Sunday, October 31, 2010

WINGS-Happy Halloween

Horror or Fantasy?

Patricia Abbott

She was lying on the bed, midway through a book, when she heard his footsteps on the stairs. He'd paused again on the floor below, probably fumbling for his key. He kept forgetting the European practice in numbering floors.

Polly had sprained her ankle the first day, prone to such things. She could hobble about now, their third day. “Stay off it for a few days,” the pharmacist in the corner shop suggested in perfect English. “You’re here two weeks, right?” They nodded simultaneously. “You have time then.”

The door opened now and she heard him putting the wine in the fridge. “Should I leave the cheese out?” The flat was small and he didn’t need to raise his voice.

“I guess,” she said, putting a finger in the book. She paused. “Saul, it’s still there.”

He stuck his head in the doorway, sighing. “So we’re going to go through this again?”

“Not if you’re going to be like that about it.”

Flouncing back, she opened the book and began to read. The streets in the book seemed as real as what she saw out the window. Sometimes life seemed safer a book length away.

“Still there, huh?” Saul said relenting, walking over to the window.

Up on her elbows, she could see bright light flowing through the fly-specked glass. “Do you see it?”

“Definitely a costume, Pol. Not as large as it looked last night. The light behind the curtain probably magnified it…somehow.” The wings had seemed gigantic then, taking up half the window. She was awestruck. Him—not so much.

“Look at it through the camera. You can see it better with the telephoto.” Her voice was too shrill, but why did he insist on diminishing it? Making it seem smaller, less magical.

He followed her instructions, snapping a few pictures. He looked at what he’d shot and shrugged. “Probably a dancer's wings. Swan Lake? Isn’t there an opera about birds too?”

“No one could dance wearing wings that big.” She was positive, having taken dance for years and nearly ruining her ankles. No more leaps or brises.

“So it’s a costume for a party then.” He put the camera down and came into the bedroom. “Maybe a masquerade.”

“It’s not Halloween.”

It was, in fact, May—the month they’d thought best to celebrate their five-year anniversary. Paris seemed perfect.

He sat down on the bed, examining her ankle. “Swelling’s gone down. Hurt still?” He pressed on it lightly.

“Not unless I try to walk.” She'd sprained her ankles a dozen times, knew what was necessary to mend it.

“Maybe you should try and walk around more. How can you stand it—coming all the way here and hardly leaving this place? If it were me….” He paused. “Maybe it's part of a costume for a ball?” Conciliatory, so she’d be too.

“I guess I could hobble across the street later for a crepe.”

He smiled. “I’ll open the wine.”

She’d first noticed the wings last night, limping out onto the tiny balcony after dinner for some air. In one direction, lay a noisy café; in the other, a pricey shoe store. But across the narrow street was a window much like theirs—except for the wings, seemingly suspended in space. Angel, swan--it wasn’t clear.

“These flats are small,” he said when she called him to look. “Maybe that’s the only place to store whatever it is. Be gone by tomorrow.”

But it wasn’t, and she’d looked at the wings so often today she thought the impression had been seared on her eyes. Television programs were all in French so what else was there to do? Read her book. Look at the wings.

When they got back from dinner, the apartment across the street was dark, and although she tried, she couldn’t tell if the wings were still there. It felt like they were, but she thought if she mentioned this to Saul, he’d scoff. Felt like it. An odd thing to say.

She couldn’t sleep. Her ankle throbbed, but that wasn’t it. She’d slept too much already, drifting in and out of sleep while Saul visited Musee D’Orsay, the Rodin Museum. Tucking her book under her arm, she crept into the living room, turning on the lamp on the desk.

It took her a minute to see it. The wings had migrated over the course of the evening. They had traveled across the street to the inside of their windows, not ten feet away. One window, closed earlier, was flung open, allowing it entry.

Now that the wings were close, she could see they were much larger than she’d imagined. They were as tall as she was but wider. It wasn’t a costume or anything like it. Whatever it was, and she didn’t have the answer, it was quivering: alive.

