Saturday, May 31, 2008

Am I Underpopulated?

In my umpteenth edit of the novel, I noticed there are only six characters in it--and two are minor. This is what happens when you move from shorts stories to novels. You forget to increase the cast! Will this make the reader claustrophobic? Can you bear this close scrutiny of such a small group of people? Do other novels focus in this tightly or do I need to repeople it?

A Summing Up for Friday, May 30th

(And check out
for a second look at The January Corpse, recommended by Kevin Smith two weeks ago)

Joe Boland, Lightening of the Sun, Robert Bingham
Gerard Brennan, Sacrifice of the Fools, Ian McDonald
Ken Bruen, Michigan Roll, Tom Kakonis
Bill Crider, The Hot-Shot, Fletcher Flora
Deborah (Knit Lady) Brat Farrar, Josephine Tey
Stephen Elliott, (an extensive list: see link from yesterday)
Alison Gaylin, The Dice Man, Luke Reinhart
Charles Gramlich, Desert Dog, Jim Kjelgaard
Lisa Kenney, The Dogs of March, Ernest Hebert
Kristy Kiernan, Into the Road, Adrienne Richard
Steve Lewis, Too Much Poison, Anne Rowe
Brian Lindenmuth, (an extensive list of forgotten Sci-Fi: see link)
Dick Lochte, The Honest Dealer, Frank Gruber
Stuart MacBride, Shooting Dr. Jack, Norman Green, Diamond Dove, Adrian Hyland
Todd Mason, Alfred Hitchcock: Stories to be Read with the Door Locked, edited by Harold Q. Masur
Jason Pinter, The Long Walk, Stephen King
Sandra Seaman, The Quiet Game, Greg Iles
Andi Shechter, Cut to the Quick, Kate Ross
Clea Simon, A Place of Greater Safety, Hilary Mantel
Wallace Stroby, The Rare Coin Score, Richard Stark
Dave Zeltserman, The Captain, Seymour Shubin

Thanks to all these folks and I hope they'll return with another favorite soon.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

FRIDAY'S Forgotten Books

Forgotten Books for May 30, 2008

Ken Bruen’s Forgotten Book

Michigan Roll by Tom Kakonis

The great neglected forgotten writer in my opinion is Tom Kakonis.
He wrote a wondrous series of novels featuring an ex professor who'd served time and is now eking out a precarious existence in Las Vegas under the dubious mentorship of a very shady acquaintance.
The writing is dark dangerous poetry and the violence when it comes, is sharp and shocking, an air of doomed menace looms over the novels like a palpable cloud.
Michigan Roll, perhaps the very best in the series,, is a true forgotten classic.
Kakonis abandoned this stunning series and now writes under a different name.
The atmosphere of being damned, of no hope, of no redemption is noir like you rarely read.
The characterisation is superb and the sheer agony of seeing a decent man who never caught a break and knows he is screwed is heart wrenching.

Sandra Seaman’s Forgotten Book


To be perfectly honest, I've never written a book review. For me books have always been a personal journey, something I've kept to myself, so I hope you'll bear with me as I tell you a little about the book I chose.

The book is "The Quiet Game" by Greg Iles. I'd been dipping into the work of several Southern writers when I stumbled across The Quiet Game. Published in 1999, the book centers around a thirty year old mystery.

Penn Cage is a lawyer who, with his daughter, returns to his parent's home in Natchez, Mississippi so the two of them can heal after the death of his wife. He gets prodded into investigating the unsolved murder of a black man in 1968. A murder that neither the black nor white community wants re-opened. Everyone is guarding their secrets, playing the quiet game.

Iles lays bare the undercurrents of a small southern town from the racial to the political. His wonderful writing weaves the secrets of the past into the secret lives of the present, exploring the effects of choices on people, their families and the community.

My poor summary doesn't do justice to the many layers that Mr. Iles has written into this book. His words make you sit up and think, chew your fingernails when things go terribly wrong, and smile when you realize that under all the conspiracy and mayhem the story is about justice in its truest sense.

And the rest: (Dick Lochte) (Stephen Elliott)

You Score It

The new rage of putting together video book trailers has started to infect my writing. What tune would you use to score the end of this story: a thirteen year old boy returns home after burying the man his mother has murdered and finds her sitting on the porch, the murder weapon in hand.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

RULES RE: Friday's Forgotten Books

There are no rules.

You can choose any book of any genre you like. Fiction or non-fiction. You can do it once, once in a while, or every week. You don't have to be tagged by someone else. It doesn't have to be a long review. The goal is to get the titles out there.

You don't have to be a crime fiction writer or even a writer to participate. Readers are welcomed. This is not a meme but a weekly (hopefully) endeavor.

I would love anyone who reads one of the mentioned books to let me know too. That would be a nice second aim: we are reading the books others mention.

It will be harder and harder for me to find you so please find me.

Just send me your link or review by Thursday of the week you want it to appear. Or just let me know it will be up the next day. If I miss one, let me know.

June 20th will be an off day unless someone else wants to do it.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Second Looks

What was I thinking? In my flurry of cleaning and finding that book from 1987-89 that listed books and movies I read, I couldn't help but notice how my opinion of some of the entries had changed over time. When I saw Moonstruck in 1988, I gave it an 8. An 8 is very high for me. I've only ever given one movie a 10.

Anyway, I saw Moonstruck recently and was struck by how false all of the performances seemed-how Hollywoodish. Maybe my opinion of Cher and Nic Cage has changed over time, but they seemed laughable in their roles. Although it was a comedy, they were supposed to seem like real working class people. But she was Cher and he was Nic Cage, very Hollywoodish actors.

What have you seen recently that was either much worse or better than your original assessment?

Monday, May 26, 2008

Workspace Meme

Clair Dickson tagged me with this meme:

There are only a few guidelines:

1) You must take a photo of your workspace and post it to your blog.

2) You must provide a few words about it.

3) You must NOT tidy, clean or otherwise stage the workspace - it must be EXACTLY as it usually is (you can see that I followed this rule

4) (Optional) You can tag someone.

Okay, third and fourth pictures on here are my husband's office but I'm actually at that desk more than at mine since the treadmill moved in and gave me claustrophobia. We had to put it in my room because we had to have a tv to watch while we tread and the cable was in there.

So as soon as he takes off, I sneak in and use the brighter office with more room, more light. In my office I have two tables, one with a PC with Internet and one without for when I'm really trying to work. It's a dull room. It needs to be as I'm so distractable.

Both offices are cleaner than usual because we had company come over Memorial Day. But mine never is too cluttered because it's too damned small for much clutter. The bookcase mostly holds technical books.
Please don't fault my husband for having the better office. He's written fourteen books and forty articles. I've written no books. He'd gladly switch offices with me.

I'm not tagging anyone but I encourage you to play. Here's a cool site on The Guardian with lots of British writers' offices if you haven't seen it.

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Memory Games

Here's something kind of scary. In cleaning my house in the way I only do it once every five years--every drawer, every closet, I came across my diary from twenty years ago when I used to post all the books and movies I saw that year. In 1988, I read about 90 books, 38 of them crime novels. That year I also saw 61 movies at the theater. Highly-rated films for me that year included Manon of the Spring, Au Revoir Les Enfants,The Unbearable Lightness of Being, The Dead, Wings of Desire, Married to the Mob. I can give you a brief summary of every one of those 61 films. There were no titles where I completely drew a blank.

Maybe it's because the movies play on TV later although I rarely watch films twice since my husband remembers them too well. Maybe it's because putting an actor's face on a character helps me to remember the story.

On the 90 books, I read, I could remember very few plots. Just one or two that became well-known over time. or were turned into movies. Is this true for you? Do you remember movies you've seen just once better than books you've read once.

One further statistic, I saw 13 plays that year. My husband was working on a project in NY and we were there several times. I remember the plots of those plays too. Does the visual component in movies and plays bolster the ability to remember. I wonder how audio books play into this. Do you remember books you hear on tape better than ones read?

Or am I just losing it?

Friday, May 23, 2008

A Summing Up, Friday May 23, 2008

Thanks to all those who remembered a book today. Have a great holiday weekend and let me know if YOU can help out next Friday.

Summing Up: One Stop Shopping for May 23, 2006

Dick Adler, When the Sacred Ginmill Closes, Lawrence Block

Steve Allan, Horse Latitudes, Robert Ferrigno

Bookwitch, Home, Sweet Homicide, Craig Rice

Bill Crider, Revenge, Jack Ehrlich

Lonnie Cruse, We Have Always Lived in a Castle, Shirley Jackson

Jenny Davidson, Colors Insulting to Nature, Cintra Wilson

Martin Edwards, Reputation for a Song, Edward Grierson

J.T. Ellison, Songs of Innocence, Richard Aleas (Charles Ardai)

Victor Gischler, Clans of the Alphane Moon, Philip K. Dick

Ed Gorman, Spree, Max Allan Collins

Lynne Hatwell (Dovegreyreader), The Scapegoat, Daphne Du Maurier

Laura Lippman, A Novel Called Heritage, Margaret Dukore

John McFetridge, Cutter and Bone, Newton Thornburg

Todd Mason, Trouble Valley, Lee Hoffman

A.R. Pickett(Woodstock’s Blog) Alas Babylon, Pat Frank

James Reasoner, Day of the Moon, Bill Prozini and Jeffrey Wallman

Linda Richards, Swann, Carol Shields

Last Up to the Plate Today (unless I forgot you!)

