Saturday, December 13, 2014

T. Fox takes America by Storm

Diagnosed with a rare type of lymphoma at the age of 18, Dunham is now healthy at 36 and has become a frequently published author.
Diagnosed with a rare type of lymphoma at the age of 18, Dunham is now healthy at 36 and has become a frequently published author.
by Lou Mancinelli
More than a decade after doctors told him he had six months to live, numerous times after being crippled by radiation to treat his cancer, T. Fox Dunham was bedridden for years. He had to learn to walk again, used a cane.
Now Dunham has been published more than 200 times in a variety of magazines and journals, largely as a writer of horror fiction, which he writes a few days a week, all day long, at Starbucks, on Germantown Avenue in Chestnut Hill.
In November Dunham read from his newest novella, “Dr. Kevorkian Goes to Heaven” (Perpetual Motion Machine Publishing {PMMP}, 2014) as part of the Mt. Airy Read and Eat. His first book, “The Street Martyr” (2014), also from PMMP, is being produced by Throughline Films into a major motion picture, and his recently released anthology with Hazardous Press is titled “The Rip and the Rhythm.”
Diagnosed with a rare type of lymphoma at the age of 18, Dunham was waiting to die. He was treated at the University of Pennsylvania with intense radiation and chemotherapy. His doctor told him he wasn’t sure if the treatment was worth it, because afterwards, Dunham could be near brain dead.
“You can imagine that lying down is conducive to writing,” he said during a recent telephone interview.
The story of overcoming cancer is intermingled in “Dr. Kevorkian Goes to Heaven.” In the novella Kevorkian invents an immortality machine before he dies. When he dies he goes to heaven, a place he never believed existed. There he and God watch the immortality machine create a stasis on Earth. No one dies, no one is born, there is no change. In essence, “People just turn into statues, and all things stop,” Dunham said.
“He decided it would be of great value to society to obviate the question of mortality, so civilization would no longer be pestered by such antagonizing questions such as when is death death?,” Dunham writes in the opening paragraphs of the Kevorkian novel.
“I have no vanity,” the character, speaking as Kevorkian, says later in the story. “Pain destroyed my ego.”
In the story the character sets out on an exploration of pain, transforming its feeling into music, harmony, and cutting through pain as though it was a veil; behind it lay a fundamental truth to life. One wonders then, the journey of suffering Dunham himself has lived, if he may explore it so vividly with his characters.
Before being diagnosed Dunham wanted to become a historian. His lymphoma has been in remission since he was 19. The cancer is sleeping, doctors say; he was told he’ll never be cancer free but that he’s past the point where one needs to aggressively scan for malignancies.
In his 20s he worked in a historian’s role at Pennsbury Manor, William Penn’s former Morrisville estate, now a museum, where he learned a great deal about pre-Revolutionary War medicine.
Dunham, 36, has written stories since he was a kid, but he seriously began pursuing writing fiction about five years ago. After seeing the movie “K-Pax,” a film with Kevin Spacey and Jeff Bridges, he wrote an email to Gene Brewer, who had written the screenplay and the novel the film was based on.
They kept in touch. Dunham sent Brewer some of his work. Brewer encouraged him. Now Dunham earns enough writing fiction to be part of the Horror Writers Association, and with sale of “The Street Martyr,” a story about poverty in Philadelphia, to the movies, expects to continue making a living as a writer.
He’s written erotica as well, and his books are available in stores and online at Amazon. Dunham, called “Fox” by his friends, published his first story three years ago.
He said he never really wrote noir or horror before the lymphoma. When he started writing a few years ago, he tried a number of genres, like science-fiction and literary fiction. When he got continued responses from the horror pieces, Dunham went where the success led him.
Hidden beneath the horror Dunham conjures, is an exploration of real-world issues of hope, and overcoming struggle. Living with pain and overcoming staggering odds are realities he has lived with for the past 17 years.
For Dunham, a Lansdale resident, writing about horror, delving among the genre of noir, is a way to face death so that his characters may come closer to knowing life. He writes about killers, World War II, Nazis. He’s scared by poverty and exploitation of the weak, not vampires and monsters.
“There’s a certain fascination to the underbelly of darkness,” he said.
“Drama is about conflict … Those deeper darker answers that lie in the human heart … What attracts me to it is the spirit that overcomes.”
His next novel, “Searching For Andy Kaufman,” due next year from PMMP, is about how the famous comedian played with life and death, how he played with reality and blended the lines between reality and illusion. The main character is an 18-year-old, dying of cancer, who has chosen to die. He doesn’t know who his father is, and some of his mother’s clues lead him to believe it’s Kaufman. So he and friend go on a search for Kaufman.
“I understand what it’s like to suffer and have no way out,” said Dunham, who was born in Scotland but raised mostly around Philadelphia. That’s the kind of attitude he wants his characters to represent and somehow walk out from among the dead.
“I would love to say that I chose to survive,” Dunham said about overcoming cancer. He wishes he could point to faith, positive thinking or anything at all. But he doesn’t know why. So he writes.
More information at

