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Tijuanasaurus Rex

Crucifijos de los RosariosMulholland Books is pleased to announce the acquisition of Richard Lange’s new novel Angel Baby. Celebrate with us with the below guest post from the Guggenheim Fellowship recipient and author of the acclaimed novel This Wicked World and short story collection Dead Boys. Welcome to the team, Richard!

Tijuana lies sprawled along the line where the U.S. and Mexico crash into each other like two tectonic plates. This convergence leads to a certain seismic instability, and the city is constantly being rattled by tremors of one sort or another, whether it be drug murders or a political scandal. Business continues as usual, though, because that’s what business does, barely taking notice of all of the little calamities that somehow miraculously never add up to a major catastrophe.

It’s a city of two million hardworking people, 7,000 stray dogs, and lots of noisy black ravens. Technically, it sits in Mexico, 20 minutes south of downtown San Diego, three hours from L.A., but it’s a border city, perhaps the quintessential border city, and as such is neither Mexican nor American. “Tijuana isn’t Mexico,” people say, and they’re right, but it’s not a suburb of San Diego either. It’s not even some strange amalgamation of the two. Instead, like all great cities – Los Angeles, New York, Paris – it’s completely unique, possessing a personality that sets it apart from every other place in the world. It has its own culture, its own language, its own dreams and nightmares.

The city was a sleepy backwater until Prohibition, when Hollywood and the mob began to come down to drink and gamble. Later, it became the playground of servicemen stationed in San Diego, offering all the depravity an 18-year-old sailor could want. Regular tourists started venturing across the border in droves in the 1950s. They came in search of spicy food, cheap margaritas, and souvenirs for the folks back home — an oversized sombrero, maybe, or a silver ring that would turn your finger green after a week, or a life-size plaster skull wearing a Nazi helmet.

Today Tijuana isn’t the tourist Mecca it once was, but it’s still one of the fastest-growing cities in Mexico due to the many foreign-owned factories that have located there in order to take advantage of cheap labor. These maquiladoras attract workers from all over the country. There is also a sizeable transient population made up of people who are waiting to slip cross the border into the U.S. or have been deported from there.

The scrappy metropolis has long fascinated me. I’ve written about it in a couple of short stories, and a portion of my new novel, Angel Baby (Mulholland, Spring 2013), takes place there. Some of my visits are chronicled in the half dozen blurry black-and-white photos I have that show me sitting in carts behind different sad-eyed donkeys painted to look like zebras, all shot by various Tijuana street photographers over the years.

Continue reading “Tijuanasaurus Rex”

Bernard, Visible

Homeless. ParisIn “River Secret,” a man called Baptiste plays his music setup at the entrance to the Tuileries Garden in Paris. He’s fictional, but a real-life one-man band plays there as well. I see him almost every day when I jog across the footbridge over the Seine to the park entrance. The melancholy wail of his saxophone echoes off the ceiling of the concrete passageway leading to the garden. Tourists stop and listen, and drop a few coins in his upturned hat.

But do they know who he is? Where he comes from? Where he sleeps at night?

Paris is filled with people like that man. Invisible people who struggle to get by. You don’t see them sipping tiny cups of coffee in the brightly lit cafés around Saint-Germain des Près, perusing designer stores on the Rue Saint- Honoré or strolling along the Champs- Elysées. You don’t hear them complain. They don’t seek revenge for the cards fate has dealt them.

I’ve come across a lot of Parisians like that in my 15 years here.

They include Piotr, the homeless guy who works the corner of the Rue de Sèze and the Boulevard des Capucines. I give him an apple on my way to work. Or Véronique, a manicurist who labors over fingers and toes 10 hours a day — so much for the 35-hour workweek. Or Farida, age 45, who’s never held a computer mouse or typed on a keyboard. She comes to a community center in Le Blanc Mesnil, a grim apartment-block suburb in the north, to learn technology skills in hopes she can get a job.

These folks have little to do with the place I call Woody Allen’s Paris: a beacon of monuments and museums bathed in golden light, devoid of crowds and traffic jams and filled with beautifully dressed French people who speak perfect English. Travel articles as well give the impression that my adopted city is populated by residents who do little but slip into small art galleries in the Marais of a rainy afternoon, or suck up duck confit with carrots at an outdoor café on the Rue Mouffetard.

