Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Happy New Year

Another year older but none the wiser.

ABA Votes for the Best Legal Films

Harper Lee Reading.


Best Legal Movies as voted by the American Bar Association.

1. To Kill a Mockingbird
2. 12 Angry Men
3. My Cousin Vinny
4. Anatomy of a Murder
5. Inherit the Wind
6. Witness for the Prosecution
7. Breaker Morant
8. Philadelphia
9. Erin Brockovich
10. The Verdict
11. Presumed Innocent
12. Judgment at Nuremberg
13. A Man for All Seasons
14. A Few Good Men
15. Chicago
16. Kramer vs. Kramer
17. The Paper Chase
18. Reversal of Fortune
19. Compulsion
20. And Justice for All
21. In the Name of the Father
22. A Civil Action
23. Young Mr. Lincoln
24. Amistad
25. Miracle on 34th Street

Biggest surprise for me #3. Any others you'd add?

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Comeback Kids

ALfred Hitchcock and David Bowie reading

I haven't seen it yet, but I understand Mickey Rourke has made a fantastic comeback in The Wrestler. My favorite comeback is John Travolta's in Pulp Fiction. After a couple of those "Look Who's Talking" movies, almost anything would have been an improvement. But Pulp Fiction catapulted him into serious stardom. (He could use another good movie right about now).

What contenders do you have for the greatest comeback? It doesn't have to be in movies? How about in novels or music too?

Sunday, December 28, 2008

MTM: Hilberry Theater, Wayne State University

Dexter reading.

The Hilberry Theatre is an open stage performance center for the nation’s first and only graduate repertory company - presenting seven plays in rotating repertory from October to mid-May. It is part of Wayne State University, where I work, and students come from across the country to earn an MFA degree in some aspect of theater.

Created in 1963, with the belief that repertory theatre is the best possible training ground for careers in the theatre, the Hilberry was the brainchild of Leonard Leone, now Director Emeritus. Clarence B. Hilberry, then president of Wayne State University, personally took the responsibility of raising the funds to convert the First Church of Christ Scientist in Detroit into an open-stage theatre, which now stands as a memorial to his leadership.

Following the theatre’s opening, he invited a group of community leaders to form a women’s committee to ensure the continuity of the growing company. “The Understudies,” as the group became known, for over 40 years has solicited funds, primarily from individual donors, to provide essential support for the artists of the Hilberry company.The company is composed of 45-50 actors, costume, lighting and scenic designer-technicians, stage managers and theatre managers, who work under the direction of a professional staff.

The members of the company, chosen in nationwide auditions and interviews, receive training leading to advanced degrees in acting, directing, design, or management.The heart of the program is a rotating repertory of outstanding classic and modern plays. Widely known for the high quality of its productions, the Hilberry has received numerous honors. It has been selected to perform at Ford’s Theatre and The Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C., and in the Far East for the USO. Over the years, the Hilberry has been honored with awards by the Detroit Newspapers, including “Best Director” and “Best Play” for 2003-2004 season’s The Kentucky Cycle Parts I and II co-directed by Patricia Ansuini and Lavinia Hart as well as “Best Season” (Oakland Press), “Favorite Local Professional Productions - Drama” for Glengarry Glen Ross and “Favorite Local Professional Production - Comedy” for Lovers and Executioners (Between the Lines), and many individual awards for members of the company.
This season, playing in rotating repertory, are: Eurydice , by Sarah Ruhl, Oct. 3 - Dec. 13 Hamlet by William Shakespeare, Oct. 24 - Jan. 24 Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead , by Tom Stoppard, Nov 14 - Mar. 14 Born Yesterday , by Garson Kanin, Jan. 9 - Apr. 11 All My Sons , by Arthur Miller, Feb. 20 - May 16 On Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest , by Dale Wasserman, Apr. 3 - May 8.

What book(s) have you read the most times?

Zora Neale Hurston reading

Abbott family answers: Catcher in the Rye, The Great Gatsby, Sentimental Journey, The Sound and the Fury, Daughter of Time, Pride and Prejudice, The Big Sleep.

What book have you read most often? (Not for a classroom).

Saturday, December 27, 2008


Jean Paul Belmondo and Jean Luc Godard reading.

Check out Clute and Edwards' Out of the Past podcast series where they discuss the film IN A LONELY PLACE with Megan Abbott.

Thursday, December 25, 2008


Santa reading inside and out.

And thanks to all of the people who graced this blog with the memory of a forgotten book this year.

