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The Walls: An Original Short Story (Part I)

Mt Washington HotelWe are thrilled to present Part I of an original short story written by BLOODLINE author Mark Billingham titled “The Walls.” We will be running the printed version of the story in two parts, as well as an audio version, read by Brad Negbaur (see below). BLOODLINE is also available as a downloadable audiobook read by Paul Thornley.

It was probably not the nicest hotel in Huntsville, but I had a good idea that it wasn’t the worst either, so I didn’t have a lot to complain about. Truth was, I’d booked the Palms over the Internet, so I didn’t know too much about anything until I checked in. Besides which, I’d stayed in places that made this one seem like the damn Ritz, so I was happy enough with a bed I could sleep in and food that didn’t come back to haunt me.

That was when I first saw her – in the restaurant at the Huntsville Palms Hotel.

It was seven o’clock or somewhere around there and the place was pretty packed and she was sitting at a big table just across from my small one. She and everyone else at the table with her were talking in hushed voices, which made a nice change from the loudmouth pair behind me who talked about the cost of bedroom furniture for an hour or more, like they were saving the planet or some shit. I turned around to stare at one point. I was hoping they’d see that they were putting me right off my chicken-fried steak, but it didn’t do any good. I really don’t know how either of them had the time to eat anything with all that jabbering, but they clearly did because they both looked like Mack trucks with heads.

I’d seen a lot of people that size since I’d arrived in Texas.

From where I was sitting I didn’t have a great view of her, but what I could see looked pretty good, so I kept glancing over and eventually she turned to try and catch the eye of the waitress. There wasn’t really a moment between us, nothing like that. But there was maybe a half-smile or something before she got the waitress’s attention and turned away. I just kept on eating and flicking through the local paper, happy enough to make up the rest of it in my head, the way men do sometimes.

She presses something into my hand when I run into her on the way out of the men’s room. Her room number scrawled on a napkin.

She says, “Let’s not bother with names,” when we get together later on, while she’s looking me straight in the eye and taking off her shirt. “Let’s just enjoy each other”, she whispers. “Get out of our heads and go crazy for one night…”

Continue reading “The Walls: An Original Short Story (Part I)”

How L.A. Noire Changes Everything (Just Not in the Way They Thought it Would)

The Game

There’s some kind of irony to be found in the fact that one of the main pursuits of L.A. Noire is to reconstruct, in exact detail, a few square miles of 1947 Los Angeles, because everything else about the game is so modern. Ahead of its time, even.

Produced by Team Bondi and Rockstar Games and intended to be part radical reinvention of the point-and-click adventure games of yore, part tech-demonstration for new performance capture breakthroughs, the game also winds up having something that nobody expected: an unprecedented amount of intelligence. I would imagine that the game’s intelligence presented one of Rockstar’s biggest problems when it comes to selling the game to a wide audience. The company’s name has become synonymous with violent, open-world action games. Games that may have grand, sweeping narratives, but also have lots of blood, guts and other “exploitable elements” to keep the more reptilian-brained of their audience satiated.

The bulk of the gameplay is comprised of searching crime scenes for evidence and then interviewing persons of interest. The intimate nature of the interviews is where the game’s performance capture is employed to its fullest extent, as the player is asked to judge the validity of a P.O.I’s statement based on their facial tics and tells. It’s not terribly hard to discern when a character isn’t telling the truth (there’s lots of eye rolling, furrowed brows, etc.) but a player does have to use their deductive skills when it comes to determining whether they have sufficient evidence to prove if a perp is lying or not. Because all the characters a player meets are motion captured by real world actors, expect to be staring down many a familiar face over the course of the game. Either the producers got some kind of package deal or they wanted to capitalize on the warm post-war period connotations of Mad Men, because it seems like the entire cast shows up in L.A. Noire.

Continue reading “How L.A. Noire Changes Everything (Just Not in the Way They Thought it Would)”

A Conversation with Duane Swierczynski and Josh Bazell: Part I

In our ongoing celebration of the publication of Fun & Games we matched Duane Swierczynski up with Josh Bazell, author of the acclaimed novel Beat the Reaper. Josh called Fun & Games “Insanely Entertaining.” Here is Part I of the result of their conversation which touches on entertainment, series material, Aquaman and Die Hard.

Josh Bazell: Duane. Fun & Games. Awesome book. I think that when they first gave it to me to blurb, I said something about it continuing your experiment, as I saw it, as to how far you can push the entertainment value of a novel. I don’t know how you feel about public discussion of technical stuff. But what I’m curious about, as a writer, is how conscious of that are you? How much of your career is about coming up with a book that is a perfectly pure action novel?