You can do that when you visit Paris, and I hope you come here often. Make a point of stopping by the Tuileries entrance by the river and see the musician. He’s not invisible. He has a name. It’s Bernard. Drop a few coins in his hat. That’s his best revenge.

Check out “River Secret” in Mystery Writers of America Presents Vengeance, now available in bookstores everywhere.

Anne Swardson is an editor-at-large with Bloomberg News in Paris and a former European economic correspondent for the Washington Post. “River Secret” is her first published work of fiction. She is also the author of an unpublished mystery novel. Like “River Secret,” it is set in Paris, where Swardson has lived with her husband and two children for fifteen years.

The Hotline: The Story Behind the Story

EncostoEvery story, long or short, is a series of fictional beads threaded onto a fictional necklace to make up the finished article. As readers, we’re all interested where an author gets the ideas for their beads from and the more we like a work of fiction, the more interested we are.

In the case of “The Hotline” the beads were readily available: many years ago I worked with a Muslim colleague who was progressively eased out of her job solely on the grounds that her face just didn’t fit. I’ve seen plenty of promotions and demotions in workplaces that had rather more to do with personal motivations than professional ones. We’ve all read in the newspapers about malicious hoax calls to the police that are made for one reason or another. My dad, who came from Grenada, was a cricket fanatic and there was no point in talking to him while a cricket match was on the TV. In 1990s London, my partner was once forced to leave his home in the middle of the night while the police staged a massive raid on a group of terrorist suspects in a nearby house. The backdrop to the story is the assumptions we make about people and who they are. And as a black woman, I’ve become very familiar over the years about the assumptions people make about others based on the grounds of ethnicity, class, gender and religion.

So these made up the beads of the story and these are what I worked with. But of course then you have to ‘thread them on’ and (although some readers find this difficult to believe) you have to make things up. In the case of the story based on ‘vengeance’ this is actually a very attractive proposition. The desire for revenge is deeply rooted in human nature but every shrink and therapist will say how negative that desire is for us and that we should ‘let things go’. Then there are the practical constraints on the lust for a zinger – practical, ethical and of course legal. But what if all those limitations are removed? What would we do then?

And that’s the wonderful thing about the literature of revenge – those constraints don’t matter all…

Check out “The Hotline” in Mystery Writers of America Presents Vengeance, now available in bookstores everywhere.

Dreda Say Mitchell is a novelist, broadcaster, journalist, and freelance education consultant who describes herself as a “complete busybody.” She is the author of five novels. Her debut novel, Running Hot, was awarded Britain’s 2005 CWA John Creasey Dagger for best frist crime novel. She has appeared on BBC television’s Newsnight and The Review Show and has presented BBC Radio 4’s Open Book. She was the 2011 shair of the Harrogate Crime Fiction Festival. Her commitment and passion for raising the life chances of working-class children through education has been called inspirational and life-changing. Visit her website at www.dredasaymitchell.com.

Everything Old Is New Again

 Empty Store Front (Dixon, IL)Decades ago, the mafia had a scam called the “bust-out.” They’d target a small business — the corner store, a machine shop, a soda distributor. After intimidating the owner into handing it over for a pittance, they’d order as much inventory as the suppliers would put on credit. They’d stop paying lenders, max out bank lines, demand customer pre-payments: in short, they’d extract as much cash as possible, as quickly as they could. Then one weekend they’d strip the premises of every last item that might be sold elsewhere — stock, fixtures, furniture, anything — and disappear.

The business was ruined, the owner penniless or bankrupt or worse, and the gang? They’d swept up all the cash … and were ready to do it again.
The comparison is not far-fetched. A private-equity group borrows a vast sum of money, buys a struggling company and squeezes operations as hard as they can. “Rationalizing” can involve layoffs, steep pension cuts, loan defaults, supplier hardball — anything to free up a dollar. When they’re done, the PE investors pay themselves a huge dividend, often financed by more borrowing. Then, like the mafiya, they sell off what’s left and disappear.Now that seems almost quaint. Today, it’s called a workout, not a bust-out, and the operators are private equity firms, not the Cosa Nostra. The amounts involved are hundreds of millions of dollars. And best of all, it’s completely legal.

