Kickin’ The Willy Bobo With…PERCIVAL CONSTANTINE

Derrick Ferguson: It’s been something like 42 months since we last talked like this so we’ve got to do the obligatory thing where you tell the folks reading this something about you and what you’re all about. So, who is Percival Constantine and what are you all about?

Percival Constantine: I’m a professional author and university lecturer originally from Chicago, but I’ve been living in southern Japan for almost ten years. Basically, I’m a huge geek. Growing up, I was a massive fan of superhero comics, video games, and movies, and those interests haven’t abated now that I’m in my mid-thirties. I started writing comic book fanfiction when I was in high school and I published my first novel, Fallen, in 2007. Since then, I’ve been continuously writing and have produced over twenty novels, plus several short stories collected in various anthologies. My writing has been spread across many different genres, such as science fiction, fantasy, horror, mystery, and action/adventure.

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DF: You’ve been writing professionally for quite a few years now. Have you found your audience? Or have they found you?

PC: A little bit of both. When I first began publishing, I didn’t know what I was doing and I had no idea how to find an audience, so I’d just throw stuff out there and hope it stuck. Nothing ever really did. Over time, I learned about the importance of self-promotion and began doing things like paid advertising through avenues such as Facebook, Amazon, and different book recommendation email lists. That helped me find an audience for my work. In the process, as I was able to advertise my work to more people, it led to my books ending up in search results for related books, so it helped other readers find me.

DF: What’s the secret to good writing? Have you cracked the uncrackable code?

PC: I don’t think anyone will ever crack that code because the definition of good writing depends so much on the reader. I think as writers, the only thing we can really do is write books that we’re interested in writing. Readers are savvy and they can smell a phony a mile away. If you’re writing a book that you’re not interested in, readers will pick up on that and it will turn them off.

DF: What keeps you motivated to keep writing?

PC: My entire life has been devoted to storytelling. I devoured it as a fan, I studied it as a student, and I write and teach it as a professional. To me it’s as natural as breathing. I’ve had moments when I was frustrated and swore, double-swore, and triple-swore that I would give up writing. But I always ended up coming back. I’ve got stories I want to tell and that’s what motivates me to keep going even when readers aren’t buying.

DF: How much room in your head do you allow for critics and criticism?

PC: As much as is needed. My approach to criticism is to consider the source. Sometimes you’ll get criticism from people who simply aren’t part of your audience—and that’s fine, not everyone will be part of your audience. That kind of criticism I’ll consider, but I won’t stress myself out over it. Other times, you might get criticism for not doing something you never set out to do in the first place. I’m not going to worry about that kind of critique at all.

The most important criticism that I’ll consider is criticism that comes from people who are my intended audience. Those are the comments I’ll think about and it will make me take another look at my work. But sometimes, even after considering those critiques, I might still choose to go my own way.

I think the writer who ignores all criticism is too egotistical and the writer who takes all criticism personally is too sensitive. It comes down to something Stephen King said in On Writing: “You can’t please all of the people all of the time. You can’t even please all of the people some of the time. You just have to settle for pleasing some of the people some of the time.”

DF: What are your thoughts on where New Pulp is at today?

PC: To be honest, I don’t give a whole lot of thought to New Pulp these days. It’s something that kicked off with a lot of fanfare, but I think too many people who identify with New Pulp are more hobbyists than serious about creating a professional movement. And if they just want to be hobbyists, that’s fine. But I see far too many frustrated at a lack of momentum, yet those same people aren’t doing much to help change the landscape.

DF: Is New Pulp going anywhere? If so, where is it going? If not, why isn’t it?

PC: I don’t think so. I think it will remain a niche field for hobbyists and I doubt you’ll see a whole lot of momentum, and this ties into my previous answer. There’s a wealth of information out there for how people can take advantage of the new indie market. We have more tools than ever before—access to affordable advertising, access to wonderful cover designers, access to the kind of market research that publishers would have killed for twenty years ago.

And yet, the people in New Pulp aren’t taking advantage of these things. If you look at the successes in indie publishing, a few commonalities start to emerge: they produce books quickly, they get genre-appropriate covers, they pay attention to the genres that are hungry for books, they target the right categories on Amazon, they take advantage of advertising and mailing lists, etc. How many people in New Pulp are doing these things? I know I do it and I’ve seen my success grow as a result. But too many people are tied to the romantic notion of being an artist who doesn’t worry about the business side.

