Archive for the ‘Special guest stars’ Category

McGoranHere’s an interview with author Jon McGoran, who is carving out a distinctive niche for himself with tech thrillers that incorporate cutting edge advances in biotechnology. Really cool stuff. I’ve reviewed his books “Drift” and “Deadout” on this blog previously. This interview previously ran in the quarterly newsletter for Garden State Speculative Fiction Writers, which I edit. The issue was geared toward science fiction writers who might be interested in incorporating some genuine science into their writing. (I’ve previously written about the increasing disconnect between science fiction and actual science here.) Jon’s a really well-informed and interesting guy. So even if you’re not a writer, I guarantee this interview is worth your time. Enjoy. And check out Jon’s Website here.


Looking for a subject for that gritty crime thriller you want to write? Genetic modification of plants probably isn’t going to be on your short list for potential topics. But author Jon McGoran has already authored two books featuring Philadelphia narcotics detective Doyle Carrick and his involvement in cases involving biotechnology.

We’re not talking “Day of the Triffids” style plant monsters here. McGoran’s books are firmly grounded in contemporary science, and touch on real concerns and controversies related to producing genetically modified food. That might seem a bit dry and academic for a police thriller, but both of his Doyle Carrick novels — “Drift” and “Deadout” — are taut, gripping narratives guaranteed to please any fan of action-packed crime fiction. “Publisher’s Weekly,” which gave both books starred reviews, apparently agrees.

While his books fall more under the heading of “science thriller” than “science fiction,” I thought he might be able to provide some valuable advice for us about incorporating recent scientific developments into a narrative. Check out his Website at


Q: Can you tell us a little about your background?

A: I’ve been writing since I was a kid, and took it pretty seriously up until my late teens, when music and songwriting became more important to me. For about 10 years I wrote and performed a lot of music, but even while I wasn’t writing fiction, I still thought of myself a writer as much as a musician. After I did NOT become wildly rich and famous, I went back to school and finished my degree, started writing more as a job — copywriting, public relations, journalism. But after a few years, I realized how much I missed fiction, and how much writing and creating was at the heart of who I was. For some reason, when I returned to writing, instead of concentrating on science fiction and short stories, I was thinking only in terms of novels, and primarily in the mystery/thriller genres. Since then, I’ve started writing short fiction again, a lot of it science fiction, and my interest in science and science fiction has definitely informed my thrillers, which have strong elements of science.


Q: How did “Drift” and “Deadout” come about?

A: I had been working for some time as communications director at Weavers Way Co-op, a natural foods co-op in Philadelphia, and had been publishing the monthly newspaper there. We covered a lot of broader food issues, and the last few decades have been a tumultuous time in the American food system. A lot of alarming stuff has been going on: factory farming, irradiation, lots of questionable chemical inputs. I had long been thinking that a lot of what I was writing about during the day was crazier and scarier than the science fiction and crime fiction I was writing at night. But especially alarming and compelling was the way genetically modified foods or GMOs had quietly taken over the vast majority of so many sectors of our food supply, and the fact that so few people knew about it, even knew what GMOs were. The growth of the biotech industry was something I thought was grossly underreported and in need of further discussion, but it was also tailor-made as a thriller premise: Secretive multinational corporations use their financial and political clout to push untested new lifeforms into the food supply of an unsuspecting public. That’s a thriller right there! The more I dug into the topic, the more ideas I came up with for books in the series. And I won’t go into the nuts and bolts of how I came up with Doyle Carrick as a protagonist, but I will say that I love writing him. I love his voice and his world view and his sense of humor.


Q: What kind of response did the books get?

A: The response has been great. The reviews have been wonderful, and “Publishers Weekly” has been particularly kind — in addition to giving both books stars and glowing reviews, they interviewed me for “Drift” and spotlighted the review for “Deadout”. “The Inquirer” has also been great, and so has “Booklist,” “KYW,” “Grid” magazine, and genre outlets like “Criminal Element” and “Crimespree,” places like that, and lots of blogs, as well (including my favorite —!). It’s great to get a lot of love from your hometown press, it’s great to get love from the big national outlets, and it’s great to get love from the genre press, because they’re your people. Of course, there are many outlets whose radar doesn’t seem to pick me up, and you always want more, partly to grow your profile and achieve greater commercial success… but primarily because deep down writers are all needy, pathetic and insecure.


Q: Is all of the science in them 100 percent verified, or did you do any speculating based on current scientific theory?

