Monday, August 30, 2010

Five Books from the Year of Your Birth

This is sort of based on a challenge I saw on Kerrie Smith's blog--although slightly changed.

Pick five books from the year of your birth that say something about you, your world view and the books you love.

1. The Heart of the Matter, Graham Greene
2. The Naked and the Dead, Norman Mailer
3. The Franchise Affair, Josephine Tey
4. The Loved One, Evelyn Waugh
5. Raintree County, Ross Lockridge

All of these books come from writers I read extensively except for the the last, which was a one-hit wonder. What about you? Do you identify with books written in the year of your birth? All of these speak to me in terms of style, subject or substance. They were written in my comfort zone.

Sunday, August 29, 2010


These are the customer reviews for THE CORRECTIONS, by Jonathan Franzen- a decade ago now. I read it and thought it so-so. Certainly not the best book I read that year and I read a lot of so-called literary novels.
But here we go again and before it's publication date, it's been declared a masterpiece. Perhaps, but it will take me weeks to find out because I am way down on the list at my libr

Customer Reviews from Amazon

1,025 Reviews
5 star:
4 star:
3 star:
2 star:
1 star:

Average Customer Review
3.1 out of 5 stars (1,025 customer reviews)

Now I am not saying that these reviews are to be trusted but they do show
some reluctance to declare this a masterpiece. Did you read it? Do you plan to read FREEDOM. What do you think?

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Acquired Tastes

Oh, Paris, was it really only three months ago. Age does things to time. Both lengthens and shortens it, I think.

And speaking of that, I went to a concert Thursday night with Serena Ryder, Ray LeMontagne and David Gray and didn't make it to David Gray. Pretty sad, huh? Ray was fabulous though.

Anyway, James Reasoner was talking about acquired tastes a bit today and I sympathize with his inability to get Tracey Morgan. He leaves me cold too. And then I turned on the radio and the Car Guys were doing their NPR show. That is an taste I've never acquired and I was amazed to see they have CDs of their shows at my library. Maybe if I drove a car I'd get them? Are they funny to you?

What or who haven't you acquired a taste for?

Friday, August 27, 2010

THE SUMMING UP, Friday, August 27, 2010

The Summing Up, Friday, August 27, 2010

Joe Barone, Crimson Joy, Robert B. Parker
Paul Bishop, Undercover Run, Lew Dykes
Milton Burton, Earth Abides, George R. Stewart
Bill Crider, Death of a Source, Richard Moore
Scott Cupp, Jackets Required, Steven Hiller and Seymour Chwast
Martin Edwards, The Scarf, Francis Durbridge
R,J. Ellory, The Prone Gunman, Jean Patrick Manchette
Ed Gorman, Missionary Stew, Ross Thomas
Glenn Harper, Rain, Karen Duir, Willenbrock, Christopher Hein
Randy Johnson, Dance Back the Buffalo, Milton Lott
George Kelley, Nine Hundred Grandmothers, R. A. Rafferty
Rob Kitchin, The Burglar Who Studied Spinoza, Lawrence Block
B.V. Lawson, Death of a Busybody, Dell Shannon (Elizabeth Linington)
Evan Lewis, Brand of the Cougar, Norwell Page
Steve Lewis/David L. Vineyard, The Only Girl in the Game, John D. MacDonald
Todd Mason, Life of the Party, Mary Fleener
James Reasoner, The Power of Positive Loving, William Johnston
Richard Robinson, Maigret and the Death of a Harbor Master, Georges Simenon
Kerrie Smith, Backhand, Liza Cody

Friday's Forgotten Books, August 27, 2010

Next week, George Kelley will post Friday's Forgotten Books. You can find his link below. Excuse the spacing issues below. Why does this happen?

Milton T. Burton was born and raised in East Texas. He has been variously a cattleman, college history teacher, and an aide to the Dean of the Texas House of Representatives. His third crime novel, "Nights of The Red Moon," is due for release from St. Martin's in

Earth Abides
by George R. Stewart

This magnificent and compelling book is a post-apocalyptic novel that burst on the American scene to critical acclaim in 1949. No doubt inspired by concerns over the advent of the atomic bomb and the coming nuclear energy, it is the story of a small group of survivors trying to maintain civilization in the wake of a pandemic that has killed off the vast majority of mankind. Its author, George R . Stewart, was a longtime English professor at Berkley with a scholar's interest in the etymology of place names. Among other books on the subject, his 1970 A Concise Dictionary of American Place-Names is considered the standard work in the field.
Earth Abides follows the story of Isherwood "Ish" Williams, Emma, the woman he takes as his wife after the plague has passed, and a small group of survivors who gather around them as a community. With the best of intentions, Ish, a scientist and intellectual, tries to educate the subsequent generation in order to revive and perpetuate civilization. Without giving away too much of the plot, I will only say that he meets with less than success.
This wonderful but sad work, now largely forgotten, was something of a cause celebre in its time and garnered much critical praise. James Sallis, writing in the Boston Globe, said:
This is a book, mind you, that I'd place not only among the greatest science fiction but among our very best novels. Each time I read it, I'm profoundly affected, affected in a way only the greatest art — Ulysses, Matisse or Beethoven symphonies, say — affects me. Epic in sweep, centering on the person of Isherwood Williams, Earth Abides proves a kind of antihistory, relating the story of humankind backwards, from ever-more-abstract civilization to stone-age primitivism. Everything passes — everything. Writers' reputations. The ripe experience of a book in which we find ourselves immersed. Star systems, worlds, states, individual lives. Humankind. Few of us get to read our own eulogies, but here is mankind's. Making Earth Abides a novel for which words like elegiac and transcendent come easily to mind, a novel bearing, in critic Adam-Troy Castro's words, "a great dark beauty."
One of the most interesting and insightful moments comes when, after many years of marriage, Ish realizes that Emma is part black. With the vast bulk of the human race gone, race had ceased to matter even to the point that it was not noticed.
Also interesting is that Stephen King cited this work as the inspiration for his epic novel, The Stand. Indeed, the mood is almost the same in both books.
At the end of Earth Abides, Ish, now ancient and a figure of legend---"The Last American" the young men call him---dies. But the earth abides and the human race goes on. Esh's last thought is the hope that the world young people build is better than the one destroyed by the pandemic.
Get it and read it. You will not be disappointed.