Duane Swiercynski: Good question! I mostly try not to bore people. That’s my goal. Get them turning pages no matter what.

JB: That’s actually my philosophy also. It’s probably the #1 thing I think about as a writer.

DS: I feel like, if I’m bored writing it, I should cut it or move on quickly. I also really focus on voice as a writer. That greases the skids for people and keeps things going. I’ve done both, but I want to ask you if you plot in advance or outline, or just explore the plot and figure it out as you go?

JB: I am an obsessive outliner. Of the Harry Wittington school, that I would rather build a house without a blue print than write a novel without an outline. I find in my own work that I have plenty of room to be creative on the page without having to worry about whether the scene is going to end up where I want it to. That said, there are people who I respect, Thomas Perry and Elmore Leonard come to mind, who say that they don’t outline and that outlining would remove a lot of the fun they have. On the other hand, both of those people have developed plotting techniques that make it easier to plot on the fly, like Thomas Perry when he uses a cat-and-mouse format. And both of those guys have been in this game for long enough that they are clearly doing a good amount of planning subconsciously that a lot of us are doing on paper. I don’t really know how to do it without outlining. But it has occurred to me to try.

DS: What you say rings true. When I do plot, with guideposts to leave enough room to have fun on the page. And you can always change the guideposts. You’re not locked into it. But I do like having a plan.

JB: You always can change the goalposts and you always have to. So, Charlie Hardie is a series character and you do a masterful job of leaving some things unexplained in the book. I wondered if this had something to do, possibly, with your work in comic books.  The book succeeds as a book, at the same time that it feels like it is going to succeed in a larger series. The issues that are left hanging are not even things you realize until you’ve thought about the book for a while. You clearly have an idea of where this series is going.

Continue reading “A Conversation with Duane Swierczynski and Josh Bazell: Part I”

A Conversation with Duane Swierczynski and Ed Brubaker: Part II

This week, we celebrate the publication of FUN & GAMES by Duane Swierczynski, a book that CNN.com says “reads like a Quentin Tarantino movie on speed, full of high-octane action, flying by at a breakneck pace, not for the faint of heart, but also with plenty of humor.” Here, we present Part II of a conversation between Swierczynski and award-winning writer Ed Brubaker, author of CRIMINAL, SLEEPER and INCOGNITO, among many others.

Missed Part I? Start reading it here.

DS: The idea for Charlie Hardie, the house sitter, came first, though he didn’t have a name for a long time. You think “house sitter,” you kind of think “burnout.” (My apologies to the many fine professional housesitters working the mansions of America today; I don’t mean you guys.) Anyway, at the very least, I imagined somebody’s who’s been through a rough patch. Someone who used to know how to handle himself, but maybe had fallen on hard times, and was more than a little rusty. Like you said, all of this stuff goes into a mental blender and spins around for a long time… and slowly, a character emerged.

See, I like your question a lot — and it applies to Charlie, because it’s clear he wants to escape from his life. Yet, life won’t let him. It keeps picking on him.

The idea for the… uh, female lead (don’t want to spoil anything) was more or less inspired by certain pieces of celebrity gossip. As well as the whole idea that you can easily bump into a celebrity in L.A., which I find interesting — would you recognize, say, Blake Lively in a very out-of-context situation? Like, if she suddenly broke into your hotel room and told you people were trying to kill her?

Question for you, along the same lines: Do you get starstruck at all? And if so, is it for actors, directors, writers, or musicians?

Continue reading “A Conversation with Duane Swierczynski and Ed Brubaker: Part II”

A Conversation with Michael Robotham and Mark Billingham: Part I

"lost in time" - infrared photograph, AustraliaIn our ongoing celebration of the publication of THE WRECKAGE, we had Mark Billingham, author of BLOODLINE and Michael Robotham get together for a chat. In Part One of the conversation, they discuss ghostwriting, recurring characters and new challenges.

MB: So another great day in Sydney? How the hell do you write dark twisted mysteries sitting there in paradise?

MR: I must admit I do have trouble glancing out my window and imagining the mean streets. Instead I have sun, sand, surf and…kookaburras. That’s why I don’t write books set in Australia.

MB: Right, we don’t have too much trouble with sunshine in this country.

MR: I wrote a novel years ago – my great unpublished Australian masterpiece – set in a small fishing village. It was on the verge of being published in the UK, but missed out at the final publishing meeting. I was told that if I had set the story in Ireland, Scotland, Wales or England, it would have published it in a heartbeat. That was twenty years ago. Thankfully things have changed a lot since then. Readers are picking up books from all over the world.

