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Jim Nisbet's noir detective knows why the book biz is fading

By Jonathan Kiefer
SF Weekly
Wednesday, Nov 3 2010

The San Francisco poet and novelist Jim Nisbet's new book is an old book, reportedly conceived in the mid-1980s as he was making a name for himself with crime novels while also feeling disgusted by the marauding prosaicism of detective fiction. From necessity, he came up with a different kind of noir-pulp novella: literarily neurotic, self-deconstructing, hardboiled private-dick lit. Perhaps to cover his tracks, Nisbet also took the trouble of rendering the thing obscenely hilarious.

Aptly, he called it A Moment of Doubt — a short moment at just over 100 pages, yet long enough to have stayed timely until its publication this month in a joint effort by the East Bay's PM Press and San Francisco's Green Arcade. It qualifies as a local-publishing event, if this town nowadays can accept as much from a writer who's inclined to make his protagonist another writer who's inclined to liken his penis to Coit Tower at Christmastime. (Yes, as A Moment of Doubt hotfoots its course, from anticipated junk-needle jab to a breakthrough of consensual sodomy, pricks will abound.)

This increasingly anguished narrator, toiling away in the '80s himself, is one Jas Jameson, "detective writer, a name that bears the onus of years of fictional violence, of sexual outrage, and lately of fraudulent endeavors." Habits include contorted, toilet-rattling sex with his landlady, skulking around vestigial Cow Hollow sleaze pockets in a bleary-eyed fog of depressive paranoia, and confusing familiar barflies with his own fictional creations. As regards the fraudulence, that refers both to the whole of Jameson's literary oeuvre — which contains some conspicuously familiar titles from Nisbet's own backlist, plus a few other invented doozies such as So Long, Pockface — and to the dubious means of his recent bestselling eminence. Jas has just discovered "the marvelous labor-saving capacities of modern word processing," through which the hack becomes a hacker, tinkering with his publisher's mainframe and turning its business operations to his own advantage.

"I'll even give you a hint, dear reader," he warns early on, "right now, right this very moment, as you're buying, holding, reading, thinking about this text, you're deep, deep within a SUBMIT routine, conceived, written, and implemented a long, long time ago, by me. Your dear chickenshit author. And as of now, because you found out about all this too late, you're lucky I'm benevolent. Consider."

Only gradually does the irony dawn that A Moment of Doubt isn't just about genre fatigue in general; it actually anticipates the Kindle-tested, microblogger-approved technological horror that's palpably underway in the book business now — with deep reading ditched for mobile-upload synopsis skimming, author confidence shot and the whole organism of literature apparently sickened nearly to death. Or as Jas Jameson put it more succinctly some 20-odd years ago: "A pre-ulcerous condition loomed. Automation became imminent."

Under the circumstances, Nisbet seems remarkably magnanimous. One might almost weep with gratitude for the vigor he puts into even the most quotidian descriptions, the way of mocking writerly indulgence while also delighting with it. He's like a more hetero Burroughs, or a more companionable Mailer, or both at once. His avidity is touching, and rewarding.

This has been a productive year for Nisbet, with the publication of his novel Windward Passage and reissues of The Damned Don't Die (known originally as The Gourmet) and Lethal Injection. Maybe it'll even be productive enough to release him from the qualification that although many Americans still don't know his work, he's huge in Europe. If anything, A Moment of Doubt reminds us that he's been doing right by the reader from moment one.

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Panitch and Harvey Provide Essential Primers on the Financial Crisis

By Ed Walsh
Irish Socialist Network
October 20th, 2010

I’ve always found the economic side of Marxism to be a bit of a chore, really. Whether it’s the great bearded one himself or such notable followers as Rosa Luxemburg and Ernest Mandel, I’ve tended to skip the weighty volumes they delivered with Capital or Capitalism in the title and go for the sparkling political essays that don’t mention the organic composition of this or the falling rate of that. Every now and then I’d dig out one of the books recommended as an accessible primer on Marxist economics, struggle my way through it and forget much of what I’d read within a few weeks.

Eventually I decided it was time to get my head around this stuff properly and clear up my ignorance of what’s been happening to global capitalism over the last few decades. Handily, I had started to get my teeth into it just when the great financial crash began. If anyone tries telling you that nobody predicted what was going to happen, don’t listen: the Marxist economic analysts whose work was derided or simply ignored by the wise men of the mainstream had their eye firmly on the ball. Here’s one random example from an essay published in 1999 by the Spanish economists Jesús Albarracín and Pedro Montes:

“The magnitude of the financial problem surpasses that of any preceding historical period, including the years preceding the crash of 1929. Considering present conditions - capital’s internationalism, decomposition of the international monetary system, deregulation of markets - the house of cards erected through financial and credit expansion is highly unstable and runs a risk of collapse which is not easy to dismiss. Before the initiation of another expansive cycle similar to that of the 1980s and above all before the initiation of a lasting phase of recovery, a cleansing of the system which destroys part of this financial capital seems necessary. No firm recovery can take place with the burden of the current financial hypertrophy and degeneration.”

Not bad for “dinosaurs”, eh?

Now that the crisis has actually hit us, it might be a good idea to check out this deeply unfashionable school of economic thought, among whose English-speaking vanguard the authors of In and Out of Crisis and The Enigma of Capital rank very highly.

