The Night of the Flood

The winner of The Night of the Flood is Mark Baker! Look for an email from me!

I fell in love, first with the concept of The Night of the Flood, and then the book when it came out in March. It’s interesting, unique, gripping, and in turn poignant and funny. I loved it so much I’m giving away a copy to one person who leaves a comment.

Alan Orloff, one of the contributors, interviews the two intrepid editors, E.A. Aymar and Sarah M. Chen.

Alan Orloff: You two (Ed Aymar and Sarah M. Chen) should be commended, not only for the sterling end product, a buzz-generating novel-in-stories (THE NIGHT OF THE FLOOD), but for surviving the task of editing/babysitting/torturing 14 thriller writers, all with mayhem on their minds. Let’s start at the beginning. Can you describe the genesis of this fascinating project?

E.A. Aymar: It was an idea originally proposed, in a different form, by J.J. Hensley. He, along with seven other writers in this book, regularly contributes to The Thrill Begins, and we had all become good friends and fans/supporters of each other’s work. He had the idea to do a joint collaboration on a project, and it morphed into THE NIGHT OF THE FLOOD.

That said, J.J.’s a terrible person and we really don’t want his further association with this project. So Sarah and I kept his name off the cover, refused to give him credit, and you should probably just delete that preceding paragraph. Fine to keep this one, though. (Sherry here. For those of you who don’t know this crew — this is a joke and J.J. has a story in the book.)

Author Alan Orloff

AO: Getting fourteen writers all on the same page seems daunting. How did you manage it (without bloodshed or lawsuits)?

EA: Oh, we all weren’t on one page. That would have been a very short book. 

AO: Ha ha, that was a good one.

EA: Anyway, we had a very loose outline to which everyone adhered, and the stories were split hourly. Writers were free to borrow elements from each other’s work and occasionally did, and that worked well turning an anthology into a novel. We did take pains to avoid repetition, more in word choice than theme. For example, there were a lot of references to the town name (Everton) and “The Daughters,” the group of women who blow up the town’s dam and instigate the rioting that night. We made sure to space those out.

AO: Getting two editors on the same page seems daunting. How did you manage that? Can you describe your east coast/west coast working relationship? 

EA: First off, let me say that Sarah M. Chen is the best partner a co-editor can have. She’s thorough, funny, and razor smart. We paired up sort of incidentally, and she’s really an absolute dream to work with. And I don’t know how or why she puts up with my crap.

Regarding communications, we exploited all sorts of modern technology and went back and forth on texts, e-mails, vaped smoke signals, and (very rarely) phone calls. From ideas to editing to promotion, we ran stuff by each other and made sure we were on the same page. Safe to say that we’re both intensely proud of this book, and want to give it the best treatment possible.

AO: With fourteen different stories/writers, I imagine there were some significant continuity issues. How did you make sure the book flowed as a unified story?

Author E. A. Aymar

EA: I kind of addressed that earlier, but I’ll add something to that earlier point. Having good writers makes editing so much easier. Good writers tend to be inventive, and the contributors did a great job of ensuring continuity on their own. And then Sarah’s sharp eye caught discrepancies like the position of the moon or the changing height of the water.

We approached this idea as a group, so we all, essentially, began at the same starting point. That was a huge, and unforeseen, help in unifying the concept.

AO: Publishing a book is more than just writing words, doing a few revision passes, and shipping it off to the publisher (the wonderful Down & Out Books). After it’s complete, there’s the “other” stuff: promotion, marketing, sales, making book trailers, collecting awards, enforcing restraining orders against disgruntled authors. Can you describe some of those efforts?

Author Sarah M. Chen

Sarah M. Chen: It was a collaborative effort from everyone as we pooled our ideas together on different ways to market and promote. One of the benefits of working with such experienced writers is that I learned so much. Normally I just go through the usual social media channels, but there’s so much more than that. Like the UrbanaAMA app. Ed and I answered questions about editing / writing an anthology via video and it was a blast. I’d never had a book trailer done before and thanks to Ed, we had our very own cool book trailer. I want to say that Ed was really good at organizing our promo efforts, generating ideas, and just getting us psyched about our little project. He was a great cheerleader. Other contributors promoted the book through their respective newsletters and did things like scavenger hunts. And I don’t want to forget Down & Out’s efforts. They did an incredible job sending out review copies to everyone, including Publisher’s Weekly, Foreword Reviews (they even made FLOOD a Book of the Day!), and Crimespree. D&O provided us with some awesome promo graphics to spread all over social media.

