Thursday, June 30, 2011
FENCES, August Wilson-perhaps the US's greatest African American playwright.
We saw this at the Attic Theater, now defunct, in Detroit in 1992-93. It was a terrific play and well worth reading too. My book group did another of his plays THE PIANO LESSON, which was also terrific.
Set in 1950s Pittsburgh, the drama follows Troy Maxson, a former baseball player in the Negro Leagues, now reduced to collecting trash. Troy must deal with his headstrong football-player son, who has a chance to go so much further than he did; and with his wife, who reevaluates their marriage when Troy comes home with the baby he fathered with another woman. Winner of the 1985 Pulitzer Prize for drama.
The Attic Theater lasted for over 20 years in Detroit. Its creative force, Lavinia Moyer, recently directed CIDER HOUSE RULES in Detroit. She's still got it.
How I Came to Write this Book
Although BURIED SECRETS is my tenth novel, it’s my first sequel. And writing a sequel — or to be more precise, the second book in what I hope will be a long-running series — was a new experience, which required that I learn some new things along the way.
I resisted the idea of a series for a long time. I was a stand-alone guy, I told my publishers and readers. The kind of books I wrote put their protagonists through so much hell; how could I bring them back for more? How would that even be plausible? Most of us never go through one life-or-death adventure. What kind of person puts himself or herself through that on a regular basis? I couldn’t figure out how to do it without making the main character a law-enforcement official, or a conventional private eye, or a secret government operative — and as I looked over my bookshelves it seemed that all of those fields were already well-occupied by masters. Even if I could compete with Michael Connelly, Robert B. Parker, Tess Gerritsen and the like, I didn’t really want to.
During a business trip to London I got a call from an old friend, a contact in the CIA. How he knew I was in London, I’m not sure; it didn’t matter. We made plans to have dinner and catch up, as it had been a while.
“Are you still with the CIA?” I asked.
“No,” he said, “I’m doing something different now.”
In the 1990s, after the Cold War ended, many of the CIA’s covert operatives found themselves underemployed. To their surprise, the private sector wanted their skills, and was willing to pay top dollar. My friend had gone to work for one of these organizations. He had become, in essence, a “private spy.” He gathered intelligence for corporations and private individuals, sometimes sharing what he learned with governmental entities, sometimes doing things civil servants wouldn’t be allowed to do. My friend was making more money, and operating with more autonomy, than he would ever have been able to do with the Agency.
This, I realized, was a character I could build a series around.
But knowing what my character did for a living was only the beginning. If this were going to be a character I’d be writing about for many books to come, he’d have to be someone I not only knew well, but liked. He’d have to have a distinctive name, but not an odd one; the days when you could call a character “Sherlock” (what kind of name is Sherlock, anyway?) are long gone. I liked the name “Nick,” and had even used it before (in COMPANY MAN). He needed a two-syllable last name; I came up with “Heller.” Nick Heller, a dactyl. The name of a man you could trust, but also a man who wasn’t afraid to break a few rules.
For Nick’s first outing, VANISHED, I put together an extended family history. The son of a rogue financier, Nick grew up on a palatial estate in Bedford, New York, with one older brother. Their father, a brilliant financier named Victor Heller, was arrested for fraud and insider trading when Nick was only 12 years old; their mother took her sons back to her own family home in suburban Boston.
Nick needed to be smart. He needed to be resourceful. He needed to have skills and contacts the ordinary person doesn’t have. I made him ex-Special Forces, with work experience at McKinsey & Company before joining the Army. I gave him a job with Stoddard Associates, an inside-the-Beltway private international security and consulting firm. I built an enormous dossier of material about Nick’s background, training and personal history. I even found an old photo of George Clooney looking dangerous, which exactly matched the picture of Nick in my mind’s eye.
All of this material fed the action of VANISHED, which begins with the disappearance of Nick’s older brother, Roger, and leads to the revelation of long-kept secrets that shake the whole structure of Nick’s life. VANISHED ends with Nick making the decision to return to Boston, where his mother still lives, and set up his own firm as a private international security consultant.
Which meant that for BURIED SECRETS, I needed to learn even more about Nick’s personal history.
I’ve always been a research guy. Before I was a novelist, I was an academic. False modesty aside, I was good at school. I liked it, and still do; while it was great to be able to quit my day job, I miss teaching, and am always glad to have the chance to speak at writers’ conferences.
When I was writing my first novel, THE MOSCOW CLUB, I studied the masters: Ludlum, Follett, Fleming, Le Carre. I took their books apart. I looked at how they introduced characters and set up action sequences. I studied how they filled in backstory and revealed plot twists. I dissected their structures and tried to structure my own book in the same way.
When it came time to write a sequel, I did the same thing. I looked at the great series characters of thriller fiction: Lee Child’s Jack Reacher, Robert B. Parker’s Spenser, John D. MacDonald’s Travis McGee. How did these authors give new readers the information they needed about the main character without boring people who had read the earlier books? How did they introduce new information about the major characters over time? How did they keep the characters and stories fresh, from one book to the next?
I want new readers to be able to pick up any Nick Heller book and enjoy it without reading the earlier novels, but I also want to reward loyal readers who follow Nick’s story over time. Nick didn’t have a love interest in VANISHED; in BURIED SECRETS I gave him an old flame, FBI agent Diana Madigan, who might be the one who got away. Readers also get to meet Nick’s mother, Francine, whose former boss, financier Marshall Marcus, becomes Nick’s client. For those who read VANISHED, I brought back Nick’s invaluable assistant, Dorothy, and his teenaged nephew, Gabe. Gabe went through a lot in VANISHED, but you don’t need to know that in order to appreciate his relationship with Nick in BURIED SECRETS. If you do, however, you might be pleased to see that he’s rebounded, and that his relationship with Nick is strong as ever.
If you’d told me five years ago that I’d enjoy writing a series this much, I’d have said you were crazy. But to my great surprise and satisfaction, I keep learning new things about Nick. He has unexpected depths, and skills I’m still discovering. His profession seems uniquely well-suited to almost any adventure I want to send him on. The third Nick Heller book is almost finished, and the plot for the fourth is in my head. At some future point I may well decide to write another stand-alone, but I’m looking forward to a productive working relationship with Nick Heller for many years to come.
You find out more about Joe Finder and his books, right here.
Wednesday, June 29, 2011
From the Columbus Museum of Art: Aminah Robinson. She will knock you out with her huge canvasses of Columbus life.
There is a Canadian radio station, which asks listeners to email in their favorite and least favorite songs in. Most, of course, are rock. What is your favorite and least favorite rock song? Okay, take two.
Best: Don't Think Twice, Bob Dylan; Imagine, John Lennon
Worst: Believe, Cher; All by Myself, Eric Carmen
Tuesday, June 28, 2011
Gore Vial's Crime: Comparing “The Prisoner of Sex” to “three days of menstrual flow” and Mailer to Charles Manson.
Action taken: Head-butting him in the green room of The Dick Cavett Show in 1971, then telling him, on-air, that he ruined Kerouac by sleeping with him. Six years later, he threw a drink at Vidal—and punched him—at a Lally Weymouth soirée.
Blowback: Still on the floor, Vidal said, “Words fail Norman Mailer yet again.” Days later, Vidal went on Cavett’s show to assert that Mailer had—literally—stabbed his second wife in the back. They reconciled in 1985.
PS-The woman is Janet Flanner, no intellectual slouch herself. Can you imagine a talk show today hosting these three or anyone not pushing a movie or TV show.
Every word she writes is a lie, including and and the.
- Mary McCarthy, in a statement about Hellman in a 1979 interview on The Dick Cavett Show; this prompted a defamation suit against McCarthy which was dropped after Hellman's death.
I always liked Ed Asner's portrayal of Lou Grant. He was a character with some flaws to him. The writers gave him a personal life of his own--supporting characters don't always get to go through divorces, drinking problems, and career disappointments on sit-coms. And Asner had the acting chops to pull it off.
Who's your favorite boss on TV, in books or in the movies? Not that you necessarily would care to work for them. Just who sticks in your mind.
Monday, June 27, 2011
Hat tip to Jim Chalmers for this list
I think this is my favorite quote although Curtis Sittenfield's review yesterday in the NYT of Monica Alli's book about Princess Di in suburban America may compete for overall nastiness. Could it really be that bad? Okay, the concept suggests yes, but still... She made the earlier review by "she who shall remain nameless" look kind.
Vladimir Nabokov on Joseph Conrad
“I cannot abide Conrad’s souvenir shop style and bottled ships and shell necklaces of romanticist cliches.”
If you can't say something nice, let someone else say it. That's my motto.
So instead, here is the full truth about how I came to write a ghost story, something I was sure I would never do. Back in August, I posted two photos on my blog and asked my readers what they wanted me to put in the story. Risky, I know, but also the funniest way to write a story.
The pictures are from Lodbjerg, a tiny village west of our place, right next to the wonderful North Sea (which is called the West Sea in Denmark, obviously).
What my imaginative readers wanted were a newlywed couple, a long-dead body, an empty brandy bottle and a pump which worked on its own accord. Oh, and something extraordinary in the shed. That was when I decided ghostly intervention was necessary, and "Heather Farm" was born, a short story of 3300 words.
I must say that even though I loved writing it, I didn´t take the story too seriously in the beginning, but I have realized that it is one of my readers´ absolute favourites, and why not, really? Some of the best temporary Nordic crime stories include ghosts and elements of the supernatural, and I think the setting and the story suit each other.
Are you curious - and can you stomach a young couple in love? Then it is good for you that I offer the story for free during the launch period of "Liquorice Twists" (May & June). Go to Smashwords and use the free coupon code EP59D.
Sunday, June 26, 2011
In an interview on Al Guthrie's blog Sandra Scoppettone said the two novels she found most perfect were Elmore Leonard's GET SHORTY and Anne Tyler's DINNER AT THE HOMESICK RESTAURANT.
I concur with both of these choices, but especially the later. For a book to be perfect to me, it must reveal an important truth in it. For a long time Tyler was able to do this for me. She wrote about a world I felt she got exquisitely right. And beyond that, she moved me.
What book comes as close as possible to being perfect for you? Sandra picked two, but you only get one.
Saturday, June 25, 2011
We saw a documentary about Bill Cunningham last night at the glorious Detroit Film Theater, and I highly recommend it.
In his eighties now, Bill Cunningham is completely devoted to his work. Still riding his bike around Manhattan and taking pictures like this for the New York Times, the world of fashion calls to him as loudly as it did fifty years ago.
He literally does nothing but take pictures. He sleeps wedged between his file cabinets of photos dating from the fifties and turned his kitchen into storage space for more cabinets. Such a devotion to craft and art is exhilarating if a bit frightening.
Have you ever known someone like this--who eschewed family, friends, everything to pursue his craft? If so, what was that craft?
Story ideas rain down on me.
Yesterday is a good example. I was at an event thinking about one of my characters when I overheard someone mention a very common workplace tradition – the two thoughts fused, and an interesting story idea was borne.
Sometimes, it’s something that makes me scratch my head.
My favorite example is when a colleague walked past my cube as he gnawed away on some type of food on a stick. For a moment, it looked like he had an animal on that stick. It was only a corndog, but – again -- an idea was borne and I had the beginning of one of my favorite pieces, “Some Kind of Rugged Genius.”
Other times it’s something I can’t stop laughing about. Earlier in my career at a previous job, a coworker came to me with a grave concern. He was convinced that an executive had inadvertently used a little-known sex term to describe his strategy for winning in the market. I’m not sure I agreed, but he took great pains to plead his case, going it into great detail. In the weeks that followed, I laughed every time I thought about it, and I realized there had to be a story there. Soon after, I had the inspiration for “Headquarters Likes Your Style.”
Perhaps the story that sparks the most questions is “Upper Deck.”
People still ask, “How’d you ever come up with that one?”
I tell them it’s all because of my sister Jennifer.
Poor Jenn. She had to grow up with me. I was her foul, obnoxious little brother who LOVED potty humor. In those adolescent (and dare I say teen?) years, my sister was subjected to an untold number of pranks, jokes, stunts, boobytraps, drawings and even displays. She also knows that, yes, even after all these years, I am still not immune to the charms of potty humor. So when she comes across something really disgusting, she will pass it along to me in the same way someone may present a smoked pig ear to a dog.
So, about ten years ago, Jenn grabs my arm, squeezes hard. She’s breathless. “Greg,” she pants. “I have a friend at work, and he told me about the most disgusting thing I’ve ever heard. And it’s all the rage at parties.”
She was talking about “upper decking,” something I knew nothing about. Something almost no one knew anything about. This was 2001, after all, and upper decking was still very underground, still something practiced without ceremony or fanfare, something performed in untraveled locations -- in this case, in the tucked-away bathrooms of young, unsuspecting San Franciscans.
Learning about it was like watching a 3-D movie for the first time, or unearthing the fossil of a previously unknown species that would forever change our understanding of evolution.
Jenn and I laughed about it, and I would ask for updates.
“What’s up with you friend and the upper decking?”
Her face would brighten. “He’s going to a party hosted by this total jerk who laid off his entire staff. He’s gonna do it.”
“Tell me how it goes, okay?”
For whatever reason, I let that nugget sit for four or five years, until finally I had an idea for a story – to create the most disgusting and amusing man I could imagine, make him an upper-decker, place him in a world that’s a bit tilted, and then put him on a crash course with unforgiving conflict.
And I was off.
The story practically wrote itself. At least it felt that way.
My readers really liked it, so I decided to test the waters, which was not soon after I had discovered the transgressive journal Murdaland, which included Anthony Neil Smith’s phenomenal story, “Lovers Through All Eternity and Forevermore.” I liked the piece so much that I Googled Smith and landed on his blog, which just happened to be announcing the resurrection of Plots with Guns.
I sent him “Upper Deck,” heard back within 20 minutes, and my writing life has never been the same.
Guess I can thank my big sister. And Neil.
Greg Bardsley is a former newspaper reporter who covered crime and government in the San Francisco Bay Area. Since then, he has worked as an editor, ghostwriter, speechwriter and video producer. His ghostwriting has appeared in a variety of publications, including Newsweek, USA Today and Financial Times. His fiction has appeared in the anthologies Sex, Thugs and Rock & Roll [Kensington Books], Uncage Me [Bleak House Books] and By Hook or Crook: The Best Crime and Mystery Stories of the Year [Tyrus Books]. His stories also have appeared in Plots with Guns, Crimefactory, Storyglossia, 3:AM Magazine, Out of the Gutter, Thuglit, Pulp Pusher and Demolition.
Friday, June 24, 2011
Kevin does Rothko. If he is this neat, I'm worried. Assuming he got some help with this one.
MIDNIGHT IN PARIS review on CRIMESPREE CINEMA.
THE SUMMING UP, Friday, June 24, 2011
Patti Abbott, The Sleeping Car Murders, Sebastian Japrisot
Yvette Banek, Luck in the Shadows, Lynn Flewelling
Joe Barone, Death of a Lake, Arthur Upfield
Bill Crider, Redemolished, Alfred Bester
Scott Cupp, Texas and Other Planets, Lou Antonelli
Martin Edwards, The Murder at Crome House, GDH and Margaret Cole
Ed Gorman, Champagne for One, Rex Stout
Randy Johnson, Wear a Fast Gun, John Jakes
George Kelley, The Last Ringbearer, Kirill Yeskov
B.V. Lawson, Death of a Dutchman, Magdalen Nabb
Evan Lewis, "A Man Who Couldn't Breathe" David Goodis
Todd Mason, New Worlds of Fantasy, edited by Terry Carr
Steve Lewis/Barry Gardner, Death of a Fantasy Life, T.G. Gilpin
Ed Lynskey, The Burned Man, Bart Spicer
Jack Martin, Siege at Ma-Kouie, Derrick Wright
J.F. Norris, The Man Who Fell in Love with the Moon, Tom Spanbauer
Eric Peterson, Double Trouble, Sheldon Jaffery
J. Kingston Pierce, Calamity Town, Ellery Queen
David Rachels, Big Man, Ed McBain
James Reasoner, The Sigh of the Skull, J. Allan Dunn
Richard Robinson, Tales of Zorro, Dean Starr
Gerard Saylor, The Terror, Dan Simmons
Ron Scheer, Ben Blair, Will Lillibridge
Michael Slind, Bury Me Deep, Harold Q. Masur
Kerrie Smith, The Benevent Treasure, Patricia Wentworth
Kevin Tipple, Swan Dive, Jeremiah Healy
The Sleeping Car Murders
Sebastian Japrisot, now dead, had a more recent hit with the fantastic A VERY LONG ENGAGEMENT, but in 1963 he wrote my favorite of his novels, THE SLEEPING CAR MURDERS. The story starts out with a
single murder on the night train from Marseilles to Paris. A woman is discovered dead on its arrival. Inspector Grazzi determines the murderer must be one of the five other occupants of the sleeping car and sets out to track them down. As he locates them, they begin to die too.
Combining both the train and locked room story setups yields great fun in the hands of such a skilled story teller. This was made into a movie that I have yet to see.
Ed Lynskey is the author of the newly released LAKE CHARLES.
The Burned Man by Bart Spicer. Bantam Book, 1967.
Bart Spicer who won an Edgar in 1949 for his debut PI Carney Wilde novel The Dark Light was a decorated World War Two vet. He went on to work as a successful full-time commercial fiction writer until his death in 1978 from throat cancer. Making the leap from the pulp fiction of the 1950s to the larger blockbuster novels emerging during the 1970s accounts for extending his career. A few years ago, I had a chance to talk to Spicer’s stepdaughter about his career and life.
Spicer’s spouse Betty often worked with him on writing projects. They collaborated under the joint husband-wife pseudonym Jay Barbette (the surname a combination of the letters in their first names, Bart and Betty) to publish four novels.
Spicer seems to have done some snoop work for the CIA. That and his exile in Spain inspired his writing The Burned Man (1966). Its front cover plugs the book as “the new high-voltage novel of international intrigue.” Set during Franco’s autocratic regime, Colonel Peregrine “Perry” White makes his return from 1955’s novel, Day of the Dead (though this time Perry is oddly spry and not encumbered with a limp and cane). An accomplished, tight book, its plot is understated with Franco’s anti-American feelings seething in the background.
A nebulous Communist terrorist cell cooks “the burned man” in a radioactive barbecue (from the makings of an atomic bomb), and Perry is sent to investigate the matter. Art Scott viewed this spy fiction as “a vigorous, complex espionage novel, unmarred by post-Bondian cliché.” Library Journal called it a “timely, rugged adventure.” Saturday Review (“excellent” and “fast action”) and San Francisco Chronicle (“crisp”) highlighted similar strengths. I was struck by the protagonist Perry’s wry tone and resigned acceptance of the military’s red tape.
I’ve enjoyed all the Spicer novels I’ve read. His later courtroom dramas like Kellogg Junction and The Adversary (made into a TV mini-series) are first-rate. Act of Anger advertised on the front cover of The Burned Man is an intriguing legal fiction but also unfortunately marred by its homophobia. To his credit, Spicer later recanted his attitude there.
\You can find him here.
Champagne for One by Rex StoutBill Crider
Steve Lewis/Barry Gardner
J. Kingston Pierce
Thursday, June 23, 2011
We saw PHANTOM OF THE OPERA in Toronto in 1989 at the Pantages theater. The theater, dating from the 1920s, had just been redone and it was gorgeous.
PHANTOM is not one of my favorite musicals, but the staging was spectacular. Was this the first musical to make staging an essential part of the experience?
And any trip to Toronto is wonderful.
How I Came to Write this Book:
BONES OF A FEATHER is the 11th in the Sarah Booth Delaney Mississippi Delta mystery series. To talk about this book, I have to go back to the very beginning. I would love to say that I’ve “planned” my writing life, but that would be a lie. Then again, my ex-husband used to say that writers are “nothing more than professional liars.” He said it without malice, and it always got a laugh out of me and my writer friends.
I started the series back in 1998 when I’d finished a two-book contract for Dutton for some general fiction novels, TOUCHED and SUMMER OF THE REDEEMERS. I was the writer who started out writing short stories for the love of writing with no intention of publishing. I didn’t know what an agent was. My world was journalism, though I loved writing fiction and telling stories, a practice that was “a family affair.” Everyone in my family tells stories—or lies, as the case may be.
At any rate, I was at a place that is both joy and dread for a writer. I wasn’t under contract, and I could write anything I wanted. Oh joy! Oh dread! I’d started out with a few ideas that died on the vine. But as I sat at my computer, looking out over my horses grazing, I heard Sarah Booth Delaney arguing with Jitty. The were going at it tooth and nail. As usual (I didn’t know this at the time) Jitty was winning.
So I started writing what they were saying, and as I wrote I began to see the characters. Imagine my surprise to discover that Jitty was an antebellum-era ghost! But the story unfolded with rapid speed. Imagine my surprise to discover I was writing a mystery! I’ve always loved mysteries, but I never thought I was smart enough to plot one out.
So the story began with one book, THEM BONES. My agent sold the book at auction, and Random House wanted a three-book contract. So I was writing a series!
Again, I wish I could say that I had some grand plan where I knew exactly what I was doing, but that wouldn’t be true. (And when has that ever stopped me, you might ask? But don’t. That’s a rabbit trail with endless loops.)
As it turns out, Sarah Booth, Tinkie, Jitty, Coleman, Graf, Cece and the rest of the Zinnia, Mississippi, gang have become as real as my flesh and blood friends. They are ornery and hard-headed and determined characters who sort of “fall” into the story lines.
At the end of BONE APPETIT, Tinkie had been injured—again. (Tinkie is Sarah Booth partner in the Delaney Detective Agency and a real Daddy’s Girl—from a wealthy background and used to twisting men around her little finger) The men in Sarah Booth’s and Tinkie’s lives are more than a little annoyed at their propensity to get into danger. So, I thought, what about an insurance case! No bodies, no guns, no dire consequences. And lo and behold, the Levert sisters stepped into the scene to hire Sarah Booth and Tinkie to verify the theft of a very, very expensive ruby necklace.
The Leverts are wealthy, and they live in Natchez, Mississippi, a small city on the Mississippi River with a wonderful, sordid, and exciting past. It’s only a couple of hours from the fictional town of Zinnia.
Okay, so now I have Sarah Booth and Tinkie on a case without danger, in a great city with a fabulous history. This will be fun to write. A heist—not a murder. That’s exactly what I was thinking. Wrong!
Nothing about the Leverts is real. Talk about liars! But I didn’t really know any of this until I started writing and Sarah Booth and Tinkie started investigating.
So yet again, I was led into the story by my characters. They do seem to get themselves into some dire circumstances. I can see why the stay in hot water with their friends and loved ones.
All I can say is that I love writing about my home state of Mississippi. I worked as a journalist for 10 years before I started writing novels, and I traveled around the state a lot. Natchez is a unique and wonderful place—the perfect setting for the dark story told in BONES OF A FEATHER.
Wednesday, June 22, 2011
If you have an ereader, consider buying this collection for $3.99. The writers are all top notch and the proceeds will go to the Japanese people. Not all of them are crime stories, but all reference Japan in some way.
On another topic, I am really enjoying the stories in the current issue of NEEDLE. I don't know how Steve Weddle attracts such a great group of writers but I haven't dialed up a bad one yet.
With all of the stuff available on ebooks now, I can hardly catch my breath.
I have always been a Dana Delany fan and I finally got around to sampling her new show, BODY OF PROOF. I was disappointed because I found in it the same sort of the over-the-top plotting that began for me with Law and Order, Special Victims Unit and has drifted into too many crime stories.
In this episode, it was not enough that a mother had nearly killed her child by withholding drugs, it had to go a step further and have her sister and a handyman join forces to murder the girl because she was changing her will. This type of plotting has an hysteria to it that I really hate.
This grab bag of motives plotting also allows the writers to skirt having a nice, tight plot. It's like a magician where he fools you by making you look at the wrong thing. Do you find it clever? It really annoys me. It's not just red herrings, which are part of the game.
Is there any traditional crime show that still manages to turn out a nice clean plot most of the time?
Tuesday, June 21, 2011
Bill Crider mentioned Calder Willingham a few weeks back, which called to mind first the book and then the movie, RAMBLING ROSE.
Directed by Martha Coolidge in 1991, RAMBLING ROSE tells the story of a wayward girl taken in by a conventional family who try to tame her rambling ways. Every man falls for Rose and she is unable to ignore their advances.
Laura Dern play Rose, Robert Duvall, the conventional father, and Diane Ladd, the mother and Lukas Haas, the son. This movie has the kind of quiet charm and dignity that few movies have today. Doubt it would even get made by an indie company.
This movie deserves a look.
For more Forgotten Movies, check out Todd Mason's blog.
Monday, June 20, 2011
These were some of my favorite quilts at the National Quilt Show, which I was able to attend in Columbus. There were many gorgeous traditional quilts but these caught my eye.
I also watched an enormous Gay Pride parade, simultaneously watching city workers trying to obliterate painted swastikas from the sidewalks.
I saw THE WIZARD OF OZ on a big screen at a fantastic vintage theater (The Ohio), visited the Warren G. Harding and James Thurber Houses, visited the art museum, a topiary modeled on SUNDAY IN THE PARK WITH GEORGE, and met the fabulous Naomi Johnson. I am ticking you people off one by one. No one will escape my stretch and only death will deter me.
My one grievance-how can I travel without packing? When I add up the time spent packing and unpacking, figuring out what to take, where to put it, what suitcases to use, it's nuts.
Do you dread packing as much as I do? Do any of you men pack for yourself. I have been persuaded that it's my womanly duty.
My writing process isn’t really that interesting, except for when I wrote "Six Bullets For John Carter."
I saw that Plots With Guns was taking submissions for a sci-fi issue—Plots With Ray Guns. Crime fiction was never my first love. I used to read a lot of horror, fantasy, and science fiction. I was excited about writing something different, something more like what I always thought I would write. I mean, writing crime fiction is sometimes a little surreal for me—kind of like waking up and discovering the cool, hot chick with the tattoos and the razor in her ass pocket hasn’t left when you thought for certain it’d only be a one-night stand before you headed back to the girl with glasses who liked to theorize about the possibility of non-carbon based life forms over a bowl of Spaghetti-O’s.
My problem was I had no idea what to write. All I knew was it needed a ray gun and I wanted it to have a Blade Runner/Ghost in The Shell vibe. Nothing came to me until my wife and I were watching TV about a week later. A protect-your-identity commercial came on. I think it was for LifeLock, the one where the guy rambles at the screen while a truck drives up and down the street, his social security number written all over it in big, block numbers for all the world to steal. I started thinking about how everything evolves—even crime. I mean who would have thought you’d have to worry about someone stealing your identity?
Maybe no one but Philip K. Dick.
My mind started working. I asked myself, What’s next? What are people going to try to steal from you? It seemed so simple then—they’re going to steal you. Not your wallet. Not your cell phone. Not your laptop. Not your flat screen. Not your car. Not your identity. They want you. The physical you.
And why do they want you? There are only three answers—to sell you, to fuck you, or to kill you.
But it still wasn’t an idea. I knew I couldn’t force it. That never works for me.
Not knowing what else to do, I moved on to the protagonist. He’d need to be someone familiar with DNA theft. It would help with exposition. Okay, so why? Easiest way would be if it was his job, he worked to prevent it—genetic security. There’s money there too, because that’s the other constant—as crime evolves, someone else figures out how to profit from it. So, is he a good guy? No, not necessarily. A lot of people allege computer viruses are made by the same companies that sell virus protection.
Still not really an idea though, but it was getting there.
Okay, then—setting? The future obviously, but where? Easy peasy lemon squeezy. Had to be set on Mars. Mars is the place. The red planet occupies a primo spot in our popular consciousness. I thought if Mars was settled, wouldn’t all that fiction inform its development, its nomenclature, its culture—a network of man-made canals; towns named after places from Bradbury, Brackett and Burroughs; religion that’s one part Valentine Michael Smith and one part Martian Manhunter?
I really liked the John Carter of Mars books when I was a kid. I knew I wanted a heavy nod to it. I wanted the story to be a sort of a love song to everything I read as a kid. I walked over to my bookshelf and grabbed my copies of Burroughs’ books. It had been years since I read one. Skimming through them, something occurred to me—you could read John Carter of Mars as White Messiah Fable, you could make John Carter not a hapless adventurer who ends up in a strange and distant land, but a force of white imperialism, subjugating the savage Tharks, bedding the hot copper-skinned girl, and ruling the planet, because that’s how badass white dudes are and it’s what happens when they go native.
There was my idea. A part of Martian culture that’s transformed into something else and wants to free their planet from corporate rule and class warfare. They’ve turned the name John Carter into slang for The Man. They’ve turned militant. They’re ready to fight the power. They’ll call their organization Tars Tarkas. They’re the field slaves working trying to redeem the house boy.
So I wrote this big long piece where my protagonist steals some DNA, discovers a weapon hidden in the genetic code, and he has to go on the run from Tars Tarkas who’s planning on blowing up something important.
Halfway through, I realized I didn’t like. It felt stilted. It was too long. And I didn’t want Tars Tarkas as the villains. Corporations are the enemy.
When in doubt, keep it simple. There’s nothing simpler than a revenge story. So, there it was. The protag is hired to steal some DNA by a John Carter. John Carter wants a blonde. For what, protag doesn’t care. He’s never cared. He steals some hot chick’s DNA. Only John Carter wants something else—he wants the protag to grow it. Protag has never grown a person before, but John Carter has money (that’s why he’s The Man). Protag grows the girl. As protag watches her come to life in the vat of fluids, he’s forced to acknowledge that he’s been stealing people. The protag’s heart grows three sizes that day and we’re off and writing…
Only Plots With Ray Guns passed. Damn!
But I thought it was a good story, so I sent it somewhere else. Beat To A Pulp accepted it. I worked with Elaine to trim some fat and in a couple months it was up. It’s easily the most popular thing I’ve ever written. Lots of comments. Multiple reviews. A discussion on the boards of Isaac Asimov’s Science Fiction Magazine. A write up at the Books On Mars site
All from a LifeLock commercial. I should thank that guy. You know, I’ve got his social security number. I bet I could get his address.Chad Eagleton is a writer living in the Midwest with his wife and dog. His work has been published in DZ Allen's Muzzleflash, Powder Burn Flash, A Twist of Noir, Bad Things Pulp Pages, The Pulp Pusher, Beat To A Pulp, Darkest Before The Dawn, and Crimefactory.
Sunday, June 19, 2011
I kind of wonder about whether reprints of book will soon disappear.
Now, with the ability to make these books available to those with ereaders, is there much reason for another press to reprint a book later.
This depresses me as so many things do. I love to see the second cover a book gets. And many of my books are reprints rather than the original version.
What do you think? Will there be any financial payoff for presses who do a hard copy reprint?
Saturday, June 18, 2011
Hope some of you can make it.
A wine and cheese party follows the reading in Birmingham, MI.
The End of Everything Tour DatesTuesday, July 5, 2011
The End of Everything Book Reading/Party
163 Court Street, Brooklyn, NY
Thursday, July 7, 2011
The End of Everything Book Launch
828 Broadway at 12th Street, New York, NY
Friday, July 8, 2011
Murder by the Book with Sara Gran and Duane Swierczynski
2342 Bissonnet Street, Houston, TX
Sunday, July 10, 2011
Book Soup - West Hollywood
8818 Sunset Blvd, Los Angeles, CA
Monday, July 11, 2011
M Is for Mystery
86 Third Avenue, San Mateo, CA
Tuesday, July 12, 2011
A martini social in celebration of The End of Everything
City Lights Bookstore
261Columbus Avenue at Broadway
San Francisco, CA
Thursday, July 14, 2011
A Talk: "Luminous Visions: The Mysteries of Inspiration"
37th Annual Summer Writers Program at Hofstra University
Noon to 2PM
Hofstra University Club, David S. Mack Hall, North Campus
(516) 463-0258 or Richard.J.Pioreck@hofstra.edu
Tuesday, July 19, 2011
The Poisoned Pen
4014 North Goldwater Blvd # 101Scottsdale, AZ
Wednesday, July 20, 2011
Borders Bookstore-Birmingham, MI
Wednesday, July 27, 2011
160 Courtyard Square, Oxford, Ms
How I baked up THIN MINTS
At the beginning of 2010, we entered a strange period in the history of the O’Shea household where my wife took a job in the wilds of southwestern Wisconsin (in beautiful Lancaster, the ancestral home of Daniel Ames) and lived there during the week whilst I remained home here in the Chicago burbs. One of us would head one way or the other on weekends for conjugal visits. Scenic area, but it was very much small town America, veneer of friendliness with that creepy, incestuous, everybody-stop-and-stare-at-the-outlanders-when-they-walk-into-the-diner type of air to it. So I was looking to write something set there anyway.
Then I read about the Girl Scout Cookies. Seems the record for Girl Scout Cookie sales is 17,000 boxes and change. At four bucks a box, that’s almost seventy grand worth of cookies. And the way they go about it nowadays, setting up card tables laden with Thin Mints and such outside the local grocer and selling them more or less retail, it’s a cash business.
So I got to thinking about creepy small town America, and about desperate meth fiends and about what they might get to thinking if they got it in their heads that some cute little Girl Scout was sitting on a big-ass pile of cash and, well . . .
Anyway, you can read Thin Mints over at Crimefactory – issue three, if I remember correctly. Or pop on down to St. Louis, where it will soon be available in the Noir at the Bar anthology that Jed Ayers and Scott Phillips ginned up for Subterranean Books.
You can find Dan right here.
Friday, June 17, 2011
My brother said I went overboard with the greats.
Taking a week off, but Todd Mason is collecting book reviews right here.
Thanks for the kind words. In Columbus OH it routinely rains with the sun out but no rainbows although the WIZARD OF OZ is playing here.
Thursday, June 16, 2011
I can date this play precisely. We saw it on Christmas Eve, 1994 at the Royal Exchange Theater in Manchester, England. Our kids were there to celebrate Christmas with us. After the play, our car wouldn't start but the UK version of AAA was out in no time to help us.
The absolute standout performance was from Michael Sheen (now playing major parts in movies) as Charley's Aunt (or Lord Fancourt Babberley).
Regional theater in England was terrific and we also saw Sheen in LOOK BACK IN ANGER that year. Can't imagine two more different parts.
HOW I CAME TO WRITE THIS BOOK:
LAKE CHARLES, Ed Lynskey
First, I want to extend a big thanks to the tireless Patti for inviting me to be a part of her weblog.
Reaching back to give the genesis of Lake Charles is a long stretch for me to make because it was begun some eight years ago. I’d written at least three books in my Private Investigator Frank Johnson hard-boiled series (still going, by the way: The Zinc Zoo will be out in late 2011), and I wanted a break away from the character Frank and his troubles. Lake Charles then served as my diversion. I’ll talk a little about each aspect of it.
Date. I’d grown weary—oh so weary—of the ubiquitous cell phones. Every other driver I saw on the streets chatted on one. I guess I’m the last person in the country who doesn’t own or carry a cell phone, beeper, or other wireless gizmo. Anyway, that was the reason why I cast my main character Brendan Fishback in the 1970s. I wanted to eliminate the ease and handiness to the cell phones. He’d have to go run down a coin phone to hold any communication.
Conflict. Brendan had to be an edgy, young man with a lot on his plate. He’s powering through a pot self-detox when he is accused of falsely murdering his girlfriend Ashleigh Sizemore and arrested for it. He later makes bail on a legal technicality and heads off to nearby Lake Charles to grab a little R&R that soon goes horribly awry.
Setting. My long-time office mate’s husband hails from the Johnson City, TN, area, and I’d heard stories about life down there. One strange tale, I recalled, was of a manmade lake then later drained for some reason. The formerly inundated towns—their buildings, flagpoles, and streets—were still intact on the emptied lakebed. That ghostly image sticking with me, in part, inspired the fictional Lake Charles. The usual urban city found in classic noir this time becomes a dying lake with green scum congealing on its surface and contained by a leaky earthen dam. As a kid, I’d hiked on long jaunts along the lovely Appalachian Trail wending its way through the Great Smoky Mountains (in North Carolina and Tennessee). I believe this was how I came to identify the right place to stage Lake Charles.
Characters. I’ve always admired strong, tenacious ladies, and they played a big part in my growing up. Enter Brendan’s twin sister Edna and their mother, Mama Jo. Edna, a rough customer, is kidnapped at Lake Charles, but we suspect she can fend for herself. Mama Jo uses some tough love to help pull Brendan through his personal crisis. His father Angus left them when Brendan was still in diapers for reasons yet unknown. I like the idea of a distant or missing parent as a way to tear a big hole in the main character’s emotional fabric.
Dreams. A dream sequence was also integral to the story. Brendan’s pot withdrawal spawns his vivid dreams, a side-affect that I’d researched to find out. Also, his Uncle Ozzie is something of a clairvoyant who once consulted with the renowned psychic Edgar Cayce. Brendan has inherited some of Uncle Ozzie’s mystical talents.
Pace. I like to read the novels that keep moving. Keep it snappy. The characters use cars, planes, boats, buses, bikes, skateboards, taxis, or some conveyance. This is how we live, even in the 1970s. Brendan aims to leave his hometown in a quest to catch up with Angus last heard from while toiling on the Alaskan Pipeline. While returning home from a rock concert in a distant city, Brendan finds Ashleigh murdered inside their motel room, and he has no memory of it. Teamed up with the Army vet Mr. Kuzawa, Brendan chases down the right clues to solve her murder.
Humor. This one is always difficult for me. What I hold as funny might not strike you the same way. Black humor as done by Westlake, Willeford, and Lansdale makes me laugh aloud. Slapstick, cute dialogue, and over-the-top antics bore me fast. That sort of stuff usually falls out of my work during the subsequent rounds of edits I make. Dry wit and low-keyed banter work better for me. Sometimes humor just arises from the situations which is a cool thing to have happen.
Lake Charles went through edits right up until the final stages. The late George W. Scithers, the first editor for Isaac Asimov's Science Fiction Magazine, suggested some changes, including how to open the novel. I just hope I don’t take eight years to bring my next titles into print.
Ed Lynskey is a crime fiction writer with his family near Washington, D.C. His five mysteries featuring his P.I. Frank Johnson are THE DIRT-BROWN DERBY (Mundania Press, 2006), THE BLUE CHEER (Point Blank/Wildside Press, 2007), PELHAM FELL HERE (Mundania Press, 2008). TROGLODYTES (Mundania Press, 2010), and THE ZINC ZOO (Mundania Press, 2011). LAKE CHARLES (Wildside Press), a stand alone, is due out in 2011 from Wildside Press. His work has been anthologized by St. Martin’s Press and University of Virginia Press while his poetry has appeared in The Atlantic Monthly. His reviews have appeared in New York Times Book Review and Washington Post. His mystery fiction has been praised by James Crumley, Linda Fairstein, Ken Bruen, Bill Pronzini, John Lutz, Barbara D'Amato, and Megan Abbott.