Whitehurst’s Top Reads of 2018

2018.jpg

As 2019 beckons us into her titular embrace, I realize my literary to-be-read pile is something of a clean slate for the coming year. There are titles I know I want to read: my usual foray into the new Executioner novels, something by Stephen King, perhaps finish the last two Game of Thrones tomes, etc., What excites me most, however, are the books I have no idea about. The ones that are coming that I cannot foresee. Maybe that’s a bit too deep, but it’s got me on the edge of my seat. What will they be? Some will be culled from the authors below.

I read 22 books in 2018, ranging from the aforementioned Mack Bolan Executioner ebooks to non-fiction titles all about creating tighter sentences. Favorites that didn’t make my top five included Ready Player One by Ernest Cline (who would have thought it would grab me like that?), The Wise Man’s Fear (probably the best fantasy out there right now), and Clash of Kings (and I’m now trudging through the third one, but won’t be done before the new year). Let me glom on to that by saying Stephen King’s The Outsider got my motor running too.

Here’s the usual disclaimer – I read these books in 2018, but that doesn’t mean they came out this year. Some did, of course, but really these are just favorites I laid eyes on over ’18.

American Static by Tom PittsStatic-1.jpg

I hungered for a blast of literary danger and happened to pick up American Static at the right time. What starts as a deadly and compelling crime thriller; Tom’s dark, street-smart ride takes a grim twist, unfolding to reveal murderous political intrigue, a savage quest for the truth, and it happens to have a bit of romance, the sort that shares needles, but sweet nonetheless.

Snag your shock of Static here.

The Devil’s Necktie by John LansingNecktie-1

Author John Lansing has created a tough-as-they-come, but wholly believable character, in Jack Bertolino. I’ve read more than one of his adventures, and there are a few, including the latest book The Fourth Gunman. The Devil’s Necktie, the first book, was like a bomb going off. It came with everything us hardboiled mystery lovers crave: guns, intrigue, and the kind of writing most authors aspire to. Start with the first and stay for the rest of the series. Here’s hoping it lasts for a good long while.

Engage your Bertolino fixation here.

Mary Russell’s War by Laurie R. KingRussell-1

My dirty thirties were made all the more pure thanks to the wonderful Mary Russell series penned by Laurie R. King. For me, this is the continuation of Sherlock Holmes we all need. I see it as the only true canon next to Doyle’s original Holmes tales. Adding Mary to his retired life and continuing their shared adventures into my forties have been a true highlight of my middle life. I jumped back into the Holmes/Russell pool this year with Mary Russell’s War, which happens to be a great jumping-on point for anyone interesting in the high-thrill world of these two amazing actioneers.

Turn those pages here.

The Outlaw’s Ransom by Jennifer AshRansom

The Outlaw’s Ransom by Jennifer Ash is the first in a series of books written under the Folville Chronicles umbrella and it doesn’t disappoint, especially for Hood Heads (fans of Robin Hood lore). This is one hot romp of a tale from Ash and a surprise for me, as it landed outside of my normal assortment of books, which is undoubtedly why I found it memorable and something I’d strongly recommend to others.

Get your hands on it here. Or steal one from an entitled person and give it to someone with want.

Poughkeepsie Shuffle by Dietrich Kalteispoughkeepsieshufflecover

Poughkeepsie Shuffle deals with an ex-con named Jeff Nichols, a guy who jumps from a notorious jail back into the bristling criminal elements. But the thing is he’s a likable guy just trying to do right by the woman he loves. This book grabbed me from the get-go, Jeff grabbed me from the get-go, and I turned the pages hoping he’d make it out in one piece, or at least somewhat alive. In Dietrich’s gritty world of noir, there’s no guarantee the protagonist will come out on the breathable side of a coffin. But I had to know, which made this a great read.

Take a road trip to Poughkeepsie here.

 

Advertisements

Photo Gallery: October Events

Check out photos of recent events in Monterey County below! Big thanks to Ace Hardware in Carmel for hosting us Arcadia authors, to Old Capitol Books for hosting a writing workshop for me and Dietrich, and for selling books at the Noir at the Bar a few night’s later. Thanks also to our Noir hosts, East Village Coffee Lounge!

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Dietrich Kalteis on Poughkeepsie Shuffle

PoughkeepsieShuffleCover
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.

BlogTourGraphic

Deitrich Kalteis interview on punk and words

ECW-Kalteis-ZeroAvenue
Zero Avenue, set for release October 3rd, from ECW Press.

It’s always a delight to sit down with authors and talk shop. It’s especially cool when you get to sit down with one you admire. I got lucky with Dietrich Kalteis. His new book, Zero Avenue, is out Tuesday. The book features a gritty punk tale of crime and survival and takes no prisoners in its detail and scope. A great read. Look here to get your copy.

 

Whitehurst: How did you come up with this story? The writing feels so visceral one could almost imagine you had been there.

Dietrich: I do remember the times well, and listening to the music again and talking to people who lived during those times helped a lot with reviving the vibe. What I liked about the punk rock scene back then was its edge and the ‘us against them’ outlook, how that indie ‘shake it up’ attitude threw a middle finger to the status quo. It made a sharp contrast to what some considered a sleepy backwater town at the time. For me, it made the perfect setting for a crime novel.

It was easy to identify with the characters and that ‘shake it up’ attitude. I guess I had a bit of that rebel soul back then, and I did know people growing up who were into the music scene and were a lot like the characters in the book. And I knew some guys who tried to rob a pot field and had rock salt shot at them. So yeah, I guess parts of this one were close to home.

 

DSC01654CropLG300DPI copy 2
Author Dietrich Kalteis.

Whitehurst: Having dabbled in punk fandom in the 80s (DRI still gets me misty-eyed), I recognized a number of names, but not all of them. Are these all real bands and how much punk did you listen to in preparing for this book?

 

Dietrich: I always listen to music while I write, and I play what goes with what I’m working on. For Zero Avenue I got my hands on as much of the early Vancouver punk sound as I could find: D.O.A, the Subhumans, Pointed Sticks, the Dishrags, Payolas, Braineaters, Young Canadians, the Modernettes, the Reactors. I added some early Toronto bands on my playlists, bands like the Viletones, the Demics, the Diodes, the Cardboard Brains, the Mods, and the Ugly. And also Teenage Head and the Forgotten Rebels from Hamilton. I rounded it out with bands from the U.S. like the Ramones and the Stooges. And there were the Clash and the Sex Pistols from the U.K., and lots more.

Frankie’s band Waves of Nausea is, of course, made up. So is Middle Finger. And I threw some real-life personalities in the shadows among the characters I made up.

Whitehurst: What, if anything, didn’t make it into the book that you would have liked to explore further? I loved how the Vancouver punk scene could easily have been the San Francisco punk scene or anywhere for that matter, as the struggle for discord was apparently the same no matter where you happened to live.

Dietrich: There are some great books on the subject that filled in a lot of the details: Guilty of Everything by John Armstrong, Perfect Youth by Sam Sutherland, I, Shithead and Talk-Action=Zero, both by Joe Keithley helped relive those times. And there was Bloodied but Unbowed, an awesome documentary by Susanne Tabata. It’s jam-packed with clips, music and tales from that first wave of Vancouver’s punk scene. Then there were some firsthand tales. In fact, there was so much that could have been included, that I felt I had to be careful of what I did include so as not to slow the pace of the story.

There were many interesting details that I could have expanded on, from the self-published fanzines like Snotrag that kept a finger on the punk subculture, to the DIY recordings and local record labels that sprang up. One thing that I would have like to explore more was how the local scene seemed to line more with what was happening down the coast in San Francisco and L.A. than it did with what was happening in the punk scene in other parts of this country.

Whitehurst: You have written crime stories set in a number of settings, San Francisco at the turn of the last century and Vancouver at the start of the punk movement, what era do you have your sights set on next for your next book?

Dietrich: Poughkeepsie Shuffle is complete except for some copy edits and is due out next year. It takes place in Toronto in the mid-eighties and centers on Jeff Nichols, a guy fresh out of the infamous Don Jail. He gets mixed up in a gun-smuggling ring operating from a used car lot. The outfit brings guns in from upstate New York, and Jeff’s a guy who’s willing to bend the rules to get on the fast track to riches, a guy who doesn’t let the lessons from past mistakes get in the way of a good score in the future.

The story’s set at a time when I lived there, and I knew it well. On recent trips back I’ve been amazed by how much the city has expanded and grown since those days, so there’s a little nostalgia in there for me.

Right now I’m working on a story set in the dust bowl days of Kansas. It a story about a couple coping with drought, dust storms and debt. And they’ve got some interesting, although not legal ways, of saving their farm from the banks.

Whitehurst: Imagining a gritty, beat-up HBO mini series of this book, who would you picture as the leads, particularly Frankie and Marty?

Dietrich: When I’m writing, I always picture my stories like movie scenes and my characters like actors. For Frankie del Rey I saw her as a punked-up Krysten Ritter with a touch of Patti Smith’s edge. Lose the French accent and Vincent Cassel could play Marty Sayles. That guy’s got the look for it. And for Johnny Falco, I think a young Johnny Depp would be right.

Bio: Dietrich Kalteis is the award-winning author of Ride the Lightning, The Deadbeat Club, Triggerfish, House of Blazes and Zero Avenue. Nearly fifty of his short stories have been published internationally, and he lives with his family in West Vancouver, British Columbia. Visit his website here.

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.

WRITING NEWS – Old Capitol Books author event in October

I’m very excited to announce I will be joining authors Dietrich Kalteis and JoAnn Smith Ainsworth for a special event at Old Capitol Books in Monterey, CA, on October 16th, BookSigning-1om 3-5 p.m. We’ll be discussing our assortment of books and talking about all things literary. Dietrich is launching his new book, “House of Blazes,” which I look forward to reading. I hope to see you there!

Read more about this event here!