Continue reading “Everything Old Is New Again”

When the Law Falls Short

UnjustFrancis Bacon said that “revenge is a kind of wild justice, which the more man’s nature runs to, the more ought law to weed out . . . . In taking revenge, a man is but even with his enemy; but in passing it over, he is superior; for it is a prince’s part to pardon.”1

Fast forward two and a half centuries, to Abraham Lincoln. He thought vengeance had a time and place. During the American Revolution, he noted “the deep rooted principles of hate, and the powerful motive of revenge . . . were directed exclusively against the British nation. And thus, from the force of circumstances, the basest principles of our nature . . . [became] the active agents in the advancement of the noblest cause—that of establishing and maintaining civil and religious liberty. . . . But this state of feeling must fade, is fading, has faded, with the circumstances that produced it.”2 Lincoln gave this speech in response, in part, to a mob killing of a black man accused of murder. In Abe’s view, it was okay to take vengeance on the British but not anyone else.

Fifty years later, Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr., admits the importance of vengeance within the legal system, going so far as to say, “the law does [and] ought to, make the gratification of revenge an object . . . correspond[ing] with the actual feelings and demands of the community, whether right or wrong.”3 Holmes saw this as a lesser evil to people perceiving the legal system as failing to satisfy and thus taking matters into their own hands. “If people would gratify the passion of revenge outside of the law, if the law did not help them, the law has no choice but to satisfy the craving itself, and thus avoid the greater evil of private retribution.” Id.4

As a trial lawyer I saw many examples of law and justice diverging, with the law “not helping” the wronged party. Writing the “The Fourteenth Juror” allowed me to inflict private retribution (even if only on the page) on one aspect of the legal system that often fell short in this regard. Gratifying indeed.

Check out “The Fourteenth Juror” in Mystery Writers of America Presents Vengeance, now available in bookstores everywhere.

A Stanford graduate and former (vengeful) plaintiff’s trial lawyer, Twist Phelan writes the critically acclaimed legal-themed Pinnacle Peak mystery series published by Poised Pen Press. Her short stories appear in anthologies and mystery magazines and have won or been nominated for the Thriller, Ellis, and Derringer awards. Twist’s current project is a suspense novel set in Santa Fe featuring a corporate spy. Visit her at www.twistphelan.com.

1 Sir Francis Bacon, Essays, Civil and Moral (1625). Yes, this is a footnote. As a former law review editor, I can’t resist.

2 Abraham Lincoln, Lyceum Address, Volume I, p. 108-115 (January 27, 1838). Uh oh; another one.

3 Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr., The Common Law 46 (1881). I’m out of control.

4 “Id.” is the abbreviation for the Latin word “idem,” which means same. Lawyers and academics use it to reference the previously cited source. Everyone else just says “same as before.”

 

On VENGEANCE and The General

Revenge has always been a human passion – as well as a problem for any civilized society. Early on, Jehovah reminded the Israelites that ‘vengeance is mine,’ while Aeschylus immortalized the blood feuds of the House of Atreus, which took a goddess to end, thus establishing the rule of law.

Dramas of revenge were popular enough in Renaissance England to spawn a distinct genre, the Revenge Tragedy, ironically most famous for that reluctant avenger, Hamlet, whose dithering raised the body count without ultimately sparing the king. Of course, Shakespeare knew a good thing when he saw it: revenge not only calls upon a variety of visceral and ancient emotions, it also offers excellent plot possibilities.

I’ve been rather fond of these, myself. Looking back over my short stories, I find revenge plots constructed around a variety of characters, ranging from a middle aged archeologist (male) to a restauranteur (female) with stops along they way for several wronged wives and husbands, an angry daughter, plus a disgruntled academic dean and a traumatized student. Most of these stories are told from the avenger’s point of view. Continue reading “On VENGEANCE and The General”

Blood, Kin and Structure: A Conversation between Andrew Vachss and Joe R. Landale, Part II

NsameMissed Part I? Read it here.