Problem is unless you’ve got someone to handle that business side for you, you aren’t going to make any money.

It’s a bit tragic, I think, because I see so many immensely talented New Pulp writers who should be killing it. I’ve read these books and they’re very good. But they aren’t getting the right covers, they aren’t targeting the right categories, they aren’t advertising or reaching out to readers with mailing lists, their production schedules are inconsistent and have far too much of a gap between releases, etc.

And yet the readership is hungry for New Pulp, they just don’t know it’s called New Pulp. Space opera came from pulp. Urban fantasy came from pulp. Superheroes came from pulp. Romance came from pulp. Horror came from pulp. Westerns came from pulp.

These genres are big right now and there are authors who are producing books in those genres and making a lot of money selling those books. But none of them are part of the New Pulp crowd.

And the difference between us and them? It’s not the quality of the writing. It’s not luck. It’s because those other authors are treating it like a business. A New Pulp writer thinks, “I want my western to have an illustrated cover just like the westerns during the pulp era had and I want readers to find me.” A successful genre author thinks, “What westerns are selling well? What do those books have in common? What do those covers have in common? How can I get my book in front of those readers? How can I get those readers onto my mailing list?”

If New Pulp writers want to be more than hobbyists, then they have to start asking these questions of themselves.

DF: Who is Luther Cross?

PC: Luther Cross is a character that came to me a long time ago. I was in the midst of writing the second novel in the Infernum series, Outlaw Blues, when tragedy struck. My computer crashed. For some reason I can’t remember, I had to wait several months before I’d be able to use software computer on the failing hard drive. So instead, I got the hard drive replaced and rather than keep writing from memory, I thought about doing something else. I’d just started binge-watching Supernatural at the point and it made me want to write something in the same vein. I was also a big fan of John Constantine from the Hellblazer comics as well as Warren Ellis’ Hellstorm: Prince of Lies comic book from the early 90s, so all those went into my conception, as well as a bunch of other stuff.

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Luther Cross is a cambion—half-human, half-demon. He was raised and trained by a secret society called the Sons of Solomon in the hopes that he would use his abilities against the forces of darkness. As an adult, he works as a paranormal investigator in Chicago. Also, somewhat uniquely in the world of urban fantasy, he’s a black man whereas most protagonists are white. That wasn’t really a conscious decision on my part, when I first visualized the character, for some reason I just pictured Idris Elba with glowing red eyes (though I’ve come to believe that if a live-action version were ever made, DB Woodside would make the perfect Luther).

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I never finished that first novel, but the character stuck with me. Years later, Tommy Hancock of Pro Se Press came to me about Pro Se’s Single Shot Signatures line and asked me if I wanted to contribute. I pitched him a few ideas, including Luther, and he liked that one the best. Jeff Hayes designed a wonderful cover and I started writing 10,000-word short stories starring Luther. Some setbacks pushed back the publication schedule and eventually, Tommy had to make the decision to scale the line back. I’d already been planning to do some novels with Luther, which Tommy was fine with and we had talked about doing some cross-promotion. But when the scale-back came, Luther’s series was one of the victims. That actually did work out for me though, because I was able to then focus solely on the novels. And so far, those books have been doing very well for me.

DF: Have you always been a fan of urban fantasy?

PC: Yes, but I didn’t always know it was called urban fantasy. Growing up, I became a big fan of Buffy the Vampire Slayer and then the spinoff Angel, plus short-lived series like The Crow: Stairway to Heaven and Brimstone. I became a fan of horror movies in college and that led me to comics like Hellblazer and Hellstorm, plus later on I watched TV shows like Supernatural and Constantine. So I’d always liked the genre, but it wasn’t until I became active in publishing that I learned it was called urban fantasy.

DF: One of the things I enjoyed most on reading your Luther Cross books is the cosmology involved that Luther operates in. I’m especially tickled by the notion that the hierarchies of Heaven and Hell are no more than celestial bureaucracies. Did you draw upon established religious doctrines for your conceptions of Heaven and Hell?

PC: I’ve looked at various sources when describing them, but I haven’t relied too heavily on any one source. When angels were introduced in Supernatural, one of the things that I really liked was that the angels were portrayed as haughty, self-righteous assholes. And it made sense. It also got me thinking a lot about the nature of both. The whole notion of 100% good or 100% evil is something that I don’t really agree with and seems very simplistic.

