Interview with Clean Sweep author Michael J. Clark

Clean Sweep by Michael J. Clark, ECW Press (March 13, 2018)

Not every day is peaches and cream. Some days are just terrible. But when you find a good read, it’s always peaches and cream. This was the case when I read Michael J. Clark’s debut crime novel Clean Sweep, out this month from the fine folks over at ECW Press. It’s all warm and fuzzy, in a violent crime-filled way, which is fine with me. Check out my interview with Clark below!

PATRICK WHITEHURST: There are a number of great characters in Clean Sweep. How did you develop them and how did you manage to keep them all straight?

MICHAEL J. CLARK: We start with Tommy Bosco. The good pastor is loosely based on a good friend of mine, a reformed smuggler with the gift of gab when it comes to his days of criminality. Just when I think he’s told me every story, he makes my jaw drop again. ‘Tommy’ just told me a tale about the night he was shot five times, and drove himself to the hospital. I’m sure there’s some truth in that story, be it ever so slight. Maybe it was only twice, maybe he was grazed, or it could have just been cuts from a bullet-shattered side window as he sped away. ‘Tommy’ has this ability to either make you love the story, or love the bullshit. If it’s all just bullshit, it’s the best bullshit I’ve ever heard, double album-worthy.
I’ve read many a police procedural in my time, so coming up with cops that were clean, semi-clean, or dirty/homicidal-for-hire wasn’t too much of a stretch. In retrospect, Clean Sweep could have been written as a police procedural. I decided to bring the fringe characters out of the shadows. Think of the guy who’s always loading a van while being questioned by a pair of homicide cops on Law & Order. Doesn’t he have a story beyond those crates? Maybe, just maybe, Man Loading Van is the story. Same with the person who becomes the corpse. The unfortunate stiff is always the last to know, right up to the point that the hammer hits the back of the shell casing.
In the case of Clean Sweep, I decided to ‘compartmentalize’ the various groups until the need arose to intertwine them. (Uh-oh, I think I’ve got a touch of ‘Tommy’s’ bullshit creeping in here). Keeping the various characters/groups where I needed them to be meant that there were only so many of them peering over my shoulder during the keyboard clatter. It was the only way I could handle it without turning into Jack Torrance.
I’m a huge fan of conspiracies. I truly believe that the development of ‘misdirection technology’ (that TV set you call a phone) is not only planned, its truly required to ensure shadowy success.The conspiracy I floated in Clean Sweep has its seedlings in the sandy soil of historical record in Canada. I just added the Miracle-Gro.

Mr. Clark

WHITEHURST: A lot of writers listen to a “soundtrack” when they write, music that inspires their words. Was this the case with Clean Sweep?

CLARK: There are a few snippets of music in the book. I enjoy jazz, and I’m learning more about it, though I’m anything but an expert on the notes the musicians play, or the ones they don’t. The ‘music’ has more to do with the research, like watching reams of vintage YouTube that relate to the story. I could listen to British announcers reporting on the 1950 Manitoba flood into the wee small hours. I should mention that my second book is set in 1985 in Winnipeg. There’s plenty of music in that romp, and there had to be. (Silly haunted radios…)

WHITEHURST: Picture yourself plopped down at a seedy dive bar. What would you tell the bartender who asks what your book is about? It’s gotta be different than how you’d explain it to a publicist, right?

CLARK: Well, lets assume that I’m into my third quality scotch by this point, neat. “Well friend, Clean Sweep is about the Winnipeg that no one wants to talk about, but everyone knows is there, just like any town on the face of the earth. And do you have any more peanuts?”

WHITEHURST: Without giving anything away, what part of writing the book made you sit back and think, “I’m a rock star?”

CLARK: Rock star? I’d settle for Polka King right now. I think its when you come up with those fun little phrases, the ‘you’re gonna need a bigger boat’ nuggets. You wonder if they’ll have the same impact for the reader as they did for you.

