Saturday, May 28, 2011

Flash Fiction Challenge: An Unexpected Guest

Chuck Wendig over at Terribleminds has got another fun flash fiction challenge happening that's got me hooked like crack, making me cheat on my manuscript (something he's chastises us all about). But I've been sucked in. And well...what can I say, it's just about the most fun you can have with your clothes on. The challenge is to write a 1000 word or less flash piece about "an unexpected guest"

An Unexpected Guest

by Julia Madeleine

“I think he’s dead,” Amy said, panting as she stared at the man who lay face down in the ravine.

His construction hat was askew from his greasy head, one leg bent in an unnatural position. He was a small, wiry man, and boy could he run. Amy cast her gaze around on the grass until she spied a long stick.

“Poke him with this, Jessie,” she said, and handed it to me. “See if he moves.”

“No, you do it, I’m not touching him.” I pushed the stick back toward her.

“Why should I do it? You do it.”

We stood arguing the way we usually did and I wondered why I continued to be friends with Amy when we fought just as much as we laughed. I supposed it was because she was my only friend and rather than spending the summer by myself, I continued to hang out with her. Besides, she could sneak cigarettes from her mother’s purse.

“What do you think happened to the old geezer?”

“I don’t know,” Amy said. “Maybe a heart attack.”

I stood with folded arms, my heart still racing from our pursuit through the field. I worried suddenly that someone might have witnessed what just transpired, and I scanned the park. There were only a couple of people over in the tennis courts today because it was too hot.

I watched Amy bend at the waist, her ebony braids spilling around her brown shoulders as she leaned over, reaching out with a skinny arm. She touched the stick to the centre of the old geezer’s back. He didn’t budge.

“He’s deader than a door nail. Going to be hitching a ride in the meat wagon.” Amy said. We giggled. But after a moment my stomach began to tremble.

A roasting August sun blanketed my head. My vision blurred. I felt as if I couldn’t get any air.

“What’s the matter with you?” Amy asked.

Her chocolate eyes swam before me and then I was lying on the ground with the scent of the summer scorched earth filling my nostrils. I turned on my back, squinted at a sky as murky as dishwater, and focused on taking in air. Amy’s ringing laugh penetrated my ears. She leaned over me and I could smell her coconut and spice scent from the stuff her mother used to braid her hair.

“Hey, we should bury him and turn him into a zombie,” Amy said.

I sat up after a moment, the dizziness passed.

“A zombie? What the heck are you talking about?” I asked, and squinted up at her.

“Yeah, just like in Haiti. We can keep him under our power so he will have to do what we say.”

“How do you make a zombie?”

“Well, first we have to give him a zombie powder. Then we have to burry him and come back at midnight and he’ll be turned into a zombie. Or I can just say a spell since I don’t have any of that stuff.”

“How do you know so much about zombies anyway?”

“My Grandfather was a Voodoo Priest. My mother told me he kept zombies as slaves back in Haiti.”

I stood up and dusted the seat of my shorts, then looked down at the little construction-worker man still lying broken and dirty in the same position.

“I think we should get out of here.” I was worried we’d be in more trouble over this dead guy than our vandalism at the new houses.

“Wait till I do the spell.”

I watched Amy lifted her arms and make circular motions in the air with her hands. She danced around on her spindly legs, her sandals slapping the ground as her summer dress spun about her knees. She clapped her hands and turned to me with a huge white grin. We both burst into giggles and ran away.

Later that day, safe back in the cocoon of my house, the events of the afternoon seemed like nothing more than a dream. I decided to forget about the old geezer and the spell Amy put on him. I placated myself that it was all pretend, that Amy couldn’t really cast spells and turn people into zombies. It was all just pretend.

After I fell asleep that night, I woke up unexpectedly and sat up in bed, fully awake. The house was quiet and my room was dark except for a stripe of moonlight that cast over my comforter through the window.

I got out of bed and wandered across the wood floor. A massive full moon gazed in at me as I pushed the curtains aside. I looked down and drew in a breath at the sight before me. I felt my insides being sucked into a vortex in the centre of my body like a black hole. In the middle of the yard stood a figure awash in silvery moonlight. He was staring up at me, his face pale, his wiry body stiff as a corpse, his construction hat clutched in one hand.

I gasped and dove back under the covers. Then the back door of our house slammed. My ears strained, tuned to hear the most infinitesimal of sounds. Pin-pricks of pain shot though my arms and travelled up the back of my neck. It was him! The old geezer was coming for me!

I heard his heavy footsteps coming up the stairs like an unexpected guest. Why was our dog not barking? I wanted to scream, call out to my parents, but I couldn’t muster whatever it was I needed--courage perhaps-- to open my mouth and make the sound come out. I was struck frozen with the sound of those footsteps coming down the hall.

Finally a harpy scream tore from my throat and split the air like a lightning crack.

“Jessie, Jessie!” The familiar outline of my dad’s face, eyes sparkling in the moonlight, materialized before me.

I lay back down on my pillow in the sweat soaked sheet. Of course. It was all pretend. All of it, just pretend.

For more great stories visit Chuck's place here:

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Review of Josh Stallings Beautiful, Naked & Dead

Beautiful, Naked & Dead
by Josh Stallings
Heist Publishing (March 2011)

In Josh Stallings debut crime novel, Beautiful, Naked & Dead, we meet Moses McGuire a depressed, hard drinking, aging ex-con, and ex-military guy, on the edge of suicide. When he gets an urgent phone call from the one woman in the world he considers his only true friend, Kelly, a waitress at Club Xtasy in East L.A., the “titty bar” where Moses works as a doorman, Mo puts all thoughts of doing himself in on the back burner. Kelly is in some kind of trouble and needs Mo’s help. But Mo, being as broken as he is, and trying hard to overcompensate by playing pseudo daddy-hero to the women at the strip club he sees as lost little girls in need of care-taking, bungles the one time that his heroism really matters. Instead of running straight to Kelly when he realizes she’s not at the club, he stalls, has a few drinks and a quickie lap dance while she’s being brutally tortured and murdered.

Mo manages to pull his damaged self together and decides to track down the scumbags responsible for killing her. He sells his motorcycle, buys an old Crown Victoria, and a goes on a road trip—a no holds barred, take no prisoners, kill em’ all, rampage. And it’s a hell of a fun ride all the way.

I must admit, in the beginning of the story, I wasn’t fond of Mo and his dark, brooding personality, with all his weaknesses, but slowly he began to grow on me. Somewhere toward the end of the book, I decided I loved him. Maybe it was the barbarian inside of him that, when push comes to shove, Mo is able to release and accomplish something good. Good? Well, depends on how you look at it. Mo is a completely well rounded character, and Stallings does a fantastic job of making him come alive. Josh Stallings hits you with both barrels in this gritty, bad-ass, crime-drama. This book is sick!

Check out Josh Stallings for more info:

Review: She Felt No Pain by Lou Allin

She Felt No Pain
by Lou Allin
RendezVous Crime (2010)

In the sequel to, And On The Surface Die, Canadian author Lou Allin takes us on a suspenseful journey into the heart of Vancouver Island’s tourist district at the height of summer with the mysterious death of a homeless man. To RCMP Corporal Holly Martin, the man’s death appears to be from an apparent drug overdose. But there’s things that don’t add up, like the wad of cash in his pocket. As Martin begins to put the pieces together, she is simultaneously searching for answers to a more personal mystery: the disappearance of her mother years earlier.

The back drop of the west coast’s natural beauty, “Canada’s Caribbean”, is rich in detail and stark in contrast to its underbelly of homeless drug users Martin is sifting through in her investigation. I found the story does get somewhat bogged down with too much background information on the community and meanders away from the drama a bit. But otherwise, She Felt No Pain, is a captivating whodunit, superbly written with an intense ending that mystery lovers will thoroughly savour.

To find out more about Lou Allin, visit her at:

Friday, May 13, 2011

Pearce Hansen's Street Raised Re-released

Friday the 13th has always been a damn good and lucky day in my book. And just to prove it, Pearce Hansen's bad-ass novel STREET RAISED, has just been released as an ebook today. I read this book when it first came out in 2006, and it's way up on may favourite list of great reads. And today being the luckiest day of the year, I've had the good fortune to be able to interview the man himself.

So the word is your novel Street Raised is being re-released. How did this come about?

When STREET RAISED first came out, there was a lot of buzz. It was blurbed by Joe Lansdale, Ken Bruen, Jason Starr and a bunch of other people I really respect. It was reviewed in magazines, newspapers including a nice review by Eddie Muller in the SF Chronicle, TV & radio interviews, online crime fiction sites – the list of reviews & blurbs prints out to six pages long. Jess Mowry, Andrew Vachss, James Frey – all of them said they liked it. It had the brilliant Mark McKenna cover that riveted everyone who saw it (and is being reprised for this re-release). It had a Borders book signing. It was even in submission for the 2006 Edgar for Best First Novel, with a strong chance to at least be nominated, maybe even win.

But then, due to a perfect storm of glitches, STREET RAISED fell through the cracks. This re-release is me getting back in the ring to take another swing, and see if things don’t turn out better this time.

How would you best describe Street Raised?

I think the jacket pitch I wrote for STREET RAISED’s initial release still sums it up best:
"When Speedy raises from prison, he hitchhikes home to Oakland only to find his brother Little Willy a homeless crack head and his best friend Fat Bob bouncing in San Francisco's underground hardcore clubs. When two of their childhood homeboys get wrapped in chains by Mexican slangers and thrown in the American River alive, our heroes somehow get it together enough to plot revenge."

"Sure, it maybe takes the edge off Speedy's game a little when he starts playing house with beautiful phone psychic Carmel, and it complicates things a bit more when Louis, the same cop who put him in prison, starts dogging their steps like an unwelcome relative. But when a racist coven of skinz comes howling for Speedy & Carmel's blood, and a serial killer with a monster in his head decides Speedy is the answer to all his unholy prayers, things get really interesting . . ."

Where did you get your idea for this book? And would you say it's autobiographical to a degree?

While based on an actual milieu (Oakland in the 80s, then Murder Capital of the USA) and inspired by events from my youth, it is fiction. It initially arose as a series of cathartic writings that gelled into a crime novel when I opted to shoe horn reality into the template structure and story arc of a novel.

Again, this is not a memoir – but it’s as close to a guided tour of the underbelly of 80s East Bay as an outsider is ever likely to get. With all these disclaimers, I must confess that it’s very autobiographical.

Can you tell us about your early years growing up in San Francisco?

I was born a handful of blocks from Haight-Ashbury. My aunt was in with the Beats, the Old Spaghetti Factory crowd – I remember lots of wild parties as a child, all the big name writers were there. Dad moved us around a lot, pretty much all over the East Bay, often to ethnic neighborhoods where we were the only whites – I remember seeing my first knifing on A Street in Hayward when I was four or five. Dad ultimately achieved whitebread living for us: house, lawn, barbecue and the American Dream in Caucasian neighborhoods – but it was a fa├žade; it sure in hell wasn’t Leave It To Beaver.

Runaway jaunts; dropping out of school after being put in Special Ed as mentally subnormal; drinking at an early age; staying out all night doing drugs, crime and violence; running the streets of Oakland, Alameda and Berkeley with my other feral little hellion friends – most of whom are dead now, or in prison, or in and out of mental institutions, or ‘whereabouts unknown.’ Ultimately for me, addiction, homelessness, arrests, jail. Don’t do drugs, kids – the streets are a dead end, and the Life is a bitch.

What helped you get through those years?

Reading, books, and Moe Moskowitz.

When I was reading, people left me alone and that suited me just fine. I guess I morphed into a closet classicist I hot-boxed books so hard. Dostoevsky and Highsmith and Joyce, Dickens and the Viking Sagas and Virginia Woolf. Poetry, too: Plath and Robinson Jeffers. And yes, of course, the pulps: Jack Vance, H. P. Lovecraft, Mickey Spillane and Richard Stark.
It was an in-joke amongst the kids in my crowd that if we were prowling around up to no good and passed a bookstore, they’d have to physically restrain me from going inside and browsing the shelves.

But Moe Moskowitz, of Moe’s Books on Telegraph in Berkeley? He was one of the few positive adult male influences I ever had growing up. If you Google Moe, you’ll discover just how important a figure he was in the history of Berkeley, and of bookselling in general. Noticing my early love of books, Moe personally taught me as a teen how to spot first editions and works of value, pick them up cheap and sell them to him for a neat little profit. Of course Moe made his own little pile of bank off the deal, but being a ‘book hawk’ for Moe literally fed me more than once in my youth. I miss him, and I wish he could see that I became an author.

