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Review: A Wind of Knives by Ed Kurtz

A few months ago, I had the great thrill to be offered to blurb a novella from Snubnose Press and I responded enthusiastically to the request. But in true fashion I put off reading the book and things entered and exited my limited consciousness. Shiny baubles. And before I knew it, 2 months had passed and I hadn’t read or blurbed or anything. I’m a horrible person.

So I touched base with Snubnose Press to see if they still needed the blurb. Sure did. I read the story over the weekend and intended to put together my blurb early the next week. That’s when Murphy and Darwin conspired against me and through some stupidly heroic deeds, which I’ve sworn under oath to the Government not to disclose, I broke my right hand, and for those playing along it’s also my write hand. It has some other nicknames, but we don’t need to go into that.

Last Friday, A WIND OF KNIVES by Ed Kurtz was unleashed upon the word sans a blurb from me. A lifetime dedication to procrastination has served me well and bemused many a fellow dependent on my magnanimous promises.

Ed and Brian (and crew) at Snubnose Press, my sincere apologies.

I think I’ve castigated myself sufficiently, let us get on with my opinions.

Over the last couple of years I’ve had the pleasure to read stories by Ed Kurtz, from his novel Bleed to his his Sci-Fi / Horror series about the down on his luck detective Sam Truman to stories I’ve had the pleasure to publish myself through Shotgun Honey. One thing I’ve learned to expect from Kurtz is that I shouldn’t have any expectations at all. Each story is an amorphous experience where the rules are unbound. So when I was told he had written a Western, something I had never seen from the Texas native, it was not unexpected.  Still, like with most of his work, it was full of its surprises.

windofknives_A Wind of Knives starts off and hits three major tropes of the Western: Love, Revenge, and Duty.

We find our protagonist, Daniel Hays, staring up along the hills into a falling dusk, a scene that should be a captivating canvas of Texas landscape only to be drawn towards Daniel’s true focus. A hanging man, his ranch hand and his lover Steven. This sets in motion a story, with gender and sexuality set aside, that makes for a riveting tale of revenge, and with elevates the story above a standard Western.

Kurtz tells a story of a man who has loved and lost, not once, but twice in his lifetime. The first his wife Elizabeth who died from sickness and then again with Steven who died, as the story would unwind, from hate. It is from his understanding of Love, removed from the boundaries of gender, that Daniel searches out his lover’s killers despite being no where near suited for the job. His sense of duty would bring him to peril and near death, into the arms of unsuspecting tenderness and ultimately unmask the face of hate.

Knives is more than a Western, and from a writer who comfortably writes terrifying mechanization of  Horror, Kurtz isn’t too far away from his wheelhouse with a story ignited by hate and extinguished with love.

Kudos to Ed Kurtz and Snubnose Press for publishing A Wind of Knives.

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Review: The Drifter Detective by Garnett Elliott

1One of the impetuses of creating The Big Adios were the western tales of Cash Laramie and Gideon Miles by pulp fictioneer and provocateur David Cranmer. Which have spawn from the short stories he wrote as Edward A. Grainger, who by the way launched TBA with the story “Missing,” to a series of novellas and novelettes. So when I saw a new Laramie story yesterday, I was all in. Only…

Only, this wasn’t Cash Laramie. No this was Jack Laramie the grandson of the famous Outlaw Marshal. Armed with a colt, his granddad’s lucky arrow head and a beat up DeSoto, Jack travels the back roads of Texas looking for snoop work, hoping to save up enough scratch to open his own detective agency and put down roots.

While I got roped into this story with the Laramie name, Jack Laramie stands on his own as a veteran with a hell of an uppercut who’s not afraid to buck system or change the rules as given him. Clocking in at 9,000 words (give or take), The Drifter Detective is a lean, deftly crafted story by a writer I’ve had the good fortune to publish myself, Garnett Elliott. While I’m sold on the series, I’d definitely be fully invested in future Jack Laramie stories by Mr. Elliott.

Go get yourself a copy of The Drifter Detective. Less than a buck, you can’t go wrong with one-two punch of Jack Laramie and Garnett Elliott.

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Frank Bill giveaway

donnybrookA week ago, I did a write up of Frank Bill’s debut novel DONNYBROOK and having a couple extra copies on my hand I offered someone in the audience a chance to win one of those copies. What was entry fee for such a reward? Simply give me other books to read while I’m cooling my heals for the next Frank Bill novel. Given I’m not the fastest of readers, that would still be a considerable void to fill if we’re lucky enough to get another book within 18 months. The wheels of publishing are a slow and bitter beast.

I reached out as best I could and got the following suggestions to keep the tide of anxiety away.

Ryan Sayles offered up his own novel from Snubnose Press, THE SUBTLE ART OF BRUTALITY. Ryan, Ryan, Ryan. You should know I support my own and I’ve already read it. The title really does say all that needs to be said to sell the book.

Erik Arneson recommended, and I give a strong second, THE LAST CALL FOR THE LIVING by Peter Farris. Alas, I already own Pete’s book and equally look forward to his next release.

The towering Seth Harwood throws me a fresh author, Russell Banks and his short story collection TRAILER PARK. I will be adding that to my to read list. Thanks Seth, and for those who are looking for a good action series go and read his Jack Palms series, JACK WAKES UP and THIS IS LIFE, as well as his new thriller IN BROAD DAYLIGHT.

The mondo bearded and plaid clad Brian Beatty recommends Barry Hannah’s YOUNDER STANDS YOUR ORPHAN saying that this Faulknerian tome is bleak and bolder than Hannah’s earlier works.

Paul von Stoetzel offers up WINTER’S BONE by Daniel Woodrell, as well snuck in Scalped comic series and Jed Ayres’ FIERCE BITCHES. All which are in my possession (or soon will be as Jed’s book is ferrying itself from Australia at this very moment.)

So the bottom line here is I need to figure out which of you deserves to win. I’m sorry, but I have to mark off Ryan, Erik and Paul since their recommendations are already in my library. I know, you’re not psychic or have access to my bookshelves. Thanks for playing.

So that leaves Brian and Seth who suggest not only works I haven’t read, but authors I was unfamiliar. I suppose I’ll flip a coin. Heads for Seth and tails for Brian. *flipping*

TAILS!

Sorry Seth. I will be looking into Russell Banks.

Brian, I’ll contact you on Facebook to get your address.

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Review: Donnybrook by Frank Bill

frankbillI know I’ve mentioned this a time or two, but my first introduction to Frank Bill was an excerpt of DONNYBROOK that appeared on Do Some Damage almost three years ago. I had just filtered my way into the crime fiction community, discovered flash fiction, and DSD was my gateway to enumerable sites and authors. It was that excerpt that sent me on hunt for more Frank Bill, and the discovery of many stories that appeared in his debut short story collection, CRIMES IN SOUTHERN INDIANA.

For my entertainment value Frank has done good by me, DONNYBROOK was no exception.

“I don’t make threats. I offer moments to reconcile one’s shitty choices”

donnybrook-ukTowards the end of Frank Bill’s novel, Chainsaw Angus, a retired bare-knuckle brawler turned meth user/dealer, utters the quote above and it stuck out. It just buzzed in my ear and to my reading encapsulated the entire book’s tone. DONNYBROOK is a series of interwoven characters, each who come from troubling circumstances, leading them to make shitty choice after shitty choice. The only reconciliation for these characters is to keep punching forward through the consequence of those choices, to beat and batter their way towards their rightful reward. And for Chainsaw Angus, the bombastic Liz, the double-crossing Ned and the morally skewed Jarhead Earl that leads them to the three-day fight festival known as Bellmont McGill’s Donnybrook. And not far behind are Deputy Sheriff Whalen looking for revenge and the exotic Fu Xi seeking to collect a debt.

DONNYBROOK is all at once a high octane juggernaut of violence and destruction, while also being a reflective commentary on the disintegration of Southern Indiana wrought from meth addiction and economic poverty. A moral decay blights a lost Orange County, and our protagonists—if there are any, because there are no heroes here, only survivors—choose to forge their way with busted knuckles and spent bullets to each their deserved reward.

For a book I’ve waited nearly three years to read, Frank Bill served up the social canvas he laid down with CRIMES and then gave it an unhealthy bump of meth-fueled adventure. Like I’ve said before Frank Bill doesn’t disappoint, and I wouldn’t pass on my thoughts just to build him up. I enjoyed DONNYBROOK from cover to cover, and look forward to what Frank cooks up next because I’ve already got the itch.

donnybrookSo while I’m miserable for the next Frank Bill, I thought I might make you miserable as well. I’ve found myself with two copies of DONNYBROOK, one red and one blue. I don’t need both, even though they look mighty pretty on my bookshelf, so I’m going to give one away. The winner can choose the color. So what do you have to do?

