Monday, June 30, 2008

I Hate Lucy

This comes from a discussion on Todd Mason's blog of the worse TV shows ever.

Which TV show or movie, generally regarded as great, is not so classic for you?

My controversial choice is
I Love Lucy. Okay, I can feel those eggs coming across the Internet at me. But I never found any of the four regulars humorous. Certainly Fred was a real sourpuss and Desi Arnaz could barely act. And the plots, well there was really only one, wasn't there? Lucy trying to get on Ricky's show. I will admit to a few smiles on watching the one in the candy factory, but so help me that's it.
Lucy always seemed to be the most selfish woman in the world. Her life revolved around getting the expensive dress, appearing on the show, upgrading her lifestyle, meeting famous people. Talk about trivializing women. Her strength lay in bamboozling her husband.
I am a great lover of comedies. I can sit down with a
Seinfeld, Cheers, Friends, Dick Van Dyke, Newhart Show, The Office or Thirty Rock anytime. But not Lucy. I hate Lucy.

How about you? Where do you veer from the consensus? What's your guilty displeasure?

Sunday, June 29, 2008

My Town Monday, Detroit

Founded by John George, the nonprofit Motor City Blight Busters turns 20 this year -- two decades of performing both prosaic and extraordinary actions to hold back the decay that has attacked two northwest neighborhoods in Detroit.

The group is involved with the construction of a 35-foot-high gazebo that will serve as a community meeting place on Lahser just north of Grand River, a neighborhood that includes the old Masonic Temple that houses Blight Busters' offices. They took a wall, erected in the sixties to hold back supposed crime, into a piece of art.

Blight Busters began when John George and two neighbors boarded up an abandoned house in their neighborhood in northwest Detroit.

Twenty years later, George said Blight Busters has demolished more than 150 houses, contributed to the renovation of some 200 homes, and, working with such partners as Habitat for Humanity and Northwest Detroit Neighborhood Development, have constructed 300 homes.

Part crew boss, part executive, part P.T. Barnum, George says

"It's not my job to spread negative energy."

Blight Busters takes credit for coining the term Angels Night, which turned Devil’s Night on its ear, marshaling thousands of volunteers for Paint the Town and Operation Clean Sweep.

These days, Blight Busters is using art. George said he has seen what artists have done to rehab neighborhoods in other cities, and he's teaming with Detroit artist, Chazz Miller to turn a complex of old buildings on Lahser into places for viewing, teaching and performing art and music. .

The Stats:

In its history, Motor City Blight Busters in conjunction with its coalition
of community partners can proudly claim
120,000 volunteers, who have contributed more than
volunteer hours to paint 684 homes, board up and secure 379 abandoned buildings,
176 houses and build 114 new ones to make suitable housing for 1,160 people.

In the process, they used
21,000 gallons of paint, 15,500 pounds of nails and 15,470 sheets of plywood.

They demolished
113 houses with sledgehammers and people power and undertook 3,850
neighborhood clean-ups, that resulted in
1,550 dumpsters of trash and 70,000 garbage bags.

Over the years, 3,900 neighborhood residents have participated in Angel's Night patrols from the
Motor City Blightbusters headquarters. City officials have expanded the program and last year it
attracted more than
65,000 volunteers city-wide.

Blight Busters fed 350 people at its first annual Thanksgiving dinner, provided space for 300 students to learn building trades and culinary arts at ACCOSS Training Center in the Motor City Resource Center and offered free health screening to 500 citizens.

Always working to bridge the gap between groups, Motor City Blightbusters has hosted more than
500 suburban teens over the last two years who volunteered for inner city projects through the
"Summer in the City" program, brought together
150 people in the JACOB
(the Jewish and Chaldean Opportunity Builders) to assist in projects and helped
urban teen-age girls find fun and healthy activities in another
Motor City Blight Busters program, Girlfriendz.

(Much of this info comes from the MCBB website and an article in Detroit Free Press.)
For more My Town Monday, see Travis Erwin
He's taking a break this week but his team goes on.

Gone for Now

I just removed some links to blogs that no longer appear active from the list at the side.

It makes me sad when people I visited several times a week for years, be it electronically, disappear. What are they doing? What are they writing? These are the things I wonder about.

I miss Tribe even a year and a half after his disappearance from here. The occasional email does not sustain me because I want to know what he's reading, what movies he's watching on a more regular basis.

I try to respond to people's comments here and comments on their blogs so there's something in for both of us. A reason to keep this relationship up.

Blogging isn't for everyone, I'm sure. No one else in my family blogs. But some people (like Tribe) are very good at it. They manage to put their personality into every entry, making their blog something special.

Do you contemplate giving up on your blog if you have one? Cause I need a lot of warning if I have to let you go. And you people that don't have one, you might just have to step up and start one if we keep losing people here.

