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.
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 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!