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The Spirit of Taking (Christmas 2019)

By Alec Cizak


“Bring me a bird,” said Marsha, “or don’t come home.”

Now, Lester sat in his 1984 Cutlass, freezing despite the best efforts of the car’s factory-installed heater. The engine grumbled in the cold. The Oldsmobile shook every now and then, as though brushing snowflakes off its bumpers. He’d been enjoying classical music on the radio. A college student interrupted the broadcast. Reminded the audience they had three days before Christmas. In a voice suggesting he’d never struggled in his life, the kid said, “Get your shopping done before the big rush tonight! I know I will!”

Lester kept his eye on the liquor store across the street. A constant flow of people stopped in to load up on booze for their weekend parties. The take in the register and safe might last until Easter. He lit an unfiltered Camel and turned up the volume on the radio as the college student spun a tin-sounding recording of Beethoven’s Third.

A digital clock mounted on the dashboard read 4:37. Not long before the store closed. He planned to wait until about ten till and duck inside. He’d loiter near the beer coolers and wait for the clerks to insist he make a purchase or hit the road.

And then he would rob the joint.

He used a Smith & Wesson .38 for his work. No bullets. Never once needed to pull the trigger. Gas station and liquor store attendants knew loyalty to no one but themselves. Gave up the money without a hassle.

Then he noticed a thin young man, maybe nineteen, lurking near the mouth of an alley just behind the store. He had no gloves, no cap to keep his head warm. He peered around the corner, looking at the parking lot. And pulled a .22 from the front of his pants.


“Son of a ….” Lester smacked the steering wheel. His door creaked as he shoved it open. Bone-rustling wind whipped snowflakes in every direction. Crossing the street, Lester lowered his head anytime someone passed in a vehicle.



Approaching the young man, he smiled and offered his hand. “Good evening.”

“What do you want, gramps?”

Lester resisted the urge to punch the kid in the nose and be done with it. “Couldn’t help noticing,” he said, “you look like you want to knock this place over.”

The youngster paced deep into the alley and darted back. “What are you talking about?” His eyes bulged like a cartoon character’s after a conk on the noggin with a mallet.

“It’s all right, kid.” Lester held his hands up, worked to keep the boy from putting his finger around the trigger of the .22. “I don’t mean to be rude, but this here’s my gig, you understand?”

“Look, you damn fossil, I have no idea what you’re talking about.”

Lester sighed. “I’m fifty-four years old. Someday, if you’re smart, you will be too.”

The kid seemed confused.

“Let’s get back to the issue. I’m hitting this store, you got it? There’s a Village Pantry just up the road. I’m sure they’ll have a nice haul in the register. What do you say?”

“I’m not walking all the way to Broad Ripple. Not in this weather.”

“Where’s your car?”

The boy laughed. “I can barely afford rent on a studio apartment. How the hell could I make notes on a car?”

Something stirred near Lester’s heart. “How often do you work?”

“Lost my job two months ago.”

“Let me guess,” Lester said. “The wife is pregnant?”

“Wife? Do I look stupid?”

He shrugged.

Girlfriend, man, my girlfriend’s pregnant.”

“Right, right.” He rubbed his forehead, tried to hush his conscience. “Look, kid, what I mean is, how often do you rob places like this?”

The boy stared at his feet. Said nothing. Didn’t need to. No sense for them to team up. With an amateur involved, chances were good Lester would go to prison and Marsha would find some other schmuck to get her a turkey.

“I feel your pain, son.” He didn’t face the young man as he spoke. “Problem is, I got a woman at home who’s going to tear me a new one if I don’t get some dough and bring back a bird for the holidays, you dig?”

The kid pointed the barrel of the .22 at him. Lester felt like an idiot for not seeing the move ahead of time.

“Now you listen to me, gramps.” His finger tapped the pistol’s trigger guard. “This is my take.”

Lester put his hands up. “At ease, junior.”

“Beat it!” The kid nodded toward the street.

Lester sighed. “All right.” He could have nabbed the gun. The dummy barely had a grip on it. For whatever reason, he decided to let the youngster take a stab at a new career. Maybe, he decided, the kid would get himself arrested. Nice warm meal in the bucket might do him some good.

He ducked into his Olds, fired it up, and drove to Broad Ripple. The convenience store promised danger. Excellent surveillance cameras. The safe often proved too difficult for the halfwit cashiers to open.

Through the static on the radio, Beethoven’s Ninth, as performed by the Milwaukee Volunteer Orchestra, crackled over the factory speakers mounted in the doors. Lester slowed on 64th Street and parked across from the Village Pantry.