Saturday, June 28, 2008

Roman De Gare

This is a suspense movie I don't want to say much about because any discussion of the plot will lead me to revealing things that you don't want to know before watching it. A French movie by Claude Lelouch (A Man and a Woman) with fine performances, although some significant "huhs?" along the way.
But it's all worth it because it achieves something that especially interested me. My opinion of each of the three major characters gets pushed and pulled and reset over the course of the film. Plus it manages to scare the bejesus out of me and made me laugh-- within the same frame sometimes.
If it comes your way, it's worth a look. It's nice to be surprised in a movie.

A Summing Up for Friday, June 27, 2008

Thanks to all those who contributed this week. I'm looking for kid's and YA books for next week. Please let me know if you're posting one or have one for me to post. The 11th, back to the regular fare and I need some help if we're going to keep this going!

Here are the book remembered this week.

Lori Armstrong, Naked in Death, J.D. Robb
Patrick Bagley, The Great Brain, John D. Fitzgerald
Joe Boland, Up in the Air, Walter Kirn
Gerard Brennan, The Salesman, Joesph O'Connor
Tony Broadbent, Funeral in Berlin, Len Deighton
Shannon Clute, New York Trilogy, Paul Auster
Bill Crider, Wolf House, Jack Lynch
Ed Gorman, Dog Soldiers, Robert Stone
Libby Hellman, Briarpatch, Ross Thomas
Lesa Holstine, Charms for the Easy Life, Kay Gibbons
Randy Johnson, The Mushroom Planet series, Eleanor Cameron
J.A. Konrath, Blackburn, Bradley Denton
Steve Lewis, Don Sturdy on the Desert of Mystery, Victor Appletion
Todd Mason, The Loner, Ester Wier
James Reasoner, The Ghosts of Elkhorn, Kerry Newcomb and Frank Schaefer
Peter Rozovsky, Bertie and the Seven Bodies, Peter Lovesey
Barry Summy, The Chrysalids, John Wyndham
Susan, Corpse de Ballet, Lucy Cores
David Thompson, The David Handler Series
Mary Ellen Walsh, Salvation, Lucia Nevai
Sarah Weinman, The Golden Road, L.M. Montgomery

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Friday's Forgotten Book, June 27, 2008

Shannon Clute is the co-creator, with Richard Edwards, of the "Out of the Past: Investigating Film Noir" and "Behind the Black Mask: Mystery Writer Revealed" podcasts (

Paul Auster, New York Trilogy

The first paragraph of the first page of the first novella of Paul Auster's New York Trilogy ends with the line, "The question is the story itself, and whether or not it means something is not for the story to tell." That sentence sets up the fundamental epistemological impasse of these three novellas ("City of Glass," "Ghosts," and "The Locked Room"), first published together as the novel The New York Trilogy in 1990. While the three stories are distinct, they all have narrators who struggle, and fail, to find a space beyond the stories from which they might see the larger picture, or in which they might find themselves—some superior vantage point or objective truth. Instead, all the narrators' efforts seem to take them deeper inside the intrigue

"City of Glass" is the story of a mystery author named Quinn, who has retreated behind his pseudonym William Wilson (a name taken from a Poe story about a man with a perfect doppelganger whom he is forced to murder in order to live his own life). One night Quinn receives an urgent call from a stranger, who believes he has dialed the Paul Auster Detective Agency. Quinn decides to take the case, and soon the pseudonymous author within the tale finds himself imitating procedure he had imagined for his own literary detective, while at the same time hiding behind the name of his true maker whom he assumes to be a fiction. As the case progresses, Quinn/Auster quickly loses track of himself in these many layers of imitation and deception. Desperate to find meaning in a case moving in too many directions, he notes every object gathered and every move made by the man he has been hired to follow, and becomes convinced the case is an elaborate experiment aimed at recovering the Truth of prelapsarian language. New York indeed becomes a City of Glass, whose every surface seems to reflect something of the truth, but taken together these fractured and multiplied bits of truth recede ad infinitum.. It seems only right to leave it to the reader to elucidate the stories of the other two novellas, and decide how they reflect and refract—and are themselves reflections of—"City of Glass."

Part Poe, part Oulipo, part nouveau roman, true, but there is far more to these tales than the Borges-eque pleasure of navigating such labyrinthine narrative structures. These metaphysical investigations are deeply human to the extent that the detective's quest for meaning has real stakes. To try and make sense of the world is to determine how to live. To renounce this inquest is to die, or kill. In other words, the novellas work because Auster understands detective fiction not just cognitively, but viscerally. He'd worked it all out three years before "City of Glass," in a great hard-boiled mystery called Squeeze Play that he published under the pseudonym Paul Benjamin. Now that I think of it, I probably should have written about that novel. But I forget what I did with my copy, and they're as hard to come by as answers—or questions, for that matter.

