You can find it over on Criminal Element!
“The Devil Doesn’t Want Me is a humorous noir novella by Eric Beetner, recent recipient of the Stalker Award for Most Criminally Underrated Author (available October 23, 2012).
I’ve never done one of these Fresh Meat things before, and was a bit nervous about it. I mean, giving my opinion when it’s asked for is something new to me. I’m fine when it’s NOT asked for… in fact, I’m in a whole ’nother realm when I give unasked for advice. But after reading Eric Beetner’s new novella, The Devil Doesn’t Want Me, I was certainly glad I got the opportunity. Why?”
For the rest of the review, go here.
This, my friends, is what I’m up to nowadays:
Yes, I’m back in the saddle, as it were.
This photo before you are my current projects. They are (in no particular order, or… um, odor?)
-A Mark Mallen short story. My first short story for Mallen. I have high hopes for it, but, um… I might be high.
-The screenplay to Untold Damage (STILL can’t get used to the fact that my book has an official title and pub date! 040813. Memorize it, lol!)
-The next book in the Mark Mallen series (title as yet unknown, ha!)
Yeah… it’s a lot. Especially given what last month shoved my way. However, the work is the salvation, as they say.
I’m excited about ALL of these projects, thankfully. That’s not always the case, naturally.
Am I worried, or bothered, about any of them? Do any of them… give me pause? Well, if any of them seem daunting, then I would say that, probably naturally, it’s the next Mallen book. The first one won’t be out until April of next year, but I have to turn in THIS guy ahead of that. I think this is pretty normal in the publishing world, though maybe not. But yeah… that sorta scares me, a little.
Second books are a whole topic in themselves, of course. I, since I wrote scripts for so long, tend to think of them like movie sequels. You know… how does The Empire Strikes Back build on and improve what was Star Wars? Why does Aliens work the way it does? Is it because of Alien, or in spite of it?
Regarding books, how does an author build and expand on what he set down in book one, but still keep the fans of that book happy? Readers (of series books especially) have expectations. We all do. I know I do. When I sit down to read an 87th Precinct novel, you know damn sure I have expectations. But, Ed McBain, aka Evan Hunter, managed to keep it fresh and keep us happy. And for a really long, f’n time, too. How do you think he did it? How do you think any novelist can pull off a successful sequel?
I am VERY much enjoying taking Mallen and putting him in a short story that takes place at another point in his life. It’s a helluva lot of fun! It’s almost like writing the history of Mallen! I’m hoping this short pleases people, for sure. It’s an early draft, but I think there’s something in all that dung that will eventually shine, after copious drafts, natch.
The screenplay is something that I’m really crossing fingers will come into play at some point. The jury’s out on that, however it was a total BLAST to write that first draft, man. Writing the first screenplay I’ve written in like seven years really brought back to me all the joy I used to have writing movies. I really urge EVERY writer to attempt at least ONE screenplay. An adaption of your recent novel. An adaption of your “pet project” (You know you have one. We ALL do). Even a completely NEW idea. Whatever it is, write it as a movie. It really takes you out of your head and shows you story and pacing and character and dialog in an ENTIRELY new way. A way that will REALLY, REALLY HELP YOU as a novelist.
Trust me on that one.
See you soon!
Oh, um…. yeah. That thing I keep dropping hints about? Unfortunately, I was told it will be soon(ish) before I can share it with you. And YES, it’s for real, this is not me trying to hook my readers. It’ll pay off, I assure you.
Here it is: The News!
I got a job blogging here! Criminal Element!
My posts haven’t started appearing there, yet, but very soon. This is an incredible crime fiction fan site, put on by Macmillan.
Here’s the official PR release:
NEW YORK, NY, 4/26/2011–Macmillan announces the launch of a new crime and mystery-focused community website with a focus on sharing and enriching the experience of crime story fandom. Liz Edelstein, Senior Manager and editor at Macmillan Community Network, made the announcement, and said that the site will highlight different areas of the genre, from noir to cozies and everything in between.
The site will feature pre-release excerpts, original short stories from various authors in the space, topical blog posts, and will eventually be offering downloads and podcasts. It’s a place for fans of the genre to come together in one exciting online space. At launch there will be excerpts, original fiction and articles by authors Joseph Finder, Steve Hamilton, Rosemary Harris, Charles Ardai, Luis Alberto Urrea and more.
Much like its successful sister sites, science fiction community Tor.com and romance community HeroesandHeartbreakers.com, CriminalElement.com is “publisher neutral,” meaning that it will include author participation from all publishers and other content creators, and is not exclusive to Macmillan authors.
“This is not a typical review or promotions site,” says Edelstein. “We think of CriminalElement.com as a community for fans, by fans, and the focus is on editorial content rather than on marketing.”
With CriminalElement.com, Macmillan is leading the charge in creating a themed community for authors and fans to interact and share their love of crime fiction and nonfiction.
I’m incredibly blessed to be associated with this new site. The opening content is KILLER, man. Go check it out! You will NOT be disappointed.
A friend of mine asked recently, “Man, where the hell do you get your ideas from? Like, for your latest novel?”
It’s a good question. One of the usual questions that writers get asked quite a bit. And like most writers, I have a some answers:
1. I dunno, man. It’s weird, they just sort of pop into my head, usually when I’m watching TV, or reading a news article.
2. I dunno, man. It’s sorta like when you were in high school, and just as you exhaled this huge plume of smoke, you just kinda… saw the idea, right there, shining brightly like Jimmy Page’s eyes, circa 1977, while he was loaded.
3. I dunno, man. I really don’t.
Actually, I’m mostly along the lines of number 1. I usually get ideas while reading news, or catching a glimpse of TV news while I sit on the bed in a hotel room, waiting for my wife to get out of the shower. See, we don’t have cable, so don’t watch any TV. The TV becomes an added piece of vacation candy, and I watch it quite a bit. Man, I have to admit: I’m fascinated by HGTV.
However, that aside, I can tell you concretely how I came up with the idea for the first Mark Mallen novel. I had written a short story, called “Needle Priest”, which you can find here, on Cherrybleeds.
That gave me my first glimpse of Mallen. It got put up on CherryB’s, and I of course told all and sundry. A co-worker came to me later on and said, “Wow, you could really do something with that character.” I didn’t think of it at the time, but that statement stayed with me.
A couple months passed. The book I’m shopping at the time, an urban fantasy novel, is going nowhere fast. No one wants to read it, and I realize it’s time for the next book. Now, I’ve been a HUGE noir fan since I first saw Bogie in The Maltese Falcon when I was nine, and I’d always wanted to write a mystery, but I found the genre intimidating, what with all those pesky conventions and expectations. However, I’d been feeling that this might be the time to get my noir on.
I had, in the interim, written a piece of flash fiction, from the POV of a psycho:
The man turned the key and unlocked the door. The excitement was growing, and he wanted to touch himself, but knew it would be better to wait. It was always better to wait as long as possible, until that last, voluptuous moment when a life ended and his began again. He sighed as he passed through the doorway into the darkened room. His eyes, out of habit, went first to the windows. There were scratches in the paint, allowing thin, almost invisible rays of sunlight in. The rays didn’t make the room any lighter,
but he knew they often gave hope to the little visitors. Those scratches would have to be painted over. He hoped he still had the dark green paint down in the basement.
There was a rustling sound, and he looked to the far corner. There she was, nestled in the mound of blankets and old clothes, just like a little kitten warm in her bed. His heart beat faster as he gazed at her. The large, frightened eyes. The rosebud mouth. The little shorts that exposed the tanned legs. He walked across the room, noting he’d have to empty the bucket again. She hadn’t eaten much, and that made him sad. She would need her strength. She huddled away from him as best she could but the ropes and tape made that difficult. He smiled at her efforts. This one had real heart. He pulled the knife from his coat pocket as he undid his zipper. He prayed she would scream, long enough and loud enough.
That piece, along with Needle Priest, I’d pinned to the cork board above my desk. I felt they were the two strongest things I’d done. My wife, an incredibly voluminous reader and vocal critic, also felt that these two pieces were my best, especially the flash fiction. So, there they hung on my cork board as I sat there, trying to figure out what the hell to do next. I was literally looking back and forth from one to the other…
psycho… junkie… psycho… junkie… psycho… how do I get the junkie to the psycho… how… psycho… junkie…
And Unseen Damage was born. I made Mark Mallen an amateur sleuth who goes after a psychotic killer, and it took off from there. Hopefully successfully, but we’ll have to see about that.
Which brings us to today’s question. Where do you get your ideas? How do they happen?
Ryan’s first novel, Acts of Violence is a brilliant opening salvo in what I’m sure will be a very successful writing career.
Here’s what his novel, Acts of Violence is about, and I can’t recommend it highly enough:
This is Katrina’s story, and the story of her killer. It is also the story of Katrina’s neighbors, those who witness her murder and do nothing: the terrified Vietnam draftee; the woman who thinks she’s killed a child, and her husband who will risk everything for her; the former soldier planning suicide and the man who saves him. And others whose lives are touched by the crime: the elderly teacher whose past is catching up with him; the amateur blackmailer who’s about to find out just what sort of people he’s been threatening; the corrupt cop who believes he is God’s “red right hand.” Shocking and compassionate, angry and gripping, Acts of Violence is a sprawling, cinematic tour-de-force, a terrifying crime novel unlike any other.
And now, the interview.
– Robert Lewis
Robert Lewis: Why this story? What was it about this story that fascinated you enough that you wanted to spend an extended period of time with it?
Ryan David Jahn: I wish I had a good answer for this, but I don’t, mostly because I don’t spend a lot of time analyzing my own motives for doing things. I’m not a careful planner, or even remotely methodical in my decision making. I joined the army when I was nineteen because I’d lost my job and was behind on rent, I asked my wife to marry me after knowing her for two months, and I decided this was the story I wanted to write because it was the story I was most interested in when I sat down to try my hand at a novel (for the fifth or sixth time: I’d written others which remain, rightly, unpublished). I’d been aware of the Kitty Genovese case for fourteen or fifteen years and had turned it over in my head many times. I’ve always found it fascinating. But why this story now? Who knows? Certainly I don’t.
RL: How long did it take you write this? From 1st draft to the point you could send it out to publishers.
RDJ: It depends. As I said, I’d been aware of the event which inspired Acts of Violence for fourteen or fifteen years, so in a very real sense, that’s how long it took. But if we mean “writing” literally — I started the first week of July, 2008, and was submitting the sixth or seventh draft by the last week of November. I don’t usually write that quickly — though I’m not a person who enjoys spending years on a project — but the first draft came very quickly (I wrote the first 60 pages on day one), so even though it was written in less than six months, four months of that was rewrites.
RL: Where do you think your style comes from? What books would you point to that heavily influenced your writing?
RDJ: When I first started writing seriously fifteen or so years ago, I thought writing should be dense and complex and one should display one’s expansive vocabulary at every opportunity. This was my conclusion after reading several classic works, as well as many recent novels that were considered literature: Moby-Dick, Gravity’s Rainbow, The Tunnel. That kind of writing didn’t suit me, so I stripped down to short sentences and simple words that anyone could understand. It was more natural to me. Hemingway, Carver, Hammett, and Vonnegut all informed this process to some degree. Once I found my natural mode, it was — and is — a process of getting better at it, refining it.
RL: Do you have a favorite part of a book you like to write (such as the opening, or the climax, dialog)?
RDJ: On first drafts, I enjoy the puzzle aspect of putting a story together so that all the parts fit. This includes putting the right characters into the story and finding out what they’ll do. In later drafts, I work more on sentences and paragraphs and imagery and — I reluctantly admit — theme. I enjoy all of it. I think I enjoy rewriting most, as it’s in rewrites that you really have a chance to sharpen the blade of the story and really make it cut. The first draft is the sweat work of forging the thing, really hammering it out, and that’s where most of the frustration lies. At least for me.
RL: Writers are fascinated with other writer’s processes. I know I am. What’s your process like?
RDJ: It’s an insult to other writers to call what I do a process. I pace around a lot, go for walks, write fifty pages and throw those pages out. Rewrite those fifty pages from scratch, but better, and then add another twenty. Throw those pages out. Rewrite again and manage to add another thirty pages of story. I print out the hundred or pages and retype them, now with some idea of where the story is going. I plant seeds that I hope will grow into something more, I clean up the writing a bit as I go through it, and I combine or split or drop characters as I think will suit the story later. With the setup done as well as I know how, I write the rest of the novel as quickly as possible, preferably in less than three months. First draft done, I read through it at least half a dozen times and make changes and notes. I print out the first draft and retype the entire thing. I go over it another three or four times. When I get to the point where I can’t even stand to know that the document is open on my computer, when I absolutely hate the thing so much I can’t stand to think of it anymore and want to start a new project just to get the thought of this one out of my mind, I know I’m finished. It’s not a process I think I could promote in workshops.
RL: Which author would you most like to drink with?
RDJ: Mark Twain.
RL: Why Mark Twain?
RDJ: I admire his work. And I have the sense that he’d be an entertaining drunk and not one to quit halfway through the night. If I’m going to drink with someone, I’d like it to be someone who doesn’t check his watch to calculate how many hours of sleep he can still get in before his alarm sounds when you ask if you can buy another round.
RL: What was the revision process like with your editor?
RDJ: Excellent. He gave me a hundred and twenty-two notes. I read through them and the novel simultaneously. Then I made changes. I agreed with over a hundred of the notes. Those I disagreed with, I argued against, trying to explain why I disagreed. My editor, Will Atkins, was convinced by my arguments, so we only went through one round of edits. I turned the revised manuscript in, much better than it was before Will’s notes, and that was that.
RL: You’ve written screenplays for quite awhile. Did you find the switch from writing screenplays to fiction difficult?
RDJ: No, I found it liberating. All that space and depth. It was like moving from a bachelor apartment to a four-bedroom house. There was finally room for all that furniture I’d been keeping in storage.
RL: How did you hook up with Macmillan?
RDJ: Macmillan UK has an imprint called Macmillan New Writing that accepts emailed manuscripts. While I am a dedicated writer and care very much about the art and craft of the novel, I am very lazy about the submission process. I just don’t like it. It’s slow and frustrating. My novels aren’t particularly synopsis friendly, so writing query letters is a pain in the ass. Then, after managing an okay synopsis for an okay query letter, maybe twenty percent of the agents you contact are interested in reading any of the work, but instead of just asking for the manuscript and letting you know they’ll only read up to twenty-five or fifty pages unless they love it, they ask you to email them twenty-five or fifty pages, and if they like those, then they ask you to send them the whole manuscript. (I know they have their reasons, and I’m not anti-agent. I have a film agent and the process of getting him was about the same, but with a screenplay instead. And they’re handy to have. I’m simply trying to describe my frame of mind at the time.) I’d been sending query letters off to agents for several weeks when I decided to email the manuscript to Macmillan New Writing and see what happened. Macmillan is a major publisher, and though MNW doesn’t offer advances, I thought getting in with them would be better for my career than getting in with a small publisher that might offer a $2,000 – $5,000 advance. (This is debatable in general, of course, but in my case I think it worked out: I signed a longer-term contract with them after submitting a second novel, and got an advance that allows me to work on the third novel full-time; they also just licensed German rights to the first two novels to Heyne Verlag, part of the Random House group, which will also throw a little extra money my way, and, of course, put me in print in Germany.) A month to the day after I submitted Acts of Violence, they offered a contract. The editing was great, my publicist, Sophie Portas, works her ass off despite my being less than cooperative about certain parts of the publicity process, and so far the relationship has been a good one.
RL: What’s the next book about?
RDJ: t’s called Low Life and it’s about a payroll account who lives a lonely, friendless life. One night while he’s asleep in bed someone breaks into his apartment and tries to murder him. During the altercation he ends up killing his assailant, and rather than calling the police, he puts the body on ice in his bathtub and tries to find out who wanted him dead and why. He can’t think of anything he’s done that might warrant death, but he must have done something: someone tried to kill him. But the more he discovers, the less he seems to comprehend, and the deeper he finds himself buried in contradictions and dangerous situations. It’s scheduled to come out 2 July 2010.
RL: You went to London for the book’s launch, didn’t you? How’d that go? What did you do while there?
RDJ: Yeah, it went well. Met my editor and publicist and publisher and the rights people and the marketing people and the man who designed my book all for the first time. Recorded a podcast with my editor, recorded a reading of the first chapter of the novel, went to lunch with some people and dinner with some other people, went to a few bookstores and signed some books, met David Headley who, with Macmillan, put out the numbered edition of Acts of Violence, and managed somehow to pre-sell all 250 copies of it, and generally was thrust into new situations to which I responded poorly. Everybody but me was a joy, though, and I was very glad to be there.
RL: Do you write to music? If so, what’s your favorite music to write to?
RDJ: I write to music and rewrite in silence. I write to music because I think music can help set the right tone and also it’s good for drowning out other sounds, and I rewrite in silence because it’s on rewrites that I really try to get the rhythm of the sentences right, and music is a distraction at that point. I create playlists to write to. For Acts of Violence, it was Buddy Holly and early Stones and the Beach Boys and acoustic blues. For the second novel, Low Life, it was Pere Ubu, the Pixies, Talking Heads, and that kind of stuff.
RL: What else is going on with your career? What’s coming down the pike?
RDJ: The first novel just came out and the second comes out 2 July 2010. I’m working on the third, which will be released, if all goes well, summer or fall of 2011. Beyond that, it’s a mystery. Which is fine. I know the freelance writing life and its unknowns makes a lot of people very nervous, but I am blessed with a combination of shortsightedness and obsessiveness that ensures I don’t see beyond whatever I am doing at the moment.
RL: What good books have you read recently?
RDJ: A Quiet Belief in Angels by RJ Ellory, Outer Dark by Cormac McCarthy, Pop. 1280 by Jim Thompson, Savage Art: A Biography of Jim Thompson by Robert Polito, and The Incendiary’s Trail by James McCreet are some of the books I’ve read recently and enjoyed. I try to read new books as well as classics I haven’t yet gotten to, as it’s kind of a thrill to “discover” a writer before everyone is talking about him or her. James McCreet, for instance, is, I suspect, going places. But enough about other writers.
I know, this is a blog about noir fiction and writing. I just… just needed to get this out of my system.
I’ve read Uylsses. No, I do not think it was good. Why did I read it? Well, it’s the book everyone talks about but I never could find anyone but one person who ever read the damn thing. You see, I had just finished reading Joyce’s short story, The Dead. I can lay the blame for my decision right at the feet of this very paragraph, perhaps one of the greatest paragraphs ever written by anyone, ever:
“A few light taps upon the pane made him turn to the window. It had begun to snow again. He watched sleepily the flakes, silver and dark, falling obliquely against the lamplight. The time had come for him to set out on his journey westward. Yes, the newspapers were right: snow was general all over Ireland. It was falling on every part of the dark central plain, on the treeless hills, falling softly upon the Bog of Allen and, farther westward, softly falling into the dark mutinous Shannon waves. It was falling, too, upon every part of the lonely churchyard on the hill where Michael Furey lay buried. It lay thickly drifted on the crooked crosses and headstones, on the spears of the little gate, on the barren thorns. His soul swooned slowly as he heard the snow falling faintly through the universe and faintly falling, like the descent of their last end, upon all the living and the dead.”
I mean, look at that thing. It’s a work of art. That incredible alliteration: soul swooned slowly. It’s lovely. The entire rhythm of, “His soul swooned slowly as he heard the snow falling faintly through the universe and faintly falling…” isn’t just literature, it’s poetry, man. It’s really so incredible, it chokes me up to read it.
So, I figured, yeah… I can do Uylsses.
Wrong. Now, I’m well aware of the reams of paper written on this novel. I came to it completely aware of its place in the canon. I opened it knowing that people have even graphed out the journey that Bloom and Dedalus take on that fateful day. I got that it was based on Odysseus. But, people, this book is just… well, the most convoluted piece of work every committed to paper. I had, in preparation for my journey, bought the Cliff Notes to go with it. Hey, I’m not proud, but when even Clif Notes tells you something along the lines of, “Well, even we cannot be sure what this chapter is supposed to mean, or its relation to Odysseus’s journey”, you know you’re in for it. Outside of a few parts of the novel, including the final section from Molly’s POV, the book is one of the most self indulgent things I’ve ever come across in art, and that includes The Phantom, Andy Warhol, and Guns n’ Roses’s Use Your Illusion 1 & 2.
However, that aside, I do feel it really is one of the most important things ever written. I can hear everyone throwing drinks at their screens, taking this blog off of their bookmarks, etc. Hear me out. It came to me one evening when I was ranting about the thing to my wife:
The book is not in and of itself great, but it is great because of all the doors that it opened for those that came after it.
Think about it. We wouldn’t have Kerouac, Burroughs, Ginsberg, Bukowski, etc. No Virginia Woolf or Getrude Stein, either. No novels that pushed boundaries, both in form and content. Joyce really blew the door in, and he did it at just the right time. Good? No. Watershed? Most definitely yes.
Anyway, I’ve read it. Now at least I’ll always have something to talk about at parties.