I’ve always thought that for the most part, private eye novels/movies end up being one of two kinds of stories. There’s the one where the private eye is hired to do a job and he doggedly pursues that task, relentlessly wading his way through a miasma of liars, gunsels, crooked cops and deceptive dames until arriving at the solution to the mystery. Think “The Maltese Falcon” or “Chinatown” and I think you’ll get what I mean.
Then there’s the other kind of private eye story where the solution to the mystery seems to be almost an afterthought. True, the private eye is hired for a job but in the course of doing the job he encounters a variety of characters that give him insights into aspects of his own life and force him to re-evaluate who he is and why he’s doing what he’s doing. The central mystery of the story is as much about the private eye investigating his own soul and his meditations/examination of the human condition embodied by the cast of characters he interacts with. Think Robert Altman’s “The Long Goodbye” or “Lady In The Lake”
Will Viharo’s LOVE STORIES ARE TOO VIOLENT FOR ME is firmly in that second kind of story. Viharo’s Vic Valentine very much lives in the past. Not just his past but the past of a world that is now a memory for the majority of Americans who barely remember what happened ten years ago. Vic dresses like he’s a member of Sinatra’s Rat Pack. His taste in movies, fashion, music and style is centered in the pop culture of the 1960s. And he likes it that way. Vic Valentine doesn’t mind being a walking anachronism. He just wishes he wasn’t so lonely in enjoying it. Vic is also a private detective. And to be honest, he’s not all that good at being a private eye. His cases mostly involve gathering evidence on cheating spouses. Once upon a time he had aspirations and ambitions in other, more creative fields. But just as in all other aspects of his life, Vic’s refusal to let go of the past led him to being a 1960s style private eye. And it’s during the labyrinthian pursuit of this particular case that I think Vic truly embraces his destiny and becomes a damn good private eye, worthy to stand next to Sam Spade, Philip Marlowe and Easy Rawlins.
Vic is hired by the alcoholic major league baseball player Tommy Dodge to find Tommy’s wife Rose. She just up and left him one day, leaving only a cryptic note. Tommy wants to know where she is and he wants Vic to find her. Vic really isn’t all that interested in taking the case. First of all, the Christmas season is coming up which depresses Vic to no end and second of all, after just fifteen minutes of talking to Tommy, Vic doesn’t like him much and thinks there’s more to the story than Tommy is telling him.
But of course, there is…what private eye story worth the telling doesn’t have more than what the client is telling? And as Vic follows the slim trail Rose left behind in her wake, he puts together clues that leads him to a revelation about Rose that is absolutely shattering to Vic on both the personal and professional levels and forces him to make some really hard decisions. And this is where LOVESTORIES ARE TOO VIOLENT FOR ME really begins to embrace its Film/Pulp Novel roots as Vic has to navigate the darkest of ambiguous moral and psychological waters to arrive at not only the solution to the mystery of why Rose left Tommy but also to resolve the demons of his past.
I have a list of The Best Writers That You’re Not Reading and Will Viharo is on that list. His ranking is none of your business. All you need to know is that if you haven’t read any of his work, you really should. Will Viharo himself is one of the most fascinating and coolest people I’ve ever met via The Internet. Go ahead and Google him or look him up on Facebook. Just the introduction of this novel where he talks about the dedication Christian Slater has had for years in his attempts in adapting this book into a movie is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to Will’s history with Hollywood.
I like his prose a lot. It’s fun to read as he throws in a lot of pop culture references to enhance Vic’s personality. But Will is not afraid to spend a lot of wordage to explore Vic’s emotional life as well. Vic Valentine is a private eye who really has no business being a private eye, if you ask me. He feels too much for the job. But paradoxically, that is the quality that leads him to solving this case and making the decisions he does make to resolve it and his life.
LOVE STORIES ARE TOO VIOLENT FOR ME is the Will Viharo novel I always recommend to people who have never read him before. And if you love Pulp then you should be reading him. Will Viharo knows Pulp like a monkey knows coconuts. I’ve read novels by writers who think they know what Pulp is and think it’s just a a bunch of wacky characters doing a bunch of wacky things. Will Viharo knows the psychology, mood and style of what goes into Pulp. Pulp is something Will Viharo didn’t have to learn. It’s in his DNA. And if you want a solid read this summer, do yourself a favor and check out LOVE STORIES ARE TOO VIOLENT FOR ME.
