c­rat, but he also likes to drink whiskey and fish and camp. I think it seems weird to those on the out­side that you can have pro­gres­sive pol­i­tics and a rich cul­tur­al life through the edu­ca­tion­al world while still enjoy­ing the best parts of the rur­al expe­ri­ence. The con­flict, of course, is when the unfor­giv­ably racist and jin­go­is­tic garbage turns up, which it does in very direct ways, and men like Strat­ton have to find a way to hold on to the things they care about while still chart­ing an eth­i­cal course for themselves.

Liza fas­ci­nat­ed me through­out the book, some­one the whole nov­el turned around, some­one we know well, yet she's nev­er in the book as a POV char­ac­ter, though her pho­tos stand in for her. Stratton's loss is pal­pa­ble, though, on near­ly every page he appears. Can you talk about her, and the deci­sions you made about her? Was she always in the book, or did the idea devel­op as you wrote?

Liza was meant to be a ghost, but like all ghosts she was there to shape the world by her absence. Despite nev­er appear­ing in the “now” of the sto­ry, she is a cru­cial part of it. Not only for Strat­ton but Rain as well. I thought this was an inter­est­ing dynam­ic that tried to show what deep grief does to peo­ple, even those to whom they’re indi­rect­ly connected.

Wolf reminds me of the old man, Wade, in Lar­ry Brown's Joe, but where Wade was just plain evil, almost a car­i­ca­ture, Wolf is some­one more com­pli­cat­ed. Did you wor­ry through­out about that, about mak­ing some­one so bad, so charis­mat­ic at the same time?

I think most of my bad­dies are like this. It’s like Milton’s Satan. How con­vinc­ing would he be if he failed to seduce the read­er with his hero­ic rhetoric? I think it’s per­ilous to under­es­ti­mate evil, to try to reduce it to some­thing that’s facile. When you do that you lose an aware­ness of how threat­en­ing it can be.

The end­ing reminds me of the best kind of inevitabil­i­ty, the knowl­edge that no mat­ter how things go, they can always get worse. Yet there's some hope too, as there ought to be but often isn' t (I've been read­ing a lot of noir late­ly). With­out reveal­ing the end­ing, I'd say it's hope­ful, but com­pli­cat­ed. How would you describe it?

I think, like in all sto­ries, things have to change to remain interesting.

Did you have oth­er books you were in con­ver­sa­tion with dur­ing the writ­ing of this nov­el? What kind of book do you think you set out to write, and what did you end up with?

I think those con­ver­sa­tions are ongo­ing. There’s clear­ly some McCarthy and Lar­ry Brown in there, but also some Car­son McCullers, James Salter, and Bon­nie Jo Camp­bell. If you’re not think­ing about oth­er books as you work, even on a sub­lim­i­nal lev­el, I think you’ve trad­ed away a sig­nif­i­cant piece of what you’re try­ing to do.

Charles Dodd White lives in east­ern Ten­nessee. He is a recip­i­ent of the Thomas and Lil­lie D. Chaf­fin Award for excel­lence in Appalachi­an Lit­er­a­ture, a Jean Ritchie Fel­low­ship from Lin­coln Memo­r­i­al Uni­ver­si­ty, and an indi­vid­ual artist’s grant from the North Car­oli­na Arts Coun­cil. He is author of the nov­els, IN THE HOUSE OF WILDERNESS (Forth­com­ing 2018), A SHELTER OF OTHERS (2014), LAMBS OF MEN (2010), and the sto­ry col­lec­tion, SINNERS OF SANCTION COUNTY (2011). He is also edi­tor of the con­tem­po­rary Appalachi­an sto­ry antholo­gies, DEGREES OF ELEVATION (2010) and APPALACHIA NOW (2015). His work has appeared in Red Holler: Con­tem­po­rary Appalachi­an Writ­ing, Walk Till the Dogs Get Mean: Med­i­ta­tions on the For­bid­den from Con­tem­po­rary Appalachia, Appalachi­an Her­itage, The Louisville Review, North Car­oli­na Lit­er­ary Review, The Rum­pus, Tus­cu­lum Review and oth­ers. He is an Asso­ciate Pro­fes­sor at Pel­lis­sip­pi State Com­mu­ni­ty Col­lege in Knoxville, Tennessee.