FRIDAY'S: Forgotten Books

FRIDAY’S Forgotten Books-May 23rd 2008

Lonnie Cruse’s Forgotten Book: (Lonnie writes the Metropolis Mystery and the Kitty Bloodworth series) She contributes to Poe’s Forgotten Daughters and her personal website is below.


This book isn't totally forgotten, but many readers haven't heard of it. I heard about it a couple of years ago on DorothyL, an e-mail list for mystery readers, but no one's mentioned it lately. The title is, WE HAVE ALWAYS LIVED IN THE CASTLE, by Shirley Jackson.

The book features two sisters living alone in an old house and how they interact with the locals. And it features that wonderful house. I loved the ending. No, I loved the entire book!

Jackson died in the mid-sixties, when she was middle aged, yet her books are still loved and read by loyal fans. Her short story, THE LOTTERY, is taught in colleges all across the country as the example to end all examples. When I discovered CASTLE, I immediately read it twice, making sure I didn't miss a single word. It isn't a really a mystery . . . or is it? Jackson hooks her readers and reels them carefully in. And I always think I'm ready for the surprise at the end. I never am.

Shirley Jackson achieved the dream of all writers, to write something so timeless, it's still read and enjoyed nearly fifty years after her death. I hope you will check out Shirley Jackson's books, particularly WE HAVE ALWAYS LIVED IN THE CASTLE.

Lonnie Cruse

Lonnie Cruse asked me a question or two at:

Here are some more selections. If I’ve left someone out, please advise and forgive. And many thanks to all of you for accepting the tap on the shoulder. Don’t wait for the tap though. Give me a ring at if you have a book.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008


Thanks to Ed Gorman and Sarah Weinman, two people who have been guardian angels more than once, I'm in this collection with the likes of--well, all of the rest of them--something I never dreamed would happen to me. It's a terrific collection. I read a lot of the stories in galleys but here they are in person. Wow.

Republican Operatives as Political Commentators

in the Democratic Primary. I'd sworn off a writing a blog entry today, but this really gets to me.
Should former candidates for the Republican nomination for President be given credence as network pundits? Should they be allowed to participate in the process regularly by commenting in a duplicitous way? They are brought on to these shows as a neutral observer, not as a Republican (or Democrat).

Buchanan constantly extols Hillary Clinton's advantages. Does he really think she's the better candidate or just easier to beat? Is he objective? I'm sure there are similar "guest commentators" pushing Obama's interests. This is not meant as a rap against Hillary. Just the networks duplicitous commentary.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008


In a sidebar to the discussion last week on why people stop reading a novel, a commenter asked about the Third Person Omniscient POV and Al Guthrie responded that he almost certainly would find this a difficult book to finish. In the TPO, the narrator speaks for all the characters, knowing what's going on in each of their heads, knowing what's going on in their life at any moment. It has always seemed to me like the voice of God speaking. Or at least the voice of Morgan Freeman.
It's much less common than it used to be. A prime example is Anna Karenina according to a site I came on.
Can you think of a book today that used this POV successfully? Do you ever write in this POV?

Monday, May 19, 2008

"Shifting Gears"


Spring’s half gone, school’s out, so are you ready for another flash fiction challenge? Mystery Dawg, Gerald So and I have come up with a new one.

Here’s the idea: incorporate the following sentence into a flash story of around 750 words.

“With gas prices rising, their plans had to change.”

OR for those who prefer first person: "With gas prices rising, our plans had to change."

OR the bit ominous, "With gas prices rising, your plans had to change." (Thanks, Peter)

Anything you can do with that sentence as a part of your story is fair game. The line doesn’t have to be the central idea of the story. Or it can be. Whatever you want.

Mystery Dawg will post stories for those without blogs at Powder Burn Flash (

Gerald and I will post links to any blogs with stories on our blogs on June 15th.

If you think you’re in, let us know by commenting.

We’re looking at an end date of June 15th

Hope to see you then.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

My Town Monday

My Town Mondays: Tiger Stadium

Sure we have Comerica Park in Detroit now and a new generation will make its memories there. It’s the new look in stadiums: open, friendly, all the bells and whistles. Corporate boxes, designer food, waitresses to take care of you, amusements for the kids, wall-to-wall bathrooms, for the women at least, a scoreboard so elaborate you’d need never look to the field.

But once upon a time, eight years ago, in fact, there was Tiger Stadium. It has sat on the same corner (Michigan and Trumbull) in a section of Detroit called Corktown since 1895. Every seat was close to the field. There were not enough bathrooms, snack bars, good unobstructed seats. You didn’t get the feel of being outside. But it was Tiger Stadium for better or worse. It was our place to watch baseball and its name was the right one, no corporate reminders.

