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A Soundtrack for The Highway Kind

The Highway Kind edited by Patrick Millikin

It was a thrill and an honor to work with such an exceptional group of writers for The Highway Kind, and, as music plays such a vital role to the theme and mood of the book I wanted to put together a soundtrack that captured its eccentric spirit. What I didn’t want was a collection of the familiar road songs that we all know; my hope was to take listeners on an interesting and fun musical journey. Whenever possible I matched songs with particular stories, and I made sure to take suggestions from the contributors. For instance, Joe Lansdale suggested Woody Guthrie’s “Car Song” as the perfect companion to his Depression-era tale of two East Texas kids on the road. Wallace Stroby suggested Dave Alvin’s wonderful “Interstate City,” while Gary Phillips contributed Rihanna’s “Shut Up and Drive.” Jim Sallis reminded me to include Robert Johnson’s seminal “Terraplane Blues.” Robin Trower’s “Daydream” features in George Pelecanos’s story and perfectly evokes its mood. Two of the contributors, Willy Vlautin and Patterson Hood, are also well-known musicians and songwriters, and I couldn’t resist giving them both a serious shout out here: Vlautin’s “Stateline” from his band The Delines’ sublime “Colfax” album perfectly fit the vibe I was looking for, and Hood (The Drive-By Truckers) graciously suggested his band mate Mike Cooley’s “Zip City.”

For better or worse, most of the other selections were my own. I hope you enjoy the playlist. I sure had fun putting it together…

Start Reading “Power Wagon” by C.J. Box from The Highway Kind

The Highway KindNext week we publish a short story collection called The Highway Kind, an anthology edited by Patrick Millikin with a unique premise: the world’s bestselling and critically acclaimed writers share thrilling crime stories about cars, driving, and the road. We’ve got new stories by Michael Connelly, George Pelecanos, Diana Gabaldon, and C.J. Box, who contributed the story “Power Wagon” excerpted below.

A single headlight strobed through a copse of ten-foot willows on the other side of the overgrown horse pasture. Marissa unconsciously laced her fingers over her pregnant belly and said, “Brandon, there’s somebody out there.”

“What?” Brandon said. He was at the head of an old kitchen table that had once fed a half dozen ranch hands breakfast and dinner. A thick ledger book was open in front of him and Brandon had moved a lamp from the family room next to the table so he could read.

“I said, somebody is out there. A car or something. I saw a headlight.”

“Just one?”

“Just one.”

Brandon placed his index finger on an entry in the ledger book so he wouldn’t lose his place. He looked up.

“Don’t get freaked out. It’s probably a hunter or somebody who’s lost.”

“What if they come to the house?”

“I don’t know,” he said. “I guess we help them out.”

“Maybe I should shut off the lights,” she said.

“I wouldn’t worry about it,” he said. “They probably won’t even come here. They’re probably just passing through.”

“But to where?” she asked.

She had a point, he conceded. The old two-track beyond the willows was a private road, part of the ranch, and it led to a series of four vast mountain meadows and the foothills of the Wyoming range. Then it trailed off in the sagebrush.

“I saw it again,” she said.

He could tell she was scared even though there really wasn’t any reason to be, he thought. But saying “Calm down” or “Don’t worry” wouldn’t help the situation, he knew. If she was scared, she was scared. She wasn’t used to being so isolated—she’d grown up in Chicago and Seattle—and he couldn’t blame her.

Brandon found a pencil on the table and starred the entry he was on to mark where he’d stopped and pushed back his chair. The feet of it scraped the old linoleum with a discordant note.

He joined her at the window and put his hand on her shoulder. When he looked out, though, all he could see was utter darkness. He’d forgotten how dark it could be outside when the only ambient light was from stars and the moon. Unfortunately, storm clouds masked both.

“Maybe he’s gone,” she said, “whoever it was.”

A log snapped in the fireplace and in the silent house it sounded like a gunshot. Brandon felt Marissa jump at the sound.

“You’re tense,” he said.

