Dietrich Kalteis on Poughkeepsie Shuffle

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Poughkeepsie Shuffle weaves a violent tale about banged up people with hearts full of rust. Crossing the border between bleak and bleaker, Kalteis effortlessly shifts gears from broken dreams to petty schemes with a rhythmic voice that’s all his own. If you read one book about gun smuggling, used car sales and hair restoration this year — make it this one.” — S.W. Lauden, author of the Greg Salem punk rock P.I. series

Dietrich Kalteis is a prolific writer. He’s a guy who knows how to get to the meat of a story without wasting a lot of real estate on the page. His latest book, Poughkeepsie Shuffle, starts off sharp (I’m looking at you, finger scene) and stays sharp until the end. You relate when his characters make a crazy-ass decision. We’ve all been there at one point or another. At the same time, these aren’t the sort you’d invite over for a game of Scrabble – no matter how bad you feel for them. Kalteis is that kind of author. He makes you sympathize with someone you’d never want to hang with.

SIDENOTE! Those in Monterey, CA, on October 26th, can meet Dietrich at this year’s Noir at the Bar, which will be held from 7-10 p.m. at the East Village Coffee Lounge in downtown! More details here on the website soon.

See my interview with the author below and learn what drew him into the fine world of crime writing.

WHITEHURST: Poughkeepsie Shuffle deals with ex-con Jeff Nichols, a guy who jumps from a notorious jail right back into the criminal elements. What led you down that path when it came time to write your new book? For that matter, what got you into crime writing in the first place?

KALTEIS: I grew up in Toronto where the story’s set, and I wanted to recreate the city the way I remembered it back in the mid-eighties. It was a grittier, character-filled place back then, before the meatpacking plants and rail lines that once lined the land below Front Street started disappearing, giving way to gentrification and leaving behind its industrial heritage.

And being across the lake from Niagara and Buffalo, the city has easy access to the US, making it the perfect setting for a story revolving around smuggling. I read an article a few years ago about a gunrunning ring that operated between upstate New York and Ontario, being taken down by the OPP and several U.S. law enforcement agencies. And I remember news stories about the increasing gang violence back then, and I wanted to work that into the story.

Then there were a couple of real-life characters that I fictionalized and weaved into this one. For instance, I did meet a guy who claimed he stumbled onto this South American miracle cure for hair restoration. He was so gung-ho about it and spent a fortune and a lot of time trying to launch it, but instead of the riches he expected, he just kept running into a lot of red tape.

Then there’s the Conway character who I loosely based on a guy I met who wanted to teach the world to sing, offering to hire me to help market his new company in exchange for singing lessons. Needless to say, I declined, and I still sing like shit. And there’s the Elvis impersonator, a character based on this guy I met one morning in a copy shop.

I didn’t set out to write crime stories. At first, I wrote a lot of short stories trying to find what worked for me, trying different styles and genres. There was often dark humor in the stories, and that just seemed to fit into a crime story. Plus I’ve got a soft spot for the lowlife characters that usually end up in my crime stories.

WHITEHURST: Say you’re in line at the grocery store and some guy with a case of beer and a bag of Doritos asks you to describe your newest book, what do you tell him?

KALTEIS: Assuming the guy in line offers to share the beer and Doritos, I could give him my elevator pitch after I stopped chewing, It would go something like this: Jeff Nichols, an ex-con recently released from the Don Jail, is discontent with his used-car sales job. Not one to let past mistakes stand in the way of a good score, he’s soon caught up in a gun-running scheme. As things spin out of control, Jeff hangs on, determined to not let anything stop him from hitting the motherlode.

WHITEHURST: Steven Spielberg gives you a jingle one day and wants to film a movie of the book, but he’s not sure who to cast. Anyone you’d recommend for the role of Nichols?

KALTEIS: Bob Odenkirk from Better Call Saul and Breaking Bad fame would make the perfect Jeff.

