Thursday, February 28, 2013

My Life in the Theater: FAR WEST

We saw this one in 1991 at the Hilberry Theater, the repertory theater at Wayne State University.
The playwright was John Murrell, an American born Canadian writer. My program tells me it was set in Canada in 1886-1890. I cannot remember a single thing about it, but that doesn't mean it wasn't a fine play.

Just Kevin

Has jumped into loving a book thanks to DIARY OF A WIMPY KID. So many kids, boys especially I think, love humor in a book. And this series has him drawing cartoons too.

Kevin, Nana-can I ask you a question? (He always prefaces a question with that).

Nana, "Sure."

K. "Have you ever seen the tooth fairy? (Kevin is missing four teeth right now)

N. "No, I haven't Kevin. She's too fast for me."

K. "Well if you do, see if she looks a lot like my Mommy or my Daddy."

How quickly it all ends. 

What was the first book you remember really turning you on to reading?

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Opening Credits> Midnight Cowboy

How My Library Usage Has Changed.

I used to find all the books I read by browsing at the library. (I am talking about pre-1995 life). I might know that a writer, say Ruth Rendell, had a new book out, but I also scanned all the shelves and often came up with new writers. I had no idea if the book was good usually. I went by the description of the plot on the jacket. About 75% of the books I read came from the library and many others came from their book sales. I rarely bought a new book although I got some for my birthday or Christmas.

Now I never browse books at the library although I still get most of what I read from there. Instead I see books mentioned on the Internet or reviewed in publications like the NYT or elsewhere and go to my library's site and put them on reserve. Some days I get an email that three or four have come in. Right now my library has gotten me the John O'Hara collection GIBBSVILLE from Central Michigan University. Season One of THE WEST WING is also waiting for me. I don't always get to half the books I put on reserve though.

I also get a lot of DVDs, music, and audiobooks from the library. Right now I am listening to BEAUTIFUL RUINS by Jess Walters. 

How has your use of the library changed over time? They say libraries will gradually disappear. I think that makes me even more sick than the bookstores. 

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Tuesday Night Music: Love Hurts

The Best Use of a Real Person in Fiction

I've been thinking about DAUGHTER OF TIME with the discovery of Richard III's bones last week. A lot of fiction has made good use of real people. And I am not talking about resurrecting Jane Austen to solve mysteries. But more using the real story/character as part of a new narrative. SHOELESS JOE (Kinsella) comes to mind. Also RAGTIME did a great job of it.

What others stand out for you.

Special Note-Maxine Clark, an early and prolific book blogger, died late last year. Her good friend, Margot Kinberg has set up a memorial blog called PETRONA REMEMBERED. I shared some thoughts with them today.

Forgotten Movies: The Snakepit

This movie scared the bejesus out of me the first and only time I saw it. Based on the memoir of Mary Jane Ward, this film directed by Anton Litvak in 1948 explores the road to mental health by one woman. It utilizes all the therapies of the day (including electric shock). And although only one nurse on the ward rivals Nurse Ratchett her experience is difficult to watch. Olivia de Havilland earned an Oscar nomination for her work in this stark drama as Virginia Cunningham, a married young woman whose idyllic life falls apart when she sinks into a world of psychosis and is eventually placed in an institution.

Anatole Litvak's portrait of mental illness examines the treatment of mentally unstable patients in the late 1940s and '50s.When the film debuted in the UK, there was a warning added that UK mental hospitals were nothing like THE SNAKE PIT seen here. I hope that's true for their sakes.

This is a serious film--not a horror movie--although it seemed like one when I watched it on THE LATE SHOW in Philly in the early sixties. deHavilland was wonderful but up against some stiff competition for an Oscar. Jane Wyman won for Johnny Belinda.

Actors playing mentally or physically challenged people have a leg up on the competition as we have seen time and time again. 

Monday, February 25, 2013

Movie Theme Music: Sayonara

Say Something Good About Detroit: MOCAD

MOCAD has been a part of the Detroit museum scene for just a few years. It occupies the space of a former car dealer but that seems fitting for Detroit. They run a nice little museum with various cultural and musical activities for a very small amount of money. I don't always understand contemporary art but I have seen several interesting exhibits here over the years. 
This is a press release from the museum.  
MOCAD's Redesign Wins an International
Award and Special Mention

Museum of Contemporary Art Detroit (MOCAD) is pleased to announce that the redesign of the museum and grounds by Rice+Lipka Architects (New York) and James Corner Field Operations (New York) , has been selected as the 2013 winner of the Architectural Review's Future Projects Award for the category of “Old & New.” The jury cited the design as “an inspirational project that combines past and present in a well resolved and convincing manner. It creates new space for new creativity in a post-industrial city."