In their short, accessible primer, Leo Panitch and Sam Gindin set out to dispel some naïve and woolly thinking about the crisis on the Left. They challenge the common view of neo-liberalism as an ideology pure and simple, describing it instead as a class project which aimed to reinforce the social power of capitalist elites in the global North. This brings into question the idea that 2008’s meltdown - and the massive state intervention which followed - marked the demise of neo-liberalism. The ideology has certainly been rendered laughable, but then, it was never meant to be carried out in practice. Reagan, Thatcher et al never had a problem with state intervention as such. In fact their project required it, on a vast scale. It’s not a question of whether or not states should intervene in the economy, but how and on behalf of which social interests.

Panitch and Gindin also question the widely-urged remedy to the financial joy-riding which has marked recent economic history: more and better regulation. Such calls overlook the class nature of the state in a capitalist society, which renders it unsuitable for the task of bringing finance capital to heel:

“The fundamental relationship between capitalist states and financial markets cannot be understood in terms of how much or little regulation the former puts upon the latter. Neo-liberalism brought a change in the mode of regulation, but there wasn’t less regulation. Moreover, freer markets often require more rules, if nothing else to protect the property owners who are in the market, to lay the rules under which they can sue each other and go to court when they are not able to make their obligations. It is certainly possible to say that the regulatory agencies should have developed forms of controlling some of the rampant speculative and fraudulent activities. But regulatory agencies weren’t interested in that. Their role was developing the kinds of regulations that would promote financial innovation. And the resultant financial speculation has been central to the kind of dynamic globalisation that capitalism produced to the cost of a great many people around the world.”

There will have to be a major renewal of working-class political organisation if this comfortable relationship between capitalist states and capitalist markets is to be challenged; Panitch and Gindin have some useful reflections on the impasse of North American trade unionism which can easily be linked with experience on this side of the Atlantic, and conclude with “strategic considerations” for the Left and ten theses on the crisis that deserve careful study.

Like Eric Hobsbawm and Frederic Jameson, David Harvey has managed the impressive feat of establishing himself as the pre-eminent scholar in his field despite remaining loyal to Marx throughout a resolutely anti-Marxist age. Harvey’s reputation is founded on an awe-inspiring grasp of factual material and social theory, in tandem with a lyrical prose style that recalls the best of Marx himself. Try this for a taster:

“If we could somehow map the movement of capital occurring in different places across the globe, then the picture would look something like the satellite images taken from outer space of the weather systems swirling across the oceans, mountains and plains of planet earth. We would see an upswelling of activity here, becalmed zones there, anticyclonic swirls in another place and cyclonic depressions of various depths and sizes elsewhere. Here and there tornadoes would be ripping up the land and at certain times typhoons and hurricanes would be coursing across the oceans posing imminent dangers for those in their paths. Refreshing rains would turn pastures green while droughts elsewhere leave a scorched earth brown.”

The Enigma of Capital is a remarkably clear and readable analysis of the factors that cause capital to break its cycle, generating the crises that have wreaked havoc across the globe since the birth of industrial capitalism. There’s no point trying to sum up Harvey’s argument in a few sentences: I’ll just concentrate here on one of his points about the origin of economic crises. Marxist economic theory has often been divided into camps grouped around three “crisis theories”: “The profit squeeze (profits fall because real wages rise), the falling rate of profit (labour-saving technological changes backfire and ‘ruinous’ competition pulls prices down), the underconsumptionist traditions (lack of effective demand and the tendency towards stagnation associated with excessive monopolisation).” Harvey believes that we need a more pluralist approach to crisis theory that combines the insights of different schools:

“The analysis of capital circulation pin-points several potential limits and barriers. Money capital scarcities, labour problems, disproportionalities between sectors, natural limits, unbalanced technological and organisational changes (including competition versus monopoly), indiscipline in the labour process and lack of effective demand head up the list. Any one of these circumstances can slow down or disrupt the continuity of capital flow and so produce a crisis that results in the devaluation or loss of capital. When one limit is overcome accumulation often hits up against another somewhere else. For instance, moves made to alleviate a crisis of labour supply and to curb the political power of organised labour in the 1970s diminished the effective demand for product, which created difficulties for realisation of the surplus in the market during the 1990s. Moves to alleviate this last problem by extensions of the credit system among the working classes ultimately led to working-class over-indebtedness relative to income that in turn led to a crisis of confidence in the quality of debt instruments (as began to happen in 2006). The crisis tendencies are not resolved but merely moved around … it is also vital to remember that crises assume a key role in the historical geography of capitalism as the ‘irrational rationalisers’ of an inherently contradictory system. Crises are, in short, as necessary to the evolution of capitalism as money, labour power and capital itself.”

John Waters of the Irish Times recently launched a particular ignorant and senseless (even by his standards) attack on “gobshite-Marxism”. While we have to admire his pioneering use of the word “gobshite” as an adjective, it’s hard to avoid the conclusion that Waters just didn’t have a clue what he was talking about. There’s been plenty of gobshite-neo-liberalism in the Irish media since the crisis began, however. It would be nice to imagine one of the pundits who froth at the mouth when talking about public-sector workers delegated the task of rebutting Harvey’s argument, on pain of losing their access to the opinion pages and having to go around in public with a trade union pin on their jacket if they can’t get to grips with it. We’ll be waiting a long while for that to happen, of course. But in the meantime, do yourself a favour and check out both of these books: even though they barely mention Ireland, you’ll learn more about where we might be headed than a year’s subscription to the Irish Times or the Irish Independent would divulge.

