Andrew Welsh-Huggins just released the sixth book in his Andy Hayes detective series, Fatal Judgment. He kindly agreed to a quick interview with BCW’s Jim Sabin to talk about it and his next project.
Your sixth Andy Hayes
book, and eighth overall, Fatal Judgment,
came out in April. Does that feeling of holding your own new book in your hands
ever get old?
If it does, it’s probably time to hang it up. It’s a moment
of accomplishment that I treasure and would hope never to take for granted.
Andy has taken on
everything from fracking to human trafficking to Islamophobia to politics.
What’s the general theme in Fatal
The plot of Fatal
Judgment revolves around Andy’s search for a local judge—who happens to be
his ex-lover—who sought out his help and then promptly disappeared. The ensuing
mystery focuses on themes of environmental destruction and the growing prevalence
of artificial intelligence and the server farms needed to power it.
Readers of your books
can legitimately say they know Columbus better after reading them – I know this
reader does. What inspired you to make Columbus the setting, and essentially a
character, in this series?
I always wanted to base a mystery series in a real locale,
but it took me a while to figure out where because my wife and I moved around a
lot early in our marriage. Once we arrived in Columbus in 1998 and burned our
moving boxes, and I learned to appreciate the city and all it had to offer, I
knew this was the place. The opportunity to give Andy an Ohio State football
background cinched the deal. And as I like to say, you can kill a lot more than
time in Columbus.
Andy is a character
who never quite stops paying for his past. Do you envision a day when his good
deeds ultimately outweigh his past mistakes in the public eye? I think
there will always be people who can’t forgive Andy for his (fictional) football-related
misdeeds, just as there are people today who still can’t forgive the Buckeyes
for their real-life loss to Michigan State in 1998, thus ruining their national
championship dreams that year. But as Andy ages and matures, and has more
adventures under his belt, I think people recognize there’s more to him than
just his wayward youth.
The Andy series isn’t
your only project at the moment. Can you tell us a little more about Columbus Noir? I’ve long been a fan
of the Akashic Books series of noir titles—books of mystery stories set in
cities across the U.S. and around the world. I was also puzzled that Ohio
wasn’t represented in that collection. I successfully pitched Columbus Noir in 2017 to Akashic, and
three years later, in March 2020, the resulting book will be out. It includes
14 dark but wonderfully written stories set across the city, with neighborhoods
including Olde Towne East, the South End, Clintonville, German Village and the
Now for the details: Where/when is your next event? My next local event is June 8, when I’ll lead a nature walk at Scioto Audubon Metro Park just south of downtown. We’ll start at the Grange Audubon Center at 505 W. Whittier St. at 11 a.m. with a few stops along the way while I read from some of the environmentally themed portions of the book. We’ll follow that with a book signing back at the center. It’s the same day as the Columbus Arts Festival, so a good opportunity to come downtown and appreciate the city.
It’s that time of year
again. No, not taxes, baseball season, Cinco de Mayo, National Scurvy
Awareness Day (May 2nd, look it up), yadda yadda. It’s the
annual Buckeye Crime Writers writing critique! Where you submit your work
to a bunch of sadistic creeps your fellow writers! To
have them pick it apart and rip it to pieces carefully read it
and offer constructive criticism! So that you can go home and cry
yourself to sleep gain useful advice and improve your writing!
Hey, wait! Hold up! Where you goin,’ Owen?
No, really, this is what
you’ve been waiting for. One of our biggest and most popular events of
the season. If you’ve been working on a manuscript, novella, short story,
rough draft, revision, whatever, this is el momento de la verdad.
The way it works:
Rule #1: submit up to roughly 10
pages (more or less) of whatever you’re working on. Send it to firstname.lastname@example.org by Wednesday,
Rule #2: if you submit, you will
then receive copies of everyone else who submits material.
Why? Because if you want to be reviewed, you also need to review.