A few minutes into Beethoven’s masterpiece, a Chevy Astro pulled into the lot. A woman exited the driver’s side. She opened the sliding door on the side and four kids piled out. A frozen turkey they’d probably picked up at the Kroger’s on Guilford tumbled onto the iced-over pavement and rolled under the van. Mom wrangled her critters and mushed them into the store. She shut the van and locked it.

Nobody, it seemed, had seen the turkey. Lester hustled across the street. He got down on the frozen ground and scooped it into his arms. He wrapped his jacket around the bird and ran back to his car.


“There’s your feast, baby.” He threw the Butterball onto the passenger seat. As he hurried home, the Milwaukee Volunteer Orchestra mustered all the fire and passion they could to bring the Ode to Joy to its raucous conclusion.

Alec Cizak is a writer and filmmaker from Indiana. His books Down on the Street and Breaking Glass are available from ABC GroupDocumentation, as well as on Amazon. A collection of weird fiction titled Lake County Incidents is scheduled for release in late 2019. He is also the editor of the fiction journal Pulp Modern.
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Black Friday Blues (Christmas 2019)

By Albert Tucher


A guy spends enough time on top of me,” said Diana, “and I start thinking I know him.”

So Clemson never told you about his Santa gig?” Detective Tillotson asked.


Well, I hadn’t seen him in a couple of months.”

Tillotson’s visits had a script. He wore a groove into his chair at her kitchen table, while she poured coffee into him and told him what he needed to know. He also spoke up for her with other cops all over the far north of New Jersey, but she never saw that part.
Diana carried the pot from the gas range to the table and refilled his cup for the fourth time. Someday she hoped to discover his upper limit.
But maybe there are things a guy won’t even tell a hooker,” she said as she took her seat across from Tillotson. “His coke habit, stealing from his clients, prison time, those he’ll talk about. But not playing Santa.”
How about his clients?”
You’re thinking one of them killed him?”
Ponzi schemes tend to piss people off. And the killer was definitely pissed. Three shots to the face, all up close and personal. In his mall Santa suit, no less.”
That’s cold. He didn’t change out of it after work?”
We learned he was heading to a private party.”
Anyway, he didn’t talk about the clients. Professional ethics, I guess.”
She paused.
Which, when you think about it, is possibly the stupidest thing I’ve ever said.”
Tillotson didn’t comment, for which she owed him. It made her feel worse she had nothing for him.
What does his wife say?” she asked.
Not much. Being married to him taught her to shut up with the cops.”
So she’s still a suspect.”
Definitely.”
He put his cup down and studied her.
I know that Jersey girl look of yours. Don’t go looking for trouble. Just keep your eyes and ears open.”
You know me.”
That’s what I’m saying.”
***
The Lexus turned left into a parking space, cutting off Diana’s route to her Taurus. A woman climbed out of the driver’s seat and approached.
In Diana’s experience, two kinds of women haunted motel lots—hookers and wives. The wives came in two flavors—cheating and vengeful.
A woman in a luxury car was a wife, but which kind?
The fifty-ish brunette would turn her share of heads. Diana sometimes wondered about clients married to women like this, but she didn’t wonder too hard. It might jinx her business.
I’m Miriam Clemson. Do you have time for coffee?”
Diana didn’t, really, but she also didn’t have it in her to turn down the naked appeal on the woman’s face.
Okay.”
She led the way to the coffee shop attached to the King Motel. Diana had always bypassed it before. Hookers didn’t hang around after a date.
Seat yourself,” read the sign at the register. Diana chose a booth away from the plate-glass window. The woman slid in across from her. Miriam had about three inches on Diana’s five feet five, but seated she looked no taller.
A tired waitress poured coffee without asking, and left.