WHITEHURST: Everyone asks this, so I will too. Who would you pick to be in the Clean Sweep movie?

CLARK: I’ve had the pleasure of knowing a few people in the film, theatre, and comedy world in Winnipeg. I’ve been enjoying the adaptation of Caught by Lisa Moore on the Mother Corporation, AKA the CBC. There’s such an incredible pool of Canadian talent to pull from. Kristen Kreuk from Burden of Truth could have her pick of roles. I’ve gotta get Adam Beach in there somewhere. Many of the characters are perfect for the abundance of character actors that abound. I’ve been a fan of Michael Ironside since Scanners. (A perfect Ernie Friday.) As for Pastor Bosco, I’m still thinking. ‘Tommy’ looks a lot like Richard Rawlings from Fast ‘n Loud. Hmmmmm…

Thanks for the great interview, Michael! Clean Sweep is available now. Get your hands on it here.


Whitehurst’s Top Reads of 2017


The year 2017 will go down in history for a lot of reasons; some of those reasons being the addition of quality literature to the libraries of the world’s dwindling army of readers. Over the last year, possibly in an attempt to cower from real world political poison, I’ve disappeared into 20 books, including nonfiction and fiction, I found my share of quality literature, not to mention my escape.

Having read everything from Neil deGrasse Tyson’s Astrophysics for People in a Hurry to the first six entries of Don Pendleton’s Executioner novels, the year of lit in the Whitehurst house was a good one. Take a look at my top five picks for the year. While they didn’t all come out last year, I read them in 2017, which is how my list works.

Zero-1Zero Avenue by Dietrich Kalteis

Who doesn’t love a punk rock masterpiece? That’s what I found when I read Zero Avenue. This is one gritty punk tale chock full of crime and the desperation of survival. Zero takes no prisoners in its detail and scope and keeps kicking through to the very end. What a movie this would make. And the score would rock. Someone better be on that.

A blast in the face, full of punk and vigor, and one of the best reads of the year for me.

Get your copy here.

Moving-1Moving Through Life Ungracefully by S.M. Pastore

There’s something satisfying about reading words that have echoed in your own mind at various times in your life. That’s how this collection of poetry and prose found me. It’s a quick read, but worth repeat reading, just to relish in the word choices and raw honesty found within.

For anyone who needs words whispered gracefully, honestly, and without remorse, lean into this book.

Find the book here.

ThrillMe.jpgThrill Me: Essays on Fiction by Benjamin Percy

Meeting and listening to Benjamin Percy talk were highlights of the year for me. He’s a charismatic speaker and has an impressive literary resume. This book, on the craft of writing and story-telling, should be on the shelf of every writer, whether they’re jotting their first line or their gazillionth. I zipped through it like a mad man. After meeting him and getting his John Hancock on the book, I couldn’t help but hear his captivating voice speaking every sentence.

Super informative, fun, and enthralling book.

Find it here.

GaslightGirl-1The Gaslight Girl: A Decisive Devices Novella by Hargrove Perth

Billed as the first in the Decisive Devices Steampunk series, The Gaslight Girl functions just as well as a standalone tale, though readers will most certainly want to explore the other entries when they turn the last page. Get to know Halloran Frost, get to know a cinderwench, and sink your teeth into this thrilling romp in the hottest genre around.

For those with a taste for authors such as Gail Carriger and Kevin J. Anderson, not to mention the classics by H.G. Wells and Jules Verne, familiarize yourself with this series.

Find the book here.

NameWind-1The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss

Imagine Lord of the Rings with a Harry Potter storyline and you come close to the breathtaking tale that is The Name of the Wind. In fact, the previous sentence doesn’t begin to describe how wonderful I found this book and its main character, Kvothe. I simply could not put it down. The first in a planned trilogy (I hope there are more than that) got me so pumped, I very nearly grabbed the second to read immediately after finishing. Instead I put it aside to savor the anticipation, though it will be read in 2018.

