From what’s become one of my favorite books of the last couple decades, Gabino Iglesias’s Zero Saints, which I’ll be teaching in my upcoming noir class at Lighthouse.

What happens when you cross la frontera is that you shatter, you stop being you and turn into a new person that belongs nowhere, that has no home, no roots. Going back is impossible and moving forward is like jumping into a ravine and hoping that it’s not too deep, that the rocks don’t mangle you too much, and that el monstruo that waits for you en la oscuridad is not too hungry.

What happens when you cross la frontera is that you have to do whatever it takes to survive, and that’s what pushes you into a life of crime. You need money to survive and washing dishes or mowing lawns are easy gigs to get but they don’t pay enough. In this country, fairness is a concept and nothing more. Los pinches gringos will send dinero to Africa and will pay thousands of dollars to chop their cat’s huevos off and remove their nails, but they won’t pay you a fair amount for painting their fucking mansiones and, if you complain, te llaman a la migra. Pinches hijueputas. Why the fuck should you do stuff in this country that you would never have done back home? Why should you smell like the shit you have to clean when you used to roll around with chingos de lana in your pocket? Thinking about that either makes you look for something different or breaks you again.

What happens when you cross la frontera is that you want to clean up, find a good job somewhere, meet a beautiful, sweet girl. You want the American Dream. But fuck all that. The American Dream is as false as the meat in your one-dollar burger and the canned laughter you hear on television. And it’s even worse for you. You have no skills and no diploma and no friends and no nada. You’re a problem. Un ilegal más. A beaner. A television joke. A wetback. You’re nothing but an issue brainless white politicians discuss from the safety of their offices. That’s when any offer becomes salvation, any desperate move a solution, every bad idea something that gives you a bit of hope. That’s when you realize that you will always live in a silent war and that anyone who’s not from your patria can be your enemy at any moment. That’s why you easily fall into selling rich white kids drugs while you pretend to work security at a bar.

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I’ve got a longstanding rant about all those writers who take boxing on as a loose analogy for writing or life. Mainly, I think they’re a little off the mark. See, the thing about boxing is you can fight back, and that seems all wrong to me.

I think rodeo’s a better analogy. Particularly bull and bronc riding. I don’t know nearly enough about the sport, but as far as I can tell, you don’t fight back. You just absorb punishment with all the grace you can muster, and try to stay alive on top of the damn thing.

“I’m here to play for blood, boys.”

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Final Thoughts on Gun Bans

Yesterday I reposted something I’d written about how assault weapons bans are a canard. Nothing in it was radical, everything was based on stuff really easily available on the internet. But, as always, it brought a bunch of people out of the woodwork who seemed to know absolutely nothing about guns to tell me I was dead wrong. (I believe the technical term for that is “gunsplaining.”)

One of them even implied that I must be on the take from the gun lobby. Which cracked me up. I mean, I would certainly take a sponsorship from, say, Ruger, but the characters in my books are not exactly responsible gun owners, so I can’t see that happening. I think Evan Williams would be more likely. Or a cocaine cartel.

Anyway, I started asking all of them the following three questions:

  1. What firearm features would you ban? (And I mean specifically. Not buzz words like “assault weapons,” which don’t mean anything.)
  2. What would you do with the millions in existence? (That should be hundreds of millions, actually. Would you confiscate? How would you get them off the streets?)
  3. How would you enforce that? (Would you create an agency to go into suspected gun owners’ houses and confiscate? How would that work?)

I didn’t get one actual answer to those questions.

Not one.

Which I found thoroughly depressing.

What’s kind of funny is that I’m no gun enthusiast. I work 2-3 jobs at all times, am a single father, and write novels. I don’t have free time for any kind of enthusiasm. I go shooting at paper now and then for fun, but it’s infrequent at best. Moreover, my only functioning guns right now are a revolver and a lever-action .30-30. Nobody on earth is trying to ban anything I have.

Most of what I know about guns comes because it seems to be an important issue and an important part of American culture, so I’ve been curious — as a writer. I don’t understand any writer who forecloses knowledge on any serious aspect of American culture.

So I’ve spent a bunch of time reading about guns. Found some books, spent some time kicking around the internet, and found a bunch of really interesting voices. My favorite gun blog is View From The Porch and I’m on there every day. Even got obsessed with recreational shooting sports for awhile, because it looks like a gas and the folks doing it are amazing.