WHITEHURST: Research is crucial when it comes to great writing, especially writing about bygone eras and seamlessly plopping your readers smack dab in the past, which you do well in this and your other books; how do you get the flow of history into your books (even the 1980s!) without it coming off like a term paper?

KALTEIS: I do the research, then I don’t let it get in the way. I limit how much goes in and I keep descriptions to the barest of details. Too much tends to bog the pace so there has to be this balance. I want to include details that lend credibility, and sometimes they just need a mention, without going into a lot of explanation. And some details give the scene color, creating vivid pictures for the reader.

WHITEHURST: Music. A lot of writers create a soundtrack for their books, others click away at the keyboard in perfect silence. What do you listen to?

KALTEIS: For me, there’s a silence in the music. When I put on my headphones, I play what works with the scene I’m working on. It lets me slip into the story, blocking out the white noise that interrupts everyday life: voices, phones, cars and emergency vehicles going by on the street. For Poughkeepsie Shuffle there was no real theme or soundtrack. And although I like many kinds of music, I was never much for the dance music, post-disco and techno of the era. Instead I went for Springsteen, Warren Zevon, George Thorogood and Stevie Ray Vaughan. And there were a few sixties bands like the Kinks and the Beach Boys making a comeback in the eighties that I still liked.

DKalteis 2018 Photo credit Andrea Kalteis
Author Dietrich Kalteis

WHITEHURST: Is there a part of Poughkeepsie Shuffle you like best, a chunk of the book that made you sit back and smile?

KALTEIS: One scene that makes me smile is when Jeff walks into the barber shop and meets the Elvis impersonator. That scene was inspired by this time I took my then five-year-old son to a copy shop, running into Elvis waiting his turn. I got to talking to him, the man standing in his flip-flops, looking like he was coming off a rhinestoned night, with his hair and sideburns askew. He was running off flyers for an upcoming Vegas show at a nearby hotel lounge, so we chatted a bit, then I wished him good luck and got back a bona fide “Thank you very much.” When he left to tack up and pass out the flyers around the neighborhood, I asked my son, “You know who that was?” And I got a very matter-of fact, “Sure, Elvis.”

Visit Dietrich’s website here.

Order Poughkeepsie Shuffle here.

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Haunted Monterey County to be published in 2019

What happens to us when we die? That’s the big question. Some of us, many believe, might stick around after we die. Some of us might become the next generation of ghosts! When that happens, some of us will find a place to haunt, be it a favorite home, an old workplace, or possibly a cemetery.

Resting comfortably among the cypress, eucalyptus, Monterey oak, and pines trees of the California coast is the Monterey Peninsula. It’s changed little over the years but grown large in notoriety. The AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am is held here every year, car shows are a daily part of life in the summer months, and festivals bring both music and food. Sailing, kayaking, and exploring sea life are pastimes enjoyed by residents and tourists alike. The Central Coast has a long, sometimes sordid, history, but people love it. It’s been featured in a number of films and television shows, including Turner & Hooch, Basic Instinct, Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home, Play Misty for Me, Big Little Lies, and more.

My newest book, Haunted Monterey County, will explore the many haunted locations found in this popular California community. Due in bookstores around Halloween 2019, this book will join a distinguished library of haunted, ghostly collections published by The History Press, a number of which I have enjoyed in the past. The nearest such book, Haunted Santa Cruz California, by Maryanne Porter, is a wonderfully spooky read! Their Haunted America series runs from the East Coast to the West!

In Monterey, I am hard at work on stories surrounding a number of haunted sites, including the Custom House near Old Fisherman’s Wharf, Tor House, Steinbeck’s home in Salinas, Los Coches Adobe, and many other locations said to be inhabited by the restless dead.

I plan to write updates as I progress, so be sure to check in on me from time to time!

