Saturday, January 31, 2009


Reading on subway.

My bookshelves are filled with biographies that I haven't read. I used to be a great biography reader but somehow as biographies have gotten longer, my attention span or interest in minutiae has receded. I think there is a great art in writing one the proper length. I think most lives can be covered in 300 pages unless the work is meant for scholars.

I recently read The Long Embrace by Judith Freeman: Raymond Chandler and the Woman He Loved. I found this one the right length and very absorbing despite it focusing almost exclusively on his marriage. She brought it to life through traveling to the many, and I mean many, houses the Chandlers lived in over the course of their marriage.

Girls Like Us is giving me trouble though. Do I really need to know when each of these women met all the other song writers/singers in this era? I expected the book to focus on the era more too. And it's too long. Too many dull details. If you're going to write about three people, I'd eliminate some of the less important information.

Prize for the dullest biography I ever read would be the one about Joyce Carol Oates (Invisible Writer). Not the biographer's fault though. Oates never does anything but write.

But maybe it's me and my every diminishing attention span. What biographies have you enjoyed?

Friday, January 30, 2009

The Summing Up, Friday, January 30, 2009

Claudette Colbert reading.

Thanks for all who participated and all who came by to check it out

The Summing Up, Friday, January 30, 2009

Paul Bishop, Presler John, John Buchan
Cathy Cole, Helter Skelter; And the Sea Will Tell, Vincent Bugliosi
Pete Dragovich, Dark Ride, Kent Harrington
Bill Crider, Hoodtown, Christa Faust
Cullen Gallagher, The Jugger, Richard Stark
Chris Grabenstein, Mad Al Jaffe Spews Out Snappy Answers, Al Jaffe
Pete Dragovich, Dark Ride, Kent Harrington
Martin Edwards, Gory Night, Margaret Rivers Larminie & Jane Langslow
Lesa Holstine, Engineered for Murder, Aileen Schumacher
Randy Johnson, Hombre, Elmore Leonard
George Kelley, The Well of the Unicorn, Fletcher Pratt
Mack Lundy, Have Spacesuit, Will Travel; Tunnel in the Sky, Robert Heinlein
Todd Mason, The Unknown 5, D. R. Bensen
Juri Nummelin, Give Me This Woman, John Jakes
Scott D. Parker, The Night of the Assassin (THE WILD WEST #3) Robert Vaughn
J. Kingston Pierce, The Bigger They Come, A.A. Fair
James Reasoner, Way Station, Clifford D. Simak
Barrie Summy, The Watch That Ends the Night, Hugh MacLennan
Ray, Peyton Place, Grace Metalious
Jacob Weaver, They Shoot Horses, Don't They?, Horace McCoy

Friday's Forgotten Books, January 30, 2009

Truman Capote reading.

Chris Grabenstein is the Anthony award winning author of TILT-A-WHIRL. Other crime novels include HELL HOLE, SLAY RIDE and WHACK A MOLE and HELL FOR THE HOLIDAYS. He is also the author of a middle-school series. You can find him here.

Mad’s Al Jaffe Spews Out Snappy Answers To Stupid Questions, Al Jaffe

As one who writes mysteries with a smart aleck narrator, I thought I should recognize the forgotten classic that helped turn me into such a wise guy at the age of thirteen, even though it’s not a mystery. In fact, it’s not even a real book.

It’s Mad’s Al Jaffe Spews Out Snappy Answers To Stupid Questions, which originally sold for 75 cents back in 1968 when I, having saved up all year, purchased it while on vacation in Saint Petersburg, Florida at Webb City, this department store where they used to have live mermaids you could talk to on a conch-shell telephone.

What’s the book about?

Well, to quote the cartoon on the front cover:

It’s about moronic questions like that one…and clever answers like these:
It’s about seven inches tall, 4 inches wide, and 192 pages thick.
It’s about the most ridiculous idea for a book ever conceived.
It’s about time that idiot out there stopped reading this cover and bought it.

Yes, the humor is juvenile but I was thirteen when I first bought it. I recently picked up a used copy from Amazon Marketplace as research for a YA book I’m working on. I wanted to remember what it felt like when I was a chubby kid with zero athletic ability whom bullies would constantly pick on and Snappy Answers became my combat training manual since if you could make ‘em laugh they sometimes forgot about pummeling you.

I started remembering all the Mad magazines and Mad books I had forgotten having read when I was on a panel of Young Adult authors and the moderator asked, “What books influenced you the most when you were a child?” All the other panelists gave the correct answers: The Hardy Boys, Nancy Drew, Sherlock Holmes, The Count of Monte Cristo. I decided to be honest and said, “Mad magazine.” After the panel, about a dozen people came up to say, “Me, too!”