I’ve also taken advantage of any opportunity I can to learn. As I tell people all the time, almost all of my gun enthusiasm is fictional. Luckily, I’ve got friends who know a lot. Real gun enthusiasts, folks in the military, people who’ve used guns in self defense, even some who’ve used guns in armed resistance against the United States government. And, of course, I have friends on the other side. Friends who are staunchly anti-gun, principled pacifists, Quakers, and a couple who lost their lives to gun violence.

Which brings me to my point: If you’re opposed to all new gun control measures, I hear you. I’ve got a healthy bank of distrust when it comes to new governmental legislation banning anything.

But if you’re for new gun legislation, new gun bans, maybe you should take some time to educate yourself on the subject.

That seems to me the lowest bar possible for engagement on any subject. Do some research about firearm functionality, some reading about what’s actually on the market and what’s already illegal. Hell, most of the gun enthusiasts I know are really generous people. You could probably even go up to one and tell ’em “I hate guns, and I’d like to know more about what to ban,” and they’d take you out shooting.

But, like with any subject on earth, if you’ve got really strong opinions about something you know nothing about, you really don’t have an opinion. You’ve just got a knee-jerk reaction. If you don’t care enough to educate yourself on the subject, you don’t care. You’re hurting your own cause, and you’re just noise.

Which means the other side will eat your lunch, every time.

And should.

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Ernest Hemingway to Joseph McCarthy, 1950


This is a letter Hemingway wrote to Senator Joseph McCarthy in 1950. It’s one of my favorite things, and I was looking for it online the other evening to quote it in an email and couldn’t find it. So I pulled out my copy of Ernest Hemingway Selected Letters 1917-1961 and typed it up so that next time I will find it. (Half the typos are Hemingway’s, the other half are mine.)

Honorable Senator Joe McCarthy:

My dear Senator:

Quite a number of people are beginning to get tired of you and you have possibilities of becomeing a complete stranger. If you lost limbs or your head in the action in the Pacific everyone naturally would sympathize with you. But many people are merely bored since they have seen good fighters who had it in their time. Some of us have even seen the deads and counted them and counted the numbers of McCarthys. There were quite a lot but you were not one and I have never had the opportunity to count the numbers of your wounds and get any sort of reading on the comparison with how your mouth, repeat moth, get it straight mouth, goes off.

I know you were in a fine force and you must have been wounded really badly but Senator you certainly bore the bejeesus out of some tax-payers and this is an invitation to get it all out of your system. You can come down here and fight for free, without any publicity, with an old character like me who is fifty years old and weighs 209 and thinks you are a shit, Senator, and would knock you on your ass the best day you ever lived. It might be healthy for you and it would certainly be instructive.

So you are always welcome kid, and in case you have dog blood, which I suspect, don’t resort to sopoeanas (mis-spelled) but come on down all expenses paid and if you are a small Marine you can fight any of my kids and get a reputation. I have them that weigh from 152 to 186. You can fight any one. But afterwards me.

Good luck with the good part of your investigations and, if we can take off the part of the uniform you take when you go outside, and fornicate yourself. You would have a nice fight without witnesses and then you could tell it all.

Yours always
Ernest Hemingway

Actually I don’t think you have the guts to fight a rabbit; much less a man. Am old but would certainly love to take you quick. Or to see the kids take you slow and careful.

Yours always, and with great respect for your office
Ernest Hemingway

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Lit Fest 2016


Tomorrow starts Lit Fest 2016. I have all kinds of stuff I’ll be doing, including a full weekend class on developing character starting on Saturday June 4 (which I think is full) a noir panel on Monday June 13 and a reading on Wednesday June 15. And, of course, I’ll be at the opening party tomorrow, and be kicking around pretty much every spare minute I have. Because there’s gonna be all kinds of incredible authors  doing workshops, salons, panels, readings, etc. And not just the Lighthouse faculty, but folks like Steve Almond, Lidia Yuknavitch, Rebecca Makkai, Emily Rapp Black,  Ben Lerner, Jenny Offill, Jericho Brown, Alexandra Fuller, Li-Young Lee and Claire Vaye Watkins. Not to mention a screening and discussion of No Country for Old Men and all kinds of other good stuff.

If you head over to the Lit Fest website here, you can see all the events. Some of ’em are free, and some cost money. All of ’em are worth more than you’ll pay, I promise.

I hope to see you around.

Update: Edited because I didn’t actually know when I was doing anything. But now I do.

