A BIT OF WRITING (enjoy the sample)


James R. Tuck

I ain’t afraid of Lowell Fulson.

I know he’s a big motherfucker, got fists on him like cinderblocks. Hell, I’ve seen him pick up whole hogs and hang ’em to butcher. Damn things must weigh a quarter ton, but he picks ’em up like they’re nothin’. He’ll butcher five, six of ’em in a row, using the same wide-blade knife that starts razor-sharp but by the end is edgy and dull as cardboard.

Doesn’t slow him down.

Most folks are scared of Lowell.

But he’s got the heart of farmer.

It’s soft and yielding and even though it lets him butcher a hog six ways to Sunday, he ain’t got no hate in it.

No avarice.

No murder.

I ain’t scared of him at all.

Lowell wasn’t home when I went to his place.

But that ain’t why I went over there.

* * *

The frame of the door flakes when I knock, white paint coming off in long, thin rectangles. I can smell the rust of the screen in the door and it makes my teeth hurt.

It smells like blood.

A fly buzzes my face, zipping across my cheek like a stray bullet. I’m just about to knock again when she comes to the door.

Little Helena.

She stands on the other side of the door, wearing a blue gingham dress she got three summers worth of growing ago.

It ain’t much longer than a shirt now.

She might be wearing shorts underneath, but it’s mid-August, sweaty and humid and she might not be. I can’t tell.

Barefoot, she barely hits the center of my chest. Her hair’s up, pinned on top of her head, long strands hanging down, stuck to her skin with a fine layer of perspiration. She looks at me sullen-eyed, lids half shut.

I keep my voice low. “Hey, little girl, is your daddy home?”

She doesn’t answer for a long minute. I don’t fidget as she looks at me under those long, black lashes and shaggy bangs. “He’s gone to market with the new slaughter.”

I know this.

She knows I know it too, but she doesn’t call me on it. She’s playing the same game I am, the same game I’ve played with girls all across this Holler.

Cat and mouse.

I wonder which one she thinks she is.

My hand slides down, brushes the handle of the screen door. “I ran into him at Shautey’s General last week. He told me to come by and pick up a book.” Lowell is always trying to get folks to read, as if anybody wants to stick their nose in a book when they could be out livin’. “He must’ve forgot he’d be out of town when he offered.” I open the door and step in.

“Daddy doesn’t tend to forget much.” She stands her ground, doesn’t back up.

This is a new move in the game.

This close I can smell her. Sweet girl sweat in the bloom of womanhood. Eighteen summers and damn near ripe. I breathe deep and it lights my veins like a white gas flashfire deep in the coal mines, coming on sudden and hot and inescapable. It burns me through, drawing my skin tight.

I’m on fire.

I glance around. The house is clean, spotless even. I can still see the presence of Lowell’s wife, Helena’s mother, gone some eight years now. Lowell loved that woman and she still haunts the place, her taste painted across every wall in every room, her ghost stamped on Helena’s features, darker skin and sultry eyes over high Lakota cheekbones. The only part of Lowell to make it’s mark is Helena’s heavy brow and her bramble-thick, honey-blonde hair.

I listen closely. I don’t hear anyone but us in the house.

I look down at her. “Did he go away and leave you all alone?”

“I’m old enough to stay by myself.”

Yes, she is.

I realize she’s looking at me with those witchery eyes and it’s been too long since I said anything.

What book were you borrowing?”


Um . . .” I look at the bookshelf across the room. All the books are stacked two and three deep. It’s too far away for me to read any of the words on the spines.

Helena takes a step back, making distance between us, and I see it in her eyes, in the line of her narrow shoulders.

She’s on to me.

Inside my stomach the dark thing I’ve had as long as I’ve had breath curls on itself, stretching like some great cat inside my skin.

My mojo rises.

It’s my bad seed, my other, my id, my compulsion, my demon riding me hard and the devil’s breath stokes the furnace in my guts and I can’t help it, I’ll burn to cinders if I don’t quench myself.


I must’ve moved because she darts back, putting the couch between us.

Prey runs.

My blood boils like an overfull kettle.

Helena points at the door. “You need to leave. Get on out of here.” Raising her arm lifts the hem of her skirt.

No shorts, just a long, sleek line of coltish leg.

I knew it.

I walk toward her. Each step the fire builds. It hangs heavy as I clench and unclench my fists.

“Don’t be like that, little Helena. You got no idea the things I can do to you.”

I see it. The switch. I watch a line of defiance settle into her shoulders. The fear is raw on her face but she ain’t gonna run, not Little Helena, not any more.

Dark coffee eyes narrow. “If you touch me, I’ll kill you.”

I laugh and it feels good rolling out of my chest. It’s black and evil, the edge of the darkness inside lapping out over my tongue.

She doesn’t move as I get closer.

Silly girl.

My hand clamps on her thin arm. I’m so hot inside it should burn her, raise blisters on her smooth skin, but it doesn’t. I jerk, twisting her to the left.

She doesn’t scream. Doesn’t start crying like the rest. Her eye’s go dark and narrow and her mouth hard with clenched teeth.

“My daddy’ll . . .”

I yank her close.

“Your daddy ain’t here.” She smells . . . intoxicating. Strawberries in her hair and the ozone crackle of fear across her skin.

It makes my eyelids stutter as I draw in a lungful of it.

“You’re a dead man if you do this.” she hisses.

The laughter rolls again.

“You’re wrong little girl. I ain’t never been more alive.”

She fights me all the way to the bedroom.

* * *

I wake up, a freight train running through the middle of my skull.

It’s dark. I reach out for Helena.

She ain’t there.

Just a warm wet spot where she shoulda been. The sheets I’d used to tie her down are wadded up next to me, soaking wet.

Damn little hellcat. Must’ve slipped the knots while I was passed out.

She couldn’t have gone far. I’ll catch her. I’ll make her pay for running off.

She thought she’d had it rough before.

I’ll show her.

I try to sit up.

My head weighs a thousand pounds, pinning me to the sopping sheets. I try to turn, to roll off the mattress, and a lightning sharp jag of blinding agony cuts a six inch valley through the middle of my skull.

What the hell was that?

I reach up, fingers sliding on the slick skin of my forehead, stopping at a thing, a hard thing jutting from above my eyebrows. It’s warm. Thin as cardboard and about as sharp.

I know what it is before I see little Helena standing beside the bed looking down at me.

Lowell Fulson’s butcher knife is sticking out of my head.

My mouth opens. I try to talk, but the thing in my brain that lets me is outta whack, not working, on the fritz, zitz, zzzzz.

Helena’s face is a shadow, hair a honey-toned veil that hides her from my dimming sight. She’s put her dress back on. It hangs loose around her chest, torn in my need.

Her voice is the voice of an angel.

The Angel of Death.

“You should of listened. You should of left me alone.”

Her hands move and light sears my eyeballs. Hard. Like a slap from a two by four. It’s a match, a simple wooden match with a sulfur head and rough stick body. Now I can see the fires of Hell in those dark, witchery eyes.

“I told you, you were a dead man.”

From around me comes the smell, the silky, heady scent of raw gasoline.

Helena turns to the left, then the right, looking around the room. My eyes jitter to where hers go and I realize this is Lowell’s room. The big bed. The pictures of her mama. I didn’t know it was their room when I drug her in here. I didn’t care.

She sighs. The match flame flickers with her breath.

“Daddy’ll be sad, but it’s time he let Mama go anyway.” The match light is an orange kiss on her tanned face. “With the insurance money we’ll get finally get outta Butcher Holler. We’ll move to Culvert City and start a new life.”

She drops the match and walks away.



This first appeared in TROUBLE IN THE HEARTLAND from Gutter Books, a badass crime fiction anthology. I’ll be putting this in the special limited edition print version of TEDDY BEAR very soon.


Long ago and far away I was 14 or so and visiting my crazy aunt Bobby Joe (married to Bobby Ray) and digging through large brown paper sacks full of books bought at garage sales. I had to be mindful of the tiny black North Georgia scorpions who loved to nest up in those stacks of old wood pulp paper, little bastards hurt like hell and made you sick to your stomach for days if you let one get a hold of you.  But I was a book worm and here were hundreds of books for my taking.

I came across an old yellowish book from 1969 (originally published (1947) with a cover that had a man in trench coat and a gun in his belt looking down in dismay at a naked blond laying among some conveniently placed pillows. Well, that was enough for me. I took that home and read the hell out of it.

Now the tale inside did not quite live up to the lurid cover, yes there was an undraped blonde, but she quickly wound up dead as a canary in a coal mine. What I did find was a smartass lawyer acting as a detective in 1947 New York, getting shot at and dealing with thugs. My first hardboiled book. I loved it.

I carried that book for a long time. It was by Harold Q. Masur, himself a lawyer turned novelist. He is now one of my favorite hardboiled authors.

The story is pretty good. Case of mistaken identity results in a dead woman and our hero has to find out what’s going on. He’s stubborn and smartass in all the best ways. Like a less tough Mike Hammer who is a bit more book smart and a bit less grim.

It is still one of my favorite books ever. I’ve read it probably 2 dozen times.

Here is the cover I have.

Bury Me Deep, Bantam 1969

and here is the new, re-issued version you can get from Raven’s Head Press.




DAMN JOE R. LANSDALE, JUST . . . DAMN (or how my mind got blown)

With the Sundance show a comin‘ I’ve been filling in the gaps of my Hap and Leonard reading cause I haven’t gotten the whole series through. Not for lack of liking, just for picking them up randomly. So I’ve been reading BAD CHILI by Joe R. Lansdale.

It’s good. I like Hap and I like Leonard. They ride each others asses like friends do. They get in weird capers that result in mucho violence and I like that as well.

