Saturday, August 2, 2014

Goin' Through Changes

Hello my friends,

As you have probably noticed, things have slowed considerably here at Craig's Book-ends. As you have probably guessed, that means that times are a-changin'. The journey I have been on since starting this blog has led me to wonderful places and I have met wonderful, incredible people. The result of that, however, is that my focus has changed. Craig's Book-ends is no longer the right place for what I want to do.

So what does that mean? Well, I'm about to begin a new blog called The Pulp Chronicler. Anyone paying attention can realize that we are living in a golden age. There are people working in crime, noir, and other pulp genres that are writing the best stuff that has ever been written in those genres. I've talked about several of them here: people like Mike Monson, Heath Lowrance, Chris F. Holm, Todd Robinson, and so many more. I want to focus on documenting this movement while it is still living and breathing. The Pulp Chronicler is where that is going to happen. There you will find news, reviews, interviews, and everything else you could want.

I hope that you'll follow me there. It's going to be a lot of fun.

Does that mean I will never use this blog again? Maybe. Maybe not. If I become enamored with bookish things that do not fit at the Chronicler then surely I may consider posting here again. However, my focus is pretty clearly going to be over there and in my upcoming pulp fiction magazine Dark Corners as well as my own writing career.

Thank you for joining me here at Craig's Book-ends. As always, keep reading. You never know where that reading will take you.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

The Great American Novel: A Review of A Swollen Red Sun

The novel is a literary form that has a unique potential that other literature does not. In my opinion, no country (other than Russia) has produced so many writers that can realize the potential of the novel than the United States. From John D. MacDonald to Jim Thompson, Herman Melville to Daniel Woodrell -- my favorite novelists are American. Forms like the hardboiled crime novel or the noir allow American fiction to deal with the world not how we would like it to be but rather how it is. One might argue that the pursuit of the Great American Novel (which is to say, a great novel that is firmly American, that could only exist because of its American-ness) I firmly believe that (with the exception of Les Edgerton maybe) there is not another writer alive that does this better than Matthew McBride has done with his new novel, A Swollen Red Sun. With his newest offering, McBride has succeeded in writing The Great American Novel.

The plot of A Swollen Red Sun, to put it loosely, deals with a good man that has done the wrong thing for the right reason and a bad man who has done the right thing for the wrong reason. As you might expect, these two opposites will inexorably collide. What you get on the way, among other things, is something about love, hate, life, death, addiction (of many types), greed, forgiveness, selfishness and selflessness. You get the sum totality of the human experience.

As you're reading, it feels like the book will not be contained in its 254 pages. You expect to return to it later and find that it has grown on its own to accommodate the big ideas that are held within the covers. You are introduced to so many characters who are not caricatures but some of the most finely crafted individuals in all of literature and it seems impossible that McBride could do them justice. However, Matthew McBride is a master of his craft, a born storyteller, and there could not be a better captain at the helm. The novel is epic without being superfluous, tragic without being exploitative, and understanding of its characters without being too soft.

A Swollen Red Sun brings to mind some of Daniel Woodrell's classic material -- it is set in Missouri, deals with less than savory characters, and is written with such beautiful and powerful prose that you will stop to reread sentences and phrases because you want to relish the feeling they give you. However, I believe it is better than anything Woodrell himself has produced in some time. Certainly McBride handles his characters in a balanced, nuanced, compassionate way that Woodrell does not. It sounds cliche and perhaps it is but this is the sort of novel that has characters that you will feel very strongly for and, when the book is closed and the light is turned off, you will wonder what they are doing now as you would a lost friend, someone you can no longer access directly.

It won't surprise you to learn that this will earn a place on the list of best novels I have read this year. It will probably be on a similar list for this decade's worth of books down the line. It is a book that I will read again. It is a book I will recommend to my family and friends and feel envious of them being able to experience and enjoy it for the first time.

I really, really like this one, guys. No matter who you are, you need to go and pick this up. Matthew McBride is one of the best, most skilled writers of our time. You best get acquainted with him now and start praying that he keeps putting words on paper.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

BEAT to a PULP and Heath Lowrance

If you are a fan of this blog, you probably know BEAT to a PULP. If not, you should. You should leave this page, visit theirs, and then come back. Now that you've dropped some cash on their stuff, let's talk.

Recently I talked to David Cranmer, who is head honcho over there, and instead of just posting the interview outright, I'm going to reveal the answers as we talk about some books. I've talked to a lot of people recently, a lot of people you'll really like if you don't already. I'll give you all their answers like this. What will emerge as a result is, I hope, a relatively comprehensive look at why I'm so damn excited about the pulp/crime/noir scene these days.

Discussing his childhood reading habits, Mr. Cranmer says, "It really started way back when I read The Hardy Boys as a kid and that transitioned into Robert B. Parker and Raymond Chandler. Crime, detective, and mystery style fiction has always been a favorite of mine. Along the way, thanks to my dad, Westerns became a big part of my reading diet along with science fiction which I discovered on my own." He also mentioned the influence of "Ernest Hemingway, Ross Macdonald, Agatha Christie, Larry McMurtry, James Reasoner, Charles Bukowski, Jean Didion, Patricia Highsmith..", saying what is clear based on the names he has cited in addition to the books he publishes, "I've always enjoyed a smorgasbord when it comes to authors. A good book is a good book regardless of genre."

These influences loom large over the mindblowingly terrific catalog of books at BTAP. Superhero tales, westerns both weird and wonderful, and science fiction all share a home there. Indeed, the one constant thread connecting the books is incredible quality. When I first got into BTAP, I couldn't help but wonder how such a unique thing came to be. Thus Spake The Cranmer:

"So when I decided to start BEAT to a PULP in 2008 I wanted to include all these genres and a few more. The pulp/crime/noir scene was very strong at the time though the webzines that hosted these writers had a habit of closing shop like a case of hit-and-run. I had several of my stories at various webzines that abruptly went belly up, that's when I decided to start BEAT to a PULP. I knew I had longevity in my veins especially when it comes to something I love, and here we are five years later -- still in the ring." 

And how could he not love the books that were coming across his desk? Take, for instance, Thomas Pluck's BLADE OF DISHONOR. If you knew me when I stumbled upon Pluck's great book, you know all about it because I couldn't shut up at the time. It floored me. You're going to hear me say that SO MUCH when I talk about BTAP but, boy, is it true! BLADE OF DISHONOR follows 'Rage Cage' Reeves (if that doesn't interest you already, we probably aren't friends) after he returns home from war. He goes to live with his grandfather, a badass in his own right, who has been entrusted to keep safe a samurai sword. When the sword goes missing, the story proper is set into motion and it will throw a shuriken right at your balls if you've got 'em and if you don't it will give you balls just to then have a shuriken thrown at them. Pluck writes about ninjas and samurai and WWII and so many tough-as-nails people that you wonder: has Pluck actually fought ninjas? I mean, the dude seems pretty damn tough but is he actually a character from a Sho Kosugi movie? I think he might be.

I'm not the only one who loves the hell out of BTAP's catalog. Cranmer himself shares the love when I ask about his current influences:

"This past year, Vladimir Nabokov [has influenced me] in a big way. My nephew, author/poet Kyle J. Knapp, was a huge aficionado of the Russian-born author, and after Kyle's death I've plunged head first into reading books like DESPAIR, TRANSPARENT THINGS, and PNIN. Also many of my peers have had a huge influence on me like Steve Weddle, Frank Bill, Alec Cizak, Garnett Elliott, Jake Hinkson, Heath Lowrance, Patti Abbott (to name a few), and they continue to hit their high marks." 