AO: What has been the response to THE NIGHT OF THE FLOOD within the crime-fiction community, from both writers and readers?

 SMC: It’s been amazingly positive so far and I’m grateful for every single review. The blurbs we received early on blew me away as well. (AO adds: From Lee Child – “A brave concept brilliantly executed.)

AO: A second book with a similar multiple-author novel-in-stories concept, THE MORNING OF THE KILLERS, is on the drawing board. A brief description, please? What lessons learned from FLOOD will you apply as you plan, edit, and promote it?

SMC: It’s a novel-in-stories so it’s similar in concept but it’s not a sequel. Contributors can use their FLOOD characters though if they’d like. We haven’t officially announced it and we’re still hashing it out but it involves a crime boss, infidelity, and bounty hunters. I’m really excited to be working with the same writers as well as new ones. And of course, co-editing with Ed again is a bonus. He really knows how to rally all of us together and spearhead a lot of the promotional efforts. I’m telling you, he’s our cheerleader.

 We have more writers involved in this project, so Ed and I are cobbling together a loose outline after all of us agreed on the basic premise. From there, all the contributors will bounce ideas off each other and flesh out the storyline even further. Chris (Rhatigan) is a fantastic editor and we’re excited to be working with D&O again on this project. A perk working with so many writers is that there’s a good chance I’ll learn of some new platforms and ideas on promotion as I did with FLOOD.

AO: What other projects do you have on the horizon?

 EA: The first half of this year has been all about THE NIGHT OF THE FLOOD, chiefly in regards to promotions. I have a standalone coming out from Down and Out Books in March 2019, called THE UNREPENTANT, and Sarah and I are going back and forth on THE MORNING OF THE KILLERS. We haven’t officially announced it as of this writing, but Down and Out likes the concept and we’re set for a 2020 publishing date (with many of the same contributors as THE NIGHT OF THE FLOOD, along with some new faces). And I have an essay coming out in the second UNLOADED anthology this July. And…oh, I guess that’s it.

SMC: I have a few short stories that are set to be released in upcoming anthologies, including MURDER A GO-GOS, edited by Holly West and released by Down & Out Books. All stories are inspired by song titles of The Go-Go’s. This is one I’m extremely proud to be a part of. All proceeds are to go to Planned Parenthood.

AO: Thanks for a great interview, Sarah and Ed, and stay dry!

Readers: Do you have a favorite theme (or hook) for a book or anthology?

Bios

Sarah M. Chen has published crime fiction short stories with Shotgun Honey, Crime Factory, and Betty Fedora, to name a few. Cleaning Up Finn, her noir novella with All Due Respect Books, was an Anthony finalist and IPPY award winner. For more info, visit sarahmchen.com

In addition to The Night of the Flood, E.A. Aymar writes a monthly column for the Washington Independent Review of Books and is the Managing Editor of The Thrill Begins, ITW’s online resource for aspiring and debut thriller writers. He also runs the Noir at the Bar series for Washington, D.C., and has hosted and spoken at a variety of crime fiction, writing, and publishing events nationwide. He has never won an award, so let’s get on that. For more info, visit eaymar.com

Alan Orloff has been a finalist for the Agatha and Derringer Awards. His eighth novel, Pray for the Innocent, came out earlier this year. He’s published numerous short stories, including “Rule Number One,” which was selected for The Best American Mystery Stories 2018 anthology edited by Louise Penny and Otto Penzler. For more info, visit alanorloff.com

About THE NIGHT OF THE FLOOD

“Each of the 14 varied and fitfully amusing stories in this solid anthology takes as its starting point the destruction of a dam and the subsequent flooding of Everton, PA. Aymar and Chen deserve kudos for putting together a distinctive anthology.” —Publishers Weekly

It happened the night Maggie Wilbourne was to be put to death, the first woman executed by the state of Pennsylvania in modern times. That was when a group of women passionately protesting Maggie’s imprisonment struck. They blew up a local dam, flooding the town of Everton and indirectly inspiring a hellish night of crime and chaos.

Fourteen of today’s most exciting contemporary crime writers will take you to the fictional town of Everton, with stories from criminals, cops, and civilians that explore the thin line between the rich and the poor, the insider and the outsider, the innocent and the guilty. Whether it’s a store owner grimly protecting his property from looters, an opportunistic servant who sees her time to strike, or two misguided youths taking their anger out against any available victim, The Night of the Flood is an intricate and intimate examination of the moment when chaos is released—in both society and the human spirit.

