NEW SERIES “CASH ON THE SIDE” FROM J DAVID OSBORNE TO DEBUT THIS FRIDAY

On Friday I’ll be debuting a series of mine called CASH ON THE SIDE. It’s a sequence of independent (yet eventually interlinked) stories about a duffelbag full of dirty money. My goal with this was to emulate something like STRAY BULLETS and also to do my best to subvert the expectations of what a crime story is supposed to be. The first installment will be available here, at brokenriverbooks.com, and will cost $0.99. Here’s a sample:

“Marcus Tillman signed the lease to his new apartment on a Friday afternoon. That night, he slept on the floor on a pile of blankets with his wife. He dreamt of an ATM that kept spitting money at him. $3000 bills with Frederick Douglass’s face in the center. He woke up and shook off the dream and smoked a cigarette outside. Already the neighbors were up and hollering. A disheveled man carried a garage sale sign limply at his side, talking to himself. Marcus stubbed out the smoke and went back in. He fixed a pot of coffee and found a pencil in one of the boxes in the living room and set about marking the sheet the apartment manager had given him. His wife was still asleep on the floor, blankets over her head. She’d told him yesterday: “Find everything. They’re not keeping our deposit this time.” So he tried. The door was slightly broken, the wood around the latch having deteriorated to the point that he could push the door open without turning the knob. The electrical outlets hissed when he plugged in his phone. There was a little mold in the bathroom, a kitchen light that didn’t work, an A/C that sputtered and coughed, and a rather large hole behind the washer and drier that contained a dufflebag full of stacked hundred dollar bills.”

CODY GOODFELLOW’S “REPO SHARK PAN-PACIFIC PILLBUGGIN’ TOUR”

When I was eighteen (damn near ten years ago, now), one of the authors who inspired me to make this strange thing my life was Cody Goodfellow. I picked up RADIANT DAWN and RAVENOUS DUSK, his paranoid Lovecraftian epic, and thought, “Holy shit. This is what books can do.” Over the years he’d release several short story collections (SILENT WEAPONS FOR QUIET WARS, ALL-MONSTER ACTION) a novel (PERFECT UNION), and a few collaborations with indie-god John Skipp (JAKE’S WAKE, SPORE) and each time I was awed, discouraged, and encouraged. The man’s brain was so big, every sentence so fully realized, that it both showed me how far I had to go, and how beautiful it could be if I ever got there.

So you can imagine my excitement when I got the chance to publish his newest novel, REPO SHARK. It was an intimidating process, editing one of my heroes. But in the end, I think we worked well enough together to bring the world something unique and absolutely fucking bonkers.

And now, he’s going on a tour. You absolutely, 100% MUST see him read if you’re in the area. You’ll be glad you did.

THE DATES:

July 23-27: (the Sigh Co booth at) San Diego Comic-Con
July 31-August 1: (the cheapest airport motel in) Philadelphia, PA
August 6: TBA, Lanai, HI.
August 10: Maui Friends of the Library Bookstore, Kahului, HI.

THE NOVEL:

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I hope you go out and watch the man do his thing. It’s epic.

COVER REVEAL FOR “THE LAST PROJECTOR”

This has been the most challenging, rewarding novel I’ve ever worked on. Over the course of several edits, hours (probably days) of back-and-forth, and even an experimental stint attempting to co-edit this in real time via Google Docs, THE LAST PROJECTOR is finally ready to go out into the world as an ARC. This is a book that I think is going to be very successful, and has the potential for a huge cult following.

Here’s the back cover ad copy:

“In this hysterical fever dream of a novel, meet an unhinged paramedic turned porn director uprooted from an ever-shifting ’80s fantasy. Discover a crime that circles back through time to a far-reaching cover-up in the back of an ambulance. Reveal a manic tattoo obsession and how it conspires to ruin the integrity of a story and corrupt identity itself. Unravel the mystery surrounding three generations of women and the one secret they share. And follow two amateur terrorists, whose unlikely love story rushes headlong toward a drive-in apocalypse.”

We released the cover today, and it’s a beaut:

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Art by Joel Vollmer.

THE LAST PROJECTOR drops Halloween of this year. Please e-mail jdavidosborne@gmail.com for ARCs or interview inquiries.

JOKES AS MIRRORS

Recently Patton Oswalt tweeted a bunch of jokes that ignited a very divisive Twitter feud. Here are the tweets.

