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Excerpt for Spinetingler Magazine Fall 2017 by , available in its entirety at Smashwords



Fall 2017


Sandra Ruttan, Editor


Contributing Editor

Jack Getze





Magazine Copyright © 2017 by Spinetingler Magazine

Individual Story Copyrights © 2017 by Individual Authors


All rights reserved. No part of the book may be reproduced in any form or by any electronic or mechanical means, including information storage and retrieval systems, without permission in writing from the publisher, except by a reviewer who may quote brief passages in a review.


Spinetingler Magazine

Published by Down & Out Books

3959 Van Dyke Road, Suite 265

Lutz, FL 33558

SpinetinglerMag.com


The characters and events in this book are fictitious. Any similarity to real persons, living or dead, is coincidental and not intended by the author.


Cover design by Lance Wright



Smashwords Edition, License Notes


This ebook is licensed for your personal enjoyment only. This ebook may not be re-sold or given away to other people. If you would like to share this book with another person, please purchase an additional copy for each recipient. If you’re reading this book and did not purchase it, or it was not purchased for your use only, then please return to your favorite ebook retailer and purchase your own copy. Thank you for respecting the hard work of this author/these authors.





TABLE OF CONTENTS


When the Past and the Present Converge: Spinetingler Steps into Print by Sandra Ruttan


Contributors

Fiction: K for Karen by Tracy Falenwolfe

Fiction: That’s What Happened by Karin Montin

Author Feature: Leo W. Banks

Book Feature: Heaven’s Crooked Finger reviewed by Rusty Barnes

Fiction: Trail of Bloodcrumbs by Brandon McNulty

Bedside Stories with James Oswald

Fiction: The Settlement by Jennifer Soosar

Author Feature: Jason Ridler

Fiction: Child Fighter by S.B. Watson

Bedside Stories with Angel Luis Colón

Fiction: Consequences by Bern Sy Moss

Fiction: It’s All Litter To Me by BV Lawson

Author Snapshot: Laura Ellen Scott

Author Snapshot: Con Lehane

Author Snapshot: Rusty Barnes

Author Snapshot: Mindy Tarquini

Fiction: Napa Hospitality by Nick Kolakowski

Fiction: Kevin Robs a Bank by David Rachels

Bedside Stories with Robb White

Fiction: Illusions by Albert Tucher

Author Feature: Eryk Pruitt


Plus…

Want free books? Check out entry details throughout the issue about how to enter to win one of three packs of free books.





When the Past and the Present Converge: Spinetingler Steps into Print


Some might say that this issue is the product of chance. As anyone who’s worked on an e-zine can tell you, these labors of love can become time-consuming and snowball until they’re unmanageable.

That’s what happened with Spinetingler. For years we offered free downloadable issues. The magazine was privately funded without advertising revenue and the editors, website managers and contributors worked for free.

When that was no longer sustainable, Spinetingler shifted into an ongoing publication.

A few months ago, Jack Getze and I had one of our rare phone chats, and we agreed that it was time to think about Spinetingler’s future.

That was when I decided it was time to do another issue and see how much interest there was in a return to that type of publishing format.

Jack had been reviewing material and had a number of stories selected that we set aside for this issue. I continued reading submissions and found more stories I was excited about publishing.

We never set out with a theme for the issue. Some of these submissions have waited over a year for publication, while others were sent to us after I announced we were planning an issue this fall. In spite of the varied circumstances around the material we received I found that many of these stories had similar undercurrents and themes.

Tracy Falenwolfe’s “K for Karen” is the first short story in this issue and Falenwolfe expertly drives the story forward with actions motivated past events. Albert Tucher’s “Illusions” intersects timelines as investigators in the present try to uncover the truth about a fifty-year-old crime.

Other stories feature characters shaped by their upbringing or experiences.

As is true in life, the events of the past have a tendency to influence our actions in the future.

The same can be said for Spinetingler. We went through a learning curve when we started out. As we refined our approach we built Spinetingler’s reputation and audience. We had our first issue out in 2005 and by late 2006 it was common for us to have more than 10,000 copies of our issues downloaded.