Across the street the window was wide open too, curtains streaming outward. It'd taken flight at some point. What drew it here?

Slowly, she moved closer, looking into its eyes. And there were eyes, one on each side of its head. A moth, she thought, and a giant one. Its coloring was not the white it appeared to be from across the street, but something closer to a lavender-gray. It twitched, fluttered, quivered. She put out her hand.

“Polly, are you up again?” It was Saul from the bedroom, his voice sodden with sleep.

“Just looking at the…wings,” she said, deliberately vague.

In a second, she was enveloped, inside the wings. Willingly. An embrace. The moth’s wings were soft, translucent. She could see through them, out into the night, back into the bedroom.

“You’d better come into bed and get some sleep,” Saul said, sounding sleepier yet. “You don’t want to miss any more of Paris.”

“I won’t,” she said with confidence.

The moth, Polly in its wings, flew out the window and into the night.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Horror or Fantasy?

I'm having trouble discerning the difference between fantasy and horror.
If a man turns into a moth and is appalled by it, that's horror. If he likes the transformation and takes off happily into the night, that's fantasy? Or is it? Is his acceptance or enjoyment of it enough to plant the story in the fantasy camp. Is it necessary that the reader be scared to qualify as horror?
I ask this because I wrote what I thought was a horror story and sent it off to a venue publishing horror and was told my story was fantasy. I am putting a similar story on here tomorrow and I bet you will call it fantasy.
I always thought of fantasy as stories with dragons or supernatural themes.
How do you define the two?

Friday, October 29, 2010

THE SUMMING UP, Friday, October 29, 2010

Check out my review of NOWHERE BOY at Crimespree Cinema.

Muchas gracias to those who downloaded DISCOUNT NOIR. And if you write an amazon review, I owe you a drink.

The Summing Up, Friday, October 29, 2010

Joe Barone, Rounding the Mark, Andrea Camilleri
Paul Bishop, The Heavenly World Series, Frank O'Rourke
PaulBrazill, Killer Year, edited by Lee Child
Bill Crider, The Hardboiled Lineup, edtied Harry Widmer
Scott Cupp, Born to Exile, Phyllis Eisenstein
Loren Eaton, Swords and Deviltry, Fritz Leiber
Martin Edwards, Six Dead Men, Andre Steeman
Ed Gorman, A Purple Place for Dying, John D. MacDonald
Glenn Harper, The Ambassasdor's Wife, Jake Needham
Randy Johnson, His Name Was Death, Fredric Brown
George Kelley, The Borderland Series, edited Thomas F Monteliore
Rob Kitchin, Halo in Blood, John Evans (Howard Browne)
B.V. Lawson, The Ethnic Detective, edited by Martin Greenberg and Bill Pronzini
Evan Lewis, The Coming of the Fairies, Arthur Conan Doyle
Steve Lewis. Curt J. Evans, The Warrielaw Jewel, Winnifred Peck
Ed Lynskey, Wives at War, Jessica Stirling (Hugh C. Rae)
Todd Mason The New Mystery (Charyn), The New Gothic (Morrow & McGrath), The New Weird (VanderMeers at al), Conjunctions 14, Morrow
Eric Peterson, The Nocturnals, Dan Breterton
James Reasoner, Hangin' Pards, Gordon D. Shirreffs
Kerrie Smith, Death Beyond the Nile, Jessica Mann
Sarah J. Wesson, The Case of the Lucky Legs, Erle Stanley Gardner
Kevin Tipple, Vengeance, Brian Pinkerton
Glenn Harper, The Ambassasor's Wife, Jake Needham

Friday's Forgotten Books, October 29, 2010


No "Official Forgotten Books" next week, November 5.

A new flash piece up at Flash Fiction Offensive.