Tiger Stadium has sat empty now for eight years. A hundred plans to reuse it have gone awry: condos, shopping, restaurants, a college stadium, a memorial stadium. None of them happened. Late last year, the city auctioned its innards off— like grandstand seats, the dugout urinal, Al Kaline’s locker and the fence in front of the right-center-field light tower, hit by a Reggie Jackson home run in the 1971 All-Star Game. Last month, the city tentatively awarded a partial demolition contract for the stadium.

People hoping to save it, the Old Tiger Stadium Conservancy, has until June 1 to raise $369,000 to try to save part of Tiger Stadium, even temporarily. The group includes Ernie Harwell, the retired Tigers radio broadcaster.

If that goal is reached, Senator Carl Levin said he will look for greater financing in the 2009 federal budget to preserve the oldest part of the structure around the infield and redevelop the playing field for amateur teams.

Levin, who grew up in the city, would like to see the stadium remain in some incarnation.

Philanthropic groups have discussed contributing money to stave off a full demolition that may begin in weeks. But we’ve heard this sort of rumor for eight years now. And the area the stadium in is in a severe decline, especially with current economic woes, since the stadium moved east. The Tigers organization has not shown a lot of interest in preserving the field. They've moved on with their stadium.

Preserving even a remnant of the structure would add to the costs so the demolition companies have offered to pay the city $300, 000 if the whole thing comes down.

How have old stadiums fared in your neck of the woods? Is any attempt underway to preserve Yankee Stadium?

(Some of the information here comes from a New York Times article)

Another Meme (with my apologies)

The tag: (from Sandra Ruttan)

1. The rules of the game get posted at the beginning.
2. Each player answers the questions about themselves.
3. At the end of the post, the player then tags 5-6 people and posts their names, then goes to their blogs and leaves them a comment, letting them know they’ve been tagged and asking them to read the player’s blog.
4. Let the person who tagged you know when you’ve posted your answer.

A Meme about Various Things
What were you doing ten years ago?
I was thinking that I wasn't a very good poet and maybe I should try short stories. I was living in Amsterdam for six months which was great fun.

What are five things on your to-do list for today (not in any particular order)?
Go out to breakfast. Go help my husband pick up nursery plants and maybe a flowering tree. Read a ms. someone sent me for my thoughts on Detroit sections. Write a blog entry for My Town Monday about Detroit, finishing cleaning the third floor for an explosion of relatives arriving next week.

What are some snacks you enjoy?
Popcorn, olives, carrots, twizzlers, almonds.

What would you do if you were a billionaire?
I would get advice from someone on how to distribute it. Truly that's too much money to contemplate spending. I would probably travel a bit more.

What are five places where you have lived?
Philadelphia, Wenham, MA, New Brunswick, NJ., Manchester, England, Amsterdam.

What are five jobs you have had?
Waitress, Service Rep. for At& T, Copy Editor and Index Maker, Secretary, Writer (Fancy stuff, right?)

What were the last five books you read?
Pictures of a Revolution (Harris), Olive Kitteredge (Strout) Speed Queen (O'Nan), A Hell of a Woman (Abbott), Sleeping Dogs (Gorman)

What are five web sites you visit daily (in no particular order)?
Rap Sheet
Confessions of an Idiosyncratic Mind
Rotten Tomatoes

Tag 5 People
Gerald, Clair, Steve, Josephine, Megan (not mine)
... with my apologies. :)

Saturday, May 17, 2008

Re: University Protocol on Incidents of Student Plagiarism

A flash piece I wrote for Bryon Quertermous' flash challenge last year is now appearing in Word Riot. Link:
Thanks, Bryon.

Friday, May 16, 2008

A Summing Up: Friday, May 16th

Because I have to go to my writing group tonight and disappoint them with yet another story where people die and die badly, and go to pick out plants with my husband first thing tomorrow, I'm doing this now. I thank all of you who joined me and implore others to give me a ring about next Friday. I'm nothing without you. And hey, go look at the complete reviews. These people have a lot of interesting stuff to say.

David Terrenoire, Cruddy, Lynda Barry
Sarah Weinman, The Late Man, James Preston Girard
Tom Piccirilli, The Hunter, Richard Stark (Donald Westlake)
Travis Erwin, The Me I Used to Be, Jennifer Archer
Bookwitch, Sapper, Herman Cyril McNeile
James Reasoner, The Siamese Twin Mystery, Ellery Queen
Megan Powell, Cuckoo's Egg, C.J. Cherryh
Bill Crider, The Night Remembers, Ed Gorman
Declan Burke, Wild at Heart, Barry Gifford
Kirsty, Other Stories and Other Stories, Ali Smith
Jeff Shelby, The Standoff, Chuck Hogan
Shauna Sturge, Crossfire, Jeanette Windle
Steve Allan, Splinters of the Mind's Eye, Alan Dean Foster
Ed Gorman, The Kidnappers, Robert Bloch and 361 by Donald Westlake
Baglady, The Crystal Cave, Mary Stewart
Kevin Burton Smith, The January Corpse by Neil Albert
Todd Mason, The Aleph and Other Stories 1933-1969, Jorge Luis Borges

FRIDAYS: Forgotten Books/The Book You Have to Read

FRIDAYS: Forgotten Books:

J.D. Rhoades, Author of Safe and Sound

My forgotten book is THE BEASTS OF VALHALLA by George C. Chesbro (and thanks to Jon Jordan for turning me on to this piece of truly bent thriller fiction). Chesbro's hero, Mongo Fredrickson (aka Mongo the Magnificent) is a dwarf, a former acrobat and circus performer, and a genius criminologist.