At the time, Spinetingler benefited from an active blogging community and a strong online presence. In recent years, fewer authors have continued blogging and the writing and reading communities seem more fractured. One by one, the crime fiction community has lost webzines that played a significant part in launching careers and entertaining readers, including Thuglit, Demolition, Crime Factory, Hardluck Stories and so many others.

Without building a revenue stream it was likely that Spinetingler’s return could be its final bow. That’s why we’re excited to partner with Down & Out Books to bring new issues out in print and via e-book downloads.

The writers who are contributing work and entertaining you here are earning a pittance. The staff involved still take money out of their pockets instead of putting money in.

We’ve learned from the past, and asking writers or editors to volunteer their services isn’t sustainable. It also undermines the legitimate value of the time these professionals spend on their work for Spinetingler.

I would like to thank Jack Getze for financing this venture so that the writers could be offered a small payment. I’d also like to thank our advertisers and our readers. It is your support that has enabled us to return with this issue. With your continued support we hope to be able to continue to bring exceptional short fiction and features to you for years to come.


Sandra Ruttan


Contributors


Rusty Barnes is an Appalachian crime writer and poet living in Revere, MA. He maintains web space at http://www.rustybarnes.com/ and edits the online crime journal Tough http://www.toughcrime.com/.


Former L.A. Times reporter Jack Getze is Fiction Editor for Anthony-nominated Spinetingler Magazine, one of the internet’s oldest websites for noir, crime and horror short stories. His award-winning Austin Carr mystery series is published by Down & Out Books. Big Shoes won Deadly Ink’s David Award for Best Mystery of 2015. His short fiction has appeared in A Twist of Noir, Beat to a Pulp, The Big Adios and several anthologies. If you’d like him to write another Austin Carr, let him know at http://austincarrscrimediary.blogspot.com/.


Brian Lindenmuth likes to talk about books and occasionally reviews them.


Sandra Ruttan co-founded Spinetingler Magazine in 2005. Since then she’s had five novels published, as well as several short stories, interviews and reviews. She has a background in journalism and education and works as a freelance editor and non-fiction writer.


Interested in advertising space?


We offer limited advertising space in our issues and on our website. Email sandraruttan.spinetinglermag@gmail.com for information on advertising options and rates.


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Four more days. That’s how long I, Kara Elizabeth Winslow, had to go until I was considered a legal adult. Ridiculous, really, because I’d been a grown up since age twelve, when my father strangled my mother and took my family, my home, my cat, and any chance at ever having a normal life away from me.

Sure, you can call me a selfish brat for telling it like it is if you want. I mean, I’m still here. I have a roof over my head, people who care about me, and money for whatever I want thanks to the miracle of life insurance. But you can’t buy what I want.

My father, he bought a lawyer who convinced a jury he killed my mother in self-defense, which means he’s already served his time, and now he’s out of jail and starting a new life. And my mother, well, she bought herself a spot in a better place, if all those donations she made to the church paid off.

I’m still figuring out my Uncle Josh and my Aunt Megan. They didn’t buy me, but they’d been bought, in a way. They’d been one of those child-free-by-choice, zip-lining-through-the-jungles-of-Costa Rica, Mt.-Everest-climbing kinda couples, before taking me in six years ago.

They were even willing to take the cat, but Patches had run away during my mother’s murder and had so far been smart enough to stay gone. I don’t think my aunt and uncle would have gotten more money for taking the cat, but I know they got some for taking me. Given the lifestyle they gave up, I’m not sure they think it was enough. I suppose they’re expecting the difference in karma.

So, bottom line, everyone in my family has a new life since that night. Everyone except me. I’m the only one who’s still stuck back there. The only one who can’t move on. There are still some nights when I sit straight up in bed, convinced I hear my mother’s screams coming from the kitchen.

It takes me a minute to realize I’m in a different house now. A house my mother never lived in, but one where they talk about her as if she had. I don’t call out anymore when I wake up like that. I don’t cry, even when I feel like she’s in the room with me. I don’t want to wake Uncle Josh or Aunt Meg. Why should they have to watch me relive it? They weren’t there, so they can’t know what I saw, what I heard, then or now. Besides, they’re already doing enough, and it isn’t their fault they don’t understand what I want.