Many of these people are featured in the anthologies that BTAP has released. Take, for example, BEAT to a PULP Round 2. Literally nothing can prepare you for the outstanding quality of BTAP's anthologies and this is as good a starting point as any. Just take a look at the writers who have stories in this thing: Craig's Book-ends favorite Chris Holm, Charles Ardai, Anthony Neil Smith, Alec Cizak, James Reasoner, Jake Hinkson, Patti Abbott, and a look at Pulp Art by Cullen Gallagher. That's just a look at who is in this anthology. Impressive doesn't even begin to describe what it is.

One story that I am especially fond of is James Reasoner's "A World You Don't Know" which takes the familiar story of a drifter coming in to a small town with a corrupt politician and helping out the common man and puts a terrific spin on it. Reasoner is one of the masters of pulp fiction and he puts those skills on full display here. Since these are short stories, I won't elaborate any further on the contents of this anthology, save to say that you really need this in your possession. You really need all of BTAP's anthologies. They've got one exclusively featuring tales about superheroes, for instance, and they ALWAYS feature this level of talent.

Since Cranmer is such a powerful force in modern pulp, I wondered what he might like to see change in the scene. He said, "Instead of bloated novels, I'd like to see pithier releases. Too many writers think they have Stephen King blood in them and try to pen these magnum opuses that just go on and on. Cut 'em down. Long live the novella."

Long live the novella, indeed! I've already talked about my love for the short, tight, mean noir novellas of Mike Monson. However, there is another man that reigns supreme in writing short, no-bullshit stories. That man: Heath Lowrance.

One of the best books I read this year was a book called Axeman of Storyville by Heath Lowrance. In fact, it was the one-two punch of Thomas Pluck's Blade of Dishonor and Heath Lowrance's AXEMAN OF STORYVILLE (that actually turned into a five-six-seven-eight punch from BTAP, but I digress) that really made me sit back and realize that I needed everything BTAP. It doesn't stop there for Lowrance though. I would count him as one of the best writers out there currently and one writer who is writing things that literally no one else is, the sort of thing that I wish there was more of.

Since that time, I have had a number of correspondences with Mr. Lowrance, confirming him as every bit as cool (or cooler) than the books he writes. He hosts a blog in which he occasionally writes ABOUT pulp fiction just as well as he writes the fiction itself. I knew he was a guy that I needed to talk to so I shot some questions over to him. At the time, I was practically a Heath Lowrance fanboy and almost incapable of talking about it rationally. In fact, it's taken me this long to be able to review his work. Obviously I did not want the entire interview to consist of comments like "You write good, heh heh heh heh!"

Luckily, that didn't happen. First though, let's talk books again!

AXEMAN OF STORYVILLE is something of a horror western based on a real serial killer that lived and killed in New Orleans, Louisiana. A Louisianian myself, I have long been fascinated with the story of the Axeman. Apparently, I wasn't alone. When I asked, Lowrance said:

"I first read about the Axeman murders in New Orleans when I was in my late 20's, and thought it was an amazingly creepy story and I couldn't understand why it wasn't as well known as Jack the Ripper or the Torso Murderer. Granted, the body count racked up by the Axeman wasn't as big, maybe that had something to do with it. But the sheer weirdness of it more than makes up for that, I think. And also the fact that, to this day, the case remains unsolved. Regardless, it intrigued me to no end, and I always sort of wanted to write a fictionalized account of it. So when David Cranmer (aka Edward Grainger) suggested I write something about Gideon Miles in his later years, New Orleans, early 20's, it seemed like a perfect fit." 

What's this Edward Grainger/Gideon Miles business? Well, Grainger (as noted above) is a pen name of Mr. Cranmer himself. Under this name, Cranmer wrote about the western adventures of Cash Laramie and Gideon Miles. Various other people have been enlisted to write other tales featuring one or both of these characters. AXEMAN is one such tale and it is my favorite non-Grainger tale involving one of the duo.

Gideon Miles is one of the first African-American US Marshals and AXEMAN finds an older Miles in New Orleans in the 1920's trying to settle down and run a night club. Of course, Miles is a Real Badass and those types can't ever settle down for long. Miles gets caught up in the Axeman murders and the resulting stories is one of the best reads of 2014. Seriously, I might be downplaying it because I'm afraid of hyperbole, but this joins the ranks of the books I truly love. Lowrance does some really great things with Miles' character and I asked him to elaborate on this. Here's what he had to say:

"I'll tell you honestly, I LOVE Gideon Miles. Just love him. His partner, Cash Laramie, is maybe a bit more glamorous as the bad boy lawman archetype, but Gideon has depths that not too many fictional characters have. This whole thing started when David put his characters on the table for me and a handful of other writers. I felt honored to be included, but I knew immediately that Gideon was the one I wanted to write about. Fortunately, David trusted me with his toys and gave me leeway to develop not just a narrative for Gideon, but some back-story and fresh motivations. I built on what David established, and it was immensely satisfying. So far, I'm the only one aside from Edward Grainger who has worked on Gideon and I'd be lying to you if I said I haven't gotten a bit possessive of him." 

I implore you, reader, to buy this book. I feel confident that if you like the things I've recommended so far, you're going to love this. It's brilliant. Lowrance is so damn good. However, there's one more character that Lowrance has written about that I need to talk about: Hawthorne!

The weird western is a western subgenre that mixes in elements of horror. I'm not sure if Robert E. Howard was the first one to do it but he was certainly the first one to do it well. For a long time, the only other guy to do it right was the incomparable Joe R. Lansdale. Now, however, we have Heath Lowrance and the badass character of Hawthorne.

All the stories to-date about the mysterious figure have been collected in HAWTHORNE: TALES OF A WEIRDER WEST, also from BTAP. How do you know straight off the bat that these stories are must-haves? Take a look at the introduction to the collection, it's by James Reasoner. If Reasoner, a man who knows pulp westerns almost better than anyone alive, approves then you know it is worthy of your shelf. Like any good weird western tale, the stories included in WEIRDER WEST good westerns and good horror. The enigmatic character of Hawthorne reminds me of another Robert Howard creation, Solomon Kane. Apparently, Lowrance had that in mind too...

"Hawthorne is huge fun to write about because he is so single-minded. He doesn't question what he does. He doesn't have pity or remorse and there are no shades of gray. He kills, that's what he does. It's as simple as that. To be able to write a character like that is immensely freeing; you can put all your own rage into him and it becomes cathartic. Of course, there is more to Hawthorne than that, but he doesn't carry it around with him all the time and I, as the writer, don't have to slow the narrative down to explain what he does or why he does it..." 

He goes on:

"I've made no secret of the fact that Robert E. Howard was the biggest inspiration for the Hawthorne stories. Not just his weird western tales, but his character Solomon Kane; a roaming man of action, driven by a burning need to combat and destroy evil wherever he finds it. In some ways, Hawthorne is a wild west take on Solomon Kane. Without the religious mania."

You really, really need to buy this book. If you don't know Howard or Lansdale, chances are you've never been exposed to the weird western. This is probably the best possible introduction to the genre. If you have read Howard and Lansdale, you probably have yearned for more westerns with a horror bent. You will love WEIRDER WEST. You will read it again and again, just as I have. You will write letters begging Lowrance to write more. You will build a straw effigy of him, take a photo, mail it to him, and tell him that if he doesn't do more Hawthorne, the dolly gets it! (Ok, don't do that last one. It didn't work out well for me. I mean, not me. This guy I know who did that. He told me it didn't work out well. Lowrance won't even talk to him anymore. PLEASE BE MY FRIEND, HEATH!)

