Blurbs!

Here are all of the blurbs Heaven's Crooked Finger has received so far. Not bad for three months before the book comes out!

"Hank Early's Heaven's Crooked Finger is a twisty, page-turning, modern Southern Gothic that packs an emotional wallop. His everyday and down-and-out characters are authentically rendered. Fans of Daniel Woodrell and Donald Ray Pollock take notice, Heaven's Crooked Finger is the real deal."

-Paul Tremblay, author of A Head Full of Ghosts and Disappearance at Devil's Rock

"Heaven's Crooked Finger is a first-class mystery - gripping, atmospheric, and tense from beginning to end. Hank Early's storytelling is truly outstanding."

-Andrew Grant, author of False Friend

"Hank Early's Heaven's Crooked Finger grabs you from the first page and doesn't let go. Evocative place writing, memorable-as-hell characters, sentences that hum, great pacing, and a strutting brutality. Early's a writer of great power. This is one that will stick with me, and I'm already looking forward to whatever's next."

--William Boyle, author of Gravesend

"Hank Early marches out of Harper Lee’s Alabama with a Southern Gothic detective story that will long leave readers catching their breath. This one leaves a mark. Early writes like kudzu: The seed drops in the first chapters. The reader should run, lest they soon find themselves entangled, unable to wrest themselves free." 

Eryk Pruitt, author of DirtbagsHashtag, and What We Reckon

"Can the dead come back to life? That's the question PI Earl Marcus has to answer when he returns to the creepy town in rural Georgia he left thirty years before to find out if his recently deceased father - the maniacal leader of a religious cult - has fulfilled his promise to return after he dies. Heaven's Crooked Finger has action, suspense and a cracking good mystery. By the way, if you are afraid of snakes, don't read this book." 

--Phillip Margolin, New York Times bestselling author of Violent Crimes and The Third Victim

"With Heaven’s Crooked Finger, Hank Early has not only written one of the very best novels I’ve read this year, but also introduced me to my favorite new mystery detective, Earl Marcus. This book is an expert mixture of action, suspense, and compelling characterization that easily establishes Early as a literary force of nature. Heaven’s Crooked Finger is going to be on a lot of Best of 2017 lists."

—Bracken MacLeod, Bram Stoker Award nominated author of STRANDED and COME TO DUST

From the opening pages of this book, you know you’re in the hands of a rare talent. Hank Early has penned a fast-paced, thought provoking, and thoroughly satisfying southern mystery. Heaven’s Crooked Finger is a truly astonishing debut, and one of the best rural mysteries I’ve ever read.

-John Rector Wall Street Journal Bestselling author of The Ridge, Already Gone, and The Cold Kiss

What I’ve Learned From Fifteen Years as a Writer (Alternate title: Pre-Order My Damn Book)

I’ve been trying to get stuff published for fifteen years now. Recently, I’ve been thinking back over that time, taking stock of my successes and failures, etc., and I started thinking about things I’d learned over that time about publishing. I only managed to come up with five. Either I’m a slow learner or the publishing industry is hard to figure out. I’m going to say it’s a combination of the two. But, maybe five isn’t so bad. At least I’ve learned something, and maybe these lessons can help somebody out. Or maybe they’ll just encourage someone to quit, and hey, that works too because honestly if a blog post makes you quit, you need to quit.

LESSON NUMBER 1: 

Nobody cares. I mean it. Nobody. When I first started out, I believed that being a writer might impress people. Not that this was my main motivation for writing. It wasn’t, but at the same time, I thought it might be a fringe benefit to be seen by people as a “published writer,” or even, dare I say it, “a novelist.” It wasn’t. I can’t even begin to explain to you how little people care about this. Mostly when people find out I’m a novelist, they look mildly confused and then mildly annoyed, as if the very thought of a person wasting all that time to write a book is asinine. Seriously, nobody cares except my wife (and these days she’s pretty much over it too). It’s cute to me now that once upon a time, I thought publishing my first short story would somehow impress people. Uh, no. Okay, I thought, maybe once I make a pro sale, then they’ll be awed by my brilliance? Hint: most people don’t know what a pro sale is, and even if they did, they would not be impressed by it. So, then a novel, surely, that will impress them, and from a major publisher, no less?  Blank stares, polite nods, nothing resembling respect, though sometimes I see a glimmer of pity in their eyes. But it’s a major publisher, I’ve wanted to say so many times, but then I remembered the lesson. Nobody cares. Which brings me to my next lesson…