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Noir at the Bar: An Oral History and its humble origins

Noir at the Bar: An Oral History

Header image via Brent Schoonover

If you’re on Facebook or other social media outlets and you're following characters like LitReactor’s Rob Hart or Thuglit’s Todd Robinson, chances are you’ve seen invites and pictures of an event called Noir at the Bar. Even if you’re not connected to those two and you’re friends with someone like Benjamin Whitmer, Hilary Davidson, Owen Laukkanen, Megan Abbott, and J. David Osbourne, chances are you’ve heard of Noir at the Bar.
Over the last seven years, dozens of Noir at the Bar events have sprung up around the country, and it has become something of a phenomena in the crime fiction community. And because of its wild impact, I wanted to somehow document the events, and I wanted to hear the stories behind the four original events in Philadelphia, St. Louis, Los Angeles, and New York. I wanted to hear from the organizers—Peter Rozovsky, Jedidiah Ayres, Eric Beetner, Glenn Gray, and Todd Robinson—and readers themselves.
So, without further ado, here is Noir at the Bar: An Oral History.

Noir at the Bar: Philadelphia

Crime fiction critic and blogger Peter Rozovsky of Detectives Beyond Borders is the originator of Noir at the Bar.
What inspired you to organize the first Noir at the Bar?
Peter Rozovsky: I had recently attended my first crime fiction convention, Noircon 2008 in Philadelphia, and I was fired with enthusiasm for all things crime fiction. I was chatting with a literate friend who tended bar at a Philadelphia place whose décor happened to be all black. Noir at the Bar grew from those discussions.
What were the differences in format between the first Noir at the Bar and the readings that have sprung up nationwide?
Peter Rozovsky: The initial writers were mostly Philadelphia-area authors I had met at that first Noircon or authors I had met through them: Duane Swierczynski, followed by Jon McGoran, Dave White, Jonathan Maberry, Sandra Ruttan, Dennis Tafoya. The MCs/questioners for those events included Ed Pettit (the Philly Poe Guy), Sarah Weinman, Brian Lindenmuth, and me.
I initially invited one writer to read at each session, to be followed by questions from me or a questioner of the author’s choice, and then questions from the audience. Declan Burke and John McFetridge stopped in for a two-headed Noir at the Bar on the way to Bouchercon 2008 in Baltimore, but one writer was the rule. 
The concept really took off when Scott Phillips and Jedidiah Ayres began doing Noirs at the Bar in St. Louis with large groups of writers, which brought bigger crowds out but meant eliminating the interviews and Q&A. About a year ago, I MC’d a Noir at the Bar in New Hope, Pa., that combined the two approaches: About five authors read, followed by questions from me. I hope to do more events along those lines.