So what's next for Lowrance?

"There won't be a sequel to AXEMAN", he tells me, "not exactly. But I do have plans to return to Gideon Miles very soon, catching up with him shortly after the events in 'Miles to Little Ridge'. There's more to be told to that tale, and I suspect it will play out in novella form. Hawthorne is also far from done. I'm currently working on a novella-length tale that explores, among other things, the events that led to his obsession with destroying supernatural evil. There's also a Cash Laramie/Hawthorne cross-over in the works that Edward Grainger and I will write jointly. There will be the occasional unrelated short story, hopefully to round out the year. After that, I plan on spending most of next year working on my third full-length novel before visiting either Gideon or Hawthorne again."

Whatever he does, here's hoping that Lowrance keeps writing for years and years to come and shares that writing with us. Here's hoping that he gets the legions of adoring fans that he deserves. Our modern world is drowning in so many voices, Mr. Lowrance has one that truly stands out. We should all do what we can to support that voice and read his remarkable, brilliant, fun, thrilling tales. He is a man equally comfortable in many genres, saying "I've probably shot myself in the foot, career-wise, but not settling into one thing, but honestly, I'd rather be obscure to the point of ridiculousness than be forced into writing one sort of thing forever and ever. Maybe eventually I'll find the niche I can stay comfortable in long-term, but it hasn't happened yet."

The same can be said about BTAP as a whole. As I said before, the common thread is quality. I have barely even scratched the surface of what you can and should get from BTAP. I haven't mentioned Garnett Elliott's Drifter Detective novels. You'll love those. I haven't talked about THE DAME, THE DOCTOR AND THE DEVICE which features a collaboration of many different writers including Chris F. Holm and Chad Eagleton. I haven't talked about the poetry of Kyle J. Knapp. However, I will talk about that last one later this week and I'll review BTAP's newest, THE LIZARD'S ARDENT UNIFORM which is inspired by Knapp and features, in true BTAP form, an unbelievable amount of talent.

If this is your introduction, I believe in time that you'll find, as I have, that every single BTAP release should be a blind buy.

Saturday, May 24, 2014

Review: SILENT CITY by Alex Segura

Here at Craig's Book-ends, it should be clear what type of books I enjoy. I love crime fiction. I love noir. I love pulp. I love dark books with complex characters who find themselves in over their heads, either by their own design or someone else's. Recently, I had the opportunity to read a book that is precisely the sort of thing I love. The book: SILENT CITY. The author: Alex Segura. 

SILENT CITY is set in Miami, though it's not the Miami you're likely to see on television or in travel brochures. Segura's Miami is a dark, seedy place. It is as fully a character in SILENT CITY as anything or anyone else.  It is the sort of place that a noir happens, full of broken people and broken dreams. 

Enter Pete Fernandez, our main character. Pete's an alcoholic who works for a newspaper and he's just about hit the bottom of the barrel. A chance conversation with a friend transforms him into a kind of private investigator on the trail of a missing girl. Aren't they always on the trail of a missing girl? Segura hits all the beats of the hardboiled crime novel but what results is not formulaic. Rather, SILENT CITY is carefully composed to recall these old tropes even as Segura offers you something fresh. The result is you see Fernandez slipping down the rabbit hole as he searches for the truth. 

This is not to say that SILENT CITY isn't fun. It certainly is. It's fun and fast, like all my favorite novels. Segura does not mince words. I blasted through this one in just a couple sittings. Plainly put, I loved the hell out of this book. 

The characters are three-dimensional and feel real. Fernandez is one of the better protagonists I have encountered in a while. Segura is going on my shelf next to Mike Monson as someone I will blind buy in the future. 

Go buy this one and soon. There is more that I could say about it but I won't because I need to pester Segura into releasing more fiction starring Pete Fernandez. Please, Mr. Segura?

Friday, May 23, 2014

Review: Cold in July by Joe R. Lansdale

Joe R. Lansdale is one of the best-kept secrets in literature. That's kind of funny to say about a guy with Lansdale's writing credits, which run the gamut from Batman: The Animated Series to Bubba Ho-tep which became a cult film starring Bruce Campbell, but its true in a way. Lansdale is so incredibly prolific, having his hands in so many different genres, but the bulk of this material is not talked about as much as it should be. Enter the 1989 novel Cold in July.

Posting the review today is no coincidence. A film based on this novel gets released today. It is directed by Jim Mickle and stars Michael C. Hall. I'll talk about the film once I see it but for now let's have a look at the novel. What do we have in store for us? Well, if you know Lansdale, you know you're in for one hell of a ride.

The novel centers on Richard Dane, a man who kills a home intruder in self-defense. The intruder's father, of course, doesn't quite see it that way. However, as Richard and the intruder's father are set at odds with one another, it becomes clear that the situation is more complex than they believed and a chain of events is set in motion that puts Richard and the intruder's father, Ben, in way over their heads.

Released in 1989, Cold in July is one of Lansdale's earlier works and I wondered if the novel might feel like it had been written by someone who had not mastered their craft yet. I can safely say that is not the case. Lansdale is one of the best writers of fast-paced, violent, witty fiction alive and it is already evident in this early novel. Lansdale is yet another one of those writers who are consistently reliable. Like one thing from Lansdale, you can get ready to seek out everything the guy's ever done. If he has ever faltered, I haven't seen it. His name on a book means quality.

I don't want to talk more about the plot. I'll leave that for you to enjoy as you discover it for yourself. It will stay with you, you will love this book if you love the kind of fiction we talk about here, and Lansdale will become one of your favorite writers ever.

Get it. See the movie. Let me know what you think about both.

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Review: Mike Monson

Hello everyone! Things are finally back to normal here at Craig's Book-ends. There have been a lot of great books pass my way since the last post so be prepared to hear about some great things. Speaking of great things...


Mike Monson is editor of, what you'll recall, is one of my favorite magazines -- All Due Respect. However, he is also a heck of a storyteller in his own right. Recently I had the opportunity to read two books from him -- WHAT HAPPENS IN RENO and THE SCENT OF NEW DEATH. Since we are here talking about them, you can probably tell roughly what my opinion is, but I think these are some books worth talking about. Therefore, let's see how they hold up on the shelf.


First up, Mike Monson's debut novella -- What Happens In Reno. I'm going to be straightforward from the beginning and say that if you like your crime fiction dirty, violent, and fast -- this is the book for you. In fact, both of these books are for you. Probably everything Monson will ever do will be for you. What Happens In Reno is a fast-paced gutpunch of a book that does not shy away from the gory details like many others.

The novella follows the exploits of Matt Hodges who is a loser alcoholic. In other words, you know his story is going to be a noir because he could never hope for anything better. He is a man with more money than he can handle giving into all the vices he can think up. Things are already south when his wife hooks up with a really bad guy and then things get nastier and bleaker.

Monson writes his stories black as night but he always manages to add in a touch of humor (still black) here and there. Reno is in many ways what you always hoped you'd get out of your noir novels with the lurid covers, except Monson amps it up to 10. The book is short, does not overstay its welcome, and packs a mean punch. So often crime novels are promised to push boundaries or be no-holds-barred but the writers do not have what it takes. There is no fear of that with Monson. He shows you the dark, nasty side of the human condition and shines a light on it for the duration.