Now I don’t know where to start,” said Miriam from her side of the booth.
She ignored her coffee and started twisting her paper napkin. Diana decided to encourage her with a question she needed answered anyway.
You know who I am. How does that happen?”
I had you checked out. You have a good reputation.”
This wasn’t the first time a wife had vetted her and let her go about her business.
I’m sounding like my marriage was a business partnership, which I guess it was. Not that I was involved in what sent him to prison. But we raised our daughter and lived our lives.”
You’re getting by. Financially, I mean.”
I’m a physician. My practice keeps us going.”
You’ve stuck with him.”
I don’t know why. No, that’s wrong. I didn’t know to begin with. I do now.”
Diana waited.
Everybody I knew told me to divorce him and move on. But I realize now I was hoping he would come out changed. And he did. That’s the amazing thing. You probably noticed he hadn’t called you in a while.”
There can be lots of reasons for that.”
The woman smiled.
What do you charge?”
Two-fifty an hour. Why?”
I’m guessing men talk to you about things they can’t tell anyone else.”
That’s true.”
And here I am doing it. I should write you a check.”
Since we’re guessing—he did the Santa Claus thing to show your daughter he was different?”
She’s long past believing in Santa, but she understood the gesture. He would never have done it before.”
Miriam closed her eyes, but the tears squeezed out.
I was getting my husband back. And just realizing that I wanted him, when somebody took him away again.”
Diana glanced at her watch. She had a three P.M. date at the Savoy Motel, two miles south, back toward her cozy rented Cape Cod home in Driscoll. Time to go. She slid out of the booth and looked down at Miriam.
So you didn’t kill him.”
Miriam didn’t seem to hear.
***
Diana arrived five minutes late. Sussex County was mostly bedroom communities now, except for her declining hometown of Driscoll. The biggest clue to the area’s rural past was its network of inadequate two-lane highways. This time of year everyone hit them at once.
The coffee shop conversation kept playing in her mind as she parked and climbed out of her Taurus. She couldn’t let that go on, because the clients paid her to listen as well as go through the motions. This next man demanded a lot of her attention. He always spent five minutes on top of her, leaving the rest of the hour for complaining.

I fucking hate this time of year.”
Winter?”
Christmas,” he said. “I’d hate it if they put it in July.”
He turned on his side and reached out to stroke her dark blonde hair. His hand kept going down her naked back. He often commented on her tawny coloring, but today his holiday grievance preempted everything.
What’s your take?”
Christmas is my busy season.”
No shit.”
Sometimes it feels like I break even on Black Friday. And then I work every day for the rest of the year.”
Wait, including Christmas Day?”
Some guys have nobody but me.”
You just made my point for me. Ever seen Christmas make anybody happy?”
Well, kids waiting in line for Santa.”
Take a closer look sometime. Christmas is Ground Zero for misery.”
The phrase started rolling around Diana’s brain like a pinball. As soon as she got home, she called Tillotson.
I’ve been thinking.”
It was what he wanted to hear, even if it came a little late this time.
I’ll be over,” he said.
Soon he was sipping coffee. Some people might object to a cop showing up at a hooker's home all hours of the day or night, but that was their problem.
Any of his clients pan out?” she asked.
We cleared them all.”
The wife, too. I talked to her.”
You did?”
His look said they would discuss that later.
So,” she said, “what if the problem wasn’t Jack Clemons? What if it was Santa Claus?”
She told him about her last client.
You think this guy did it?”
No, but he got me thinking. Suppose the holiday cheer made somebody snap and take it out on the nearest Santa.”
Meaning at the mall.”
He gave her a look she had seen many times, the one that said she might be right, and he hated it.
It fits the evidence.”
And if I’m right, he might not even be done.”
Great. What the hell do we do about that?”
Could you put a cop in there? You know, a decoy.”
That’s a tough sell to the brass.”
His cell phone rang. She watched his face, and a gut punch of adrenaline told her what he was hearing. He disconnected and looked at her.
I guess it just got easier,” she said.
Albert Tucher spent twenty years pursuing a career as an operatic tenor, until his insatiable craving for rejection made him turn to writing. He is the creator of prostitute Diana Andrews, who has appeared in almost 100 hardboiled stories and the novella THE SAME MISTAKE TWICE. Supporting characters from her world figure in a new series set on the Big Island of Hawaii, in which THE HONORARY JERSEY GIRL is the latest entry. You can visit him on Facebook: Albert Tucher.Writes and also on Twitter.

Editor's Note: Albert Tucher's Diana Andrews story, "Sleaze Factor" was one of the first tales published a decade ago (January 2009) by original Flash Fiction Offensive Editor Rey Gonzales, back when FFO had its own website. Interested readers can find Mr. Tucher's "Sleaze Factor" by clicking Here.

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Life Number Ten

By James "Jim" Shaffer


Harlan stood at the kitchen sink, staring out the window, focused on nothing in particular. Cocking his head side-to-side, he pretended to study something beyond the cabin’s porch. He’d seen a guy do that in a movie once.
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All That Remains

By Mick Rose


We love to joke at FFO. But not on this occasion ... as we present a story that's NOT for the faint-of-heart. Some crimes are heinous, and their effects far-reaching. We invite you to reflect on the Title and the Artwork before delving this piece by our colleague Mick Rose.


