Brandon Barrows talks about cats, organized crime, and his new novel

Recently I had the opportunity to interview Brandon Barrows, whose exciting new novel, Burn Me Out, was released September 2 from Black Rose Writing. Here’s what he had to say:

Q. Tell us about Burn Me Out. How did you get the idea for writing it?
BURN ME OUT is actually a story I started back around 2012. I had the idea for the characters and the basic situation at least that far back. It started as a short story, but it didn’t work the way I wanted/needed it to. I put it away for a long time and when I finally went back to it, writing the novel was actually surprisingly easy. A lot changed in my life in the nearly six years the story sat fallow, much of it not great, and I think I needed those feelings and experiences to tell this story the way it needed to be told.
Q. Do you identify with the main character, Al Vacarro? If so, in what way. Tell us a little bit about him.
Very much. I think many people who read the book will, too. Al Vacarro is a man who’s made his own bed and has been lying in it for decades, and hating it most of the time. We all make decisions on a daily basis, but sometimes it’s years before the cumulative effect of those decisions are recognizable. We can’t go back and make those decisions again, and as a result, I think many of us feel trapped in the situations we’ve created for ourselves. Perhaps not as dramatically as Al Vacarro has trapped himself, but the feelings are the same.
Q. You write in a variety of genres, horror, detective fiction, and Westerns. As for the latter, you’re a fan of Louis L’Amour, who grew up in North Dakota in the final days of the American frontier. He used stories told to him by his older relatives as background in writing his many novels. How did you research Burn Me Out? Unless we’re very much mistaken you don’t have personal knowledge of what it’s like to be a member of an organized crime family, so how did you make Al and his associates seem believable?
Well, to be perfectly honest, I can’t say I did any research at all. I purposely left much of the setting vague so that it could seem to take place most anywhere. That aside,  I think most people fit into certain archetypes regardless of what they do for a living, and I really don’t think the average organized crime syndicate is that different from your average workplace in terms of the personalities you’ll meet. I didn’t directly base any of the characters on any specific people,  but all of the personalities in the Castella organization are personality types you’ll find just about anywhere. How those aspects of their personalities are expressed may vary, depending on the situation, but as I said, I believe people are people.
Q. What is one thing you hope readers will take away from Burn Me Out?
That there’s always a way forward. It may not be the way forward you’d pick in an ideal world, but we always have a choice.
Q. You read a lot of books. By that we mean a staggering amount of books, more than seems humanly possible. How many books a month would you say you read? Have you always been a voracious reader?
Strictly prose, I read an average of 25-30 books a month. I also read a lot of manga, and if you take tankōbon (individual manga volumes) into account, as well, it’s at least double that.
Q. Who’s your favorite author, and why?
That answer will change over time, of course, but for the last six or seven years, at least, it’s been Gil Brewer. The majority of his career is largely compacted into less than a decade, but he was of the first generation of paperback original authors and an absolute giant of noir. From 1951 to 1960, he wrote about thirty novels and hundreds of short stories, and they cover just about every aspect of crime and mystery fiction that I love. His characters struggle with themselves and the problems they’ve (usually) created for themselves and they rarely have happy endings, but even knowing they’re doomed, they don’t give up or give in. They’re not good people, usually, but they’re very human. That’s something I tried very hard to do with BURN ME OUT. 
Q. Tell us about your cats.
They’re monsters, but they’re my monsters. Flip is a cranky old man. Rosco is a gentle giant who occasionally, inexplicably, goes on misbehavior jags, like eating all my plants or stealing a random loaf of bread. Mochi is an adorable little squishy ball of sweetness who has more energy than any other cat I’ve ever known.

An Old Friend

Recently I was happy to find that The Red Right Hand by Joel Townsley Rogers is available on Kindle.

I first came across it years ago, when I was vacationing with my parents in Maine. It was in a cardboard box full of old paperbacks that a lady was selling at a yard sale, two books for fifty cents. The pages were yellow and the cover was torn, but I liked the looks of the cover art so I bought it, along with a paperback about a woman who was turned into a log through black magic.

I kid you not.

The woman-into-log book  had a terrific cover — men with flashlights in a swamp, recoiling from the hideous sight of the wrinkled, leering log — but the narrative wasn’t very good. I read it through then  left it behind at the cabin where we were staying. The other book I bought at the yard sale that day I kept for years, reading it and re-reading it until it fell apart.

It’s that good. I can think of only a handful of books that made that kind of impression on me.

The Red Right Hand is a masterpiece, IMO. Joel Townsley Rogers wrote many short stories for pulp magazines, none of them particularly memorable, as far as I can tell. He also wrote four novels. The Red Right Hand is by far the best of the lot.

