The Throes of Crime with Erik Arneson

I'm thrilled for my good friend and all around great writer/editor/comic writer/boardgamer/dude, Erik Arneson, and the recent release of his debut short story collection, THE THROES OF CRIME. the-throes-of-crime-finalCalculating hitmen. Corrupt politicians. Sociopathic rock singers. Incompetent private investigators. Sword-wielding orangutans. You'll find them all in THE THROES OF CRIME, a collection of 26 short stories and six true-crime essays by Derringer Award finalist Erik Arneson.

Arneson's stories, which flow effortlessly from dark noir to wicked humor, have been published by Thuglit, Needle, Otto Penzler's Kwik Krimes, Akashic Books' Mondays Are Murder, Shotgun Honey, Out of the Gutter Online, and more. THE THROES OF CRIME also features seven brand-new short stories, never before published anywhere.

All proceeds from THE THROES OF CRIME benefit the James & Jeanne Arneson Memorial Scholarship Fund, which provides financial support to graduates of Wilmot High School in Wilmot, South Dakota, who display an aptitude in creative writing by authoring a short story. The goal of the scholarship is to encourage students from Wilmot to continue writing fiction well beyond high school, to tell the stories that only they can tell. Powerful stories and funny stories and magical stories - stories the world is waiting for, even if it doesn't realize it just yet.

THE THROES OF CRIME is your debut collection. Congrats! Give me the quick pitch!

Thanks! The Throes of Crime is a collection of 26 short stories and six true-crime essays. Some of the stories are brand-new; others were previously published by Thuglit, Needle, Shotgun Honey, Out of the Gutter Online, Mary Higgins Clark Mystery Magazine, and more. The essays were first published in Duane Swierczynski’s great comic book The Black Hood.

All proceeds from the book go to a scholarship fund set up in memory of my parents to benefit graduates of Wilmot High School in Wilmot, South Dakota.

Did you notice any themes emerge over the course of putting the book together?

Some themes definitely emerged even though the stories cover a variety of times, from the mid-19th century to the present, and locations, from St. Petersburg, Russia, to Superior, Wisconsin. The table of contents is split into categories like crimes of vengeance, crime in the workplace, and partners in crime.

There’s also -- despite there being some pretty dark, noirish stories in the collection -- a good amount of humor to be found in the book.

Given your background in government, have you worked politics into your fiction?

How could I not? One of my favorites (“Twitter and Coke”) is a story written entirely in the form of tweets about a politician who really, really should not be allowed to use Twitter unsupervised.

Another (“All Alone”) is set in 1951 Philadelphia, a time when the city was embroiled in a vast web of corruption by public officials. It was so bad that at least six city employees wound up committing suicide.

What draws you to writing crime?

The fact that the stakes are so high for everyone involved. And it usually doesn’t matter if the crime seems silly on the surface, like stealing used french fry grease. If someone commits a crime, there’s probably something going on that’s worth exploring. Desperation, jealousy, greed, fear -- those are powerful things and endlessly interesting to write about.

I especially enjoy stories that touch on how the human spirit can continue to shine in life’s darkest moments.

Favorite Shotgun Honey memory?

Shotgun Honey is an amazing website. As editors, we received so many great submissions. I always loved opening a story from an author I’d never heard of before and being blown away. But my favorite memory is easy: Hanging out with you, Jen Conley, and our fearless leader Ron Earl Phillips at Bouchercon in Albany, New York.

If you could turn one of your stories into a board game, which would it be? Why?

I love this question. I’m going with “Dairy of Destruction” because the idea of a board game about a gang of barnyard animals plotting to take over the world delights me.

Top 5 board games?

My list of favorite games is always changing because there are so many great games available today. It’s a fantastic time to be a board gamer!

Pandemic Legacy is at the top of the list. Brilliant and compelling. The gameplay is superb, and the storyline that evolves over the course of repeated plays is unlike anything I’ve experienced before in a board game.

Other current favorites include Ticket to Ride: Pennsylvania (building train routes in my home state -- hard to get better than that!), Codenames (a truly genius party/word game), and America (an excellent party/trivia game). Finally, it’s been far too long since I’ve played Betrayal at House on the Hill; there’s a new expansion called Widow’s Walk that I’m looking forward to playing.