Rule #3: meeting is Saturday,
5/11/19, 12:30 – 3:00, at the Northwest Worthington Library (2280 Hard
Road). Show up with printed copies of everything you’ve
reviewed, with your comments. After each submittal is discussed by
the group, you’ll give your copy to the particular author.
Hint: using the ‘comment’ feature in Word and then printing
submissions is an easy way of doing things. Or you can print first
and handwrite comments as you read. Your call.
Rule #4: be cool. Critique
professionally and accept critiques of your work with the same
composure. It’s all good, we’re here to help each other, and then we
all go out afterwards to eat, drink and be merry.
Here are the guidelines:
Everyone who submits a writing sample will receive all the
samples from each participant, and you’re kindly expected to provide feedback
Writing samples should be submitted in Time New Roman or Courier
font, 12 pt., with 1″ margins.
Your Name and Title should appear in the header.
Pages should be numbered and double-spaced.
So that’s it. Easy
peasy, lemon squeezy. Show your work to your peers, get some good advice
and progress as a writer. And remember: we’re taking June off (our
summer break) so you’ll have you’ll have lots of time to think, ponder and
revise as you develop that million-dollar hit with your new-found knowledge.
So come out and waste a Saturday afternoon in the literary arts with us.
And until then? Keep writing.
We had a fantastic visit in March with author and professor Katharine Weber. For our next meeting, we have another treat – author and owner of Gramercy Books Linda Kass!
Linda Kass is the founder and owner of Gramercy Books in Bexley, Ohio, an independent bookstore that opened in December of 2016. She grew up on Columbus’ east side. After receiving an MA in Journalism from Ohio State, she spent her early career as a reporter for regional and national magazines. She worked in Detroit and New York in corporate communications, then returned to Columbus three decades ago where she resumed her writing career, in both nonfiction and fiction. Her work has been published in TIME,The Detroit Free Press, Columbus Monthly, Full Grown People, and forthcoming in The MacGuffin. Her first novel, Tasa’s Song, set in eastern Poland during WWII, garnered widespread praise following its May 2016 publication. She has served, and continues to serve, in numerous leadership roles in the education, arts and literary communities, while building her bookstore into a destination for people throughout central Ohio.
Linda will join us April 20 in the Bexley Public Library, conveniently across the street from Gramercy Books. The meeting begins at 12:30 and wraps at about 2:30. We hope to see you there!
Another one of our members, board member Connie Berry, has her first book, ‘A Dream of Death,’ publishing in April! Find out more in her interview with fellow board member Kandy Williams.
KW: Ms. Connie Berry has done the near-impossible–she’s gotten a book published! Not only that, she has a contract for the sequel and has signed an agent. This is a feat that many writers aspire to, so it makes sense to begin by asking, her: Could you please share the story of your journey? How long did it take you to write your book and find an agent?
CB: I know writers who claim to have dashed off their first novel in three months. My journey took a bit longer—ten years, as a matter of fact, from the moment I first typed Chapter One until the day I signed my publishing contract with Crooked Lane Books.
My initial problem was time. Lecturing on theology by day, writing was relegated to evenings, weekends, and summers. That in itself wasn’t insurmountable. Lots of successful writers have day jobs. My biggest problem (although I didn’t recognize it at the time) was impatience — or maybe stubbornness. I just wanted to write, and worrying about peripheral stuff like story structure and pacing slowed me down. Or so I thought.
didn’t know what I didn’t know.
thing I did know: my book wasn’t ready for submission. Once I realized that
writing a good book required learning the craft, I began to educate myself.
Little by little I learned. Around Christmas of 2017, after many rounds of
revision, I decided I’d done everything I knew how to do. The following
February I attended Sleuthfest, a writers’ conference in Florida, and met my
editor, Faith Black Ross, from Crooked Lane Books. She read my manuscript and
offered me a two-book contract. With contract in hand, I contacted my agent,
Paula Munier of Talcott Notch Literary, and she took me on.
One in the Kate Hamilton Mystery series comes out in April. Book Two will be
published the following October.