So that got me thinking: what is the difference between Heaven and Hell? What is the difference between angels and demons? They had to be two sides of the same coin, but it couldn’t just be good vs. evil. I needed more there.

Then it hit me: angels were made to obey. They follow orders. Lucifer was banished because he refused to follow orders, because he was prideful. So that meant Heaven was a place where rules matter more than anything else and it became a simple calculation—not good vs. evil, but order vs. chaos. And that’s when everything clicked.

DF: What are your plans for Luther Cross as a character and as a franchise?

PC: I’m currently writing the fifth book. I won’t reveal the title here because it might spoil the ending of the fourth book, Devil’s Conflict (which came out this past August). But I have at least six books in the series planned and I also have ideas for a potential spin-off series. As long as fans are still reading and I can still come up with ideas, Luther will continue on.

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That’s what I have control over. Absolutely I would love to see Luther translated into other mediums. Nothing would please me more than to see a Luther Cross series on TV or a Luther Cross movie. I’d totally be willing to write a Luther Cross comic book. I’d love a Luther Cross video game. But those things are beyond my control at the moment.

DF: Tell us about Vanguard.

PC: Vanguard was my first attempt at publishing my own original superhero series. The concept is that the world experienced a strange phenomenon in which a small percentage of humanity was granted superhuman abilities, called specials. In the face of these new challenges, the US government in secret gathered together a team of these specials in order to deal with superhuman threats. It was influenced by my love of superhero comics, especially the X-Men and the Avengers.

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My original idea was to reproduce a structure similar to many of the comics I loved growing up, where I’d write it as a serial with each installment featuring a self-contained story, but with subplots stretching out across the length of the series.

The serial approach didn’t work so well and I abandoned it about halfway through and just released season compilations. The series lasted for a total of five books (or seasons), which was my initial plan going in. I do have ideas for further books and the books that are currently out there go through periods when they experience a bump in sales. At some point, if both time and sales are preferable, I would like to return to that world.

DF: Are we going to see more adventures of Elisa Hill, The Myth Hunter?

PC: The final book ended with Elisa’s death, but there’s always the possibility for resurrection, and I’ve thought about doing more books in that world. At the moment though, there aren’t any plans. Unfortunately, the sales on The Myth Hunter books were never very strong, so it’s hard to justify it at this time when I’ve got other books that are selling far better. But I still love that character and that world and would love to return to it at some point.

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DF: Are we going to see the Infernum series return?

PC: No, no plans whatsoever. That series definitely performed the poorest of all the ones I’ve written so far. I didn’t leave open a lot of doors for future installments, either, so even if interest were there, I’m not even sure where I would go with it.

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DF: What’s a Typical Day In The Life of Percival Constantine like?

PC: I wake up around 6-7 am, shower and have my morning coffee, then I check email and do some writing. I try to shoot for 2,000 words every day, but some days are better than others and some days I just don’t do it at all. I teach at a few different locations, so my schedule every day is a little bit different, some days I’m working until evening, other days I have the afternoon off. When I get home, that’s just my decompression time. I have dinner and then either play video games, read comics or books, or watch a movie or some TV. Nothing very exciting.

Derrick Ferguson: Anything else we should know?

Percival Constantine: My website is http://percivalconstantine.com. For anyone who’s interested in discovering the world of Luther Cross, those short stories originally published by Pro Se, plus an exclusive novella, are available for free by visiting http://cross.percivalconstantine.com. There’s also a Facebook group, called Luther Cross Fans (https://www.facebook.com/groups/luthercross/) where fans can gather together and talk with me and each other about the books.

Kickin’ The Willy Bobo With…RAYMOND EMBRACK

Derrick Ferguson: Since it’s been three years and eight months since I last interviewed you we have to refresh people’s memories. Who is Raymond Embrack? Where do you live and what do you do to keep the bill collectors away?

Raymond Embrack: A member of Usimi Dero. Los Angeles. Haven’t kept them away yet. Have taken up day trading as my new art form.

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DF: Any major changes in your life since we last talked?

RE: Retired from close to doing 20 in L.A. County. Soon to move back to Washington DC.

DF: Last time I interviewed you I asked you if there was an audience for Raymond Embrack. Have they found you or have you found them?