Thanks, Erik! Check out THE THROES OF CRIME on Amazon.

Erik Arneson lives in Pennsylvania with his wife and editor, Elizabeth. His first book, THE THROES OF CRIME, is available now. He hosts the Title 18:Word Crimes podcast. His comic book FORTUNE is available from Comixology, Indy Planet, and NoiseTrade. Find him at ErikArneson.com.

CANNIBALS: STORIES FROM THE EDGE OF THE PINE BARRENS with Jen Conley

I've gotten to know Jen Conley over the past few years through conventions and working alongside her at Shotgun Honey, and as a big fan of her work, I'm very excited to see her debut collection, CANNIBALS: STORIES FROM THE EDGE OF THE PINE BARRENS, hitting shelves this May. It was a pleasure catching up with Jen and discussing the book. Check out the pre-order via the stellar cover image below. Jen Conley_Can

Chris: You are well known in the short crime fiction world, but for those who don't know, who is Jen Conley and what's CANNIBALS all about?

Jen: I write crime fiction, usually peppered with a bit of horror. Most of my fiction takes place in the Ocean County area of New Jersey, where I grew up and still live. For a few years I’ve been one of the editors of Shotgun Honey, a flash fiction site that publishes crime fiction. In my other life, I have a fourteen-year-old son and I teach seventh grade Literacy, otherwise known as English.

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Chris: Many of your stories are set in or around the Pine Barrens. I don't know too much about New Jersey and its geography, but I found this setting to be fascinating. Can you talk a bit about it? What draws you to it? What does it mean to you?

Jen: The Pine Barrens is a large region of forested land in central and southern New Jersey. Because of the sandy soil, or “sugar sand”, it wasn’t great for farming so it’s been pretty much been left undisturbed. It became protected land in 1978 under the Pinelands National Reserve, which also protects the watershed areas. (Although, sadly, a gas line was just approved to run through part of it.) Anyhow, in the 1700s and 1800s, there was some industry--sawmills and iron--but it was a difficult place to live, so towns would pop up and go abandoned. Today, it’s the largest body of protected area in the mid-Atlantic states. The trees are scrub pines, which are pygmy pines, and that, with the sugar sand and the lack of development, give the area a ghostly, desolate feel. Especially at night, when you can hear all sorts of wildlife--several types of frogs, toads, insects, owls. It’s really a great place to visit, just bring your bug spray. The mosquitoes and pine flies, especially the pine flies, are downright relentless. Those things hurt.

I guess I’m drawn to it because of the spookiness--lots of “ghost” towns of abandoned settlements. This area used to have a pretty strong iron industry until it moved to western Pennsylvania, so, like I said, it’s pretty desolate. I’m also attracted to the drabness, too, because it’s not pretty forest at all, but it makes for a wonderful setting for crime fiction. The people who live in this area are usually not wealthy, it’s pretty middle class and working-class, and for someone who likes to write about ghosts and working-class people, it’s perfect for me. Plus, it’s where I grew up, so I tend to be sentimental even if it doesn’t come completely across in my stories.

Oh, one more thing--the famous Sopranos episode, “The Pine Barrens,” that wasn’t filmed in the Pine Barrens. It was filmed in upstate New York. It’s a fantastic episode but the first time I saw it, I was really pissed. I could tell it wasn’t filmed in the Pinelands because the trees were wrong, and when the camera panned out, there were large hills in the background. There are no large hills in the Pine Barrens. It’s mostly flat.

Chris: Your stories featuring your character Officer Vogel are some of my favorites. In the past we've talked about you doing more with her. Any plans?

Jen: I’d like to because I love her character but I don’t have any definite plans yet. She’s a very reticent person, compassionate on the inside, but cold and tough on the outside. It’s a good mix for a character of a crime novel but I need a plot and I haven’t wrapped my head around an idea yet. I’m working on it.

Chris: I love how you tackle trust/mistrust in your stories featuring Vogel, and even more so in "Pipe" and "June." What draws you to these stories?

Jen: I’m a big fan the theme of betrayal. I guess that’s why I love The Godfather I and II, Goodfellas, and The Sopranos. Even my all-time favorite, Mad Men, works on this theme because Don Draper spends his entire adult life betraying himself.