I am truly blessed by your generosity.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008


Marilyn reading.

(In my online life)

1. All of the writers/readers/reviewers who have contributed to Friday's Forgotten Books since last April. More than a hundred of you. I especially want to thank the people who have done it more than once. Or in some cases, nearly every week. I'd also like to thank Jeff Pierce at The Rap Sheet for joining me in this endeavor. The amazing thing is over 80% of the people I've approached have done a review with little or no nudging.

2. I'd like to thank the editors of zines and print publications who have published my stories this year. My stories often hover between crime and mainstream, so I am especially appreciative of those people who bend their rules and let me squeeze in since there is no zine publishing the softer stories now. Please someone start one. As Mrs. Adams said, "Remember the ladies."

3. I'd like to thank all of those who read and comment on my blog. It does feel like a community to me. Thanks for the recommendations, commiserations, opinions, anecdotes, reviews, etc.

4. I'd like to thank the writers of blogs. Every blog I visit brings something to my day. Whether it's someone sharing the frustrations of writing, the frustrations of life, the good things in their day, the view from their window, the book they have read, the things their children do, life in Texas, information about publishing, sports, politics, their love of Obama, their love of John McCain, music, movies, the lives of women/men--I get something from it and you are kind and brave to offer it.

4. The flash fiction writers who have joined me on my occasional challenges. Putting yourself out there is not easy. I have yet to read one flash that did not delight me. Thanks for caring enough to write such great stories. A special thanks for Gerald So and Mystery Dawg for helping me with this.

5. Travis Erwin for his phenomenal "My Town Monday" project, which has made blogging have a purpose once a week and brought many people closer together. I am getting to know Ohio especially well. The people frequenting Travis' blog are a blessing. I am thankful for each of them.

6. Thanks to those who let me post their picture. And hopefully more will come. I want YOU on there. I'd rather have YOU than Bob Dylan or Tuesday Weld. So send me your pic.

I'm sure there are other things I'm forgetting, but this puts a dent in it.

Monday, December 22, 2008


Jeanne Moreau reading

I've seen some good movies in the last two weeks. Didn't expect to like FROST/NIXON but I did. The two actors are just outstanding and the battle of egos is riveting. Watergate never gets old for us.
MILK- Sean Penn-Josh Brolin, what can I say. Sure there's a predictability and preachiness about it, but maybe we need that once in a while. And biopics are always predictable.
BEAUTY IN TROUBLE was very fine. Do you go with sexuality or security if you're a poor Eastern European woman with kids? I don't know.
My husband watched THE NAKED SPUR while I was out one night and thought Mann made a compelling movie.
We both liked CONVERSATIONS WITH WOMEN with Helena Bonham Carter and Aaron Eckhart. The constant usage of split screen seemed a bit pretentious and a bit 1970s, but it was interesting.

What have you been watching at home or at the theater? With all these reruns we need some help.

A Little Kevin break

A few funny things from my funny guy.

If you ask Kevin, just turned two, what he wants for Christmas, he says a car wash. We have finally traced this desire to a Thomas, the Train catalog---but did he read it? The picture is not very illuminating and is very tiny. Only the print is big.

I know he thinks this will be big water toy, too.

His trip to Sea World last week can be summed up in one oft-repeated sentence: "I touched the sting ray." Then he flops on the floor and swims across the rug.

If anyone mentions that someone is funny, Kevin will say, "Nana is a funny guy." This makes me think I have to stay up nights thinking of how to keep my reputation as a funny guy going.

Thanks to Chris for the book recommendation, IT'S OKAY TO BE DIFFERENT, which I have waiting under the tree. (Still have to track down the Car Wash though).

Is there anything nicer than a grandchild. (Right Terrie?)

Sunday, December 21, 2008

MTM-Chicago Tribune's Reasons to Visit Detroit

Lisa Kenney reading.

(From the Chicago Tribune)Actually there are a lot more reasons than this. I could double it easily, but anyway....Reasons to Visit Detroit (although perhaps not in winter).

Forget what we know you're thinking, because this is the chance to experience a Detroit rediscovering itself. You may have to be a little selective and wear blinders sometimes, but today's Motown is an exciting city of new stadiums, new casinos, new hotels, some truly extraordinary museums and a positive vibe. A quick ride across the bridge or through the tunnel is Canada—Windsor, to be specific—with its casino and nightspots.

The Tribune's 7 reasons to go
1. Motown Historical Museum If you always wanted to be a Temptation or a Vandella, this is your chance, in the place where The Sound was nurtured.