KW: Now that you’ve gone through the process of writing a book–from idea to finished product–what advice would you give to writers who are still working to make the dream come true?
CB: Learn from my mistakes. Take time to learn the craft of novel writing. Writing to please yourself is a wonderful thing, but if you want to actually sell that book, you must learn what today’s publishers, agents, and readers want. Breaking the rules is okay. Not knowing the rules isn’t. Fortunately this information is readily available. Attend writers’ conferences, take online classes through Sisters in Crime and other writers’ groups. Find out what story structure is all about. Join a critique group. Find a couple of beta readers (not your spouse or your mother) who will tell you the truth. And read, read, read. Notice how authors you admire use setting, character development, point-of-view, dialogue, and description. If you need somewhere to start, I recommend Don’t Sabotage Your Submission by Chris Roerden, and Mastering Suspense, Structure & Plot by Jane K. Cleland.
KW: What can readers expect from the Kate Hamilton Mystery Series?
I hope readers will find an engaging protagonist and a mystery that keeps them
guessing until the end. Since Kate is an antiques dealer, antiques will play a
role in each book along with a sense of history. Readers who enjoy stories set
in the UK will spend time in the Scottish Hebrides and a village in rural
KW: Can you share an excerpt from A DREAM OF DEATH?
BC: I never wanted to return to Glenroth.
Three years had passed since Bill’s death, and the veneer of coping I’d laid over my grief was as thin as eggshell porcelain and every bit as breakable. It didn’t take much — the smell of the sea, hearing a snatch of a Scots accent, finding one of Bill’s distinctive doodles on a scrap of paper — and there I was, back in the land of memories and regrets.
That was the problem. On the Isle of Glenroth, memories and regrets lay as thick on the ground as yellow gorse in autumn. Still, a promise was a promise. Even one I’d never intended to keep.
“Going somewhere fun?” my mother had asked.
“Scotland. Glenroth, actually.”
There’d been a moment of tactful silence. “Sure that’s a good idea, Kate?”
Of course I wasn’t sure. Especially at the moment. Thick curtains of fog swirled across the deck of the car ferry, swallowing the landing ahead. I was the only passenger, and I’d been instructed to set my emergency brake and remain in the driver’s seat for the duration of the twenty-minute voyage. The boat lurched, and I gripped the wheel of the hatchback I’d hired at the train station in Fort William, grateful for the metal railing dividing the deck of the small craft from the icy depths of Cuillin Sound.
With a long blast of the ship’s horn, the fog parted and the Isle of Glenroth rose before me like Brigadoon materializing in the Highland mist. Trees lined the banks, their bare limbs dark and lined with snow. An old movie in black and white. The bell sounded, and I started my engine.
“Take care, lass,” the burly ferryman called through my partially open window. “Roads ’re slick.”
My second warning. The man at the car-hire desk had made a point of telling me about the “wee airly storm” that had blown through the Inner Hebrides the previous night, surprising the islanders with a layer of wet snow.
“Could I talk ye into waitin’ till mornin’?” he’d asked in a wheedling tone. When I explained that I’d learned to drive in snowy Wisconsin, he’d shrugged. “Whit’s fur ye will no go past ye.” What will be, will be.
I closed the window, tasting the salty tang of the sea on my lips. Ahead to the north, I could just make out the rocky peaks of Skye. Behind me, although I couldn’t see them, were the islands of Rúm and Eigg. The car bumped over the ramp onto solid ground.
Twenty-two hours after leaving Cleveland’s airport, I’d arrived—by plane, train, automobile, and ferryboat — on the small Hebridean island where my husband was born. And where he died.
KW: You’ve been hard at work on book 2 in the series. How different was the experience of writing that book compared to writing the first?
CB: Writing Book Two, A Legacy of Murder, took far less time because I didn’t make the mistakes I made with Book One. I plotted out the whole book in advance, so I knew where I was going and how each scene fit into the whole. Nevertheless, my characters sometimes said or did things that surprised me. That made writing an adventure.