Joe Lansdale: It changed my life. Reading books and going to libraries. I mean we have so much that’s online now, but when I was growing up and you were growing up, libraries were very import, especially if you couldn’t afford books. And a lot of times I couldn’t. So I would spend a tremendous amount of time in libraries and books like Huckleberry Finn and To Kill A Mockingbird all changed my life, and not just in the way of teaching you certain things and reinforcing things you were being taught.

But there was a kind of magic and beauty and almost mythological element to those books, and I know that what I was striving for to some extent was to give this sort of excitement and suspense and to talk about the things that you and I have been talking about, but also bring this sort of beauty and magic to things that were sort of dark and enchanting at the same time.

Andrew Vachss: How big was the library that you had access to as a child?

JL: The original was a book mobile, and you know how big a book mobile is. It was essentially a little bus or van that came around that had books and you’d let kids come in one or two at a time and walk down the aisles and check them out, and then it came back a week or two later, whatever the time was, and then you returned that book and got another one.

And so that was my first one, and the second one was a library that at the time I thought was big. I mean I look at it now and I know it wasn’t. But I read every book in there that I possibly had an interest in, and then I went to the Gladewater Lot Library, which was a little bigger. But to me, I read anything that I could get my hands on. I mean if I found books in the garbage or if I found magazines . . . you know my mom picked up things for me when she could. But the original thing was the size of a small van.

Continue reading “Blood, Kin and Structure: A Conversation between Andrew Vachss and Joe R. Landale, Part II”

Blood, Kin and Structure: A Conversation between Andrew Vachss and Joe R. Lansdale

mJoe Lansdale: First of all, I love this new book, That’s How I Roll, by Andrew. And I was telling him this, in an earlier conversation, that I never read any of his books so terrifically well constructed. They all are, but man, this was is like a bomb builder putting something together very, very carefully, because if you go just a little to the left or right or cross the wrong wire, the whole thing blows.

And the way that this is put together also makes it difficult to talk too directly about it because if you pull one wire here you blow the whole thing, so I got to be very, very careful about that. But I think that everything you do well is in this book, Andrew. I believe that, not only the writing—Andrew always says the writing is all right—but that’s bull, he’s a terrific stylist, he’s a beautiful stylist. And if you doubt that, you should also read his poetry; he also writes Haikus that are just beautiful, and this, everything that he writes to me is like an extended Haiku.

This is an example of that—where it’s just beautifully constructed. And I think a lot of people will say it’s grim, and it is grim. But it’s also beautiful.  I would say—not to give anything away—I would say when you get to the end you have it come to—this grim story—you actually have it come to be an uplifting story. And I think that’s important, because that’s a part of Andrew’s life, because here’s a guy who has actually changed the laws to protect children. Not just one or two, he’s changed the very view of how people look at child abuse. You see it everywhere in the air now. But I’ve now Andrew for many, many years, and I know that when he first started trying to make people aware that this was going on, and the struggle about it, it wasn’t received that way. Am I right, Andrew?

Andrew Vachss: You could not be more right.

JL: I know you don’t want to brag about yourself, I’ll do the bragging for you.

AV:  I’m not bragging.

JL: But them is the facts Jack, right?

AV: Oh, yes. Continue reading “Blood, Kin and Structure: A Conversation between Andrew Vachss and Joe R. Lansdale”

A Conversation with Joe Lansdale: Part I

Joe R. Lansdale’s eagerly anticipated novel EDGE OF DARK WATER, which has already received tremendous praise and was selected by Publishers Weekly as one of its top picks of the Spring 2012, is working its way into bookstore across the country now.

Joe recently took some time out of his day to take part in a conversation with Mulholland Books about his acclaimed new novel. Start reading Part I below.

EDGE OF DARK WATER is set during the Depression Era. How much does the time period influence the story? What do you enjoy most about writing in earlier times? What’s most difficult about it for you?

The Great Depression was the engine for the story. I didn’t make a point of identifying the era, I just sort of let the story determine that gradually with clues the reader would pick up on. I think I originally wrote it with a year in mind, and slipped it in, but when I started rereading it, I took that out. I thought it stood on it’s on, and the time period would be evident, and that if it wasn’t it would stand on it’s on without it. But I think it’s pretty clear. I grew up on stories about the Great Depression because my father and mother were born at the turn of the twentieth century. My father in 1909, my mother in 1914, I believe.

