Thuglit, White dudes and Hella Gay Crime Fiction

Today is brought to you by the homie Todd Robinson on a podcast. Listen to that here.

So Todd was the editor of Thuglit. I read it a lot. I linked to the issue I was in cause I am V. Proud of that story. But I don’t want to talk craft right now.

Instead I want to talk about being welcomed with big open arms into a genre where, I did not see my ideas reflected and decided to actually dive in. Technically I think my first noir/crime story was actually published in the Flash Fiction Offensive (BIG CW for racialized violence).

I think (SHIT I can’t remember) but I was a lurker in the noir/crime area of short lit for a long time. Y’all know, I do love me some grimy fiction and the FFO piece was a very early example of where I’d want to go with it.

Of all of the areas of the lit world I have been in, this part has been the most open and welcoming. A genre of mainly white men, who have given me space to be Black and queer as fuck. Even when the stories weren’t queer necessarily. And when the stories were queer as fuck, not one concern was expressed.

What’s interesting to me is that, of all of my work over the last 20 years, these stories (more will be linked below) generated the least blowback from other people writing in the genre as well as fans.

When I did this flash piece that was accepted at Shotgun Honey I did prepare myself to hear the usual kinds of shit. I was ready to deal with people “just asking” why the character is Black AND gay. WHY is there a Beyonce reference? I expected to be grilled about it being unrealistic and zero of that happened.

Y’all…it was ZERO. Matter of fact, I remember very well getting a note on twitter from a rando white dude and he told me he was excited to find a Black author in crime stuff. Mind blown.

The reason I was so blown away by that reception is that, in other areas of my work this is not usually what happens. Outside of my ride or die readers, often the responses are a mixed bag of shit. People mad about something and honestly, it can be really exhausting.

Another great experience was when I was asked to contribute to a special issue of The Big click. Country noir. Honestly, this is one of my favorite pieces I’ve ever done. It was edited by the lovely Court Merrigan and like working with Big Daddy Thug Todd, it was a really good experience.

Being given the freedom to be Black and Queer and write a story like the Queen of Orla was really precious to me. There were a couple of references Court had to ask me about, but the important thing is he asked me and accepted what I had to say. In none of these instances have I been asked to tone it down.

Folks that read the Orla piece recognized that it was a tribute to the movie Bound. I say it in the story and some of the responses were so good.

There have been times in my literary career where, my Blackness and Queerness has been a problem. Not always in the context of the actual work I’ve done but in being who I am. There was the job I rage quit because the editor had googled me and was uncertain I could write not Black and not Queer in spite of him the day before having told me my sample was amazing.

There have been thousands of hate messages.

These men, really gave me an opportunity to do the shit I love to do and play. I’ve been treated with respect, I’ve been treated with care and my work has been respected and enjoyed. I can’t say that for a lot of the literary world.

ALSO I’ve been able to read and talk to some other fantastic folks. Two of my faves below.

Joe Cliffordof whom I VERY fond of.  He’s a stand up person and his work is fuckin solid man.

And Gabino Iglesias. Read this review, I have a review of his book Coyote Songs forthcoming. TL:DR while reading both times, I spent a lot of time going goddamn this mother fucker and wanting to either hug him or punch him. So, like it is really fucking good.

The moral of the story is this. Sometimes, we get to work with and meet people who defy all of our expectations about how we’ll be treated. The dudes I’m talking about here, (along with some others we’ll talk about later because reasons) really have a special place in my heart. Go read their work.

Zero Saints by Gabino Iglesias- A big ass review.

There is gonna be a LOT to unpack.

TL:dr- This is a great fucking book. If you like supernatural, crime and can handle some Spanish get it. Yes amazon link srry.

LONG VERSION. Some spoilers may happen.

I was given a copy of this book a bit after it came out by a dear friend who had read it and decided I HAD to read it.

Zero Saints starts with the kind of wry, first person humor during what builds to be an ass kicking that I like. The first four pages let us know that we’re in for a wild ass ride. The violence isn’t of the sort that is immediate and all the way in your face, Gabino’s style in this book is intimate, we are in Fernando’s skin (at least I am and we’ll get to that) so in the beginning of this book we know a few things. We know Fernando (not his name yet) is in trouble, big fucking trouble.