A: There is some extrapolation, to be sure, but I would say that all of the science is legitimate, and that everything in the books could be accomplished using current science, if someone put the resources into accomplishing it. I hope they don’t.


Q: Where and how did you do the research for the books?

A: For these books, most of the research is done initially online, and then interviewing the experts whose work I’ve read, to drill down on the specific ideas I am focusing on. Not everybody wants to talk to you about their work, but I’m constantly impressed by the generosity of the great minds out there, who frequently are not just willing to answer my sometimes ridiculous questions, but engage in these great speculative conversations, and often share ideas with me that might not even be relevant to the book I am currently working on, ideas that they find fascinating, that are fascinating, and that often times surface in another book down the line.


Q: What advice would you give for incorporating scientific explanations into a story, without letting them bog down the narrative?

A: That’s a great question, and to some extent, it depends on the book and the reader. Some readers revel in descriptions of different kinds. Just as some readers bask in pages of detailed naturalistic descriptions, other readers feel the same about science and technology, especially in more far-out stories where world-building is a major component of the book. Many readers though — and I’m one of them — don’t like world-building or complex ideas to get in the way of lean prose and a minimum of clunky exposition. As with so many elements of exposition, one of the most important things to keep in mind is the difference between the level of detail and understanding necessary for you, the writer, to write comfortably, knowingly and compellingly about a topic, and the level of detail necessary for the reader to enjoy it. Just as there may be many elements of characters that help the writer understand them and depict them realistically and compellingly, but which never make it onto the page, the same is true of scientific ideas. You need a deep understanding of the ideas (real or fictional) behind the work, but the reader doesn’t necessarily need quite so much. The trick is in deciding what’s necessary and what’s not. There are also nuts and bolts ways of making facts more interesting — characters can discover things instead of just relating them. Facts can reveal themselves through action or physical description instead of just lecturing. And while you should be judicious in the use of exposition via dialogue, there are ways to make it more palatable and entertaining. Imbue the exchanges with conflict or revelations of character and it feels a lot less expository. (e.g., instead of “As you know, Bob, the X-12 is a brand new technology… ” something like, “I was surprised Bob even knew about the X-12…” or “I couldn’t imagine an idiot like Bob having a clue about the X-12…” or, “Bob rolled his eyes. “There’s nothing new about the X-12. It’s the same crap they’ve been calling new for the last ten years.” Or, Bob smirked. “Nice X-12 you got there. You should see my new X-13.” ) The point is, if you make it feel like it’s about character or conflict or the fact that Bob is a bit of a dick, the reader will just kind of absorb the fact that the X-12 is newer technology, without feeling like they’ve been informed.


Q: Did you feel like you were under any pressure to get things right, in light of the fact that people familiar with the science would likely be reading the books?

A: Yes, but I would feel that pressure anyway. You really don’t ever want to get it wrong, ever. Not just on the science, but anything. Any time a reader thinks you got something wrong, even in very subtle or minor ways, you lose them a little bit, you put a distance between them and the book. And if you screw up something small, they are going to be that much less likely to give you the benefit of the doubt on the bigger things.


Q: Any advice in general for science fiction writers who want to incorporate some genuine science into their stories?

A: The first thing, obviously, is to get it right. Some science fiction or science thrillers are about the science itself, and some are about the effects of the science. Some readers want to revel in the details, and some want to trust that the details ring true and get on with the story. So, whether the background of your story is how the time machine works, or simply the fact that it does, you need to be comfortable and confident in the level of detail that’s appropriate for your story, and then make sure you get those details right — real or fictional. And, of course, whatever universe it is you’re defining — almost like ours or outrageously out-there — internal consistency is key.


Marie Lamba, authorMarie Lamba is the author of acclaimed young adult novels including “Drawn” and “Over My Head.” Publisher’s Weekly called her humorous YA novel “What I Meant…” “an impressive debut” and Kirkus described it as “realistic and well-paced.” She’s also author of the upcoming picture book “Green, Green,” co-authored with her husband Baldev Lamba and illustrated by Sonia Sanchez.  More than 100 of her articles have been published in regional and national magazines, including “Writer’s Digest.”

She’s also an Associate Literary Agent with the Jennifer DeChiara Literary Agency in New York City. It was in that capacity that I interviewed her for the quarterly newsletter of the Garden State Speculative Fiction Writers, which I edit. The piece was intended primarily for writers. But even if you’re not an aspiring writer, I hope you find it interesting. (And if you’re NOT an aspiring writer, consider becoming one. It’s a blast. And you meet lots of cool people. Like Marie.)