2. Comerica Park A wonderful place to watch baseball, the home of the Tigers is within an easy walk of downtown hotels and Greektown's restaurants and nightlife. Tours in summer only, but the exterior is a wow.

3. The Henry Ford/Greenfield Village It's in Dearborn, right next door, and there's nothing anywhere quite like this assemblage of artifacts and historic buildings. Dress warm (much good stuff is outside), allow lots of time to take it all in, and check out the holiday programs.

4. Coneys Detroiters argue which is the best of these local chili-dogs like Chicagoans debate pizza. The pick here: Lafayette Coney Island, downtown, especially (for atmosphere) after 1 a.m. Don't skip the onions. (118 W. Lafayette Blvd., 313-964-8198)

5. Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History A brilliantly executed repository, brimming with drama and hope. The slave-ship reproduction will stay with you forever; replicas of King Tut's treasures remain on display through January.

6. Detroit Institute of Arts Boasts a world-class collection, including the first Van Gogh to enter a U.S. museum plus the prime Diego Rivera fresco, Detroit Industry.

7. Windsor Once a bootlegger's paradise on the Canadian side of the Detroit River, later a source of gentlemanly entertainment uncommon in Michigan, today there's mainly Casino Windsor, a few clubs of various styles, a pleasant riverwalk and Willistead Manor, a mansion linked to the Hiram Walker distillery family. You'll need a passport or birth certificate.

What's To Like About 2008?

Beryl Bainbridge reading.

Tell me seriously, is anyone sad to see 2008 go. Is there anything about it that was good other than the election of Obama if you're a Democrat? Is there something you'll miss? There has to be one good thing but I can't think of it. Even the weather sucked. Give me something about 2008 to remember fondly even if it's from your personal life. I'll be happy for you.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

O'Nan, the Master of Detail

Bob Dylan reading.

My husband and I have both been reading Stewart O'Nan and are both knocked out by the research that give his books so much resonance. In both SONGS FOR THE MISSING (me) and LAST NIGHT AT THE LOBSTER (husband), the details about working at restaurants persuade the reader they are entering a real world. Both books are outstanding as is all his work. These are not the only details but are certainly the most fully fleshed out. Did he sit at such a place for weeks to get it so right?
Philip Roth also excels at this. I think back on AMERICAN PASTORAL, and the details on glove-making that were mesmerizing. Does this impress you in books? Do you like learning about what working at Quiznos is like or do you regard it as filler? I can't get enough of it. Who does it as well as O'Nan?

Friday, December 19, 2008

The Summing UP, Friday, December 19, 2008

Tuesday Weld reading.

No Friday's Forgotten Books next week. Have a great holiday and see you on January 2, 2009.

The Summing Up for Friday, December 19, 2008

Patti Abbott, Vanished, Mary McGarry Morris
Rick Blechta, A Walk Through Wales, Anthony Bailey
Paul Bishop, Head of the Force, James Barnett
David Cranmer, Maigret and the Wine Merchant, Georges Simenon
Bill Crider Sci-Fi, William Marshall
Gary Dobbs, Dawn of the Fury, Ralph Compton
Nan Higginson, "The Bobbsey Twin series," Laura Lee Hope (Edward Strathmeyer)
Julie Hyzy, The War of Art, Steven Pressfield
Lesa Holstine, Miracle and Other Christmas Stories, Connie Willis
Randy Johnson, The City at World's End, Edmond Hamilton
Ali Karim, The Sirius Crossing, John Creed
Ali Karim, A Coffin for Dimitrios, Eric Ambler
Scott Parker, The Man Who Invented Christmas, Les Standiford
James Reasoner, World of Weird, Leo Marguiles, Editor
Kieran Shea, 92 in the Shade, Thomas McGuane
Kerrie Smith, The Killing Gift, Bari Wood

Friday's Forgotten Books

James Reasoner reading.