Rice+Lipka Architects and James Corner Field Operations’ design reorganizes MOCAD’s internal spaces; creates better spaces for viewing art and participating in art events; provides expanded staff and support space; and activates the exterior by way of new outdoor spaces for museum programming.

Click here to download the full press announcement.

MOCAD has also received a Special Mention in the Architizer A+ Awards for the Architecture +Urban Transformation category.  Rice+Lipka Architects and James Corner Field Operations' redesign competed against works from 100 countries, including built works, which made up three  of the four finalists in this category. 

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Sunday Night Poetry: Louise Gluck

I am constantly amazed at how few poets are the best readers of their poems.

Memories of Theresa Duncan

Five and a half years ago, Theresa Duncan (Tracy to her Michigan friends and family) took her life. A week later, her long-time partner and lover, artist, Jeremy Blake took his. Since then innumerable articles have been written about them in high profile magazines and newspapers. Several film projects are in the works. These film projects are worrisome to her family as you might imagine. Consider suffering the death of a loved one and then worrying about an ongoing attempt to categorize and catalogize that loved one. Imagine scanning the news each day for stories of these projects.Imagine looking at blogs that attempt to psychoanalyze a person the blogger has never met.

Tracy's mother, Mary Duncan, our dear friend, has begun a blog to tell  Tracy's story. I hope you will take a look at it. She hopes her story can provide balance to others. Look at some of Theresa's films and essays. I only met Tracy once. She had left Michigan by the time Mary and I became friends in the nineties. She was breath-takingly beautiful, vivid, talented, and smart. She lit up a room.

You can also find Theresa on her blog WIT OF THE STAIRCASE, which remains online.

If you want to see Theresa in a film, go here. You won't forget her soon.


We got to spend a few days with Kevin this week. He is growing up so fast now. We took him to the historical museum, which we enjoyed more than him. I think if they had a display on Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, he would have been very happy. Instead it was subjects more interesting to adults.

I have no digital pictures of my grandparents so this will have to suffice.  I remember saying this week that I used to watch the Harlem Globetrotters with my grandfather. I only had one set of grandparents and he died when I was twelve.

If I have one childhood memory of a joint activity with my grandmother (who lived until I was in my mid-forties) it was of her making doll clothes for my Ginny dolls. She made them by hand and they were gorgeous. I sat at her feet and watch the dresses take shape. She even managed a cowgirl outfit when I wanted her to ride horses.

What memory do you have of something you did with a grandparent (if you were lucky enough to spend time with the,)

PS: NEAW is NEW for the new way the TMNT are now drawn.

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Saturday Night Music: Nic Cave and the Bad Seeds.

Pretty spooky!

How I Wrote This Story: Andrez Bergen


I wrote ‘Sugar & Spice’ for Chris Rhatigan’s crime/hardboiled anthology All Due Respect (published via Full Dark City Press) and luckily he dug the story. I was going to throw in the pun ‘respected’ but think I’ll leave the shallow laughs till later, when you’re punch-drunk and less critical.
“Crime and postmodernism go together like peanut butter and jelly,” Chris emailed me back from India (really). “Gleefully maniacal stuff.”
Fiona Johnston, a fellow contributor, wrote in her review: “The teenagers who attempt the heist haven't the common sense to work out that the rare copy they've spotted displayed might not be all it seems and they pay dearly for this mistake. Yet again, Bergen gives a masterclass in short story writing.” (ta, matey)
The All Due Respect collection brings together some wild people like Fiona, Joe Clifford, Patti Abbott, Nigel Bird, Tom Pitts, CJ Edwards, Chris Leek, Richard Godwin, Mike Monson, Matthew C. Funk, Ron T. Brown and David Cranmer — so hunt it down if you can.
This particular inclusion was put together in October 2012, while I had my head deeply buried in my third novel Who is Killing the Great Capes of Heropa? — which is all about comic book lore and superhero culture, mixed up with noir.
No real surprise, then, that I decided to have two high school kids knock over a comic book store in a more contemporary Melbourne.
The comic shop in question is based on the one I used to hang out at while in high school. Minotaur now is a huge, highly successful institution in Melbourne (Australia), but back in the ’80s it was a small shop down a minor arcade in the city.
Off Bourke Street.
Incidentally, these kids hop on the train at South Yarra, the nearest station to my old high school Melbourne High, they have their fingers in the till at the school tuck-shop (sounds familiar) and the bicycle of choice is a classic ’70s Malvern Star chopper... same as mine when I was that age.


I am reading Barbara Vine (Ruth Rendell)'s THE CHILD'S CHILD.. Much of the book looks at the question of respectability across two generations.