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Dancing With Myself

Benjamin Whitmer Interviews Benjamin Whitmer
Nigel Bird, Sea Minor blog
23rd October, 2010

I'm just back from the Lake District. For those who haven't been there, it's a truly beautiful part of the world and it rains a lot.

On the motorway, just before our final turn off, the last services available were at a place called Killington Lake. I like the idea of using that for a name of a character at some point, but if you want to get there first, go ahead - just make sure I get to read the tale.

Being with the family has been a real treat and there's also been something of marathon running in there (now I know how the bloke who walks it wearing a deep-sea divers suit feels). Great to go, great to be back.

I've missed posting interviews very much.

Delighted then that, as I come up for a lungful of air, tonight I can put up this piece by Benjamin Whitmer. The air around him smells fresher and cleaner than the Lakes, at least that's the way I imagine it from all the way over here.

Here's something about his novel that I ripped from the ever reliable Spinetingler:

“This is nightmare, hunker-down-in-your-soul, how-deep-can-you-dig, release-the-fucking-bats territory.”

If that isn't enough for you, read the rest of the review at:

Dig the cover, dig the title and dig the interview:

Benjamin Whitmer one and all...

So the first question has to be one that I think we’ve all had on our minds: how the hell did Pike manage to get published?

Well, it started with getting an agent. After I finished Pike I made a list of Manhattan agents and sent out a bunch of straight cover letters asking them to please represent me. I got nowhere, so one night after a few drinks, my wife and I decided to have a little fun with the process. I don’t remember all of what we came up with, but the bio ran:

“I've been a bar-brawler, a factory grunt, a vacuum salesman, a convalescent, a high-school dropout, a graduate student, a semi-truck loader, a small-time drug dealer, a protestor, a gun nut, a squatter, and a petty thief. Right now I'm teaching Ward Churchill's classes at the University of Colorado, and I could stomp a mudhole into James Frey's ass on the best day he ever had.”

All of it was true, of course, and It seemed to work. I sent it out to a five agents on a Wednesday, and by the next Monday I had one phone message and two emails.

Boxers or briefs?

Barbed wire.

Have you ever considered who might play the title character in a Hollywood adaptation of Pike?

Funny you should ask that. About a year ago my editor at PM Press asked me to write up a Hollywood pitch for Pike. She had a bead on an independent crime movie director who was looking for new material. He’s somebody whose movies I like quite a bit, so I had a couple of drinks and banged something out. For the lead character, Douglas Pike, I wrote: “Mel Gibson (with his beard), hopped up on cocaine, booze, and self-hatred, with strict instructions to tap into his inner Nazi.”

The director liked the pitch well enough that he requested a copy of the book, but, as of yet, he hasn’t read it. He’s on a pretty grueling directorial schedule, I hear. Which, as I told my editor, is just how I want it. As long as he doesn’t read it, he can’t reject it, and I get to brag on ever barstool in town that my first novel’s being considered for a Hollywood film.

I’m starting to notice a common theme. If you don’t mind me asking, what’s your favorite color?


And since we’re on the subject of things writers love to talk about, what kind of music do you listen to when you’re writing?

Waylon Goddamned Jennings. Just in case you couldn’t tell. I have my own sense of what is and what’s not country music, and it runs from The Louvin Brothers to The Drive-By Truckers, but all of it revolves around Waylon Goddamned Jennings. Even the other shit I listen to, like blues or punk rock, all of that is contained within the mighty spirit of Waylon Goddamned Jennings. So when people ask me what I listen to, that’s what I say. Waylon. Goddamned. Jennings.

Glock or 1911?

Why choose?

Back to Pike. You got some great blurbs on the book. Were there any that you wished you’d gotten but didn’t?

Actually, now that you ask, my agent had a contact who knew Harry Crews, so he hit him up for a blurb. Crews’ response was perfectly appropriate, something to the effect of: “I’m 74 years old and got my own fucking books to deal with before I die.”

My wife says I should have called him up and said, “Yeah, well my first choice was Larry Brown, but he’s already dead.”

A serious question: was there any one book you read that made you want to start writing?

Actually, yeah, there was. And, more impressive, I even remember what it was. It was Islands in the Stream by Hemingway. I was semi-homeless in my late teens and I had a friend who was starting off playing blues guitar who I stayed with a lot. After reading that book I did nothing but write really fucking horrible short stories and read them aloud to the poor fucker. He was kind enough to never bludgeon me to death with the guitar. He was a hell of a lot more talented than I ever was.

Another serious question: did you know where you were going with Pike before you started writing, or did it just kind of evolve?

I had no idea where it was going. I mean, I thought I did, but I ended up throwing away probably eighty percent of what I wrote in the early stages. That’s part of why it takes me so long to write a book. Better writers can plot stuff out, make plans, do it right the first time. It takes me a lot of rewriting to get anywhere near to whatever initial thought or feeling it was that made me want to write the book in the first place.

One more question. What would Chunk Norris do?

Probably stomp a mudhole in my ass on the best day I ever had. Rightfully.