Be sure to check out her very informative blog here.


Q: Can you tell us a little bit about your career as an agent and a writer?

A: I knew I wanted to be a writer from age 10. I never guessed I’d be an agent, too. But my own agent, Jennifer De Chiara, saw I had the skills to be a solid agent, so she offered me the gig a few years ago, and I love repping writers and illustrators!

I bring to the table experience in publishing as an editor and a book promotion manager, I’m an award-winning public relations writer, and I know what it’s like from an author’s point of view to create a manuscript, send it out into the world, see it published, and then promote it. This all informs my actions as an agent selecting manuscripts, working with my clients, and selling manuscripts to publishers. My recent sales as an agent include picture books, middle grade novels, YA novels, and adult fiction. I’m actively building my client list, and you can find my current list of clients and my submission guidelines here:

As for my writing self? I’m the author of the contemporary YA novels “What I Meant …” (Random House) and “Over My Head,” and the time-travel novel “Drawn.” I’ve had essays in anthologies, a short story in Liar Liar” and more than 100 articles in national magazines, including “Garden Design” and “Writer’s Digest.” You can also find my articles in this year’s editions of “The Writer’s Market,” “The Guide to Literary Agents” and “The Children’s Writer’s Market.” Plus my first picture book, which I co-authored with my husband Baldev Lamba, is titled “Green Green” and it’s coming out through Farrar Straus Giroux in the next year.

Q: What are the benefits of having an agent?

A: Access. So many publishers are closed to non-agented writers. As soon as you have an agent, all of those doors are open. If you have an agent with an established firm (even a new agent which such a firm), that person can pick up the phone and call any editor at any level and get their attention. I know, because I have done just that. J

Career development. An agent will be engaged in growing your career. Getting the best deal for you at the best publisher that they can. Helping you direct your writing in a productive way. Giving you realistic market-informed feedback when you need it.

Cheerleading. An agent will be your number one supporter. Speaking up for you to the world.

Creativity. With an agent taking charge of pitching your work, and managing your contracts, etc., you are more free to WRITE.

Contracts. Your agent will negotiate the terms of your contracts, and make sure everything is in order before you sign. They’ll also be there to make sure things are carried out as promised. And to go to the matt for you if needed.

Q: How should a writer go about finding an agent, and what are some things he or she should keep in mind?

A: There are SO many does and don’ts out there. The first thing you MUST do is finish your manuscript and polish it to perfection. Then you simply must do your homework. There are a ton of articles with query submission tips and other insider’s advice posts over at my site I do an Agent Monday post nearly every week, so if you subscribe to the site, you won’t miss any. And you must Google the agents you are querying to find their guidelines. Follow those guidelines, or you will most likely be deleted without ever being read. There are great resources out there to help you, including,, and, plus the annual market books put out by “Writer’s Digest,” etc. And if you are really serious, subscribe to, even if only for a month, to research agents, who represents who, and what deals are being done in your genre. Great up-to-the-moment info you won’t find anywhere else.

Q: What are some things that would encourage you to represent a particular writer?

A: Professionalism. Someone who has a strong voice. Originality. Someone who is in the business for more than just this one book, and ideally is working on a number of other projects.

Q: What would lead you to reject a writer?

A: Something I’ve seen before. Sloppy or boring writing. Not following guidelines. Obnoxious in the cover letter. Unprofessional online presence — like dissing agents and editors online. Not understanding their readership. Preachy tone.

Q: Are there any current industry trends that you think would be valuable for writers to know about?

A: Career-wise, I think the opportunities for writers are growing the farther away we are getting from the not-so-great-recession. This is a very important thing for writers to keep in mind as they move ahead. Are you creating scaled-back future goals based on the crap the recession years handed you? That is probably a mistake. Expect more and dream big.

As for fiction trends? I’m sure your readers know that Horror is no longer a “dirty word” in the industry, and you’ll see more agents and editors including the word “horror” in their guidelines. In general, novels with speculative elements that also appeal to mainstream audiences are being sought more widely.

I personally don’t represent straight genre fiction, and so I’m speaking from the point of view of an agent who deals with the top commercial presses. (Niche presses that specialize in speculative fiction are a different bag of apples.) In general, for the top commercial publishers, dystopian fiction is a hard sell these days, as are zombies and vampires. Agents have seen a LOT of it, and so have editors. I’ve also seen a ton of fae and mermaid and werewolf stories. That doesn’t mean these are completely dead (they never really die, right?), but it DOES mean that you need to be completely unique if you are approaching this market. If you are writing a dystopian, say, and your book features a fractured society with a wall and a wasteland beyond that wall, well, it is going to feel VERY familiar. Strong characterization is key, as is a unique setting and a fresh voice.