I tried to explain it to a boyfriend once. He agreed to choke me, just so I could imagine what my mother had felt at the end. He freaked before I passed out, though, and broke up with me the next day. The black and blue finger marks and the scratchy throat lasted longer than he did, and I was fascinated with them both. Guys who thought they could handle being with me after that…not so much.

“You’re going to be late, honey.” Like every morning, Uncle Josh rapped on my door and stuck his head in my room. He stopped talking when he saw me, and his eyes welled up with tears. “Wow.”

I smiled at him. I could have been the cliché. I could have dyed my hair, and worn all black, and tattooed and pierced my body. I could have hidden my eyes behind heavy rings of kohl. I could have cut or mutilated myself to ease the pain, but I didn’t do any of that. Thought about it, sure. But it wouldn’t get me what I wanted.

I unplugged my curling iron. “I’m ready.”

Uncle Josh was still staring. I saw him glance at the picture of my mother I had tucked into my makeup mirror.

My fingers twitched. I plucked the photo off the mirror and stuck it in my backpack. My mom had great hair in the ’80s. It was long and blonde and feathered away from her face.

“Sometimes you look just like her,” Uncle Josh said.

Well, it had taken a couple of tries, but I’d finally gotten my hair to look just like the picture, so whatever, mission accomplished. I was also wearing her baby blue cashmere sweater. I’d worn it a few times now that I’d grown into it, but never with the hair and makeup, too.

“You have her eyes,” Uncle Josh said.

“We’d better go.” I tried not to sound like a bitch.

The thing is, I know I have my mother’s eyes. I see them every time I look in the mirror. That’s part of the problem. I have my mother’s chin, too. And her feet. And, according to Aunt Meg, her teeth.

I thanked Uncle Josh for driving me to school, and stood with a group of seniors who weren’t really my friends until he left. Then I ran down the alley next to the school to catch the Lanta bus into the city.



“We were thinking about going out to eat for your birthday this weekend,” Aunt Meg said at breakfast the next morning. “Would you like to go on Friday or Saturday?”

“I have plans with my friends this weekend,” I said. I didn’t really have any friends, but I’d heard Uncle Josh and Aunt Meg arguing about what to do for my birthday the night before and I didn’t want them to feel obligated. I hate that their lives revolve around me now. They don’t fight the way my parents used to, but they haven’t been on one of their adventure vacations since taking me in, and I can tell they’re both itching for one.

They could have gone, but they still don’t always know what to do with me. Even after six years they haven’t adjusted to having a teenager around. They more or less treat me like a houseguest who won’t leave. I don’t fault them for it. It had to have been hard for a couple who’d never wanted children to change their lives the way they had. For me. On the other hand it was straight up insulting that I was days away from being an adult and they’d never left me alone in their house, not even once. Not even for an hour.

Since they treated me like a perpetual three-year-old, I figured they needed the alone time as much as I did. Besides, I don’t give a crap about going out to eat. Secret: Since my mother died, I haven’t been able to taste anything I put in my mouth. I never told the therapist that. But there was a lot I didn’t tell the therapist. I’d rather handle my problems by myself than take advice from yet another person who was being paid to take actions that in some way concerned the outcome of my life.

Aunt Meg drove me to school after breakfast, which meant I didn’t have to stand with my fake friends, because Aunt Meg never looked back.

I climbed aboard the Lanta bus and got off at the same stop as I had all week. I walked a few blocks farther than I had yesterday, and sat on a bench to keep watch. I’d learned nothing so far, except that I’d probably been in the wrong place.

The hours passed slowly, and like usual I wondered about my mother. Why hadn’t she fought harder to live? Why had she been so weak? She’d had a knife in her hand, but the cut on my father’s stomach had been shallow, little more than a scratch. And the screaming…she couldn’t have been screaming while his hands were around her throat. I knew that from my experiment with my ex. Once he’d applied enough pressure I hadn’t been able to make a sound, let alone scream. So all of that noise I wake up to every other night had happened before my mother was in real trouble. She still could have run. Or stabbed him through the heart. Instead she’d screamed.

I hear her screams even when I stop trying to. I’ve wondered all these years what they’d been fighting about. And if it mattered. And if I could have stopped it. Any of it. The sun beat down on my scalp and made me think of Patches. He loved laying in the sun. I wish he was still here with me. But he’s moved on. He was a good kitty. Someone had probably taken him in the way someone had taken me in. Did he miss me? Could he miss me? Probably not. He was just a stupid cat, after all. As long as someone fed him and changed his litter he’d love them. And as long as I reminded Uncle Josh and Aunt Meg of my mother they’d love me. Funny how that worked.

