James M. Cain on Words and Writing

"The only way I can keep on the track at all is to pretend to be somebody else – to put it in dialect and thus get it told. If I try to do it in my own language I find that I have none. A style that seems to be personal enough for ordinary gassing refuses to get going for an imaginary narrative. So long as I merely report what people might have said under certain circumstances, I am all right; but the moment I have to step in myself, and try to create the impression that what happened to those people really matters, then I am sunk. I flounder about, not knowing whether I should skip to the scene at the church or pile in a little more of the talk at the post office. The reason is...I don't care what happened. It doesn't matter to me. Narratively, I do not exist, I have no impulse to hold an audience."

--James M. Cain, quoted in The Baby In the Icebox and Other Short Fiction, ed. Roy Hoopes.

Hard Case Crime Wave Continues

Great news about Hard Case Crime! The great crime wave will continue with Titan Books beginning in September and October 2011 with Max Allan Collins' Quarry's Ex and Christa Faust's Choke Hold, as well as two "secret" novels that have yet to be announced.

To those of you who, like myself, wondered about the backlog of Hard Case titles, Titan will be distributing the rest of the Dorchester stock that have already been printed.

See the official press release below for more information.

New York, NY; London, UK (October 19, 2010) – Titan Books and series creator Charles Ardai announced today that they are teaming up to relaunch the popular Hard Case Crime series of paperback crime novels. Nominated five times in five years for the Edgar Allan Poe award, the mystery genre’s highest honor, Hard Case Crime has published such luminaries as Stephen King (the book that was the basis for the new TV series “Haven”), Mickey Spillane, Ed McBain, Donald E. Westlake, Lawrence Block, Pete Hamill, Max Allan Collins, Madison Smartt Bell and Roger Zelazny, to name just a few. Each book features new cover art in the classic pulp style, including covers painted by Robert McGinnis, the legendary illustrator who painted the original James Bond movie posters.

Hard Case Crime has won praise from dozens of major publications ranging from Time, Newsweek and The Atlantic Monthly to Entertainment Weekly, Playboy and Reader’s Digest, and has been featured on CBS Sunday Morning, NPR’s Fresh Air, and in every major newspaper in America (including repeated coverage in the New York Times, Los Angeles Times, Washington Post, and USA Today).

First launched in 2004, Hard Case Crime published 66 titles through August 2010, at which time its long-time publisher, Dorchester Publishing, announced it was exiting the mass market paperback publishing business after nearly 40 years. After receiving offers from five other publishers (including two of the largest in the world) to continue the line, Charles Ardai selected UK-based Titan Publishing as Hard Case Crime’s new home.

“Titan has an extraordinary record of creating beautiful, exciting books with exactly the pop culture sensibility that Hard Case Crime exists to celebrate,” said Charles Ardai, founder and editor of Hard Case Crime and an Edgar Award-winning mystery writer himself. “Titan is one of the few publishers that loves pulp fiction as much as we do.”

Titan’s first new Hard Case Crime titles, scheduled to come out in September and October 2011, include QUARRY’S EX, a new installment in the popular series of hit man novels by “Road to Perdition” creator Max Allan Collins; CHOKE HOLD, Christa Faust’s sequel to her Edgar Award-nominated Hard Case Crime novel MONEY SHOT; and two never-before-published novels by major authors in the crime genre (both recipients of the Grand Master Award from the Mystery Writers of America).

Additionally, Titan plans to acquire all existing stock of Hard Case Crime’s backlist titles from Dorchester Publishing and resume shipping those titles to stores immediately.

“Hard Case Crime has done a remarkable job in a very short time of building a brand known for outstanding crime fiction and stunning artwork,” said Nick Landau, Publisher of Titan Books and CEO of the Titan Publishing Group. “We are thrilled to partner with Charles and look forward to bringing Hard Case Crime to a wider audience around the world, not only through the novels themselves but also through an innovative merchandise program.”