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Jesus in the Ghost Room Reviewed & Other Incidentals

Hi all. Zvi Ses­ling wrote a short review of Jesus in the Ghost Room over on Doug Holder's Boston Area Small Press and Poet­ry Scene. I'm pleased to say he found it worth read­ing, and I hope you do too.

If you're still on the fence about it after Zvi's word, here's what Bill Sol­dan had to say about it in a recent Ama­zon review:

As Barnes grap­ples with what it’s like to be an indi­vid­ual, to feel lone­ly in a world of dif­fer­ence and con­tention and uncer­tain­ty, to rec­on­cile one’s roots to one’s present cir­cum­stance, and to process the immi­nent death of our loved ones, among oth­er uni­ver­sal crises of the heart, he leaves in each honed line a piece of him­self, and we’re damn lucky to have him.

You can pur­chase a copy through Nix­es Mate Books, via Ama­zon, or your local indie book­seller. In oth­er poet­ry news, I'll have a rhyming poem com­ing up in the Five-Two, your week­ly dose of crime poet­ry, and I'll blast the link on social media when the time comes.

My recent Kraj nov­el has shuf­fled off its mor­tal coil. I just can't do the sec­tions set in the past jus­tice to my sat­is­fac­tion, nor afford to trav­el to Croa­t­ia to research fur­ther, and I'm not even entire­ly sure it's my sto­ry to tell any­more. I've writ­ten a lot of Kraj sto­ries set in the present, but writ­ing the events of his for­ma­tive years, dur­ing the very com­plex wars in the region, despite all my research, is beyond my capa­bil­i­ty right now. It may not always be so. I'm still read­ing about the time peri­od, still seek­ing out oth­er nov­els, all in all still very much inter­est­ed. But the writ­ing has ground to a not unwel­come halt. I bitched on Face­book about it already, so no need to com­mis­er­ate; besides, I've anoth­er nov­el in progress already, it's just too ear­ly to talk about it.

Hav­ing said that, I'm con­cen­trat­ing on poet­ry for the time being, draft­ing three or four poems a day and hop­ing one of them will end up a keep­er, and research­ing new mar­kets for the stuff. I also have some short sto­ries in the works, and anoth­er one avail­able in the recent Switch­blade. If dark and nasty trips your trig­ger, this one may be for you. As one Ama­zon review­er put it, "Rusty Barnes nailed it with an unex­pect­ed tale of bad guys who did bad­der things–things I couldn't believe. And the skank in that story…wow." You can find Switch­blade Sixx on Ama­zon in print or Kin­dle form.

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Personal and Publication Updates

Hi all. I usu­al­ly don't post much per­son­al stuff here except book announce­ments and the like. There's been so much going on late­ly, though, I feel as if I should post some­thing. I've tak­en time off from new stuff only to revise the next book in the Killer from the Hills series, The Last Dan­ger, which appears in Octo­ber from Shot­gun Honey/Down & Out Books.

I have five–count them, five–new sto­ries com­ing out in the next few months to a year, a flash piece com­ing out soon in Shot­gun Hon­ey, then also sto­ries in Toe Six, Mys­tery Tri­bune, Switch­blade and Goli­ad Review. Goli­ad Review will fea­ture the longest sto­ry I've writ­ten since grad school, around 9000 words.I haven't had a short-sto­ry run like this in quick suc­ces­sion since the ear­ly to mid 2000s, when I pub­lished the major­i­ty of my short sto­ries, before switch­ing over to nov­els. I'm also hap­py that four of those fea­ture Kraj, a Croa­t­ian hit­man who's appeared before in Manslaugh­ter Review, Full of Crow, Rev­o­lu­tion John, Plots with Guns, and Bull (that sto­ry was a Der­ringer Short Sto­ry Award final­ist for 2017) and hap­pi­er to report I have a complete–still unti­tled– nov­el draft fea­tur­ing Kraj. I'm still research­ing it in spurts and revis­ing heav­i­ly, and hope to have it in sub­mit­table form before sum­mer 2019, plus sev­er­al more Kraj short sto­ries which form a nar­ra­tive arc. 

