Wednesday, March 27, 2024

The Audio Series: Deadpan


Our audio series "The Authors Read. We Listen."  was originally hatched in a NYC club during BEA back in 2012. It's a fun little series, where authors record themselves reading an excerpt from their own novels, in their own voices, the way their stories were meant to be heard.

Richard Walter will be reading an excerpt from his new novel Deadpan (published by Heresy Press). Richard is an author of best-selling fiction and nonfiction, celebrated storytelling educator, screenwriter, script consultant, lecturer and retired professor who led the screenwriting program in the film school at UCLA for several decades. He has written scripts for the major studios and television networks; lectured on screenwriting and storytelling and conducted master classes throughout North America as well as London, Paris, Jerusalem, Madrid, Rio de Janeiro, Mexico City, Beijing, Shanghai, Sydney and Hong Kong. Subscribe to his podcast on Substack and blog on Medium, and follow him on Twitter and Facebook.

Click on the soundcloud bar below to hear Richard an excerpt from the book: 

What it's about: 

Deadpan is a quintessential Heresy Press book—gloriously incorrect and daring in its zany, madcap humor, while simultaneously bolstering the principles of liberal humanism. An equal-opportunity offender, Deadpan combines no-holds-barred comedy with a nuanced regard for history and human motivation. Set during the 1970s international oil crisis, the novel’s protagonist—a vaguely antisemitic failing West Virginia Buick Dealer—is magically transformed into a beloved Jewish comedian. 

You can grab a copy here or here

Monday, March 25, 2024

The 40 But 10 Interview Series: Craig Rodgers


In 2023, I decided to retire the literary Would You Rather series, but didn't want to stop interviews on the site all together. Instead, I've pulled together 40ish questions - some bookish, some silly - and have asked authors to limit themselves to answering only 10 of them. That way, it keeps the interviews fresh and connectable for all of us!

Craig Rodgers is the name appearing on several books ghostwritten by a gaggle of long dead Victorian spirits.

Describe your book poorly.

The mountain is on fire and everybody's having a different adventure.

If you could cast your characters in a movie, which actors would play them and why?

They'd be played by whoever the Coen brothers think fit the characters best.

If you could spend the day with another author, who would you choose and why?

Raymond Chandler. I'd ask him a ton of questions so I'll know what I'm doing if I ever try writing a Philip Marlowe novel.

What are some of your favorite books and/or authors?

The Sundial by Shirley Jackson is an easy favorite. Anything by Cormac McCarthy. Anything by Robert Aickman. You know what's good? Black Wings Has My Angel by Elliott Chaze. It looks like a basic pulp noir, but it's not. It's an odd book.

What are you currently reading?

I'm running through F Scott Fitzgerald's books. I'd read Gatsby as a kid and again years later, but I'd never gotten to the others and the idea hit me at the right time.

Do you think you’d live long in a zombie apocalypse?

I grew up with a kid who kept a go bag. He wasn't allowed to have caffeine and he carried a massive knife. I might not do great in a zombie apocalypse, but I know who to go to for a fighting chance.

Are you a toilet paper over or under kind of person?

Over. Good lord.

What is under your bed?

 A stack of notebooks. I have notes for a couple novels going in various stages, along with a ton of short story concepts that aren't so fleshed out.

What’s the weirdest thing you’ve given/received as a gift?

A friend I grew up with passed  a dollar bill back and forth with me for years. On holidays, birthdays, sometimes just because. We'd hide it in other gifts. Inside the sleeve of a mix cd or taped to the bottom of a lamp, that sort of thing. We'd write notes on it, so it was covered with scribbling.

Are you a book hoarder or a book unhauler?

I have books saved that went through a house fire. Their covers are soot stained black and they absolutely stink, but I kept every one. Letting go of books is like letting go of memories. Eventually it's bound happen on its own, but we're not there yet.



The Mountain Is Burning Down is a set of shorts all taking place on the same mountain during a wildfire. Some are grit noir, some are fables, one might be a children's story if you squint just right.

Grab a copy here:

Monday, March 18, 2024

The 40 But 10 Interview Series: Sheldon Birnie


In 2023, I decided to retire the literary Would You Rather series, but didn't want to stop interviews on the site all together. Instead, I've pulled together 40ish questions - some bookish, some silly - and have asked authors to limit themselves to answering only 10 of them. That way, it keeps the interviews fresh and connectable for all of us!