RE: The weirdness has been out there long enough an audience is actually finding me, almost a following today. Mostly younger, a mix of exiles and hipsters. Who thought I would wind up the Jeff Goldblum of nobodies?

DF: How do you feel you’ve grown and developed as a writer in the past three years?

RE: Since Kindle Create I do all parts of production, plus design my covers.

DF: How has your attitude about your work in particular and writing in general changed or modified?

RE: I ended the intent to make book sales. I cut half my book catalog, now only write my desert island catalog of only Surf product. Turns out I only like writing Surf.

DF: Update us on Peter Surf. First off, for the folks who don’t know who Peter Surf is, tell us about him.

RE: Peter Surf is my private eye series private eye since 1996. His name comes from the music in Pulp Fiction. First published 2000. Operates in west coast Blonde City, the city Trump would build with Madonna. Surf is in part composed of Derek Flint, Hunter S. Thompson, John Shaft, Chris Rock. He runs a dojo to meet women, invents martial arts like Aztec Karate. He specializes in unusual dangerous and difficult cases, never does missing persons cases because most PI novels are missing persons cases.

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DF: Where is Peter Surf going as a character and what are your future plans for him?

RE: Perfecting the swagger this began with.

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DF: What else are you working on now?

RE: Nothing. For now less writing, more reality.

DF: What is the one book of yours you would recommend to someone to start with? And why that book?

RE: Pick the description you find hottest, work your way to the coolest. Or vice versa.

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DF: What keeps you motivated to continue to write?

RE: My aspiration to build a series of at least 20 dope Peter Surf units, a collection of WTF? to one day gaze upon with chill self-gratification.

DF: Drop some much needed Words of Wisdom on all the young aspiring writers reading this that are thirsting for knowledge.

RE: Only write what you love most. Be your own favorite writer.

DF: What’s a typical Day In The Life of Raymond Embrack like?

RE: Day trading from a desktop, earning more, losing less, learning by doing, writing my own textbook as I go. Each person has to write their own textbook. Night, that’s another question….

Derrick Ferguson: Anything else we need to know?

Raymond Embrack: No

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Raymond Embrack’s Amazon Page

New Pulp United!

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SUBMISSIONS OPEN FOR FIRST IN NEW ANNUAL ANTHOLOGY TO DEBUT IN 2019- ‘NEW PULP UNITED VOLUME ONE’ TO BENEFIT CREATORS IN NEED

Pro Se Productions, a publisher of Genre Fiction, is also a publisher and a leading figure in one aspect of what is considered The New Pulp Movement. This movement focuses on fiction that is inspired and in the style of Pulp Fiction published in the early 20th Century, influenced by Pulp of the past, but written by modern writers with an eye toward the future. New Pulp exists outside this movement, obviously, and many recognize all aspects of this style of fiction as a community. This feeling has been so prevalent in the past that it has led to creators coming together to produce benefit books in memory of other creators or, in the case of Pro Se’s Editor in Chief, Tommy Hancock, to assist during hard times.

“LEGENDS OF NEW PULP FICTION,” says Hancock, “was a project put together by Jaime Ramos and Ron Fortier and Rob Davis of Airship 27 Productions. Over 100 creators threw their talents into the mix to put together the biggest volume of modern Pulp ever to help me after I was diagnosed with a rare form of Congestive Heart Failure. It was the single biggest outpouring of support I have seen in a long time in publishing, especially within New Pulp. And I will personally be forever grateful for it.”

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New Pulp Author Sean Taylor noted this very thing recently in

a post on social media, expressing concern about growing divides between writers today, due to politics and different world views. In this post, Taylor made a call to return to the sense of community that existed when collections were done for Hancock or when Pro Se produced “WHEN THE SHADOW SEES THE SUN”, a collection of essays about creatives and depression in honor of Logan Masterson, a writer who lost his battle with depression. Taylor’s post caused many creators to think, including Hancock.

“We don’t expect,” says Hancock, “to replicate LEGENDS or any other collections with what Pro Se plans to do, but the course of discussion Sean started this past week demands that we do something, at least it demands it of me. That’s why Pro Se Productions is now taking submissions for what will hopefully be the first of a yearly collection entitled NEW PULP UNITED! All proceeds from this collection will go into a fund that is aimed at supporting New Pulp creators when there are medical issues or emergency situations beyond normal limitations. A committee will be formed that will oversee the distribution of funds. A website and Facebook page will be established prior to the release of the first volume with more details concerning how a creator may request funds.