I've worked on and researched for Kraj off and on since 2015, My first nov­el took a year and half to write. Kraj will end up tak­ing three, one year to draft, one to research, one to rewrite. I'm going to be proud and ner­vous both to get that out in the world, just because I've tak­en so much time with it.  I don't want to screw it up, hav­ing tak­en so long, and I'm try­ing to write it in such a way that the research doesn't show. Most of the action takes place in the present, but key scenes occur in Croa­t­ia in the 90s, a time of war and great tur­bu­lence, to say the least, and I want to make sure I get it as right as I can.

Tough is mov­ing along nice­ly, with the first print col­lec­tion due out in July, and every week a new sto­ry or review pub­lished. Matthew Lyons's sto­ry "The Broth­er Bru­jo" will appear in Best Amer­i­can Short Sto­ries 2018, edit­ed by Rox­ane Gay, and I have high hopes that sto­ries from 2018 will appear in the oth­er annu­al prize antholo­gies for 2018 and 2019. I'm cer­tain­ly going to be nom­i­nat­ing var­i­ous pieces indi­vid­u­al­ly, and hav­ing the print col­lec­tions to sub­mit this tear en masse, as it were, will help me get tak­en more seri­ous­ly (by which I mean mul­ti­ple anthol­o­gy appear­ances), keep the Tough name in people's ears and help build rep­u­ta­tions for writ­ers and Tough alike.

Oth­er­wise, I'm read­ing as much as I can with home repairs and sum­mer busy­ness going on. High­lights of the past six months include the new Lau­ra Lipp­man, Sun­burn, and Zagreb Exit South by Edo Popovic, and  Zagreb Cow­boy by Alen Mat­tich. I'm also mak­ing my way slow­ly through the Black Lizard books pub­lished and repub­lished in the 80s with Bar­ry Gif­ford at the helm. Detour, by Helen Nielsen, and Swamp Sis­ter, by Robert Alter, among them. And the Big Book of the Con­ti­nen­tal Op, by Dashiell Ham­mett. I'm also read­ing in man­u­script or ARC sev­er­al forth­com­ing books: one by Jay Gertz­man, writ­ing about David Good­is, due out soon from Down & Out Books, and books by Bri­an Tuck­er, Matt Phillips, Charles Dodd White and Bill Soldan.

That's about it. I'm going to hun­ker down, revise some, read a lot, and try to enjoy the rest of the sum­mer. I hope you do the same.


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Books to Look For: Blood in the Hills, ed. Bruce E. Stewart

This is one to check out. RB.

From Appalachi­an Today's Jes­si­ca Stump:

BOONE, N.C. — “Blood in the Hills: A His­to­ry of Vio­lence in Appalachia,” which is edit­ed by Dr. Bruce E. Stew­art, asso­ciate pro­fes­sor in Appalachi­an State University’s Depart­ment of His­to­ry, is now avail­able from the Uni­ver­si­ty Press of Ken­tucky in paper­back format.

The vol­ume fea­tures essays from experts in polit­i­cal sci­ence, his­to­ry and lit­er­a­ture that ques­tion the sup­pos­ed­ly innate bru­tal­i­ty of the Appalachi­an peo­ple, exam­in­ing cas­es with­in the region from the late 18th to ear­ly 20th century.

"Blood in the Hills” was orig­i­nal­ly pub­lished by the Uni­ver­si­ty Press of Ken­tucky in Novem­ber 2011 and is part of the press’ New Direc­tion in South­ern His­to­ry series.

The press’s web­site states, “Edi­tor Bruce E. Stew­art dis­cuss­es aspects of the Appalachi­an vio­lence cul­ture, exam­in­ing skir­mish­es with the native pop­u­la­tion, con­flicts result­ing from the region’s rapid mod­ern­iza­tion, and vio­lence as a func­tion of social con­trol. The con­trib­u­tors also address geo­graph­i­cal iso­la­tion and eth­nic­i­ty, kin­ship, gen­der, class, and race with the pur­pose of shed­ding light on an often-stereo­typed region­al past."

