Friday, March 02, 2018

The Long and Short of It

March 2, 2018, and I have to say that this year already has been unique.  I don’t intend to go over all the stuff that has happened in the past couple of months; suffice to say it’s been a roller coaster ride that included my mother's passing, a torn rotator cuff, back spasms, a quick turnaround and deadline for my next novel, and publication of two short stories. 

Plus, I wrote like a monkey on meth.

This is the life I wanted, the space I created for myself.  I retired from my other life in 2014.  Now I consider myself a full-time writer, if there is such a thing. 

My next novel should be published in September, 2018. I finished it and sent it to Arte Público on February 28.  Now I wait.

The publisher can reject my submission, so the possibility exists that a new book will not come out this year.  But let’s think positive, okay?

Many writers exist in the shadow of rejection; we perpetually seek approval from editors, publishers and readers.  We create in isolation, alone with our ideas, characters, and grammar rules.  We crave silence, solitude, a womb away from interference. When we finish, we crave attention, someone to look at our words and approve.  But even when we get such approval, there remains the uncertainty of the next review, or reader comment, or editor query.

Writers accept life on a tightrope of confidence because we know there is nothing more satisfying than finding the perfect word, building the exact sentence needed to push the story forward, or creating a paragraph that says exactly what we wanted it to say.  The right words are our Mona Lisa, our Hamlet, our Maybelline.

I just realized that I appear to speak for all writers.  Of course, I don’t.  I’m talking about my own experiences, my own life as a writer.  However, if the shoe fits, let me know.

The new book has a working title of The Golden Night of Havana:  A Sherlock Homie Adventure.  Gus Corral, from my previous noir novels Desperado and My Bad, is the main character.  The action takes place in Denver and Cuba.  The story has baseball references, murder, Cuban saints and sinners, private eye angst, police redemption, murder, bad family dynamics, murder, and hot, raw vivid sex. 

Not really, that was just to see if you’re paying attention.

Last year, I published Night in Tunisia, a short story included in the anthology Blood Business (Mario Acevedo and Joshua Viola, eds., Hex Publishers, 2017.) The germ of an idea for this story attached itself to me a while back.  Hex Publishers allowed that germ to germinate into a crime story with an off-beat.  Speaking of which:  I’ll give an autographed book to the first person who contacts me through my website and explains the title of the story.

Here’s a taste from Night in Tunisia:

The ski-masked pair tore through the place with nervous energy and iron focus.  They took our wallets, watches and weapons and smashed the face of anyone who stalled or tried to run.

I donated fifty bucks, but that wasn’t enough.  They lifted a silver bracelet my mother gave me when I finished high school, fifteen years ago. She paid a day’s wages for engraving: ORGULLOSO DE TI HIJO. I rarely wore it and now it was gone.

I wanted my bracelet back, and I was certain I knew who’d taken it.

A few days ago, Polis Books officially launched Culprits: The Heist Was Only the Beginning  (Gary Phillips and Richard Brewer, eds., Polis Books, 2018.)  My story in this anthology is Snake Farm.  Culprits is an exciting collection of linked stories.  I had a great time writing a story that fit into the structure set up by Phillips and Brewer.  Here’s what the publisher says about the collection: 

A crew of thieves. A heist worth millions. A plan that goes off without a hitch. At least until the robbery is over...then all bets are off.

And here’s a bit from Snake Farm:

Tony kept up a steady stream of small talk on the drive to the Kilroy Ice House.  He went on about his plans for the truck, about how Big Jim was an idiot, and what he thought they could do when it came time to finally leave Kilroy.

Vivian listened with one ear. Her mind was on the money and how soon she could run. All she had to do was get out of town and across the state line. And dump Garza when some of the dust settled.

Along Main Street, a few yellow lights emphasized the emptiness. He turned onto a cross street in the direction of the pale moon. They drove past old frame houses with thin lawns or gravel front yards. The bushes were permanently bent from the wind.  Gray light shone through the blinds or curtains that hung in most of the front windows. Looking at the town made her tired. She’d been in Kilroy one day too long. She couldn’t shake the nagging feeling that she had to run. Vacation was already over.

Later this month, Hex Publishers will present yet another anthology:  Blood and Gasoline (Mario Acevedo and Joshua Viola, eds., Hex Publishers, 2018.).  Hex is on a tear, producing several award-winning and popular collections, novels, and graphic books in the short time it’s been in business. 

You should know what to expect based on the title:  Blood and Gasoline.

My contribution is Sitting Ducks:

We didn’t have to soar for me to feel like we’d taken off.  The job was finished, good bad or otherwise I almost didn’t care.  People screamed and cried because we were there. Guns were pulled and used. Blood flowed. Cops were on our asses or close to it.  Vivian and I made it.  Eddie, not so much.  Most of it had been automatic for me, no thinking necessary.  We played the hand we were dealt, as always.  Now we ran for it.  This was the part I liked -- needed, really.  The quiet after a storm, a smoke after sex.

Who was I kidding?  I liked it all.

Guess what I just now noticed  -- the women characters in Snake Farm and Sitting Ducks are both named Vivian.  How about that?  Totally a coincidence.

 I recommend any and all of these short-story collections.  The editors are among the best in the business, and the various writers are top-notch.  The stories from the anthologies that I've read have been all that anyone could want in crime fiction: unsentimental tales of the human condition, the good, bad and very ugly.  Sometimes brutal and dark; sometimes justice prevails, often in a twisted unexpected way. And sometimes, justice is only in the eye of the beholder. 

Come September, I hope you read The Golden Night of Havana.  I'd appreciate it.

Manuel Ramos is the author of several novels, short stories, poems, and non-fiction books and articles. His collection of short stories, The Skull of Pancho Villa and Other Stories, was a finalist for the 2016 Colorado Book Award. My Bad: A Mile High Noir was published by Arte Público Press in 2016 and was a finalist for the Shamus Award in the Original Paperback category sponsored by the Private Eye Writers of America.  He has completed work on his next Chicano Noir crime novel.

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