Go Go Gato Publisher Revisions

I just completed the first round of editing/revising for Go Go Gato.  The publisher and editor notes were helpful, and I (hopefully) strengthened the narrative and the character development. I’m hoping I’ve written an engaging mystery with memorable characters, settings, and dialogue.  Put another way, my goal as a novelist was always incredibly simple and ridiculously ambitious: I strive to write the kind of books I enjoy reading.  Not to sound big-headed, but I enjoyed reading my book, which was kind of weird and sort of cool at the same time.  I actually stopped a time or two during the revision/reading process and thought, “That’s good writing. I wrote that.” I’m of the opinion that all writers have to be at least a tiny bit arrogant to believe others should spend time and money to read something they wrote, to believe what they have to say about the world, albeit a fictional one, is worthwhile.  That said, I believe my book is worthwhile.

Arrogance aside, I must confess to feeling a range of emotions, most of them brand-spanking new for me, an emotionally-suppressed introvert who tends to dwell on the negative. First, I’m feeling grateful my work will be out there in the world soon. Writing is a vocation for me, and now that I have the opportunity to do what I love, and, possibly, hopefully, earn a bit money doing it is gratifying.  Second, I feel inspired to keep writing (and reading).  Honestly, there are countless books available nowadays, and not long ago that fact would have depressed me, but now it invigorates me, motivates me to keep working, keep doing what I love to do.

Okay, I’ll stop now before I start to sound too much like the “sentimental geek” Ryan Adams sings about.


Review of Shotgun Lullaby by Steve Ulfelder

Conway Sax, a recovered alcoholic with a checkered past, is a man who pays for his sins one favor at a time. In Shotgun Lullaby, the third book in the series, the initial favor is squaring a small car loan debt for one Gus Biletnikov, a wiseass college boy who recently joined the Barnburners (think: Alcoholics Anonymous, but even more intense).  After Sax erases the debt with his fists, he takes a keen interest in helping Gus stay sober and get back on his feet, for the young Biletnikov reminds Sax of his own estranged son.  But the real problems start when Biletnikov falls off the wagon.  First, someone guns down a kid staying in Biletnikov’s room at Almost Home, a halfway house for people fresh out of a rehab or jail. Figuring (correctly) that Biletnikov was the actual target, Sax vows to find out who is after Gus Biletnikov…and why.  This leads to problems with the sordid cast of characters in Biletnikov’s orbit, which includes a gorgeous, but hatable step mother, a smooth-talking con man, a burnt-out drug dealer whose in love with Gus, and a father-son duo of gangsters.  The plot in this one keeps you guessing until the very end.

But what makes this installment of the series stand out is the depths to which Sax is willing to go to redeem himself and, at least in part, to do penance for his past transgressions. Loyalty is not just a word with Conway Sax; it is a lifestyle.  True, Sax has a black and white view of the world and is intensely loyal. He is also prone to fits of rage and violence, but he is not a violent or immoral man. Similar to the violence depicted in Breaking Bad, the violence in this novel is not gratuitous; every punch thrown, every gunshot fired, every life taken costs Sax something, and, by extension, costs the reader something.  This, in a way, elevates this book (and the series) beyond the typical PI/mystery book genre, makes it social commentary…highly readable, extremely enjoyable commentary.

Bottom line, Conway Sax is a good man, and in today’s world where people’s loyalties and moral compasses change depending on self-interest and survival, there is something incredibly admirable about this character’s dedication to family and friends. Put another way, I not enjoy reading these books, I actually relate to Conway Sax. Perhaps it is my INTJ personality, but like Sax, I take my commitments seriously and never give myself a break. Neither does Sax. This makes him the most realistic fictional PI out there right now.  This series is, in a word, revelatory. I hope to one day write something this good…and this relevant. 


shotgun lullaby




Writers I Admire: Steve Ulfelder

I’m a sucker for a good series, and the Conway Sax books are not good, they’re great.  Sax, a part-time mechanic, part-time PI, specializes in doing “favors” for fellow Barn Burners, or recovering alcoholics. As a former drunk, Sax has a checkered past, which, in a variety of interesting ways, both haunts and motivates him to assist other former alcoholics, even when they are ungrateful or downright despicable. But what I dig most about Sax is this: he is a decent guy, an American hero in the same vein as the Colson Quinn character in Ace Atkins’s novels.

In “The Simple Art of Murder,” Raymond Chandler says this about the detective: “He must be a complete man and a common man and yet an unusual man. He must be, to use a rather weathered phrase, a man of honor, by instinct, by inevitability, without thought of it, and certainly without saying it…He has a sense of character, or he would not know his job.” To me, it’s almost as if Chandler were writing about Conway Sax. 

Aside from the main character, however, there are many other excellent reasons to read Ulfelder’s books. The wonderful clipped prose. The fast-paced narratives typically centered around loyalty and redemption. I could go on, but I’ll let the writing speak for itself. Click on the link below, and read the opening chapter of Ulfelder’s latest novel Shotgun Lullaby.  


Highway 61 by David Housewright

One of the reasons I read (and write) crime novels is to experience danger without suffering any of the consequences. Call it what you will. Escapism. Wish fulfillment. Fantasy.  But whatever label you want to put on it, I would argue it is a healthy way to indulge, and David Housewright’s PI novel Highway 61 is one thoroughly satisfying indulgence, a book totally worthy of adverbs.

In Highway 61, Rushmore McKenzie (great name!) is a recent millionaire and unlicensed PI who does favors for his friends, or in this case, the daughter of the woman he loves. The daughter’s father, a lowlife with a taste for barely legal girls named Jason Truhler, is being blackmailed.  It doesn’t take McKenzie very long before he figures out Truhler has fallen victim to the classic Honey Pot scam. A bit more digging and all manner of unsavory characters come crawling out of the dirt: a pair of murderous brothers referred to as the Joes, a serial arsonist named Bug, a Machiavellian fixer called Muehlenhaus, and a teenage callgirl-come-blackmailer named Vicki Walsh at the center of it all. With a sordid cast of characters like that, the action is bound to reach a fever pitch, and in a hurry, which it does.

Aside from the requisite car chases and physical confrontations between McKenzie and the bad guys, all of which are expertly written and kept me up past my bedtime, this novel does something quite interesting: it uses Highway 61 as both a setting for the action and as a metaphor.  The highway represents moral decay, and McKenzie must traverse this highway and save the day, all while maintaining his own moral compass. Pretty deep stuff, especially for such a fun read.

This was my first encounter with Rushmore McKenzie, but it won’t be my last. I’m planning my own trip down the highway soon. . .to pick up another of Housewright’s novels. Hopefully, I won’t come across any blackmailers or armed assailants as I prefer to keep my fantasy life separate from my real one.


highway 61