Tuesday, March 19, 2013

My First Literary Love by Laura Benedict

Cormac, Forever.
If I were to be totally honest with myself--which I almost never am--I would tell you that my first literary crush was on Somerset Maugham. I was in my mid-twenties when I discovered his work, and considered it literature of the highest order. His novel, Of Human Bondage, written in 1915, follows the life of an aimless, privileged Englishman name Philip Carey who gets emotionally involved with a nasty waitress named Mildred. Mildred abuses him shamelessly, runs off and gets pregnant by some cad, then returns to abuse him some more. There’s a happy ending after 500-some pages, but it’s definitely not happy for Mildred. Fabulous story, compelling prose.
Maugham was an Old World gentleman and bon vivant. I always imagined he and P.G. Wodehouse were at school together. In an autobiography, he advised young writers to put their first novel in a drawer and leave it there, as he did. I followed his advice and have never regretted it.
Sadly, Mr. Maugham was quickly booted off my heart’s literary pedestal for another older man, one far less elegant than Mr. Maugham, when my (then) husband-to-be gave me a book called Blood Meridian.
Reader, I was enraptured! Was it by the horrifying scene of murdered babies hanging from a tree? Starving, skeletal horses? Maybe the treachery and innumerable scalpings throughout? (Did you know the Dutch brought the tradition of scalping enemies to the New World as an accounting measure?) Or, perhaps I was simply drawn to the alien images of the Wild West. No John Wayne movie could ever happen in McCarthy’s world. It’s a world so intensely masculine and gorgeous and fraught with danger, that I sometimes realize I’ve been holding my breath as I read.
I quote (I’m using quotation marks to indicate I’m quoting from the novel--McCarthy is, of course, way too economical with his efforts to bother with trivialities like punctuation):
“Spectre horsemen, pale with dust, anonymous in the crenellated heat. Above all else they appeared wholly at venture, primal, provisional, devoid of order. Like beings provoked out of the absolute rock and set nameless and at no remove from their own loomings to wander ravenous and doomed and mute as gorgons shambling the brutal wastes of Gondwanaland in a time before nomenclature was and each was all.”
Primal, indeed. I want to roll naked through that prose like a miser might through a mound of thousand dollar bills.
As a new writer, I was overcome by the authority of his voice. My own was weak and kittenish and inconsistent. Every one of McCarthy’s words feels intentional. Imagine  writing without compromise, without giving a damn that some jealous critic might feel the want of a comma.
I went back and read Outer Dark, Child of God, The Orchard Keeper and Suttree, his earliest novels. Because they’re mostly set in Appalachia, I felt a kinship with the landscape. To add to the aura of romance, I heard that McCarthy lived in a motel somewhere in Tennessee. Until this writing I never wanted to track down the motel rumor, lest I discover it to be untrue. But I found out it was true--according to the Cormac McCarthy Society website, he lived in a Knoxville hotel in 1981.
I confess I temporarily dumped my literary hero over his Border Trilogy. I read All The Pretty Horses, but was skittish because it was a huge bestseller. I found it...thin. Someday I’ll read all three books. Maybe when I’m old(er).
McCarthy won me back with No Country for Old Men, one of the best crime novels I’ve ever read. The razor-sharp precision of his prose in both that novel and The Road leave me breathless all over again. Though, when he won the Pulitzer Prize for The Road, I refused to watch the momentous Oprah interview. What if my idol really did have feet of clay? It was his work I loved. And his photograph. I adored that weathered, ruggedly handsome face. Perhaps I’ve been burned too many times by actors who seem noble on the screen, then open their mouths in interviews to reveal they are dumb as rocks. I prefer to revel in fantasy, thank you.
I think I’ve maybe wandered out of crush territory and into true love. And how funny that it was my husband who introduced Mr. McCarthy to me. Long-term relationships really are the best, don’t you think?
Laura Benedict’s latest novel is Devil’s Oven, a Gothic thriller set in Appalachia. Its cover is black and orange and mysterious, just like the cover of her husband’s 1988 copy of Blood Meridian. You can find out more about her and her work at www.laurabenedict.com .

