It was a year of weariness and masks, deaths and destruction, and a tough one on all of us. Staying home more than normal also meant changes in routines, or more accurately the loss of routine, and struggling to wear anything more than sweat pants and a robe, much less keep up with the news. A top five best books of 2020 seemed like an impossible task as well, maybe because the world seemed to make such thoughts trivial, or perhaps because in order to escape the world, I read often. In any event, I ultimately decided not to pick my top five favorite books. Instead I picked my top ten – listed in alphabetical order.
Reminder, while some of these books were released this year, not all were. My top picks are ones I happened to read during the course of it. In all, I managed to read thirty books while navigating the winding, treacherous river of 2020.
All the Way Down by Eric Beetner Between a rock and a hard place, dirty cop Dale Burnett takes on a task of Die Hard proportions in Beetner’s latest book, “All the Way Down,” and it’s a hell of a ride. Burnett is tasked with a singular task; rescue the mayor’s daughter and get out alive. Only she’s held captive by the powerful, and wholly criminal, Tat Losopo, in his skyscraper. It’s either rescue the girl or go to prison. Lucky for us, he chooses fifteen stories of literary thrills. Buy the book here. Visit the author here.
Coldwater by Tom Pitts Crime writer Tom Pitts sings the fourth song of his Northern California Quartet in his latest book, “Coldwater,” which features a struggling family forced to deal with the darkness across the street in their quiet, unassuming Sacramento suburb. As with all of Tom’s gritty dramas this one is tough to put down. Why not just read all night? Buy the book here. Visit the author here.
Cradle of the Deep by Dietrich Kalteis Bobbi Ricci, bored girlfriend of crime boss Maddog Palmieri, teams up with ex-mob wheelman Denny to lighten his wallet, a heist old Maddog doesn’t take kindly. Enter Lee Trane, an ice-veined killer, who pursues the couple on Maddog’s orders. As the chase intensifies, readers learn once again why Dietrich Kalteis rules the crime fiction roost. Buy the book here. Visit the author here.
Egg Drop Dead by Vivien Chien Amateur sleuth Lana Lee gets her first catering gig in author Vivien Chien’s fifth entry in the Noodle Shop Mystery series, “Egg Drop Dead.” Things never go as planned for Lana, as regular readers of the series can attest, and her first catering job sees no improvement in her luck. Is finding a body ever lucky. Chien has added another awesome entry to her series with Egg Drop Dead, the follow up to her hit “Wonton Terror.” Look for two more entries coming soon! Buy the book here. Visit the author here.
Hecate’s Cauldron edited by Susan Schwartz Alluring cover aside, Hecate’s Cauldron delivers on a witchy promise of short stories designed to explore the world of sorcery and witchcraft. Edited by Susan M. Schwartz in 1982, Cauldron stars an amazing lineup of authors, including the amazing Andre Norton, the awesome Tanith Lee, and the incredible C.J. Cherryh. In all there are thirteen tales by thirteen talented scribes, with stories ranging from mythology to nuclear energy, and a worthy addition to anyone’s library. Buy the book here. Visit the author here.
I Am Legend by Richard Matheson There’s nothing better during a pandemic than a book exploring worse pandemics, namely the sort that turns you into a vampire. Such is the pandemic Robert Neville is faced with in Richard Matheson’s epic novella, “I Am Legend,” and every paragraph is savory as hell. Matheson, one of horror master Stephen King’s influences, took the mundane and made it terrifying. And let’s not even mention the ending. Worth a late night to read in one sitting. Buy the book here.
Love and Other Criminal Behavior by Nikki Dolson Author Nikki Dolson knows her way around a page, and is especially talented in the short story realm, as readers discovered in her newest collection of short stories, “Love and Other Criminal Behavior.” This quick read offers up some true gems of crime fiction, and literary fiction. Particular favorites of mine included “Our Man Julian” and the opening tale “Georgie Ann.” Buy the book here. Visit the author here.
The Ninja’s Blade by Tori Eldridge Modern-day ninja Lily Wong returns in “The Ninja’s Blade,” Tori Eldridge’s follow up to her 2019 novel “The Ninja Daughter.” In her latest adventure, Lily brings her formidable skills to Los Angeles county’s despicable underbelly in search of a missing teen. The unofficial investigation leads her from rich suburbia to Compton, and the heart of a nefarious human trafficking ring. Eldridge weaves a thrill ride of tension and action – and it’s one readers won’t want to miss. Buy the book here. Visit the author here.