About Hard Case Crime

Charles Ardai founded Hard Case Crime in 2004 through Winterfall LLC, a privately owned media company responsible for a variety of print, film, and television projects. The series has been nominated for and/or won numerous awards since its inception including the Edgar, the Shamus, the Anthony, the Barry, and the Spinetingler Award. The series’ bestselling title of all time, The Colorado Kid by Stephen King, was the basis for the current SyFy television series “Haven,” on which Charles Ardai works as a writer and producer. There have also been a number of feature film deals involving Hard Case Crime books, including “The Last Lullaby,” based on The Last Quarry by Max Allan Collins and starring Tom Sizemore as the titular hit man, and more recently Universal Pictures’ purchase of the film rights to Little Girl Lost and Songs of Innocence by Richard Aleas.

About Titan Publishing Group

Titan Publishing Group is an independently owned publishing company, established in 1981. The company is based at offices in London, but operates worldwide, with sales and distribution in the US & Canada being handled by Random House. Titan Publishing Group has three divisions: Titan Books, Titan Magazines/Comics and Titan Merchandise. In addition to fiction, including novelizations of films such as Terminator Salvation, original novels based on TV shows such as Primeval and Supernatural and the popular computer game Runescape, and the celebrated Further Adventures of Sherlock Holmes series of novels launched in 2009, Titan Books also publishes an extensive line of media- and pop culture-related non-fiction, graphic novels, art and music books.

Margaret Millar on Words and Writing

Some words of wisdom from Margaret Millar about her own writing, as well as collaborating with her husband, Kenneth Millar (aka Ross Macdonald).

"I loved writing dialogue. He [Kenneth] used to like writing action. And I hate writing action. When somebody has to go someplace, I say: 'He went someplace.' That's the most action I want to write. Because to me, it's irrelevant. What's relevant are the words: the mood, and the words that are exchanged. Because you can be driving a Chrysler, or a Jeep -- who in hell cares? What matters is what you say when you get there!"


"He's always been tactful. I'll show him something I've written and he'll say, 'This is marvelous, but it would work even better if you did thus-and-so.' Then I know I'm in for a major job of rewriting. He edits me with positives instead of negatives… I did teach him to write better dialogue, so that everybody didn't sound like him. In his first two books, all the characters talked like Ken! I don't even know anybody who talks like Ken. And I told him he had to listen... And we went around to a lot of places: pawn shops, low bars... And he realized how different people talk."

--Margaret Millar, from "Ross Macdonald and Margaret Millar: Partners in Crime" by Tom Nolan, (Mystery Readers Journal, Vol. 17, No. 3, Fall 2001)

"The Odds Against Circle L" by Lewis B. Patten (Ace, 1966)

Lewis B. Patten’s The Odds Against Cirlce L is a Western published by Ace Books in 1966. Dig that wrap-around cover! The fight that starts on the front cover continues onto the back.

The main character is Taggart Landry, a man haunted by his criminal past with a gang. Now he is returning home because he heard his father is dying. Neither the town nor his brother can forgive Tag for running out on his family, and he’s scared they’ll find out the real reason he fled. When his former gang shows up, Tag is caught between running again or facing his past.

Despite a driving scenario and intriguing main character, The Odds Against Circle L has its share of problems. Patten seems to repeat certain information and observations, much of which was rather obvious to begin with. The main character also seems a little naïve, particularly when it comes to the gang’s blackmail scheme. These flaws slow down what would otherwise be a pretty fast-paced story.

Still, Patten has some great lines in the book, and the story was interesting enough that I have already bought some of his other books, which I am looking forward to reading.

Here are my favorite lines:

“In Tag, suddenly, there was only fury, pure, undiluted rage. In his mind was a picture of his father, and of Sierra smiling, smiling, the gleaming knife in his hand…”

“But he’d started it and he had to fight. He had no other choice. No other choice. He was getting tired of hearing those three words, even from himself.”

“He felt as a man must feel the instant after he dives off a cliff. There was no retreating, no going back. He was committed, for better or for worse.”

On Narrators: "True Grit" by Charles Portis

Recently I read Charles Portis True Grit. It is a classic that, to me (at least), lived up to all the hype. Though I haven't seen the John Wayne movie yet, I'm looking forward to watching both it and the upcoming Coen Brothers adaptation.

