Thursday, September 27, 2018

Ink-Quisitions with Chris Ingram

Q. Like your father “Big” Dan Ingram—whose voice filled the airwaves at WABC New York for decades, you’ve also spent most of your professional life in radio. But much of your radio work involved writing, editing, and producing for CBS News. How did your fiction writing life evolve? And what are the emotions and motivations that drew you to writing fiction?
A. I think I’ve been a fiction writer as long as I’ve been able to express myself. At least since I read Moby Dick in my bed by the hallway light in third grade. In fact, my father called me “another Clifford Irving” on one of those notes I had to write about a playground incident at school. You know: the kind you had to write and have your parent sign before handing it in to the principal. I took it as a compliment.
Working behind the scenes in radio provided me a way to connect with my father without seeming to imitate him. He made a career out of being a wise-ass, and I wanted a chance at the same. I also clearly wanted a closer connection with him. As you note, he was highly successful. No one reaches the heights he attained without sacrificing a portion of his home life. Most children of famous people experience that. And I grew up in a family of eight kids. It makes sense one of us would follow him into the business. In fact, I wrote a historical novel, “HEY KEMOSABE! THE DAYS (AND NIGHTS) OF A RADIO IDYLL about him and New York radio.
I think I learned I could actually write in high school, at Cushing Academy in Massachusetts. I found a very nurturing home there, and began to find my voice. Watching Linda Ellerbee on late night TV while working as a night motel manager sparked an appreciation for the art of writing tight, concise, yet expressive copy. More recently, while living in Florida and helping care for my dad, I was able to carve out the time to devote myself to the craft of fiction. Then my brother offered to let me live in his home and write full-time. It’s been an unimaginable blessing, as I’m sure you understand.
Q. Your debut mystery novel THE REDHEAD IS DEAD was Co-written with Donna Rheaume. Please tell us a bit about Donna—and how the two of you teamed up to collaborate?
A. Donna is one of my dearest friends. We worked together in the crucible of all-news radio in Boston back in the 1980s. We often participate in wide-ranging long-distance conversations over drinks; phonetails, we call them. She was living in Boston, in a tiny Beacon Street apartment, and the upstairs neighbor made way too much noise. We joked about it, and she even went up a few times to plead for peace—or at the very least that the neighbor would remove her shoes or buy a rug.
That’s where I came up with the first chapter of the Redhead Detective. Donna is the inspiration for the protagonist. Since we both worked in news together in Boston, it made sense for the character to exist in that world. I took a few elements from her life and melded them with my twisted imagination into a story. Since I based so much of the book on her fictionalized experiences, Donna is credited as a co-author. And the Redhead’s name is Donna Rand.
Q. You recently remarked that writing in radio newsrooms under incredibly intense deadlines helped shape the way you write today. Can you share some specific examples—ideally involving THE READHEAD?
A. When you’re writing in a newsroom, whether it’s in a tiny, unrated market or at the major broadcast network level, deadline pressure is extreme. So are the distractions. I found while writing THE REDHEAD IS DEAD that if I was working in a quiet space, the slightest noise could sometimes distract me. Hearing a car squeal its wheels would get me out of my seat wondering what was going on out there. However, if I was writing in a public space, like a coffee shop or my local bookstore, a troop of monkeys could shatter a dozen glasses behind me, and the noise would just be absorbed by the rest of the din. I can, of course, write in silence; I just prefer a little background noise.
