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As I Lay Dying

Angel Baby by Richard Lange
A number of characters die in my new novel, Angel Baby. Ooops! Was that a spoiler? Well, it’ll be the last one, I promise.

Anyway, from the beginning I knew that I wanted one particular death in the book to stand out, to resonate, to hurt. For inspiration, I returned to a few literary “last moments” that had moved me over the years.

Savage Night by Jim ThompsonSavage Night by Jim Thompson
Probably my favorite Thompson novel. The final chapters are particularly hair-raising and, at the same time, heart-rending.

The darkness and myself. Everything else was gone. And the little that was left of me was going, faster and faster.

I began to crawl. I crawled and rolled and inched my way along; and I missed it the first time – the place I was looking for.

I circled the room twice before I found it, and there was hardly any of me then but it was enough. I crawled up over the pile of bottles, and went crashing down the other side.

And she was there, of course.

Death was there.

Warlock by Oakley HallWarlock by Oakley Hall
A “literary Western,” if you’re one of those who must label. I think it’s just a great damn book, period, and Tom Morgan’s last gasp is one of the reasons why.

He fell forward into the dust. It received him gently. One arm felt a little cramped, and he managed to move it out from under his body. In his eyes there was only dust, which was soft, and strangely wet beneath him. ‘Tom!’ He heard it dimly. ‘Tom!’ He felt a hand upon his back. It caught his shoulder and tried to turn him, Kate’s hand, and he heard Kate sobbing through the swell of a vast singing in his ears. He tried to speak to her, but he choked on blood. The dust pulled him away, and he sank through it gratefully; still he could laugh, but now he could weep as well. Continue reading “As I Lay Dying”

You Are Here: Mapping Richard Lange’s Angel Baby

In my new novel, Angel Baby, Luz, the beautiful, young wife of a Mexican drug lord, makes a mad dash for freedom that takes her from Tijuana, Mexico to Compton, CA. The story unfolds in actual locations, and I’ve called out some of the more interesting sites on the map below. Body armor recommended if you’re visiting some of them.

(Tip: Zoom out on the map to view the pins. Click on the pins for Lange’s descriptions.)


View Richard Lange’s Angel Baby in a larger map

Songs That Evoke The Shining Girls

The Shining Girls by Lauren Beukes

Writers find inspiration everywhere: at the movies, through their headphones, or unfolding before them in real life. Lauren Beukes, whose forthcoming novel The Shining Girls has been recommended by the Evening Standard to those with “a Gone Girl shaped hole in your life,” has assembled here a playlist of songs that brought her book to life. You can listen to all the songs above in the Spotify player.

“Hard Time Killin’ Floor Blues” by Skip James (1931)
A song about the Depression and people drifting from door to door.

“Talkshow Host” by Radiohead
I think this is my all-time favourite song. It’s so dark and beautiful. It really captures the mood of the book.

“Torched Song” by Claudia Brucken (feat. The Real Tuesday Weld)
Harper carries a bit of a torch for all his shining girls. And Kirby definitely has one for him.

“Qu’est-ce Que C’est” by Mad Rad
It’s a song that seems to have been written for The Shining Girls. The lyrics are ridiculously perfect.

“Rabbit In Your Headlights” by UNKLE
I love the sense of impending doom, the dark, luscious beauty of the song.

“Private Lawns” by Angus & Julia Stone
Love this sultry remix of Windy City and Chicago’s private lawns, public parks.

“Black Heart” by Calexico
Dark and lovely and haunting and some of the lyrics are perfect: “Scratched in metal, name erodes away / hands are scarred, heart is charred / burnt through, and ashen.”

“The Fragile” by Nine Inch Nails
“She shines in a world full of ugliness… I won’t let you fall apart.” I think Dan Velasquez and Trent Reznor are on the same page, although don’t tell Dan that.

“Splitting the Atom” by Massive Attack
The lyrics pick up on some of the key parts of the novel: the mention of incandescent light at doors, the needle sticks, as on Harper’s gramophone, “We killed the time and I love you dear” and all the talk of particles is very time travel.