I found the most enchanting aspect of the book to be the voice of the narrator, 14-year-old Mattie Ross who has as much vengeful pride as Mike Hammer. She leaves home in search of her father’s killer and enlists U.S. Marshall Rooster Cogburn in her quest. Her unnatural naturalness for storytelling makes her a perfect narrator. By that I mean her enthusiasm for narrative sometimes gets the better of her. She tells the story not like a professional novelist, but like someone who was actually there (which she was). Her digressions and personal opinions sometimes distract her from the plot, but these are moments to be treasured.

A seemingly simple observation such as, “It had a good roof” (from the first page), becomes magical through Mattie’s voice. Mostly because other writers would forget to include a detail like this. Then there is her disapproval of Rooster’s accounting, her haggling with businessmen (and winning!), and her play-by-play commentary on the search. She’s a bright young woman, more so than Rooster wants to admit at first, but even by the end he is charmed by her perseverance, intelligence, and bravery.

Another aspect of the narration I really liked was how there were these brief moments when the adult Mattie would shine through. Chance references to something happening later in life. Not enough to let you know where she is when she is writing the book, or what has happened in her life since the story happened, but just enough to let you know that her wonderful 14-year-old soul never disappeared.

Here is the first paragraph of the book, which roped me in when I read it in a bookstore while visiting Boston:

“People do not give it credence that a fourteen-year-old girl could leave home and go off in the wintertime to avenge her father blood but it did not seem so strange then, although I will say it did not happen every day. I was just fourteen years of age when a coward going by the name of Tom Chaney shot my father down in Fort Smith, Arkansas, and robbed him of his life and his horse and $150 in cash money plus two California gold pieces that he carried in his trouser band.”

Mattie Ross is now one of my favorite narrators. Who are yours?

Reed Farrel Coleman on Words and Writing

"The best advice is the simplest: Write every day even if you think what you’re doing stinks. Fall in love with writing, not with what you’ve written. Put your energies into writing the best things you can, not how to sell them. If it doesn’t say it on the page, it doesn’t say it.

"About mystery writing, the first rule is engaging the reading. If you can’t engage the reader enough to keep turning the pages, then the rest of it, no matter how brilliant your prose might be, isn’t worth a thing."

--Reed Farrel Coleman, from an interview at Noir Journal

Also, Coleman's latest Moe Praeger novel, Innocent Monster, will soon be published by Tyrus Books. Be sure to request a copy form your local, independent bookseller.

Read my review of the first Moe Praeger novel, Walking the Perfect Square. Also reviewed on Pulp Serenade is Coleman's collaboration with Ken Bruen, Tower, and Coleman's short story "The Frog."

"Fort Starvation" by Frank Gruber (Pennet Books, 1954)

Frank Gruber was one of the Hall of Fame pulpsters, writing for the biggest and best magazines: Black Mask, Street & Smith, Ranch Romances, Detective Fiction Weekly, and many others. Before he hit the big times, though, he couldn’t even sell to religious newsletters or any publication, no matter who small and how low the pay. Gruber documented his struggle from the bottom of the barrel to the top of industry in the invaluable memoir The Pulp Jungle. The book is a must-have for anyone interested in the life of a pulp writer during the 1930s.

The Pulp Jungle unfortunately ends shortly after Gruber successfully made the transition from pulps into hardbacks and was making his first foray into Hollywood. Aside from being a terrific writer, Gruber was also smart and knew how to navigate the writing industry. He had a long career, wrote many screenplays, novels, short stories, and later made the move into television.

Though he wrote in many genres, Westerns were one of Gruber’s specialties. Fort Starvation was originally published as a serial in Ranch Romances in 1952, then as hardcover in 1953 by Rinehart and Company. My edition is the first paperback edition from Pennet Books in 1954.

The story is about John Slater, whose father was killed at Fort Starvation in a battle with the Indians. The fort got its name because the men behind the walls were faced with two enemies: the Indians outside, and the lack of food inside. When a patrol finally found the men, the fort was burned and five bodies were found.

