Twelve Mad Men – Ryan Bracha interviewed

When the outrageously talented self-published author Ryan Bracha (Paul Carter Is A Dead Man, Strangers Are Just Friends You Haven’t Killed Yet) contacted me about being part of a wild anthology idea that he had regarding twelve mad men in an institution I jumped at the idea. It was an exciting project involving a lot of seriously talented writers (Paul Brazill, Keith Nixon, Gerrard Brennan, Les Edgerton, just a few of those participating) – how could I not get involved? The concept involved 12 tales featuring fictionalised versions of each author around which Bracha would construct a bridging tale before tying the strands together at the very end. Kind of like one of those anthology horror movies from the 70s, but much better. I’d be bloody mad if I shirked this opportunity (especially as I’d never submitted a story to a collection before).

And now Twelve Mad Men is finally finished and out there – adding some serious craaaaazy to Amazon’s website. I interviewed Ryan about the project and what brought it about etc. Have a gander at how it went.

How did you come up with the concept for Twelve Mad Men?
It came to me one night when I was a bit tipsy and spouting off at fellow writer and friend Mark Wilson about how, as indie writers, we’ve got a better opportunity than ever before to experiment with our work. It was all about how there are so many writers out there trying to rip off what’s worked on a massive scale in the past (Harry Potter, Fifty Shades, Lord of the Rings, Terry Pratchett etc.) and trying to grab a quick buck rather than use the creativity and imagination they were gifted with to do something awesome. Mark tends to feel the brunt of the ideas factory that is my brain. I come up with several ideas every week to try to do something original, most will be completely ridiculous and fall by the wayside, but some of them grow legs and I can run with them. This one was one of the latter. I wanted to put a bunch of wildly different, but equally talented writers in one place, and see what they did when given the exact same brief. I wanted to challenge myself to think on my feet, so the improvisation aspect jumped into the picture. The narrative theme just gave each writer the scope to be as ridiculous, violent, intense or comedic as they wanted to be.

How do you feel about the finished product?
I’m extremely happy with it. All eleven of the men I invited to contribute surpassed my wildest expectations, and gave me some phenomenal material to work with. The finished product is a seriously good signifier of the talent currently writing and publishing today.
Did the fact that you were improvising the tale that linked the stories cause any problems?
Not as many as I thought it might. Getting the stories submitted in the staggered manner that I did gave me the opportunity to really think about how I was going to introduce a character, and how I might leave that character be, taking what I needed to push the main plot on. Sometimes I did get carried away and went off on a tangent, but rather than delete and rewrite, I’d just go further back and drop some clues in about what was to come. I enjoyed the process immensely, truth be told. The challenge excited me.
Do you prefer anthologies with an overall unifying theme?
Yes and no. If it’s an individual writer’s collection then I like it to be a broad spectrum of what they can do with words, a whole range of themes, characters and styles. If it’s a multi-author piece of work, then yes. I like to see different takes on the same theme. I always loved those projects at school where everybody got one word, and had to write a piece of fiction with that word as the title. It shows how diverse we are as thinkers.
Do you hope to start a trend with this collection?
Definitely. I devised and implemented the idea according to a set of rules that I’ve termed The Rule of Twelve Manifesto 2014. It’s a series of guidelines for getting it written and published. I stole the general basis of rules from the Lars Von Trier spearheaded cinematic movement, Dogme 95, where the story would be the driving force, with no effects, or music to drive emotion. I wanted the writers involved to come up with something reasonably quick and without retrospective editing to get the essence of them as creative types. I would hope that somebody else might take the ball and run with it, and come up with their own Twelve project but if they don’t then that’s fine. The process isn’t for everyone. I’ll just continue to do them myself.
What are your future writing plans?
Before the writing I intend to kick off my new imprint Abrachadabra Books which will embody my approach to the writing game, and submissions will open once I get the first book out. I’m in talks with one of the Mad Men about putting his new one out. That’s a secret, though!
As far as my own work I have the second novel in The Dead Man Trilogy (The first of which is Paul Carter is a Dead Man) to finish hopefully for a January release, then I’m going to do another Twelve project, which will have some of the same names involved as this one, with some fresh blood in there too. On top of that I’m going to work on some shorts to go into a new collection. But the best laid plans and all that. Ask me next week and I might be planning a novel written entirely on cash that’s currently in circulation. Until Wilson talks me out of it!

Twelve Mad Men is out now. All proceeds go to Teenage Cancer Trust, so there’s really no excuse for you not to buy it here.

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Review: One Of Those Days In England (A Case of Noir) by Paul D Brazill

As regular readers know, I’m a fan of Paul Brazill’s work. His snappy dialogue helps bring his characters to life, whilst his rich metaphors and descriptive powers imbue his tales with a wonderful sense of place and atmosphere. I’m particularly fond of his Luke Case tales (now collected into one volume entitled A Case of Noir). However, instead of reviewing the work as a whole, because I had been reviewing the short stories (which are available individually), I’m going to review the final story and then just do a round up of the work as a whole.

In this tale, Case is sent to Cambridge by his very shady publisher Pedro to be part of an assassination attempt on a writer of crime thrillers. He doesn’t ask why, because ignorance is bliss after all, but knows that it is definitely in his best interests to do as he is told. So he interviews the man with the intention of leading him to a place where the humourless French hitman Cyprien can do his job. Of course, it doesn’t quite turn out as planned…

The final part of the Case’s story also happens to be the funniest. Lots of nice little one liners and droll asides are woven nicely into the tale. And the final hit is a moment of sublime black comedy that marks the hitman out as more Clouseau than Carlos the Jackal. It is a very solid ending to the story and comes highly recommended. However, for those readers who haven’t read any of these tales yet, I highly recommend that you get the full Case of Noir. It is an excellent read from an author whose talent grows with every new work he writes.

Review: Out There Bad by Josh Stallings

Regular readers of this blog might remember my review of Josh Stalling’s superb crime thriller Beautiful, Naked and Dead, which featured the compelling voice of his anti-hero Moses McGuire, a former soldier working as a bouncer in a strip club, who ends up investigating the murder of a woman he’d taken under his wing. It was superbly written and tough – just the kind of thing I like.

Now McGuire is back in the follow-up, which starts some period after the first book. He is alone again, filling his time with self-loathing and booze. He ends up crossing paths with the Russian mafia, and promises a dancer that he’ll help her find her missing underage sister. At the same time an assassin is taking out Russian mobsters and Mexican pimps south of the border. Eventually, McGuire pushes the mobsters hard enough that he’s forced to travel to Mexico with a tough-talking journalist, whose might be more trouble than he’s worth, to find the little sister. This brings him into contact with the assassin and a whole heap of trouble…

Out There Bad is a very strong follow-up to BN&D and Stallings makes McGuire’s voice as compelling and readable as ever. The dialogue crackles and the pace is well handled. There’s a high bodycount for those that like action and plenty of sleazy atmosphere for those who like to see the dark corners of the world from the comfort of their Kindle readers. It’s another cracking tale from Stallings, and I’m looking forward to reading the next one. Highly recommended.

Half-term report

At the end of last year, I set myself an annual target that was intended to ‘steady the ship’ after disappointing sales in 2013. I sold a lot less than I did in 2012, and there were signs that this trend might continue. A Kindle freebie at the end of the year did poorly, and I feared that 2014 would be a worse wipe-out than 2013 had been.

I set my target as a new high water mark; designed to be considerably higher than 2013′s total and only slightly higher than my sales in 2012. I believed it to be a realistic and achievable figure, so long as I worked hard at marketing my books. I even made it one of my writer’s resolutions.

Of course, I had a specific reason for setting my target: It was to determine whether or not I remained a self-publisher.

If I reached my target, I would continue as a self-publisher; and if I didn’t, I would start working towards ending my self-publishing adventure. The options were to write something a bit more mainstream, with an eye towards getting an agent, or to give it all up completely.

I didn’t really want to think about the second option, but I knew that if I got dejected enough, and ended things, I could at least say that I tried and failed.

January wasn’t a great month – I did okay in the US, but in the UK I was already down on the average I needed to ensure that I hit my target. In February, I released The Curious Case of the Missing Moolah, and had my (until then) best ever sales month. Then at the end of the month, I decided to make The Hunters permanently free on Amazon via their price matching function.

It was a calculated decision. The Hunters had been out for a couple of years, and sales were okay, but I still hadn’t finished the direct sequel to that book. That made it the right candidate as a freebie – to get people salivating for The Glasgow Grin, once it finally makes an appearance, and to possibly shift copies of my other Stanton brothers books. As it turns out, making it permanently free has been the best decision that I’ve made as a self-publisher. In March I shifted several thousand copies of The Hunters, which had a real knock-on for my sales. That month I smashed February’s sales record to pieces, and April sales were almost as strong (falling short by only nine copies). I also reached my annual sales target towards the end of the month. May has seen a drastic drop in free downloads, but sales – although down – have been solid, which means that everything I do now just makes 2015′s target a little larger and more ambitious.

So, that’s me happy – at least regarding sales.

The Glasgow Grin is still dragging on a bit, through a combination of slow writing, a lot of freelance work, and a desire to make sure I get the story right. Another couple of Stanton stories (a novella of about 30k words and a long story of around 10k words) that I’ve been writing concurrently are also going very slowly. My muse just isn’t firing on all cylinders at the moment, but I’m not worried – it’ll return. Some other stories that I have percolating in my head, or in various stages of completion, are currently stalled. At this point in time, TGG and a story that I’m writing for Ryan Bracha’s anthology 12 Mad Men are my main priorities. All other writing work – including book reviews – will have to come a distant second, for now.

Right, I suppose I better get back to it. The Stanton brothers, Mark Kandinsky, and Eddie Miles are waiting for me out in the woods, and they’re getting very, very impatient…

Review: Corrosion by Jon Bassoff

Occasionally a writer comes along and gives a performance that makes me sit back and really think about what I’ve just read. Jon Bassoff is one such writer, and Corrosion is one such performance. It’s as black and dense as freshly distilled tar and just about as bleak as noir gets. Redemption, and hope, is in short supply.

Before reading Corrosion, my previous awareness of Bassoff was strictly through his work as the founder of the crime fiction publisher New Pulp Press. However, the fact that it has modern masters like Heath Lowrance, Matthew McBride and Roger Smith on its roster acted as a recommendation for Bassoff’s work. But after finishing Corrosion, I immediately downloaded The Disassembled Man, which Bassoff wrote under the pseudonym Nate Flexer. I hope it’s as good and dark as this one.

The story begins with Joseph Downs, a loner and Iraq war veteran who has been horribly burnt by an IED, getting stuck in a small Colorado town when his car breaks down. While in a bar he intervenes in an argument between a woman and her husband, an incident that leads to violence, and soon enough finds himself ensnared by the woman, who finally asks him to take care of her brutal husband once and for all. He tries to get her to go an alternate route, by going with him to a little shack he knows in the mountains. Things do not go as planned…

Then the narrative skips back in time, into the head of Benton Faulk, a 16 year old boy whose mother is dying. His insane father tries to save her by concocting a cure in his makeshift lab, despite knowing very little about science or medicine. Being in such an environment leaves Faulk somewhat disturbed, which means his obsession with a local waitress, and a shack in the mountains, leads to a suitably tragic finale before he skips town and runs into Downs…

The final character, who appears as a kind of epilogue to the tales of Downs and Faulk, is the masked Reverend Wells, a fire-and-brimstone preacher who has little time for sins and sinners.

Corrosion is dark fare, filled with sudden acts of violence, desperation, insanity (of all kinds), loneliness, and empty of redemption. Nobody is ever what they seem in Bassoff’s world, and unreliable narrators abound. Corrosion takes the Jim Thompson-esque narrator concept, stretches it to breaking point and then gleefully stomps the broken pieces into the small-town dirt. It’s a well-written, tense tale, that performs the neat trick of making you empathise with and understand some awful characters – the kind of people you would cross the road to avoid in real-life. It’s not an easy trick to do, which makes what Bassoff has achieved all the more impressive. Corrosion won’t leave you feeling good about yourself after you’ve read it, but it will grip you tightly, and it will stay in the memory for a long time after you’ve finished the last line. Highly recommended.

Review: The Big Rain by Paul D Brazill

Regular readers will know how much I enjoy the work of Paul D Brazill – a writer who seems to be on a one-man mission to make Brit Grit (and its various practitioners) known to the outside world. His writing (short work especially) is tight, controlled, inventive and his prose style just drips with atmosphere.

I’ve especially enjoyed the Luke Case tales (Red Esperanto, Death On A Hot Afternoon and The Kelly Affair). He’s a British hack with a nose for booze, women and trouble, nearly always combining the three to disastrous effect. He also has a drifter’s tendency to end up in different places when the going gets tough (which is always), meaning that each story plays out in a new European location. The previous stories were set in, chronologically, Warsaw, Madrid, and Granada. His latest, The Big Rain, is set in a rain-swept Toulouse and deals with the culmination of a story strand that was begun, and left open, in The Kelly Affair. I won’t bother to spoil the plot for those who haven’t read Kelly (or indeed the other tales), instead I’ll suggest that you buy all of them and read them in order. They’re well worth your time and money.

Like in the other stories, the elements and atmosphere rise off the page, so that you can almost smell the tear-gas and feel the rain on your skin and taste the booze at the back of your throat. Brazill is a neat prose-stylist, something that always appeals to a basic, meat-and-potatoes, word cruncher like myself (because it’s not something that I can pull off), but he also has the chops necessary to take a tight grip on the story early in the proceedings. He weaves together characters and strands introduced in the earlier books and crafts a fine tale that builds to a powerful resolution. The Big Rain, like the rest of the Case tales, comes highly recommended. Get it on yer Kindle, quick-smart!

Review: Dreamland by Keith Nixon

Keith Nixon’s novel The Fix was one of the best I read last year (only just missing out on my annual ‘Best Of’ list). This tale of crooked financiers, betrayal, and murder featured some great characters, but my favourite was without doubt the homeless Russian man Konstantin Boryakov. Despite his appearance, he had a very specific skillset, and was as hard and sharp as a box of titanium nails. Well, Dreamland is the story of how he became that hobo. He’s ex-KGB, just out of prison, and freshly touched down in Margate, enjoying (not) the delights of the Dreamland amusement arcade, where he makes the mistake of crossing dealer Dave The Rave – or, more to the point, The Rave makes the mistake of crossing and trying to steal from him. Konstantin puts his training to good use and defends himself. He also takes Dave’s money and gets rid of the drug wraps to Dave is carrying for somebody a lot higher up the criminal food chain. And from there it only gets worse for all of them…

Dreamland is a highly enjoyable tale in its own right but also works as a kind of a taster for Nixon’s longer work. The same short snappy sentences, the same foul-mouthed, funny dialogue, and the same tight plotting that made his debut such a pleasure to read are here too in miniature. Konstantin is also great character to spend time with: brutal, hard as nails, curt, weary and also at times capable of tenderness and affection, he lights up the narrative like a beacon. Dreamland comes highly recommended by me. Grab it today and then bite your nails and wait for the arrival of the next Konstantin novellas from Caffeine Nights – they’re just as good as this.