My verdict on What Happens In Reno: worth every penny, worth more than that. If you like your noir bleak and mean, get thee to Amazon and pick this one up immediately.


THE SCENT OF NEW DEATH is the newest offering from Mike Monson, having dropped in April. In many ways, if you enjoyed Reno then you can rest assured that there is plenty to like here. Monson does not hold back and continues to offer another strong shot of noir.

In The Scent of New Death, Phil Gaines is a Zen practitioner who gets by robbing banks. This is working out reasonably well for Gaines until he meets a girl. That girl, Paige, ends up being his new wife and also ends up unraveling the carefully controlled life that Gaines had going on. When she leaves with Phil's business partner and all of his money, Phil sets out for revenge and leaves a bloody trail in his wake.

Of the two, I might give Reno the slight edge over Scent. However, this is comparing two really great things. I actually read this one first and was raving about it so I went straight to Reno and, to my surprise, liked it even more -- so don't let my preference of one over the other deter you. Plainly put, if you love one you will love both of these novels. I prefer the protagonist of Scent. Gaines, with the Zen twist, is a very interesting character and probably the only person in the book who appears to have some kind of moral compass.

As before, Monson does not shy away from the darker side of life and Paige is a truly despicable character. In fact, you will likely find yourself rooting in Phil Gaines' corner simply because those he opposes seem to have no redeeming qualities.

Scent is another book which does not outstay its welcome. It is a brisk, fast, mean read and it wraps up in a way that you won't forget. Many writers have trouble knowing how or when to end their stories but Monson is not one of them. Initially, I considered these books to be too short but I realized that it is just because I want more. These books are not for everyone -- they're dark, mean, nasty, and filled with sex and violence -- but if you like noir or the stuff you've read in All Due Respect, this and everything from Monson in the future should be a blind purchase.

Final Verdict: They hold up very well indeed.

Friday, April 18, 2014

HOLLOW WORLD by Michael J. Sullivan

We are back today with a look at a standalone novel by Michael J. Sullivan. Remember, the contest to win a novel of your choosing by Mr. Sullivan is ongoing until the 27th. All you have to do is e-mail me and let me know your name (if it is different from your name on Facebook) and which book you want. Also, make sure that you like Craig's Book-ends on Facebook.

The standalone novel we are discussing has been something of a publishing event this year. Mr. Sullivan has retained the ebook rights himself (which is quite rare) so while you can get the print version from Tachyon Publications, as Sullivan explains on his website, retaining the ebook rights allowed him to (among other things) keep the ebook DRM free, bundle the ebook with print and audio versions, and enroll in Amazon MatchBook which allows the reader to get a free ebook if they buy the print version. This is pretty darn cool.

So how does the book hold up? Well, let's see.


This is another book by Sullivan that I'm not going to do much talking about in terms of plot. This is because I don't want to spoil it for you. In fact, I'd rather you go in knowing as little as possible. That's how I went into Hollow World. In short, however...

Hollow World is the story of Ellis Rogers, a man who has just been diagnosed with a terminal illness. Down on his luck, he decides to take a chance on something he has been working on quietly for some time now -- Rogers has a time machine in his garage and he plans to use it. But where and when will it take him?

That's a pretty simple set-up and, in fairness, the book hearkens back to an earlier time in science fiction, much like Sullivan did with fantasy in his Riyria novels. However, this is not a simple book. It is a book, like the best of science fiction, that asks the most fundamental questions about what it means to be human. It's a book about utopia (or dystopia). It's a book about love and hate. It's a book about individuality and a book about community. I'm not saying that you'll agree with the book's conclusions. I'm also not saying Sullivan does. Fiction doesn't work that way. I'm saying that the questions the book asks are ones that everyone asks themselves at some point. Wouldn't you like to engage with a great writer like Michael J. Sullivan on such important topics? Hollow World is your chance.

Also, it's got time travel. Things are nearly always better with time travel.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

THE RIYRIA REVELATIONS Series Review

This week we are going to have a look at a series and a standalone novel by SFF author Michael J. Sullivan. We hosted a contest to win a book of your choosing by Mr. Sullivan earlier in the week and I am going to extend the end of the contest another week! This means you have until Monday April 27, 2014 to e-mail me with your information.

Formalities aside, let's get to the action...


The Riyria Revelations is a series of three novels published by Orbit Books. Originally, however, the series was self-published by Sullivan and consisted of six volumes. This three-volume version is the way to go. The story lends itself to being broken up this way. But what of the story? What are you getting yourself into when you turn to the first page of Theft of Swords?

If you are a fan of classic sword & sorcery fantasy like Fritz Leiber filled with adventure and characters you will want to follow around for an entire series, The Riyria Revelations is for you. If you'd like, you can leave now. That's basically all you need to know. The Riyria Revelations is very entertaining, Sullivan is very talented and has a real knack for this kind of writing, the whole series is solid. This is a classic secondary world fantasy, the kind that is less common nowadays, and Sullivan pays enough respect to the tradition while still adding his unique voice to the mix.

The series features the characters Royce Melborn and Hadrian Blackwater. The story is quickly set in motion with the two main characters being charged with killing the king. It is up to Melborn and Blackwater to prove themselves innocent and get down to the bottom of what is really going. The set-up is simple and the plot gets moving right away. Sullivan provides many twists and turns and it is much like a well-written television show in novel form.

Just as you would want from this sort of series, the plot gets thicker in volume two. There is more of what you enjoyed from the first one -- the same witty banter between the "heroes", the same adventure and action, the same wonder and danger -- and the story twists and turns further, more puzzle pieces are revealed. Sullivan's style is very straightforward and the pages practically turn themselves. If you enjoyed the first volume, happiness with volume two is almost guaranteed.

Now I know what you're thinking: these things always run out of steam. A novelist has a great idea but at some point he overextends himself and the once great series outstays its welcome. Well, you can place those fears aside for The Riyria Revelations. As could be hoped, volume three is perhaps the strongest of all three. The grand narrative leads to an epic conclusion. Things remain fresh and fun and Sullivan never misses a beat.

So what's wrong? What should give you, dear reader, pause regarding The Riyria Revelations by Michael J. Sullivan?

In short, nothing. Also, everything. It all depends on where you're coming from. As I said before, if you like the writing of Fritz Leiber or Robert E. Howard or even someone like David Eddings, you'll be happy with this. It's fun, it's adventurous, it's exciting, it's full of a classic familiar yet new fantasy world for you to get lost in.

That said, if your kind of fantasy is the unique, challenging type of those like Mark Lawrence, you should not expect more of that here. This is not a criticism of Michael J. Sullivan or his series because to consider it such would be like condemning Star Wars because it is not like the Alien series. The Riyria Revelations knows what it is and you'd be hard pressed to find a set of books written in the past fifteen years that does it better. Similarly, Sullivan's own style is very straightforward and designed to keep the pages turning and the story moving at a breakneck pace. There are no, or at least very few, artistic flourishes like you would find with a Rothfuss or a Lawrence. Again, not that kind of book. This is not to say that Michael Sullivan is not a brilliant writer or capable of provoking deep thought. Later this week we will have a look at a novel by him that does just that. However, with The Riyria Revelations, be advised about what you're getting. If it's your thing, you are going to love every minute.

Monday, April 14, 2014

CONTEST: Michael J. Sullivan

Hello again, friends. What I have for you now is quite a wonderful opportunity. This week I shall be reviewing The Riyria Revelations and Hollow World, all by the great Michael J. Sullivan. Given what a big deal Mr. Sullivan has been in the fantasy and sci-fi community in the past few years, I'm sure you all know who he is.