From the mean streets and crime-ridden boroughs of the modern metropolis to the dusty western wastelands where the only thing more precious than a bullet is a drop of water to soothe a parched throat, Derrick Ferguson takes the reader on journeys as visceral and vivid as a waking dream. Herein find eight stories, written for cash on the barrel to put food on the table. Sail the Seven Seas with Sinbad the Sailor, run headlong into gunfights against overwhelming odds with lawman Bass Reeves, battle against super-villains, and get hard-boiled with two-fisted detective action. Pick your poison. And make it a double.
“The Undercover Puzzle”
“The Knobloch Collection Assignment”
“Sinbad and The Voyage to The Land of The Frozen Sun”
“The Ruckerville Arraignment”
“Unto You Is Born…Rayge!”
“A Town Named Affliction”
“The Bixbee Breakout”
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.
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.
DF: Where is Peter Surf going as a character and what are your future plans for him?
RE: Perfecting the swagger this began with.
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.
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….
Sean Taylor: He’s just a man whose circumstances got beyond his control, beyond his control. I’m Kilroy. Okay, maybe not.
I’ll drop the official bio instead:
Sean Taylor is an award-winning writer of stories. He grew up telling lies, and he got pretty good at it, so now he writes them into full-blown adventures for comic books, graphic novels, magazines, book anthologies and novels. He makes stuff up for money, and he writes it down for fun. He’s a lucky fellow that way.
He’s best known for his work on the best-selling Gene Simmons Dominatrix comic book series from IDW Publishing and Simmons Comics Group. He has also written comics for TV properties such as the top-rated Oxygen Network series The Bad Girls Club. His other forays into fiction include such realms as steampunk, pulp, young adult, fantasy, super heroes, sci-fi, and even samurai frogs on horseback (seriously, don’t laugh). However, his favorite contribution to the world will be as the writer/editor who invented the genre and coined the term “Hookerpunk.”
ST: I’ve been everything from a corporate media strategist to a local newspaper editor, and I’ve written comics and short stories and even a novel thus far, but for the day job at the moment, I edit for several places as a freelancers/contractor to keep the bills paid. It’s a dirty job, as they say, but someone’s got to love it.
DF: How long have you been writing and what have you learned about yourself through your writing?
ST: My first magazine article was in 1991, a marketing article about doing a summer reading display for a bookstores to highlight summer book sales. It was a hit, and I kept doing it. My first short story was publishing in 1995 in O’ Georgia: A Collection of Georgia’s Newest and Most Promising Writers, and I caught the bug and haven’t stopped yet.
What have I learned? Well, I’ve learned how to survive close to the poverty line, that’s for sure. Writing and editing is one of those comes and goes industries, and in an economy as volatile as the U.S. one has been during the years I’ve been a writer and editor, it’s bounced up and down several time. But what I learned from all that is that writing is something I make time to do whether or not it’s paying the bills. It’s more a calling than a career choice.
DF: What Next Big Project are you working on now?
ST: My current projects are a few short stories I have to knock out in order to get to the Next Big Project. I’ve got a Golden Amazon, Phantom Detective, and Secret Agent X story for Moonstone, then a novella for my Spy Candy property at Pro Se. After that, I’ll finally be free to get back on my Armless O’Neil novel for the Pulp Obscura line. That one’s going to be so much fun. I love Armless so hard. He’s more fun to write than just about any characters I know. I’m also in the process of releasing a book of essays on writing and reading, along the lines of the kind of articles I write for my blog. I did mention my blog, right? Bad Girls, Good Guys, and Two-Fisted Action. (www.badgirlsgoodguys.com)
DF: What audience are you trying to reach with your work? Is there an audience for Sean Taylor?
ST: That’s a tough one because I have my hands in so many writing pies. On the one hand, I write a lot, a big whole lot, of New Pulp tales. Then I also can’t quite pull myself away from horror. And I got my start in lit fiction and super-hero prose. Ultimately, I guess, I’m writing for an audience that likes a sense of adventure and wonder to go along with interesting characters. I think somewhere deep inside me is a magical realism writer who likes to paint the edges of my work with extraordinary stuff from time to time.
DF: What is the one book or story of yours you would recommend to somebody to start with who is not familiar with your work? And why that particular book or story?
ST: Ouch. Which child will best show off my Roman nose? Hmmm… I suppose the truest picture of who I am comes through the stories in Show Me A Hero, my collection of super-hero tales from Cyber Age Adventures/iHero Entertainment. But if you want to see the newer me, you’ll need to read The Ruby Files. That one really hits on all cylinders of who I am too. A little bit of lit (that holds on doggedly), and a lot of action and character, with a bit of mischief in taking the truth of history (racism, sexism) and dragging it into the light to try to make a point about today too.
