Friday, December 31, 2010


Friday, December 31, 2010

Because some of you are more devoted than me.

Paul Bishop, Bragg's Hunch, Jack Lynch
Michael Carlson, Enemy's Enemy, Jan Guiltou
Bill Crider, Epitaph for a Tramp, David Markson
Scott Cupp, Moon of the Three Rings, Andre Norton
Jerry House, Zacherley's Midnight, Snacks and Vulture Stew, John Zacherle
Randy Johnson, Sundown at Crazy Horse, Vechel Howard
K.A. Laity, The Corinthian, Georgette Heyer
James Reasoner, Summer of Sink, Orrie Hitt

Let me know if I missed any.

Favorite TV SHOWS for 2010

Parks and Recreation

Mad Men
The Office

The Good Wife
Big Bang Theory

Modern Family, Justified, Terriers, Breaking Bad, Dexter

Thursday, December 30, 2010



AFTERTIME, Harlequin Luna, February 15, 2011

A little over a year ago, I found that I’d written ahead in my two existing series and had some time to kill. I don’t like to take breaks between books; it makes me anxious – unhappy and unpleasant to be around. With three or four months stretching out in front of me before I needed to start the next book for which I was under contract, I tried to think about stories that I had always wanted to write but never had the right outline or character – or sufficient courage, for that matter.

I confessed to my agent that I always secretly wanted to write horror. In fact, I had a few horror short stories lying around that I’d been unable to sell. I thought they were pretty good, and I didn’t understand why no one else seemed to agree with me. I wondered if it was because I’d weighted character over story, weakening the horror element by overdeveloping the emotional arc of the main characters– whether my hook fell short, in other words, in a genre where hook is really important. (I’d been reading Dan Simmons’ THE TERROR at the time, and you never heard anyone say they couldn’t get enough of Franklin and Captain Crozier – it was all ice and monsters, madness and mutiny and cannibalism. Plot, in other words, over character.)

My agent suggested – in so many words – that I might be over-thinking. She and I had a conversation about a particular type of heroine and how she might behave in the face of unthinkable evil – a deeply flawed, morally murky, yet undeniably badass heroine who skirted genre conventions. Someone who would be to the tattooed and gorgeous sword-wielding urban fantasy cover girl what Stella Hardesty, the heroine of my BAD DAY series, is to more-traditional mystery heroines: harder to love, harder to look at, but raw and real. So I put that conversation into the mental hopper and let it spin.

I was listening to music and aimlessly pushing words around one night when Pink’s “Sober” came on. I like Pink. I listened to the words. They sounded true to me and they made me think about the fine line that we walk when we fall in love with the way drinking feels. I thought about how easy it is to drink to blunt the pain of living, but how eventually addiction takes everything. It’s a classic horror setup, really; the huckster’s shiny coin buys only devastation.

Addiction is the end of an individual’s world. Apocalypse is the end of the larger world. I thought it would be interesting to consider what apocalypse would look and feel like for someone who had already reached bottom and had been living there for quite some time, well before the rest of the world caught up.

That felt like a story. I played “Sober” a couple more times, and slowed the mental hopper enough to let a character come into focus in my head, complete with her name, Cass Dollar (sorry, I have no idea how that happens, it just does) and I began to write. After a while, some zombies showed up. And a guy. (A hot guy, as it turned out.) I kept writing, rolling in stray thoughts and plot elements like a snowball will pick up twigs and leaves as you roll it around the yard. And I pretty much didn’t stop until the book was done.

Sophie Littlefield is the author of A BAD DAY FOR SORRY (nominated for many awards), A BAD DAY FOR PRETTY, BANISHED and many fine short stories.

This is the first book in a new series.

Whereas I tolerate negative comments on my personal posts, I will delete any negative comments on this series. It is not meant to be a platform for debate, but rather an opportunity for people to hear about the writing process used by various writers.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Best Music Lists

If people post a list of their favorite books, chances are I have heard of most of them. Same with favorite movies or TV shows. But when people post their favorite music, I see whole lists where I don't recognize a single piece of music. It's become worse since people download individual songs rather than CDs.

Are we more divided in our tastes when it comes to music than with other pastimes? Or am I more out of the loop here? Is your musical taste the same as your closest friends, your partner, anyone?

Tuesday, December 28, 2010


Now I think dramatic TV has never been better-if you have cable. Breaking Bad, Justified, Mad Men, Walking Dead, Dexter, Men of a Certain Age, The Good Wife, Terriers, Treme, Luther and quite a few others seem as good as anything that has ever played on the box.

I posted a piece about TV shows that I watched, ditched, and then came back to. But it posted in January 2010.
I listed Parks and Recreation and Community as two I needed to rediscover. Also Terriers-gone already and quite a disappointment.

Here's Todd's insightful response.

COMMUNITY and PARKS & REC actually improved throughout their first seasons...and COMMUNITY particularly didn't start too badly.

