Twelve Mad Men – Ryan Bracha interviewed

When the outrageously talented self-published author Ryan Bracha (Paul Carter Is A Dead Man, Strangers Are Just Friends You Haven’t Killed Yet) contacted me about being part of a wild anthology idea that he had regarding twelve mad men in an institution I jumped at the idea. It was an exciting project involving a lot of seriously talented writers (Paul Brazill, Keith Nixon, Gerrard Brennan, Les Edgerton, just a few of those participating) – how could I not get involved? The concept involved 12 tales featuring fictionalised versions of each author around which Bracha would construct a bridging tale before tying the strands together at the very end. Kind of like one of those anthology horror movies from the 70s, but much better. I’d be bloody mad if I shirked this opportunity (especially as I’d never submitted a story to a collection before).

And now Twelve Mad Men is finally finished and out there – adding some serious craaaaazy to Amazon’s website. I interviewed Ryan about the project and what brought it about etc. Have a gander at how it went.

How did you come up with the concept for Twelve Mad Men?
It came to me one night when I was a bit tipsy and spouting off at fellow writer and friend Mark Wilson about how, as indie writers, we’ve got a better opportunity than ever before to experiment with our work. It was all about how there are so many writers out there trying to rip off what’s worked on a massive scale in the past (Harry Potter, Fifty Shades, Lord of the Rings, Terry Pratchett etc.) and trying to grab a quick buck rather than use the creativity and imagination they were gifted with to do something awesome. Mark tends to feel the brunt of the ideas factory that is my brain. I come up with several ideas every week to try to do something original, most will be completely ridiculous and fall by the wayside, but some of them grow legs and I can run with them. This one was one of the latter. I wanted to put a bunch of wildly different, but equally talented writers in one place, and see what they did when given the exact same brief. I wanted to challenge myself to think on my feet, so the improvisation aspect jumped into the picture. The narrative theme just gave each writer the scope to be as ridiculous, violent, intense or comedic as they wanted to be.

How do you feel about the finished product?
I’m extremely happy with it. All eleven of the men I invited to contribute surpassed my wildest expectations, and gave me some phenomenal material to work with. The finished product is a seriously good signifier of the talent currently writing and publishing today.
Did the fact that you were improvising the tale that linked the stories cause any problems?
Not as many as I thought it might. Getting the stories submitted in the staggered manner that I did gave me the opportunity to really think about how I was going to introduce a character, and how I might leave that character be, taking what I needed to push the main plot on. Sometimes I did get carried away and went off on a tangent, but rather than delete and rewrite, I’d just go further back and drop some clues in about what was to come. I enjoyed the process immensely, truth be told. The challenge excited me.
Do you prefer anthologies with an overall unifying theme?
Yes and no. If it’s an individual writer’s collection then I like it to be a broad spectrum of what they can do with words, a whole range of themes, characters and styles. If it’s a multi-author piece of work, then yes. I like to see different takes on the same theme. I always loved those projects at school where everybody got one word, and had to write a piece of fiction with that word as the title. It shows how diverse we are as thinkers.
Do you hope to start a trend with this collection?
Definitely. I devised and implemented the idea according to a set of rules that I’ve termed The Rule of Twelve Manifesto 2014. It’s a series of guidelines for getting it written and published. I stole the general basis of rules from the Lars Von Trier spearheaded cinematic movement, Dogme 95, where the story would be the driving force, with no effects, or music to drive emotion. I wanted the writers involved to come up with something reasonably quick and without retrospective editing to get the essence of them as creative types. I would hope that somebody else might take the ball and run with it, and come up with their own Twelve project but if they don’t then that’s fine. The process isn’t for everyone. I’ll just continue to do them myself.
What are your future writing plans?
Before the writing I intend to kick off my new imprint Abrachadabra Books which will embody my approach to the writing game, and submissions will open once I get the first book out. I’m in talks with one of the Mad Men about putting his new one out. That’s a secret, though!
As far as my own work I have the second novel in The Dead Man Trilogy (The first of which is Paul Carter is a Dead Man) to finish hopefully for a January release, then I’m going to do another Twelve project, which will have some of the same names involved as this one, with some fresh blood in there too. On top of that I’m going to work on some shorts to go into a new collection. But the best laid plans and all that. Ask me next week and I might be planning a novel written entirely on cash that’s currently in circulation. Until Wilson talks me out of it!

Twelve Mad Men is out now. All proceeds go to Teenage Cancer Trust, so there’s really no excuse for you not to buy it here.

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Heath Lowrance talks City of Heretics

On of the great pleasures of getting into the writing/reviewing game over the last eighteen months has been my discovery of Heath Lowrance. His Psychonoir blog has been regular reading since I discovered it early last year, and Heath’s history of hardboiled/noir writers introduced me to several novelists whose work would have remained a mystery to me without this valuable guide.

However, what’s really blown me away about Heath is the quality of his writing. The Bastard Hand and Dig Ten Graves are up there with the best things I’ve read this year, and I can say that thus far (haven’t finished it yet) City of Heretics is the equal of James Sallis’ Driven, which I’m reading concurrently.

Anyway, enough of my waffling. You’re here because of Heath, not me. So, here’s the man himself to talk about his latest and greatest…

1) Let’s get down to brass tacks – can you boil down the premise of City of Heretics for the readers, and let us know why it’s going to wow them?
CITY OF HERETICS follows Crowe, an aging hard man just out of prison, back in Memphis, and looking to even the score against his former employers. But before he can do that, he’s caught up on the trail of a vicious serial killer, ultimately leading him to uncover a conspiracy among the city’s rich-and-powerful, and a secret society of murderers disguised as a Christian splinter-group. Along the way, he re-opens old wounds, and sustains some brand new ones– literally and figuratively. He’ll discover his own humanity, but whether or not he accepts it or rejects it, well…

For those of you who’ve read my first novel, THE BASTARD HAND, this one is a bit different. It’s harder, and it’s meaner. So, you know, if you like that sort of thing…

2) What was the spark that set the whole project in motion?
I guess it came from being away from Memphis for so long. It’s been almost fifteen years since I left that city. A friend who is still down there told me that I wouldn’t recognize the place now, that it’s a lot darker than it used to be. I put my feelings about that into Crowe, a man returning to the city he knew so well after seven years away, and finding that he doesn’t know his place there anymore. Also, it came from getting older (though I’m not quite as old as Crowe) and feeling that the world is, perhaps, leaving you behind.

And religion, of course, my old obsession, rears its head. I was reading about the various Protestant groups that sprang up all over the country in the early 20th century, and how strange and secretive some of them could be. That lead to the “secret society” of Heretics in the novel.

3) What were your influences?
The approach of Charles Willeford to character, as always, had an influence on CITY OF HERETICS. But beyond that, I was stretching my hard-boiled muscles with this one. I was reading a lot of Dan J. Marlowe and Richard Stark, and both of them seeped heavily into forming Crowe. He’s a dark character, cynical and bitter, and, if he has a conscience, its been buried deep for most of his life.

4) In what ways would you say it improves on your previous work?
Well, it’s leaner and more direct, for one thing. I find my work lately has been moving in that direction. As nasty as THE BASTARD HAND could be on occasion, there was still a tiny little bit of sentiment here and there, because the main character was basically a decent-enough guy. He was just… in a crisis situation is all, and it brought out the worst in him. CITY OF HERETICS has no such nice guy. Crowe is a nasty piece of work, and that gave me license to get down to brass tacks. The story doesn’t meander, and a lot of what goes on in Crowe’s head is left up to the reader. So I suppose it’s more of a challenge than my previous work.

5) How long did it take to write? And how much did the rewriting/editing process shape what readers have their hands?
It’s funny, but my first novel took a good five years to write, on and off. CITY OF HERETICS, though, took about eight months for the first draft. Re-writes took another couple of months. And the re-writes made the book, I think. Before editing, it was a moderately hard-boiled story, but after taking the scalpel to it, it became very, very lean and direct, without any ornamental language at all.

6) You’re a prolific writer. How do you manage it?
I just write every day, that’s all. There’s no great secret to it. Write, and don’t worry about any of it until the editing part. Don’t second-guess yourself. Keep going, no matter what.

7) Once readers have read this, what else have you got in the pipeline?
Well, I’d urge readers to check out my Fight Card novella which just came out, BLUFF CITY BRAWLER, for a fast, stream-lined action story. I have more Hawthorne in the works (weird western short stories, put out by Beat to a Pulp) and a few short tales here and there. Keep an eye on Psycho Noir for upcoming stuff. I started a third novel a few months ago that’s been on the back burner because of other obligations, but I hope to get back to it soon.

8) Who are your top five most influential writers and why?
Flannery O’Conner, Charles Willeford, David Goodis, Richard Stark, and Ernest Hemingway. Because all of them were obsessive about telling the truth about human nature. And they were all masters of tight, tense prose.

9) Top five favourite crime novels?
Just off the cuff, I’d say:
The Black Mass of Brother Springer, by Charles Willeford
Pop. 1280, by Jim Thompson
Slammer, by Alan Guthrie
The Name of the Game is Death, by Dan J. Marlowe
The Talented Mr. Ripley, by Patricia Highsmith

If you haven’t read Heath’s work before then do yourself a favour, follow one of these links and download them now.

City of Heretics
Bluff City Brawler
The Bastard Hand
Dig Ten Graves
That Damned Coyote Hill
The Long Black Train
Miles to Little Ridge

Well worth a listen – audio interview between Raymond Chandler and Ian Fleming

The sound quality isn’t exactly cutting edge, and it’s in four chunks rather than one big one, but, bloody hell, this is Ian Fleming interviewing Raymond Chandler. For that alone it’s worth about half an hour of your precious time. Plus, the bits when they talk about the Albert Anastasia hit and the novel that would be finished by Robert B Parker and released posthumously entitled ‘Poodle Springs’ are fascinating.

Whilst Ian Fleming’s voice is exactly as I imagined it, with real cut-glass, RP tones, Chandler’s is anything but. I can’t say imagined he would sound like Philip Marlowe but, considering the legendary amounts of alcohol the author put away, I thought he would sound throatier and more gravelly than the rather genteel voice that emerges from this recording.

Part 1

Part 2

Part 3

Part 4

Enjoy!