River of Lies by R.M. Greenaway Author R.M. Greenaway has worked her literary magic once again when it comes to the fifth installment of her B.C. (British Columbia) Blues Crime series. RCMP (Royal Canadian Mounted Police) detectives Dave Leith and Cal Dion, joined by Constable Judy Temple, face two seemingly unrelated cases in “River of Lies.” Twists and turns abound in Greenaway’s latest is another great addition to B.C. Blues Crime, which began with her award-winning book, “Cold Girl.” Buy the book here. Visit the author here.
Velocities by Kathe Koja Meerkat Press is lucky to have award-winning author Kathe Koja in their house. She returned in 2020 with a new short story collection, “Velocities,” which features a vivacious assortment of literary appetizers. I devoured her latest in nearly one sitting (with thanks to a Hennessy chaser) and found her dreamlike style and poignant tales, such as “Baby” and “At Eventide,” a stimulating intellectual detour into darkness and light. Buy the book here. Visit the author here.
My short story “Stuffing for a Sacrifice” is up at Pulp Modern Flash. I’m stoked they liked this story, which features my character Sam the Thug and a nerdy devil worshipper. There’s also a cute black kitten.
Had the pleasure of sitting down virtually with fiction authorDietrich Kalteis and talk about, what else, writing. It’s always a pleasure to kick back with you, Dietrich, and congratulations on the new book, “Cradle of the Deep.”
Hope everyone enjoys the chat, linked below, and be sure to grab a copy of Cradle here.
Read my “Off the Cuff” interview right hereand be sure to let me know what you think!
For a horror anthology, starting with a sense of affection may seem a bit off genre, but when you crack open the book and read the forward, the introduction, and the summation, the passion for the project shines. We’ve all read the following words before, but this book is indeed a labor of love. With that out the way, the frights roar to life. Horror anthologies are the best way to get quick fixes of drama, not to mention a way to discover new talent and, with luck, a new favorite author. This is one of those deals.
Like “The Book of Cthulhu,” “Stalkers,” or “It Came From the Multiplex,” “Collective Darkness” has range.
These stories were a blast. Chilling. Terrifying. And, most importantly, surprising. Within these pages we get stories from 17-year-old author Edward Suggs, a twisted fairy-tale of vampiric destruction by Jonathan Reddoch, a bloody rampage on a movie set by Becca Rose, a creepy young girl in lace in a story by Jen Ellwyn, an eerie tale told from the lips of a madman by Elizabeth Suggs, and many more. And they’re all perfectly dark.
Authors in the collection: Edward Suggs, Jonathan Reddoch, Alex Child, Becca Rose, Brandon Prows, K.R. Patterson, Austin Slade Perry, B. Todd Orgill, Jen Ellwyn, Chris Jorgensen, Samuel Smith, and Elizabeth Suggs.
It’s hard to compare “Hammerhead” Jed Ounstead with other fictional detectives – as I’ve not really come across any characters quite like him. He’s got the smoothness of a Phillip Marlowe, say if Marlowe was an ex-pro wrestler with a quirky set of family members and a penchant for banana milkshakes. Or perhaps he’s more like Lana Lee of the cozy Noodle Shop Mystery novels, who deals with a fair share of family drama herself. If you like either of these, or both as I do, you need to meet Jed. Author A.J. Devlin‘s mystery series is anything but cozy. They can be damn brutal, but a hell of a good time for those interested in tough guys, crime yarns, and solid, often laugh-out-loud, books. “Intense and Cinematic” is what author Sam Weibe called the first in the series, 2018’s “Cobra Clutch,” and he wasn’t kidding. These things are begging for the big screen. Failing that, the binge screen. His freshman book won both the 2019 Arthur Ellis Award and was named a finalist for the 2019 Left Coast Crime “Lefty” Awards. We first met Jed in Cobra Clutch (Devlin’s debut novel) when he’s hired by his former tag-team partner, Johnny Mamba, to find his kidnapped pet python, which Mamba’s named Ginger. Jed isn’t a full-fledged private eye, however. He only works for his father, but Johnny doesn’t care. He trusts Jed to get to the heart of the matter and retrieve his beloved pet. Only things don’t go at all as planned. Before long Hammerhead finds himself up to his neck in blood and guts. What started as a missing snake quickly becomes a murder investigation. In 2020’s “Rolling Thunder” we find that Jed has become a full-fledged private investigator and tasked with yet another gritty case of athletic prowess – this time the edgy world of women’s roller derby. Stormy Daze, a wrestler we first met in Cobra Clutch, needs Jed’s help. Now known as roller derby star Amazombie, Daze enlists Jed’s talents in the search for their missing coach. In no time, it too becomes a deadly mystery.