“Of course I am,” she responded. There was anger in her voice. “We’re out here in the middle of nowhere without phone or Internet and somebody’s out there driving around. Trespassing. They probably don’t even know we’re here, so what are they doing?”

He leaned forward until his nose was a few inches from the glass. He could see snowflakes on the other side. There was enough of a breeze that it was snowing horizontally. The uncut grass in the yard was spotted white, and the horse meadow had turned from dull yellow to gray in the starlight.

Then a willow was illuminated and a lone headlight curled around it. The light lit up the horizontal snow as it ghosted through the brush and the bare cottonwood trees. Snowflakes looked like errant sparks in the beam. The light snow appeared as low-hanging smoke against the stand of willows.

“He’s coming this way,” she said. She pressed into him.

“I’ll take care of it,” Brandon said. “I’ll see what he wants and send him packing.”

She looked up at him with scared eyes and rubbed her belly. He knew she did that when she was nervous. The baby was their first and she was unsure and overprotective about the pregnancy.

During the day, while he’d pored over the records inside, she’d wandered through the house, the corrals, and the outbuildings and had come back and declared the place “officially creepy, like a mausoleum.” The only bright spot in her day, she said, was discovering a nest of day-old naked baby mice that she’d brought back to the house in a rusty metal box. She said she wanted to save them if she could figure out how.

Brandon knew baby mice in the house was a bad idea, but he welcomed the distraction. Marissa was feeling maternal, even about mice.

“Don’t forget,” he said, “I grew up in this house.”
Continue reading “Start Reading “Power Wagon” by C.J. Box from The Highway Kind”

Mulholland Books Unveils Strand Originals Publishing Program in Conjunction with Strand Magazine

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Anthony Goff, Senior Vice-President of Content Development & Audio Publisher of Hachette Book Group, Josh Kendall, VP, Editorial Director, Mulholland Books and Executive Editor, Little, Brown, and Andrew Gulli, Managing Editor of Strand Magazine, announced today the co-publication of The Strand Originals Program. Strand Originals will consist of twenty of the best and most popular Strand Magazine short stories of all time, now being published by Mulholland Books as simultaneous e-book and audio digital downloads. The debut of Strand Originals begins with the publication of “Where the Evidence Lies” by Jeffery Deaver, “Meet and Greet” by Ian Rankin, “Jacket Man” by Linwood Barclay, “The Voiceless” by Faye Kellerman, and “Start-Up” by Olen Steinhauer, all published on April 19th, 2016.

The remaining 15 titles in the program, to be published throughout the remainder of 2016, include stories by Tennessee Williams, Michael Connelly, Ray Bradbury and Joseph Heller. The full list of titles and publication dates is below.

Josh Kendall said, “We at Mulholland Books have tried to make a lasting impression in our five years; Strand Magazine has been doing so for ages. We’re therefore more than proud to have formed a partnership with the Strand, publishing digital and audio versions of some of their best short stories. I’d say that we’re lucky to have them part of our family, but we’re lucky to now be part of theirs.”

Anthony Goff said, “A couple of years back Andrew Gulli came to me to discuss the possible digital distribution of Strand Magazine’s short story gems. Mulholland books had at this time really begun hitting its stride in establishing itself as a rising star in the suspense genre, and I saw this as a perfect home for Strand to team up with Hachette Audio. Much like some of the plot lines in the stories we’re publishing, it’s been a complex and windy road to get here. But, I could not be happier to roll this program out as a part of Mulholland’s 5th Anniversary celebration this spring.”

Andrew Gulli said, “The first place we had in mind for finding a company that would distribute a curated list of short stories that we’ve published was Hachette and Mulholland. I have nothing but respect and admiration for how they’ve published high quality works of fiction that are also commercially successful. Also, from my relationship with Anthony Goff, Josh Kendall, and Michael Pietsch; they’ve always proven to be loyal and determined group, so we’re happy to work with them.” Continue reading “Mulholland Books Unveils Strand Originals Publishing Program in Conjunction with Strand Magazine”

“A Prisoner of Time” by Lucian E. Dervan

Hofstra Law School's Mystery Short Story Contest“A Prisoner of Time” by Lucian E. Dervan is the winning story of Hofstra Law School’s Mystery Short Story Contest, which invited participants to write a short work of fiction featuring a lawyer as a main character. You can read more about the contest from Alafair Burke. Thank you to all the writers who did the legal thriller genre proud with their entries. And congratulations to Lucian Dervan!

The years passed faithfully, each one much like the last, and yet each distinctive and filled with its own memories.  George Duncan, known simply as Duncan since his first year of school, sat in his large recliner.  Though the chair was old and tattered, the fabric was woven with far too many memories to discard.  Duncan, currently in the eighth decade of his life, had never felt the cold beneath his skin as he did now.  But, somehow, sitting in his chair, gazing through the window, and thinking about the past seemed to warm him as the sun set outside.

Duncan’s mind often wandered over his decades as a feared criminal defense attorney.  On some days he would laugh out loud as images of a floundering witness succumbing to his blazing cross-examination replayed in his mind.  Other days were filled with deep reflection on those few times during his career when mistakes had led to perpetual recollection and regret.  Despite the innumerable and varying memories from which to select, one image drifted uninvited into his mind more than any other during the many days he spent in that timeworn chair, the face of his client Billy Brandon.  As that face flickered in his consciousness once again, Duncan’s hands clenched in anger and anxiety.

“Duncan.  Duncan, dear,” his wife, Martha, called from the kitchen.  “It’s time for dinner.”

“Just a moment,” Duncan responded as he unbound his hands and strained to push himself up from his seat.

Once standing, he paused and gazed out the window for a final second.  Then, turning to face a large bookcase at his side, Duncan reached out and withdrew a massive leather bound edition of a Dostoyevsky classic.  After using both hands to lower the literary masterpiece onto a small library table, Duncan lifted the front cover to reveal the book was actually a safe.  Reaching into the hollow middle, he pushed aside a piece of paper and withdrew a heavy black revolver.  Holding the gun in his hand and spinning the chamber, he took note of the four bullets and two empty shells still lying in the cylinder.

“After these many years,” Duncan said aloud, yet in a whisper, “my representation will finally come to an end.  Until tomorrow, Mr. Billy Brandon.” Continue reading ““A Prisoner of Time” by Lucian E. Dervan”

Hofstra Law School’s Mystery Short Story Contest

Hofstra Law School's Mystery Short Story Contest

Not too many years ago, an influential editor told me that the “legal thriller was dead.” Readers were bored. They wanted to read about “real people,” not a bunch of lawyers.

Well, since then, readers have proven that editor wrong. They have fallen in love with Michael Connelly’s Mickey Haller, watching the defense attorney struggle to redeem himself in the eyes of a daughter who does not understand how her father can put dangerous people back on the streets. They could not put their books down as William Landay told the masterful story of Defending Jacob, about a prosecutor who comes to fear that his own son committed a grisly murder.

I often joke that the term “legal thriller” is an oxymoron. Most of my time in a courtroom was spent waiting around, the New York Times crossword puzzle tucked discreetly into my case file. “Objection!” and “Hearsay!” do not make for good dialogue. So why do we keep following stories about lawyers?

Lawyers are investigators. Their job is to ask the right questions and let the answers lead them to the next step. They think critically and analytically. They know—and are supposed to keep—our darkest secrets: our family situations, our finances, our worst sins. They owe duties of loyalty to clients, even when they don’t want to, and despite the demands of their own moral compass and those of the people they care about.

The work and lives of lawyers remain fascinating. To highlight that fact through fiction, the Maurice A. Deane School of Law at Hofstra University sponsored a mystery short story contest, calling for submissions of stories featuring lawyers. The only rules were that submissions had to be original, previously unpublished short works of fiction (under 3,500 words) featuring a lawyer as a main character. I was honored to serve as a judge, along with Lee Child, the #1 New York Times bestselling author of the Jack Reacher series (and a law school graduate!), and Marcia Clark, the former OJ Simpson prosecutor who has written a highly-praised series of novels featuring a Los Angeles prosecutor named Rachel Knight.

We received 137 submissions from around the world, depicting the legal profession from perhaps every conceivable angle. We were impressed by the quality of storytelling and the depth of knowledge about the lives of lawyers. Choosing the winners was not an easy job.

The Maurice A. Deane School of Law at Hofstra University is happy to announce the three finalists of our writing contest. Continue reading “Hofstra Law School’s Mystery Short Story Contest”

Canceling “Dead Pig Collector” by Warren Ellis

It is with regret that we announce that we’re canceling our publication of Warren Ellis’s digital short story, “Dead Pig Collector.” We were and continue to be very excited about the story—it’s brilliant, savage, and funny, and we hope you will have the opportunity to read it soon. However, we will not be coordinating its release with Mr. Ellis.

To the readers who have already preordered “Dead Pig Collector,” please accept our apologies for this cancellation. The vendor with which you placed your order will reverse the transaction.

Keep an eye on Warren Ellis’s many online platforms for developments about the story’s release. We wish Mr. Ellis the best on his future projects.

Karin Slaughter’s Story from Vengeance Anthology Wins Edgar Award

Mystery Writers of America Presents VengeanceWe were beyond thrilled to hear that Karin Slaughter’s propulsive story “The Unremarkable Heart” won Best Short Story at last week’s Edgar Awards. This story appears in our anthology, Mystery Writers of America Presents Vengeance, which is just out in paperback.

In the spirit of Short Story Month—which is, you guessed it, May—we’d like to give you a chance to win this star-studded story collection. Simply comment below with your favorite mystery story for a chance to win. See below for our terms and conditions.

While you’re waiting to the sweepstakes to close, we encourage you to visit our mystery story advent calendar, which recommends a chilling new story every day in May.

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Year End Review: Triggers Down, A Social Writing Project

Sink Hole

Mulholland Books is looking for English and writing students to contribute writing to Triggers Down, a social writing project that will be a testament to writers building off of other writers’ work to create bigger and better stories.

The goal is to create a crime story. Here’s how it works: Mulholland Books will assign interested students specific passages, each student will write a section that branches off of the one before it (except for the first paragraph, of course), and that process will continue until students have composed a cohesive narrative.

Each passage will be posted online until completion, so students can see how the story evolves. And here’s the best part. Mulholland Books will feature the final story on MulhollandBooks.com. We want this project to not only be a testament to appropriation, but also an opportunity for young writers to publish.

How to submit: Write Dominic Viti at dominicviti@gmail.com and tell him you’re interested.

First section by Evan Walker.

Edited by Dominic Viti.

John found the body after he’d had his share of sightseeing the dune. He’d scrambled over it as he had in ‘72, sixteen and obliterated, once he’d yanked himself out of the rear window of the VW Squareback and waded through the black water to the shore.

He gave a satisfied hmph and walked the same way he’d walked that night, alongside the ditch and back to the house he’d grown up in—shallower than he remembered, dried up too. He had sloshed through the front door and the two of them just stared as he spoke. Joy riding again. Imagining the way his mother had turned back to her reading after he’d returned, soaking wet, without the car, he’d meandered back toward the edge of the ditch, and found her.

She was dumped in a pile, her sundress, black shorts and pixie brown hair  damp from the humid air, one hand slung over her side and curled up with rigor mortis except for her pointer finger, outstretched in timid protest.

Second section by Amelia Spriggs.

Edited by Dominic Viti.

John jumped to the other side of the ditch to look at her face and landed heavily, slipping to one aching knee and sending a few small white crabs skittering away. He had seen a lot of dead bodies over the decades, not a few of them young and formerly pretty. But this one pinched his sense of tragedy, niggling the worn callus of his compassion.

There was something familiar about her slim frame, even in its rigid heap. The angular jaw and the set of those large, inert eyes. He crouched down and sat on his haunches for a moment before falling back onto the sand. What felt like the vague pricking of tragedy swiftly turned into the keen piercing of horror. Lena.

Third section by Joe Oslund.

Edited by Dominic Viti.

John stumbled forward in a haze of shock that rang in his skull like the reverberating toll of a church bell, hid behind a shallow hollow of sand, and threw up. He took a few deep breaths before calling Julius, who let the phone ring six times before picking up—a subtle reminder that the old man had more important things to do.

“What is it?” Julius barked.

“They got her,” John croaked. “I mean, somebody got her.”

“Who?” Julius said. “Who got who? Use your words.”

John had no words.

“Is it Lena?” Julius said. “Did something happen to Lena?”

“She’s dead, Dad. Somebody killed her.”

There was silence on the line, and with a soft click, Julius hung up.

Fourth section by Ezra Salkin.

Edited by Dominic Viti.

John lit a cigarette and waited for his bastard father. Lena didn’t deserve this. She wasn’t a drug-addicted whore, a convict, or some train-hopping drifter who thought she had had it bad and had something to prove. John felt like crying, but the many cadavers he encountered throughout his life only made his usual sense of detachment return.

Blank faces played in a slideshow in his mind before he allowed Lena’s dirty face—half shrouded in kelp—to blot out all the others. Decomposition had set in, something he had rarely witnessed. Half hidden under her sundress, something glinted. John nudged it out from under Lena’s other cold hand, the one that wasn’t pointing, her fingers curled in a confused repose, as if undecided whether they should let go or hold on. A locket.

‘You’re different,’ he thought, flicking the half smoked cigarette, flavorless like all things had become despite this “new lease on life” the parole board had promised. He began snubbing the vermeil medallion into the ground with the heel of his sneaker. Disappearing into the wet sand, the locket winked at him with dull amusement.

He guessed it was given to her by her trust fund boyfriend, Michael, whom John had never met but had heard only good things about, though he hadn’t cared to open it so he wasn’t sure. By the time he wondered why he hadn’t, it was buried altogether in a neat pile beside the braided chain that had once held the heart shaped trinket around Lena’s bruised neck.

Snapped at the toggle, it hardly looked strong enough to strangle someone, but the bluish lines that wrapped around her neck in intermingling, jagged patterns told it different. The marks left behind were deep, a cruel mimicry of its supposed function. Her throat appeared to have not been far from bursting. John had seen people murdered with less, but he wasn’t in the Florida State Pen anymore.

He reached into his pocket, pulling the wrinkled letter Lena had left for him at the halfway house. September 4, 1992—Lena’s entreaty for John to meet her at the spot they’d enjoyed so often all those years earlier. A place where they could “clear the air.” She had still wanted him in her life.

John crushed the letter into a ball before igniting it with his lighter. He watched the black writing run from the pink stationary before the whole thing blackened and smoldered into nothing.

That’s when he heard the cancerous wheezing from behind him.

“You son-of-a-bitch,” Julius said.

Fifth section by Vivien Eliasoph.

Edited by Dominic Viti.

“How did you know I was here?” John asked, his voice muffled by the unlit cigarette between lips.

“Never mind that,” Julius said. He blanketed Lena with his camouflage jacket and tossed his keys to his son. “Truck’s at the front of the pier.”

Julius crouched down and swept Lena’s hair behind her ears. Blood trailed across her forehead.

“John, move it, goddamnit!” Julius said.

John ran as fast as he could. He inhaled deeply, his cigarette sticking to the inside of his dry lips. The craving for a deep smoke drove him forward. His calves burned and his breath was heavy in the humid night air. He wiped his dripping nose with his wrist and imagined exactly where on the console of his father’s Ford the cigarette lighter was. His sneakers pressed deep into the sand, passing wasted cigarette butts and empty soda cans, abandoned and forgotten by teenagers.

The truck was caked in mud. The interior was no better. By the time John pulled up, Julius had already made it to the end of the pier, standing by the forest green trashcan with Lena draped over his shoulder. John put the car in park and scooted to the passenger’s seat. He flung the cover off of the cigarette lighter and watched the white paper crack into lava orange. Then, a long drag.