Noir at the Bar: St. Louis

Why did you decide to start Noir at the Bar?
Jedidiah Ayres: When Scott Phillips came back from Noir Con 2008 he told me about this cool thing Peter Rozovsky organized called Noir at the Bar, where you gathered a bunch of crime fiction writers/readers/fans in a bar and got to the good/bad stuff. Then he put it out in the universe that it sure would be swell to have something like that in St. Louis. St. Louis gets a handful of dates on major book tours — we're blessed with a few local institutions and independent bookstores that work to get our town a slot on the whistle stops of the big gals 'n guys (folks like The St. Louis County Library and Left Bank Books) — but the writers we are particularly attracted to tend to have mucho talent and niche appeal, so yeah, hardly ever had the chance to catch 'em if they happened through on their own dime or only heard we'd missed 'em after the fact. We wanted to establish the venue, the platform and most importantly the community for the stuff we loved in order to not miss out when our people were coming through, and perhaps even become reason enough for St. Louis to be a target for the mid-list, cult and otherwise invisible authors we knew were out there.
How did you decide who to invite to read at your first Noir at the Bar?
Jedidiah Ayres: A few months later Anthony Neil Smith was coming through St. Louis on his way to Mississippi and looking to promote Hogdoggin' along the way. Talking with Scott, one of us suggested that now would be the time to try our hand at doing the event and the other failed to talk him out of it. Neil's attendance and a little online public badgering was enough to get this guy named Frank Bill, who lived relatively near by, to make the four hour drive to hang out with us for an evening. I'd been reading Frank's work online in places like Plots With Guns, Thuglit and Beat to a Pulp, and traded a few words with him electronically, and believed he'd make a great spiritual addition to our gathering.
Who was your favorite reader at the first event?
Jedidiah Ayres: Scott emceed that first evening (we trade off the privilege) and read first with a hilarious and raunchy chapter from his at the time forthcoming novel RUT, and I followed up with a passage from Fierce Bitches that had been published in Thuglit, and Frank stood up and delivered two blasts from the sawed-off not yet titled Crimes in Southern Indiana. Neil capped the evening with a bone-breaker of a roadkill passage fromHogdoggin' and we were all pleased enough with the end result that we kept on doing it. Everybody who read at that first event has come back once or twice to do it again.
(Quick editorial note: In typical Jedidiah Ayres fashion, Ayres selected himself as his favorite reader. I wonder how many of the organizers of the various Noir at the Bar’s would list themselves as their favorite readers if they were honest? But I digress …)
Here’s brief excerpt from Fierce Bitches:
“Maria is upset. Her chubby fingers, trembling, can’t cover her mouth sufficiently to smother the sobs. Wakes you up. Judging by the light coming through the gaps in the tin roof, it’s near nine. The atmosphere is like an amniotic sac.
“What is it, for fuck’s sake?”
Her reply is lost on you. She sounds like a Pentecostal Rosie Perez, frothing and speaking a hundred miles an hour. Four months here and you haven’t grasped the language. Haven’t even tried. You aren’t planning on sticking around.
“English. Speak English por favor.” Hysterical shrieks. “No, forget I said anything. I need a smoke.” You fish through your clothes beside the bed mat, till you see the cigarettes on her table. Clothed only in sweat, you stand and strike a match. She still sounds like a maniac, running in circles around the room. You grab her by the shoulders to slow her down, and speak very deliberately.
“” She slaps you hard across the face and chest and you slap her back. She grabs your clothes, tosses them outside the hut and pushes you after them. Fine with you. You haven’t paid yet.
The dust clings to your damp parts. In this heat, that’s pretty much an entire outfit. You collect your clothes and carry them under your arm as you start toward the cantina.
You’ve been to Mexico once before, but this time had fuck all to do with Sammy Hagar and margaritas. This was all dust and rocks and heatstroke, skin turning to leather and sunshine so intense, your balls disappear when you squint. The Sierra Madres hemming you in sounds good for a movie, but actually makes you feel like a fish in a bowl.
You make your way barefoot toward the only road around, trying like hell to extract some nutrients from your cigarette. The dog carcass from the day before has been disappeared from the roadside and you make a mental note not to chance Ramon’s stew today.
A debris cloud still hangs in the air, which means an automobile instead of a mule cart has come by recently. That could indicate a couple of things: A. Extra shipment this week or B. Trouble in paradise.
A half-dozen tin shacks like Maria’s pock the desert in no particular pattern. Thrown up without a thought to symmetry or community. A crowd gathers outside the furthest, next to the cantina. The cloud settles behind a black Cadillac, which means the answer is in fact B.– Polito sent his muscle to settle something.
The crowd is comprised entirely of women, the whores who live here at the whim of Harlan Polito - who is decreeing judgment from on high back in the States. Also here by his will is a small group of gringos; roughnecks, punks and psychos who do dirty deeds for money and pleasure. You belong to this group. You stay here till the man sends for you to return to the bosom of society and contribute again.
No one seems to notice your nakedness as you approach, not even Metcalf, who comes out to meet you.
Noir at the Bar: St. Louis continues along unabated and hosted by Ayres and Phillips. To date the St. Louis events have featured such writers as Matthew McBride, Fred Venturi, Laura and Pinckney Benedict to name just a few.

