Tuesday, April 25, 2017

From the Drawing Room to the Gutter, By Charles Taylor


Here's an interesting article by Charles Taylor in Lapham's Quarterly which discusses the progression of mystery/crime fiction from Christie to Leonard, among others, and defending its place in the canon, almost. Quite enjoyable, if not comprehensive enough in its presentation of the contemporary scene. The small presses are ignored, but that's to be expected, almost. The small presses are the ones in the literary gutter, where they belong, doing the work the big presses don't, ideally . Taylor seems to have the right frame, and this article isn't intended to have a genre-encompassing look, but rather a small sampling. The lack of attention to the smaller publishers is unfortunate, but it's out of sight, out of mind. To the article itself though, the last paragraph:


The home that crime fiction has chosen for itself is often overlooked in pointless discussions about whether the road taken is high or low. Any fiction that gives readers some way of grappling with the most unsettling facts of contemporary life—that tries, as any art should, to engage experience before judging it—is hardly a lowly enterprise, even if the territory it’s working isn’t the classiest. 

Saturday, April 15, 2017

Reading Submissions

I just want to let you know I'll be catching up on reading submissions this Easter weekend, so if you're looking for a response on a recent sub, hang tight.

In the meantime, if you're on the lookout for fiction off the beaten bath, check out the site Scandinavian Crime Fiction and find some of the best and brightest.

Monday, March 27, 2017

Occult Detective Quarterly Review by Alison McBain

I love brand new magazines. They are the lifeblood of any short story reader. New magazines often have fewer conventions and allow their authors to push the boundaries further, so I feel you get a more eclectic group of writing than you might in already well-established publications. I also love the feeling of discovery, and often first issues don't disappoint.

It was with this in mind that I opened up Issue # 1 of Occult Detective Quarterly, edited by Sam Gafford and John Linwood Grant. I always judge a publication by its cover--it's the first impression a reader gets. For the most part, I thought the graphics complemented the content really well, conveying a polished retro style that screamed "hard-boiled" from the color cover to the black and white interiors.

This first issue had seven short stories, the first chapter of a serial, an article about Doctor Spektor and interview with its creator, a tongue-in-cheek how-to about ghost hunting, and reviews of three works featuring the supernatural. Most, if not all, of the fiction found within its pages had the feel of old-school adventure stories, containing tortured and sometimes oddball antiheros, mysterious murders, and inexplicable and magical happenings.

Pulp literature, in general, is a literature of vices. The pillars of these include smoking, drinking and gambling--the latter not in dollars, but with lives. In the pages of ODQ, there are the classic flea-bitten PIs, the ex-cops and journalists, and the apprentices who must follow their masters into uncertain undertakings. Even in "When Soft Voices Die" by Amanda DeWees, a story set in the 1800s, the female protagonist is not a demure and virginal little miss, but rather has a scandalous background (for the time in which it is set) of a former actress and a widow to boot. Most of the characters in these stories are free-wheeling adventurers who might have powerful magic on their side, but it's seldom magic they completely control or entirely understand. There comes a point in each story where the character has no idea what they're getting into, but they persevere anyway in the face of great odds.

Pulp is also a literature of voice. From the feature story of a wise-cracking gorilla detective in "Got My Mojo Working" by David T. Wilbanks and William Meikle, to a been-there-done-that odd job man in "MonoChrome" by T.E. Grau, the tone is often jaded, with strong touches of sarcasm--and a wink and a nudge towards the reader. The fourth wall is usually cast aside, and the characters tend to speak directly to the reader throughout the pages of each story. As such, fully half of the eight stories are told in first person, with many of them in a quick-to-read, conversational style.

While I enjoyed a number of stories in the issue, I must say that the real star of the collection for me was "MonoChrome" by T.E. Grau. From vivid scene-setting to superb pacing, this story is told in a slow, literary reveal that incorporates a somewhat surrealistic narrative and elements reminiscent of the best horror movies. To give you a small taste of Grau's style, here is a stark picture of the home of the main character, Henry Ganz, an alcoholic and former cop whose best days are behind him.

Pico Union was left to rot by inches through the gutting of post-war factory jobs that drove out the blue collars, filling the gaps with style-blind investors and immigrants from Guatemala and El Salvador, on the run from brutal civil wars and therefore unconcerned with such bourgeois notions as curb appeal. Los Angeles was full of neighborhoods like this, mixed-race middle class bastions gone to shit, with a preponderance of them circling downtown like a rusted halo. (37)

I enjoyed the mystery of Grau's piece, the description and dialogue, the small hints and motifs throughout the story, and the building of tension that leads to a spectacular and satisfying ending.