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Pike's Peak

By Jed Ayres
Hardboiled Wonderland
Friday, October 29, 2010

Benjamin Whitmer’s novel Pike is the most exciting, kick ass debut of the year. There, I said it, the book backs me up. Set in the harsh wilds of rural Kentucky, Ohio and on the streets of Cincinatti, Pike bristles with danger, menace and mortal volatility. The bleak, rugged physical terrain mirrors the psychic and emotional interiors of each character who have been put through hells as diverse as the intentions that paved the way.

At the book’s opening: Douglas Pike is a hard bitten old timer who grudgingly takes custody of the twelve year old granddaughter he’s never met on occasion of her mother’s death. The girl is as hesitant to go with him as he is to take her, but neither has many options in life. A bent cop named Derrick Kreiger murders a kid in broad daylight and incites a riot on the streets of Cincinatti. When he's suspended from the force, he goes on an end fastening mission that leaves more than a couple bodies in its wake.

The characters Whitmer assumes you'll love as much as he does, do awful things. They have terrible lives and bloody comeuppance, but his skill and compassion as a writer wont let you dismiss them as irredeemable. The ferocity of this book is something special and signifies the arrival of a major new talent and voice in fiction. Put Whitmer's next one, whatever it may be, squarely at the top of my anticipation list.

With little fanfare, PM Press's Switchblade line has carved out a niche for finely crafted, hardcore crime fiction with a social awareness, and Pike ought to win them a lot of attention. Benjamin Whitmer, graciously gave his time to answer a few questions:

First off, I know it's a line in the book, but it's also the title of your blog and the name on your Twitter account - Can you explain the significance of the phrase 'Kick him, Honey'?

It's just a stupid joke with myself. It was the first of many laugh-out-loud lines I hit in Cormac McCarthy's Blood Meridian, and I think at one point I had some cockamamie plan to include it in every book I ever wrote. Y'know, to ensure thematic unity through my work.

Now I've just decided to kill a dog in every book instead. I hate dogs.

Reading your author bio, it sounds like you grew up looking at the world like it was wide open - still wild - and I'd say the characters in your book do as well. They treat societal laws as either ignorable irritants or hostile encroachments on their existence, how much of the author's worldview do they represent?

That’s a great question. Growing up, my mother definitely placed a premium on freedom. I had a lot of elbow room, and there was no censorship when it came to books or ideas. She also had very little interest in arbitrary societal norms -- she’s probably the least judgmental person I’ve ever met. She’s an amazing woman, and those are the greatest gifts she gave me. But, of course, that freedom came with a cost. We were very poor, and there were chunks of my childhood where we didn’t have electricity or running water, let alone health insurance or any kind of financial safety net.

For all the talk that goes on in this country about freedom, there ain’t much to be had. There’s no aspect of our lives where we’re not subject to regulation and control, and, as everybody knows, we’ve got more people in prison than any country in the world, and most of them for victimless crimes. No matter how you look at it, when it comes to tangible freedom, the kind that allows us to live how we want to live, we’re one of the least free people around. That’s something my characters grate against, and I absolutely share that with them.

But then I think of before Colorado became a state, when it was pretty much a free-for-all for white settlers. And I think of when white Denverites were worked into a frenzy against the local Indians, and the First Regiment of Colorado Volunteers massacred hundreds of peaceful Cheyenne and Arapahoe camped along Sand Creek. And I remember how when they returned to Denver with scalped women’s genitalia stretched across their saddle pommels and Indian fetuses paraded on sticks, the whole town turned out to cheer them on. That’s a kind of freedom, too. And that tension about freedom is something that's been on my mind a lot. I tried to keep it in play throughout Pike.

So was Douglas Pike based on anyone in particular? Or Derrick for that matter?

Well, Pike was based on a few people, none of whom I should I probably name for pissing 'em off. But I did actually have a kind of model for both Pike and Derrick -- somebody I could imagine when I came to a mental block.

In Pike's case it was Steve Earle, circa Transcendental Blues. Earle was just out of jail, and was looking big and burly and full of menace to prove himself. For Derrick it was Waylon Jennings back in his cocaine and speed days, around the time of Honky Tonk Heroes. Honky Tonk Heroes is one of the greatest country albums ever released, but you can tell it almost killed Jennings to make it. You look at pictures of him from that time and he’s drawn thin, strung out, at the absolute stretched-out end of reason.

Those were only a kind of body double for the characters, though, if you know what I mean. I didn't try to base the characters on them or anything. It was just a way of getting myself back on track when I needed to. I probably listened to those two albums, Transcendental Blues and Honky Tonk Heroes, three or four thousand times when I was writing Pike.

What importance did the geographical setting have?

All the importance in the world. I had the characters of Pike and Wendy in my head for years but I had no idea what to do with them until my wife and I moved to Cincinnati chasing a job. My daughter was born within a couple weeks of the move, and she had colic pretty bad. We were living in a tiny two-room apartment, and my daughter would cry for four or five hours at a clip, so when I was home from work I'd take her for walks -- it was about the only thing that would calm her down -- and let my poor exhausted wife get a little rest. We ended up walking all over the city at all times of day and night. Where we lived wasn't a real bad area, but we were bordering a lot of neighborhoods that were, so I'd throw a handgun in my diaper bag and we'd just roam for hours on end. It was then, walking around and looking at the city, that the story started to fall into place.

I always tell my daughter that she can't read Pike quite yet -- she's only six -- but that she's already been to all the locations. I don't think it's done her too much damage, anyway. She asks me for Cincinnati stories almost every night after storytime.