Book One of the Kingkiller Chronicles. Buy it. Love it. Love it twice.

Get it here.

Cornell Woolrich, quit staring at me

Cornell Woolrich.

The streets get gritty and mean. Cold shadows keep the sun from hitting the pavement and those passing by bump into you with a snort and no apologies. If you’re lucky you see a set of bleak eyes staring out from under a shaded hat, piercing you with desire, and not the lustful kind, but the kind that makes you move your wallet from your back pocket.

Back in the day, those eyes might have hung from the face of Cornell Woolrich.

Woolrich was NYC in and out. Born there. Buried there. Barely left town. Barely left his place. Who cares that he might have had a mental blemish or two? Who cares he lived with his mother? The dude was killer.

One of the many William Irish novels written by Cornell Woolrich.

Woolrich had a way of storytelling unrivaled in his time. Hitchcock fell into the spin of his yarns and shot Rear Window as a result. He wrote a ton, and tons were made into movies, including his novels, “I Married a Dead Man,” “The Phantom Lady,” and others. He may have written under the name William Irish for a while, perhaps thinking the pseudonym sounded more badass than Cornell, but these days we all know it was him. Yet he remains one of New York City’s, and the world’s, best and largely uncelebrated crime writers.  At least he made the name Cornell a cool one.

Being a hermit, the man seemed more content to stare at the world without engaging in it, but he had a knack for people nonetheless. He could populate a story like no one’s business.  And if you were in New York in his time, say between 1926 and 1968, the year he died, you might have fallen under his gaze.

Count yourself lucky.

A Steampunk Pardon

The carriage moved quickly through the cobbled streets, but slowed to a creaking crawl when it entered Phoenix. Bridges swooped over the apex of the double-decker carriage once in the city limits, coming close to breaking the stove top pipe belching steam at its highest point. Those crossing the bridge when the large vehicle passed below recounted the story later that night over a shot of absinthe. Mothers clutched their children and rushed to flee, dropping their parasols and groceries, laborers gripped the copper railing, waiting to topple over. But the carriage trundled along without causing harm. Standing in a cloud of steam, those bridge -goers raised their fists and shouted their anger, but to no avail. They could see no one in the large vessel’s stained-glass windows.

Had it been in the sea, the carriage would have been more at home. It carried the appearance of a Man O War, but without sails of any kind, only large wooden wheels and paneled walls reinforced with iron rigging. Those who witnessed the vessel from the cramped, hot street level saw a name burned proudly on the stern, STEAM SHIP ONE. It made its way down the winding, cobbled interstate to the center of the city, where the forefathers erected a large copper phoenix, metal feathers and head pointed toward the heavens, as a reminder that it is possible to rise from ashes and be stronger for it. Every day at noon, the phoenix spouted a geyser of flame straight up. Some days, however, the smog of industry made even the flames of the giant statue hard to see. Today was one of those days. Within moments, Steam Ship One vanished into the brown haze.

For those who saw it approach, the meaning was clear. The President had finally arrived to pardon their sheriff. The nation’s first mechanical leader, run by well-oiled gears and golden pistons, had been elected due to his inability to act in the political theater. The sheriff supported him, which meant protection from his enemies. There were those who said it would never happen, that the heat of Phoenix would melt his clockwork brain, but others knew better. The mechanical man could take the heat. He boasted of it often enough.

The pardon, hammered onto a tin sheet and branded with the presidential seal, meant their jailed lawman would be back on the street, free to unleash his reign of single-handed terror on the mute second class. They were the ones who stoked the fires, suffered the pits, cobbled the interstate, but never spoke. They were the ones who never crossed the bridges over the interstate, but they built it.