I remember my mother and grandmother being very concerned with this in the fifties and sixties. I think my mother was indeed plagued by the responsibility of having a respectable family--one that wasn't gossipped about. I am afraid I gave her some cause for concern in my fourteenth and fifteenth year. (Nothing that today would have even been glanced at though)

When did "respectability" begin to fade as a concern for lower middle-class families? I had a friend who got pregnant circa 1963 and disappeared for six months. I hope she was at some point reunited with her child.
You can also look at those convents in Ireland (The Magdalene Sisters) who took in girls that in any way worried their families.

Other than in extremely religious communities, respectability has faded. (Look at Bristol Palin for example). Where did these convention go and why?

Friday, February 22, 2013

And You Thought Doing In on Your Feet Was Tough!


Flash Fiction Challenge: THE WHITE VAN

I sit at a window every day here in La Jolla where I look out on the ocean. But I also see a street. On many of the days I have been here, a white van pulls up early in the morning to grab one of the few empty spots. The van contains an expensive bike, a motorbike, a surfboard, multiple coolers, and changes of clothes, a beach chair. And, of course, a man. A man who seems to nearly live in this van because he eats lunch in there, changes his clothes in there and so on. I He seems to have too many expensive things to be homeless, but he is sinister. I watch him enter and exit his van. Does he watch me at the window?

Don't regard any of these details relevant to your story necessarily.

CHALLENGE: Write a story about a man in a white van. What is his story? 1000 words and a finish date of March 13th. Let me know if you're in.

Friday's Forgotten Books, Friday Februar 22, 2013

Deb Pfeiffer


About 25 years ago, I packed a copy of SLOWLY, SLOWLY IN THE WIND, a short story collection by Patricia Highsmith, to read on vacation. Halfway through the book, however, I had to stop reading--the sense of unease, even dread, evoked by the stories was ruining my holiday.  Eventually, I got around to reading more of Highsmith's work--both short stories and novels--and found her writing interesting and inventive, but it never lost its power to ignite foreboding; I cannot say that I've ever found Highsmith a comfortable writer.  And yet--there's something there, something that makes me keep reading, keep wanting to discover what happens next, even when I know the outcome will almost always be awful.  Highsmith is a writer I can read only in daylight--never just before bedtime--and always with the lights on.

Andrew Wilson's BEAUTIFUL SHADOW (the title is the English translation of Belle Ombre, the name of the fictional Tom Ripley's French home) is a warts-and-all biography of the writer capable of creating that sense of disquiet.  Making great use of Highsmith's trove of letters, journals, and other material that she collectively referred to as her "cahiers,"  Wilson attempts to get to the heart of Highsmith, a woman of whom Otto Penzler once observed, "She was a mean, hard, cruel, unlovable, unloving person.  I could never penetrate how any human being could be that relentlessly ugly."  In this book, Highsmith doesn't come across as a very approachable person, but one certainly gains a better understanding of why Highsmith was the way she was and why she wrote the way she did.

Born in Fort Worth in 1921, Highsmith's upbringing was tumultuous:  Her parents divorced before she was born, her mother remarried three years later, and it was this husband, Stanley Highsmith, who gave Patricia the last name she had for the rest of her life.  Highsmith never liked her step-father and never resolved the difficult relationship she had with her mother (who would sometimes claim she tried to abort Patricia by drinking turpentine during her pregnancy).  The cruelty of their love-hate dynamic expressed itself in a number of Highsmith's dark stories of bad children and even worse parents.  Frequently overlooked and unwanted, Highsmith was moved from Texas to New York and back to Texas again, living first with her mother and step-father and then with her grandmother.  She was not a happy child, but she loved to read and made great use of her grandmother's library.  She was also a writer from an early age--even at eight years old she was writing little sketches about the hidden lives of supposedly "normal" friends and neighbors.  This would be a major theme throughout all of her work:  The juxtaposition of a person's public facade against their private desires.

After graduating from Barnard College in 1942, Highsmith worked for comic book syndicates (she was one of the first women to write for the comics) while she spent her spare time writing and developing her own style.  She eventually spent time at the Yaddo writer's colony in Saratoga Springs, New York.  It was here that Highsmith wrote STRANGERS ON A TRAIN which was published in 1950 and provided her with her first major success, especially when it was adapted for film by Alfred Hitchcock the following year.  She was fortunate that success came early.  This permitted her to spend the rest of her life writing without needing an additional source of income.

Highsmith's popularity grew (especially in Europe) and the Ripley novels (five in all, published over a 36-year period) cemented her status.  Tom Ripley, outwardly charming, inwardly a cold-blooded killer without conscience or compunction when it comes to protecting himself, personifies Highsmith's theme of the hidden interior life of people who appear quite affable on the surface.  Highsmith herself was not immune from this dichotomy.  She presented herself as an animal lover, a gourmet cook, and a good friend, when in actuality she alternately smothered and neglected her cats, was an atrocious cook who rarely ate (she had a drinking problem which only got worse as she aged and she always preferred drinking to eating), and was a terrible friend.  None of her relationships (sexual or platonic, with men or with women) lasted very long because of her rages, unwillingness to compromise, and unreasonable demands. 