But in both “Pipe” and “June,” we’re dealing with kids, kids who are betrayed by adults. There is another level of tragedy in that and I think it breaks my heart--I like to write stories that break my heart on some level, even if I’m ending it on an upswing. I also like writing about kids but I’m aware that creating sympathy for them is an easy gig, because everyone feels bad for a kid in trouble. So I have to tone down my kid story ideas, not write so many.

Chris: Talk about the process of forming the collection, the selection of stories, etc. Any must-haves? Anything not make the cut?

Jen: It took me a long time to put a collection together. I tried before but I found I was writing stories to fill the collection and they weren’t all up to par, so it’s almost as if I had to wait until they all came to me. Until I was happy with each and every single one.

As for selecting stories, I wanted to pick the stories that actually took place in the area I was writing about. I have stories that take place in London, in New York City too, and those didn’t make the cut because they didn’t take place in Ocean County, NJ, which is part of the collection’s signature. In addition, some of my Pine Barrens stories didn’t make the cut because their themes were too close to something I’d already chosen.

I also made a point to bookend the collection with two stories: “Home Invasion” and “Angels.” In my first story, “Home Invasion,” the main character is haunted by a devil. In the last story, “Angels,” the main character is haunted by angels. So those two were definite picks. I suppose I was going for the classic ying/yang idea.

Chris: "Pipe" might be my favorite of the collection. How did this story come about?

Jen: Back when I was in high school, there was a small skinny kid who was bullied by some of the older boys. One of the older boys told the kid he was going to beat the shit out of him the following day. So the kid came to school with a pipe and hid out in the bathroom. I think he was caught before anything went down. I don’t remember much else about the incident, none of the names, etc., which is good because then I could write the story as fiction. Yes, there was a movie from ‘87 called “Three O’Clock High” with a similar premise, but that was comedy, and bad comedy at that because it wasn’t a good film. The real story from my school was very sad, and this sad, desperate image of going to school with a pipe to defend yourself against boys who were the size of fully-grown men just hung out in my head for years.

Chris: "Home Invasion" is another favorite, in which I get a strong "A Good Man is Hard to Find" vibe. Who/what do you see as your influences?

Jen: Definitely Flannery O’Connor. That has to be one of the best stories ever written, by the way.

I’m a big fan of the short stories by Annie Proulx. I also love the short stories by Edward P. Jones and Ron Rash. I think those three writers are my biggest influences, none of which are actually “crime” but there’s a sense of place and people who struggle constantly, which is what crime fiction should encompass, or at least, I think so.

But as for writers, or collections of stories that made an impression on me when I was young, I’d have to say the stories by Langston Hughes. One of my college professors had us read them and I remember I enjoyed the tales everyday people just trying to get by but more so, I was influenced by his style. His characters jump off the page, as do his descriptions. But his descriptions aren’t overblown, just very simple. One sentence and you can see everything. That’s what I like.

One collection that has stayed with me over the years is Mary Gaitskill’s Bad Behavior. She’s a beautiful writer but boy, does she hit you in the gut and that collection is relentless. I haven’t read everything she’s written although I read Veronica a few years ago. It’s gorgeously written (and I took some notes on her style) but that book depressed me for weeks. Hell, I think it stayed on my mind for almost a year. There are so many painfully beautiful images on those pages that to this day are forever planted in my brain. But the bottom line is that I was bugged out by that book. I don’t know why I’m telling you this. Maybe I’m just impressed by her power and as a writer, that’s a bar I’d like to reach.

One other thing--although I love my mob movies and TV shows, I’m not a fan of too much blood. I like stories about people’s lives, about what’s going on inside and around them, about how they got to the violence. Not so much the violence itself.

Chris: How has your work with Shotgun Honey influenced your writing?

Jen: I think so. Not everything that comes through the submissions process is successful and I think that’s what really hits home with me--sometimes I’ll read a story and start reworking it in my head and then I realize I can’t do that for every writer. What Shotgun Honey has also taught me is draw it tight. One or two scenes, one to three characters, one problem. And because we only accept 700 words per story, it’s very, very important to make sure every single word counts. Leave out the backstory--and I love backstory-- but you can’t do that in flash. So your backstory has to be a sentence or two and then your character in action has to show the rest.

Chris: Any plans for a book launch or readings around release this year?