The beginning of the book places us secure in our sympathies with Pike and set firmly against Derrick, but by the end of the book, Pike's character and history challenge our loyalties to him while Derrick's revealed motives endear him a little bit. In your mind was one character clearly the sympathetic one?

No, not at all. I feel like I probably shouldn’t say this in polite company, but I love them both for exactly who they are. As I see it, that’s one of the differences between crime fiction and police procedurals, forensic whodunits, lone hero serials and all the other stuff (some of which I very much enjoy, for the record): with crime fiction, there don’t have to be good guys and bad guys. Instead, you can put motivation at the forefront and make crime a part of character, creating – at least in my mind – much richer, if maybe more disturbing, stories.

I know there are certainly times in my life when I haven’t been at my best. And I know plenty of people who managed to fuck themselves up real good and/or destroy the lives of those around them. But I’ve never met a single person who set out to do so. Every major fuck up I ever met was the product of poor circumstances, bad choices, and whatever flaws and damage they carried with them. I’m not sure you can pinpoint those bad choices or that damage, and in the case of fiction I don’t have much interest in trying – I’m not real interested in writing psychological whydunits, either – but it’s always there.

Those are the kind of people who interest me: heavily flawed, complicated, violent people, doing what they can with what little they have. Straight good guys and bad guys may exist, but I’ve never seen them outside of comic books. (And, come to think, most comic books are more complicated than that these days.)

Is Crime Writer, a tag you're happy to wear?

Yessir, no doubt about it. My next book actually won’t be a crime book; I’m co-writing Charlie Louvin’s autobiography for Igniter Books -- which is about as exciting as it gets for me, being a hardcore country music fan. But after that I’ve got a second novel just about done, a third half done, and I’m researching for the fourth, and they’re all crime novels. They may be a little off center -- at least I hope so -- but they’re definitely crime novels.

Besides which, one thing I’ve learned over the past month is just how generous the crime fiction community is. I’d probably go broke if I tried to buy Keith Rawson and Brian Lindenmuth all the drinks I owe ‘em. Not to mention Switchblade editor Gary Phillips, who I just got to meet in person, and the rest of the folks at PM Press. And, of course, all the people who've been kind enough to contact me and give me their reaction to the book. I've been blown away, and there’s no way I’d want to jump ship.

And, not to be snide, and I hope it doesn’t come across that way, but if you set copies of the latest releases from, say, Jonathon Franzen and James Ellroy in front of me, I’m reading the Ellroy first. I may very well like the Franzen, I may even think it lives up to the reviews, but I’m reading the Ellroy first. I know that crime fiction’s one of the few places left in literature where we can still talk unironically about things like class, race, corruption, the meaning of violence, the consequences of history, and all the other stuff that moves me, so I’m reading the Ellroy first.

So, yeah, the crime writer tag is something I’m more than happy to wear. I’m very proud of it, and I just hope I live up to it.

How did you get hooked up with Louvin? And not to sound grim, but is there a rush to finish the book or a contingency plan in place if he doesn't see it to completion?

It was actually out of nowhere. Igniter Books is an imprint of HarperCollins run by Neil Strauss and Anthony Bozza, and they wanted to do a Charlie Louvin book, so Strauss contacted my agent and asked if he had any writers who’d be interested in the project. I, of course, jumped at the chance, and we sent Strauss and Bozza some excerpts from Pike. Long story short, they said lots of really nice things about the book, and the job was mine.

As to contingency plans, I don’t think there’ll be any need. Charlie and I have been working really hard and talking a lot, true, but he has more fight in him than I ever thought possible. I mean, it’s pancreatic cancer, so it’s a rough deal, but with the grace and strength he shows every day I have trouble believing he’s going anywhere soon. Maybe I’m fooling myself, but he’s pretty amazing.

Two of the characters in the book are a little pre-occupied with pedophilia - Wendy as a threat and Derrick as a flashpoint for violence - yet the closest thing to a healthy relationship described in Pike involves a grown man and an underaged girl. Care to unpack that a little?

I'm not sure I can, it's just kind of the way the story played out. One thing I would say is that I'm not sure that relationship is very healthy. I don’t want to give anything away for those who haven’t read the book, but that grown man has his own past he’s trying to redeem. Redemption, at least as it gets presented in a lot of fiction, looks like a tremendously violent process. It’s almost like an act of consumption. I mean if you’re redeeming your own fuck ups through the figure of someone else, you’re basically devouring them into your own life story, right?

Certainly the relationship would still be a stumbling point from any reader's point of view, but in the context of the world of the book, of where the characters come from and what they've dealt with, it holds the unique position of not already having destroyed those involved. It seemed to me one more instance of these characters' disdain for the law - of society of the heart - whatever. And how about the law - Jack, the sheriff? What kind of sympathy or esteem do you as the author have for him?

Ah, I got you. Yeah, I think that’s right. Pike certainly thinks that if the relationship is helpful to the grown man and the girl than society has no place getting involved. And that makes sense. As a society we’re real good at shoveling people into prison, but we have no interest in taking care of kids who are abandoned, abused, or starvation-level poor. It just doesn’t come up in the national discourse, except in the breathless horseshit that runs out of 20/20, Oprah (there goes the book club), or whatever. When you’re down to that level, you survive any way you can, and I think Pike would find passing judgment to be hypocritical at best. Of course, Derrick, he’s not real good at nuance in this case – like most people, I suppose – but sometimes things are more complicated than they look from the outside.