I spend way too much time thinking about this stuff, but I found the tweets to be fascinating, and I’ve turned it over and over in my head. In this series of Borgesian tweets, there is a comedian named “Patton Oswalt,” a hack who makes easy, offensive jokes that he feels he must subsequently apologize for. The humor, for me at least, lies in the fact that “Patton” is alluding to terrible things, which is reflective on the faux-comedian himself. I took it as making fun of stupid comedy and inevitable half-assed apology. “I thought 12 YEARS A SLAVE and THE BUTLER were brilliant” is directly mocking those who might use the “I have a black friend, therefore I’m not a racist” bullshit we see all the time. The apologies, and the mindset that these non-existent jokes would land and then didn’t, is the humor. The casual, completely disingenuous tone taken in the “apologies” is funny because, when we learn the jokes “content,” that casual, “jeez, sorry guys” tone is subverted. It’s essentially what makes humor work, period. Right?

Maybe. The true brilliance of the joke is in its ability to act as a mirror for the reader. It produced strong reactions among a large contingent of Twitter users, most of them coming forward with the very valid defense that it’s not okay to mock the survivors of rape, or trans* people, or other minorities. This stance is completely solid in most cases, because humor works at its best when it’s making our brains work, and that’s never easy. Mocking minorities is chuckling at one’s own station in life, and how awesome it is that they aren’t someone else. I once heard that laughing developed because way back in the day, when we were hunting tigers in tribes and shit, a laugh was a signal that the scout up ahead was actually just eaten by a tiger, so it’s time to retreat. And thus it has evolved in a way to become a response of relief, that it isn’t us to whom something bad is happening. That’s why people slipping and falling is naturally funny. I’d argue, though, that it’s moved a bit beyond that, and has become more of a reaction of surprise, of having a worldview that goes one way, and then seeing it in a new light. Which, to bring it full circle, is why the joke works so well.

Back to that mirror, though. Oswalt (very) probably didn’t consciously decide to do this, but I think it goes beyond “trolling.” There are several people who thought that the point of the joke was to mock those who might coerce and demand an apology out of anything they might find offensive. So, there’s an apology for something that didn’t happen. It could be understood that the very lack of an actual offensive joke is indicating that the act of apologizing is absurd. In treating the joke like a ghost, it is highlighting the outcries for apology and the apologist himself, and therefore making both of them the butt of a joke.

I didn’t see it that way. But a lot of people did. And what’s so fascinating about that, in our current online era of outrage, is that it highlights an ugly truth: the tenets and belief systems of those who fight against oppression often use those beliefs in order to maintain a castle in their own mind, where they sit at the very top of the tallest turret.

None of their beliefs are incorrect, in my opinion. There is a very real problem with racism, sexism, etc. in this country. I lot of heteronormative white people are incredibly ignorant. But the problem arises when these beliefs and argumentative techniques calcify in a person’s brain. It happens to a lot of people: my grandmother thinks that God exists, and if you don’t it’s because the devil has tricked you. There is literally no way to convince her otherwise. She’s created a steel structure in her head that is infallible, and circular. She does this because it creates the very essence of her being. Without God, how is she who she is? In the same way, those who might oppose something like what Oswalt did here have a belief structure that is built to last.

The problem is, that the system they’ve put into place, though it is correct, bounces dissent off of it like arrows to a castle. There are firm counters to every argument someone might make. If you hear a keyword, respond as such. It’s like a Watchtower pamphlet. The problem is that every situation is not susceptible to these catch all counters, and instead of pondering or adjusting as needed, they employ their defense and sleep soundly knowing that everyone is stupid except for them and theirs. And that is just as problematic as a fundamentalist Christian doing the exact same thing.

They heard this joke, saw the keywords, and immediately took offense. This was an attack on them, and they know that because that was their first reaction. Never retreat. Instead of sitting back and thinking about it, using it as an opportunity to ask themselves some deep questions, they reacted. They poured the scalding oil. They raised the drawbridge.

And, of course, to be fair, Oswalt’s idiot fans called them “cunts” and generally proved that they are worth less than the keyboard they so frantically beat.

We all need to breathe.

Goddammit, I love comedy. It’s the new philosophy, I think.

Revenge Fantasies

The other night Clayton Lockett got tortured to death here in Oklahoma. He raped a woman, then shot another in the stomach with a sawed-off shotgun, then dumped her in a shallow grave and buried her alive. Oklahoma refused to release what all was in that cocktail they administered to the inmate, and then they shot him up with it, and he burned from the inside out. He died of a heart attack.

A big thing I see going around is “sorry if I don’t feel bad for a rapist/murderer” or, when referencing the other guy scheduled for death, a murdering baby rapist. I see this a lot from authors.

Here’s my issue, and yeah I’m gonna relate this back to crime fiction, which might seem trivial. But I don’t think so. Crime fiction is a way that we can understand both ourselves and our fellow man, their struggle, plight, and failures, through literature. It’s important that it’s written thoughtfully and with empathy, or it’s not doing its job. It’s just glorified poverty porn.