If I have one problem with this biography, it is that is takes more than 300 pages before there is any mention that Highsmith may have suffered from undiagnosed Asperger's Syndrome or another form of high-functioning autism, and even then the comment is made in an offhand way by one of Highsmith's acquaintances and is not really examined at all by Wilson.  Having an Asperger's child myself (hopefully one who has been giving a more loving and secure home life than Highsmith received), and based on evidence of Highsmith's inability to relate to others and her social isolation, I think it's a very real possibility that Highsmith was functionally autistic and that idea should have been considered and explored much earlier in the book.  It's very likely that someone with an autism spectrum disorder raised in the dysfunction and emotional deprivation of Highsmith's early life might easily evolve into the misanthropic and disassociative person that Highsmith became.  As one of her friends observed, it was a good thing Highsmith could write, without that outlet she might have been committed to a mental institution.  That, despite her alienating personality and worsening alcoholism, Highsmith could continue to produce quality work is an indication of her discipline (when it came to writing) and her undeniable talent--although some of the odd, violent, and unpleasant imagery served up by that talent may give one pause..

Highsmith's last years were plagued by ill-health and on-going self-imposed separation from those who wanted to help her.  In addition, her nasty vein of racial prejudice and an almost demented anti-semtism began to disgust even the most tolerant of her acquaintances.  Highsmith died of cancer in 1995 (outliving her mother by only four years), leaving the bulk of her estate to the Yaddo writer's colony.  Several years after her death, the film version of "The Talented Mr. Ripley" spiked renewed interest in her writing.  She left behind a body of tense, uncomfortable, yet strangely hypnotic work and enough ancillary material to allow Andrew Wilson to fashion this thorough and thoughtful biography.

Charlie Stella reviews the same book right here. 

And on other blogs
Sergio Angelini, BRAINWASH, John Wainwright
Joe Barone,  OUT OF THE DEEP, I CRY, Julia Spencer Fleming
Les Blatt, NO COFFIN FOR THE CORPSE, Clayton Rawson
Bill Crider AND BE A VILLAIN, Rex Stout
Scott Cupp, THE PASTEL CITY, M. John Harrison

Curt Evans,  DEATH OF AN OLD GOAT, Robert Barnard

Randy Johnson, SPECIMEN SONG, Peter Bowen
Nick Jones , A MURDER OF QUALITY, John LeCarre
George Kelley, THE PHARAOH CONTRACT, Ray Aldridge
Margot Kinberg   UNEXPECTED NIGHT, Elizabeth Daly
B.V. Lawson. THE CHINK IN THE ARMOR, Marie Belloc Lowndes
Evan Lewis, UNSEEN SHADOWS, Jim Steranko
Steve Lewis, AFTER THE WIDOW CHANGED HER MIND, Cornelia Penfield

Steve Lewis' followup. 

Neer, THE LAST MOSHA'IRAH OF DELHI, Mirza Farhatullah Baig

J.F. Norris, PRESIDENT FU MANCHU, Sax Rohmer

David Rachels,THE HOT ROCK, Donald E. Westlake; THE BLACK ICE SCORE, Richard Stark
Karyn Reeves, MEMOIRS OF A BRITISH AGENT,  Sir Robert Bruce Lockhart
James Reasoner THE STERANKO HISTORY OF COMICS- Vol. 1 & 2, Jim Steranko
Richard Robinson, THE TROUBLE WITH ALIENS, Christopher Anvil, (Harry Crosby)
Gerard Saylor THE NEAREST EXIT, Olen Steinhauer

Ron Scheer  The Lions of the Lord: A Tale of the Old West, Harry Leon Wilson
Michael Slind, THE MURDER OF ANN AVERY, Henry Kuttner
Kerrie Smith, THE GRASS WIDOW'S TALE, Ellis Peters
Kevin Tipple,Patrick Ohl, THE SEVENTH HYPOTHESIS, Paul Halter

Jim Winters, WINTER'S END, John Rickards


Thursday, February 21, 2013

My Life in the Theater: DANCING AT LUGHNASA

From the film, of course. If I have a particular weakness, it is for Irish plays and the reason why is that the characters in them tell stories. We saw this Brian Friel play probably in the early nineties at the Attic Theater, when it was briefly in Pontiac, Michigan. It was a lovely production, directed by Patricia Ansuini. Miss the Attic Theater but luckily its shining light, Lavinia Moyer still directs plays in the area.