I’ve also found that writer’s block just doesn’t exist for me. If you sit down four minutes before air time to describe a momentous story of national or world implications in four sentences, you can’t say “I’m blocked.” You push through. I’m fortunate that that ethos seems to have stayed with me. I have written every day, save a few here and there while traveling, for the past several years. If I’m feeling disconnected with one piece, I take up another. Between novels, Flash Fiction, Micro-fiction, and poetry, there’s always something that needs work.
Q. THE REDHEAD has earned a Reader’s Favorite Five Start distinction on Amazon. Congrats. Does this mean every reader who reviewed your book on Amazon gave the Redhead five stars?
A. Nah, it just means I sent it to a website that reviews books for free and the reviewer was kind to me.
Q. I’m curious to learn more about the Redhead—but since you’re the only writer I know who ultimately decided to self-publish on Amazon, let’s talk about that. Can you describe the road you took after breathing life into the Redhead—and sought to unleash her on the World?
A. THE REDHEAD IS DEAD is something that really surprised me. Though I’ve always enjoyed a good mystery, I never considered myself a “mystery writer.” I just found that the more I wrote, the more the book wrote itself. That is, every time I crafted a twist, a new turn just seemed to open itself up to me. I found that writing a mystery is a much more task-oriented project. If I’m writing a Flash Fiction piece, for instance, I can let my imagination roam until it settles on an image. That in turn gets fleshed out as I try to create a context, and eventually, with any luck, a complete stand-alone story emerges.
With THE REDHEAD, I sat down every day and had to plot out a path for Donna Rand to get out of whatever mess I’d placed her in the day before. Of course, there was plenty of rumination overnight. I found that “writing to completion” really applies; I made sure I stayed at it until I had set up a circumstance that would require and inspire the next conflict. That translated into a fairly productive rate of five hundred to a thousand words or more a day.
The result was a full blown trilogy: THE REDHEAD IS DEAD, THE REDHEAD RISES, and REDHEAD RESURRECTED. As I was creating the second book and then the third, I followed the traditional path, querying publishers and agents, and waiting. And waiting. By the time the trilogy was complete, I was tired of waiting six months or more to hear back on every query—though maybe impatient is a more accurate term.
That’s not a complaint; I know they’re swamped by piles of books and queries. And the fact that the old system hasn’t collapsed under its own weight is a tribute to the efforts of all the slush-pile readers of the publishing world. But then I happened to hear about Amazon’s Kindle Direct program, and thought, Why not? In the end, I think my experience can serve as a cautionary tale for any writer, because though I did go through with the process, there are a few things I would have done differently.
Q. Ah, now we’re getting to the reasons why you’ve been strapped to this wooden wrack. So time to stop hinting—and start spilling your guts, amigo.
A: Let me put it this way: Larry McCoy, my friend and former boss at CBS News Radio says, “Everybody needs an editor.” In fact, he wrote a book by that title. The support you receive from a publishing company—whether traditional or self-publishing—just isn’t there with Kindle Direct. And that’s not a knock on them; they don’t claim to offer editing or any real promotional help. And for me, no matter how many passes I make through my own work, I always benefit greatly from the perspective of another person’s questioning eye.
Formatting is also an issue. I am in no way a computer expert. I used the software they promoted, and while it looks fine, I’m certain the input of someone with a higher level of expertise could have made it better.
And that’s the main lesson from my experience. Kindle Direct is great for instant gratification. You can get your work “out there” in a day or two. But you’re on your own. You have to edit, format, and at least as importantly, promote the book yourself. That’s why I’m often on Facebook trying to gain “clicks,” and, with luck, purchases. But if you’re not a natural salesman—and I am not—then it can feel awkward, and I know I could probably do much better.