LESSON NUMBER 2:

Unless your book happens to be the next BIG THING, like say (insert best selling debut title here) or (Insert overhyped MFA grad’s first collection of short stories here) publishing your debut with one of the big six is generally a mistake, and will only serve to set you up for disappointment. If you’d have told me this when I learned that Penguin was buying THE YEAR OF THE STORM way back in 2012, I wouldn’t have believed you, so I guess I don’t blame you if you don’t believe me. But it’s true. Here’s why: signing with a big publisher is deceiving. Sure, maybe it means you can write (or hell, maybe not), and it definitely means you’ll get an advance (don’t get too excited about that because it’s probably less than you think) but it doesn’t necessarily mean you’re going to have a career better than anyone else’s or a career at all. The big six will throw what amounts to pocket change (for them) at a book and hope that it catches on. If it does, then they’ve turned a profit and maybe found an author that can continue making them some money down the road. If it doesn’t (and mine didn’t), then so what? It was a small risk anyway, one that is mitigated by the big names in the industry that sell books as easily as you or me breathe. Now before you inundate me with exceptions in the comments, let me just say this: Shut up. I know there are exceptions. A lot of them, but trust me there are a lot more major publisher debuts that drift into obscurity. Which brings me to the third thing I’ve learned over my fifteen years…

LESSON NUMBER 3:

Publishing your second book can be MUCH harder than publishing your first. This is especially true if you went the route I did, which can be summed up as follows: debut with a major publisher that four years after publication still hasn’t earned out its advance. Yeah, that’s a route you do not want to take. Trust me on this. Nobody will want your second book. My agent and I tried to get my follow-up novel published for all of 2015. We failed. Did it suck? Maybe. But a better question might be, did it matter? I’m not sure if it did because at this point, the publishing world had already swung and missed on John Mantooth once. Which, of course, takes me to number four. The pseudonym.

LESSON NUMBER 4:

Being asked to take a pseudonym sucks, but it isn’t the worst thing that can happen to an author. I don’t really need to tell you what the worst thing is, do I? No, I didn’t think so.

LESSON NUMBER 5:

Persistence does actually pay off.  That’s one thing I believed when I started, and despite all the negative stuff I said up there, it’s one thing I still believe. Does that mean it will pay off for everyone? No, of course not. Some people cancel any progress made by persistence with any number of other problems: lack of talent, inability to stop whining, fear, and good old fashioned stupidity. Does it mean all those people who didn’t care before will eventually start caring? Nah. But who really needed them anyway? But, I do believe persistence pays off. At least I’m hoping it does. And speaking of that, here’s an opportunity for me to be persistent and for you to help me prove that persistence does pay off):

    Pre-order my book.   (Amazon)

    Pre-order my book  (Barnes and Noble)

    Pre-order my book  (Indiebound) 

    (one more time with feeling)

    PRE-ORDER MY DAMN BOOK.  (Amazon Kindle Version)

Mystery Week- The Mystery of My Life

Over on Goodreads, it's Mystery Week, and one of the questions they are asking authors is to relate something from your life that could be the plot of a mystery novel. I figured since mine ended up being sort of long, I'd share it here... answer (in full) with question for context below:

What mystery in your own life could be a plot for a book?

That's an easy one for me because I've thought about writing it before (and I've actually written two short stories loosely based on this-- "James" from SHOEBOX TRAIN WRECK by John Mantooth (my real name) and "The Man Across the Street" from a long ago issue of FUTURES MYSTERIOUS ANTHOLOGY MAGAZINE, which I'm almost positive is no loner around).