When I saw the line about Fernando praying to la Santa Muerta, y’alls….my lil woo self got all fucking excited. Following the mention came the first of much Spanish and I have enough Spanish to have gotten the gist of what was going on and this brings me to my first pointed remark. I have seen some reviews (too goddamn many) that make a point to complain about the amount of Spanish. Like…okay I don’t want to quote Junot Diaz but, the quote about folks willing to read Elvish or whatever and who will bitch about Spanish.

There is a lot of Spanish. Personally, I can read more Spanish than I can speak and I am not at all fluent. That said, when I felt like it really mattered, I looked shit up because like most of us I carry a computer in my pocket and the internet exists.

Anyway.

The action picks up very fast and things get real bloody. While the action is revving up, I really love that there is a low key grace in Gabino’s writing. It is brutal, it does go from 10 to 100 and there is beauty there. We know from jump that Fernando is no super badass, his fear is written in a very real way that gives us a glimpse of a well written and rich character.

Details like how Fernando stops being able to really think with everything happening, really grabbed me. This book is a really great example of why I love first person POV so much. Using this POV in this book gives us skin to skin contact, we get to be intimate with the story and with Fernando and that my friends, is my shit.

I don’t want to spoil stuff plotwise so let’s talk about skill and craft.

First let’s talk why I love how Fernando is written and thus love being so close to his skin. Fernando is written as a kind of mysterious type, we get glimpses of a life he’s lived before. he had problems. He has nightmares, he needs oxies to sleep on the regular but in particular during what’s going on in the book. We get this bloody meaty human which in noir circles can be sparse.

Gabino does a few sly little shifts to second person and I am here for it. What makes these so effective is that, the shift slows the eye. We are dragged into the reality of this situation almost gently and then there’s blood and teeth on the floor. Gabino does an excellent job of balancing Fernando’s horrific situation with glimpses into his tender heart.

He has a crush on a girl, this bit when we meet Yolanda is exquisite:

“How do you tell a woman you like that you’re a fucking coward?”

In the context of the things Fernando has experienced, the glimpses of his past we know he is not a coward and this line, just got me. I love a cis het dude with some self awareness and written with tenderness. Yes, this is a violent as fuck book that has a heart. Like most of the noir I love, our main character is someone I want to slap and hug and then put the fuck to bed.

It takes a firm grasp on one’s masculinity and a deft hand to write cis het men with heart. It just does. Especially in noir, especially when there is also violence. Too often, I think a lot of cis male characters wind up being all balls and no heart and that is boring. If you write cis het dudes, read this book.

Now, let’s talk about the super natural aspects of this book.

His use of diasporic spiritual practices is superb. When we meet Consuelo, that is where things get really deep to me. Again, I don’t want to be too spoilery but I do want to mention that, in researching to do this review, I noticed a lot of folks didn’t comment on the loveliness of the spirtuality and how the supernatural is handled in this book. That bugs me.

The introduction of Ogun changes the tone of the situation in this book. When I first read it, I said Oh Shit out loud. The violence and drug dealing by themselves didn’t quite give me the gravity of bringing in Ogun as part of the action. I think other readers, especially those unfamiliar with Afro/Latinx diasporic religions probably missed out on that. I am pretty sure that my familiarity, bred my excitement in this case.

In chapter 5 and the end of chapter 4, the depth of love Fernando is shown really touched me. Again I don’t wanna be spoilery but, the ritual and the egg, that’s fuckin love y’all. The novenas given to Fernando, the way in the book the prayers are set out in full touched my heart. These moments of love and hope are what balance the brutality of much of the book. I think in a lot of other reviews I read, I was missing the appreciation of as I said above, tenderness.

Ahem.

Before I go much further, let’s kind of ease to the end here because I wanna be super spoilery and I hate that.

The introduction of the Russian was another great touch to me and a perfect example of cross cultural understanding. This is transgressive because there is no push/pull in how Nando and the Russian communicate and come together. That is fucking real.

The thing I love best about this book is that without the tenderness, moments of gentle handling and sadness it would STILL be a good book.

Gabino Iglesias is a bad mother fucker.

