I’m very fortunate to have won a few awards this year, so let’s talk about ’em.

Most recently, I won a Derringer Award for Best Long Story for ‘Negative Tilt,’ which appeared in Rock & A Hard Place Issue 7, all the way back in January 2022. RHP has graciously made the story free for everyone to read. I can’t say enough about the folks at RHP, who loved my weird little story about a newspaper journalist turned repo agent. Huge props to Paul J. Garth, who is an incredibly insightful and kind editor. The story wouldn’t be what it is without him.

In April, my work won two awards. LIVING THE GIMMICK won first place for Books, Short Stories, Verse — Fiction for Adult Readers: Novels in the 2023 Communications Contest for the Alabama Media Professionals. (If your eyes glazed over for that long description, I think “Best Novel” will suffice as a descriptor.

And my story ‘The Ghost of Buxahatchee Creek’ — published in Reckon Review — won first place for short story in the same contest. And while I’m singing the praises of Paul, let me say a few words about Reckon’s editor/publisher, Meagan Lucas: Meagan has been phenomenal to work with, incredibly encouraging, and wonderful about feedback. I’m incredibly proud this story, and Reckon is the perfect home for it.

So three awards within a month of one another. That’s a really nice ego boost. I think it indicates that I’m working — when I’m working — at a fairly high level. Hopefully I can continue that. Keep your fingers crossed.

Magic City Blues: Cover reveal and pre-order link

My next book, MAGIC CITY BLUES, comes out in six weeks from Shotgun Honey Books … It’s been a wild ride to get this book to publication. I’ve actually sold this book twice — once to a British publisher who, I later found out, had acted in a way I thought (and still think) was unethical. I pulled the book in April of 2021 with no guarantee that it would find a new home.

If you’re a writer or creative person in general, you know how scary that is. In June of that same year, Shotgun Honey agreed to publish Magic City Blues, along with Living the Gimmick. However, they chose to publish Living the Gimmick first. That makes Magic City Blues — which was supposed to be my debut — in fact, my second book. I want to thank the folks over at Do Some Damage (and specifically the great Steve Weddle) for allowing me to do a cover reveal over at the DSD website.

I also wrote a little bit about the two great authors that inspired the book, Robert B. Parker and Donald Westlake, and how they affected me not only as a writer but also as a person. You should go check it out.

But hey, you really want to see the cover, right? Here it is!

Now, here’s the back jacket copy, for your reading pleasure.

When low-level legbreaker Kincaid takes on a new assignment, he discovers it’s not really a step up — it’s a setup. The deal was supposed to be this: Protect Abby Doyle, the daughter of Birmingham, Alabama’s most dangerous crime lord. But when Abby’s fiancé is found murdered, Kincaid is forced to team up with BPD detective Laura D’Agostino to find the killer and protect Abby at all costs … even from her own father.

The killer’s trail winds through Birmingham — the city streets, the back alleys, the world-class food scene and the hole-in-the-wall clubs and bars — and the white-flight suburbs that surround the city, as Kincaid and D’Agostino uncover secrets that everyone would prefer left alone. But Kincaid doesn’t care about secrets. He’s been hired to do a job, and he’ll see it through or die trying.

Thrown together by circumstance, Kincaid and D’Agostino explore their unexpected feelings for one another while chasing down the killer and untangling a land swindle in North Birmingham that’s been in the making for more than a decade. But their relationship may not survive the explosive ending that sees Kincaid stand alone against the toughest crime lord the city has ever known.

What else can I tell you? I love writing about Birmingham, and I think it’s simultaneously a great place to live, but also a place where you sometimes have to watch your back. For better or worse, the city feels like home in a way that nowhere else does, and I grin every time I see the Vulcan or the neon red WBRC call letters on the mountain behind him.

If you’re interested in learning more about Magic City Blues or preordering, click this link. I hope you enjoy the hell out of it! 🙂

Living the Gimmick available for pre-order!

Happy to announce that not only does LIVING THE GIMMICK have a kick-ass cover, but it’s also up for pre-sale.

You can pre-order a paperback directly from my publisher, Shotgun Honey, or an ebook from Amazon. Remember that the book launches on May 27. I’m looking forward to having it out in the world!

Look at that!

Now, let’s talk about that cover. Ron Earl Phillips designed LTG’s cover to look a lot like an old pro wrestling flyer from back in the 1970s-80s. He did one hell of a great job on it, too. That cover is absolute fire, and using the flyer format was a stroke of genius in my opinion.

I also owe a huge debt of gratitude to JP Zarka over at Pro Wrestling Stories, who hosted an interview, the cover reveal, and the first chapter of the book today. He went above and beyond to publicize the book, and I thank him for it. Click that link and go read my conversation with JP. You’ll be glad you did.

And I need to say thank you to all of the established (and incredible) writers who have said nice things about the book. I’m really, really thankful to know that the book worked for them. To have the respect of your peers is a really wonderful thing.

Of course, I wouldn’t object to some sales, either. So get busy smashing that pre-order button and let’s make LIVING THE GIMMICK a huge success, OK? And if you can’t pre-order, don’t forget that I’ll be making some appearances around Alabama as part of the One-Cheek Book Tour (I originally called it a half-ass book tour, but no one would put that on a poster.)

Go check out the feature Pro Wrestling Stories did today, read the first chapter, and maybe — just maybe — LIVING THE GIMMICK will find a place in your heart. I know it’s got one in mine.

Coming soon: Living the Gimmick

Two months from today, my pro wrestling-themed novel Living the Gimmick will be out in the world thanks to independent crime publishing house Shotgun Honey.

What’s it all about, Alfie?
I think it’s best to let the back jacket copy speak for the book, since I have a tendency to ramble on and on and on. While it’s a completely adorable trait and not annoying in any way, rambling maybe isn’t the best way to sell a book. So here you go:

When retired pro wrestler Alex Donovan sees his best friend, former world champion ‘The Wild Child’ Ray Wilder, gunned down in the street, he’s drawn back into a world of spandex, spangles, and spotlights in order to find the killer. As Donovan digs deeper into Ray’s life, he realizes that the list of people who wanted Ray dead seems endless.

Battling his aging, failing body, Donovan feels honor-bound to avenge Ray’s death when no one else seems to care. His guilt over escaping the wrestling business to build a new life when Ray couldn’t — or wouldn’t — drives him to find the killer, no matter if it’s friend or foe.

Living the Gimmick uses the backdrop of pro wrestling in the 1980s and its current climate to examine the strained bonds of a lifelong friendship and how an all-too-real abuser can exist without scrutiny in a showbiz world full of fake tough guys and choreographed fighting.

Living the Gimmick will launch May 27, 2022. Cover reveal SOON.

New short story: The Swahili Word for Hope

One of the things I love about writing is that it allows the writer to take risks as an artist, even as I worry about whether I’ll sound snooty by referring to myself as an “artist.”

In my opinion, artists must push themselves or risk becoming stale. I’ve written my share of run-of-the-mill crime stories, so today I want to talk about a crime story that isn’t a crime story.

In The Swahili Word for Hope, published this month in The Dillydoun Review, you’ll meet a young man whose parental expectations are only exceeded by the ones he puts on himself.

Bertrand Fournier is a 22-year-old MFA student whose mother won the National Book Award at a similar young age. But whereas his mama was a rockstar, Bertrand … ain’t.

The failure to live up to his mother’s ambitions for him (to say nothing of his own), push Bertrand into making a decision that will affect everything he does going forward. That’s all I can really say about the story without giving you more of a spoiler than you’d want.

Much thanks to Amy Burns at The Dillydoun Review for taking a flyer on this story. I hope you’ll love it, and I hope that final line will linger with you for a long time.

Best-of-2021: 10 great small press books

A Twitter mutual suggested that someone should put together a year-end list of great books from independent, small and/or micro presses, and that strikes me as a great idea.

Sometimes it can feel like big bestsellers suck all the air out of the room, and while I understand that feeling, I maintain that it’s possible to be happy for other people’s success even while pursuing your own. Small presses naturally get less attention (and sales) than the big boys, but there are some great writers out there who are doing extraordinary work.

So without further ado, here’s the list, in no particular order:

  1. A Violent Gospel by Mark Westmoreland … Imagine the Dukes of Hazzard, but with a jagged edge that cuts unexpectedly. Mack and Marshall Dooley are a couple of good ol’ boys who have gotten themselves into a whole damn heap of trouble, and they may not get out of it alive. AVG is a novella published by Shotgun Honey, and it’s a propulsive, satisfying read that wears its influences right out there in front for everyone to see.
  2. Children of Chicago by Cyntha Pelayo … An absolute creeper of a novel that puts a very big-city twist on a Pied Piper tale. Published by Polis, the biggest and baddest of the indies, the book follows Lauren Medina, a Chicago cop with a dark past who’s investigating the murders of students in the Chicago area that have startling similarities to the murder of her own younger sister two decades prior.
  3. Burying the Newspaper Man by Curtis Ippolito … The story of a San Diego cop, Marcus Kemp, who discovers that the man who molested him years prior has now been murdered. Kemp searches to find the killer — not to bring him to justice but instead to protect him, because the killer accomplished what Kemp always wanted to do. Published by Red Dog Press.
  4. Undone Valley by William Soldan … Look, I’m not even going to give you a taste of the synopsis on this one. Just trust me when I tell you that Bill Soldan is the absolute best line-for-line writer working on the indies right now, and you should read anything and everything he writes. In this novel, the pacing can be a little slow in places, but once you settle in and realize what Soldan is doing, it is phenomenal. Published by Cowboy Jamboree.
  5. Under the Thumb, edited by S.A. Cosby … Am I pimping an anthology that I’m featured in? Yes I am. Here’s the thing: Under the Thumb collects some great stories about police oppression. In the light of current events in the United States, this is an incredibly important volume to remind people that cops aren’t always the good guys that people think they are. The fact that there ARE bad cops out there, and that they get second, third, and even more chances to act out, needs to be a bigger part of our national conversation. Every story in this anthology is no less than great. Published by Rock & a Hard Place Press.
  6. Prodigal by Blake Johnson … A bleak look into the soul of a man who longs for redemption, and what he’ll do (or won’t do) in order to get it. The novella is billed as ‘An American Parable’ but I think that the most interesting thing about this book is that it’s truly independent. The publisher, Trouble Department, doesn’t use Amazon. You’ll have to order directly from them. And trust me, it’s worth it. (Also, I want to address the similarities in Blake’s book and my own similarly-named book from 2011: Other than the name, there are none. Get them both and compare!)
  7. Brand New Dark by Beau Johnson (no relation to Blake Johnson) … If you’re a fan of what Beau refers to as “the dark stuff,” you’re going to want to catch up on this latest installment that follows Johnson’s protagonist Bishop Rider, who is a VERY bad man. The thing that makes Rider compelling is that the violence and retribution he dishes out is served to people who are even worse.
  8. Be Guid Tae Yer Mammy by Emma Grae … published by Unbound Digital. A family saga told entirely in Scots dialect, this one takes some effort to get into because of the perceived difficulty of the Scots language. But lately there has been a move toward badly done and inauthentic dialect from some indie presses or self-pubbed writers that it’s probably a good idea to point out a book where the author gets it right.
  9. Love & Bullets Megabomb Edition by Nick Kowalski … If you’re already familiar with Nick’s work, this is a tremendous continuation that encompasses previous releases as well as brand-new work. From the publisher: “Love & Bullets” is the story of a 21st century Bonnie & Clyde, a wisecracking duo who’ll blast their way from Brooklyn to Cuba and back in order to stay alive. It’s a wild ride.” From Nick, I’d expect nothing less.
  10. Neighborhood of Dead Ends by Stanton McCaffrey … An absolutely gut-wrenching noir novel that will pull at your heart before ripping it from your chest. McCaffrey’s novel is the first from Rock & A Hard Place Press, and it signals big things. If noir is a genre that is about the choices we make and then dealing with the consequences of those choices no matter what they are, this book is a success on all fronts.

‘Dance the Night Away’ at Reckon Review

A story of mine has found a new home.

‘Dance the Night Away’ is now available at Reckon Review, and I think it’s the perfect home for this gritty noir tale set in the Big Easy.

This story was a casualty of leaving my former publisher earlier this year when I discovered that they were engaged in what I considered to be some unethical practices, which you can read about HERE. When I made the choice to leave and take my book with me, they removed ‘Dance the Night Away’ from the short fiction portion of their website, too.

That was the only part of the deal that I regretted, to be honest. This is a good story, told in an immersive second-person point-of-view. I’d been hoping to re-home it somewhere with a solid reputation. It turned out to be perfect for Reckon Review, and I can’t thank the editor, Meagan Lucas, enough for taking the piece.

I hope you’ll enjoy the story, and if — by chance — you’ve already read it, I would say to take a look at it again anyway. You’ll see that it’s finally found a place where it’s just the right fit.

Coming soon: Rock & a Hard Place No. 7

I’ve got a new story coming out in Rock & a Hard Place Magazine later this month, and I’m so excited about it for a number of reasons.

First, there’s the fact that RHP features some of the most innovative, smart crime/noir fiction around. To be included in issue No. 7 is absolutely an honor. (I’d say I’m humbled, but that would make my buddy Curtis Ippolito’s eye twitch.)

Then there’s this: I’m fortunate to be in this magazine with people that I consider friends, like Rusty Barnes and Mark Rapacz, as well as the hardest-working writer on the indie scene, Rob D. Smith. Rob’s truly a talented guy, and the title of his story As Long as You Look Faraway. That title is stuck in my mind like a fishhook, and I’m pretty sure it’s going to be the first story I read in this issue.

And lastly, I’m so excited to finally have my story, Negative Tilt, out in the world. It’s not a crime story, exactly, but I think it’s the best work I have ever done, and I’m so glad that it’s going to appear in issue No. 7. I’m immensely proud of this work, and I can’t thank the editorial team at RHP enough for publishing it. And a special thanks to Paul Garth, who edits and leads like a champ.

Under the Thumb on sale now!

I feel very fortunate to be included in an anthology that addresses police oppression in the United States. Under the Thumb is now on sale, and you should pick up a copy. Not only because there are a ton of fantastic stories in it (including my own, “Trap House,” which is set on the west side of Birmingham, Alabama), but also because this an important societal issue.

I woke up this morning thinking about how people often excuse police oppression/brutality/corruption by saying that it’s “just one bad apple” and how that allows us to blame the individual without examining the organizational underpinnings that excuse and encourage those bad apples to rot on the tree.

Lo and behold, guest editor Shawn Cosby has written of that exact same saying in the foreword of Under the Thumb.

I want to thank Shawn, as well as the gang at Rock & A Hard Place Press for having the vision and strength to pull this anthology together.

Proceeds from this anthology go to benefit Black Lives Matter – New Jersey. Get your copy TODAY! Don’t wait!

Trouble No More is out October 11!

One of the biggest anthologies of the year (and I don’t just mean crime anthology) comes out tomorrow from Down & Out books.

Trouble No More is chock full of great writers doing amazing work. Seriously, this is a murderer’s row of Southern noir fiction. Start with award-winning authors like New York Times bestseller S.A. Cosby, Brian Panowich, Art Taylor, Chris Swann, Michael Farris Smith, James D.F. Hannah, and C.W. Blackwell.

Then there’s the incredible Nikki Dolson and pro’s pro (or is that prose pro?) Rob Pierce, along with up-and-comers J.B. Stevens, Curtis “Many, Many More” Ipplolito, Jerry Bloomfield, Michel Lee Garrett, Raquel V. Reyes, Joey R. Poole and several others (including yours truly).

The editor is Mark Westmoreland, whose hit debut novella, A Violent Gospel, dropped last month from Shotgun Honey. And if you haven’t read AVG, do yourself a favor and grab a copy now. Don’t wait!

Trouble No More is Southern noir/crime fiction inspired by songs recorded by The Allman Brothers Band. If you don’t absolutely love this one, Mark’s going to come to your house and wash your car for you.

I’m really excited to be a part of the anthology. If I have my wits about me (always questionable), my story ‘Whipping Post’ closes out the book. I’m truly honored just to be a part of this one.