Noir at the Bar – October 26th, 2018

N@B poster Nov 2018It’s going to get mysterious and maybe even a tad illegal down in Monterey on Friday, October 26, at the East Village Coffee Lounge. Look for trench coats, a suspicious marine layer rolling in like spilled pea soup, shady-looking folks in sunglasses, or just a gaggle of writerly types skipping along in the fog. When you see it, you’ll know you’ve arrived.

Noir at the Bar is back in town.

Thanks to crime fiction author Dietrich Kalteis, this year’s Noir is shaping up to be a killer one. He’s organized a sweet lineup for this year’s event, including authors Terry Shames, Kris Calvin, Tom Pitts, Rob Pierce, Susan C Shea, Mark Coggins, Morgan Boyd, Kalteis himself, and me! The lovely Natalia Molina will emcee the event!

Is it too cheesy to say it would be a crime to miss this night of literary mischief? God, that would be cheesy to say.

This year’s Noir will be held at the East Village Coffee Lounge, at 498 Washington Street in downtown Monterey, beginning at 7 p.m. Books will be available for purchase thanks to the awesome folks at Old Capitol Books. Donations will be accepted at the door, benefitting a local charity!

Phantasmagorical Goo

white-woman-ghostsWhat makes a ghost a ghost?

What exactly are they made of? When that chilly hand settles on your shoulder and squeezes, what is it? A memory? A telekinetic process sent from the Other Side? The hunt for answers has been an ongoing one since, I’m guessing, that time a Neanderthal heard footsteps in his cave, but upon investigation found the place deserted. Today’s world makes the search even easier to document. There are websites devoted to the paranormal. There are movies, both fiction and nonfiction books, and videos on YouTube and elsewhere.

For me, it’s a feeling. Years ago, as a reporter for the Williams-Grand Canyon News, I wrote about a great little restaurant on Route 66 called Twisters. I ate there often and still have fond memories of the place. This particular story, I recall, was of a darker nature. The owner’s security camera picked up something strange during the night and he called me in to check it out. When I arrived the next day we sat in the back room and watched the video. In the middle of the night, when Route 66 was deserted and after the place had long since closed for the day, a foggy humanoid shape came to visit the restaurant’s gift shop.  It moved with a particular gait, as if it were walking, right into the bathroom.  That’s when I got the feeling. A cold chill washed up my spine, which told me I was witness to something very odd. I was later told the restaurant was once a gas station and that the owner had committed suicide. The restaurant owner wondered if that ghostly form walking across his floor could be that man. I had no answer, but was happy to post the video to the News website.

Read about it here.

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Whether one believes or not, ghosts are a part of life. They’re talked about by believers and nonbelievers alike, which makes them real in a way. Logically, the idea makes little sense. They can pass through walls, but also move things on a shelf, so which one is it? Why are they clothed, others ask? There are answers to every question if you’re a believer. It could be they’re not a real remnant of a soul at all, but a telekinetic leftover (akin to a projected image) that repeats the memory of an event over and over again. It could be some of us are like spiritual magnets, while others just don’t have the eyes for it. Some of us are cooler than others it seems.

Check out this great Live Science article on the topic.

A more recent theory is that ghosts are made up of dark energy, not dark in the sinister sense (though that sounds fun), but dark in that it is a form of energy that cannot be seen. Much like the dark matter discussed in a cosmic way by scientists like Neil deGrasse Tyson, this dark energy may explain why we can’t (yet) explain it. It also makes sense when it comes to that chilly unseen hand resting on your shoulder. It can move things we can see, like your skin or the fabric of your shirt, but we cannot see what made it move.

Look here for NPR’s description of the idea.

Have you ever felt a chilly hand on your shoulder? What do you believe?

It may be dirty, but the free press is our best defense

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Journalism is meant, on its best day, to provide checks and balances for those in power. Those who make decisions that ripple through our jobs, our welfare, and our checkbooks have to be held accountable for their decisions. If it weren’t for watchdogs, Americans would drown under the rule of those who care little for anything and anyone beyond their own interests. We would be manipulated, lied to, and used as cogs in a machine –necessary but ultimately forgettable. In a free society, the news is intended to provide all Americans with the information needed to make an intellectual decision. It’s not intended to convince you how to think on a particular subject, or even on a particular candidate, but it will furnish the tools we need to make a smart decision on the matter.