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Mystery Tribune Issue No. 4

Mys­tery Tri­bune Issue No. 4
Win­ter 2018
The Mag­a­zine for Mys­tery and Suspense
236 pages
Edit­ed by Ehsan Ehsani

The first sto­ry in the Win­ter 2018 issue of Mys­tery Tri­bune, "A Friend Indeed" by Bren­dan DuBois, effec­tive­ly sets a tone.The dis­cur­sive nar­ra­tor, soft­ware design­er Caleb Willis, tells us every­thing we need to know in the first long sen­tence of the sto­ry: "So after my sec­ond mis­tri­al and my final release from coun­ty prison, I decid­ed to take up walk­ing, since there's not much to do with my life after I had been accused of mur­der­ing my best friend, who also hap­pened to be sleep­ing with my wife, while also in the process of steal­ing my com­pa­ny." After a lit­tle back­track­ing, the sto­ry unfolds neat­ly, fol­low­ing that old dic­tum: the journey's the thing, not the destination.

The sec­ond sto­ry, "The Cur­rent," by Dan J. Fiore, fea­tures one of the best descrip­tions I've ever seen of being acci­den­tal­ly drunk, the details com­ing through loud­ly and in in near-hal­lu­ci­na­to­ry detail. "It feels like there's a wall in Shawn's mind, a brick wall just behind him block­ing out every­thing that came before. Think­ing, remembering–it's like bang­ing against the bricks and the wall moves and shakes and bends and bits get through but not enough to see. Not enough to under­stand." Poor Shawn, a nine-year-old kid, is drunk, found by a father who's incon­sis­tent and a liar at best and ret­ro­grade ass­hole at his worst. Bad shit ensues, but as the sto­ry clos­es, Shawn "knows that hid­den under it all, beyond the dark­ness and chaos, is a place where it's calm and qui­et and final­ly still." This is a sto­ry I didn't expect to like as much as I did in the end.

"Kill One, Get One Free," by David Rachels takes an old saw, the gang­ster mak­ing his bones, and injects some mean lines and life into it. "This was the first moment I under­stood what I was sign­ing up for–what I had already signed up for. It was kill or be killed. At once, killing this old lady seemed like an act of self-defense. I felt my con­science relax." This brings us into the mind­set of our almost-hit­man, but there's still a turn to come, and it's a good one. It also fea­tures my favorite end­ing of the sto­ries I read in this issue, a con­clu­sion both sat­is­fy­ing for the sto­ry and intrigu­ing enough to want to read more about this char­ac­ter. Plus, you hear writ­ers quote some­one famous about the pow­er of the appro­pri­ate­ly placed peri­od; this story's only excla­ma­tion point does the same thing, but better. 

Todd Scott's "Wolf bite" is the third sto­ry to fea­ture a dog promi­nent­ly. This par­tic­u­lar beast is one to remem­ber. "It comes at him fast from the oth­er side of the trail­er. Low to the ground, throw­ing dust and rocks. Head as big as a fuck­ing mail­box. Maybe a dish­wash­er, with a whole din­ner set­ting worth of teeth, shined up bright. It's a fuck­ing shark on brindle legs. Bark­ing its god­damn head off." This is Tom­my Dale Keegan's dog, both dog and own­er bad actors, and the Mid­land Police Depart­ment, in the per­son of Ben Harp­er, has to shoot one of them. The first line tells the sto­ry: Ben Harp­er doesn't shoot the dog, even after he gets bit­ten. This is a real­ly fine piece, dis­cussing both man and dog, and man and woman, the two strains tied togeth­er skill­ful­ly and irre­sistibly. Plus, I'm a suck­er for s good dog story.

A sto­ry of anoth­er kind entire­ly, "Death In Flo­rence" by Nick Kolakows­ki brought me to a place I've nev­er been and plant­ed me square­ly on ter­ra fir­ma. "Despite the con­stant threat of vehic­u­lar slaugh­ter, I love this place: the tall side­walks lined with can­dy-col­ored mope­ds, the impos­ing wood­en doors plas­tered with flak­ing posters, the cries of ambu­lances and spar­rows, the Sene­galese deal­ing post­cards and cheap trin­kets from card­board stands (all the bet­ter to fold away when the Cara­binieri make an appear­ance)." The rest of this well-struc­tured sto­ry details a woman on a quest that isn't all it seems to be, with a twist I didn't see com­ing at all. The best kind of sto­ry, this one demand­ed a reread imme­di­ate­ly to find the clues the author left behind.

