Saturday, March 31, 2012

Saturday Night Music: The Decemberists

How I Came to Write This Book: Ian Ayris


I never intended to write a book. I never intended to write much of anything, really.

And then, a couple of years ago, a voice came into my head. It wasn't a very nice voice, if I'm honest. 'Some people deserve to die,' it said. Took me back a bit. I'm a nice bloke, see, by all accounts. But the voice continued its story, and I listened, and I wrote down what I heard. Six months later, the words I'd written were published as 'My Mate, Tel' in the first 'Radgepacket' anthology from Byker Books. I wrote another couple of stories, both at gunpoint, as it were, getting used to the fact that the closer I listened and the quicker I wrote, the sooner these bloody voices would leave my head. The two further stories were subsequently published in the following two 'Radgepackets'. Three out of three. Blimey, I thought, this writing game's a piece of piss.

The third of these first three published stories was entitled 'The Rise and Demise of Fat Kenny' – the story of John and Kenny and a certain gangster by the name of Mr Ronnie Swordfish. Unlike the previous two stories, there was something about this one that was different. The voices had spoken, I'd written down what I'd heard and what I'd seen, but the characters hadn't gone away. They just sat there, in this grotty mock-up of an East-End pub inside my head, looking at me over their warm pints of beer. Expectant. I looked back, into there eyes, and saw such pain.

I knew what I had to do.

To tell the whole story, I knew I had to go back to childhood, to the East End streets where John and Kenny grew up. Kenny was to be the main character. John, as in the short story, merely the narrator. And the story told itself. I had no plan, no outline, just a need to follow wherever the feelings were most painful.

And bloody hell, it hurt.

My inner world began to show itself through John and Kenny – John, the son of a fanatical West Ham supporter, from a tight-nit family, where love and humour comfort the soul and keep the pain at bay; Kenny – brought up in the house across the street, timid, distant, confused – the other me, dazed and vulnerable, long ago having withdrawn into a simple world of his own making.

And so with John and Kenny established, chapter after chapter continued to go by. School. Christmas. The Queen's Silver Jubilee. The death of Elvis. Cup Finals and the Winter of Discontent. My childhood memories.

The first half of the book was done. What lay ahead, I had no idea. So I carried on listening.

And what followed, blimey. Ripped my heart out to write, it did. Even typing these words, I'm taken back to the edge of that darkness, that awful, terrible, darkness. The two boys became separated which, from a psychodynamic point of view, was always going to be a difficult one for me. If they were separated, so was I. But in that separation I saw the direction I was intended to follow. Reconcilliation. Understanding. Redemption. The renewal of hope.

So I carried on writing into the darkness.

Mental insitutions. Prison. Separation. Loss. The return of Mr Ronald Swordfish.

I wrote the searingly painful second half of the book in a blur of coffee and chocolate in less than two weeks. Thirty thousand words. I now realised this was the way it had to be. I had to endure, as John had to endure. Kenny, he had his own way of looking at things. But John, John was suffering. Really suffering.

The situation was hopeless. Get mixed up with a psycho like Ronnie Swordfish, and it's never ending good. But in the most dire of situations, there is always hope. It's 1989. Tiananmen Square. John don't watch the news. It's a load of old shit. But soon as he turns the telly on, he can't get his eyes off it. There he is, this bloke, frontin up a tank. Two tanks. Three tanks. And he ain't got nothing but a couple of fuckin shoppin bags on him. And that, my son, that is courage. That is hope.

When the end of the book came, I had tears running down my face. They wouldn't stop. They're still there now.

And I hope they never leave.

ABIDE WITH ME is available through Amazon UK:

Amazon US:



Friday, March 30, 2012

The Summing Up, Friday, March 30, 2012

Check out my review of Coriolanus on CRIMESPREE CINEMA, right here.

The Summing Up, Friday, March 30, 2012

Patti Abbott, The work of John Marquand
Yvette Banek, The Mummy Case Mystery, Dermot Morrah
Joe Barone, The Will of the Tribe, Arthur W. Upfield
Brian Busby, The Deadly Dames, Malcolm Douglas
Bill Crider, Who Done It, Alice Laurence and Issac Asimov
Martin Edwards. Crime on the Coast and No Flowers by Request, (Round Robins by various wrtiers)
Jose Ignacio Escribano, The Mystery of Sintra Road, Eca de Queiroz and Ramalho Ortigao
Ed Gorman, The Crimes of Jordan Wise, Bill Pronzini
Jerry House, The Man Who Fell to Earth, Walter S. Tevis
Randy Johnson, Mute Witness, Robert L. Pike
Nick Jones, A Time to Kill, Geoffrey Household
George Kelley, Falconer, John Cheever
Margot Kinberg, The Case of the Velvet Claws, Erle Stanley Gardner
Rob Kitchin, The Long Midnight of Barney Thomson, Douglas Lindsay
K.A. Laity, The Life of Christina of Markyate, C.H. Talbot
B.V. Lawson, Voice Out of Darkness, Ursula Curtis
Steve Lewis/Walker Martin, The Complete Casebook of Cardigan, Vol 1, Frederick Nebel
Evan Lewis, "The Pools of Piranhas" Robert Leslie Bellem
Heath Lowrance, Wise Blood, Flannery O'Connor
Todd Mason, 1978:Ariel: The Books of Fantasy; Whispers; Fantastic Stories; The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction
J. F. Norris, The Demolished Man, Alfred Bester
David Rachels, Five Million in Cash, Tiffany Thayer
James Reasoner, One of a Lonely Number, Bruce Elliott; Black Wings Has My Angel, Elliott/Chaze
Ron Scheer, The Great K & A Train Robbery, Paul Leicester Ford
Kerrie Smith, Gideoln's Night, John Creasey (.J. Marric)
Kevin Tipple, Heroes Often Fail, Frank Zafiro
TomCat, Dead Skip. Joe Gorres
Wuthering Willow, Aslauga's Knight, Friedrich de la Motte Fouque
Zybahn, Breakheart Pass, Alistair MacLean

Friday's Forgotten Books, March 30, 2012

I was a great fan of John P. Marquand as a teenager even though he was already gone. He won the Pulitizer Prize for this book. But rather than dwell on one book among many novels and even more short stories, I want to remember him as a writer.

He wrote about the upper classes in early 20th century American but not in a idolizing or idealizing way. He pointed out their faults and foibles with humor, sympathy but also with a sharp knife.

Most of the novels are set in Boston and about what used to be called Boston Brahmins. He was a fine writer and I often see his books in antique stores. My library system has only this book and it is at one of the high schools. Oddly his biography is still on the shelves so you can find out about his life if not his books. This is one of his best and I also remember B.F. Daughter, Point of No Return and Wickford Point.

He was also the author of the Mr. Moto novels, about a Japanese spy. These were made into movies with Peter Lorre playing the gentleman.

Ed Gorman is the author of the Dev Conrad and Sam McCain series along with lots of other great stuff. You can find him here.

The Crimes of Jordan Wise, by Bill Pronzini.

Actuary Jordan Wise tells a joke on himself a third of the way through the novel: (paraphrase) an actuary is somebody who doesn’t have the personality to be an accountant.

If you watch many true crime shows, you see a lot of Jordan Wises. People who fall into crime through circumstance rather than those who go looking for it.

Jordan becomes a criminal only after meeting Annalise, a troubled and very attractive young woman who needs two things badly – sex and money. But in order to get the sex on a regular basis, Jordan must first provide the money. He embezzles a half million dollars and flees with Annalise to the Virgin Islands. In this first part of the novel, there’s nice James M. Cainian detail about how Jordan comes alive for the first time in his life. Some of this is due, whether he admits it or not, to the danger of committing a serious crime. But most of it is due to Annalise and his profound sexual awakening.

The central section of the book reminds me of one of Maugham’s great South Seas tales – lust, betrayal, shame played out against vast natural beauty and a native society that, thanks to an old sea man named Bone, Jordan comes to see value in – even if Annalise, her head filled with dreams of Paris and glamor, does not. Old Maugham got one thing right for sure – as Pronzini demonstrates here – a good share of humanity, wherever you find them, is both treacherous and more than slightly insane.

There are amazing sections of writing about sea craft and sailing that remind me not of old Travis McGee but of the profoundly more troubled and desperate men of Charles Williams who find purity and peace only in the great and epic truths of the sea. That they may be as crazed and treacherous as everybdy else does not seem to bother them unduly.

There are also amazing sections (almost diaristic sections) where Jordan tells of us his fears and desires, his failings and his dreams. In places he deals vididly, painfully with his secret terror of not being enough of a man in any sense to hold Annalise.

The publisher calls this a novel and so it is. Pronzini brings great original depth to the telling of this dark adventure that is both physical and spiritual. He has never written a better novel, the prose here literary in the best sense, lucid and compelling, fit for both action and introspection.

You can’t read a page of this without seeing it in movie terms. The psychologically violent love story played out against a variety of contemporary settings gives the narrative great scope. And in Jordan Wise and Annalise he has created two timeless people. This story could have been set in ancient Egypt or Harlem in 1903 or an LA roller skating disco in 1981. As Faulkner said, neither the human heart nor the human dilemma ever changes.

Yvette Banek
Joe Barone
Brian Busby
Bill Crider
Martin Edwards
Jose Ignacio Escribano
Jerry House
Randy Johnson
Nick Jones
George Kelley
Margot Kinberg
Rob Kitchin
K.A. Laity
B.V. Lawson
Steve Lewis/Walker Martin
Evan Lewis
Heath Lowrance
Todd Mason
J. F. Norris
David Rachels
James Reasoner
Ron Scheer
Kerrie Smith
Kevin Tipple/Barry Ergang
Wuthering Willow and Wuthering Willow

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Dutch and the Kid

My Life at the Theater: Cobb

We saw this at the Meadowbrook Theater in Rochester, Michigan in 1991. My memory of it is slim. Blessing also wrote the wonderful WALK IN THE WOODS, but this play was not up to that standard.

Most of the trouble lay with the miserable person Cobb was. But he was miserable in uninteresting ways. The play showed him at three ages and used three performers to do that. Although there were some interesting aspects to his story, it was not enough to save this play.

The thing about him was--he was a great ballplayer and there was no way to get that on the stage. So you are left with a miserable racist that nobody liked.

Your Favorite Movie About Politics

Haven't heard from any of the writers (save one) that said they were writing a flash story set in the zoo. Please confirm or deny it if possible. Thanks.

And speaking of challenges, ROSE AND THORN asked me to discuss the origins of the story, The Bride, right here.

Saw GAME CHANGE last week and thought it was a solid movie but it didn't really turn up anything that people who watched the campaign unfold didn't already know. Another performance that was more an impersonation than a insightful look at a woman. The fault was probably in the script but it was a bit disappointing.

What is your favorite political movie? I guess All The President's Men is mine. It managed to be exciting and amazing despite knowing the story. Or maybe that tale was too good to miss.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Adrienne Rich R.I.P.

The One That Didn't Work

Almost every writer has one "less than great" book in them. What book by a favorite writer let you down?

I know I am in the minority here, but I really didn't care for THE BURNT ORANGE HERESY by Charles Willeford. It was the sixth book I read by him and it just didn't grab me the way the others had.
Perhaps I wasn't prepared to buy into art criticism from him.

How about you?

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Tuesday Night Music: Jesse McReynolds

We saw Jesse twice in Nashville. What a treat.

The Book You Weren't Supposed to Read

We never forbade books for our kids and consequently I often hear Megan telling how she read THE BLACK DAHLIA at age nine or something like that. I know she read GONE WITH THE WIND in second grade, finished it, and turned to page one. The movie spurred her interest, of course. She came to most reading that way.

Love of sports led my son to a lot of his early reading although he always had a taste for humor and biography as well.
My most lucid memory of him with a book was reading BANG THE DRUM SLOWLY, which was too dark and deep for him. Yet it did him no harm, (I hope). Of we four, he is the most adventurous reader today, reading biographies of people like Alfred Einstein and Ayn Rand, crime fiction by writers like John Sanford and Henning Mankell, literary fiction by Frantzen and Richard Russo, and political books like NIXONLAND.

When I was a kid, kids read "dirty books" under cover. The first book I remember reading that I shouldn't have read was the book from the movie I posted earlier today. STRANGERS WHEN WE MEET. That was followed by FROM THE TERRACE. I don't think any of this hurt me much because sex is less likely to warp a mind than excessive violence. But still....

What was the first book you remember reading that you weren't supposed to read? Did your parents let you read the books you wanted or did they censor your choices?

Forgotten Movies: Strangers When We Meet

The first book I read when finally allowed to enter the adult section of my library was this one. The book was by Evan Hunter and he also adapted the screen play from his novel.

Sudsy but pure bliss for a twelve year old. I am not sure how I got into the
theater but I did. A twelve-year old wearing high heels and short white gloves looked older then. I sometimes think I had more confidence then than now.

Douglas and Novak are married to others but bored with their marriages. Novak never looked more beautiful. Douglas brings his usual intensity to the part. Who doesn't want a mid-life romance? Did I say that? Not me.

For more movie, check with Todd.

Monday, March 26, 2012

In Case You Missed It

I Like For You To Be Still

Best Rejection Letter Yet

Here is the link to a video of Megan's panel in Australia with Jo Nesbo.

Next Monday, FLASH FICTION CHALLENGE. A story set at a zoo. Mine needs to go past my reading group.
Let me know.

Best Rejection Letter This Time Around.

From a well-known agent:

Dear Ms. Abbott
I have read the chapters you sent me from SHOT IN DETROIT and although I enjoyed what I read, my enjoyment was not enough to read more.....

Really wouldn't you think an agent might have a better way of rejecting a ms. after years of doing it. Wouldn't he/she have a standard rejection letter that was kind but firm. I really resent the flippant attitude of this one, in particular.

How about:

Dear Ms. Abbott:

I enjoyed what I read of SHOT IN DETROIT. Unfortunately I find myself unable to represent it.

Or something like that. You have to wonder if some agents have a streak of masochism in them.

What's the worst one you've received? Or better yet, do you know an agent looking for clients?

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Sunday Night Music: Three-Legged Dog

And James Sallis, playing the mandolin (he plays all string instruments) can write a little too.

Worst Adaptation of a Novel

Thanks to David Cranmer for posting my new story, Eyes Open, on Beat to a Pulp.

Haven't seen THE HUNGER GAMES yet and the reviews are really varied.
There are so many bad adaptation, it is amazing when someone gets it right. Or in a few cases, improves on the original text.

The one I was most disappointed in recently was I AM LEGEND. The point of the story was actually subverted to give the audience the ending the studio thought they wanted. If the average movie goer in this case loved the story, why do they think the ending needs changing-and really the whole second half?

What's your favorite bad example?

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Saturday Night Music: Paul McCartney

Fairy Tales, Monsters and the Genetic Imagination

This is a life sized sculpture.

This was part of a terrific exhibit at the Frist Center in Nashville. Of course, I was able to identify the fairy tales, but I realized how alien (ha) most monsters are to my reading. Who is your favorite monster? What books about monsters other than Frankenstein do I need to read? Is King Kong a genetic mutation. I guess so.

One video, in particular, interested me. A group of puffballs made their way over to a sleeping child. At first, the viewer is repulsed and feels worried for the child, but your perception changes over time. Are these puff balls monsters based on their appearance, their unfamiliarity or is it the sense of threat that makes them monsters? What is a monster?

Friday, March 23, 2012

The Summing Up, Friday, March 23, 2012

My review of Coriolanus (ah, come on. You know you want to see it) is here.

The Summing Up, Friday, March 23, 2012

Patti Abbott, The Unquiet Night, Patricia Carlon
Sergio Angelini, The April Robin Murders, Craig Rice and Ed McBain
Yvette Banek, She Shall Have Murder, Delano Ames
Joe Barone, Divine Inspiration, Jane Langton
Brian Busby, Tarboe, Gilbert Porter
Bill Crider, King of the Golden River, John Ruskin
Scott Cupp, Science Fiction Comics: An Illustrated History, Mike Benton
Martin Edwards, The Footsteps at the Lock, Ronald Knox
Elisabeth Grace Foley, Calling Dr. Kildare, Max Brand
Ed Gorman, The Plastic Nightmare, Richard Neely
Randy Johnson, The Name of the Game is Death, Dan J. Marlowe
Nick Jones, Tales of Adventure: Short Stories by Geoffrey Household
George Kelley, Past Masters, R.A Lafferty
Margot Kinberg, Deadly Appearances, Gail Bowen
K.A. Laity, Somebody Owes Me Money, Donald Westlake
B.V. Lawson, Trouble with Produce X, Joan Aiken
Evan Lewis, A Free Race Williams Adventure, Carroll John Daly
Steve Lewis, Penny Dreadful, Susan Moody
Todd Mason, Budrys, Ellison, Nabokov and Sturgeon read from their work
David Rachels, Lucky at Cards, Lawrence Block
James Reasoner, Black Friday and Selected Stories, David Goodis
Gerard Saylor, The Right Madness, James Crumley
Ron Scheer, The Voice in the Desert, Pauline Bradford Mackie
Kerrie Smith, No More Dying Then, Ruth Rendell
Kevin Tipple/Barry Ergang, Fat Ollie's Book, Ed McBain
TomCat, Killed in the Act, William DeAndrea
Zybahn, Whiskaboom, Alan Arkin (short story)

Friday's Forgotten Books, March 23, 2012

Reminder: April 13 is John D. MacDonald week. Let me know if you'd like to do a review if you don't ordinarily do one.

Ed Gorman is the author of BLINDSIDE, the newest Dev Conrad story. You can find him

The Plastic Nightmare, Richard Neely

Richard Neely wrote non-series crime novels that pretty much covered the entire range of dark suspense. I mentioned that in the best of them the weapon of choice is not poison, bullets or garrote. He always prefered sexual betrayl.

Plastic is a good example. Using amnesia as the central device ,Dan Mariotte must reconstruct his life. Learning that the beautiful woman at his bedside all these months in the hospital--his wife--may have tried to kill him in a car accident is only the first of many surprises shared by Mariotte and the reader alike.

What gives the novel grit is Neely's take on the privileged class. He frequently wrote about very successful men (he was a very successful adverts man himself) and their women. The time was the Seventies. Private clubs, privte planes, private lives. But for all the sparkle of their lives there was in Neely's people a despair that could only be assauged (briefly) by sex. Preferably illicit sex. Betrayl sex. Men betrayed women and women betrayed men. It was Jackie Collins only for real.

Plastic is a snapshot of a certain period, the Seventies when the Fortune 500 dudes wore sideburns and faux hippie clothes and flashed the peace sign almost as often as they flashed their American Express Gold cards. Johny Carson hipsters. The counter culture co-opted by th pigs.

The end is a stunner, which is why I can say little about the plot. Neely knew what he was doing. Watching him work was always a pleasure.

THE UNQUIET NIGHT, Patricia Carlon

Reading Michael Robotham recently and it reminded me of Patricia Carlon, another Aussie who I read about a decade or so ago when my library purchased copies of her reprinted books (Soho Press).

This was her novel that truly impressed me. Martin Deeford, a lonely clerk picks up Rose Gault, a young woman waiting for a bus on a rainy Sunday afternoon. She is willing to have sex, but he wants to talk and it ends badly for Rose. Leaving afterward, he runs into a woman walking nearby with a child. He then tries to find and silence the witness.

The woman, a jeweler, hasn't witnessed anything at all and Rose, it turns out is not dead. This is a game of cat and mouse, where neither party knows his/her role in the game. At 190 pages you can read this in a sitting and you probably will. Carlon reminds me of Margaret Millar with her psychological insights into the lives of two lonely people.

Sergio Angelini
Yvette Banek
Joe Barone
Brian Busby
Bill Crider
Scott Cupp
Martin Edwards
Elisabeth Grace Foley
Randy Johnson
Nick Jones
George Kelley
Margot Kinberg
K.A. Laity
B.V. Lawson
Evan Lewis
Steve Lewis
Todd Mason
David Rachels
James Reasoner
Gerard Saylor
Ron Scheer
Kerrie Smith
Kevin Tipple/Barry Ergang

Thursday, March 22, 2012

My Life at the Theater: Master Class

We saw this on Broadway in 1996. I am not a Patti Lupone fan and this play did not change my mind about her. She's always too stagey for my taste. Perhaps the book by Terence McNally was also not to my taste. I am sure I would not have liked it any better with Tyne Dailey who also played it. There was not enough interaction between characters. Just Patti Lupone opining to three opera students on what makes a great opera singer. Based on Maria Callas, it was a big hit. Just not for me.

The Short Story

I know many people who never read short stories. They claim shorts are not absorbing enough to spend time with. They don't transport them to the place that good novels do. Of course, I disagree with this. And because a short story can usually be read in one sitting, the experience can be very transporting. You usually know very clearly what the story is about.

In the 2011 O'Henry Awards, A.M. Homes compares novels to short stories by using the metaphor of a train. "The novel is a cross-country trip; one boards leisurely in D.C. and watches the landscape unfold as the train passes through Maryland, Ohio, Illinois as one prepares to disembark in L.A.'s Union Station. The short story is like hopping on that same train already in motion in Chicago and riding it into Albuquerque with no time to waste."

Is this a good metaphor for you? Yes and no. I don't see why the short story has to told as she indicated by the phrase "no time to waste." Also some novels seem to rush by us and some short stories seem to linger on a moment forever.

How would you define the difference?

How I Came to Write This Book: Nick Quantrill

How I came to write – “The Late Greats” (by Nick Quantrill)

“The Late Greats” is the second novel to feature my Hull-based Private Investigator, Joe Geraghty. My debut, “Broken Dreams”, was a very deliberate attempt to capture something specific about the city using the decline of its fishing industry as a mechanism. Although “The Late Greats” takes place within the confines of the city, the focus is on the feel of the place and its wider relationship with the rest of the country. Hull is an isolated city on the north east coast of England. We’re resourceful and not easily impressed. We’re warm but suspicious. Finding the story I wanted to tell was troublesome. I collected newspaper cuttings, I made notes and I listened to people talk. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t. Sometimes the unexpected triggers an idea.

The seeds of “The Late Greats” were sown from something trivial. Music is one of my passions. I’m the kind person who goes to Record Fairs and delights in collecting obscure B-sides. I’ve put the hours in down at my local music venue, The Adelphi. When one too many of the bands I liked in 1990s bands reformed, I’d seen and heard enough. One band in particular pushed me over the edge. I won’t name and shame, but I’d always admired their willingness to take risks and change over time. However, their comeback tour saw them do nothing more than trot out their greatest hits. It was lazy and cynical. As a music fan, it left a bitter taste, but as a crime writer it was interesting. Bands invariably breakdown when personal relationships fail, big egos get in the way and all sense of reality is lost. Are the smiling faces we see just painted on? Are the words that come out of their mouths just meaningless platitudes? What really goes on backstage? My guess is that these comebacks must produce incredible highs and intense self-loathing. I was sure I could use it as the backdrop to a story. All good crime novels are driven by tension and conflict. All I needed was a hook and it was obvious what that hook needed to be – money.

The focus of “The Late Greats” is New Holland. Persuaded by their manager, Kane Major, to reform, Geraghty is employed as a general fixer, but his job description soon changes when singer, Greg Tasker, goes missing. The deeper Geraghty digs in his search, the more unpleasant truths he finds. At first I let myself be swept away – I’m a music fan – I plotted a discography, and if I’d allowed myself, I could have written a whole book on the fictitious band. Reigning myself in, I quickly discovered New Holland was just the starting point. Although they’re at the epicentre of the story, it was the outward ripples which interested me more.

As much as Tasker and Major are to the fore, Geraghty remains the star of the story. “Broken Dreams” saw him determined to find out who was behind the death of his wife in a house wife. What he discovered isn’t really the story now. It’s about how he moves on and decides to live his life. Despite the undeniable attraction to his work colleague, Sarah, the introduction of Julia Gowans, a journalist covering New Holland’s comeback complicates matters. “The Late Greats” is a novel about friendship, loyalty and what really constitutes success in life. Although it’s Geraghty asking the questions, there’s no doubt the questions equally apply to him.


“The Late Greats” is published by Caffeine Nights. “Broken Dreams” is available now. Joe Geraghty short stories feature in Volumes Eight and Nine of “The Mammoth Book of Best British Crime.”

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Illness and the Modern Novel


I don't know if anyone else has noticed this, but in almost every book I pick up lately a major character has an ailment of some kind: Parkinson's Disease, Alzheimers, Blindness, Deafness, brain disorders, cancer and their kids have autism, Downs Syndrome, aphasia, mental illness.

Is this because the reading audience is getting older and both the writers and readers are affected by such ailments? Or was it always like this and I missed it?

I am not really talking about characters that are victims of crime, but ones that are victims of physical ailments and disabilities. What ails us?

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Tuesday Night Music: Esperanza Spalding

Don't You Love This, Writers?

You are pushing a story along--one that has a fun premise but doesn't seem to have a good route to neat end. Your back hurts, your eyes are tired. Surfing the Internet seems like a good idea. What is Sandra doing? How about Kieran?

And suddenly, there it is. The jolt that makes it worthwhile. The thing that makes me want to get up tomorrow and come back to this wretched desk, this humming machine when I could go see Hunger Games. Your fingers or your brain seemed to do it all alone. You are just a passenger on this journey.

Forgotten Movies: IRMA LA DOUCE

I am having trouble commenting on anyone's blog who uses wordpress. This began when I started the 365 short story project which uses wordpress. If you don't see me, I am probably there. Just a ghost of my former self.

I am a great Jack Lemmon fan and this Billy Wilder movie from 1963 is a favorite. Lemmon plays a naive Parisian cop who is assigned to the Red Light District. There he falls for a charming hooker played by Shirley Maclaine, and does what he can to keep her from meeting up with clients. This makes him her pimp. A delightful comedy-and not the dark movie it sounds. At least if I remember it correctly. Can you see from this clip what a great silent actor he would have been?

THE APARTMENT, which also paired this duo, was far darker and even more terrific if less forgotten than IRMA LA DOUCE.

Lemmon was brilliant at playing nervous insecure men. I can't think of anyone who did it better. Can you?

For more forgotten movies, Todd Mason is the toastmaster general,

Monday, March 19, 2012

Monday Night Music: Mark Wills

We heard him at the Grand Ole Opry and he was just great.

Series Arcs


Phil claims that no TV show with a series arc has ever been successful in bringing it off. I guess this depends of what sort of arc you mean. FNL brought off the idea of showing you a Texas town through the guise of football for five years pretty well. China Beach gave us the tribulations of the war in Vietnam in good fashion.

But he has another sort of show in mind. He has never gotten over the failure of Lost, The X Files and similar shows--the ones that deal in something beyond regular life--to pull it off. He claims the writers are flying by the seat of their pants in this sort of show.

Some shows have successful arcs season to season: The Wire, Dexter, for instance. But a series arc with a theme more daring than FNL, are there any?

SNUBNOSE COVER ART can be found right here.

Sunday, March 18, 2012


Since a lot of you are bloggers, I want to ask you a question or two.

Do you admit to your non-blogging friends that you have a blog? What is their attitude toward it? Do your real life friends read your blog? Do they roll their eyes if you mention it? Do they tell you they just don't have the time for things like that?

Friday, March 16, 2012

Friday's Forgotten Books, March 16, 2012

You can find the links at Todd Mason's place right here.

See you next Friday.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

My Life at the Theater: A STONECARVER

A terrific little play if it comes you way. It is dependent on an intimate theater and three great actors. The Purple Rose Theater in Chelsea Michigan has all three. The play was written by William Mastrosimone and had just the right amount of anger, sentiment, loss to make is zing. Saw it last Saturday, March 10, 2012,

Yes. we will drive 90 minutes there and 90 back to see an 88 minute play. Call us crazy.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

How I Came To Write This Book: Alison Gaylin

How I Came to Write This Book


by Alison Gaylin

I often get asked, ‘What comes first for you – character or plot?’ Usually, it’s a little of both. (With TRASHED, for instance, my reluctant tabloid reporter and the series of Hollywood slayings pretty much popped into my head hand-in-hand.) But with AND SHE WAS, it was neither. A few years ago, I came across an article about a man with hyperthymesia – perfect autobiographical memory. There are only a handful of known cases of hyperthymesia in the world, and it involves recalling every single day of your life, from start to finish, with all five senses. I read that article, and I thought, “Oh my God. How awful,” and thus began the two-to-three year obsession that culminated in this book.

The aspect of this syndrome that struck me as both fascinating and tragic was not so much the ability to remember everything (which granted, is great for a detective), but the inability to forget anything. The idea of experiences – good and bad – remaining just as alive in your mind as the day they happened… I’m not sure I’d be able to live with that. And so I had to build a character around it. Originally, Brenna was a videographer who sets out to solve her sister’s long-ago disappearance after hearing a voice she recalls as that of her abductor, but I found that character ineffectual, and too removed from the action. So I made Brenna a private detective, specializing in locating missing persons. The germ of the plot came from one of my earliest traumatic experiences: When I was four years old, I wandered off from a neighborhood party, taking a younger girl with me. We got lost pretty fast. A woman came out of her house, scolded me, and took the little girl in with her, to safety, leaving me alone on the sidewalk. I guess it was my first rejection, and so, of course, I had to create a plot around it.

This was definitely my hardest book to write. It involves three different mysteries, the oldest of which is 28 years old, and the newest of which happened just a few days ago. I wrote and wrote and rewrote and reorganized, again and again. I have a computer file of cut scenes that is over 200 pages long. And even after I’d delivered what I thought was a pretty good first draft, it was called to my attention that the timeline was off – not a mistake you want to make in a book about a character with perfect memory.

All in all, though, I have to say the experience of writing AND SHE WAS was both exhausting -- and deeply fulfilling. And it is one that both the copy editor and myself are not likely to forget for a very long time.

Alison Gaylin is the Edgar-nominated author of TRASH, YOU KILL ME, HIDE YOUR EYES and HEARTLESS.

Monday, March 12, 2012

Interesting Article about Dan Marlowe in LA REVIEW OF BOOKS

Right here.

This publication is distinguishing itself by publishing articles across the board. Check out this fine piece.

Who is Your Favorite Heroine in TV, Books or Movies?

Midway to April 2's, flash fiction challenge A DAY AT THE ZOO. (You don't have to call it that. I'm not) If you haven't said you're in, well, get in. The more, the furrier.

Five brilliant British films from the sixties on TCM tonight.

Your Favorite Heroine

I am going with Helen Mirren's Jane Tennison in Prime Suspect. That show and Mirren showed what happened to a female police chief over time. Sure, Buffy is fun at 18, but this is what happens to her by 55. Kicking ass is not so endearing after a certain age. You need a more sedate approach.

Jane Tennison had to deal with sexism before Lizbeth Salander came along. She rose in the ranks but the job took its toll, making her a lonely alcoholic by the last series.

Only an actress of Mirren's caliber could pull this off. Great writing too.
Too bad they didn't give the US version a chance to find its mojo.

So what woman do you want to save your ass or catch the bad guy who put it in jeopardy.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Sunday Night Music: Chris Isaak

Changing the Ending

In a book I am listening to by Carolyn Parkhurst (THE NOBODIES ALBUM), her protagonist is a writer who with her eighth book decides to change the endings of her first seven books.

I think this would be a great exercise for writers-go back to an early story and change the ending and maybe we can do it sometime.

But it made me think: in what novel/movie would you change the ending ?

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Saturday Night Music: Estelle

Gosh, it's Ray Banks and me. If you have it in you to vote one more time, go here and do it.

Friday, March 09, 2012

Friday Night Music, Sarah Vaughan

The Summing Up, March 9, 2012

Patti Abbott, An Unsuitable Job for a Woman, P.D. James
Sergio Angelini, Darkness at Pemberly, T.H. White
Yvette Banek, Ravished, Amanda Quick
Joe Barone, The Snack Thief. Andrea Camilleri
Brian Busby, A Beat in View, Margare Millar
Bill Crider, The Mammoth Books of New World Science Fiction: Short Novels from the Sixties, Isaac Asimov
Scott Cupp, The Licking Valley Cooper Hunter's Club, Brian A Hopkins
Martin Edwards, Some Must Watch, Ethel Lina White
Elisabeth Grace Foley, Hay-Wire, B. M. Bauer
Ed Gorman, The Executioner, John D. MacDonald
Jerry House, Plays for Earth and Air, Lord Dunsany
Randy Johnson, The Far Frontier, William Rotsler
George Kelley, A Princess of Mars, Edgar Rice Burroughs
Margot Kinberg, Miss Smilla's Feeling for Snow, Peter Hoeg
B.V. Lawson, The President's Mystery Plot, ed. Fulton Oursler, based on an idea by F.D. R.
Evan Lewis, The Score, Richard Stark
Steve Lewis, The Mouse in the Mountain, Norbert Davis
Todd Mason, The Fanciest Dive, Christopher Byron
Linda McLaughlin, Lost Horizon, James Hilton
J.F. Norris, Ten Little Wizards, Michael Kurland
David Rachels, The Name of the Game is Death, Dan J. Marlowe
James Reasoner, Texas Shall Be Free, H. Bedford Jones
Gerard Saylor, The Guns of Heaven, Pete Hamill
Ron Scheer, With Hoops of Steel, Florence Finch Kelly
Kerrie Smith, The Best Man to Die, Ruth Rendell
Kevin Tipple, Death Will Get You Sober, Elizabeth Zelvin
Zybahn, "Block that Metaphor," Robert Bloch

Friday's Forgotten Books, Friday, March 9, 2012

Thanks to Cullen Gallagher for taking a chance of a novice's attempt at a western. You can find it on FIRES ON THE PLAIN. Along with two other great yarns.

Dedicated to Joseph Reading, who read westerns religiously--"but not the fancy ones."


John D. MacDonald, it is. Friday, April 14th is the date. Everyone who chances by is welcom e to do a review. If you don't have a blog I will be happy to post it. Just let me know.
I am claiming APRIL EVIL since I have had it on my shelf for ten years at least. I don't know if we should coordinate books or not, but I hate being chairmany so if we have multiple reviews, we have multiple reviews. I hope this turns out even half as well as the Westlake one. And speaking of John D. MacDonald, Ed has used his amazing psychic powers to come up with this.

Ed Gorman is the author of the Dev Conrad series, the Sam McCann series, numerous westerns and other good stuff. You can find him here.

The Executioners by John D. MacDonald

I usually read a John D. novel every month or so. There are eight or nine I never get tired of simply because they're so well done.

Last night I picked up The Executioners (Cape Fear) for bedtime reading and read to page 102 before turning out the light. Yes, a few of his flaws on are on display, especially cutesy-poo man-woman dialogue but mostly in first half of the first act. But except for that this is a virtually perfect suspense novel. MacDonald wisely hews to the Hitchcock rule--suspense comes from knowing that the bomb is under the chair. MacDonald plants the bomb in the first chapter and then slowly lets the wick burn lower and lower. Several lesser incidents anticipate the final explosion.

Cady isn't Robert Mitchum's Cady but he could be his cousin. The scene where the family buries the dog Cady kills is as fresh and moving as it was the first time I read it. The wife is a tough woman, not the Polly Bergen version. And protagonist Sam, while not a typical MacDonald tough guy, is not the cipher he seems to be in the movie. JDM gives him real depth here.

The Executioners would be written very differently today. It would be angrier, bloodier, more brutal in terms of Cady's psychology (Mitchum got it exactly). But for me The Executioners bears re-reading because it's one of the best stories told by one of the best storytellers of my time on the planet.

Next week, March 16th, Todd will be the toastmaster. I will leave a link to his site.

(Patti Abbott)

Although James is certainly not a forgotten writer, especially with A DEATH AT PEMBERLY out as I write this, I think this is one of her least read novels since it didn't feature Adam Dagleish. It was the first James' book I read though and I liked it very much. The very young female detective, Cordelia Gray, was something new to me. And she was just about my age.

Her first case (after the suicide of her elderly mentor in a detective agency) involved the death of Cambridge dropout, Mark Callender, who died hanging by the neck with a smudge of lipstick on his mouth. Cordelia is hired to prove this was no suicide. Or, if it was, what sparked it. She finds out that and more.

Now if you look at the reviews this novel receives on Good Reads, it is clearly not a favorite of James' fans. And reading it forty years later is probably not seeing it at its best. It's a period piece in a way.

It sparked a lot of discussion at the time. Women were not a integral part of police forces, of courtrooms, of army units, and certainly not PIs. Cordelia Gray was the forerunner of the female PIs written about in the forty years since. Because Cordelia was portrayed as feminine, naive and inexperienced rather than like the ballsy women Grafton, Paretsky and Muller wrote about a bit later, she seems as much a relic as Mrs. Marple today. But at the time, it felt right. At the time, it was a step forward. You have only to look at the female policeman on LIFE ON MARS to see what they were up against. (Not to take my world view from TV, but it's a quick example)

Cordelia only appears in one more novel, THE SKULL BENEATH THE SKIN. Too bad. I would have liked to see what happened to her.

Sergio Angelini
Yvette Banek
Joe Barone
Brian Busby
Bill Crider
Scott Cupp
Martin Edwards
Elisabeth Grace Foley
Jerry House
Randy Johnson
George Kelley
Margot Kinberg
B.V. Lawson
Evan Lewis
Steve Lewis
Todd Mason
Linda McLaughlin
J.F. Norris
David Rachels
James Reasoner
Gerard Saylor
Ron Scheer
Kerrie Smith
Kevin Tipple

Thursday, March 08, 2012

My Life at the Theater: Freud's Last Session

We saw this at the Century Theater in Detroit in November. It was a two-person play about a possible meeting between Freud and C.S. Lewis in the late thirties in London where they mostly debated the existence of God.

It was well done although perhaps a bit static and didactic. But certainly well worth the small price we paid for it.

Greg Shepard from Prologue Books

Made it to the final four in the Spinetingler ebook contest, but I am likely to go down to Neil Smith. If you want to keep MONKEY JUSTICE afloat, vote here.

e Evolution of Prologue Books, Greg Shepard

When I was a teenager, I didn’t have a bookstore in my town. So the only place I ran across new books was in the wire and spinner racks in the corner drug store and Sprouse-Reitz (too young yet to be visiting the liquor stores). We didn’t even have a used bookstore. For that I had to talk my dad into driving all the way over to Sacramento to Beer’s Books, a dusty little den where my allowance went a little further. But that didn’t happen too often.

We all know that when you’re a kid, if you don’t have something, you make do. So I poured over these drug store spinner racks. I was a science fiction reader then, so all those great John D. MacDonald and Carter Brown and Frank Kane and Brett Halliday and Mickey Spillane books were just a tease to me. They seemed to promise so much—a forbidden world of adult problems, adult concerns….and sex. Tempting, but…..

Science fiction was escape. This mystery stuff looked scary real. At the time, I kept to the safe stuff. Even the mysteries I read were safe: Phyllis A. Whitney, Conan Doyle, E. Phillips Oppenheim. But I still remember those paperback covers. Dell had all the best covers, dark and alluring. Signet was a close second. Later I discovered that Gold Medal had the best writers. Maybe they just didn’t have the best distributor in my town. That may have been the case. I don’t remember seeing them at the drug store. When I think of those spinner racks, I always think of Dell Books.

Eventually, I found out what I had been missing when I didn’t buy the hot, new Johnny Liddell mystery but kept to the latest Ace Double Science Fiction instead. By this time, sf (we never called it sci-fi) had discovered sex, too, so that wasn’t the big deal. But all the time, I had been right—these forbidden fruit books really were pretty damn dark: cynical, subversive, not always delivering a happy ending, sometimes taking the hero down at the end in a spray of lead. Most of the time the main character was just a screwed up mess.

First I discovered Cornell Woolrich because Ace started reprinting them and I was a big Ace Books collector back then. Weird, twisted stories they were: nightmarish. Then came the hardboiled period. I read all the Raymond Chandler novels. And Dashiell Hammett. And James Cain.

I started reading Jim Thompson and David Goodis in the mid-80’s when I discovered the Black Box Thrillers from England. And quickly graduated to W. R. Burnett and Horace McCoy, Peter Rabe and Gil Brewer, Vin Packer, Fletcher Flora, Harry Whittington, Charles Williams. Dark stuff, tortured heroes, crimes gone wrong, thwarted desires, lots of drinking, lots of smoking. I had found my heroes. And bought up every old mystery paperback I could find, everything I had said no to back in my youth.

Eventually I was able to translate that love affair into a reprint publishing house, Stark House Press. And even more eventually, I was able to team up with Ben LeRoy and help get these authors into the modern ebook format via a new website, Prologue Books. It’s been a long trip from a town without a bookstore to today’s internet-saturated world where everything is available. Yes, it’s all available, but Prologue just made it a whole lot easier. It’s almost like having a new bookstore in town…..

Greg Shepard

Stark House Press
Prologue Books