Sheldon Birnie is a writer, dad, and beer league hockey player from Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada, and the author of Where the Pavement Turns to Sand (Malarkey Books, 2023). He can be found online @badguybirnie


What do you do when you’re not writing?

I’m a reporter by trade, so my weekdays are spent interviewing, researching, and writing stories about the community I call home. I have two small children, who keep the rest of my time pretty busy with various activities and day-to-day stuff. I play hockey an evening or two a week, occasionally get the old band back together to play some music, and generally just hang around home or the vicinity of my neighbourhood, reading and writing for fun when possible.

What’s the best money you’ve ever spent as a writer?

I bought an office chair from Costco a couple months back. $90 I think. Beats the hell outta the kitchen chairs I’d been sitting on to work/write for the past few years.

How do you celebrate when you finish writing a new book?

A nice size glass of the good bourbon.

Describe your book in three words.

Gritty, grimy, weird.

What is your favorite way to waste time?

If you can spend 20 minutes just laying around, doing absolutely nothing, just watching the leaves blow in the wind, that’s time well spent if you ask me.

What are some of your favorite books and/or authors?

Impossible to single out even just a few, but I’ll giver a go here… I was a big Ray Bradbury and Stephen King fan as a kid, and still enjoy their stuff today, and can see how early exposure to their work, particularly short-stories, informed my own writing even today. In my late teens, Philip K Dick was a big influence, then in my early 20s, I became obsessed with the work of Raymond Carver, Charles Bukowski, Hunter S. Thompson, and Cormac McCarthy. Over the past 10 years, I’ve tried not to let any writers in particular exude such a smothering effect on my own work. I’ve come to really appreciate the work of Margaret Laurence and Alice Munro, while trying to read as widely as I can, both contemporary and older writers I’ve somehow missed. Paul Quarrinton’s a beauty, both Whale Music and King Leary are top notch. Over the last couple years, I’ve been digging on Shirley Jackson, William Gibson, Kazuo Ishiguro, Denis Johnson, Charles Portis and Raymond Carver, among many others lately, and am excited everytime I see something new from Willy Vlautin, Bud Smith, Claire Hoppel, Andrew F. Sullivan, Jon Berger, Kyle Seibel. The list goes on and on forever, really, and the party never ends.

What is your favorite book from childhood?

Was a big Lord of the Rings fan too back in Grade 6/7, but have found it impossible to get back into it since then, even just in reading The Hobbit to my son, who is 8 (we both agreed to put it aside, try again later) and I’ve never even made it through those three films. I’ve found that The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy holds up as an entertaining read, and I’d have to say that reading Trainspotting in junior high blew my young mind, back then, and I’ve enjoyed re-reading it a few times since.

What are you currently reading?

Right now, I’ve got Saga of the Swamp Thing Book 5 by Alan Moore on the go, loving it. I’ve also been working my way through The Milagro Beanfield War by John Nichols and Liberation Day by George Saunders, enjoying both on the whole. I also just started in on The Mezzanine by Nicholson Baker, after seeing some chatter about it online, and though it’s early going still, I’m digging it.

What genres won’t you read?

Self-help, though I could probably use some.

What songs would be on the soundtrack of your life?

Hard to say, but I hope my buddies will play Todd Snider’s “Play a Train Song” at my funeral when I die, if I haven’t outlived them all.


Ride along on a journey with these 20 stories by Sheldon Birnie through the wild and wondrous backwoods of the Canadian prairies, out to where the pavement turns to sand and the possibilities are as endless as the horizon…

From close or would-be encounters with extraterrestrials, lycanthropes, bigfoot and the Ogopogo, haunted hockey skates and more, Sheldon Birnie’s new collection of short-fiction Where the Pavement Turns to Sand takes readers on a midnight cruise through the Canadian prairies before dumping you back on your doorstep, unsure as to what exactly just transpired.

A golf pro claims he was abducted by aliens before the big local tournament, though townspeople figure he finally fell off the wagon. A line cook comes face-to-face with something from his worst nightmare only to be mocked mercilessly by his peers. A beer league hockey player worries he didn’t do enough to help a former teammate, with tragic consequences. In these 20 stories, the mundane and the menacing meet over a pint at the local rink on the darkest night of the year, or around a midsummer bonfire beneath the stars on the shores of a deep forbidden lake.

Where the Pavement Turns to Sand is a collection of working class, everyday heartbreaks and bad decisions. In a refreshing rural Canadian setting, the characters in these slice of life tales stumble through divorce, debt, bad sex, and boring jobs, but also curling robots, aliens, jackalopes, wendigo, lots of legs wet with urine, and (maybe) sasquatches with an unexpected whimsy. What makes it work is Birnie’s signature dark humor and conversational style that makes every story feel like it was your neighbor telling it to you over a beer around a campfire, or at the rink. Surprising, entertaining, grimy and weird.

– Meagan Lucas, author of Songbirds and Stray Dogs and Here in the Dark, Editor in Chief of Reckon Review.

Buy it here:

Monday, March 11, 2024

The 40 But 10 Interview Series: Rick Berry

I had decided to retire the literary Would You Rather series, but didn't want to stop interviews on the site all together. Instead, I've pulled together 40ish questions - some bookish, some silly - and have asked authors to limit themselves to answering only 10 of them. That way, it keeps the interviews fresh and connectable for all of us!

Today, we are joined by Rick Berry. Rick is a British author. His debut novel, Kill All The Dogs (SpellBound Books, 2024) is a satire that deals with trauma, loss and political dysfunction. Rick’s short fiction has been published by Cafe Irreal, Bandit Fiction, Dream Catcher, The Letters Page, Planet Raconteur and  elsewhere. In his day job he works for the Mayor of London, and he has also written widely about politics for various publications. Rick is originally from Greater Manchester and now lives in London. Find him at


What made you start writing?

I've been writing books for as long as I can remember. Putting words down on the page has always felt like the most natural form of communication for me. I owe a huge amount to a brilliant English teacher, Miss Huntington at Reddish Vale School, who always encouraged me and made me see that I had a talent for it. Even from a young age I was thinking about the practicalities of writing as a profession. I remember an author visiting our school, and when I was picked to ask him a question, I asked how much he earned. Despite realising later that this wasn’t the most lucrative career path (the visiting author tactfully declined to answer my question), I have never given up on it.

What’s the best money you’ve ever spent as a writer?

A number of years ago I wrote a non-fiction book about independent politicians. I travelled the length and breadth of England, spending a fortune on train fares, interviewing local mayors and councillors. The royalties didn’t come close to reimbursing me, but it was worth it to meet so many interesting people. Like Stuart Drummond, who worked as a mascot for his local football club, wearing a monkey suit and dancing around the stadium, but stood for mayor of the town and won. Or Martin Bell, a war reporter who stood for Parliament to oust a corrupt politician. It was an important lesson for me as a writer, too, which I kept in mind after I decided to focus primarily on fiction. I’ve always had a good turn of phrase, but writing is about telling stories, and lots of other people have fascinating stories to tell. It’s part of my craft as a writer to find them.

Describe your book in three words.

Nasty, brutish and short. One for the Hobbesians.

Describe your book poorly.

Kill All The Dogs is a book about killing dogs. 

If you met your characters in real life, what would you say to them?

The protagonist of Kill All The Dogs is Nathan Hyde, a young man who is unable to move on from a childhood trauma. I would want to speak to him as a child, and get him the help he needs before he lets this one event dictate the course of his life. Of course, then there would be no book. I work in politics, and I often see variations of Nathan Hyde. Good people, but with demons they are trying to battle, sometimes with negative consequences for society. Having said that, if I met Nathan as an adult I would also tell him I admire the audacity of what he is able to pull off, and how he is able to exploit the weaknesses in our political system.

If you could spend the day with another author, who would you choose and why?

I subscribe to Margaret Atwood’s view that wanting to meet an author because you like his work is like wanting to meet a duck because you like pâté. But my son is named after Kurt Vonnegut, so it might have been interesting for the three of us to get together, so my Kurt could meet his namesake. I will have to settle for encouraging him to read Vonnegut’s books.

What are some of your favorite books and/or authors?

An almost impossible question, given the large number of writers that have had a profound impact on my life and writing. As well as Vonnegut and Atwood, Ursula Le Guin, José Saramago, Haruku Murakami, Cixin Liu, Thomas Hardy and Sally Rooney stand out as favorites. In the past few years I’ve also rediscovered a love of children’s literature from reading with my son: Michael Morpugo, Pamela Butchart, Roald Dahl, Francesa Simon, Beverly Cleary and others have been thoroughly enjoyed.

 If you could go back and rewrite one of your books or stories, which would it be and why?

I am constantly re-writing my first novel. It is essentially a fictionalised account of my childhood. I have a twin brother, Craig, and the book tries to explore the strangeness of our relationship with each other, and the relationships we have with the outside world, as a pair and as individuals. Turning something so personal into fiction is not easy. There have been different iterations of the book and I am always coming up with new ones. I will probably never be able to get every nuance of this story onto the page, at least not in a single book. In fact, a small part of our story features in Kill All The Dogs, with the Sophie and Sadie characters.

If you were on death row, what would your last meal be?

My partner Lucy asked me this when we were dating and my instinctive, drunken response was to say I'd ask for a bowl of Coco Pops (Coco Krispies in the US). I will stick with that answer. But I would be sad if it didn't also come with a side of Yorkshire puddings and gravy.

What songs would be on the soundtrack of your life?

I am quite parochial in my music, so my answer is going to be dominated by bands from my home city of Manchester, England. The first would be Flashbax by Oasis, which Noel Gallagher starts with a line about sitting on a fence trying to write a story. Then it has to be Half a Person by The Smiths, about a clumsy and shy teenager moving to London (I was older when I moved there but it resonates). Skipping forward to how I feel now, I would pick Now That I'm A River by Charles Watson, formerly of my favorite non-Mancunian band Slow Club: for me, this is a song about the feeling of freedom that comes with self-realisation.



Are we defined by the things that happen to us, or the things we make happen to others?

 Ten-year-old Nathan Hyde is playing in a tree house, when he witnesses a vicious attack on his best friend’s younger sisters. Life is never the same again.

Many years later, Nathan finds himself in the lower reaches of a government department, when an opportunity to confront his demons and enact revenge presents itself. A mystery illness is taking hold in the population, at the very moment a scheming, attention-seeking politician becomes Nathan’s new boss.

It can’t happen, can it? In the farcical world of politics, anything is possible.
Nathan Hyde is going to kill all the dogs.

Part psychological drama, part political satire, Kill All The Dogs is the story of how of a personal trauma becomes twisted into a national tragedy.


 Link to buy:

Monday, March 4, 2024

The 40 But 10 Interview Series: Robert McKean

I had decided to retire the literary Would You Rather series, but didn't want to stop interviews on the site all together. Instead, I've pulled together 40ish questions - some bookish, some silly - and have asked authors to limit themselves to answering only 10 of them. That way, it keeps the interviews fresh and connectable for all of us!

We are joined today by Robert McKeanAlthough each book works as a stand-alone, populating Robert's novels and stories are some five hundred characters—all residents of Ganaego, a small mill town in Western Pennsylvania. McKean’s short story collection I’LL BE HERE FOR YOU: DIARY OF A TOWN was awarded first-prize in the Tartts First Fiction competition (Livingston Press). His novel THE CATALOG OF CROOKED THOUGHTS was awarded firstprize in the Methodist University Longleaf Press Novel Contest. The novel was also named a Finalist for the Eric Hoffer Award. MENDING WHAT IS BROKEN is being released by Livingston Press. Recipient of a Massachusetts Artist’s Grant for his fiction, McKean has had six stories nominated for Pushcart Prizes and one story for Best of the Net. He has published extensively in journals such as The Kenyon Review, The Chicago Review, and more. McKean is a graduate of The University of Chicago. He now lives in Newtonville, Massachusetts. For additional information about McKean and his Ganaego Project, please see his author’s website,

What made you start writing?

I grew up in a small mill town in Western Pennsylvania. At the center of the town’s economic life was the immense steelworks. In a small town everybody knows everybody, or thinks they do. On my father’s side were wonderful storytellers, my grandmother, my father, my aunt. I remember dinners where the tales—usually touched by irony, the follies and foibles of human nature—wound round and round the table. On my mother’s side were scholars and teachers. My grandfather, a classical scholar who read Latin and Greek, chose to work in the steel mill, but remained a thoughtful reader all his life. One of his daughters, my aunt, was a renowned English teacher for more than forty years and a poet. On that side of the family, writers were extolled and books revered. My oldest brother went into business, my middle brother opted for math, and so it fell to me, I decided, to be the family’s writer.


Describe your book in three words.

Rueful, truthful, pixilated.

Would you and your main character(s) get along?

I think of the five hundred or so characters that I have created as a vast repertory company. I usually get along with whichever characters in the company with whom I might be currently working, some famously, some at a respectful distance. Now Peter Sanguedolce, protagonist of my latest novel, Mending What Is Broken, is a Rittenhouse Manhattan man and I remain a Bombay white label martini man, but, once we put that noble difference aside, we would talk of family myths and burdens, swing and classical music, the perils and pitfalls of business life, the greater perils and pitfalls of married life, and books, books, books. Peter and I share the same laconic sense of humor. I’d recommend that he lose some weight; he’d be disappointed in my sales.


What are you currently reading?

I always am reading at least two books. I call them my morning read and my afternoon-evening read. The morning read is something I work my way through a few pages at a time every day as I eat my oats. Much more enlightening than the cereal box. Tomes usually, e.g., The Essays of Montaigne, The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, Herodotus, Thucydides. My current morning read is A History of English Prose Rhythm (1912) by George Saintsbury (1845-1933). Could be the most insightful book I have read on what makes prose stutter, sing, or soar. This is my second time through it. My latest afternoon-evening read was the first volume of Karl Ove Knausgaard’s My Struggle. I am now reading Franz Kafka: The Complete Stories.


What’s the single best line you’ve ever read?

The broken, heart-sick King Lear kneeling over the body of his daughter Cordelia (V, iii) confronted with the bleak recognition that he has squandered his kingdom and his pride and now has lost the one child who loved him, all through his arrogance and vain foolishness. He asks his slain daughter why should a dog, a horse, a rat, have life and you no breath at all? He whispers that she will come no more, “Never, never, never, never, never.” Five nevers, an unutterable, unbearable line.


What is your favorite book from childhood?

The Wind in the Willows. Mole, Ratty, Mr. Toad, Mr. Badger, and Kenneth Grahme’s gorgeous prose have never been far from my side.


If you were stuck on a deserted island, what’s the one book you wish you had with you?

A devastating question. A writer without books is a lost soul wandering the wilderness. Do recall John Donne, Death is the ascension to a better library. But if I must, I’ll take The Complete Pelican Shakespeare, the battered, trussed, and much beloved volume I have carried everywhere since graduate school, 1969. But might I plead for a two-week sabbatical every year to revisit my bookshelves?


What are some of your favorite books and/or authors?

Let’s limit it to authors of fiction. 17th Century: Cervantes. 18th Century: Sterne, Austen. 19th Century: Tolstoy, Thackeray, Flaubert, James, Elliot (Mary Anne Evans), Chekhov, Melville. 20th Century: Woolf, Paustovsky, J. Roth, Joyce, Mahfouz, Faulkner, O’Connor, Bulgakov, Calvino, Bellow, Lowry, Wright, Nabokov, Grass, Marquez, Trevor, Döblin, DeLillo. 21st Century: P. Roth, McCarthy, Mantel, Saramago, Saunders, Livesey, Wilson.


If you could remove one color from the world, what it would be and why?

My wife and I decided that in our first apartment we would paint the living room a vivid elegant green. Ignorant of painting techniques, we were not aware that such brilliant colors requite a color under primer. And oddly enough, the hardware store to which we kept returning for additional cans of paint as we put down layer after layer futilely trying to cover the mottled streaks didn’t tell us, either. Exasperated at last, we painted the room battleship gray. Not long after, the living room became my office as I founded a business. The business was successful, but the gray walls were like living eight to ten hours a day, seven days a week, in a prison. I hate gray, I loathe gray, I would cast gray into the deepest pit in hell. Why not, instead, substitute one of the three new primary colors we know nothing about that Muskull discovers on Arcturus?


What do you do when you’re not writing?

I have been baking whole grain sourdough bread for fifteen years. And still learning. I was sympathetic during the pandemic as I read about neophyte bakers bemoaning their rocklike loaves, “Why aren’t my sourdough loaves rising? What am I doing wrong?” Ah, let me tell you what a delicate and brutal art the manufacturing of sourdough bread is. White flour, easier, if not a cinch; whole grain, no less treacherous than mountain climbing. One needs to keep in mind the three T’s: temperature, time, touch. The first two are mechanical. Controlling the temperature in winter in a cold, drafty house may be a challenge and an even greater challenge in the humid days of summer, but can be managed. Patience is learned, or, for the truly obtuse, hammered in. The third, like writing fiction, constitutes a lifetime Sisyphean journey. 


Peter Sanguedolce, big-hearted and far too trusting, thinks he is only fighting to save his shared custody rights to his daughter, Jeanette, only to realize that he is really fighting to save her, the person whom he cherishes most in life. Overwhelmed by life’s challenges, Peter ultimately finds his way through. In this bittersweet story about the families we make and we lose, about working class towns and fading dreams, Robert McKean gives us a subtle riff on The Merchant of Venice, as well as the touching and often funny story of a man creating his own second chances in life.