There are too many to list among those that were strangled in their cribs, though I'd suggest poster child ARRESTED DEVELOPMENT wasn't among was losing its way as soon as Jason Bateman's character was remade into just another clown among the clowns.

But among the most vicious cullings of the last several years have been SONS AND DAUGHTERS, the ABC sitcom; HELP ME HELP YOU; the timeslip fantasy JOURNEYMAN; the rapidly improving NBC crime drama KIDNAPPED (don't start weak with a heavily serialized series, for goodness's sake); PARTY DOWN; and DEADWOOD and LIFE, which both at least had more than one season to show us what they could do.

BARNEY MILLER was fairly consistently improving throughout its run, and started off pretty well, if heavy-handed and a bit tone-deaf (and Abe Vigoda started milking everything dry Very early on...when he was spun off, and Steve Landesburg brought in, a vast improvement). THE NEW ADVENTURES OF OLD CHRISTINE improved markedly with its second season, then frittered that momentum away.


It used to be that comedy was based on funny bits (Mel Brooks), funny lines (Woody Allen) or an ability to take a pie in the face or fall down the steps (the early slapstick comics)

But now it seems to me that a lot of comedy is attitudinal. If you look at the comedies being made by folks like Judd Apatow and other younger directors, they seem to do little more than create characters that their audiences want to spend time with because they exude a certain attitude.

Not exactly coolness. More like familiarity. These are the guys you threw up with in college. These are the guys that don't want to grow up. And the audience for these movies relate to that sentiment. Not wanting to grow up seems to run through most movies and TV shows that are categorized as comedy. I've got news for you though. You still grow old even if you don't grow up. And you might want people to notice if you've fallen into dementia--not see it as the same old frat guy stuff.

What do you think? Now I occasionally go along for the ride with these movies if the writing is sharp. But some of these films, like GROWNUPS, just elude me completely. And why is always about men?

Monday, December 27, 2010

Women Writing on Their Husband's Deaths

I just read Joyce Carol Oates' account of the death of her husband, Raymond Smith in the NEW YORKER (part of a book, I think). His was a somewhat sudden and unexpected death that rocked her to her core.

I have also read Joan Didion's account of her husband's death (THE YEAR OF MAGICAL THINKING) and the poems of Tess Gallagher on the death of Raymond Carver.

Let me tell you this. Having twice in the last two years cleared out hospital rooms of those final items of clothing and hygiene for parents, I cannot do it again. I cannot contemplate packing up that prosaic pair of pajamas, that used toothbrush, that stick of deodorant, that bathrobe so rarely worn, the slippers with the heel worn down, the cards so hopefully sent, the radio playing songs of Tony Bennett.

JCO's account was one of the saddest pieces of writing I have ever read. And when it comes to it, should it, I will vanish magically from the earth rather than do this again. Three times is too many and someone must clear out my room instead.

I have a friend who reads the obits in the NYT first thing each day. Do you read them? Does an interest in crime mean an interest in death?

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Chuckie, The Flying Squirrel

This was the hit of Christmas at our house, the flying squirrel. My grandson has been wanting one for months and his magical aunt found him one. Chuckie was never far from his hands. Go figure. From car washes at two, to flying squirrels at four.

What made your Christmas sparkle?

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Happy Holidays

A review of the BLACK SWAN is here.

Friday, December 24, 2010


A little story of mine is on DO SOME DAMAGE,

Things Remembered

by Patricia Abbott

In tattered pinafore and smock, the child finds it odd to sit upon a strange man’s lap. But obedient, she steps behind a woman with a bobbing infant strapped to her bosom.

The line’s long, and parents anxious to get on with last-minute shopping jostle her forward, never expressing regret for the bags banging her knees.

The girl has no list, can’t summon up a single toy or book to request.

But when it’s her turn, it's the boy behind, wheeled vehicle in hand, who's waved forward. She buttons her cloak, dons her bonnet, and waits patiently for another Christmas Eve.

This is part of a series Loren Eaton runs. Here's his description.

Shared Storytelling: Advent Ghosts 2010

Sixties-era songsmiths Eddie Pola and George Wyle may have memorialized any number of longstanding yuletide traditions in "It's the Most Wonderful Time of the Year," but there's one commemoration their famous song mentions that seems to have slipped from popular consciousness -- "scary ghost stories." Though Charles Dickens and M.R. James both celebrated the season with spooky tales, such stories have been surmounted by twinkling tinsel, shiny lights and a certain ineffably optimistic red-nosed reindeer.

Check out other stories here.

Thursday, December 23, 2010


Mom and Dad, circa 1950.

I know everyone likes to make them and the Internet has made it worse, but I dread end of the year best lists. Anyone else feel the same way? It's like asking a mother who her favorite child is. And when it was just a few newspapers doing it, it wasn't so bad. Now writers, movie makers, etc can see their book or film or whatever overlooked a kajillion times by anyone with a blog if they search it out.
I guess I will always like games where everyone wins.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Dirty Harry

We watched DIRTY HARRY for the first time last week. Boy, we forget how dismal everything seemed in the seventies. Reminds me of now.