Contributors: E.A. Aymar, Rob Brunet, Sarah M. Chen, Angel Luis Colón, Hilary Davidson, Mark Edwards, Gwen Florio, Elizabeth Heiter, J.J. Hensley, Jennifer Hillier, Shannon Kirk, Jenny Milchman, Alan Orloff, and Wendy Tyson.

Praise for THE NIGHT OF THE FLOOD:

“Plenty of complex characters and hard edges. Take a breath, then hang on and enjoy this entertaining romp.” —Steve Berry, New York Times bestselling author

“Bravo to all the authors who contributed to The Night of the Flood, a collection of brilliant short stories about residents of the dysfunctional town of Everton who are thrust into the turbulence of decisions that will forever change who they thought they were. A stormy page-turner that will leave you wanting more.” —Sandra Brannan, author of the award-winning Liv Bergen Mystery Series

“A brilliant, multi-leveled concept, Faulknerian in its structure. A novel in stories. Wow. Fourteen exciting crime writers create a rare three-dimensional mosaic of a doomed town and the night hell flooded through it. Terrifically exciting. Wonderfully inventive.” —David Morrell, New York Times bestselling author of Murder As a Fine Art

“A brave concept brilliantly executed.” —Lee Child, bestselling author of the Jack Reacher Series

“An impressive collection of stories from some of the most talented writers working in the crime genre today.” —BOLO Books Review

How I Learned to Relax About Being a “Cozy” Author and Just Write the Damn Books–Part III

Barb here, sitting on her front porch in Maine and writing on an flawless summer day

Back in February, I started a series of posts about how I came to terms with being a cozy writer. The first one talked about why this designation was an issue for me in the first place. The second, in March, was about how I came to be comfortable as a person with an identity as a cozy author.

Then life intervened. In April-May-June I was hit successively with Crime Bake website deadline-knee crisis-book deadline. But, though as a person I have many, many flaws, I am, at the end of the day (and usually literally at the end of the day), a completer. So herewith is Part III.

So when we left our intrepid heroine, she was happy to be writing a cozy series and comfortable adopting the image of a cozy author. Only one small issue remained.

Yes, I am going to say it.

Cozy mysteries often get no respect.

(She said it!)

There are a few reasons for this.

One is, there’s a bit of a hierarchy in fiction writing, and it looks something like this.

  • The literary fiction writers look down on the mystery writers
  • The mystery writers look down on the romance writers
  • The romance writers look down on the poets
  • The poets look down on the literary fiction writers
  • (cycle starts again)

Of course this is a weird, crazy exaggeration, but you know it’s there, right? And if I were more clever, I could probably fit lots more genres–horror, fantasy, YA, westerns, etc.–into the hierarchy. I remember vividly being at the Key West Literary Seminar and hearing just about every top name in the crime fiction world asked some version of the question, “So did you ever want to write a real book?” (My imperfect memory is that only Benjamin Black–who as John Banville is a renowned literary writer–and Joyce Carol Oates escaped this question.)

So there’s that.

There’s also a weird hierarchy within the crime fiction realm. It’s not as clear, but for sure “literary” crime fiction is at the top, followed by thrillers, traditional mysteries, noir, procedurals and suspense (in some order or another), with romantic suspense and finally cozies at the bottom.

So the question for me was not, can a mystery be good literature? [As pondered by so many, like Edmund Wilson in “Who Cares Who Killed Roger Ackroyd?” (The New Yorker, January 20, 1945), Raymond Chandler in “The Simple Art of Murder” (1950) or even Dorothy L. Sayers in her Introduction to the 1928-1929 Omnibus of Crime.] That’s another discussion for another day.

The question was, can a cozy be good crime fiction?

Was it a reasonable question? I think it was. After all, a cozy has never won an Edgar® Award for Best Novel and most cozy writers believe one never will. So why would I want to work this hard at something a whole lot of people–to be clear, people whom I like and respect as writers–think can never be “good?”

Let’s take this apart. To do so, first we have to agree on what a cozy is. The most common definition I’ve seen is that a cozy is a mystery, usually, but not always, featuring an amateur sleuth. The cozy will offer a crime, usually a murder, and a solution, usually the identification of the guilty party and bringing of that guilty party to justice. The reader will meet the guilty party and all the suspects in the course of the book. The mystery will be anchored in a community, and the sleuth, suspects and guilty party will be a part of the community in some way -ie not just there to murder or to uncover a murderer.

