Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Writing Whiskey River

   MAMA TRIED, The new anthology from DOWN AND OUT BOOKS came out this week. The book contains a slew of stories from a bunch of authors, all inspired by Outlaw Country Music. The brief was simple. Take the title of an outlaw country song and turn it into a crime story. We couldn’t just write the song as a story for obvious reasons. The titles were for inspiration only.
   I was raised in rural Georgia, in the shadow of the Blue Ridge Mountains, so I grew up with Country Music. Our local station WCHK, was my mom’s favorite spot to leave the radio dial and the background soundtrack of my early life is pure country. Buck Owens, Conway Twitty, Loretta Lynn, Elvis, Dolly Parton, and all the rest.
   About the time I was entering my teenage years, the Outlaw Country movement was getting up and running. Merle Haggard. Kris Kristofferson. Waylon Jennings. Willie Nelson. Hank Williams Jr. Guys like Johnny Cash, who had always been outlaws, were grandfathered in. Spurred by the restlessness of the 1960s, and 1970s, the movement began as a reaction to the over-produced, slick sound that had begun to flow out of Nashville. As country turned pop and easy listening, the outlaws went rogue. The sound was a blend of old school country, Honkytonk, and Rockabilly, with some blues and early rock & roll in the mix.
   When MAMA TRIED editor James R. Tuck suggested the idea of the anthology on Facebook, I volunteered immediately. I’d been writing a mix of crime fiction and horror in the GRIFFIN AND PRICE series with James A. Moore, and I liked the idea of using my protagonist, Wade Griffin, in a down and dirty crime story with no supernatural elements. I chose the title of the Willie Nelson hit WHISKEY RIVER as my jumping off point.
   I knew I wanted Griffin to be a ‘man alone’ in this story, cut off from his usual support system of Sheriff Carl Price, advisor Carter Decamp, and significant other, Charon. I had a vague idea about hijackers, so I started Googling ‘stolen whiskey, and turned up a wealth of information about the startlingly high prices paid on the black market for twenty year old designer whiskey and even found stories about a couple of high dollar whiskey hijackings.
   Armed with verisimilitude and coffee, I sat down and banged out a first draft of Whiskey River. It went darker places than I’d intended as I wrote, but that fits the theme. Outlaw Country music was often introspective and dark. Wade Griffin, former mercenary now turned private detective, has to call upon the skills he learned in life or death situations in third world countries to survive a bad night with some bad people. In the end, I was very proud of the story. I think it one of the better short tales I’ve written.
   Anyway, I’m thrilled to be in an anthology with so many terrific writers. I’ve read a bunch of the other stories and there’s some great, dark crime fiction in there. The Outlaw tradition lives on.
More about MAMA TRIED here:

Sunday, August 14, 2016

Leave Her Wild

   Back in 2014 I reviewed Kasey Lansdale's LP RESTLESS. The CD is still on my desk and a week seldom passes without my listening to the whole album. Now Kasey is back with a new EP called LEAVE HER WILD and I've been listening to it for the last few days. Kasey's roots are still in classic country music, but overlaid here with a bluesy pop sound. As always, Kasey's voice is powerful and self assured.
   If EPs have a message then this one's is hope. From the opening song LIVING IN THE MOMENT to the final cut, OKAY, Kasey sings about rising above life's problems and getting on with your life. As RISE OF THE PHOENIX says, "It's time to rise up from the ashes, take action, I don't fear darkness anymore."
   Not there isn't a detour into regret. Wouldn't be a country album without it. The heroine of the song GHOST laments "And I'm still sleeping with your ghost." This is probably my favorite song on the EP, but, hey, I like sad songs.

   Anyway, I'm constantly amazed at the work of Kasey Lansdale, both in her talent and in her commitment to music. She's one of the hardest working people I know of and she gives her all to every endeavor. You can get LEAVE HER WILD here:


   And if you want to hear just how amazing Kasey's voice is, check out her cover of Patsy Cline's I FALL TO PIECES here:


Sunday, August 07, 2016

The End of the Trail

Sold most of my remaining copies of the White Noise Press chapbook WHAT ROUGH BEAST at NECON 36. Publisher Keith Minnion and coauthor James A. Moore tell me that they're out of copies, so this is the last of the print run. (Though some stores or online sellers may still have some.) Think I'll squirrel these last two away.

Saturday, August 06, 2016

Looking Back at Star Trek The Motion Picture (1979)

For years I and my friends have referred to the first Star Trek film as Star Trek:The Motionless Picture, because the movie has long stretches where nothing seems to happen. I saw this film at Akers Mill in Smyrna Georgia when it first premiered. I was a junior in high school and had been a rabid Star Trek fan for most of my life. My best friend Barry Wofford and I ate dinner at a place called Round the Corner, where you ordered your food using phones mounted on the tables, and then we stood in line for an evening showing.
I recall having mixed feelings at the time. I was so happy to see my heroes on the big screen. To see a NEW adventure of James T. Kirk, Mr. Spock, and the others. But the movie was just so...ponderous. Or so it seemed to me at the time.
I've more or less avoided the film for the last several decades. I think it's been more than twenty years since I sat and watched it all the way through. Amazon Prime has added all the Star Trek movies to the rotation of films so I decided that the time had come to watch the movie again. And this time, I got it. I got what director Robert Wise was going for.
The plot of STTMP concerns an almost unimaginably huge alien spacecraft that is on a collision course with Earth. The ship is surrounded by an energy cloud and as the film begins, the cloud destroys three Klingon ships that attack it, and then a United Federation of Planets space station which merely hails and scans the ship. Any interaction is met by incredible destructive force.
The only Federation starship close enough to intercept that alien ship is the newly refitted USS Enterprise. Admiral James T. Kirk, straining at his administrative duties, uses the crisis to regain the Captain's chair on the Enterprise and leads a crew of familiar faces and new characters to confront the danger to Earth.
I remember that there were two scenes that I found mind-numbingly boring when I saw the film in the theater. The first was when Kirk first sees the new Enterprise, and Scotty takes what seemed like half an hour to fly Kirk around the exterior. This scene seemed interminably long to me at the time. But this time I wasn't watching the Enterprise. I was watching William Shatner's face. Say what you want about the man's delivery of lines, but I still think he's a very good and expressive actor, and in this scene you realize how badly he has missed the Enterprise. The ship is the love of his life. A range of emotions play across Kirk's face as he looks at the ship. He has come home.
The second problem scene for me was similar. The Enterprise has penetrated the energy cloud to find the alien craft V'Ger and there is yet another long flyby scene where the Enterprise circles the giant craft, and here, as I alluded to before, is where Wise wanted to show us AWE. It gives the main characters a chance to emote. For Kirk, this is why he's a Starship Captain. To see new things. To marvel at wonders beyond his experience. Spock, seeking to finally rid himself of the human emotions he thinks have held him back, is hopeful, seeing V'Ger as the ultimate logical reasoner. (He has been sensing the craft's thoughts since before it appeared.) The other members of the bridge crew are stunned at the spectacle of V'Ger.
And the shots of the Enterprise against the massive form of V'Ger show the audience just how gigantic the alien craft is. We know how big the Enterprise is, and it's a tiny, tiny, spec shown against V'Ger. So yeah, I got it.
Now, here's the thing. I'm still not sure STTMP is a good Star Trek movie. It lacks the heart of the TV show, which was recaptured in Wrath of Khan a couple of years later. But, I do think it's a good science fiction film. It explores many themes of what it means to be human, and it shows us amazing sights and new concepts. The movie is slow, yes. But it's not totally motionless.