I wondered how things would be if my mother were still alive. Would people still say how much we looked alike? Would we look alike? Maybe if I still had a mother I’d have dyed my hair and pierced my lip and tattooed my neck just so we wouldn’t resemble each other. Or maybe Mom would be the one with the tattoos. Maybe we would fight all the time. Or maybe we would go shopping together like best friends. Maybe I would have a sibling. Or a step something. Or a dog who would be so loyal he would never run away and abandon me. Who knew? I cracked my knuckles one by one, just to hear something other than my thoughts.



Time was getting short. I only had two more days, so maybe I was trying too hard. I wore another of Mom’s sweaters, and copied another of her hairdos. This one was an upsweep, held in place with a comb from her jewelry box.

Uncle Josh took one look at me and teared up. “You have her long neck,” he said. As soon as the words were out of his mouth he went pale. I didn’t know if he was picturing my father’s handprints around it, or just remembering how his sister had died, but whatever he was thinking, it wasn’t pleasant.

“I’m sorry,” he said, before he burst into tears and left the room.

I knew he couldn’t help it. I’d studied my neck, not only when my boyfriend-for-a-day had bruised it, but before that as well. It was so delicate, the skin there so creamy and soft. It was a vulnerable spot. So much so that I usually kept it covered.

But today was different. Today I wore an open V-neck sweater and a gold necklace with a cursive letter K dangling from it, right there at my throat. It had been my mother’s, of course. K for Karen. She had worn it all the time.

I had no idea what happened to the rest of her belongings, or to most of the contents of my old house. When I’d first come to live with my aunt and uncle I had my clothes and some of my stuffed animals. They’d given me some other things little by little. A photo album with all of the pictures of my father removed, my mother’s jewelry box minus the wedding ring I remember her always spinning around on her finger, and a few of her sweaters I learned later had come from the dry cleaners rather than the closet. They were squeaky clean. Sterilized. Completely devoid of her smell or any strands of her hair that might have clung to them otherwise.

It was like Josh and Meg wanted to amend my memories of the first twelve years of my life. As if they could. Sheltering me from the fact that my father was a murderer didn’t make him any less my father. Just like making my dead mother out to be an angel in heaven didn’t make her any more accessible to me.

After the bus ride today, I walked six blocks beyond yesterday’s spot. I knew when I sat on the bench that I was in the right place. Now all I had to do was wait.



It was dark when he came home. Josh and Meg would be worried because I hadn’t returned from school yet, but it didn’t matter because I wouldn’t be going back there anyway. After tonight they would be free to go on whatever adventure they chose. It’s my birthday gift to them. Nice of me, isn’t it? And you thought I was selfish.

Anyway, I worried that I wouldn’t recognize him, because I hadn’t seen him in six years, and maybe prison had changed him, but some things about him were exactly the same—the way he walked, the way he patted his pocket for his keys when he stood in front of his door, the way he flicked his cigarette ash on the ground.

I knew when he got out of jail and that he was in the city, because it had been on the news. It had taken me three days to find his block. I knew which street he lived on because I heard Josh and Meg whispering about it after they were notified. They were afraid for me. He wasn’t allowed to see me as a condition of his parole, but they were afraid he would try to contact me anyway. They were afraid I was delicate and vulnerable like my mother.

People only saw me one of two ways—I was either an orphaned twelve-year-old or the spitting image of my mother. No one knew who Kara was, not even Kara. I was the tragedy, the sorrow, the horror. I was the embodiment of that night, the loss and the grief, and the sadness. For the past six years I’ve been so protected, so ensconced, so shielded, that I never got to become my own person. And now when I look in the mirror all I see is my mother. And it makes me angry.

I want for that night to be different. I want my mother to fight. To live. I don’t want her eyes or her teeth or her hair—I want her. All of her. I want her living and breathing again. But since that could never happen, I settled for the next best thing.

I crossed the street and started up the steps to my father’s porch. It was after midnight, which meant there was one more day before I became an adult. One more day before my father would be legally able to seek me out. One more day when I could surprise him.