Which leads me to reflect upon my reasons for choosing The New York Trilogy as a "forgotten" book—an unusual choice in that the novel has never gone out of print, and recently appeared in a new illustrated edition. Wouldn't Squeeze Play have been the more obvious choice? Certainly it was more in keeping with many previous installments of "Friday's Forgotten Books," which recuperate, from memory, a book that is out of print and lost to the reviewer. Not so fast, I thought. Didn't Quinn get himself in trouble by assuming he understood the meaning of the request, and the parameters of the exercise? Didn't Ishmael, and Anton Voyl, and all my favorite doomed investigators? I thought it was only right to go back to the beginning, to take the request at it's word. "Forget": etym. "to miss or lose one's hold." To get a hold of something one has lost hold of, or perhaps failed to grasp in the first place? Something of a logical impasse. I soon found myself in a free fall, through a mise en abyme of negations behind definitions, of questions within questions. The New York Trilogy slithered into that void—a gossamer thread to somewhere outside, a fine line to nowhere, or the noose that guys like me can hang themselves with? I grabbed it. What choice was there, really?

Libby Fischer Hellmann, An Easy Innocence

Briarpatch by Ross Thomas

My favorite “forgotten” novel is Briarpatch by Ross Thomas. I’d already published three novels when I stumbled onto it, but when I did, I instantly knew why I write the books I do. Its structure, style, and substance are an indispensable template, and its dog-eared pages will stay in my library forever.

is a structural chameleon. Technically, it’s an amateur sleuth novel. Ben Dill, a Senate staffer in Washington DC journeys to an unnamed Southern city to bury his sister, a homicide detective killed in a bomb explosion. While there, he intends to find out why she died. In short order, though, characters are introduced, complications mount, and by page thirty I wasn’t sure whether I was reading a police procedural, a PI novel, or a thriller, complete with ambitious politicians, intelligence operatives, and arms-dealing mercenaries. In the hands of a lesser talent, this complexity might be disastrous, but Thomas weaves the threads into a seamless, satisfying story.

The prose in Briarpatch -- spare, lucid, silky -- is just this side of Chandler. It has rhythm. And pace. And while it’s easy to read, it’s never dull. Sometimes Thomas breaks the rules, having fun with alliteration, for example, or planting his tongue firmly in his cheek. But the writing is never offensive, and a too clever sentence is redeemed in the next with a thoughtful observation. I come away from Briarpatch thinking Thomas says what he means and yet it means so much more.

I grew up in Washington D.C., and when my family gossiped about the neighbors, we were essentially talking politics. As a result, stories that touch on national or global issues draw me like a moth to the light. Fold in murder, suspense, and small town corruption that stretches to the nation’s capital, and I’m a goner. (I learned after I read Briarpatch that Thomas lived in DC as well). Half way through, I realized we never know the Southern city where Briarpatch takes place, but we don’t need to. It could be any town in which a police chief hungers for higher office, a cop may be on the take, a formerly dirt-poor pal is now a millionaire, and a shady businessman tries to set up his partner.

But perhaps the novel’s most attractive – and durable -- quality is that it’s a story lightly told. Briarpatch never screams or calls attention to itself. Its complexity sneaks up on you-- until you realize you’re in the hands of a master and you’ve been reading a classic. It deserves to be “rediscovered.”

David Thompson, Owner, Busted Flush Press
David Handler's Series

David Thompson here... by day, assistant manager of Houston's Murder By The Book bookstore; I also moonlight as owner of Busted Flush Press. After working at the store for about 15 years, I decided to start up a small press, dedicated to reprinting books that we (and other mystery bookstores) sold VERY well, yet for one reason or another faded into obscurity. It was David Handler's wonderful Hoagy & Lulu series that kicked me into gear...

A little about this series: Stewart "Hoagy" Hoag was once America's brightest new novelist... the next Bret Easton Ellis, the next F. Scott Fitzgerald... and then his second novel was a flop, and he was forced to ghostwrite memoirs and other books, which is where the series picks up. And when he'd hit rock-bottom, a further casualty was his marriage to Broadway star Merilee Nash. Now, they share custody of their neurotic, yet faithful basset hound, Lulu, though she's mainly in Hoagy's care. No, Lulu doesn't talk... she doesn't solve the mystery... she's simply, a dog. Well, as much as Asta was "simply" a dog... and what a way to seque into comparisons to the Thin Man films... Handler has written a terrifically witty, fun, intelligent mystery series, influenced as much by b&w screwball comedies as classic crime fiction. These books should appeal to hard-/soft-boiled and cozy fans alike. I cannot recommend these books more highly.

So, back in the late-'80s, after two modestly successful paperback originals -- THE MAN WHO DIED LAUGHING and THE MAN WHO LIVED BY NIGHT -- David Handler produced THE MAN WHO WOULD BE F. SCOTT FITZGERALD, which ended up winning the Edgar for Best PBO. And what does he get from his publisher? They let the first two go out-of-print... yet continued to sign him to further two-book contracts... disappointed in sales performance (well, what do you expect?? no one wants to start a series with #4), he was dropped.