Only John Slater knows that six men were at Fort Starvation, and that there was a large cache of gold that wasn’t found after the battle, and he suspects that it might not have been the Indians responsible for the killings. Looking to uncover the identity of the sixth man and bring his father’s murderer to justice, Slater sets out across the West. But Slater isn’t the only one trying to solve the mystery, and this other party would kill to figure out the puzzle first.

Fort Starvation is very entertaining, and its swiftly moving plot blends Western action with plenty of intrigue, suspense, and even a little romance. Gruber was a capable craftsman and knew how to keep a reader hooked. Even if you can guess the identity of the killer, Gruber’s seasoned storytelling voice makes this a pleasurable read the whole way through.

And now for two of my favorite quotes from the book:

“What sort of people do steal, Colonel…Born criminals? Or trusted servants of the public? Every man has his price. With some it’s money, with others…”

“A week ago Slater had been riding toward the hills. His eyes had been so intent on them that he had scarcely been aware of the green valley through which he passed. His eyes were only on the hills ahead. They were bleak and forbidding. They seemed to have been created by a gigantic hand that had torn up huge handfuls of earth and rock and tossed them down willy-nilly, as if in anger or spite. There was no rhyme or sense to it. Gullies ran here or there, as often as not ended against blind walls of rock.”

Stories for Sunday: Anthony Neil Smith

I'm not so good at math, but here is one equation that I'm sure of. Anthony Neil Smith + Beat to a Pulp = Awesome Pulp Lunacy. No doubt about that one. No going to the back of the book, no copying the smart kid's homework. ANS + BTAP = APL. The golden equation.

This week's story at Beat to a Pulp is "The King of Mardi Gras" by Anthony Neil Smith, editor of Plots with Guns and the author of books such as Psychosomatic, Yellow Medicine, and Hogdoggin'. His latest story is about a newbie in jail named Obie who has a flash of genius after stuffing a New Orleans guide book down his cellmate's throat.

Kreacher stopped when Obie slapped his bad arm, turned to the convicts, and proclaimed, "Gentlemen, we're going to have fucking Mardi Gras!"

As wild as it is original, "The King of Mardi Gras" embodies the qualities we've come to love about Anthony Neil Smith. Relentless, hilarious, more than slightly-psychotic, and impossible to put down.

Read the story, then check out his website which has links to all his books, and then buy the damn things.

"Danger in Paradise/Malay Woman" by A.S. Fleischman (Stark House, 2010)

A.S. Fleischman may have passed away this past March at the age of 90, but Stark House Press is helping to preserve his legacy and ensure that future generations will remember the name and understand his success, importance, and artistry as a writer. Winner of the esteemed Newbery Medal in 1987 for The Whipping Boy, Fleischman had a long and prosperous career writing books for young readers. But his career is more varied than that: he was also a biographer, a screenwriter, a magician, and an Edgar-nominee.

Fleischman was also one of the original Gold Medal paperback novelists in the early 1950s. Two of these novels – Danger in Paradise (1953) and Malay Woman (1954) – are reprinted in the latest Stark House collection. Both are South Seas thrillers (Fleischman’s specialty for Gold Medal), filled with intimate first-hand knowledge of the areas stemming from the author’s first-hand experience in World War II. Accompanying the novels is a candid introduction by the author, as well as a moving, comprehensive tribute by David Laurence Wilson, one of the leading authorities of the unsung heroes of American literature, particularly the early paperback writers.

From page one, Danger in Paradise is a kinetic, epic adventure that moves fast and punches hard. Jeff Cape is an American oil engineer working in Indonesia. On his way back to the US, he stops for a drink and makes the mistake of noticing a mysterious, beautiful woman, Nicole Balashov. He then makes the bigger mistake of agreeing to carry a business card with a cryptic memo back to the states. The card belongs to Apollo Fry, President of Scrap Metals Export Co., and Fry would kill to get the secret message back.

Soon Cape finds himself on the run from Fry and his army of natives; Mr. Chu and his poisoned-talon bird Jong; a persistent stalker with a cane that doubles as a sword; and an alluring but deadly woman named Regina Williams. The only person that isn’t chasing him is the one he can’t find, and the one who can answer all his questions: Nicole Balashov.