In the YA market, thrillers are still hot, and speculative elements (again, with very strong characterization and a unique take), when blended with an authentic YA voice, are doing well. Middle grade novels are always a strong market for fantasy elements, especially when they are rooted in the real world, and for mysteries and the creepy crawly elements of horror done with a lighter touch.

Strong realistic contemporary novels are longed for across all age groups. It’s almost like a palate cleanser after all the complicated and drama-filled stories — ah, to have a simple story told in an elegant and page-turning way… Diversity is huge! Representing the underrepresented voices in fiction in an authentic way is especially sought after right now. But PLEASE don’t force your manuscript into the diverse category by suddenly giving a character an accent, or a disability. I’ve seen a lot of these, and they ring false.

Thanks for having me here! I wish everyone much writing success.

AddisonNote: The following material ran in a recent issue of the Garden State Speculative Fiction Writers quarterly newsletter, which I edit. Here’s the fifth part of the piece, along with my original introduction.

Several things inspired me to put this project together. But mainly, it’s because I still frequently encounter the tiresome “nerdy boys club” stereotype regarding speculative fiction writers and readers. The widespread perception that our branch of literature is the domain of emotionally and socially stunted man-children who don’t want icky girls in their club unless they happen to be wearing skimpy cosplay outfits at conventions.

I think it’s important that we speculative fiction writers do everything in our power to help dispel that stereotype, and make it clear that women are a major, vital and respected part of our community. So I reached out to a number of prominent woman science fiction, fantasy and horror authors and editors, and invited them to share their perspectives.
Tom Joyce

Linda Addison is the award-winning author of four collections of poetry and prose and the first African-American recipient of the Horror Writers Association’s Bram Stoker Award®. She has published over 290 poems, stories and articles and is a member of Circles in the Hair, Horror Writers Association, Science Fiction & Fantasy Writers of America and Science Fiction Poetry Association. See her site:, for more information.

My first publication was in 1994. At that time I considered changing my name to L.D. Addison so it wasn’t obvious that I was a woman. I decided not to use an alias. Today there are more women writing speculative fiction than twenty years ago.
I’ve always seen myself as an author first, then any other labels are acceptable: woman writer, African-American writer, African-American woman writer. Through my eyes I see myself writing the stories and poems that come to me. It just so happens my imagination always went outside the realm of reality-based writing. I’m blessed to represent women writing weird stuff, always will be.

Rena MasonNote: The following material ran in a recent issue of the Garden State Speculative Fiction Writers quarterly newsletter, which I edit. Here’s the third part of the piece, along with my original introduction. I’ll be running contributions from the other writers who participated in the days ahead.

Several things inspired me to put this project together. But mainly, it’s because I still frequently encounter the tiresome “nerdy boys club” stereotype regarding speculative fiction writers and readers. The widespread perception that our branch of literature is the domain of emotionally and socially stunted man-children who don’t want icky girls in their club unless they happen to be wearing skimpy cosplay outfits at conventions.

I think it’s important that we speculative fiction writers do everything in our power to help dispel that stereotype, and make it clear that women are a major, vital and respected part of our community. So I reached out to a number of prominent woman science fiction, fantasy and horror authors and editors, and invited them to share their perspectives.
Tom Joyce

Rena Mason is the Bram Stoker Award® winning author of “The Evolutionist” and “East End Girls.” A former O.R. nurse, an avid SCUBA diver, world traveler, and longtime fan of horror, sci-fi, science, history, historical fiction, mysteries, and thrillers, she writes to mash up those genres with her experiences in stories that revolve around everyday life. For more information on this author visit her website:

As Robert Heinlein didn’t want to be pigeonholed as a sci-fi author, not all female speculative fiction authors are also writing some form of romance, paranormal or otherwise. With more organizations and companies promoting women, such as Women in Horror Month highlighting women in all aspects of horror, Nightmare Magazine’s “Women Destroy Horror” issue, Eli Roth’s The Crypt app highlighting women in horror, and the Horror Writers Association offering scholarships for women horror writers, along with more women stepping up to support one another in representing the genre rather than using a more popular or more accepted label for their works, women’s roles in the genre can only improve.