Tell us about your main character. What's he up against?

Well, Speedy is a newly released ex-con with no assets or support system, with all the difficulties that automatically entails for American prison inmates upon their release. When he went in it was the 70s, and now it’s the height of the 80s crack epidemic – he feels like a dinosaur just released from a time warp, he’s very out of place. He’s broke, he’s unarmed, and he burned a lot of bridges with his homeboys before going in, at the behest of his psychotic ex-girlfriend Reseda.

On the plus side, he’s very intelligent in a cunning, feral sort of way. Comfortable with organizing violence, Speedy has no trouble adapting to his new reality and plotting more mayhem.

What's different about this new edition of your book?

It’s about a third longer in material at 110K words. I changed it structurally, in the order of the chapters, and I fine tuned a lot of the dialog and interactions.

I also spent two years researching the Bay Area of the 80s, and have added a lot of period stuff for background; Naval Air Station Alameda is still open, the sailors of Reagan’s 600-ship Navy still carouse along Webster Street, and everyone is still waiting for World War III; the Cypress Structure double-decker freeway still cuts West Oakland in half – the ’89 Loma Prieta Earthquake hasn’t pan-caked it down on top of all those poor motorists yet; there’s still the nightly ‘manic minute’ at sunset in Dogtown, when the residents use axes and guns to fight off the packs of feral dogs marauding from the wetlands next to Naval Supply Center; Carol Doda – the Perfect 36 – is still stripping at the Condor, and the black dudes have to sleep with plastic bags on their heads to keep their Jheri curl from soaking their pillows; the Stone, the Mabuhay Gardens and the On Broadway are still open in North Beach and hardcore punk is in its fetid prime; Too Short and Metallica are still newbie up-and-comers scrabbling to get any kind of career traction for themselves, and “Felix the Cat” Mitchell’s Mob, out of the 69th Avenue San Antonio Village Housing Projects, is still in their shooting war with Funktown.

Would you say your writing has changed or developed since you first wrote Street Raised?

I believe I’ve learned a lot about writing and editing in the 15 years since I started, and in the seven years since I first considered STREET RAISED ‘done.’ I’ve only written maybe half a million words of final draft quality in my career, but I’d estimate I’ve spent way more than 10,000 hours doing it. I sure hope I’ve developed, including during the period since I first wrote STREET RAISED.

What are you reading these days?

At present I’m reading a lot of Laird Barron, an incomparable horror writer from the depths of rural Alaska. Laird is an auto-didact like me – to call his work neo-Lovecraftian would be an understatement, he has an amazing voice, and his story structure is impeccable.

I’m also reading Thomas Ligotti. Ligotti’s horror is more existential, almost philosophic – while there’s nothing graphic in his work, I assure you he is not for the faint of heart. Hallucinogenic and nightmarish are appropriate adjectives for him.

Are you working on anything now? What is on the horizon for Pearce Hansen?

My second novel STAGGER BAY is currently being represented by the Donald Maass Literary Agency (Contact: Stacia Decker). Don and Stacia are very good at what they do, and we’ll see how that one goes.
I’m 70K words into my third novel, THE STORM GIANTS. I’m also editing up my first anthology of short stories, no working title just yet.

Here's where you can get your copy: Kindle link


Tuesday, May 10, 2011

A Summer Of Crime In Canada

For all you thriller-writer-conference-going types, Canada has a couple of hot ones this summer. The Bloody Words Convention this year is slated for June 3 to the 5th in beautiful Victoria B.C. The winners for the Arthur Ellis Awards will be announced at the convention.

And this year's annual Scene Of The Crime Festival on Wolf Island takes place Saturday August 13th. Wolf Island, Ontario, is located just across the boarder to the U.S, right where Lake Ontario merges with the St. Lawrence river. Scene Of The Crime festival is an annual event held in honour of Canada's first crime writer,Grant Allen.

So go have some fun all you crime-loving maniacs, and don't worry about that knife-wielding psycho, he just needs a hug.