The chases in Danger in Paradise are swift, the plotting succinct, and the twists plentiful. Like many of the best Gold Medalists, Fleischman didn’t waste words, and his precision with words is something to be admired.

Though it takes second billing, Malay Woman is one double feature worth sticking around to the end for, as it is even more enjoyable than Danger in Paradise. The main character in this one is Jock Hamilton, another American in the South Seas who this time works with rubber plantations. On the run and suspected of killing his wife, Jock hides as a stowaway on a boat that seemingly offers an escape. He couldn’t be more wrong.

After he overhears a plot to kill a woman named Kay Allison, he tries to warn her but soon realizes that by saving her, he might compromise his own safety and anonymity. When they dock in Kuala Tang, Jock must figure out how to save Kay while hiding out from the police with an old friend, Gabriel Wing, and his wife, Monique. But can he trust Gabriel and, more importantly, can he trust himself around the seductive Monique?

A simple sentence like this exemplifies Fleischman’s expertise: “It was hot. It was hot and fatigue was beginning to catch up with me.” The repetition of the first three words conveys the sense of fatigue and strain felt by the main character even before he says it. The heat even seems to weigh down on the readers, slowing the eyes, and making the fatigue infectious. Fleischman brings the same immediacy to the action and chase sequences, of which there are many.

From ship to shore, Malay Woman is filled with powerful details about the local and landscape and culture that distinguish Fleischman’s writing as first rate. Despite the exotic setting, Fleischman doesn’t give in to colonialist clichés, and the book holds up very well over half a century later.

Thanks for publisher Greg Shepard and his cohorts at Stark House Press, forgotten classics like these are being preserved and made available for future generations.

As always, a few of my favorite passages from both books.

From Danger in Paradise:

“I had a couple of hundred dollars in my wallet and two suitcases on the ship. My worldly possessions. The memories don’t count, I decided bitterly.”

“She was in trouble, and she had passed it on to me like an infection and standing here in the rain I didn’t give a damn.”

From Malay Woman:

“The still water raced up for me. My feet shattered the surface, and the sea closed around me. I sank like a plummet and thrashed to stop myself. A shock of coolness swept over me and I floundered in a sort of violent slow motion. I rose along the monstrous white belly of the ship, almost luminous in the clean, deep water. I broke through the surface and gulped for air.”

“It came to me in a rush that murder had begun to cling to me like so many leeches.”

“It glinted off the kris handle that rose like a marker out of Ahmad’s young back. A monitor lizard as long as my arm scurried out of the light. A praying mantis was startled from the white streaked body and vanished in a green flutter. I bent down and saw streams of white ants ignoring the flesh and feeding at Ahmad’s sandals, his belt, his cheap watch band. The mantis had been lured by the ants, the lizard by the mantis. Death was always a nightmare in the jungle.”

Danger in Paradise
scan courtesy of Pop Sensation. Malay Woman scan from my own collection.

Interview with Hilary Davidson

Hilary Davidson's name has already graced many of the finest crime and mystery publications around: CrimeFactory, Beat to a Pulp, Spinetingler, Thuglit, Needle, A Twist of Noir, and CrimeSpree. On September 28th, her debut novel, The Damage Done, was published by Forge. The story is about Lily Moore, a travel writer who is investigating the supposed death of her younger sister, Claudia.

Hilary was kind enough to answer a few questions for Pulp Serenade about her new book, her own background as a travel writer, as well as her writing habits and some of her favorite books.

Be sure to visit Hilary at www.hilarydavidson.com and pick up a copy of The Damage Done as your local, independent bookstore. Signed copies are available in New York City at Partners and Crime Bookstore.

Pulp Serenade: Lily Moore is the main character in The Damage Done. Could you say a few words about how you developed the character?