Noir at the Bar: Los Angeles

Why did you decide to start Noir at the Bar?
Eric Beetner: I decided to start an L.A chapter of Noir at the Bar after the Mystery Bookstore closed. I realized a few months later that the hub for writers had vanished. I wasn't getting to see my friends and chat with writers who offered me so much advice and mentoring in my early days in publishing. I wanted that sense of community again. I knew of what Jed and Scott were doing in St. Louis (I still hadn't heard of the Philadelphia history) and I felt like co-opting the name would be better than trying to do a cheap knockoff or reinventing something that didn't need it. So I first went to Jed and Scott to ask permission. I wasn't sure if they would be territorial about it or not. They gave the thumbs up and educated me on the history and the fact that they had done exactly as I was trying to do by borrowing the idea from Peter Rozofsky. 
Next, I contacted several local crime writers to ask if they thought there would be enough interest, both as readers and as attendees since I really wanted a place where writers could mingle and mix it up with each other as much as with readers. The primary goal for me was never about selling books. I wanted the social aspect and the central hub that was missing. And in a city like L.A. it seemed absurd that there wasn't a close knit crime writing community.
The response I got was overwhelmingly positive. Among the writers I contacted was Stephen Blackmoore, who said he was toying with a similar idea, so we partnered up. We had the same goal in mind and then later, Stephen was instrumental in getting our bookseller, Mysterious Galaxy, to come out and start selling books. Once we added that, it gave touring authors another place to stop and make a book tour a viable thing. Again, with the book stores closing, even a city as big as L.A. had very few options for places for crime writers to do a signing. What we've been able to provide is a genuine destination for touring authors. Now we try to book dates around authors on the road and we've lured writers from as far away as the east coast and Canada.
How did you decide who to invite to read at your first Noir at the Bar? 
Eric Beetner: For the first one we knew both Stephen and I would read, because why not. Easy bookings. I knew Duane Swierczynski had a book coming out at the time so I went for it and asked him. He said yes so we had our headliner. I can't underestimate how big a fan I am of Duane's so having him read was a no brainier. It wasn't until much later that I learned he also read at the very first Noir Bar in Philly. So, full circle and all that. I really try to snag readers I love to come out and read for us. I've coaxed people like Megan Abbott, Sara Gran, and Charlie Huston to come out even if it has taken three or four times asking. What's nice is that now we have people coming to us looking for a slot. It's nice to be known as a great place to read in front of an enthusiastic crowd. 
We try hard to have a mix of new and established authors at our events. Many new readers have never read their work in public before. We don't require anyone to have been published. At our first event we had Holly West on the bill and she'd only had short stories at a few places. Now she's had two novels published. It's great to see writers grow within our community and for them to share that evolution at Noir at the Bar.
Who was your favorite reader at your first Noir at the Bar?
Eric Beetner: At the first one, I'd say Duane Swierczynski was my favorite because I love his stuff. He read from a new piece he was working on, not the novel. It's great when people mix it up. We let them read whatever they want. Duane read from a thing called Breakneck that hasn't been heard of since, so we all got a taste of a very exclusive piece. Maybe it will resurface later on and we can all day we heard an early version. 
Why did you decide to read Breakneck at the First L.A. Noir at the Bar?
Duane Swierczynski: I chose the first two pages of Breakneck for L.A. (and St. Louis N@B, come to think of it) because it was relatively short and fun to read out loud. For a while, it was going to be my follow-up toSeverance Package, but I made it to page 100 before putting it aside. Just this past year, though, I adapted it as a creator-owned comic, and there should be an announcement soon-ish about where it’ll appear. (It’s a new publisher for me, but a familiar one to a lot of readers. And no I can’t tell you. Not even when you make with the puppy dog eyes.)
Here is an excerpt from Breakneck:
You’re standing outside Room 11 of the George Washington Hotel, black aluminum bat in one hand, muddy brick in the other.
The bat is coated in gray dust. For the past nine months, it’s been wedged under your bed, totally forgotten.
The brick is from the tiny courtyard behind your apartment building. You pried it loose about 40 minutes ago, on your way to the car. You felt silly at the time, but now you’re glad you brought it. Because now you’re thinking about tossing the brick through the window, forcing him to come out.
And then…
Well, that’s why you’ve got the bat.

                                                                                                          * * *

But wait.
What if you break the window—and the guy goes to the window instead of the door?
Then you’d have to bolt. That, or go after the fucker through the broken window—which leaves you at a serious disadvantage. See, you’d have to use the bat to tap away the rest of the glass before you climb in, otherwise one good slip and it’s goodbye scrotal sac. And by the time you did that, he could be ready for you with something heavy in his hands. Or with something that fires bullets.
Worse yet: what if you throw the brick, and it’s the wrong room?
No. You got the right room. The text said “Room 11.” This is Room 11. The George Washington Hotel. Slogan: We cannot tell a lie—you’ll love staying with us.
It’s a cold February morning—dead quiet up here on the fringes of Northeast Philadelphia. The ground is coated with a white slush from a brief predawn snowfall. Fortunately for you, the building angles away from US-1. Directly in front of you, beyond the parking lot, is a state wildlife refuge, named after some long-dead senator—which just means they haven’t gotten around to developing it yet.
So nobody can see you standing outside, baseball bat in one hand, brick in the other.