It was now or never.

I rang the bell. What would he see when he answered it? His long lost daughter or the ghost of his wife? Either way he would underestimate me. Everyone did. Whether they saw me or my mother, they all saw a victim. But I wasn’t going to be a victim. I wasn’t going to be my mother.

He answered the door. He looked so much older now. “Kara,” he whispered. “Baby.” And then he actually smiled. Some of the blue had faded from his eyes. There was gray in his hair. The skin on his neck sagged, but I still knew where that soft spot was. The one my ex had been too scared to really squeeze. The one that would have cut off my air and rendered me mute and made me turn blue. That one. The tips of my fingers tingled.

“Let me look at you,” he said.

I let him, because I knew what he was seeing now. My mother’s eyes. My mother’s hair and neck and feet. It was true, I had those things. But the one thing no one ever saw, the thing they never expected, was that I had my father’s hands.


Tracy Falenwolfe is a member of Sisters in Crime, Mystery Writers of America, and the Kiss of Death Chapter of Romance Writers of America. She’s been published in several anthologies, and is currently writing a mystery series. She lives in Pennsylvania’s Lehigh Valley with her husband and two sons. Learn more at https://www.tracyfalenwolfe.com/.



Want to win free books? Visit our Free Book Content page at SpinetinglerMag.com to find out how to enter.


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You know when you’re driving home after you’ve had a few and you can’t quite remember where you’re going? You kind of drive around, looking for familiar landmarks?

Yeah, well, that’s what happened every single time we went anywhere. I’d say, “Why don’t you lie down in the backseat while I drive?”

The stupid lush would never let me. “It’s my car and I’m driving. Christ, you’re not even old enough for a license!” she’d say. As if that mattered. I’d still drive safer.

Or Courtney’d say, “You have any frigging idea where you’re going?”

“Sure,” the old cow would say. “I can get to anywhere. Just tell me where the hell I’m going and I’ll get there. Are we going to Spring Garden Road? Granny’s? Paris? Niagara Falls?”

So we’d give her directions at every corner and we’d get home somehow. Courtney and I’d be trembling with exhaustion by the time we arrived. You wouldn’t believe how many times we almost went in the ditch.

You know the morning after when your head’s pounding and your mouth tastes like an ashtray? She must’ve felt like that every damn day. I could almost feel sorry for her.

Almost.

She’d bring different guys home, but she’d scare them off soon enough with her bitchy moods. Once I heard one say, “Morning, sweetheart. How you feeling?”

And she answered, “Jesus, go brush your teeth. Your breath smells like mud flats at low tide.”

“Look who’s talking,” he should’ve said.

But most times she’d come home alone. She’d take off her clothes and lie there spread-eagled on the bed, passed out with the vibrator still buzzing. She couldn’t even be bothered to close the door. Then when the batteries died, she’d start yelling and blame Courtney and me for borrowing them.

Occasionally we’d nag her about how maybe she was drinking too much and should check out AA. We’d show her the questions where one yes means you’re in trouble and two means you’re an alcoholic. She’d play along and go to a meeting. But afterwards she’d say it’s bullshit, really, and hit the gin.

She’d hardly ever shop or cook. After work she’d stop in at the liquor store or drugstore, and that would be it. Forget about groceries. So Courtney and I would order pizza or something for supper with her credit card. And for breakfast and lunch we’d take twenty bucks from her wallet and get something in the cafeteria.

We’d gotten pretty sick of the caf.

And who’s been doing all the laundry and dishes and stuff? Me and Courtney, who else? No one has any idea what it’s like. Year after year, and when you think it’s bad, it just gets worse.

Dad’s so ignorant. We told him we’d rather live with him but he didn’t care. He never even said anything about the way she always slurred on the phone.

Of course, she didn’t sleep too well, so she got a prescription for sleeping pills. She’d take a couple, then forget and ask us whether she did or not.

So this time Courtney says no and gives her a couple more, then passes her the bottle of gin. A while later she says, “Hey, Mum, here’s your pills. Now how about a nice hot bath?”

Of course the old cow takes a few more swigs while the bath’s running, then stumbles her way into the tub. The bottle of booze slips from her hand as she grabs at the wall for balance. She swears when it smashes on the floor.

