When I first got into crime fiction, there were three webzines where I landed. The first was Blue Murder, which was running on fumes by then. Then came Plots With Guns, which took “A Walk in the Rain” for its second issue. And there’s The Thrilling Detective Web Site. Thrilling Detective was different in that it focused on PI fiction. For most people, that meant Sam Spade, Phillip Marlowe, Lew Archer, and Spenser. For a few more, it meant Mannix and Magnum and Kinsey Millhonne. This particular corner of the mystery genre can get pretty derivative and repetitious. There are the tired tropes: Snappy patter, the lone wolf, the psycho sidekick, and so on. But Kevin Burton Smith loves it all, even when he hates it. Back when building web sites meant throwing together a tacky html page on Geocities, Smith went a little further and built an online encyclopedia of all things PI. Today, someone would build a wiki, but Thrilling Detective is old school. The site is huge and in-depth. There’s even an entry for Nick Kepler who, believe it or not, is not the most obscure fictional PI on the site. The site went live in the late 90s, when building web sites was a novelty. From the beginning, Smith and partner in crime Victoria Esposito-Shea offered fiction where some of the more obscure PIs on the site made their debuts. Eventually, Esposito-Shea had to bow out. Smith recruited Gerald So, a Hofstra adjunct professor, poet, and admitted television geek to take over. It was on Gerald’s watch that I was able to get “Roofies” (the prequel to Gypsy’s Kiss) over the transom. Kevin Burton Smith did accept an earlier story, but the revisions proved to be so untenable that I stripped it for parts and rolled it into Second Hand Goods. Other writers who started out around the same time also appeared in Thrilling Detective, including Dave White, Simon Wood, Ray Banks, and Victor Gischler. But alas, Gerald had other projects he wanted to focus on, and fiction proved to be the something that had to give for Kevin to keep the site going. So in 2009, the last Thrilling New Fiction ran, including my own “Love Don’t Mean a Thing.” The site still runs new nonfiction, and Kevin continues to update the never-ending lists of fictional PIs. Of all the zines I dealt with early in my crime fic days, Thrilling Detective has proven to be one of the most enduring.
I have to give a shoutout to three guys who’ve shown me the love over the last decade. Oh, there’s more. There are even names I can drop. But these three have been going above and beyond for Northcoast and Road Rules lately, and I need to give them their props.
First up is Gerald So. I’ve known Gerald since about 2002 or so, when he first took over for Victoria Esposito-Shea as fiction editor of Thrilling Detective. Gerald and I became good friends over the years, kvetching about various foibles in the writing community, bouncing ideas off each other, and even critiquing each other’s work. Gerald’s moved on to doing a poetry site and put out the poetry mag The Lineup with various other editors for a few years. Gerald often retweets some of my inane promotional tweets for Northcoast. I can’t thank him enough.
I also can’t thank this guy enough. Anthony Neil Smith published my first short story in 2001, “A Walk in the Rain,” in one of the early editions of Plots With Guns. He punished one of the later drafts of Northcoast Shakedown before it landed in bookstores. Neil is a good bud and a terrific writer, and it was Neil who convinced me to try the 99 cent route with Road Rules. I try to promote anything of his that comes out (I read it first, but it’s always a good risk.) and have yet to be disappointed. Neil’s taken a little ownership of Northcoast as he gave me some of the most detailed notes on the early manuscripts. I never asked. He just does it.
Joining him is his former partner in crime at PWG, Victor Gischler. Vic writes some strange, strange shit, starting with his debut novel, Gun Monkeys, the finest novel involving exploding pastries ever written. Vic was among those who looked over my early work and passed judgment upon it. He also gave Road Rules a blurb and has been tirelessly pimping Northcoast.
There are more, of course. Early on, writers like Steve Hamilton took an interest. Ken Bruen was probably my first die-hard fan. Laura Lippman has provided me with several much-needed reality checks over the years. JD Rhoades not only wrote the intro to Road Rules, but he even tried to get me in with his agent at one point. And I can’t forget Li’l Sis, whose help and support go back long before I started writing seriously.
Still, Gerald, Neil, and Vic have been getting the word out about Northcoast, and I wanted to recognize them for their help. Thanks, guys. I can’t tell you how much I appreciate it.
If we’re going to devote a lot of time here talking about ebooks, then we need to actually look at a few ebooks. So let’s have a look at a type of book I don’t normally read, that being poetry.
Former Thrilling Detective fiction editor and the brains behind the crime-themed poetry collection The Lineup, Gerald So, has put together a collection of his poetry around lost loves called We Might Have. Rather than long, flowery tomes about pouring one’s heart out, So has a spare, somewhat unconventional style. Most of the poems in this collection run less than a dozen lines, many five lines or less. There are five that stand out for me.
“My First Love” is an old story many of us have gone through. The speaker talks about calling or writing the love of his life everyday, only to reveal in the last line that “You couldn’t wait to get away.” Then there’s “Wet Dream,” which is not exactly what the title implies. It describes a confession of love that ends in a wine-soaked spit take. “Paperback Lover” looks at the people we pursue through the metaphor of books. Hardcovers are expensive and often out of reach. Library books are free, but have been around. Paperbacks, So points out, are cheap and easy.
“Four Weeks Before the Wedding” describes how a phone call might be a jilted couple upset over the speakers regrets he cannot attend the wedding. Turns out the bride butt dialed him. How many poems end with a line about butt dialing? Of course, does anyone butt dial anymore in these days of touchscreen phones?
Probably the most poignant is “A Courtship in Cuts,” in which a barber describes a customer who’s met a girl, proposes over time, then loses her. Through each stage of the courtship, the man asks for a different haircut, but in the end has “grayed ten years/in three months.”
All these poems contain a pang of regret, and there’s something most people can identify with, that one love who got away. Short and sweet.
For over a decade now, Gerald So’s been involved in the crime fiction community, first as fiction editor for The Thrilling Detective Web Site, and more recently as the force behind The Lineup, an annual crime-themed poetry collection. Gerald has just released a collection of his own poetry called We Might Have. He took some time to answer a few questions about the project, about The Lineup, and butt dialing.
1) Tell us about We Might Have and how you came to put this collection together.
2) The book contains the first mention I’ve ever seen of butt dialing in a poem. What prompted that?
3) What made you decide to go the ebook route?
4) You’ve also done The Line Up for the last four years. What is that project’s current status?
5) You were Thrilling Detective’s fiction editor for almost a decade. Are you still dabbling in crime fiction on the prose front?
6) Do you think ebooks are a good bet for poetry?
7) So what else do you have planned on the ebook front?
My next eBook project may be a collection of short stories featuring 1930s pilot-for-hire C.J. Stone. I’ve had seven Stone stories published, and I hope looking at them again inspires me to write more.