“Any creator, be they writer, artist, or editor that wants to contribute can submit a story,” explains Hancock, “to NEW PULP UNITED! With all money made going into the NPU fund, no royalties will be paid and Pro Se will absorb costs that we usually cover with royalties as well. Length of individual stories does not matter, only that the tales are some sort of largely unpublished Genre Fiction with an aim at adventure, action, thrills, and/or suspense. Previously published tales will be considered, but the collection should be more new material than anything else. Also, artists wishing to contribute can provide spot illustrations for stories. Editors wanting to help can also participate. All anyone who wants to be a part of this has to do is email me at editorinchief@prose-press.com. Writers need to send me a few lines about what they intend to write and/or submit, and if the story is good and meets Pro Se’s standards, it’s in.”

NEW PULP UNITED! Is currently slated for publication in March 2019, and if subsequent volumes occur, they will be published in March of each year. This collection WILL ONLY go to print if the number of stories reaches a minimum of 30,000 words. There is no maximum limit. For a story to appear in the first collection, writers MUST email Hancock to show intent to participate and the final work needs to be emailed to submissions@prose-press.com no later than November 1, 2018.

Hancock says, “I know people will immediately have questions about how the money will be distributed, how it will be determined who is considered a New Pulp creator, and such things. To that end, all sales figures and earnings on this collection and subsequent volumes will be made public. As to who qualifies as a New Pulp writer, that will in part be up to the Committee to determine and guidelines will be set up to oversee that, although the intent here is to help, not to create a bureaucratic, complicated process. Right now, the focus has to be on seeing if the first collection even makes. If it doesn’t, it does not necessarily mean that there is a divide in the community. It may also indicate, though, that maybe there isn’t a community at all. Either way, Pro Se wants to help its creators and those outside our company who are why New Pulp exists today. This is a small way, but it is our way.”

For more information on this submissions call, please contact Hancock at editorinchief@prose-press.com.

To learn more about Pro Se Productions, go to http://www.prose-press.com. Like Pro Se on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/ProSeProductions

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Kickin’ The Willy Bobo With…NICOLE GIVENS KURTZ

Derrick Ferguson: We’ve been through this before but no doubt there’s a lot of people who will be reading this who don’t know a thing about you so: Who Is Nicole Givens Kurtz? Where do you live and what do you do to keep the bill collectors away?

Nicole Givens Kurtz: I am originally from Knoxville, Tennessee (Go Big ORANGE!), but I currently reside just outside of Winston-Salem, North Carolina. I’m a public-school teacher by day, a writer at night and a mother 24/7.

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DF: It’s been a year and four months since I last interviewed you. What have you been doing since then?

NGK: So much has happened in the last year! An anthology I submitted a story to, was named as a Bram® Stoker Finalist in Horror Anthology (Sycorax’s Daughters), I’ve sold a few short stories, and finished a new urban fantasy series that I’m currently shopping around. I’ve also had the pleasure of attending BlackTasticon in June and some other pretty amazing events this year.

DF: I asked you in our last interview if there was an audience for Nicole Kurtz. Have you found your audience yet? Or have they found you?

NGK: Alas, my audience remains a bit elusive. I’m still working on refining my author brand, and also increasing my in-person presence. I write a lot of different types of stories, and for that reason, it may be difficult for me to find an audience that are “Nicole Givens Kurtz” fans, but rather they like specific things I write. For example, I do have “Cybil Lewis” readers, and “Minister Knight” readers, etc.

DF: How is Mocha Memoirs Press doing?

NGK: Mocha Memoirs is going through an overhaul in terms of direction. It’s not entirely new, but we are refining our model. Publishing is always changings and we’re shifting with the sands, too.

Our tagline is Bold. Fearless. Fiction. We want to continue to amplify marginalized voices in speculative fiction. We opened our submissions doors two months ago and are actively seeking novellas and novel-length submissions.

DF: What are you working on now?

NGK: Currently, I’m revising a romance novella for Falstaff Crush, the romance line of Falstaff books.  After that, I plan to finish revisions on my second urban fantasy series.  There are short stories and short story collections I’m also putting together, including on for Cybil Lewis and my weird western short stories.

DF: Who is Cybil Lewis?

NGK: Cybil Lewis is a private inspector in the future who investigates violations (crimes) for those who are afraid or don’t want to go to the police. She’s like a female Shaft in dystopian Washington, D.C., following her own moral compass, and getting the job done.  She’s by far my most personal and favorite character out of all of those that I have created over the last 20 years.

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DF: In the year since we’ve talked, has the prominence of female African-American Speculative Fiction writers grown? Diminished? Stayed the same?

NGK: It has exploded in the year since we talked! There are so many African-American Speculative Fictions writers that I struggle to keep up and to read others’ works! There’s just so much and that’s not a complaint! It’s so encouraging that younger African-American girls and boys and read books in speculative fiction with protagonists that look like them. They’re the heroes and heroines, the super powered people in those stories and that is beautiful.

DF: How do you see your role in the community of female AASF writers? IS there a community of female AASF writers? And if not, why isn’t there one?

NGK: There’s a community of AASF writers, but I don’t belong to an “official” one. I have a solid group of AASF authors who support each other, work together to network and share ideas, and push each other to be great. It’s something African Americans have always done, especially black women. We’ve taken care of things when we need to and for the community. Over the years, I have found and been gifted with really intelligent and brilliant AASF who may be further down the road in their career than me, but who reach back and mentor. Linda Addison does this as well as Tananarive Due and others.

DF: Who should we be reading these days? Who are you reading?

NGK: Right now, I’m reading Daniel Jose Older, Tomi Adeyemi’s, Eden Royce, and Sherrilyn Kenyon.  Everyone should be reading and supporting independent authors! My currently reading list has independently published authors on them, and honestly, I met some amazing authors at Blacktasticon. If you’re into comics, you should read Robert Jeffery’s Route One, and William Satterwhites’ Stealth.  There’s so much good reading being put out by small presses and independently published authors.

DF: How was Blacktasticon 2018? How much fun did you have?

NGK: Blacktasticon 2018 was a warm hug! It was mind-blowing, stimulating, and a huge creative bump for me. I did have to pinch myself several times as I sat on panels with my writing heroes. Sheree Renee Thomas, Linda Addison, John Jennings are the stars of black speculative fiction and I couldn’t believe how generous they were with their time, with their knowledge, and that was what really made the event for me. This community of individuals coming together to talk about speculative fiction through the lenses of Afro-centric beliefs, ideals, and historic context. I learned so much. My soul was fed. No other convention does that in the way that Blackstasticon did.

DF: For someone who hasn’t read any of your work, what should they start with and why?

NGK: For those who haven’t read any of my work, I would start with SILENCED, the first Cybil Lewis novel. It’s such a great story, and it’s a pretty good example of the types of stories I tend to tell. Of course, my writing has changed a lot over the years, but that’s the best representation of my writing style.

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DF: Where can people find out more about you and your work?

NGK: People can find me at Other Worlds Pulp, which is my website: http://www.nicolegivenskurtz.com, on Twitter at @nicolegkurtz or a facebook at https://www.facebook.com/NicoleGKurtz

DF: Anything else we need to know?

NGK: I’m giving away a free copy of my Cybil Lewis short story, “Recruited,” when people sign up for my newsletter. Interested parties can go here: https://nicolegivenskurtz.com/newsletter/

Thank you, Derrick for the interview. It is always a pleasure.

Sean E. Ali Double Downs On VEGAS HEIST

From the “Viva, Lost Vegas” File…

Like the artwork?

Nah, it’s not a job I’m on, this was just me doodling on my down time inspired by something I read recently.

Occasionally the grind of life gets you down, you’ve gotten in a rut, and it seems like all you do is go do your job so you can go home and wait to go do your job and then go home and…

Well, you get the idea.

Then, out of the blue, you get a call from a guy you know who wants to get together and he can invite you and a couple of other guys out for a trip so wild…

…it’s criminal.

Which is why it helps that the destination that this guy has in mind is…

…Las Vegas.

This is really one of those times where you’re gonna want what happens in Vegas to stay in Vegas. In fact, this situation takes place in the early days of the Strip in 1965, so it’s possible this is the thing that happened that stayed where it happened in the first place.

Which is a breezy primer for Van Allen Plexico’s fun little crime tale VEGAS HEIST.