                                                                                                        * * *

Still, you can’t stand out here forever. Sooner or later a motel employee will notice you. Or worse, a passing cop or state trooper over on US-1.
So you’ve got to do something. You were up all night. You can’t just go home.
You mull your options.
Maybe you could just knock on the door, hide the bat and brick behind your back, hope the guy answers?
No. That won’t work, either. The door has a tiny brass peephole. And the guy is waiting for a familiar face. A pretty face. Not your face. No way he’d open the door to a stranger.
You keep thinking.
You saw this movie once where a skinny tattooed PI slid a credit card between the lock and frame, then knocked on the door. The moment he saw movement in the peephole, the PI kicked open the door, knocking the other guy on his ass.
But there was one problem—and it was something that bothered you when you first watched it. What if the guy had a chain on the door? You kick it in, it goes nowhere. You might even blow out your knee.
So many ways this could go wrong.
You can’t give up now, though. You’ve come all this way—from downtown Philly to the northeast. A 40 minute drive. What, are you just going to turn around and go home. You need to see him, so you can…
So you can what, exactly?
You know, maybe you should just go home. That would be the easiest thing. Just walk back across the parking lot to your Subaru Forester, take US-1 all the way back downtown, and pretend like this never happened.
That’s definitely what you should do.
You turn toward the Subaru and make it whole three steps before you…
Fuck no.
You can’t go home now. Because it will nag you all day, and you’ll end up staring at the ceiling all night long, just like you’ve done for the past two nights. Running questions around in your head. Scenarios. Endless scenarios.
You watch the traffic whiz by on US-1 for a few more seconds, trying to make up your mind.
Then the door to room 11 pops open.
Why do you continue to run Noir at the Bar?
Eric Beetner: We have talked about feeling a bit burned out sometimes, but I really do think it is an important part of the crime writing community in Los angels now. I would hate for it to go away. I wish we could lure even larger crowds, but we don't do much to promote it. We really should get better about that, but in a city with so much going on, local press ignores our requests. If you're not a huge movie premiere, you're small time. And the response we get from grateful authors who travel from far and wide, and enthusiastic readers who get a chance to meet authors who they are already fans of as well as finding new voices, that's what it's all about. At this point, four years into it, it would be weird to go to an event and not be organizing it. Someday I'm sure we may pass it off, but every time I think about it I just can't let it go yet. 
It's nice to be somewhat known within crime writing circles, too, as someone who is working to build a community. When I have done the event at Bouchercon, so many authors know of us and appreciate what we're doing. Everyone knows the space for author appearances is shrinking. It's nice to work on being a part of the solution rather than just moaning about it. 
So we're here for the duration. We will continue to go after big authors and invite in the small and watch them grow. Well keep working on ways to innovate. We've shown short films, done staged readings with actors, done theme nights. We'll try anything to keep it fresh. And we love mentoring other people to start their own like they've done in San Diego now. 

Noir at the Bar: New York

Why did you decide to start Noir at the Bar?
Todd Robinson: Glenn Gray and Tommy Pluck bullied me.
Glenn Gray: After St. Louis and LA, we wanted to get a NYC N@B going. Represent the east coast, that kind of thing. Also figured it was a good way to meet new writers, give back, and just have some fun.
How did you decide who to invite to read at your first Noir at the Bar?
Todd Robinson: We just sort of opened it up. A couple people were in town for BEA, and we openly asked who else wanted in. When we hit thirteen people, we figured that it would be enough for an event. NOTE: Thirteen is too many.
Glenn Gray: We didn't know going in who we would invite, we just kind of crossed our fingers that we'd get some people. We put the word out, asked some local guys, and Shade regulars (Ricjie Narvaez, Justin Porter), and we heard Johnny Shaw was going to be in town, I think for NY Book Expo, so we figured to time it around that, hoping many writers would be in town.
Who was your favorite reader at your first Noir at the Bar?
Todd Robinson: Johnny Goddamn Shaw. The guy is a destroyer at these things...and I had to follow the sonofabitch. His story was about Chingon: The World's Most Dangerous Mexican. The story was all boobs and hand grenades. How the fuck do you follow that?
Glenn Gray: Johnny Shaw. Johnny made it clear that the best type of thing to read was something funny, crazy or over the top. And if you do it well, everyone has a good time. Johnny read a portion of the Chingon Story from Blood and Tacos and it was so ridiculous and funny it was great. Bonus points when you get the crowd laughing.
Johnny Shaw: When I read I have a couple go-to excerpts.  I like to keep it short and funny, because when you’re going for laughs you have a better gauge of whether or not the audience is digging it. I rarely read over eight minutes. Six or seven is closer to the sweet spot. Leave them wanting more.
Also, if you haven’t noticed, I’ve got a monotone voice, so the material has to complement that.  It has to be strong on its own and play against my somewhat dry delivery.  Readings are performances, not presentations.  It’s about entertainment.
The piece that both the LA and New York crew are probably referring to is my story “Blood and Tacos,” featuring the character Chingón, the short story that lead to the creation of the BLOOD & TACOS quarterly. It usually kills. It’s big satire and densely funny. I’m very proud of that story, as it has very little set-up and mostly just punchlines. That tied to its outrageousness makes for a crowd-pleaser.
Here’s a brief excerpt of Blood and Tacos:
Chingón was known by many names: The Matador of Mayhem. The Caballero of Catastrophe. The Hermano of Hurt. The Patrón of Pain. And the admittedly less-inspired, Jefe of Internal Injuries.

There was no doubt that he truly was The World’s Deadliest Mexican. The Mexecutioner.

Feared for his prowess with his bullwhip Marta and his deadly accuracy with grenades, like a snake charmer or a lion tamer, Chingón had learned to tame man’s most dangerous weapon into something he could massage and control. His reputation was spread by the few that had seen him in action. Very few. Most of the others had exploded. And the explosions had killed them.
Why do you continue to run Noir at the Bar? And if you don't, why did you stop organizing them? Who did you hand your Noir at the Bar over to and how are they doing in your opinion in organizing the events?
Todd Robinson: Glenn and I ran the show for two years, and have now handed the reins to Tommy Pluck. It just got tiring. At certain points, the readings got political. People get pissy when they're not invited each time, other writers act like you should be kissing their puckered asses just because they showed up. In other words, hell is other people. Tommy has been killing it every time since. I think he's more patient with people. I'm just a crabby bastid.
Glenn Gray: Todd and I stopped, but may return in the future. After 9 of them it just got to be too much. We at least needed a break. It is stressful getting that many people to commit to a certain date and people cancel and don't get back, that kind of thing. And when you're doing something that's a labor of love, once it loses the fun or becomes too much trouble,  it's kind of hard to keep going. I think Todd and I were very generous, raffling off books, some that we bought ourselves (I think we were the first to do the giveaways). We just wanted to have fun and didn't have a formal bookseller there because we wanted to keep it about the reading and connection, and not come across that we were trying to hustle books. Although if an author brought some of their books they could certainly sell a few when people asked, which was done time to time, but that was their own thing. We turned it over to Tom Pluck and I think he's doing a wonderful job.He was kind of informally involved at the beginning and was a frequent reader and help. He did a few so far, rather quickly I must say, but time will tell if he keeps it up because it can turn into hassle rather quickly. Thing is, people start to ask and say hey when can I read? Or, so and so in coming into town on this date and wants you guys to have a N@B. Yes, that did happen a lot. We were always very accommodating when we could but you could see how then you have to start worrying about hurting peoples feelings if you didn't invite etc. You understand. 
Image of Fierce Bitches (Crime Factory Single Shot)
Manufacturer: Crime Factory Publications
Part Number:
Image of Severance Package
Manufacturer: Minotaur Books
Part Number:
Image of Blood & Tacos #1
Manufacturer: Creative Guy Publishing
Part Number:
Keith Rawson

Column by Keith Rawson

Keith Rawson is a little-known pulp writer whose short fiction, poetry, essays, reviews, and interviews have been widely published both online and in print. He is the author of the short story collection The Chaos We Know (SnubNose Press)and Co-Editor of the anthology Crime Factory: The First Shift. He lives in Southern Arizona with his wife and daughter.