"Oil Down," too, relies on set­ting to con­vey its pow­er, par­tic­u­lar­ly in writer Bri­an Silverman's descrip­tions of or men­tions of food. The men­tions range from roti to Carib beer to Stal­lion over­proof rum, but in par­tic­u­lar, oil down, "a one pot stew fea­tur­ing salt­ed meats, greens, pro­vi­sions like bread­fruit or cas­sa­va and cooked slow­ly in coconut oil and coconut milk often served at Sun­day din­ner" all of which sets a scene as capa­bly as any more typ­i­cal descrip­tion of land­scape or peo­ple. The sto­ry itself involves the death of a vagrant, called Filthy Man, and the efforts of a local bar own­er, Len Buon­figlio, a refugee from New York, to solve the pos­si­ble mur­der with the assis­tance of sev­er­al locals. This piece has the feel of a nov­el about it, and one hopes we'll see more of Mr. Len's sto­ry some­where else.

"Dad" by Hugh Fras­er clos­es out the fic­tion in this issue. A short vignette about the narrator's trou­bled rela­tion­ship with his father, this piece deals more with the after­math of a crime than the com­mit­ting of one, and seems a more sub­tle tack to take in the midst of the oth­er more tra­di­tion­al nar­ra­tives in the issue. The sto­ry opens as the nar­ra­tor remem­bers his life with his father. "At least the wait­er has only one taste of his garbage, he has no idea what it was like to live with it for thir­ty sev­en years. Every god­dam thing he ever said to me, since I can remem­ber, was some way of mak­ing him­self feel good at my expense." Need­less to say, this isn't going to end well for any­one involved.

Fic­tion is obvi­ous­ly the main attrac­tion for me, but beside the sto­ries, there's a Q&A with Rick Geary, reveal­ing inter­views with Tom Sweterlisch, Nick Petrie and Sean Phillips, and a review of James Anderson's Lul­la­by Road. Plus, there's an arti­cle by Ele­na Avan­zas Alvarez called "Psy­chopaths in Crime Fic­tion."  I don't know enough about pho­tog­ra­phy to com­ment deeply, but pho­tog­ra­phers Mal­go­rza­ta Sajur and Ash­ley Jon­cas held and reward­ed my inter­est. The added bonus of pho­to illus­tra­tions for each sto­ry is a great thing I wish more jour­nals could afford to do.

Over­all, this is a strong issue of Mys­tery Tri­bune, a mag­a­zine I'll return to in the future. You can sub­scribe for $48 year­ly (four issues) or buy sin­gle copies at www​.mys​tery​tri​bune​.com, and you should if you're inter­est­ed in con­tem­po­rary crime fiction.


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The Balkan Route by Cal Smyth


Fahren­heit Press
ISBN 978–1979517591
Novem­ber 2017
280 pages

Ital­i­cized text from the Fahren­heit Press site:

After a busi­ness­man is bru­tal­ly mur­dered in Bel­grade, Inspec­tor Marko Despo­tović digs into the web of cor­rup­tion that con­nects the police, politi­cians, drug deal­ers and spir­i­tu­al heal­ers as they bat­tle over the lucra­tive Balkan hero­in route. 

Can Marko nav­i­gate his way through an increas­ing­ly com­pli­cat­ed and dan­ger­ous inves­ti­ga­tion as he tries des­per­ate­ly to keep him­self and his fam­i­ly safe?

Marko Despo­tovic is a Ser­bian police inspec­tor with a com­pli­cat­ed life. On one hand, there's life with his lov­ing wife Bran­ka and their teenaged ten­nis-prodi­gy son. On the oth­er, there's his neighbor's col­lege-aged daugh­ter, liv­ing near­by, who is also Marko's mis­tress, and the pass­ing­ly curi­ous fact that he's a non-cor­rupt cop in a very cor­rupt world. 