And when I think about the cynical voice of so many the hard boiled P.I.s I love, the sarcastic cops, the snide no-B.S. commentary of John D. MacDonald or Raymond Chandler, I think about Mad Magazine and how it was the first publication to help me look at the world with a somewhat jaded eye. Not all the way to jaundiced. Just jaded.

And, as a writer-in-training, I always found it fantastic that Mr. Jaffe left the last balloon in his cartoon panels blank, inviting the reader to come up with a snappy answer of their own. To top him.

So, play along. On page 98-99 we see a prison guard catching an inmate in his striped suit crawling out of a tunnel on the far side of the penitentiary wall:


ESCAPEE: No, in! I’ve heard so many wonderful things about this place.

No, I’m just testing the security system here.

No, I’m a rare giant striped mole.
Mack Lundy grew up in an Air force family whose travels included a posting to Pretoria, South Africa (1952-56) where he acquired an English accent, a fondness for ginger beer, and exposure to his first mysteries, Enid Blyton's Famous Five series. Alas, he lost the accent but still likes ginger beer and mysteries. He is now the systems librarian at the Swem Library of the College of William and Mary in Williamsburg, Virginia. His non-work interest is the study of crime fiction, particularly noir and hard-boiled. You can find him here.

HAVE SPACESUIT, WILL TRAVEL. Robert A. Heinlein, Charles Scribner's Sons, 1958.
TUNNEL IN THE SKY. Robert A. Heinlein, Charles Scribner's Sons, 1955.

For my forgotten books I want to go back to the time when my reading habits had started to firm up. Along with reading everything in the school library by John Steinbeck, science fiction was my preferred genre. The 1960s were a remarkable time for science. The launch of Sputnik 1 in 1957 started the Space Race which gave us cosmonauts and astronauts in space by 1961. It is little wonder that a teenager would find himself obsessed with hard science fiction and off-world travel. I loved science fiction and adventure stories and one author really stood out, Robert A. Heinlein. Sure I read Isaac Asimov and Arthur C. Clarke but it was Heinlein's juvenile science fiction that could combine pulse pounding excitement with hard science.Several decades ago I acquired seven of Heinlein's juvenile science fiction novels that were being discarded from a school library. They remained boxed while I moved from job to job. When I got them out of the attic for this post, I found that two of the titles I most fondly remembered were there, Have Space Suit - Will Travel and Tunnel in the Sky. Being a librarian I wanted to see if there was some way to measure if these qualified as forgotten books. We have a very active public library in Williamsburg, VA and they were able to tell me that Have Space Suit - Will Travel has circulated 72 times since 1985. That doesn't make it entirely forgotten but it is by no means a Harry Potter or Twilight. Tunnel in the Sky, on the other hand, has been checked out once, making it a truly forgotten book.Have Space Suit- Will Travel (anyone else remember Paladin) is the story of teenager Kip Russell who who wins a functional space suit as a consolation prize in a soap company jingle contest. Making the best of his disappointment at not wining the grand prize of a trip to the moon, Kip restores the suit to space worthiness. He goes out for a walk in the suit one night, answers a distress call on his suit radio, and quickly finds himself a captive of aliens who view humans as a food source along with an eleven year old human girl genius named Peewee and an intergalactic cop that Kip and Peewee call the Mother Thing. The story has an amazing escape attempt on the moon, heroic acts of self-sacrifice on Pluto, and, along the way, Kip and Peewee save the earth from destruction. Heady stuff, I get goosebumps just thinking about it. One of the cool things about this book is that Heinlein makes science a part of the story in a non-pedantic way. I would have thought that staying warm would be a problem on the moon but no, I learned, it's how to get rid of excess heat.Tunnel in the Sky has another teenage boy who finds himself in extraordinary circumstances. In Rod Walker's world, an interstellar teleporter is used to establish colonies to ease earth's over crowding. The colonies have to be self-supporting and the colonists move through the teleporter in a high-tech - but still pulled by horse or mule - version of the old west Conestoga wagon. Rod wants to lead these expeditions but that requires completion of a solo survival exercise as part of a class in advanced survival. Along with students from various high schools which gives the plot the necessary mix of ages and abilities, Rod is dumped on an unknown planet with only the gear he can carry. Something goes wrong and the students find themselves stranded with no way of knowing when, or if, they will be rescued. The students struggle to form a community in which Rod becomes a leader.Where Have Suit - Will Travel features hard science, Tunnel in the Sky deals more with the societal demands associated with creating a community and the politics of leadership. More so than Have Space Suit - Will Travel, for me, Tunnel in the Sky is in the "how would I act in that situation, would I survive" school of adventure fiction. It made me think and I remember coming away from the book wishing that I could carry a knife.With the benefit of hindsight I can now see that Heinlein, in his juvenile science fiction, was developing the character types and philosophies that would mark his adult works. I was also struck by how readable these books remain. They are dated in many ways; slide rules are high tech. and the guys wear crew cuts. But despite the bits of patronizing sexism (mild for the day), Heinline provided strong, independent female characters. At the core these are still solid, relevant, stories that I wouldn't hesitate to recommend to a young person.