So the other day I was working at the tattoo shop and I took a break, went outside on a gorgeous day, sat in a chair and lit up a Nick’s Sticks cigar and read toward the end of the book.

badchili cigar

On page 280 Joe Lansdale blew my damn mind.

There’s a thing that happens, no I won’t tell you what it is, you either already know or you haven’t read it yet so no spoilers. Needless to say a thing occurs and Hap decides he is going to go kill someone.

That scene, his decision to do the killing and his action as a result was some of the most gripping writing I’ve read in a long time. I write books about violent men. I write books about people choosing to kill other people. Reading Lansdale’s version of thing s I have written was like being slapped with my own inadequacies. It was humbling. Not often does something happen in a book that makes me say, out loud, “damn”.

Two mega thumbs up for this book.

hap bad chili




DIG TWO GRAVES (or my rampant fanboying of Eric Beetner continues)

So, at Bouchercon 2015 I picked up some books. Three of those books were by Eric Beetner, you remember him from the other day when I gushed like a schoolgirl over a box of kittens about RUMRUNNERS, his book from 280 Steps.

Well, I read DIG TWO GRAVES, his revenge noir novella from Snubnose Press. It was really freaking good. The main character, Val, is a scumbag, but he is strangely likable, stumbling his way through a half-assed plan to get back at the two folks he feels have set him up to go back to prison. Mayhem ensues as things keep going sideways on Val and he just can’t catch a break. You’ll read this book as quick as you can because you won’t be able to put it down.

Plus you get a back up short story that kicks a lot of ass as well.

Check out the trailer Eric made for it .


dig two graves

THE POWER OF A SCANDAL (or my review of Jigsaw Youth)

Tiffany Scandal is a tuff chick.

I picked up her book JIGSAW YOUTH from Ladybox Books and read it quickly. It’s on the shorter side but it’s also just that damn compelling.

This is the story of Ella, a lesbian of Chicana descent, who finds her self both isolated and accepted. The story is disjointed, appearing in vignettes instead of a straight narrative and that adds depth to the texture of the story. This is a life and sometimes life can get messy.

It’s got a beauty to it and a power and by the end you feel as if you have shared something meaningful.

Full to the brim with emotion that paint a dark but not bleak portrait. The writing is both raw and delicate, somehow punching you in the gut and kissing you on the forehead.  Scandal’s voice is definitely noir, harkening to some of the tough guys in the genre, Bukowski, Thompson, and Carver would have had her in their drinking club, but her language and story have a literary heft to them that keeps you turning the pages.

I’ll be checking out more of her work and recommend you do as well.

jigsaw youth




When Justified ended it left a hole in my world. I loved the Harlan County full of redneck outlaws and lawmen presented on there. Graham Yost, the showrunner, showed that he gets how to bring crime fiction to the small screen in a way that a lot of folks just don’t.

Well, I have discovered his next project.

RUMRUNNERS by Eric Beetner.

I’m an Eric Beetner fanboy and I have no problem admitting it. I love his writing and have yet to be disappointed in any of his work.  RUMRUNNERS is a great addition to his body of work.  This is a book about outlaw family doing outlaw things for family reasons. It’s got great characters and a plot as fast as a 1969 Roadrunner. It’s a crackerjack of a book.

It’s out through 280 Steps, a crime fiction publisher that’s burning up the roads with some great packaging on their books. Look at this cover.

cover - Rumrunners

And now read what some of the best crime writers are saying about it:

Smokey and the Bandit meets Justified and Fargo in this violent crime-family saga with a sense of humor.

“Buckle up…RUMRUNNERS is a fast and furious read.” -Samuel W. Gailey, author of Deep Winter Meet the McGraws.

They’re not criminals. They’re outlaws. They have made a living by driving anything and everything for the Stanleys, the criminal family who has been employing them for decades. It’s ended with Tucker. He’s gone straight, much to the disappointment of his father, Webb. When Webb vanishes after a job, and with him a truck load of drugs, the Stanleys want their drugs back or their money. With the help from his grandfather, Calvin-the original lead foot-Tucker is about to learn a whole lot about the family business in a crash course that might just get him killed.

“Rumrunners just never lets up. It’s a fuel-injected, mile-a-minute thrill ride. I had a blast.” -Grant Jerkins, author of A Very Simple Crime and Done In One

“Few contemporary writers do justice to the noir tradition the way Eric Beetner does. Others try to emulate and mimic; Beetner just takes the form and cuts his own jagged, raw and utterly readable path. RUMRUNNERS is the latest example of his great storytelling skills, and his uncompromising commitment to the dark, often violent truth at the center of the human heart.” -Gar Anthony Haywood, author of Assume Nothing, Cemetery Road and the Aaron Gunner series

“Beetner is an old school talent, a crime writer’s crime writer like Gil Brewer (although, in my humble opinion, he’s better than Brewer), who writes stuff that is fast and funny and dark all at once.” -Jake Hinkson, author of Hell On Church St. and The Big Ugly