2019 Reading Challenge

2019 Reading Challenge
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Q&A AND Book Review AND Excerpt: Just One Bite by Jack Heath (Part of the Official Blog Tour)

I am so excited to be a part of the official Jack Heath Just One Bite blog tour! I reviewed the first book in the series – Hangman – last year and loved it, so was extremely excited when I saw the new title drop in NetGalley. It was a slower start than I expected, but delivered the same no-holds-barred dark comedy/mystery in the end, and wound up being another great read. This is a very fun series – not for the faint of heart, but thoroughly entertaining if you like your stories gritty and a tad gruesome… Enjoy the peek behind the curtain with the author, as well as a few fun extras!

Q&A with the Author, Jack Heath
What was the last thing you read?
The Black-Eyed Blonde, by Benjamin Black. I always loved the hard-boiled detective novels written by Raymond Chandler in the fifties, and this new-ish novel captures his style perfectly, from the moment a dame walks into the detective’s office with a case and a hidden agenda.

Q: What book would you take with you to a desert island?
A: Oh, man. I guess I should pick something long, or at least something with a lot of variety. I’ve read How I Became a Famous Novelist by Steve Hely several times, and I can imagine reading it again. It’s about a guy who writes nonsense, and fools people into thinking it’s literary fiction. It’s full of extracts from fictitious novels by the other writers the character meets, and they’re all terrific. Then again, I always intended to finish The Last Man by Mary Shelley. On a desert island I might actually get it done.

Q: What does your writing process look like? Do you have any strange writing habits?
A: I start every day with the intention of getting all my writing done by lunchtime. Instead, I immediately get sidetracked by emails, social media, coffee and various other urgent but unimportant things. After lunch I realize my desk is covered with empty coffee cups and I still haven’t done any real work. Cursing my lack of discipline, I take my laptop to my local café—where I somehow smash out about 2,000 words. This whole process is embarrassing to reveal, and I wish I had a better one. But I’ve written thirty books this way, so it’s working.

Q: What is the most difficult part of your writing process? Your writing Kryptonite?
A: About two thirds of the way through the first draft, I start comparing the manuscript to my last published book, and I realize it’s terrible. I find myself thinking, “Maybe I used to be a good writer, and I’m not anymore. I had something, and now I’ve lost it, and I don’t know how to get it back, and because I dropped out of college I’m not going to be able to find another job and my family’s going to starve.” Then I remind myself that this happens every time—I always panic at this point—and so I keep writing. Once the book is finished and edited, it’s always fine, and I wonder why I worried.

Q: What do you use to inspire you when you get Writer’s Block?
A: If I feel blocked, it’s usually because I’ve filled my head with podcasts and haven’t given myself any time to think. I do some pushups and stretches, then I go for a walk—without my phone. Sometimes I take paper and a pen. Usually an hour of boredom is enough to get my brain working again. I write out an outline in bullet point form, then get back to my desk.

Q: Your books offer a marvelous blend of dark humor and gruesome violence that leaves the reader off-kilter in the best possible way. As a writer, how do you dance that line when crafting your stories?
A: Blake’s world is a grim one, so the humor is essential to keep the reader enjoying the story. I’ve spend a lot of time on tour, talking to audiences about my books, which forced me to develop a sense of what will or won’t get people laughing. Blake’s predilection offers plenty of opportunities for puns, which is great. He also makes it easy to be shocking, which is often funny. But I have to make sure it’s all consistent with the character. There’s a moment in Just One Bite where he’s interviewing a victim while munching on a sandwich with part of her father in it. I wondered if he should offer her a bite—it might have been funny, but it would be very gross. I decided against it, thinking that Blake just wouldn’t do that.

Q: What’s one piece of advice you have received that has always resonated with you?
A: When I sent my first manuscript off to a publisher, my parents advised me to start writing something else while I waited to hear back, so I would have a second manuscript on the go when the first one got rejected. As it happened, the book didn’t get rejected, but it was really good advice. To this day, every time I submit something I immediately start something new.

Q: What advice would you give budding authors about publishing?
A: Read diversely. Write even more diversely. Spend at least as much time editing as you do writing. Show your work to well-read people with different life experience to you, and listen to their feedback. Self-publish—you won’t make any money, but it’s great practice. Join at least one nonprofit writing organization—Mystery Writers of America, for example. Submit to agents, rather than to publishers directly. Remember that the worthwhile agents are picky about which clients they take on, and they don’t get paid unless you do. Don’t write sequels to things which don’t sell. Keep writing, no matter what. Assume a 90% percent chance of rejection for each manuscript (not for each submission)… which means that if you write 22 manuscripts, you have a 90% chance of getting at least one published.