Years later, another major published came knocking at Handler's door... they wanted to reprint all of the books. However, they decided to start with #3, THE MAN WHO WOULD BE F. SCOTT FITZGERALD, the Edgar winner. We begged and pleaded... everyone wanted the first two, which were by this time very hard to find... #3 had been kept in print for years, so anyone could find readily available used copies online and in used bookstores. When #3 flopped, they decided not to reprint the rest.

Third time's a charm... I hope. To date, BFP has reprinted the first four books in this, one of my all-time favorite series!! And many employees' at our store, too. More than any other writer, David Handler inspired me to create Busted Flush Press. He has another, equally entertaining series from St. Martin's Minotaur (starring a pudgy yet lovable NYC film critic and a female resident state trooper from Connecticut). I strongly encourage you to give each a try!

THE MAN WHO DIED LAUGHING / THE MAN WHO LIVED BY NIGHT (1st two in the Hoagy/Lulu series, in one volume from Busted Flush Press)

THE COLD BLUE BLOOD (the first Mitch Berger / Desiree Mitry mystery, in paperback from St. Martin's Minotaur)

J.A. Konrath, author of Fuzzy Navel

Blackburn by Bradley Denton.

The best serial killer book ever written, bar none. The killer is the
protagonist, and while he murders scores of people, he is one of the most
compelling, memorable, and sympathetic, characters in modern fiction.
prose is gorgeous, it's loaded with memorable scenes, and
the ending always
chokes me up.

This isn't Silence of the Lambs, and certainly not Dexter, even though it
has its amusing moments. In fact, it's more lit fic than thriller.
But don't
let that put you off. Blackburn is one of the most wonderful, heart-rending books
you'll ever read, and worthy of the cult following it has accrued.

Check the rest out. A few might go up late

In anticipation of next week's children's books here are three to spur you on:

Wednesday, June 25, 2008


There are some anecdotes I'd love to include in a story but they seem too hyperbolic or unbelievable when I try to write them.

For instance, when I was fifteen I had a friend named Bobbie. Bobbie was perhaps the most beautiful girl I ever personally knew. She often asked me to come pick her up before school activities.

Arriving, I'd find her wearing only her underwear and then the show would begin. Bobbie would try on every outfit in her closet. Many of them would demand a change in her stockings, or a change in her makeup or a change in hairstyle. Hair up, hair down; fishnet stockings, white ones; shoulder bag, clutch; cloche hat, beret. It often went on for as long as an hour. Maybe more We were always late.

At some point, I realized that "this" was the fun part of the event for her. Having an audience for her modeling. Having someone in awe of how many clothes she had and how nice she looked in them. Of how original she was in her choices.

There was nothing mean in any of it but when I write it, Bobbie seems disturbed or
smug or frivolous, which she was not. Or not exactly. Are there incidents like this that never work in your writing? Is the truth sometimes too unbelievable or too hard to make real? Can a skilled writer make anything feel right or are there some things that elude even the best?

The Bottoms by Joe R. Lansdale

Despite its terrific writing, this was a book I initially resisted, thinking it tread too closely to To Kill a Mockingbird-young children growing up in a Southern town with racial crimes and politics, and a father involved in the case.

But it went off on its own path quickly enough to win me over, giving its characters a complexity I really admired. There is palpable terror here, not just the kind to frighten children and the atmosphere is as thick as the summer heat. Highly recommended as a literary novel as well as crime fiction. First book I've read by Mr. Lansdale but not the last.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Women of Mystery's New Challenge

Post two lines you wrote and two lines you read today:

We didn’t even know Jerry’s last name until we rifled his wallet half an hour later. My mother had picked him up at a shoe store earlier that day while having a heel nailed back on. She always was a sucker for a man who took care of his shoes and Jerry wore an expensive pair of buttery soft wingtips. (Mine)

As the summer moved on, it got hotter and hotter, and the air was like having a blanket wrapped twice around your head, and sometimes it seemed as if the blanket was one fire and filled with smoke. Got so you hardly wanted to move midday, and for a time we quit slipping down to the river even to fish, and stayed close to home.
(The Bottoms, Joe Lansdale)

Sorry to be reading someone so fine today.

Why Do Republicans Attack the Wives of Democratic Candidates?

Or am I not listening? Was Laura Bush attacked when George ran for President in 2000? How about Dole's wife? Or McCain's? Maybe I just don't read articles from the opposing view. But I just don't see why demeaning these women is helpful or fair or even human. Hillary's problems as a viable candidate might date back to the attacks launched on her as a wife of the candidate in '92 and '96. The groundwork was laid then. Why do Republican pundits see wives as fair game for attacks? Why do they care about their hair style, their weight, whether they bake cookies, their words even.
Can somebody explain this?