My dad was in his early forties when I was born and my mother in her late thirties, so they had reached their mature years during the Great Depression. My father had ridden the rails to go from town to town to compete in boxing and wrestling matches at fairs. It wasn’t his primary way of making a living, but it was something he did because he needed the money, and he enjoyed it. For the record, those kinds of wrestling matches led to the invention of what is known as pro-wrestling today. Only when my dad did it, the outcome was not ordained.

I remember hearing stories about people being  poor and so desperate. My mother said once they only had onions to eat, for a week or so. And my father told me about some relatives of theirs that were so hungry they ate clay, craving the minerals, I suspect. A lot of my relatives had gone through the Great Depression, and it impacted them. They saved everything, and were very careful with food, cautious about being wasteful. They saved string and stubs of pencils and rubber bands, you name it. Now and again I’ve seen those TV episodes of things like HOARDERS, and thought, well, I can see why they saved that piece of cloth. It can be reused. And those shoes aren’t so bad. You could wear them to work in the yard; like I’m going to work in the yard. But the bottom line is growing up when they did, and then me growing up with them, and knowing what they had been through, it had its impact.

People think times are hard now, and it certainly is for some, but on the whole, not like it was then. Those were tough times and our country was on the brink. It just barely survived. That said, I did enjoy writing about that era because I feel such a kinship to it, having grown up hearing about it all my life. I think it’s more interesting to think about and write about than to live it, though it might be interesting to have lived through it. Continue reading “A Conversation with Joe Lansdale: Part I”

Fact, Meet Fiction: On the Writing of Shake Off

One of the pleasures of writing and reading fiction – and thrillers lend themselves to this rather well – is the weaving of fact and fiction. And a fact I happily weaved into the fictional world of Shake Off was that one of the few American fiction writers you could buy in English in the 1980s Soviet Union was Dashiell Hammett. This is not integral to the plot of the book, nor is it a particularly startling revelation, but it illustrates a mindset: the Soviets allowed Hammett to be sold in a Moscow bookshop because he was a communist (the Hollywood chapter of the Communist Party was founded in his house), although his flaky allegiance to the party might not have impressed them.

Another, perhaps less well-known fact, was that at the same time, although you could not buy John Le Carré novels in a Moscow bookshop, they were required reading by KGB trainees to get an insight into British Intelligence and its workings. I have a pleasing image of a Russian translator working away on his secret Le Carré translations. It must have been a coveted job: enjoying banned fiction under the legitimate cover of doing it for the good of the party.

The WalkBack to Hammett, though, and why I’m pleased to get a reference to a writer of hard-boiled detective fiction into a spy novel. When I left Beirut to return to London in early 1983 I had trouble adjusting to ‘normal’ life, with its distinct lack of air-raids, roadblocks and – Northern Ireland aside – sectarian killing. The world I had returned to was, to be honest, boring compared to the one I had left. It did, on the other hand, put the latter into unflattering perspective. To escape this cognitive dissonance I took refuge in books. I devoured everything I came across, high-brow, low-brow, I didn’t really care, as long as it was well and unpretentiously written. If it spoke to me in some way then I read it. After ploughing through some Russians (Dostoyevsky yes, Tolstoy no) I turned to the Americans, happening upon a rich vein of crime fiction. I tapped it relentlessly. Starting with Raymond Chandler, I moved to Hammett, Jim Thompson and Ross Macdonald – and more recently to George Pelecanos, Lawrence Block, James Ellroy and Elmore Leonard. Perhaps what attracted me to these stories, apart from the pure escapism, was the inherent struggle to right wrongs. A struggle of flawed (read human) characters amongst which the (often but not always) lone detective (i.e. the reader) attempts to mete out some sort of rough justice – a justice frequently absent in real life. I don’t want to overdo the analysis, but the attraction for me then was clear, and it is no exaggeration to say that these books helped me through a difficult time of adjustment. It is also fair to say that a lot of this early reading rubbed off in terms of developing a no-nonsense writing style. Continue reading “Fact, Meet Fiction: On the Writing of Shake Off”