Gary Clifton and Ryan Sayles; HOW I WROTE THIS STORY

Gary Clifton: THE LAST AMBASSADOR TO PUSHMATAHA,  is a tale based on an actual case wherein a low rent doper, who claimed to be a prince in exile infatuated with a dope-numb-brained stripper, went around  planting crude bombs against enemies real and imagined until he had a premature ejaculation (the stripper's words) and involuntarily retired from the bombing business.  In the real world, he died in the joint several years ago, still disarmed, so to speak. 
Gary Clifton, forty years a cop, a lifetime comedian has a giant Santa bag of war stories, all true.

Ryan Sayles:  Getting published on All Due Respect was a big goal of mine. When I read the submissions guidelines, Chris Rhatigan was very clear about one thing: he publishes "fiction about people who are criminals..."

That got the gears turning.

Earlier in the year I read another author's story which took place in a strip club. I always try to leave comments on the stories I read, and this was no exception. I made some comment about strippers working for formula and meth.

That also got the gears turning.

So I wrote a story called "Formula and Meth." I wrote about a stripper who runs a scam on the clients she has, and I tried to make it funny in tone but sad in reality. So, the third person narration (in Rhatigan's words) just made fun of everyone. But, the situation itself--especially Angelina, the lead stripper--was sad. It was too bad. Single mom, having an elderly neighbor check on her kid at night while she's at the club, addicted to meth, working for drugs and baby food.

No one is decent here. The sliding scale of humanity is near the bottom. No one is honest. No one has love. Everyone uses everyone else and the end focuses all of that into what I hope was a lingering feeling of that sad reality.

So grab the collection. Ignore me blabbing about my story and know that every single one in here is solid as a rock. I'm proud my drivel made the cut, because this thing is THE anthology to have. Rhatigan proved he could do the crime fiction world a favor with how he selected the stories. Get your hands on it.

The Best Sellers Since 1913, courtesy of Publisher's Weekly

I am not sure who this reader is but Kahn has undertaken the task of reading the books that reached Number One on Publisher's Weekly over the last 100 years. As I look at the list, a great many of these books are ones I would not care to read even once. There are way too many Grishams and Kings, not that there's anything wrong with those, but one can only take so much of most authors. Is choosing what the mass audience chose, the best way to go? Are bestsellers the best marker?

If you wanted to read a book published every year for the last 100 years, how would you choose the list?

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Tuesday Night Music: Mumford and Sons

The Parrot Talks (Squawks)

On Rick Robinson's blog,  J. F. Norris made this comment.

"A parrot squawking out a mysterious phrase occurs much more frequently in mystery fiction than I ever would’ve imagined. There’s Death in Swaythling Court, Murder on Wheels, The Chinese Parrot, and this one [The Case of the Perjured Parrot by Erle Stanley Gardner]. I’m sure there are more.

Can anyone come up with more for Rick? Such a strange device to be repeated. But as the only bird (or animal) that speaks, too good to ignore? 

Forgotten TV: Love on a Roofop

This was one of our favorite TV shows back in the day.

From Wikipedia: 

Love on a Rooftop is an American comedy about a newlywed couple, Dave and Julie Willis, and their humorous struggles to survive in San Francisco on Dave's apprentice architect's salary of $85.37 a week. Matters were complicated by the fact that Julie's rich father did not approve of their less than luxurious lifestyle and often took it upon himself to try to improve it, much to Dave's chagrin. Rich Little played their neighbor.

LOVE had the vibe of many shows from that day like THAT GIRL. It owed a lot to BAREFOOT IN THE PARK. 

If you were of a certain age, and for me it was recently married, you watched it.

Sadly Peter Deul killed himself a few years later despite the success of ALIAS SMITH AND JONES. He was 31. And Judy Carne did not fare much better after great success on LAUGH-IN as the "sock it to me" girl. She writes about it in her book LAUGHING ON THE OUTSIDE AND CRYING ON THE INSIDE.

I will remember them as this darling couple on LOVE ON A ROOFTOP.

Monday, February 18, 2013

Movie Theme Music: Exodus

How I Came to Edit ALL DUE RESPECT: Chris Rhatigan

How I Came to Edit this Site (...and Anthology)

By Chris Rhatigan

Online publications tend to suffer from two problems: 

1) They shut down frequently. (I recently submitted to three publications--all three shut down without responding, one before it even put out its first issue.) 

2) They lack an identity. They publish too many stories, or they publish such a range of material (fiction of all lengths and genres, non-fiction, reviews, crossword puzzles, advertisements for local bands, etc., etc.) that they lose focus.

When Alec Cizak handed me the reins to All Due Respect, I knew it suffered from neither of those problems. It had been around since 2010, building a readership. Once a month, ADR published straight crime fiction short stories--nothing else. 

So I knew the publication itself was sound. I consider this the biggest challenge for editors. My task was to make sure that I kept this up.

What exactly does an editor do? I didn't know the answer to this question when I took over, but I slowly discovered how to approach the job.

The number one thing is only accepting the best submissions that also fit the site's style. This may sound easier than it is. It's difficult rejecting a story that's close, but not quite there. It's difficult sending rejections to friends. It's difficult to provide constructive feedback about why a story doesn't fit the site's needs--which I do unless the story is completely off-base.  

But that initial decision is the most important. I never take it lightly. I almost always read submissions at least twice before accepting them, letting them roll around in my head, seeing if all the pieces fit together. 

Then comes the actual editing. I was a journalist and proofreader for a number of years, so I have no qualms about hacking a story apart at the sentence/word level. (Seeing a blatant error I left in on the site makes me want to punch myself in the face.) 

The difficult part comes when cutting story out. I rarely do this, but I do have pet peeves. Too much back story is a big one. Repeating information that the reader's already picked up on from context is another. Inserting a twist ending where it doesn't fit is also not my thing. Still, I always question this decision--after all, I'm a writer too.

Overall, I love the job. I gain immense satisfaction from sharing a great story with the world and sometimes playing a small part in improving a story. 

And I'm terribly proud of All Due Respect: The Anthology, released by Full Dark City Press. You will love these stories. And if you don't, I'll punch you in the face. 

(Is that benefit that will induce you to buy? I'm not very good at this whole selling thing...)

BIO: Chris Rhatigan is the editor of All Due Respect. His novella, The Kind of Friends Who Murder Each Other, will be released from KUBOA Press in April. He blogs about short fiction at Death by Killing.

Say Something Good About Detroit: Pickles

Phil has to have a pickle for lunch. Anything pickled rates high with him. I am not sure how common a love of pickles is but Detroit has become a mini-center of pickle making in recent years.

Michiganders have a passion for pickles. It was in Detroit that a Croatian immigrant named Frank Vlasic got the idea in the 1920s that he should expand his cheese business to include pickles, too. By 1942, they had an idea to package the pickles in glass jars instead of buckets – and business took off.
The pickling-making tradition continues today, with several small artisanal companies popping up alongside larger pickle producers in recent years. If you haven't sampled the variety of pickles that Michigan has to offer, check out this list for ideas. And later this summer, maybe even consider swinging up to Linwood, Michigan (in Bay County) in August for its annual Pickle Festival. 

The number of new companies making pickles continues to grow. And although this may not save the city, it will serve our appetites well. Some of the newer local pickle companies include McClure's, The Brinery, Suddeny Sauer, Perkin's Pickles, Topor's, Hausbeck and of course Vlasic.

Most of this information came from DETROIT METRO PARENT.

Many pickle businesses where you live? Is it a national trend?


Sunday, February 17, 2013

Sunday Night Poetry: Tess Gallagher


E. M. Forster, in “Aspects of the Novel,” said that nearly every novel’s ending is a letdown. “This is because the plot requires to be wound up. Why is this necessary? Why is there not a convention which allows a novelist to stop as soon as he feels muddled or bored? Alas, he has to round things off, and usually the characters go dead while he is at work.”

And I think this is true. But what novels defied the odds and left you satisfied. Perhaps regretful that the story had ended but euphoric that a good ending had been pulled off? Not the words themself, but the perfect conclusion to a story well told.

I am going to choose THE LITTLE STRANGER, Sarah Waters. So many people miss what she writes at the very end--and don't you dare read it first. This book succeeds as social commentary, a great ghost story, and a terrific character study. But it is slow going. 

I had to read the last page several times to take her meaning, and I still may be wrong.

 PRIDE AND PREJUDICE is also very satisfying as well as MURDER ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS and my usual choice A PLACE OF EXECUTION.

What else?

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Saturday Night Music: Ace of Base

What I Will Miss Most About California

The Flight of the Pelicans-especially the soaring moments-so improbable with such a large bird.

Friday, February 15, 2013

Friday Night Music; Mats Eilertsen Trio

We heard this jazz trio one of our last nights in CA. They were incredible. I am usually overly traditional in my music tastes but these guys blew me away. From Norway, they arrived in the US during the storms last week and had lost their bass and their cymbals. After finding the bass, someone decapitated it at an airport. But the sound on the borrowed one was just fine. Look for them in your hood.

Richard Pangburn's True (or not so true) Story of A White Van

Patti, you must be aware of our recent local story about a man in a white van.

A few weeks ago police were called to our local Cracker Barrel Restaurant. One woman reported that a man in a white van had aggressively flirted with her while she was on her way to work, offering her a ride and suggesting that she get into his white van. She made up a diplomatic lie to fend him off and refused the ride.

She thought nothing of it until another worker at the restaurant reported that a man driving a white van had grabbed her and tried to hustle her into his white van in the parking lot.

The police were called and the Louisville media ran the story. In the next two days there were two more reports from parking lots in Louisville, one right next to a Cracker Barrel there.

As my wife and I were driving to Louisville, we noted the high number of white vans on the road and remembered that we used to have one ourselves. My hair was not salt and pepper then, but it is now and I remarked that if we still had it, someone might consider me a suspect.

Days went by and there were no arrests. Bardstown is a small tourist/college town with a small police force. The police chief was quoted in the paper as saying that he didn't realize how many "scruffy" men with salt and pepper hair and driving white vans there were--until he started looking for one.

The story began to take on the paranoia of the-monsters-are-due-on-maple-street. The Louisville media ran it every day, one time showing a man with a van who fit the description--who said that he ran a respectable business with his van and because he was middle aged and a bit overweight, with salt and pepper hair, people were giving him unwarranted attention.

He said that every time he drove up to McDonalds carry-out, the girl behind the glass wanted to phone the police.

No arrests were made until about a week later when police arrested the woman who made the original complaint of a physical assault. Police said that they ran all of the video footage and what she said had happened could not have happened.

Furthermore, they discovered that she had given both her employer and the police a false name and that, under her real name, she had several outstanding warrants.

1:17 AM

Friday's Forgotten Books, Friday, February 15, 2013

 Having recently reread the amazing WE HAVE ALWAYS LIVED IN A CASTLE, I am reminded of this review from 2009


I read this book in December, 1987, being a big fan of Shirley Jackson all my life. I once had a nice fat collection of Jackson's work, which was damaged by ice that broke through our ceiling, soaking everything beneath. I have never replaced most of it unfortunately. But I think I've probably read most of the collected pieces of fiction she wrote and all of the novels, enjoying the domestic stories as much as the very dark ones.
Her bifurcated writing interests seem like two sides of a very familiar coin.

This book, and there may be a newer one by now, tries and succeeds in explaining much about Jackson's life. Raised by an abusive mother, married to a man (esteemed literary critic, Stanley Hyman) who recognized her brilliance but didn't let that interfere with his affairs, Jackson managed to write some of the most original stories of her era. She feared anonymity after death; feared the public would not understand the meaning of her stories. Jackson's accounts of family life (RAISING DEMONS, LIFE AMONG THE SAVAGES) are as much fun to read as her darker novels and stories. Oppenheimer is very skilled at tying incidents in Jackson's life to stories she wrote at the time. She uses interviews and anecdotes to great effect. If you want to understand where stories like THE LOTTERY came from, this book will help.

For more Friday's Forgotten Books, see Evan Lewis

I will be back on my reliable computer next week. I am so grateful to Evan Lewis and Todd Mason for taking on this chore. And I am going to follow their example, and just post the links once each week making my Fridays much easier. So The Summing Up goes to  archives.  

My review of SIDE EFFECTS is on Crimespree Magazine.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

My Life in the Theater: GEM OF THE OCEAN

August Wilson wrote GEM OF THE OCEAN a year or two before he died. It is part of his cycle of plays about the lives of African-Americans throughout the 20th century and actually is the first in the cycle despite being written near the end of Wilson's life. It is set 1904 in Pittsburgh and concerns a woman who is a healer and the man who comes to her for healing. The Cyngnet Theater in Old Town (the oldest section of San Diego) put on a very fine production and any faults lay in the somewhat didactic text. My favorites are PIANO LESSON and FENCES. But it is nice to see another piece of the 12-play cycle.

First Flash Fiction Response

Although the flash fiction challenge runs for a month, Kieran Shea was right out of the box.

And it's great.(Of course).

What Do Women Want?

And I mean in a novel.

We have been to several author talks here-all of them save one by women authors and successful ones-- and almost universally attended by women. And what these large groups of women seem to want are novels that 1) instruct us in life 2) offer multiple opportunities to cry 3) confront a topical issue 4) work well for book groups 5) skip any fancy prose and instead tell a straight forward story 6) have the sort of humor I find too cliched to be funny. The words I heard over and over again:  I cried.

It was depressing to see how far these audiences drifted from any notion of a well-written novel. Or one that was not didactic and obvious. The sad thing is since women do most of the reading, the demand by publishers to give them what they want will only grow.

What do you want from a novel? Do you want to be taught something about life? Is that the job of a novelist? Do you want to confront life issues such as assisted suicide, school bullying, children with physical troubles in every novel you read? When did this trend begin?