However, I'll give you a little taste: The Riyria Revelations are a series of fantasy novels that were initially self-published and took the community by storm. Later, Orbit Books grabbed them and released them in three volumes -- Theft of Swords, Rise of Empire, and Heir of Novron. If you like sword and sorcery the likes of Fritz Leiber and the greats, you will love The Riyria Revelations. You'll have to wait til Wednesday for my official opinion, but the books are a rollicking good time.

Hollow World is one of the most significant SFF publishing events of 2014. Yeah, that big a deal. It is a old-school time travel novel in the tradition of H.G. Wells. You'll also be getting a review of this from me this week, so far now I'll just say that if you like sci-fi, dystopian fiction, and time travel, you are going to want to track this one down.

And now the tracking might be done for you. Mr. Sullivan has so graciously allowed for ONE lucky Craig's Book-ends reader to win a copy of any Michael J. Sullivan novel of their choosing. He'll even sign it. This guy, he's one of the good ones.

Here's what you need to do....

1) Make sure you like Craig's Book-ends on Facebook.
2) E-mail me at craigsbookends@gmail.com telling me which book you want. If your name is different on Facebook, make sure you let me know.

Monday April 27th, I will randomly choose one of you wonderful people to win and we'll go from there. That's it.

Now, go! Also, keep reading!

Interview with Todd Robinson

Hello again, friends. Hope you had a great weekend. We are back today with an interview with Mr. Todd Robinson AKA Big Daddy Thug, chief editor of Thuglit, crime fiction writer, and all-around awesome guy. In the short time that I have known him, Todd's shown himself to be a human being of the highest order. I definitely do not have to say good things about him for fear of Todd taking any number of my internal organs and leaving me to bleed out in a bathtub. His intellect knows no bounds, every woman that encounters him experiences great pleasure by proxy, every man is made stronger, smarter, and faster through his presence.

With that established, let's turn it over to the man himself.

Todd Robinson saw a group of people in trouble. He read from his own novel and the the words were so wonderful that it made everything all better.
Thuglit is one of the greatest publications around. Certainly it has been instrumental in bringing notice to many great writers like Frank Bill and Stuart Neville so anyone can see how Thuglit has left its mark and even changed the crime fiction community. How do you think the crime fiction community has effected or changed Thuglit over time? 

It hasn't. Like David Byrne said, "Same as it ever was."

You have a nutpunch of a novel in the form of The Hard Bounce. How did the novel-writing experience differ from the short story for you?

The process is the same in my head. The novel-writing experience—for me—is just writing a series of short stories, connected through theme or time-frame. Not that every chapter can (or should) necessarily stand alone as a short story, but in my mind, that's what I'm writing. One piece at a time.

If you could be God of the Crime Fic community (kind of like what you are now, but with actual superpowers), what is the one thing you would change or give to it that it currently lacks? 

I…I'm not even sure how to respond to that title. Thanks? Jeez… (That's just what God of the Crime Fic community WOULD say -- Craig)

If I had the powers, I'd make spastic adjustments to confidence dials. Some writers are so damned good, but don't believe in themselves, in their voices. I'd crank them up a notch. Then there are those that get a taste (if not a full meal) of success and then stop writing with the same fervor and passion that they once did. I'd crank them down a bit. Just because you haven’t reached what you consider success doesn't diminish your talent. And if you have reached a certain level, that doesn't now mean that your shit don't stink.


What writers were most influential on you in your early years? 

Stephen King. Elmore Leonard. Garth Ennis. Andrew Vachss. John D. MacDonald. Robert Parker. Dennis Lehane.

What influences you now?

The names above still apply, but add Harry Crews and Brian K. Vaughn. Josh Bazell's BEAT THE REAPER really did a job on me. Made me rethink my own game severely. Gonzo and ballsy. Matthew McBride's upcoming novel A SWOLLEN RED SUN did the same. I finished my review copy and just stopped dead, thinking, "Damn…I gotta do better work."

Have you felt a strong kinship with the crime fiction community?

Absolutely. As far as the community is concerned, there's so much support amongst the writers. We're all reaching for the same goal—to tell the best stories we're capable of.

How do you think it has ever helped or hurt you as a writer?

It helps in the sense of having a support system. Having people to celebrate your victories with and to hold your head up when the inevitable (and multiple) metaphorical dick-punches comes your way. Nobody understands your pain more than those in that selfsame community.

What's next for Todd Robinson? 




I'm currently working on the follow-up to THE HARD BOUNCE. After that, I'm deciding on which of the three non-Boo-and-Junior novels to work on that I've already begun. By the way, since I'm going to assume that nobody seeing this has read THB—and my publisher has the numbers to back that up—Boo and Junior are the series characters. (If that's true, and I sincerely hope it isn't, then we should bump those numbers way up. Here's the link to buy The Hard Bounce on Amazon. Do it! You won't regret it. Let's show Mr. Robinson how much we care. Here's to you, Mr. Robinson...)

Any chance of Big Daddy Thug tackling another genre?

Two of those three other novels are horror. The third, while crime, is straight up comedy. Think in the vein of Donald Westlake's heist novels, but with a shitload more anatomical humor. I love genres. I'm a genre writer, period. I've got concepts drawn out for sci-fi, superhero stories, comedy, western… But I'm getting ahead of myself. I can't really talk shit about all the novels I'm going to be writing until I put my money where my mouth is and finish what will only be my second. 

Time is the enemy, brothers and sisters.  Put your words down while you can.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Read for the Weekend: THUGLIT and ALL DUE RESPECT

This week the standalone review comes with two changes. First, it's a little early. Second, I'm actually going to be reviewing two different things -- magazines. Both due to the short size and the great quality of these publications, I'm going to discuss them as a whole rather than reviewing actual issues. Believe me, these are ones worth following. With that in mind, I'll quit slapping gums and we'll get down to business...


All Due Respect is a crime fiction magazine -- no detectives, few happy endings. The stories within its pages are filled with characters you probably don't want to know in real life and if you do know them, you probably wish you didn't. ADR frequently features some of the best writers that the genre has to offer. The zine began online but is now also in print, published by Full Dark City Press. There have been two issues of the print version and that's the incarnation I'll be talking about because that is what ADR is now.

Edited by the great Chris Rhatigan (whose name reminds me of Lovecraft), ADR is a quarterly magazine featuring crime fiction, interviews, and non-fiction like reviews. The first issue contains Craig's Book-end favorite Chris F. Holm with a short story and an interview about the COLLECTOR series, which I previously reviewed here. You'll also get to cozy up to some deranged tales spun by the likes of Todd Robinson, Renee Asher Pickup and more.

The second issue features a story by Owen Laukannen and an interview with Laukannen by the previous interviewee, Chris F. Holm. In both issues, the main attraction was chosen well -- great stories, great interviews. Also in ADR #2, you'll find Eric Beetner, David Siddall (who has a book coming out soon...stay tuned!), and more. It features more of the gritty, dark, hardboiled noir fiction that you should expect when these names pop up.

One final feature of ADR is their attempt to review every book published by Hard Case Crimes. If you know your way around crime fiction, you should know this name. Hard Case Crime publishes books by the greats like Jason Starr and James M Caine. This is a daunting, noble and somewhat insane endeavor on ADR's behalf and I applaud them for it. When you pick up an issue of ADR, you also get to read about other great crime novels to read.