WITH the tenderness, love, and tears this is a great book. Like most books I love, this little gorgeous thing is meaty. It is bloody not just in the violent sense but in the sense of it having a pulse, this work has a heart that as you are pulled into Nando’s fucked up life, you feel it in your hands.

And okay y’all, I don’t say this often but this book ended perfectly. Just, y’all it fucked me up in the best way. And like books I love, I want more.

What is greater is that I’m more familiar with Gabino’s work and hustle and I am here for it. This book is on my list of recommendations for actually transgressive work that lives outside of the Great White Western Ideals and does so in shining, haunting, bloody fashion.

Go read it. Read Gabino’s tweeter.

Dwelling in Darkness

Before I get to the darkness, some light. My first fiction publication of the year has gone live at the new magazine Rigorous. Read my cowboy/mermaid myth here. I’ll nerd about it later because I worked on it for months and the original inspiration might make y’all giggle.

I’ll nerd about the origin story for that piece later this week.

Per usual, when things are pretty much non-stop bullshit, I turn to the darker end of lit for comfort. Let’s talk about what I’ve been reading/listening to.

House of Horrors: The Shocking True Story of Anthony Sowell, the Cleveland Strangler. (Amazon affiliate links ahoy y’all.)This book is pretty dingdang good. I actually followed this case with a lot of interest because really we don’t get to see/read about a lot of non-white serial killers. This book was missing the racial analysis I was craving, something more in depth than poverty and shit. BUT, that said a lot of the early history and behaviors of this killer cut across racial lines to intersect with other serial killers. Pretty good read.

I also reread Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison. Y’all if you’ve never read this book please read it. This one is a hard one for me to read. Every time I read it, the sameness of many of the struggles I have as a Black person are devastating. On the other hand, I also am soothed by the rhythm of this book and the familiarity. Read the thing.

I have a habit of dipping back into the darkness as y’all know.

May I also suggest some of my fave noir?

I really loved this piece in Out of the Gutter, The Flash Fiction Offensive. Initiation by Brendan Bakala.

For some other noir reading, may I suggest back issues of Thuglit. Like issue #5 (I’m in this one) I also suggest reading stuff by the publisher of Thuglit Todd Robinson. He’s good people and his writing is fucking tight. Read The Hard Bounce. I really fell in love with his characters Boo and Junior. His work is vivid and has a beating heart. Get into it.

Lamentation by my homie Joe Clifford, another one that I love. Y’all, like get on that. It is a series and it’s good.

Want something lighter?

Battle Hill Bolero (Bone Street Rumba) by my dude Daniel Jose Older. If I’m not mistaken, this is the last in the Bone Street Rumba series (noooooooooooooooo) and it is so fucking good. It’s just, god damn it. I love this world so much I never want it to end for purely selfish reasons. Just…start at the beginning and read them all.

For an intense but not totally heart breaking read, start up the Broken Earth books by N.K. Jemisin. Start with The Fifth Season. If you like your fantasy with some literary bent and really detailed and showcasing some major, major researching skills, get it. These books are gorgeous.

If you need to get really sucked in deep into a whole other world, read The Grace of Kings by Ken Liu. I liked this book, it wasn’t totally what I needed but it is very very good and goes deep into world building and the language is beautiful. 

Thing is, right now we all need some fucking space that isn’t littered with the actual fire that is burning up America right now and fixing to light up the rest of the world.

Don’t feel bad if you need to get away because we all need some of that lately.

What have I been doing?

Well I’ve been writing poems and SCLAB and a few stories. Trying to hang on to my sanity.

Before I go, how about a look at a bite of a hood noir story I started. Another one with a brother and sister duo, I’ve got a thing for that.

“You-‘

Tyrell heard his sister yelling from the front hall all the way into his office and cringed.

“Rusty ass. No account ass. Trifling ass. Shitty ass mother fucker.”

He heard her stomp past his door, steady talking shit.

“One more fuckin’ time I gotta do some nasty shit like that, you gonna take a dick for the team. Chicken ass, scary ass, useless looking bullshitting ass, but you’re better at this Tye Tye, lying ass-“

Her voice muted as the bathroom door slammed. Tyrell heaved a sigh and made a gesture at the other man in his office.

OH one more thing.

My birthday is in March and per request here is my wishlist.