On the business side of things, I have no complaints. As far as I can tell, the contract is crystal clear and I retain all rights to the book. So if at any time, I choose another route, I can take my book down and reissue it any way I wish. Amazon also seems to have made the book available as agreed, and I’ve had some decent feedback.
I long ago stopped trying to figure out the equations they use to determine rank, or why they’ll sometimes put “only two copies remaining,” or such nonsense on the ordering page. But I don’t think I, or the book has been harmed in any way.
I have to admit: deciding to use Kindle Direct was driven by a real sense of “let’s stick it to the man”—which is ironic, of course, because Amazon is the world’s largest retailer—and Amazon founder Jeff Bezos is the man” now. But Amazon offers us writers the ability to take things into our own hands. We don’t have to wait months or more, hoping that someone will drag the fruits of our fevered labors off a slush-pile, and then actually like it. We’re banging that baby out like tomorrow’s newspaper, ready to reload and do it again tomorrow. There’s something exciting about that, especially to an old newsman.
But if you notice, I haven’t taken the same route with the second and third books in the series. I eventually got some very useful input from an agent about “THE REDHEAD IS DEAD,” and I intend to apply this advice to the book soon. With any luck, I’ll get representation, and go the traditional route. That’s not to say I won’t ever go with Kindle Direct again. But if I do, I’ll invest in an editor, and learn more about formatics—as well as sales promotion.
Q. Speaking of “banging things,” I first discovered your work in writer-singer Nancy Stolhman’s Facebook group Flash Fiction Lovers. Besides your flash story, “Redemption”—in which a World War II soldier by the name of Walter earns himself the distinction of “hounding the local girls for a bang beside the hedgerow”—your micro-fiction has also been published in online and print publications. Your poetry has appeared or is forthcoming at The Lock Raven Review and Bloodbond Magazine. And your ghost story: “Another Dead Man’s Curve” is featured in the well-regarded anthology SECRET STAIRS.
So what can we expect Chris Ingram to bang out next?
A. Oh, lots of things. Among them, I’m in the editing stages of two larger pieces. The bigger one is a novel about an engineer at a big New York City radio station in the mid-1960s, who’s going blind just as he meets the love of his life. Their adventure takes them to Castro’s Cuba as they follow the leads of a centuries-old mystery involving her ancestor, the pirate Diabolito, and a buried treasure that may or may not exist.
The second is a sci-fi/satirical novella set in Florida about what happens when rising sea levels render much of the country into two societies: the wealthy and connected who live in elevated cities, and the forgotten poor who survive on the upper floors of inundated motels and condo complexes.
Oh, and there’s a little matter of a dozen astronauts marooned on the Moon by a fanatical and capricious authoritarian government. Fun stuff. I’m also at work on a somewhat disturbing flash fiction piece about a neglectful dad and his son who find themselves in a car, sinking in the East River. And there’s always the poetry.
Q. Okay, let’s close with some serious shit: since you studied beer at Syracuse University—and since none of the other writers in this Ink-Quisition series have presently lived in Boston—if you were having actual drinks with Donna Rheaume, what are the top three places in Boston where you’d invite us to chill with y’all?
A. I haven’t been there yet, but they’ve apparently turned the old Charles Street Jail into a hotel/bar complex. The bar names reflect the locale. There’s Liberty, CLINK, Alibi—you get the picture. Donna says it’s a hoot. I’m guessing overpriced though. Back in the day I used to stop at a food stand just outside the jail for greasy food at three a.m.
I always liked the Pourhouse on Boylston Street. And the Silhouette Lounge is a great old dive in Allston. The Red Hat, around the corner from Boston City Hall has always been a good spot to spy politicians and newspaper folks—or avoid them.
And you can learn more about his work (including Links to some of his published stories) by venturing to his website:

Friday, September 21, 2018

Known Associates by Beau Johnson

Known Associates

Hang on; lemme swing this chair around.  

Okay.  There.  Now as I said, I have a story to tell.  It’s not my story, it’s not your story, but we’ve become a part of it regardless.  Call it chance or fate or whatever the fuck you want, but be sure, we are ingredients and nothing more.  You ready then?  Good.  Time to fuckin’ do this!
The first time I meet Bishop Rider he puts the back of Marty Abrum’ s head through the front of his nose in the restaurant I’m working at.  I’m a busboy slash dishwasher at this restaurant and had been bussing tables the night this shit goes down.  Before Abrum’s head becomes part of his pasta Rider takes out the other three guys surrounding Marty in a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it kind of scenario.  I mean, just pop, pop, pop, and then a whole buncha screams from all the other guests as they go and say their whatnots to the floor.  Next comes the shotgun, pulled from an overcoat as dark as the big man’s hair.  Sawed off, Rider places it downwards on the back of Marty’s thin head.  I hear for my sister and then BOOM, bone and marinara sauce become two great tastes that taste great together.

You old enough to remember that one, Richie?
Anyway…do I do anything?  Sure I do.  Pretty sure I stand as still as I possibly can as my mouth does its best impression of a cave.  I mean, the heat offa this guy, the anger, it came in shimmers I thought I could fucking see.  And you’ve heard the stories, I know you have, about how the Abrum brothers abducted or had someone abduct Rider’s sister and mother and then had the mother killed while the sister is fucked to death by a buncha oversized dudes in masks.  Fucked to death?  I know.  Can you imagine?  It’s what the brothers were into though, and making what I’m told they called their “special films.”  How April and Maggie Rider become involved with what usually only consisted of smuggled Mexican women I guess we’ll never know.
Or perhaps we will.  I mean, it is just us here, right?
Brings me to the second time I meet Bishop Rider.  The dude comes out from the shadows as I’m putting my key to the lock of my place.  Almost gives me a goddamn heart attack is what this does.  He’s as big as I remember him and twice as fucking angry.  And yes, yes, to look at he reminds you of Frank Castle, minus a skull on his chest of course, but whereas that bulldozer of a fuck is a work of fiction this former cop is as real as the meat shovel he has up around my neck.  Against the wall, he begins to ask me things, Richie, people things, and then known associates goes and enters the conversation.  
Now why, pray tell, would something like this happen, Richie?
Could it involve something you might want to get off your chest?
S’okay.  I think we’ll leave the gag right where it is.  Truth be told, I got this.  You see, once I realized what the man was on about, well, you know me and you, we ain’t ever been the tightest of compadres, but we’ve been alright with one another.  Small jobs here and there but never with nobody ever getting hurt.  This is me, always has been me.  I might be soft for it, sure, but it has always allowed me to sleep at night.  You, though?  You went and upgraded yourself to the big leagues, didn’t you?  
What I mean to say is this: Was there anyone else with you in the van that day?  A simple nod will do.  Richie? Honor among thieves, really?  You know that’s just a buncha made up bullshit the movies would have you believe.  

He found surveillance, Richie.  

He knows your brother was with you when it went down.  

I’ve also seen the footage and I see the predicament you found yourself in.  I’m guessing the Mexican girls in the back of the van somehow jimmy the lock from the inside.  Good for them.  Seriously.  But I also see that Bishop’s sister has parked too close to the back of your van, the arms of the women trying to escape the only appendages coming to see the light of day.  You shoulda took off is what I think you should have done, but no, you herd the sister and the mother into the van at gunpoint and now here we are, you on your couch and me in your face. Effectively, you and your brother put this entire thing in motion.  You see that?  Sure, the reins were taken over by the Abrum boys once the situation was brought to their attention, but you guys, you are the ones responsible for what it unleashed. 
Brings us to now, the fourth time I meet Bishop Rider.  Didn’t even hear them big black boots come up behind you, did you, Richie?  And yes, that object you feel is exactly what you think it is; the very same shotgun I told you about earlier.  Seems to be pointing a little lower than it did on Marty Abrum, I think, perhaps into the small of your neck it looks like. You know what that means?  Means your face and acrobats are about to have more than a whole lot in common.  Before we paint the coffee table though…before we do I think it might be fair for you to hear about the third time Bishop Rider enters my life.  I mean, in the bigger scheme of things, I can see it being pertinent to what’s about to unfold.  It’s not much, not really, but sometimes not much is all you ever truly need.
I meet Batista, Rider’s contact on the inside, and it’s here that three like-minded individuals decide to take it upon themselves to do what most in this world will not. 
Last thing, Richie: once you’ve caught up to him, tell your brother we made good on our word.  His dogs, they ate like kings.