MB: Were you attracted to writing stuff set here in the UK after all the years you spent working here as a journalist?

MR: I think I was more realistic having been a journalist and then a ghostwriter in the UK. I’d been making a living from writing for so long, I wasn’t prepared to live on oranges in some freezing garret. I knew that a UK setting would give me a bigger market. We writers aren’t supposed to talk about the commercial side of what we do. We’re supposed to do it for love. But let’s face it. We have bills to pay. Mortgages. School fees.

MB: Too right!. So let’s talk for a bit about the ghostwriter business. How hard is it to write in the persona of someone else? Someone real, I mean.

MR: I did 15 autobiographies for the great and the good…and less good. It was all about capturing the voice, which is not much different to fiction only I was dealing with real characters instead of fictitious ones. It meant living with them for weeks, taping their stories, having them cry on my shoulder. I became part therapist, part-confidante, and part best friend…

MB:  And there are still some that you aren’t allowed to name, right?

MR: I can name about half of them. Otherwise I’d have to kill you.

MB: Well I won’t push it then! Were there some subjects that were just impossible to work with?

Continue reading “A Conversation with Michael Robotham and Mark Billingham: Part I”

Paranoia Man

i, robotMutant robots rule the world.

Until disproved, this is my working hypothesis.

I’ll dispense with a presentation of the evidence.  You watch the news, you know what’s going on.  Or, more accurately, you look at the Internet, you know what’s going on.  Or, more accurately, you check your tweets, you know what some people are tweeting about.

In the face of that mounting twitter of evidence, can you doubt that mutant robots rule the world?

Do you have a better explanation?

Ask yourself, what do mutant robots want?

They want an environment conducive to the continued existence and outright dominance of mutant robots.  Granted, yes, having taken control in the current environment they do have some considerable motivation to maintain the status quo.  And some of them argue for just that.

Some mutant robots love the status quo.  They hump it nightly in their disturbingly viscous wet dreams.  Screwing the lumpen, plastique shape of the status quo.  In those dreams, it is like a great mass of Silly Putty, pliable just until it tears, the pink of artificial limbs carrying the stretched impressions of newspaper funny page faces.  Some mutant robots dream of a status quo gang bang, drilling fresh holes into its yielding surface, twisting it into flaccid prongs.

But the status quo is a trap.  Or so say those mutant robots of the opposing camp.  As long as they embrace that malleable lump they can never truly be themselves.  They must wear the mask of the status quo.  Hideous.  Unbearable.  What, after all, is the fucking point of dominating the world if you can’t be yourself?

So.

Continue reading “Paranoia Man”

The Edge of Nothing

We asked all the contributors to LA Noire: The Collected Stories to tell us their thoughts on why Los Angeles is so associated with noir. Read Megan Abbott’s story “The Girl” in LA Noire: The Collected Stories.

Available free (for a limited time) from your eTailer of choice . Amazon.com | BN.com | iTunes | Sony

Noir in both fiction and film has taken rich advantage of cities like San Francisco (Hammett) and New York (Spillane, Himes). No city—or region—truly owns noir, which is a mood, a feeling, a set of universal principles (no sin goes unpaid for; desire will doom you).

But, for me any many others, its deepest roots lie in the lush turf of Los Angeles. No other place evokes, with such extremity, noir’s foundational opposition: that there are two worlds, the world of daytime—of family, respectability, business, progress—and night—of crime, corruption, danger.

In his book City of Quartz, Mike Davis terms this opposition “sunshine vs. noir,” capitalist utopia and urban nightmare, land of “milk and honey” and city of “seduction and defeat.” And, maybe most of all, no other city has Hollywood. From Sunset Boulevard to L.A. Confidential to L.A. Noire itself, noir offers up countless tales of failed starlets and shattered dreams. Not a physical location, not even an industry, Hollywood stands as a bright symbol of limitless promise that gives way to decadence and ruin.

Los Angeles is, by geographic fate, the dropping-off of the American frontier. Manifest Destiny at its endpoint. You reach your dream here or you’ve lost it forever. Raymond Chandler, L.A. noir’s founding father, once said, “I have lived my life on the edge of nothing.” The edge of nothing: that is where Los Angeles sits, precarious, beautiful—a femme fatale waiting for her kiss.

Megan Abbott is the Edgar-award winning author of five novels. She has taught literature, writing, and film at New York University, the New School and the State University of New York at Oswego. She received her Ph.D. in English and American literature from New York University in 2000. She lives in New York City. Her new novel The End of Everything will be published in July 2011. Start reading on Facebook and follow Megan on Twitter.