It’s going to be a wait until the next Frank Bill release, so here’s what I want. I want you to fill up the comments with recommendations of new, old and not released novels and collections to keep pangs away, to feed and fill me up with comparable material. So drop me one title by whoever and sell me on the plot. Recommend as many as you like, each in their own comment. I’ll pick my favorite and send the winner a copy of Frank Bill’s DONNYBROOK.

Losing time with Sam Truman

Just under 11 months ago horror writer and publisher, Ed Kurtz, released the first in a series of novellas featuring a downtrodden and disgraced PI named Sam Truman, who attempts to meek out an existence in an LA-esque city where his only friend is an unfriendly hash slinger named Clu. The framework for any number of stories filled with PI tropes, and in Sam’s case a beeline for the bizarre. You wouldn’t expect a horror writer to present us a straight PI case, would you?

cmksmallKurtz kicked off the chaos with CATCH MY KILLER. Penned by Kurtz himself, the first book sets the tone for the series and introduces us to Sam Truman and Clu the begrudging friend and owner of the hash house, Ralph’s. We learn quickly that Sam is in dept up to his eyeballs and out of cash, and he can’t find a straight gig because of his tarnished name and lost license. His only saving grace is service served with a frown along with a cup putrid coffee and overdone hash compliments of Clu. So when Clu gets held up, Sam tries the make the most of the situation, maybe gain favor of Clu, and save the day. Of course it goes sideways turning into a tale dead women and body snatchers. While things get their worse for Sam and Clu, Sam manages to get by on his wit, a generous portion of luck and a relentlessness to get the job done. And he does.

CATCH MY KILLER is quickly followed up by THE LAST INVASION by Brandon Zuern and SOFT KISS, HARD DEATH by Tobin Elliott. THE LAST INVASION has Sam looking for a lost girl, chasing a serial killer and finding aliens, and not the kind that come from south of the border. Elliott’s SOFT KISS, HARD DEATH Sam suddenly finds himself flush with money only to find himself destined for a deadly date with a creature who’s just trying to figure herself out. Sam has her number and does the figuring himself.

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The first three are very compatible, Sam cracks wise and manages to get by, even though he rarely has any control he seems confident enough that he can manipulate the situation to his benefit. The fourth novella in the series is somewhat of a departure.

rsz_bound_by_jade_cover_s_1BOUND BY JADE written by Adam Cesare takes Sam out of his comfort zone. Instead of heading into danger of his own choice, he wakes up right in the middle and as the story goes you get a sense he’s been dragged along for the ride just like the reader. Of course there is a purpose to this change in direction as it relates directly towards the mystery at hand, Sam is bound not only by his natural white knight fatalistic tendencies but bound to the artifact he has been asked to protect.

The Sam Truman series evolves and never takes the same turn. That is the strength of a novella series like this, where each is written by a different writer who add both to the mythos and piece of themselves while staying true to what came before it. And with each chapter this series gets stronger.

To be honest, forthright, I have worked with Ed Kurtz in the past, publishing his stories on Shotgun Honey. I’ve enjoyed much of his work and despite knowing him and reading his work, I hadn’t read any of the Sam Truman stories until just over a week ago when I discovered CATCH MY KILLER on my Kindle when I was looking for something different to read. So I did, which prompted me to buy, download and machine gun through the next three books, over two days, roughly 8 hours. I don’t do that. Not anymore, with the reading load I have editing and managing multiple short fiction sites. So if you want to know honest opinion on how I felt about the series? I read one and then I read them all.

I also read THE PALE MAN by Nate Southard, a talented horror writer I first discovered through Brian Keene. Ed was kind enough to send me a copy in advance. I suppose I may have begged for it, maybe? I read it over a lunch and a break, with just a little to finish off while I made dinner.

palemanSouthard’s installment in the Sam Truman Mystery series for me is my favorite. Building on the prior stories, Southard brings back the confident, wisecracking Sam, at least for a little bit. Sam is looking for a missing person who has stolen a family heirloom, and the heirloom must be found at all cost. And all cost, apparently, includes Sam’s sanity and anyone who succumb to power of THE PALE MAN. While the previous stories touched upon the bizarre and paranormal, with a dash of horror, Southard’s THE PALE MAN kicks it up a notch leaning a little more towards horror taking Sam from a confident to a horrified, albeit persistent, man.

From hard-boiled to sci-fi to horror, along with Sam’s deftly delivered wisecracks, any genre fan will read this novella series and find something to enjoy. I like a little mix-mash and trust me, the Goulash is good. I look forward to the next Sam Truman Mystery and wonder which genre and adversary will he defy?

To give you a little more 411, I asked Ed a quick trio of questions. This is what he had to say.

1 – What was the inspiration for Sam Truman and the series?

I’m a longtime fan of “men’s adventure serials” in fiction, the sort of thing wherein a generally macho antihero leaps from adventure to adventure in each volume with nary a scratch on him, and as a horror and crime writer, I wanted to create something that combined all of these elements. Sam Truman is a classic mid-20th century P.I. existing in a supernatural underworld most people don’t know about. Ebooks have made serial fiction something people can really enjoy again, so it’s definitely time for a revival, as we’ve seen with other series like Lee Goldberg’s The Dead Man.

2 – Sam manages to get by on persistence and very little luck, what keeps him going when the world is against him?

Sam is terribly fatalistic and doesn’t give much time to thinking about how the things he sees and investigates could happen, much less why they happen to him. He’s a man of action, always pushing forward to the next thing, barely hanging on by a thread but the thread is enough. It’s possible he might give up if he ever had a chance to catch his breath, but there’s always something else about to menace him right around the corner.

3 – With 5 books in, what do you take away from doing a novella series? And I know this is a cheat, but would you consider doing future series?

It’s been tremendous fun working with so many terrific authors and watching how they take this character and make him their own. Though there aren’t any plans in motion right now for another series apart from Sam Truman, it is certainly a possibility…

Saddle Sores and Wagon Trails

big-badgeI can’t really pinpoint when I first considered the idea of The Big Adios–I think it was sometime around the 1st anniversary of Shotgun Honey. It is safe to say it was somewhere just under 10 months ago. The first granules were formed well before that when I wrote The Greenhorn for a writing challenge put on by Chuck Wendig. It was a simple wordlist challenge, but the words immediately charged me with a story about a US Marshal riding into a lawless town to either free the townsfolk of tyranny or die trying. It was a faux Western, and if you read it you’ll know why. One of the words on that magic list required me to take the story in quite a different direction.

But the idea for US Marshal Brady Hawkes, an Easterner from Charles Town, WV, born to privilege and lineage who shuns it all to become his own man in the Colorado Territory, the idea called to me. There was more to Hawkes and the raucous mining town of Prosperity, CO. There were many more Buck Godot’s for Hawkes to face. So as I jotted down notes, I looked for venues.

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There are a few periodicals, but online was a wasteland. Not one site dedicated to the Western, and only one stood with any prominence to support the genre. David Cranmer’s Beat to a Pulp. He has his own inclinations towards to the genre, but BtaP is great for all kinds of genre bites, both flash and short stories.

So the idea was, Hey, I could put together short fiction site for the Western genre just like Shotgun Honey. How hard could it be? And the idea started solidifying about 6 months ago and loosely announced 3 months ago. The days have whittled and behold, tomorrow is the day of Launch.

Where did the time go?

tba-sneakI do have to ask myself that, because as of Friday I didn’t have a clear or concise idea of how I was going to design the site, how it would be presented? Aged, rustic and western, that’s all I knew for sure. I may have had an idea of the palette? So I fired up photoshop and browsed the web for texture and design ideas. Find things I like, motivators. I needed to get some paint on this blank canvass.

Two days straight, taking a break for food substances and to watch a movie and 3 episodes of Justified. I needed some inspiration, and wouldn’t you know it all started with a badge. Amazingly for the detail of the design–to paraphrase Larry the Cable Guy–I got’r done!

So tomorrow is the big day and we start off with an exception story about Marshals Cash Laramie and Miles Gideon by Edward A. Grainger aka David Cranmer, kicking off 8 weeks of scheduled fiction, some of it firmly in the saddle and others bending the genre, every Tuesday.

It’s up to you as readers and contributors to keep us going.

I hope to see you there: http://www.thebigadios.com