When I was a kid, the man that lived across the street from us was a loner and never spoke to anyone else in the neighborhood. This was taboo in my southern neighborhood where everybody spoke to everyone else out of an almost religious obligation. Not him. He kept to himself, blatantly shunning anyone who spoke to him, no matter how loud or friendly the greeting might have been. Once, when I went to his house with a group of friends at Halloween, he would not answer the door, even though we could clearly see him seated in his den through the window. This kind of behavior would have been mysterious enough, but what came later turned him into  an enigma, not only for my 12 year old self, but also for my current one. 

One night, I woke up and saw an ambulance outside of his house. I watched from my window, trying to figure out what was happening, but I couldn't make out much other than the lights from the ambulance and some paramedics going in and out of the house. 

The next morning, my parents informed me that his wife had died. I didn't even know he'd been married, which seemed bizarre because in our neighborhood, everyone knew each other's business. After that, things got weird. Not only did the man withdraw even more, he also started the strange habit that has haunted me into my adult years. One night soon after his wife died, I was awakened again, this time because of headlights shining in my bedroom window. I slipped over to the window in time to see a car going by the house very, very slowly. No more then two or three miles per hour. It was the man across the street's old Buick, but instead of turning into his driveway like I expected, the car just kept going. I thought it was odd, but tried to go back to sleep, only to be awakened again and again that night as the man drove his car ever so slowly around the block. It happened again a few nights later, and again after that. In fact, if happened so often that my friends used to sleepover with the sole mission of staying up late enough to witness these nocturnal and somehow somber drives. 

This went over for nearly a year before I and started becoming interested in other things and somehow I stopped paying attention to the man across the street. He might have still made his midnight rides at two miles per hour round and round the block, but teenage hormones quickly rendered me uninterested in anything besides sports and girls. As hard as it is for me to fathom now, I lost interest in what he was doing either by day or by night. 

I'd been married for a couple of years and was nearing thirty before the man across the street entered my life again. I ran into a childhood friend at a funeral. Unlike me, my friend had remained in my home town long after I'd left. My first question was about the man across the street?

"What ever happened to him?"

"You're not going to believe it," my friend, Andy, said.

I was expecting a lot of things: a tragic death, the revelation that he'd been a murderer or something like that. What my friend said surprised me, but in retrospect, maybe it shouldn't have.

"One day, he came over to the house."

"Wait, are we talking about the same man? The one that never spoke to anyone?"

"One and the same. Just listen. He came over, knocked on the door, and when my dad answered, he skipped all the pleasantries and got right down to business."

"What did he want?" I asked, by this time on the edge of my seat with anticipation.

"He said he was going away for a while. He wanted to know if my dad would collect his mail and look after his yard."

"A while?"

Andy nodded. "It was vague. Dad told him he would. A week passed and he didn't return. Then a month and then a year. Dad cuts his yard every so often and last year had some branches from his trees cut back. We've got a big garbage can full of all of his mail. He's never come back."

"You have no idea where he is?"

"No. Not a clue."

"How long has it been?" 

"At least three years."

The amount of time he'd been missing stunned me. Did he not have any family or friends who were looking for him? 

That was at least ten years ago. If he ever returned home, I wasn't made aware of it. If I had to guess, I'd say he didn't. 

Is he dead? Maybe. Probably. 

But maybe not. 

When I think of him now, as I so often do, I see him behind the wheel of that big Buick, driving slowly, slowly through the night, on his way somewhere, maybe home, maybe some place else. 

And one of these days, I do plan to base a novel on the mystery of his life. Because, if I'm honest the real mystery isn't just what happened to him after the left, it's what happened to him before he decided to leave, and ultimately why he decided to leave. And in that way, his mystery is our mystery, the mystery of the human heart and what drives us. 

Why I Am Writing Under a New Name

So, one of the questions I've been getting is why write these next two books under a new name. What was wrong with John Mantooth? Some folks have rightly pointed out that you can't really hope to find a better name than Mantooth, and I would tend to agree with them. 

The short answer is that I didn't have a choice. The publisher, Crooked Lane, requested it.