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Opening Credits: Chinatown

Flash Fiction Challenge: THE WHITE VAN

I sit at a window every day here in La Jolla where I look out on the ocean. But I also see a street. On many of the days I have been here, a white van pulls up early in the morning to grab one of the few empty spots. The van contains an expensive bike, a motorbike, a surfboard, multiple coolers, and changes of clothes, a beach chair. And, of course, a man. A man who seems to nearly live in this van because he eats lunch in there, changes his clothes in there and so on. I He seems to have too many expensive things to be homeless, but he is sinister. I watch him enter and exit his van. Does he watch me at the window?

Don't regard any of these details relevant to your story necessarily.

CHALLENGE: Write a story about a man in a white van. What is his story? 1000 words and a finish date of March 13th. Let me know if you're in.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Tuesday Night Music: Bobby Darin

Sexing Up a Scene

Occasionally I cheat by putting a scene with sex in a story, which I know should be played out and I don't play it out. I find writing about sex of any sort very difficult. I guess I am from the old school that liked seeing the bedroom doors close in a movie. Or even dozens of doors if there was real ardor. Remember that.

But right now I am reworking a story where the editor said, "You got to show not tell this." He's right because a lot hinges on what happens.

Writers: do you find this difficult? What kind of scenes are hardest for you to write.

Readers: do you feel cheated if a sex scene never really is described?

Not Forgottten By Me: THE DICK VAN DYKE SHOW

I read an interview with Van Dyke recently and he said that when making the show they had 28 minutes out of 30 to tell the story, which allowed them to develop an idea more fully than today's sit-coms which only have 20 minutes. Most of today's shows consequently go for fractured storylines telling that features jokes rather than plots. I think there are a few exceptions to this new format-THE BIG BANG THEORY being one, but on the whole I hate most of them. I think they could shuffle most scenes around and and no one would notice that no, this was not the one about gastro-intestinal problems. Perhaps SEINFELD led the way with this sort of story telling.It certainly comes out of standup comedy.

Anyway Dick Van Dyke  was the epitome of sophistication to me as a young teenager. There are so many great episodes that it is hard to pick a favorite. Dick's favorites were mine too. The one where Ritchie was born and Dick became convinced he was not their son. And the one where Laura outs Alan Brady's baldness on a radio show. Or the one about the walnuts above.

What was yours?

Monday, February 11, 2013

Movie Theme Music: INTOUCHABLES

Maxine Clark Memorial

Note for writers and people who remember Maxine Clark (Petrona). Margot Kinberg is soliciting stories for an anthology devoted to Maxine Clark. She is also looking for remembrances or pieces that somehow capture Ms. Clark's interests/talents/blog. For more information, go here.

How I Came to Write This Book: Ed Lynskey

                                 How I Came to Write Smoking on Mount Rushmore

One Sunday morning last autumn, I was grocery shopping with my wife at Shoppers Food Warehouse when the idea hit me. Why not put together a collection of my best published short stories as a Kindle or e-book release? I’d already published a collection of my P.I. Frank Johnson stories (Out Of Town A Few Days) in 2004. I didn’t believe I had enough material to fill out another new collection. So, after we got home and put away the groceries, I began poking around on my laptop in my “Published Short Stories” folder. I’ve been working exclusively on my novels for the past several years, so I’d forgotten about many of the stories. I also checked out my Publishing Bibliography I’d kept updated for some ideas on which stories to use.
I saw my crime short fiction had first appeared in venues like Shots, Thuglit, Mississippi Review Online, and Crime Scene Scotland. The editors selecting the short stories included Sarah Weinman, Allan Guthrie, Anthony Neil Smith, Todd Robinson, and Russel D. McLean. None of that seemed too shabby to me, so I decided to keep on pressing ahead with my project. After a lot of mental wrangling, I selected 13 stories and called them my “best of,” completely based on my opinion, of course.
After I did some online research about assembling short story collections, I read where the author is expected to offer the reader something new besides the previously published stories. That struck me as a reasonable deal, and it sent me scurrying to my “Unpublished Short Stories” folder. Fortunately, I culled out three unpublished stories, one of them a longer tale. They weren’t half-bad either. I spent a few weeks polishing those three stories before I read the other 13 stories. Their quality just didn’t leave me feeling happy at all.
            I’d also read online that short story writers often have to do major edits on their work before it’s ready to be included in a collection. That made me feel a little better. Off I went and tackled the edit job on each of the 13 published stories. That effort to do it the way I wanted to took longer than what I’d originally estimated it would. Sometimes edits seem like they’ll go on forever, but I finally reached a place of enough peace to end my revising.
Smoking on Mount Rushmore rounded out to 55,000 words, and the stories range in tone from soft-boiled to hard-boiled and noirish. Smoking on Mount Rushmore is for sale as a Kindle release on U.S. Amazon for $2.99 and U.K. Amazon for £1.91.
            I’d like to thank Patti for having me do a guest blog post.

U.S. Amazon link:
U.K. Amazon link: