Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Iconic Poses

Sixties women reading.

I don't know why this idea flew into my head, but I wonder what goes into an "iconic pose." Certainly the clothes play a part. And it's usually a celebrity. But the position of the body itself plays a big part. Here are some of my favorites. What are your favorites? I'll post them along with these.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

And Your Favorite Jack Nicholson Movie Is?

Family reading.

We were waiting for a play (One Flew Over the Cuckoos Nest) to begin last week and we began discussing Nicholson films. As will happen to people of a certain age, retrieval of our favorites was hazardous. We remembered an early one about military men as CINDERELLA LIBERTY (nope, James Caan) and not until the intermission did we finally label it as THE LAST DETAIL. We all like different Nicholson vehicles best. What would your choice be?

Monday, April 27, 2009

A little of me is enough in more than one way.

Brian Lindenmuth has been doing interviews with short story writers on Bookspotcentral. You can find the interview here. Thanks to Brian for including me in his project.

What Did You Want to Be at 10?

Zora Neale Hurston reading.

Cleaning out the attic, I came across essays my children had written at age 10. My son, citing advantages such as a good salary and the versatility of a law degree, said he would like to be a lawyer, even though "there is a lot of pressure on lawyers" and"you have to go to school for a long time." Josh is now a prosecutor in Michigan.

My daughter chose being an author, citing facts like "You can even be a map writer but that should be considered in a different report" and "To clear up another point, you needn't have any special clothes, and the equipment bears down to a pencil, pen, typewriter and paper." Also, "Really, that concludes this report. I, myself, think that being an author shall be an interesting career." Megan is a writer today.

When I was ten, I wanted to be a missionary. We know how that went.

What about you? What did you want to be at ten?

THE SUMMING UP, FRIDAY, April 24, 2009

Roy Rogers reading.

Eric Beetner, A Midnight Clear, Willian Wharton

Michael Carlson, The Pistoleer, James Carlos Blake

Bill Crider, Mystery, Clark Dimond

Gary Dobbs, Montana Dead Shot, Chuck Martin

Martin Edwards, Treason in the Egg, Lag Strong

Cullen Gallagher, Spring Fire, Vin Packer (Marijane Meaker)

Sunnie Gill, The Coroner, M.R. Hall

Ed Gorman, Paper Doll, Robert Parker

Jake Hinson, Bunny Lake is Missing, Evelyn Piper

George Kelley, Chronopolis: The Science Fiction of J.G. Ballard; The Crystal World, Ballard

Randy Johnson, The Ed Noon Series, Michael Avallone

Kathryn Magendie, The Maggie Valley Trilogy, Kerry Madden

Todd Mason, The 10th Annual of the Year's Best S-F, edited by Judith Merril

Scott Parker, Star Trek Fotonovels

James Reasoner, Dead Game, Michael Avallone

John Shannon, Sympathy for the Devil, Kent Anderson

Kerrie Smith, Maigret the the Enigmatic Lett, Georges Simenon

Friday, April 24, 2009

Friday's Forgotten Books- Part 2

Ed Gorman writes crime and western fiction.

PAPER DOLL by Robert Parker

There's no way a Robert B. Parker novel can be called forgotten but by now there are enough of them that a least a few have faded from easy memory.I haven't read Robert B. Parker regularly for years but occasionally I'll look back down the list for a book I haven't picked up. The other day I bought a copy of Paper Doll (1993) and I'm glad I did. This is Parker at his best.Boston swell Loudon Tripp hires Spenser because the police haven't found the murderer of his wife. Tripp is obsessed with the woman, painting for Parker a portrait of a beautiful, elegant woman whose good works and kindness would have made the saints envious.The action jumps back and forth from Boston to South Carolina as Spenser begins to paint his own portrait of the woman, one very different from Tripp's. The plot reminds me of a few of Hammett's Continental Op mysteries about wealthy families--lies upon lies, delusions upon delusions, false starts and dead ends that Spenser must somehow turn into truth. The South Carolina chapters are especially fine. Parker gives us a small Southern town that skirts the usual cliches because of a compelling relationship between an old black man and the old white man he works for. Neither is a fool and they are a long way from saints.Susan isn't around much--praise be--Hawk even less. This is mostly Spenser working with a bulldog Boston detective named Quirk and a younger Boston cop whose lover is dying of AIDs. There is a long fight scene that is a small masterpiece. If I taught a writing class I'd use a few of the South Carolina chapters to show students what a scene should do, ebb and flow and then pay-off.A book filled with real menace and real sadness. And one hell of a good true pure mystery novel. When Parker's on he's got few peers.

Friday's Forgotten Books, April 24, 2009

Dalton Trumbo reading.

If I missed you today, please forgive the oversight. I'm out of town with no reliable computer access.

Kathryn Magendie is the co-editor of The Rose and the Thorn Literary Ezine. She is also the author of TENDER GRACES (Bellebooks). Visit her at
Madden’s MySpace:

The Maggie Valley Trilogy by Kerry Madden

Kerry Madden has captured mountain life in a charming three-book series that will capture young reader’s hearts … adults can read these books as well and will be entertained by the whimsy and magic that is the Weems family. The books are set in the early 60’s in the Smoky Mountain region of Western North Carolina. Madden does a good job of centering her characters in this early time, but as well, leaving the reader with a timeless feel that can span the ages.

In the first of the trilogy, GENTLE'S HOLLER, Madden introduces readers to Olivia Weems, who goes by Livy Two—named after her older sister, also a Livy, who passed into the great mountain beyond before Olivia was born—and her eight (soon to be nine) siblings. Livy Two loves books, music, the mountain holler where she lives in Maggie Valley, and her family. Livy Two plays guitar, and writes songs that she sings impromptu to her family, to the sky, to the holler, to the very wind…music is in her marrow, same as her daddy.

It isn’t exactly a hard-scrabble life, but the Weems family does not have much money and must find ways to pay the rent, put food on the table, and maybe put a little aside for the just in cases. Livy Two’s father is a banjo player, and looks for ways to make a living at it, much to the dismay of Livy Two’s Grandma Horace, who simply doesn’t understand why the Weems live as they do and love that holler so much!

The first book centers around Livy Two’s young sister, Gentle. Gentle can’t see the world as her siblings do, and Livy Two finds ways to help her see her world in a special and unique way. The oldest brother of the Weems clan is Emmett, who adds a bit of struggle to the Weems family unit with his dreams of taking off to Maggie Valley’s Ghost Town in the Sky, way up top the mountain, where he is certain his dreams of being a Star will come true.

The first book leads readers on a wonderfully gentle ride…and straight on to pick up the next in the series—

LOUISIANA'S SONG. Where we find our Livy Two again as the storyteller of the Weems’s lives. “Louisiana” is sister Louise’s name; having received said name when her parents visited the state of Louisiana. Louise is a gifted painter, and once again Madden shows us in unique ways how this family sees the world through art and music and love and hope. There has been an accident in the first book—one that I will not give away—and in this second book in the trilogy, Livy Two and the other Weems’s must struggle with the outcome of this unfortunate event, but they do so with grace and dignity, and with hope.

This second book continues the story in a fine and charming fashion—and yes, there is that word “charming” again. Parents can feel comfortable picking up these books for their children (10 and older) to read—the stories and characters are precious even when precocious.

JESSIE'S MOUNTAIN is the final book in the Maggie Valley Trilogy. This book is named after Livy Two’s mother, although Livy Two remains the narrator in all three books. Grandma Horace is a pain the backsides of Livy Two and the other siblings, for Grandma Horace wants the Weems to move to “Enka Stinka,” away from the holler and all that Livy Two and her family loves: their little dog they adopted, the whistle pigs, the wind through the trees, the mountains—Enka Stinka is just as its name implies: it stinks with the factory there!

However, Grandma Horace shows a soft side and gives Livy Two a diary—Livy’s mother’s diary! Livy is spellbound by the thought of her mother as once young and full of ideas and wants and dreams.

Meanwhile, Livy wants to pursue her dream of making music in Nashville, since that aforementioned outcome of the accident is still a part of the Weems’s life (although things are looking up!). Livy and her younger sister Jitters take a wild trip to The Land of Nashville, where Livy learns that sometimes things do not always work out as one would want it to—but in Weems fashion, she and her siblings find another way to save the day.

The trilogy ends in a hopeful, sweet, and satisfying conclusion. Madden knows how to tug at the heart strings, but in a way that respects the ages of her readers and doesn’t swim in over-sentimentality. These books just made me smile, and the Weems family will forever be embedded in my heart.

Eric Beetner is an editor, writer/director in Hollywood. His crime writing has appeared in A Twist of Noir, Crooked, Powder Burn Flash and he is currently shopping two crime novels, one co-written with noir author JB Kohl. More info at and

A MIDNIGHT CLEAR by William Wharton

Wharton has a strong reputation based mostly on his novel Birdy. While Birdy is a great book (and a great movie) I think the under rated book in Wharton’s work is A Midnight Clear.
Books about war are often overwrought and obvious but A Midnight Clear is a simple story about clear characters who live a story that has everything to do with war and yet nothing at all.
It helps that latter point that none of the men (young boys really) who are sent to a remote chateau to guard it against advancing Nazis really want to be there. They revel in the isolation and the chance to get away from the rigors of army life in dead-of-winter WWII.
The book is slow moving, admittedly, but evocative and calm as a snowy night. It is a war book that doesn’t rely on firing bullets or piling up casualties. It is about the repetition, the boredom, the inanity of war and in the middle of it all is the humanity. A Midnight Clear’s truly subversive narrative is showing the human side to war rather than concentrating on the inhumanity of war like 99.9% of all other war books.
Of course this is war and no one makes it out clean. It makes any breakdown of the carefully constructed humanity all the more heartbreaking because we have seen these impromptu family units of war time working in their own way. When the fighting intrudes on the domesticity that this band of misfits has made for themselves it is truly devastating.
I also love the short clipped sentences of the narrator like the whole book was dictated over a shortwave radio from a trench in France. Not a word is wasted but like a black and white photo you get all the information you need without any distractions.
There is also a pretty darn good movie adaptation of the book that is itself highly under rated.

Jake Hinkson is currently at work on a book on film noir. You can learn more about Jake and his projects at his own blog, The Night Editor.


Evelyn Piper, 1957

Bunny Lake Is Missing is part of the Femmes Fatales: Women Write Pulp series from The Feminist Press and contains a publisher’s forward, and an afterword by Princeton professor Maria DiBattista, author of Fast Talking Dames.

A young mother arrives at a nursery school one afternoon to pick up her daughter, but the little girl is not there. The mother’s distraught, of course, but the teachers and the principal just stare blankly back at her. They say they do not know her. They say they have never seen her daughter.

Evelyn Piper’s Bunny Lake Is Missing is a book about a feeling, a sickening sensation that boils in the gut as you follow Blanche Lake, the young mother, as she runs up and down New York City trying to find someone, anyone, who will believe she has a daughter who has gone missing. The year is 1957 and Blanche is an attractive young woman, new to the big city. When she tells people that her daughter, Bunny, is missing, they ask her about the girl’s father. Bunny has no father, she tells them. That draws some judgmental looks in 1957. When Blanche manages to get the police involved, they come to her apartment. Where are the child’s clothes? The toys? Why doesn’t Blanche have any pictures of Bunny?

Piper is deft in setting up her story, and a mood of dread permeates the opening chapters. Since we open with Blanche on her way to pick up Bunny, we don’t really know what—or who—to believe. Is Bunny real? Or did Blanche imagine a daughter for herself, the result of something terrible that has happened in her past? What we know for sure is that Blanche’s terror is real. As the hours tick away, and daylight turns into night, we watch her struggle to keep herself together. Is this frightened young woman going insane? Piper doesn’t reveal the answer too soon, and by keeping us guessing she pulls off something of an interesting switch. We’re certainly pulling for our heroine against all the skeptical people around her, but even we’re not sure if we believe her. For most of its length, Bunny Lake Is Missing is a fascinating page turner.

Alas, Piper stumbles at the finish line. Her resolution is a letdown, a hurried and preposterous deus ex machina that does most of the heavy lifting off stage. It’s an ending pretty much guaranteed to satisfy no one.

Having said that, however, Bunny Lake Is Missing is one of those stories that manages to transcend its own ending. The set up and execution of the plot are snappy and compelling. At the center of it is Blanche, a fascinating character. Is she crazy? Or is she a woman caught up in the grinding machinery of a man’s world? It’s the urgency of those questions, and not the plot mechanics, that stays with you after you finish the book.

“Evelyn Piper” was the penname of Merriam Modell, a Cornell graduate with a taste for pulp. Modell moved to Germany when it was still a happening place to be in the late 20’s, and she was one of the people farsighted, and lucky, enough to flee the country when Hitler came to power in 1933. Her fiction is suffused with both the capriciousness of life, especially for women, and an almost Gothic sense of dread. With Bunny Lake she turned out a classic piece of fifties pulp, not so much in the area of sex and violence (the book has very little of either) but more in the sense of anxiety surrounding the characters and their social and gender roles. The Feminist Press has done a great service by bringing this entertaining and fascinating book back into circulation.

In 1965, Otto Preminger directed a noirish take on Piper’s novel with his film Bunny Lake Is Missing. Check my review of the film at

Bill Crider

James Reasoner

George Kelley

Scott D. Parker
Kerrie Smith
Martin Edwards
Randy Johnson

Gary Dobbs
Cullen Gallagher

Todd Mason

Michael Carlson
Sunnies Book Blog

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

On Paladin Road at A TWIST OF NOIR

Right here. Thanks to Chris for publishing it.

What Great Movie Would You "Not" Watch Again?

Ralph Ellison reading.

What great movie would you not watch again? Probably because of the violence quotient, or the sadness quotient or maybe something else. I am going for THE DEERHUNTER. My husband picks BLACK HAWK DOWN. What about you?

Monday, April 20, 2009


Soldiers reading.

I picked up my WIP for the first time in four months and there are some issues I noticed.

I really hate the title now: DARKNESS TAKES A DAUGHTER, and, in fact, it no longer exactly applies to the story. Anyone have a good title I can borrow? It's not too late to make the book fit the title.

I also noticed that it's pretty episodic-due to my fear of any downtime. The women lurch madly from escapade to escapade. It still bears the finger prints of a short story writer.

I also noticed that a couple of passages seem to be written in a slightly different voice. Who was I reading when I wrote them? Castle Freeman? Charles Willeford?

On the good side, it's funnier than I remembered. And it's a pretty clean copy due my tendency to rewrite every day. Not that good grammar and spelling count for much.

Does this happen to you when you come back to something you wrote a while ago? Do you get a truer look at a piece of writing or just a different one? Which view do you trust?

My Town Monday: Benton Harbor, Michigan

Benton Harbor is on the western side of Michigan, near such vacation communities as Saugatuck and Holland. It is actually closer to Chicago than Detroit. It's population is about 10,000.

The House of David was a religious community founded in 1903 by Benjamin and Mary Purnell. Based in and around Benton Harbor, MI, the commune required its members to refrain from sex, haircuts, shaving, and the eating of meat. Starting around 1907 the community ran "The Springs of Eden Park" which became a popular vacation spot in the 1930s.

The House of David organized a famous baseball team, which toured from the 1920s to the 1950s. The House of David also organized musical bands, which toured the country almost non-stop primarily on the three top vaudeville circuits: the Pantages, the Keith and the Orpheum. The House of David also operated a world-famous amusement park and zoo.

The commune reached its peak in 1907-1927. In the 1920s, newspapers began running articles attacking Benjamin Purnell, who was accused of violating the commune's oath of celibacy. Purnell was tried for "public immorality," and 13 young women, placed under oath, confessed to having had sex with him. The trial led to Purnell's expulsion from the commune in 1927, and the former leader died in 1929. His body was mummified and kept in a glass coffin in the commune.

The group suffered further splintering after his death and ultimately split into two groups. One group, run by Purnell's wife Mary, remained successful until her death at 91 in 1953. The group has since declined, but still has a few dozen members.

Here is a link that someone provided me with. I was unable to open it on this antique computer.


Sunday, April 19, 2009

It All Felt Pretty Familiar...

Nelson Mandella reading.

the Susan Boyle story, I mean. So with a little hunting, I was able to find a story from last year when an ordinary-looking forty- something mobile phone salesman named Paul Potts, was a similar sensation with an opera rendition in England. Check it out:

Not that both of them aren't sensational, but still....It's gotta be scripted.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Overtaken by a Voice

Zora Heale Hurston reading.

I was listening to THE NEW YORKER website, where writers read short stories by other writers. Joyce Carol Oates read a story by Eudora Welty "Where is This Voice Coming From." The story was written almost immediately after Evers assassination in 1963 (by Byron De La Beckwith.) Welty said that the voice got into her head within hours of the shooting and she wrote the story almost in a fugue state.

The "killer" in Welty's story was not very different from the man caught. In fact, THE NEW YORKER was concerned about the similarities when they published it.

This happened to me just once and the voice was also that of a criminal. I wrote the story while my husband was away. There was no one to interrupt the flow of details that I have almost no memory of writing. .

Has it ever happened to you? Do you have a story you have little memory of writing because your hand or head was guided by such a voice? Or perhaps it happens to you all the time?

Friday, April 17, 2009

The Summing Up, Friday, April 17, 2009

Gary Cooper reading.

Any day I learn that one of our contributors is a highly trained French chef is a good one.

Another thing for any of you who might have missed this, please check out George Kelley's magnificent book collection housed at the University of Buffalo.

Next week's summary will not appear until I get back from New York.

Please check out D.G. Meyers blog where he lists forgotten Pulitizer Prize winning books.

THE SUMMING UP, Friday, April 17, 2009

Eric Beetner, Atta, Francis Rufus Bellamy
Stephen Booth, The Quiet Stranger, John Buxton Hilton
Fleur Bradley, Rat Life, Tedd Arnold
Michael Carlson, The Shot, Philip Kerr
David Cranmer, The Shadow, The Creeping Death, Maxwell Grant
Bill Crider, Mad for Kicks, Jack Lynn
Gary Dobbs, Montana Dead, Chuck Martin
Ray Foster, Captain Blood, Rafael Sabatini
Cullen Gallagher, Shadow at Noon, Harry White (Harry Whittington)
Ed Gorman, The Long Saturday Night, Charles WilliamsMic
Martin Edwards, The Documents in the Case, Dorothy L. Sayers
Randy Johnson, In the Heat of the Night, John Ball
George Kelley, Her Smoke Rose Up Forever, James Tiptree, Jr. (Alice Sheldon)
P.K. Madsen, Kate Ross Mysteries
Todd Mason, Nelson Algren's Own Book of Lonesone Monsters
Scott Parker, Princess of Mars, Edgar Rice Burroughs
Eric Peterson, Agents of Chaos, Norman Spinrad
Richard Prosch, Hell's Corner, Peter Field
James Reasoner, Green Ice, Raoul Whitfield
Kieran Shea, Larousse Gastronomique
Joanna Campbell Slan, The Ugly American, William Ledrerer and Eugune Burdick
Kerrie Smith, The Curse of Kings, Victoria Holt

Friday's Forgotten Books, April 17, 2009

Michael Chabon reading.

Check out all twelve month's worth of reviews here. And yes, that's correct. We've managed to keep this baby flying for a year. Thanks to all of those people who have poured through their bookcases and memories. Thanks to THE RAP SHEET for flying beside me. Enough airborne metaphors now, just go read.

Next week, I'll be away, so if there are any changes in the usual lineup, let me know by Monday when I will post it-- to go up Friday, the 24th. The firewalls on my laptop will not let me access the Internet in most hotels.

Ed Gorman is the author of many westerns and crime fiction novels. He is the editor of the forthcoming BETWEEN THE DARK AND THE DAYLIGHT, 28 of the Year's Best Crime Stories (Bleak House Books).

The Long Saturday Night by Charles Williams

Over what was essentially a quarter century career Charles Williams worked in various sub-genres of the suspense field. He came to prominence writing the small-town Southern crime novel and I always had the feeling that that was his favorite form. But he did adventure novels, sea novels, comic novels and his version of caper novels as well.

The Long Saturday Night rarely gets mentioned when the discussion turns to Williams and I've never understood why. This is a sleek and fevered man on the run novel that also incorporates another Williams acidic take on small town society.

John Warren is typical of the Williams Man. He is angry, even sullen much of the time in this case because of a wandering wife he loves far too much. Also like the typical Williams protagonist when he thinks of better days he looks back on his days as a college football player whose career was stopped by an accident. He's atypical in that he is a successful businessman, not a car salesman bored with life and up for anything if the sex is good.

Warren is a hunter. As the book opens he is returning to his office from an early morning session in a duck blind. A useless session. Though he heard two shots coming from another blind, he just assumed somebody had had better luck than his own. Turns out though that the shots were cover for a murder--and the dead man was a guy who would soon be identified as a man who rented office space from Warren--and who also had an affair with Warren's wife.

Couple problems. Warren is an outsider and people don't like outsiders so when the sheriff and especially his deputy start questioning Warren it's clear that he's in a lot of trouble. And when his wife finally wanders home he's even in more trouble.

This could almost be considered a companion novel to another Williams Gold Medal, that one called, conveniently enough, Man on The Run. What sets them apart from the usual chase novel is the intelligence of the narrator. He doesn't just run, he fights back. In this case he hires a private detective of note to help him find the real killer. And he keeps company with one of those bruised tentative women Williams likes so much--in this case his thirtyish secretary who is smart and decent without being treacly. Finding a sentimental note in Williams is tough unless it's buried in a revery about a woman who has betrayed him.

Triffault filmed this. I saw it a few years ago and didn't like it. Maybe it was my mood. There's a sadness at the heart of the best Williams novels and Triffault, at least for me, didn't get to it. He relied more on the cleverness of the story than the disappointing lives led by Warren and the secretary he comes to love.

This is a short book, a one sitting read, two at most, and an intense, brooding folk tale (as John D. MacDonald described the kind of book he and Williams wrote) that will stay with you for awhile.

Eric Beetner is an editor, writer/director in Hollywood. His crime writing has appeared in A Twist of Noir, Crooked, Powder Burn Flash and he is currently shopping two crime novels, one co-written with noir author JB Kohl. More info at and

ATTA by Francis Rufus Bellamy

I should start off by saying that I am not a big Sci-fi reader. I find them silly in most cases. I hate super heroes and have no romantic notions of either long ago or long from now. But Atta has stayed with me since I read it as a boy.
Much of the credibility comes from the narrator and the skepticism he shows in his own story. It starts off with an admission that the story is fantastic and is not likely to be believed and it is that kind of self deprecation that cuts through the hubris of most science fiction.
It is the story of a man who, while in his garden, goes to smash an ant with a rock and finds that act of brutality to a life he gives no regards for is a portal into the world crawling beneath his feet. He is shrunk to half an inch high in the best pulp fiction tradition and he enters the world of ants, infiltrating the ant hill and befriending an ant named Atta. It is innocent is a way that reflects it’s 1953 publishing date but forward looking in the subtle environmental message that we should be aware of even the smallest of creatures around us and puts the narrator into quite a unique journey of walking a mile in someone else’s shoes.
The adventure is robust and all told with a first person incredulity at it all that is really, for lack of a better word, believable even in an unbelievable story.
The prose is thick and satisfying as the narrator tries to describe in vivid detail the amazing things he has seen and done. It all starts with that declaration that it is all too incredible and so he must make it credible with exacting renditions of the sights, smells and feelings of living among an alien world that is all around us but too tiny to see.
Atta remains out of print as far as I can tell but used copies are easily obtainable. Maybe this book is best read by a 12 year old, as I was when I first encountered it, but I think not.

Dozens of Fleur Bradley's short stories have appeared in publications such as The Thrilling Detective, Shred of Evidence and Mysterical-E. She also writes novel-length YA; check out her website Fleur lives in Colorado with her husband, two daughters and too many pets.

RAT LIFE by Tedd Arnold
The book I picked is probably not the most forgotten book out there.It's Rat Life by Tedd Arnold; the book won an Edgar
last year--like I said,
not the wallflower of books. But I picked Rat Life because it's one of the best books I've ever
read, and because it might be off the beaten path a little for some readers (more on this later).
Rat Life is set in the seventies, in a NY town along the (fictional) Chemenga river, where a dead body washes up.
Not that Todd is too concerned about that
at first. He's too busy making up stories to make his friend Leaky laugh, and
helping his parents run
their motel and take care of his grandma. But then something happens to a puppy, and Todd
meets Rat, a Vietnam vet
not much older than him. The two become unlikely friends while working at a local drive-in.
Todd quickly gets tangled up in Rat's complicated life, making him
wonder about that dead body, and how Rat might be
connected to it.
I loved this book. It had a good mystery in it, but Tedd Arnold didn't sacrifice character, setting or depth for it--a really hard thing to pull of, I know.
The Mystery Writers of America people got it right when awarding Rat Life an Edgar.
Sounds like a book you'd want to read, right? But would you still read it if I told you it was written
for teens?
Really, you should read it anyway, whether you're 16 or 90, or somewhere in between.
And check out the rest the teen section at your bookstore or library
while you're picking up Rat Life. Some of the most exciting, sharp and witty
writing happens in Young Adult books.

Don't dismiss a book because of the label. Check RAT LIFE out, you won't regret it.

Joanna Campbell Slan is the author of the Agatha Award Finalist for
Best First Novel, PAPER, SCISSORS, DEATH. She's also the author of
eleven non-fiction books. Visit her at

by William J. Lederer and Eugene Burdick
(Too important to be forgotten)

The Ugly American is a collection of stories written in 1958 by William J.
Lederer and Eugene Burdick (published by W. W. Norton & Company). The book
became a bestseller and gained fame as an indictment of American policy
abroad. Not everything in The Ugly American translates to our post-9/11
world, but you'll discover enough truth to make you wonder why this isn't
required reading for all high school students. The authors show you-through
skillful use of vignettes--why it's critically important to our nation's
security that American citizens brush up on a foreign language (even if only
a few rudimentary phrases!), renew their passports, pack their suitcases,
and travel.

Most ordinary citizens of other countries have limited personal contact with
our nation. They experience "America" when they purchase brands like Coca
Cola, or eat at McDonalds. They get an idea of who we are, and how we live,
when they see us on television and in the movies. The entertainment industry
supplies a huge portion of our exports. In the December 31, 2008, issue of
Newsweek, Dan Glickman, president of the Motion Picture Association said,
"Among all the sectors of the U.S. economy, our industry is the only one
that generates a positive balance of trade in every country in which it does

That's good for our economy, but not necessarily a boon to our foreign
affairs. In the absence of "real" human contact, cultural icons loom large.
So McDonalds "is" America to some foreigners. By the same reckoning, what's
seen on television and in the movies can be misinterpreted as examples of
"real" American lifestyles. When we pass a law that has an impact on foreign
wage earners, such as when we taxed coffee in 1999, that too "is" America.

In the battle for hearts and minds, people tend to believe what they see,
hear and experience first-hand over rhetoric.

Fortunately, the remedy is simple. It comes in the form of ordinary
Americans who travel abroad. We are the "real deal," the chance for foreign
citizens to actually have a close encounter that can re-shape and correct
their ideas of who we are as a people and a nation.

I know this to be true, because I've seen it happen. I've traveled to China,
Korea, Japan, and Egypt, as well as countries that share a more common
Westernized history. Once folks get past their initial shyness, they love
asking questions about our lifestyle.and our motives. A driver in Cairo
wanted to know why we didn't kill Saddam Hussein during the first Iraqi war.
Our young guides in China wondered if it was true that Americans adopt
Chinese babies to turn them into servants. They also asked if all our teens
had sex and did drugs. A boy in Korea told me how afraid he was of North
Korea's nuclear capability-and how he hoped he could rely on our country to
keep him safe.

In each situation, for the brief length of my encounter, I found myself
acting as an unofficial representative of my country. The realization was
both thrilling and daunting.

This is exactly the point of The Ugly American. As one character in the book
explains: "Average Americans, in their natural state.are the best
ambassadors a country can have.They are not suspicious, they are eager to
share their skills, they are generous."

With the election of our new president, we have sent a strong signal.
There's been a changing of the guard at Ellis Island. Once again, we step
out into the world with an open hand, a hand offering friendship, even as we
are mindful there are still those who hate us and all we stand for.

But if each of us would read the essays in The Ugly American, perhaps we'd
take travel abroad as our patriotic duty, our personal opportunity to
influence the way the world sees our country. As the book says, "When
Americans do what is right and necessary, they are also doing what is

And a good first step toward being more effective is to read this book.

More forgotten books:

Bill Crider
James Reasoner
George Kelley
Kieran Shea
David Cranmer
Scott D. Parker
Kerrie Smith
Martin Edwards
Randy Johnson

Gary Dobbs
Cullen Gallagher
Eric Peterson
Todd Mason
Michael Carlson
Richard Prosch
PK, The BookeeMonster

Thursday, April 16, 2009


Joelie, Vanessa, Natasha reading.

I am going out on a limb here, but I watched last week's pilot episode of SOUTHLAND last night and thought it a was a pretty strong show. The second episode is tonight. It reminds me a little of THE WIRE, not promising they can sustain it, of course.
At least, it probably won't be formulaic like so many of the crime shows on right now.
It concerns the LA police force, with the expected emphasis on gangs.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

What Would You Reread ?

College girls reading.

I'm going to borrow this topic from Joe Barone.
What book would you reread? It's as simple as that.

My choice would be a Hoke Moseley book by Charles Willeford, maybe SIDESWIPE. I need the laughs some days.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Mark Fidrych Dead in Farming Accident

He was just twenty-one when he sped into Detroit like a rocket. His career was short but he was a true free-spirit. I hope the last thirty years were bearable for him on his farm in Massachusetts. I will always remember seeing him pitch at Tiger Stadium against the Yankees in 1976 with my six-year old son and five-year old daughter. Fidrych’s star-making moment for us and all baseball fans came June 28 against the New York Yankees. In a nationally televised game on ABC’s ‘‘Monday Night Baseball’’ and in front of a crowd of 47,855 at Tiger Stadium, Fidrych pitched a complete-game seven-hitter, allowing just one run in the Tigers’ 5-1 victory. Strutting around the mound, talking to the baseball, and always engaging the crowd, he received a prolonged ovation after the final out, eventually returning to the field to acknowledge the raucous cheers.

It was truly magic. R.I. P.

Would You Still Write?

Saul Bellow reading.

if you didn't get paid for it? And I guess this doesn't apply to some of us who don't get paid. But I have a friend who writes non-fiction, and he has no desire to write if it's not a paying gig. Maybe this is more true of non-fiction writers. But he's a lovely writer and I can't believe he doesn't want to put his pen to pad even if there is not financial reward.What about you? Can you imagine not writing at all? Is money the biggest factor for those who get paid? Would you still write if you couldn't place it anywhere? What's your bottom line?

Sunday, April 12, 2009

My Town Monday: Hamtramck (Detroit)

Elvis Reading

ck, Michigan

Hamtramck was originally settled by German farmers, but Polish immigrants flooded into the area when the Dodge Brothers plant opened in 1914. Poles still make up a large proportion of the population. It is sometimes confused with Poletown, a traditional Polish neighborhood, which lies mostly in the city of Detroit and includes a small part of Hamtramck.

As of the 2000 census, over 22% of Hamtramck's population is of Polish origin; but in 1970, it was 90% Polish.

Over the past thirty years, a large number of immigrants from the Middle East (especially Yemen) and South Asia (especially Bangladesh) have moved to the city. As of the 2000 census, the city's foreign born population stood at 41.1% making it Michigan's most internationally diverse city.
The city has grown increasingly ethnically diverse but still bears many reminders of its Polish ancestry in family names, street names and businesses. A recent survey found 26 native languages spoken by Hamtramck schoolchildren. The city's motto was "A League of Nations".

At the time of the 2000 census, Hamtramck was
again experiencing considerable growth, with over 8,000 households and a population of almost 23,000.

In 1997, the Utne Reader named Hamtramck one of "the 15 hippest neighborhoods in the U.S. and Canada" in part for its punk and alternative music scene, its Buddhist temple, its cultural diversity, and its laid back blue-collar neighborhoods. And in May of 2003, Maxim Blender selected Hamtramck as the second "Most Rock N' Roll City" in the U.S., behind Williamsburg in Brooklyn, New York City. Hamtramck is home of several of Michigan's most distinguished music venues.

In January 2004, members of the Al-Islah Islamic Center requested permission to use loudspeakers for the purpose of broadcasting the Islamic call to prayer. This request set off a contentious debate in the city, ostensibly about the noise that would be caused by the call to prayer, eventually garnering national attention. Ultimately, Hamtramck amended its noise ordinance in July 2004 regulating the volume level of all religious sounds.

Most of this was taken from Hamtramck's website. People go to Hamtramck for several things: first of all they have some darn good Polish food (see illustration of paczkis, a traditional Lenten donut); second, it's the place to find experimental music, art, and theater. It's interesting also for the culture clash underway per the call to prayer argument above. One thing it isn't, is pretty. The housing is bare bones, the streets are poorly paved, there's not a lot of decorative touches. But Hamtramck will always be an interesting, ethnically diverse place. Authentic to its core.

Hamtramck is one of two independent cities within the confines of Detroit. I wonder if other cities have such a thing.

Check out more MY TOWN MONDAY posts at the blog of Travis Erwin, Master of Ceremonies.