DickI believe I’ve mentioned on this blog before that I edit the quarterly newsletter, called “The Speculator,” for the writers’ group Garden State Speculative Fiction Writers. I like to include an interview in each issue. For the September issue, I had the opportunity to interview Dick DeBartolo — one of Mad Magazine’s most prominent writers and a childhood hero of mine.  (For more about my life-long fandom of Mad, read here.) Needless to say, I was thrilled. Here’s the story that ran in the newsletter. Since The Speculator is for and about writers, much of the emphasis is on the craft and business of writing. But even if you’re not a writer, I hope you’ll find it interesting. And I’d like to thank my good friend Doug for helping make contact with Dick. Doug, give me a shout if you ever need a kidney.


“Mad’s Maddest Writer” Dick DeBartolo on Writing Parody

By Tom Joyce

As you might guess from my membership in this group, and my editorship of this newsletter, I’m a big fan of speculative fiction. So don’t take the following statement as a dis.

Speculative fiction lends itself to parody.

Think of the works of speculative fiction that simultaneously serve as genre parodies and great stories in themselves. The writing of Douglas Adams, Christopher Moore and Terry Pratchett immediately come to mind. For further examples, you could go as far back as Fritz Leiber’s classic Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser stories, or head to your local multiplex and watch “Guardians of the Galaxy.”

So I thought it might be helpful for us as writers to get some insights from a parody writer. As luck would have it, I got to speak to one of the all-time greats.

Dick DeBartolo is one of Mad Magazine’s most prominent and prolific writers, having contributed to the magazine since the early 1960s. He specialized in the magazine’s movie and TV satires, which were always my favorite part of the magazine.

Dick also hosts a wonderful netcast about gadgets and technology called Giz Wiz, which is available on He’s a regular guest on segment on ABC News Now, and was recently interviewed on the public radio program Studio 360 (which is available online). He is also the author of “Good Days and Mad: A Hysterical Tour Behind the Scenes at Mad Magazine.”

Dick asked that the interview take the form of a phone conversation, rather than responding to e-mailed questions. So I’ll have to do some paraphrasing, as I wasn’t able to write down everything verbatim. But it’s worth it, because I’ve been a fan of Mad since I was a kid, and being able to talk to Dick made my week, month and year. As an added bonus, Dick turned out to be every bit as funny, charming and flat-out cool as I could have hoped.

So here’s the gist of what Dick and I talked about:

Dick said that he naturally gravitated toward movie and TV satires. And the bad movies were a lot easier to satirize.

“The more serious the movie was and the more pretentious it was, the more fun it was to make fun of it,” he said.

TV satires were more difficult, because they were more of a time commitment. He’d have to watch five or six episodes to get a feel for the show’s approach and its characters.

Unlike the movie satires, which would follow the plot of the source material, he would have to construct his own plots for the TV satires. That could yield some interesting results. When he wrote the satire for the campy science fiction TV series “Lost in Space,” he placed the characters on a planet with giant vegetation. Not long after, he encountered series star June Lockhart on the set of the game show Match Game, where he was also a writer. She jokingly asked him if the magazine had spies on its staff, because the plot of his parody mirrored one of an upcoming episode.

His propensity for making fun of movies meant that he was rarely invited to previews, but that was fine by him. He preferred seeing movies with audiences so he could take note of the scenes that got the biggest reactions from the crowd, and be sure to reference them in the satires.

He was apparently doing something right. No less a luminary than Roger Ebert once told Dick that he learned how to criticize movies through Mad’s dissection of them.

Here are Dick’s insights on:


— Your intended audience should be familiar with the source material. When you’re riffing off something, it helps if they get the references.

— Dick is a big fan of what he calls “The Rule of Three” for satire. You have two references to something normal to establish a pattern and set up the punchline, then deliver that punchline on the third reference.

For example: “Is this rocket going to make it to the moon?”

“Yes. We’re using the highest octane fuel, the most powerful engine, and a big bottle of Mentos and Coke.”

— Running gags can be very effective. Try to find a hook within the context of the story, and keep non-sequiturs to a minimum. For example, in his parody of “The Poseiden Adventure” about a capsized ocean liner, Dick made a running gag out of the characters’ linguistic confusion over “up” vs. “down,” which got more absurd and funny as the story progressed. (“I’m seasick. I think I’m gonna throw down.”)


The magazine was initially very male-oriented, for boys in the 10-through-15-year-old range. Initially, the magazine only satirized G-rated movies. Now its approach is more inclusive. He also describes it as “rougher” than it used to be, with edgier humor.

“When it came out, it was the only thing like it,” Dick said. “Now that’s all changed. Mad is like a mirror of society.”