Bio Beau Johnson has been published before, usually on the darker side of town.  Such fine establishments might include Out of the Gutter Online, Shotgun Honey, Spelk Fiction, and HST.  Come August 2017, a collection of Beau's shorts titled A Better Kind of Hate will be released by Down And Out Books.  Once that happens, perhaps he'll take the hint and stop with the dancing.  If yer so inclined you can connect with him at the usual hangouts, Facebook and Instagram.  He is also new to twitter @beaujohnson44 where he fails at tweeting spectacularly.

Monday, September 17, 2018

Man of the House by Billy Dennis

Man of the House

The lamp near where the man sat had been covered in scarves, its light muted, casting wild shadows against the wall. The boy stood out in the hallway, his ragged shirt torn, nearly falling from his slight frame. Blood trickled from his nose as he watched the man. The boy stood stock-still, not moving even to wipe wet blood that he could now taste. 
On the bed next to the man was a woman.  She lay still in the low light, the bottom of her nightdress soaked black by blood and offal. The boy could not see well enough to tell whether she still breathed. The man in the chair wept beside the bed and spoke to the woman in low whispers that the boy could not make out. 
When the man noticed the boy standing in the hall, he rose from his chair. The boy’s hand rose with him. In his hand, the boy clutched his father’s revolver, the same .357 his father had taught him on last summer. The boy held it still despite its weight, and with the other hand drew back its hammer with his thumb, it clicking in to place. 
When the man spoke, the boy fired. The boy’s ears rang, and the man slumped back against the wall, blood coloring it crimson as he fell to the floor beside the bed. The lamp toppled with him, losing its scarves and shade. The boy walked around the bed to where the man lay wheezing, a neat hole in his chest, blood slowly starting to pool around him. Farther up still, the boy inched until he could reach the woman. 
A hand flailed about the boy’s ankle. The boy put his hands on the wall for leverage and kicked the man in the side—again and again—each kick harder than the last. The man coughed and gurgled, thick bright blood spewing from his mouth. 
The boy turned back to the woman and laid a hand on her chest. He held it there a time. When he was certain, he squatted down and pressed the nozzle of the revolver to the man’s nose and fired once more. The pistol bucked hard and mists of blood freckled the boy’s face. He dropped the gun, took one last look at the woman, walked out and shut the door.

The boy walked to the living room and sat on the couch. He picked up the phone on the table next to him and dialed. “Yeah.” There was a short wait. “Yeah. Jimmy. Yeah. Dolan. Mom and Dad are dead. Yeah. Yeah. Dad did. Yeah. He’s dead too, yeah. Yeah, I’m sure. I shot him. No. Okay. All right.” 
Jimmy sat on the couch a few minutes longer, looking about the room, at the pictures on the floor, the overturned furniture, the holes in the walls from his father’s fists; and then he stood up, walked to the TV, cranked the dial until he found Saturday morning cartoons, and then he sat back down on the couch and waited for the police, his face still freckled. 


Bio Billy Dennis grew up in the Shangri-La of North Texas, Mesquite, a place known for its outlaw roots. Billy’s first occupation in life was that of a PGA golf professional, but after a collision with drunk driver, he found himself back in college at thirty-five, with an amputated leg. After attending Eastfield College for two years, he earned a full scholarship to the University of Texas at Dallas based on his writing, graduating with a Bachelor’s in Creative Writing. Billy is also fiction student with Writing Workshops Dallas, where he continues to learn and grow in the craft under the guidance of his mentor Blake Kimzey. In 2014, Billy won the prestigious Eleanor Jones Award in Creative Writing. His work has been published in the Dallas Morning News, The Et Cetera, The Alternative Magazine, and various other outlets.  

He currently lives in Carrollton, Texas with his beautiful and supportive wife, Margot, and their beagle Abby. The best novels he’s read this year were Where All Light Tends to Go and Weight of This World by David Joy, with Don Winslow’s The Force as a close runner-up. At the time of this submission, he was reading Wiley Cash’s celebrated novel A Land More Kind Than Home. 
You can find Billy on Twitter @PlebeianCritic and his website