Every year in the week of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s birthday, the Grove Park Inn in Asheville, NC, opens his former lodgings to the public. Here are some pics I took on my visit last Saturday.

Fitzgerald stayed here in 1935 and ‘36, both for lengthy stays to visit Zelda when she was recovering in a nearby sanitarium—the same one where she later lost her life. These weren’t happy visits for Fitzgerald. He was always destitute, trying to write, and trying to avoid hard drinking. (To stay off liquor, Fitzgerald drank as many as thirty bottles of beer a day. People then had the notion that beer wasn’t really alcohol. The same assertion crops up in the works of Norman Maclean.)

I’d like to say I’m “proud” of my town’s connection to great writers, such as Thomas Wolfe, Fitzgerald, and Zelda Fitzgerald, but sadness and tragedy dogged all three while they were here that it doesn’t seem like much to celebrate.

My buddy Neal Thompson interviews James Ellroy on the occasion of his new book, Perfidia.

I’ve been fascinated with Ellroy for years. Listen to the way the guy speaks. It’s almost as if he’s quoting his own blurbs, or speaking of himself in third person. I can’t imagine talking the same way about my work. I can’t imagine calling myself adroit.

See my new short story in Hitchcock’s Mystery Mag!
This is cool: My short story “Harm and Hammer” is the cover story in the October 2014 issue of Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine (AHMM), on newsstands July 22.
You can find a hard-copy version of AHMM wherever magazines are sold. (My local B&N tends to carry it.) Failing that, you can download a single digital issue via Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Apple iTunes, Magzter, Kobo, and Google Play. Just make sure you are downloading the October 2014 issue shown above. (Read a preview here.)
Submissions stats: I finished this story sometime back in November 2012. I submitted it to AHMM in December 2012, and didn’t hear from them until they bought it in September 2013, nine months later. So it’s appearing ten months after acceptance, nineteen months since submission, and about twenty months after I wrote it. Payment was $340, plus an additional $85 prepayment for the right to republish in a future AHMM anthology. That came to a total of $425, or about 7 cents a word.
What’s been your experience with submissions? I feel like anywhere from one day to a few months is typical. Hands down, AHMM tends to have the slowest response time of all the places I submit to. So I tend to mail it in, and put it out of my mind.
At some point, I’ll release an e-book version of this story, which I’ll offer free to people on my list. If you’d rather wait for the free copy, please join my e-newsletter.

See my new short story in Hitchcock’s Mystery Mag!

This is cool: My short story “Harm and Hammer” is the cover story in the October 2014 issue of Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine (AHMM), on newsstands July 22.

You can find a hard-copy version of AHMM wherever magazines are sold. (My local B&N tends to carry it.) Failing that, you can download a single digital issue via AmazonBarnes & NobleApple iTunesMagzter, Kobo, and Google Play. Just make sure you are downloading the October 2014 issue shown above. (Read a preview here.)

Submissions stats: I finished this story sometime back in November 2012. I submitted it to AHMM in December 2012, and didn’t hear from them until they bought it in September 2013, nine months later. So it’s appearing ten months after acceptance, nineteen months since submission, and about twenty months after I wrote it. Payment was $340, plus an additional $85 prepayment for the right to republish in a future AHMM anthology. That came to a total of $425, or about 7 cents a word.

What’s been your experience with submissions? I feel like anywhere from one day to a few months is typical. Hands down, AHMM tends to have the slowest response time of all the places I submit to. So I tend to mail it in, and put it out of my mind.

At some point, I’ll release an e-book version of this story, which I’ll offer free to people on my list. If you’d rather wait for the free copy, please join my e-newsletter.

I thought I’d be able to skate through 2014 with only one ghostwriting gig. The current ghost book is consuming a lot of my time, and I haven’t had much time for my own writing.

But just this week another interesting ghosting book popped up. I want to say no, but I shouldn’t. Who the hell am I to say no to paying work? To make it worse, it’s a fascinating nonfiction topic. The journalist in me is too easily captivated by a good story.

So right now I feel like Michael Corleone.

Late last year, the author Robert Swartwood turned me on to the work of a cover designer/author named Jason Gurley. I bought some of Jason’s pre-made covers for a few of my short stories, and we’ve stayed in touch. I’ve since realized that I should really be introducing Jason as an author/designer, because he writes some pretty amazing books.

His upcoming novel, Eleanor, pubs June 27th, and is now gratefully accepting pre-orders, thank you very much. It’s the story of a young girl who loses her twin sister early in life, and watches her family fall apart because of it. One day when she’s in her teens, Eleanor is ripped out of time, and begins to have some remarkable experiences that bring her closer to understanding her parents’ pain, the trajectory of human lives, and her own place in the cosmos.

To call it a science fiction tale is leaving a lot of loose ends on the table. I read an advance copy and thought it really poignant and moving. As a writer, I was surprised to hear that the book took thirteen years to write. I thought that was worth talking about. So here’s Jason to explain.

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Jason Gurley

Not to be nosy, but why 13 years? 

Aren’t interviewers supposed to be kind of nosy? On a nosiness scale of one to ten, I have to say, this question wouldn’t even chart. 

Thirteen years, mostly, because I was still green, still growing up, still figuring myself out. That doesn’t explain why the story stuck with me, though. So let me back up a little. I started writing Eleanor in 2001. I was twenty-three, still pretty much a kid. I was starting to ask myself some serious questions about things like belief and faith. My whole life had been spent in church — I slept under pews as a kid, played the drums as a teen, taught Sunday School classes as an almost-adult. I couldn’t tell you exactly when I began to wonder if I really believed everything that I was learning and that I was surrounded with, but when I did, it began to unravel fairly quickly. I’d been attending a Bible college. I dropped out. A few years after that, I took a ‘break’ from all things spiritual to give myself some room to think, to start figuring out who I was outside of that context. To start figuring out what I believed.

In those early days of that self-discovery, Eleanor was born. And for several years, the novel was a vehicle for the big questions I was asking myself. Eleanor was a surrogate for myself, except she was the opposite of me in most ways. She was fourteen years old when I sent her cliff-diving with friends, and wrote a terrible accident scene. I put her into a coma, and there, I gave her something like a religious experience. She had a conversation with someone that she thought was God, or a god. The novel was originally going to tell the story of that wondrous experience, and the challenges she found in the real world upon recovering from her accident. She would desperately search for that person she’d met during her coma, and realize that the real world didn’t quite measure up to that experience at all. 

But the novel was slow going. I worked on it for years, starting over again and again, trashing my progress, rewriting and slashing and burning. I would take long vacations by myself, often traveling to Oregon, where I would stay in a cabin and write and write and write. I’d write fifty thousand words in a week, make insane progress… and then spend the next year rewriting and slowly building on those words, and never get much farther. 

As time passed, though, I discovered something about myself: I was starting to answer those big questions that I’d asked at twenty-three. And even if I didn’t have a concrete answer for things, I’d begun shaping my own opinions enough that I didn’t struggle so much with those topics. The more I became comfortable with who I was outside of religion, the less I needed Eleanor to entertain and try to answer those big questions about faith and what I really believed. 

That alone is the biggest reason it took so long to write. Once I began to settle into my skin, I had to figure out what Eleanor really was. If it didn’t have to help me answer questions about myself, then… why was I writing it? Was it time to put it aside and write something new? Had it really just been a prolonged sort of self-administered therapy?

What kept you from giving up on these characters?

They were fascinating to me. By 2012 I’d spent over a decade thinking about Eleanor. She’d been around longer than a lot of people I knew, longer than most of my friendships. She felt almost real to me, even if her journey had completely disintegrated. I was really reluctant to let her go, because I felt that I knew her so well I could tell just about any story with her in it. So I started thinking about that. If Eleanor’s story wasn’t the one I’d spent all those years on, then what was it? I didn’t want to put her in a drawer somewhere and never answer that question. 

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What inspired the final burst of creativity you needed to complete the book? And was it a completion, where you needed to come up with an ending; a rewrite; or a here-and-there-type revision?

I quit working on the novel. Not for good, of course. But in December of ’12, I learned about a novel competition that Amazon hosts every year. It was called the Breakthrough Novel Contest, and my wife suggested I enter it. The only catch was that the deadline was just a month away. I couldn’t imagine trying to rush Eleanor to completion in a month, particularly after all of those years, and particularly because I wasn’t sure her old story was still the right one. 

So I decided to see if I still remembered how to finish something. I put Eleanor aside, and I started writing a new novel called The Man Who Ended the World. I finished it in just under a month, to my great surprise, and then published it. I skipped the contest altogether and went right out into the world looking for readers. And I found some, and that gave me a bit of a high. So I went right into a new book, and then another one, and then another, and by the summer of 2013, I’d written four new novels and self-published them all. I clearly remembered how to finish things. I just hadn’t known how to finish Eleanor.

Those new books, and the audience that I began to discover, gave me a fresh dose of confidence and excitement about Eleanor, and I got back to work in a big way, tearing the entire novel down to its most essential elements – Eleanor, her quest, the book’s lovely setting on the Oregon coast – and as I began writing, an entirely new novel emerged from the pieces of the old, unfinished one, and Eleanor became something far more beautiful and complex and meaningful than my original intent for it. 

You’re a relatively young guy. Thirteen years is a long passage of time. Did your natural maturity change the way you viewed the arcs of some of these characters? Were you more likely, say, to sympathize with the roles of the parents in the books?

It’s strange to look back and realize that I’ve been working on this book, more or less, for just about all of my adult life. When I began the novel, I was married to someone else. The novel outlasted the marriage. It followed me across state lines as I moved about, followed me through other relationships that didn’t work out, and it was there when I met my lovely wife, Felicia. We married and had a daughter, and the novel kept rolling along, but suddenly it meant more. I was a father. I better understood the awful fears that Eleanor’s own parents felt. I was thinking about things like legacy and history, and what those things mean in the context of a small family. And the larger themes of the new story began to emerge from all of that — the consequences of decisions, how they echo from one generation to the next, how children have little control over the life they’re given. 

I think the parents became more real, and they embodied my own fears of failure. I was a kid when I started this book. I’m still a kid, but I’m a kid who has a little more experience. I think the book echoes that. 

What blew me away was how vividly you managed to describe extremely abstract scenes. Dream scenes, especially. Were they a challenge to write?

Oh, of course. Those scenes, though, were always a part of this novel. The sequences that I wrote about Eleanor’s coma, years ago, were not all that different from the dream and afterlife scenes that exist in the novel now. The logic of those scenes was a constant challenge. I adore writing setting — I could spend pages talking about fog rolling down a mountain ridge, or about a thunderstorm pelting the earth — but the scenes you’re talking about often left me with little more than the character and a dark void. So I had to spend time exploring Eleanor’s other senses. She can’t see anything, so what does it feel like to be here? What does this moment do to her heart, her mind, her guts? 

Definitely a challenge, but if you felt that they turned out vivid, then I feel reasonably good about the job I’ve done. 

Do you think the real afterlife works the way it does in your book? Isn’t it pretty to think so?

I don’t. While nobody can say for sure, I’m inclined to believe that when we die, we’re dead. The dark curtain falls, and our senses shut off, and we’re finished. We’re a heap of molecules shaped like a person, but we’re not there anymore. We’re not anywhere. There’s a song by the band Death Cab for Cutie — I think it’s called “St. Peter’s Cathedral” — that goes: When our hearts stop ticking / This is the end / There’s nothing past this. I’ve probably just committed the cardinal sin — quoting song lyrics in an interview — but there’s something about the simplicity of that idea which appeals to me. It certainly makes me appreciate the moments I have. 

But.

I grew up, as I mentioned, in the Pentecostal church, one of the more demonstrative groups I know. My father was and is still a minister. My uncle is. Our family is distantly related to a Gurley who was a founder of the Pentecostal church, and even more distantly related to Phineas D. Gurley, a Presbyterian minister who was Abraham Lincoln’s pastor, and who gave his eulogy. I was baptized as a child — by my father, actually — and purportedly spoke in tongues. All the things that made up that particular spiritual experience, I experienced at one point or another. I was taught about the eventual Second Coming, the Rapture that would carry believers up to Heaven. 

And I was terrified of all of it. I never knew how to tell anybody this, so I never did. But I was afraid of it — I was afraid of the concept of Judgment Day, of being found inadequate, of being sentenced to an eternity of pain and fire and such. That’s some terrifying imagery, of course. I read a book as a child — Raptured, by Ernest Angley — that scared the ever-loving shit out of me. The book suggested that anybody who “missed” the Rapture could still get into Heaven… but only through martyrdom. If I remember correctly, the main character in the book watches her family boiled in oil, their fingernails plucked out, and then she refuses to deny Christ and is decapitated. If that’s not exactly what happens, then I think it’s reasonably close. 

On the flip side of that, though, was Heaven: an eternity of clouds and gold streets and God. And what I discovered as a child was that this was equally horrifying to me. I couldn’t conceive of anything that never ended as a good thing. I mean, what if I wanted to, you know, stop praising God for a bit, and just go take a nap? Was I seriously going to spend forever praising God for not setting me on fire with the rest of them? I’m all for gratitude, but that seemed like a bit much. And that was a terrible, awful future to envision. 

But

Even now, after all the years since I’ve gone my own way, and figured out what I don’t believe in, I still find myself moved by the comfort that other people take in such things. I’m still absolutely fascinated by the idea that there’s something after, even if I don’t particularly believe it myself. I’m deeply curious about our traditions of telling ourselves stories that make us feel better about things that worry or frighten us — to tell them long enough, and emphatically enough, that we eventually forget that they’re stories. We’re a very skittish species, and sometimes we just need to be held. And if a story can hold us, and make us feel better about the billions of things we can’t control or change, then that’s kind of magical. 

And that’s a sort of magic that I do believe in. 

Grab the preorder here.

Check out Jason’s website here.

Subscribe to his newsletter and get yerself some free books.

Hell, sign up for my newsletter, ‘cuz why the hell not?

Denise was invited to a fancy dinner and party by her publisher, so we booked some flights and headed up to NYC for the BookExpo (BEA). I’d been in town for BEA before but never attended the actual show itself, which is publishing’s biggest annual event. People kept telling me that the show was smaller than it had been in previous years, but it looked huge to this newcomer.

A quick-recap:

Wed.

* Denise was not invited with a +1 for her Simon & Schuster events, so I went to a party thrown by Crown in the company of our agents. I don’t do well at parties, lemme tell you. But I did talk to a young author who confessed that he was shocked, shocked I tell you, to discover that his publisher was not intending to do any sort of marketing for his debut lit fiction title with their imprint. “They’re not even taking out print ads,” he said with all sincerity. “The book’s coming out in two weeks. Do you have any advice?” Oh Jesus, I thought. Where do I f*cking begin?

* While I’m formulating an answer to this poor bastard’s question, cut to Denise, who is hobnobbing with her fellow authors, including Anjelica Huston, Cary Elwes, Marlo Thomas, Chris Matthews, Mary Higgins Clark, and Alice Hoffman. The highlight of her evening: She dances with S&S author, Dr. Funkadelic himself, George Clinton.

* Highlight of my evening: Crispy crab cakes at the Crown party.

Thurs.

* We hit the BEA show proper, visiting the booths of every publisher we’ve ever pubbed with, including Quirk Books. Denise’s pal Karen Abbott is interviewed by author and Amazon editor Neal Thompson while we linger outside the taping room. In the hall we run into actor Cary Elwes, who has a book coming this October from S&S. Gosh, he’s handsome and awfully chummy with Denise.

* At the S&S booth, Denise takes this photo with this noted author.

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* Drinks later with Neal Thompson, Karen Abbott, and mystery writer Michael Koryta. A really nice guy.

* We go to the Amazon-sponsored party that night, and I see scads of authors (John Scalzi, Emily St. John Mandel, Chelsea Cain) I don’t have the nerve to talk to, and few I do (Megan Abbott, Matthew Thomas, and Courtney Maum). Meanwhile, on the outdoor patio, Denise is having an animated conversation with—who else?—but infernally handsome Cary Elwes. Highlight of her evening: Photos with Elwes and a warm farewell embrace from Westley himself.

* My highlight: When I empty my pockets at the end of the night, the contents consist of crumpled napkins and bamboo skewers. Amazon’s caterer is excellent. The meat on a stick was delicious.

Fri.

* Back uptown at the Javits Center, we linger outside Amazon’s interview room for a glimpse of James Ellroy, the demon dog of crime fiction. While waiting, we meet Brad Meltzer and catch a peek at Carl Hiaasen. I have a thing for Ellroy’s books from way back, so I’m awed when we get a chance to meet. He compliments me on my haircut.

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* On the floor of the show, we meet Brit author Rupert Thomson, who draws this lovely scene of Florence in the book he inscribes for us.

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* Jonathan Maberry breezes through the S&S booth. I say nothing.

* I keep circling through the Digital Discovery Zone, hoping for a glimpse of Hugh Howey, and when I do see him, I am too scared to say a word. Denise propels me into the man’s conversation zone, and he ends up offering me a book and we chat about NC, books, the other Howie, and so on.

* Dinner with Denise’s editor. My highlight: realizing that I cannot get a bad burger in this town.

* * *

But seriously:

I love books. Always have. While I’ve become cynical over the years about publishing’s treatment of authors and their books, I was pleasantly surprised to find that in the presence of most of these authors I was like that kid again. Engaged and enthralled.

Yeah, I think it’s weird that publishers emphasize so many celebrity works these days, but it was fun to connect with those writers who seemed to be in it for the words.

I’m still thinking about that debut writer’s question. I babbled out a few ideas for him, but none were satisfying. More thoughts coming soon.

It’s a long story, but when we were first married Denise and I lived overseas in Italy, where she worked covering soccer for sports organizations like ESPN. We first lived in Rome, then moved to a small town an hour north. The countryside was exactly what the travel magazines depict: olive groves and vineyards as far as the eye could see, and quaint thousand-year-old villages filled with fascinating characters.

One day, as we were talking with one of our neighbors, he cautioned us about thinking we had landed in paradise. “The town isn’t exactly squeaky-clean,” he said. “Some of our kids have died of drug overdoses. Mostly heroin. That’s why we just got a new marshal. He’s supposed to clean up the town.”

In small towns of this size, the police function was performed by the carabinieri, Italy’s colorfully dressed paramilitary force. The word marshal in their tongue is maresciallo (MAH-ray-SHAH-lo).

Needless to say, our neighbor’s news came as a shock, but in due time I began imagining a story around these meager facts. The result is The Marshal of the Borgo, the book I’m releasing today. I set out to write a mystery novel, but things took a turn toward the weird and paranormal, just as they did with The Mesmerist. The result is a blend of two or three genres.The book is now available on Amazon, iBooks, B&N, and Smashwords. (Kobo coming soon.) I hope you enjoy it.

Here’s the pitch for the book:

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THE MARSHAL OF THE BORGO: Matteo Scarpone is a man more sinned against than sinning. Once a cool-headed logician and the pride of Rome’s carabinieri, he’s devastated when disaster rocks his world. He’s a lost man: Beaten. Shaken. HAUNTED.

Shunned as an embarrassment, he is exiled to a tiny village in the sticks—a hamlet, a burg, a borgo. But in this land of vineyards and olive groves, life is far from idyllic. Murder, witchcraft and hate taint the soil once tread by the Etruscans. Now the young captain must unravel a series of murders that pit him against a cynical evil and force him to use a power that he has long denied.

The Marshal of the Borgo follows in the tradition of Italian mysteries by Magdalen Nabb, Andrea Camilleri, and Donna Leon—but with a powerful twist.

Part whodunit, part ghost story, The Marshal of the Borgo makes for a very unusual paranormal mystery by a recent Derringer Award finalist.

Italian detective Matteo Scarpone first appeared in a short story in Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine.

Available:

Amazon (US) ebook & paperback

Amazon (UK) ebook & paperback

iPad

Nook

Smashwords

 

Now that the 2014 Derringer Awards have concluded, I’m releasing an “official” paid version of my short story, “Bloody Signorina.”

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This edition comes with the full story, an alternate ending, and an excerpt of my upcoming novel featuring the detective I introduced in the original Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine story. I don’t normally think it’s worth doing a paper edition of short stories, but I did one for this title, just because.

The e-book’s only 99 cents. But readers of this blog can snag a free copy via Smashwords, using code LL86C upon checkout. The freebie ends in 7 days, so grab it now. (Please note: Coupon has expired.)

By the way, the cover for “Bloody Signorina” was done by designer James at GoOnWrite.com, who is a writer in his own, um, right. I read two of his "Humble Nations" shorts on the beach in SC recently, and enjoyed the hell out of them. They’re definitely unusual stories that don’t fall into a particular genre.

"Bloody Signorina" is available here:

Smashwords

Amazon USA - ebook & paperback

Amazon UK - ebook & paperback

Apple

Nook

* * *

News—about an upcoming novel and life in general—coming soon.