Vanished by Mary McGarry Morris (recommended by Patti Abbott)

I don't know if anyone saw this book as the crime fiction it was ten years ago. It certainly is noir and straight out of the Woodrell universe.
A laborer is lured into helping an attractive woman he sees o
n the road. He deserts his family and embarks on an odyssey with Dotty, who is a femme fatale of the highest order. She has kidnapped a baby and the three cobble out a life on the road over the course of the next five years. Their fate is further complicated when they run into an ex-con and his family, who comes up with the idea of demanding ransom. This is one dark, often heart-breaking tale and amazingly Morris' first novel. Highly recommended. Her other novels aren't bad either

Rick Blechta is a musician who writes crime fiction, or if you prefer, a crime writer who plays music. His sixth novel, A CASE OF YOU, was released this past March. As always, the main character is a musician, this time a drummer in a struggling jazz trio. His fourth novel, CEMETERY OF THE NAMELESS, was an Arthur Ellis finalist for best novel in 2006. He currently resides in Toronto and is married to, what else, a musician. Check out his website:
.com and he is also part of a crime writing


As someone who writes crime fiction, you'd probably expect me to talk about the book "that launched me on this career," but sometimes it's nice to find something off the beaten track and just kick back and enjoy it. This is one of these books.

Bailey is an accomplished travel writer and I immediately felt upon cracking it open that I was in good hands. The format of his narrative was simple. Starting on the south coast at the Welsh capital, Cardiff, he walked over a 3-week period to Bangor in the north.

The story is not about "And on your left is..." Around his deft description of the countryside, Bailey examines what is going on in Wales: the influx of Brits looking for vacation property, the influence of the nationalist movement on the Welsh and the pressures of the modern world exerted on this ancient land.

To me, though, the book really comes alive in the people Bailey meets and whose stories he weaves into the fabric of his narrative. They are utterly fascinating. Since travel to me is as much about meeting people as it is in seeing the sites, I found this facet of the book most attractive and memorable. As a matter of fact, it propelled my wife and me to spend three weeks touring around north and central Wales, poking into odd places and trying to get a grip on a country that is noted for swallowing people whole. We barely made it out ourselves, and if we ever do disappear, you will know where to look for us first.

Julie Hyzy is the author of the White House Chef Mystery series including STATE OF THE ONION and , new this month, HAIL TO THE CHEF. She also write the Alex. St. James series: DEADLY BLESSING, DEADLY INTEREST, and new last month, a collaboration with Michael A. Black, DEAD RINGER.

F ART is a great little book. And, at least in hardcover, a bit strange looking. My treasured copy is a slim 165 pages tucked into a hard silver binding with three small square mirrors embedded on the cover. Not the sort of thing I’d pick up on my own. It’s available in paperback, but I received this copy from my friend, Ken Rand, who was cleaning out his shelves and decided the powerful little volume needed a new home. This isn’t a mystery—it isn’t even a novel. THE WAR OF ART is (she sheepishly admits) a self-help book for writers. It’s a “get your butt in the chair and write” book, but it’s not for the faint of heart. When my friend sent it to me about a year ago, I read it that afternoon. Standing up. Pacing, actually. For some reason, I felt as though I’d be cheating if I sat while I read. Sections are small, sometimes only a single paragraph. It moves fast and I turned pages sometimes more quickly than I changed directions. The idea behind this book is that “Resistance” is what keeps us from staying in our writing chairs each day. Resistance is what creates our obstacles, encourages us to procrastinate, prevents our success. Author Steven Pressfield gives Resistance human characteristics in order to make his point: Resistance wants us to fail. And we, as writers, must fight Resistance.Sure, it’s a gimmick. But whether you call it Resistance, your inner critic, or the demon on your shoulder whispering disapproval, we working writers can’t simply wait for the Muse to hit in order to do our jobs. We have to keep our butts in our chairs every day. And we have to keep our eyes off the obstacles and on our personal goals. For me, THE WAR OF ART is a godsend. For me, it works. When I mention THE WAR OF ART to writer friends, I’m surprised to find that no one else has ever heard of it. Does this mean it’s been “forgotten,” or has it just not made the rounds yet? I don’t know. But I do know that I’m grateful to Patti for this blog invitation, and my opportunity to share this gem of a book with others.
Kieran Shea was born and raised in New Jersey. His crime fiction has appeared in Thuglit, Pulp Pusher, Dogmatika,Muzzleflash, Plots with Guns, Demolition. He takes his coffee black and lives outside Annapolis, MD.

92 in the Shade By: Thomas McGuane
I used to joke with my brother, an English teacher, that if you could whittle out the goofy sex and heavy drugs, this book should be taught as part of every school’s American literary curriculum.
No doubt, crime fiction fans point to the late James Crumley as having the preeminent opening line, but McGuane’s book, for me, has its own viable sucker punch—dead on today as it was when this book was originally released.
“Nobody knows, from sea to shining sea, why we are having all this trouble with our republic…”
It is an existential everyman’s tale, rife with insanity, deadly gunplay, and heartache. Funny too. Burnout Tom Skelton returns home to Key West to put his life back together and become a fishing guide. Only his own romantic visions and a killer rival named Nichol Dance stand in his way. But damn the consequences, Tom confronts his demons head on even if it could end up killing him.
Long before the eccentric south Florida crime novel field became saturated, Tom McGuane was out slicing the sawgrass giving Charles Wileford a run for his money. They made a BAD movie of it with Warren Oates and Peter Fonda (if that is even possible—Warren Oates RULES), but hell, 92 in the Shade will flat out will slay you.

Gary Dobbs
James Reasoner
Paul Bishop
Kerrie Smith
Lesa Holstine
Scott D. Parker
David Cranmer
Bill Crider

Randy Johnson
Ali Karim

Ali Karim
Nan Higginson

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Expressions You Could Do Without.

Superman reading.

Travis Erwin was talking about the word "tidings" and whether it was ever used except at Christmas and that brought to mind an expression I dislike that has crept into the vocabulary of waitstaff. Maybe it's only in Michigan but a busboy or waiter will come up to the table and ask, "Are you still working on that?"

Somehow this expression takes me out of the experience of fine dining and into the experience of digestive processes.

What expression sets your teeth a chatter?

One more matter, I finally saw the recent film version of I AM LEGEND. WTF.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Goodbye Freep As We Know It.

Toni Morrison reading.

For a lovely tribute to Michigan writer, Glendon Swarthout, who wrote a classic Christmas story check here.

This has been announced elsewhere but we got the email today.

"In early Spring, the Free Press will change from offering seven days' home delivery to offering three days - Thursday, Friday and Sunday. We now also offer a digital subscription on so you have the option of seeing the newspaper pages online exactly as they appear in print. And you will still be able to purchase the Free Press any day at stores, newsstands and newspapers racks - that won't change. We will maintain our strong news report, and we will redesign the newspaper to provide an easier-to-use format -- as well as retaining the exclusive reporting and depth that we're known for."

Just as I feel guilty for drifting away from US cars in the last five years, I feel guilty about discontinuing our subscription to the Freep a few months ago. They had discontinued providing their own reviews of books, movies, TV, almost everything. Many of their stories came from AP or other sources. I misunderstood the reason for this. I thought they were making a bad choice, not that they were making their only choice.

But this is what's become clear. If there was no local paper in Detroit, would the misdeeds, make that crimes, of Kwame Kilpatrick have been exposed? Who will serve as a watchdog over local and state politicians if there is no newspaper? Who will chastise sports teams for putting 0-14 teams on the field? Who will cover Detroit weather like it means something? Who will care about and cover the fate of this city if not the newspapers?

What's the status of the newspaper in your town?

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

When Does the Music Do Disservice to a Film?

Audrey Hepburn reading.

BEAUTY IN TROUBLE was a terrific little film made in the Czech Republic. But I had one problem with it--one I don't recall having often at other films.
It used music from a very recent movie quite extensively. And that movie, ONCE was so clearly Irish that I'm not sure how the music was appropriate for a Czech movie. I kept thinking about that when I should have been reading subtitles. Where is the connection?

But the real problem was that since the music was so new and so inappropriate to this film, it pulled me out of this movie and back into that one. Suddenly I had images of street singers in Dublin instead of blue-collar workers in Prague.

I think music in movies should be so familiar you have no trouble identifying it or so unfamiliar you don't even try. When it's like this---it's very distracting. By my count, there were four tunes from ONCE used here. What do you think? Have other films used music from a two-year old film this extensively. Why would the director choose to do this?

Monday, December 15, 2008


Eudora Welty reading.

Clint Eastwood chose to set his new, much buzzed about movie, Gran Torino, in Detroit. The original story was set in Minneapolis, which makes sense because it deals with a racist Korean war vet's interactions with the Vietnamese immigrants in his neighborhood. Minneapolis has more Vietnamese than Detroit but there were other considerations.

Any movie that's filmed in Detroit and has a car in the title is a plus these days. And Detroit needs a plus and a mention of an American car more than Minneapolis. Even if our 1972 Torino rusted through the trunk in three years, I'm gonna see this film.

If you want to see Detroit, the real Detroit, see the movie. Eastwood used Detroiters and Detroit as much as he could. Someday they might make a pretty movie about Detroit, but for now....

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Instrument of Their Desire on Beat to a Pulp

Thanks to David Cranmer for making me a part of his new venture--Beat to a Pulp.

A Foray Into Westerns: GHOST TOWN by Ed Gorman

Andre Gide reading.

It's been of some embarrassment to me that despite the many readers and writers of Westerns who contribute to Friday's Forgotten Books, I have not read one. Okay, I did read Lonesome Dove, but that's about the only one.

I've always suffered from the mistaken impression that Western novels resemble the TV westerns of my youth. The plots were about cattle rustling, bar fights, women depicted as all good (schoolmarms and wives) or all bad (saloon girls and hookers), shootouts, Indian fights, cattle herding, lynchings, etc. Everything seemed painted in black and white to match the day.

Ed Gorman took pity on my misconceptions and sent me two of his Westerns, saying he thought I'd be surprised at the modern Western and how it bore more a resemblance to noirish crime fiction than I might think.

I read GHOST TOWN and it was surprisingly like current crime fiction, but more than that, it was a terrific novel, regardless of its genre-leanings. GHOST TOWN was a great story, well-told, with interesting characters in an unfamiliar setting.

The book takes places in a small Wisconsin town overrun by both malaria and a few suspicious types who run the bank and the town. It's the story of Bryce Lamont, who comes here to get his share of the take from a jewelry theft that put him in prison. What he finds in that Wisconsin town will lead him down a bloody trail, jeopardizing himself and the people he loves.

I don't want to give away too much of the plot here, but let me say this--nearly every character in Ghost Town is complex--neither all good or bad, and this includes, of course, the protagonist. Although there is a lot of action in the novel, it never feels overdone. There is plenty of time to look around at the scenery, the clothes, medical practices, woman's issues, the news of the late 1800s in a small mid-western town. Despite this, the book is succinct, fast-moving and exciting.

Its greatest asset is-- this book has heart. You can feel it beating on every page. And that's not easy to pull off in any genre of writing. Grit and heart in one slim volume is a gift.

I will certainly read more Westerns after this one. It hardly hurt at all. Thanks, Ed.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Television Preview: Stung, Scammed and Out of Control

Paul Newman and Joanne Woodward reading.


Oh, how to tell this in sentences and not paragraphs.
Ahem: A friend got an invitation in the mail to attend previews of two tv pilots and give his opinion. He took us along. Five hundred people showed up to watch the two previews on a few monitors at a motel in the burbs.

First we filled out a questionnaire, supposedly to determine who would win prizes as thanks for our participation. It asked our address, telephone, etc. so the prize could be delivered to the lucky winners. We were given lots of choices of what prizes to deliver. i.e. products we might like: things like paper towels, candy, aspirin. It seemed like it would all amount to a bag of groceries filled with the most prosaic products imagineable.

I felt queasy about the whole thing by this time and gave a fictitious name and address, figuring I didn't need a bag of groceries badly enough to list my true address, email and phone number.
The pilots were surprisingly bad. So bad that I assumed they were bogus. The sitcom didn't last 20 minutes even with commercials. Both bogus pilots had familiar faces though. Actors need work too.

And then the questioning began. A few questions about our thoughts on the pilots and a million questions on things like our blood pressure, age, chloresterol count--very personal things. It took an hour to fill it out the form. I didn't fill it out and I noticed that although this second form purported to be anonymous, a four digit number on the back of that second form matched the number on the back of the first one we'd filled out for prizes.

Clearly this was all about getting information for marketers. No one seemed dubious except me so I kept my mouth shut with some elbowing from my husband who could see I was ready to rise and denounce this charade. And he didn't want to hurt the feelings of the friend who brought us.
Okay, maybe the audience didn't mind disclosing intimate details. I was quiet until I left 2 1.2 hours later when I told off some underling who may not have even known what it was about.

Why was no one else suspicious? I'm not suspicious or clever but when you answer four questions about the supposed pilot and 72 about yourself, something is off. Okay, I am suspicious. That was a lie. But I'm not clever.

The moral is-don't go to preview pilots sponsored by a firm called Television Previews.

What I wonder is did the actors hired to make these bogus pilots know what they were doing?

When I asked my son if he would alert the bunko squad in his county (he's a prosecutor), he looked at me in wonder. No more bunco squads then?

Friday, December 12, 2008

The Summing Up, Friday, December 12, 2008

Sandra Scoppettone reading.

The Summing up, Friday, December 12, 2008

Debby Atkinson, Gun, With Occasional Music, Jonathan Lethem
Paul Bishop, Crimson Skies, Eric Nylund
Paul D. Brazill, Blue Heaven, Joe Keenan
John Peyton Cooke, The Scarf, Robert Bloch
Bill Crider, Drive East on 66, Richard Wormser
Chris, The Polar Express, Chris Van Allsburg
Gary Dobbs, Journey of the Mountain Man, William W. Johnstone
Martin Edwards, Constable Guard Thyself, Henry Wade
Lesa Holstine, Swing, Swing Together, Peter Lovesey
Randy Johnson, Calhoon, A Rancho Bravo Novel, Thorne Douglas
Ali Karim, Terror, Dan Simmons
Scott D. Parker, Holmes for the Holiday, Anne Perry
James Reasoner, Arizona Guns, William MacLeod Raine
Cathy Skye, 23 Shades of Black, KJA Wisnia
Kerrie Smith, "Charles Paris series," Simon Brett
Eric Stone, The Caveman's Valentine, George Daves Green
August West, Sharky's Marchine, William Diehl

Friday's Forgotten Books. December 12, 2008

Charles Willeford reading

Deborah (Debby) Atkinson, author of the Storm Kayama/ Hawaii mystery series. Primitive Secrets, 2002; The Green Room, 2005; Fire Prayer, 2007; Pleasing the Dead, Feb, 2009

Years ago, I was browsing a San Francisco bookstore when someone recommended a book that looked pretty quirky to my unfamiliar eye. It was Gun, with Occasional Music, published in 1994, and I'd never heard of Jonathan Lethem. After I read Gun, I started paying attention.

I write crime fiction, so about 75% of what I read is in that genre, and I use that term inclusively: mystery, thriller, suspense, and so on. Every now and then, I read sci-fi, which if it's good, is beyond good—it's fantastic. These finds seem rarer than the fantastic mystery/suspense novel, though maybe I'm just inexperienced, and someone here can point me in the right direction.

With Gun, with Occasional Music, Lethem did it all. He captured Raymond Chandler's noir setting and injected the futuristic pessimism of Philip K. Dick, with a dash here and there of Frank Herbert's Dune (mind altering, government-issued drugs), and compelling animal protagonists à la Eric Garcia. Gun has sheep, apes, rabbits, and other species, all "evolved" to speak English and make protagonist Conrad Metcalf's life more difficult. Wait until you meet Joey Castle, the enforcer kangaroo.

Best of all, though, are characters that are original, appealing, and sympathetic. The dialogue crackles, the scenes are intense, and you'll love Metcalf despite his foibles.

I also loved Lethem's Motherless Brooklyn (1999), but this one made more of a splash in the mystery community, so I probably don't have to sing its praises quite as loudly. Lionel Essrog, the protagonist of Motherless, has Tourette's syndrome. Yet Essrog's outbursts ring with not only profanity, but brilliance, heart, and desperation. The dialogue and characters are outstanding. The writing is inspirational, poetic at times. And the mystery ain't bad, either.

I hope you enjoy Lethem's work as much as I do. Have a wonderful holiday season, and buy lots of books from independent booksellers!

Paul D. Brazill-I was born in Hartlepool, England, forty-six years ago and have lived in London and Warsaw. I left school at sixteen and have worked as an office clerk, a housing adviser and a shop assistant in a toy shop. I currently teach Business English. I’ve written songs which didn’t sell and a screenplay which was lost . I now live in Bydgoszcz, Poland and have recently had two stories accepted by Six Sentences. I blog in an ad hoc, slapdash fashion at

BLUE HEAVEN by Joe Keenan

Gilbert Selwyn is selfish,feckless, greedy and, more pointedly, openly gay,
so it comes as a bit of a surprise to all and sundry when he decides to get married and especially when the person he is going to marry is Moira Finch, a person who, to all intents and purposes, he had previously loathed. What their friends don’t know, however, is that the marriage of inconvenience is a plot hatched by the money grabbing ‘couple’ in order to score a payday on the wedding gifts. Although you may not find anything as hum drum as a kitchen sink in this romp, written by comedy writer Joe Keenan , you will stumble across the Mafia, cross dressing, blackmail and even a John Woo style shoot out. Like a mixture of P.G.Wodehouse, Some Like it Hot and Howard Hawks, Keenan's television work record –Frasier, Desperate Housewives-
shines through as he effortlessly peppers the story with bon mots and pratfalls.