Chapter 3 of The Wreckage

In just a few weeks’ time, The Wreckage will be available in bookstores across the nation. Start reading the book that Booklist called (in a starred review), “Fine and ambitious with characters who are wonderfully human–smart, determined, decent, and flawed. Thoroughly compelling.”

Need to catch up? Read the Prologue and Chapter 1 and Chapter 2.

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LONDON

Sunshine crashes through the lace curtains. Ruiz opens one eye. The ceiling comes into focus, dead moths in the domed light fitting. His right nostril is grouted closed. His mouth tastes like a small animal has crawled inside and died. Continue reading “Chapter 3 of The Wreckage”

Start Reading Duane Swierczynski’s Fun and Games

In just a few short weeks, we’ll be publishing FUN AND GAMES, the kick-a$$ first book in the kick-a$$ Charlie Hardie series. Start reading the novel Josh Bazell called “insanely entertaining,” and which Booklist called “so bloody satisfying.”

THE PIERCING screech of tires on asphalt.

The screams—

His.

Your own.

And then—

1

It’s all fun and games until someone loses an eye. —Popular saying

SHE DISCOVERED Decker Canyon Road by accident, not long after she moved to L.A. A random turn off the PCH near Malibu shot her up the side of the mountain, followed by twelve miles of stomach-flipping twists and hairpin turns all the way to Westlake Village. And she loved it, hands gripping the wheel of the sports car she’d bought with her first real movie check—because that’s what you were supposed to do, right? Blow some of that money on an overpriced, overmuscled convertible coupe that popped a spoiler when you topped 75. She never cared she was going thirty miles faster than any sane driver would attempt on this road. She loved the ocean air smashing into her face, the feel of the tires beneath as they struggled to cling to the asphalt, the hum of the machine surrounding her body, the knowledge that one twitch to the left or right at the wrong moment meant her brand-new car, along with her brand-new life, would end up at the bottom of a ravine, and maybe years later people would ask: Whatever happened to that cute actress who was in those funny romantic comedies a few years ago? Back then, she loved to drive Decker Canyon Road because it blasted all of the clutter out of her mind. Life was reduced to a simple exhilarating yes or no, zero or one, live or die.

But now she was speeding up Decker Canyon Road because she didn’t want to die.

And the headlights were gaining on her. Continue reading “Start Reading Duane Swierczynski’s Fun and Games”

(Holly)wood Pulp: 15 Books That Helped Me Understand the City of Angels

[Editor’s Note: Visit Duane Swierczynski’s website for a fantastic opportunity. Check it out before you read this article.]

Until Fun & Games, I set most of my novels in Philadelphia. No, I don’t have some kickback deal with the local chamber of commerce. Philly’s where I was born and raised, and for better or worse, it’s where my imagination goes to play. If I had been born in, say, Grand Island, Nebraska, I’m sure I would have set my stories there, albeit with minor differences. (For example, The Wheelman may have been published as The Combine Harvester Man.)

Over the years, however, I’ve spent an increasing amount of time in Los Angeles—book signings, meetings, festivals, vacations. And then a funny thing happened: my imagination started to cheat on Philadelphia.

Fun & Games is the love child of one of those L.A. brain flings, as is “Hell Of An Affair,” my short story for the L.A. Noire anthology. (Sometimes my brain can be a total slut.) And while Fun & Games is mostly told from the perspective of an outsider, I felt like I had to learn all I could about the City of Angels. Otherwise, what kind of baby daddy would I be?

So I spent a lot of time gorging on L.A. music, L.A.-set movies, L.A. novels, and of course, L.A. history. Here’s an informal list* of the 15 books that put me in the mindset of this crazy town.

And please add your favorites in the comments section below. You never know when my brain will want to stray again…

*I’ve left out the obvious L.A. classics, both modern and vintage—James Ellroy’s L.A. Quartet, Michael Connelly’s Harry Bosch novels, Robert Crais’s Elvis Cole and Joe Pike thrillers, as well as Nathanael West, Horace McCoy, Raymond Chandler, and James M. Cain. I mean, you came here for the oddball stuff, right?

* * *

L.A. Bizarro: The All-New Insider’s Guide to the Obscure, The Absurd and the Perverse, by Anthony Lovett and Matt Maranian. This book was my Bible during my last couple of visits to L.A., and I’m not going to stop until I hit every last freaky cafeteria, kitschy dive and grisly murder site. There’s an older edition from 1997, and I recommend tracking that one down, too—there are enough differences to make it worth your time.

Continue reading “(Holly)wood Pulp: 15 Books That Helped Me Understand the City of Angels”