“All Hail Me” by Veruca Salt (1994)
I think Kirby would have loved Veruca Salt and Chicago’s alt rock scene in general.

“And He Slayed Her” by Liz Phair (2012)
Murder songs about girls are easy to find, but I love Liz Phair’s “And He Slayed Her,” a vigilante justice song that also questions what kind of man would do this. And hey, another stalwart of the 90s Chicago alternative scene.

The top five moments of my video gaming life, or, Du côté de chez Questor

Austin Grossman’s YOU has been praised in the Boston Globe as “razor sharp…a smart meditation on the nature of gaming” and by Tom Bissell in Harper’s as “some of the most startling, acute writing on video games yet essayed.” Find it in bookstores everywhere or pick it up from your e-tailer of choice this week! We’ll have a full links post of the great coverage for YOU tomorrow–in the meantime, check out the below guest post from Austin on some of the most memorable moments of his gaming life.

This isn’t a top-five-games list, although there aren’t any bad games here.  Instead, it’s a list of the five best moments video games have given me.

Now that I’ve started writing at length about them, this is the part that interests me most. There’s a lot of debate as to whether video games are art, whether they deliver the kind of emotional or narrative or profound experiences associated with the idea of what an art form is.  But if we’re going to see clearly what video games are, we have to think about not just the “text” of the game, the art and code and game mechanics, but whatever it is that happens when game meets player, the ephemeral, collaborative experience that results.

You could say the same thing about any medium but for obvious reasons it has a special bite for interactive media. The best video games don’t just tell stories, they generate them.

Ritual caveats: It’s not really a top five, of course – I’ve done way too much gaming for that, and had too good a time doing it. I only have so much space. I could talk about Braid or SpyParty, but I think those are significant more because they’re good games than for a personal experience I had with them.

I’m also excluding games I worked on – no System Shock, no Deus Ex, no Trespasser (although I could – go ahead and call me on it).  In that regard I’m letting  Flight Unlimited in on a technicality, because I mostly just worked on the manual, and because part of what I’m writing about is the hardware peripheral.

1. Halo: Combat Evolved, Bungie, 2004

It was a little ways after midnight. I was at a friend’s house in Oakland on the couch. It had been a couple of years since I had a proper gaming console and I was catching up with some Halo.

I’d been a little dismissive of Halo during the opening levels back on the Pillar of Autumn – I felt it was standard shooter stuff – but then I hit the outdoor levels, out on the Forerunner-built pseudo-planetary surface and I got the point.  Tactical combat moved outdoors, dynamically modeled vehicle physics, and glorious scenery of the Halo, the kind of vistas that induce a uniquely vertiginous awe, the Ringworld sublime.

I’d been living there a few weeks, house-sitting after bailing out of a living situation that – well we won’t debate the rights and wrongs at this point, but there I was.  I was still in the first half of a doctorate I would never complete, pretty lonely, and for three or four hours a day I needed to not be there in my head. I played every night until I fell asleep.

I was almost halfway through the single-player campaign, partway through “Assault on the Control Room” and bogged down in one of those endless canyons. Dying and re-spawning, frustrated, bombarded, I was getting tired and lazy.

It was snowing onscreen, my human squadmates were dying, and I felt like the miserable WWI infantryman in a Wilfred Owen poem, getting shot by enemies I didn’t even notice.  It took me maybe forty-five minutes of grinding shooter gameplay to figure out that I could knock an enemy off its vehicle, and – if the vehicle survived the crash – I could get on it myself, and fly.

That was the moment.  Part of it was just one of those satisfying clicks where you realize that the virtual world is simulated more thoroughly than I had assumed, that they had opted to make me, Covenant troops, and vehicles part of the same universe, with the kind of robust interoperability that makes a simulated world feel complete.