It’s not always perfect and it can be downright dirty. Ratings factor into the equation, as they do for most print and television offerings. Advertisers factor into the equation as well; news outlets are businesses at the end of the day. They have to make money to survive, but their mission has never been more clear. You’re simply not going to get all the facts, all the angles, nor the whole truth from those elected to positions of power. There are people in this country afraid of an informed population. Some news may sensationalize, some may muddy the line between editorializing and journalism, but more than anywhere else, the news media is there to inform. Their job is to ferret out the mischief and replace the tall tales with a sobering dose of reality.

This may seem like pie in the sky idealism, but as a former journalist, I know there is truth in reporting. Our reporters, covering beats from crime to education, are American citizens like the rest of us. They go home to families and watch football on the weekends. They vote, pay taxes, buy groceries, and carry degrees that instilled in them a belief that journalists should be a voice for the voiceless. Without journalists, the voiceless would be all but dead.

Recent attacks on the media are terrifying in that they are seeking to suppress the search for truth by lobbing derogatory labels like hand grenades, including the effort to label journalists as the “enemy of the people,” which couldn’t be farther from the truth. Journalists ARE the people. Their job is to present the facts, while ours is to understand and use it however we see fit.

I stand with the Boston Globe as they, and more than one hundred other newspapers across the country, defend their voices from those who seek to silence them. On August 16th, these news organizations will publish editorials warning of the dangers of anti-press rhetoric. And don’t be fooled, the press is under attack, and an America without them would indeed be a country on fire.

Read more on the Boston Globe’s effort here.

 

 

San Francisco Comic Con Top 10

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It’s a geek’s fantasy realized. A nerd’s dreams turned flesh and blood. A dad’s headache from the noise, but worth it. I’m all of that and a grumpy bag of chips. But, as most of my friends know, I’m a sucker for heroes and stories. Being a father to a younger comics/pop culture aficionado, the 2018 San Francisco Comic Con was the place to hang our invisible fedoras. Before I get into what was (nice about it) killer, let me tack on a couple of bitches. It’s what I do. First off, consider larger conference rooms for some of the workshops. We missed Starlin (Starlin! The guy who devised the Infinity War storyline!) because it was too full, which got me pissy for a hot minute. Parking was also gnarly, but when isn’t it?

On to what was super:

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Staff was on it. They were all over it. Staff nailed it.

10. Comic Con staff

A friend of one of the con’s founders, and I never got her name (a theme for me on this trip), was one of the first people my son and I encountered in the hotel elevator. She went above and beyond in helping us navigate what could have been, for a dense man like me, a confusing morning of con registration. Instead she got us hooked up the night before with our wrist bands and gave us the rundown on what to expect once the pop culture adventure exploded in our faces. You can’t beat that kind of customer service with a barbed-wire baseball bat.

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The view from our sweet suite.

9. Oakland Marriott

Who knew the Marriott was actually connected to the Convention Center where the San Francisco Comic Con was held? Not this doofus. It was a sweet surprise when we realized we wouldn’t have to leave the building. Riding the elevator from our posh room (with paper-thin walls, however, which I discovered thanks to a lusty romantic couple next door); we were deposited right into a throng of Deadpools, Darths, and Who Police Boxes. It was the best ever. Great place, great views, great that Netflix connected to the huuuge flat screen, and great staff.

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A man sweeps the streets of Oakland, while another jumps a human ramp, to celebrate the Golden State Warriors victory over the Cavs.

