Monday, April 26, 2010

A Real Friend

Here's my entry into Jason Duke's writing contest. Hope you enjoy.

A REAL FRIEND - by J. F. Juzwik

Well, hello. Do you mind if I sit? Have you seen the Crosstown go by yet? I believe it’s the #7. They keep changing the bus routes and numbers on them all the time, and it gets me mixed up sometimes, don’t you know. You too? It’s the times though, don’t you think? The times are so crazy. Can’t even leave the buses alone.

Donut hole? Go ahead. Help yourself. I always buy a box full at Dinah’s Bakery when I’m out this way and if you don’t take some, why, I’ll just end up eating them all up by myself. Now, that wouldn’t be a good thing, would it. Some are glazed and some have sprinkles. Sure. Take a couple of each.

You’re out here visiting your uncle? I see. That’s hard when it’s family. He’s in for writing some bad checks? Oh, well, that’s not too bad. He should probably be coming home to you soon enough. I’m up here to the prison visiting my very bestest friend in the whole world. See, he’s locked up in that death row part because he got himself convicted of several murders in the very first degree. They’re going to do that executing thing in a couple of days and this was the last day he could be visited. They’ll be taking him to a special place down the hall where he’ll be waiting out his final hours. I won’t be there to see them do it to him. I don’t believe I could watch something like that. He’s in there still whining and crying; just like he’s been doing all his life. He never was able to move himself away from that.

You know, I’ve been knowing Jimbo since the very first grade. That’s his name, in case I forgot to mention it. Jimbo McCullough is actually his given name. Well, I do believe it may have been something else McCullough, but Jimbo is what we all ended up calling him. Anyway, Jimbo and me got to be the very bestest friends right from the first day. He was always on the small side, you know, and some of the bigger boys in the bigger grades commenced to picking on him and trying to take his little bit of lunch and snack money. Well, the teacher, she wasn’t paying him any attention at all, so I came upon the scene and told them they’d better stop bothering my friend or else they were going to have some hell to pay. They started laughing and thinking it was all a big joke, but they went away just the same. After school on that very first day, one of those bigger boys got runned over by a car on the highway. Didn’t anybody know how he got over to the highway all by himself either. One good thing did come out of it though. The rest of that bunch didn’t do too much laughing after that for quite some while. Not at anybody.

Jimbo and I were in all the same grades though elementary, middle, junior high and high school. Funny, huh? We always made sure we sat in the same row too, if we could. Those were great days, don’t you know. Well, great days, except for when my friend would be getting picked on and all. All through those times, he stayed kinda small and I’m not sure why they do it, but some folks just seem to try to go out of their way to pick on the smaller ones. You take Jeremiah Copperling. He went all through school with the both of us. Well, at least up until the end of the fifth grade. He had the same teachers and learned the same lessons as us, but the older he got, the stupider he got. It was as if every year that he grew bigger, his brain got emptier. He didn’t know to do anything except to pick on those smaller than him.

He sure was big in those days. I seem to remember one day right in the fifth grade. We were all out running around outside on the playground, you know how kids do, and here comes Jeremiah Copperling, clomping out of the school building out to where us kids were running around. I believe he had been called in to the Principal’s office again for doing something or another. Anyway, he comes out to the playground, and all you had to do was take one good look on that face of his to know that he was looking for trouble and wasn’t going to quit until he found some. He found a group of smaller ones, probably like third or fourth grade maybe, and started kicking mud all over them and pushing and shoving them around. Nobody out there did anything about it, not even the teachers, who mostly just looked the other way. Probably thought he’d kick mud on them and push them around as well.

Jeremiah wasn’t through though, because he came right over to where Jimbo and me were looking over some comics we had bought at the five and dime the Saturday before and Jeremiah just walked over and spit right on them. Yes, that’s what I did say. He just walked up and spit right on our brand new comic books that we had spent our allowance on. Then he started laughing and kicked some mud on both of us and just walked away to go and bother another group of small ones.