“The Web is where it’s at,” Dick said “You can do so much with no money.”

Where social media is concerned, Google Plus users tend to be more interested in serious, straightforward information. Facebook and Twitter users gravitate toward the “silly stuff.”

“Make yourself a valuable information source on the Internet,” Dick advises. “You get followers. Follow your followers.”

Here I am at “Horrible Saturday” — an annual event at the York Emporium in York, Pa., that showcases horror authors. I talk to Robert Ford, Jack Nemo, Kelli Owen, Mary SanGiovanni and Chet Williamson. By the way, the event itself was great. I’m a horror fan myself, so it was nice being around a bunch of people who share my enthusiasm for the topic. Sure, there are lots of horror conventions. But this was different from a lot of them in that it was first and foremost a literary event. For me, the high point was hearing Chet Williamson read one of his short stories. He’s an excellent writer and a lot of fun to talk to. Come to think of it, that description fits all of the writers in this video. Take a look.

Just reading this LIST will make you approximately 32 percent cooler than you are now. Reading the BOOKS on the list? Shit. You’ll be able to walk into the outlaw biker bar of your choice and say “Hey you! Steroid boy! Yeah, with the facial tattoos. I’m talkin to you. You’re in my seat, bitch.” (NOTE: My name is Herman J. Rochermann, Tom Joyce’s attorney. I must emphasize that this blog is for entertainment purposes only. Thus, Tom cannot be held legally liable for any injuries that readers might sustain as a result of taking the preceding assertions literally.)

Mike Argento’s novel, “Don’t Be Cruel” is the most entertaining addition to the “bad people doing bad things badly” subgenre of crime fiction I’ve read in a long time. And I’ve read a lot. Since Mike is clearly an expert in the field, I asked him to suggest some other titles fitting that description. Here’s what he gave me:

My pal Tom asked me to compile a list of the top 5 novels about bad people doing bad things, badly.
I started and then realized that I’d rather list writers who consistently write about bad people doing bad things, badly, as it is a recurring theme in a lot of their books. Sure, I have my favorites among Carl Hiaasen’s catalog, but chopping it down to one entry would be difficult. OK, “Double Whammy.” Happy?
I’m not.
So here’s a list of 10 writers you should be reading if you enjoy reading about bad people doing bad things, badly.

10. George Pelecanos — His gritty crime novels often have heroes, but even his heroes are flawed. Start with “The Night Gardener,” a terrific read.

9. Mickey Spillane — What can you say about the Mick? The guy had a heart of steel. His P.I., Mike Hammer, was a badass. My favorite is “I, The Jury.”

8. Raymond Chandler — And what can you say about Chandler? Read “Farewell, My Lovely,” or “The Long Goodbye,” and realize that without Chandler, we’d all be reading crap like “Twilight” or “Hunger Games.” He was the Godfather.

7. Dashiell  Hammett — Speaking of “The Godfather.” “The Thin Man” was all about bad people doing bad things badly, with funny dialogue between Nick and Nora. “The Glass Key” is a masterpeice, as was “The Maltese Falcon.”

6. George V. Higgins — “The Friends of Eddie Coyle.” Need I say more.

5. Tim Dorsey — Never has a serial killer been so much fun. Serge A. Storms and his wasted sidekick Coleman mete out justice in ways that others may find objectionable. Or felonious.

4. Donald Westlake, writing as Richard Stark — Everybody cites Westlake’s Dortmunder books as comic crime classics. But for bad people, check out the Stark books with the amoral thief Parker. The first was “The Hunter” and the last was “Dirty Money.”

3. Jim Thompson — Wade into Thompson at your own risk. Nasty, nasty people doing nasty, nasty things. And he has a sense of humor, a twisted one, but one nonetheless. The “Dimestore Dostoevsky.” Check out “Pop. 1280,” “After Dark, My Sweet” and “The Killer Inside Me.”

2. Carl Hiaasen — When he’s on, one of the funniest writers out there. And when he’s off, he still pretty damn funny. His character Skink is one of of the greatest in the crime novel canon.

1. Elmore Leonard — The man. Simply put. Writes with the grace of a sledgehammer. And I mean that in a good way. Check out “Maximum Bob” and “Out of Sight.”

My very talented cousin, Ray Ladouceur, is sharing his knowledge of woodworking through a series of videos called “Dogwood Tales.” So how does that fit in with a blog called “Chamber of the Bizarre?” Just watch.

By the way, if you’re in the Cincinnati area and you need any woodworking done, check out his Facebook page here.