I feel that the magazine will certainly appeal to fans of the genre, but there were a few things that stuck out to me as a reader. In terms of background, all the pieces are set in the U.S. or the United Kingdom, and I would have liked to see a little bit more diversity of the characters and variety of locations--maybe a murder mystery in the Congo or a ghost story in Japan. While the overarching theme of the magazine hearkens back to the days of pulp, I feel that there are elements that can be modernized, since we live and read in a global society.

And while I enjoyed reading the reviews and learning a bit more about the history of the occult detective genre, I was disappointed that a page had been accidentally left out of the article, "How to be a Fictional Victorian Ghost Hunter (In Five Easy Steps)" by Tim Prasil. I'm sad to say I'll probably never be a good ghost hunter, since two out of the three steps were on the missing page. Perhaps they'll do a reprint of the missing page in the next issue or on their website--I thought it was fun to learn about ghost hunting trends in literature, and I'm sure I'm not alone in wanting to see the remainder of the article.

But a first issue also includes getting your editorial legs under you as you work out the kinks, so I don't think that there were any grievous errors that would make me not pick up the next issue. This was a very beautiful and well-put-together publication. I hope you enjoy reading it as much as I did--and look forward to Issue # 2.

Occult Detective Quarterly
edited by Sam Gafford and John Linwood Grant
Issue # 1, Fall 2016
96 pages
Electric Pentacle Press
$6.00 PDF / $13.00 print



Alison McBain is an award-winning author with more than forty short stories and poems published, including work in Flash Fiction Online, FLAPPERHOUSE and The Gunpowder Review. When not writing fiction, she is the Book Reviews Editor for the magazine Bewildering Stories. Alison lives in Connecticut with her husband and three children.



Monday, March 13, 2017

Books Received

You can find a list of current available review copies here. Simply contact me if you're interested in any of these and I'll let you know if they're unassigned. Not all books listed will be reviewed.

Sunday, March 12, 2017

More About Book Reviews

I've noticed in the unsolicited book reviews I've been getting for Tough is that the writing in general is good, and the reviewer's chosen good material for review, but the tone is more akin to a lengthy Amazon review. I'm looking for a more formal tone, generally third person, not stuffy, but focused, written by people who've engaged with the crime and literary worlds in their review by referencing other work in the genre(s) and demonstrating at least some familiarity with the current crime fiction scene. I'll be posting new reviews of my own as well as by other writers soon, ahead of the journal's actual debut, so I can lead by example, so to speak, which will help. Stay tuned to this space.

Saturday, March 11, 2017

Submissions Still Open

I'm unbelievably pumped for the stories coming out in the next months--can't wait to share them-- but I'm noticing a dearth of women in the inbox.

I know you're out there, and Tough wants your stories.

Thursday, March 2, 2017

First Round of Contracts Are Out The Door

First round of contracts are out the door, and I've accepted two months worth of fiction already that will knock your sox off, if you wear them (I only wear them when I have to). Look for stories every Monday starting July 3rd. J.M. Taylor, Preston Lang, Tony Tremblay, and Michael Bracken will kick it all off.

I'm still looking for reviews and reviewers for July 31 and in subsequent months. Remember, we pay for both reviews and stories.You'll have plenty of lead time to write.

Thursday, February 16, 2017

Reviews and Reviewers Needed

Hi folks. Tough's first month of fiction is nearly complete, with three stories in the hopper. On the last Monday of July, I'd like to run a review of a forthcoming or recently published--within the last six months or so--crime book, especially a small press crime novel or story collection. We pay writers $25 for a review of under a thousand words. This review would not be posted until the last Monday of July 2017, so you have some time. Hit me up at toughcrime@gmail.com with queries or to find out what advance copies I have on hand for which I'd like reviews written.
Thanks in advance--
Rusty

Friday, January 20, 2017

Introductions

Hi. I'm Rusty Barnes, crime writer and proprietor of this new blogazine of crime stories and occasional reviews: Tough. By way of bona fides, I edited, and still oversee, the journal Fried Chicken and Coffee, and I cofounded and edited the literary journal Night Train for over ten years. You can also view my site if you'd like to know more about me.

I hope to publish new crime stories and highlight crime novels as well as story collections published by the small press via occasional reviews. However, I won't rule out reviewing something from the Big Five if it fits within my--admittedly broad--guidelines. We pay for stories and reviews. Not much, I know, but something. See the submissions page for details.

Tough will debut in July 2017. You can email me at toughcrime@gmail.com with queries or anything else you want to know about the project. I know the site looks rough. It'll get better.

Thanks for stopping by.