Keep reading below for my interview with the author himself! And purchase copies of Devlin’s series here.
WHITEHURST: First off, kudos for creating such a fun series and a memorable character in Hammerhead Jed. I never knew I needed a former wrester-turned Canadian detective in my life, but there you go. Now I do. What inspired you to write this series?
DEVLIN: When I was working toward my M.F.A. in in Screenwriting from The American Film Institute, my professor always encouraged me to read mystery novels over watching films as he thought it would help me more as an aspiring character-driven writer. He also encouraged me to one day take a crack at crime fiction myself, which I finally did. During my time reading so many mystery novels I sort of stumbled upon a sub-genre, if you will, of the athlete-detective. I’ve read mysteries featuring boxer detectives, surfer detectives, hockey player detectives, sports agent detectives — you name it, I’ve most likely read it. However, to the best of my knowledge, no one had ever cooked up a pro wrestler detective — and given my affinity for sports entertainment growing up and the theatricality and behind-the-scenes drama of the industry, it seemed like a good angle to try and introduce a different type of athlete-detective.
WHITEHURST: What’s next for you in the writing world?
DEVLIN: I’m still promoting book 2 — “Rolling Thunder” — in the “Hammerhead” Jed series and am currently finishing writing book 3. I’m hoping to spend more time with Jed and continue the series for a while as I have many ideas for future mysteries and love writing the character so much and finding new ways to challenge him.
WHITEHURST: Will Hammerhead ever be a bingeable series on an app? I think we all need that.
DEVLIN: That’s a great idea! I’d love to have “Hammerhead” Jed as accessible as possible and would be thrilled for his misadventures and shenanigans to be available on an app!
WHITEHURST: Tell me a bit about your background? What does A.J. Stand for and…. were you a wrestler yourself?
DEVLIN: A.J. is short for Alexander Jeremy — which is a mouthful — so in addition to going by my initials I also think they look a bit better on a book cover. I did start wrestling in grade 8 and fell in love with the sport, despite it not really resembling the product put out by WWE. That being said, wrestlers like Kurt Angle and Brock Lesnar have successfully transitioned from their amateur wrestling success into amazing professional wrestling careers. And despite the sometimes over-the-top in-ring antics, all pro wresters bust their behinds to put on a hell of a show night in and night out, utilizing their skill set as to entertain fans.
WHITEHURST: Did you love wrestling as a kid? Who was your fave?
DEVLIN: Yes, I definitely grew up as a big pro wrestling fan. I would have to say my favourite wrestlers as a kid were Hulk Hogan, Andre The Giant, Macho Man Randy Savage, Ricky Steamboat, and Jake “The Snake” Roberts. I lost touch with pro wrestling in my teens but revisited it in my early twenties during the WWE’s “Attitude Era” and was enamoured yet again by talent like “Stone Cold” Steve Austin, Triple H, The Undertaker, and The Rock — who could beat you on the microphone before a match even began. As a result, Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson is probably a pretty big influence on “Hammerhead” Jed’s swagger and tendency to crack wise as often as he does.
WHITEHURST: Your second Hammerhead, “Rolling Thunder,” has Jed entering the world of roller derby. How are you on skates?
DEVLIN: Ha! Great question. I played hockey up until I was fifteen (Canadian!) so I’m okay on skates, although I’m definitely more comfortable on blades or in-line wheels than I am the traditional four-wheeled roller derby style skates. That being said, I think it’s awesome how roller derby preserves that retro element. That was one of the things I quickly realized when writing Rolling Thunder — the respect and pride these strong women warriors have for their amazing sport which is not only badass, but also counter-culture and anti-establishment. It was a pleasure to dip my toe into the pond of women’s roller derby and do it justice while hopefully spinning an entertaining murder-mystery yarn.
WHITEHURST: You just wrapped up a blog tour. Tell me a bit about that. How’s your book business in these pandemic days?
DEVLIN: Another great question. I’m not going to lie, it was a significant adjustment. I literally locked down a five city Canadian book tour just before Covid hit and we all went into quarantine. In some ways, I would even say launching a book virtually has been more challenging than doing it the traditional way. I was so fortunate to have author friends and bloggers I had gotten to know from the release of Cobra Clutch who were so supportive and understanding while I launched Rolling Thunder, so cobbling together (last minute) a blog tour was much easier than expected. And people like yourself, Patrick, have been so generous even though I just fired off a few cold call emails in hopes of promoting my work, so I really don’t have much to complain about! At the end of the day, I am very lucky that my wife and kids and myself have remained healthy and that despite current circumstances I still have had the opportunity to share my work. The “Hammerhead” Jed series was always intended to be escapist entertainment and if ever there was a need for it I’d say it would be now!
WHITEHURST: What would you tell someone at a coffee shop who says, “Hey, man. Why should I get into these books?” What’s your best elevator pitch?
DEVLIN: As I mentioned before, the series is intended to be pure, unadulterated, fun and escapist entertainment. I was born in 1978 so I grew up on movies like Back To The Future, The Goonies, Die Hard, The Last Boy Scout — all adventures with a degree of humour and whimsy I have tried to emulate with the “Hammerhead” Jed series. I believe there is value in storytelling that can whisk you away from your troubles or reality, even if only for a brief amount of time. That is the essence of what I’m trying to do with my writing.
WHITEHURST: Let’s get into the technical writing questions. It interests me, so I’m going to assume it does for others! Describe your typical writing day?
DEVLIN: Oh man, my routine kind of went out the window with the pandemic and homeschooling! There’s been a return to form with back to school in Greater Vancouver and the elementary schools have been awesome and super cautious — so I’ve had a bit more freedom of late. When I’m not working I’m the primary caregiver to my kids, which is a plum gig for a writer! But generally I write when my children are at school or in activities as my wife has a 9-5 career so you just have to find the time when you can. And then while I might not write necessarily after we get the little ones down for the night, I will review my work of the day, which is nice because it kind of at least allows you to edit your work before bedtime.
WHITEHURST: Do you have a playlist you listen to while working?
DEVLIN: It’s funny you ask that as my playlist fluctuates greatly. Sometimes I write in silence, other times I throw myself down a rabbit hole of different types of musical genres. I find instrumental music is the most beneficial as I’m not distracted by lyrics. There’s a song by Moby called “Everloving” that is amazing and without giving away any spoilers, I listened to it non-stop when writing the most emotional and intense scene of Cobra Clutch in which “Hammerhead” Jed shares a pretty significant skeleton from his closet with another character. Something that happened that now defines him. I don’t know why, but that heartfelt, beautiful, but also somewhat haunting tune really helped me channel Jed’s pain into a soliloquy which is crucial to his character and reveals so much about who he is and how he came to be where he is.
WHITEHURST: What authors influence you?
DEVLIN: I got to go with my big three. Although a life long fan, when I really got into crime fiction, I was in grad school for screenwriting. My late professor, mentor, and great friend, Academy Award nominated screenwriter and novelist Leonard Schrader — who I had the honour and privilege of dedicating Cobra Clutch to — gave me three different novels as a graduation present. “The Last Coyote” by Michael Connelly, “Mucho Mojo” by Joe R. Lansdale, and “The Monkey’s Raincoat” by Robert Crais. Not only are they three of my favourite novels of all time, I also learned so much by seeing how they crafted a story. I tried my best to not only cherry pick from their collective genius, but also put my own spin on the story I wanted to tell with “Hammerhead” Jed, including all of the wisdom that Leonard shared with me. I have been absolutely blessed to have had Leonard as a mentor, and every time I write I hope I can honour his memory by utilizing the lessons he taught me.”
WHITEHURST: What’s your advice for writers looking to burst forth into the crime fiction scene or any scene outside of drug dealing?