KW: Fun question. You’re locked in a castle for an escape room-style adventure. What authors (living or deceased) would you want on your team?
CB: Obviously I’d enlist the help of John Dickson Carr, king of the locked room mystery. If he couldn’t get me out, no one could. And I’d invite Agatha Christie with her well-known eye for details and hidden clues. I’d include James W. Hall, author of the Thorn, P.I. books, would keep us all laughing. And Michael Crichton — just because he’s nice to look at.
You know, sometimes we get lucky and find a famous
writer who agrees to spend a Saturday afternoon with us. On other
occasions we’ll get a well-established professional who decides to share
their wealth of knowledge out of some personal magnanimity, altruism or
simple desire to move it forward. This time we managed to get both;
for some reason known only to the writing gods, we somehow secured for
March (wait for it) . . . Katharine Weber.
Katharine is in her 7th
year as the Richard L. Thomas Visiting Professor of Creative Writing at
Kenyon College, and previously taught at Yale and Columbia as well as
writing workshops in Paris, Mexico and Ireland. In addition, she’s
written several books praised by the New York Times, Boston Globe,
Chicago Tribune and L.A. Times. And if that’s not enough, her most
recent novel, Still Life With Monkey, made the Washington Post’s list of ’50 notable works of fiction in 2018.’
And now, on March 30th, she’s going to be speaking to BCW about crime writing in popular fiction, from books such as The Great Gatsby to the more recent Mockingjay. Touching on subjects such as what makes great crime fiction, why it’s important/enduring, how it’s influenced other genres, etcetera. So if you feel the need to jump-start your creative juices and get some fascinating insight into the history and mechanics of crime fiction, this is a no-brainer. What next? Go open up Outlook, pencil in your calendar or write on your forehead the following: Katharine Weber, Gahanna Library, Sat. 3/30/19, 12:30 – 2:30. And per usual, please feel free to hang with Katharine and the crew for lunch at a nearby restaurant afterwards, where we’ll discuss the mysteries of life (like why does the waitress always wait until you’ve got a mouthful of food to ask if you need anything), and other existential conundrums. Until then, keep writing.
In advance of the March 30 presentation, our president, Patrick Stuart, conducted an interview with Katharine Weber about her recent book Still Life With Monkey). Read on below!
PS: OK, let’s set the scene: you are Katharine Weber, the Richard L. Thomas Visiting Professor of Creative Writing at Kenyon College (who also taught at Yale and Columbia), and the author of several critically acclaimed books including Still Life With Monkey, which was picked for the Washington Post’s list of “50 notable works of fiction in 2018.” The novel involves Duncan Wheeler, an architect in Connecticut at the beginning a successful career when a horrific car crash renders him a quadriplegic, not to mention killing his young apprentice. Duncan’s wife Laura discovers an organization in New England that trains capuchin monkeys as helpers for people with spinal cord injuries, and they adopt Ottoline to help with Duncan’s daily needs (turning pages, picking up dropped items, etc.). So how did you come up with the storyline?
KW: A friend from high school, Andy Zerman, one of the book’s dedicatees, became a quadriplegic some 25 years ago in a boating accident that took someone else’s life. His circumstances and choices in life are completely different from Duncan (Andy was a gay Broadway show casting director, who lived and worked and continued to work for many years after his accident in New York City). But Andy’s situation, and the day to day needs, were familiar to me. I first heard about monkey helpers long ago. As a novelist, sometimes the spark that ignites is the juxtaposition, no matter how unlikely, of two separate things that I find intriguing and filled with narrative possibility. For me, developing plans for a novel is never one single moment of aha! but the gradual accumulation of ideas and situations, many aha!s, and then comes the gathering feeling of the need to bear down on something particular in a particular way. Andy died in January, very unexpectedly. I am very glad I had seen him just a couple of weeks before, and that he lived to see publication of a book dedicated to him. He was an avid reader and he was very willing to answer questions from me about everything from the function of a tenododisis grip (which he called his “teena” — I can show you what this is and why it matters with damaged hand function) to his depression when he was first recovering from the accident — he told himself “I’m going to give this a year.” That was an aha! moment for me — my ticking clock! All fiction needs a ticking clock.