P.M. is a lawyer, plying his trade in the still wild west. He is a fan of all things pulp, scribbling about some of his readings at

"-And the Girl Screamed" by Gil Brewer
Crest Book No. 147, 1956

The story begins with our hero, Cliff, being denied an opportunity to return to the police force after having his arm permanently injured by an escaped convict. The chief opposition to his return is mounted by Edward Thayer, with whose wife Cliff has been having an affair. Cliff is despondent at the decision, his only solace is the knowledge that he is closer than ever to convincing Eve Thayer to leave her husband. That night Cliff and Eve are on the beach discussing how they can deal with Edward, who has vowed to destroy both Cliff and Eve if they don’t terminate their affair, when . . .

“A girl screamed. It was the damnedest thing I’d ever heard. It ripped across the soft night, a crazed shriek of pure helplessness and fear.”

Cliff and Eve discover a young blond, dead. They catch a glimpse of the killer and he, perhaps, sees them. While trying to figure out how to deal with the situation, without making their seaside tryst public knowledge, Cliff makes a mistake and becomes the prime suspect in the young girl’s murder.

While -And The Girl Screamed employs the very common theme of a man wrongly accused trying to clear his name, it is relatively original in its approach and highly entertaining. Brewer was firing on all cylinders and I rank The Girl up there with some of his best. I found it far superior to So Rich, So Dead, another of Brewer's man wrongly accused stories.

The entertainment value comes primarily from the fact that the killer turns out to be the leader of a vicious gang of high school kids. Cliff has some violent run-ins with the gang and is nearly seduced by one of the gang’s 16 year-old female members. This is the first Brewer novel I’ve come across that incorporates a 50s social scare issue. If parents don’t pay enough attention to their kids, obviously they will form a hyper-violent and depraved youth gang while hiding it through decent grades and football scholarships! It's a good thing that all those happy young families in the 50s had novels like this to warn them of the perils lurking in the dark side of suburbia. I particularly liked the message at the end:

“Something’s got to be done about all those kids.” Andy said. “Jinny’s dead, and God knows what a jury will do to Roberson. But maybe if we get the town stirred up enough, get their parents feeling guilty enough, we can help the rest of them. They’re young,” he said “they don’t have to spend their lives this crazy way.”

In all seriousness, -And The Girl Screamed is a damned good read. It’s not hard-boiled and it has a happy ending, but it is a crime story and those dark noir elements, of which Brewer was a master, show through. Any fan of 50s pulps should enjoy it, if for nothing more than to learn how important it is to pay attention to the kids.

Jeff Meyerson, Never Too Late for Love, Warren Adler

Warren Adler is probably best known as the author of The War of the Roses, a very nasty novel about divorce turned into a movie with Michael Douglas and Kathleen Turner. He also wrote a series of books about Washington D. C. homicide detective Fiona Fitzgerald. For the purpose of this review, however, let me cite his earlier collection of stories, The Sunset Gang, set in a Florida retirement community called Sunset Village. (Any resemblance to Century Village and the like is understandable.)

In 1991 PBS did an adaptation of three of the stories, including the memorable
"Yiddish," that led me to seek out the book and read it.

Years later I discovered Adler had penned a second collection of Florida stories, this one, so I got a copy and recently read it. This one has fifteen stories, including five repeats from the earlier collection. The title story is a partial rewrite and expansion of "Yiddish" about two members of the condo's Yiddish club who fall in love, much to the dismay of their spouses and children. The stories are not always happy or pleasant, but Adler does a good job with the setting a
nd characters, many of whom seem to be Jews from Brooklyn who have retired to Florida, more or less happily. As with the earlier collection, I enjoyed reading this one.

Ed Gorman is the author of the soon to be released STRANGEHOLD. You can find him here.

Forgotten Books: Missionary Stew by Ross Thomas
Our story opens in a grubby African prison with an American named Citron who will, in the course of this introductory chapter, and I'm not making this up, eat a child. It seems the sociopath who is the exalted grand wazoo leader of this country is a cannibal. (Not that there's anything wrong with that.) Citron, a decent guy, asks what happened to the little kid who came around the prison. The henchman in charge of the prison tell shim that the grand wazoo was displeased with him for some reason. Citron says the stew tastes funny. The henchman watches him eat with a broad smile. It is only afterward the Citron realizes what he has just consumed. Welcome to the wold of Ross Thomas. I can't think of a better story teller than he was. The language is so deft and graceful, the characterization so perfectly etched even though much of the novel is the blackest of comedies, that you are swept away into a very believable world of government treachery, incompetence and viciousness all the more startling because of the ironic tone of the writing. The novel was published in 1983 thus the U.S. government in power is quite Reaganesque and the dilemma it finds itself in not unlike (prescience on Thomas' part) Iran-Contra. The McGuffin here is intriguing--the incompeents of the CIA and the FBI want to silence anybody who can tell the tale of our government's atrocities. And "tell" is the correct word. None of the evidence is written down but there are a number of participants who can tell the story. One of the funniest running gags in the book is how when Citron is returned to the United States everybody he meets asks him the same question, "Was that grand wazoo guy really a cannibal?" He doesn't tell them about his last meal om captivity; all he says is that "I'm not sure." And I dare you to find another book where the lead female is named Velveeta Keats. Her parents were once hippies who believed in their stoner wisdom that you should name things after other things that give you pleasure. Since they weren't exactly gourmets, they called her Velveeta. Of course later on they changed horses and became as evil as the Cheneys. There is no other writer like Ross Thomas and no other novel like Missionary Stew (or most of his novels for that matter). Treat yourself to two nights of amazing reading. While he exposes the practices of our government with comedic effect, he also constructs a novel of inter-locking cliff hangers that keep you flipping pages long after you should have grabbed your teddy bear and gone to sleep.