Cullen Gallagher
Pete Dragovich
Barrie Summy
Martin Edwards
Cathy Cole
Bill Crider
Lesa Holstine
James Reasoner
Scott D. Parker
Jacob Weaver
Paul Bishop
J. Kingston Pierce
George Kelley
Randy Johnson
Todd Mason
Juri Nummelin

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Car Wash

Stephen King reading.

I think I've mentioned here before that my 26 month old grandson became interested in car washes sometime before Christmas and that interest has yet to fade. We spend a lot of time looking at car washes online.

Although a lot of the pictures are like this. I had no idea this was a hot topic.

We also make car washes out of all sorts of thing, but he has always backed out of going to one. We get near there and he says, "Go library, do puzzles." Or "How about train store?"

But today we mastered the fear and watched through the window as Poppop and Nana's car went through the car wash. When it was done, he said, "Now, go to hospicle." So tomorrow hospicle, but what do we watch there?

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

My Flash Fiction Piece

Joe Louis reading.

I drew an excellent first paragraph for my flash fiction story. And the middle came quickly. But I'm having a terrible time ending it. I didn't think of this as a problem when I thought of this idea. But we begin a story in a way that plays to our strengths as writers probably. It may be about atmosphere, character, plot, mood. We learn how to set it in motion. I usually begin with atmosphere rarer than the immediate statement of the problem. Just style really.

The paragraph I drew points in a definite direction. A direction that demands a good ending, a good plot. Unless I want to subvert that paragraph, I must head in that direction. I can't quite bring it off. I have two weeks still so I'm not worried yet. Not yet.

And here's another thing. In a longer piece, I might have time to prepare the reader for an unlikely ending. At this length, it will be a shot in the gut. And maybe it will have to be just that. Can you take it?

How's your story going?

BTW-Due to the confusion in my own life of late, I think at least one paragraph fell off the face of the earth. So if yours isn't up there, it's not because I didn't like it but because I lost it. If you resend it to me afterwards, I'll post it and we can all give it a crack.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

John Updike Dies.

John Updike reading.
There are just a few writers that meant a lot to me when I was young but John Updike was one of them. When I went to Breadloaf Writer's Conference a few years ago, it was de rigeur to mock his writing. One workshop actually used passages from his books on how not to write. Needless to say, the writer leading that workshop has done little to date.
Few books have meant as much to me as the Rabbit books, COUPLES, WITCHES OF EASTWICK, the Maples short stories and assorted other pieces. Maybe his style of writing went out of fashion at some point, but he could tell a good story and he took chances in his subject when few writers did.
I ran into Updike once. We were heading up the steps of the Metropolitan Museum in New York and he was heading down. He saw the flicker of recognition in my eyes and smiled just a little.
I was also amused to read soon after that that wherever he went, he checked out libraries to see if they carried his book and in old-fashioned libraries, how much it had been taken out. I guess people from Shillington, PA never feel secure in the world of letters.

Books Into Movies---Except Not Quite

Louise Brooks reading.

The Guardian ran an interesting feature on Hollywood Changes. I had just watched In a Lonely Place, where Dorothy Hughes' ending was changed-perhaps for the better. It certainly made the character more complex for me.

I guess the most common reason for changing an ending is to give the audience something more palatable to go home with. Many, if not most, novels seem to end sadly. Readers are used to this; movie goers, not so much. What movies were especially egregious in their changes? Where did it work well?

Also be sure to look in on The Guardian's choices of 1000 Books You Have to Read, running all last week.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

My Town Monday, Detroit: Gran Torino

Detroiter, Julie Harris reading on New York subway. (1951)

Gran Torino
is set in Detroit and was filmed here but it doesn't reflect the real Detroit in its racial makeup. Although the Detroit Metro area is racially and ethnically diverse, Detroit proper is not. I don't know if that's important in terms of the story however. The original story was set in Minneapolis, where there is a huge Hmong population within the city limits. The Hmong stand in for any group living in poverty in the inner city.

In Gran Torino's Detroit, a group of Hmong have taken up residence in Korean Vet, Walt Kowalski's, neighborhood and his negative and positive interactions with these people frame the story. I'm not going to review this movie in terms of plot or merit. It has a coherent and interesting plot and it's well done. Eastwood creates a memorable character although at a cost.