Wait, I haven't gotten to the weird part yet.

There's a mad scientist, a talking gorilla who ends up being one of the most human characters in the book, obsessed Lord of the Rings geeks, more Wagner references than you can shake a stick at, and (of course) a plot to save the world by destroying it.

And it all works. Not once do you put the book down and go "oh, come ON!" Instead, you laugh out loud with the sheer audacity of it. It's like watching someone juggle chainsaws.

Chesbro is a mad genius in his own right, and his Mongo series is his lightning-struck masterwork.

J.D. Rhoades

I'm putting these links up to other blogs now and I expect most of them will appear as the day wears on, some may not appear at all. I thank all of today's participants and hope they pass the baton to someone for next week, or write about another forgotten book. If I've forgotten someone, please let me know. I'm juggling these sites on tiny yellow post-its for some ungodly reason.
Click: Forgotten Books

Thanks so much, Dusty. Check out JD Rhoades blog site at

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Gracious Losers v. Poor Losers

My husband and I take a walk every night and almost always discuss politics since it's his profession and an interest of mine. Last night we discussed whether Hillary should drop out and whether she will be perceived as a poor loser if she doesn't soon do this.
Which took us to the subject of poor and gracious losers and we came up with a short list.

"Gracious Losers": Adlai Stevenson who lost to Eisenhower twice was known as the Beautiful Loser, he was so good at it. Also on this list would be Stephen Douglas who lost to Lincoln and immediately offered to help him, David Dinkins, in the New York mayoral race, Bill Bradley, Senator George Allen, Al Gore (although Republicans might put him on the other list)

In the "Poor Loser" category, we could come up with more names outside of politics. Tonya Harding, of course, Kanye West, Faith Hill, John McEnroe, the British football team, the Arsenals, the sports fans in Philadelphia. In politics, we have Ted Kennedy who wouldn't shake Carter's hand in 1980, Richard Nixon, of course, Kwame Kilpatrick in Detroit.

Any others?

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Al Guthrie's Top Reasons for Not Finishing a Book

And I thought this might be interesting to share since Al Guthrie's an agent and we all want to know why they put our ms. aside. He graciously agreed to let me post it with the stipulation that he answered the question more as a reader than an agent. I know it helped me to see these issues spelled out and I have my red pencil firmly in my hand.

in no particular order:

- Summary narrative
- Lack of a problem/inciting incident
- Easy solution to the above
- Adverbs
- Exposition
- Starting at the beginning of the story
- POV issues
- Cliches
- Characters who speak in sentences
- Dreams
- Unnecessary interpretation
- Adjectives (particularly in pairs)
- Voicelessness
- Backstory
- Verbosity
- Writing that sounds like writing
- Scenes where the POV character doesn't have a goal
- Scenes where there's no obstacle to the POV character's goal
- Lack of sensory detail
- Repetition

Al Guthrie Responds

Yesterday I listed some of the reasons I put a book down and a few people joined in with their thoughts of the matter. One of those people was Al

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Top Ten Reasons Why I Don't Finish a Book

In preparation for the horrific task of going back over my ms another time, I’ve been trying to pinpoint at what point an agent/editor would stop reading the ms. and why. And along with that I’ve been thinking about why I stop reading books. Hence:

Top Ten Reasons Why I Don’t Finish Books

I only finish about 30% of the books I start and it’s mainly because of quirks in my own reading habits. But sometimes I can pinpoint the reason. I’m making this list mostly to help myself as a writer so I’d be pleased if you added your reasons for not finishing a book on to the list. I have a friend or two that finish everything they start but most people probably put books aside. Why?

1. I put books aside because I find the writing itself unappealing. Either it’s poorly written, too dense or lacks grace. I read because I love language so I need to find some nicely put together sentences.

2. I find the subject matter itself unattractive. If there is too much talk about money, or arms deals or child torture, I will probably not finish it. (Maybe these are the very things that make you keep reading though) What don’t you like to read about?

3. There are too many POVs introduced too rapidly. I need to latch onto one person for a while and begin to see the world through his/her eyes. If each two-page chapter switches POV, I feel uncommitted and at sea. Who was that guy two chapter back? Do I need to remember he’s on a bus? Is the old man on page 5 Romaninan or Ukranian. I hate thumbing back.