Friday, March 15, 2013

Why Do I Keep Going Back? A Guest Post by R. Thomas Brown

It’s been about six months since Hill Country was released by Snubnose Press. I’ve been thrilled, worried, elated, excited and weirded out by the experience. While not blowing up the literary world, it’s done better than I expected, and it’s still a bit strange to think of all the people I’ve never met who are reading my work. It was, and is, in all, a nice experience of being an author.
But, being an author of something is static. It’s out there, and it will never change. Sales may increase, they may die, and good, bad, or no reviews may come in. Regardless, it’s done. Being a writer goes on forever. It’s just a matter of doing it.
Oh, and choosing what to write.
I never intended Hill Country to start a series. Still, the book I just finished, currently called Reckoning is on submission at the moment. It's right back in Comal Creek, TX. Filled with some of the same places, people, and mix of small town cohesion and budding class struggles.
The story is completely different. Smaller and focused on the price a group of friends pay for a huge mistake in their past. But the place felt right again. I felt at home with the setting and the pace of the world the characters inhabit. So comfortable, in fact, that I’ve just started another story set in the town.
How many will I end up writing is something I don’t know. I don’t have any ideas for tales in the town after the current work in progress, but if I do, I know that I’ll be able to sink back into the place, pull up a chair at The Pit and throw some more bad circumstances at people that I really do like deep down.
An excerpt of Reckoning by R. Thomas Brown-
Nightmares had become a fact of life for Erik. Ever present and always the same. Most of the time they didn’t even disturb his sleep. But when life got tough, they always seemed to ratchet up the disturbance. Give him a little extra dig when things were bad.
Remind him of what he did. How much worse that was than anything he was going through. With Freddy’s turn for the crazy and obsession with that damned place, they’d come on strong. He took to drinking to get some rest.
That usually meant Freddy coming in and out wouldn’t bother him. But with Doug breathing down his neck for the past two days, and Erik’s concern about the less than savory activities of the deadbeat, even the drink was leaving him with fitful sleep.
That night, he woke up to the sound of the door slamming. He worked his jaw, tired from clinching his teeth through the horrid memory that filled his thoughts. He rolled on his side and looked toward the clock. Even squinting, he couldn’t make out the numbers. Not long enough since his homemade sleeping aid of rum and more rum.
He sat slowly, and hung his feet over the edge of the bed. “Freddy!” His own voice hurt his head. He exhaled a long breath and took a slow one in. He rose to his feet. Squinted. Tried using just the left eye. “Nope, still drunk.” He took short steps. More shuffles, really. Belches and vurps rose from his gut as he navigated his way down the hall.
Images from his nightmare kept flashing back. The woman screaming. The men ignoring his pleading. He shook his head to push the thoughts out. He realized the stupidity of that as he fell to the ground. He crawled the rest of the way. Pulled himself up when he reached Freddy’s door. Knocked as hard as he could.
“Freddy, what the hell is going on?”
Erik blinked, still trying to convince his body that he was awake. A few shakes of the head didn’t accomplish much more than a headache and a dizzy feeling. He hit the door again.
“Freddy!” Still nothing. Erik pushed the door open. Freddy was either gone or drunk. “Freddy, what the hell is going on?”
No answer. Erik looked at the bed. Couldn’t focus. He walked over to it. Empty. He patted the sheets. Nothing. “Freddy!”
Wasn’t the first time Freddy had taken off in the middle of the night, but he’d been at home for the past couple. Erik figured Doug had said something to him and it kept him in line for a bit. Erik had hoped for an easy time until Doug had a better answer. Seemed that wasn’t to be.
He managed his way down the stairs. Fell down the last three. “Shit.” He rubbed his back, trying to massage out the pain. No lights were on. Door was closed. He steadied himself and opened the front door. “Freddy!”
No answer.
His vision began to clear. He didn’t see anyone. He realized that if Freddy had slammed the door, he’d be gone by now. Erik walked over to the garage and opened the pad. Stared at the glowing keys that each blurred at the edges.
He pressed the code with slow deliberate fingers.
As it opened, he tapped his foot. Leaned down to peek inside. “Shit, Freddy.” The motorcycle was gone. He wished he’d remembered to hide the keys. “Where the hell did you go in the middle of the night?”
He had no idea where Freddy was, but a good idea where he hoped he wouldn’t be. Still, he was going to look for him. He slipped back in the house, feeling steady now on his feet. He mixed an instant coffee to keep him up and reached for his keys.
BIO: R. Thomas Brown writes crime fiction set in Texas. His novel, Hill Country, from Snubnose Press is currently available. You can find his thoughts on fiction, and other matters, as well as information on his short fiction and upcoming novels at rthomasbrown.blogspot.com