8. Golden State Sweep

Not that it has anything to do with the con, but crazy as Hell that our trip to Oakland coincided like a train wreck with the Warrior Playoff sweep over the Cavs and LeBron James! When we got there, people were just taking to the streets downtown to celebrate, chanting “Warriors!” from the windows down to the subway. Some were even holding brooms from three stories above ground, sweeping the air, because why not? So it was a good kind of train wreck. Insanity save for valet parking. Warriors!

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Ben getting a signed first issue, number one, collector’s edition, etc.

7. The Walking Dead Guy

I may be a newbie to the Walking Dead pop culture machine (on season four, so much blood), but my son isn’t. He’s the guy who got me hooked on it, so for him to meet one of the guys who made the dead walk in the pages of the original Image comic book was incredible. Dude was super nice too (isn’t it always a good idea to mention if someone is approachable? If it is, then everyone there was just that). The worst part? Not sure of his name…

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Nerding with every flavored bean breath with Bonnie Wright.

6. Ginny Weasley

Her real name is Bonnie Wright, but for most of us in line to meet her, she was Ginny – beloved wife to the wizard we all know and root for: Harry Potter (HP to us cool kids). I can’t even write the name without saying it with an English accent in my head. My son and I, besides grabbing a pic with her, heard her talk about her work in directing and with environmental organizations like Greenpeace. As HP nerds, just getting to meet her was… magical (ugh).

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William T. Riker is in the hizzay!

5. Number One (at number five)

Genres of all kinds appeal to me. As a teen, none grabbed me more than Star Trek: The Next Generation when it came to weekly television. I was reading horror, flipping through Heavy Metal and Flaming Carrot Comics, but I never missed a single TNG episode. Not a single one. Jonathan Frakes is a polite, friendly guy in person – though to be fair meeting him was uber brief. But hey, being in the presence of Number One, the guy who gave us Star Trek First Contact, one of the reasons The Orville rocks, was enough to excite this fan boy.

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Me and Gerry Conway, down by the school yard. Or hanging at a con and talking about Punisher stuff.

4. Gerry Conway

You know meeting a Marvel Comics icon would make my list. I counted myself a True Believer during the days Lou Ferrigno got himself painted green every week. I was one of the only kids on my block who knew the word, “Excelsior!” And even back then, I knew about the Punisher. Gerry Conway is one of the co-creators of the character, which he introduced in Amazing Spider-Man No. 129. He’s also the writer who (gasp) killed off Gwen Stacy back in the day. I gushed on him at the con, but he was cool with it.

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Issue 2 is a keeper.

3. Afterburner Comics

What’s better than going to a gigantic comic con in Oakland (yes, it’s called the San Francisco Comic Con, and yes, I know San Diego’s is bigger, but does size matter?) and straying from your preplanned itinerary into uncharted territory (yes, I make itineraries). I found something pretty damn cool in Afterburner Comics and came away with a treat I wasn’t expecting. I found a new underground comic to sink my intellectual teeth into, one full of black and white noir and adults-only pizzazz. If you haven’t come across the brilliant Robert Stewart and Afterburner Comics, you’re missing out.

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Making the time to hang! Thanks, Claudia!

2. Claudia Gray

Claudia Gray is an author everyone should read. Many of us have in fact. She’s also a joy to meet in person. Her work has been made a part of the Star Wars universe, which tells you something about her prose. Whether it’s canon, not canon, I can never keep up, so I don’t know. I’m not one to let it bug me anyway. She’s a good writer and meeting her amidst the buzz and bang of the convention was a personal highlight.

 

 

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1.  The Cosplay

You hear about it in secret. You read about it on the dark web. You think you’re prepared. But then you walk into a man inside an inflated Pikachu. You see cosplayers in real life and you take a gut punch in the “I’m geeked out and really amazed” region. These people are incredible. The detail, the love and giddy excitement, are evident in what they do. Without the thrill of the cosplayers, conventions like the San Francisco Comic Con wouldn’t be the blinding, shining beacon of hip absurdity this world needs. They make these things what they are.