Tuesday, April 29, 2008

What Scares You the Most?

If you think yesterday's pictures of Detroit were scary, wait until you see this. Boxing kangaroos scare me to death. I remember an episode of Family Ties where the entrance of a kangaroo sent me fleeing, much to my kids amusement.

What seemingly innocuous object or element in a story/movie can frighten you?

With my husband, it's houses where mass murders have taken place.

Sunday, April 27, 2008

My Town Monday: Detroit's Real Face

I bet you're thinking, my city has houses like this, but try four thousand of them. Imagine a city where until recently, there was not a working pharmacy, a movie theater, a decent grocery store.

In many ways, I’ve been hiding the real Detroit from you these past two months: showing you a Detroit via the city’s visitor’s bureau. I haven’t included recent headlines about: schools failing, casinos failing, the mayor failing, the infrastructure failing, the city government failing—a city in decline from top to bottom. This is a brief look at that Detroit, which hurts me to post although it's the only Detroit I've known since coming here in 1970 as a twenty-two year old.

Detroit began its downward spiral fifty years ago. Before the riots, before the attempts to bus kids to school, before it was clear Asia would rival Detroit in the car market, before all of those demonstrable, chartable things, Detroit began to fall apart.

After the war, Detroit was one of the first U.S. cities to experience suburban flight, fueled by racial tension that began with several riots during the 1940s. Between 1940 and 1960, the proportion of blacks in the population grew to one-third and the white middle-classes began their inexorable flight. By 1998, 78 percent of those living in the suburbs were white, while 79 percent of those in the inner city were black with vast disparities of income. Polarization in Detroit was the most exaggerated in the country. Today, one third of the entire city area lies derelict. Countless buildings have been demolished. Four thousand of those still standing are vacant and abandoned: locked, boarded and walled-up, waiting for their turn at implosion. Street signs are rusting away. Grass grows over the pavements. In certain places, the city looks almost rural, even attracting rural game and birds.

In spite of this, attempts at re-urbanization are being undertaken. Detroit is finally putting up affordable housing and rebuilding its downtown. New stadiums dominate the downtown. Strip malls, a curse in most areas, bring needed stores and jobs to the city. There is talk of a light rail system. A river walk now connects the riverfront downtown. But continuing improvement depends on an improved economy. Will that take place?

FOR LINKS TO OTHER MY TOWN MONDAY BLOGS: http://traviserwin.blogspot.com/

HELP! I can't see.

Are those word verifications blocks getting harder and harder or is it just my eyes? (I am having surgery this week). Sometimes I like to screw with it and see how easy it will make it after 5-6 tries. Maybe it's getting even.

Things That Trigger My Endorphins.

First the book, Elizabeth Strout's Olive Kitteredge because I wonder if this happens to anyone else. Do you read passages of prose that are so sharp and true that it sends you immediately to your computer, thinking you have found the secret to writing? Does it immediately inspire your "voice" to start speaking. This happened to me with the second story of this novel in stories. It practically brought me to my knees in adulation. I liked her other two books very much but I think this one may be in a class by itself.
Two good movies, too. The Year My Parents Went on Vacation deals with the crackdown on Communists in Brazil in 1970, setting it against Brazil's bid for the World Cup. The Visitor deals with the U.S. crackdown on illegal immigrants after 9-11. Neither government comes off looking very good, sad to say. Both lovely movies though. Isn't it great when literature can move you?

Saturday, April 26, 2008

The Finale of the first FRIDAYS--Yesterdays' Picks

I wanted to round up yesterday's picks for one-stop shopping for those who have a limited amount of time to visit blogs, but more time to read books. What a wonderfully diverse selection they were too. Thanks for participating and I hope everyone in all genres will jump onboard in the coming weeks. If you don't have a blog but would like to recommend a book, email me and I'll post your recommendation on my blogs on FRIDAYS. Also if you're going to post one on your blog and would like me to give the link, that's fine too.

Thanks. I'm off to find a few of these.

City by Clifford D. Simak (Bill Crider)
The Lady in the Lake by Raymond Chandler (Clair Dickson)
Scar Lover by Harry Crews (A.N. Smith)
Death of the Heart by Elizabeth Bowen (Sandra Scoppettone)
The Dog of the South by Charles Portis (Patrick Shawn Bagley)
Dust Devils by James Reasoner (Sandra Ruttan)
The God Files by Frank Turner (Brian Lindenmuth)
Don't Let's Go to the Dog Tonight by Alexandria Fuller (Josephine Damian)
The Rock Orchard by Paula Wall (Travis Erwin)
When the Elephants Dance by Tess Uriza (Ello)
The Price of Salt by Patricia Highsmith (Eudamonia for All)
Desperate Characters by Paula Fox (Patti Abbott)

Thursday, April 24, 2008

FRIDAYS: The Book You Have to Read

This is the first of what I optimistically hope will become Friday recommendations of books we love but might have forgotten over the years. I have asked several people to help me by also remembering a favorite book. Their blog sites are listed below. I also asked each of them to tag someone to recommend a book for next Friday. I'm worried great books of the recent past are sliding out of print and out of our consciousness. Not the first-tier classics we all can name, but the books that come next. Here's my choice.

Desperate Characters by Paula Fox

It's difficult to remember, thirty years on, New York in the seventies, The City was facing bankruptcy, the streets were dangerous, frequent strikes left unattended garbage for the rodents, buildings crumbled. Paula Fox's novel Desperate Characters perfectly captures that time along with the similarly disintegrating marriage of Sophie and Otto Bentwood. The story begins with an unexpected cat bite. "Because it's savage," Otto answers Sophie's puzzled, "why?" It was a cat she was trying to feed that bit her. This well-intentioned act, this McGuffin, sends the couple off on a weekend odyssey, where ominous events continue to haunt the childless couple. They find little solace in each other and there is no easy resolution at the end. The quiet desperation that suffuses their story is heart-breaking. The writing is haunting, lucid, and succinct.
Fox has also written two books about her life (Borrowed Finery and The Coldest Winter), a few other novels (The Widow's Children) and many children's books. But nothing is finer than this one for me.

Check out other recommendations here:




Gerald So, take it away.

Generating Story Ideas

Well, I said I preferred writing short stories but sometimes the ideas dry up. Then I ask my husband and he invariably suggests something that just won't work for me. His ideas are always conceptual--for instance, last night he suggested that I write a story where suddenly homosexual men and women are able to give birth and what's the impact of that on society. You can see he's a theorist, can't you.
For me though, story ideas never come from such a big concept. They usually come when the first line of a story mysteriously pops into my head. Or when I see something going on in front me that's interesting.
What about you? How do ideas come to you?
Is it ever the big idea of my husbands? Is it usually based on a real life event or something smaller.
This line popped into my head last night and I'll begin this story today. ---Georgie comes for me at 8:30 every morning.--- I don't know who Georgie is or why he comes but I'll find out soon.
It's a start.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Sleeping Dogs by Ed Gorman

Yesterday I mentioned this book in a meme. Last night, I decided I wanted to say more about it than the five lines that challenge allowed.

Most books about politics tend to be thrillers. A quiet, incisive meditation on the seductiveness of political power, the people it attracts, and the way it all plays out is unusual. But Sleeping Dogs by Ed Gorman is exactly that. No plots to blow up the White House unfold; no bio-terrorists loom. Instead, this novel looks at an Illinois Senate race from the perspective of political consultant, Dev Conrad, an operative who’s realistic about what politicians are like. Dev stays in the game though it often sickens him. He’s good at it, and on some level, he likes the political arena, always hoping to find a politician he can promote for more than a paycheck.

Sleeping Dogs has a cast of characters that turns out to be multifaceted and complicated. No one is exactly what he/she first appears to be. In Sleeping Dogs, the actions are in proportion to the actors, each scene inexorably follows the one before it.

I hope we run into Dev Conrad again, working for a politician he can like. One of the most interesting questions posed in the novel was this: what do you do if you like the voting record and the political stance of a candidate, but not the person him/herself? That’s a question we need to think about. This was a terrific book.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

The Quaker State

Where it's all turned to guns and roses. And where being "soft" is the worst insult you can hurl at someone. It's as if some Republican operative has controlled this nominating process for the Dems. Like some evil puppet master seized the strings about two months ago. It couldn't be worse. I am sick with worry that the Democratic Party has insured a Republican victory in November
by making both candidates look desperate, nasty and out of step.

What do you think? Does any of it matter as we possibly head into a Depression? Should we be looking for a Roosevelt instead of any of these candidates?

Meme me up, Scottie

I have been tagged by Peter Rozovsky at Detectives Beyond Borders with the following meme:
1. Pick up the nearest book.
2. Open it to page 123.
3. Find the fifth sentence.
4. Post the next three sentences.
5. Tag five people, and acknowledge who tagged you.

My answers:1) The book is Sleeping Dogs by Ed Gorman

2) I have just opened it to page 123.
3) I have counted off the first five sentences, which got me to:
4) "Gabe, in his graying ponytail and granny glasses sat at his desk with his feet up reading the Rolling Stone Reader. At least, he wasn't doing any online gambling at the moment, The great Marist who fell for the worse sucker game of all, gambling.
(I think this is a nice little hint on what the book is about).
5 I tag, with apologies, Christa Miller, Graham Powell, Clair Dickson, Steve Allen and Aldo Calgagno.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

My Town Monday: Pewabic Pottery

Pewabic Pottery was founded in 1903 by Mary Chase Perry Stratton at the height of the Arts and Crafts movement in the U.S. In 1991, the building and its contents were moved to E. Jefferson, where they still sit today. Works produced at the pottery can be found across the country including the National Shrine in D.C. and at Herald Square in New York.

Pieces produced at Pewabic Pottery are especially valued for their distinctive glaze. Today, the Pottery continues to grow as a museum, an educational institution, as a shop and as an important part of the Detroit art community. Pewabic Pottery still reflects the vision of its founder and many of the most popular work produced here are in Arts and Crafts style-emphasizing nature, classic children’s stories, animals. Their lovely tiles graces many homes, schools and buildings in the Detroit area.

Pewabic is Chippewa Indian term for "clay with a copper color" according to an article on the National Park Service website.
http://www.nps.gov/nr/travel/detroit/d5.htm (Thanks, Tim).

FOR LINKS TO OTHER MY TOWN MONDAY BLOGS: http://traviserwin.blogspot.com/

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Forgetting Sarah Marshall

This was a really cute movie. Funny and nice and smarter than it had to be.
It gave its characters more complexity than this type of picture usually does.

My new pet peeve though: people talking on their cells in the theater and then recounting their conversation to the person sitting next to them. Argh!

Friday, April 18, 2008


In some ways the last few weeks have been very rewarding. Four stories have been accepted for publication, two of them in places I really hoped to crack. But in other ways, it's been a bust. Four agents and one editor have passed on the book manuscript. Three agents wouldn't say why, one, as I recounted already here, hated the protagonist, and the editor told me I had a well-written mainstream novel, not a crime novel. I know five people's opinions are not enough, but I have a very clear sense I have written a novel that straddles genres in a time when that's a no-no.
Do I go back and make it more mainstream? This would probably be the easiest solution. Do I try to ramp up the crime elements--I can't really think how to do this without adding a second story-line. Do I put it aside, figuring in six months it might become clearer. Do I continue sending it out? Do I ditch the whole think and regard it as a practice novel?
Maybe I am strictly a short story writer and the whole enterprise was a misstep. Alice Munro only wrote one novel and it wasn't very good. Not that I'm comparing myself to her but you see the point.
What would you do?

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

The Relentless Hitman

Joe Don Baker plays a relentless and "happy in his job" killer in this film from 1973. (Yes, we are on an early seventies roll right now). Of course, it reminded me of the character in No Country for Old Men, or The Terminator, if we can fault an android for his nature. And, going back, Tommy Udo (Richard Widmark) in Kiss of Death.
There are lots of hitmen in recent movies. EW did a story on it not too long ago. But the hitman who really loves his work, like Joe Don Baker did in Charley Varrick is somewhat unusual. Or isn't it? What other ones am I forgetting?

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Groundhog Day for Hillary and Obama

This is not a putdown of PA. For goodness sake, it's my home state. It is a discussion of how a month anywhere can distort your agenda, which I think has happened here. Love PA, hate the current method of choosing candidates that dumped these two here for all this time.
You remember the movie Groundhog Day, of course. How every day was the same in Punxsutawney, PA for Bill Murray's newsman. So it is now, after three weeks in the foothills of Central Pennsylvania, for Hillary and Obama. The same blueplate special (meatloaf most days) at the Somerset Dinner. The same three former steelworkers or coal miners showing up at the VFW luncheon chat. The same motels with moldy carpetting and a leaky window. I lived here for part of my life. I travelled back and forth across this terrain for the next forty years. Nobody wants to richocet along the turnpike and through those mountain tunnels too often unless you're born to the life. Newcomers lose too much oxygen. The relief in hitting Philly or Pittsburgh is palpable.

After a while in Central, PA, any outsider would say stupid things. You might claim you went hunting with your father and the right to bear arms is pretty damned important. You'd talk about bitterness and clinging to your gun and church. After all, churches and hunting are the primary recreational options here. They become part of your speech pattern. You forget a world beyond this one exists.

And the other candidate, the one who cares not an iota about these people, speaks of elitism. But nobody takes him up on it. Nobody says how out of touch he is. The Battle for Pennsylvania makes him look reasonable--which he is not.

Come out of the foothills, Hillary and Obama. Remember that Central Pennsylvania is just a state of mind. Just leave that gun behind.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

My Town Monday: Made in Detroit by Paul Clemens

In 2005, Doubleday published Made in Detroit by Paul Clemens. It received excellent reviews and went on to be chosen a Notable Book of the Year by the New York Times.

The book details Clemens’ childhood growing up on the eastside of Detroit in the nineteen eighties in a city that was almost entirely black. His father worked in auto industry-related jobs, his mother mostly raised her children, taking the occasional housecleaning job in affluent suburbs. Clemens love for his parents shines through on every page. Listening to his account of his father's ability to shift gears without use of a clutch is a favorite section of the book for me.

The work also deals with the Coleman Young mayoral years, which Clemens faults with breeding an “us against them” mentality in the larger Detroit area. The book was brutally honest and beautifully written. Some readers found his picture of Detroit troubling, but he never claimed to speak to every experience, just his own.

Clemens went on to contribute several op-ed pieces to the New York Times and local Detroit papers. But with two children to support, Clemens continued working at his job as Assistant to the Dean of Liberal Arts and Sciences at Wayne State University. He wanted to be involved in the lives of his wife and children when he had a spare moment so the writing got put aside.

Last week, Paul was awarded a Guggenheim to our great joy. Hopefully, he will now have the opportunity to follow Made in Detroit up with another piece of writing. How often does a kid from a blue-collar, Catholic family without a Ph.D. get a Guggenheim? If you haven't read Made in Detroit, it's worth looking for. It's sad, funny, frustrating and authentic, just like Detroit.

FOR LINKS TO OTHER MY TOWN MONDAY BLOGS: http://traviserwin.blogspot.com/

Friday, April 11, 2008


I had a dream last night where one man was holding me down while another carved "Jesus
Loves" on my toes. Was this

1. Proof that I have been reading and writing too many crime stories?
2. A new story idea?
3. Punishment for putting a comment on someone's blog that people read the Bible too much?
4. An invitation, albeit a nasty one, to come back to the fold?
5. A bit of undigested potato?

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Does This Happen to You?

Don't you hate it when a very improbable first line for a story pops into your head? It happens quite regularly to me. This one was generated by a comment from Todd Mason a few days ago and now it's stuck in my head like a old Motown song:

No one knew when the day began that it would end with us eating Martin.

Now where do you go with that? What lines have you eventually discarded or, better yet, worked out?

Would anyone care to add a second line to this tale? Maybe you can point me in the right direction.