Took me three years to track down John Delaney. Snot dribbled from his nose. But those soulless blue eyes still sparkled with defiance.

I'd jacked him head-long over a battered wooden table—and splayed him spread-eagle. Like a cop shoves a hapless perp against the hood of a car. Yeah, I cuffed his hands, cinched them tight behind his back. But I'd also shackled his ankles to the blood-stained concrete floor. And looped a noose around his neck—lashing that demented meathead smack against the tabletop so he could only look left.

I hadn't bothered with a gag. No one could possibly hear him. Besides. I wanted him to talk. I felt my composure slipping ... reckoned this derelict house, a hundred lonely miles from any town or city ...  didn't look much different than the noxious shithole had three ancient years ago. Though the cops involved knew about his appetites? They proved too damn lazy to discover Delaney's lair.

Bile scouring my throat I snagged his matted hair, squatting on my knees so I could glare at him—crazed eyes to crazy eyes.

"I want every detail. Now. You will hold back nothing."

No surprise the asshole spit at me—despite the lug wrench in my hand. But he cringed and closed his eyes: expecting the arcing metal to meet and dent his head.

Instead I dropped the wrenchclattering the concrete instead of his worthy skullrattled both our ears.

I reached inside my trench coat; fished out a pack of photos. Like a stack of preschool flash cards, I held each one before his face ... before slowly oh-so-slowly ... moving to the next.

"She was sweet, so sweet," he crooned, blue eyes suddenly glassy: a jagged guttural moan swelling from his chest.

"Tell me something I don't know, Delaney."

"I fucked her," he said, his face now radiant—merry thoughts meandering down his twisted memory lane.

"Fucked her how?"

He giggled. "Every which way. In her mouth. In her ears. In the cunt. Up the ass.

"That lovely child called me Daddy. Every day and night of that blessed week." 

All the filth Delaney spewed matched ghoulishly tit-for-tat with the scorched images in my head—the charred lines cut deep—like they'd long been etched with acid. I continued to let him babble till finally he proved spent. She'd suffered firsthand. Alone with this monster. Any pain I endured weighed less than a useless farthing.

I tucked the photos in my coat. Staggered to the fireplace ... and that gray round mound of ash.

But the fires Delaney burned couldn’t claim everything. I spied a strip of shattered lathing, barely clinging to the wall frame, and used the splintered wood to gently spread the pile. Shrouded within that dust … three blackened buckles—one from a belt—and two the only remnants of her patent leather shoes. While bits of teeth and bone screamed at me from the ash.

I tugged a bandana from my trench coat. Collected the twisted buckles, as well as the tiny fragments of teeth and shattered bone. Laid them on the cotton cloth. Heaped a handful of ashes atop the sacred mound. Securely tied the bundle. Acid clawed my innards. Vomit threatened to surge.

I turned, and walked away. The bugler in my head mournfully playing Taps to the staccato rhythm of my boot heels echoing off the steps. 

No need to take the fucker's life ... to drink from his abyss. 

Starvation would duly claim him. 

And I'd snatched his greatest treasure—

A golden braided knot of my beloved daughter's hair.


Crime writer Mick Rose pens haiku and prose while wandering the United States in a Quest for the Perfect Pizza. Though his crime fiction can loom dark, and not for the faint-of-heart, he typically tells tall tales involving sexual humor (which sometimes prove explicit).

His work has kindly found good homes at online magazines and in print. He hosts Center Stage With Mick Rose—which frequently shines the spotlight on an international cast of writers, poets and illustrators.

Care to say, “Hello?” You can visit Mick on Facebook, as well as on Goodreads.

The original version of "All That Remains" first appeared at Close To The Bone.

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New Jersey Devil Albert Tucher: A Decade of Murder & Mayhem (including Corpses dropped in FFO's gutters)


The road to hell is likely paved with crime writers and their manuscripts. Some of us survive ... at least for a season, while others scuttle about for decades and miraculously manage to see some lights shining through life's tunnels.

As the New Kid on the Chopping Block, I'm pleased to have spent some time with NJ crime writer Albert Tucher—one of the first writers to appear at The Flash Fiction Offensive back in 2009. With Thanksgiving hovering on the horizon, this trip down Memory Lane will mark the end of FFO's 11th Anniversary Celebration.

Cheers y'all,

Jesse "Heels" Rawlins


Hi Albert, thanks for taking the time to chat. You live and write in New Jersey—a state that seems to spawn more than its share of crime writers given the Garden State’s small size. You think the cause is something in the water? Or possibly NJ’s proximity to New York City—and the mob’s reputation for dumping stiffs in New Jersey’s swampy eastern Meadowlands?

Thanks for having me, Jesse!

I wish I could blame it on the water. That would kinda let us off the hook, even though we choose to live here. The Mafia heritage also has something to do with it, but I think that’s traceable to New Jersey’s early urbanization compared to other states. Newark, for instance, is one of the oldest cities in the country.

But New Jersey is more than its cities. There’s been a lot of crime fiction set at the Jersey shore. That’s “downashore,” if you speak Jersey. And if you’re a native, it comes out as a single syllable—roughly, “dowsh.” Works like BIG SHOES by Jack Getze and MISSING YOU IN ATLANTIC CITY by Jane Kelly readily come to mind.

In terms of rural noir, I have wondered why certain parts of New Jersey haven’t been featured. Go down to Salem or Cumberland County in July and look at the ancient buses parked off the road and the migrant farm workers stooping in the fields. You’ll think you’re in rural Alabama.

Of course, the uniquely New Jersey contribution to rural noir has to be the region known as the Pine Barrens. Jen Conley, author of CANNIBALS—and Jeff Markowitz, author of DEATH IN WHITE DIAMONDS—I’m looking at you two!

Your story “Sleaze Factor” holds a distinction as one of the earliest known tales published when The Flash Fiction Offensive launched in late 2008, under the leadership of its first editor Rey A. Gonzalez.

This tale features prostitute Diana Andrews and NJ homicide detective Tillotson. When Mr. Gonzalez pubished “Sleaze Factor” in January 2009, your bio notes more than twenty Diana Andrews stories had kindly been published in various places. And also that you’d hammered out four unpublished novels involving Ms. Andrews.

So here we are a full decade later, Albert. How many Diana Andrews stories have now been published? And how many novels as well? Are any of those original four still collecting dust at your place—or have they all found good homes?

Damn, Jesse, that was a while ago. I’m up to over 100 published short stories now, and most of them feature Diana. Kevin Burton Smith did me a solid some months ago when he put up a list on the THRILLING DETECTIVE website—which celebrated its 21st birthday on April 1, 2019:


I write Diana in real time, and the novels cover the period 1997-2002. At this point they’re practically historical fiction.

Since FFO’s early days I’ve inserted one novel at the beginning of Diana’s main story arc. It’s called THE SAME MISTAKE TWICE, and Untreed Reads published it in 2013.

Five of my finished novels involving Diana are still unpublished: DO OVERS, TENTACLES, THE HOMICIDE SISTERS, THE SENATRIX, and THE GOOD PLACE.

In TENTACLES, however, I send Diana to the Big Island of Hawaii with a dangerous client. She meets some detectives and uniformed officers of the Hawaii County Police—and in recent years I’ve spun them off in their own series.

So the four additional novels that I’m happy to have seen published are THE PLACE OF REFUGE (2017), THE HOLLOW VESSEL (2018), and THE HONORARY JERSEY GIRL (2019), all from Shotgun Honey, an imprint of Down & Out Books.

Eric Campbell and Lance Wright at Down & Out—and Ron Earl Phillips at Shotgun Honey have been great to me, by the way.

I also have some short stories featuring these characters, and one of them, called “J.D.L.R.,” will be my debut story in Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine. I’m also working on another novel called BLOOD LIKE RAIN that involves Detective Coutinho.

Wow. Congrats on all your achievements over the last … ummm … decade, Albert. Since you’ve tortured yourself as a writer for this long, I’m curious as to how changes in Social Media may have impacted you and how you interact with other writers.

For example, The Flash Fiction Offensive launched with its own blog site in 2008—and its stories weren’t published at Matthew Louis’s Out Of The Gutter Online (OOTGO) until March 1, 2012—when miscreant crime author Joe Clifford took the helm, and was soon joined by the Underworld Bard of the San Francisco Bay Area Tom Pitts. Three months later, on June 28, 2012, FFO created its Facebook page. FFO also generated its Twitter account in conjunction with OOTGO and Mr. Louis’s publishing house Gutter Books that same month.

These days you Tweet on Twitter @alcrimewriter. And like most writers, you’ve got aFacebook page. But back when “Sleaze Factor” appeared at FFO in 2009 you were welcoming comments through an AOL account—and FFO’s writers and readers routinely left more interactive comments on the blog than I see nowadays.

