Review: Our Blood In Its Blind Circuit by J David Osborne

J David Osborne has become a player in crime fiction circles over the last few months. From out of nowhere, it would seem. But, as is always the case with these things, the reality is rarely how it might first seem. True overnight success is rare – it usually involves years of struggle and masses of talent (Osborne certainly has that in abundance). His highly lauded crime novel Low Down Death Right Easy got itself on several best of year lists, which means the guy can write! And this might have been enough for most people, but Osborne has also started Broken River Books, a small independent press, whose novels include Peckerwood and The Least Of My Scars (both of which have received glowing reviews from yours truly), meaning his judgement is also spot-on.

Our Blood In Its Blind Circuit is published by Broken River, and is a collection of Osborne’s short fiction. Most of the stories have both feet firmly in surreal territory (Kafkaesque in some cases, and like hallucinatory American writer John Hawkes in others). Bleak black humour abounds, as do massive and radical disjunctures from traditional storytelling, in tales that effortlessly straddle the worlds of nightmare and reality. Whether it’s two corrupt Mexican police officers obsessed with dark magic in the title story, the nightmarish western Amends Due, West of Glorieta, or the strange and compelling tale of drug dealers, police and a man whose body is inhabited by a lot of very unwelcome guests in The Thick Fog Of The Alabaster Mountains, these tales meld body horror, grim violence, ethereal strangeness, altered realities and strange black humour. The tales glitter brightly in clipped, clear prose before burning away just as vividly like flies in a zapper. Other tales that made a strong impression were Imprinting and the superb Three Theories on The Murder of John Wily, which reminded me of Jorge Luis Borges in the way it was structured and written.

I haven’t read Osborne’s Low Down Death Right Easy yet, but it has just leaped into the top five of my To-Be-Read list. If it’s as assured and confident and fucked-up as the tales in this fine collection, then it’s going to be a damn fine read. Highly recommended.

The Isabel Allende Affair: So Fucking What?

The internet offence machine is in full swing over Isabel Allende’s comments about disliking crime fiction. The fact that she recently released a thriller called Ripper as a “joke”, and that she appears to have little respect for crime fiction or its authors seems to have gone down like a lead balloon. Authors like Val (Rent-A-Gob) McDermid and Mark Billingham lined up to slate her, and a variety of crime and other genre fiction fans did the same. She has been pilloried to such an extent that she was forced to issue an apology.

But here’s the thing: why the fuck should she apologise for her opinion? It’s one person’s opinion, and she’s entitled to it – in much the same way you are entitled to yours. So fucking what? Ultimately, Allende’s opinion doesn’t mean anything. It has affected nothing, with the exception of some delicate sensibilities. The world will continue to turn, people will continue to buy crime fiction, along with any other kinds of fiction, and in a week or so it will all be forgotten.

So she wrote a piece of crime fiction that she considers to be ironic, a joke. So fucking what? If Allende doesn’t like crime fiction, that is her business. If she writes a crime novel as a meta-joke, that is again her business. If you don’t like it, don’t buy it. But please spare us all from your whining.

Oh, you were offended? Well, you know what, fuck you. How’s that for offence? That’s right, you read those words correctly.

I’m tired of these wretched, easily-offended souls, who whine about opinions or statements that run counter to their beliefs. Everybody with a computer or smartphone and a sense of indignation feels it necessary to piss and moan when something derogatory is said about their favourite author, pop act, piece of technology, style of fiction, or some other abstract that really doesn’t mean anything in the grand scheme of things.

I’m a fan of crime fiction, and I’ll continue to be a fan of crime fiction regardless of what other people say about it. If you look down on me because of my literary tastes, if you consider me to be your intellectual inferior because I’m reading Jim Thompson or David Goodis rather than David Foster Wallace or Gabriel Garcia Marquez, then that’s your business – I refuse to make it mine.

You know why? Because I simply do not care. Because your opinion changes nothing. In the same way that Allende’s opinion changes nothing. Why do you care what an author or anybody else thinks of your choice of reading? What difference does it make to your life?

I’ll tell you how much difference it makes – none whatsoever.

However, if you don’t like what Isabel Allende says then don’t buy Ripper, or don’t buy any of her other books. But kindly spare us all from your outpourings of outrage. They’re tiresome.

To free, or not to free? That is the question

I’ve given away plenty of freebies in the past – far more than I have sold, if I’m completely honest – so why am I asking this question now?

Well, I’ve been thinking about it a lot, recently. Partly because I want to sell more books in 2014, and partly because I want to progress as a writer, by turning it into a career, rather than a side-line. There are other elements at play in my thinking, but these main points have occupied me for much of the beginning of the year.

The answer to the title, essentially, comes down to this one question, and how I answer it:

How much do I value my time?

Is the time I spend writing (time that would be more lucrative financially if I spent it chasing clients for new freelance work) of any worth to me? Do the hundreds of hours I spend writing, rewriting, fine-tuning, and editing my work mean anything to me spiritually? Do I have any defined goals as a writer? Do I want to sell more future work?

If I answer yes to any of these questions, then giving all my work away for free makes very little sense.

If I don’t value myself as a writer, why should the reading public? Some stats suggest that more than 70% of the people who download free books never read them. Goodreads figures for The Gamblers and Bone Breakers suggest that this isn’t far from the truth. Of course, they have every intention of reading them – otherwise, what is the point of downloading them? But, as any Kindle user will tell you, downloading free books becomes an addiction. The more they download, the more choice they have; and the more choice they have, the harder it becomes to make a clear decision based on those choices! Also, when Kindles are jam-packed with content (years of it, in many cases), what kind of choices does this force the reader to make?