But what are the elements in DIRTY HARRY that made it so iconic? Come on, help me out.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Big Bad Toxic Mamas

There are several movies out now that show mothers in a bad light. I could almost get mad about this if the movies (and the actresses) weren't quite so good.

Barbara Hershey (BLACK SWAN) and Melissa Leo (THE FIGHTER) deserve kudos for laying it down as unflinchingly as they did. And who will ever forget the mother played by Jackie Weaver in ANIMAL KINGDOM. Her full malevolence takes a longer time to discern. The mother in MOTHER was no pushover either.

Fathers don't seem to carry the same weight in films. Maybe toxicity is a bit less lethal when you don't traverse the birth canal.

Who is your favorite lethal mama in literature or film? No one did it better than Joan, although that was real life rather than reel life.

Sunday, December 19, 2010


Love the idea but are we really in this much of a hurry.
Hat tip to the NYT Magazine and you tube.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

New Books about Old Friends

I am at least theoretically opposed to a new writer taking a character like Sherlock Holmes and writing a new adventure for him.

Even if the writer is able to produce a very good story, I think he's stolen the essential ingredient--Sherlock. No fair! Now if a writer like Laurie King picks a minor character and writes a series about her, that's okay--provided Holmes does not play too big a part.

Iconic fictional creations (and their authors) should be left alone. Create someone new just as memorable.

I know I am somewhat rigid about this. What do you think?

Friday, December 17, 2010

THE SUMMING UP, December 17, 2010

THE SUMMING UP, December 17, 2010

Paul Bishop, Red Diamond, Private Eye, Mark Schorr
Bill Crider, Glitterburn, Heywood Gould
Scott Cupp, Feester in the Lake, Bob Leman
Pat Downey, Varney, the Vampire, James Malcolm Ryner
Martin Edwards, The Crime at Diana's Pool, Canon Victor Alonzo Whitechurch
Cullen Gallagher, Before She Kills, Fredric Brown
Ed Gorman, A Touch of Death, Charles Williams
Jerry House, Don't Speak of the Rope, Harlan Ellison and Avram Davidson
Randy Johnson, Jack Strait, Bogeyman, Frank Rich
George Kelley, Tarnsman of Gor, John Norman
B.V. Lawson, Red Christmases, Patrick Ruell
Evan Lewis, Decay, Cleve F. Adams
Steve Lewis/Marv Lachman, JOHN DICKSON CARR
Brian Lindenmuth, The Jones Men, Verne E. Smith
Todd Mason, The Shape of Things, Damon Knight
Kent Morgan, In a True Light, John Harvey
David Rachels, The Score, Richard Stark (Donald Westlake)
James Reasoner, Shotgun Gola, W.C. Tuttle
Kristine Kathryn Rusch, An Unsuitable Job for a Woman, P.D. James
Ron Scheer, The Rhodes Reader, Eugene Manlove Rhodes
Kerrie Smith, Sleight of Body, Ralph McInerny

Friday's Forgotten Books, December 17, 2010

See you again for forgotten book reviews on Friday, January 7 and then the 14th. After that these kind folks will pick up the baton while we sabbaticalize. Send them a forgotten book review or a link.


January 21
: Evan Lewis
January 28: Kerrie Smith
February 4: Todd Mason
February 11: George Kelley

Patrick Downey is the author of Gangster City: The History of the New York Underworld 1900-1935 and Bad Seeds in the Big Apple: Bandits, Killers and Chaos in New York City 1920-1940. He is currently preparing to self-publish a book on the gangster Jack Legs Diamond. You can visit him at his blog

Varney, the Vampire, James Malcolm Ryner

I was a monster movie geek as a kid and I’ve always remembered an illustration from one of the books I had on the subject. It was from an old penny dreadful called Varney the Vampire or, The Feast of Blood and it showed a skeletal bloodsucker about to bite into a sleeping woman. For some reason the name always stuck with me and, if I remember correctly, the author of said monster movie book stated that the Varney story was long gone.

Fast forward about thirty years and there I am surfing around the internet and just for funnsies I type in Varney the Vampire and low and behold I’m taken to Turns out Varney has been dusted off, semi-edited, and is available once again for consumption. I had to buy it.

Varney was the first popular vampire story preceding Bram Stoker’s Dracula by about fifty years. It is interesting to see what effects and doesn’t effect a vampire from 150 years ago as opposed to what Hollywood has taught us. If you can enjoy a good yarn for what it is and have fun with a melodramatic, occasionally boring, perhaps a bit clich├ęd (a sailor that actually says “Shiver me timbers”) story originally meant for the masses and not the literati then you may enjoy this book.

As a penny dreadful it was cranked out a few chapters every week and sold to, well, people like me. Varney’s author, James Malcolm Rymer was paid by the word when this was being published so sometimes what could be said in five words may take fifteen. Also there are times when the author pads the word count with detours. For example during a conversation one of the characters may say, “That reminds me of story.” And then he takes the next two pages to tell the story. The good news is if you aren’t interested in the side stories you can skip them as they have absolutely nothing to do with the plot.

When it was originally released as a serial Varney’s popularity was so great that it ran for about two years, hence the hefty page count. I enjoyed the book but also went in with an open mind. As I said it can be melodramatic and wordy but it is also fun. It’s a penny dreadful and I think that in itself pretty much tells you what to expect. You got your aristocratic vampire who, unlike Stoker’s vampire, is a sympathetic villain, a rich family on the skids, angry towns people and at the heart of it a mystery. I was struck by how human nature hasn’t really changed over the years. Characteristics such as greed, fear, mob mentality, lying, gossiping are all in there. I think that’s one of the reasons the story is readable, though it takes place in an English town in the early Nineteenth Century, the recognizable traits could easily place the story in a New England town in the early Twenty-first Century (that is if people in the New England town said things like, “Hilloa!”, “Ay” and “Indeed!” and maybe they do. I haven’t spent much time there.)

Part of the fun for me when reading was imagining the Londoners of 1845, when it was first printed, gathering around their lamps or candles getting their weekly dose. That’s a good way to read it. A few chapters every week like it was originally meant to be consumed. That way, if you need a break, you can take a few nights off then come back without losing anything.

The book is from Zittaw Press and is edited by Curt Herr, a professor of Gothic literature, who also wrote the introduction and notes. With Varney you really get a lot of book for your buck. In addition to The Feast of Blood, which runs about 750 pages (oversized book with small print) you also get back matter consisting of four appendixes:

1- Penny Bloods and Penny Dreadfuls, (four more short stories.)

2- Nineteenth Century Essays on the Perils of Penny Dreadfuls

3- Contemporary Scholarship on Penny Dreadfuls and Varney the Vampire

4- Woodcuts from the original printing of Varney the Vampire; or, the Feast of Blood.

A penny dreadful about a vampire, it’s pretty much worth the cover price just to say you own it.

Ed Gorman is the author of Stranglehold, Ticket to Ride and numerous short stories, westerns, and crime fiction tales. You can find him here.

A TOUCH OF DEATH by Charles Williams

I spent a good share of last night reading Hard Case Crime's snappy edition of A Touch of Death by Charles Williams and I'll say what I've said before about this book. It likely has more plot turns than early James M. Cain, a writer whose influence on Williams is clear. But
I have to point out quickly that he made this particular set of tropes his own. His men are not those of Postman or even Double Indemnity. His men are smarter--but to no avail.

One of Charles Williams' amoral failed men narrate. He was briefly a football star. Now he's a busted real estate agent. No wonder he gets interested, after initial reluctance, in stealing one hundred twenty thousand dollars that a bank president took from his own bank. The woman who convinces him to help her makes it sound simple. It's probably in this mansion. All you have to do is get in there and find it. The bank president's wife won't be home for two days. You'll have plenty of time.

Right. Well, we know better than that, don't we? Yes, he gets in but he finds he's not alone. The woman is there, beautiful beyond description, and drunk beyond belief. But so is a killer. After saving her life, failed star takes her to a cabin in the woods where he plans to persuade her to tell him where the money is.

That's the beginning. Everybody in this book is a professional liar as Andre Gide said of Hammett's The Maltese Falcon. And the bank president's wife is the most fatale of femmes. She lies on virtually every page and occasionally almost gets them killed. That she knows where the money is is obvious. That she killed her husband is also obvious. But who is trying to kill her and why?

There is a sadness, a sorrow, in Williams that informs much of his work. It's not the usual noir feeling that the world is rotten. These men know that they themselves are rotten. And are not so smart after all. If David Goodis wrote suicide notes and Jim Thompson (in The Killer Inside Me) pleaded for understanding, Charles Williams frequently took us on guided tours of lust and greed and men who almost consciously destroyed themselves. Maybe it's what they really wanted all along.

Kent Morgan lives in Winnipeg, Manitoba where in retirement he co-writes two sports columns, plays hockey twice a week, and tries to figure what to do with all the books in his house and garage. He admits that he didn't need that box of 15 books that arrived this week from

In A True Light – John Harvey – Carroll & Graf 2002

In 1998, John Harvey won the first-ever Sherlock Award for the best detective, Charlie Resnick, created by a British author. When he decided to stop writing the Resnick series, he opted to write a standalone where he could use his interest in both art and music in the storyline. The result is this book which received well-deserved raves from book reviewers on both sides of the Atlantic. Sloane is a 60-year-old painter who is just out of prison after serving time for duplicating fine art for a dealer. He takes the rap and doesn’t squeal on the dealer who promised him 20,000 pounds on his release. After he collects the money, he is contacted by a woman in Italy who tells him a prominent artist with whom he had a fling in New York when he was 18 is dying and wants to see him. She claims that Sloane is the father of her estranged daughter, who is a jazz singer in the States, and asks him to find her. This takes him back to New York where he discovers the younger woman is involved with a man who beats her and has ties to organized crime. Sloane isn’t convinced that the woman is his daughter and despite the fact that she doesn’t seem to want him in her life and any help with her problems that includes drugs, he can’t stop himself from getting involved. The story moves back and forth from New York to London and Pisa and Harvey’s characters jump off the page as Sloane attempts to resolve his issues as well as the woman’s problems. This is one of the few books I have read in recent years that I didn’t want to put dow

Paul Bishop
Bill Crider
Scott Cupp
Martin Edwards
Cullen Gallagher
Jerry House
Randy Johnson
George Kelley
B.V. Lawson
Evan Lewis
Steve Lewis/Marv Lachman
Brian Lindenmuth
Todd Mason
David Rachels (Also check out David's blog for a comprehensive list of all Gil Brewer's short stories.
James Reasoner
Kristine Kathryn Rusch
Ron Scheer
Kerrie Smith

Thursday, December 16, 2010

How I CAME TO WRITE THIS BOOK: Charles Allen Gramlich

How I Came to Write This Book:

Swords of Talera

When I first started writing, I honestly never gave any thought to publishing or making money from my writing. I grew up loving to read, and my favorite type of book was adventure fiction written by authors such as Edgar Rice Burroughs, Alan Burt Akers (Ken Bulmer), and Robert E. Howard. I could never get enough, and when I wasn’t reading I was often imagining my own stories, set on my own versions of the planets of Barsoom, Kregen and Almuric. Eventually, my fantasy world came to be called Talera.

I hear my author friends talking sometimes about writing “the book of their heart.” Often, these are published authors who are waiting for the right time to write the book that is closest to them emotionally. Swords of Talera I was the book of my heart. I wrote it because I couldn’t get the characters and setting out of my mind. I wrote the first draft as fast as my pen could move across the paper. I was in graduate school at the time, and though I had a lot to do I stayed up late every night to write. I wrote anytime I had a moment’s break from work; I wrote the whole time I was home for Thanksgiving break. I loved every minute of it. I guess you could say I wrote it because of how much fun it was. Swords of Talera was truly a labor of love.

Charles Gramlich is a professor of psychology. Aside from the Talera series, he has written several other novels, poetry, a chapbook, and a book on writing, Write with Fire. You can find him here.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Start the Movie Rolling

I have good friends who will go to virtually any movie with Johnny Depp. Other friends who wouldn't miss a movie directed by Scorsese. One or two who never miss a romantic comedy. And there's those (a lot of them!) who like movies about causes, injustices, third world suffering.

With me, it's the critical word. If a movie gets good reviews, I will see it regardless of the subject, director, stars. I can never be convinced that if a movie scores over 80% on rotten tomatoes, I still might not like it.

What's your Achilles' Heel? What takes you into a theater or onto netflix most of the time?

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Little Lion Man-for Liam Wilkinson

A Great Recipe

First off, John Kenyon has a new fiction writing contest on his blog.

He wants writers to update a fairy tale as a crime fiction story. Check it out. And check out his cool blog while you're at it.

And Now For Something Completely Different.

This was one of the best chicken dishes I've ever had. Phil made it, of course, but I found it. That counts a little, right?

Use the best chicken you can get-organic and free range if possible

Sauteed Chicken with Roasted Grapes (from the NYT

3/4 pounds black or red seedless grapes (no stems, of course)
3/4 pound green seedless grapes
4 tablespoons cold unsalted butter
4-6 large, skinned, boneless chicken breast halves
Kosher salt and black pepper
1/4 cup minced fresh chives

Oven at 375. Line a rimmed cooking sheet with parchment paper or a non-stick mat. Put half the grapes in the pan and roast 1 hour, turning once after 20 minutes. They will wrinkle and turn golden.

In a blender, puree the remaining grapes until smooth. Strain through a sieve, pressing to release all juice from skins. Discard skins

In a large, nonstick skillet, melt half the butter over high heat. Sprinkle chicken with salt and pepper and cook until golden brown on both sides, reducing heat to prevent scorching-about 4 minutes per side. Add strained grape puree and simmer until chicken is cooked and juice is syrupy about five minute. Transfer chicken to serving platter and keep warm.

Whisk remaining butter into sauce and cook over high heat for about 1 minutes. Add roasted grapes and heat through. Pour sauce and grapes over chicken. Add chives.

La Ronde-Finale

Although I was originally going to end this challenge myself next week when Dan sent me his chapter, it seemed like the perfect ending. My piece would be redundant at best.

Thanks to all the contributors. I was amazed each week at the stories I read. You are quite a group of writers and I am thrilled I get to hang out with you.

Dan Fleming finishes up LA RONDE with Part 11 right here.

Part 10 "It's Raining Down in Texas" right here. (Graham Powell)

Part 9 "Knocked-Out Loaded" at Kassandra Kelly's blog, right here.

Part 8 at Nigel Bird's blog right here.

Part 7 "Mirror Image" on Eric Beetner's blog.

Part 6 "The Lesser Evil" on Evan Lewis' blog.

Part 5 "It's a Dog's Life" on Rob Kitchin's blog can be found here.

Part 4 "Enter the Fat Lady" can be found on Sandra Seamans blog. Right

Part 3 "Provocateur" was on KA. Laity's blog.

Part 2 "Blinded by the Brilliance of His Own Reflection" was on Dana King's blog.

And here's "The Dish Ran Away with the Spoon" the original story

Monday, December 13, 2010

Richard Thompson-Dad's Gonna Kill Me

Do You Like to Be Read to?

Last week, I listened to a feature on the BBC about a new book on reading aloud. The book included some especially good pieces for doing this. Too much dialogue makes it difficult, for instance.

We have friends that read aloud to each other--mostly classics like Sherlock Holmes and similar fare.

From the moment I could read myself, I never let anyone read to me again. But I used to read to my kids while they did the dishes and they tolerated it--even after the age when they could read.

Do you like to read aloud to someone else or be read to? I guess I am talking about a more intimate experience than an audio book. I am talking about two people or so in a room sharing a book. Perhaps this enhances the experience although I doubt I could convince my husband.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Same Old

In the article linked above from the Guardian newspaper, the author, finding everyone on a train reading the Larsson books, has a hissy fit and says that no genre books can stand up to a good literary novel because genre novels have a blueprint in hand. In other words, the genre novel does not start from square one like a literary novelist does. (He says other things too but this was my area of interest).

Now I am not a big fan of the Dragon novels myself. But they have one great strength-an enormously appealing, yet not treacly, heroine. Beyond that there is too much chasing about and torture for my taste. Yes, I know that was his point. That men hate women and will pretty much do anything to them.

1) what other strengths did you find in the novels 2) is Dock right-is having a blueprint most of the struggle? Does the genre novelist get to skip over the difficult parts of writing a "literary" novel.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Saturday Night Music-THE POGUES


This is born of sleeping too much in the daytime today. Here I am thinking of such things instead of dreaming of them.

This is strictly hypothetical.

Your neighbor, a recent widower of 62 with grown children in a distant state, confides that he has been diagnosed with an illness that will eventually kill him. But with proper treatment he can have 3-5 years of a relatively a painless life. You commiserate, uneasy that he has told you, a relative stranger, such intimate details.

You wake up at two a.m. a few weeks later and remember that you forgot to turn the sprinkler off. Outside, once you have turned off the water, you hear the faint but unmistakable sound of a car running in your neighbor's garage.

What would you do?

Friday, December 10, 2010

THE SUMMING UP, Friday, December 10, 2010

December 10, 2010

Patricia Abbott, November, Georges Simenon
Paul Bishop, Atlanta Deathwatch, Ralph Dennis
Paul Brazill, The Man with the Iron Badge, Lee Goldberg
Bill Crider, As Tough as They Come, Will Oursler, editor
Scott Cupp, Body Politic, Paul Johnston
Martin Edwards, Big Business Murder, G.D. H. and M. Cole
Ed Gorman, Darker Than You Think, Jack Williamson
Gar Anthony Harwood, Fault Lines, Teri White
Jerry House, A Grave Matter, Lionell Purnell Davis
Randy Johnson, Tom Swift and the Visitor from Planet X, Victor Appleton
George Kelley, Dangerous Liaisons, Choderlos de Laclos
Rob Kitchin. We are Alone, David Howorth, The Mask of Dimitrios, Eric Ambler
K.A. Laity, Kleinzeit, Russell Hoban (and other works)
B.V. Lawson, The Dancing Man, P.M. Jubbard
Evan Lewis, Brass Knuckles, Frank Gruber
Steve Lewis, Someone Walker Over My Grave, J.B. O'Sullivan
Todd Mason, Alfred Hitchcock Presents: Stories Not for the Nervous, Robert Arthur editor; Trophies and Dead Things, Marcia Muller
Nik Morton, The Phoenix Tree, Jon Cleary
Richard Pangborn, Money, Money, Money, Ed McBain
David Rachels, The Long Rider, James McKimmey
James Reasoner, Passage to Samoa, Day Keene
Gerard Saylor, Blood Safari, Deon Meyer
Ron Scheer, Troublemakers, John McNally
Kerrie Smith, The Kimberley Killing, Peter Corris
Kevin Tipple, Map of Murder, Sudan Budavair, Suzanne Flaig

Friday's Forgotten Books, December 10, 2010

For a real treat if you haven't been there, check out Cullen's reviews of classic westerns right here.

Gar Anthony Haywood is the award winning author of the Aaron Gunner series, two thrillers written as Ray Shannon, and most recently CEMETERY ROAD.

FAULT LINES by Teri White

One of the greatest compliments a book reviewer ever paid to something I'd written was "the best Elmore Leonard rip-off since Elmore Leonard." Publisher's Weekly was referring to my 2003 standalone MAN EATER, but the reviewer could have easily said the same thing fifteen years earlier about Teri White's terrific crime novel, FAULT LINES (Mysterious Press, 1988). I have yet to come across another book that nails the quirky, deceptively scary flavor of a Dutch Leonard novel quite so flawlessly.

True to the often-imitated but rarely duplicated Leonard formula, White populated FAULT LINES with a cast of off-beat, complex characters and then spun a tale in which their separate misadventures would ultimately collide.

Bryan Murphy is an ex-New York City cop who, forced into early retirement by a near-fatal heart attack, now makes his home in Los Angeles, where's he's bored to tears. So bored that he strikes up an uneasy friendship with an ex-con named Tray Detaglio, who's only recently gotten out of the joint. Detaglio's trying to find his ex-girlfriend Kathryn Daily, a cold-hearted hustler and pole dancer who claimed to be pregnant with his child when he last heard from her, but his clumsy attempts to track her down only land him in jail. When Murphy bails him out, being the only person Detaglio could think of to call for help, the two strike a deal: Murphy will look for Kathryn if Detaglio will take over some home repair work Murphy's weak heart prevents him from tackling himself.

Meanwhile, Kathryn---having aborted Detaglio's child years ago---is shacking up elsewhere in L.A. with two more ex-cons, former cellmates Dwight St. John and Chris Moore. Psychotic career criminals who make Detaglio look like an altar boy, Dwight and Chris seem resigned to pulling one stupid, meaningless liquor store robbery after another, until Kathryn offers them a chance at something much better: the Big, once-in-a-lifetime heist they've always dreamed of pulling. One of Kathryn's many ex-boyfriends, post-Tray Detaglio, was mobbed-up drug dealer Michael Stanzione, and before she left him, she learned all there was to know about where Stanzione likes to keep a cool half-million in his palatial Beverly Hills mansion. . .

Get it? It's a terrific set-up, and White works it all to perfection. Tight plotting, solid dialogue---it's all here. But Kathryn---hot, sexy and oh, so wicked---is the poisoned straw that stirs this drink. Bedding and playing all three men at once---Dwight, Chris and Tray---as if they were suckers in a shell game, she leads the reader on a hardcore thrill ride reminiscent of. . .

Well, yeah: a great Elmore Leonard novel.

Patti Abbott, November by Georges Simenon

This is one of Simenon’s standalones, which I generally prefer to the more formulaic Maigrets. A French family lives comfortably, if claustrophobically, outside of town. The first person narrator is twenty-one and works at the local hospital as a research assistant. She’s having a rather prosaic affair with her employer, an older scientist. Her younger brother is taking classes at the local college, majoring in chemistry.

The two siblings live with their parents in a state of constant tension. The mother is an alcoholic, and goes on binges that the rest of the family calls ‘novenas’. Her behavior seems to date from the beginning of her marriage and has almost a formal structure to it. The tension of her behavior is palpable throughout the story.

A newly hired maid, a sexually obliging sort of girl, Manuela from Spain, brings some needed air into this hothouse. Both father and son begin sleeping with her. Neither is satisfied with this arrangement.

When Manuela disappears. it is unclear what has happened and the ambiguity will either intrigue or annoy you. The ending is surprising, yet fitting. This was not my favorite Simenon and yet it succeeded in keeping my interest. Short novels stand a better chance of doing that.

Ed Gorman is the author of Ticket to Ride, Stranglehold, and stories in DISCOUNT NOIR, Beat to a Pulp: Second Round and DAMN NEAR DEAD 2. You can find him here.

Forgotten Books: Darker Than You Think by Jack Williamson

Let's begin with a tale of woe. Mine.

Years ago I was asked to contribute a forty thousand word novella to a YA series about shapeshifters. You know, beings humans and otherwise who can transform themselves into other kinds of creatures. I immediately thought of Jack Williamson's The Wolves of Darkness, a grand old pulp novella set in the snowy American West and featuring enough creepy
violence and tangled romance to make it memorable. It even has its moments of sweeping poetry.

Reading Williamson's piece showed me how to write my own. A few days after the young editor received it he called to rave. And I do mean rave. The best of the entire series. Eerie and poetic. Yadda yadda yadda. For the next forty-eight hours I was intolerable to be around. It
was during this time our five cats learned to give me the finger. My swollen head was pricked soon enough. The young editor's older boss hated it. He gave my editor a list of reasons he hated it. I was to rewrite it. I wouldn't do it. I said I'd just write another one, which I did. Old editor seemed to like this one all right but he still wasn't keen on how my "characterizations" occasionally stopped the action. Backstory--verboten.

Shortly after this werewolves began to be popular. I spoke to a small reading group one night and told them about Wolves of Darkness and then about Williamson's novel Darker Than You Think. Everything I love about pulp fantasy is in this book. The werewolf angle quickly becomes just part of a massive struggle for the soul of humanity. As British reviewer
Tom Matic points out:

"According to its backstory, homo sapiens emerged as the dominant species after a long and bitter struggle with another species, homo lycanthropus, whose ability to manipulate probability gave it the power to change its shape and practise magic. These concepts, fascinating as
they are, might make for dry reading were they not mediated via a gripping thriller riddled with startling plot twists, that blends scientific romance with images of stark bloodcurdling horror, such as the kitten throttled with a ribbon and impaled with a pin to induce Mondrick's asthma attack and heart failure, and the pathetic yet fearsome figure of his blind widow, her eyes clawed out by were-leopards. With its scenes of demonic mayhem in an academic setting and the sexual and moral sparring between the two main characters, it almost feels like a prototype of Buffy, The Vampire Slayer in a film noir setting."

Williamson couching his shapeshifters in terms of science fiction lends the story a realistic edge fantasies rarely achieve. The brooding psychology of the characters also have, as Matic points out, a noirish feel. And as always Williams manages to make the natural environment a
strong element in the story. He's as good with city folk as rural. And he's especially good with his version of the femme fatale, though here she turns out to be as complicated and tortured as the protagonist.

This is one whomping great tale. If you're tired of today's werewolves, try this classic and you'll be hooked not only by this book but by Jack Williamson' work in general..

Paul Bishop
Paul Brazill
Bill Crider
Scott Cupp
Mike Dennis
Martin Edwards
Jerry House
Randy Johnson
George Kelley
Rob Kitchin
Rob Kitchin 2
K.A. Laity
B.V. Lawson
Evan Lewis
Steve Lewis/J.B. O'Sullivan
Todd Mason
Nik Morton
Richard Pangborn
David Rachels
James Reasoner
Gerard Saylor
Ron Scheer
Kerrie Smith
Kevin Tipple

Thursday, December 09, 2010

Stephen D. Rogers "In and Out"

HOW I CAME TO WRITE THIS BOOK: Libby Fischer Hellmann

"How I Came to Write the Book"
Libby Fischer Hellman

True Confession

I do remember the Sixties.

Especially 1968. That was the turning point in my political “coming of age.” I was in college in Philadelphia on April 4th when Martin Luther King was assassinated. I watched as riots consumed the inner cities. I was saddened and disappointed -- as a teenager growing up in Washington DC, I’d gone to plenty of concerts at the Howard theater where blacks and whites grooved to Motown artists together. I actually thought we were moving towards a color-blind
society -- I was young and idealistic then). So the frustration and rage expressed through the riots was – in a way– confusing.

Two months later I understood. My college boyfriend had been tapped to head up the national “Youth for Bobby Kennedy” program. I was really excited; I planned on dropping out for a semester to work with him. For some reason I couldn’t sleep the night of June 5th and turned on my radio. Bobby had been shot just after winning the California Democratic primary. He died the next day. So much for the Youth for Kennedy campaign.

Sadness soon gave way to bitterness. The country was falling apart. Over the years some of our brightest lights had been snuffed out. Internationally our government seemed to be supporting the “bad guys.” And underlying it all was an unwinnable war that – perversely -- was escalating and risking the lives of my peers. I began to question why I should work through the system, especially when the system wasn’t working for us.

I wasn’t alone. Plenty of others yearned for change. Fundamental change that would rebuild our society and culture. The next few years were tumultuous and volatile, but in the final analysis, we failed. Maybe the task was impossible -- how many Utopias exist? Sure, there were cultural shifts. But political change, in the sense of what to expect from our leaders and our government? Not so much. The era left me with unresolved feelings. What should we have done differently? Are all progressive movements doomed to fail?

At this point you’re probably wondering what this has to do with writing a thriller. And you’d be right. It’s never been my intention to write a political screed. I am a storyteller whose stories, hopefully, you can’t put down. I realized that if I was going to write about the Sixties, I needed a premise that would hook readers in the present, regardless of how much they know or remembered about the Sixties.

I found that premise in a film. Do you remember SIGNS, starring Mel Gibson? It came out in 2002, and I thought the first half was the most riveting film I’d ever seen. Gibson’s family is being stalked, but they don’t know who and they don’t know why. The second half of the film, when we discover it’s just your garden variety aliens, was an enormous let down. Putting a face, an identity, on fear reduces its power. But NOT knowing who’s targeting you -- or why -- is the most frightening thing I can imagine.

So that’s what happens to Lila Hilliard, a thirty-something professional who’s come home to Chicago for the holidays. Someone has killed her family, and now they’re after her. She has no idea who or why. As she desperately tries to figure it out, she finds wisps of clues that lead back to her parents’ activities forty years ago. In the process she discovers that her parents were not the people she thought.

The relationship between the past and present, the consequences of events that occurred years ago fascinate me. I also love stories that plunge characters into danger and make them draw on resources they didn’t know they had. SET THE NIGHT ON FIRE was the way to combine all those themes. Writing the book was an exorcism of sorts, a way to make peace with the past. And while I enjoyed reliving the past, I loved putting it behind me even more. I’m finally
ready to move on.

I hope you enjoy the read.

Libby Fischer Hellman is the author of a series of books about Georgia Davis (Doubleback, Easy Innocence, etc), the editor of CHICAGO BLUE and the author of many short stories. SET THE HOUSE ON FIRE is her first standalone novel.