Eric Stone is a recovering journalist who lived and worked in Asia for many years, covering subjects such as politics, economics, the arts, drugs, sex and rock and roll. He is currently the author of the Ray Sharp series of detective thrillers, set in Asia and based on true stories he covered. The first three books in the series are: THE LIVING ROOM OF THE DEAD, GRAVE IMPORTS and FLIGHT OF THE HORNBILL, the fourth, SHANGHAIED will be out in June 2009.

Published by Grand Central Publishing, February 1995

This is an astounding first novel. The protagonist, Romulus Ledbetter, is a homeless, paranoid schizophrenic man who lives in a cave in New York’s Central Park. He is highly educated and has a family, but has gone off the rails a long time
ago. He comes across a body near his cave. The police are convinced the dead person simply froze to death, but Romulus is convinced it’s murder. He both battles and utilizes his delusions and mania to get to the bottom of the matter. His own craziness helps him to navigate the real world craziness he embroils himself in. Romulus is a remarkably fully realized, totally unusual character. He’s sympathetic, but only to a point. You can admire him, but you wouldn’t want to spend any time around him. He is truly one of the great, complex literary creations. A movie, with Samuel L. Jackson, was made of THE CAVEMAN’S VALENTINE, but it doesn’t even begin to convey the same sort of power and complexity as the book.

Martin Edwards
Kerrie Smith
Bill Crider
Paul Bishop
Scott D. Parker
James Reasoner

Lesa Holstine
August West

Cathy Skye
John Peyton Cooke
Ali Karim
Gary Dobbs

Randy Johnson

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Shun the Pun

Marilyn Monroe reading.
(and this fits my mood today)
Does this ever happen to you? You sit down in front of your work in progress and you're in sort of a flip mood. Suddenly you find yourself inserting puns and jokes every here and there. Little touches of humor.
Your dark story has become something else--acerbic, glib, jokey. Later, you realize you have pretty much destroyed the mood with your pitiful jokes.
Yet, maybe your humor lighten it up, providing a few minutes of joy in a joyless work. Does this happen to you or am I the only bi-polar writer out here?

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Your Book of 2008

Josh and Kevin reading.

What's the best book you read in 2008 that was either written before 1970 or by a writer no longer with us?
(Thanks, Joe. Whew!)

I'm going with I AM LEGEND by Richard Matheson.

Monday, December 08, 2008

MTM -- Helen Pearson, Eye on Detroit

Boarded up car-dealers from the camera of Helen Pearson.


Helen Pearson, a rising photographer, lives in New York nowadays, but her soul remains in Detroit.

Her website is filled with great photos of Detroit. Here are a few she took over Thanksgiving weekend. They make clear the dilemma Motown is facing with the possible collapse of the Big Three.
GM in the Renaissance Center hovers over a city on the brink.

Pearson's photos reflect cogently GMs' shaky position in and at the heart of Detroit, a decaying city that counted on GM to stabilize it. Wrongly perhaps.

How Many Bookstores Can We Support?

Joyce Carol Oates reading.

Back in the day, and make that day the seventies and eighties, the only bookstore available to us just outside Detroit was B.F. Daltons or Walden Books, some used bookstores and one or two indies on the other side of town. If we wanted to find some of the rarer books on our list, we drove an hour to Ann Arbor and visited the original Borders, which was the equivalent to a trip to Disneyland for us.

Perhaps it was unrealistic to expect that there was enough demand for books to have a Borders and a Barnes and Noble within five miles from us, as there is now. Is this part of the problem?

Not so much that people are reading less, but that we expected them to read more. We expected the public support a huge increase in both the number of books published and the bookstores themselves. We expected them to forsake library reading (our most common venue for books still) and buy books. Buy them from Amazon. Walmart, Costco, Target and the other online sites. Is this reasonable? Is it that our expectations were too big?

Sunday, December 07, 2008

Bush's Parting Shots

George Bush reading (sort of).

Bush's final actions as President seem entirely in keeping with his eight years, favoring the interests of big business or his personal agenda (or Cheney's) over average citizens in areas such as environmental quality, poverty, health care, various freedoms, the conduct of the war. His executive orders, hard to change, reflect this. Oh, you want to spill oil. Why not?

When high military personnel ask the new President to ban the torture tactics Bush's administration promoted in the Middle East because such activity is making torturers out of soldier, we are in pretty dire straits.

The idea that a President leaving office in a month should be able to issue such pardons and issue executive orders just floors me. I think the outgoing President should not be able to do such things after 2/3rds of his final term has passed. Or at least such orders should have to have some sort of Senate approval.

Isn't ironic that a man who has done such much harm is still getting in his parting shots?