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Bullets and Butterflies: A Blog by Weldon Burge
April 25, 2011
A few years ago, at a writers conference at Wilmington College, I ran into Ed Dee, author of the great police procedurals 14 Peck Slip, Bronx Angel, Little Boy Blue, Nightbird, and The Con Man's Daughter. Ed mentioned that his short story, "Ernie K.'s Gelding," had just been published in the Akashic Books anthology, Bronx Noir. I went straight out and bought the book, loved Ed's story as well as the other stories, and then ordered three other Akashic anthologies. I haven't been disappointed yet!
If you’re not familiar with the award-winning noir anthology series published by Akashic, you’re missing something truly grand! Launched in 2004 with Brooklyn Noir, the series now has anthologies set in Los Angeles, Detroit, Chicago, Baltimore, D.C., Las Vegas, Phoenix, and many other U.S. locales, as well as cities and places around the globe, including Toronto, Paris, Mexico City, Havana, Dublin, Moscow, London, and many others. Each story is set in a distinct neighborhood or location within each respective city. It’s a spectacular publishing effort that is still expanding, with editions set in Cape Cod, Pittsburgh, and San Diego scheduled for publication this year.
The recently released anthology, Philadelphia Noir, is another fabulous addition to the series. As editor Carlin Romano writes in the introduction: “Per capita, Philadelphia matches any city weirdo incident for weirdo incident. But we trump everyone on history.” It’s not surprising that the 15 stories included here not only hint at the mood and flavor of this great city, but imbue a sense of history to their noirish sensibilities.
I particularly liked three stories that harkened back to Philadelphia’s history: “Lonergan’s Girl” by Duane Swierczynski, set in the Frankford area in 1924, with its sudden violence on the Frankford El; “Ghost Walk” by Cary Holladay, set in Chestnut Hill in 1899, and its creepy bartender; and “The Ratcatcher” by Gerald Kolpan, set on South Street also in the mid- or late 1800s, about rodents and entrepreneurship. Like the other stories in the anthology, each had its own distinctive voice and style, and provided keen insight on the culture of Philadelphia over the years. Well done and entertaining!
Some of the stories stretch the definition of “noir”—but all are of high literary quality and well worth reading. And if you’re familiar with Philadelphia, you’ll have fun matching the stories with the locales that you’ve visited (or may even currently live in).
(A version of this review was also published in the April 2011 issue of Suspense Magazine.)
April 14, 2011
J. Gregory Smith’s first novel, Final Price, won First Place in the Fiction Category in the 2010 Delaware Press Association's Communication contest, and was selected as a Quarterfinalist in the 2009 Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award. First released as a self-published work, it is now under contract with AmazonEncore, a new publishing imprint from Amazon.com. Final Price was re-released in November 2010 and is now available at Amazon.com, bookstores nationwide, and in e-book formats.
Before becoming a full-time writer, Greg worked in public relations in Washington, D.C., Philadelphia, and Wilmington, Delaware, where he now lives with his wife and son. In addition to ongoing marketing efforts for Final Price, Smith's young adult novel, Prince Dale and the Crystal Mountain, made the Quarter Finals in the 2010 Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award contest.
I asked Greg to talk with us about his experiences during the creation, editing, and publication of Final Price, among other things. He kindly agreed to the following interview.
Weldon Burge (WB): What inspired you to write Final Price?
J. Gregory Smith (JGS): Following layoffs in the PR industry, I worked for nearly a year selling cars. The dealership and coworkers were nice enough but the nature of the industry puts salesmen and customers in an adversarial position. Anyone in sales can relate to the frustration of dealing with unreasonable customers.
I got the idea for this story during a 12-hour shift on a snowy day with no customers. What if, instead of venting about a lost sale in the break room, a salesman completely flipped out? What if he tracked down his most infuriating prospects? Shamus Ryan was born. The rest of the story built around him and his actions. For setting, I found right where I worked to be perfect. Wilmington, Delaware, is a city that feels more like a small town. Everyone seems to know everyone else, but people from every walk of life come through doors of a car showroom. For the killer, annoying victims come in all shapes, sizes, colors and religions. Because of that, it took longer to establish a recognizable pattern for the cops to follow.
WB: What was your biggest challenge when writing the novel?
April 5, 2011
Ok, here's the thing. I've never read my own work in public before. You'd think, after freelancing for 30+ years (yes, I know I'm dating myself), I would have taken the opportunity, at least once, to read a short story or excerpt from my writing. To be honest, I don't recall ever even being invited to do so.
On April 16, at 2:00 in the afternoon, I will be reading with my fellow Written Remains Writers Guild members in the Community Room of the New Castle Public Library here in Delaware. This is a wonderful opportunity, a learning experience at the very least.
Can you hear my knees knocking?
I'm a bit anxious about the reading. Like most writers, who are typically more like hermits than spotlight-stealers, I loathe public speaking. And how ironic that the story I intend to read is a flash piece titled "Performance Anxiety." Must be something karmic going on here!
The story was originally written for Drabblecast, a weekly audio fiction podcast; the production of the story was posted on the Drabblecast Web site back in 2008. Norm Sherman's reading of "Performance Anxiety" was spot-on excellent. I hope I can do the story justice when I read it.
So, I've been practicing using a handheld digital recorder. The story is flash fiction, right around 500 words. No sweat, right? I've rewritten parts of the story because I tended to stumble over some phrasing—for example, I changed "luxurious auburn hair" to "magnificent red hair." My friends will tell you that I tend to mumble, my brain racing ahead of my tongue. This usually results in a nasty entanglement of words tumbling from my mouth. Think "The King's Speech" with no sense of regality. So, I'm excising any stumbling blocks in the content of the story. I'll do anything to make it easier to read.