4. Someone recommends a supposedly better book, says I have to read it and thrusts it in my hands. And similarly:

5. A book I have reserved at the library comes in and I only have two weeks to read it.

6. I am halfway though the book and it seems too familiar, and guess what, I remember I read it already. Or I didn’t read it but I read a book too much like it. Or a lot of books I’ve read are too much like it.

7. The print is too small or too light. This is a new one and is almost surely a function of my age. Is darker print really that much more expensive? (I also avoid blogs where the print is too small and dense).

8. The book begins to feel inauthentic. Characters start to act out of character. I lose a sense of place or period. There is no psychological underpinning for what the characters are doing. Events seems arbitrary--the reason I stopped watching LOST.

9. The story seems too drawn out or too rushed. Like the author was assigned a certain number of pages for the book.

10. The books is due at the library and I just don’t like it enough to pay the fines. I buy around 100 books a year, but I take twice as many out of the library. Of that 300 books, I probably read 75. Twenty years ago, I read 150 books a year. Largest reason: the Internet.

What’s the worst sin for you?

Monday, May 12, 2008

Pick One

A Brief Word

It's Pschobilly Monday and time to do what you know you wanna do--go out and buy Yellow Medicine by A.N. Smith. Preferred buying place is Barnes and Noble online or a brick store, or run over to your local independent bookstore as another good choice.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

My Town Monday: A Book Review-The Virgin Suicides

My Town Monday Book Project:

The Virgin Suicides

I don’t exactly live in Detroit. My house is about eight blocks from the city limits and in an upper-middle class suburb. I have mixed feelings about this locale. Good schools, good city services, leafy streets, but a right-wing newspaper, Republican voting, certain limitations in what's available.

Since I work in Detroit and am there for cultural activities, ballgames, restaurants, I count myself a Detroiter. But for the purposes of this assignment from Travis Erwin: reviewing a book written about my community, I chose one written about Grosse Pointe: The Virgin Suicides. Most Grosse Pointers prefer Middlesex, Jeffrey Eugenides second novel, a more conventional novel despite its subject matter: hermaphroditism.

But I greatly prefer Eugenides first book The Virgin Suicides. Stylistically especially, I find it enthralling. Who else has written a first novel in the collective voice of a group of teenage boys?

The Virgin Suicides is the story of five sisters and the effects of their suicides, one after the other, on their community, and especially on the boys, who narrate the novel. The boys are under the sisters’ spell and watch helplessly as their mother, the community, the church, the school drive the sisters relentlessly toward their deaths. In particular, we see the mother, Mrs. Lisbon, the traditional Catholic mother from that era, as she tightens their leash in an attempt to control her daughters, pushing one after the other off the ledge. It's easy to see the seductiveness of suicide in this novel, how it looks like the only way out. The stakes are not so high for people under twenty, the finality is not apparent yet.

Eugenides attended a private school and experienced an even more privileged Grosse Pointe than most people in the community. But I think he captures the ambiance of a slightly lower echelon very well. But the book's greatest strength is its style. It's poetic. It's heartbreaking.

The Virgin Suicides was made into a movie by Sophia Coppola but filmed in Canada. I like the movie quite a bit but I like the book more.

Check out other book reviews about Home Towns at:

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Happy Mother's Day, Mom

Three things you need to know about my mother

1) She never says anything bad about anyone except commentators on Fox News.
2) She never once told me I was making mistakes in how I raised my children (even though I sometimes was).
3) She's one of the bravest, least materialistic and least complaining people I know. (Okay so five things).

Happy Mother's Day, Mom. I love you.

Bad Guys

Here's a writerly question for a Saturday.

Do you sometimes have trouble judging how bad your bad guys can be and still feel real? In a similar vein, if you want your victims to earn their death on some level, do you wonder how annoying/narcissistic/piggish they should be.

In a story I'm working on now, I wanted two kids to kill someone. Try as I might, they just weren't the type to do this. Maybe it's because I don't understand child killers.
So I had to change the story to make them unwilling accomplices to a killer. I'm not sure if it's going to work even with that change.

In another recent story, I didn't want the reader to feel sorry for the vics at the end. It was difficult to get just the right amount of despicability into the tale without it overtaking it completely. What do you wrestle with? Do you feel your story has to psychologically informed or do you let the action carry it?

Friday, May 09, 2008

A Summing Up

One Stop Shopping for Friday, May 9, 2008

(Please Advise if I Forgot Anyone)

Bill Crider: The Assistant (Malamud), Passing Strange (Sale)
J. Kingston Pierce: The Lunatic Fringe (DeAndrea)
Keith Raffel: Kolymsky Heights (Davidson)
Steven Torres: Moony's Road to Hell (Ramas)
Terrie Farley Moran: The Great Divide (Terkel)
Jen Jordan: One Man's Chorus (Burgess)
R2: The Criminalist (Izzi)
Peter Rozovsky: Harper and Iles series (Bill James)
Daniel Hatadi: Gun in Cheek (Bill Prozini)
Sara Crowley: The Trick is to Keep Breathing (Janice Galloway)
Declan Burke: Kiss Tomorrow Goodbye (Horace McCoy)
Jim Winter: Blunt Darts (Healy)
Todd Mason: The Lively Lives of Crispin Mobey (Gary Jennings)
Brian Lindenmuth: Scalped (Jason Aaron)
Lisa Kenney: A Fine and Private Place (Peter Beagle)
Stephen Blackmoore: On Strange Tides (Tim Powers)
Steve Allan: The Giant's House (Elizabeth McCracken)
Patti Abbott: Roseanna (Sjowal and Wahloo)

Thursday, May 08, 2008

FRIDAYS: Forgotten Books

FRIDAYS: Forgotten books:

Roseanna by Maj Sjowal and Per Wahloo

I picked this novel because it was the first in the Martin Beck series and the first of their books I read. But most of their novels would do equally well. The novels were intended to portray the decay of modern Scandinavian society from a left-wing vantage point and through the lens of the police procedural. Sjowall and Wahloo were husband and wife and the books step inside both Swedish society and the mind of police inspector, Martin Beck. As a twenty-something reader at the time, I had little knowledge of Sweden outside of Bergman movies—and this was something quite different.

In Roseanna, Martin Beck, a homicide detective with the Stockholm police force is stuck in a loveless marriage. Stockholm bureaucracy is similarly disappointing. This book introduces us to Beck, and follows his painstaking investigation into the rape, beating, and the subsequent drowning of an American tourist named Roseanna. Some critics think the team’s writing got better over time, but I think this is a damned fine first novel. The other nine will not disappoint either. Maybe not forgotten but…

Or try these some of these:

Please let me know if you’d like to recommend a book next Friday. I have only so many veins to tap. Most of these links won't be up until tomorrow and one or two might not turn up at all. Thanks and Happy Mother's Day.

Hi-jacked in Detroit

I’ve been bitching all week about my blog problems--white space and pictures disappearing and today I woke up to find my blog had been hijacked by some psychobilly dude from Minnesota. If I don’t let him get a few words in here, who knows what will happen. I don’t want to find out….

"Last stop: J.D. Rhoades' What Fresh Hell is This?"

We're all anxious on the way up to Detroit to pick up accomplished literary and crime fiction short story write Patricia Abbott (and now a Derringer Winner, too). I mean, will this unruly crew of "violence artists" be a bit too much for her? Her work tends to outclass some of ours a bit. Will we be acceptable in our torn jeans and rumpled blood-stained T-shirts (don't ask)? Well, we park out front to find Patricia gut-punching a mugger, so all our fears are abated.

Patricia Abbott's work has appeared all over the web now--Storyglossia,, Spinetingler, Demolition, plenty of others. And she's also finding homes for her stories in the print world, places like Bayou, Fourteen Hills, and Murdaland. Why's that? Because she gives you great characters, people you want to follow around, see what sort of trouble they'll get into. Take this line from "The Trouble with Trolls": "Patrick climbed into the car on Tuesday evening wearing the damp look Denny associated with him since he'd begun tending tropical fish." Can't you feel it too? Or from "Ric with No K": "They say my mother was a dreamy sort of girl. It was hard to talk to her about anything real, but she knew every fact about Demi Moore and Tom Cruise. She grew up on those stars. She didn't even need to see their movies after a while. Jessie just made her own movies up in her head." Yep, kind of like the great cult crime writer Charles Willeford, who Larry Block praised for being able to invent compelling and intricate characters with only a few surprising details. You see it all over Patti's fiction (and forthcoming in a really great piece we're going to publish in Plots with Guns soon). It's about the people, damn it! It's not about the puzzle or the plot or the gimmicks. It's about the people dealing with the consequences of crime--others and their own.

Right up my alley. I also write literary short stories in addition to crime fiction, and I often blend them in together, genre labels be damned. The reason I like reading and writing "literary" crime fiction (actually, I like putting "literary" right next to "pulp". Something sweet about it) is so that I can see how characters respond when pushed to their limits. What do they do? How do they feel about it? That's the coolest, and I hope I pulled it off in Yellow Medicine. Billy is weighed down with bad choices, and then even worse choices to cover up the bad ones. But he's still alive, still kicking, and trying to find a way to make it all okay...for him. And I just had to see where it all ended up. You should, too. Psychobilly Monday (May 12) is now closer than it way yesterday. Can you wait that long? Is the anticipation killing you?