Joe Barone

Paul Bishop

Paul Brazill
Bill Crider

Scott Cupp
Martin Edwards

R,J. Ellory
Glenn Harper
Randy Johnson
George Kelley

Rob Kitchin

B.V. Lawson
Evan Lewis

Steve Lewis/David L.Vineyard
Todd Mason

James Reasoner

Richard Robinson
Kerrie Smith

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Finding the Write Voice

Sometimes finding my way into a story is nearly impossible.

In front of me now, I have the facts of an interesting crime story my son brought to me. It's got pathos, humor, intrigue, violence and a cast of colorful characters.

It can't miss.

But I can't find the right voice to tell the story, the right character to filter it through.

I know if I can figure out whose story it is, it'll be much easier. But is the right voice the victim's, the murderer's, the drug dealer's, the cop's, the girlfriend's, the bartender's, the prosecutor's, the ex-wife's.

Whose story is it? I can't figure it out. Until I do, I'm stuck.

Does this happen to you?

Tuesday, August 24, 2010


You can read what the Huffington Post says right here.

I wrote quite a bit last year about WSU Press publishing American Salvage by Bonnie Jo Campbell, which went on to be nominated for several major awards.

The WSU Press has shown great judgment in publishing other interesting books of stories by regional writers. Perhaps it is university presses that will support the short story form. WSU has published these volumes of short stories in the last few years as well as poetry and many, many other books. You can find their website here. Order a book of short stories from a university press, and keep the form alive.

The Women Were Leaving Men, Andy Mozina
Voices of the Lost and Found, Dorene O'Brien
Tresspassing, Janet Kauffman
The Lost Tiki Palaces of Detroit, Michael Zadoorian
As if We Were Prey, Michael Depp
Eden Springs, Laura Kasischke

WSU PRESS is also published Reimagining Detroit, written by Detroit Free Press, writer, John Gallagher, (and a member of my writing group), which looks at the future of Detroit.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Robert Duvall

Check out Megan's piece on Mulholland Books.

We saw GET LOW last night with Robert Duvall. Great performance, but my favorite of his movies is THE GREAT SANTINI. In that film, Duvall created an iconic character, one who heads my list of "bad" fathers. But also a believable and complex character.

I went through the list at IMDB and he has made his share of bad movies but a lot of good ones too.

What's your favorite Robert Duvall movie?

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Some e-reader questions?

Thanks to Michael for this graphic from Newsweek.

1. Do you think you will be more/less likely to reread books on an e-reader?
2. Do you think coming upon old books will be less likely?
3. Will books seem more technological than personal and will that affect your relationship with them?
4. Will houses seem barren without them?
5. Why will there be libraries if we can get anything we want online? And if there are no libraries, will we be even more tied to our computers or computer-like gadgets?
6. What about bookstores? It seems to be we are throwing a lot of babies out with this bathwater.
7. Will book covers gradually retreat in importance?
8. What about book talks and book signings? What is there to sign? It seems to me authors will gradually become more anonymous as real books begin to disappear.

It seems to be that there are many negative issues associated with e-readers. These popped into my head in seconds. I know I can't turn back the clock, but must we let technology decide our future?

Saturday, August 21, 2010

STONER, John Williams

It is impossible to say why when I put so many books aside so quickly, yet stuck with this one--probably one of the saddest books I've ever read. But the sadness did not come from any earth-shaking events, not from evil deeds, or war or famine. But from the more prosaic nature of everyday life for a man who is helpless to do more than put one foot in front the other.

Finding his place in the world as a teacher both saved and ruined Stoner. Fate must do what it will to him because he will not risk the loss of his profession to save himself. You often see such focus on task with artists or ministers, but with teachers it is rare.

A poor farmboy, Stoner goes to the University in Columbia, Missouri and never leaves. First, a student, then a graduate student and finally a professor, this is his home for life.

And this gift he is given: to teach, paralyzes his ability to alter his horrible marriage, rectify his poor treatment by his colleagues, or save the fate of his daughter. Or hold on to love that finally presents itself. He simply pushes whatever comes aside and goes into his classroom to teach.

Because every word is perfect, because every sentiment rings true, because every action emanates so convincingly from his inner being, you are helpless not to follow Stoner to his end.

Stoner is reissued from its 1965 publication and takes place in the first half of the century.

What book meant this much to you?

Friday, August 20, 2010


Check out my review of THE KIDS ARE ALL RIGHT. Right here.


Patti Abbott, East of Eden, John Steinbeck
Paul Bishop, TV TIE-IN, Verzion, Witchblade
Paul Brazill, Run for Home, Sheila Quigley
Bill Crider, Casino Royale, Ian Fleming
Scott Cupp, Nova, Samuel R. Delaney
Martin Edwards, The Talkative Policeman, Rupert Penny
Glenn Harper, Passing Time, Michel Butler
Ed Gorman, On the Road, Jack Kerouac
Jerry House, The Ballantine Adult Fantasy Series
Randy Johnson, Unaccustomed As I Am to Public Dying, Larry Maddock
George Kelley, The Sot-Weed Factor and Giles Goat Boy, John Barth
Evan Lewis, Roget's Thesaurus
Todd Mason, Dream Makers II: Interviews by Charles Platt; Essential Works of Anarchism, edited by Marshall Shatz
Jeff Meyerson, The Harrad Experiment, Robert H. Rimmer
Terrie F. Moran, Dear America: Letters Home from Vietnam, Bernard Edelman
Eric Peterson, Transmetropolitan Volume I: Back on the Street, Warren Ellis
J. Kingston Pierce, Breakheart Pass, Alistair MacLean
James Reasoner, The Book of Robert E. Howard, edited by Glenn Lord
Kerrie Smith, The Works of Agatha Christie
Kevin Tipple, The One-Minute Assassin: A Novel, Trey Cook

Friday's Forgotten Books, August, 20, 2010

Today's choices are mostly books the reviewers especially enjoyed or first discovered between 18-23.

(My ability to post pictures was lost midway through today so please picture the covers from ON THE ROAD and the Ballatine Adult Series.

On Sept. 3rd, George Kelley will be hosting the party.

J. Kingston Pierce is the editor of The Rap Sheet, the senior editor of January Magazine, and the author of two recent non-fiction books, San Francisco: Yesterday and Today and Seattle: Yesterday and Today.

My introduction to Scottish author Alistair MacLean came in high school, when one of my English teachers assigned us all to read The Guns of Navarone, a 1957 thriller centered around the efforts of a specialist team of Allied commandos, during World War II, to silence the notorious weaponry at a German fortress in the Aegean Sea. Most of the books we’d had to read that year were pretty quiet stuff, along the lines of Sinclair Lewis’ Babbitt and Nathaniel Hawthorne’s short stories. Navarone was something else altogether, an adventure novel that read more like one of the high-stakes action tales in my grandfather’s

Argosy magazines than it did a work that some earnest curriculum planner thought would be healthy grist for the minds of teenage boys. If this was what the future of English classes held in store, I thought, let me at it!

Predictably, though, Navarone was an aberration; afterward, we went right back to reading safe “classics.” But by then I had developed an appetite for MacLean’s edge-of-the-seat yarns. Done with Navarone, I dove into Puppet on a Chain, then Fear is the Key, Ice Station Zebra, Bear Island, The Way to Dusty Death, and finally, during my sophomore year in college, Breakheart Pass.

That last novel, published in 1974, wove MacLean’s traditional, best-selling formula of manifold tight plot twists and a cynical protagonist facing long odds into the tapestry of the familiar American western. Supposedly set in the 1870s, the story takes place primarily aboard an ill-fated Union Pacific train steaming east to west across northern Nevada in the midst of a daunting snowstorm. Among the passengers are the governor of Nevada, Charles Fairchild; his mid-20s, black-haired niece, Marica; a tough-shelled cavalry officer, Colonel Claremont, who’s accompanied by two train cars full of troops; Indianfighter-turned-U.S. marshal Nathan Pearce and his newly acquired prisoner, John Deakin, a taciturn ex-university lecturer wanted on multiple counts of arson and murder; and an expert on tropical diseases, Dr. Edward Molyneux. The doctor’s seemingly inappropriate presence is soon explained by word that the train’s next destination, Fort Humboldt--commanded by Marica’s father--is under epidemic assault by cholera. Molyneux is reportedly taking medicine to the fort, along with coffins.

Things start to go amiss from the first, though. A couple of Claremont’s men disappear even before the train sets off from its final remote town stop. Then the doctor is discovered dead, and the locomotive’s fireman tumbles from a high overpass into a yawning ravine. When the last three train wagons--“the troop-carrying coaches and the brake van”--come uncoupled from the rest of the cars, and careen off backward into a forested gorge, it’s plain that some wicked mind is behind all of these “accidents.” Suspicion naturally focuses on Pearce’s captive, Deakin, who appears unperturbed by the lethal calamities occurring around him. However, the fact that Deakin was shackled at the time of at least one passenger death seems to absolve him of blame. But if he isn’t responsible, then who is? And what do those disasters have to do with mislabeled coffins in the train’s supply wagons, or Deakin’s nocturnal wanderings over the roof of the hustling express, or Paiute Indians being welcomed
at Fort Humboldt?

Author MacLean was allegedly past his prime when he wrote Breakheart Pass. Yet pretty much everything one could want in a historical thriller is found in these pages: rampant deceptions, plots designed to incite fear, abundant greed, calculated homicides, unexpected heroics. (Well, everything except sex: MacLean thought such complications only hobbled the pace of storytelling.) And the whole adventure takes place within a winter that’s as unforgiving as the villains who hope to profit from the carnage. MacLean’s prose may have been more pedestrian than poetic, but he could definitely keep readers on the edge
of their seats.

I will not be the first reader, or the last, I’m sure, to remark on the author’s confusion of historical facts. While MacLean makes clear in the book that America’s Civil War has been fought and finished, and the United States Secret Service (founded in 1865) is active in bringing malefactors to justice, he confuses things by mentioning that “the Big Bonanza strike in [Nevada’s] Comstock Lode” occurred some months ago. Actually, that rich discovery took place in 1859, when Nevada was still part of the Utah Territory. Two more years would pass before Nevada broke away, and it wasn’t until 1864 that it became the 36th state in
the Union. I can only imagine that MacLean decided that such discrepancies were OK if they contributed to his story’s intent.

And reading this book again now, I find myself more able than I was originally to overlook them. The building of tension, not the exposition of historical events, was the author’s purpose in these pages, and he succeeded marvelously. Even today, and knowing how it all ends, every time I sit down with Breakheart Pass or watch the 1975 Charles Bronson film adaptation of that tale, I feel anew the frisson of anticipation, wondering who will survive that dangerous train ride ... and how the men behind the crimes on board will be brought to justice. That’s great storytelling for you!

Ed Gorman is the author of SLEEPING DOGS and its upcoming sequel STRANGLEHOLD.
You can find him here.

ON THE ROAD by Jack Kerouac

I was sixteen when I first read On The Road. At that time my three favorite writers were F. Scott Fitzgerald, Nelson Algren and Graham Greene with many crime and science fiction writers vying for a slot.

Kerouac's novel had the same effect on me that George Orwell's Down and Out in Paris and London had. It presented a world I knew something about but so vividly I realized how blind I'd been in my observations of it. I'm not talking here about being Beat (which I wasn't) or being on the verge of starving (we were very poor at times but never that poor) but rather about the sense Kerouac offered of a world that was not only on the margins but was unknown to most people. Algren knew it of course but he came at it as a novelist would. People argue with me but for all the liberties Kerouac took with language (which I liked and admired) On The Road like Orwell's book can be seen as journalism as well. It certainly antcipated and inspired writers such as Hunter S. Thompson..

Kerouac's folks were people of the underclass I'd grown up with. Orwell's people were there because of corrupt and indifferent governments. The Beats were there by choice. In Kerouac there was a larky, naive joy in being the college boy who'd thrown it all over to hang out with the likes of true outsiders Alan Ginsberg and Neal Cassady. The difference was that Kerouac was the somewhat frightened, reluctant reporter along for the ride with two real madmen. It is a coming of age story in the grand American tradition. Not a few of the people we meet along the way have the some of the same traits as Tom Sawyer and Holden Caulfield.

On The Road opened me up to language, poetry, drugs, animal joy, a kind of religion I could understand, Henry Miller and sense of sprawling America I'd never had before. Kerouac was a genius of a kind and On The Road was his masterpiece.

Jeff Meyerson
Robert H. Rimmer, THE HARRAD EXPERIMENT (1967)

Ah yes, college. Those heady days of yesteryear that can be so embarrassing to remember now. Back in the late 1960's/early 1970's, so-called "free love" was something people talked about as though they'd just discovered sex. Rimmer's book (and the semi-sequel, Proposition 31) tapped into that (indeed, may have preceded it as the book was written several years before it was published) with this tale of a liberal arts college that encouraged sexual experimentation, free love, coed dorms, multiple partners without jealousy and the rest of what Archie Bunker would call "that hippie crap." It wasn't just supposed to be about sex, of course, as the idea was to get the students to think for themselves and act accordingly. I'd be interested to go back and reread it to see how well I remember it, but even without doing so I can tell you that if you were in college in those days as I was it will bring back many happy (and some rueful) memories. I firmly believe you can learn a lot more about any historical era (and yes, the "hippie era" is historic now!) by reading contemporary novels than most dry histories.
There was a movie version in 1973 with a young (early 20s) Don Johnson in one of the starring roles and his future ex, Melanie Griffith (her mother Tippi Hedren was the "star"), in a very early walk-on role (she was 15 or so).

Patti Abbott

EAST OF EDEN, John Steinbeck

I was a freshman in college when I read this book. I realized as I reached its end that the feverish pitch of the novel was probably at least partially based on the fact that I was feverish myself—sick in the way that kids that age and away from home get sick. I lay on my narrow bed, skipping classes, skipping meals, and reading EAST OF EDEN. When I was finished, I read four or five more Steinbecks in succession, enjoying them all but not perhaps as much as this one.

It was exactly the kind of book that appealed to me then: a family saga that was long, complicated, sad, over the top perhaps. When I reread it a few years ago, I still enjoyed it but felt a red pencil might have strengthened it.

EAST OF EDEN was published in 1962 and its title refers to the place where the biblical Cain goes after murdering his brother, Abel. The novel begins in Connecticut where Adam Trask and his older brother, Charles, live on a farm owned by their father, Cyrus, whom we later learn he has stolen money. Much of the first half of the novel concerns their relationship with the kindly and noble Hamilton family. After Cyrus’ death, Adam enters the army while his brother Charles stays on the farm and grows rich.

After his release Adam marries Cathy Trask and the couple move to Salinas, California, where she becomes pregnant. She gives birth to Cal and Aron but deserts the boys, shooting Adam while running away to live in a whorehouse. Cathy has few redemptive qualities and seems determined to debase herself and destroy everyone around her.

Adam and his servant, Lee, raise the two boys. One night Cal takes Aron to the house of prostitution owned by Cathy, showing him his mother for what she is. Like their father and uncle before the, the brothers resemble the biblical Cain and Abel. Aron is killed in combat (World War 1) and Cal falls in love with his brother’s longtime girl friend, Abra Bacon. Adam who has suffered a stroke following the shocking death of Aron forgives Cal for his sins.

This is certainly one of Steinbeck’s best novels and a classic for me. Despite its rigid notion of good and evil—people are mostly one or the other—its rich storyline, the beauty of the writing and its compelling nature, still make it a favorite.

JERRY HOUSE (who once met Lin Carter very briefly) lives in Southern Maryland. He can be reached at house_jerry@


College. Some hazy memories there. Somehow I was placed in a dormitory with the football team, a number of whom were given a choice by the authorities: college, army, or jail. (The oldest member of the football team was 28 and had accumulated over 350 college credits without even coming close to graduating -- surely some sort of record.) The Viet Nam war was raging and my draft number was 38. So I spent a little time studying and lot of time reading. Richard Farina, Leonard Cohen, Robert Musil, and the Lancer Conan series were great favorites. And Carter Brown; I would devour those slim Signet paperbacks like peanuts, sometimes devouring three or four a day. But there were two series that were at the top of my reading list: Terry Carr's Ace Science Fiction Specials and Lin Carter's Ballantine Adult Fantasy. For this FFB College Nostalgia Extravaganza, I'm going with Ballantine's Adult Fantasy series.

Ballantine had already hit it big with Tolkien, printing seven of his books, including The Hobbit and the Lord of the Rings trilogy; it was difficult to go anywhere on a college campus without tripping over someone reading Tolkien. Sensing a gold mine, Ballantine soon followed up with E. R. Eddison's four labyrinthian fantasies, Mervyn Peake's Gormenghast trilogy, and David Lindsay's A Voyage to Acturus, before turning to the modern day fantasies of Peter S. Beagle. The ground had been fertilized. Enter Lin Carter.

Lin Carter was a huge science fiction and fantasy fan who managed to make a career out of selling what was essentially fan fiction to paperback publishers. He was extremely well-read in the field and his novels were homages to Burroughs, Robert E. Howard, Doc Savage, Lovecraft, Tolkien, and others. Carter had already published one book with Ballantine (Tolkien: A Look Behind the Lord of the Rings) when he began its Adult Fantasy series, which ran for 65 books.

Carter was a huge fan of Famous Fantastic Mysteries, a pulp magazine which reprinted (often abridged) an old science fiction or fantasy novel every issue. (Some of these novels were good, some were great, and some were terrible; towards the end of the magazine's run they were scraping the bottom of the barrel, reprinting Ayn Rand's Anthem.) This was one of his sources for the series. But Carter also tracked down some early essential fantasies. He reprinted William Morris (he of the chair and the wallpaper design) with The Wood Beyond the World, the 2-volume The Well at the World's End, The Water of the Wondrous Isles, and the Sundering Flood. George MacDonald's visionary Lilith and Phantasies were in the series, as well as Evenor, an original collection of his stories.

Arthur Machen was represented with The Three Imposters, and G. K. Chesterton with The Man Who Was Thursday. There were six books by James Branch Cabell and two collections of Ernest Bramah's Kai Lung stories. Lord Dunsany had three novels and three original collections in the series. There were two volumes of Lovecraft's stories and three of Clark Ashton Smith's. Fletcher Pratt's The Blue Star was the first book in the Adult Fantasy series, followed later by The Land of Unreason, a Harold Shea novel by Pratt and L. Sprague de Camp. Two of Hannes Bok's rare fantasy stories were finally printed in book form. Carter also used the series to introduce Katherine Kurtz, printing the first trilogy in her Deryni series. Another first-timer was Sanders Anne Laubenthal with Excalibur. I believe Joy Chant's Red Moon and Black Mountain was also an original.

Poul Anderson's classic The Broken Sword got its paperback debut; Carter would later publish his Holf Kraki's Saga. William Hope Hodgson's The Boats of the "Glen Carrig" and The Night Land each got their first paperback appearance, the latter in two volumes and slightly abridged. Geroge Meredith's The Shaving of Shagpat, William Beckford's Vathek (printed with The Episodes of Vathek), F. Marion Crawford's Khaled, and Cutcliffe Hyne's The Lost Continent were added to the mix, as were two books by H. Rider Haggard.

The series reprinted Evangeline Walton's The Island of the Mighty, and then continued the series, printing the previously unpublished The Children of Llyr and The Song of Rhiannon. (The final volume, The Prince of Annwn, had been purchased for the Adult Fantasy line and appeared eight months after the line had been killed.)

Carter himself edited nine anthologies for the series, plus a general non-fiction book on fantasy. He published the first volume of Richard Hodgins' new translation of Orlando Furioso. (I wonder if any further volumes were published.)

What a great line-up. To top it off, the series reprinted Hope Mirrlees Lud-In-the-Mist, bringing one of the rarest and greatest fantasies to the attention of the mass market.

Each volume had an interesting, chatty introduction by Carter. The cover art was superb, especially those by Gervasio Gallardo. Each book was a polished gem.

The series ran from 1969 to 1974 (ok, so I had graduated before the series was over); beside the Evangeline Walton book mentioned above, H. Warner Munn's Merlin's Ring had also been scheduled to appear in the series, but was published after the series was closed. If memory serves me, a Henry Kuttner book had been announced about half-way through the series but never appeared.

Paul Bishop

Paul Brazill
Bill Crider
Scott Cupp
Martin Edwards
Glenn Harper
Randy Johnson
George Kelley
Rob Kitchin
Evan Lewis
Todd Mason

Terrie F. Moran

Eric Peterson
James Reasoner
Kerrie Smith

Kevin Tipple

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

What Five to Ten Films Can You Watch Over and Over?

Summer trips, Halifax, actually Peggy's Cove, in 2008.

What movies do you never tire of?

(Thanks to Jeff Meyerson for the idea).

DIRTY DANCING (guilty pleasure)

Okay, way over so sue me.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010


I was a big fan of AVATAR last December and enjoyed INCEPTION a few weeks ago, but I find this sort of movie is like the popcorn I eat with it.

My enjoyment is temporary. A few weeks or months later, there is little resonance, just some respect for the techniques or perhaps for the initial thrills. At year's end, I remember the films about people-ones like FROZEN RIVER, THE SECRET IN THEIR EYES, WINTER'S BONE, THE SQUARE, THE KIDS ARE ALL RIGHT.

Now I am not saying that big busy movies can't be about real people. But they rarely are.

What movie wowed you when you saw it and then faded? Or am I the only fickle one?

Monday, August 16, 2010

Agatha Christie

In a not very flattering article about Agatha Christie in THE NEW YORKER last week, as part of a review on a new book by John Curran entitled Agatha Christie's Secret Notebooks, Joan Acocella claims that Ms. Christie made sure no one could solve her puzzles because she provided little if any psychological depth to her characters.

Acocella also says "that any guessing we might do is fruitless because the solution to the mystery involved a fantastic amount of background information we are not privy to until the end of the book when the detective tells us." So it isn't so much that Christie was master puzzle-maker, but that she didn't allow the reader to figure it out. .

But even more damning, you cannot come away from this article thinking well of Ms. Christie either as a writer or a person. It is quite a long article and also delves into the racism, sexism, and xenophobia running through her books. Most of this went right over my head when I read all of her books in the seventies. I was reading entirely for the puzzle I think.

Another criticism, I've heard mentioned was Christie hard on the British lower classes. As Julian Symons said in his seminal work BLOODY MURDER, "the social order in these stories was as fixed as that of the Incas." And Symons was a more contemporaneous assessment.

What to you think? What strengths do you find in her work? Were her contemporaries any less subject to the prejudices of the time (Tey, Sayers, Marsh, Allingham)? Did they give their characters a firmer underpinning? Did they view the world with less prejudice? Did they play more fair with clues. I read them all years ago but haven't revisited except for Tey's Daughter of Time.

Or is the writer all wet in her observations? Defend Christie someone. Certainly our times define us to some degree, but did she fail to enlighten herself?

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Now Can You Really Resist This?

NoirCon 2010 Schedule and Panelists as of August 15

Thursday, November 4th, 2010 [Society Hill Playhouse, 507 South 8th Street]]
7:00 PM DAVID GOODIS: TO A PULP - Larry Withers with Jared Case
Friday, November 5th, 2010 [Society Hill Playhouse, 507 South 8th Street]
8:30 AM Registration
9:00 AM - 10:00 AM PORNOGRAPHY IN NOIR FICTION - Reed F. Coleman, Jay Gertzman ad Christa Faust
10:00 AM - 10:15 AM BREAK
10:15 AM - 11:15 AM PHILADELPHIA NOIR PANEL (Akashic Books) - Meredith Anthony, Keith Gilman, Dennis Tafoya, Jim Zervanos, Duane Swierczynski, Carlin Rmano, Johnny Temple
11:20 AM - 12:30 PM JOHNNY TEMPLE - Johnny Temple with David Thompson
(Recipient of the Jay and Deen Kogan Award for Excellence in Publishing)
1:50 PM - 3:00 PM GEORGE PELECANOS - George Pelecanos with Laura Lippman
(Recipient of the David L. Goodis Award)
3:00 PM - 3:15 PM BREAK
3:15 PM - 4:30 PM - DARK PASSAGE: Noir Poetry - Daniel Hoffman, Robert Polito, C.B. Forrest and Ed Pettit
4:35 PM - 4:40 PM BREAK
4:40 PM - 5:40 PM WRITERS ON NOIR- Vicki Hendricks, Daniel Woodrell, Reed Farrel Coleman, Seth Harwood with Cameron Ashley (Crime Factory)
7:00 PM - 9:00 PM Awards Dinner at the Mummers Museum
Tim McLoughlin (Johnny Temple) and Sarah Weinman (George Pelecanos)
Saturday, November 6th, 2010 [Society Hill Playhouse, 507 South 8th Street]
9:00 AM - 9:15 AM Registration
9:15 AM - 10:30 AM LADY IN THE DARK: As Noir As it Gets- Joan Schenkar
( NoirCon Keynote Speaker 2010); Intro. Robert Polito

10:30 AM - 10:45 AM BREAK
10:45 AM - 11:45 AM PATRICIA HIGHSMITH AT THE MOVIES - Rich Edwards and Thomas Kauffman
11:45 AM - 12:00 Noon BREAK
12:00 Noon - 1:15 PM THROUGH A REARVIEW DARKLY: A Revisionist History of Noir -
Megan Abbott and Anthony Neil Smith

1:15 PM - 2:00 PM LUNCH On-Your-Own
2:15 PM - 3:15 PM FANTOMAS AT 99 - The Lord of Terror - Howard A. Rodman and David White
3:20 PM - 4:30 PM DAMN NEAR DEAD 2 : LIVE NOIR OR DIE TRYING! (Busted Flush Press) - Patti Abbott, Scott Cupp, Scott Phillips, S.J. Rozan, David Thompson
6:30 PM - 9:00 PM NOIR-GAY BINGO to Benefit the AIDS FUND. at the Double Tree
Sunday, November 7th, 2010 [Society Hill Playhouse, 507 South 8th Street]
9:30 AM - 10:30 AM REALITY AND NOIR - The Everyday Quality of Evil - Jeff A. Cohen, Richard Sand and Wallace Stroby
10:30 AM - 10:40 AM BREAK
10:45AM - 11:40 AM SORTING OUT THE SYNDICATE - Goombahs, Gonifs, and the Italian-Jewish Mob - John Buntin
12:00 N - 1:15 PM LAST CALL - with William Boyle, William Lashner, Lawrence Light, Jon McGoran and Juri Nummelin
(Lunch will be provided along with LCP)

Saturday, August 14, 2010

A Question for Any Writers Who Stop By

Public Gardens

Why is it that some of my best story ideas never get off the ground? And other ones, less clever or interesting, seem to write themselves. Am I the only one experiencing this?

Sometimes I think the stories that are fully formed before you sit down at the WP are harder to write because you feel like you are taking dictation. Especially stories based on what a friend or newspaper article has told you. It's their story and not yours and it's hard to seize control of it. Some of my better stories come from a single sentence or an image.

But sometimes the ones that just start with a concept of your own are hard, too.

Do you find this to be the case or is it just me? You never know which stories are going to be a pleasure to write and which ones aren't going into it.

Friday, August 13, 2010

THE SUMMING UP, Friday, August 13, 2010


Paul Bishop, Crown, Terry Harknett
Bill Crider, The Third Man, Graham Greene
Scott Cupp, The Rakeshells of Heaven, John Boyd
Jose Ignacio Escribano, "Man on Pink Corner," Jorge Luis Borges
Martin Edwards, Which I Never, L.A.G. Strong
Jen Forbus, The James Deans, Reed Farrell Coleman
Ed Gorman, Saturday Games, Brown Meggs
Glenn Harper, Per Wahloo Retrospective
George Kelley, The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, James Warner Bellah
Rob Kitchin, Point Blank (The Hunter), Richard Stark
B.V. Lawson, Dover One, Joyce Porter
Evan Lewis, Action Stories, Dent, Nebel & others
Todd Mason, Sixgun in Cheek, Bill Pronzini and Fairport Convention's "Heyday"
James Reasoner, The Tavern, Orrie Hitt
Richard Robinson, The Case of the Caretaker's Cat, Erle Stanley Gardner
Kerrie Smith, The Stone Hawk, Gwen Moffet
Kevin Tipple, The One-Minute Assassin, Troy Cook

Friday's Forgotten Books, August 13, 2010

NEXT WEEK: What book did you love between 18-23ish? What did you speed through and turn to the beginning and start again?

Jen Forbus runs a sensational blog right here.

THE JAMES DEANS – Reed Farrel Coleman

FIRST LINE: “The reception was at the Lonesome Piper Country Club.”

Moe Prager, the reluctant detective, is bullied into taking a case connected to a state senator. The ambitious senator has his eyes on bigger prizes but as long as the disappearance of his former intern, Moira Heaton, remains unsolved, he’ll never have a realistic shot at those prizes. So, when the senator starts putting heat on the Prager wine stores, Moe concedes and takes the case only to find himself dealing with far more than a missing intern.

In the third outing with Moe Prager, Coleman brings all the strengths of the previous two novels and infuses them with a heightened sense of passion and a continued introspection in to Moe Prager, the man. While the case in and of itself is detached from Moe, aside from the threat on his wine shop if he doesn’t take it, Coleman shows most vividly the growth of Moe through his investigation. A man coming to terms with himself and the world around him can be the recipe for disaster or the recipe for an amazing story. Coleman found the recipe for the latter.

Moe Prager isn’t the typical private eye. He isn’t the typical Jew. And Reed Farrel Coleman isn’t the typical story teller. His unique approach and raw presentation of the world give the reader far more than he/she expects. Coleman takes Moe down dark alleys in his investigations and his introspection, but there are regular flashes of sarcastic humor to light the way. Readers will not only find their way out of those dark alleys with Moe, they’ll find places in themselves they didn’t know were there. I did.

I’ve found there are books that are enjoyable, fun. There are books that are enlightening. There are books that can artistically combine the two. But the most amazing of all books are the ones that leave ideas, characters, events reverberating in my mind and my soul. The ones I know I’ll go back to again and again because I’m certain there will be more for me to harvest each time I do. THE JAMES DEANS is one of those books.

THE JAMES DEANS was first released in 2005 by Plume and like me, Busted Flush Press didn’t want this book to be forgotten either. It was re-published in 2008. Moe Prager, Reed Farrel Coleman, THE JAMES DEANS. Don’t forget.

Jose Ignacio Escribano writes about books and stories here.
Man on Pink Corner, Jorge Luis Borges

is a short story by Argentinean writer Jorge Luis Borges (Buenos Aires, 24 of August of 1899 - Geneva, 14 of June of 1986). Borges was one of the greatest Spanish speaking writers of the last century. It was published several times before the final version appeared in a collection of short stories A Universal History of Infamy in 1935 and later published as A Universal History of Iniquity. Man on Pink Corner is dedicated to the Uruguayan writer, poet and journalist Enrique Amorim. The plot is simple and straightforward. The local bully is challenged by a stranger in a brothel. He rejects the fight and runs away. The stranger walks off with the woman but he is then mysteriously stabbed to death.

Caravana de Lecturas points out that the language employed by Borges in this short story is notable for its brothel-like vocabulary and insistent use of lunfardo (Buenos Aires slang)--an intent to reflect the speech of the porteƱos in the vernacular of the time. Follow his suggestion sit back and enjoy this story.

A Universal History of Infamy at Wikipedia

Jorge Luis Borges at Wikipedia

A Universal History of Iniquity (Penguin Modern Classics)

Ed Gorman can be found right here.


Here's a golden oldie for you: SATURDAY GAMES by Brown Meggs. If I'm not mistaken (and I often am) I believe this was the novel that was first submitted to acclaimed mystery editor Babara Norville when she was editing the fine line of Bobbs-Merrill mysteries back in the early Seventies. She gave Meggs advice on how to make his manuscript marketable and he did just that. And then (or so the story goes) he promptly sold it for a better deal to Random House.

The novel was good enough to be nominated for a first novel Edgar and to go through a number of printings here and abroad. It's a dazzler. Three upper middle-class Southern California types have a little too much grass and booze fun with a gorgeous wild woman named Emjay (this was the early Seventies remember). A private pool, a lot of sex and...Emjay somehow gets herself murdered. Which of the three men is guilty? Or are all of them guilty? Or none of them guilty?

This is a real puzzler populated by real people. The hip cop Anson Freres spends the book getting to know a number of people he'd rather not brush up against but must in the line of duty. The SoCal background is wittily sketched. And the sex scenes are truly torrid. They're also proof that less is more. The novel is saturated with sexuality but there's not a hard core moment to be found.

Meggs went on to write several other novels. I've read Saturday three or four times since its original publication. It's the reading equivalent of watching a really good athlete on a really good day. The craft here is dazzling.

And Meggs' life was nearly as interesting as his book.

Paul Bishop
Bill Crider
Scott Cupp
Martin Edwards
Glenn Harper
Randy Johnson
George Kelley
Rob Kitchin
B,V, Lawson
Evan Lewis
Todd Mason
James Reasoner
Richard Robinson
Kerrie Smith
Kevin Tipple