What concerned me about the movie was the way that the audience reacted to Walt's racism. I am not saying that men like Walt don't exist or that movies should not be made about them, but I am saying this movie raised the hair on my neck many times and had a curious attitude toward its protagonist and his idea of manhood.

In the end, of course, Walt "does the right thing." But along the way, we get to hear him sling his racial slurs in almost every scene. The huge audience I saw it with laughed every time he spewed his venom. They admired Walt in the way they admire Lou Dobbs or Rush Limbaugh or Bill O'Reilly for not abiding by our notion of what's acceptable language. For "shocking" us repeatedly.

The audience in a inner ring Detroit suburb was all white. Does that tell you anything?Once Eastood had established Walt's racism, was it really necessary such language to continue? Although it was true to his character was it true to the final message of the movie. I think not.

I liked the movie at points for trying to deal with a hard subject matter, but in its creation of a racist, it appealed to a lot of racists.

And the great Travis Erwin is back shepherding MTM this week. Check out the other posts.

Saturday, January 24, 2009


People reading on the bus.

There's something about seeing your name amongst the Finnish
that's special. Thanks, Juri.

Friday, January 23, 2009

The Summing Up, Friday, January 23, 2009

Frank O'Hara reading.

As we enter our tenth month of Forgotten Books, I'd like to urge those who did a review long ago to come back and do another one. I'm sure you've thought of a book no one has talked about. Come on. You know you want to.

Also, to those who contribute almost every week. Is this becoming too much of a burden? Let me know.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Patti Abbott, The Universal Baseball Association, Robert Coover
Paul Bishop, Dead Game, Gerald Hammond
Cathy Cole, Kirk Mitchell mysteries
Mark Combes, Walking the Perfect Square, Reed Farrel Coleman
David Cranmer, What Really Happened, Brett Haliday
Bill Crider, Murder of a Mistress, Henry Kuttner
Chris, Flesh Gothic, Edward Lee
Gary Dobbs, Flint, Louis L'Amour
Martin Edwards, Tragedy at Law, Cyril Hare
Ed Gorman, Christine, Stephen King
Rosemary Harris, Promise Not to Tell, Jennifer McMahon
Lesa Holstine, Masao Masuto mysteries, E.V. Cunningham
Randy Johnson, The Fabulous Clipjoint, Fredric Brown
George Kelley, This Girl's For Hire, G.G. Fickling
Todd Mason, The Futurians, Damon Knight
Scott D. Parker, It Ain't No Sin to Be Glad You're Alive, Eric Alterman
James Reasoner, Murder on the Side, Day Keene
Kieran Shea, Lancelot, Walker Percy
Kerrie Smith, Rumpole of the Bailey, John Mortimer
Brian Thornton, The Doomsters, Ross MacDonald

Friday's Forgotten Books, January 23, 2009

Kids reading Harry Potter.


With the exception of CATCH 22, I don't know of another book that knocked me out in quite the way this one did when I was young(er). Written in 1968, it overflows with creativity, humor and pathos. Maybe it's not forgotten, but I rarely hear it mentioned.

J. Henry Waugh is an unhappy accoutant who entertains himself by inventing a game that he can escape to at the end of the day. Every action in the game is ruled by the dice. Waugh does not get to intervene. He is, of course, no more in charge of what happens in the game then he is in what happens in his life. He finds this out when his star pitcher is killed by a pitched ball. (Yes, his game even allows for such events; it's that complex) This fictional event has impact on Waugh's real life in horrible ways.

Cleverly, Coover allows the players, managers and baseball executives to come to life, making the book much less static than this might sound. Is Waugh a God? If so he has little power over his invented world and even less over his real one. It is chance that rules Waugh's game and his world. Until....This is a great book.

Mark Combes is the author of RUNNING WRECKED. You can find him at WALKING THE PERFECT SQUARE by Reed Farrel Coleman.

I suspect you might be like me. You find an author you like but for whatever reason, you find yourself either in the middle of his or her career – or in the middle of a series. For me, that happened with Reed Farrel Coleman. The first Moe Prager book I read was his 2007 release Soul Patch, as it was the only one I could readily get from my local bookstore. And I was hooked. But as I mentioned above, Soul Patch put me smack in the middle – well actually just slightly past the middle – of the Moe Prager series. But a guy does what he has to when it’s the only book in the series that is readily available.

Well not anymore.

The terrific little indie publisher from the great state of Texas, Busted Flush Press, has just re-released the first two titles in the Prager series and the third will be out later this year.

And a littl
e advice – read this series in order. It might not be necessary in all series, but I think it’s critical here because Walking the Perfect Square plants the bad seed that will haunt Moe in the subsequent books in the series. As an unlicensed, semi-pro PI, Moe is brought into a missing person investigation and in an ill-advised fit of goodwill, he makes a promise that will haunt him – forever. It’s this kind of emotion that Coleman excels at. These aren’t shoot-em-up books; Coleman writes a thinking person’s crime story. As SJ Rozen says, “Moe Prager is the thinking person's P.I. And what he thinks about—love, loyalty, faith, betrayal—are complex and vital issues, and beautifully handled.”