When he solves the mur­der of a local celebri­ty busi­ness­man, Despo­tovic is both­ered slight­ly by how eas­i­ly the case gets solved. What fol­lows reflects not only the cor­rup­tion of the local police force, but also the inter­sec­tion of crim­i­nal­i­ty and pol­i­tics. The ter­ri­ble real­i­ty is that Despo­tovic, in order to keep his life and fam­i­ly in good order, must become part of the cor­rupt sys­tem he only part­ly under­stands. For a while. And then, he becomes good at being cor­rupt him­self, a mat­ter hint­ed at in the first words of the novel.

"The sil­hou­et­ted fish­ing boats remind­ed Inspec­tor Marko Despo­tović of corpses that had float­ed down from Vuko­var dur­ing the Yugoslav War. Marko turned from the view of the Danube, lit up by the ris­ing sun, picked up his Ser­pi­co-style sun­glass­es and slid them into his shirt open­ing." There's no short­age of corpses in the nar­ra­tive, and the specters of the recent wars sur­round the char­ac­ters in both object and imag­i­na­tion, as a cou­ple key scenes take place among the ruins of bat­tles not so long past. There's also the specter of Amer­i­can film and the lure of easy star­dom. It's a milieu to die for.

Writer Cal Smyth's com­mand of this sto­ry rife with dou­ble­cross and com­pli­ca­tion is a mar­vel to read. Told in third per­son lim­it­ed per­spec­tive, most­ly from Marko's point of view but skip­ping around to var­i­ous oth­ers as the plot demands, this book is so well char­ac­ter­ized, Marko's plight so real, that from the reader's per­spec­tive, the seam­less whole has both break­neck pace and delib­er­ate intent. The out­come, grim yet real­is­tic, feels inevitable and right.

Smyth spent time in Ser­bia dur­ing the time peri­od in which the nov­el takes place, avoid­ing a NATO bomb­ing, and it shows. Sim­ple Google search­es of events and names in the book reveal a writer whose inten­sive research for the nov­el near­ly sur­pass­es his clear felic­i­ty with lan­guage, from the names of well-known crim­i­nals to the names of local pop stars. There's even a self-actu­al­iza­tion spe­cial­ist who plays a cen­tral role in a plot that gives as much plea­sure from unusu­al jux­ta­po­si­tions and dis­so­nances as it does from the writing.

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The Lousy Racket: Hemingway, Scribners & the Business of Literature

The Lousy Rack­et: Hem­ing­way, Scribner's and the Busi­ness of Literature
Robert W. Trogdon
The Kent State Uni­ver­si­ty Press
307 pages

While read­ing the first vol­ume of Hemingway's let­ters pub­lished recent­ly (they're up to vol­ume IV now) I came across men­tion of Trogdon's 2007 book. Trog­don is one of the series edi­tors, so it made sense to find this book slipped into the works cit­ed, and I was intrigued to find out that it con­cen­trates on Hemingway's rela­tion­ship with his pub­lish­er and its chief rep­re­sen­ta­tive, Maxwell Perkins, edi­tor extra­or­di­naire. A. Scott Berg dis­cuss­es Perkins' role in curat­ing the career of F. Scott Fitzger­ald and Thomas Wolfe in Max Perkins: Edi­tor of Genius, but spends sur­pris­ing­ly less time on his role with Hem­ing­way. Trog­don rec­ti­fies that omis­sion in this book, a thor­ough dis­cus­sion of issues Hem­ing­way faced with par­tic­u­lar atten­tion to sales and mon­ey con­cerns,  as well as issues of cen­sor­ship and poten­tial law­suits. Trogdon's sym­pa­thy lies with Perkins as edi­tor and pub­lish­er rep, who became both cheer­leader and hard-head­ed busi­ness real­ist as com­pared with Hemingway's often angry blusterer.

The first major issue came up with the book Scribner's took on after Hemingway's break with his first major pub­lish­er, Boni & Liv­eright, The Tor­rents of Spring. In a now famous pub­lish­ing sto­ry, Hem­ing­way used the unflat­ter­ing por­trait of Sher­wood Ander­son he wrote in Tor­rents to break his con­tract with Boni & Liv­eright, know­ing they would not agree to pub­lish some­thing that sat­i­rized their lead­ing light, which then gave him the oppor­tu­ni­ty to move to Scribner's, with whom he would spend the rest of his life.