What distinguishes it from other mystery novels of  the World War II era is its stream-of-consciousness, almost hallucinogenic quality. Events unroll not smoothly — A happened, then B, then C and so on until the murder is solved —  but by glimpses. Objects appear in the dark, to be illuminated for a split-second before disappearing.  There’s a Panama hat, and a stone wall covered with ancient, warty vines of poison ivy. There’s a bread knife and a nineteen-year-old woman from a little Pennsylvania town who agrees to marry a handsome, self-assured Oklahoma oilman. There’s a tape-recording machine in the kitchen of a professor’s house and a wristwatch with a second hand. There’s a surgeon, or someone claiming to be a surgeon, driving through Vermont on his way to New York City after his patient died on the operating table. There’s a shopping list and a sink filled with dirty dishes and strawberries which have rotted and turned to black mush. There’s all this and more, some important clues, some meaningless. Most of all there’s a missing right hand.

I’ve always loved unreliable narrators and Harry N. Riddle, M.D. is highly unreliable. While driving a borrowed car which breaks down on a narrow dirt road in rural Vermont, he either stumbles onto a seemingly impossible scenario, or he’s lying. All signs point to lying. There’s something about young Dr. Riddle that’s highly suspicious. Either he’s having an unusually unlucky time of it, his patient dead, his surgery implements gone missing from the trunk of his borrowed car, or he’s a killer.

The great joy of The Red Right hand is its language. It flows like music, with a cadence that’s haunting and lovely.  The point isn’t to solve the mystery, although it is solved, by the end, but to sit back and enjoy the work of a master at the top of his game.

You won’t be disappointed.

World’s Best Shrimp Curry

Can you spare a few minutes to hear about shrimp curry? In the spirit of food evangelism I want to share a fantastic recipe with you, my friends and fellow eaters of food. It’s easy to prepare yet it tastes like something you’d find on the menu in a gourmet restaurant. Honest, it’s really, really good.

Here’s how to make the world’s best shrimp curry:

Ingredients:

One pound of cooked and peeled shrimp. Don’t be chintzy; buy the big ones, the ones that cost one dollar each. Trust me, they’re worth it. Don’t forget to remove the tails!

2 tablespoons peanut oil

1/2 sweet onion, minced

2 cloves garlic, chopped (I detest peeling and chopping garlic, but you gotta do what you gotta do, am I right?)

1 teaspoon ground ginger

1 teaspoon ground cumin

1-1/2 teaspoons ground tumeric (Add more if you want. I do. I love how tumeric gives a smoky, subtle flavor to food)

1 teaspoon paprika

1/2 teaspoon red chili powder

1 tablespoon curry powder (Or more than 1 tablespoon, Buy the good stuff. Really pile it on. Curry powder is magical)

1  (14.5-oz.) can chopped tomatoes (I use the kind with peppers added)

1 (14-oz.) can coconut milk

1 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon black pepper

2 tablespoons chopped, fresh cilantro (Only if you like cilantro. If you think it tastes like soap, as some people do, bypass it)

Directions:

Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium heat and cook the onion until it’s translucent, about 5 minutes. Remove from heat and let cool a couple of minutes. Add spices and stir over low heat. Add the tomatoes and coconut milk. Add salt and pepper. Stir in the shrimp and cilantro. Cook 1 minute before serving over jasmine rice or basmati rice, or whatever kind of rice you like.

Enjoy!  The original version of this recipe comes from Allrecipes.com

In other news, my next book, Black Willows, is available for preorder NOW! It’ll be free on Amazon Prime! It’s another wild ride for the terrible Trapnells, those crazy rich siblings from the swamps of Georgia.

Amazon Kindle – https://www.amazon.com/dp/B08DH43KX7

Next week I’ll be talking about one of my favorite books, The Red Right Hand, by Joel Townsley Rogers. If you like mysteries you’ll love this.

I’m back!

It’s been over a year since my last blog post. I wrote one post and then… crickets. Utter, arctic silence. There’s no excuse. It was sheer laziness on my part. I’m a bad, bad blogger. I’ll try and do better. Cross my heart and hope to die. Stick a needle in my eye.

While I’m a lazy blogger I’m not a lazy writer. There’s a new book coming out in October, the second in the series of Trapnell thrillers from the fine folks at Black Rose Writing. Black Willows is the title and it features the continuing adventures of the terrible Trapnell family. The Trapnells are not nice people, not by any of the usual standards of determining what is and isn’t nice, but they’re never boring and they’re hilariously funny. I love them and I hope you will too.

Stay tuned for more. I faithfully promise to post at least once a week.

 

 

The Official Website of Author Jill Hand

Welcome to My New Website

Welcome, and thank you for visiting my new web site.

I’m quite proud of my work and I’m excited to have a site to showcase it and reach new readers. To browse my complete bibliography or to purchase my books, please visit My Titles (each cover image is linked to that publication’s Amazon sales page).

I’ll be using this blog to periodically post news and updates regarding my writing career. In the meantime, please feel free to follow me across social media or to drop me a line; means to do both can be found in the righthand sidebar.

Thank you again for your interest in, and support of, my work!