Q: Blake is a unique mixture of appealing and repulsive characteristics. In the opening pages of this latest, he comes across as a bit hapless and even more unsure of himself than in the first book. By rights, these things should add up to a character who is difficult to like and not all that relatable, yet somehow he remains endearing despite all of that. Why do you think that is?
A: Blake was created as a challenge to myself: how repulsive a character could I create, and still get the reader on his side? I’m always walking a tightrope with him, but think it helps that his crimes mostly don’t hurt anybody, that he’s led a ghastly life, and that he’s all too aware of his own shortcomings—he doesn’t cut himself any slack. He uses his skills to help people, often at great personal cost. Readers are also willing to empathize with him because his addiction is so strange. Cannibalism is statistically nonexistent, so it’s surprisingly easy to forgive. If I’d made him a rapist or a Nazi I think readers would reject him, because those people are actually out there.

Q: Will there be a third Timothy Blake book?
A: I hope so—he’s so much fun to write about. But I’ll see if the demand is there first. If readers are already sated, I don’t want to insist on dessert.

My Review
Blake’s life has gotten a lot more complicated (if that was possible), and in this second installment he finds himself involved in an even tenser juggling act between his dual lives – the two sets of them that he lives, that is… First, he has to balance his day job as a consultant to the FBI with his night job as body disposal expert for a local crime lord. And second – and more difficult, if you can imagine, is dancing the line between his public persona as a mild-mannered regular Joe with his *real* nature (which I can’t tell you about if you don’t already know because it’s a major spoiler in the first book!)… The back-and-forth tension between the various aspects of his public and private faces is one of the more entertaining aspects of this series and allows for a delightfully morbid sense of humor to peek out from behind its fingers throughout the story. Couple that with unusual murders and mysterious back stories for everyone from major to minor characters, and you have the makings of a uniquely entertaining series!

This one started out much slower than I expected, and I almost put it down as a result. Blake felt a LOT more hapless in the beginning than I remembered him being, and I was afraid I would not connect with the read. I hung in there because I thoroughly enjoyed the dark humor and tongue-in-cheek nature of the first book, and I’m glad I did as things eventually fell into the the rhythm I expected and the read was great from there on out.

Thanks to the author, publisher, and NetGalley for my review copy.

Excerpt from Just One Bite
CHAPTER ONE

What has a neck but no head? [NB: All the chapters in both books start with riddles. They’re Blake’s hobby/sidejob and are always a fun little addition.]

If Charlie Warner wants you dead, first she steals your shoes.

Not in person. She has people all over Houston.

One of them is James Tyrrell, a pudgy guy with Coke-bottle glasses and scar tissue on his arm where the number 88 used to be. A coded white-supremacist tattoo—H is the eighth letter of the alphabet. The 88 means Heil Hitler. “I’m no Nazi,” I heard him say once. “But if you want to survive Huntsville prison, you gotta pick a team.”

Tyrrell will open your front door with a police-issue lock-release gun and go to your bedroom wearing latex gloves and a hairnet. He’ll steal your most expensive pair of shoes. Usually black, always shiny—the kind you might wear to a funeral. He’ll take some socks, too, but won’t touch anything else on his way out.

Two more guys will drive a white van with stolen plates to wherever it is you work. Their names are Jordan Francis and Theo Sariklis. They both have thick necks, square jaws and crew cuts. It took me a while to tell them apart. Sariklis is the one with the drooping eyelid and the Ramones shirt. He’s been working for Warner longer than me. Francis is new—just moved here from San Jose, California. He’s the one who cracks jokes. Even in winter he wears a wife-beater to show off his biceps. He might go to the gym after killing you.
Francis will park the van next to the driver’s side of your car. Sariklis will open the sliding door on the side of the van and wait.
You’ll walk out of the office and approach your car. When you go to open the door, Francis will grab you and drag you into the van. It takes seconds. He’s had plenty of practice—in San Jose he worked for one of the Sureño gangs. You won’t even have time to scream before Francis shuts the van door.