But then there was the absolutely unexpected somatic thrill of the ground dropping away, like I had torn free from something. I pulled back on the stick and streaked up along the cliff face momentarily free, above the rainy, slushy mess of dying Terran and Covenant troops, right out of myself and Oakland and regret and all the memories of a wasted year.

Continue reading “The top five moments of my video gaming life, or, Du côté de chez Questor”

Doggone Justice

PunchDid you know today is Joe R. Lansdale Appreciation Day? To tie in with Horror Novel Reviews‘ day-long celebration, we’ll be reposting our greatest-of posts about Joe’s work and a few from the legend himself.

Things have changed. The world has evolved. A punch in the mouth ain’t what it used to be.

Once you were more apt to settle your own problems, or have them settled for you, by an angry party. Teeth could be lost, and bones could be broken, but mostly you just got  black eye, a bloody nose, or you might be found temporarily unconscious, face down in a small pool of blood out back of a bar with a shoe missing.

These days, even defending yourself can be tricky. It seems to me a butt-whipping in the name of justice has mutated to three shots from an automatic weapon at close quarters and three frames of bowling with your dead head. There are too many nuts with guns these days, and most of them just think the other guy is nuts. An armed society is a polite society only if those armed are polite. Otherwise, it just makes a fellow nervous.

Still, not wishing back the past. Not exactly. But there are elements of the past I do miss. There are times when I like the idea of settling your own hash—without gunfire. Sometimes the other guy has it coming.

When I was a kid in East Texas, we lived in a home that sat on a hill overlooking what was called a beer joint or honky-tonk. Beyond the tonk was a highway, and beyond that a drive-in theater standing as tall and white as a monstrous slice of Wonder Bread.
Continue reading “Doggone Justice”

On Joe Lansdale’s Edge of Dark Water

Did you know today is Joe R. Lansdale Appreciation Day? To tie in with Horror Novel Reviews‘ day-long celebration, we’ll be reposting our greatest-of posts about Joe’s work and a few from the legend himself.

When we passed along  Joe R. Lansdale’s EDGE OF DARK WATER to Dan Simmons, we had high hopes he would like the novel as much as we did. Dan loved the novel so much he provided us with not just a nice quote, but an inspired, insightful essay which is included in the paperback edition of Joe’s novel, and which we’re delighted to share with you below.

Go pick yourself up a copy of EDGE OF DARK WATER if you haven’t already! And be on the lookout for Joe’s next novel THE THICKET, in bookstores everywhere this September.

Since Mark Twain’s The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn was first published in America in 1885, there have been hundreds — if not thousands – of favorable comparisons to Twain’s masterpiece by publishers, blurbers, and/or reviewers of “contemporary” novels. Almost all of these comparisons have been inappropriate or just plain silly since – a) Huckleberry Finn was an unmatched novel of male adolescence, moral awakening, and an entire dark era of American history told in perfect regional and temporal vernacular   b) as Ernest Hemingway said, “All modern American literature comes from one book by Mark Twain called  Huckleberry Finn . . . It’s the best book we’ve had” and c) Mark Twain was a genius.

The river voyages and brilliant narratives in both Joe R. Lansdale’s Edge of Dark Water and Mark Twain’s The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn are cries from the heart of the heart of America’s darkness. Both books are the result of real genius at work.Joe R. Lansdale’s Edge of Dark Water is worthy of being compared to Twain’s The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. Nor are the rafts or the marvelous and terrifying river voyages in both books the primary reasons for Lansdale — and what may be his masterpiece – earning the right to this comparison to Twain’s masterpiece. “Sue Ellen’s” voice throughout Lansdale’s novel is almost certainly the strongest, truest, and most pitch-perfect regional-temporal vernacular narration since Huck Finn’s. The young protagonist’s moral decisions in Edge of Dark Water are among the most complex (yet clearest) since Huck decided to “steal” Jim and go to Hell forever for doing so. Edge of Dark Water evokes a time and place – East Texas, Depression era – as powerfully as Twain’s The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn preserved and illuminated the Mississippi River region in pre-Civil-War America. Continue reading “On Joe Lansdale’s Edge of Dark Water”