Noir at the Bar – October 20th, 2017

19059861_1986112188278233_1335083638625727466_nPicture yourself in a dimly lit room. A light bulb hangs from the ceiling, swinging slowly to and fro, as if an ethereal skeletal hand had reached down from the inky shadows and tapped it. Beneath the light are a series of faces with dark shadows for eyes and grim, black lines for mouths. The grimy bulb swings overhead. The faces are there, then swallowed by darkness, then appear again, under the dancing, pale glow. This assembly is here for one reason and one reason only.  And there are laws against it.

When you picture an evening of crime fiction called “Noir at the Bar”, that’s how I picture it going down. It won’t be like that. Well, maybe it will be. Who knows? Maybe it will go down like a tea party in a Hercule Poirot novel, or turn into a backstage party at the end of a Rage Against the Machine concert on the eve of a government revolution? Or we’ll pose like we’re trapped in a Hopper painting. Perhaps we’ll just compete for who does the best “drunk Sarah Huckabee Sanders” impersonation?

My money’s on Dietrich Kalteis.

Dietrich is an amazing author and one of many who will take part in the Friday, October 20th, Noir at the Bar at the Press Club in Seaside, California. Starting at 7 p.m., and emceed by Janice Blaze Rocke, this event features not one or three, but nine incredible writers all in one place, and all ready to spill the beans on crime fiction. Authors for this event include Eric Beetner, SW Lauden, Tom Pitts, Rob Pierce, Dietrich Kalteis, John Lansing, Sandra Balzo, Joe Clifford and myself. Old Capitol Books will bring books to buy and the Press Club will provide the rest.  What’s not to drool about with this lineup?

The Press Club can be found at 1123 Fremont Boulevard, Seaside, CA. They say the road construction will be done by then, so let’s celebrate. If it isn’t, come anyway, just bring a flask.

5 tips for non-fiction, photographic histories



There are plenty of paths to success when on deadline. Some prefer to wait until the last minute, as pressure makes them produce. Others prefer the slow boil, working at a snail’s pace until it all comes to a head, but only one of these techniques helps when it comes to historical non-fiction, particularly the sort that require finding a lot of photographs and documents from a certain era. If you have to work with others, particularly organizations, start early. You never know what will happen, photos can be misplaced, just plain gone, and the documents you thought would help may prove lifeless.

With my Pacific Grove Museum of Natural History book, forthcoming from Arcadia Publishing, I lit a fire under my chair the week I got back the contract. As the Museum book marks my third Images of America challenge, I thought I would share five tips to making the process an easy one.

1. Be confident you can get the materials and photographs you need before submitting a proposal. This way you’ll go into the work without a forehead vein popping out. Keep a bibliography document open at all times so you can add your sources without a drop of stress sweat.
2. Start writing. Write early and write more than you need. I tap out a longer chapter first, then take a weed whacker to it. Stray bits of information can always be saved for the photo captions, where I believe the meat of the research resides. Copy and paste those bits to a separate document for later use. I create individual documents first, then marry them to a master doc at the end.
3. Pay attention to the important deadlines. With Images of America, there are usually a few of them. Try to get there early. You’ll feel good about yourself.
4. Spend the clock talking to the people who know a great deal about the subject. Buy them dinner if they seem up for it, or just smile warmly, but make sure they’re included. This way they’ll remember you over the coming months when they unearth something that would be cool in the book. Answer their emails, send them emails, just talk to them.
5. Be a photo wizard. You don’t need a wand, just a lot of pics. Gather more than you need, maybe a hundred more, or maybe just bunches more. It gives you a chance to weed out the so-so pics for the strong ones. In the newspaper business, editors prefer faces to be as big as a quarter, or failing that a dime, but any historic photograph that gets your heart hammering is a good photograph.

Whitehurst’s Top Reads of 2016

From tripping out with Tarzan and the Ant Men, to starting Marie Kondo’s book on tidying up, it’s been a year of diversity and perhaps a bit of quirky inclusion. My print book collection grew in 2016, which came as a surprise due to my Kindle attachment issues, and the number of books started and not finished (sorry, Kondo) grew as well. This means 2017 will be the year of finishing things I started. Fingers crossed.  I did, however, manage to finish 14 books. Below are the top five books I couldn’t stop thinking about after reading the last page.

Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore by Robin Sloan

There’s a little book shop off Alvarado Street in downtown Monterey, California, that reminds me of this book whenever I walk by the place. With a splash of fantasy, a squirt of Da Vinci Code, and a bit too much techy talk, Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore features a mysterious society, the depths of Google, and the wonder of musty old books stacked high to the ceiling. Set in San Francisco, but with a trip to the Big Apple thrown in, former techie Clay gets an adventure of a lifetime when he leaves his web design gig for a job at a dusty old book shop found next to a skanky strip club. I looked forward to this book every time I sat down to read. You might too.

Find the book here.

Mentats of Dune by Kevin J. Anderson and Brian Herbert

The second book in their “Schools of Dune” trilogy continues the spicy space opera adventure begun by Brian’s father, Frank Herbert. While the writing style in the new Dune books (and there are a lot of them) differs from Frank’s style, I look forward to each and every one. So much so I read them in doses, so not to run out of material. Anderson and Herbert have penned a number of standalone novels and trilogy novels that fill out the intensely vibrant cosmos found in the Dune universe. With the conclusion of the Schools of Dune trilogy, their work in the universe will end. At least for now. I, for one, am already looking forward to their return. Mentats of Dune features the story of Vorian Atreides, who works to make peace with his family’s sworn enemies in House Harkonnen. Characters from the other trilogy novels also make appearances, such as the villainous Erasmus and zealous Manford Torondo, as do the Fremen of Arrakis, not to mention sandworms. It wouldn’t be awesome without a sandworm or two of course. If you like Dune as I do, then get into these books.

Find the book here.

Inferno by Dan Brown

Just in time, since I missed the movie in theaters and still had a few weeks in 2016, I snatched the latest Robert Langdon (number four in the series, number three in the movie series) from my book shelf and set to work before the movie hit the digital rental service. It wasn’t hard to devour this one. Like Da Vinci Code (number two in the series, number one in the movie series), I had a hard time putting this book down. Langdon is back in killer nerdy, confused form in this one, only getting the clues but not the bullets and action smacking the walls around him. He’s knee deep in Dante lore, in Florence, in Venice, in death masks, and in plagues. This equated to a page turner in my book. I ended by Googling when Brown planned to pen the next in the series (number five in the series, maybe number four in the movie series, depending whether or not Howard gets around to doing The Lost Symbol), so that means it was good.

Find the book here.

Harry Potter and the Cursed Child – Parts One and Two by John Tiffany, Jack Thorne, and J.K. Rowling

I wasn’t sure I was ready for a new Harry Potter story (popularly called HP, right?), especially not one that would read weird. I was sure it would too, being that it was a play and not a novel at all, but after finding the rhythm of the story, I totally fell in love with it. I was back in the world of magic and Muggles in a flash. Being that I was already an adult when the series began, reading the Cursed Child made me feel like a younger adult. The story itself, with time travel and Harry’s kids, kept me enthralled until the end, definitely a worthy addition to the HP canon. I have to add, however, that I would love to see this made into a film. The fanboy in me, though I understand Rowling’s motivations and wishes, prays she will pen another novel in the series, because I would flip out.

Find the book here.

The Irish Bride Series: The Innocents Book 1 by Jaime Lorie Goza

Say hello to Grace, a young and innocent Irish lass (not to mention a new face to add to the grand tradition of Irish literature), whose life is rough, but also quirky and amiable at times. While not one who devours everything Irish, being Irish myself has led me to more than my fair share of books set in the Emerald Isle. This book fits into that collection quite well.  This book served as a fun distraction for reading time and makes for a good addition to anyone’s shelves, whether or not they’ve touched that goofy Blarney Stone thing.

Find the book here.