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Hill Country by R. Thomas Brown

I think we’ve all had a time in our lives when we were under the silly impression that we were untouchable… better, faster, stronger, meaner. Maybe?  I don’t know.
Back in college I had this 6ft Jamaican track star for a roommate. She was solid muscle. Solid. Her name was… I’ll just call her Gretchen.  And Gretchen had a temper; always knowing just what buttons to push to make you snap. But the trick with Gretchen, though, was keeping your cool.
Oh, who am I fooling? You never kept your cool with Gretchen because you never knew what the heck Gretchen was going to do. She was difficult and mean and she could knock you on your ass with one push if she wanted to.
Well, that’s what she did to me, anyway.
You see, a couple of weeks after Gretchen moved out of the apartment she returned and procured all of the pots and pans and baking dishes from the kitchen. The only person home at the time was a new roommate napping on the couch, unaware of Gretchen’s thieving.  In fact, we were only made aware of the missing items when we tried to make dinner and found that we had no pots to boil water in… or cookies sheets to bake cookies on. Tragic!
We might not have seen Gretchen take the pots and pans, but I knew she did. And even after people told me to leave it be I couldn’t let it go.  So, knowing my neighbor was headed to work in a few minutes and knowing that she worked with Gretchen, I asked her to tell Gretchen to bring the pots and pans back because she had taken some items that didn’t belong to her.
Okay, I may have said something about filing a police report, but my memory somehow escapes me…
What I do remember is Gretchen kicking in our apartment door, pulling me by the hair and smashing my head into the television screen just before dragging me by my flailing arms across the carpet on my knees. There was yelling. And I may or may not have said a few swear words. Eventually someone called the police and Gretchen, the smart little thief she was, left shortly after the sirens could be heard in the distance… leaving me a dazed, confused, bloody, and blubbering mess.
You know, there’s really nothing like the police showing up at your place to collect evidence and take photos of your beat-down to make you feel like a real loser. Or, for Gabriel Hill in Hill Country by R. Thomas Brown, there’s really nothing more troubling than the police coming by to take photos of the dead pedophile on your porch… especially when he's the guy you just got your butt kicked by at the local bar in town.
Now a convenient murder suspect, Gabe quickly finds himself an unwilling participant in the quest for some supposed treasure that his brother Mike had his hands on. But unfortunately for Gabe, Mike is dead, and left in his place are a half dozen or so lively characters that are willing to do whatever it takes to get the one thing they all feel is rightfully theirs.
You would think being confronted with bizarre, sacrificial killings in the woods; threats to get out of town; his brother’s murder; a beautifully dangerous and seductive woman that pops up out of nowhere; a home invasion; a couple of psychopaths that kill for fun; and the incredibly annoying Mr. Greenstreet, that Gabe would have left town while he still had the chance. Not likely.  ‘Cause like me, Gabe Hill is stubbornly smart, and he’s definitely not one to back down from a fight.  But unlike  my fight with Gretchen and those stupid pots and pans, Gabe’s unpredictable fight with lost relationships and madmen shows that he’s better, faster, stronger and meaner than all of them combined… even if he does shed a tear or two in the end.
I found Hill Country by R. Thomas Brown to be a wonderful read and quite different from his other work that I’ve read. While Merciless Pact seemed tinged with darkness with a side of nightmares, Hill Country seemed to be, well, tinged with darkness with a side of fun… as much fun as greed and murder will allow, at least. In Hill Country the characters are suspiciously shady, the dialogue catchy, and the setting so perfectly written that it had me reminiscing of my stroll down the River Walk in San Antonio a couple years back. And it also reminded me of my fight with Gretchen…
Yeah, Gretchen’s body might not have landed on my front porch after our little fight, but I did catch her picking up trash on the side of the road in her bright orange, community service outfit. 