One word of warning: the one-two punch of Todd Robinson's "Good Dogs" and Renee Asher Pickup's "Amanda Will Be Fine" in ADR#1 will mess you up. These stories are expertly crafted and almost too effective in their execution. I don't know if there's a "Congratulations. You done gone and disturbed your readers' brains" award, but there should be and these two should win it. Unbelievable but if you're not into dark fiction, perhaps you should tread lightly.

Speaking of Big Daddy Thug (Todd Robinson)...


 Todd Robinson is the creator and chief editor of Thuglit.com. His short fiction has been featured literally friggin' everywhere. He's done all kinds of cool things in cool places and should not be suspected of any wrongdoing and deserves your total trust. (Please don't hurt me, Mr. Thug)

As it says up there, Thuglit contains "writing about wrongs". This, again, is crime fiction. The characters are losers, drifters, grifters, crooks, and thugs. Thuglit is another publication that is not afraid to take you to the dark side of town. The only potential difference, of course, is that Thuglit may just drop you off and leave your ass when you get there.

There are a whopping 10 issues of Thuglit available and they're all full of twisted, dark, mean fiction. If this is your thing, you can find other publications out there but you won't find any better than Thuglit and ADR. All the fiction published in Thuglit is not created equal but I've never run across a single story in a Thuglit that did not satisfy overall. I don't know what kind of dark magic Todd Robinson is practicing over there, but whatever he's doing works because Thuglit is still just as solid as it ever was.

In a world full of television shows and novel series and video games, it's sometimes easy to forget that fiction magazines exist. Indeed, some of them may not have made it in the current literary climate. However, ADR and Thuglit come with the highest possible recommendation from Craig's Book-ends, as do the folks involved. Whenever you see the name Todd Robinson or Chris F. Holm or Chris Rhatigan or Ed Kurtz or any of these folks, you can expect quality. Check them out. Let me know what you think.

I'll be here to talk after you stop shaking.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

CHRONICLES OF AMBER by Roger Zelazny

Last year, the great and beardly Patrick Rothfuss did a book signing and Q&A that I was fortunate enough to be able to attend and it was a wonderful experience. As anyone who has heard him speak can attest, Mr. Rothfuss is as skilled at the public appearance as he is at writing. At one point during the Q&A, someone asked what he recommended for people who liked his books and he mentioned THE CHRONICLES OF AMBER by Roger Zelazny. To his  and my surprise, no one in attendance had read it. Because of this, I have decided to talk a bit about the series and what you'd be missing out on by not experiencing it. If you check it out because of this review or if you've already read it, please let me know what you think. It is one of the greatest fantasy series ever written.

"Amber is the one real world, casting infinite reflections of itself - Shadow worlds that can be manipulated by those of royal Amberite blood. The CHRONICLES begin in a hospital on the Shadow Earth, where a man is recovering from a freak auto accident. Since he is also suffering from amnesia, and has been for some time, he has no idea that he's Prince Corwin of Amber - until his memory receives a succession of jolts: He meets a sister who speaks in riddles of plots and counterplots... and a brother who abruptly involves him in a life-and-death battle against pursuers from a fearful Shadow world. He discovers a deck of tarot-like cards, with himself, his sister, and strangers whom he guesses to be other relatives, pictures on their faces. Then comes the most shattering jolt of all... Corwin's confrontation with an intricate design created by a master manipulator of reality - the Pattern. As Corwin sets foot upon that coldly glowing inscription, memories come flooding back to him... more and more with each step. And finally, knowing his true identity, he acknowledges his true ambition - and resolves that the crown of Amber will be his. But unknown to Corwin, there are dark forces massing against Amber ... and before too long he will discover just how great a burden a king's crown can be...."

At first glance, one can see several tropes at play here: the amnesiac-turned-hero, the dark forces, the man-who-would-be-king, etc. However, the story is in the hands of Roger Zelazny who is one of the best writers that the fantasy genre has ever known. Witty dialogue, great characterization, and thrilling plots keep the pages turning through all TEN volumes of this brilliant series. The series can be had individually but has also been released in a one-volume edition called The Great Book of Amber and two-volumes called the First and Second Chronicles of Amber respectively.

You are introduced immediately to Corwin, the main character. The prose is first-person and Corwin is a funny, witty, smart, savvy character that the reader will want to follow around. He reminds me of someone like Philip Marlowe or Sam Spade, using his keen intellect to try to get the other characters to reveal themselves and not betray his amnesia. Zelazny does a lot to make you intrigued by Corwin with phrases like "...I was garbled all in white, the color of Moby Dick and vanilla ice cream." and '"?" thought I.'

As you can see, Zelazny is very funny.

He also knows how to keep the pages turning. Since Corwin is an amnesiac and you are getting his perspective, the world is revealed to you as it is revealed to him and what a world it is! Essentially, Amber is the one true world and there are countless other worlds (called Shadows) which are just reflections of Amber. Corwin is a Prince of Amber, one of the few who can travel between the Shadows. This sets up ten novels of magic, political intrigue, castles, and characters who may not be who they seem.

As I said before, there are two series here. The First Chronicles of Amber deals with Corwin while the Second Chronicles introduces his son Merlin. Not content to simply rehash what made the First Chronicles so successful, Corwin's son Merlin is a very different character than his father and the saga of the Second Chronicles is his own. Readers will, as I did, relish the opportunity to stay just a little longer in the world that Zelazny has created. On top of that, there are an additional six Amber short stories available. If you like witty and interesting characters, edge-of-your-seat plots, action, magic, and Shakespearean allusions this is the series for you. The Chronicles of Amber is one of those series of novels that will stay with you for the rest of your reading life.



Does It Hold Up to the End?

It probably won't surprise you to learn that the answer to this question is 'yes'. Of course, that is not to say that each of the ten volumes in this series is as good as the last. Sadly, that is not so. The First Chronicles of Amber are probably five of the best fantasy novels ever written. The Second Chronicles are flawed and problematic novels written by one of the best novelists in the genre but they are still flawed and problematic.

Merlin is a less compelling character than Corwin. The Raymond Chandler meets Tolkien vibe of the First Chronicles is absent and in its place Zelazny has the stakes perhaps stacked a little too high. The worst that the Second Chronicles is capable of still allows for more time spent exploring the City of Amber and the magic and wonder that Zelazny has dreamed up. To put it into perspective, if I were to assign number ratings to these series out of 5, the First Chronicles would be a sure 5/5 while the Second would be a 4/5. There is a noticeable difference in quality but Zelazny is still one of the best.

If you have not, go and buy these books as quickly as you can. Read them, savor them. Reread them next year. Let them rest for a while and read them again. The Chronicles of Amber, like any great books, change with you while retaining the things that you always loved about them in the first place.
 

Monday, April 7, 2014

MONDAY'S MUSINGS: Building Up Instead of Tearing Down

Today we are going to be talking about something that is very important to me here at the blog -- what I like to call the bookish community. Essentially, I define the bookish community as anyone involved in the creation, selling or support of books. This includes writers and readers, of course, but also publishers, booksellers, blogs like my own and other professional reviewers, among others. I like to think of the bookish community as a world comprised of many smaller communities demarcated by genre and other specifications. Every member of these communities has a part to play.

My roles, for now, in the communities that I have taken part in are reviewer and reader. That sounds pretty simple: people write books, other people publish them, I pick them up, read them, and say "Hey man, read this one." However, it's more important than that. The reviewer, in theory, has influence on readers and readers have a great deal of control over the books that are released in the future.