If you’re like me, you probably base your reading priorities along several lines of thought: 1) novels I have bought (especially if the authors are known to me); 2) authors with a known track-record (I’ve read and enjoyed them before, so they get prioritised next); 3) recommendations (particularly from other writers); 4) publishers that I respect (I might not know the author, but I have read work from other authors that they have published in the past); 5) interesting, well-written synopsis; 6) all other freebies.

Note where all other freebies comes in the list.

I had every intention of reading them at the time, but as I’ve added new content to my Kindle they have been gradually pushed down the pecking order. Why? Because in my mind they have less value than the works I paid for, and, because they have less value, I consider that reading them is less important. When my Kindle gets too full, they are the books that I delete or archive first. Truth be told, I’m probably missing out on some cracking stories because of this…

And so it goes for my novels and stories. Same rules apply.

And when I think about it in this way, I realise that giving my work away makes it essentially worthless to more than 70% of readers. Carelessly giving away my work might garner me a few new readers (even long-term ones), but it will most likely lose me a lot more in the long run.

Also, why should readers take the time to buy your work on initial release when they think, Well, he’s only going to make it free at some point. Might as well wait till then. If your readership thinks you’re just going to give it away eventually, where is their incentive to buy? Nowhere – that’s where.

So, 2014 will see me taking a different approach to writing, and how I market and sell my work.

No more new freebies for a start: The Curious Case of the Missing Moolah, A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to Billingham Forum, and The Glasgow Grin will never be free. Ever! The same goes for any other future publications (with the notable exception of short stories, because they work as advertisements for my larger works).

The only freebie I have planned for this year is a tactical one. A couple of months before the release of The Glasgow Grin, I will make The Hunters permanently free. This makes sense because The Glasgow Grin is its direct sequel – every other Stanton brothers’ book works solely in its own right. It also makes sense, because I think The Hunters is a good enough read to make people want to get their hands on the sequel.

Otherwise, the free ride ends here.

I think my work is good enough to charge money for it.

And if you’re waiting for me to change my mind, and start giving it away again, you’ll be waiting a long time.

The Curious Case of The Missing Moolah

CuriousCaseCoverFor those of you who have been missing the Stanton brothers (and there are a handful of you out there), the next instalment of their thrilling adventures is now available on Kindle.

This one goes back in time a bit. Chronologically speaking, this is the first of their tales – where it all kicks off for the brothers, and they decide to do what they do so well (hurt criminals and take their cash).

Here’s the Amazon blurb for those of you who are into that sort of thing:

Eric Stanton has a big problem. Three armed robbers have stolen ten grand of his boss’ money from him. So far, so bad.

However, his boss isn’t the kind of man who will take that kind of loss lying down. If Eric can’t get the money back, then it becomes his debt. And his boss isn’t the kind of man he wants to owe money to, especially when he can’t afford to pay. So Stanton has one option: get the money back before anybody notices it’s gone!

But when he realises that he’s been set up, and that this is part of a bigger picture, he does the one thing he can think of to even up the score – he brings in his brother, Derek. Now, Derek might not be the smartest man on the planet, or the most reliable, but he’s six-feet four, strong as an ox and handy with his fists.

So the brothers decide to play detective, and take a trip around the seamier parts of Teesside in search of the money – upsetting the locals, breaking bones and trading quips, right up until the brutal finale.

Foul-mouthed, fast-moving and bone-crunchingly violent – this is one Case that’s bound to make you Curious!

You can buy it on Kindle for £1.99/£2.99 here

Review: Peckerwood by Jedidiah Ayres

When petty scumbag Terry Hickerson sleeps with the Sheriff Jimmy Mondale’s wayward daughter, he’s inviting trouble. Mondale is very tight with Chowder Thompson, a meth kingpin and ex-biker. So tight, in fact, that they run all the organised crime in their little town in Missouri – and it really wouldn’t take that much for them to make a creep like Terry disappear. But Mondale has more important things on his mind: namely a smarmy DA who’s looking to make a name for himself by taking down Thompson and the Sheriff. But when tragedy strikes, Mondale’s once sound judgement goes out of the window and he hunts down Hickerson with the intention of killing him, and Thompson realises that maybe it’s time to break up their partnership and get out of town once-and-for-all.

Regular readers know how highly I rated Ayres’ Fierce Bitches – a highly ambitious and linguistically stunning novella set mostly in a small Mexican hell-hole. So how do you follow up such a cracker? In a sense, by not following it up at all. Peckerwood is as different from Fierce Bitches as chalk is from cheese. The writing is lighter and looser than the dense, poetic language used in last year’s novella, the tone is funnier, although there’s plenty of darkness in there too, and the characters have a bit more space to live and breathe and bounce off each other.

As the betrayals and blackmails and murders mounted up, Peckerwood began to remind me of a Jim Thompson small-town thriller. In fact, Sheriff Mondale could have been written by Thompson, which is as high a compliment as I can give, because, frankly, the guy wrote brilliant corrupt law officers (read Pop. 1280 and Killer Inside Me, should you have any doubts). But Chowder and Hickerson are both equally well written – Ayres writes very good scumbags, by the way – and the narrative paths that they take feel right. He also has complete mastery over the story and it never feels rushed or forced.

Peckerwood is, in its own way, as impressive a performance as Fierce Bitches, and Jedidiah Ayres is now up there on my small but growing list of new writers whose work I will snap up on the first day of release. Highly recommended.