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Now, as I’ve said before: I love heist stories and their second cousins caper stories. Give me a crew of thieves with an eyes bigger than their stomachs crime on the schedule with seemingly impossible obstacles and toss in a couple of twists and I’m good. Toss in some of that classic Sinatra/Rat Pack “Ocean’s 11” and mix liberally with nods to other characters of that era in crime fiction and I’m not only in, I want a window seat. So Mr. Plexico is swinging in the right direction for me right out the gate.

So let’s break down the plot just a little. We start with John Harper, who is in the middle of putting his foot down on a loose end from a job he pulled prior to the start of our story: an associate who feels his take should’ve been bigger. Roughly Harper’s share of that job bigger. Harper disagreed with that assessment of the situation…

…rather forcefully.

As this exchange is going on, Harper gets a call from another associate whom he’s had a more positive relationship with: Saul “Salsa” Salzman, an attorney who occasionally moonlights as a heister, a roper, and an inside man who fingers potential jobs based on keeping his eyes and ears open and seeing an opportunity when it presents itself. Salsa’s got a lead on a job and it would require a first rate planner to work out the angles. Harper agrees to a meet, and gets back to what he was doing. Later, and in as neutral a locale as you can find, Salsa drops the caper on Harper: he’s got enough inside information on a mark that he wants Harper’s help to pull off a heist…

…in Las Vegas.

He has a crew: Bobby Donovan, an old school “jugger” (safecracker) who has been knocking knobs off of safes long enough to be considered one of the best. Besides being their vault man, Donovan also has a way to bankroll and arm themselves for the job without being on the line to another party who’d take a cut as his pay back on the vig, or the principal investment, plus the juice in the form of interest. There’s a catch, but nothing he, Harper and Salsa can’t handle. Plus Donovan brings with him Brett Rooker, a former boxer and wrestler who hires out now as muscle to crews who need it for a cut of the take. Rooker asks few questions, keeps himself to himself to a degree, but he’s hitched up with Salsa’s caper because of the notoriety of this particular crew’s individual reputations.

After they secure their money and weapons, the crew hits the road and move on to Vegas.

And they have a plan to break the bank while they’re there.

Now, I’ll stop there because it was really hard not to spoil the bits of business above with more details, but let’s get down to cases. VEGAS HEIST is a story you’ve seen, heard, read, probably even wrote at some point. It’s a little bit of Sinatra’s “Ocean’s 11”, it’s a little Richard Stark’s Parker, it’s all been done, yes, that too.

However…

…it’s all about execution that lets you know if you’ve got a hack job or really nice piece with the flavor and feel of a nice 1960s era crime flick with enough twists and turns in all the right places. Van hits the latter over the former, VEGAS HEIST is just a lot of fun. It’s a departure from Van’s usual bailiwick of superhero action adventure and space operas, but he really stepped into this genre with an obvious affection for it. If this continues on as a series of stories, I’m going to assume his characters will be fleshed out a bit more. Not too much, I don’t need an origin story or two, but it’ll be nice to see them develop past their obvious inspirational sources into distinct characters with unique voices. Still the way Van wrote these guys you get some subtle insights into how they see the world around them like Salsa’s gregarious nature having him presume that Harper’s a friend, while when he writes Harper’s point of view, Salsa’s more like a reliable associate he can trust not to stab him in the back. Plus, the other characters involved in the plot do have specific and distinct places in the narrative and the action.

And the twists, Lordy lord the twists in this tale are so much fun to see play out. There were plenty of places where I figured out the twist early but then Van would toss in something I took my eye off of and do something you kind of saw coming…

…but not like that.

Folks, Van kind of nails it.

So, VEGAS HEIST was a lot of fun for me, so much so, I decided to fool around with a what if scenario and make up one of those old house style ad like pieces that might’ve made it into a magazine or a movie marquee if HEIST got that kind of traction.

So, if you’re so inclined, check out VEGAS HEIST. I picked up a copy for my Kindle app right HERE.

Available in ebook and hard copy. Sadly we don’t get a movie version, but hey never say never…

Oh yeah, from left to right at the bottom of the image you’ve got Donovan, Rooker, Harper and Salsa…

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…because much was made of Salsa’s hat in his initial visual description…

Until next time…

…Be good to yourselves and each other.

 

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