Nobody reads a book? That book likely isn't getting a sequel. Its author is going to have a harder time getting their next project off the ground, sequel or not. If you like an author, you can have clear influence on whether or not you see more from that author in the future. There is much to say about this but I'll keep in short and direct: buy books. If you like them, tell other people to buy them, buy other things by the same authors, vote with your wallet. It is the power you have and it is a great power and you know what Uncle Ben says about great power.

The rest of this rant of mine is going to be about my other role: reviewing. I review because I love books and I love talking about them because I want to share the things I love with other people. I want to talk to the people who create the things I love and express my gratitude. I want to build up the bookish community because it is my community. I want to see it thrive. I don't want to see it fall upon hard times. I don't want to see it die.

It's natural to want your community to get even healthier and better and part of that is pointing out the things in it that don't work or could work better. That said, you shouldn't demolish the entire community just because one part of it isn't to your liking. That is why I don't write negative reviews.

Sure, there are books I don't like. One of the stated purposes of Craig's Book-ends is reviewing entire series of books as a whole (one volume at a time for series like The Dresden Files which go on indefinitely and all-at-once for series like The Kingkiller Chronicles which has a fixed end) to answer the question "Does it hold up to the end?" Since I am asking the question, I am prepared for the answer being "no". Every book I encounter won't end up on the blog and I won't be in love with every book here either. However, if I hate a book I'm not going to talk about it here. If the book simply was not for me then I'll leave it to all the people it works for. There is so much to talk about that the blog won't suffer if I don't explain why I dislike A Song of Ice and Fire. I know many, many visitors to this blog love the series and the Game of Thrones TV show. That's cool. I don't and why I don't does not matter.

I do love Roger Zelazny's Chronicles of Amber and I am going to talk about that here. I love Mark Lawrence's Broken Empire trilogy. You can bet that I'll be covering that one. I dig the hell out of Myke Cole and John Hornor Jacobs. I'll be talking about Daniel Polansky. More people should be talking about Daniel Polansky. George R.R. Martin is going to be fine without me. In fact, he'll never even notice my absence and I'd certainly do him no favors by complaining about a series that never was going to work for me to begin with. However, maybe one of these other folks will benefit by me telling you how great I think they are. Believe me, they really are great.

Back in March, I came across another blog post related to this topic. It's a great read. Apparently some reviewers can be really nasty. You're not going to get any of that here. If a series ends up poorer than it began, I'll tell you and I'll tell you why. As far as standalone books are concerned, if you see it here you will be reading about why I liked it not whether I liked it. Maybe I didn't like it all. Maybe it faltered occasionally. However, a post on Craig's Book-ends means that the book is something that deserves your time and attention. I came to praise Caesar, not bury him. There's been too much burying in this here town.

See you next time. Keep reading!

Saturday, April 5, 2014

A TITLE TO LOOK FOR: Unwrapped Sky by Rjurik Davidson

Hello again, fellow readers. This has been something of a quiet week at Craig's Book-ends as I have had non-bookish things to deal with. However, this coming week should see things return to how they are supposed to be. In the mean time, I'd like to introduce you to a new feature on the blog. A TITLE TO LOOK FOR will be a bi-weekly spotlight on a book that is coming soon. Sometimes it will be a book that I have had a chance to read in advance and sometimes it will be a book that will be as new to me upon release as it is to you, but in all cases it will be a book worth getting excited about for one reason or another! Let's get started with the very first TITLE TO LOOK FOR: Unwrapped Sky by Rjurik Davidson.


As you can see from the cover art, this here book features minotaurs predominately. I could pretty much just stop there and expect you all to check it out because everyone knows how cool minotaurs are. However, there's more than minotaurs between the covers of this book. Here's the blurb:

A hundred years ago, the Minotaurs saved Caeli-Amur from conquest. Now, three very different people may hold the keys to the city's survival.


Once, it is said, gods used magic to create reality, with powers that defied explanation. But the magic—or science, if one believes those who try to master the dangers of thaumaturgy—now seems more like a dream. Industrial workers for House Technis, farmers for House Arbor, and fisher folk of House Marin eke out a living and hope for a better future. But the philosopher-assassin Kata plots a betrayal that will cost the lives of godlike Minotaurs; the ambitious bureaucrat Boris Autec rises through the ranks as his private life turns to ashes; and the idealistic seditionist Maximilian hatches a mad plot to unlock the vaunted secrets of the Great Library of Caeli-Enas, drowned in the fabled city at the bottom of the sea, its strangeness visible from the skies above.

In a novel of startling originality and riveting suspense, these three people, reflecting all the hopes and dreams of the ancient city, risk everything for a future that they can create only by throwing off the shackles of tradition and superstition, as their destinies collide at ground zero of a conflagration that will transform the world . . . or destroy it.
Unwrapped Sky is a stunningly original debut by Rjurik Davidson, a young master of the New Weird.

Grimdark Fantasy Reader, another blog you should be checking out regularly, has reviewed this one already. You can check out the review here. With mentions of steampunk, ancient mythology, and comparisons to the great Mark Lawrence, you can bet that Unwrapped Sky is on my to-read list!

The novel drops on April 15th from Tor Books. They've provided an excerpt here. You can read more about Mr. Davidson here while you're waiting to get your hands on the book. If you read it, let me know what you think. Remember, keep reading!

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

CHRIS F. HOLM Interview

Last week, we had a look at a number of books by Chris F. Holm -- his series of novels in THE COLLECTOR and a short story collection entitled 8 POUNDS. Holm was gracious enough to answer some questions for Craig's Book-ends. Mr. Holm is better with the words than I am so I'll let him take it from here...



Thank you again for agreeing to answer some questions. I hope this e-mail finds you well. I told you that I would ask you 10 questions or less but I must confess that this interview goes to 11. There was just so much to talk about.

1) When you began Dead Harvest, did you know then that it would become a series of novels?

I did. As anyone who's read my books has probably noticed, I'm a big fan of old-fashioned detective fiction, and one of the reasons is because settling in with Philip Marlowe or Lew Archer feels like visiting an old friend. I'd long wanted to conceive of a character who could support a series arc. The key is coming up with a character who could plausibly wind up involved in a number of tales worth telling. The second Sam introduced himself to me, I knew I'd found my guy.

2) How much of yourself do you see in Sam Thornton?

Sam's more a man of action than I am, to be sure. He's coarser. Less educated. But we share a sense of humor. A preoccupation with what it means to be a good person. And we're both, at heart, corny romantics. He was just dealt a crappier hand than me, is all.

Really, I see this series -- and Sam -- as my way of showing my work. Wrestling with big existential questions is a fundamental part of being human; I just do it on the page for all to see.

3) THE COLLECTOR delves into a collection (pun intended) of genres that I like to think of as "All Things Craig Loves", but in the main it seems to be equal parts hardboiled and fantastic. What were your introductions to these genres?

My mom's from a cop family. They're all voracious readers of mysteries and thrillers. We used to exchange stacks of mass market paperbacks at Sunday dinner. I probably started reading them way younger than I should have. And eventually, I traced them back to their pulp roots.

My dad's side of the family leans more toward fantasy and science fiction. I remember his father giving me a box of yellowed old books when I was little. Arthur Clarke and Isaac Asimov, Terry Brooks and Anne McCaffrey. I read them all, but found I preferred the fantastical to the hard sf.

4) You write with a confident voice that I assume comes from years of practice. How long have you been writing and how long did it take you to get your first publication, either short story or novel? 