Nobody missed Jeremiah the following year when he didn’t show up for sixth grade though. Word went around that he was in one of those house-type hospitals where the patients are living and all, but just pretty much lay around and drool their days away. Some kind of accident, folks said. He was big and clumsy and he fell off of something. Nobody saw him fall sure enough, so the account of it never was very clear.

Jeremiah wasn’t the only one, you see. There was a whole group of them that picked on Jimbo. But, you know, it wasn’t just at the school. They ran together like a pack of something or other and if they saw him out front of his house, they’d pick on him. If they saw him coming out of the five and dime, they’d pick on him. If they saw him going into the grocer’s, they pick on him. It was like they had nothing better to do with their days but to make his life miserable. Things did get just a bit better by the time we graduated from high school though because most of them weren’t around anymore. They were a right dim bunch, probably ought to have been carrying some rabbits’ feet or some such thing. Good luck didn’t really follow these fellows too close, if you know what I mean.

Take Jerry Fuller for a real good sample. He was trucking down Highway 7 going South, and really had the pedal to the metal like he always did. Problem was, when he tried to slow down for that curve out by Aggie’s Bend, you know that one?, his brakes didn’t hold and he just went sailing out over the bluff and right down into Jake Corrigan’s field. His car had flipped a couple times before it landed, and when it did, it caught fire and exploded. Folks were saying that was odd, because the car shouldn’t have caught fire that quick and burned to a crisp like it did, but you know? You never can tell about those things. How would anybody know what a car would or wouldn’t do in that situation. Jerry’s mama was real upset at the funeral because the casket had to be kept shut and she kept telling everybody how she had found out Jerry was alive when the car caught fire and she couldn’t understand why he didn’t get out of it before it exploded. I guess we won’t ever know the answer to that one.

When Jimbo and me finished our school days, we decided to head to the city to get our jobs and make our livings. We both got good jobs working for this medical type place where we pick up and deliver stuff to doctors’ offices and the like. We both had our driving licenses by that time and even though we drove different vans, there were many days when we would meet up and have some burgers and beers together. Weren’t supposed to be having beers of course while we were driving, but nobody ever knew because we made our deliveries and pickups on time. Some days though, Jimbo didn’t make it until late so he only had time for the beer and had to take his burger to go. He never did say where he had been or why he was late, but I never asked either. He was my very bestest friend and you don’t question your very bestest friend. Not ever.

Things were going so good for both of us by then. We had already got us a big place that we shared the bills on. But, you know what? Just when you think things are going to start leveling off for you and maybe have smoother times, those old bad pennies start showing up. Mama used to tell me all the time that you just can’t rid yourself of a bad penny. You can throw it away again and again, but eventually, it’s going to turn up in your pocket. I would ask her, then, how do you rid yourself of a bad penny when it keeps following you wherever you go. She said, you got to bury it, know what I mean? Bury it. Then, it can‘t come back. I knew what she meant and I told Jimbo what she said, and I knew it deep down in my heart that he knew what she meant too.

We were having burgers and beer at lunch during one of our delivery routes, on a Tuesday I believe it was, and who did actually come into the diner where we were eating, but Thomas Krantz and Willie Hoover. Now, I don’t know if those names ring any bells for you, but it sure did chime a dark tune for Jimbo and me. Thomas Krantz and Willie Hoover had went to high school with us and never did anything all during that whole time but bother Jimbo and me. Now, with me, they’d push me in the hallway up against the lockers and such and sometimes spit on my books, but Jimbo? They would get much more rougher with him.

They’d wait for him outside the buildings when we had to go to our different classes, and they would toss his books around on the grass and jump up and down on them, and then push him down and jump up and down on him too. He’d come into the class all bloody and snotty--you know, from crying and all--and the teacher would get so mad at him. Can you believe it? The teacher would get mad at Jimbo and never said one thing to Thomas Krantz or Willie Hoover, who were actually in the same class. They would come in after him and just sit down like nothing at all had been happening and like they were as sweet and fresh as one of mama’s apple pies.