Jen: June 3rd, I’m having a book event at Mysterious Bookshop in Manhattan. Hopefully I’ll have more events. I’m new at this promotional stuff.

Chris: What's next?

Jen: I’ve decided to take a break from short stories. They’re my great love but I’m never going to get anywhere if I just write short stories. So I’m working on a thriller/horror book. It’s about a woman who gets involved with a bad guy--I know that’s vague--but she’s in transitional point in her life, she’s restless and also desperate to have a family, and he’s good-looking, cool, and all that good stuff. It’s got a horror touch so there’s more to it but I guess I’m going for a thread of reality--what happens when you land a guy who seems perfect for you, accepts you as you are (my main character has some horrible scars from a dog attack) but as the relationship evolves, he becomes darker, almost abusive, then abusive, and you have come to the realization that you have extricate yourself from it all. Of course, it takes place in Ocean County and I’ve got the “first draft” written but I’m in the process of slowly and methodically going through each chapter, rearranging, cutting, expanding, rewriting. My writing MO is this: blow through the first draft, then go back and do the “decorating” as I like to call it. This method works for me only because of computers--you never really have to write new drafts, do you? You just improve on the first. I have no idea how anyone wrote in the old days, before computers, before you could cut and paste and then cut and rewrite… what a pain in the neck.

Thanks for having me Chris! It’s been a lot of fun.

December Giveaway! aka Got Reviews?

IMG_8762 I love small press. I can't say enough good things about 280 Steps and their support for SAFE INSIDE THE VIOLENCE over the past few months. It's been a lot of fun and I hope some of the momentum carries over into 2016 and beyond.

But as writer and proprietor of Broken River Books, J David Osborne, described so honestly in his recent blog post - Money Money Money Money (Cha-Ching) - there's only so much a small press can do. It's also on the author to drive sales and promotion of their work.

So what works? How does one do this effectively? I'm not sure anyone really knows. I'm repeatedly followed, unfollowed, and followed again on Twitter by "best-sellers" with thousands of followers in an attempt to make a quick buck. Then there's the relatively recent trend on Facebook to treat it as an impersonal selling tool as well, becoming 'friends' with as many strangers as possible in hope of increasing one's audience. I'm not sure how successful either of these strategies are, but they are too hard a sell for me. Everyone draws a different line in the sand. On the opposite side of the spectrum you have people who won't market at all and criticize those who do. It's impossible to please everyone, especially when there is no clear answer to the question - what makes books sell?

Reviews help, that's for sure. Online, in print, word of mouth - all drive algorithms and discussion that can only boost a book's signal. With that in mind, I have a deal for you:

Leave an honest review for SAFE INSIDE THE VIOLENCE by 12/13 and be entered to win a copy of WHAT HAPPENED HERE: Year One at Papercuts J.P. - a compilation of exclusive works by authors who visited Papercuts J.P., Boston's newest independent bookstore, in its first year - featuring my story, "The Push," a pseudo-sequel to "Digging a Deep," (from Safe Inside the Violence) as well as work from Paul Tremblay, Jennifer Tseng, Rory Flynn, Catie Disabato, and many more. 300+ pages of pure AWESOME.

Where? On a blog, newspaper, Amazon, Goodreads, the palm of your left hand in permanent marker. Be creative, I don't judge. Tell your people and spread the good word!

On Monday, 12/14 I'll randomly pull a name and announce the winner here.

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Thank you all for your continued support!

Kicking off the Holiday Season and Keeping it Local

Happy Holidays! (too early? yeah...it's too early) BUT, this year I'm doing a little something special so I'm getting the word out in advance. I'm a big proponent in buying locally, especially books, and this year I finally put my money where my mouth is and purchased 99% of my books (a lot...seriously) from independent bookstores in and around Boston (most from the excellent Papercuts J.P.).

In an effort to expand this momentum, I have a deal for you!

If you purchase SAFE INSIDE THE VIOLENCE from an independent bookstore between now and the end of the month, I'll mail you a *free* limited edition chapbook featuring four stories that didn't make the cut (due to length or theme, really) and killer artwork by my friend Joe DellaGatta.

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Joe did the piece above a few years ago (as you can see by his signature block) for a time when I almost self-published my story "Bet It All On Black" - but I gave it one more shot and it was picked up by Thuglit. (hooray!) So now I can finally put this fantastic piece (and another for the back of the Chapbook) to use!