*giggles*  I wonder if she still has those pots and pans…

BIO: R. Thomas Brown writes crime fiction set in Texas. His novel, Hill Country, from Snubnose Press is currently available. You can find his thoughts on fiction, and other matters, as well as information on his short fiction and upcoming novels at rthomasbrown.blogspot.com.

Hill Country is available at Amazon and Barnes & Noble.

Monday, March 11, 2013

My First Literary Love by Dan O'Shea

My First Literary Love: Amazon Adventure by Willard Price

I guess you should remember the first time. Even if it was just awkward adolescent fumbling, fumbling, then a boundary broached that had been long defended – what was it for her, the point of no return? That her breasts were exposed finally, or that her panties where now linked garters and her mysterious flower bloomed open and witnessed in the dim glow of the distant streetlight that fogged through the sweat-tinted windows of your car? The no’s had stopped. The hands that used to push you away, used to grab your wrists to deny your touch at those last sacred places, they now were grabbing something else, coaxing it, pulling it forward, the surrender complete.

You should have known that surrender was different, the surrender of a friend, the granting of a privilege, of a sacred trust, but you had fought that hormonal war so long, were so close finally to victory, that you pressed your suit like a blitzkrieg that roared past any nicety of foreplay, and she bit her lip the whole time, fought the pain the whole time, whispering “It’s OK, It’s OK” in your ear while she held you, as if she better understood your own unfamiliar demons, knew intuitively the price of her own surrender and still you thrust away, telling yourself that her gasps, her tortured rigidity, that they were the erotic fruit of your prowess, that they stemmed from her pleasure and not her pain, knowing the whole time that you should slow down, should back up, you should begin again as her ally and not her conqueror, but Nirvana was too close, the perfume of that longed for fantastical Elysium scenting the air in her musk, and so you believed your own lies long enough to make those last thrusts, and exploded as much in shame as in pleasure, with her holding you still, with her still saying “It’s OK, It’s OK” trying to make you believe that you had not betrayed her, that you had not crushed that fragile gift that she had so tremulously offered, that you had not despoiled with greed and lust and selfish appetite not only her moment, but your own, a moment that neither of you could have back, that could have been a shared wonder, but that now, for her, would always be an wound of regret and that for you would always be a thoughtless and brutal sin  You should remember that. You should remember your first time.

What’s that Sabrina? Not THAT first time. Sorry. My bad.

Summer camp, southern Wisconsin, July, 1967.  That break they made you take in the afternoon, an hour in your bunk, the stream of activities – of fishing or canoeing or archery or shooting – broken long enough to let you remember that you were still a boy, just eight. That you were countless miles from home, away, your family, from all familiar things, That, as fun as camp was, as capable as you had already become with the mask of machismo, you were still just a kid who missed your mom, who didn’t get a letter from home today, who wanted very much to cry.

But you had the book. Amazon Adventure by Willard Price. A story with other kids, other adventures, rendered so truly, so perfectly to your eight-year-old brain that this rectangle of cardboard and paper anesthetized the pain of homesickness entirely, transformed that dreaded break that had made you prey to your fears into a treasured hour, a refuge in each day, where you could be away from not only your fears but from the stress of being friends with these small, sometimes savage strangers, where you were god of your own universe.

Where you learned that books were magic, a balm, another plane, a realm apart and to which you could transport yourself anytime you liked, and to which you would now always partly belonged.

That was my first time, Sabrina. Not crime fiction, I guess. That came later. But that was my first love, and if I had it here today, I would open myself to it entirely in renewed surrender.  

Dan O'Shea is a Chicago-based crime writer. His debut novel, PENANCE, will be published by Exhibit A on April 30. You can preorder now or snap up his short fiction collection OLD SCHOOL from Snubnose Press if you're looking for a taste. Dan would be handsome for an older gent if he could just stop breaking his nose.