Aside from the amateur sleuth bias, and perhaps a bit more emphasis on setting, I’ve just defined a traditional mystery. And no one would argue that a traditional mystery can’t be “good” or even “literary.” (Okay, a lot of people would argue that, including the aforementioned Wilson, Chandler and Sayres, but again, this is not about that. The point is, there’s no reason within our genre, cozy mysteries can’t be good.)

To that definition, many people append, “In a cozy mystery, cursing is kept to a minimum and most sex and gore are kept ‘off the page.'”

I personally chafe at this definition. But not because I have the slightest interest in writing something very gory or explicitly sexual. I don’t wander to my desk in the morning thinking, “Drat! Another day of not torturing children. I feel so restricted.” Because, believe me, I don’t. I just hate it that my subgenre is defined by so many people by what’s NOT in it. If what were important is what’s not in it, I could hand 350 blank pages in to my publisher and be done with it.

Is that final restriction why cozy mysteries can’t be “good?”

After all, if cozy authors deal with murder at such a remove that we can’t describe the horror or the sorrow, and can’t evince those emotions in our audience, then can we really be writing something “good?” I would argue we can, because I have seen many cozy authors very skillfully evoke the horror of unexpected, violent death by focusing on the reactions and emotions of the characters, rather than the blood and the guts. If anything, I think that’s harder and requires more skill.

So that’s not a reason a cozy mystery can’t be “good.”

Is it that cozies can’t be good because there is too much formula required? I don’t think so. Most crime fiction has to contend on some level with audience expectations as to form. As does most prose fiction. As did Shakespeare in his comedies, histories, tragedies and sonnets.

Nope, audience expectations don’t mean cozies can’t be good.

Slide12Is it that cozies usually deal with the small and domestic? Can a book that ignores the vast sweep of history or the maelstrom of current events or the conundrum of the human condition be “good?”

Well, first of all, most cozies don’t ignore those things. Almost all take place in a certain place at a certain time. While they might look at human issues from the inside out, or from specific to the general, instead of the other way around, that doesn’t mean they ignore them.

But also, lots of people have written lots of great, great literary fiction about the domestic realm. In fact, making big events real by showing the way they affect specific people is one of the hallmarks of great fiction writing.

So that’s not the reason cozies can’t be good.

So now let’s talk about the elephant in the room. Both of the subgenres at the bottom of the “respect” heap in crime fiction-romantic suspense and cozies– are primarily written by women for women. Is that why cozies can’t be good?

That is, of course, ridiculous. Or I wish it were.

For me, the best books transport me. They take me to a place outside of myself. When that happens, my problems, petty and serious, recede for a time, and the lives of others, the lives of characters, become primary. I learn about professions, human communities and places I can’t learn about from my friends. And I care what happens to the characters.

This is what I think of as the four Es of reading fiction–escape, entertainment, education and empathy.

You don’t need all four in every book, but you probably need three for a book to be satisfying. Or I do. I also need a level of complexity of prose, structure, plot and character  to engage me. I can’t be transported if any of those elements are so simply rendered that I can still mentally balance my check book while reading.

That’s my definition of a good book. Is there anything in my personal definition of a good book that says cozies can’t be good? Nope, not seeing it.

So that’s how I got comfortable with spending my time, blood, sweat, and tears writing cozies. And that’s why I say it loud and proud whenever people ask me what I write. Because there is no reason on earth someone can’t write a cozy that is also a good book.

John T. Irwin described literary mysteries as ones you can re-read and get something new out of each time, even though you know the solution. Do you think that could ever happen with a cozy?

I know I haven’t achieved it, but the fact that it is “out there” means there is something to aspire to.

Readers, have at it. Do you think cozies can be “good” books? Why can’t they get any respect? Does it matter? Does it matter to you?

Unbearable Lightness of San Francisco

john-nardizzi-book-cover-640x1024Today we welcome author and private investigator John Nardizzi to Wicked Cozy Authors. We met John at Crime Bake last fall.  Telegraph Hill is John’s first crime novel.

Crime novels are sold in neatly sliced sub genres: Hard-boiled, Cozy, Historical, Nordic noir.  These artificial boundaries are a construct of the book business to help sell books.  But many writers blur those lines–or at least mash up a few of them.  Patricia Highsmith’s The Talented Mr. Ripley is considered a classic of crime fiction.  Highsmith set the book in the Italian fishing town of Mongibello, in the city of Venice, and other locales.  The detectives looking for Ripley are professional policemen, but the story (told in the third person) is from an amateur perspective–Ripley himself.  Ripley might be said to be a detective in reverse: an amateur sleuth obscuring his crimes with the frenetic energy of a first-timer.  There is little gore, no sex, yet Ripley’s convoluted sexual identity colors the book with repressed tension.  Highsmith’s book rumbles across the artificial boundaries of the crime genre.