I can’t say it any better than that so I won’t try. So go down to your local bookstore, bring that ISBN for Walking the Perfect Square, and treat yourself to some truly fine writing.

Rosemary Harris is a former bookstore manager and video producer. She is the author of The Big Dirt Nap (Feb. 2009, St. Martin's Minotaur) and Pushing Up Daisies (Feb. 2008, Mystery Guild selection and IMBA Bestseller, coming soon in paperback.)

PROMISE NOT TO TELL by Jennifer McMahon.

I'm a little embarrassed to admit that I really did forget about Promise Not To Tell. I'd met the author, Jennifer McMahon, briefly, at New England Crimebake a year ago, and again at MidWinter ALA a few months later. I hadn't forgotten her - she was quite memorable - sweet, cerebral and perhaps a bit shy, unlike most of the mystery writers on the circuit, myself included. I remembered her, but unfortunately not the title of the book.

Then one day I was in a bookstore surfing the trade paperback
tables - as much as I love Amazon, you just can't do that online. It's not the same. I was drawn to a book with a haunting cover. It was the image of a young girl, 12 or 13, looking straight into the camera, straight at me. There's a quote on the cover. Not from a reviewer or fellow author - from the girl herself; "I killed someone tonight." What's inside is every bit as haunting as the cover.

Promise Not To Tell is the story of Kate Cypher who returns home after a long absence to look after her ailing mother. While sh
e's there a girl is murdered, in a manner reminiscent of another crime committed years before when Kate was a child - the unsolved murder of a young girl who'd been treated cruelly and was derisively known as The Potato Girl.

Is Kate a suspect, a witness, or an other victim? And does the current crime have anything to do with the death of the Potato Girl, now the subject of campfire stories and cautionary tales, who supposedly haunts the place where she was killed?

No mere whodunit, Promise Not To Tell is a remarkable debut - beautifully written, with deceptively straightforward prose that paints a telling picture of Kate's past, her present and maybe even her future, as well as an indelible portrait of The Potato Girl.

Four stars.

Kieran Shea's crime fiction has appeared in Thuglit, Pulp Pusher, Dogmatika,Muzzleflash, Plots with Guns, Demolition. He lives outside Annapolis, MD

LANCELOT by Walker Percy.

Often brushed aside as the least popular of Walker Percy’s novels, LANCELOT is a grenade tossed into the waiting room of modern moral complacency. Kierkegaardian madness and savage murder recounted by a patient being visited by his priest in an insane asylum, the book explores the moral challenges of the age with humor and grace. Frightening and funny. True, a little tinged with bourbon and “branch”…but, hey...the man was “the last gentleman." I miss him so.

Brian Thornton's m
ost recent work was the short story "Suicide Blonde, published in the November, 2008 edition of ALFRED HITCHCOCK'S MYSTERY MAGZINE. His short story "Paper Son" is forthcming in the Akashic Books anthology SEATTLE NOIR,(June, 2009). THE DOOMSTERS by Ross MacDonald

So hey, I just read this terrific book by a major writer in the mystery canon. In it, a world weary private investigaor allows himself to get sucked into the domestic problems of a rich, prominent Southern California family. As the story plays out, the P.I. uncovers a number of old secrets, all of which point toward a long-covered up crime committed by a member of the prestigious family's eminently respectable older generation. The current family crisis is a direct result of that original crime (or, if you prefer, "sin"), and also involves a relatively blameless member of the family's younger generation.

The author, of course, is Ross MacDonald. And the paragraph above could describe most of the books he wrote from the mid-fifties onward. It's been said of MacDonald that for the second half of his career, he told one story over and over, but he told it so well, and varied the details enough that few readers cared. Titles such as THE DROWNING POOL, THE CHILL, THE WYCHERLY WOMAN, THE GALTON CASE and BLACK MONEY bear this out. In fact, beginning with THE CHILL in 1960, MacDonald had a decade-long run of acclaimed books utilizing variations of the above basic plot.

But what about his earlier work? MacDonald's series hero, Lew Archer started out a hard-boiled member of the Hammett/Chandler school but evolved into something completely different. Over the course of the series, Archer becomes a less and less obtrusive observer of the manifold ways in which families and their various pathologies can prey upon their children.