As to Jack, the Sheriff, he’s made his own poor choices, I think. Like the rest of them, he kind of blundered into who he is, and now he’s paying for it. I found him sympathetic, for sure. He’s done the best he could with what he had, it's just that what he had turned out to be inadequate. Which, I guess, it usually is.

How did you become involved with PM Press and the Switchblade line?

It was just good timing, really. My agent had been sending Pike around for awhile, and we couldn’t get anyone to bite. We got lots of really nice rejection notes, but they all ended with “way too dark for us.” I have a friend, however, who knows Ramsey Kanaan, the founder of PM Press, and he knew they were looking for books in the vein of Pike. I passed the information on to my agent, he sent it the manuscript off to the folks over there, and they took it. I was really, really excited, of course, and more than a little relieved. I was starting to think it was going to end up collecting dust in the bottom drawer of my desk for the rest of my life.

How long was it between finishing the book and seeing it published?

It was a while. I think three and a half years, maybe a little more.

And in the meantime what kept you occupied?

Well, I’ve got two small children, so that means I’m pretty much always occupied. But I also just kept plugging away. I wrote a second novel, and accidentally got about halfway through a third, and then for the last couple of months it’s been all Charlie Louvin all the time. My career plan as a writer is to make up for my deficiencies of natural talent with pure tenacity. I just figured if I kept grinding away, sooner or later somebody’d want what I was writing. Or, if not, than no harm done, because it gave me something to do that was reasonably harmless – depending on who you ask, anyway – and which I love doing. Some people live for racing cars, some people for building guitars, some people for cooking, this is what keeps me together.

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Kick Him Honey

By Jed Ayres
Ransom Notes: The BN Mystery Blog
Friday, October 29, 2010

Pike, the new novel from Benjamin Whitmer is the most exciting debut of the year. It is a relentlessly violent tale of revenge and redemption that amount to too little, too late and features one of the most compelling protagonists this side of Charles Willeford. When we first meet Douglas Pike, he is having his twelve-year-old granddaughter, whom he’s never met, pawned off on him by his estranged and deceased daughter’s friend. He argues that he’s unfit to care for anyone, let alone a bereaved little girl, to no avail. There is no one else to do it.

Derrick Kreiger is a dirty cop with a brutally competent streak, who shoots a teenager on the streets of Cincinnati—an act that starts a riot—and is suspended pending an investigation. He won’t spend his down time idly. He’s got debts to collect on, favors to call in and loose ends to tie up in order to save his career and life.

With Rory, an amateur fighter he represents, in tow, Pike sets out to uncover the truth behind his daughter’s demise. The sad story of her life is revealed in layers that point him toward dark corners of the Kentucky/Ohio region. He may not have killed her, but he never helped her either. If Pike had a conscience, this would bother him.

But he doesn’t and neither does Kreiger. They both have codes instead, and as the concentric circles they’re walking begin to draw tight into a direct collision course, the reader is challenged to pick a side and advised to stand back. When they collide, it’s going to be epic. Both men have much to atone for and precisely zero capacity for remorse or regret. Watching these two cruel and unapologetic forces of nature prepare to square off is the engine of this book that runs on blood and whiskey and cocaine. 

Pike is hard boiled and completely without mercy. Fans of Ted Lewis’s Jack’s Return Home, (basis of the film Get Carter), or Paul Schrader’s Hardcore will dig this book, as will readers of James Crumley, James Ellroy and Donald Ray Pollock. The bruised and dirty lyricality of the prose may help those with a low threshold for harsh stories of looking for redemptive strains in violence. The characters you may find lovely and worth rooting for, or you may think them beyond redemption, but you wont likely forget them anytime soon. Whitmer does a neat trick with our sympathies, setting us immediately for Pike due to his serious task and against Kreiger due to his loathsome deed, but as the story unfolds, brings both characters closer to the middle by revealing histories and motivations.

Pike is the stuff of country songs, murder ballads and oh, opera. It goes for the throat and then it gets serious. Pick it up, open the pages and watch out, you’re liable to end up with a busted face.

Read my interview with Benjamin Whitmer here.

Jedidiah Ayres writes fiction and keeps the blog Hardboiled Wonderland.

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PM Hits 100

Publishers Weekly
By Judith Rosen
Volume 257 Issue 40
Oct 11, 2010

Despite a rather inauspicious start—right at the beginning of the Great Recession in late 2007—less than three years later PM Press, in Oakland, Calif., has published more than 110 items, including 80 books, and pamphlets, CDs, DVDs, digital downloads, and other merchandise. The indie press also paid off the $50,000 in credit card charges it racked up in startup and printing costs.

True, the warehouse is still in shipper Dan Fedorenko’s apartment, but founders Ramsey Kanaan, who founded AK Press (named for his mother, Ann Kanaan) 25 years ago, and Craig O’Hara, who worked with Kanaan at AK, are now getting paid. Most of the staff is volunteer. Not bad for a press that relies on setting up tables and booths at the West Virginia Book Festival in Charleston; the Green Festival in Washington, D.C.; and the Teachers for Social Justice Conference in San Francisco, as well as selling print and audio/visual PM memberships, and nontrade distribution by AK for more than half its income. Two-thirds of PM’s unit sales and 40% of its income come via Independent Publishers Group, which represents the press—which took its name from the fact that its founders worked on it at night as their second job—to the trade.

