All posts by liamsweeny

ADR Talks With Liam Sweeny, Author of Street Whispers

Liam Sweeny is the author of Street Whispers, a short story collection out today. It’s an eclectic collection of pulp, grit and noir stories inspired by the Capital Region of New York, a rust-belt crossroads in the shadow of the city that never sleeps.

ADR: The stories in your collection mostly take place in the Capital Region of New York state, nearby to Albany and Troy for those unfamiliar with the area. Are there any other authors writing about this region? Why do you find that the region is a good setting for crime fiction?  

LS: I live in the city of Cohoes, which is north of Albany, across the Hudson River northwest of the Troy city center. The area was written about famously by the author William Kennedy in the books Ironweed, Legs, possibly others, I’m not sure. Caleb Carr, author of the Alienist series, lives in Rensselaer County, Troy’s county, and he wrote the book Surrender New York, a story that takes place in a fictionalized version of Rensselaer County. James Howard Kuntzler’s World Made by Hand dystopian series takes place in a fictionalized city just north of here. And there was the movie The Place Beyond the Pines with Ryan Gosling, Bradley Cooper and Eva Mendez was about, and shot in and around the Capital Region city of Schenectady.

The Capital District is a very old place. Albany, in its incarnations, has been around for four hundred years. It was a fort, a Dutch trading post, a barrier to the British conquest of New England (the capital district includes Saratoga.) The Continental Army set up camp in my back yard, quite literally. And later, with the construction of the Erie Canal, this area boomed, and was home to many firsts, specifically in industrialization. Troy was the first steel capital before Pittsburgh, and Cohoes was the home of the first industrial textile mill.  Troy also had a few cultural claims to fame, the “Home of Uncle Sam,” and the home of “The Night Before Christmas,” and it’s a mark of belonging in Troy to know the story of meatpacker Sam Wilson and the Troy Sentinel newspaper article in 1823.

It boomed and it busted, and is struggling to boom again, to hide the scars of vacant concrete factories and the curbside litter that speaks to the dissolution of neighborhoods that, at one time, took care of their streets. We have nanotech and polytech and, I think, seven or eight colleges, and we have people working three jobs to afford a studio apartment, basic bills and food for the week. And that’s something that’s happening everywhere. But people here still wake up each morning with pride that they live in what could rightfully be considered a cradle of America.

As one last note, this area is the intersection of the Interstates 90 and 87, which make it a crossroads of the Northeast. We get enough drift from that to keep things interesting.

ADR: Which other short story writers did you consider influential on your work? Who else are you reading in crime fiction right now?

LS: I was named after Liam O’Flaherty, and I was exposed to some of his stories at an early age. I mean, they’re dark as hell. Grit like a sanding belt, and they opened my eyes up to the period in Ireland that he wrote about. It was one of the first times I was awakened from the fictions we have in this country to a new reality: The Ireland of shamrocks and leprechauns to the one of stark Catholicism and the visceral sacrifice of a man to cold industry. Kurt Vonnegut was another influence, I mean, not the same as O’Flaherty, but I liked his ability to dash your expectations of a character’s moral standing. He showed the fragility of judgmentalism. In my time of coming out with plot twists in short stories, I could always feel that groove. Also, Steve Weddle, and his book Country Hardball, showed me a side of country life that resonated with the fact that deep country is only ten miles out in any direction from here, and made me want to set stories in some of the outlying towns.

Right now, I just finished Joe Clifford’s Broken Ground, which isn’t out yet, but is in the Jay Porter series that I’ve been following faithfully. I also just finished Eryk Pruitt’s What We Reckon, which was an incredible standalone, and I hope he follows that up. I’m currently reading Tom Pitts, American Static, and am just getting into Jen Conley’s Cannibals. I’m waiting for Ryan Sayles’s Albatross. I am thinking of re-reading Les Edgerton’s Death of Tarpons, which may not specifically qualify as crime fiction, but it is told by a master of the genre, so I’ll count it.

Read the rest of the article on All Due Respect

My Book Launch and the Back to the Eighties Night Party

DSC_0018(1)Yesterday was Pub Day for my new collection of short stories, Street Whispers (which you can now buy here.) And of course, part of the whole fun of having a Pub Day is having a book launch, typically done in a book store, sometimes in a writer-friendly coffee shop or bar. My last book launch was in a bar, and it wasn’t a big draw, though being asked to sign a patron’s breasts was “of note.”

Auditioning ActAnyway, Phil Sawyer, good friend and undeclared ambassador of the Capital Region, owns Auditioning Act Entertainment DJ Service, an interactive audio-video extravaganza that can just show up anywhere and unleash the rhythm and the blues, the jazz and the funk, the laser lights and the video stars. Well it just so happened that he was throwing the Back to the Eighties Night party at the Ukranian-American Citizen’s Club on my home island, in my hometown of Cohoes, and he said to me, “Sween, throw your book launch there! Chuck books at people. Draw dirty pictures of ’em on the title pages. Go nuts, do whatever the hell ya want, kid!”

Now, Phil’s a good friend, and I gave him a couple of fictional shout-outs in the book, so I was down with that idea. And I’m glad I did. This party was amazing. I mean, just hordes of mullets, motorcycle jackets, oversized rock T-shirts, leggings, and Aquanet coiffures rekindling the flames of rebellion against a backdrop of raw, winner-take-all Wall Street greed. The rockers, the misfits, the kids smoking around the corner of their high-schools, planning for the kegger on the tracks later on that night.

Phil had shit locked down, too. I can’t think of too many fine-ass eighties songs I didn’t have imprinted on my mind in that spot where I keep the voice of Ronald Reagan saying “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall.” The laser show was nuts; hell, I was abandoning IMG_1202my post here and there just to bathe in it a little bit. There were four bartenders and a revolving door of thirsty people fifty deep. Seriously, though, little Rubik’s cubes flying through the air, a smiley-face beach ball making its rounds foot-to-foot, unplugged microphones on stands with bandannas tied to them court people singing anyway cause it was all good. No cops called, but who’s to say they weren’t there? Everybody was there.

So yeah, I sold some books. I didn’t sign breasts, but I think that’s a one-off thing. Plus I wasn’t equipped with a Sharpie, or telling anybody I would. But I sold some books, and got to hang out with a ton of great people. I do have some books left, so if anyone local is reading this, I’ve got a few I can sign and send. But all in all, I am always going to try to launch my books inside a cool party when I can. And AAEDJS is number one on my speed dial for that.

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It’s Pub Day (Look What We Made, Everybody!)

Today is finally here; Pub Day. My newest book is live, and I hope that somewhere right now, there’s an eager mind walking into the Jade Club, or remembering that they met David under the underpass last night on their way to the OTB. Or there’s a few people with that oh-so-giddy feeling that something neat is coming by post. ‘Cause all bills and junk mail just sucks, right?

For me, Pub Day is an irregular holiday. I’n a way, it’s like a birthday, but I’m not the one being born. It’s like my kid’s birthday, without the screaming, puking, burping and unconditional love. I wish I could tell you all how much goes into getting a book published. Fuck it, I will.

I’m not going to talk about taking your laptop and matching scarf into that trendy coffee shop and pretending you think best with an audience. I mean, shit, you might, but the writers I know that hit coffee shops are in it for the free WiFi and coffee they don’t have to make themselves. We’re talking people in the zone, man, like, crazy shit and search histories that would shock your kids. Seriously, we have to apologize to the NSA on Facebook so that hopefully they’ll keep our names on fewer lists. Writing can be the loneliest thing in the world, yet we endure our loneliness together, like we’re all getting the same torture, so it sucks, but hey, it’s something to talk about.

But it all means something when a publisher or agent says they want to see more. In my case, today, it was Chris Rhatigan, the publisher of All Due Respect Books, a purveyor of lowlife fiction, a rough track newly acquired by Florida-based scene starter Down & Out Books. Chris wanted to see a collection. He’d seen my jams before, and he was looking to throw a little heat out in the winter line-up. And I looked far and wide for a set of tales to give him. He’s a tough customer. But as I was collecting stories, I noticed they were all set (mentally) in the Capital Region. Which is weird for me, because usually, I’m all over the map. Needless to say, we got a short, quick snappy collection with just the right punches in just the right places.

But that’s really where another process begins. Editing; preparing the raw psychic explosion of storytelling into the refined communication that anyone picking up that story will flow through without any of the author’s arcane idiosyncrasies tripping them up. It’s laborious, and I had to make some hard choices, and bash my head against a wall once or twice (figuratively.) Because putting a book together is a team effort. I know a lot of people (and I used to be one of them) that think that they can do it all on their own, but that shows up in the finished product, and unfortunately, the writer will be the last to know, ’cause people are tactful before they’re honest. By the time this was truly ready for print, Chris Rhatigan (And Math Bird) had pounded it into something I could be proud of.

I will say that I was allowed to work on the cover. You can see it; I think it speaks for itself. It’s simple. But even that, I had many rounds with Chris, and Eric Campbell and Lance Wright from Down & Out. See, when people think of the indie scene, they may not realize the amount of effort and expertise that goes into fine details at some of the small, but known publishers. And they have pennies on the hundred-dollar bills that the big publishers have to do it.

So, Pub Day. I’m having a book launch, sort of. Auditioning Act Entertainment DJ Service, a company owned friend and all-around good guy Phil Sawyer, is having a Back to the Eighties Night on the island. I’m thinking, with a cash bar and a laser-light show and eighties video on the walls, I gotta end my Pub Day slinging books through lasers at “winners”, cause I see myself charging good party-goers when it’s too dark to read them there. But it will be fun, and books will change hands, and photos will be taken.

So this is Pub Day.

Stone Discs and Writing for the Love

I was in my local convenience store, flush from “book pub day.” For those of you who aren’t writers, “book pub day” is the day your book comes out, although on this day, my book wasn’t technically “out” yet, but I had gotten my copies in the mail. Long story short, it’s the completion of one process, and the beginning of another process that makes the writing world go ’round. And on this great day, I ran into an old friend, and we chatted up writing – and I gave him a copy, as you tend to be a bit generous on book pub day. And as it is with any creative pursuit, we talk about ‘doing it for the love,’ as it doesn’t make a whole lot of sense these days to be doing it for the money.

Now I agreed that it’s really a labor of love, not like it was an insult or anything. Hell, I think that most writers I know realize that a certain amount of love of the art helps us all sleep at night (some of us at our keyboards.) But later, now even, I have to think; how much of the effort, the concentration, the blocks and epiphanies, the anxieties and triumphs that, if any other person caught wind of them, would see them as something minor and insignificant, is done “for the love?” Because people collect stamps and create intricate lace doilies for the love. Is what we do something else?

To say that it’s not wouldn’t be accurate. When I reach in deep and my fingers are tapping words and phrases with the grace of a classical pianist, or the flow of a jazz ensemble, there’s love there. But there’s something deeper. It’s a fundamental understanding of why I write, and I suspect it’s similar for most writers. Why I write is about what purpose I hope my writing serves.

And now, onto stone discs. I found these discs called M-Discs. They’re DVDs; they burn the ones and zeroes into a synthetic mineral layer. So they burn data into rock. Short of snapping them in two, they can hold data for a thousand years. So I think about this, a thousand years. Think of all the things we don’t know about the year 1018. I mean, yeah, we know things. We know “the order of things” around the world, generally. But most people couldn’t read, and writing was a luxury for the clergy. Hell, “English,” as we know it, didn’t exist yet. And yet we are sitting in 2018, reading this, and we all get published every time we hit “post” or “send” and the world literacy rate is close to eighty-seven percent and how many people read when they don’t have to?

I don’t write for the love of it. I write because we owe that archaeologist a thousand years from here something that speaks above and beyond the endless stream of white noise and mind-candy in which we are awash right now. We have a talent, and a drive and patience and we have to use those things to chronicle, witness, lambaste and hyperbolize a time that is moving so fast that the archaeologists might not be looking from a thousand years away, but maybe a hundred, after the bombs drop and the radiation clears.

Maybe we love the craft, or maybe we love the solemn underlying obligation of the art. Maybe we’re just telling histories that haven’t happened yet.

 

The Interrogation Room with Tom Leins

 

From dirtybooksblog.wordpress.com

Firstly, congratulations on the publication of Street Whispers. How hard was it to select the stories – and indeed the running order?

Thank you. It was difficult to pick and arrange the stories. They were written at different times, some for publication, some for fun, a couple were lost treasures, so telling a story with the stories—it didn’t immediately lend itself to that. “The Gull Princess,” the first story, was a story that I felt had a ton of heart for its size. And I wanted to think about how people read short story collections. For a reader that’s unfamiliar with your work, you have maybe two stories to hook them in, and that first story’s got to hit. I think they all hit, especially with the crime-noir crowd, but that first story, I needed it to be something that could capture people who read broadly, like people that I encounter in my day-to-day travels. I’m hoping I achieved that.

Do you have a favourite story in the collection? If so, why is it your favourite?

I’m torn between “The Gull Princess” and “Rats,” but through sheer weight, I would go with “Rats.” I got into writing to put a focus on people that have become invisible to society: the homeless, the hopeless, the disregarded, the background criminals—basically the weathered people who’ve all but given up on finding a legit place in the world. “Rats” is about the life and death of a homeless man named David, and his friend, who remembers him as he makes his way through the city to make David matter. When I was about ten years old, my mother was active with the homeless rights movement in our area. I was involved in sleep outs and rallies, even getting to the Bush compound in Kennebunkport, Maine. This was a time when people were fighting to end homelessness with housing solutions. Soon after that, the focus shifted to a homeless “industry” of sheltering, treatment and managing the homeless on the street, i.e. city ordinances, police actions. I’ve also worked in an SRO for a time, so I’ve seen that battle from both ends. I’ve never myself been homeless, but that’s a matter of ‘any given Sunday’, I guess.

What is the oldest story in the book? How do you think your style has evolved since then?

I think “The Ninth Step” is the oldest one, yeah, “Ninth Step.” It’s a story about an alcoholic coming to terms with his past, but with a twist. And that where I think I’m a different writer now than I was then. I used to pride myself on coming up with interesting twists. Whether it would be a full-on plot twist or just a turn of phrase at the end, I loved getting people to think one thing, and flip them around a hundred-and-eighty-degrees to show them what was happening while they were watching the left hand. I still like this, I think it’s fun, and if anything, I try to build upon the foundation I’ve built when I write one of those stories now. But I’ve been going down the path of slowing down the frenetic pace of action and focusing on the essence of a dramatic moment or moments, the intense focus on a person, giving my readers a mind’s-ride through very tough situations. I think this is where the first story, “The Gull Princess” is at.

See more at the original article.

‘Street Whispers: Stories’

Street Whispers: Stories51Gom7pnvbL is now available for pre-order on Amazon, and at many other on-line retailers. Its official release date is February 23rd, 2018.

“An eclectic collection of pulp, grit and noir stories inspired by the Capital Region of New York, a rust-belt crossroads in the shadow of the city that never sleeps. Here’s a trip led by fat slobs in smoky, vomit-stained cabs, heading to the oasis of the strip club on a street lined with rusted out factories, ventilated with beer cans and rocks. No heroes and villains in these pages, just shades of grey and characters making choices between bad and worse.

“Tales of woe and macabre, the profane and ordinary dance with each other in a building where the forgotten stay, passing their street whispers like bottles from the bottom shelf.”

The collection, published by All Due Respect Books, contains a mix of very short, “flash fiction” pieces mixed with longer short fiction, contains both previously published works and never-published works. It is a departure from Sweeny’s previous collection, Dead Man’s Switch, which focused on more fantastical tales of straight crime. This work speaks more as a character study on the “invisibles” of society.

‘Betrayed’ Anthology features Liam Sweeny’s ‘How to Not Find Someone in Houston’

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“Spanning from heartbreaking to heartwarming, BETRAYED shines a bright light on the beauty and strength of the human spirit.  Prepare yourself for deep emotions and stories that will stay with you long after you leave the pages.”

 K.J. Howe, author of THE FREEDOM BROKER

​”An impressive collection of stories about crime survivors​ who’ve been up against the wall, survived, and triumphed over people and forces who wanted to crush them. What really moved me, aside from the great writing, was the absence of self-pity and victimhood. Each story is clear-eyed, nuanced, and captivating. Do yourself a favor and make time to read BETRAYED.”​

Libby Fischer Hellmann, Award-winning author and Editor of Chicago Blues.

“Moving. compelling, well-written, buy this book!”

NYT best selling author, Lori Wilde​

“I read this gritty and well-crafted collection in one sitting because I couldn’t turn away. These stories, as much about courage and strength as about betrayal, explore the darkest corners of the human heart, leaving room for the transformative power of love and hope. Highly recommended.”

Rebecca Cantrell, New York Times bestselling author

“Some anthologies are too important not to be published. BETRAYED is one of them. It’s about the enemy among us. In the house next to you. At the desk next to you. Maybe much closer. It’s about darkness. It’s about outrage. It’s about hope.”

David Morrell, New York Times bestselling author of The Protector