THE DOOMSTERS, published in 1959 (a year before the landmark THE CHILL) chronicles Archer's transition from hard-boiled, physical, wise-cracking P.I. to quasi-social worker, with terrific results. The vestiges of MacDonald's earlier penchant for action scenes are there (including Archer being attacked and placed in a sleeper hold in his own car by a client who then steals said car). So too, is MacDonald's evolving strong voice and trademark elegiac language.
Before the door closed, one of them broke into a storm of weeping. The noise of grief is impersonal, and I couldnt be sure which of them it was. But I thought is must have been Mildred. Her loss was the worst. It had been going on for a long time and was continuing."

With deft characterization, a strong, if familiar plot, and the words of one of the 20th century's great writers, THE DOOMSTERS is on a par with MacDonald's best work during the 1960s. Lost in the roar of critical acclaim that MacDonald received as a result of the publication of THE CHILL a year later, THE DOOMSTERS has been unfairly forgotten. This years marks the 50th anniversary of its publication and it is well worth a read.

Some more forgotten books.

Ed Gorman
Bill Crider
David Cranmer
Scott D. Parker
Jacob Weaver
George Kelley
Lesa Holstine
Gary Dobbs
Kerrie Smith
n Edwards
Cathy Cole
James Reasoner
Randy Johnson
Paul Bishop
Todd Mason

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Marvelous or Not

James Earl Jones reading.

I have always been a bit suspicious of my husband's assessments of my writing. This week proved me right. I mistakenly gave him only half of a story to read, which he then proclaimed marvelous.
Yes, I said, after discovering the missing pages, but didn't you find the end a bit sudden, a bit lacking.
Do you have a reader you can trust with your work? I can trust him to prop me up when I need it. Not that there's anything wrong with that. But where's the critical voice?

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

So That's Where that Line Came From?

Julia reading.

Maybe everyone knows this but the line "The plane, the plane, the plane is coming" heard every week on FANTASY ISLAND, seems to have come from THE DEVIL AT FOUR O"CLOCK, where a boy on the island runs in and tells Spencer Tracy. I am watching this as I wash the floors. I thought you need to know this--for anyone who remembers FANTASY ISLAND, that is. Weird with Ricardo Montalban just dying.
What other lines are stolen and was this one common knowledge?

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Tell Me This Is Not for Real!

Police Checkpoint (yet another addition to your children's imagination)

Playmobile's Security Checkpoint.

A new toy from Playmobile becomes the industry standard on how to create paranoid kids. I wonder how eager Connor and Ella will be to get on a plane for Disneyworld next spring.

I doubt that this guy/gal would have gotten through without removing his scarf, shoes and sweater. And what are those horseshoe hands all about?

Inventive kids will spend time inventing ways to elude detection, making the security system obsolete in a few years.

Now truly, how much play potential is in a toy like this? OTOH, maybe my grandson will see the toy as the still elusive car wash. Four weeks later, he's still looking for one. And you must check out customer reviews on amazon

(Hat tip to Monkey Cage)

And the Guard Changes

President Obama reading!

I'm darn lousy at manipulating graphics but you get the gist.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Where Have You Gone?

Sponge Bob reading.

I've had a blog for about three years. When I look back to early postings, an entirely different group of people made comments then. Where did those people go? Did they get tired of blogging or tired of me?

Have the people commenting on your blog changed over time? Have the blogs you comment on changed ? I know I eventually stop commenting on blogs where there is never any acknowledgement of comments, or blogs that are strictly a self-promotional tool. I don't think those blogs exist for conversation. I think they exist at the behest of publicists.

Perhaps because I have little to promote, my blog is mostly an attempt to have a conversation. Every blog has its own "voice." That's what I love about them.

Not that I mind blogs being self-promotional; they all are on occasion and should be. I certainly announce it when a story of mine appears in a zine. But what is there to say to a blogger that only lists good reviews, ms. acceptances and appearances day after day. Well, one thing is that you're mighty successful. But why should that be all you have to say?

I wonder if that should be called a blog at all though. Maybe a blag. There I invented a word. Blags can be as much fun to read as blogs on occassion. Just not much there to comment on.

And of course, there is this: web sites cost money and blogs don't. So some writers are using their blogs as web sites. In which case, how is it any different than the content of a web page which is all about the author?

My Town Monday: Martin Luther King in Detroit

MLK's march in Detroit in 1963, a few months before the one in Washington, was mammoth due to UAW involvement. 200,000 people marched down Woodward Avenue (Detroit's main thoroughfare) led by King and Reuther. It ended at Cobo Hall in downtown Detroit where King delivered his famous "I Have a Dream Speech" for the first time.

According to Dr. Steve Babson, labor historian, at Wayne State University "King planned the march in Detroit to test the waters for the upcoming march on Washington. They were hoping to get 250,000 to 300,000 people to march on Washington and wanted to see how many would show up in Detroit before planning the bigger march. They were surprised at the numbers they got. People came from all over the country."

