Thursday, September 30, 2010
Tuesday, September 28, 2010
Do you ever marvel at how well a simple household gadget works? I am in awe of the dehumidifier in my basement. Damn, if the thing doesn't fill up with water every day. How does it do it? I have no idea, but I know dumping that water out every morning is a good thing. Can you imagine the amount of water in the air if I didn't do it? Or does removing the water only allow new water to form? Whatever, I am awestruck.
What gadget does its job for you? (And I am actually interested in this--it's not a desperation topic)
Monday, September 27, 2010
Anyone out there dabble in horror?
I've just finished writing a kinda horror story--although I couldn't help myself from knocking someone off. It's not bone-chilling horror and it plays on a previous horror novel. Not fan-fic, but sort of an homage.
Any idea where to send it? I can go to Duotrope, but sifting through each zine to see what they like is tres time-consuming. I'm not looking to knock on the big boys doors, just a middling sort of place. Online probably since I don't have the patience to wait three to six months to hear. Any ideas from horror fans out there?
Sunday, September 26, 2010
Summer Trips-Dubrovnik, 2007.
My choice would be Flannery O'Connor. Second choice: Emily Dickinson.
No takers on Walker, Morrison Welty, McCullers, Wharton, Hurston, Gilman, Plath, Robinson, Porter.
Saturday, September 25, 2010
On NPR, classical music fans are telling stories about the first piece of classical music that meant something to them.
Here's my story.
Before going to college, I listened exclusively to rock and to music from Broadway musicals. In my house, music was something you found on the radio. I can't remember my parents ever having a record player, but my grandfather bought me one, just a simple turntable so I could listen to the Broadway musicals I loved at ten.
Good music, which was what my parents called classical music, was not played in our house. Music was to dance to. It was background. I took it more seriously and so did my brother a few years later. Rock music, that is.
One night however, I was listening to Lawrence Welk (okay, no need to sneer) and a song came on, played by the Freddie Martin Orchestra. It was called Tonight We Love. I went out and bought a copy of it and played it incessantly.
Flash forward to 1965 when I am off to college. I take this album, along with my Beetles, Supremes, and other such groups. Not a huge selection though. I still heard most of music on the radio.
There was a girl rooming down the hall from me who was more hip than anyone else. A sort of minor league Janis Joplin who played all sorts of cool music, dressed cool, was cool. She stood out at my religious college. She was a beatnik, people said. A hippie.
To impress her with my sophisticated musical tastes, I invited her over to hear my favorite, Tonight We Love." She listened politely and then took me back to her room to share a piece of music. It was, of course, the famous concerto Tonight We Love was taken from: Tchaikovsky's Piano Concerto Number One in B Minor. It was a thrilling moment. That the little dollop of music on Tonight We Love blossoming into such an amazing work.
Although I know now that piece of music is not as highly regarded as many other works, it will always be my favorite piece of music because it opened the door to so-called "good music" for me. I am not the huge fan of classical music that my husband is, but I am very content to hear it from across the hall, across the room, in the car, or sitting next to him at a concert hall.
What about you? Can you remember what turned you on to classical music if, in fact, anything did.
Friday, September 24, 2010
Ellen Crosby and Megan Abbott at Fall for the Book in Vienna, VA. All book readings should be in wine bars.
Check out my review of Animal Kingdom at Crimespree Cinema.
THE SUMMING UP. Friday, Sept. 24, 2010
Nigel Bird, Murder on the Yellow Brick Road, Stuart Kaminsky
Paul Bishop, The Black Swan Series, J.J. Montague
PaulBrazill, The Distant Echo, Val McDermid
Bill Crider, Night Never Ends, Frederick Lorenz
Scott Cupp, The Reproductive System. John T. Sladek
Ed Gorman, Peeper, Loren Estleman
Glenn Harper, The Red Citroen and Comparing Parallels, Timothy Williams
Randy Johnson, Secret Service, Smith RTM Scott
Alex Jurek, The Secret Adversary, Agatha Christie
George Kelley, They Walked Like Men, Clifford Slimak
Rob Kitchin, The Green Ripper, John D. MacDonald
B.V. Lawson, Through a Glass Darkly Helen McCloy (Clarkson)
Evan Lewis, The Double Take, Roy Huggins
Steve Lewis/Allen H. Hubin, At Death's Door, Robert Barnard
Todd Mason, Firsts: New Black Mask, Alfred Hitchcock's Anthology, New World Writing, Triquarterly, Works in Progress, Evergreen
Jeff Meyerson, Out of the Blackout, Robert Barnard
Terrie F. Moran, The Recycled Citizen, Charlotte Macleod
Juri Nummelin, Hell Harbor, Gordan Davis
Eric Peterson, Toy Soldier, William Kennedy
J. Kingston Pierce, Breakheart Pass, Alistair MacLean
James Reasoner, One for Hell Jada M. David
Richard Robinson, Assignment Budapest, Edward S. Aarons
Kerrie Smith, The Crime of My Life, Brian Garfield
Kevin Tipple, Final Cuts. J.R. Lindermuth
Nigel Bird is a Support For Learning teacher in a primary school near Edinburgh. Co-Producer of the Rue Bella magazine between 1998 and 2003, he has recently published in ‘The Reader’, ‘Crimespree’ and 'Needle'. He won the ‘Watery Grave Invitational 2010’ contest over at ‘The Drowning Machine’, has stories at ‘A Twist Of Noir’, 'Pulp Metal Magazine and ‘Dark Valentine Magazine’. His story ‘An Arm And A Leg’ will appear in the ‘Best Of British Crime’ anthology (edited by Maxim Jakubowski) in 2011 and ‘No Pain No Gain’ has just been accepted by Crimefactory. His blog ‘Sea Minor’ is currently running the ‘Dancing With Myself’ series of interviews. He hopes to complete a draft of his novel by the end of 2010.
Stuart Kaminsky: Murder On The Yellow Brick Road
I’ve just come to the end of a rather good book. ‘City Of Dragons’ is set in the 1940s and centres upon the work of private eye Miranda Corbie. She’s a tough, hard-drinking, attractive lady with a history as colourful as a butterfly and she’s a wonderful addition to the world of detective fiction.
The good news for me is that I’ve heard from the author, Kelli Stanley, that Miranda is to make a reappearance or two, which gives me something to look forward to and a couple of easier choices when I’m facing the bookstore shelves at some point in the future.
I love to be able to watch characters as their lives unfold from one book to the next, to see them age alongside the people around them as their worlds change. It’s like forming any relationship – the more time you spend in someone else’s company, the better you get to know them (for better or worse). I’ve spent many happy hours with Maigret, Van Der Valk, Harry Bosch, Matt Scudder, Nick Stefanos, Hap Collins/Leonard Pine, and I’m always delighted to discover someone new and interesting to befriend.
One such character has been Toby Peters. I was surprised recently to see that he wasn’t even in contention on a site looking for a favourite detective – didn’t even make the first hundred. I have no idea why. He’s a fabulous character. Powerful and tough on the exterior, soft yet cynical, clever and determined and with a real code of discretion and loyalty that goes further than any sane person would take it. He’s not a son of Chandler or Hammett, but can’t be much further away than being one of their nephews.
He’s no derivative character, either. There’s a difference between homage and imitation and Kaminsky seems to understand that well.
In ‘Murder On The Yellow Brick Road’ we see Kaminsky (and Peters) at his finest. It’s not the first in the series so things are well developed and it’s not further on in the series when Kaminsky hadn’t quite found the confidence needed to leave out elements of the back-story.
“SOMEBODY HAD MURDERED a Munchkin,” is the opening line. Coming on the back of a wonderful title, I was hooked from that point on.
Toby Peters is called in to investigate. Employed over at Warner Brothers until he broke the arm of a B movie cowboy-actor, his services are enlisted by MGM to keep Judy Garland’s name out of the dirt.
It’s his discretion and his integrity that land him a job; that and an interview with Louis B Mayer. Judy is in a difficult position and it’s not looking good for either the star or the star-machine.
In steps Peters. He defends a Swiss midget seen arguing with his fellow Munchkin and victim on a number of occasions and follows up on leads that take him to interview Clark Gable. Later, while working the case, he bumps into Raymond Chandler who’s hoping to get some tips, meets some rough and dangerous characters and he even gets to see Randolph Hearst.
There’s a reel of film involved, blackmail plots and enough twists and turns to keep you guessing all the way. When the villain of the piece is revealed, you’re only a few steps ahead of the game, which keeps it tense and interesting to the end.
Looking at the cast of characters, it would be easy to dismiss this book as a gimmick. I choose to see it in a different way. Kaminsky is playing to his strengths, marrying together his passion and knowledge of film and fiction to create a tale that is worthy of the best.
By mixing in real characters into his plots he was taking a big chance given that many people have strong feelings about all those involved. I’m no expert, but the way Garland and Gable come across it feels entirely as I might have imagined.
At times, the humour and the theatrical nature of the plot and scenes are used to paper over any cracks and the result is a real gem. It’s not only Peters who we come to love. There are a number of other characters in his life who have been beautifully constructed.
There’s Sheldon Mink, lunatic dentist with whom Peters shares an office. Anyone visiting him for treatment should really be seeing a shrink.
Jeremy Butler is the man who owns the building where Mink and Peters hang out. He’s an ex-wrestler, new-father and ageing poet rolled into one package, as well as being someone that’s useful to have around when the going gets tough.
There’s his landlady, a deaf old bird who seems to have selective hearing and a desire to have her memoirs published.
And there’s his brother, a big wig in the police force. When it comes to sibling rivalry we’re talking Cain and Abel. Unlike Toby, Lieutenant Phil Pevsner hasn’t changed his name to mask his heritage. Phil also happens to have the temper of a Berserker and the strength of a team of oxen and he uses both pretty much every time they have a reunion.
These characters play key roles in this and the following books.
When I came to finish ‘Yellow Brick Road’ I really needed to get straight into another. And another after that. And how’s this for a title of a later book - Mildred Pierced; it takes a hell of a mind to come up with jewels like that on such a regular basis.
Light, intriguing and rooted in the early days of detective fiction, pick up this book and you’re sure to return to mine the rich vein that lays waiting for you.
Robert Barnard, Out of the Blackout (1984)
Ed Gorman is the author of STRANGlEHOLD. You can find him here.
PEEPER by Loren D. Estleman I've probably read this books five or six times and reviewed it two or three. It always gives me an instant high because Estleman has created a character so despicable you keep wishing somebody would shoot/stab/strangle/burn him. And he's the protagonist. Even though I know a fair share of the book by heart I still laugh outloud through a good share of it. Dirt-bag Detroit private eye Ralph Poteet is so sleazy you just got to laugh at him. And the big problem is for all the laws he breaks his renumeration wouldn't buy him a good meal at Olive Garden (if there is such a thing). PEEPER is a witty take on many private-eye clichés. It's filled with people you wouldn’t want to meet without wearing a biohazard suit, including a monsignor who dies in a whorehouse. Poteet is asked to help secret the man’s enormous body to a more discreet location. And he decides while he’s at it … to snap a few pics of the corpse. Never know what kind of money they’ll bring on the open market. This gives Estleman the opportunity to put the big time nasty on Catholic Church politics. The prelates are even scuzzier than Poteet, no easy accomplishment. What makes this work is Estleman’s enormous skill. Nobody writes a classical private-eye story better than Loren, even when he’s having fun with the tropes. This book is a triumph of bad taste and hilarity in equal parts. I'm serious here--this would also make a great TV series. Trust me. You’ll like this one a lot. And you'll re-read it as many times as I have.
Steve Lewis/Allen J. Hubbin
J. Kingston Pierce
Thursday, September 23, 2010
It is rare for me to find myself so invested in the life of a character in a novel that I am truly upset when they make a wrong move. I'm usually standing back a ways if you know what I mean.
But I just found myself genuinely alarmed by the actions of a character in FATHER OF THE RAIN by Lily King. (It's not important what her actions are only that the stakes are high).
The skill of the writing made the trajectory of the character's actions seem inevitable and thus tragic. How invested are you in characters in books? Do you keep your distance? Of course it depends of the skill of the writer, but on the whole, do you remain aloof as a reader or wade in with them?
Wednesday, September 22, 2010
I got this idea from Martin Edwards blog on the topic of a La Ronde (round), but I think it would work as a great flash fiction challenge.
The theme is jealousy. I'll write the first 1000ish words that plays on a theme: a story about a character who is jealous of someone else.
The next writer writes centers their story on the person my character is jealous of and the object of his/her jealousy. The reason for the jealousy would, of course, be different in every story.
I'd say we could take a week between segments. Every Tuesday then? Does this seem do-able to you? If so, let me know. Of course, we couldn't knock off our nemesis's (?) but certainly they can be less than respectable citizens. Or murders other than that of the protagonist can take place.
My story will be set in the past so you can stay in that era or take it forward. The protagonist from the previous story is left behind each time. The next story is about the envied one. Am I making myself clear? Sometime I'm not sure.
If I get at least eight or so players, I can start this on October 5, with a story each Tuesday. What do you think? I don't see why it has to be limited to any number of writers. We can go on till everyone gets theirs up. But let's say I need your name by September 26th to post a schedule.
Let me know if you're in by the 26th and also if you can do one pretty quickly (like on October 12th or 19th) or if you need more time. You will only have one week to write the story regardless. I will make up a list of dates and post it. In or out?
Tuesday, September 21, 2010
I'm always interested in the evolution of an idea for a story.
With me it is almost never from my life-but from more amorphous sources-an image I see, a sentence I overhear, something I read.
Ursula Le Guin, writing about her story "The Ones Who Walk Away from the Omelas" says that she originally credited Henry James with giving her the idea about writing about a "lost soul" until she was finally reminded it was Dostoevsky's idea before James.
She goes on to say that she, of course, didn't read James and immediately sit down and say, "Now I'll write a story about a lost soul. It seldom works that way." The only thing she had in mind was the word Omelas, which turned out to be a road sign read backwards. Salem, Oregon. Or Salem O.
"Where do you get your ideas from Ms. Le Guin?" From forgetting Dostoevsky and reading signs backwards, she says.
Where do you get your ideas from, Writers? In the story I've just finished, I got my idea from wondering about what the life of a well-known fictional character circa 1975 might be like today. It's not fanfic, but it is post- modern, I guess. I hope there's a difference. Where did your last story idea come from?
Monday, September 20, 2010
For anyone in the northern Virginia area, Megan and many other writers will be appearing at their huge bookfest, FALL FOR THE BOOK. You can see the entire schedule here.
Fall for the Book
Toasting Bold Women of Mystery:
Megan Abbott and Ellen Crosby
Date: Wednesday, September 22, 2010
Location: 111 Church Street Wine Cellars
Date: Thursday, September 23, 2010
Location: George Mason University, Research I, Room 163
Megan Abbott discusses the latest of her four noir thrillers, Bury Me Deep,
based on the notorious 1930s “Trunk Murderess” scandal and nominated for
the Edgar, Anthony, Macavity, and Hammett Awards, the Hammett Prize, and
the Los Angeles Times Book Prize.
Sunday, September 19, 2010
In an interesting article on the back page of the NYT Book Review, James Collins explores the idea that most of us do not remember what we read even mere weeks after. "Anecdotal evidence suggests that most people cannot recall the title, author, or even existence of a book they read a month ago much less its contents." He suffers from this deficit and so do I. I could not tell you the plot of a book I read six months ago in all likelihood.
My husband does not forget. He can recall the plot of a book read years ago. Good thing he's the professor.
Maryanne Wolfe, author of Proust and the Squid: The Story and Science of the Reading Brain, assures Collins that reading is useful for the basic reason it creates pathways in the brain and because we are possessors of a broader knowledge for having read--even if we can't remember it. "You are the sum of it all."
I've found that the books I remember best are ones I have talked or written about. In other words by verbalizing it, I moved what was a passive experience on some level into a more active one. I have put words out into the world. Reviewing a book online, belonging to a book group, belonging to online discussion groups, talking with friends, all make the book stick. Maybe we remember books read in high school because our English teachers made us discuss them.
Do you remember what you read? Can you sum up the plot of a book you read a year ago? A month ago?
Saturday, September 18, 2010
Friday nights if nothing else is going on, we head to the Detroit Institute of Arts, have dinner there, see a movie, listen to some music, and catch an exhibit or two.
This week we saw a good movie Alamar about a Dad in Mexico showing his son what his life was like in a fishing village before the boy flew home to his mother in Rome. Breathtaking scenes of the coral reef and aquatic life.
The exhibit was prints of the fantastic throughout five hundred years and amazing. We loved it and their print gallery is so cozy and inviting.
But the icing on the cake of our evening was the cake we had for dessert. Made by Inn Season restaurant in Royal Oak Michigan and served by the Crystal Cafe at the Detroit Film Theater (to get the low-down I promised a plug) it was cashew cardamon cake, layered with vanilla and spices and frosted with an almond frosting. It was heaven. The cake above is not it but it looked similar. The only thing that beats it was my grandmother's orange and raisin cake which use an entire orange, skin and pulp included. This was lighter though.
What is your favorite dessert? What could you not pass up?
Friday, September 17, 2010
Reminder: no forgotten books on here on October 2 or November 6, although if people still want to post them, that's great. I just won't be home to pick up the links and I get too jittery about doing it in hotels.
Check out my review of GET LOW at Crimespree Cinema.
THE SUMMING UP, FRIDAY, September 17, 2010
Paul Bishop, Kiai, Anthony and Fuentes
Paul Brazill, On Tenderness Express, Maxim Jakubowski
Bill Crider, The best from Fantasy and Science Fiction, Sixth Series, Anthony Boucher
Scott Cupp, Young Adult Novel, Daniel Pinkwater
Martin Edwards, The Fifth Point of the Compass, Miles Tripp
Jose Ignacio Escribano, If on a Winter's Night a Traveler, Italo Calvino
Ed Gorman, On the Loose, Andrew Coburn
Glenn Harper, Goat Song, Chantal Pelletier
Randy Johnson, Hopalong Cassidy Returns, Clarence E. Mulford
George Kelley, The Soace Born, E.C. Tubb
B.V. Lawson, The Saint in Europe, Leslie Charteris
Evan Lewis, The Exploits of Sherlock Holmes, John D. Carr and Adrian Conan Doyle
Steve Lewis & Curt J. Evans, The Umbrella Murder, Carolyn Wells
Steve Lewis & William F. Deeck, Death Catches Up with Mr. KLuck, Xantippe
Todd Mason, How-to Suppress Women's Writing, To Write Like a Woman, The Country You Have Never Seen, Joanna Russ
Russel McLean, Stone City, Mitchell Smith
Sam Millar, Up at the Villa, W. Somerset Maugham
Richard Prosch, Massacre River, John Benteen
James Reasoner, Pushover, Harry Whittington
Chris Rhatigan, The Crimes of Richmond City, Frederick Nebel
Kerrie Smith, Sinner's Never Die, A. E. Martin
Kevin Tipple, Money Shot, Christa Faust
Chris Rhatigan is a short crime fiction writer. His work has been published at A Twist of Noir and will be in the fall issue of Mysterical-E and the December issue of Yellow Mama. He reviews short crime fiction at his blog, Death by Killing.
The Crimes of Richmond City by Frederick Nebel
One of the great things about a massive collection like The Black Lizard Big Book of Pulps is I get to read authors I’ve never heard of, like Frederick Nebel. He was one seriously prolific dude. (Check out his bibliography.) Included here is a novel, The Crimes of Richmond City, which appeared as five episodes in the Black Mask from 1928 to 1929.
Our hero is Captain Steve MacBride, a no-nonsense vigilante police officer determined to dismantle corrupt forces that control the government and law enforcement. And his preferred method of dismantling these forces is gunfights.
I’m certainly no pulp fiction expert, but it seems to me that writers like Nebel are what the genre is all about. The characters are tougher than decade-old beef jerky. They drink hard liquor, smoke cigars, and toss around anachronistic phrases like “I’ll kick you in the slats” and “Damn my stars.” The bad guys invariably out-number the good guys. But the good guys eventually prevail through using their smarts, beating low-level criminals into ratting on their superiors, and shooting a lot of stuff.
Nebel’s plotting is airtight, and usually Captain MacBride uncovers more than a few secrets at the end of each story. Nebel paints a bleak picture of this fictional town run by gangs thinly disguised as businesses and political machines. In the final story, Graft, MacBride finally strikes at the heart of the beast by taking down the mayor, though how much things will change is unclear. There is a looming sense of doom behind these stories, like MacBride’s quest will never be finished.
The one thing I didn’t like was the blatant (and frequent) racism, which is primarily directed toward Italian immigrants. Our hero is hell-bent on cleaning the town of all its immigrant blood. I would assume these sort of ethnic conflicts were common during this era, but still, every time I hear a racial slur I cringe.
If you can separate that from the rest of his writing, Nebel offers a good adventure.
Ed Gorman is the author of the forthcoming Stranglehold, the second in a series about a political consultant. You can find him here.
There are so many neglected crime writers it's impossible to even begin to list them. But one writer who has been neglected for decades is Andrew Coburn.
I've spent two days trying to think of a tidy way to describe On The Loose and thus far my best shot is to imagine a collaboration between John D. MacDonald and Ruth Rendell. MacDonald for the page-turning excitement of following the most unique serial killer since The Bad Seed and Rendell for some of the quirkiest characters outside several of her own masterpieces.
Coburn is a profoundly American writer as he demonstrates in this novel that spans slightly more than a decade in the life of a small New England town. The storyline never lets you go. The murders are committed by one of the mostly stunningly enigmatic killers in mystery fiction. He is barely ten the first time he strikes. He is not much older the second time. The killings are what propel the storyline.
But Coburn's sense of the town and the lives of his people are what give the book the depth and range of a true novel. He does what Hitchcock did in Shadow of a Doubt--takes a story that has a death-grip on its readers and then walk thems around the lives and town that surround the killer. The fading beauty lost to excess weight and clinical depression; the police chief who believes he is beyond passion only to find it again and risk being crushed by it; the man dying of AIDs and the woman who befriends him; the divide between rich and poor that belittles both sides.
And the writing itself. Coburn plays all the instruments in the orchestra for this book which is, by turns, lyrical, funny, solemn, sarcastic, violent, terrifying and human in a way page-turners rarely are.
It's time for Andrew Coburn to be recognized for the master stylist and storyteller extraordinaire he has been for more than decades now. On The Run--and everybody in the book really is running from something--proves that he gets better with each new novel.
Patti Abbott: What I Read in 1987-88 in crime fiction
I don't remember the specifics of any of these books now read 25 years ago--so that truly makes them forgotten for me. But this is what I read in crime fiction that year. I wish I had kept track of other years better. Perhaps if someone had given me a log I might have.
A Taste for Death, P.D. James; Nightmare File, Jack Livinston; Master of the Moor, Ruth Rendell; Sleep While I Sing, L.R. Wright; Matthew Broccoli's bio of Ross McDonald; Die Again MacReady, Jack Livingston; Sleeping with the Enemy, Nancy Price; Nor Live So Long, Sara Woods; The Veiled One, Ruth Rendel; l D is for Deadbeat, Sue Grafton; Freaky Deaky, Elmore Leonard; Poison, Ed McBain; Presumed Innocent, Scott Turow; Pale Kings and Princes, Robert Parker; Past Caring, Robert Goddard; At the Hands of Another, Arthur Lyon;
Talking to Strange Men, Ruth Rendell; A Fatal Inversion, Ruth Rendell; House of Stairs, Ruth Rendell; Murder at Vassar, Barbara Taylor; Talking God, Tony Hillerman; Tourist Trap, Kate Wilhelm; F is for Fugitive, Sue Grafton; Long Chain of Death, Sarah Wolfe; Echo of Darkness, Joseph Wambaugh; The Cable Car Murders, Barbara Taylor; Lives of the Twins, Joyce Carol Oates; Dead on Arrival, Dorothy Simpson; Last Seen Wearing; Dorothy Simpson; Close Her Eyes, Dorothy Simpson; A Remembrance of Rose, MRD Mack; The Hamlet Trap, Kate Wilhelm
I read about double this number of books in non-crime fiction. I am ashamed at how my reading has declined. Blame it on a lot of things, but mostly the Internet. Which ones have you read?
At Todd's request what I read in non-crime January 87-May 88 along with the books above.
We Were Dreamers, James Lehrer (memoir); Silver Lining, Cohen (oh, I see that was a mystery too, missed it) The Beet Queen, Erdrich; New Jersey, Monniger, A Summons to Memphis, Taylor; Dreaming in the Dust, Chrisman, The Magician's Girl, Doris Grumbach; Only Children, Yglesias; Chamber Music, Grumbach, An American Childhood, Dillard, Bodies and Souls, Thayer; Painting on Glass, Auberbach; The Prince of Tides, Conroy, The Fifth Child, Lessing, A Loss for Words, Walker (memoir); Under the House, Linker; Night Lights, Theroux; Cassandra at the Wedding, Baker; Cold Sassy Tree, Burns; Keeping Warm, Gardner; You Say You Want Me, Cohen; Collaborators, Kaufman, Summer Light, Robinson, Jo Ann'es Husband, David's Wife; Mama, McMillan; Memoir of an Invisible Man, H.F. Saint (probably the best book I read that year); Good Hearts, Reynolds Price; Drea, Dredge, Roberta Sillber; So Long, See You Tomorrow, William Maxwell; The Moon Pinnacle, Thomas Williams, Recent History, Annette Joffee; The Houseguest, Thomas Berger; The Prodigy, Amy Wallace; The Progress of Love, Munro; Emperors of the Air, Canin; One More Time, Burnett; Fair and Tender Ladies, Smith; A Client Called Noah, Greenfield; Such Small Differences, Joanne Greenberg; Tethered, Martin; Just Another Kid, Haydn (I read a lot of books about damaged kids); The Little Red Rooster, Greg Matthews; The Education of Koko, Patterson (also books about apes); Duet for Three, Joan Barfoot; The Truth about Loren Jones, Lurie; Lovely Me, Seaman (Jacqueline Susann bio); Serigamy of Stories, Windham; A Yellow Raft on Blue Water, Dorris; Anywhere but Here, Simpson; Playing in the Shadows, Whelan; Homeplace, Siddons; Age of Innocence, Wharton; Inventing the Abbotts, Miller; Spirit Lost, Thayer; The Thanatos Syndrome, Percy, Private Demons (bio of Shirley Jackson), Openheimer, That Night, Hoffman, Breathing Lessons, Anne Tyler; Due East, Sayer; Who Wrote the Bible, Richard Friedman; A Handful of Dust, Evelyn Waugh; Jean Stafford (bio) Roberts; The Shrimp and the Anemone, Hartley; The Cape Ann, Sullivan; Mrs. Randall, Leland, Folded Leaf, Maxwell; Domestic Affairs, Maynard; Hollywood Studios, Mordden; A Wider World, Simon (memoir); Latecomers, Brookner; Vanished, Morris; Trust Me, Updike; Snowstorm in a Hot Climate, Dunnant; You Must Remember This, Oates; Those Who Hunt the Night; Hambly; Reflections in a Jaundiced Eye, King; The Evolution on a Psychiatrist, Parker, Midnight Sweets, Pesetsky; Illumination Night, Hoffman; A Narrow Time, Downing, The Elizabeth Stories, Huggan, A Prayer for Owen Meaney, Irving, As I Lay Dying, Faulkner; Self-Consciousness, Updike; Author From a Savage People, Pesetsky; Love Life, Bobbie Ann Mason; Swans on a Autumn River, Warner; Cat's Eye, Drabble; That Summer, Appleton; Final Harbor, Martin; Bio of Virginia Woolf, De Salvo; The Object of My Affection, McCauley; A Boy's Life, Wolfe; Families and Survivors, Adams; One Man's Obsession (founding of the Group of Seven Art Museum in Toronto), McMichael; The Joy Luck Club, Tan; Indian Country, Caputo; Beloved, Morrison; Professor Romeo, Bernays; Being Invisible, Berger; Country of Strangers, Shrives; Waiting for Childhood, Elliott; Summer People, Piercy; The Waiting Room, Morris; Swann, Shields, Testing the Current, MacPherson; Other Voices, Other Rooms, Capote; Crossing to Safety, Stegner; The Bean Trees, Kingsolver; Time Will Darken It, Maxwell; First Light, Baxter; Precious Bane; Southern Family, Godwin, Jerusalem the Golden, Drabble; Ellen Foster, Gibbons; The Newspaper of Clairmont Street, Jolley; Temporary Shelter; Bluebeard's Eggs, Atwood; How I Grew (McCarthy); The Age of Grief, Smiley; With or Without, Dickinson; The Great Santini, Conroy; Catamount Bridge, Metz; Points of Light, Sexton; The Second Bridge, Gildner; Crescendo, Kalpakian; Cantury's Daughter, Barker; The Small Room, Sarton; Museum Pieces, Tallent; Tidings. Wharton; The Hearst and Lives of Men, Weldon; A Long and Happy Life, Price; The Influence, Campbell,
Jose Ignacio Escribano
Steve Lewis/Curt J. Evans
Steve Lewis/William F. Deeck
Thursday, September 16, 2010
We have finally watched Season One of Deadwood. Don't know why it took us so long. Yes, I do--it is very hard for me to understand some of the dialogue. Between the Shakesperean lilt, the swearing and the whispery delivery of some of the actors, I am hard pressed.
When Al Swearengen smothers Reverend Smith in the final episode of the first season, did you see it as partially an act of humanity or strictly a murder?
He certainly has little use for anyone with an infirmity or anyone who threatens his business place, but it seemed more like an act of grace than one of pure evil. What did you think? Or is it both?
Do you even remember it?
Phil and I sometimes disagree on issues of motive. He sees the world more darkly and yet isn 't depressed by it. I see the world in shades of gray and yet that gray bogs me down.
Wednesday, September 15, 2010
I have a lot of friends in my real life, but when David Thompson died yesterday, none of those real life people in Detroit had any idea who he was. So as I walked around teary eyed, there was no one to share it with.
But I did have you. Isn't it incredible to think about how recently communities have formed without people even meeting each other? Communities where people have some really important commonality. People jeer at blogs, at facebook, at other social networking sites and methods, but in times like these they provide a network of support. A huge network. We can share more than books it turns out.
Over time I've met some of the people I came to know first online: Bill Crider, George Kelley, Bonnie Lawson, Terrie Moran, Gerald So, Jeff Pierce, Pete Rozovsky, John McFetridge, Sandra Scoppettone, Kieran Shea, Bryon Quertermous and others I'm forgetting here. All of them turned out to be the terrific people I knew they were online. And I hope to meet more of you over time.
I was looking forward to meeting David Thompson in Philly next month. I first talked to David when I called Murder by the Book to get a copy of DIE A LITTLE in 2005. Megan had been especially touched by his offer to put her up at his house and when I said I was going to buy more copies of the book, she suggested I order it from Murder by the Book.
I couldn't negotiate the site and for some strange reason I remembered I could call Houston. David answered the phone and we had a nice chat about the book. After that, he'd occasionally send me things: arcs he thought I'd like, book marks, their author list, recommendations. He sometimes asked me to publicize an event or a book but just because he knew it was something I liked too. Like Noircon, for instance.
When I sent my story in to DAMN NEAR DEAD 2 and said on this blog I was outclassed, he emailed at once to say he'd liked it very much and I was not outclassed. That was David. Keeping his fingers on a lot of pulses.
So I never met David but for five years we have known each other a little.
If anyone out there reading this has a story to tell about David, please send it along. The panel at NOIRCON is now going to be a tribute to him rather than a celebration of the book and I'd love to have some material to share.
But back to my main point here, thanks for being there yesterday. Thanks for giving me a place to grieve.
Tuesday, September 14, 2010
Listening to the FRESH AIR interview with Jonathan Frantzen, he said he only began thinking of himself as a grown-up in the last few years. He is 51!
I hear this more and more on TV shows and in movies and books. Comments like "I guess we have to be the grownups now." Sort of the "Friendization" of society because I remember the characters on "FRIENDS" saying it before others did. Strolling into their forties with no claim on adulthood.
Has being a grownup suddenly come to mean old? Does disclaiming adulthood defer responsibility? What is it?
I thought of myself as a grownup by my early twenties when I had my kids. My husband even earlier. This doesn't mean we were truly and consistently adult in our behavior but we were willing to wear the mantle.
What's changed? What age were you when you thought of yourself as a grown-up? If ever.
Monday, September 13, 2010
I read an interesting article about PRIME SUSPECT in the NYT last week that compared the first four years of the show, written by Lynda LaPlante, to the last two-done by other writers.
Helen Mirren can make any script zing, but the last series, especially Six, was not among the best.
And the Morse episodes based on "ideas" by Colin Dexter rather than his novels were far from the finest ones.
Is there any TV show that defies this downward slide? What TV show, or even series of books, grew stronger over time?
I'm going to suggest that Dexter had its best season at number four. I also think The Closer has not lost any ground (until last week's episode). This season's arc of inter-departmental tension over a promotion has been very good in big and little ways.
Saturday, September 11, 2010
Richard Wheeler writes on his always excellent blog that the American can-do attitude doesn't lend itself well to producing tragic literature.
I always champion NEVER LET ME GO as a recent book that did that although it was British.
What books have you read you would deem a tragedy? NEXT, James Hynes would almost count although the tragedy did nor arise from the characters in the way I think Mr. Wheeler means.
Help me out here.
Friday, September 10, 2010
Paul Bishop, The Patch, Cherokee Paul McDonald
Paul Brazil, The Cutting Crew, Steve Mosby
Bill Crider, The Man I Killed, Shel Walker
Scott Cupp, Baby's First Mythos, C.J. and Erica Henderson
Martin Edwards, Heart to Heart, Pierre Boileau & Thomas Narcejac
Glenn Harper, Poachers's Trail, John Brady
Randy Johnson, The Dice of God, Hoffman Birney
George Kelley, Detour to Otherness, Henry Kuttner and C.L. Moore
B. V. Lawson, Death of an Old Girl, Elizabeth Lemarchand
Evan Kewis, To Your Scattered Bodies Go, Philip Jose Farmer
Todd Mason: Firsts" Magazines and Periodical Books, F & SF, Fantastic, Whispers, Shadows, TZ, Ariel Weird Tales, Other Worlds and before
James Reasoner, Fundamentals of Fiction Writing - Arthur Sullivant Hoffman
Richard Robinson, Nineteen Stories, Graham Greene
Kerrie Smith, Blow Your House Down, Pat Barker
Kevin Tipple, The Concrete Maze, Steven Torres
THE SUMMING UP, Friday, September 9, 2010
Paul Bishop, The Sweet Summer, William Kelley
Paul Brazill, Them, Jon Ronson
Bill Crider, No Questions Asked, Oliver Bleeck
Scott Cupp, The Atomic Knights, John Broome, and Murphy Anderson
Mike Dennis, Kiss Tomorrow Goodbye, Horace McCoy
Martin Edwards, Mizmaze, Mary Fitt
Ed Gorman, Pity Him Afterward, Donald Westlake
Glenn Harper, Cobbleston, Peter Lengyel
Randy Johnson, A Martian Odyssey, Stanley G. Weinbaum
George Kelley, Stranger in Town, Brett Halliday
Rob Kitchin, The Thin Man, Dashiell Hammett
B.V. Lawson, Death on Remand, Michael Underwood
Evan Lewis, Operator 5, Frederick C. Davis
Steve Lewis, The Roped Square, John G. Rowe
Todd Mason, Fantasy, The Shapes of Things Unknown, Edited by, Farrell, Gage, Pfordresher, Rodrigues
Jeff Meyerson, Future Shock, Alvin Toffler
Eric Peterson, The Tall Dark Alibi, Carol Jerina
James Reasoner, The Sudden Guns, Giff Cheshire
Richard Robinson, Interrupted Aria, Beverle Graves Myers
Kerrie Smith, Mandarin, Robert Elegant
Kevin Tipple, Pilikia is My Business, Mark Troy
Mike Wilkerson, In Cold Blood, Truman Capote
Ed Gorman is the author of Stranglehold coming out in October. You can find him here.
Forgotten Books: Pity Him Afterward, Donald E. Westlake
Every once in awhile I get stoned just watching a literary master do his work. The last two nights I was flat out dazzled from beginning to end with Donald Westlake's 1964 novels PITY HIM AFTERWARD.
The story concerns an escaped madman who takes the identity of a man who is headed to a theater that does summer stock. While we see the story several times from the madman's point of view, we're never sure who he is. This is a fair clue mystery.
In quick succession, a young woman who works summer stock is found murdered in the house where the young, struggling actors stay. A part-time chief of police appears to find the killer.
Two points: writers owe their readers original takes on familiar tropes as often as possible. The madman here is no slobbering beast but rather a deranged and sometimes pitiful lunatic (the opening three thousand words are among the most accomplished Westlake pieces I've ever read). And the police chief Eric Songard is one of the most unique cops I've come across in mystery fiction. He works nine months of the year as a professor and summers as a police chief. The small town he oversees usually offers nothing worse than drunks and the occasional fight. Murder is another matter. Westake gives us a cop whose self-confidence is so bad all he can do is try and hasten the appearance of the regular cops from a nearby district. Meanwhile he has to pretend he knows what's going on. He could easily have gone to series. He's a great character.
As the story is told, we get a beleivable look at summer stock with its low pay, brutal hours, frequent rivalries. The payoff is that some of the actors will get their Equity card at the end of the nine week run and thereby become professional actors.
Then there is the telling. The craft is impeccable. Precise and concise and yet evocative because of the images Westlake constantly presents us. You also have to marvel at the rhythm of his language, watching how'll he'll shave an anticpated word here for a certain effect, add a word there for the sake of cadence. These sentences are CRAFTED.
There are so many great Westlake novels it's impossble to rank them. But given what he accomplished, I'd have to say this is one of his early best.
Mike Wilkerson was raised in rural, northwest Kansas and has resided in St. Pete, FL for the last eight years. He is currently hard at work on his first novel, a crime saga based in St. Pete. To read more of Mike’s work, check out his loosely maintained blog, Writing the Hard Way.
IN COLD BLOOD. Truman Capote
Little men who live openly homosexual lives and speak with pronounced lisps do not bring to mind images of horrific crimes committed. And when the new guard talks crime writing, either true accounts or fiction, rarely is the name Truman Capote mentioned. Yet it most definitely should be. In Kansas, his seminal work In Cold Blood is required reading and remains a constant source of fascination for this writer.
Considered by many to be the original “nonfiction novel”, In Cold Blood puts you inside the minds of two killers: Richard “Dick” Hickock and Perry Smith; their victims in the Clutter family and the tireless KBI agent in charge of the investigation, Alvin Dewey.
Herb Clutter was a man of devout faith and ran a large, successful farm outside the small town of Holcomb in southwest Kansas, near Garden City. Widely respected throughout Finney County, Clutter was a dedicated family man of four children (the two younger children, daughter Nancy and son Kenyon were still living at home) and a loving husband of his clinically depressed wife, Bonnie. Though likely considered pious by today’s standards- he neither drank, used tobacco or swore- he was nonetheless liked by all of his employees and known to pay good wages.
In steep contradiction, Dick Hickock and Perry Smith met in the Kansas State Prison at Lansing, Kansas and held very little belief in either God or their fellow man. Hickock, a smooth talking pedophilic psychopath with a penchant for passing bad checks, heard about the Clutters from a former employee of the farmer who claimed Clutter kept ten thousand dollars in an office safe. Seeing an opportunity for the perfect score, Hickock found in Perry Smith, the troubled loner of mixed Irish and Cherokee ancestry, his ideal partner; a born killer.
On November 15th, 1959, following a whirlwind trip across the state, Hickock and Smith entered the Clutter home, robbed and then murdered the Clutter family with shotgun blasts to the head. Herb Clutter also had his throat cut beforehand. Their take: a diminutive amount of cash and a small radio. The response: a rural community gripped in the jaws of fear and speculation.
Although he originally claimed Hickock murdered Nancy and Bonnie Clutter, Perry Smith later recanted and admitted to committing all four murders in attempt to save Hickok’s mother despair (although Hickock is who proclaimed no witnesses would be left). Most chilling was Smith’s description of murdering Herb Clutter:
"I didn't want to harm the man. I thought he was a very nice gentleman. Soft spoken. I thought so right up to the moment I cut his throat.”
In Cold Blood is a psychological roller coaster of the criminal mind. Capote delves into the pasts of Hickock and Smith revealing men, especially in the case of Perry Smith, whose lives were short-circuited from the very beginning. The true brilliance, however, is the ability of Capote in seamlessly weaving together the lives of the Clutter family, Hickock, Smith and Alvin Dewey without once causing the story to feel tedious. And although you know who committed the murders and their ultimate end, you never stop wondering about what will happen next.
Whether you are a casual reader of literature or a crime fiction aficionado, In Cold Blood is a book which should be read, savored and for writers, studied. And most of all, like it’s extravagant author, never forgotten.
Mike Dennis can be found here.
Kiss Tomorrow Goodbye, Horace McCoy
Where do you begin with a novel like Kiss Tomorrow Goodbye? Horace McCoy’s 1948 noir journey through an unusual criminal mind is at once spellbinding and aggravating.
Spellbinding because it’s an intense, hard look at a very different kind of criminal, and because it’s supposedly the granddaddy of all first-person-criminal novels, eventually bringing Jim Thompson face to face with his own hellish visions.
Aggravating because it’s not as easy a read as one might wish. You’re in for a slog through long, forbidding paragraphs and lots and lots of casual, throwaway conversation among the characters.
But beyond all this, the meat of the novel is as noir as it gets.
Paul Murphy, aka Ralph Cotter, is incarcerated on a prison farm, picking cantaloupes. The first two paragraphs, which take up the first two pages, deal with the overpowering odor in the barracks of “seventy-two unwashed men” and how it triggers a sense memory from his long-ago youth. These memories, we soon learn, are always with him, and they’re troubling.
With the help of Holiday and Jinx, two confederates on the outside, Murphy escapes and the three of them make their way to an unnamed city. Holiday is the woman in Murphy’s life. She sees to his every need, and usually lounges around naked under an open bathrobe. Jinx is straight out of the Hollywood School for Sidekicks.
Anyway, before you can say “all points bulletin”, Murphy is completely set up in the new city. He has a place to live, money in his pocket, access to a car, and a few shady contacts. Pretty soon, he’s plotting another job, this one a supermarket robbery. It doesn’t come off smoothly, and this brings on a sequence of events that lead up to a very choppy ending.
The ending notwithstanding, the novel moves right along as we follow Murphy through his odyssey of newfound freedom. One of the stops he makes along the way is the company of a bewitching beauty, Margaret Dobson. You just know that his involvement with her will come to no good.
What makes Murphy unique is that he’s a highly educated criminal. He’s a Phi Beta Kappa, in fact, and he takes an extremely dim view of the average stickup man. For him, people like John Dillinger and Baby Face Nelson are beneath contempt, nothing more than mouth-breathing Neanderthals who happened to make a few lucky scores.
He also sees himself as far above the man on the street. There’s a telling passage in which he’s riding a bus, during which he observes that people who habitually ride buses are “cheap, common, appalling people, the kind a war, happily, destroys”.
Moreover, when he’s not slapping Holiday around or pissing off crooked cops, he’s tossing out words like propliopithecustian and integument and at least a half-dozen others just like them.
I told you it was a tough read.
Alvin Toffler, Future Shock (Random House, 1970)
Wednesday, September 08, 2010
In the course of my lifetime (1948-2010) many events have shaped me. If I had to pick one, and this is a difficult task, I would choose Watergate. For the first time I understood what lengths men would go to to hang on to power. I understood that Presidents lie.
I could have chosen a book like Rachel Carson's, or the polio vaccine, or Roe v. Wade, or Brown v. Board of Education, or any one of the many assassinations I lived through. I could have chosen the Vietnam War, the McCarthy Hearings (barely remember them), the execution of the Rosenbergs, the Cuban Missile Crisis. But I will stick with Watergate, which didn't make me hate government--just made me cautious of the mantle of power. What do you choose in your life span? What made you the person that you are?
Tuesday, September 07, 2010
As soon as a novel begins talking about a boys or girls camp, or a sports' team, or the boy scouts, I begin to think it's going to end up being about child molestation. I have read three books in the last year where that turned out to be the case. It ruined all three to various degrees because I was not supposed to figure it out at the first mention-- or in the case of one book within the first fifty pages.
All three were very well written, had a good protagonist and great atmospheric so they almost overcame it. Almost.
And I am sure these novels were all written without knowledge of each other-continents apart even. We're just living in a very small world and it's hard not to zero in on a certain trend in crimes.
Do you find these trends in the crime fiction or regular fiction you read too? Do we write in cycles where a certain abnormality or a particular shows up again and again. Cannibalism, sex slavery, wife abuse, kidnapping, meth labs and so on. If you see it coming, does it ruin it for you?
Friday, September 03, 2010
This announcement has appeared in many places already, but I want to take this opportunity to announce here that DISCOUNT NOIR, 42 stories set in a Big Box store, originating from an idea of Steve Weddle and appearing in a flash challenge on this blog, will be an ebook within the month.
The amazing Stacia Decker from Donald Maass Agency brokered the deal with Untreed Reads, an ebook publisher. Charles Ardai was kind enought to write an introduction for the work.
I thank all of the writers involved with this project.
The anthology contains works by: Patricia Abbott, Sophie Littlefield,
Kieran Shea, Chad Eagleton, Ed Gorman, Cormac Brown, Fleur Bradley, Alan Griffiths, Laura Benedict, Garnett Elliot, Eric Beetner, Jack Bates, Bill Crider, Loren Eaton, John DuMond, John McFetridge, Toni McGee Causey, Jeff Vande Zande, James Reasoner, Kyle Minor, Randy Rohn, Todd Mason, Byron Quertermous, Sandra Scoppettone, Stephen D. Rogers, Steve Weddle, Evan Lewis, Daniel B. O’Shea, Sandra Seamans, Albert Tucher, Donna Moore, John Weagly, Keith Rawson, Gerald So, Dave Zeltserman, Dorte Hummelshoj Jakobsen, Jay Stringer, Anne Frasier, Kathleen A. Ryan, Eric Peterson, Chris Grabenstein and J.T. Ellison.