Michael Newton is one of the hardest working writers in the industry. He’s published more than 335 books, some under a different name, including The Encyclopedia of Serial Killers, a number of fiction series such as the M.I.A. Hunter, The Gun westerns, and plenty more. His work in non-fiction is as prolific as his work in fiction. He’s written books on the subject of writing, as a matter of fact, which anyone interested in writing should read.
He’s also well known for his contributions to The Executioner series originally created by Don Pendleton and he’s even written for The Destroyer series. Newton got his start as a “ghost author” for the Mack Bolan Executioner titles and has written 131 “episodes” of the popular man-of-action series to date, with more on the way.
Beginning in 2018 and ending this year in 2019, he penned a series of 10 novels for Wolfpack Publishing based on the history of the Federal Bureau of investigations. In Honor Boundis the first of the series. Set in 1917, it follows three law school graduates as they set out to join the fray for World War I. Before they get a chance to register for service, J. Edgar Hoover extends to them an invitation to join the U.S. Department of Justice.
The series charts the Bureau’s history through the lives of five families: the Gantts, the O’Haras, the Giordanos, the Sawyers, and the Babins. Book 10, When Honor Dies, features a world of terrorism threats from the home front and from the Middle East. The fates of the series’ families are revealed amidst the tragedy of 9/11.
I recently had the honor of talking to Michael about his writing. He said he first got the idea for The Bureau series in 1986.
“I’ve long enjoyed similar (much better!) series by Max Alan Collins, John Jakes, Stephen Hunter and W.E.B. Griffin, but I fell far short of their great achievements this time around. Toward the end it felt a bit like Vietnam or Afghanistan: no exit,” Newton said.
When it comes to his writing, Newton said he’s wanted to be a writer ever since he learned how to put words on paper in grade school. He’s currently hard at work on a new Executioner title, the first ever biography of Albert Anastasia, and much more.
“The money [was] also an attraction, freeing me from a dead-end Nevada teaching job in 1986 and allowing me to write full-time ever since,” Newton said. “For years the Bolan work represented roughly half my yearly income, but 2014 took a toll, my Berkley Western editor fired and an ongoing series canceled, then Harlequin bought out by HarperCollins and the end of the Bolan series announced in December. They’ve reconsidered that, as you know, but at a rate of four books yearly rather than 24, so with luck I get one rather than the former three or four.”
He’s recently fallen back into the realm of “writer-for-hire” as well.
“[This includes] three books for an action series forthcoming from Wolfpack Publishing, rumbles of a Western series (also from Wolfpack), and a two-book contract for Berkley under the late Ralph Compton’s name (also Westerns),” Newton said. “All of those pay by the word, and I’m back to the kind of thing that was my staple during 1978-81, before Gold Eagle came along. I don’t know if that’s coming full-circle or just circling the drain.”
Learn everything there is to know about this amazing guy over on his website.
Cosplayers Shouldn’t Kill is my latest short story for the fantastic Shotgun Honey crime fiction website. Inspired by cosplayers like Ya Ya Han and other creative souls, this short tale follows a thug for hire named Sam when he pays a visit to the infamous San Francisco Comic Con.
There’s always that one sibling. It seems there’s one in every nuclear pod. In That’ll Be The Day: A Power Pop Heist by S.W. Lauden, we’re introduced to Jackson Sharp the moment he breathes free air for the first time in a long while. Only he may not be breathing it for much longer thanks to his brother, Jamie, who has a heist in mind that’s sure to make any fan of the Beatles froth at the mouth. Should things go wrong, Jack will end up right back in the bowels of Oklahoma State Penitentiary, where neither of his siblings ever care enough to visit.
With a setting near Tulsa, Lauden’s toe-tapping, gritty novelette is like the Outsiders on a punked-up, rockabilly high. It’s a smooth crime story with a playlist sure to get a song or two stuck in your head while you read.
That’ll Be The Day drops June 18th. Boogie on over here for your copy. My interview with the man himself, S.W. Lauden, is below.
WHITEHURST: Besides short stories featured in anthologies, you’re the author of three books in the Greg Salem series and two Tommy and Shayna novellas. Why write a novelette?
LAUDEN: I didn’t exactly set out to write a 17,000-word story, but I always knew it would end up somewhere between a short story (5,000 words) and a novella (30,000 words). My other books have all been published by indie presses, but I’ve been interested in the idea of self-publishing for a while. With a story like That’ll Be The Day: A Power Pop Heist—an odd length and a super niche-y subject—I decided it was time to give it a whirl.
WHITEHURST: What was your inspiration for That’ll Be The Day?
LAUDEN: Late last year I got offered the chance to co-edit an essay collection about power pop with Paul Myers (it’s called Go All The Way and Rare Bird Books will publish it this October). Re/discovering bands like Raspberries, The Knack, The Records, Shoes, The Shivvers, Dwight Twilley, The Bangles, Teenage Fanclub, Fountains of Wayne, New Pornographers, etc. quickly became an obsession. I didn’t plan for my power pop research to also become a crime novelette, but I’m really glad it did. It was a blast writing about the Sharp brothers, their failed music career, and the life of crime that followed.
WHITEHURST: Your knowledge of music, bands, and instruments is solid. What’s the story there?
LAUDEN: Most of my life has been organized around music. I had older brothers that got me into classic rock and heavy metal as a kid, before I discovered punk in junior high. From there I was off to the races, listening to a lot of glam rock, post punk, new wave, power pop, alternative rock, Brit pop—you name it. I started playing drums in bands in high school and didn’t stop for any real length of time until my early 40s. I got to make a few records and tour, etc. Given all that, I suppose it’s no surprise that a lot of my crime fiction revolves around music and musicians.
WHITEHURST: What’s next for you?
LAUDEN: I recently played drums on a record for an LA-based garage rock/power pop band called The Brothers Steve. We’re self-releasing a limited run of vinyl in late July, but songs will start popping up in various places between now and then. We definitely won’t be touring (too many adult responsibilities for anything crazy like that), but we might play a couple of shows here and there.
LAUDEN: Thanks for reading the book and inviting me to your blog!
BIO: S.W. Lauden is the author of the Greg Salem punk rock P.I. series including Bad Citizen Corporation, Grizzly Season and Hang Time. His Tommy & Shayna novellas include Crosswise and Crossed Bones. A new novelette, That’ll Be The Day: A Power Pop Heist, will be released on June 18, 2019. S.W. Lauden is the pen name of Steve Coulter, drummer for Tsar and The Brothers Steve. More info at http://swlauden.com.
It’s not easy to dwell on Monterey California’s criminal underbelly when picturing the angelic shoreline found along the Central Coast, but even windswept beauty has its ugly side. As a reporter I learned this firsthand when I worked the crime beat in Sedona, Arizona.
Never trust the postcard.
Monterey has had its share of interesting crimes over the years, from cold cases to mysterious fires that have destroyed communities and lives. Below are five of the area’s most interesting crimes and criminals, culled from a variety of sources. Some glamorous, others terrifying, these Central Coast stories are the stuff of legend.
The outlaw Tiburcio Vasquez
Vasquez started his criminal career at the young age of 17 after fleeing the scene of a murder with his cousin, the outlaw Anastacio Garcia. Thus began a bloody, dangerous life of crime and womanizing, the latter of which became something of a trademark for the man and would ultimately lead to his downfall. He was hanged in 1875. His last breath consisted of a single word, “Pronto.”
While his deeds took him far and wide, Tiburcio would often stay in Monterey County. His family lived across the street from the Monterey County Jail in downtown Monterey. Tiburcio was quite familiar with both locations.
What happened in Massacre Cave? Newspaper accounts reported a number of skeletons found there near the long-lost town of Manchester, which suspiciously burned to the ground around 1900, leaving a few people missing in the process. Decades later, the skeletal discovery occurred, leaving many to speculate as to what exactly occurred during this gold-crazy era of Monterey County’s history. It should also be noted there are those who claim the area is not the site of a murder but a Native burial ground.
A determined crowd converged on the Monterey Jail in 1873 to settle things with alleged murderer, Matthew Tarpey, who had been jailed for shooting a woman in the back over a land squabble. Tarpey, a well-to-do member of a vigilante squad that operated in Santa Cruz and Monterey County, expected help to come for him. It didn’t. He was hung on a Monday evening after being forcibly removed from the jail by a lynch mob.
Arson was believed to be the cause of the Carmel Canning Company fire in 1967 that caused more than $250 million in damages to Cannery Row, which happened to be a tad seedier than the tourist mecca it is today. Despite being less than glamorous, more than 65 firefighters responded to the scene and quickly doused the Christmas Eve fire. Perhaps too quickly for the liking of whoever set the blaze.
The year 1977 wasn’t an ordinary one for residents of Seaside, California. While crime was more common there than it is today, the discovery of four female family members stabbed to death made for shocking, horrifying headlines. Grandmother Josephine Smith, her daughter Suzanne Harris, Suzanne’s daughter Rachel Harris, and Suzanne’s niece Renee Ferguson were each found murdered in their home. While a family relative was eventually captured, the murders had the small community on edge.
“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.
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.”
Some writers are like doctors. They have the stuff you need right when you need it most. Tom Pitts is an author like that. Having read American Static at a time when I was thirsty for a blast of literary danger, the book was like the tall beer Tom’s holding in his author photo. It hit the spot.What starts as a deadly, and compelling, crime thriller; American Static soons takes on a darker twist. The story unfolds to reveal murderous political intrigue, a savage quest for the truth, and weaves in a sweet love story – albeit in a surprising way.
When I got a chance to sit down with Tom, the first thing on my mind was all the great characters sprinkled throughout the book, so I started there…
PATRICK WHITEHURST: You have Quinn, Carl, Tremblay, Steven, Teresa, and a cast of others, nearly all a bit shady. How did you keep them straight?
TOM PITTS: If you’re referring to the juggling of POVs, it’s the only way I see the whole picture. It’s more than just a third-person perspective, it’s a lens through which we can see each character’s motivations. I took this idea a little further than in my last novel, Hustle. And I think the result is a faster moving, more exciting ride.
As far as them being shady, to be fair, kindly ol’ Carl ain’t too shady. But all characters—just like people—come in varying shades of grey. They just aren’t black or white. Mind you, some are blacker than others. I think even the most evil motherfucker in the world still likes a chuckle now and again, still likes to sit down and watch Bob’s Burgers, you know?
WHITEHURST:You’re knocking back a few at the bar and some dude asks you to describe American Static. What do you tell him?
PITTS: I tell ‘em it’s a devil-at-the-crossroads kind of tale. That’s what Quinn is. He’s that intoxicating, charismatic devil that’ll take you on a fast ride to hell.
WHITEHURST:When you gaze at the stars, thinking wistfully on those glorious days spent writing the book, what stands out? What part of American Static really turned you on?
PITTS: I was on a roll after Hustle. I marched forward on this one full of cocky confidence. The plot unfolded and the puzzle presented itself to me perfectly. I love that feeling when the pieces fit together. What I remember most—when I put together the political backstory that’s the impetus for the events—is jumping up from the keyboard and yelling Yes!
WHITEHURST:What can you tell us about an audiobook?
PITTS: I’m very excited about it. It’s the first audio book being done for one of my stories. The narrator, Daniel Greenberg, has done an excellent job. I listened to a lot of audio books during a hellish commute I endured a few years back. And I mean a LOT of audio books, and Daniel has just the even-handed style I like—not too dramatic, not too flat. I’m told it’ll be done by the start of May, so I’m hoping it’ll be available in June. If it goes well, I’m going to do one for Hustle and the new book, 101.
WHITEHURST: The movie question now: who would you cast? I could almost see De Niro as Quinn, maybe a younger version. Thoughts?
PITTS: I do hate being pinned down by this question. Once I have someone in mind it’s hard to get them out of my head, but … since you asked. I think I’d like to see Frank Grillo as Quinn. He’d be perfect for it. He’s got something scary going on just under the surface. It’d be tough for a just any old pretty boy to sell it. Frank has a bit of grit. The kind of guy you can never feel quite comfortable around.
WHITEHURST:What about bands? Who do you listen to when you type?
PITTS: Nobody. I’ve always worked in silence. I’ve gone so far as to stuff toilet paper in my ears and pump white noise through some headphones to find silence. Rob Hart recently asked on Twitter about playlists for writing, the soundtrack that a writer prepares for each novel. A light went on over my head—a playlist to block the world out? Brilliant. Maybe I’ll try it the next time around. Especially if it’s a period piece.
WHITEHURST:What’s the story these days? What are you working on?
PITTS: I just finished the final edits for my next novel, 101. It’s coming out in November from Down & Out. It takes my shifting POV philosophy even further. I’ve very proud of the book. It’s fast-moving, funny, and full of wild characters. It’s set against the backdrop of a pot farm in Humboldt County six months before it went legal in California. I spent a fair amount of time in those hills doing research—yeah, that’s what we’ll call it—and I hope it captures the tone of the hills. I’m still working on the Hustle script and doing the dance with Hollywood. Hopefully I’ll have some solid news to share about that soon. I can say things are heating up though. Then, I suppose, it’s time to roll up my sleeves and get to work on a new novel. I can’t wait to get back to that strange headspace where I spend a few hours a day in the unpredictable world of my own fiction.