When she closes her eyes, I go into the bathroom and slip her under the water. Then we hold her down until the bubbles stop. It’s a really tight squeeze with both of us in that tiny bathroom.

The police were really nice. They thought we’d cut ourselves trying to save the old drunk from drowning.

“I guess you came running when you heard the glass break,” the tall one says.

“Yeah,” says Courtney, wiping her eyes. “That’s just what happened.”


Karin Montin has been a certified French-to-English translator for over thirty years and has had a number of literary translations published. She looks forward to writing and translating more crime fiction.



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Author Feature: Leo W. Banks

By Sandra Ruttan


When I was planning the fall issue of Spinetingler Magazine, I asked Lee Goldberg what authors had books out this fall that I should be paying attention to. One of the first names he gave me was Leo W. Banks. Leo W. Banks has written for a variety of newspapers and magazines. He has been a correspondent for the Los Angeles Times and the Boston Globe. His articles have appeared in the Los Angeles Times Magazine, Sports Illustrated, Wall Street Journal and others. He has won thirty-eight statewide, regional and national journalism awards. Double Wide is his first novel.

Leo’s claim to fame? “I was a saloon extra in a Western movie called September Gun. Robert Preston, of Music Man fame, threw a shot of whiskey on me. What nerve!”


SR: What’s the first book you remember reading that had a huge impact on you? How did that story affect you?


LB: Shane by Jack Schaefer. It’s a beautiful story of the West, simply told.


SR: Did you try your hand at poetry as a teenager or use stick figures to illustrate your comic books? Tell us about your early writing efforts.


LB: No poetry, no stick figures. At age ten, I wrote a book about the Civil War. My father, a math professor, wrote the introduction. He said the book was so good it would be read for hundreds of years. I think he exaggerated.


SR: You’re an experienced journalist, but there are some big differences between writing news reports and features and writing fiction. How does being a journalist help your fiction writing? Were there any ways it hindered it?


LB: A lot of the basics are the same: You have to put your butt in the chair, your first draft stinks, it has to make sense, be accessible, interesting, and have a beginning, middle and end. The biggest difference is probably freedom. In reporting, you have to follow some basic rules, and your editor is the worst person on earth. In fiction, you can do whatever you want to do as long as it works, and your editor is still the worst person on earth.


SR: What’s your new book about? What inspired you to write it?


LB: I wrote Double Wide because the story and characters have been in my head for years. It was time to let them out, especially the lead character, Prospero Stark. Nickname, Whip.

Double Wide is a fast-paced mystery novel with sharply-drawn characters. They live at a trailer park in the Arizona desert. It becomes home for this collection of castaways, forgotten souls in a world of struggle and crime. But everything is going to be okay. Double Wide will make you believe in murder again.


SR: For you, did the characters just arrive fully formed, or did they emerge over time?


LB: They form over time. Characters are a giant pain. They’re like houseguests, only they’re in my head instead of in my kitchen wearing a silly robe. The more I think about them, the more they evolve. I get some of my best character ideas at the grocery store, usually in frozen foods.


SR: Is there something you’ve experienced that’s affected your view of life? Tell us about it and how it changed you.


LB: Being raised by two great parents made everything possible.


SR: Is there something you’ve experienced that’s affected your view of life? Tell us about it and how it changed you.


LB: As a kid in Boston, I rode the subway a lot. To this day, as protection against pickpockets, I carry my wallet in my front pocket. Which makes me think of Mickey Spillane’s advice for writers: Before you sit down to work, take your wallet out of your back pocket. You’ll be more comfortable.


SR: What’s the best thing about writing?


LB: I get to make up a world entirely my own.


SR: What’s the worst thing about writing?


LB: It’s solitary.


SR: If you have to live in a potential natural disaster zone, would you pick blizzards, hurricanes, tornadoes, earthquakes or volcanic eruptions? Why?


LB: I already live in a natural disaster zone, the Arizona desert. It tries to kill me every day with heat, cold, drug smugglers, rattlesnakes, and more.


SR: If you had to describe your protagonist as a weather system, what would they be?


LB: Whip Stark as a weather system? He is a monsoon storm on the horizon, and he’s coming your way.