An Author’s Inspiration: On The Fate of Mercy Alban

doors1I’m lucky enough to spend my days writing novels of gothic suspense in which family secrets and scandals bubble to the surface in big, old, haunted mansions. Ever since my first book hit the shelves a few years back, I’ll oftentimes find myself on panels with other authors at various book festivals and conferences, and one question we’re always asked is: “What inspired you to write your story?” Believe me, when you’re asking mystery, crime, thriller or suspense novelists this question, you’re going to get some strange, eerie and, let’s be honest, borderline psychotic answers. Mine included.

Erin Hart’s imagination shifts into high gear when she reads news stories about ancient bodies being pulled out of the peat bogs in Ireland, perfectly preserved. In her four novels, the most recent of which is The Book of Killowen, her lead character investigates these archaeological sites and usually unearths a present-day murder in the bargain. David Housewright revealed that, while attending a crowded music festival, he looked around at the sea of faces and began to marvel at how easy it might be to kill someone and simply slip away unnoticed… and thus began his novel Highway 61, in which an unfortunate fellow wakes up next to a dead body after attending a similar music festival, and thinks he has made a clean getaway until the blackmail threats start arriving.

Now that I’ve got two novels on the shelves, one in the pipeline set for release in January 2014 and a fourth rattling around in my brain, I think it’s safe for me to say that I’m most inspired by place. I need to create the setting where my characters are going to do whatever it is that they do, and then the story flows from there.

My current novel, The Fate of Mercy Alban (2013, Hyperion), bubbled to the surface during a tour I took of Glensheen Mansion, a stately, old home on the shores of Lake Superior in Duluth, Minnesota. Once a private home and now a museum, Glensheen has its own haunted history — matriarch Elizabeth Congdon and her maid were murdered in the house by Elizabeth’s daughter and her husband, no less, and reportedly both of the slain ladies remain — but I wasn’t interested in writing their story. I wasn’t looking for story inspiration at all. I was just taking the tour.

It was a gorgeous summer day on Lake Superior, and after wandering from room to glorious room inside, I walked out onto the patio that spans the whole length of the house. I stood there gazing at the meticulously-manicured lawn that flows out to the lake, which was glittering in the summer sun.

I thought: “What a great place to host a party!” And I started imagining it — men in their summer suits, women in long, cotton dresses, servers in black circulating with drinks and hors d’oeuvres. I could almost see the ghostly images of the revelers there in the yard, talking, laughing, listening to music wafting through the air.

And then, being the type of writer I am, I thought: “Ooo. What if somebody wound up dead at that party?”

I could clearly imagine that, too. A gunshot, a scream piercing the night air, the confusion that would follow — stunned onlookers, too traumatized to move, others running for the door, a police siren, faint at first and then growing louder. The anguished cry of grief as a love is lost forever.

I don’t know how long I stood there, caught up in the scene playing out in my own mind. The thought of it just wouldn’t let me go. And so began The Fate of Mercy Alban, a novel centered around a long-ago summer party at a stately old mansion much like Glensheen, where one of the party guests, a world-famous writer, winds up dead, and the daughter of the host and hostess disappears without a trace.

Now I’m looking for inspiration for my fourth novel. Know of any haunted mansions to tour?

Wendy Webb is the author of the Heartland Indie bestselling novel, The Fate of Mercy Alban (2013, Hyperion), and The Tale of Halcyon Crane, (2010, Holt), which won the Minnesota Book Award for genre fiction. Her newest book, The Vanishing, will be released in January, 2014. Visit her online at www.wendykwebb.com.

Songs from The Shining Girls

The Shining Girls by Lauren Beukes

Reading The Shining Girls sends us careening through the twentieth century as we chase Harper, a time-traveling killer, from one era of Chicago to the next. Whenever we land, Lauren Beukes crafts a richly atmospheric scene, accurate right down to the music. Below, Beukes walks us through some of the songs mentioned in The Shining Girls. You can listen to all the songs above in the Spotify player.

“Somebody from Somewhere” by George and Ira Gershwin (1931)
It’s the sweet Gershwin showtune the violent drifter Harper hears as he staggers through the city streets, led by the flickering street lights to the House which will change everything. The lyrics are particularly resonant to the shining girls he will track down and kill “somebody from somewhere, for nobody but me.”

“Pistol Packing Momma” by Al Dexter (1943)
Along with Judy Garland and Bing Crosby, Al Dexter is one of the albums on heavy rotation playing over the speakers at the Chicago Bridge & Iron Company as welder Zora Ellis Jordan heads home for the day in 1943, thinking about troublesome young Blanche who says she’s in love with her.

“Get It While You Can” by Janis Joplin (1971)
Off the album Pearl, which pioneering music pirate and abortionist Margo Cooper recorded onto an early tape deck in Jane’s living room in 1972. It becomes the theme song for Julia Madrigal’s boyfriend after she’s murdered in 1984. He sees it as a provocation to seize the day, but he grabs on to all the wrong things.

“A Sunday Kind of Love” by Ella Fitzgerald (1947)
Alice Templeton has never recovered from the shock of love-at-first-sight with the intense stranger with the limp at the State Fair in 1940. She’s spent the last ten years daydreaming about being reunited with him in scenarios influenced by the movies. She wants to find the kind of love that lasts past Saturday night. But when Harper does come for her, finally, it’s not what she expected at all.

“All That She Wants (Is Another Baby)” by Ace of Bace (1993)
It’s the song biologist Mysha Pathan is rocking out to late one night in her lab at Milkwood Pharmaceuticals, singing along so loud that she doesn’t hear the man in the dark sports coat come in behind her.

Rogue Review: Standing in Another Man’s Grave by Ian Rankin

Today we welcome Ro Cuzon, a contributor for The Rogue Reader, as he reviews Ian Rankin’s bestselling new novel, Standing in Another Man’s Grave.Standing in Another Man's Grave

Ian Rankin may be an acclaimed master of plot but it’s his prose that always hooks me first.  It happened again last week within the very first sentences of his new book, Standing in Another Man’s Grave, in which his protagonist John Rebus comes back from retirement.

Forced to leave the Edinburgh police force several years earlier due to the age limit, Rankin’s moody, rogue detective is now a civilian working for a Scottish cold case squad known as the Serious Crime Review Unit. After Nina Hazlitt, the mother of a teenaged girl missing since 1999, convinces him that her daughter’s vanishing may be linked to other cases, Rebus muscles his way into the active investigation of the most recent disappearance, headed by none other than his longtime colleague Siobhan Clarke. There, the aging and cantankerous ex-inspector is confronted with new police technology and a younger generation of squeaky-clean, by-the-book cops who frown upon his drinking, smoking, and unorthodox methods, like his cozying-up to known criminal underworld figures.

Unlike the other novels in the series (at least the ones I’ve read), Standing in Another Man’s Grave gets Rankin’s hero out of Edinburgh and his comfort zone. Rebus does quite a bit of traveling up and down northern Scotland, its coast and the Highlands, musing in the process about the country and its people, “a nation of five million huddled together as if cowed by the elements and the immensity of the landscape surrounding them.” All along the way, Rankin expertly spins a suspenseful tale and around the halfway mark, as the stakes rise, the book becomes impossible to put down. Continue reading “Rogue Review: Standing in Another Man’s Grave by Ian Rankin”

What Is a Mystery?

fascination*Every once in awhile, when my (ahem) amazing job comes up in conversation, someone will ask me, if not: “What is a mystery?” outright, another question along similar lines. Could be someone curious how the category has evolved in the years since Sherlock Holmes, Inspector Dupin and Hercule Poirot. Or it could be an avid reader just discovering a love of suspense, yet finding themselves somewhat flummoxed by all the subcategorization—with police procedurals, cozies, psychological thrillers, and so many more, the permutations can at times seem endless.

So what is a mystery? I’m sure for Mulholland Books readers, the answer comes easy. A mystery involves a crime, and centers around the investigations of a protagonist who endeavors to bring justice to its perpetrators. We often refer to this as the “solution” to the mystery, despite the fact that the crime most commonly depicted—murder—is irrevocable and, thus, unsolvable. (See: Detective Ramone’s penultimate speech in Pelecanos’s The Night Gardener.)

The other, slightly more slippery version of this prompt: What’s the difference between a mystery and a thriller?

Conversationally, readers often use the terms interchangeably to discuss any novel that engages the tropes of the crime fiction genre, or operates within the suspense paradigm. But the terms aren’t actually as exchangeable as we make them out to be. The answer has a lot to do with Hitchcock’s famous speech on the art of creating suspense—the bomb under the table, a very neat example from a master storyteller and a useful example for also highlighting the differences in the genres:

We are now having a very innocent little chat. Let’s suppose that there is a bomb underneath this table between us. Nothing happens, and then all of a sudden, “Boom!” There is an explosion. The public is surprised, but prior to this surprise, it has seen an absolutely ordinary scene, of no special consequence. Now, let us take a suspense situation. The bomb is underneath the table and the public knows it, probably because they have seen the anarchist place it there. The public is aware the bomb is going to explode at one o’clock and there is a clock in the decor. The public can see that it is a quarter to one. In these conditions, the same innocuous conversation becomes fascinating because the public is participating in the scene. The audience is longing to warn the characters on the screen: “You shouldn’t be talking about such trivial matters. There is a bomb beneath you and it is about to explode!”

Hitchcock’s version of events is a classic thriller premise—a crime is about to be committed, one which readers have been alerted to. But begin this story fifteen minutes later, just as the bomb explodes, and you have yourself a crime and mystery—the identity of the perpetrator—in need of a solving.  It’s all in the timing—start in one place, and you have a novel centered around anticipation, a thriller. Start later and you’ll find yourself in classic mystery territory.

Does this mean a mystery can’t be suspenseful? Certainly not—the path to each mystery’s solution is often littered with mid-novel scenes just like the thriller premise that Hitchcock describes, in which our protagonist’s life has been placed in danger and the survival, or successful unveiling of the truth itself, has been placed in suspense. Which is where the term mystery/thriller comes in handy, and why the two categories have become more and more confused in the past few years. Many of our most successful crime novelists have become masters at blending the categories so that suspense is as much the name of the game as the investigation at hand.

Take, say, Lee Child’s Reacher series. Most if not all of his novels are actually mysteries, despite Child’s reputation as one of our best thriller writers around. The Affair finds Reacher wrapped up in an unsolved murder case that will change the course of his life—and readers don’t discover the identity of the murderer until the novel’s climactic scenes. The Hard Way finds Reacher in New York City, investigating the kidnapping of a wealthy paramilitary figure’s wife–and we as readers won’t find out why or how she was taken until very late in the game. We often talk about these stories as thrillers, and quite understandably—they both certainly thrill—but given the unsolved crimes at their center, both are actually mysteries, strictly speaking. If Reacher were just a six-and-a-half-foot-tall, gorilla-faced guy who happens to be an ace in a fight, would readers really care for him in quite the same way? I doubt it—he’d still be in Carter Crossing, Mississippi, interviewing murder suspects, having never quite resolved the events of The Affair in the first place!

All of which begs the question, Mulholland Books reader: How do you prefer your bombs? Still ticking? Or already gone off?

Wes Miller is Mulholland Books’ Associate Editor and Marketing Associate. If Mulholland were a crime novel instead of an imprint that publishes them, Wes would be its PI—the stalwart presence resolving its issues, making sure at the end of the day, justice gets served and good prevails—at least until tomorrow comes. Reach him through the Mulholland Books twitter account (@mulhollandbooks), on Tumblr (mulhollandbooks.tumblr.com) or right here on the Mulholland Books website.