I don’t feel sorry that Clayton Lockett is dead, nor do I feel sorry that Charles Warner is going the same way. Their absence from this mortal coil is probably for the best. In an objective sense. Sometimes the machinery in our person breaks down and we become monsters. And you have to put monsters away.

However, as a human being, I feel empathy that a human being died painfully for 43 minutes.

In crime fiction, there’s a lot of revenge fantasy going on. Usually a bad guy does something bad to a less-bad guy, and eventually the less-bad guy (or heck, maybe just the person we’ve been unlucky enough to be saddled with, through POV) caps the bad guy or tortures him and we all cheer. There’s this simplicity to it that is deeply satisfying.

The problem with this, is that it pretends that we’re not all humans. We have complex, functioning brains.

We can have a moral code in our fiction. There’s nothing wrong with that. For example, in my mind, what brings people the most pain is by doing what’s easy. You can trace evil things back to that. To how easy it was in comparison to what was hard, and right. The mistake that so often happens is that a lot of authors then assign different characters as avatars of one thought-system or another. And the message becomes heavy handed: the evil pay for their mistakes, or hell, maybe evil gets away with it. Both of these outcomes, as overall theses in novels and short stories, are boring. Novels shouldn’t be wish fulfillment or alarmist fantasies. They should be about people, and about what it means to be human, and how we’re all surviving, and how we’re all dealing with the idea that we might die at any day, and there might not be anything waiting for us afterward.

But because a lot of writers are lazy, we get a lot of stories that go into this weird, sticky, but somehow completely accepted territory that is, “It’s okay to do bad things to bad people.” The Tarantino zone, as it were. There’s this fascinating film called I Saw the Devil. In it, a serial killer murders a supercop’s girlfriend. The supercop tracks down the serial killer within fifteen minutes of the film’s opening. The rest of the film is this catch-and-release game, where the supercop will find the serial killer, break one of his bones, torture him, etc., and then let him go. At first it’s deeply satisfying, in that ugly way. But the film is saying something fascinating. The killer, each time he is set free, does ever-more deplorable things. He rapes, he murders. All so that the supercop can extend his personal revenge. The film seems to be saying that people like the killer shouldn’t be allowed to go free and hurt anymore, but that revenge of the type inflicted by our hero is just as damaging. When we take revenge, it’s self-serving. It’s not righting any wrongs. The act still took place. The supercop’s girlfriend is just as dead. See also: Lady VengeanceSympathy for Mr. Vengeance.

So, how does this wrap back around to the very real issue of Clayton Lockett? When I read comments that say, “I’m not sorry he suffered,” what that says to me, is that there’s something missing there. Or maybe an over-developed revenge gland. The comment is not, “I’m glad that he can’t hurt anyone anymore.” It’s not, “I’m glad that whatever evil light was inside of him got snuffed out,” but rather, “I am glad that he experienced immeasurable pain.”

That, to me, is fucking weird.

And if that’s actually how you feel about a real-life human being, I shudder to think of how you treat your fictional characters. And it’s important how you treat those characters. Because our words shape reality, in small ways. I’d rather the words jump over walls rather than build them higher.

But that’s just me. I don’t know.

GOD$ FARE NO BETTER: VOLUME ONE is Available for Pre-Order!

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GOD$ FARE NO BETTER: VOLUME ONE is now available for pre-order. $15 plus shipping. I’ll be doing a limited run of these in paperback, so if you’re a collector of physical books, first of all god bless you, and second of all I hope you like it. They’ll each have their own unique cover art from a different artist, and they’ll all be designed by Matthew Revert. So, you know. They’ll look nice. I’ll be doing this limited-run thing for each volume of the GOD$ series, which has developed into a sprawling epic that I didn’t want to wait three or so years to show you, which is how long I figure it’ll take between writing Danny Ames books (look for BLACK GUM GODLESS HEATHEN later this year) and standalone novels and putting out a fuckload of books every year on Broken River.

For those of you who read this when it was serialized, I can tell you this paperback version is about twice as big. So, if you know what happens, I’m not gonna pretend there’s some drastic change plotwise. But it’s denser, my first real foray into maximalism, and it has more cool subplots (like the part that deals with the King of the Shopping Carts, for instance). It’s different from anything I’ve ever done. And it’s hands-down the most fun I’ve had writing anything, ever. I spend so much time paring down the Ames novels, cutting them to the bone, it feels really cool to just be able to let whatever weird idea I have onto the page. If the Ames books are boom-bap hip hop, the GOD$ series is free-form jazz. But it’s all weird crime, and it’s all nasty.

Anyhoo, if you’d like a sample, here’s a good bit from the novel. The series revolves around a former supercop, a killer moving backwards in time, and a hitman who can unhinge his jaw like a snake and swallow his victims whole. The whole thing is being played out as a “symphony” that extra-dimensional aliens are watching from outside of time.

Until they reached the dim yellow lights of the McCallan Street Bridge their eyes were wide to the dark and the floating neon green carpets of their heart chakras and the sound of cicadas pressed against their sides and kept them from the tangles of little bluestem already wet with dew. They gripped their stomachs as the san pedro expanded.  Drennon had dumped the ugly olive powder into a bowl he’d crafted in pottery class and added filtered water and mixed the shit until it was a paste.  A teaspoon of cinnamon didn’t keep them from nearly vomiting but they both liked that this was a drug a man had to commit to.  Bassell filled a couple Ziploc bags with food dye and set a dusty overhead projector on the floor and aimed the light at the ceiling.  He pushed the dye around the bag and Drennon laid close to the hot machine and watched the colors move. When the spackle on the wall began to shift like grains of sand in the tide they both decided to head to the bridge and maybe smoke to take the edge off the nausea.

 #

Jaime Sorokolit met with his employer under the McCallan Street Bridge to collect his payment for a lawyer he’d shot in the mottled hills behind a gas station off US-93.   The desert had been cold and he’d led the crying man by the light of a copper refinery to the south to the base of a small caldera, where he shot him through the head clean and buried him shallow under a collection of volcanic stones.  He took a moment to rest, then clapped his hands together to get the dust off and sighed and turned to go when he heard a noise like castanets at the bottom of a well.  He couldn’t see in the dark and didn’t really care to investigate but after a few steps the clicking became so loud as to be unbearable and he fell to his knees, feeling the sound coming from the top of the caldera but also from inside his bones.  He covered his ears with his palms and tried shut his eyes against the vibrations but he felt his lids quiver and roll up and so he had to see what was in front of him up the hill at the rim of the caldera.  Three worms, each about ten feet high, weaving gently in the breeze like nylon puppets under a fan at a car lot.  Glowing like blacklights.  At the creatures’ apex their scales pulled back like foreskin and their beaks tittered and they drooled green.  They slid down the mountain in perfect time with each other.  Sorokolit wanted to die.  Anything to get the strobe out of his brain.

He didn’t remember anything after that.  He cradled a cup of coffee in the diner of the gas station.  When the morning blue broke over the hills it filled up with dusty employees of the refinery and Sorokolit could hear all the spoons hitting the plates and could smell the grease from the kitchen.  He tried to read the menu scrawled in chalk on the belly of the cartoon chef hanging from the wall but his eyes kept shaking in his skull and after a few blessed seconds of focus everything returned to tiny electric whirlpools.  The soup of the day is lobster bisque, he thought.

Later that night, under the bridge, Jaime Sorokolit was pondering what all went into a lobster bisque besides lobster when Mike Lecours lifted his long quiet gun and shot him through the neck. The round nicked his carotid and shredded his trachea and severed his brachial plexus, which kept him from reaching up to stem the flow of blood gushing from his neck over his new sweater and into the dirt.  Lecours had aimed for his temple, but he was drunk as hell and anxious to get the whole thing over with.  He swayed on his heels and put his gun away and watched Sorokolit fall backwards into the river.

#

From their craft above the river, the beings perceived Drennon and Bassell leaning over the railings, their smartphones extended, them desperately trying to get a picture of the flying saucer whilst being completely oblivious to the man who was nearly bled to death in the river below.  The conductor stepped away from the viewing portal and approached the podium.  His guests that night included both creators and several prominent singularities with a smattering of fans.  The consciousness shift involved in the lensing process made everyone on board sick and they shuddered at the unmistakable glacial weathering of their skin but they steadied themselves against the seats in front of them, anxious to hear the music.  It was especially exciting for the Creators, being both the designers and the products of this world, to complete a circuit to meet the things that they created that created them.

The conductor called up the hexeract on the imager behind him and the crowd felt suddenly warm with the nostalgia brought on by seeing the six cube in four dimensions, the primitive representation of their reality, their gods suddenly becoming cognizant of them.  The human characters, the boys on the railing and the dying man in the river, stretched out on either side of the crowd.  The conductor raised his hands and slowly brought them down as though pressing a needle to a record and gently folded the fifth dimension over the fourth.  The crowd sensed dying life and lives just beginning shooting off in two directions, before and after, and they felt the alien sensation of moving through space-time and they saw what happened and what happens and the conductor felt himself bursting with pride as the crowd swayed to his music.

You can pre-order it here: