Thursday, September 27, 2012

My Life at the Theater: A Hard Heart

I saw this at the Clurman Theater in New York in 2007. I can think of few plays I liked less than this one. It was cynical without being interesting. Opaque and yet preachy at the same time. I'll leave it at that. I can't think why we chose it. Maybe the tickets were free?

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Opening Credits: Taxi


47 short stories, based on classic film titles...

Following the Spinetingler award nominated 'Off The Record', the charity anthology featuring stories based on classic song titles, comes the highly anticipated sequel.

This time, inspiration arrives in the form of classic film titles. With an introduction penned by Chris Ewan and featuring some of biggest and brightest names writing today including...

Will Carver, Steve Mosby, Helen FitzGerald, Adrian McKinty, Matt Hilton, Stav Sherez, Claire McGowan, Sean Cregan, David Jackson, Mel Sherratt, Nick Quantrill, Maxim Jakubowski, and many, many more...

47 writers from around the world. All coming together to raise money for two children's literacy charities...

In the UK, National Literacy Trust.

In the US, Children's Literacy Initiative.

From Crime to Fantasy, Taxi Driver to Weekend at Bernie's, there's something for everyone in this collection of 47 short stories.

And all proceeds from the sales of this anthology go directly to charity!

My story is called MERMAIDS. And it is definitely not based on the Cher movie but rather on an experience of my wild youth. 

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Tuesday Night Music: Every Breath You Take

Welcome back HOMELAND.

My Life According to Books

Stolen from Naomi Johnson, who got it here. 
Blogger, editor, and actress extraordinaire PopCultureNerd has presented her annual literary self-examination, My Life According to Books. Each year, PCN creates sentence starters that must be completed by a book title she has read in the current year (though the book may have been published at any time). It's just too much fun to pass up (ask Jen Forbus), so using PCN's starting sentences here is My Life According to Books, 2012.

Every Monday I look/feel like: Resistance (Barry Lopez)

Last time I went to a doctor/therapist was because: Memory, Donald Westlake

Last meal I ate was: Suspect (Michael Robothan)

My savings account is:Gone Girl, Gillian Flynn

When a creepy guy/girl asks for my number, Started Early, Took My Dog, Kate Atkinson

Ignorant politicians make me: Blue Nights, Joan Didion

Some people need to spend more time: Making Babies (Anne Enright)

My memoir could be titled: The Revised Fundamentals of Caregiving (Jonathan Evison)

If I could have, I would have told my teenage self: How to Build a Better Girl, Elissa Schapell)

In five years I hope I am:State of Wonder, Ann Patchett


MARY HARTMAN, MARY HARTMAN was one of the oddest shows to ever capture the nation's imagination--and not for very long. It was a nightly soap opera that ran in 1976-77 about the trials and tribulations of an American housewife named Mary Hartman. It was tongue in cheek, of course, as Louise Lasser (Mary ) ran around with her hair in pigtails, suffering from the antics of her husband, mother, sister and friend. Much was made of her determination to get her kitchen floor clean.

It was aired late at night because it was somewhat controversial in its themes although daytime soaps seemed similar if less direct to me. The second season found Mary in a mental hospital and the show morphed for a time into FOREVER FERNWOOD and FERNDALE TONIGHT, the name of the town where it took place. Some amusing moments over the weeks it played. But too goofy to last long.

Monday, September 24, 2012

Movie Theme Music: Bridge on the River Kwai

Flash Fiction Challenge, Frank Jr.

FLASH FICTION CHALLENGE DAY. Write a story of 1000 words or less entitled Frank Jr.

Jerry House
Dana King
Evan Lewis
Don Lafferty
Kieran Shea
John Weagley
Jim Winter

Frank Jr.
By Patricia Abbott
He’d never made love to a man under 25—not since he’d passed that age himself. He’d never made love to a parishioner, nor to anyone in a position of subservience. Never to a woman because he knew he was gay, or queer as they called it then, by the age of twelve. Didn’t seem fair trying to pretend otherwise at someone's expense. Probably couldn’t have done it anyway.
God would help him find his way. That’s what he eventually decided. God made him like this for a purpose. Frank Jr.—and then after his ordainment Father Bertram--believed that fervently. How could he not?
             He’d only made love with seven men in his life: with a history professor in college, and then with a boy down the hall his senior year, with his roommate in the seminary a few times, and a doctor who’d he’d been sent to with neck problems when he first entered the priesthood, an artist exhibiting his art in a park down the street from his church in Buffalo (only once), a priest in a parish in the Detroit suburbs he’d met at meetings at the archdiocese.
His brother, Howard, was the first. Howard was as fine-featured and slight as Frank Jr. was rough-hewn and large. Was it possible they even shared the same father?
If Frank counted all his sexual encounters with these men over twenty-five years, they’d number less than fifty. He didn’t know how to count the times with his brother. Did what they did in their cold attic room really count as sex? Most of it was touching, caresses, nuzzling. Didn’t all boys do this with other boys? Wasn’t it more about comfort and warmth in their case?
There’d been no other children, or even many people, in their lives back then, living as they did with a mother who rarely left the house except to go to work. Who disliked her boys leaving home.
“They’ll beat you up,” she said. “You’re the only black boys in this town. And sissy ones to boot.” She’d known before they did.
She came to New Hampshire from New Orleans to cook for a rich white man who favored the Creole cooking she'd been taught, and she went straight from his kitchen to their tiny under-heated, under-furnished house—no stops in between every night. Frank. Jr. and Howard did the shopping, negotiated everything else in the outside world. And at nights, they did what they did. At least, in winter, they could pretend they were keeping warm.
There was no Frank Sr. Never had been. It was years before they cottoned to the fact that Frank Sr. was their mother’s invention. They wondered if they even shared a father but couldn’t ask. Every question, even everyday stuff—like could she sign their permission slip to go to the museum in Concord—seemed to bring her pain, anger.
            Howard killed himself at twenty-three following a dishonorable discharge from the Navy. Frank Jr. decided to become a priest the next year. His mother had moved in with the rich white man by then, something the man wanted, she said.
“Do you share his bed?” Frank Jr. asked in a shuddering voice, as she helped him pack his bags.
She didn’t look up. “If he wants. I do what he wants.”
His mother was forty-five—the man nearing seventy. He reminded Frank of Colonel Sanders or Mark Twain, some fancy white guy in a loose white suit. Facial hair, red-faced, dour. For Christmas, he’d given the boys school supplies with the admonition to study hard if they wanted a better life. If he gave their mother anything, she didn’t mention it.
           He’d never kill himself, Frank Jr. decided, at his brother’s funeral. He’d use the lesson of his brother’s death, his lonely childhood, his mother’s situation, his own perverse desires, to make himself a better priest.
          And he was. He taught history and counseled children, taking on a more prominent role after he moved to Detroit and his parish slowly broadened in skin color, tolerance, language. He learned Spanish, computers, the jargon of children. He was careful to never touch a child, never to favor one. To be watchful of his fellow priests in this regard.
          Then came the illness. He ruled out his brother, the professor, the seminary roommate, the boy down the hall at college—all too long ago. And like Father Owens—that was the other priest’s name—he didn’t report the disease. The priesthood and AIDS were not a good fit. Homosexuality and celibacy were at odds. He ignored the symptoms as much as possible, hoping the disease would go away with the new treatments, and for a long time, it seemed more a nuisance than a life-threatening situation.
But because he could not confess his ailment nor pursue treatment openly, superior drugs were excluded from his regimen.
           And suddenly he was in and out of hospitals for weeks at a stretch. The Church didn’t chastise him—it was too late for that. He didn’t try to track his partner, find his mother back in New Hampshire, do what he should have done. Most of the priests he’d known for years stuck by him. But he died alone.
Alone but for the sound of his brother’s voice.
“Frank Jr.” he heard Howard calling, saw his brother putting out a hand. Frank Jr. reached for him..
Bodiless now, souls intact, they could take comfort in each other purely.

                                                      Frank Jr.

                                                      A.J. Wright

                The last time I saw him it was an early winter morning and raining in B_______, maybe raining all over the world. The sun had disappeared behind a sky of gray slate several days earlier, and the water fell in continuous blowing sheets. Storm drains in the small town were filling up from the endless rain, maybe filling up all over the world. Water holding leaves, candy wrappers and discarded furtive love notes drifted down the gutters everywhere in the neighborhoods and commercial district.

                The night before I had found much the same rain and flotsam and jetsam downtown, where only a few people were brave enough to be out and about on the streets. They were doing their best to look like strangers in raincoats, galoshes and big umbrellas, but I spotted Miranda’s red scarf right away. She was across the street, heading into the café; just like me, she was running a little late for our rendezvous.

                “I wasn’t sure I could get away,” she whispered as we sat down in our back corner booth. Angie was already on her way over with two cups of black coffee. “He was supposed to go to one of his stupid board meetings, but it got cancelled. He finally had enough martinis and passed out on the couch.”

                At one time that image of my old friend would have bothered me. That was before his wife started to bother me, and not in a bad way. Those days had probably come to a close; now she was beginning to bother me in a bad way indeed. But I was still committed to the plans we had been making for several weeks now.

                I decided to cut to the chase and pop the question. “Are you going to be able to get the money?” I tried not to sound too anxious. She was starting to matter to me less and the money more. I got the full effect of her dark hair and green eyes as she stared at me for what seemed so long a time.

                “Naturally,” she told me finally. “I’m on top of it.” And any guy whose help you need, I wanted to add. But then I had to admire my self-restraint. “I’ll make sure he gets up for his rehab appointment tomorrow morning. He’s missed the last two and that knee isn’t getting any better by itself.”

                “And then what?” I knew, of course, but I wanted to hear her say it—again. I loved to watch her lips moving when she talked.

                Another long stare before she spoke. “I’m going to open the safe he thinks I don’t know about, empty the contents into my biggest purse, get into my car and meet you at the airport.” She sounded like she was saying that in her sleep, as if she had been practicing that sentence over and over.

                Yes, that was the plan, simple and easy as long as we could leave the country quickly. Neither of us said anything for a while; we just sipped our coffees and considered the possibilities. We could hear the rain hammering against the café’s glass windows and sounding almost like gunshots in the distance.

                “Anything I need to bring besides the new passports and stuff?” I tried to keep my tone light.

                She put her right hand under the table and ran her fingers up my left leg. “No, honey, you’ve got everything else I need on you already.”

                Until the past few weeks that might have been enough for me; I would have executed the plan just as she designed it. I’m the usual sucker for a beautiful woman with a great body and an overwhelming personality. But lately cracks in the wall of that future had appeared. The phone caller didn’t tell me his name, but before long I figured out who he was representing.

              He knew all of Miranda’s movements, including her “spa” appointments in the city. He told me when and where and to be there. I hung up. We did this dance for a while and then finally I took his dare. Late one afternoon I followed her up the Interstate and discovered everything I needed to know.

           This time nothing Miranda could do would make any difference. We finished our coffee and left the café one at a time. The rain blowing on the glass still sounded like gunshots.

                   And that’s a true account of what happened to me on the night before the last time I saw Frank, Jr. As far as the last time I did see Frank, Jr.---well, that’s another story. Right now, I have some cash to spend.

Frank Jr
by Frank Webb

I have my father’s eyes—that’s what they tell me anyway—as well as his name.  Frank Sr was in a bad way after the crash.  They’d had him on life support for several weeks by the time I got the news, and everyone encouraged me to go visit him while there was still time.  He never fully regained consciousness.  Hell, he was mostly in a semi-conscious state most of his life as it was, so it was a fairly seamless, largely unnoticeable, transition.  It had been so long since I’d seen him that I’d forgotten what he looked like.  Hell, I’d even forgotten what I looked like!

Back in the day Dad was tone deaf crooner who loved to hear himself sing around the house, only what came out of his mouth was nothing like what he was hearing in his head.  While he was belting out Frank Sinatra, the rest of us were getting a barrage of off-key sour notes that would rankle the sensibilities of even inanimate objects.  Plants would wither and die before the onslaught, and flowers would close in on themselves when treated to a chorus or verse.  The family dog, knowing the score, would make herself conspicuously absent whenever he started clearing his throat by doing a few warm up croaks.  What he lacked in musical ability, however, he more than made up with sheer enthusiasm and dramatic gesticulating, waving his arms wildly about as he took in the applause from his imaginary audience.  This was mostly in the mornings.

Personally, I think part of the problem was hearing loss from working on his cars.  He never could afford a sports car, but liked the idea of having one.  He hit upon the strategy of modifying the family Ford’s muffler so it wouldn’t really dampen the engine noise.  Our Fairlane sedan would roar out of the garage like it had a Saturn-V booster stage under the hood, but it would only do 0-60 in about 10 minutes, on a good day.  This was the automotive equivalent of putting playing cards in the spokes of your bike, and pretending you were riding a motorcycle.  He seemed to enjoy it, though, even more so since the neighbors always glared at us when we cranked up the old jalopy and eased out of the driveway.  Like a lot of folks, dad lived in his own world, which only now and then, seemingly by accident, shared any noticeable congruency with those around him.

Needless to say, all this was strangely tangential to my nascent sensibilities, musical or otherwise.  Somewhere in there I caught Chicken Pox.  Don’t really remember it, except as a story they sometimes told about when I was little, and how they packed me in ice like a mackerel to keep my fever down.  I’d been in remarkably good health ever since.  I’d once strained my credulity, but that was about the worst of it for most of my adult life.  I didn’t know it, but the Zoster virus stays in you, and can come back years later as shingles.  When that happened, it invaded my face, permanently scarring my eyes.  I haven’t been able to see in a long, long time.

I’m just coming out of it now as the anesthesia wears off.  Looking around, the room is strangely bright and with an unfamiliar clarity that I’ve only been able to dream of.  I made it back before Frank Sr died, but didn’t get to see him.  They had time to prep me for surgery before they disconnected him from the machines.  The cornea transplant appears to have done the trick and I can see things for the first time in years.  I have my father’s eyes.  Or so they tell me.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Sunday Night Poetry: Ted Hughes

What Mystery Would You Most Like to See Solved?

And for me it is the death of Natalie Wood in 1981. I never believed the story that she stepped out into a dingy drunk, fell in the water and drowned because it is widely known she was scared to death of drowning and never went near the ship's edge. Now some new information is coming to light.

What about you? What mystery, death, puzzle most fascinates you?

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Saturday Night Music: Damien Rice

The Scariest Women in Literature

Loren reminded me earlier this week of one of the scariest women in literature. In this case, a movie: ANIMAL KINGDOM

Jackie Weaver plays Smurf Cody, one the most diabolical characters in a movie loaded with them.

[after the death of yet another one of her children]

Janine Cody: [crying] I'm having trouble trying to find my positive spin. I'm usually very good at it. Usually it's right there, and I can just have it. But I'm having trouble finding it now.

Who else ranks as the most evil women in books or movies?

Friday, September 21, 2012

Beautiful Women of the Silver Screen: Hedy Lamarr

The Summing Up, Friday, September 21, 2012

 The Summing Up, Friday, September 21, 2012

A review of Cosmopolis is up at Crimespree. 

Patti Abbott, Blackwater, Kersten Ekman
Sergio Angelini, Reunion with Murder, Timoty Fuller
Yvette Banek, Maigret and the Mad Woman, Georges Simenon
Joe Barone , Man of Two Trives, Arthur W. Upfield
Brian Busby, The Four Stragglers, Frank L. Packard
Bill Crider, Valley Beyond Time, Robert Silverberg
Scott Cupp, Arts Unknown: The Life and Art of Lee Brown Coye, Luis Ortiz
Martin Edwards, No Fury, Francis Beeding
Curt Evans , The File on Claudia Cragge, Q. Patrick
Elizabeth Foxwell, Murder of the Man Next Door, Peter Malloch
Ed Gorman, The Handle, Richard Stark
Randy Johnson, Roy Rogers and the Ghost of Mystery Rancho, Walker A. Tompkins
Nick Jones, Ripley Undergrand, Patricia Highsmith
George Kelley, The Cocktail Waitress, James M. Cain
Margot Kinberg, Deadly Tide, Sandy Curtis
Rob Kitchin, Homicide, David Simon
Doug Levin, One is a Lonely Number, Bruce Elliott, Black Wings Has My Angel, Elliott Chaze
Evan Lewis, The Lady in the Morgue, Jnathan Latimer
Steve Lewis , The Golden Spiders, Rex Stout
Todd Mason, SECOND HELP!-ING, edited by Harvey Kurtzman (Fawcett Gold Medal 1962)(and HELP! magazine, 3/65); THE MONOCLE PEEP SHOW edited by Richard Lingerman and Victor Navasky (Bantam 1965); THE REALIST edited by Paul Krassner (1958-2001, online archive completed 2010)
Neer, The Mother Hunt, Rex Stout
J.F. Norris, Curse of the Island Pool, Virginia Coffman
Juri Nummelin ,The Mark of Zorro, Johnston McCalley
Richard Pangburn , Books to Die for, John Connolly & Declan Burke
David Rachel, Breakout, Richard Stark
James Reasoner, Honly Tonk Girl, Charles Beckman Jr.
Richard Robinson, Fadeway, Richard Rosen
Gerard Saylor, Miss Con't Touch Me, Hubert Kerascoet
Ron Scheer , This Was a Man, Hattie Horner Louthan
Michael Slind, The Silence of the Lambs, Thomas Harris
Kerrie Smith, Classic Detective Stories, Edward Hardwicke
Kevin Tipple, Politically Coorect Bedtime Stories, James Finn Garner
TomCat, Melancholis Poodle in Delfshaver, Cor Docter

Friday's Forgotten Books, September 21, 2012

Todd Mason will serve as host for FFB for the next two weeks. The third week, the 12th will be Agatha Christie week.

Things are a bit rocky here this morning because of the new blogger dashboard. Sorry.  

**Summary still to come. Too many problems to get it up. 

Ed Gorman is the author of the Dev Conrad and Sam McCain series of novels. You can find him here.

 I  hope The Handle by Richard Stark was a pleasure for Donald Westlake to write because it sure is a pleasure to read.

The Organization has decided that it's tired of this German guy running his big casino on an island in the Gulf of Mexico. He's beyond the jurisdiction of the Feds and it's unlikely Cuba will do much about him. Thus Parker is hired to take the casino and its other buildings down--literally. To blow them up.

Now while The Handle is every bit as tough as Dick Cheney's heart, the hardboiled aspect is played off against the sorriest group of human beings Parker may ever have had to work with. And the sardonic way Westlake portrays them had me laughing out loud at several points.

Take your pick. There's the alcoholic hood who talks as if he's auditioning for a Noel Coward play; the mob gun dealer who had to quit drinking several months ago and has increased both his cigarette intake (four or five packs a day) while maintaining both his cancer cough and his enormous weight; the pedophile who turns out to be a ringer sent to spy in Parker and his friends; the Feds who are so inept both Parker and Grofield play games seeing who can lose their tails the fastest. And then there's the the married Grofield, Parker's professional acting buddy, who never passes up a chance to impose his charms on willing women. In this case he endeavors to put the whammy on the very sexy blonde Parker himself has been shacking up with. Isn't that called bird-dogging?

And then we have Baron Wolfgang Freidrich Kastelbern von Alstein, the man who owns the island and the casino and who, over the years, has managed to make The Third Man's Harry Lime look like a candidate for sainthood. Westlake spends a few pages on the Baron's history and it becomes one of the most fascinating parts of the book, especially his days in Europe during the big war. 

The book is filled with the little touches that make the Stark books so memorable. My favorite description comes when Parker and the sexy blonde sit down to a dinner that Westlake describes as "viciously expensive."

A fine fine novel.

Blackwater, Kerstin Ekman

Long before the Scandinavian surge of crime fiction of today, a few Swedish writers caught our attention and one for us in the 1990s was Kerstin Ekman.

The plot centers on teacher and mother, Annie Raft, and is set in the 70s, and focuses on events surrounding, and following a double murder at the Blackwater lake in Sweden.

The victims of the murder are two tourists, visiting Northern Sweden to explore its forested wilderness. They are discovered by Annie Raft, herself new to the region, as she and her young daughter Mia scrabble through the forest, searching for the commune where her lover awaits and where they are to start anew away from the turmoil of their lives in Southern Sweden.

Things also deteriorate in the commune. Paradise is not what it seems, nor is Annie's lover. It is years later when this story concludes.

Ekman explores the degradation occurring to the environment at the same time she sets up this plot. The darkness of the land mirrors the darkness of the people who inhabit it. She also examines the animosity between Swedes and Laplanders in the region. From reviews on amazon, I see that this book was too dark for many readers, but we both enjoyed it at the time.

Sergio Angelini
Yvette Banek
Joe Barone 
Brian Busby
Bill Crider
Scott Cupp
Martin Edwards
Curt Evans
Elizabeth Foxwel
Randy Johnson
Nick Jones
George Kelley
Margot Kinberg
Rob Kitchin
Doug Levin
Evan Lewis
Steve Lewis
Todd Mason
J.F. Norris
Juri Nummelin
Richard Pangburn 
David Rachel
James Reasoner
Richard Robinson
Gerard Saylor
Ron Scheer 
Michael Slind
Kerrie Smith
Kevin Tipple

Thursday, September 20, 2012

My Life at the Theater: A Chorus Line

I think I have seen A CHORUS LINE at least three times. And I would probably see it again. The playbill in my hand is from the Schubert Theater in New York in 1989. Sad that both Bennett and Hamlisch are gone now. If you love dance, love theater, love music, this one is for you.


(There might be some bumps here since blogger has a new format)

How I came to Write: "Blood and Sweetgrass: This Rez is Mine" (from Blood & Tacos #3)

I spent the bulk of my junior high and high school years devouring the kind of fiction that drove my English and study hall 
teachers nuts. Everything I could find by Robert E. Howard that had a Frazetta cover on it, for example. I gorged on swords 
& sorcery, then a friend of mine traded me the first 50 or so books in The Destroyer series by Sapir/Murphy that starred
 Remo Williams and Chiun, Master of Sinanju, for some records. I never got around to the more military-based books from 
that "Men's Adventure" genre -- Death Merchant, The Penetrator, The Executioner, etc. -- but I loved those Destroyer books.
 I loved the mythology they created, the action, the covers . . . everything. To this day I can still recite the "I am created…" line 
that Remo dropped in every book.

Thing is, when I started writing seriously a couple years ago, I never really tried writing anything like that. But there's
 no doubt that the scores of thousands of words I've read across all those stories of outrageous adventure informed the stuff
 I actually was cranking out.

Then I heard about Johnny Shaw's bold plan to start editing a quarterly publication that was based exactly on what 
those stories were all about. More than any other announcement I've encountered, Blood & Tacos was the one that 
I felt I had to, somehow, be a part of. I obsessed a little over it. Read the first two issues and realized that, 
"Yes!" he and the writers were pulling it off. So I queried Johnny; he'd heard of me and thought my writing could work, 
and I submitted a story. And now it's out in the wide world, and I couldn't be more thrilled.

"This Rez is Mine" is my take on a hybrid of the 70s movie classic "Billy Jack" and the 2009 movie classic "Black Dynamite." 
My hero is a kickass American Indian named Blood who rescues a young woman -- who calls herself Sweetgrass --
 then goes on to foil a plot hatched by a corrupt local big shot and his accomplices, an outlaw biker gang called 
The Gravemakers. It takes place on the Confederated Salish & Kootenai Reservation in Montana, where I lived for 
several years in the late 90s. Mayhem ensues.

I had an absolute blast writing it, and basically knocked it out in one sitting. I got to pack it full of slices from real
life too. 
For example, The Gravemakers are a pastiche of The Bandidos, who used to roll up and down I-90 all summer long
when I was a kid. Frenchtown Pond, where the opening scene is set, is a real place. I essentially spent my summers there.
It's where I learned to swim. Back in the 70s, before it became a state park, it was much grubbier than it is now . . .
and probably better. And yes, the Bandidos used to occupy the very hill the Gravemakers do in my story, smelling bad,
smoking weed and making the locals nervous.

There is also a scene where Blood buys a six-pack of RC Cola that is part of a series devoted to baseball stars. 
When I was a kid, that year I collected those cans. My friend Mark and I would dig through the trash dumpsters at 
Frenchtown Pond looking for them to stretch our horde beyond what we could afford to drink; I displayed my collection 
on a shelf in my room. 

See, digging up those little details, as well as getting to write outlandish scenes that wouldn't necessarily work anywhere else, 
is what made it so fun. I didn't necessarily plan in advance to use all these little nuggets, they just appeared in my head. 
Blood was originally purchasing Pepsi (kind of a nod at Sherman Alexie's Indian characters) until I remembered the baseball
player cans. Those aren't details necessarily recognizable to anyone but me, but I think they add to the overall vibe of a
character, and that is where it pays off. After all, none of this would work if the characters are lame. I enjoyed the time I
spent with mine, and how they evolved in my mind as I wrote. I look forward to another chance to see what they do next,
the heroes and the villains both. I'm hoping the story makes readers want to see what's next too.

Oh, and the red '64 Ford pickup Blood drives? I drove it in high school. It had a white top, and it wasn't even necessary to 
push in the clutch when you shifted if you didn't want to, provided you could rev the transmission just right. My friends
and I referred to it as "The Power Truck." Dorks.

Buy Blood & Tacos #3:

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Opening Credits: Pillow Talk

Super-Heroes and Political Science

Comic Book Scholars:

A top-notch political science journal is putting together an issue that will examine super-heroes over a variety of issues. For example: the impact of real-world events on comic book story lines, vigilantism vs conventional notions of law and order, the treatment of class, sex, race in superhero comics. You get the drift. We had no idea these issues were treated seriously in comic books or graphic novels.

Which superhero series addresses issues like this most eloquently or adequately? What superhero would you choose to focus on?

Here is a very interesting piece by Jay Stringer on superheroes.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Tuesday Night Music: U2

Thanks to the Family Dramas

As much as I might list my favorite TV as being shows like BREAKING BAD, DEXTER, JUSTIFIED, HOMICIDE, MAD MEN, THE WIRE, GAME OF THRONES, HOMELAND, there is also a spot in my heart for a long list of family dramas that have allowed me to have a lump in my throat instead of a gut-wrenching feeling in my stomach from time to time.

So thanks to THE WALTONS, FAMILY, THIRTY-SOMETHING, ONCE AND AGAIN, THE WONDER YEARS, NORTHERN EXPOSURE, PARENTHOOD, SIX FEET UNDER and countless others. Sometimes you just need to be touched no matter how superficially.

These are never Phil's favorite TV, but political commentary isn't mine.

Neglected Movies: Margaret

Kenneth Lonergan, Director

Margaret was made five years ago by Kenneth Lonergan and never released for various reasons. This despite the success of his fabulous first film, YOU CAN COUNT ON ME. Now it is available on DVD. The lead role is played by TRUE BLOOD'S Anna Paquin.

MARGARET is an interesting, well-acted, and serious examination of the complexity of grief in a seventeen year old. I was knocked out by both Paquin and Jeannie Berlin's performances especially. Matt Damon and Mathew Broderick play flawed but well meaning high school teachers. I have been told there is an extended cut at three hours that fills in some odd gaps in the narrative. I will try to get that version.

When a girl plays an inadvertent role in a fatality, dealing with its complexity is more than she can handle in her fractured family life. Lisa is a nuanced character you will not always like. So too her mother, teachers, friends. No one is portrayed in black or white. Lonergan sets his story among the bustle of city life, not content to tell his story in a void.

It's long and sad, but on the whole, a movie well worth seeing if you can handle grief and ambiguity. And if you can get the three hour version, even better I am told. At the end, Lisa remains an enigma as all good teenage characters should.

Monday, September 17, 2012

Movie Theme Music: Chariots of Fire


Whose First Book at an Early Age Sent You Reeling?

Zadie Smith wrote WHITE TEETH when she was like 22. It's not just that it was great, but that it was about old men in large part. How does a college girl have that sort of insight and such a sophisticated writing style? Are there prodigies in writing?

I know Updike did something similar at a young age (POORHOUSE FAIR), but jeez, WHITE TEETH just swallowed me whole because of its insights into ethnic characters in modern London. It was like Dickens on speed.

Whose first book knocked you out?

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Sunday Night Poetry: William Shakespeare

Christopher Plummer doing Hamlet in the 1960s.

Your favorite P.I or Police Detective Books

When it comes down to it, I like this sort of crime fiction best. Nothing too cozy, nothing too violent.
Good characters, interesting atmosphere, great writing.
I am looking for a few (in paperback) to take on a trip. What are some of your favorite books that feature a detective of some sort tracking down a killer.

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Saturday Night Music: Steelers

Will never hear it without thinking of Reservoir Dogs for better or worse.

Your Favorite Movie Ending

There are so many great ones--the ending of CHINATOWN, BONNIE AND CLYDE, THE GRADUATE, SOME LIKE IT HOT but I am going with the lump in the throat ending to BEFORE SUNSET.

How about you?

Friday, September 14, 2012

Beautiful Women of the Silver Screen: Lena Horne

The Summing Up, Friday, September 14, 2012

Chocolate Mint Ice Cream Mustaches are the Best.

My review of QUEEN OF VERSAILLES is on Crimespree Cinema.

The Summing Up, Friday, September 14, 2012

Patti Abbott, A Summons to Memphis, Peter Taylor (below)
Sergio Angelini, Queen in Danger, Adam Hall
Yvette Banek, Distemper, Beth Saulnier
Joe Barone, The Old Buzzard Had It Coming, Donis Casey
Brian Busby Mark it for Murder, Douglas Sanderson
Bill Crider, Three Rode North, Al Conroy, (Marvin H. Albert)
Scott Cupp, The Tithonian Factor, Richard Cowper
Martin Edwards, S. S. Murder, Q. Patrick
Curt Evans, Museum Piece No. 13, Rufus King
Jerry House, The Stainless Steel Rat Saves the World, Harry Harrison
Randy Johnson, The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. Robert Louis Stevenson
Nick Jones, The Talented Mr. Ripley, Patricia Highsmith
George Kelley, Redheads Die Quickly and Other Stories, Gil Brewer
Margot Kinberg, The Cold Dish, Craig Johnson
Rob Kitchin, Goshawk Squadron, Derek Robinson
B.V. Lawson, This'll Kill You, Peter Chambers
Evan Lewis, The Wrong Corpse, Carroll John Daly
Steve Lewis/Mike Tooney, The Unpleasantness at the Bellona Club, Dorothy L. Sayers
Todd Mason, The Avon Book of Modern Writing and No. 2, edited by William Phillips and Philip Rahv (and others)
Neer, The Kings' General, Daphne DuMaurier
J.F. Norris, Antidote to Venom, Freeman Wills Crofts
Richard Pangburn, Cool Hand Luke, Donn Pearce
David Rachels, Redheads Die Quickly and Other Stories, Gil Brewer
James Reasoner, The Dance of Death, Carter Brown (Alan G. Yates)
Richard Robinson, Crime Over Casco, Walter Gibson
Gerard Saylor, Mystic Arts of Erasing All Signs of Death, Charlie Huston
Ron Scheer, Alec Lloyd, Cowpuncher, Eleanor Gates
Michael Slind, The Labors of Hercules, Agatha Christie
Kerrie Smith, Prelude to Terror, Helen MacInnes
Kevin Tipple, Jasmine's Fate, Randy Rawls
TomCat, The Queen of the Night, Paul Doherty
Prashant Trikannad, A Prairie Infanta, Eva Wilder Brodhead

Friday's Forgotten Books, September 14, 2012

A Summons to Memphis, Peter Taylor

I read this in January of 1987. It won the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Award that year. It is the story of a man who is summoned to Memphis by his two sisters when his father threatens to remarry in his eighties. The father is a tyrant who has thwarted his children at every turn, squashing any chance for happiness.

The writing is ethereal even if the plot is not a happy one. None of them have had a happy or fulfilling life and this book examines that.

Taylor is more well known for his short stories, writing only three novels. This is certainly his best one.

Sergio Angelini
Yvette Banek
Joe Barone
Brian Busby
Bill Crider
Scott Cupp
Martin Edwards
Curt Evans
Jerry House
Randy Johnson
Nick Jones
George Kelley
Margot Kinberg
Rob Kitchin
B.V. Lawson
Evan Lewis
Steve Lewis/Mike Tooney
Todd Mason
J.F. Norris
Richard Pangburn
David Rachels
James Reasoner
Richard Robinson
Gerard Saylor
Ron Scheer
Michael Slind
Kerrie Smith
Kevin Tipple
Prashant Trikannad

Thursday, September 13, 2012

My Life at the Theater: THE TAMING OF THE SHREW

Saw this version in Stratford in 2003. We saw it with our kids about 1979.

Here is a review of the 2003 version.

There's no point in beating around the sagebrush. "The Taming of the Shrew" that opened Stratford's 51st season is one of the worst productions of the play in the festival's history. The Wild West setting is not the problem; rather it's how the setting is misused. Add to that sloppy direction and poor acting, and the show becomes one actively to avoid.

How do you like to see a review like that after spending $200 plus a B & B for the evening.

Taming is always difficult to pull off because it is so anti-feminist. I don't know why it is performed so often, in fact. Like the anti-semitism in MERCHANT, perhaps it is better left alone.

Books Using Various Devices to Forward the Plot

Reading a book now, and it is far from the first, that uses text messages, emails, notes, phone calls, etc. to move the plot along.

How do you feel about this? A little goes a long way for me. I realize a novel set in today's world has to draw from it, but it gets tiring reading who it was that sent the message, who received it, the date, etc.

And yes, I know John Dos Passos was an early believer in story lines composed from letters, headlines, graphics, etc. Loved him and loved the graphics but maybe not the rest.

How open are you toward using various devices to move the plot along?

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Tuesday Night Music: Mulligan and Baker

Short Stories

I have been reading a short story a day since January 1. With three plus months left to go, what short story would you recommend I read? A few of my favorites have been A GOOD MAN IS HARD TO FIND (O'Connor) THE NIGHT IN QUESTION (Tobias Wolff) GIVING BLOOD (John Updike), UNCLE (Woodrell) WORLD OF GAS (Campbell), GIRLS IN THEIR SUMMER DRESSES (Shaw), CATHEDRAL, Raymond Carver.

(I am not listing ones here from people we know here although I have read some terrific ones online and in anthologies).

What short stories should I read before the end of the year?

Forgotten Movies: Payday

Rip Torn, in one of his best roles, plays a country singer that only an audience can like. Written by Don Carpenter and directed by Daryl Dukes, this is a woefully forgotten film that deserves to be remembered. 1972-73 produced so many great films it gets lost in the crowd. A little like TENDER MERCIES and CRAZY HEART. Something tells me that male country singers are a pretty dissolute bunch.

Monday, September 10, 2012

Movie Theme Music: I Am Legend

My Town Monday Returns for One Day: Frankenmuth

Despite its rather ersatz appearance today, the town of Frankenmuth, about ninety minutes north of Detroit, has an interesting history. For a full story go here but it was settled in the 1840s by a group of Germans who came there in a group, enduring many hardships along the way.

It is a place we visit perhaps once every two years when we get street fatigue and need some place to go for the day. It is a real town that has somehow manged to look like a faux one. The shops cater to tourists in the dull way of all resorts--except it is not really a resort. There is really nothing to draw one here except there is little else within two hours of Detroit.

It's a place to get a chicken dinner in the German style, buy orange cheese that doesn't taste like real cheese at all, to buy fudge, tee shirts, take a carriage ride down the 1/4 mile stretch of town, visit the biggest Christmas ornament store in the world or go to Birch Run, an outlet mall where on checking price on the handy iphone it turned out nearly everything could be bought back home for less money.

Where do you go when you need to get away for the day? Of course you east coast/west coast people always have the shore. Don't rub it in.

Sunday, September 09, 2012

Sunday Night Poetry: Michael Ondaatje

How I Came to Write This Book: Nick Quantrill

How I came to write: “Bang Bang You’re Dead” (by Nick Quantrill)

Having spent the last four or so years writing almost exclusively about one character, Joe Geraghty, a small-time PI operating in my home city of Hull, the chance to write a novella for Byker Books’ “Best of British” Kindle series came as a nicely timed challenge.

The chance to support Byker Books is a welcome one for me. Quietly going about their business for some years now, their annual Radgepacket series, now up to volume six, is an essential round-up and opportunity for both new and established writers to display their Brit Grit credentials. More personally to me, they were amongst the first to show some faith in my writing, so when I was asked to consider writing a novella for them, I was only ever going to agree.

And a great challenge it proved to be, too. It was the chance to try a new voice. The central character in the novella is Sam, a young man recently released from prison. He wants to provide for his young family, but Hull is a city with few opportunities. And there are even fewer in the area Sam lives. He’s a young man who only really knows the place as he experiences it. He’s not well travelled, even within the city. So he gets himself involved in a drug deal organised by his mate Jonno. It inevitably goes wrong, but the ensuing chaos gives Sam the chance to get to the truth about his brother’s overdose. It proved to be a fast piece to write and a lot of fun, but it also surprised me - I found myself thinking about unexpected issues - how do young people survive when they’re offered nothing? Are people rooted into places and unable to change or adapt?

I’ve always written about Hull and I suspect I’ll continue to do so for a while yet. “Bang Bang You’re Dead” gave me the chance to look at the city through different eyes. It also gave me the chance to look harder at my home city and discover that although the backdrop to it may be grey and concrete, there are good people and beauty everywhere.

Saturday, September 08, 2012

Saturday Night Music: Cat Powers

Reading as Entertainment?

I am reading STATE OF WONDER by Ann Patchett and the research involved blows me away. In BEL CANTO (one of my all-time favorite books), she learned all about opera and the military and a terrorist group in a South American country. Amazing. And STATE OF WONDER is even more praise-worthy because she has learned about how a primitive tribe lives, how scientific research is conducted, and various related matter. It is also incredibly descriptive--I feel like I am on that river, the mosquitoes that occupy much of the book's themes, buzzing around me, the river snakes slithering by, the tribe engaging in arcane activities considering it is contemporary.

But this book, in particular, is not truly entertaining. It is slow, ponderous, about how people operate in the medical research community, what a primitive tribe might be like, how decisions of youth come back to grab us. All sorts of interesting things, but I am not entertained like I was recently with, for instance, GONE GIRL.

Do you read books that do not entertain you? Since the days when you had to, I mean. Reading such books gives me a certain boost--that I have learned something or read really great writing. But I wouldn't do it for a steady diet. But I also cannot read pure adrenalin rush books all the time either. Do you mix it up too?

Friday, September 07, 2012

Beautiful Women of the Silver Screen: Natalie Wood

The Summing Up, Friday, September 7, 2012

Late summer movies on Crimespree Cinema.

The Summing Up, Friday, September 7, 2012

Patti Abbott, Looking for Mr. Goodbar, Judith Rossner (see below)
Sergio Angelini, The Pizza House Crash, Denise Danks
Yvette Banek, Devil May Care, Elizabeth Peters
Brian Busby, In the Darkness, Douglas Sanderson
Bill Crider, Prime Sucker, Harry Whittington
Martin Edwards, My Wife, Melissa, Frances Durbridge
Kurt Evans, The Turret Room, Charlotte Armstrong
Jerry House, Bad Karma, Dave Zeltserman
Nick Jones, Little Tales of Misogyny, Patricia Highsmith
George Kelley, Ipon the Dull Earth, Stories of Philip Dick, Vol. 3
Margot Kinberg, What Was Lost, Catherine O'Flynn
B.V. Lawson, Murder Sails at Midnight, Marian Babson
Evan Lewis, The Mystery of the Smoking Gun, Carrol John Daly
Steve Lewis, Sea Fever, Ann Cleeves
Todd Mason. Suddenly, edited by Marvin Allen Karp and Irving Settel , among other Suspense-Fiction Anthologies
Neer, The Window at the White Cat, Mary Roberts Rinehart
J.F. Norris, The Vampire of N'Gobi, Kidgwell Cullum
James Reasoner, Clayburn, Al Conroy (Marvin H Albert)
Gerard Saylor, The Keep, F. Paul Wilson
Ron Scheer, The Gold Bug Story Book, Dennis H. Stovall
Michael Slind. Relentless, Ed Gorman
Kerrie Smith, Dekok and the Dead Harlequin, A. C. Baantjer
Kevin Tipple, Rogue Island, Bruce De Silva
Prashant Trikannad, Various Ghost Stories