Hilary Davidson: I’m embarrassed to admit how little I knew about Lily when I started writing the book. There were two things I was certain about: Lily’s relationship with her sister, Claudia, is a source of constant pain to her, and she works as a travel writer. I think people will assume that Lily’s day job was determined by the fact that I’ve been a travel writer for the past decade, but it has a lot to do with Claudia. Lily isn’t even two years older than Claudia, but she’s been the “good girl” taking care of her wild, wayward sister for years. I tried to imagine the toll that would take on a person, and what she would do to get away from the burden. For Lily, travel writing is an escape valve — since it’s her career, she can justify going away and leaving Claudia, even though she feels guilty about it.

As I was writing, those elements were like compass points. Lily and Claudia had a very disturbed home life growing up, especially after their father died. I thought about what Lily’s escape was when she was young, and that’s where Lily’s love of old movies and vintage glamour comes from. The character really developed when I figured out what her pressure points were.

PS: From "Anniversary" to "Fetish" to "Insatiable" and now to The Damage Done, your stories feature both compelling, mysterious stories and strong, dynamic characters. For you, do characters create the plots, or do plots create the characters?

HD: That’s an incredibly kind thing for you to say — thank you. Most of the time, what happens is that I’ll have a scenario in mind — it’s a bit like having a snapshot or a short film clip playing in my head. I can see this picture, but I don’t know what’s going on inside it. I want to know who these people are, and why they’re doing whatever it is they’re doing. In “Fetish,” I had an image of an older man sitting in a bar, with a very attractive, much younger woman who’s intent on manipulating him. I started to write it, but something felt off and I set the story aside for a while. When I looked at it again, I realized that the woman was the man’s daughter, and everything clicked into place. So, for me, character drives plot, but the starting point for everything is an image I’m trying to explain to myself.

PS: What was the biggest challenge to writing The Damage Done? The most fun?

HD: Writing the book felt like running a three-ring circus. The Damage Done has two mysteries that are intertwined, and a lot of backstory about Lily and Claudia’s relationship. Getting those elements to work together while keeping up the pacing of the story was a big challenge.

The fun part was immersing myself in that world. The book is written in Lily’s voice, and once I felt that I really knew her, that was so natural. Also, since Lily is really into old movies, I had to watch and re-watch quite a few, because I didn’t want those references to feel tacked-on. I loved being able to watch The Killers and The Barefoot Contessa and a lot of other films and call it research.

PS: Your writing background is as a freelance journalist, and you wrote many pieces on traveling. What sort of places did this take you, and did it help prepare you for your crime and mystery fiction at all?

HD: I’ve written about some really interesting places: Thailand, Turkey, Italy, France, Spain, Ireland, Bermuda, Peru, and Easter Island. But the truth is, by travel-writing standards, I’m a slacker. I know travel writers who brag about joining the Century Club — that means they’ve visited 100 countries and yes, it really is a club. I, on the other hand, have managed to write 17 travel guides about the two cities I know best: Toronto, my hometown, and New York, my home since 2001.

That said, my more exotic trips were really the ones that helped me prepare for crime and mystery writing, because when you travel to an unfamiliar place, you’re suddenly vulnerable in a way you usually aren’t at home. As a traveler, you’re a preferred target — certainly for scams and pickpocketing at the least. I’ve been physically attacked twice while traveling — both times in France, both times by people trying to rob me — and that has made me a little bit paranoid. If I feel that someone might be following me, I listen to that instinct, even if it seems ridiculous. That paranoia definitely made its way into the novel.

PS: I love your first lines -- "My wife is hunting for another man" ("Insatiable"), "Kelly didn’t see the devil tattoo until the man was half-naked" ("Beast"), and "It was bright yellow tape that finally convinced me my sister was dead" (The Damage Done). It can't be easy writing such zingers -- so how do you know when you have the right hook for readers?

HD: I’m so glad that you noticed them and like them, because I obsess about them. Occasionally, a strong opening line will mysteriously come into my mind when I start writing a story. That was the case with “Insatiable,” — “My wife is hunting for another man” was there from the first draft. But most of the time, my first drafts are messy and wordy and overwritten, and I have to hack away at them mercilessly through several rounds of revisions. My goal with the first line of a story or a novel is to grab the reader and pull them right in, so that they’re compelled to keep reading. My hope is that putting the story down won’t be an option.

Knowing when I have the right hook is more a gut reaction than anything. Until I have the right opening line, the story buzzes around my head, no matter what I’m doing. The best way I can describe it is that I’m trying to start as far into the story as I can without being confusing. I don’t believe that you need to know what a character looks like or what the setting is like or what the weather is like to get into the story. Whatever explanation is necessary should come after I’ve grabbed your attention.

PS: What is your personal writing station like?

HD: My desk is in a corner of the living room, and it’s sort of hidden behind a screen. The screen isn’t big enough to be a room partition, but it’s just big enough to hide the mess of my desk from the rest of the room, at least at most angles. There’s an overstuffed bookcase behind me. I write at a laptop computer (a MacBook). I just counted a dozen framed photographs around me, but more might be hidden under papers. There are four gargoyles that keep me company, and a few souvenirs, like a carved stone llama from Peru. It’s a wonder I get any work done.

PS: How about your writing habits -- how do you fit it all into your day-to-day life?

HD: Writing has been my job for long enough that I have a pretty good routine. The biggest challenge to the routine is probably Twitter, which I spend far too much time on but love. I will check in on it and e-mail first thing in the morning, but I usually start writing by eight or eight-thirty and I’m not allowed to return to any social networking sites until I’ve written a thousand words. I find it’s easier to get things done if I dedicate blocks of time to particular tasks. Left to my own devices, I’m easily distracted.

PS: The publishing world is currently in a state of flux, with the rise of ebooks and the unfortunate downsizing (and even closing) of both publishers and booksellers. What advice and insight do you have for writers who are just beginning to navigate the modern world of publishing?

HD: I thought things were tough when I started freelancing, but it’s so much harder now. For people who would like to pursue travel journalist, I would say is don’t sign anything you don’t understand. Some magazines have truly draconian contracts that will hurt your career. Not long ago I had a new client send me a contract with a clause in it that said I couldn’t write about the same subject for other travel magazines for two years. Many publications have two contracts: a really lousy one they try to get you to sign first, and then a vastly better one you get when you complain.

For fiction writers, I strongly suggest writing short stories as a great way to build your skills and reputation. Publishers are risk-adverse, so they don’t like taking chances on a completely unknown writer, no matter how brilliant their novel might be. I’m biased, because my short stories helped me get my two-book deal with Forge, but they also got me my agent in the first place. Right now, I’m counting the days until a writer named Chris F. Holm gets a book deal, because his short stories are incredible.

PS: What are you reading now?

HD: I’m moderating a panel at Bouchercon, so I’m trying to read books by all of the authors on it. Right now, that’s The Sex Club by L.J. Sellers. Coming up soon will be books by Mike Lawson, Lou Allin, Doc Macomber and Mike Black. I also read a lot of short fiction, both online and in print. I love NEEDLE magazine.

PS: Desert island books you couldn't live without?

HD: Earthly Powers by Anthony Burgess, Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov, Lord of the Flies by William Golding, and the collected works of Edgar Allan Poe. Trying to decide which Jim Thompson book I’d bring is hurting my head; maybe Pop. 1280. I’d also have to bring a book of drawings by Gustave Doré — his images are haunting and sometimes disturbing and have definitely inspired things I’ve written.

PS: Finally, what's up next for Hilary Davidson?

HD: I’ve been working on my second novel, which Forge will publish in October 2011. It’s called The Next One to Fall, and it is a sequel to The Damage Done. I have short stories in a couple of collections that are coming out soon: Beat to a Pulp: Round One and CrimeFactory: First Shift. Right now, it feels like it’s been too long since I wrote some new short stories. The new novel is completely written but not what I’d call finished; when it is done, I’ll be back to short fiction for a couple of months, and then — I hope — writing a new novel. Also, I’ll be traveling for the next couple of months to promote The Damage Done. I’ve been practically chained to my desk for months, so I can’t wait to get on the road!

"Test Tube Baby" by Sam Fuller (1936)

Test Tube Baby is the second novel from Samuel Fuller (here credited as “Sam Fuller”). Published in 1936 by Godwin, Publishers, it is among...