Monday, June 23, 2008

This week's Friday's Forgotten Books

I have a few kind people who will post reviews this Friday, but if you'd like to do one too just let me know (

Since the next week is Fourth of July, I wonder if rather than the usual format, we might go with recommending forgotten books for kids and YAs with just a line or two on when you first read it or why you liked it. If you're going to post a kid's book on the fourth, let me know. Or if you'd like to post one here, email it to me. We'll keep it real simple. If some of you with blogs could announce this, maybe we can come up with a nice list. Anyone remember Cherry Ames?

On the 11th we'll return to our usual fare. Don't wait for me to come to you if you're reading this because I probably have already tried to recruit you and the email didn't go through.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

My Town Monday

Leaving Detroit is always easy, returning is hard, especially from New York. I was born in Philly and I will always feel at home in east coast cities. Even after 37 years away. In many ways, Detroit is not a livable city. There is almost no shopping, almost no movie theaters, few viable neighborhoods. The schools are a disgrace (Less than 30% graduate). The parks are unsafe. However, it does have the following things to return to:

An incredible art museum--one of the best in the world.
A new small art museum that's trying to show newer art and provide cutting edge lectures and music, a historical, science and African American museum
Artists and galleries that exhibit their work
Fine sports teams
A really good music scene-all kinds of music
Some great restaurants
Some great theater
A fine zoo
Ethnic, music and art festivals almost every weekend
A new riverwalk
A few good universities
A good used bookstore

If you include the metropolitan area you can add in a terrfic group of movie theaters that show art and indie films, great diversity, lovely parks, more waterfront, more music, more bookstores. Pretty much everything you want.

It's not New York, San Francisco, Boston, Chicago or even Philly, but damn, it's better than a lot of places. And it's home.

Check out Travis for other My Town Monday posts:

Friday, June 20, 2008

The Summing Up, Friday, June 20, 2008

Thanks to Todd Mason for handling this today in such a stellar way. It allowed me to see disturbing exhibits at several museums.

Gerard Brennan, Joseph O'Connor, The Salesman
Lyman Feero, Robert Heinlein, The Moon is a Harsh Mistress
James Reasoner, Lewis B. Patten, Rope Law
Joe Boland, Thomas Perry, Island
Lesa Holstine, Stephen Cannell, King Con
David Corbett, Pete Dexter, God's Pocket
Bill Crider, Henry Kane, Too French and Too Deadly
Ed Gorman, John D. MacDonald, Border Town Girl
Steve Lewis, Donald Hamilton, The Ambushers
Robin Gorman Newman, Patrick McDonnell, The Gift of Nothing
Susan, Todd Borg, Tahoe Deathfall
Todd Mason, William Kotzwinke, The Exile
Lee Gold, Henrik Van Loon, Van Loon's Lives
Jim Ingraham, Kate Chopin, The Awakening

Exhibit at the Metropolitan Museum

Am I late to notice this too? All of the male super heroes in this exhibit are virile men: muscular but not necessarily sexy. Just the regular bunch of guys we all know and love.
What you notice first with the superhero women is their sexualization: pointed breasts, nipped waist, pert derrieries. They are Barbie dolls in spandex. Is there any exception to this? Why doesn't someone create a super hero for girls --someone who's about strength, grace, but not sex.
No more museum exhibits. I promise.

Henry Darger at the American Folk Museum

A few years ago we saw a documentary about Henry Darger-In the Realm of the Unreal.
Darger, undiscovered in his lifetime, spent his days painting and writing about little girls, often in epic battles with soldiers or other forces. Although the pictures above don't show it, in many of his murals the little girls were naked and anatomically incorrect. Some speculate he had only his only anatomy to go by--he was a first-rate eccentric and recluse. Watching the doc. I came away with a fairly benign opinion of Darger.
But seeing his work closeup, I felt like he was expressing some sort of wish through his art, maybe unacted upon, but there. I was especially troubled by Dargerism where a number of artists, mostly female, were using his tropes for similar work.
I don't mind being troubled by art or not understanding it, but this veered too close to pedophilic porn for me. Google Darger and see some more of it. What do you think?

Friday's Forgotten Books

Todd Mason's blog for Friday's Forgotten Books is:
Be back next week.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Back to the Drawing Board

Dear Diary: Every time I take a vacation, I get an email telling me that an editor/agent does not like my protagonist. My husband tells me to stay away from the email while I'm away, but is that feasible nowadays. (I could have an email telling me something I need to know about family or friends).
Now I have rewritten Violet Hart to be nicer although maybe still not nice enough. She is who she is.
How is it that no one has ever told me that a protagonist in a short story is not nice enough but everyone who's read the novel (okay, five people now) says this about poor Violet? Does she need to be nice from page one? Isn't it possible that someone with her background might be unpleasant for the first half of the book. Believe me I'm not faulting the people who have read it. It's not you, it's me. Clearly.
I think my book falls between dark and light. Falls in the place where no one is quite satisfied with the poor woman or her story. And the story itself falls somewhere between literary (or middlebrow novel) and crime. My daughter says, write another novel. But this novel is the best I can do. Really.