Isn't it amazing and wonderful that one day before inaugurating our first African-American President, we celebrate the life of a man who inspired him and led the way.

Travis Erwin, the founder of MTM, is still recovered from his house fire. You can find other MTM posts at Sepiru Chris'

For the definitive work on Martin Luther King, Jr. and his place in US history, try Taylor Branch's two volume work PARTING THE WATERS. (This from my husband).

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Help-I'm being held hostage by the worst winter ever!

Reading at the beach.

And that's where I'd like to be right now if I had my way.
Where would you like to be? Add what do you do to survive this kind of assault.Snow-shoeing? Lodge visits. If only I could.

ALSO: A Clarification of the Flash Challenge: My idea was that we would all post the flash pieces on February 10th. A bit of a long time, I guess but I'm still waiting on one or two paragraphs, plus I am a slow writer. Hope this is okay.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

The Greatest Wordsmith of Them All

Hunter Thompson reading.

My husband is reading Bill Bryson's short work on Shakespeare and the most interesting fact so far is that Will invented more than 2000 words and countless phrases: frugal, antipathy, artificial, horrid, vast, critical, assassination, zany.
I've never invented a word and don't know many people who have. Is the language too well-developed for many new words? Technology brings new words and terms into use, but Will did it to describe everyday things. Maybe before most people wrote or read, fewer words sufficed.
Have you ever invented a word? Is there something that needs a word invented to describe it?
My son invented the word nickadiddy at age two to describe what happens when part of the heel of your shoe is turned down after putting your foot into it.
That's the Abbott contribution to the language-but only the Abbotts are aware of it.

Friday, January 16, 2009

The Summing Up, Friday, January 16, 2009

Dashiell Hammett reading.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Paul Bishop, A Nickel Jackpot, J.J. Lamb
David Cranmer, Odds Against Tomorrow, William P. McGivern
Bill Crider, The Decline and Fall of Practically Everybody, Will Cuppy
Martin Edwards, Murder Rehearsal, Roger East
Gary Dobbs, Ice Breaker, John Gardner
Cullin Gallagher, Night of the Jabberwock, Fredric Brown
Charles Gramlich, The Works of Donald Wollheim
Lesa Holstine, Dying to Sing, Meg Chittenden
Randy Johnson, Adventures in Time and Space, Edited by Raymond J. Healy and J. Francis McComas

Rob Kantner, Death of a Citizen, Donald Hamilton
Vince Keenan, When Gravity Fails, George Alec Effinger

George Kelley, The Complete Brandstetter, Joseph Hansen
Rafe McGregor, Sherlock Holmes in Russia, Alex Auswaks
Todd Mason, Nine Strange Stories, Betty M. Owen
Scott Parker, Doc Savage #1 The Man of Bronze, Lester Dent
Ray, The Big Pickup, Elleston Trevor
James Reasoner, Odds Against Linda, Steve Ward
Cathy Skye, Restoration World of Crime, Fidelis Morgan

Kerrie Smith, Last Bus to Woodstock, Colin Dexter
Jacob Weaver, The Gutter and the Grave, Ed McBain

Friday's Forgotten Books, January 16, 2009

Garfield reading.

Cullen Gallagher is a Brooklyn, NY-based film critic and musician who spends way too much time reading old pulp mysteries and hanging out at his local diner where he has a dish named after him. Listen to his music at and visit his blog at

Night of the Jabberwock, Fredric Brown

Nothing compares with Fredric Brown’s inimitable, hallucinatory sense of humor. Equally adept writing both sci-fi and crime fiction, his best novels often show the influence of both—nightmarish tales of the bizarre that seem too weird to be true. But, in Brown’s world, the truth is never normal, and the irrational reigns supreme. Such is the case with Night of the Jabberwock (1950), which follows a reclusive Lewis Carroll scholar making his living as a small-town newspaper editor as he takes a trip through the proverbial “rabbit hole” and winds up in the most unexpected of situations. A strange man appears at his door one night, offering him the opportunity to “raise the Jabberwock” at midnight; meanwhile, a lunatic has escaped from the local asylum; and, to add to the mayhem, big city mobsters are on their way to town, and our protagonist wants to get the full scoop. The concoction is pure Brown: a surreal voyage laden with humor and action in which the protagonist—and the reader—is always on the brink of losing their sanity. Plus—what other crime novel features such fascinating, in-depth discussions of Carroll’s literary and scientific work, or begins every chapter with an applicable quotation from the author? Certainly a one-of-a-kind book, and worth all the effort it takes to track it down.

Rafe McGregor is the author of the forthcoming THE ARCHITECT OF MURDER. You can visit him right

Sherlock Holmes in Russia by Alex Auswaks, published by Robert Hale, 2008.

This is an excellent collection of seven Sherlock Holmes adventures, written by two Russian authors; a rare treat for all crime fiction fans, and long overdue. The introduction, by George Piliev, tells the fascinating story of how these tales came to be written, in the context of the Sherlockian phenomenon in Russia. Conan Doyle’s detective came to Russia in 1893, via Germany, and was so popular that a host of (presumably unauthorised) imitators sprung up, creating a subgenre of it’s own in the first decade of the twentieth century. Mr Piliev explains how Holmes reached an even greater audience when Russian writers decided to transport him and Watson from Baker Street to Russia, on the premise that they travelled widely in the country and became fluent in the language.
There is something very appealing about Holmes going on another eastern excursion after his last case in 1903, rather than retiring to keep bees (Conan Doyle’s tongue must have been sore from the number of times he placed it in his cheek). While Doyle quite rightly guarded his creation jealously (he took action when Maurice Leblanc included Holmes in an Arsène Lupin story), one can’t help thinking he might have enjoyed the Russian approach, especially once he began to regard Holmes as a burden: two of these seven stories end with the Great Detective missing, presumed dead.
Most of the cases concern thefts of different sorts, which perhaps reflects the concerns of the Russian middle class at the time. The first two, by P. Orlovetz, are the best: The Brothers’ Gold Mine has a fiendishly clever solution, and despite a dull title and very slow pace, The Railroad Thieves is superb. The richness of atmosphere and detail in the depiction of life on the Siberian railway is completely compelling. The Strangler, by P. Nikitin, has the most potential, but is let down by a poor action sequence in the finale. It is nonetheless a brooding, grim Gothic mystery in the spirit of The Copper Beeches and The Speckled Band, with a touch of The Final Problem thrown in.
One mystery remains: absolutely nothing is known about the two authors who created these marvellous tales. Mr Piliev and the publisher both deserve the thanks of mystery fans worldwide, but the greatest credit should go to Alex Auswaks, the translator, for his painstaking work in building such a fantastic bridge from Baker Street to Vladivostok.

Here are more forgotten books. Thanks!

Vince Keenan
Cathy Skye
Rob Kantner
Paul Bishop
Martin Edwards
George Kelley
Bill Crider
James Reasoner
Scott D. Parker
David Cranmer
Lesa Holstine
Kerrie Smith
Randy Johnson
Gary Dobbs
Charles Gramlich
Jacob Weaver
Todd Mason

Thursday, January 15, 2009

The Sewing of the Pockets story

Fidel Casto reading.

This story does not make me look good.
About fifteen-twenty years back, my husband started getting holes in the butt of all his pants. A Seinfeld episode has alluded to George's big fat wallet. I looked at my husband's wallet and it was much the same, crammed with various credit cards and assorted other stuff. It was a really fat wallet although not fat with money.
I said, "Phil, your wallet is ruining all your pants. You should carry your wallet in your front pocket if you won't clean it out." He kept forgetting to do this and got holes in more and more pants. I must have thrown 10 pairs away.
I decided to help him along with remembering by sewing the back pocket of his pants closed. I did all of them. No more back pockets.
But he still got holes in his pants. It didn't slow him down at all.
It turned out the spring in the seat of the car was causing the trouble. Nice wife, huh? I told you I wouldn't look good. I bet no one sewed Fidel's pockets closed.

Building a Vocabulary One Word at a Time

Clooney reading.

One of the most awful motherly things I did when my kids were in middle school-early high school, was to leave words and their meanings on their bedside table. I don't know where I got the idea--it was probably my own. Awful, I know and they gleefully tell this story at holiday dinners. There's an even worse one my husband tells about sewing his pockets closed.

But now the venerable institution I work for doing it too. Word Warriors and here, is an attempt to increase the vocabulary of Wayne State University students. This seems like something that should have be done--well, about the time I did it with my kids. Middle School. I wonder if we learn words this way anyway. It seems to me the best way to improve our vocabulary is by reading. How do you learn new words most often?

While Lake Superior State College is removing unnecessary words and phrases, WSU is bringing them back into action. Go on and add some of your favorites. Or remove some.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Stealing, Referencing or Paying Homage

Cast of Seinfeld reading.

Which brings me to my point. When a sitcom steals a storyline from another sitcom, shouldn't they footnote it in some way? Case in point: HOW I MARRIED YOUR MOTHER stole a storyline from SEINFELD last night: what happnes when two ex-lovers, now friends, decide to sleep together again on a regular basis?
Now I know there are only so many story lines, and God knows some sitcoms have used all of them, but this was a classic SEINFELD episode. So why not reference it if you're going to use it. Why not say---hey, remember when this happened on SEINFELD? What do you think? Is it too post-modern to mention another sit com that used the concept or does it point up a dearth of new ideas.