Thursday, November 27, 2014

The Noir Universe that is David Goodis

On the Streets of Philadelphia — Discovering the Noir Universe of David Goodis

book revA nondescript sign hanging above an uninviting door on a street in Philadelphia says ART, BOOKS. The door opens easily and what you see on the other side makes it feel like you’ve walked into a movie.
There are all kinds of interiors, some dull, some posh, and then there are vistas like the one extending into the far distance. Books and art are here, as promised. Piled on top of floor-to-ceiling shelves teeming with volumes from the era before ISBN numbers are paintings, jumbled, tumbled, balanced, constructively haphazard, as if arranged by a Hollywood set designer on a roll, canvases framed and unframed, original artworks, some of it shrill and chaotic, like hieroglyphics gone wild, graffiti that couldn’t find the right wall. As you venture farther back, past immense, picturesquely faded 19th-century French posters advertisinglivraisons partout gratis by Paul de Kock, you find boxes of old records, sheet music, postcards, vintage magazines and newspapers, auction catalogues, and, filling the last long stretch of the vista, antiques with enough charisma to suggest that a Maltese Falcon or Brasher Doubloon might be found on the premises.
So if this is a movie, what’s it about, where’s it coming from, and where’s it going? The genre that makes the most sense for such a murky, intriguingly disordered setting is film noir. Except that doesn’t fit with my idea of Philadelphia, even though literary historians say Poe invented the detective story here, writing “Murders in the Rue Morgue” a few years before George Lippard produced The Quaker City … A Romance of Philadelphia Life, Mystery, and Crime (1845), one of the wildest, weirdest Gothic mind-benders ever written. It’s also true that the City of Brotherly Love is where two bop piano geniuses suffered brain-damaging beatings in the 1940s, Bud Powell at the hands of the police, Dodo Marmarosa attacked by a gang of sailors who dumped him headfirst on the dockside railroad tracks. You could fashion a tragic noir around either man, both of whom never fully recovered.
The idea of a movie about an embattled pianist brings to mind François Truffaut’s Shoot the Piano Player (1960), which was based on a novel by what’s-his-name, the writer of the book behind one of my favorite noirs, Dark Passage. I’m thinking of the scene where Bogart goes out in the middle of the San Francisco night to find a plastic surgeon because he needs a new face. The doctor who does the job is philosophical, telling Bogart “There’s no such thing as courage, only the fear of getting hurt and the fear of dying.” For some reason that line gives me the name I was looking for, David Goodis. BecauseDark Passage was set in San Francisco, I always thought Goodis lived out there. In fact, he’s right here, right where he belongs, with these thoughts of beatings and piano players in this vast curiosity shop in the City of Brotherly Love.
Finding David Goodis
Looking him up online that night, I learn that David Goodis was born and grew up in Philadelphia, studied for a year at my alma mater Indiana University before transferring to Temple, where he graduated in 1938 with a journalism degree, moved to New York City, worked in advertising, wrote for pulps like Horror Stories, Terror Tales, and Dime Mystery, published Dark Passage in the Saturday Evening Post, sold it to Hollywood, knew the stars (there are photos of him with Bogart and Bacall). Then back to his hometown for good to become the poet laureate of Philadelphia noir, turning out Gold Medal paperbacks like The Moon in the GutterNightfallCassidy’s GirlOf Tender SinStreet of the Lost, and Down There, the book that went to Paris and became Truffaut’s Tirez sur le pianiste.
The only thing by Goodis I could find locally is a paperback of Shoot the Piano Player. Here’s the first paragraph:
There were no street lamps, no lights at all. It was a narrow street in the Port Richmond section of Philadelphia. From the nearby Delaware a cold wind came lancing in, telling all alley cats they’d better find a heated cellar. The late November gusts rattled against midnight-darkened windows, and stabbed at the eyes of the fallen man in the street.
That’s an irresistible opening, word-music and articulated atmosphere as mood-making as Charles Asnavour’s beyond worldweary face glooming above the piano in Truffaut’s film, which brings the melody of feeling to life much as Goodis describes it: “a soft, easygoing rhythm, somewhat plaintive and dreamy, a stream of pleasant sound that seemed to be saying, Nothing matters.” As for the piano player, he’s “slightly bent over, aiming a dim and faraway smile at nothing in particular.”
Where fiction most impressively surpasses film and makes you understand why Henry Miller said the novel was “even better” than the movie is in the love story between the piano player and the waitress. In the film Lena is played by Marie Dubois, whose charming wholesome beauty and lovely smile make it a foregone conclusion that Aznavour’s Eddie would be instantly infatuated. Gaddis’s depiction of the awkward evolution of a deeply felt relationship is so tensely and determinedly understated that it takes on a force greater than all the violence in a violent book. Dubois’s youthful charm is no match for the presence and power of Gaddis’s waitress. This is why the end of Down Therehas an emotional impact beyond anything in the film. After seeing the woman he was afraid to fall in love with shot dead in the snow, the piano player goes back to the refuge he found after his fall from concert hall glory, a dockside dive called Harriet’s Hut, where Lena worked. One way he tries to resist loving her is to think of her not by name but as “the waitress” right up to the moment of her death — “down there” in South Jersey.
“Less is more” is the line Gaddis follows from the cold wind of the opening paragraph to the deliverance of the conclusion, with Goodis, like a pianist himself, at his own keyboard. People in the bar are urging him to play, they all but lift him onto the stool, but he’s “got nothing to give them,” until a whisper comes “from somewhere” telling him he can try. When, with eyes closed, he hears the sound, “warm and sweet,” coming from a piano, he thinks, “That’s a fine piano …. Who’s playing that?” And as the story ends: “He opened his eyes. He saw his fingers caressing the keyboard.”
Earlier, when he heard jazz coming over a car radio, the piano player said something similar to himself, “That’s very fine piano … I think that’s Bud Powell.”
It’s said that during his year and a half confinement at Creedmore after the Philadelphia attack, Bud Powell drew a keyboard on the wall of his cell, so he could open his eyes and see it there and imagine his fingers moving on the keys.
The Writer as the Player
The cover of La vie en noir et blanc, the biography of David Goodis by Philippe Garnier (Editions de Seuil 1984), has a photograph of Goodis at the piano, a cigarette in his mouth. After reading his way through Goodis’s dark world, Garnier commented, “I find it very difficult to imagine springtime in Philadelphia.”
Julian Rackow, Goodis’s lawyer in the suit he brought against the hit TV series The Fugitive for allegedly stealing ideas from Dark Passage, found it no less difficult to put his impression of Goodis into words, at least until he sawShoot the Piano Player: “Upon leaving the theater, my wife said that I looked as pale as a ghost. I was shaken because it was as if I had seen David Goodis.” Besides observing that the Aznavour character had “many of the personality and physical traits of David Goodis,” Rackow felt that both men were versions of “the quintessential loner.” The piano player was the writer, “all wrapped up tightly within himself … far more comfortable within his own shell.”
Streets Given Meaning
On the same day that began at the emporium behind the ART/BOOKS sign, my son and I drove to a used record store called Sit & Spin on South Ninth in the Italian market, a part of the city I’m not very familiar with and at the time had no desire to know better. On our way, we covered a lot of ground, crossing innumerable four-way-stop intersections of streets that had no particular significance for me.
At home, after discovering a fantastically informative web site called “Shooting Pool with David Goodis,” I learned just how wide a swath of urban territory his novels encompass. Those insignificant street names I’d passed earlier that day were now charged with meaning, fiction and real-life merging in an area the web site calls Goodisville: “The majority of the novels were set in Skid Row, the Delaware River docks, Kensington, Southwark, and Port Richmond. Three of these areas are truly lost to contemporary Philadelphians. Working class Southwark is now Queens Village, most of which is increasingly upscale. Dock Street, overlooking the waterfront and once the center of a sprawling and cacophonous produce market, is now the location of independent film theaters, and of the Society Hill Towers apartments. Skid Row fell to redevelopment plans over 30 years ago; the derelicts, the fleabag hotels, and the Sunday Breakfast Association have long been unlamented.”
The circumstances of David Goodis’s death at 49 in March 1967 have a noirish aspect. While the official cause is given as a “cerebral vascular accident,” the consensus seems to be that it resulted from the beating Goodis suffered while resisting a hold-up attempt.
Down There can be found in the Library of America’s anthology American Noir of the 1950s. Gaddis has a volume all to himself in Five Noir Novels.The 2nd Street emporium is Jules Goldman Books and Antiques.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Bullet Gal has it all going on!

Bullet Gal is a loving homage to hardboiled noir, detective stories, and pulp fiction produced in the first half of the 20th century


The first thing you need to know about Bullet Gal is that it’s a loving homage to hardboiled noir — the detective fiction and pulp produced in the first half of the 20th century by writers like Raymond Chandler and Dashiell Hammett.
As a writer with four published novels of his own as well as a graphic novel already under the belt, Andrez Bergen wears this influence with pride.
But he also loves his sci-fi and dystopia, anything from The Matrix to Blade Runner, Inception to Ghost in the Shell — and the Bullet Gal comic book embraces these inspirations too.

And then there’s the art.
Bergen, an established artist with music video clips, photo exhibitions, sequential art shorts and that graphic novel on his resume, pushes the visual perimetres here.
Taking cue from innovative people like Marcel Duchamp and William Burroughs with their cut-ups, ‘found’ art and collages, Bergen also cites the witty photomontage work of Terry Gilliam in his Monty Python days.
The imagery used on Bullet Gal falls under the various categories of the creator’s own photos, fair use of public domain advertising imagery, alteration of existing imagery, a heavy element of homage, and original art.
All this from a man equally heavily influenced by the comic book art of Jack Kirby, Steve Ditko, Jim Steranko, Frank Miller, Steve Epting, David Lloyd, Michael Lark, Ben Templesmith, Sean Phillips and David Aja.

This shows in his own art — a newfangled exercise in digital manipulation and experimentation that still remembers the tale being told, at the same time catching the imagination of media people and fans who have been privy to this developing exercise in new comic book storytelling.
In its short life to this point, beginning as a limited-edition monthly comic in Australia only in August 2014, Bullet Gal has since received international critical acclaim. The series has been compared with Frank Miller’s Sin City and Ed Brubaker’s Velvet, the heroine labelled a female Jason Bourne.
Author and artist Bergen has already finished the series, a 12-issue arc set to conclude in June 2015 — but Under Belly has been able to get all those 12 issues, some of them as-yet-unpublished, and compile the lot together for an exclusive 280-page collection.
Also included will be author notes and mock-ups, guest illustrations from other artists, the original covers in full-colour, plus the added attraction of a gorgeous, special collected-volume cover painting by Niagara Detroit.
Most important is the grandiose story that fills out these pages: a series that is oh-so-heavily noir, has its fair share of drama, tragedy, mirth and the bizarre, snappy dialogue, and characters you will never easily forget.
Under Belly is proud to be able to work with Andrez Bergen and IF? Commix in Australia to present this groundbreaking series to the international audience it deserves.