Monday, June 16, 2008

I forgot to say....

Todd Mason's blog for Friday's Forgotten Books is:
His email is
Be there or be square. Who said that anyway? I fear it's someone from the fabulous fifties.

On vacation....

Sunday, June 15, 2008

My Town, Monday

On vacation, but I leave you with Hitsville, USA,
where it all began for Motown groups of the 1960s. You can still see some of the fabulous costumes, Berry Gordon's office, and music memorabilia today. The studio cranked out music 22 hours a day at its height. I can still remember where I was when I heard "Where Did Our Love Go" for the first time.
And it wasn't in Detroit. I didn't get here till it was nearly over.

Saturday, June 14, 2008


Flash Fiction Challenge-The challenge was to use the line "With gas/ (diesel/petrol) prices rising, our (their) plans had to change" in a 750 word or less flash fiction piece.

Here are the takers. There are three stories at Powder Burn Flash.

Me and one of Jerry's Hummers

Epitaph for a Hummer

By Patricia Abbott

Jerry, my boyfriend, he loves to steal cars. Loves to see how quick he can make an engine roar to life using the tangle of wires, switches and pins he carries around on an old dog collar. Does most cars in ninety seconds flat, his favorite being those big-assed Hummers, a model I don’t particularly care for. Me, I’m short. Hoisting onto that seat’s a bitch.

Finding a Hummer in our neighborhood is rare and nearly impossible for Jerry to pass up. Says he only feels alive when he’s behind the wheel of a luxury car and especially one with some muscle. He never parades it at the car show behind the crank factory, never strips it for parts, never crashes it for kicks. He just keeps it for an hour or two then parks it in a safe place. He’s got a code, my Jerry does.

Jerry likes me to come along for the ride, says it’s more fun when someone sits shotgun. So most Friday nights, we find a god-damned (his words) Hummer and ride around till it’s time to go home. He likes to hit the toney neighborhoods over in Shelterville first, then head out to the country. You never lived till you did a hundred in a Hummer on a deserted blacktop.

But with gas prices rising, our plans had to change. Cost $85 last time we gassed one. Sometimes we’d hop in and find the gauge on full, but less and less since Bush got bogged down with the war and neglected his domestic duties. Last Hummer we took was only running on the recollection of fuel. It’s not worth the trouble if the owners won’t leave us a little gas. And Jerry says, he’ll be doing the death polka before he puts his dime into someone else’s Hummer.

I tried to talk Jerry into stealing an economy car. First time I said it, he told me it wasn’t hardly worth risking jail for a ride in a Cobalt or a Civic: there was no joy for him in taking such a vehicle. But when prices hit $4.00 a gallon, he gave in and we 211’d a Yaris—a car we’d never even heard of, Jerry shaking his head as the car sputtered to life like a sick pup in a litter. You could tell it was a family car right off from the infant seat in back.

“Bad luck,” he hissed as we coasted down the street. “Bad luck to mess with babies.”

It was too dark to see good, but no baby was sleeping in that seat. Not unless his parents had him stuck headfirst in that old brown bag, like a candle at an Italian restaurant.

“What is back there, Babe,” Jerry asked, pulling out onto the highway and sneaking a look in the mirror. It was clear somethin’ was pudging out that seat. I reached back and felt around.

“Feels like money,” I told him. “Money in some kinda sacks.” I could smell burlap and wasn’t sure it hadn’t carried manure in its heyday.

“Money?” Jerry repeated, his voice full of wonder. The Hummers we normally grabbed didn’t even carry an old umbrella or a box of Kleenex. Those Hummer people like to keep ‘em clean. I dug inside and pulled out a bundle while Jerry switched on the overhead. Fifties, twenties, and a goodly amount of ‘em in every rubber-banded stack. I won’t even tell you what Jerry did with that first lot.

We ditched that Yaris pretty quick. The owners wasn’t gonna forget about it for long, but they probably wouldn’t call the cops either. Jerry and I had ‘em between a rock and another rock. We took the bags to Jerry’s garage and fanned ‘em out. More dead presidents than we could rightly count. You lose your place after a while with stacks that big.

“What the hell,” Jerry said. “I sure never thought an economy car would bring me good luck.

“What I tell you,” I reminded him.

Next day, we went to a showroom over in Shelterville and got ourselves a sweet deal ‘cause nobody’s buying Hummers nowadays. Dead black, it was.

“Might be the last one off the line,” the dealer said. Jerry practically burst with pride.