To grow its list, PM forged strong relationships with bookstores early on and created imprints for a few, including Busboys and Poets in the Greater Washington, D.C., area; the Green Arcade Bookstore in San Francisco; and Reach & Teach, which opened a retail outlet, the Dove & Olive Works, in San Mateo, Calif., at the end of September. The press also has copublishing arrangements with micropresses like vegan publisher Tofu Hound Press and Derek Jensen’s Flashpoint Press.

“Our strategy is to do enough books that sell between 1,000 and 3,000 copies,” says O’Hara, adding that the press does both print and e-books. “My opinion has long been, if there’s a format to make it available in, we’ll do it.” He also attributes PM’s fast start to a willingness to take the time to make consumers aware of each book. “We constantly do events,” he says. “I have to be out there tabling, from the Brooklyn Book Fair to social forums. There’s no substitute. You can see a direct result when you’re interacting with the world. All the e-mails in the world can’t elaborate the status of PM Press.” Last year alone PM did 400 events and is on track for several hundred again this year.

While PM has almost no returns on its direct to consumer sales, it has relatively few in the trade either, approximately 14%. In this economy, neither O’Hara nor Kanaan is inclined to overprint or have IPG oversell. It launched its biggest book this fall, Teun Voeten’s Tunnel People (Oct.), about homeless New Yorkers who live in the city’s tunnel system, with a 5,000-copy first printing. The photo-journalist author will tour both coasts and Europe, where photo exhibits will run in Amsterdam and London.

Given the economy, O’Hara prefers to keep print runs low and is just as happy that mega-retailers like Barnes & Noble don’t want to order PM’s books in large quantities. Independent booksellers who support PM’s strong left-leaning political and economic lists have been equally realistic when it comes to ordering.

As far as IPG trade sales manager Jeff Palicki is concerned, “PM’s books fit really well with some of the books we do with Chicago Review Press. It’s certainly been a lot of fun to sell their books. They seem to be perfect for the independent market.” IPG has done especially well with PM’s vegan titles like Tofu Hound founders Bob Torres and Jenna Torres’s Vegan Freak (Jan. 2010), as well as its opposite, ex-vegan Lierre Keith’s The Vegetarian Myth (2009), which questions whether a vegan diet can save the planet. The latter is PM’s bestseller, with more than 10,000 copies sold.

By splitting off from AK, which publishes only anarchist books and is run as a true collective, PM has a lot more flexibility with the quantity and range of what it publishes, says O’Hara. PM’s niche may be radical politics, radical music, and radical cookbooks, but the publisher has also developed a strong fiction list, which ranges from Jensen’s Songs of the Dead (2009) to works in translation like Paco Ignacio Taibo II’s Calling All Heroes (July). Currently, PM publishes 25 books a season, including e-book–only releases like a compilation of Al Burian’s zine, Burn Collector (Oct.). “We get a lot of submissions,” says O’Hara. “There’s no substitute for that. I encourage a lot of people to submit.”

However, with all the books PM has published, Fedorenko’s apartment is starting to run out of space. On PM’s agenda for 2011 is raising funds for a real warehouse.

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Hardboiled for Hard Times Tour Listings

Hardboiled for Hard Times: four authors from PM's Switchblade series--Summer Brenner, Benjamin Whitmer, Gary Phillips, and Michael Harris--for readings and discussion of crime fiction today.




Tour Dates Below:

Wednesday, October 13th, 2010:

Kim Stanley Robinson
Terry Bisson
Gary Phillips

Thursday, October 14th, 2010:
Gary Phillips
Summer Brenner
Benjamin Whitmer
Michael Harris
The Green Arcade

Friday, October 15th, 2010:
Lars Mars and His Men
Jim Nisbet
Sin Soracco
The Green Arcade

Saturday, October 16th, 2010:
Gary Phillips
Summer Brenner
Benjamin Whitmer
Michael Harris
Kenneth Wishnia
Pegasus Books Downtown

Monday, October 18th, 2010:
Benjamin Whitmer
Michael Harris
Jim Nisbet
Owen Hill
Summer Brenner
Moe's Books

Tuesday October 19th, 2010:
Benjamin Whitmer
Michael Harris
Summer Brenner
Owen Hill
Pegasus Books Downtown

Wednesday, October 20th, 2010:
Barry Eisler
Owen Hill
Benjamin Whitmer
Michael Harris

Check out other PM events here

Listen to the Community and Resistance Tour

The COMMUNITY AND RESISTANCE TOUR seeks to communicate about current struggles for justice and liberation, from nooses hung in the northern Louisiana town of Jena to women organizing inside prisons, from resistance to school privatization to post-Katrina community organizing and cultural resistance. The tour also seeks to connect communities of liberation, and to build relationships between grassroots activists and independent media.

This tour is for anyone interested in issues of health care, education, criminal justice, housing, or the ways in which systems of racism, patriarchy and other forms of oppression intersect with these struggles.

Sponsored by Left Turn Magazine, Haymarket Books, PM Press, and other radical and independent media projects from around the US, the COMMUNITY AND RESISTANCE TOUR is an exciting movement-building opportunity. Beginning August, 2010, the tour will bring performances, workshops, and inspiration to towns and cities in across the US.

Featured Speakers include Jordan Flaherty, Jesse Muhammad and Victoria Law.

For more information, click here.
To bring Community & Resistance to your town, click here. 