You’ll know who they work for. Warner doesn’t target bystanders. They’re here because you stole from her, or lied to her, or informed on her. Or maybe you didn’t pay your tab at one of her businesses. An underground casino, a bordello, a drug den.

They’ll ask you questions. The first few are a test; they already know the answers. If you lie, Francis will hold you down, while Sariklis forces a water bottle into your mouth and pinches your nose shut so it feels like drowning. They do it like that because they’re still in the parking lot. There aren’t many quiet ways to torture someone.

Just when it feels like you’re gonna die, Sariklis will take the bottle out. You’ll throw up. Then Sariklis will ask you some more questions. The real ones. Whatever Warner needs to know. Who have you told? What are their names? Where do they live? Show us the messages.
The final question is always about the PIN for your bank account. You’ll answer that one gladly. You’ll think it means they only want money. You’ll think they’re going to let you go.

After you give them your PIN, Sariklis will stick the bottle back in your mouth. This time he won’t let up. He’ll drown you, right there in the parking lot. Three minutes until your heart gives up, four until brain death.

Francis will stay in the van with your body while Sariklis takes your car, your phone and your wallet to an ATM. He’ll withdraw as much as he can, then drive to a secluded stretch of beach in Galveston.

There he’ll meet Tyrrell, who has your shoes. Sariklis will place your shoes side by side on the sand, your wallet and keys tucked inside like frightened mice. Tyrrell will do a factory reset on your phone, switch it off and hurl it into the sea. They’ll abandon your car on the side of the road, within sight of the gray ocean, and take Tyrrell’s car back to Warner’s office to give her the cash.
I’ve only been to Warner’s office once, and I had a bag on my head for the whole journey. But I was memorizing the turns, and counting the seconds. Afterward I got them to drop me off someplace else, and I memorized that journey, too. Later I looked at a map, and narrowed it down to four city blocks near Market Square Park.

They usually take you on a Friday. If you live alone, you may not be reported missing until Monday. The police will find your car and shoes around Wednesday. Some of them will say you drowned accidentally while swimming. Others will suggest that it was suicide. The shoes are too classy for a normal swim, they’ll say, and there’s no towel. Plus, your bathing suit is still at your home.

Because of the ATM withdrawal, still others will say that you faked your death. You did have some powerful enemies, after all. Your missing phone lends credence to this theory. But anyone who suspects Warner will be smart enough not to say so.

Photo by Photox – Canberra Photography Services

All this is assuming you’re one of the lucky ones, and Warner doesn’t want the credit for your death. Sometimes she kills someone to send a message. No stolen shoes, no water bottle. The body turns up in dozens of pieces, each removed from a living person.

Once upon a time Warner’s men would have just thrown your body into the ocean. The water in your lungs would make sense on the autopsy report. But the bruising around your lips and wrists, plus the damage to your gums, might raise some eyebrows. Now they have a better way.
While Sariklis and Tyrrell bring the cash to Warner’s office, Francis will take the van onto State Highway 12, alone. Your body will be in the back under a sheet, slowly going cold. Francis will drive through the dark, watching the buildings disappear and the trees get taller and taller.

Then he’ll see a beat-up Toyota Corolla parked on the shoulder, miles from anywhere. He’ll pull over. Despite what he’s seen and done, he’ll shudder before he gets out of the car.

Then he’ll slide open the van door, and give your body to me.

About the Author
First published as a teenager, Jack Heath is the award-winning author of more than twenty fiction titles for young adult and middle-grade readers.In the course of his research, Jack has toured morgues and prisons, performed as a street magician and travelled through eleven countries, including Russia. His previous day jobs—in which he met many interesting characters—include fry cook, music teacher, TV salesman, call centre worker and bookseller. He plays several musical instruments, and lives on the land of the Ngunnawal people in Gunghalin, Australia.

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2 comments to Q&A AND Book Review AND Excerpt: Just One Bite by Jack Heath (Part of the Official Blog Tour)

  • Terrific interview and I loved the part where he gets sidetracked by mundane stuff because I do too. It is tough to always focus. Loved the interview.

    • admin

      Thanks so much Diane! I don’t get most of the credit – only a couple of the questions (the long one of course teehee) are mine, the rest were submissions by various bloggers – but it did turn out to be quite interesting AND relatable, because that happens to me too! Thanks for continuing to visit and taking the time to comment!

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