PS: Full disclosure: I have an architectural background (as well as a son named Duncan), so this novel hit home for me. The amount of detail in Duncan’s background is spot on (well beyond the typical Wikipedia/Google search), as well as an important part of his character. A similar amount of detail was evident with the fictitious Primate Institute where Ottoline was trained (based on an actual organization), Laura’s job as an art curator, and other areas. Exposition is important in establishing realism in a story; what’s your process for gathering such detailed background information?
KW: Wikipedia? Please! For one thing, I worked in an architecture office (Richard Meier) as a ghostwriter and general office and archive clerk of the works. I have intimate knowledge of art restoration. I read deeply into monkey behavior studies, and I spent time behind the scenes at Monkey College, where Helping Hands, in Cambridge Mass, trains capuchin monkeys. They are the real thing on which my fictional Primate Institute is based. When I don’t have personal knowledge, I certainly do read deeply, but I also ask people questions, I delve into the personal relationships with professions or circumstances as much or more than I gather concrete information. If you operated a garbage truck I would want craziest/best/worst/stories, I would want to know if you dream about your work, as much as I would want to know how you actually operate the truck.
PS: The novel shifts perspectives between Duncan, Ottoline, his wife Laura and his twin brother Gordon. There isn’t so much a linear path as several views from different vantage points. Was this intentional or did the story structure grow this way organically?
KW: It was both intentional and organic. I am not being coy. I very much wanted to write in the close third person, what kids these days call free indirect discourse. Most of my previous novels depend on first person narrative much of the time, and here the only true first person narrative comes late, in Duncan’s long farewell letter to Laura. The close third person isn’t limited to one point of view as much as a first person story really is. I also wanted to write in a male perspective, which I have not done before.
PS: (Spoiler alert to readers: this question involves the ending): Duncan’s identical twin brother Gordon is the polar opposite of Duncan’s personality. Whereas Duncan is independent, Gordon is dependent on everyone around him. Duncan is controlling and driven to succeed, whereas Gordon prefers his daily routine and is a bit of a ‘squish,’ etc.. But after the accident they seem to switch places, and Duncan is forced to rely on others as Gordon steps up to become more responsible for his brother. Duncan can’t make the adjustment and eventually takes his own life; definitely a tough subject, but in Duncan’s eyes he did what he thought was right. Was this always Duncan’s ending, and how did their dichotomy play a part in his decision?
KW: I am very interested in copies, mirror images, matched pairs that can never really be perfectly matched. We can discuss the role of these twins, the way Duncan isn’t content at all, and maybe despite his enjoyment of all sorts of things he was never fully content, given his deeply hidden (from himself too) homoerotic attraction to Todd, while Gordon is content with his life in ways others don’t recognize. What is a successful life? Gordon and Duncan would define very differently. I am interested in the limits of how much we ever really know about other people, what we think we know, the difference between the inner life and the outer life.
PS: Chekhov came up with that great quote about a gun being shown in the first act of a play necessitating firing by the second act. One potentially unfired gun in SLWM (in my highly subjective opinion) involved Todd Walker, the apprentice killed in the car crash. There appeared to be something beyond a working relationship developing between Duncan and Todd. But then the accident happened and the issue kind of disappeared. Intentional? Unintentional?
KW: It didn’t disappear. It drove Duncan’s desire to end his life. Nothing unintentional here. Just subtle. Starting with the scene riding back on the ferry, with Duncan gazing at Todd (a close paraphrase of a scene in Death in Venice, when Von Aschenbach is gazing at Tadzio (Todd, todt = death in German).
PS: And lastly, in a blatant rip-off of James Lipton and his t.v. series Inside the Actors Studio, what is a) your favorite word, and b) your favorite (literary) curse word?