Writers like to say things like, "Deep down, I always knew I was meant to write," and I suppose I'm no exception. But even though I was one of the millions who tell themselves they'll write a novel one day, I spent a long time on another path entirely.

After college, I entered a PhD program in infectious disease research. I thought I wanted to be one of those bug hunters the CDC dispatches to far-flung locales when outbreaks occur. Turns out, it wasn't for me. So, with my wife's encouragement, I dropped out, and focused on another dream: writing. This was back in 2001. It took me until '06 to actually finish my first novel, which thankfully never saw the light of day. My first published story was in '07. "The World Behind" in Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine. I remember my acceptance came on Friday, October 13, 2006. I've published twenty-something short stories since. But it wasn't until 2012 I had a novel out.

5) Your short fiction is among the best and, at times, reminds me of Stephen King. Do you prefer writing novels or shorter works and how does the two processes feel different to you as a writer?

Thanks! That's very kind of you to say. The stock answer writers are supposed to give is "I like them both equally," but in my case, that's horseshit. I prefer novels. The second part of your question -- how the processes differ -- gets at my reason why. A short story is small enough to fit inside my head in its entirety. I know every beat before I begin writing. Putting them on the page is satisfying, but there's not much thrill of discovery. Novels, on the other hand, are too big for me to see the whole picture. All I get is a glimpse, and a distorted one at that. Which means I write them to find out what happens, and that -- while challenging -- is writerly crack.

   6) You included a wonderful essay in The Wrong Goodbye called "Why The Hell?" What was your reason for writing this essay?

There are two reasons: one banal, and one less so. The banal reason is, my publisher likes to include bonus content in their books, and my first choice -- an excerpt from THE BIG REAP -- wasn't an option, because I hadn't written it yet. The less banal reason -- which answers the question of why that essay specifically -- is, loads of fans and reviewers reacted as though Biblical noir was the weirdest combination ever, when to me the connection was obvious. The essay was my chance to make my case.

   
7) Do you think you will ever dabble in other genres?

That depends. What genre(s) do you consider the Collector books to be?

The truth is, I've written short fiction that'd be considered crime, horror, fantasy, and science fiction. Any of those are on the table when it comes to longer works for sure. My agent and I are about to go out with a straight-up crime novel. I've got a small-town mystery/ghost story manuscript I suspect will see the light of day as well. The book I'm working on now is a high-concept thriller with a slight sf bent. And I've got notes for a YA series and a sprawling tale of post-apocalyptic horror kicking around somewhere as well.

About the only genres I can't see tackling are romance and Westerns, and that's only because I lack the familiarity -- and therefore the skills -- required.

8) What have you read recently?

Marcus Sakey's BRILLIANCE knocked me flat. BLOOD ALWAYS TELLS by Hilary Davidson was terrific as well. For comics, I've been digging Brian K. Vaughan's SAGA, and Mike Carey's THE UNWRITTEN. And there's a book by Kieran Shea coming out this year called KOKO TAKES A HOLIDAY that's gonna light the sf world on fire.

9) As a reader, do you prefer standalone fiction or series fiction? 

I find both tremendously satisfying. Like I said earlier, popping in on a series character can be like dropping in on an old friend. But there's nothing more thrilling than reading a well-executed standalone, because you're operating without a safety net; anything can happen. There's nothing to stop the author from burning everything to the ground.

10) At Craig's Book-ends, I try to call attention to the wonderful communities of writers, readers, and publishers that exist and the notion that we should support and champion one another. How strongly have you felt the community of writers, readers and publishers in your own career and what would you like to see different in the community? Do you think it could be stronger?

I cannot overstate the effect the crime-fic community has had on my life and my career. While I've got feet in both the crime and fantasy communities, I came up through crime first, and I'm amazed how gracious and supportive they've been of me and my work, especially when much of it falls well outside the average mystery-reader's comfort zone.

Many members of the sf/f community have lent their support as well, and I'm tremendously grateful for it, but the community is more fragmented and more contentious than I'm used to. Maybe that's because any community with room enough for the many iterations of fantasy and science fiction is necessarily a big tent. Or maybe it's the fact that there's been a demographic shift toward a younger, more diverse reader/writership, and the old guard's getting tetchy. But the fact is, the community's treatment of women and minorities has been less than stellar of late. We need to work to fix that
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11) What's next for Chris F. Holm? Do you ever see yourself returning to the world of THE COLLECTOR?

As I mentioned, I suspect my next book out will be a straight-up crime novel. After that, though, who knows?

And I hope I do get the chance to tell some more Collector stories. In my opinion, THE BIG REAP closed off the first cycle of Sam's story, but his journey's far from over. Publishing is a goofy business, though, so regardless of my opinion, I don't have a lot of say as to whether that'll ever happen. Keep your fingers crossed.

Thank you again for taking the time to chat with me. Take care.

It was my pleasure, Craig!

Friday, March 28, 2014

Read for the Weekend -- 8 POUNDS: EIGHT STORIES OF CRIME, HORROR AND SUSPENSE

Welcome to the first edition of "Read For the Weekend" where I review a standalone piece of fiction to whet your literary appetites over the weekend as you wait for a new blog post on Monday. Of course, feel free to read these whenever you want but I do hope that you read. You will never run out of good books to read. The search can and should be endless, the enjoyment everlasting. Keep reading!


On Wednesday, I discussed Chris F. Holm's incredible COLLECTOR series. I told you that Holm had other books worth reading and this is one of them. Also, you can purchase it on Amazon for your Kindle or Kindle reading app for only $0.99. It's a great deal. Check it out! With that in mind, how does Holm's short fiction measure up to his longer works?

If you're anything like me, you probably discovered the short story long ago. It yields a very different kind of experience than the novel or other longer forms and success at novel writing does not always equal success with short fiction. Stephen King is one of the best at short fiction, in my opinion. I would count Chris F. Holm with him.

As mentioned before, there is not a single word out of place when you read something by Holm. No word that should be there that isn't. No extra or unnecessary words. He seems entirely confident with his literary voice and in command of his craft. That's how his stories feel -- finely and carefully crafted.

As the title implies, this collection features eight tales. Some are amazing, some work better than others, all are worth your time. Stories like "Seven Days of Rain" and "A Better Life" about a man and a woman who move into the country for a simpler life and find themselves at odds with what appears to be a mouse pack a wicked punch that will catch you off guard and leave you devastated. Others like "The Toll Collectors" will make your skin crawl. Chris F. Holm will take down a path of crime and horror that manages to be so disturbing because it is so human. As with the COLLECTOR series, Holm is a master of characterization here as well. You are only afforded tiny glimpses, passing moments of  these people but Holm always captures the perfect moment. The characters hold on as long as they can and we hold onto them, in desperation, before Holm rips them from us precisely when he means to.

"The Well" might be the only story here that didn't really work for me and it happens to also be the shortest tale here. I feel like the final gut punch might have been more effective if it had been set up just a little bit more. Of all the stories, it felt the most false.

Even at his worst, though, Holm is a consummate storyteller. He is a master fisherman in the Lake of Story and he knows what monstrous wonders lie in its waters. He can fish those wonders out and knows better than practically anyone I have ever encountered what to do with them. You really owe it to yourself to read this book and all books by Chris F. Holm. After reading him, you'll lament that there aren't too many others in his league but his Lake is mythical and its gifts will sustain you forever.


If you do pick up 8 POUNDS, please let me know what you think so we can share in our love of books. As always. keep reading!