History lesson over, your thoughts and experiences, Albert?

The effects of social media go beyond my writing life to my entire life. That goes especially for Facebook. If life used to be layers of sediment deposited over time, Facebook jumbles them like a comet strike.

Have I tortured that metaphor enough?

I have reconnected with people from junior high school. I haven’t seen them in fifty years, but they mix with writers I’ve met recently or know only virtually. It can be disorienting when a kid I traded punches with in 1964 comments on a story I just published.

Not that I was much of a brawler then or ever.

Although I’ve written and edited non-fiction for years, I didn’t jump on Facebook until two years ago: and I gotta say that decision has revolutionized my fiction writing experiences in positive ways.

But speaking of punches, brawlers, and mashed metaphors like comet strikes, New Jersey lies at one of the epicenters for notorious events known as Noir At The Bar (N@TB). Crime author and candy corn-loving Jersey Jen Conley—a long-time flash fiction editor for Shotgun Honey—describes these debacles as “A roomful of half-bagged, semi-literate knuckle-draggers.”

The list of participating N@TB knuckle-draggers whose stories have appeared at FFO throughout the years is too numerous for mention. But Ms. Conley showcases an array of posters from these events on her website. And your name, Albert, is notoriously featured on some of them. As are a slew of New York writers including Thuglit founder Todd Robinson, who closed the doors for that legendary outfit in June 2016 after roughly an outstanding 11-year run. So don’t try and act all innocent here!


What have you enjoyed about participating in N@TB events, Albert? And what kind of benefits do these celebrations offer writers of all experience levels?

Notorious. I like it!

Noir at the Bar is pretty well-known these days, but for those who might be new to the idea, Peter Rozovsky will go down in crime fiction history as the one with the vision. He got the first such event going. Others have followed. Organizers find a bar with well-disposed management and gather a group of crime fiction authors who take turns reading their work aloud and drinking.

Actually, the drinking is continuous, with no discernible handing-off of the responsibility.

N@tB events have sprouted all over the country. In New York Todd Robinson and Glenn Gray ran the events for quite a few years at Shade Bar in the West Village, aided by one of the treasures of the city, bartender Laurie Beck. As you mentioned, I read at several of those events.

Todd and Glenn begat Jen Conley and Scott Adlerberg, with Laurie’s continuing assistance. Jen and Jay Butkowski have also spun off events at the Complex in Asbury Park.

Have I read there too, and supported other writers when I wasn’t reading? I ask you. When the Jersey Girl In Chief summons a Jersey guy to Asbury Park, what answer can he give but, “Yes, Ma’am?”

So far, Jen hasn’t slapped me down over the JGIC appellation. I continue to push my luck.

Most often I read flash fiction. I enjoy giving the audience a complete story in my six to eight minutes, and thanks to publications like DZ Allen’s defunct Muzzle Flash, Shotgun Honey, BJ Bourg’s Flash Bang Mysteries, and of course FFO, I have quite a few stories to choose from.

I think most writers who’ve read aloud will tell you that it makes mercilessly clear what works and what doesn’t. I would compare it to standup comedy, with one crucial difference. In my experience the audiences are always supportive. Any novice reader who gets an invitation to read should grab it.

And if you do, you’ll meet people you have only known on screen or on the printed page. There is nothing like face-to-face, and that’s why I hope to keep getting invited back.

Thanks for this walk down Memory Lane, Albert. It’s certainly been quite a trip. And we’re excited that you, Diana and Detective Tillitson will be making another appearance at FFO in December—with a Christmas story called “Black Friday Blues.”

You also mentioned NJ crime writer Jay Butowski—who’s been published at FFO among other places. Earlier this year we were excited to see Jay team up with some colleagues, including N@tB NY reader and writer Roger Nokes—who possesses more literary sensibilities than most of us crime degenerates. Together this crew, which includes Jonathan Elliot, Nikki Dolson, and Katrina Robinson, launched the cross-genre story endeavor Rock And A Hard Place Magazine. Their first issue released in September with “A Chronicle of Bad Decisions and Desperate People.”

We’d heard some rumors about this outfit. And to try and confirm them? We plied Mr. Nokes with copious amounts of alcohol—and then threatened to hurl him down a stairwell if he didn’t ’fess up. Bottom line? Mr. Nokes confirmed that under extreme duress, which may have included blackmail, you’ve agreed to jump on board with them as an editor. So congrats on this new gig, Albert!

Meanwhile? Our best wishes to you, and all the other notorious knuckle-draggers out there!

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