I worked in San Francisco as a private investigator in the 1990s.  After I returned several times on cases in 2002, it was clear that the San Francisco I had known was rapidly changing.  I had written poems and short pieces about the city but felt a powerful need to explore it again in a crime novel.  The book features my San Francisco, not the one others might remember—a city colored with my images, biases, and memories from cases that I had worked on as law student and PI.

telegrphHill500Among the famous hills of San Francisco is Telegraph Hill, a gorgeous section of San Francisco where small cottages dot the hillside alongside Spanish-style homes.  A flock of wild parrots twitter in trees overhead as the neighborhood denizens make their way downhill for a coffee in the North Beach caffes.  I walked countless times from Telegraph Hill to Nob Hill, where cable cars stopped at the famous Mark Hopkins Hotel as fog rolled down California Street to ice the night.

Scan10003But the underworld of San Francisco was never far away.  Standing on the tip of Nob Hill at California Street, you could look down Jones Street to a different section called the Tenderloin–one of greatest mixes of wealth and poverty in the U.S., separated by just a few blocks.  The Tenderloin took its name from a section of old New York City.  In the late 19th century, a New York cop was promoted to midtown, where gambling & prostitution were rampant  He told a reporter that he had been “eating rump steak down in the Fourth precinct, but now I have a chance to eat some of the tenderloin.” People took this as a reference to taking bribes to look the other way, and the name came to be used as a pejorative for the city’s red light district.  To this day, San Francisco’s Tenderloin district has struggled to match the rest of the city’s growth.  In the 1990s, Turk Street glittered in the sunlight from dozens of shattered bottles.  Drug dealing went on openly in Boedekker Park and prostitutes worked the streets at all times of the day and night.  It was a far cry from the top of Nob Hill, which was just a few blocks away.

Scan10004All these San Francisco neighborhoods were populated with fantastic characters.  As I walked, I picked up the vibrant dialogue on the streets.  There was a homeless man named Billy, who rose out of his cardboard boxes each Friday night to read poetry at the Yakety Yak Cafe.  A pool hall down the street, Hollywood Billiards, where you could shoot some stick with unemployed hit men.  Within minutes of walking past bars like The Driftwood or the Coral Sea, I would stride by wealthy homes on California Street, then into the North Beach neighborhood near the base of Telegraph Hill, where the guys at Florence Ravioli Factory fired carom shots off the customers in an all-day comedy fest.

telegraph_hill_picAll of this was crammed in tight confines.  Japanese tourists who stayed downtown at Hotel Nikko would sometimes ignore the doorman’s warning and turn left out the door into the prostitutes, drug dealers and rough trade.  They looked dazed—how could a cozy $500 per night room be so close to . . . this?  I suggested to them some contrasting sections of San Francisco—Nob Hill and Telegraph Hill were just a short walk of street poetry away.

So the city of San Francisco was unique– or was it?  Cozy on Telegraph Hill, noir down in the Tenderloin.  You can find inspiration just a few blocks away in any place if you look hard enough.  Great settings always offer a contrast between heaviness and lightness, and the authors we come of love present us with a bit of each.  In my novel, the detective reflects on the mixed blessings of the city, the poverty that exists in plain sight of opulent wealth.  While troubled by the contrast, he knows that he is in love: “Even when you see her grimy face and wasted ways, you love her like a woman—the endless promise of California.”

What is your own private California?

johnnauthJohn Nardizzi is an investigator, lawyer, and writer. His writings have appeared in numerous professional and literary journals, including San Diego Writers Monthly, Oxygen, Liberty Hill Poetry Review, Lawyers Weekly USA, and PI Magazine. His fictional detective, Ray Infantino, first appeared in print in the spring 2007 edition of Austin Layman’s Crimestalker Casebook. Telegraph Hill is the first crime novel featuring Infantino.

In May 2003, John founded Nardizzi & Associates, Inc., an investigations firm that has garnered a national reputation for excellence in investigating business fraud and trial work. His investigations on behalf of people wrongfully convicted of crimes led to several million dollar settlements for clients like Dennis Maher, Scott Hornoff and Kenneth Waters, whose story was featured in the 2010 film Conviction.