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Bob Dylan at 75


Bob Dylan’s 75 years old. I wasn’t surprised to hear that. In fact, I kinda thought we’d been there for a decade. I don’t go fanboy very often, but shortly after Satan is Real: The Ballad of the Louvin Brothers came out, my publicist emailed me to let me know that Dylan’d requested a copy, and I almost swallowed my cigarette. Made my day, of course, though I never heard anything about what he thought of it.

My favorite Dylan album is nobody else’s favorite Dylan: “Love and Theft”. The quotation marks are on the album title itself, because Dylan stole it from a book titled Love & Theft: Blackface Minstrelsy and the American Working Class. Which makes sense, given how the whole album’s always seemed to me like Dylan putting on his best sneer and taking aim at his own musical appropriation and civil rights legacy — by re-imagining Reconstruction through a series of appropriated songs. All of the meanings possible in this line from “Honest with Me,” for instance:

I’m not sorry for nothing I’ve done
I’m glad we fought, I only wish we’d won

Not that I could make my whole theory on that album make any sense to you in a blog post. Not unless I had you over and we were up all night listening to it. Because if nothing else, nobody covers their tracks like Dylan. Which, along with the pastiche and quotation — musical and lyrical riffs that both expand and explode the meaning of the songs, as well as the original sources — may be why this is my favorite album. That usage of quotation and the pastiche to a specific affect is a huge part of what I dig about authors like Melville and McCarthy, too. That kinda conversation is a huge part of what it is to make art, y’know?

Since nobody on YouTube’s bothered to post “Honest with Me,” here’s another of my favorites in the same vein:

Bob Dylan was asked a few years back how he felt about people giving him shit for the pastiche and quotation in his songs. This was his response:

Oh, yeah, in folk and jazz, quotation is a rich and enriching tradition. That certainly is true. It’s true for everybody, but me. I mean, everyone else can do it but not me. There are different rules for me. And as far as Henry Timrod is concerned, have you even heard of him? Who’s been reading him lately? And who’s pushed him to the forefront? Who’s been making you read him? And ask his descendants what they think of the hoopla. And if you think it’s so easy to quote him and it can help your work, do it yourself and see how far you can get. Wussies and pussies complain about that stuff. It’s an old thing – it’s part of the tradition. It goes way back. These are the same people that tried to pin the name Judas on me. Judas, the most hated name in human history! If you think you’ve been called a bad name, try to work your way out from under that. Yeah, and for what? For playing an electric guitar? As if that is in some kind of way equitable to betraying our Lord and delivering him up to be crucified. All those evil motherfuckers can rot in hell.

I always thought that was the perfect answer.

So, happy birthday, Bob. And along with everything else, I just wanted to say thank you for this, because every time I think about it, it cheers me up:

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From Legends of the Fall, which I’m rereading by reading to my children.

People finally don’t have much affection for questions, especially one so leprous as the apparent lack of a fair system of rewards and punishments on earth. The question is not less not concerned with the grander issues: say the Nez Perce children receiving the hail of cavalry fire in their sleeping tents. Nothing is quite so grotesque as the meeting of a child and a bullet. And what distances in comprehension: the press at the time insisted we had won. We would like to think that the whole starry universe would curdle at such a monstrosity: the conjunctions of Orion twisted askew, the arms of the Southern Cross drooping. Of course not: immutable is immutable and everyone in his own private manner dashes his brains against the long-suffering question that is so luminously obvious. Even gods aren’t exempt: note Jesus’s howl of despair as he stepped rather tentatively into eternity. And we can’t seem to go from large to small because everything is the same size. Everyone’s skin is so particular and we are so largely unimaginable to one another.

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My Favorite 11 Billy Joe Shaver Songs

This one’s for no good reason for this other than that I love Billy Joe Shaver, and I think he’s the greatest songwriter who ever lived. With apologies to Steve Earle, I’ll stand on Townes Van Zandt’s coffee table and say it, too. That was Johnny Cash’s opinion, and it’s mine too. So this post isn’t to say much, but that if you haven’t heard of Billy Joe Shaver, you need to fix that.

So here you go. None of these are in any order. I love them all equally.I f you asked me tomorrow it might be ten different songs. But right now, it’s these.

1. Texas Uphere Tennessee. I don’t think this is anybody’s favorite Billy Joe Shaver song except mine. The first time I heard it I was at Bouchercon in San Francisco and staying in a hostel above a strip club across from City Lights for 30 bucks a night. I couldn’t sleep because of the show below, so I’d listen to Billy Joe Shaver and roll cigarettes at the window.

2. Live Forever. This one’s a no brainer. This is everybody’s favorite Billy Joe Shaver song. It ought to be everybody’s favorite song, period. I’m posting this version because his son Eddie’s playing guitar on it. More on that in a minute.

3. Ragged Old Truck. This is one of my favorite songs in the world, hands down. And it’s got a line in it I tell my kids all the time, “I may be as ugly as an old mudrail fence, but I’m loaded with hillbilly charm.” (Half of that’s true.) In this video, he also introduces it with one of the greatest stories ever told.

4. Willy the Wandering Gypsy and Me. This is a song I used to sing to my kids, nearly every night back when they let me do things like that.

5. We Are The Cowboys. I might as well post one with some of Shaver’s friends, who know just how good he is. “We’re picking our words so we don’t have to eat ’em.” This is the kind of outlaw inclusiveness that I wish there was more of.

6. The Earth Rolls On. In the late 90s Billy Joe Shaver’s three-time wife died from cancer, so he and his son, Eddy, one of the best guitar players who ever worked, got together to wrote an album about her, and about what family means. What they ended up with wasn’t pretty. It was just as messy as family is. The kicker is that just before the album was released, Eddy died of a heroine overdose. This is the title song from that album. Eddy’s on guitar.

7. Cowboy Who Started the Fight. I’m still not sure what this song’s about. And I really don’t care. There’s something about it that moves me every time I hear it.

8. Old Five and Dimers. This is my mantra song. Like if I had one thing that summed up what I hoped my career and life to be, it’d be this, right from the first line: “I spent a lifetime making up my mind could to be more than the measure of what I thought other people could see.” What more is there that? And we won’t even get into the good luck and fast bucks.

9. Checkers and Chess. That said, this is probably the song that’d best sum up my life and career.

10. The Git Go. You can have every political song you want, I’ll take this one.

11. Ride Me Down Easy.  This song cuts me down every time. It sounds like bragging, but it isn’t; it’s a lament. The audio’s not great, but this version is Bobby Bare, Waylon Jennings and Billy Joe Shaver singing it together, and that’s worth it.

And as a bonus, this Willie Nelson and Jamey Johnson singing about Billy Joe. The only time I saw Billy Joe he was playing for a crowd of about 30 in Cincinnati. And to me that was all that was all that was needed. He’s my hero.

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From Butcher’s Crossing. Which I was very bored with at first, it being another tale of a tenderfoot in the unfamiliar West, which I always find boring. But by the end, it sold me, completely.

“Young people,” McDonald said contemptuously. “You always think there’s something to find out.”

“Yes, sir,” Andrews said.

“Well, there’s nothing,” McDonald said. “You get born, and you nurse on lies, and you get weaned on lies, and you learn fancier lies in school. You live all your life on lies, and then maybe when you’re ready to die, it comes to you — that there’s nothing, nothing but yourself and what you could have done. Only you ain’t done it, because the lies told you there was something else. Then you know you could of had the world, because you’re the only one that knows the secret; only then it’s too late. You’re too old.”

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New Pike


Today’s the release of the new Simon & Schuster Pocket Star e-book edition of Pike.  I love everything about this release. Pike was my first novel, one that I never actually meant to have published. It was supposed to be a practice book to help me learn the craft. It’s a personal book to me, written when my daughter was first born. She was colicky, and I thought up most of the book up while walking her all over Cincinnati, because walking was the only thing that would calm her down. I’d talk to her the whole time, often telling her the story that would become the book.

It’s a tough town, Cincinnati. We lived there not too long after a series of riots set off by the police killing of an unarmed black kid. Everybody was on edge. We didn’t live in any of the worst neighborhoods, but we lived one neighborhood over, and I always took a handgun in the diaper bag on our walks, because we walked everywhere. Ever since she was six years old, my daughter would ask me if she could read Pike, and I would say, no, not yet. But you’ve been everywhere in the book.

Anyways, the new version’s out today, and I’m thrilled with it. I love the cover, I love the fact that I got to fix some stuff that always bugged me, and I love the fact that it’s out there at a price point where pretty much anybody could afford to give it a shot.

If you’d like to, you can order it from Simon & Schuster, Books-A-Million, iBooksKindle, Nook, or Google Play.

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