Thursday, December 31, 2009


Charlie Stella, Cullen Gallagher and James Reasoner have said much of what I want to say about Ed Gorman's latest book over the last few weeks. And said it well.

This is the first Sam McCain book I have read and what a pleasure it was. All of Ed Gorman's novels are a treat to read. You enter a world that is mostly filled with benevolent, well-drawn non-stereotypical characters.
And then Ed throws in the monkey wrenches that set that peaceful Iowa world on its ear. There is murder and mayhem but you are never offended. We have a gentleman here.
And then he sets things right in a humane and compelling way.

Especially fun for me were the sixties touchstones-and I really admired the way he caught it on the cusp of a new era-and captured it without overplaying its markers. Sam McCain feels young, vibrant and on the edge of adulthood himself.

What I liked most about Ed's books is his obvious admiration and enjoyment of women. This is unusual in the books I read. His women are rarely shrews or nags or harpies. All of them seem like a romance or an adventure is just within their grasp--young and old.

My very favorite Gorman book is SLEEPING DOGS, but this is right up there. They all are.

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

What Makes a Good Reader?

And I have been thinking about this a lot since reading about Zadie Smith's essays exploring the subject. I have been interested in Smith since reading WHITE TEETH in the mid-nineties when I was blown away by it.

In her new book of essays (CHANGING MY MIND) she says she has backed off temporarily from writing fiction in the quest to become a better reader of it. A good reader, she says, is as important as a good writer. You can find more about it right here.

What makes a good reader? Right now, reading books at all is becoming rare. But in your opinion, what are your duties as a reader? If any? Do you owe the writer more than the money you spent in buying their book? Do good readers produce good writers? How do we make good readers?

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

What you read last, now, next?

Farrah reading.

I don't like to list the years' best books. But I do think once in a while I should mention books not necessarily forgotten.

So settle for this: what did you read last, now, next?

Me: Last: Ticket to Ride (Gorman), Now: Hummingbirds (Gaylord) (I only read it in ms and that was several years ago), Next three: the Raymond Carver biography, Murder in Four Parts (Crider) and The Thirteenth Tale (Setterfield) for my book group.

How about you?

Monday, December 28, 2009

Between the Dark and the Daylight

Bea Arthur reading.

Please forgive this BSP but what a thrill it was to have a visiting friend pick up the hard cover version of the book to the left from my coffee table ( I had just received the book on Christmas Eve) and read aloud an excerpt from my story on the front and back sleeve of the jacket. I hadn't seen it there. With writers the caliber of Connelly, Oates, Philips, Ardai, Parker, Piccirilli, not to mention Megan, I was thrilled to have it singled out in this way.

This was my favorite Christmas gift. But enough about me. What was your favorite gift given or received?

Sunday, December 27, 2009

An Invention You Dig?

For me, it's flannel sheets. Don't know how I got along without them. Our upstairs temp is only in the mid-sixties at night and those icy sheets were torture. Now, wow! What about you?


Britanny Murphy reading.

Megan was here for four days over which time we had a chance to talk about the novel I have been trying to write. What she told me was that I have written a fictional memoir-and although the writing is lovely, it is too long and drifts too far from a crime novel to sell it as such. It is a literary novel with a crime in it. If it were actually my life story, I might sell it. But she is doubtful I can sell it as a piece of fiction.

So she advised me to 1) put it all in the first person from the POV of the daughter. 2) Get rid of most of the back story 3) Tell the story like Henry Hill did in Goodfellows 4) Center a lot more on the central crime and its aftermath. Stretch that day into half the book. 5)Make it half the length-maybe 180 pages.

This means excising scenes I love though-I have a whole chapter, for instance, on a woman cleaning a hotel room while her lover waits for her in the guest bed. Another scene of her destroying a house, room by room. This character loses her voice now and it would be difficult to work even a page or two in.

Will I do it? I don't know. My temptation is to forget about it and return to short stories, maybe salvaging a few chapters as short stories. Maybe I am a short story writer and shouldn't fight it. Except my short stories don't fit into many of the current zines very well. Which was why I turned to trying a novel. Make that two novels.

Oh, my. I am depressed.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Familiarity Breeds Contempt or Content?

We saw several movies in the last few days. Two of the three were as familiar as Thanksgiving dinner (IT'S COMPLICATED and BROTHERS). Neither were bad movies just very predictable. The audience did not seem at all put off by this. Matter of fact, they laughed so hard at It's Complicated, I feared for their lives.

(UP IN THE AIR had several surprises and the writing sparkled for the most part).

Anticipating the next scene or action, seemed cathartic for my mid-western audience members. Maybe Christmas is not the time for surprises.

But I don't want to know what comes next. I want the writer to throw me some curves.

Do you get any satisfaction from the expected--other than in classic comic routines perhaps?

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Merry Christmas

I may get restless without blogland and be back.

But if I'm not, have the happiest of holidays.
I love all of you and wish you well. You enrich my days.

And thanks to Graham Powell for keeping Crimespot flying. Where would we be without Graham.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Film Music

Rick Robinson, who is trying to educate me in film music, suggested this topic. And although looking through my archives, I've touched on it, I never asked it outright.

How much do you notice the music in movies? For me, I notice the music if I am familiar with it. Other than that, not so much. On NPR they play the Oscar-nominated film music each year, and I can swear usually I've never heard the music before even when I've seen the movie--which I usually have. Is it possible that only so many of a sense can be engaged at once for some people and my movie watching is given over to hearing words and not music. Only something already familiar strikes a chord, so to say.

Does anyone else out there have these aural deficits or is it just me?

Saturday, December 19, 2009

How Has the Internet and Blogs Affected Your Book Buying?

David Stockman reading.

I know I buy many times more books than I used to because of blogland. If I see a smashingly good review from a blog review site, I often order the book on amazon. It allows or promotes a lot of impulse buying. Before I'd have to go to a store and find it. Now with a click it is mine. Same with music.

Do you find yourself buying if not reading more books than five years ago? Ten?

Friday, December 18, 2009

THE SUMMING UP. FRIDAY, December 198, 2009

Elvis Costello reading,

Check out my review of THE MESSENGER on Crimespree Cinema and if you saw it, chime in.

The Summing Up, Friday, December 18, 2009

Patti Abbott, Mrs. Piggle Wiggle series, Betty McDonald
Paul Bishop, John the Balladeer, Manley Wade Wellman
Bill Crider, Flight to Darkness, Gil Brewer
Mike Dennis, Fires that Destroy, Harry Whittington
Martin Edwards, The Blackheath Poisoning, Julian Symons
Ray Foster, The Edge of the Sword, Anthony Farrer Hockley
Ed Gorman, Cross Country, Herbert Kastle
Randy Johnson, Phoenix Without Ashes, Edward Bryant and Harlan Ellison
George Kelley, Tom Swift and the Caves of Nuclear Fire, Victor Appleton
Toni P. Kelner, The Brains Benton Series, Charles Span Verral, George Wyatt
B.V. Lawson, Home is the Prisoner, Jean Catherine Potts
Leopard 13, The Ninth Configuration, William Peter Blatty
Evan Lewis, Kid Wolf of Texas, Paul S. Powers
Todd Mason, Fiasco, K.A. Laity, How to Win, Maria Bamford, Big Band, Toshiko Akiyoshi and Lew Tabackin
Russel D. McLean, How the Dead Live, Derek Raymond
Scott Parker, The Hound of the Baskervilles, Arthur Conan Doyle
James Reasoner, A Slice of Death, Bob McKnight
Rick Robinson, Storm Canvas, Armstrong Sperry
Kerrie Smith, Death is a Red Rose, Dorothy Eden.

Friday's Forgotten Books

See you back here on January 8th. Have a safe and splendid holiday season.

Toni L.P. Kelner suspects the Brains Books influenced her "Where are they now?" series--they have real settings, are filled with odd facts, and she hopes Tilda Harper is a character you'll like hanging out with. Curse of the Kissing Cousins was released by Berkley Prime Crime in May, and Who Killed the Pinup Queen? is due out in early January. Come visit her at

The Brains Benton Books: The Case of the Forgotten Series

When Patti first invited me to participate on Friday's Forgotten Books, I was all excited to have a chance to talk about an author I just adore and who is seldom talked about any more: Dorothy Gilman. Then it was announced that Ms. Gilman is getting a much deserved MWA Grand Master Award in 2010. This is wonderful news, without a doubt, but I don't think she can legitimately be called forgotten anymore.
So I've decided to go back even further to the series of mysteries I loved I was growing up: the Brains Benton books. I read and reread those books more times than I can count.

I know, most of you are scratching your heads over these books. I admit that it's a pretty obscure series. According to Wikipedia, the books came out in the late 1950s and early 1960s, They were originally published by the Golden Press, and later reprinted by Whitman Books. Charles Spain Verral wrote the first one, then George Wyatt continued the series with lots of rewriting from Verral. I don't think it was ever wildly popular, and there were only six books in the series.

Actually, as far as I was concerned, there were only three. That's how many of the books my big sister Brenda had and then passed on to me. (One of the best gifts any young reader can ever have is a big sister willing to share her books--I was luck enough to have three!) Brenda had the first three of the series: The Case of the Missing Message, The Case of the Counterfeit Coin, and The Case of the Stolen Dummy. I didn't even find out there were other books until years later, and it wasn't until the web came around that I tracked down the volumes I was missing. And though it's hard to look at them with any trace of objectivity, I think they're still pretty good reads.

Read this paragraph, the first from The Case of the Missing Message, and see if you aren't charmed:

"I might as well explain right away that my name is Jimmy Carson and I live at 43 Maple Street in the town of Crestwood. I'm a detective. And if anybody tries to tell you that a boy like me can't be a real detective and get mixed up in an honest-to-goodness mystery...well, I wish he'd been along the night my partner and I investigated the spooky old Madden house."

Jimmy was an average kid in the almost painfully average town of Crestview. But he had one thing most kids don't: a best friend and partner like Brains Benton, who was a certifiable genius. Together they formed a detective agency complete with secret passwords, code names, and a secret hideout about the Benton family garage. As they tackled kidnappers, counterfeiters, and swindlers, Jimmy was the Watson to Brains' s Holmes, sometimes the Archie Goodwin to Brains's Nero Wolfe. While Brains was amazingly intelligent and worthy of admiration, sometimes he was kind of a snot. Jimmy, on the other hand, was a great guy to hang out with. He made mistakes like trusting the wrong person and misusing equipment, and wasn't nearly as smart as Brains, but he was loyal and tenacious, and never gave up on a case.

The books had a comforting sense of realism. Jimmy didn't have a roadster like Nancy Drew--he had a bicycle. His father wasn't as exotic as the Hardy Boys' father--I think he was an insurance salesman. He and Brains didn't go to exotic locales, unless you count the circus or the nearby lake where they went for the summer. Yet I learned the oddest facts from those books, information about topics ranging from infrared photography to ancient coins to stock car racing. There was some danger, of course, but nothing over-the-top--just enough to get my heart racing. They were just so much fun!

And since I had to pull out the books to write this blog, I just might start reading the series all over again.

le0pard13 is the internet moniker of a father of two, spouse to one, who blogs out of The City of the Angels. He owns a first edition copy of the book below and one day hopes to have the author autograph for him.

The Ninth Configuration, by William Peter Blatty (Harper & Row 1978)

Just say the name, William Peter Blatty. It does have its own sense of meter as it rolls off the tongue, now doesn't it? You'll most likely recognize it, too. Just the same, saying it three times in front of a mirror won’t cause anything bad to happen, either -- contrary to urban legend. If you love books and reading, whether you are a baby boomer or Generation X, Y, or even Z, odds-on you've heard of him. Such is the legacy of authoring a horror novel as famous as 1971's The Exorcist (which would go on to even greater notoriety when it was adapted to the screen in 1973's film of the novel). However, along with the popularity and fame for a book that became an all-encompassing event, it can be too much of good thing. 'Event' novels can take on a life of their own, and they can build to the point that all other work by the same author lies in its shadow. Obscured because they are not anything like that book. Such was the consequence for the next novel by author Blatty that it seemed to fall by the wayside when it was published in 1978. That forgotten, but wonderful, piece of elegant writing was, The Ninth Configuration.

What was released that year actually germinated from a hasty 1966 novel titled, Twinkle, Twinkle, Killer Kane! From his author's note: "Its basic concept was surely the best I have ever created, but what was published was just as surely no more than the notes for a novel -- some sketches, unformed, unfinished, lacking even a plot." Luckily, for those of us who read the re-envisioned work in the late 70's (and those who would go on to discover and appreciate it decades later), it is an overlooked book worth remembering. Ironically, WPB has said more than once he considers it his unofficial sequel to The Exorcist. Although The Ninth Configuration shares a very loose connection (via an unnamed character) from that novel, the genre and plot line couldn't be more divergent. Plus, it works whether or not you've read the legendary blockbuster that preceded it.

The novel's story centers upon a select small group of military men secluded away with what are believed to be inexplicable mental disorders. Or, being highly intelligent men, they could be faking it--which could be the reason nothing has worked and why they continue their stay at a decaying Gothic mansion. Their treatment, and sanity, ultimately hinges upon one Marine Colonel Kane (a psychiatrist who may have his own issues) brought to the sheltered facility to seek the answers in the most unexpected of ways. Blatty crafts the story as a mystery to be solved, planting its seeds in the unusual interactions that take place. The author’s dialogue between the patients and staff are quite purpose-built, madcap, and unexpected. I cannot describe it any better than what a good friend wrote in a review of his, "Because the story is relatively brief, no words are wasted in an attempt to be lyrical or poetic. Yet somehow there are moments of utter poetry in the exchanges between doctor and patients, and in Kane's own introspective reasonings." While the material covered is meaty, it is one of the few novels that made be laugh out loud, and had my eyes welling by the time I finished it.

One could describe WPB as an author who writes eloquent, thought provoking fiction that draws in his readers with clever, humorous dialogue (keep in mind, he also wrote the screenplay for the comedy, A Shot In The Dark). Or put another way, he’s a humorous, clever writer who puts out eloquent novels that catch the readers off guard by being thought provoking. I'd say both are true. He just happened to author a chart topping novel of horror that eclipsed everything before, or since, in his bibliography. However, The Ninth Configuration remains perhaps a more intriguing read, and worth exploration by those who haven't experienced it. As well, for those of us who are film buffs, sprinkled throughout, the author references classic movie moments and dialogue within this novel. A few years after its publication, William Peter Blatty would pen and direct its film adaptation in 1980. Not surprisingly, it has developed a strong cult following, and many believe the story is more immersive on the screen (consider me in both groups). The 1978 novel is a svelte 135-page work, and next year TNC will be re-released by Centipede Press as a new edition. Purportedly, it will combine both novels and will include a long essay by film scholar Mark Kermode in a 292-page hardcover. So on this Friday, The Ninth Configuration is not forgotten (at least, by me anyways).

"Every kind thought is the hope of the world."

Patti Abbott-Because I couldn't decide which series to pick last week, here is the other one.

Mrs. Piggle Wiggle series by Betty McDonald

The Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle series tells of a grandmotherly woman who lives in an "upside-down" house in a neighborhood with more than its share of children with bad habits.

Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle has a chest full of magical cures left to her by her deceased pirate husband, Children with bad habits often find themselves in her care. This sounds like there is a scolding quality about these stories, yet Betty McDonald somehow avoids it by making it light-hearted and fun.

According to Wilkipedia-

The Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle stories were based on bedtime stories Betty made up for her daughters, nephews, and nieces (and later grandchildren and grandnephews/-nieces).

The final book in the series, published fifty years after the original, is largely written by MacDonald's daughter, Anne MacDonald Canham (the two share a writing credit for this book). The first story in the book is an unpublished MacDonald story, while Anne explains in the book that the remaining stories are based on "notes for other stories among her mother's possessions."

Ed Gorman is the author of TICKET TO RIDE, the latest Sam McCain novel and many other fine stories-long and short. You can find him here.

Herbert D. Kastle wrote a number of science fiction stories in magazines of the 1950s. That's where I first read him. Later in the 1960s he was writing those fat sexy bestseller-type novels that owed more to marketing and Harold Robbins than his presumed muse.

Then in 1974 he wrote CROSS COUNTRY. Here's a quote from one of the reviews: "This novel seems to occupy the same dark and twisted territory as the works of Jim Thompson. Characters interact in a dance of barely suppressed psychopathological urges and desires that is as
grotesquely fascinating as a multi-car pileup on the freeway. It
may leave you feeling unclean afterwards, but chances are you will not forget it."

Damn straight. It really is a sewer of sex and terror and blood-soaked suspense. I read it in one long sitting. If it's trash, as some called it at the time, it is spellbinding trash.

IMDB sums up the story line succintly: "After a woman is found butchered in her New York apartment, suspicion falls on her estranged husband, an ad executive who has suddenly left town on a cross-country road trip. He takes along a beautiful girl he met in a bar and a drifter he picked up along the way. A cop sets out after the husband, but he's more interested in shaking him down than bringing him back."

Kastle masterfully controls his long nightmare journey and you buy into his paranoia. He shows you an American wasteland of truck stops, motels, convenience stores connected by interstate highway and darkness. By book's end everyone will betray everyone else. This is survival of the fittest enacted by a Yuppie businessman, sociopathic hippies and a crooked cop. The sheer nastiness of Kastle's existential vision make this book impossible to forget. Thirty-some years after I first read it I still think of it from time to time when hundreds of other novels have fled from memory.

As a vision of hell, it's a small masterpiece.

Paul Bishop

Bill Crider

Mike Dennis

Martin Edwards

Ray Foster

Randy Johnson

George Kelley

B.V. Lawson

Evan Lewis

Todd Mason

Scott Parker

Eric Peterson

James Reasoner

Rick Robinson

Kerrie Smith

The Rap Sheet

Women of Mystery (for a great discussion of whether all books in a print format will soon be forgotten.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Worst Movie of the Decade

There are all kinds of lists going around of the worst movies of the last decade. I haven't seen any of the movies on these lists--barely heard of them. I think to be a significantly bad movie there has to have been some pretense of a good movie inside it. You had to screw up a good piece of writing or a good idea. Something that makes it worthy of remembering as truly bad-worthy.

My choices for the worst movies I've seen this decade are The DaVinci Code (Howard), The Ladykillers (Coen Bros) and Anything Else (Allen). I'm not going to defend these choices, but surely this was the worst movie Allen or the Coen Bros. ever made. And although I didn't particularly love the book of the DaVinci Code, the movie took any strengths it had and made it murkier and more ludicrous.

What movies stick out for you?

Wednesday, December 16, 2009


I've been surprised to hear some of the criticism directed at this movie, which I thought was very fine and largely managed to veer from sentimentality or from elevating the heroine into something more than she is. The acting was extraordinary, the setting realistic, the story compelling if excruciating at points.

One criticism I heard was that the movie was episodic, lacking an arc. If ever a series of episodes built an arc, this was it. What saved me from bawling my way through it, was a scene the wise director inserted early on, where it becomes clear that Precious has the strength of both character and physicality to deal with the world. A classmate jeers at her beloved math teacher and she knocks him on his ass. I loved her from that moment on. Another criticism being aired is that the white or lighter people in the film are responsible for Precious's eventual successes.
I think Precious saved herself (much like the girl in AN EDUCATION) and she was the darkest skinned person in the movie.
Anybody seen it? What other movies do you think were criticized unfairly of late?

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

City Airport

This flash is for the Steve Weddle Memorial Airport Flash Fiction Challenge. Daniel OShea is hosting it. For other stories go here.

City Airport

by Patricia Abbott

Her daughter had booked a cheap flight landing at City Airport rather than Metro. The only high-tech item inside the ramshackle terminal was a TSA system. There were also three vending machines— one for a defunct newspaper—and a TV monitor from the 1980s. Shannon’s departure from O’Hare had been held up by snow and Pam was entering her third hour of internment, made worse by the fact that no E.T.A had appeared on the monitor for over an hour. Even criminals received a specific sentence.

It was 10 P.M. and the building was nearly vacant. Two rows of empty plastic chairs connected back-to-back. Most people landing at City had a car outside rather than a ride There was no taxi stand, no porters. She could go back home, but it was a forty-minute drive and the snow coming down in Chicago was beginning to fall in Detroit.

She picked up the day-old Free Press she’d managed to scrounge from the trashcan. Kwame Kilpatrick’s face occupied most of the front page. The shows that had been on TV the night before looked promising. No snow in the forecast and the Lions were 2 and 11. An unknown assailant had murdered a woman waiting at a bus stop. There were more pictures on each page than print. Were they moving toward a day when the public would glean information through pictures instead of words?

A plane landed—coming from Philadelphia according to the flashing monitor. Although this was not Shannon's flight, the thought of some new faces was strangely thrilling. As passengers quickly deplaned, she felt the row of chairs lurch. Someone sat down behind her. Pam picked up the scent of Vera Wang perfume. The woman was a few seats to the left, probably waiting for a tardy ride.

“It’s me,” Pam heard the woman say. Was there anything more annoying than listening to someone speaking on a cell phone? The banalities of common conversation were never more evident.

“She’ll be out cold on her Ambien.” Pause. “Just go over and do it. Yes, now.” The woman’s voice grew a bit louder as an announcement about the continuing delay at O’Hare came over the speakers. “Just yank the cord.” She sighed. “Look, we’ve been over this a million times. You don’t have wait on her 24-7.”

Pam felt rather than heard the woman put the phone away.

The ring tone, two minutes later, was a song by Otis Reading. Pam couldn’t place the title. “Yeah,” the woman said. “Oh, for Christ’s sake, we agreed on tonight so I’d….” she looked around and lowered her voice. “So I’d be out of town. I’ll have to start the drive home in a few minutes” Pause. “Two hours.” Pam imagined rather than saw her looking out the window. “If the weather cooperates. Although maybe that’s not such a bad thing.”

Pam stood up and walked a few steps away, pretending to stare out the window herself. She could still hear that voice though.

“She can’t breath without that oxygen, you idiot. A few minutes probably.”

Pam could see her clearly now. Fortyish, a business suit, blonde hair, a bit slack from perspiration. Throwing her phone into her purse, the woman walked to the restroom. People like her didn’t do things like this. Except when they did.

Her hair was scraped back into a pony tail when she returned. Pam tried not to stare at her sweating face, her ravenous mouth as she devoured a bag of Cheetos, a diet Faygo, a package of red licorice, crumpling the bag and tossing it handily into the trashcan ten feet away. This was clearly not her usual cuisine but the machines offered little else.

The woman spoke twice to the bored security guard at the entrance. “Think the snow’ll let up. It’s a long drive home.” Pam couldn’t hear his response. Was she setting up her witness?

“Try a Little Tenderness"--that was it--played again. “She couldn’t be,” the woman hissed. “Did the paramedic tell you that?” Pause. “Then she must’ve done it herself.” …. “Maybe it was an accident.” …“That’s impossible. If she’d been dead yesterday, I would’ve known before I left.” …. “No, no, I didn’t check. Just took off for the airport. Never gets up before nine. Has a fit if I wake her. That’s why….”

The woman was pacing again. Pam only heard the odd word or two when she drew closer in her circuit. “Don’t tell them anything. I’ll handle it when….” She was too far away to make it out.

Pam strained to hear her, inching down the row of plastic seats one by one, turning the corner to get as near to the woman as possible. Stopping abruptly as the woman suddenly turned on her heel and clicked across the floor to retrieve her suitcase.

She looked Pam in the face for the first time—her eyes red, her skin ashen. Then she straightened up a bit, put a hand on her hip and said, “You weren’t trying to pinch my bag, were you?”

Monday, December 14, 2009

Paris Revew: Writers at Work, Volume 1

Dick Powell reading.

George Kelley mentioned this series (Paris Review-Writers at Work) last week and my university library owns most of the volumes, so I started with one.

From an interview with William Styron:
Interviewer: And what time of day do you find best for writing?

Styron: The afternoon. I like to stay up late at night and get drunk and sleep late. I wish I could break the habit but I can't. The afternoon is the only time I have left and I try to use it to the best advantage with a hangover.

The interviewer responds by next asking if he uses a notebook!!!!

We are all familiar with the problems of alcohol and writing. But with Styron, it turned out to be depression (Darkness Invisible) as it did for Carver, Cheever, Faulkner, Fitzgerald and so many others.

Lying in bed is difficult for someone who's depressed. You put it off-those hours when you are in the dark with yourself. Dark you medicate yourself with booze or drugs or both. Finding your way out of this chasm through writing is possibly a solution, or possibly contributes to the disease.

Any thoughts. Are there writers who are the sanest gals/guys on the block? How many writers are insomniacs too?

Sunday, December 13, 2009


Take a gander at one of the most wonderful sites ever-both for fun and reference.

Richard Wheeler's sister-in-law Shermane Billingsley, daughter of Sherman, club founder and owner, put it together. I am constantly amazed at how clever people are.

It is so well done and such a treat. Thanks for sharing it, Richard!

Writing Group

Dorte's fabulous Christmas tree from Denmark. And those are real candles. Dorte assured me no serious fire had ever taken place but sometimes the tree browns prematurely. Thanks, Dorte. Have a wonderful Christmas.

Patrick O'Leary's poem below is based on our Friday night writing group's grappling with the big picture. Thank you for sharing your poem.


The one time I ever fainted

she said

I was furious when they woke me

We laughed that laugh

when you want to hold someone

& say Yes I know yes Yes it’s awful

& it may not get better

but we laughed instead

& someone said my friend

was dying from an overdose of penicillin

& he felt nothing but ecstasy

& another said yes

my friend felt the same

when she was drowning

on a perfect summer day

& someone asked what possible

evolutionary purpose

could such a reprieve serve?

Couldn’t it all be random?

But it nagged us nonetheless

that in our final passage

we might go gently

& I noticed no one dared

to tender the possibility of

a merciful manager of

survival dispensing relief

though that is what some of us

actually believe or hope

& then our friend whose mother

had survived the camps said

Perhaps it’s not for us

but for the predator

rewarding his catch

by pacifying his prey

(who after all is caught)

hastening the transition

from creature to meal

This seemed so shocking

& apt it silenced us

on this lovely evening when

we huddled around

our civilized fire

of coffee cheese & crackers

telling stories of precipices

reassuring the tribe

with tales of great escapes

thrilling chases & close calls

which if one is honest

form the spine of all story

& I believe each of us

became aware

for the briefest moment

of that larger thing

hovering outside

in the brutal winter

& the darker dark

who occasionally listened in

on our little group

of story makers

sometimes observing

our lively heads chatting

in the golden windows

of the night

& thought

Let them talk

Let them talk their heads off

Saturday, December 12, 2009

The Hyper-focused Novel

How do you feel about the hyper-focused novel--or at least that's how I think of it. Does it bother you if a book is 300 pages about one thing. Well, not exactly one thing, but about a single problem in its various manifestations and complications.

Let's say the problem is alcoholism. And the alcoholism of the central character ruins lives and leads to criminal activity. Would you need a break from his problem? Or would such a break take you out of that little world the writer has created.

Of course, all of it depends on how good the writing is and how interesting the permutations are. But on the whole, can you take 300 pages of misery with a few humorous episodes still related to the general problem. Thoughts?

Friday, December 11, 2009

THE SUMMING UP, Friday, December 11, 2009

Sherlock and John Watson reading.

All of the last twenty months picks are here.
Next week is the regular fare. December 25th, no fare. January 1, no fare.
Back on January 8th.
I intended to post links on the 1 but I will be out of town and turning another year older and decided that was enough.

The Summing Up, Friday, December 11, 2009

Patti Abbott, The Five Little Peppers and How They Grew, Margaret Sidney
Paul Bishop, X Marks the Spy, Jack Laneer
Bill Crider, Joyce of the Secret Squadron, R. R. Winterbotham
Loren Eaton, The Prince in Waiting, John Christopher
Ray Foster, The Offenders, R.H. Ward
Ed Gorman, Bonjour Tristesse, Francoise Sagan
John Harvey, The Devil's Home on Leave, Derek Raymond
Jerry House, Five Thousand Miles Underground, Roy Rockwood
Randy Johnson, The Hardy Boys Series, Franklin W. Dixon
George Kelley, Mickey Mouse and His Space Ship, LITTLE GOLDEN BOOKS
B.V. Lawson, An Overview of Finding Books for Kids at Libraries
Evan Lewis, Have Gun Will Travel, Barlow Meyer; Maverick, Charles Combs, Zorro, Steve Frazee (Whitman Authorized Versions)
Todd Mason, My Brother Stevie, Eleanor Clymer, Voyager in Time, edited by Robert Silverberg, Alfred Hitchcock Monster Museum.
Jeff Meyerson, The Tomorrow Series, John Marsden
Terrie Moran, June B Jones books, Barbara Park and the YA books of Chris Grabenstein
Kent Morgan, The Southpaw, Donal Hamilton Haines
Scott Parker, The Sign of Four, Arthur Conan Doyle
Eric Peters, My Side of the Mountain, Jean Craghead George, Where the Red Fern Grows, Wilson Rawls
Laurie Powers, Man O'War, Walter Farley
James Reasoner, Freddy the Detective, Walter R. Brooks
Rick Robinson, Winnie the Pooh, The House at Pooh Corner, A.A. Milne
Kerrie Smith, The Amateur Cracksman, E.W. Hornung
R.T. Red Planet, Robert A. Heinlein

Friday's Forgotten Books

Kid's Edition (Or perhaps not, if people didn't see my suggestion)

Patti Abbott


The Five Little Peppers book series was created by Margaret Sidney between 1881 and 1916. The series began with the Peppers, a fatherless family, finding themselves in difficult straits. Mamsie presides over her three sons and two daughters.

My copy of the first volume has a few lovely colored pictures and many in black and white. It is number Book
#28 in the Patti Nase Library. That information is crossed out and the name Jeff Nase written over it. Some evil has been at work here.

The style is v
ery much like that in LITTLE WOMEN and is clearly greatly influenced by Alcott. The poverty, the triumph over adversity, the camaraderie is similar, the cozy setting is the same. Yet this series continues past the first volume, highlighting different circumstances and family members over time. The writing is lovely. I was amazed at how sophisticated the language was since it is billed for 8-12 year olds. There is something comforting in how none of their problems came from lack of love, drugs, prejudice, or any modern distraction. I could read one right now. I didn't save many of my childhood books, (many passed down to me from cousins and friends), but I saved four Little Pepper books. All of them claimed by my brother, who I am sure never read a book without a cowboy on the cover.

In order of publication, the Five Little Peppers books are as follows (publication dates follow in parentheses):
Five Lit
tle Peppers and How They Grew (1881)
Five Little Pep
pers Midway (1890)
Five Little Peppers Grow
n Up (1892)
Five Little Peppers: Phronsie Pepper (1897)
Five Little Peppers: The Stories Polly Pepper Told (1899)
Five Little Peppers: The Adventures of Joel Pepper (1900)
Five Little Peppers Abroad (1902)
Five Little Peppers At School (1903)
Five Little Peppers and Their Friends (1904)
Five Li
ttle Peppers in the Brown House (1907)
Five Little Peppers: Our Davie Pepper (1916)

Jeff Meyerson has been a member of DAPA-EM for over 30 years and published an early fanzine in pre-computer days called (way before the bookstore/publisher of the same name existed) The Poisoned Pen. I was a mail order book dealer, specializing in secondhand British mystery and detective fiction. I've read thousands of mysteries since 1970.

John Marsden, THE TOMORROW SERIES (1993-1999)
This series isn't so much "forgotten" as never known in this country, for the most part, though it was a huge success in its native Australia and, from what I've read, in Sweden. It's a series of seven young adult books (titles to follow) about a group of half a dozen Australian teens from a rural area of the country who are off camping in a remote area when the country is suddenly invaded and overrun by an unnamed enemy seeking room to settle some of their own excess population.
The kids are led by Ellie Linton, the narrator of the books, and her friend and neighbor Homer, with Lee, Fi(ona), Corrie, Kevin and Robyn in the group. When they discover what is going on they fight back, basically running a small guerrilla operation against the unknown enemy, living off the land and eventually making contact with the New Zealand forces who can provide help.
These are fast reading and quite involving, and they can be harrowing. Let's just say that not everyone who starts the first book makes it to the finale. I must have liked them as I read the seven in a month.
The first book is being filmed in Australia this year, and Marsden followed up in this decade with THE ELLIE CHRONICLES (which I haven't read as yet), three books following Ellie after the war.
Here are the titles:
One of the middle books (3 or 4) was weak but otherwise I found them consistent throughout.

Jerry House lives in Southern Maryland. He can be reached at

My childhood seemed to occur on the borderlands of political correctness and non-political correctness. Some of the Hardy Boys books I read were of the original, non-PC variety; others (many times the same title) were ones rewritten for a kinder, gentler generation. Most of the non-PC books I read as a boy dealt negatively with racial and ethnic stereotypes, including this week's selection. So please forgive me. Hey, I was a pretty naive kid growing up on a farm; what the hell did I know?

Only five pa
ragraphs into the story, we hear Washington White for the first time: "Yas sir, Perfessor, I'se goin' t' saggasiate my bodily presence in yo' contiguous proximity an' attend t' yo' immediate comglomerated prescriptions at th' predestined period. Yas, sir!" Two paragraphs later, we learn that Washington (surprise! surprise!) is a negro; his race being the opposite of his last name. (How I managed to grow up without believing all Blacks were loyal, uneducated, cowardly companions is completely beyond me.)

Five Thousand Miles Underground was the third of eight books in the Stratemeyer syndicate's Great Marvel Series, this one written by Howard R. Garis (who also wrote many of the early Tom Swift books). The adventure features a motley crew consisting of ace inventor Mr. (sometimes called Professor) Henderson, plucky teenage orphans Jack Darrow and Mark Sampson, old hunter Andy Sudds, ex-farmers-now-assistants Tom Smith and Bill Jones (doomed forever, I fear, to remain in the backgrounsd) and the aforementioned Stepin Fe...I mean, Washington White.

In the second book in the series, this crew had discovered a hole in the earth (don't ask). Now Henderson has created a flyin
g boat, The Flying Mermaid, to explore the mysterious hole. So off they go, having amazing adventures every chapter. After being attacked by a maddened whale and surviving a cyclone, they come across a burning ship and managed to rescue fourteen men. Thirteen of the men, alas, are ne'er-do-wells who mutiny and take over the flying boat. Jack and Mark, being clever, pluckish lads, outsmart the mutineers and trick them into jumping overboard (don't ask). Soon they find the hole in the earth and begin their descent. (In the book's illustration, the flying part of the flying boat has a distinctly phallic look; if this was some sort of symbolism, it went way over my ten-yearhold head.) During the descent, they lose consciousness.

When our heroes awaken, we discover that they have descended five thousand miles and have landed on an world floating inside earth--complete with
sun and seven moons (one central moon and six revolving around it -- don't ask). We also discover that Jack is accident-prone; he immediately gets gobbled by a giant man-eating plant. OK, so they rescue him, and a few chapers later he (I think; I skimmed this part) gets captured by the half-vegetable/half animal snake-tree and gets rescued again. The water in this world runs thick as molasses, and the sky seems to change color often. We meet giant insects, dangerous walking fish and weird animals that seemed cobbled together from every beast the author could think of.

You can't have an underground world without an underground civilization. This one is inhabited by giant, mis-shapen men with the soft consistency of snow (don't ask). Hankos, their king, speaks an odd mixture of ancient Latin and Greek (don't ask) and (I gather) is the only one to do so (don't ask). Hankos, being scientifically-minded, had somehow managed to up to the earth's surface, where he shrank to the size of a normal human being (don't ask), and, finding himself just a short distance from Mr./Professor Henderson's island. Did I mention that Henderson had an island? It turns out that Hankos managed to sneak aboard The Flying Mermaid and had been hidden there all along through the many adventures (don't ask). By the way, Hankos grew to his normal giant-size when he got back to the centre (note the British spelling) of the earth. Thankful that they brought him home, Hankos took the crew to the Temple of the Treasure at the top of an underground mountain (don't ask), and let them have at it. Suddenly an earthquake (skyquake? don't ask) closed the mysterious hole in the earth. We our heroes trapped? Well, no. Turns out there was another mysterious hole in the earth that could be reached by a (five thousand mile? don't ask) geyser.

Anyway, everyone gets home safely and the boys decided to use their newly-gained wealth to get an education. One hopes it was in plot development and physical science.

As a ten-year old, I ate this stuff up. (Back then, WTF was not in my vocabulary.) Even
today, I think it's pretty cool.

[Five Th
ousand Miles Underground was published by Cupples & Leon in 1908. The other seven books in the Great Marvel Series were Through the Air to the North Pole, Under the Ocean to the South Pole, Through Space to Mars, Lost on the Moon, On a Torn-Away World, The City Beyond the Clouds, and By Spaceship to Saturn.]

Ed Gorman is the author of the new Sam McCain book, TICKET TO RIDE and many other fine novels. You can find him here.
Bonjour Tristesse - Francoise Sagan

In the summer of 1958 I was sixteen years old and going through my first real heartbreak. My only solace was in books and movies. Seeing people was too painful. I mention this because my state of mind had a good deal to do with my reaction to a slender Dell paperback I'd been hearing about.

Bonjour Tristesse had been written by a seventeen-year-old French
schoolgirl and it had the good fortune to become a scandal in both
Europe and
the United States. The story concerned seventeen-year-old
Cecile whose wealthy and handsome father is what one might call, in
crude Yankee tongue, an ass-bandit. His latest young thing is Elsa whom
Cecile likes because she's the kind of trivial beauty her father will dump after a few months. But then Anne appears and Cecile must plot to get rid of her. Anne is serious competition to Cecile. She will take
Cecile's father from her, at least mentally and spiritually. From here the story deals with Cecile's attempt to destroy a fine woman--and one of her deceased mother's best friends--before her father falls in love
with her. The end is tragic.

The novel is ab
out pain and betrayal and loneliness and is told so simply and directly it has the effect of a stage monologue. It was condemned by most of the old farts--the French Catholic novelist Francois Mauriac reviewed it and sounded as if he was making the case for Sagan's execution--while the more charitable critics found it
earnest and compelling if not quite as important as all the fuss would have it.

There was an Iowa angle, too. Otto Preminger discovered eighteen-year-old Jean Seberg from Marshalltown, Iowa and starred her in his catastrophic production of St. Joan. The critics loved her melancholy beauty (who wouldn't?) but she certainly wasn't up to a role this difficult.
This could have ended her career but she was quickly cast in Bonjour Tristesse--which wasn't much of a movie--and did a fine job. Later she would become a French film icon when she did Breathless with Jean Paul Belmondo.

But Seberg had a troubled life very much like that of a Sagan heroine. At least one of her husbands beat her and J. Edgar Hoover had his creeps stalk her here and in France. He tried to destroy her by feeding tales to the press of how she just might be seeing a black man and showing a definite interest in left-wing politics. She died at
forty-one in circumstances that the authorities believed pointed to suicide. She had long struggled with depression.

I followed Sagan's career to the end because Bonjour had given me so much comfort that terrible summer. In France she was seen, at least early on, as a kind of J.D. Salinger, though I always thought her take
on this vale of
tears was far richer than his. And by the time she wrote Those Without Shadows a few years later she was far out of his league. And she certainly never disappointed the media. Here, from
Wikipedia, just a bit of her life story:

Personal life Sagan was married twice; to Guy Schoeller ( married
13 March 1958, an editor with Hachette, 20 years older than Sagan, divorced June 1960), and to Bob Westhof ( a young American playboy and would-be ceramist, married 10 January 1962, divorced 1963.

Their son De
nis was born in June 1963.)[3] She took a lesbian longer term lover in fashion stylist Peggy Roche; and had a male lover Bernard Frank, a married essayist obsessed with reading and eating. She added
to her self-styled "family" by beginning a long-term lesbian affair with the French Playboy magazine editor Annick Geille, after she approached Sagan for an article for her magazine.[1]

Fond of traveling in the United States, she was often seen with Truman Capote and Ava Gardner. She was once involved in a car accident in her Aston Martin sports car - (
14 April 1957) - which left her in a coma
for some time. She also loved driving her Jaguar automobile to Monte Carlo for gambling sessions.

Also, in the 1990s, Sagan was charged with and convicted of possession of cocaine.
Sagan was, at various times of her life, addicted to a number of drugs. She was a long-term user of prescription pills, amphetamines, cocaine, morphine, and alcohol.When police came for inspection in her house her dog called Banko showed cocaine to them and also licks cocaine. Sagan told police " Look! he likes it too."

Kent Morgan writes a sports column for a paper in Winnipeg, Manitoba, but spends most of his time puzzling over what to do with all the books piled on his furniture and floor and stored in his garage. More bookcases are not the answer as he has no room for them.

The Southpaw - Donal Hamilton Haines

I came across a copy of this juvenile novel at a recent charity book sale and quickly grabbed it for my baseball fiction collection. I didn't remember much about the story, but knew I had owned and read it in my youth. First published by Rinehart in 1931, Comet Books started reprinting it in 1949 and that's the edition I found. The book includes illustrations by Harold Minton and several panels on the back cover along with brief text provided the potential reader with an idea about the storyline.

"All Hillton Academy hated baseball, and every other sport except for hazing freshmen. For games bored Greg Elliott, a senior who had the whole school under his thumb. Then Bob Griswold arrived, like a one-man revolution. Bob loved baseball and refused to be bossed. That got him into a knock-down fight with Butch, Elliott's bully. And into much worse trouble with Elliott himself. Finally this undercover battle for leadership blazed into a revolt that shook Hillton Academy to its foundation."

The Southpaw with a cover price of .35 was #16 in a series of 20 mystery, sports, career and adventure tales published by Comet. Among the titles are The Green Turtle Mystery by Ellery Queen Jr., The Spanish Cave by Geoffrey Household and Sue Barton, Student Nurse by Helen Dore Boylston. The series also includes two other baseball books, Batter Up by Jackson Scholz and Bat Boy of the Giants by Garth Garreau, that I also read in my youth. My copies could be hiding from me in boxes in my garage.

Paul Bishop
Bill Crider
Loren Eaton
Ray Foster
John Harvey (Adult)
Randy Johnson
George Kelley
B.V. Lawson
Evan Lewis
Todd Mason
Terrie Moran
Scott Parker
Eric Peterson
Laurie Powers
Kerrie Smith (adult)
James Reasoner
Rick Robinson

Martin Edwards offers a special post to a friend who died last summer.

Thursday, December 10, 2009


Ringo Starr reading.

Is it me or has sex largely disappeared from multiplex theater movies? When I think back to the seventies and eighties, there was a lot of sex going on on the screen. At some point, did we get bored with it? Did Hollywood decide it wasn't worth risking an X rating. Have we seen it all by now? Are there only so many ways to peel a potato? Sometimes I think there is more sex on cable networks than at the movies. Are the actresses so thin they're afraid for us to see their ribs. Or, are romantic films basically consigned to women of a certain age reluctant to expose themselves (Sandra Bullock, Sarah Jessica Parker, Meryl Streep, Diane Keaton, Rene Zellweger, Julianne Moore)
What was the last mainstream movie you saw with much sexual content? I'm not looking for porn here--just the evocation of a normal act or at least a hint of it.

Tuesday, December 08, 2009


How about some new forgotten kid's books contributors this week?

Every once in a while there's a documentary about sports that really seems to sum up the sport, or the times, or both. The legendary game of the title took place in 1968, at the height of the Vietnam War. Although the movie talks about the war a little, how some of the players were against the war and others strong supporters, the emphasis is on that game.

With less than a minute to go in the game, Yale was ahead by 16 points. You have to see the movie to find out what happened. (Or maybe the score in the title will tell you). Every man interviewed for this remembers that game more vividly than yesterday's dinner.

I guess there will never be a better sports documentary than Hoop Dreams, which I watched alone in Manchester England in 1995. And when I say alone, I mean I was the only one in the theater on a weekday afternoon. Obviously, basketball isn't big there. Second place, "When We Were Kings" (Ali). I have yet to see TYSON, which I hear is excellent.

But this movie was exciting and it is always strange to hear about how games played in youth can become the defining moment in person's life. Any favorite sports movies, docs or otherwise out there?

Monday, December 07, 2009


Bernard Malamud reading.

Hey, guys, if anyone would like to take a picture of some Christmas decoration at their house, I'l love to take a break from the readers and post it. A tree, a wreath, you in a Santa hat, cookies, candy, outside lights, anything. Just send it my way.

I would love to find the books I want at local bookstores. (We have no independent ones within twenty miles of here). But I go into my local big chain store and they never have the book I want. So I end up ordering it on Amazon. It's cheaper and easier and if the local brick and mortar store wants our business, they need to try harder. They have to carry more books and less cards, toys, coffee mugs, coffee.

I try to use online stores other than Amazon, too. Three experiences of late. My daughter tried to send my father a present-it never turned up. She tried to send my grandson a present from a toy company, twice it was delivered to the same wrong house in another suburb entirely. Both times, she filled out a form with the correct address. I sent a book to someone ill, from a bookstore other than Amazon, and despite my filling out an address in Maryland, they delivered it to me in Michigan.

Is it me or are you having the same problems and turning to Amazon in frustration. I ordered five items from them in the last week and all are already here. How come they do such a good job? Are there elves or slaves in their basement? I hate having to give them all my business. How do you avoid it? Who else does a good job?