DF: How much room in your head do you allow critics and criticism to occupy?
ST: Just what is needed. You take the good, you take the bad, you take ’em both and then you have… Well, not The Facts of Life, but something you can use to improve. If it doesn’t help me improve my work, then there’s no room for it up in my head.
DF: This has been a good year for Rick Ruby. Tell us the origins of the character.
ST: Good ol’ Rick Ruby came about when I suckerpunched Bobby Nash in The Pulp Factory Yahoo Group list. We had talked about a Richard Diamond anthology very vaguely, and then the idea of taking that idea, tweaking the hell out of it, and making it all ours hit me one day, and suddenly I posted in the group, dragging Bobby into my madness, and like the wonderful partner in crime (and writing) he is, he just ran with it.
Jump forward a few weeks or so, when he and I are in a Golden Corral, putting together a story bible for the character. Between bites of steak and chicken, we talking about bloody murders and bad guys and stealing diamonds and putting meat on Ruby’s back-story. To say that the other patrons looked at us funny would be an understatement.
When we fleshed him out, we knew most of all that even though folks like Spade and Diamond and even Hammer were our starting point, we wanted something different. And that’s where the idea of a white man in two worlds, the black, other side of the tracks, world and rich white uppercrust world of the ’30s, came from. We wanted a man who was a sort of pure-hearted louse because the world didn’t give him any other options.
DF: What else have you got planned for Rick Ruby? Comic books? Graphic Novels? TV show?
ST: At this point we’re just riding the wave with our three (yes, that’s right—THREE) Pulp Factory Awards for The Ruby Files Vol. 2. But that doesn’t mean we don’t have some awesome plans for Rick and his cast. For starters, we’re working on Vol. 3 for a release date early next year, and you’re going to be a big part of that one, which I can’t wait to read. After that, there will be a Rick Ruby novel, and then even further out, we’ll get into Rick’s legacy when I write the adventures of his grandson in something tentatively titled The Ruby Legacy.
I’d love to see comics and TV, but baby steps, Bill Murray, baby steps.
DF: What are your thoughts on where New Pulp is at today?
ST: I just wrote an essay on this for my upcoming book Giddy and Euphoric: Essays on Writing and Reading (And Ray Bradbury). I think New Pulp is in a pretty enviable spot right now. Now that it’s outgrown its source material and can play with style instead of just characters or settings, New Pulp is literally being made and remade every day.
We have the freedom to tell new stories about nostalgic characters and legacy characters we can add to their stories. We have the freedom to create new characters that share their type and tone. And we have the freedom to simply use the style of those stories to create something even more new and original than either of those.
In a lot of ways we New Pulp writers are just laying claim to the summer reading adventure or crime novel and taking them back home to the stuff that influenced them in the first place. Only we doing it with bigger settings, more varied characters, and lots more panache.
DF: Is New Pulp going anywhere? If so, where is it going? If not, why isn’t it?
ST: Man, I really hope so. I think it’s probably becoming more broad in its definition, like I hinted it above. One publisher has even already embraced the term “Genre” rather than “New Pulp” for its catalog, and I think that’s probably a good thing. I have no problem with New Pulp being more a movement than a genre, because it’s about tone and style and influence than it is about a marketing term or creating a new section in the local Barnes & Noble.
DF: In what direction do you think your work is going?
ST: Make that “in what directions” do I think my work is going, because I’m always moving in about three different directions.
I’m pretty sure at this point that my stories are settling into one of two camps: pulpy tales and horror stories. In my pulp stuff I’m starting to move mainly into just novels and will be weaning myself away from the short stories, except in a few, rare cases. As for my horror work, that’s going to always be short stories. There’s very little I enjoy writing more than horror short stories. That’s an art form I’ll never be able to leave behind.
DF: Netflix calls you up and says they’re going to spend fifty million to turn one of your books into a twelve-episode series. They’ll let you pick the book and one director for all twelve episodes. Which book and which director?
ST: As much as I’d love to see a Fishnet Angel series based on my iHero Entertainment/Cyber Age Adventures tales and the Shooting Star Comics comic book, I think at this point, I’d still have to zero on in Rick Ruby. I think an ongoing series with an underlying C-plot (a la Longmire) would be something that could really make Ruby a hit visually. Besides, I like very few things more than a good period piece on TV.
DF: What’s a typical Day in The Life of Sean Taylor like?
ST: As the old saying goes: Shit, Shower, and Shave, only often without all that pesky shaving nonsense. I’m a contract editor by trade right now, so if there’s work in my inbox, I’m off to the Grayson Coffee House to put lots of red marks all over the pages I’ve been sent. If I have that rare day off, I’ll usually be writing at either the coffee house or my home office. Wash, rinse, and repeat, with occasional Netflix, Amazon, or anime binges thrown in for relaxation.
Derrick Ferguson: Anything else we should know?
Sean Taylor: I once had to break a date because I fell down an elevator shaft, and no, she didn’t believe me either. Which was a bummer. She was cute.
I lost a job one because of a pair of thong. Long story, but it involved Cafepress, a requested item for a friend, and a national religious organization. And a friend in my corner who wished he had a baseball bat at the time. But everything’s good now.
I have two new books coming out pretty soon.
One will be a collection of essays about the art and craft of writing and reading— Giddy and Euphoric: Essays on Writing and Reading (And Ray Bradbury). Anyone who follows my work will know how much I love to pontificate about the craft. What can I say? I’m a wordy fellow.
The other will be a collection of horror stories I’ve written, and it’ll be called A Crowd in Babylon and Other Dark Tales. I’m really looking forward to that one too because, like I said earlier, I love horror stories, and done right, I don’t think there’s a much better American art form. It’s the jazz of genre stories, I think.
I know what you’re thinking; “Damn, Derrick…this thing came out back in 2015 and you’re just now getting around to reading and reviewing it?” Well, I did read it back in 2015 and fully intended to write up a review of it back then as I am an avid fan of the work of Joel Jenkins and Percival Constantine. But as so many of my editors/collaborators know, I’m so easily distracted by bright shiny objects. But thanks to Christofer Nigro (who I’ve since also become a fan of) I revisited this book and ta-da…here at last is the review. I hope it’s worth the wait.
“Black-Hearted Killers: A Monica Killingsworth Story” by Joel Jenkins. Monica Killingsworth is one of Joel’s favorite characters. I can tell because of my firm belief that if a writer is truly having fun writing a story/novel then that fun can’t help but be translated to their prose. He’s written several stories about Monica, all of which I recommend. The story itself is in Full Tilt Boogie Action Movie In Prose Mode from start to finish. The only drawback I can point to here is that for somebody like me who has read other Monica Killingsworth stories and so am familiar with the character and her background so that I was able to fill in the gaps from memory. But for somebody who is coming to the character cold they might be a bit bewildered by exactly who these people are and what’s going on. But if all you’re looking for is plenty of shootouts, wiseass dialog and eccentric characters, you should give this one a try. I especially liked how the ending turned out to be a real surprise.
“The Damsel of Disaster” by Christofer Nigro. Christofer does a good job of setting up the scene, letting us know where and when we are. I like that he sets the story in Buffalo as it’s a good reminder than organized crime was operating everywhere and not just in New York City and Chicago. But I do question as to why one mob boss would bring along his daughter and the other one would bring along his girlfriend to a sit-down where they are going to discuss things that are best not discussed with potential witnesses in the room. He’s got good characters and a solid plot but everything feels compressed and rushed and just shoved into too small a space for events to happen organically. Too many moments in the story feel like they happen just because Christofer wanted them to happen and not because they came from the interaction of the characters and the decisions that they make. But overall, it’s a well-paced story that doesn’t slow down for a bit and it does the job it’s supposed to do; tell a hard and brutal story about hard and brutal people and on that level, it succeeds.
“Tragic Like A Torch Song” by Shannon Muir. If I had to categorize the stories so far, I’d say the first one is 1980s Action Movie while the second is 1930s Warner Bros Gangster. This one is firmly in the arena of Film Noir. I could easily visualize this story in nourish black & white while reading it. Torch singer Hazel Atwood agrees to do some amateur detective work for her manager Frank who thinks his wife is cheating on him. The manager is skeptical but Hazel’s father used to be a P.I. and she persuades him that since she knows Hazel, Frank’s wife won’t be suspicious if she does her snooping around. When Frank turns up dead shortly afterwards, everybody is not only suspicious, they’re suspects as well. But Frank’s murder isn’t the only mystery to be solved. There’s also the secret of Hazel’s parentage that gets coiled up in Frank’s murder and she needs to unravel the both of them. Out of all the stories in the book, this is the one you’ve got to pay the most attention to because the solution to both mysteries is both tricky and convoluted. I’m not ashamed to admit that I had to read the ending twice to make sure I understood how and why everybody and everything was connected.