The long answer is a little bit more complicated. Publishing is first and foremost a business (big surprise, I know). No matter how much a publisher or editor likes your novel, someone has to believe they can sell it. My first novel, The Year of the Storm (you can buy it here) didn't sell very well. There are a great many reasons for this. I'm willing to accept some of the blame, of course. Obviously, some books demand to be read. I'm not sure TYOTS was one of these. Don't get me wrong. I'm extremely proud of the novel. It was nominated for a Stoker and well-received critically. It helped me make a the list of Alabama horror authors people should be reading right now, along with some truly legendary horror writers. Still, for whatever reason, the book didn't connect with as wide an audience as I'd hoped. Penguin had an option on my second book, Tuskaloosa, and chose not to exercise it. Some extenuating circumstances added to my problems during this time. My first agent, Beth Fleisher, decided to retire and Penguin merged with Random House. According to my new agent, Alec Shane, I wasn't the only author to get lost in the shuffle because of this merger. Whatever the reason, and whoever was to blame, the bottom line was this: Penguin didn't believe John Mantooth was an author they wanted to put more money behind. 

Apparently, word got around. Other publishers shied away from Tuskaloosa as well. Again, I'm not blind to my own faults here. I'm a big believer in the old make it good enough and somebody will buy it line of thinking. I thought I had done just that. My agent and I spent most of 2015 trying to sell it. At the end of 2015, he suggested we shelve it, and I write something new. 2015 was a bad year. I had extremely high hopes for Tuskaloosa. I believed it was sort of a breakthrough novel for me, a big, sprawling epic of crime and class that I still think contains some of my best writing. Many editors who read it seemed to agree, but obviously didn't feel strongly enough to pull the trigger. 

In 2016, I wrote Heaven's Crooked Finger, the first of a planned series about the son of a evangelical, snake-handling preacher who grows up to be a private investigator. We began to shop it around. Responses were good. I'd made an effort to create something more marketable, and it seemed like many editors were taken with it, but several claimed they just couldn't overcome the poor track record of The Year of the Storm. It was, in a word, disheartening. My confidence hit an all time low. I began to wonder if I'd ever publish outside of the small press again.

Enter Crooked Lane Books, an independent crime publisher with a solid distribution and an excellent (though short) track record. Not one of the big five publishers, but maybe that was a good thing. They were willing to take a chance. They let my agent know they were interested but had some questions. Really, I think they only had one question: Would I take a pseudonym in order to position the book as a debut and alleviate the bad sales record of he Year of the Storm? 

I never really thought twice about it. Sure, it would be great to publish under my real name, but the bottom line is that I'm a writer and I want readers regardless of what the name on the cover of the book says. 

Will I ever publish under John Mantooth again? I hope so. I hope Tuskaloosa can still find a home under my real name. As of now, the only thing that will be under Hank Early are my Earl Marcus books. 

I also want to say that if you liked the Mantooth books, I hope you'll give Hank Early a shot. I think you'll find the voice is essentially still mine, and Early might even be a little better at telling a story and a lot better at pacing. 

So the moral of the story for aspiring authors? If your first book tanks, it's really hard to get back in the game. I'd always heard that, but now I've lived it. 

Two Book Deal With Crooked Lane Books

I can finally announce that I've agreed to a two book deal with Crooked Lane Books for the first two Earl Marcus books. Earl will debut in Heaven’s Crooked Finger (read an excerpt here), a novel about his return to North Georgia after a long exile. I think you’ll like Earl. He’s middle-aged, grizzled, and stubborn as a mule, but he has a heart the size of the open sky. His past has shaped him into a flawed human being, and much of Heaven’s Crooked Finger has him dealing with that past, specifically with the legacy of his father who may or may not be dead. There’s a lot of religious crazies, a mythical well high atop a mountain, and more poisonous snakes than you can shake a stick at.

Heaven's Crooked Finger will be released on November 7, 2017. 

Preorder here.

Book two is tentatively titled Skull Keep. Expect it sometimes in 2018.