They did see us when they came walking into the diner, and what do you think they did? Why, they just walked over, right in front of everybody and they took Jimbo’s beer and poured it all over his delivery and pickup uniform and dropped his burger on the floor and stepped on it. Just like the teacher in the class too, nobody did anything or even said anything. They just started laughing and walked out. Didn’t order not one thing. It was like they just came over to that part of town into that diner just to ruin Jimbo’s lunch and then go back to wherever it was that they came from. Jimbo started whining and crying, again, as was his custom of doing, and went back to the house to change into a clean uniform and go back to work. That night, we didn’t even speak of it at all.

I have to admit to you that I didn’t feel too badly when I read in the newspaper not too long after that somebody had found their bodies in an alley across town. They were both cut up pretty bad, only the cutting isn’t what they died from. Paper said they were both just cut a lot to where they couldn’t move too well and then they both just laid there and bleeded to death. Took awhile too. Can’t say I was bothered much by that either.

When Jimbo and I next talked, it was at our house that we shared the bills on. He asked if I had seen that in the paper about those two old boys and I told him I did see it. He laughed about it, and I have to tell you, that was a good thing. Jimbo didn’t laugh too much really and it was nice to see him in good spirits for a change.

Life can be a bitter pill to swallow some days--my mama used to say that too sometimes. You’ll never guess who turned up at one of my delivery and pickup doctors’ offices--I believe that was a Monday if I recall correctly. It was one of Jimbo’s and my old teachers from middle school. I remember she was one of the nastiest people I had ever known in my life back then, and it was interesting for real that she was still just as nasty looking. She seen me and remembered me from middle school and started calling me stupid and saying why was I there and why wasn’t I in jail or dead in a field or something. Now, what kind of a way is that to talk to a person? She didn’t have a job in the doctor’s office, but she was one of the sick people waiting to see the doctor. If I had been that doctor, I would not get within ten feet of that dirty old witch, but since I was only the delivery and pickup person, I just put some containers down and took some other ones and left. When I got home at the end of the day though, I told Jimbo all about it. I told him where I saw her and how she acted and all. He got real upset and we didn’t talk about it anymore, and I was glad.

I never did see her ugly face again when I went to deliver and pickup at that doctor’s office. There was a little writeup in the paper awhile after though about her body being found inside her house, which wasn’t all that far from our house that we shared the bills on. She had lots of cords wrapped around her neck and her hands and feet and she was all swelled up and stuff. The paper said she didn’t die easy and that was alright with me. Jimbo laughed about her when I showed him that and I did too. Those were the good times. Yes, they were.

On the day when the police came knocking, now, that was the start of the bad times. I don’t ever remember seeing Jimbo whine and cry that much over anything. They under arrested him for killing some people. They said he killed Thomas Krantz and Willie Hoover. They had a whole list. On the list was old Mrs. Trousdale (the nasty, dirty old teacher I had run into at the doctor‘s office), and then they had some names from our school days, like Jeremiah Copperling and Jerry Fuller too. The other names were some of those boys that used to bother Jimbo and they had all been killed and there was evidence on hand, they said, that made them know that Jimbo had done all the killings.

Well, they did handcuff him and take him out, crying and whining, but you knew that, didn’t you? When they did his trial, he went through boxes of tissues and you should have seen him when they said they were going to do the executing thing to him. He just about fell over, but I suppose anybody would have done that under the same situation. Then they locked him up in the death row part so he could do his waiting, and now his waiting is almost over. I’ve been coming up to the prison to visit him ever since and do you know, that he has never grown up. He has never even tried to. He keeps whining and crying about all of this and this time, I just couldn’t take it anymore. I had to set him straight once and for all.

I let him know that today was going to have to be the last time I would be let in to see him since his executing would be coming soon and I said this is going to be your last chance to act like a man. I told him that I hoped he knew just how lucky he has been during his whole life because he had me with him all during it. Not very many people are so lucky as him to have a friend like me--I mean, a real friend. One who will do things to help you get grown and so you can stand up straight and tall and hold your head up. Well, I did those kinds of things for Jimbo--things that would make people look up to him and be afeared of him so he could stop all his whining and crying, and did he appreciate it? Not one little bit.

Here, I killed all them for him--I ‘buried’ all those bad pennies mama talked about and left something of Jimbo’s there so the police would know it was him who had done them all. Then, you see, people wouldn’t pick on him any more because they’d know they’d end up dead if they did. I looked him right in his eyes and told him when he was on his way to meet his maker, he should square his shoulders back and lay nice and straight and tall on that table when they stick him and be proud because nobody believed he was a pussy anymore. I did that. I did that for him. Because I was always his very bestest friend. A real friend.

Oh, I see the #7 coming. I need to get my fare out. The driver doesn’t like it when you start digging in your pockets after you get on. He likes the fare put in right away. You can keep the rest of those donut holes if you like. I shouldn’t take them with me because from here I’m going to visit my new bestest friend, Tyler. Tyler Johanson. Can’t bring sweets into his house, you see, all because of his missus. She won’t tolerate sweets in the house, or strong drink either. Truly, she doesn’t tolerate much of anything being brought into the house. Tyler having people over either. Now, my friend, Tyler, he generally lets her have her way about most things. He says it’s easier on him if he doesn’t create a fuss with her. But I’m helping him with that because I’m his very bestest friend. Really.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Robert Jackson Bennett's Debut Novel!

I just finished Mr. Bennett's debut novel, Mr. Shivers. This is described on the cover as an 'extraordinary debut' and I totally agree with this assessment. This is an excellent exploration of the human mind and heart when people are driven by an intense and deep sense of loss. It is a gritty and extremely realistic look into the daily lives of those who ride the rails and make migrant labor camps their home. It is a dark and dangerous world that most of us, thankfully, never see, but the author has given us a deep look inside from a safe vantagepoint. There is quite a mystical quality about the story, but it is relevent and quite appropriate. It's ending, while uplifting and full of hope, is also full of more despair than one can imagine. Anyone who has seen the movie Pumpkinhead and is familiar with its tragic ending, will understand that I mean. This is a moving story and the characters will touch you. Looking forward to more from Mr. Bennett. He certainly knows how to tell a tale.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Jason Duke's Writing Contest!

UPDATE: Jason graciously clarified deadlines for his contest regarding entry and posting. Stories can be posted anytime--whenever they're finished and the contest will be closed to entries on May 14, 2010. Thanks, Jason!

Jason Duke is sponsoring a writing contest, and for prizes, we're talking money, honey. The winner will get $100 and the runner-up will get $50. Deets follow, from the man himself:

'It's nice to get published, it's better to get paid. As writers, we know this all too well. My 15 minute claim to fame was an adventure for Dungeon Magazine that netted $100 bucks. I've been paid for other stories over the years, ten dollars here, twenty dollars there, but those are few and far between.

So why is it so fucking hard to get paid? I'm not the greatest writer. I'm good enough to get paid, but not the greatest. There are a lot of better writers out there, yet we're all in the same boat. Why? I think because there are so few paying magazines.

Which makes sense.

In the crime fiction circle, it seems books are even a hard sell nowadays. I hear firsthand from authors how hard they work to get word out about their books in the hopes of selling copies, authors like Anthony Neil Smith, Eric Beetner, Seth Harwood, Megan Abbott, Tim Maleeny, Nick Quantrill, the list goes on.

If books are a hard sell, then probably crime magazines too, right? Especially paying magazines. Sometimes, I wonder how publishers and magazines manage to stay afloat, because not all of them stay afloat, a lot of them sink. My hat's off to the ones that survive. Without them, no one would have a shot at getting paid.

Which brings me back to my point: it's nice to get published, it's better to get paid. There are a lot of great crime magazines available right now, mostly online, and some more prestigious than others, where writers like myself can get published, just not paid. Exposure is great, don't get me wrong. With everyone struggling to climb the same pay ladders, not everyone is going to make it, and exposure helps our ascent.

So what I offer is a shot at getting paid. Not just a token amount, either, at least I don't think so. I believe in karma. I believe in altruism. I consider myself a generous person. I try to be. If I have the cash, and life is good, I believe in spreading the wealth.

Every time I log on to Facebook, or read your blogs, or read magazines like Spinetingler, Thuglit, Plots With Guns, Darkest Before the Dawn, A Twist of Noir, I see this great community of fellow crime writers, all struggling to climb that ladder, all deserving to get paid.

A community looks out for each other, helps each other, encourages the other to aspire to something greater, to reach for and change the stars.

We all play our part in some way.

That is why I've decided to throw down some scratch for a crime fiction contest. The winner gets paid $50. The runner-up gets paid $25.

You know what?

Fuck that.

The winner gets paid $100 and the runner-up gets paid $50 bucks.

Call the contest whatever you want. I don't give a shit what it's called, but if someone comes up with something really catchy we'll run with it.

Everyone has a month to get their stories in. I think it goes without saying, only submit your best. We'll handle entries the same as other contests such as Daniel B. O'Shea's “Let Us Prey” fiction challenge, the “Recession” fiction challenge over on Do Some Damage, or the various contests hosted on A Twist of Noir. In other words, post your stories on your blogs, on A Twist of Noir, Darkest Before the Dawn, anywhere on the internet, email me the link at, and we'll link them for the judges at Paul David Brazill's blog You Would Say That, Wouldn't You:

That's right, we have judges.

Excellent, qualified judges who know their shit. In the line-up are Aldo Calcagno, John McFetridge, Steve Weddle, and Stacia J.N. Decker.(Yes, that Stacia Decker.) They have very generously donated their time to read the entries and select two stories each. From those eight stories, David Hale Smith (Yeah, that David Hale Smith) has also generously donated his time to narrow the selection to four - two winners, and two runner-ups. From those four picks, I'll decide the winner and the runner-up. Yeah, I know I'm not as qualified or know my shit nearly as much as Aldo, John, Steve, Stacia, and David, but it's my fucking money, so ha.

Crime fiction only. It's broad, can mean a lot of different things, leaving it wide open, so if you ask me to explain what we're looking for I'm gonna put you in a fucking chokehold. Word limit on stories 2,000-3,500 words. I don't want them too short, but still quick for the judges to read.

The judges will have another month to narrow their selections. We will post the announcements on Paul's blog. Then I'll announce the winner and runner-up. Payment will be through paypal, money order, direct deposit, cash, however the fuck the winners choose to get paid. The winner and runner-up will also get published in Crimefactory, with a big thanks to the Crimefactory crew Keith Rawson, Cameron Ashley, and Liam Jose.

So what the fuck are you waiting for?

Get to it.'

I'm including links to a couple of Jason's tales right here for you. Let their darkness take your hand and pull you in. His stories will do that to you. Oh yeah. The man can write.

First, we have Midnight Hellride on Plots With Guns.

Second, we have Route Cobra on House of Horror.

I apologize. The links refuse to go on as actual links. I'll work on those. For now, please copy and paste. Oh come on. So you need to exert a little bit of effort. I never promised you a free ride, did I?

Friday, April 16, 2010

Come And Get Some Noir! I Mean Philip, of course...

Noir, A Novel
Robert Coover
Overlook Duckworth, Peter Mayer Publishers, Inc.
$24.95 (US)

Had you going there for a second, didn't I? Well, when you read this book about Philip Noir, you really are going to get a hefty dose of literary type noir in the process. Let's take a closer look.

Philip Noir is a private investigator. Using the word 'sleaze' to describe him is the understatement of the millenium, but he's a hell of a compelling character. He smokes, he drinks, he spends an inordinate amount of time in the city morgue, he hangs with the lowest of the low, he sleeps on his office sofa or in rain-soaked gutters, he is a proud, and self-proclaimed, lecher, and an incredibly intuitive and competent investigator.

Out of nowhere, a mysterious woman, her face hidden behind a black veil, pays him a visit and hires him to investigate the death of her husband. She informs him his death was ruled a suicide, but she believes he was murdered, and that her life is also in danger. She provides him with a name on a piece of paper, a generous retainer and disappears into the night. He doesn't know her name, where she lives, or even her deceased husband's name, but is seduced by the dark and sinister feel of it all and takes it on. She meets with him in odd places at odd times--nothing pre-arranged--and continues to provide bizarre pieces of information about herself and her family, which only serves to confuse Noir further and propel him into more dangerous, and life-threatening situations. The lady ends up being murdered, and her body disappears. Then, the bodies of his friends and acquaintances start piling up--including the morgue attendant, all killed, of course, with his gun. Now, the cops are after him, he's not sure who can be trusted, and where the hell is the lady's corpse? He can't turn himself in and explain because what is there to explain? He doesn't know the lady's name, there's no body in the morgue, no record of her having been there in the first place, no witnesses to back up his claims of beatings he's received... His waking up with a headache in various gutters in the city is not exactly a novel occurrence. So, what is going on and where does he go from there? Guess what? I'll never tell! Go read the book!

Not trying to be mean here. Seriously, go read the book. It is SO amazing. One thing I do need to point out here though. When I first began to read this one, I got through maybe a chapter and a half and I put it down. I actually put it down for a couple of days because it put me off--annoyed me, really. Now, that was not because of the story or the quality of the writing or anything. It was because of the POV. This book is written entirely in second person POV, and if you aren't used to that, it can put you off, initially anyway. But the story begins in such a compelling way and draws you in from the start, so give it a chance. I picked it up again a couple of days later and sat down and read the whole thing in a little over a day. I couldn't put it down and didn't want to that time. You have to give it a shot.

Second person seems hard to follow at first, but you'll notice as you get further into it, that it doesn't stand out anymore and you don't focus on it. You end up feeling like the character has grabbed you by the hand and is leading you through the story and allowing you to see and experience everything he is the second he sees and experiences it. It's hard to explain, but take my word for it. If at first it puts you off, put it down for awhile, then go back and pick it up again and keep reading. You'll be so glad you did.

From the author himself, Robert Coover, in an interview about Noir: "The second person resonates with such familiar film noir techniques as the subjective camera, voice-over monologues, cities that speak to you, the mirrored double ('you talkin' to me?'), and it helps make the reader complicit in Noir's quest."

You sure got that right, Mr. Coover, it does indeed.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Forensics in your crime story? Better know your stuff!

Even though we may be writing a work of crime fiction, any elements of it that have links to reality must be correctly presented. For instance, if you are referencing an intersection of two streets in downtown Seattle, you'd better make certain, not only that those two streets exist in downtown Seattle, but also that they do, in fact, intersect at some point. The necessity of realism doesn't only apply to location however. It applies to the use of any non-fictional material, especially in the area of forensic science.

Any work of crime fiction is going to incorporate some reference to evidence, clues, forensics, however you want to term it. Before you begin including or explaining any of these, make sure you have done extensive research on the subject. There are countless resources out there on the subject, but I recently finished reading an excellent one. Don't let the title fool you. It doesn't try to sensationalize any of the cases or be overly dramatic in any of the areas. It simply explains different areas of forensic science and the various procedures and protocols that go along with them. Real life is not like an episode of Law and Order. Perpetrators are not identified, apprehended, indicted, tried and convicted in an hour. While there are some cases that are solved in a relatively short period of time, depending on circumstances, there are those that remain insolved for decades, and also those that will probably remain so indefinitely. The collection and processing of the various types of evidence is a painstaking process and is handled by a group of very well educated and highly trained individuals. The book I just read even introduces you to a few of those. The book is entitled Jumped, Fell or Pushed?, published in 2009 by The Readers' Digest Association, Inc. It is by Steven A. Koehler, MPH, Ph.D., with Pete Moore, Ph.D., and David Owen.

I knew I was going to be very interested in what they had to say and that I was going to be able to learn a great deal about the different areas of forensics right from the beginning, when I read about a couple of terms. One was 'crime scene', and the other was 'scene of the crime'. These terms are interchangeable, right? Wrong. They explain how the scene of the crime might be the basement of a home where a dead body may have been found, but the crime scene may be the entire house and part of the driveway, where the killer first encountered the victim. This is why sealing off of the entire crime scene, however much ground that may encompass, is so critical. Evidence could be found anywhere within that area. When describing your 'scene of the crime' or 'crime scene', bear this important fact in mind. Great detail is paid to how searches are done, including the photographs that are taken and the use of video, in some cases.

Detailed descriptions are provided of how various substances are tested in the laboratory. There is an entire chapter devoted to the evidence exchange--explaining how 'any encounter between two individuals (or an individual and the environment) results in an exchange in physical material'. It is shown how samples are retrieved and compared, and how their characteristics are determined. The big one, DNA, and all the various databases containing same, is shown both to have convicted the guilty and exonerated the innocent. There is a chapter on the examination and analysis of body fluids. The chapter, What's your Poison?, deals with toxicology following the autopsy of a suspicious death. The one on ballistics begins by breaking firearms down to 'rifled' and 'nonrifled'. This was a variance in guns that I previously was unaware of. The one entitled Making an Impression confirms that even though a criminal may wear gloves or use other methods to try to disguise the fact they were at a particular location, they always leave a trace of something behind, be it a hair of theirs, of their pet, a fiber off their jacket, soil from their shoes, something always gets left behind. If a suspect denies ever having been at a certain place, and a trace of something can be linked back to them, well, let's just say, they've got a lot of explaining to do. They go over fingerprints and footprints, the use of voice prints, and some impressions deliberately made, such as bite marks. Lastly, they discuss the paper trail--i.e., forgeries and so on, and how documents and signatures are identified as such.

In between all the educational type information and the 'day-in-the-life' pieces from various forensic scientists, there are discussions of specific cases, and the role different areas of forensics played in obtaining the outcome. I recommend this very highly as a great source of information for the crime writer, fiction or otherwise. It is an easy read, very thorough, never boring, and covers a lot of ground.

Like I said at the start, even if your story is fictional, when your detective collects fiber evidence at the scene, or the technician matches the rifling on bullets from the victim and the test fire, make sure it was collected according to standard protocol and the chain of evidence properly followed at the lab. Readers of crime fiction watch The First 48 and Forensic Files too, and if you think you can slip one by and no one will notice, think again. The second they identify your 'forensic screw-up', and they will, they're done with your story and probably with you as an author as well. Make up crimes, make up characters, make up towns, but when it comes to the old 'bag and tag' stuff, keep it real.

Friday, April 9, 2010

First Issue of Needle is Available!

The first issue of Needle Magazine is now available. It has been described as follows: "Needle Magazine is hardboiled, lean and mean. No silly reviews. No poetry. No advertising. Nothing but hard hitting stories. In your face and busting up your kiss-maker. Kapow." Well, KAPOW indeed--and only $7.00. Nothing but page after page of consummate noir. Just check out the names of whose stories are inside, and you'll know immediately why you need to get your hands on it. I'm putting the link in here so you can purchase it now. Go on. Let the delicious darkness take you away.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Horror Fiction: Is There Really Such a Thing?

We have discussed different types of crime fiction, sub-genres and such, and found that this particular type of fiction is a multi-faceted one. So many different categories, cross-genre pieces; but, what about horror? Are there different sub-genres of horror fiction? Is the term 'horror fiction' even a valid one, or is it simply another story component? Can the idea of horror be incorporated into crime fiction/thriller tales, or is it already in there?

Let's begin at the very beginning. What exactly is horror about? I believe we can all agree that the concept of horror is all about fear. Fear and revulsion. So where does that take us story-wise? Generally, we encounter a 'normal' person caught up in some 'abnormal' situation, in which they are totally powerless and have completely lost control. What is it about these stories that dredges up the fear? What type of things/situations would cause us to feel utterly powerless? The possibility of madness would be one--the hint of the onset of insanity in ourselves or someone close. Others would certainly be death (by any means), specifically, by being murdered, being kidnapped/held captive, as well as those of a supernatural nature, like supernatural forces, evil spirits, ghosts, demonic possession, witches, vampires, werewolves, and other assorted creatures of that type. While other-worldly entities are generally associated with horror stories, I feel we have too narrowly viewed the whole concept of horror fiction by restricting it to only include the undead and those who commute via broomstick handles. Let's look at a general breakdown of the types of horror literature.

1. Psychological: This is an element of horror that toys with the mind and targets the psyche. There doesn't necessarily have to be anything supernatural involved here since usually, this type of horror is internalized and explores the inner darkness of the human mind.

2. Allegorical: Here we have an element of horror that is largely symbolic in nature and may possess a deep, or even, hidden meaning. This is the one that brings out fears from within to couple with fears brought on from outside oneself. Examples of this type of horror are The Big Bad Wolf, The Witch in the Gingerbread House, etc.

3. Sociological: This type of horror is generally a commentary on the evils of society, such as the lack of morality, the lack of traditional values, and sometimes focus on specific cultural issues. Often, the idea of corruption is utilized in this type of horror tale.

As you can see, these descriptions can stand alone, alongside, or co-mingle with any element in crime fiction. Let's see if there are any other similarities.

Following are some descriptions I found that are used to reference types of horror literature.

1. Dark Fantasy: These are generally fantasy stories that may or may not contain some supernatural elements. But, if they do, they do not utilize ones of vampires, werewolves, etc.

2. Dark Fiction: This is not a term used often, but when it is, it generally refers to a type of contemporary horror that is mixed with suspense.

3. Extreme Horror: This is the old cut 'em up/hack 'em up just because we can type of story. You know, the old 'let's go go camp and wander the woods at night in our underwear, even though there's an axe murderer loose' type of thing. Come on--we've all watched those, and sat in our living rooms and advised the kids not to go through THAT door into the dark room, but they do, and they die, and we knew they would and... Sorry. Next...

4. English Gothic: These usually involve hauntings that occur in castles, mansions, crypts and contain bleak settings. These are tales of ruin and decay, persecution and imprisonment.

5. Noir: Yes, I did say noir. This was included in the description of a type of horror. Stories that deal with an underworld of crime, moral ambiguity, and contain dark themes of violence, corruption, and have an aura of menace and suspicion.

6. Dark Suspense: These contain no supernatural elements, but contain an ever-present sense of threat from an outside source.

It would appear that if you omit the demons and such, elements of horror can be present in any type of crime fiction piece. Horror is an important component in suspense stories, thrillers, mysteries, etc., since they all involve the emotion of fear from some perspective, and that's what horror is and brings.

Author Douglas Winter stated in his anthology, Prime Evil, that "Horror is not a genre, like the mystery or science fiction or the western. It is not a kind of fiction, meant to be confined to the ghetto of a special shelf in libraries or bookstores. Horror is an emotion." Also, in one of his later anthologies, Revelations, he stated "Horror is that which cannot be made safe--evolving, ever-changing--because it is about our relentless need to confront the unknown, the unknowable, and the emotion we experience when in its thrall."

I do believe he really had something there. Horror is not a category, it is a feeling, something that comes over you in certain circumstances with certain stimuli. Whether you think the noise outside your bedroom window is a zombie with a craving for human flesh as a midnight snack or a serial killer who's been dismembering people in your town who wear shoes exactly like the ones you just bought, the fear--the sense of horror--is one and the same.