There’s enough left over to keep us in gas if those Sawdy bandits don’t raise the price again when Bush isn’t looking. Which he never is.

Jerry and our new Hummer

This story is dedicated to the real Jerry, who stole cars in 1963. I hope you've given it up.

Friday, June 13, 2008

A Summing Up

I'll be away visiting my lovely daughter next week, but Todd Mason has agreed to post any recommendations you might have. So help him out and contact him at if you're able to do one.

I'll be back on June 27th with another group of contributors.

Hopefully Sunday there will be some flash fiction to read. I've read a couple already and they were frightening good.

The Summing Up for Friday, June 13, 2008

Patti Abbott, October Light, John Gardner
Joe Boland, Freak's Amour, Tom DeHaven
Gerard Brennan, Father Music, Dermot Bolger
Steve Brewer, The Tango Briefing, Adam Hall
Mark Coggins, Samurai Boogie, Peter Tasker
Bill Crider, One for Hell, Jada Davis
Deborah, Mother Love, Domini Taylor
Chris Holm, The Elementals, Michael McDowell
Ruth Jordan, The Friends of Eddie Coyle, George V. Higgins
Vince Keenan, Violence, Nudity and Adult Content, Vince Passaro
Larry, The Famished Road, Ben Okri
Steve Lewis, Pangolin, Peter Driscoll
Brian Lindenmuth, Four Kinds of Rain/Red Baker, Robert Ward
Tim Maleeny, Chinaman's Chance, Ross Thomas
Terrie Farley Moran, A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, Betty Smith
James Reasoner, The Dark Brand, H. A. De Rosso
Rochelle Jewel Shapiro, Jamaica Inn, Daphne DuMaurier
Gerald So, The Spy Who Loved Me, Ian Fleming
Jay Tomio, Sarah Canary, Karen Joy Fowler
Jeri Westerson, The House on the Strand, Daphne DuMaurier

Thursday, June 12, 2008

FRIDAY'S Forgotten Books, June 13, 2008

Steve Brewer, author of "Cutthroat" recommends:

The Tango Briefing by Adam Hall (1973)
I chose this novel about the British spy Quiller because it's the latest one I've tracked down, but I really recommend all 19 in this terrific series by the late Adam Hall (pseudonym for Elleston Trevor). The series began in 1965 with "The Quiller Memorandum," which won the best novel Edgar, and ended with "Quiller Balalaika" in 1996, the year after Hall's death.
IMHO, Quiller beats James Bond hands down -- much less sexism and silliness, but brilliant characterization and gee-whiz spycraft -- and his stories are more action-packed than the splendid spy novels of LeCarre. Hall was a master of pacing, often ending chapters with cliffhangers and using the equivalent of movie "jump cuts" to go back and forth on the timeline.
Quiller works for The Bureau, a spy organization so secret that the British government doesn't admit it exists. He's a "shadow executive," one of only a handful who's trained to kill, infiltrate, withstand torture, so forth. No fancy gizmos or jetpacks for Quiller; he rarely even carries a gun. He gets by on his wits and his toughness, in particular his ability to turn off the demands of his battered body and still focus on the mission at hand. Quiller's a snarky character, in constant conflict with the field executives who run his operations from a (usually) safe distance.
In "The Tango Briefing," Quiller is sent to North Africa to find an airplane that has crashed in the sands of the Sahara. The plane carries a top-secret cargo, and it's quickly apparent that several governments are hunting it. Most Quiller novels are largely urban, but Quiller spends a lot of time alone in this one, stranded in the blazing desert, watched only by vultures who are waiting for him to stop moving. You'll want to keep a lot of water handy when you read it.

Patti Abbott recommends:
October Light by John Gardner

John Gardner died in a motorcycle accident at the age of 49 in 1982. It is hard to overstate his place at that time in American fiction. His was a loud voice, critical about what he decided was going wrong with the novel, willing to verbally assault his peers. He wrote two fine books on writing, a number of scholarly pieces and six novels before his death. October Light, one of his best works for me, is the story of two elderly siblings in a state of warfare. Sally is forced to live with James when her money runs out. He takes her in but insists on dominating her. He locks her in her bedroom and here she finds a book Smugglers of Lost Soul’s Rock, (a story of marijuana smugglers in California). The novel within a novel is the sort of loose, rollicking and chaotic novel someone like Sally can enjoy. Her brother is a man intent on retaining the status quo. Thus the two siblings represent what's going on in the seventies in the world and in literature. Progress or status quo.
Gardner seems largely forgotten thirty-five years later. Maybe his enemies outnumbered his friends
. But October Light along with Nickel Mountain are fine reads.

Here are some other suggestions.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

How Do You Solve a Problem Like the Clintons?

How Do You Solve a Problem Like the Clintons?

Or how does Barak Obama solve it? How does he utilize the Clintons and their huge base against McCain without the two of them overpowering his candidacy? There's never been a similar instance—a presidential campaign where the candidate has to calculate how to effectively deal with both his recent rival and her powerful husband. Should Obama follow Lyndon Johnson’s advice about keeping your critics inside the tent peeing out rather than outside the tent peeing in? Where would you position them? Does acknowledging their strengths lessen his?

Two Great Movies

I'd always meant to watch Seance on Wet Afternoon and only came to it now. It's the story of a woman trying to make her way as a psychic and what lengths she goes to for success. A really creepy movie, slow-moving but worth the effort. Because the crime in it involved a child, it kept this viewer on the edge of her seat.
I also spent the whole movie wondering how this actress seemed so different in Planet of the Apes, before discovering this was Kim Stanley not Kim Hunter. Richard Attenborough, playing her husband and help meet in her endeavor, was outstanding too. Reminded me a bit of Who's Afraid of Virginia Wolfe.
Touchez Pas Au Grisbi (Keep Your Hands Off the Loot) was the tale of two gangsters, well past their prime, trying to retire after a big score. It was about friendship but quite brutal in its depiction of the 1954 Parisian crime scene. Tremendous atmosphere and Jeanne Moreau in a smallish part. Too bad the writer, Albert Simonin's crime novels were never translated. I have a feeling they'd be good. Anyone seen these?

Monday, June 09, 2008

Life on Mars v. Swingtown

It's too soon to judge after only one episode but what I witnessed on the initial episode for Swingtown last week is just what I fear will happen to Life on Mars should a U.S. studio make the series.
Life on Mars, a series shown here on BBC America told the story of DCI Sam Tyler, who for some unknown reason is transported back in time to the nineteen seventies. The show combined an exciting police procedural with a genuinely compelling and heart-breaking personal story. The show certainly used references to the seventies, but never pounded your head with them. They were subtle and often in the background.
Swingtown did not have a single frame without huge seventies' signifiers: music, fashion, products, word usage. They used these signifiers, in fact, as a major character. Mad Men last year sometimes pushed their sixties references a bit too far too, but they were commenting on that culture so it worked. Here it is just laziness or a belief their audience needs constant reminders of where they are.
Oh, please leave Life on Mars alone. It was perfect as it was. I know I said this about The Office and was proven wrong, but this is very different sort of show. Let Sam rest in peace.

Sunday, June 08, 2008

My Town Monday, Detroit

(Sorry about the size here. Unable to shrink it)

Detroit, 1929

One of Detroit’s strangest murders was that of Benjamino Evangelista, who came to the U.S. to improve his lot. As Benny Evangelist he made his way from Pennsylvania to Detroit, where he found God.

In 1906 he began experiencing religious visions and shared it in The Oldest History of the World Discovered by Occult Science. His intended four-volume work covered all of history through the resurrection of Jesus, including the birth of God himself
. He never completed volumes 2-4, 1 ending well before the Flood.

As a psychic Benny received as much as $10 for private "readings," during which he called upon the powers heal various ills, either spiritual or physical, with which his "patients" were afflicted. He lived with his wife and four children on St. Aubin’s Avenue in Detroit.

Evangelist was murdered by decapitation on July 3, 1929, along with his wife and their children. The police initially jailed a friend of the family, who had suspicious weapons and newly washed shoes in his barn. Nothing of value was missing in the house.

In the basement, the police found eight or ten wax figures, each presumably representing one of the "celestial planets," suspended on the altar by wires from the ceiling. Among them was a huge eye, electrically lighted from the inside, which Evangelist referred to in his bible as "the sun."

The walls and ceiling of this "religious sanctum" were lined with light green cloth, which bulged out in places like the walls of a padded cell. In a window of the basement, which was on a line with and visible from St. Aubin avenue, a large card bore the words: "Great Celestial Planet Exhibition."

The murder was never solved.

Do You Write about a Colorless World?

We just repainted two green rooms apricot and my mood lifted immediately. I feel entirely differently on entering these rooms now. And I wonder why I don't use color more in my writing. If I describe a woman as having an apricot bedroom, you'd think about her differently than if I said her bedroom was red or even blue. But other then the occasional description of a car or dress color, it's absent from my writing.What about yours?
In my case, perhaps it's because in short stories we have little time for such descriptions. Colors, sounds, textures are left out.
As readers we make our way to adult novels through picture books where color is very important. When does the need for color in our stories leave us? Is there a point when we can paint the canvass ourself? Do any writers use color more effectively than others? Blood red aside.

Saturday, June 07, 2008

Am I Tough Enough?

Probably not. But Neil Smith took pity on me and included my story ("Like a Hawk Rising") in the new issue of Plots With Guns.
Go see who else is in there:
They're plenty tough enough. And that includes Bryon (I will blog no more) Quertermous among others. Thanks, Neil.

Two Late Additions to Forgotten Books