KW: My favorite words may vary from one day to the next, but today:
Favorite word: lunch
Favorite literary curse word(s): numpty fuckwit (I spend a lot of time in England and Ireland)
Buckeye Crime Writers member Dan Stout’s first novel, ‘Titanshade,’ is slated for release on March 12. He answered a few questions from BCW in advance of the release.
You recently Tweeted
out a photo of you holding a stack of copies of your first book, Titanshade. When they arrived, can you
even begin to describe what that moment felt like?
It was a pretty great feeling! There’s something much more
concrete about the final product, even after seeing ARCs and proofs. But if I’m
being honest, the real thrill is when I know that someone else has a copy and
is getting ready to start reading. Because love it or hate it, they’ll be
engaging with it. And once it’s in their head, it’ll stay there as an
influence, no matter how subtle.
For me, that bit of cultural engagement is the real magic in
any art, from literature to film to sculpture and more.
You not only wrote a
detective story, you set it in a different world, where sorcerers, eight-tracks
and disco are all the rage. What prompted you to create that kind of setting?
When I was a kid reading Tolkien’s LORD OF THE RINGS, I used
to wonder what someplace like Middle Earth would look like when the inhabitants
began to develop technology. Eventually, they’d have their own industrial
revolution, and then increased urbanization. And that in turn would require a
centralized infrastructure and emergency services like fire and police
departments. And of course, police departments mean police investigations. Add
in the fact that fantastic creatures and magic are still around, and it’s a
pretty fun sandbox to play in.
Tell us about your
main character, Carter. How difficult was he to conceive, and then to let grow?
Carter’s voice came to me along with the core of the story.
The trickier part was understanding the many ways in which he fails to
understand the world around him. He’s a very observant person, but he has major
blind spots. These are pointed out by those who support his case, and exploited
by those who don’t.
Once I understood both his strengths and weaknesses, I was
able to see the choices he’d make in a given situation. And from there,
everything kind of fell into place.
How did you come up
with the concept behind Titanshade?
I was a member of a writers’ website called Liberty Hall.
There, once a week, a hidden prompt would be posted. If you viewed the post, a
90 minute timer would start to count down, and you’d have that long to write a
story and post it to the site. All the stories were anonymized, and everyone
who took part in that week’s challenge would give feedback. What was brilliant
about the system was the time limit: you didn’t have time to second guess
yourself, and the time frame meant that everyone understood that most of the
submissions would be preliminary sketches at best. TITANSHADE came out of one
of those challenges; I got the set-up and murder scene, along with a basic arc
of the plot.
How long did it take
you to write it?
It was almost exactly two years from writing the first
sentence to my agent going out on submission with it. Of course, there were
more edits after that, and in some ways I continue to add layers to the world and
its inhabitants, so I don’t know that I’ll ever really be done writing that
What advice do you
have for other writers who are still working to get their first books
Be as honest as you possibly can. Talk about the world as
you know it, and tell stories about characters who behave in the most authentic
way possible. (Even if that’s being authentically dishonest.)
When you’re honest about the truths you believe, and your
characters have their own worldview, your stories will resonate with readers.
From there, it’s just a numbers game before you have the audience you need to
keep on going.
When does the book
come out, and where can people buy it?
It comes out March 12th, 2019. It will be available in most book stores and libraries, and if they don’t have it, they can order you a copy! If you prefer to get your books online, it will be available at all major online vendors. The audio version releases at the same time, and will be available at all those spots, as well as on Audible. Links to all those sellers can be found on my website (DanStout.com).
Thank you so much for the opportunity to talk about my book
and my publishing journey!
Hi, everyone! Did you enjoy our first winter blast? Ready for the next one? The good thing about all that snow is, it’s a great time to stay at home and get some writing done.
And if you happen to be writing a murder mystery, and someone happens to get, ahem, poisoned, then our next event is right up your alley.
Dan Baker is the Chief Toxicologist at the Franklin County Coroner’s Office. Mr. Baker earned a Bachelor of Science in Forensic Science from Youngstown State University, a Master of Science in Pharmacology & Toxicology and a Graduate Certificate in Chemical, Biological, Radiological, and Nuclear Defense from Wright State University, Boonshoft School of Medicine. Mr. Baker is a Board Certified Fellow in Forensic Toxicology by the American Board of Forensic Toxicology. Mr. Baker has co-authored publications in The Journal of Analytical Toxicology, Case Reports in Medicine, and the journal Clinical Toxicology on subjects such as opioid related deaths, novel psychoactive substances, carbamazepine metabolism, and fentanyl intoxication. Mr. Baker has 18 years’ experience in various toxicology specialties including postmortem toxicology, human performance toxicology, pre-employment drug screening, probation/parole compliance drug testing, and professional sports doping control.
This event will be held Feb. 16 at the Bexley Library. So please, join us, and… BYOB! 😉 (But seriously, folks – this is a public library, so make sure it’s non-alcoholic. Just in case!)
On March 30, we have Katharine Weber, the Richard Thomas Visiting Professor of Creative Writing at Kenyon College. She’ll be with us on March 30 in the meeting room of the Gahanna Library. And April 20, Linda Kass, founder and owner of Gramercy Books, is coming to visit.
As always, our meetings are from 12:30 to 3 p.m., with a lunch afterward in which we ask our guests all the questions we were afraid to ask them in front of people, but are perfectly fine with discussing over, say, food. Mark your calendars!
I’m a sucker for good books (big surprise). I’m an even bigger sucker for origin stories of authors who managed to get published under trying circumstances, usually involving some combination of talent, grit, happenstance and fairy dust. Case in point; John Kennedy Toole and “A Confederacy of Dunces.” Donald Ray Pollock and “Knockemstiff.” Lucia Berlin and “A Manual for Cleaning Women.” Or William Gay and “The Long Home.” But now it’s time to add another: Nico Walker, debut author of the autobiographical novel “Cherry.”
In 2003 Walker, at 19 years old and by all accounts a good kid from a wealthy Cleveland suburb, bouncing around in a dive band and toying with college, decided to enlist in the Army. He went to Iraq as a medic, got dumped in one of the worst parts of the war, and experienced daily exposure to some basically horrific shit. Walker returned with undiagnosed PTSD and went on to self-medicate with Oxycontin and heroin. To pay for his new habit, he became a bank robber. And for four months, he confounded police by robbing several banks for a total of about $40,000. Until the 11th bank turned into an 11-year sentence at a federal prison in Ashland, Kentucky (expected release date: 2024).
After becoming incarcerated, however, Walker’s story wound up in a long Buzzfeed article, where a small publisher ran across it. The publisher started a correspondence and asked him to write some pages. Realizing there was a bigger story in the making, the small publisher got a bigger publisher involved (Knopf Doubleday), and over a few years Knopf and Walker corresponded via typewritten pages and scheduled 15-minute prison phone calls. Long story short (pun intended, ha), a novel was born.
Here’s the kicker: “Cherry” is actually good. Keep in mind that the novel is essentially Walker’s life, with a first-person protagonist who closely follows his experiences in Cleveland, Iraq, then Cleveland again. Which makes for some intense reading that easily could’ve become a muddled, grueling and hyperbolic mess. But Walker’s protagonist is a combination of honest, funny, kind and depressing. The writing, despite the rawness of the material, is surprisingly tender and sweet. And much of the detail, especially involving military and drug culture, rings brutally realistic. But if you want an abject lesson in how to capture voice, holy mother of . . . this book could be taught at MFA programs. It’s that good. Keep in mind: “Cherry” is harsh, profane and deals with tough subjects. It’s not for everyone. But if you’re willing to take a chance, this will stick with you like a bad addiction.
(Cherry, by Nico Walker, Knopf
Doubleday, pub. 2018)
Congratulations to this year’s winners of our flash fiction contest! The writers had 200 words to incorporate five words – icicle, sleigh, batter, regift and pine, or variations thereof – into a delightful little murder mystery. Our esteemed panel then narrowed down the field, and the winners were Alicia Anthony (first prize) and Eileen Curley Hammond. Congratulations! Here are their stories:
The Elf’s Revenge, by Alicia Anthony
The scent of pine assaulted my nose. Why these idiots kept moving me around, forcing me into embarrassing positions – sometimes involving a Barbie doll – I’ll never understand. Tonight I sat immobile in the center of the wreath, a prickly spike of evergreen stabbing me in the ass. Humans were ridiculously brutal, battering my arms and legs this way and that, turning and twisting them into whatever position they deemed worthy of Facebook.
Mr. C couldn’t
have had this in mind when he assigned this mission. The Elf Workers Union had
filed complaints, but so far, the big guy just, “Ho, ho, hoed,” his way out of
the conversation. The world would regret ignoring us, manipulating us, regifting us when kids got
too old. Tonight, I’d end the abuse.
I swung from the wreath and onto the mantle, sliding in my red onesie down the fancy woodwork to the floor below. The thump of sleigh runners against the roof launched me into a sprint. I yanked an ornament from the Christmas tree before tucking myself among the logs in the darkened fireplace. I braced the ornament between my hands. Exhilaration mounted. The metallic icicle speared straight up, waiting for its target.
(Untitled), by Eileen Curley Hammond
The twelve-inch icicle glistened in the sun. Fat
water droplets slid down its length, falling to the bluestone patio far below.
I shivered as I shut the window. There was so much left to be done. Michael was
in the living room, feet up, watching a rerun of the World Series win. I
squinted at the TV. Derek Jeter was the batter.
I picked up the wooden
sleigh and some ribbon. With a quick bow, hot glue gun, and several pine cones,
a passable centerpiece stood complete. The punch bowl landed on the table,
surrounded by small cut crystal glasses. I glared at Michael. “Some help would
He grunted, “Where’s my
“Probably puffing away outside.
Would you please find her? It’s not like you don’t know the ending.” He hit
pause and ran down the stairs.
I lifted the bright yellow
scarf from Aunt Margaret. Definitely not my color. I slid it back into the box
and wrapped it. Nothing wrong with a quick regift. Sort of like the thirty
Michael yelled from
downstairs. “Come quick. It’s my sister. She’s outside. I’m not sure what
happened, but she’s dead.”
Okay, okay, as of this writing, it is still 2018, but hey, close enough for horseshoes, hand grenades and crime writers! Thanks to all who came out to our holiday party, and congratulations to Alicia Anthony, who came away with the “top prize” for the flash fiction contest, and Eileen Hammond, who took second! All the contestants read their stories out loud, and fortunately for us, our waiter was intrigued by what we wrote, and did not call 911 as we described in eloquent yet brief detail how various, er, beings were killed. For the winning stories, check out our blog. Please wait at least 10 minutes after the posting of this update! 😉
So, now, on to 2019! We have some good programs already lined up. We’re starting not with our own program, but with our annual appearance at The Write Stuff at the Upper Arlington Library. This is always a great event, and registration is now open, so check it out – and us, while you’re there!
After that, on Feb. 16, we have an actual, bonafide, toxicologist coming to visit! It’s Dan Baker, M.A., Chief Toxicologist at the Franklin County Coroner’s Office. We’re still pinning down the location, so stay tuned to this space for updates!
For March, we have Katharine Weber, the Richard Thomas Visiting Professor of Creative Writing at Kenyon College. She’ll be with us on March 30. The location is pending.
As always, our meetings are from 12:30 to 3 p.m., with a lunch afterward in which we ask our guests all the questions we were afraid to ask them in front of people, but are perfectly fine with discussing over, say, food.
So that’s what’s on tap for the first quarter of 2019! See you soon!