Patricia climbs aboard the Hummer-sine and starts passing around a photo of her daughter, Megan, holding her newly-won Edgar. Truly proud. And if you think Megan can write some pretty twisted noir, remember that there's a source for that appreciation...and she's on the road trip with us. This net leg, though, will test us all, sometimes in ways we might not be prepared for. Where are we going? Newcastle. England. We'll be picking up...(even his name sounds dangerous)...the shining star himself, Ray Banks.

Driving time: A fortnight!

Tune for the leg: "Bad Luck" by Social Distortion


Tuesday, May 06, 2008

Is Rush Subverting this Election

By sending Republican voters to the polls to cross over and vote for Hillary? Do you think this is a permissible technique? Should registered Republicans (or Dems) be able to cross over and vote in a primary with a goal of producing the weaker candidate? Should NYT columnists be able to champion the candidacy of someone they would never support in the general election in an editorial piece (Kristol)? Where did this system go wrong? Why don't we see the flaws before they wreak havoc and subvert the people's choice? Or am I naive to think the people should have a voice?

Monday, May 05, 2008

Neglected Films

For Steve Allan's Neglected Films

Do The Right Thing by Spike Lee (1989)

When Do the Right Thing premiered in 1989 it was considered to be one of the most controversial movies of all time. It certainly was one of the most political movies ever made, remaining so until today. It forced viewers to examine racism in a way never put on a screen before. It forced viewers to examine how violence can emanate from a fundamental misunderstanding between groups of people. People who don’t bother to try to understand each other. It was innovative in its look, in its use of music, in its parallel story lines. None of the characters is blameless; none is completely at fault.

Spike Lee’s place in the pantheon of directors has faded a bit since 1989, I think. He's spread himself a bit thin with a myriad of projects undertaken as one of the few black directors. Perhaps now, during Obama’s drive for the Democratic nomination, it’s a good time to remember Do the Right Thing. And to do it.

Sunday, May 04, 2008

My Town Monday

We think of violence at schools as a recent phenomenon, but this incident occurred 75 years ago in a city an hour outside of Detroit.
In 1926 in Bath, Michigan, Andrew Kehoe unsuccessfully fought a long battle against a tax increase to pay for the towns' new school. He won a position as treasurer of the school board to aid his cause, but the city retained the tax despite his efforts. Kehoe claimed that with the added tax burden he would lose his farm and asked that he be hired to work as the school's custodian. The school board agreed.
Kehoe seemed to be a diligent custodian. He was seen doing electrical work in the building along with his janitorial duties. He seemed particularly willing to take on electrical work, saving the school the cost of an electrician.
On 18 May 1927, just after morning bell at the school, 300 pounds of dynamite wired in the basement exploded. The north wing of the school was entirely demolished in one blast. People four miles away reported hearing the noise. Help had to be got on foot since telephones were scarce. Not until noon was a full scale rescue effort mounted. Kehoe pulled up at that time and spotting the superintendent, Emory E. Huyck, aiding with the rescue, and called him over. As Huyck walked over to the car, Kehoe pulled a rifle from his truck and fired into a bundle of dynamite in his truck. The resulting blast killed Kehoe, Huyck, and 7 others.
Forty-four were dead, 30 of those were children. Another 50 to 90 were wounded. Not a family in the area went untouched by the tragedy. The massacre of Bath Michigan made the front page on 20 May, along side news of Charles Lindbergh's trans-Atlantic flight.But the story went on a bit longer. That day they discovered the Kehoe farm had also been destroyed, his wife slain. Horses in the stables had been hobbled with bailing wire so they couldn't escape. There was a sign hung waiting, which read "Criminals are made, not born."
The Bath School Disaster held the title of the worst bombing incident in the US up until 1995's Oklahoma City bombing, and suffered a small historical revival in the time after the Columbine School incident.FOR LINKS TO OTHER MY TOWN MONDAY BLOGS:


Friday, May 02, 2008

A Summing Up

One stop shopping for May 1, 2008
Friday's Forgotten Books..

Christa Faust, Run, Douglas Winter
James Reasoner, Seven Faces, Max Brand
Steve Allan, The Temple of Gold, Goldman
Todd Mason, The Enquires of Dr. Erhazy, Davidson
Declan Burke, Thieves Like Us, Anderson
Gerald So recommends Spadework, Prozini and Collected Poems, Justice
William Boyle, Father and Son, Larry Brown

Ali Karim, Memoirs of an Invisible Man, Saint

Kay Sexton, Fred and Edie, Jill Dawson
Angie Johnson-Schmidt, Sally's in the Alley, Norbert Davis

Clair Dickson, THE WESTING GAME, Raskin

Brian Lindenmuth, Generation Loss, E. Hand

Sandra Ruttan, The 50/50 Killer, Steve Mosley

Katrina Kimble, The Red Tent, Diamant
Jennifer Archer, The Bronze Horseman, Pauline Simmons
Ello, Silk, Alessandro Barrico