“Shikata Ga Nai” by Percival Constantine. Know what I miss? Private eyes who keep a bottle of booze in their lower right-hand desk drawer, a loaded .38 revolver in the pocket of their trench coat and who solve their cases with experience and knowledge of human nature along with sheer brainpower instead of computers and DNA results. Private investigator Kyoko Nakamura is just such a private eye. In a relatively short story, Kyoko comes to life and Percival uses the location of Osaka, Japan almost as another character in the story. The missing person case Kyoko accepts at first appears to be a fairly easy one. But that’s before the Yakuza gets involved and soon Kyoko has a hired killer stalking her. This isn’t a twisty, convoluted mystery where you have to really work to make sense of what is going on but it is an excellent introduction to the character of Kyoko Nakamura and her world (Note to Christofer Nigro: go read this story for the dialog. THIS is how people in this kind of story talk)
Even though it was published in 2015, this could be the perfect time for THE DAME DID IT to be discovered and find an audience as we’re seeing strong women characters in prose, TV and movies stepping into the spotlight in all manner of fresh, new and exciting ways. A book of stories, all with female protagonists kicking ass and taking names may have been ahead of it’s time in 2015 but in 2018 it’s right on time. Enjoy.
Having read four of his books now and one of them twice I think it’s safe to say that I’ve become a fan of Raymond Embrack. It’s always such a pleasant surprise to discover a writer who really makes me sit up and pay attention to what he’s doing and Raymond Embrack certainly does that. Why do I like his writing so much? I think it’s because he has that Swing For The Fences quality I always enjoy reading. Each and every one of his books I’ve read so far reads as if he’s afraid he’ll never write another one again and so they’re stuffed with off the wall characters, wild ideas and wilder concepts. Add to that playful dialog married to descriptive passages and labyrinthine plot twists that I do think he gets carried away with at times. But we’ll get into that later on. Right now let’s get into the plot of EL MOROCCO.
It’s the swingin’ hepcat 1960’s and Guy Roman is a hot up-and-coming comic working Atlantic City. He’s not quite big time yet but he’s on his way. Until he gets derailed by New Jersey wiseguy wannabe Jackie Rockafero who blatantly hijacks Guy’s comedy routine as he thinks it would be fun to trade leg-breaking and loan sharking to be a stand-up comic. Naturally Guy takes exception to this. Jackie offers Guy gold or lead. Guy takes lead and winds up left for dead in a filthy A.C. alley alongside the ridiculously gorgeous showgirl Tess Revere who has also pissed off Jackie in a way I would not dare dream of revealing here.
Once he recovers, Guy, along with the brain damaged but still recovering Tess heads to Los Angeles where Jackie has become a comedic megastar. Guy’s intention is to not only take back his act but to make Jackie Rockafero sorry he was ever born. The conflict between them escalates into a major war that before it’s over involves the Hollywood film industry, celebrity gangster Mickey Cohen, crooked gossip columnists, high powered agents who are little more than scam artists and the West Coast Mafia a.k.a. The L.A. Set.
One of the things that makes EL MOROCCO so much fun to read is Raymond Embrack’s affinity for the language, attitudes and feel for the 1960’s. His characters all have a wonderfully smart-ass way of talking and yet he manages to not have them all sound the same. Everybody’s a smart-ass in their own way, if you know what I mean. And the characters and tone of the book are totally authentic to the time period. So those of you who are actively PC should be warned. The people in EL MOROCCO talk, act and think like people who lived in the 1960’s talked, acted and thought and I wouldn’t have it any other way. I’m actually more comfortable with that than with books that are supposed to be set in the 1930’s, 40’s, ‘50’s or ‘60’s but are peopled with characters from the ‘00’s.
What else can I say to recommend the book? Raymond’s way of writing is one where he’s clearly having fun with language and with words. He obviously enjoys the way he’s telling the story in the language and style and rhythm of the dialog and description. It’s really enjoyable to read his prose as it sings and swings with the patois of 1960’s hipster jive talk.
What’s my only quibble with the book? Remember earlier when I mentioned that Raymond gets carried away with plot twists? The plot twists at the conclusion of EL MOROCCO come so fast and there are so many of them that I felt he was pushing it and I was wondering if he was deliberately trying to see how many plot twists he could throw in there before they collapsed under their own weight. But that’s okay. Above all, I like and admire Raymond Embrack for his sheer audacity and willingness to take the chance of going too far with his bizarre plots and outrageous characters. It’s always more fun to read a writer who isn’t afraid to Go There instead of one that offers up easily digestible prose that is no more exciting to read than recycled oatmeal is fun to eat. He’s an extremely entertaining writer and if you’re going to start reading him, EL MOROCCO is a great place to start.