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

The Seventies

Little did I know when I was staying home with two small children in the seventies that Hollywood was making some the best movies in cinematic history. This sort of movie is only made by independent film makers now. Steven Spielberg taught Hollywood at the end of this decade that they should only be concerned with blockbusters and they learned that lesson well.
I spent the last two nights watching two of them: Payday and Electric Glide in Blue. Both recount a few days in the lives of their protagonist and things don't turn out too well in either movie. They're beautifully filmed, scored, edited.
What you notice most is the pace of these dark movies,
Because we all had so much more time in the 70s, the director/and or writer was in no hurry . We got to see the characters develop over 120 minutes. I especially liked Payday-- recommended by my daughter--I'd never heard of it although I like Rip Torn a lot. Robert Blake was also very fine in Electric Glide although I'm not so fond of him nowadays. If you haven't seen these, both made around 1972, give them a try.

What are your favorite 70s films? I may have missed them too.

Monday, April 07, 2008

Am I Nothing More Than a Killing Machine?

At some point in the movie, Stranger Than Fiction, the character played by Emma Thompson worries about the number of characters she’s killed off in her novels over the years. Of course, in her case, she’s come to believe that her character, played in the film by Will Farrell, is now a living breathing person. But do you ever give this any thought? Do you wonder if your writing is too blood-thirsty? Or that you watch movies or read books and feel little remorse at the body count? Do you watch Dexter and don't feel a bit guilty for loving it?

I have killed off about a dozen characters in my stories. They have died by a variety of methods, none pleasant. Do you ever pull back from this either in reading or writing? How far is too far? Do the novels of 50 years ago show more restraint?

Thursday, April 03, 2008

My Hero

For those kind enough to ask, here's a link to "My Hero" in Muzzlelflash: http://www.muzzleflashfiction.net/2007/08/my-hero-patricia-abbott.html#comments

Wednesday, April 02, 2008

Obama V. McCain

You can't live with a political scientist very long without considering elections. Maureen Dowd today had a op-ed piece where she contended that the contest between Obama and Clinton was most useful in preparing Obama for his ultimate fight with McCain. Defeat Hillary and McCain is a piece of cake (pardon the cliche).
But I wonder if the general election will be about the same set of issues at all. In the primary season, it's been mostly about personality. Whom do you trust? Who has more experience?
I wonder if those old unsettling issues the Dems faced in 2000 and 2004 will rear their ugly heads.
In particular, when did the Republicans begin to own the issue of patriotism? My husband says, "Always," Is this true? Will Americans look at the candidates and say, "Well, I hate the war and the economy stinks, but damn it I'm a patriotic American and I'm voting Republican." Will their priests/ministers remind them about issues such as pro-life and gay marriage, those old bugga boo concerns? What do you think? Can a national candidate triumph over these issues? Can we elect a candidate who triumphs liberal concerns? If Obama is rated as the most liberal Senator in office, can he win?


A flash fiction piece of mine that appeared in Muzzle Flash has been nominated for a Derringer Award from the Short Mystery Fiction Society. If you read the story, "My Hero," and liked it, you can vote for here: Or you can vote for one of the other outstanding stories in the flash fiction field. I think that's the one up there now. I hate to BSP, but.... https://login.yahoo.com/config/login_verify2?.intl=us&.src=ygrp&.done=http%3a//groups.yahoo.com%2Fgroup%2FShortmystery%2Fsurveys%3Fid%3D2683108&rl=1

Tuesday, April 01, 2008

I'm a Sucker for Caine

although my affection for him has taken me to some bad pictures over the years.

The one in question, and what brought this discussion up, was Flawless. Maybe Demi Moore drives me away from a movie as much as he brings me to it. So the two of them together create problems. Flawless was full of flaws starting with an unbelievable heist scene. I'll say no more because what I'm interested in is which actors will you pay money to see even if the movie is probably not your cup of tea. And which ones turn you off despite their role in a movie you might have interest in.
For me: Michael Caine, Ben Kingsley, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Ryan Gosling, Tom Wilkinson, Johnny Depp, Christian Bale, Edward Norton, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Laura Linney, Kate Blanchett, Kate Winslett attract my attention.
On the negative side: Bruce Willis, Demi Moore, Lily Tomlin, Goldie Hawn, Kate Hudson, Owen or Luke Wilson, Robin Williams.

How about you?