DEVLIN: Lol, yeah, it’s a tough racket. No doubt about that. I know it sounds cliché, but if I had to choose a word — I would say resilience.
Cobra Clutch was rejected by every publisher and agent in Canada, before finding a home with my amazing publisher NeWest Press — who totally understood what I was trying to do with the series — and the book went on to be nominated for the 2019 Lefty Award for Best Debut Mystery in North America followed by winning the 2019 Arthur Ellis Award for Best First Canadian Crime Novel and is also now available in audiobook format and in its third printing. If you write from your heart, and believe in your work, you will find a path.
Click here to read my latest Sam the Thug short story at Shotgun Honey and see if you can guess who (or what) is behind the door. And special thank you to Shotgun Honey’s amazing staff! I love being a part of the Shotgun Honey family.
Remember Jackson Sharp? The wily protagonist of “That’ll Be The Day: A Power Pop Heist” returns in an all new music-laden adventure with author S.W. Lauden’s “Good Girls Don’t: A Second Power Pop Heist.” The second, and worthy, addition to Lauden’s Power Pop canon begins with the Sharp family working hard for the money at their Tulsa music shop and, on top of that, they’ve got a Jamie & The Jaxx reunion album in the boiler. Add to the mix the insanity of the shop’s hugely popular Record Store Day and things just couldn’t be better. That is until the unsavory, cowboy boot-wearing multi-millionaire Russell Patterson shows up with an assignment. Spend a week in Los Angeles at the MCA Whitney studio to finish that album they’re working on, he tells Sharp, and take care of a little side-job while there. That side job? Steal the ’72 Fender Strat Doug Fieger played when he recorded the hit song “My Sharona.” On the surface not a tall order, not easy, but not impossible. Little do they realize, however, they’re not the only ones out to get it. Lauden continues to write the hits in this second installment, which builds upon the gritty criminal flair of the first, and is sure to get you humming a song or two while you read.
Good Girls Don’t can be picked up here! Read on to rock on with my S.W. Lauden interview below.
WHITEHURST: What made you want to return to Tulsa and the Sharp family? And welcome back.
LAUDEN: Thanks for having me back! This was always going to be a series of some sort. That was part of the consideration for the shorter-length books. The idea was to create a fully fleshed-out universe and then write a bunch of punchy stories set there. As attention spans get shorter (mine and the readers!), I think there’s room for more “beach reads” in crime fiction. Fast-paced novelettes you can knock out in a couple hours on the subway, on a plane, during a court recess, or around the pool. As of now, the plan is to publish a new book every June—which seems doable—but I’ve also considered publishing every six months if there’s an audience. It’s kind of an experiment, but I’m having fun with it.
WHITEHURST: In the new novelette, you name drop some obscure, and some famous, bands. What’s the toughest part when it comes to researching a book in your world?
LAUDEN: Funny enough, the music research was pretty minimal. I co-edited an essay collection last year called Go All The Way: A Literary Appreciation Of Power Pop. So I’ve been steeped in that musical genre for a while now, even beyond my own personal knowledge. Although it is a good excuse to dig into the vinyl collection… The mix of obscure and famous songs is important because you don’t want to distract from the action with an endless stream of random band names. Most crime fiction lovers will know The Knack thanks to “My Sharona,” but far fewer will know, say, 20/20 much less Rubber City Rebels. I’m guessing most readers don’t pick these books up to get lectured about obscure guitar pop bands; that’s just the set dressing. As the author, I have to strike a balance. On the other hand, if readers seek those bands out because of my books, that would be great—but definitely not required to enjoy the stories.
WHITEHURST: Any playlists to listen to while reading this particular heist?
LAUDEN: For sure! The series is based in Tulsa, so you’ll want to check out (or revisit) Dwight Twilley, Phil Seymour and 20/20. The Sharp brothers go to LA in Good Girls Don’t, so add bands like The Beat, The Bangles, The Plimsouls, The Go-Go’s, The Nerves and, of course, The Knack. And they end up in Chicago, so finish off with some Cheap Trick, Off Broadway, Shoes and Material Issue. Any one of those bands will take you down a glorious YouTube or streaming rabbit hole. Trust me, there’s lots of great power pop to discover down there. If that’s too much work, thisSpotify power pop playlist from director James Gunn is pretty comprehensive. The song “Calling All Destroyers” from my old band Tsar is on there, so he obviously has excellent taste. [Insert Humble Brag Emoji]
WHITEHURST: Last time we talked you mentioned that your band, The Brothers Steve, would be releasing an album. How is that coming along, and how did your love for pop inform the writing process for Good Girls Don’t?
We released that album, #1, last July and I’m happy to say it made a bunch of “Best of 2019” lists in the (ahem) mature power pop universe where we roam. More recently, we struck a deal with Big Stir Records in LA and they’ll be re-releasing that album, along with some new singles and B-sides. There’s also rumblings about a second album at some point. Right now we’re recording tracks for a couple upcoming tribute compilations that should see the light of day later this year or early 2021. It’s funny, I didn’t set out to be the musician who wrote crime fiction about musicians—but I ‘m kinda stoked that’s how it turned out. Music has been such a big part of my life for so long now that it has become one of the main filters that I experience the world through. So I shouldn’t be surprised that it plays such an important role in my writing. I’ve decided to just embrace it.
WHITEHURST: What’s next for S.W. Lauden?
I’ve got a couple new standalone novels written. Trying to figure out what to do with those. And I’m working on some non-fiction projects along the lines of Go All The Way: A Literary Appreciation Of Power Pop. I’m always looking for something interesting to keep my squirrely brain occupied.
BIO:S.W. Lauden co-edited the essay collection, Go All The Way: A Literary Appreciation of Power Pop. His crime fiction novelette, That’ll Be The Day: A Power Pop Heist, was released in 2019. The follow up, Good Girls Don’t: A Second Power Pop Heist, will be available June 29, 2020. His Greg Salem punk rock PI series includes Bad Citizen Corporation, Grizzly Season and Hang Time. S.W. Lauden is the pen name of Steve Coulter, drummer for Tsar and The Brothers Steve.
In its fourth installment, Shotgun Honey presents twenty-three tales of crime that will hit so hard that the recoil will be felt long after the stories are done. With new and established authors from around the world, Shotgun Honey Presents Volume 4: RECOIL delivers stories that explore a darker side of remorse, revenge, circumstance, and humanity.
Featuring these amazing writers:
• “Tell the Man About Love” by Rusty Barnes • “The Ghost Road” by Susan Benson • “Hotelin’“ by Sarah M. Chen • “The Wrong Affair” by Kristie Claxton • “Victory in the Spring, 1987” by Jen Conley • “Avenues” by Brandon Daily • “Noise” by Barbara DeMarco-Barrett • “After the Bombs” by Hector Duarte Jr. • “Missing Persons Day” by Danny Gardner • “The Art of Negotiation” by Tia Ja’nae • “Dirty Devil Dance” by Carmen Jaramillo • “Beer Run” by Nick Kolakowski • “Turner’s Bar” by JJ Landry • “Johnny Still Goes to Atlantic City” by Bethany Maines • “Jericho” by Tess Makovesky • “Detour” by Alexander Nachaj • “Toothpaste” by David Nemeth • “The Thing I found Along a Dirt Patch Road” by Cindy O’Quinn • “Three Fingers” by Brandon Sears • “Too Many Mullets” by Johnny Shaw • “The Last Mistake” by Kieran Shea • “The Walk Home at Night” by Gigi Vernon • “Kerouac’s Second Scroll” by Patrick Whitehurst
Do we suffer death across the globe the likes of which no one living has experienced outside of a pandemic fiction novel or do we stave off unprecedented global depression and keep the machine of industry going? Both choices were the size of horse pills and bitter as hell to swallow. Yet somehow, our collective brain trust managed to swallow both – thanks to a slow response and an even slower desire to repair the damage with cold, hard cash.
Incomprehensible death? We got it. People suffering from unemployment and terrified of this dark future we’re barreling toward? Right here.
Way to go, humanity.
As an apocalyptic event, however, The Standthis is not. Sure people are chalking up sidewalks with messages of positivity (“together apart” or something just as insipid), which remind me of episodes of The Walking Dead rather than spunky cheer, but they’re still going to Walmart to buy that chalk. They’re still collecting Funko Pops at Target and, worse yet, making pukeworthy videos of their braless boredom dances on Tik Tok, which is likely where our true apocalypse resides. We’re making fashionable “Rona” masks to wear when we walk our hairless cats and bringing baked CBD products to our already-stoned parents. We’re posting sunshine memes that basically ask the question, “Can you believe this shit?”
In essence, we’re intellectually dissolving the same way we always have, just without shaking hands. And this end times event kinda sorta has an end date.
The 2020 Apocalypse is like a Now and Later, the 80s candy that tore through our teeth like a diabetic tornado. In a way it’s a sweet reward to stay home and pat ourselves on the back for making a vague difference, sharing barely fleshed out conspiracy theories designed to keep us up at night giggling with sinister intent, but later it begins to tug at the soul. Even introverts ache for the sound of another voice, even if that voice just wants to know if we want fries with that. Like the Now and Laters of my youth, it’s not bad now, but later your stomach begins to ache.
Even Edgar Allan Poe, papa to the modern mystery, had to hit the cobbled streets every blue moon. He’d venture from his Baltimore writing desk to absorb the wisdom and energy of those living in his town, before hunkering down to quoth the raven once again. Even he, I believe, would have written a sequel to Masque of the Red Death by now entitled Can I Take off this Damn Masque Yet? He was famous for one act of self isolation the Poe Street literati still jabber about – that of his final days. Poe was discovered wet and incoherent on a cold, rainy October day in 1849. He was so out of sorts that he died without offering a single sensible clue as to what befell him. He’d been missing for almost a week when he died. Had he been kidnapped, had he been “cooped,” or had he uncorked a drunken binge? The answer is still anyone’s guess. Read more about it here. One thing’s for sure, he could isolate the hell out himself.
Another famed mystery scribe pulled something just as isolationist, though she vanished more than thirty years later. Agatha Christie melted into shadow for eleven days in December of 1926. The constabulary were quick to start a search for the missing writer, as she was a local sweetheart in Britain, and found her vehicle quickly, but the famed mystery author herself was nowhere to be found. While she was eventually located alive, checked into a hotel under the assumed name of her husband’s mistress, Christie offered no clues as to her disappearance, or refused to, and the explanation has never to this day been revealed. Read more here.
Both knew the art of mystery well and proved adept at using them to self isolate in style, or at least memorably, leaving us to wonder how well we’ll perform when forced to do it for months at a time.
Not that we have to wonder. Lose the bra, lose the mind, and hop on the Tik Tok apocalypse. Just don’t forget the chewy sweetness of it all when you do. I’m sure Poe wouldn’t forget, though I don’t think Christie would smack down on Tik Tok. She’s more a Twitter girl.
She’s firmly situated as the captain of the ship when it comes to stark police procedurals. Her B.C. BluesCrime series takes readers to the criminal underbelly of beautiful British Columbia, into the minds of twisted souls, and those committed to bringing them to justice. At five titles so far, including her newest book “River of Lies” and beginning with the gritty first book “Cold Girl,” it seems Greenaway is just getting warmed up. Each book in the series can be read alone or all together – another great reason to start on this series and slip copies into your home library. And let’s not forget her amazing contribution to the Noir series published by Akashic Press, “Vancouver Noir,” with her story “The Threshold.”
I got a chance to sit down for some virtual coffee with the author and tossed a few questions her way. Read our exchange below!
WHITEHURST: What’s next for you now that you’ve finished River of Lies, which just released this month?
GREENAWAY: Thanks, Patrick! I’m really not sure what’s next. The COVID-19 pandemic has shifted lives worldwide in horrific ways, and just following the news takes up much of my day it seems. Of miniscule importance, it’s also moved my publication date back on the book I’m now working on, “Five Ways to Disappear.” I got the substantive edit report back in early March, and was going full steam when I was told everything’s on hold. So my deadline’s been extended indefinitely.
I’m still hoping it will be out there in 2021. “Five Ways” is the series finale, and once that’s complete, I’m free to work on a prequel, sequel, a whole new series, a standalone, whatever. I’m thinking of working on short stories for a while. Or maybe I’ll do like Poirot, chuck it all and grow vegetables. More likely I’ll miss my crew enough that I’ll bring them back for another round of abuse in BC Blues II.
GREENAWAY: Lots of reading. I thank my parents and the mobile library van for first getting me hooked on books. As I got older I read crime series. I think the attraction of crime fiction for me is when bad things are fixed and characters work together to hurdle adversity it gives one hope; also, in a series, a sense of belonging.
In my younger years I wrote stacks of adventure fiction (on foolscap, if you recall the stuff), then progressed to a Smith-Corona and specialized in angst. Then stopped writing when I had a son, aka responsibility, and moved north for work.
But something pinged. I was out of town for work, in a hotel room in Prince Rupert with time to kill and an idea circling in my head. Got myself a cheap notebook and got started on what turned into Cold Girl. I still have that notebook with its first handwritten chapters. Neither the prose nor the handwriting are anything to boast about!
WHITEHURST: You’ve worn a few hats in your past. How did your former jobs, such as court reporter, inform your writing career?
GREENAWAY: As a court reporter I sit very quietly and listen to everything being said, type it all down, and hope to hell nobody asks me to read it back. In one of the first major trials I did, that’s just what happened, and in the worst way: the jury wanted a whole witness’s testimony read back from my steno notes, which took me hours to do. But I did get an ovation afterwards.
That’s beside the point. I think immersion in dialogue via the courtroom setting was good for me as a writer. Getting the two sides to every story was also great. And hearing testimony regarding crime scenes and police procedure, as well as checking out the demeanour of everyone from killers to cops to forensics experts, was of course very helpful. My mind is not hugely retentive, in fact it’s sort of sieve-shaped, but I think the essence of all that crime and punishment sank in.
WHITEHURST: Tell me more about your writing process?
GREENAWAY: Not as structured as I’d like it to be. I write a lot but then edit a million times before I’m satisfied. And then I’m only satisfied until it comes out in print, at which point I’m afraid to look at it. Which is dumb and cowardly, I know. All the same, I’d rather shut the chapter on what I can’t change and move onto the next.
I do count myself incredibly lucky to have five books and three short stories published, and hopefully more to come. I’m happy to receive mail from people who have read the series and enjoyed it. It’s surreal to know that I’ve transmitted emotion to perfect strangers through my own inner confabulations. It really is a blessing and an honour for an introvert like me to make that connection.
WHITEHURST: What writers influenced you?
GREENAWAY: I grew up on British crime fiction like Ruth Rendell, but Ed McBain’s 87th Precinct is probably my biggest influence.
WHITEHURST: What advice would you give those interested in writing?
GREENAWAY: Try to figure out what lies within the books you read that makes you want to read on. For me it’s simple. In no particular order: interesting characters, grit, unpredictability, humour, and a dose of pathos.
The approach I think works best is to write for yourself first. Find your voice and don’t worry about getting it perfect. Or write for someone you admire, dead or alive. But at the same time, do a lot of reading and learning about the craft. And be open to criticism, internal or external. When you feel yourself improving, start putting the reader first. That last bit is some advice I received that seems obvious enough, but it made me sit back and think. And If you’re writing a series, like I am, envision the overall arc so you don’t introduce a bunch of subplots that you’ll have trouble tying up. The more work you put into the planning, the less you’ll have to put into rewriting and hair-pulling. See above, my million edits? That’s because I’m not a good planner. Maybe that’s because I’ve found that the story will often go where it wants to go, and the plan goes out the window.
On the housekeeping side, get your virtual filing cabinet in order sooner than later. You’re going to end up with dozens of folders, some hard to classify; i.e. it’s handy to keep group photos from events in one place, maybe separated from photos of “now just me”, then there’s your blurbs and bios and all their incarnations, correspondence with readers, resource material collected, character studies…. no end to the folders it’s good to have ready so you can find items when needed.
And then have faith.
More about R.M. Greenaway:
R.M. began writing crime fiction on a Greyhound while northbound to Prince Rupert, in a blizzard. Street names became character names as the bus passed through towns and villages, and the blizzard became the setting for her first book. Cold Girl won the 2014 Arthur Ellis Award for best unpublished novel, which led to her ongoing B.C. Blues Crime series, published by Dundurn Press. Fifth in the series, River of Lies, was released in March 2020 in the midst of a pandemic. In 2018 two of her short stories were also published: The Threshold and Rozotica. If you’d like to know more or get in touch, drop by www.rmgreenaway.com. She’d love to hear from you!