SR: What detail in your writing do you obsess over the most? Character names? Locations? Description? Dialogue? Research?


LB: Dialogue. Characters only live when they talk.


SR: Is your protagonist more likely to go insane or end up in prison?


LB: Prison. Whip Stark lives by his own rules.


SR: What’s your protagonist’s greatest fear? Why?


LB: Whip Stark’s greatest fear is that the real world, the world outside his trailer park, will find him. It does, of course, and that’s what creates the conflict, the problem to be solved.


SR: So, other than you Civil War book, is this the first novel you ever finished a draft of?


LB: No, I’ve got a bunch of novels in my garage, some from years ago. They’re like buried bodies. Every now and then I go out there with a shovel and dig one up and do a literary CSI workup on them. Some of it is awful, some not so much. Writing novels takes work and repetition. It’s a skill, like learning to play golf. Starting out, I hit a lot of balls in the water.


SR: Do you relate more to Sherlock Holmes or Professor Moriarty? Why?


LB: I relate more to the dog Holmes uses to help solve crimes. His name is Toby. I like dogs.



SR: Everyone needs an outlet to help them recharge. What hobbies do you have outside of writing?


LB: Walking the dogs. Vacuuming. Pants-off naps in the middle of the day.


SR: Does that mean you don’t play baseball? Did you at one point? What prompted you to make Whip be a former pitcher?


LB: I played baseball as a kid. I went to a Jesuit high school in Boston. Freshman year I tried out for the baseball team. My oldest brother had pitched for the team a few years before, and he was a real star. We had the same coach, a flat-nose former boxer with weasel eyes. He asked me, “Are you as good as your brother?”

I said, “Better.” Big mistake.

He started me in the season’s first game, a freshman pitching against the JV of South Boston High. I got creamed and he cut me from the team that night. I took a shower, rode the subway home and that was pretty much it for my career.

I love the game, love watching it. Driving long distances in the car, it doesn’t get any better than baseball on the radio.

But I didn’t make Whip Stark a pitcher because of that experience. Years ago, I spent a few weeks traveling around with a Mexican baseball team and wrote it up for Sports Illustrated. Whip is a combination of the characters I met on that trip. I wrote about this in a blog posted on the Brash Books website.


SR: What genre trope are you most tired of seeing in fiction? Why?


LB: The book opens with the client walking into a detective’s office and sitting down. I’ve read it a million times. Have the meeting take place anywhere else—the ball game, the gun range, the Cinnabon counter at the mall.


SR: What’s one thing that you and your protagonist have in common?


LB: Great hair.


SR: How do you think your protagonist would respond if aliens landed in the center of town on page 57?


LB: Prospero Stark, nicknamed Whip, doesn’t spend a lot of time in town. He’d drive back to his Airstream trailer in the Arizona desert and lock the door.


SR: What’s your personal life motto?


LB: When your car’s engine catches fire, stop and get out.


SR: About car engines catching fire, has that ever happened to you? Is there a story there?


LB: Some years ago I was driving around town and looked in my rearview mirror and saw flames. At the time I owned an old Volkswagen bug with the engine in the rear, and it was most definitely on fire. I pulled over and get out. Feet don’t fail me now!

I called my friend, Doug, who repaired cars in his driveway. He’d been working on my crappy writer cars for years. Like me, Doug was a Wild West nut. He loved reading about the American frontier, the Indian wars, famous outlaws, all that. Billy the Kid killed his first man in Arizona, and one day Doug and I drove down to the site to poke around.

Whenever I’d drop off a car with him, we’d stand around talking about our Western heroes, and sometimes those conversations went on until the repair work was done.

Anyway, standing beside my burning bug, I said: “Hey, Doug. My car’s on fire.”

“Yeah, they’ll do that sometimes. Where you at?”

I told him.

“Be right there. I’ll bring a couple beers.”

If I called Doug from Brazil and said I’d broken down, he’d say, “Be right there.”

Doug came. We stood on the sidewalk talking about Wyatt and Doc as we watched the firemen work. Doug passed away a few years ago and I really miss him.


SR: Carpool karaoke. What would be your protagonist’s song? Yours?


LB: Same for both, the theme song from the movie, The Magnificent Seven (1960). Yul Brynner, Steve McQueen, Charles Bronson, James Coburn.



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