September 11th

September 13th

September 14th

Upcoming Tour Dates are below and also listed on our events calender:

NOTE: Schedule subject to changes and additions

Tuesday, October 5: Montreal, Canada
6:00pm: Chancellor Day Hall, 3644 Peel Street, Moot Court (Metro Peel)
Featuring: Jesse Muhammad, Victoria Law and Jordan Flaherty

Wednesday, October 6: Montreal, Canada
Doors: 7:30pm: Il Motore, 179 Jean Talon West, Metro Parc
Featuring: Jordan Flaherty, The Fat Tuesday Jazz Band and members of Kalmunity Vibe Collective

Thursday, October 7: Toronto, Canada
6:30pm: OISE, Room 2211, 252 Bloor Street W
Featuring: Jesse Muhammad, Victoria Law and Jordan Flaherty

Tuesday, October 12: San Francisco, CA
7:00pm: Modern Times Bookstore
888 Valencia Street
Featuring: Dave Eggers and Jordan Flaherty

Wednesday, October 13: San Francisco, CA
7:00 pm: Station 40
3030B 16th Street (at Mission)

Saturday, October 16: San Rafael, CA
7:00pm: The Marin Youth Center (MYC)
1115 3rd Street

Sunday, October 17: Portland, OR
7:00pm: Red and Black Cafe
400 Southeast 12th Avenue
Featuring: Jordan Flaherty and TBA

Tuesday, October 19: Olympia, WA
6:00pm: Orca Books
509 E. 4th Ave
Featuring: Jordan Flaherty, Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha

Wednesday, October 20: Bellingham, WA
Noon: World Issues Forum
Fairhaven College Auditorium, Fairhaven College of Interdisciplinary Studies
516 High St.
7:00pm: Village Books
1200 11th Street
Featuring: Jordan Flaherty, Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha

Thursday, October 21: Vancouver, Canada
7:00pm: Rhizome Cafe
317 East Broadway
Featuring: Jordan Flaherty, Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha



Punk for the People

The Story of Crass
By Stefan Christoff
September 30th, 2010

The Story of Crass traces the creative history and social-activist roots of the U.K. punk rockers

Punk rock culture is diverse, from frontline anarchist squatters to candy-coded punk-pop radio hits, yet across the spectrum it is without question that legendary U.K. collective Crass carved into the rough edges of punk-rock history.

Crass burst onto the U.K. punk scene in the late '70s, delivering a sound and political practice that challenged and reshaped the genre. Spitfire lyrics aiming at state and religious authorities rode over more vague artistic renditions on the punk sound, while Crass collective members actively joined grassroots campaigns of the era, putting lyrics into practice as social activists.

The Story of Crass, by George Berger, offers a striking and deeply reflective account on the formation and trajectory of Crass. Beyond punk, the book offers key insights into the political context in Britain during the post-hippie, economic-depression era of the late '70s that fostered the emergence of punk culture in the U.K.

Iconic playwright Bertolt Brecht's famous meditation "Art is not a mirror to reflect reality, but a hammer with which to shape it," aptly begins a key chapter: art for the band is vividly described in the biography's pages as a creative process directly tied to confronting perceived social injustices of the time.

Crass' unique take on punk culture has earned the group an enduring status in contemporary punk history, yet The Story of Crass points out the anti-stardom of the group, especially at their height, as well as delving into the origins of publicity-shy practices of celebrated revolutionary music collectives like Montreal's own Godspeed You! Black Emperor, who continue to baffle mainstream music press even today.

"Perhaps unbeknown to the members of Crass, their deliberate policy of anonymity, mixed with tales of their remote farmhouse in the country, lent them a certain mystique in punk circles," writes Berger. "Everyone wants to know the answer to a secret, as any stage magician or amateur-physiologist will testify."

In fact, one of the many open secrets to Crass, as the books tells, is their expression of an honest grassroots rage at the social injustices of the Margret Thatcher era. In weaving together music, political activism and artistic experimentation during a period rife with social unrest, Crass made their mark on contemporary cultural history.

The book goes beyond slogans to detail the multiple artistic influences on the band, which famously combined sound collage, live projections, noise guitars, punk rock vocalizations and sampling at a time before computer-made music. It is certain that the resonance of Crass is also linked to their groundbreaking artistic experimentation, as the collective orchestrated not only a unique sound but some of the first national graffiti projects in the U.K.

"Another thread of Crass' multimedia assault on conformity came in the forum of the stencil graffiti campaign," outlines Berger. "The stencil graffiti craze became a minor revolution in the U.K. for a while as people the length and breadth of the country followed Crass' lead and took up political sloganeering, subverting adverts ('sub-vertising') and society throughout the land." The Story of Crass also points to the lasting cultural influence of Crass graffiti on street art culture, citing globally celebrated artists such as Banksy.

The Story of Crass goes on to trace the punk culture scene that gave birth to Crass via subcultures of the late '60s, breaking a punk subculture taboo in highlighting a historical trajectory between the hippie era and punk rock that would make Sid Vicious roll over in his grave. But Crass' attempt to articulate revolutionary dreams, in action and sound, reaches beyond cultural labels like punk rock. Key to understanding the continuing relevance of Crass today is the universal nature to the anarchist ideas that fuelled the group.

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Video of discussion on Wobblies and Zapatistas at Bluestockings Books

Bluestockings Books parts 1-9



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