The rearview mirror foregrounded Julius placing Lena in the bed of the truck, wrapping her in blue tarp before climbing into the cab.

“Pass me one,” Julius said. He left the door open and emptied his boots of sand. John was happy to see part of the beach left behind. He reached into his front pocket and dug out a cigarette.

Julius lit and inhaled with the same tired desperation as his son.

Neither spoke. John’s stomach grumbled. He looked at the floor and saw beef jerky and peanut butter crackers. He went with the crackers.

“We’ll have to leave her with George,” Julius said.

John choked on his crackers. “Why in the hell would we go and do that?”

“He’s just as much a part of this as we are.” Continue reading “Year End Review: Triggers Down, A Social Writing Project”

A Bad Feeling: A Short Story

Trigger-Happy Star Formation (NASA, Chandra, 8/12/09)Arthur held one finger up to his wife while he checked the number. “I need to take this.” He didn’t wait for her to protest, he just got up from the table and moved to the sidewalk in some vague notion of modern etiquette as he swiped his finger across the face of his phone and put it to his ear.

“This is Art.” He hoped his voice didn’t sound too anxious.

“I have Josh for you.” And then a few seconds later, “Arthur, how are you?”

“Good Josh. I’m good. How are you?”

“I’m returning your call.”

“You have to get me a meeting with George.” Well, that cut to the chase. He heard some shuffling on the other end of the line. Before Josh could answer, Art blurted, “Listen, you know I can get this job. You know it. Remember, Sarah? Remember when I said get a meeting with Sarah and I nailed that down with one phone call. I didn’t even have to go into her office. I just talked her through it and she pulled the trigger. Right then and there. Remember?”

“Art. That was six years ago.”

“Has it–? Well, I didn’t…”

“Sarah’s had a lot more work since then and she hasn’t called you back.”

“What’re you saying?”

“I’m saying people talk.”

“Sarah’s an idiot. That much was clear from the get-go.”

“I’m not disagreeing with you, Art, but you have a bit of a stink on you now.”

“Bullshit.”

“You hired me because I tell it like it is. And I’m telling you, you’re toxic. George isn’t going to happen.”

Arthur looked at his wife still in the booth in the restaurant, drinking a black and white milkshake. Why’d she have to order the milkshake?

“You know what, Josh?” He looked up at the sky, gray and pitiless. He hung up the phone before he finished the sentence. His wife would ask him who that was calling and he rehearsed saying “nobody,” then went back inside the diner. Continue reading “A Bad Feeling: A Short Story”

The Assumption

Dresden to go (cc)Via Popcorn Fiction, a superstar actor has big secrets in his past in this touch of noir from Ralph Pezzullo, co-author of HUNT THE WOLF: A Seal Team Six novel written with Don Mann.

He saw her face in his mind’s eye and there was no mistake. Pale and pleading. Desperate. A ghost with pale red hair floating to the surface of his consciousness.

More like an ache. An awful reminder.

Gil Naylor cranked up the stereo in his vintage Mercedes coupe as it climbed the narrow streets of the Hollywood Hills.

Then he saw her again. This time, smiling. Teasing. Beckoning him further like a siren. “Help me, Gil. Please, help me.”

Entering through the elaborately carved Spanish door, the ruggedly handsome forty-nine-year-old actor crossed directly to the bottle of Asombroso Reserva Del Porto, poured a shot and downed it.

Beyond the patio and pool he watched the sun drop like a mustard-colored fizzy into the blue ink ocean. The tequila slammed down his throat like a fist.

And the image vanished.

Replaced by familiar sounds and faces as the house came to life like it always did when he entered. Jagged sparks of energy ricocheted off the terracotta tiles and yellow stucco walls, into the lavender tiled kitchen, and beyond.

Jenny, his live-in girlfriend, responded, hurrying in from the gym in a black tank top and shorts, abs taunt and glistening, nipples at attention. Tara, his personal assistant stuck her head out of the upstairs office and called from the balcony. Continue reading “The Assumption”