Stark House Press

April N e w s l e t t e r,  v o l u m e  2,   i s s u e  3 2012

DRAWING UPDATE: Congratulations to Frank Loose. He posted a review of a Stark House title on and he gets to choose the Stark House book of his choice, free of charge.

But wait, there's more...

We still would like to see more reviews out there from our readers, good, bad or indifferent. In keeping with this month's Charlie Stella feature, we're going to hold another drawing, this time for an AUTOGRAPHED COPY of Charlie's book, Johnny Porno.

Same rules apply, just post a review, the contents entirely up to you and not influenced by us in any way, and send us an e-mail letting us know where we can read it.

For every review you post, send an e-mail and we'll put another entry in the drawing. After a few weeks, we'll pull a name at random and you will get this, the collectible
Johnny Porno version.

So send a link, your name and address to us here after you post your reviews, and we thank you for taking the time to share your thoughts on our books.

Shipping now:

Harry Whittington

Rapture Alley / Winter Girl / Strictly for the Boys by Harry Whittington

One is a Lonely Number/Black Wings Has My Angel

One is a Lonely Number by Bruce Elliott / Black Wings Has My Angel by Elliott Chaze

Featured back list title:


Russell James

Two frantic noirs that Anthony Boucher of the NYTimes called a "wild, incredible, yet somehow compelling hyperbole in both crime and sex." Includes essays by wife Verlaine Brewer and Bill Pronzini.

For a limited time, the Featured back list title is available for 15% off the cover price.  Just send us an e-mail with your ordering information and mention this newsletter.  Enjoy!

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Hello, Everyone—

This month's newsletter features a new interview with the one and only Charlie Stella. But after you delete your e-mail, remember that all of our past newsletters are posted online here.

First up, a quick reminder that the next book out of the block is our first James Hadley Chase double, and it should be coming in from the printer any day now. If you've never read Chase before, seriously, you'll wonder why never have. He's a park-your-rear-in-your-favorite-chair, have a beverage near at hand, and stay up to the dark hours turning pages kind of guy. As much fun as you can have with a book. In a literary way, at least.

James Hadley Chase

Then in July, we have the long-awaited eighth novel from one of our favorite writers working today, Charlie Stella. He's back after 2010's Johnny Porno with the follow-up to his very first novel, Eddie's World. So we asked Charlie to talk a bit about his life and work and plans for his future projects. And here is what he said....

Stark House: You've made no secret about your past life as a bad boy dabbling in the life.  Had you not put yourself through those experiences, how would that have affected your later career as a writer?  Would you still have written?  Would you have written something other than crime?

Charlie Stella: I started out writing plays (and continue to write them).  It is relationships I’m most interested in writing about (and I’m currently having one hell of a struggle doing so in the form of literary fiction).  Literary fiction (and I hate typing that) is what I prefer to read.  I can only take so much of crime fiction (reading or writing).  I used to bang out first draft crime novels in three months and now I’m easily sidetracked by projects that provide more interest (whether they have to do with the MFA program I’m enrolled in or writing plays).  I think learning what I did on the street probably made it much easier for me to go in a mob fiction direction, but I have no doubt I would’ve continued hacking away if I hadn’t experienced a street life.  I probably would’ve stayed where I longed to be, either in the theatre or writing literary fiction.  Crime writing, once I had some experience with the characters in that world, made it easier for me to put novels together.

SH: You've told me that George V. Higgins'  The Friends of Eddie Coyle is your favorite crime novel. That book's influence can clearly be seen in your first one, Eddie's World.  Was the naming of your character, Eddie Senta, a tribute to Higgins' Eddie Coyle?  What other ways were you influenced by that book?  Who else influenced you?

CS: Bingo.  My Eddie Senta was a far more decent person than Eddie Coyle, but I bow to Mr. Higgins at every turn.  He was pure genius.  I’m a hacker.  It’s interesting you bring up that influence because it’s what I’m now trying to fight off in my literary attempts.  For me, Higgins wrote as close to documentary style writing as it gets.  There wasn’t much character introspection, certainly a ton less than what Elmore Leonard allows his characters.  It was rapid fire in the moment dialogue that gave you everything you needed to know about a character in one or two sentences.  Speaking of Eddie Coyle and what a prick he actually was: “Fuck you and the horse you rode in on.”  A line he tells some woman he “thinks” was hogging a public telephone because “he” needed to use it.  In crime fiction, to be able to deliver a character through dialogue, without delving into Freudian fucking backstory, is a blessing and a gift.  Higgins could also describe something with repetitive pronouns.  He did this.  He did that, etc.  As awkward as it might appear, it was extremely effective.  Also, his ability to describe something ... let’s put it this way: I used to imagine it was Walter Winchell narrating the way he did in the old Untouchables series.  Just perfect.  Several other writers influenced me early on, Elmore Leonard for one, but more as a reading fan than a writing style.  I never get the very flattering comparisons.  Leonard is much smoother and much more tame.  I think other writers influenced me through reading more than writing styles.  That list is way too long to type out.

SH: Other than The Friends of Eddie Coyle, what other crime novels would you put up in that rarefied air?

CS: A few James M. Cain novels certainly (The Postman Always Rings Twice, Mildred Pierce, Double Indemnity ... American Tabloid (James Ellroy) ... more recent crime novels that really wallop me are those by Lynn Kostoff (The Fall and Late Rain were both wonderful), Craig McDonald’s Lassiter series and his latest, the standalone, El Gavilan), Vickie Hendricks' entire collection remains one of my favorites, and last year PM Press had two authors, Michael Harris (The Chieu Hoi Saloon) and Benjamin Whitman (Pike) who rocked me pretty good with their work.  Newcomer Dana King, in my opinion, may have the goods on all the mob fiction writers out there (myself definitely included).  He’s put together one hell of a series.  He’s one polished gem just waiting for a break.

SH: Your terrific blog lets your fans and readers know what's going on with you, including your participation in an MFA program.  How has this schooling affected your writing?  How has it affected your reading?

CS: I hate the distinctions forced on writers (genre vs. literary, etc), but my love is drama and writing about relationships.  My love of reading is also focused more there than crime.  That said, I am struggling mightily to overcome some crime writing habits and learning, learning, learning.  The MFA program I’m in, Southern New Hampshire University, has been a godsend and a wonderful experience.  The director of the program at the time, Robert Begiebing, assured me they wouldn’t just “take my application fee” and give me a fair reading.  I was paranoid about being a crime writer applying for an MFA.  Bob retired the semester I began and Diane Les Becquets has taken over and it’s just been great.  Truly.  I went in thinking I had to because I’d soon need a career change due to all the outsourcing; get the paper and try and find a teaching job.  Now I could care less about the career.  I’m revitalized as a writer; excited again to be challenged.  I’m one competitive MF’er with myself (seriously, it’s a sickness; I’m currently on Atkins and writing down everything I eat so I can have at least one less carb per day--I’m down to 4.4).  It’s a challenge and what I’ve learned so far I probably couldn’t have handled 10, 20 or 30 years ago.  The mentors in the program all have a lot to offer.  The reading is pretty much on line with what I prefer, although some of the authors I hadn’t heard of before (because I was essentially a philistine most my life), have been incredible finds.  I love the program and only wish it were six semesters rather than four (at the same price, of course).  I am seriously considering applying for a PhD but only for the experience of the process.  There are enough Doctor Moe, Larry and Curly’s in this world.

SH: You've also mentioned that non-genre writing has a lot of interest for you.  How do you see that coming out in your future works?  I'm of the genre-scmenre school of good writing is good writing, entertaining writing is entertaining writing, and I have great admiration for folks who read graphic novels, pulp reprints, Dostoevsky, Ken Bruen, Cormac McCarthy, Daphne Dumaurier, and Charles Dickens with equal relish, though with different flavors.  How do you feel about genre labels and what borders you may intentionally cross in the future?  Or do you think the fine arts curriculum will help more to elevate your crime fiction?

CS: I’m with you, brother. Good writing is good writing.  I’ve read literary fiction that makes me gag and crime fiction that does the same.  Some classified as crime genre writers can write circles around some classified as literary authors (for this reader).  It’s the reader and his or her tastes that count.  As I mentioned earlier, I’m having to break some habits I’m very comfortable with—my new challenge.  I’m okay with trying, but I may not stick  to it (using a variation on my crime writing style).  I’m not in the program to be a better crime writer.  I’m pretty confident now as a crime writer.  Trying for the Higgins-like documentary style is a polar opposite to what I’m trying to do in the program.  It isn’t easy.  Nor should it be.  My crime fiction is entertainment, pure and simple.  I make no grandiose Higgins-like boasts.  Higgins hated being pigeonholed as a “crime writer.”  He claimed he wrote “books with crimes in them.”  I hope to break into the literary world, but I’m in no rush and I don’t kid myself.  It will be a genuine writer’s struggle.  I think I have a lot to offer, but whether or not I can present it in a manner worth publishing is something else.  And let’s not forget bookscan numbers.  If I do get something done in the literary world, unless it’s a small press that ignores the numbers big publisher can’t ignore, I’d have to change my name (something proposed twice by bigger houses with two of my crime novels for the sake of distribution).  Crime fiction will have to deal with Charlie Stella.  If it means enough to me, should I ever manage to break into the literary world, I’ll use my grandfather’s name.

SH: Johnny Porno, your seventh published novel, came out to almost universally positive reviews.  Yet it is quite a different book from your earlier ones.  It's denser, less dialogue driven.  Was this a conscious stylistic choice on your part?

CS: Some of it was the time I took to write it (relatively longer than usual) and some of it, I suspect, had more to do with the historical basis that required more narrative than I usually write.  I know one guy who wasn’t crazy about it.  He’s one of my bestist friends now.  I call him coach.

SH: And now Rough Riders, out in a few months, is a sequel to Eddie's World and is set ten years later, in the current day.  The style of Rough Riders is closer to the Johnny Porno style than how you wrote Eddie's World.  Was this a purposeful decision, or does it more reflect where you are as a writer today?

CS: Honestly, I have no idea.  I think it has to do with time again.  I wrote RR’s 10 years ago and an offer was made by Carroll & Graf immediately after my editor there read it.  Being the genius businessman I was then (and am now), I turned the offer down and let it sit.  I went back every once in a while to play with it, but then I decided it was time to get serious with it again and I gave it another go.  I’m not sure it reflects where I am today.  Maybe as a crime writer.  Maybe.  The follow-up novel I hope to do with Stark House Press will not have as many subplots as my last two, although there will be another sizeable cast.

SH: When people inevitably ask you where you get your ideas from, do you tell them "off the back of a truck in Jersey" or are the old days better left in the past?  Until people like me crassly ask about them.

CS: I write from revenge.  In all of my crime novels you’ll find a revenge theme in there somewhere (so I suspect something triggers something in the vast space between my ears).  Eddie’s World is actually a fictional account of something I did from revenge.  Some of Jimmy Bench-Press was lifted from my street life (none of the violence in either book, by the way).  Charlie Opera was born from a vacation in Las Vegas in the midst of a bad marriage.  The Venetian was being built at the time and I went for early morning walks past it every day and came up with the mugging.  From that I turned it into various revenge themes.  Cheapskates was born from the line that popped into my head one day:  “They nothin’ but Cheapskates.”  The book was written around that line and some things that had gone down in my past personal life.  Shakedown took place where I used to live in Little Italy and that was born of a situation I once had with a loan customer I thought had worn a wire on me.  Mafiya was born of a prior novel that didn’t go anywhere but that started in Starrett City, Brooklyn.  I saw Spring Creek as a good venue to find a bunch of floating bodies.  I also wanted to play with Russian-American dialogue.  Johnny Porno was born from watching the documentary, Inside Deep Throat.  Going back in time was great fun and I may do that again someday.  I mean, the mob is pretty much falling apart these days.  The 70’s was their prime so ...

SH: You've talked a little bit on your blog about what you're working on next.  What would you like to say about that project here, and how's it coming along?

CS: How does a guy like me not write a novel about a guy hiding in the witness protection program while taking classes in an MFA program?  I decided to go back and take Jimmy Mangino off the shelf; he’s done his ten years for murder and is about to get out.  He wants his due (since he was made the day he was arrested).  The Vignieri’s are tipped off by a crooked cop (what, another crooked cop?) about a guy in witness protection on the island off the New Hampshire coast where the MFA program spends a week each summer.  They offer Jimmy an upped position if he takes care of the guy.  You’ll have to buy and then read the book for more than that.

And that's it. You can get a sense for Charlie's direct way of speaking here, and for more like it, check out his blog, Temporary Knucksline. You'll have to figure out the title for yourself.

Rough Riders cover

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Rick Ollerman
Associate Editor,
Stark House Press

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