"The most com­pelling rea­son for Hemingway's dis­sat­is­fac­tion with Boni & Liv­eright was the mar­ket­ing of [his first book] In Our Time. Liv­eright was more inter­est­ed in what Hem­ing­way would do in the future than in his ini­tial Amer­i­can pub­li­ca­tion. Short sto­ry col­lec­tions typ­i­cal­ly sold bad­ly, espe­cial­ly when they were the first books of unknown authors. Liv­eright appears to have treat­ed the book as a lost cause right from the begin­ning, pub­lish­ing it only to secure the tal­ent­ed author for the firm. Liv­eright ordered only 1,335 copies, indi­cat­ing that a large sale was not expect­ed." (19)

Trogdon's strength is in the num­bers crunched. We learn not just that only 1,335 copies were print­ed, Liv­eright spent only $653.10 on adver­tis­ing, and didn't fea­ture the book until page 25 of its fall 1925 cat­a­log. Trogdon's access to and analy­sis of the adver­tis­ing bud­get, ad place­ments and cat­a­log copy give us a much clear­er pic­ture of what real­ly prompt­ed Hemingway's desire to shift pub­lish­ers: money.

Even so, the pub­lish­er switch didn't mean that Scribner's took a wild fly­er on Hem­ing­way and threw buck­ets of mon­ey at him. Trog­don reports only a $500 advance and 2,785 copies print­ed on Hemingway's first Scribner's book, The Tor­rents of Spring, with an ad bud­get of $796.54 in 35 venues. Not the num­bers of some­thing they expect­ed a great deal of move­ment from.  This seemed to cre­ate in Hem­ing­way the bane of all pub­lish­ers, the writer who con­stant­ly bitch­es about money.That would all change–or would it?–with Hemingway's first prop­er nov­el, The Sun Also Ris­es, the rea­son Scribner's want­ed Hem­ing­way to begin with.

Mon­ey and the pur­suit of it remained a theme through­out Hemingway's time, a theme he returned to with increas­ing petu­lance and feroc­i­ty depend­ing on how he felt at the time, giv­en the ads he saw in the trades and gen­er­al inter­est mag­a­zines, and how many copies of his books Scribner's print­ed. He remained con­vinced that the pub­lish­er didn't do enough to push his books of the 1930s, a time dur­ing which his pop­u­lar and crit­i­cal recep­tion fad­ed a bit from the high points of The Sun Also Ris­es and A Farewell to Arms, a down­turn only cured by the 1940 block­buster For Whom the Bell Tolls. Perkins at these times reas­sured Hem­ing­way that the pub­lish­er remained firm­ly in his side, and that they were doing the best that they could, giv­en the demands of the mar­ket and the times.

Oth­er demands came to the fore as well, pri­ma­ry  among them the issues of cen­sor­ship and poten­tial libel. Hem­ing­way insist­ed, in his per­son­al writ­ing cre­do and in his busi­ness inter­ests, that he nev­er used a word with­out know­ing it was the best word for the sit­u­a­tion, and it quick­ly came to pass that his use of four-let­ter words com­mon­ly used would nev­er work in the rel­a­tive­ly staid con­fines of Scrib­n­ers and the pub­lish­ing world in gen­er­al. As well, his habit of lift­ing real-world friends and some­times ene­mies and plac­ing them in his nov­els with bare­ly-changed names and char­ac­ter­is­tics proved to be an issue.

Still, the empha­sis this book places on the mon­ey trail dur­ing Hemingway's career at Scribner's: the ad bud­gets and place­ment, the con­tracts, the remu­ner­a­tive book club deal that put For Whom the Bell Tolls over the top in sales, all tak­en from Scribner's records and doc­u­ments from the Hem­ing­way col­lec­tion, serve to remind us all of Hemingway's true per­spec­tive.  First, the actu­al work mat­tered. Sec­ond, but near­ly equal­ly, the mon­ey mat­tered, regard­less of crit­i­cal or audi­ence opin­ion. If you're inter­est­ed in the often sober­ing busi­ness of literature–all dol­lar amounts are also list­ed in 2005 dollars–and Hem­ing­way, you shouldn't over­look this book.

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