SO HOW DOES THIS WORK?

1) Purchase/Order a copy of SAFE INSIDE THE VIOLENCE from your local, independent shop.

2) Take a photo and toss it somewhere on social media, or send me a PM. (But really, who doesn't like to share?)

3) I'll hit you up for your address and sometime between now and December 24th you'll have a chapbook in hand to read to your loved ones on Christmas morning/Annual Secular Story Time morning. (See, I got you covered)

But Chris! What if I have no local bookstores? That's a huge bummer, but luckily Brookline Booksmith has a plethora of signed copies AND SHIPS. Boom.

But Chris! I already bought a copy from my local bookstore. Well, you're awesome - more awesome than most. So why not buy a second copy as a gift? A book for a friend, a chapbook for you. Sounds like a winner to me.

Now go out there and support your community!

PS - I'll be at Papercuts J.P. on 11/28 from 3-4pm for Small Business Saturday to push copies of SAFE INSIDE THE VIOLENCE, AND an awesome selection of books by some of my favorite authors. See you then!

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Pub Day!

SitV-wraparound It's alive!

SAFE INSIDE THE VIOLENCE is now available through Amazon and your favorite independent bookstores (Give them the title or one of the ISBNs and you should be good to go.)

SAFE INSIDE THE VIOLENCE ISBN-10: 8293326700 ISBN-13: 978-8293326700

Alex Segura interviewed me for his newsletter, Stuff & Nonsense. You can check out the interview HERE, but I also recommend subscribing. His weekly interviews (every Friday) cover a wide range of creatives and are always worth checking out. Do iiittttt.

I also received a bit of local coverage in the JP Gazette.

Here's my updated schedule through the holidays, including new stops in Libertyville, IL (north of Chicago) and Columbus, OH.

11/13 – Launch Party at Papercuts J.P. @ 7pm

11/18 – Reading event with Jason Starr at Brookline Booksmith @ 7pm

11/27 – Black Friday Signing at Dreamland Comics, Libertyville, IL @ 1-3pm

12/3 – Mystery Night signing event at the New England Mobile Book Fair @ 6-7pm

12/21 – Noir at the Bar Columbus at Kafe Kerouac @ 7pm (more details coming soon!)

As always, thank you all so much for your support and spreading the word. The run up to the book's release has been wonderful, and I hope you enjoy the collection. Thoughts/comments/reviews on Amazon and Goodreads are much appreciated!

See you on the road.

Protectors 2: Heroes

PROTECTORS 2: HEROES is now available for pre-order. I'm proud to be a part of a project supporting such an essential organization.

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I hope you guys check it out!

From editor, Thomas Pluck:

Here’s the full table of contents, from legends to rising stars to emerging writers, all who support PROTECT’s cause, protecting children from all kinds of abuse and exploitation. 100% of the proceeds are donated to Protect’s lobby. If you’re unfamiliar with PROTECT, they are the political lobby of the National Association to Protect Children, whose victories include the Circle of Trust act and the HERO Corps, which hires wounded veterans to assist law enforcement in hunting online predators.

Table of Contents: When!? by Linda Sarah The Questions by Alison Arngrim City Water by Allison Glasgow Black and White and Red All Over by David Morrell Silvia Reyes by P.J. Ward Plan B by Andrew Vachss Gatekeeper by Richard Prosch The Night Watch by Susan Schorn One Night in Brownsville by Gary Phillips Silverfish by S.J. Rozan Parental Guidance by Scott Adlerberg Superhero, With Crooked Nails by Rachael Acks Angel by Terrence McCauley Mr. Nance by Linda Rodriguez Something I Said by Bracken MacLeod El Puente by Rios de la Luz Mesquite by Graham Wynd Level 5 by C.R. Jahn On the Road to La Grange by Karina Cooper Reprisals: Enmity by John A. Curley The Whistler in the Graveyard by Chad Eagleton (illustration by Dyer Wilk) Solar Highway by S.A. Solomon Jibber Jabber by Reed Farrel Coleman Doll: A Poem by Jyl Anais Ion (illustrations by Jyl Anais Ion) Doggone Justice by Joe R. Lansdale The Occurrence of the Black Mirror by Teel James Glenn Sister Cecilia by Hilary Davidson Croatoan by Harlan Ellison® Little Howl on the Prairie by Thomas Pluck Things Held Dear by Neliza Drew 49 Foot Woman Straps It On by Laird Barron Moon Over the Midwest by Elizabeth Amber Love Sixth Floor by Albert Tucher Adamsville by Clare Toohey Point of View by Will Graham High Meadow Storm by Wayne Dundee Out of Context by Joelle Charbonneau Lone by Alex Segura (illustrations by Dennis Calero) Love and Valour on ‘the Victorian Titanic’ by Gill Hoffs Just Pretend by Martyn Waites Freak by Charles de Lint The New Heroes of the Old Fairgrounds by K.L. Pereira When the Hammer Comes Down by Josh Stallings Stretching Fifteen by Angel Luis Colón Bounty by Jerry Bloomfield Light-Bringer by Laura K. Curtis Hercules and the Spawn of the Titans by Michael A. Black How to Paint Your Dragon by Andrew D’Apice Don’t Fear the Ripper by Holly West Two Views by Tim Daly A Hundred Pearls by Errick Nunnally Snapshots by Christopher Irvin Deceit by Joyce Carol Oates The Perfect Weapon by Zak Mucha An Open Letter to the Children of the Secret by Dionysios Dionou Behavior is Truth by Gwyndyn T. Alexander Pigeons for Protect! by Linda Sarah

Cover Reveal!

safe-inside-the-violence SAFE INSIDE THE VIOLENCE, a collection of short stories, available November 10 in Trade Paperback and eBook from 280 Steps. I'm very proud of how this book turned out - it's some of my most personal work - and I can't wait to share it with everyone in the fall. Stay tuned for more info!

Bonus - my first radio interview with Steven Nester on PRX for Poets of the Tabloid Murder went live this week. Steven is an excellent interviewer, and I had a lot of fun discussing BURN CARDS, noir, writing, and more. Check it out *HERE*

 

The Moment

That moment when you just knew you had to write. Do you have one? A time and/or place that's burned into your memory, when a little voice told you, I need to write a novel/short story/poem/etc.

I do. I don't remember the exact time or place, but I guess I was maybe seven or eight years old when I first saw the film, BACK TO THE FUTURE.

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At the very end Marty returns home and finds that his father is a successful science fiction author. Something about that scene, when George McFly opens the box and shows off his latest book (influenced by Marty's actions in the past) just clicked with me. I needed to write a book one day. Perhaps it was a need to create more than anything else.

I went through some bins of school work at my parent's house last year around the holidays. Found a short story from seventh grade, "For the Love of Money." A crime tale set in 1925.

A car careens around a corner firing bullets at an unseen vehicle...

Frank Castle and Commissioner Gordon make an appearance, no less. There is a car chase, a lot of gunfire. I'd probably be suspended or put on some watch list if I were in school today. But at least it appears the bug stuck with me.

It took me 20 years, a go at short stories, and more than a few false starts before I'd written a novel. The need is still great as ever.

On to the next one.

REVIEW: Dead Animals

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C.S. DeWildt's new collection of short fiction, DEAD ANIMALS, boasts a mix short stories and flash fiction - 34 tales ranging from a paragraph to several pages in length. As a fan of his previous work (see my review of his novella, CANDY and CIGARETTES) I'd been looking forward to DeWildt's next release. The 'Rural Noir' vibe of DEAD ANIMALS drags the grit and dust of the Southwestern United States under a magnifying glass. Dark vignettes that make you think and tales with shades of neo-noir that have you cringing as you turn the page to see what's around the bend. DEAD ANIMALS is bleak, twisted, and not afraid to take risks. It's a haunting journey with surprisingly real characters - sometimes wonderfully odd, almost bizarre, but believable. DeWildt's work is a great mix of "writing what you know" and pushing the boundaries of what readers will accept. Overall, DEAD ANIMALS delivers some of my favorites moments in short fiction that I've read this year (and I've read A LOT.) Recommended for fans of dark fiction and neo-noir.

Some of my favorite stories were: The Bull, Bad Habits, A Favor Returned, Corbin's Dream Takes Flight, The Yard Sale, Tu's Chicken, A Bottle Room Can Save a Marriage.

E-book and soft cover editions of DEAD ANIMALS available here.