Sarah J. Wesson is a local history librarian by day, writer of con-game fiction by night, and all-around sleep-deprived, chai latte addict. She blogs at Earful of Cider

THE CASE OF THE LUCKY LEGS, Erle Stanley Gardiner

While Earle Stanley Gardiner can hardly be called a forgotten author, nor Perry Mason a forgotten character, the books that first introduced these icons to the public appear to be fading from memory. Or at least they are in my library, where most of them have been relegated to the large print shelves so that the patrons who grew up reading about the singular cases of the granite-hard defense attorney can enjoy them without squinting.

The earliest Gardiner in our collection is The Case of the Lucky Legs. First published in 1933, it was the fifth of what would be roughly eighty-two Perry Mason adventures. Stilted by our standards, with rigid standards of grammar and punctuation, and---heaven forbid---not a few adverbs, this mystery still grabs the imagination and keeps it there until the last page.

The case starts with a provocative photograph of a pair of shapely female legs, sent to the lawyer by a prominent businessman, who wants Mason to do something about a fraud that has hurt a young lady of his acquaintance. It seems that a movie studio man has been conning innocent girls into competing in a Lucky Legs contest, the winner of which is promised a screen career that never materializes. Unfortunately, there is no legal recourse unless the con man confesses.

Unlike the televised, post World War II Perry Mason who has entered our cultural lexicon, the Perry Mason of the 1930s wasn't afraid to get his hands or his ethics dirty---he basically agrees beat a confession out of the huckster, though he does pause to square this plan with the county prosecutor before heading to the man’s hotel. In the lobby, he bumps into a frightened young lady with good-looking gams, so it comes as no surprise---to the reader or our hero---that Mason discovers the murdered body of the con man. Moments before the police arrive, alerted by a neighbor who heard a woman’s screams, Mason extracts himself by a bit of slick trickery and gets to work.

It seems odd that Perry Mason doesn’t set foot in a courtroom in Lucky Legs---he didn't settle into regular trial work until later in the series. It’s clear that Gardiner is till getting to know his character and hadn’t quite settled on his formula. But Mason does tamper with a crime scene, trap himself in a legal corner or two, smoke enough to stun a camel, and bring the murderer to justice at the fifty-ninth minute of the eleventh hour despite numerous red herrings. Furthermore, his client is as lovely and clueless as they come and the man footing the bill is an interfering, opinionated pain in the tuchus. Della Street is smart, sassy, and loyal, while Paul Drake is hangdog, hungry, and resourceful.

These are among the golden elements that have kept Perry Mason going for almost eighty years. They’re well worth a revival, not only as the prototypes to modern legal procedurals or slices of social history, but as terrific who-on-earth-dunnits.

I confess that I check out these books fairly often to keep them off the weeding reports. If that's a crime, I doubt even Hamilton Berger, Mr. Mason's D.A. foil and frenemy, could bring himself to prosecute.

Ed Lynskey is an American poet, critic, and novelist, mostly of crime fiction. He was born in Washington, D.C. where he still lives and works. His first four books are mysteries featuring his Private Investigator, Frank Johnson: The Dirt-Brown Derby (2006), The Blue Cheer (2007), Pelham Fell Here (2008), and Troglodytes (2010). A P.I. Frank Johnson short collection is Out of Town a Few Days (2004). A P.I. Sharon Knowles short story collection is A Clear Path to Cross (2008).

WIVES AT WAR, Jessica Stirling (Hugh C. Rae)

After reading a steady diet of dark-hearted noirs and crime fiction, I thought I'd like to read something a little different. Historical fiction has always been a solid bet for me, so I tried out Wives at War by Jessica Stirling. First off, the author Ms. Stirling in actuality is the male Scottish writer Hugh C. Rae.

As a general rule, I shy away from reading the longer novels, and this one that clocks in at 475 pages is a long novel, at least for me. But the story unfolds nicely and at a snappy enough pace to qualify it as a "fast read".

Wives at War is marketed as a historical romance, though I didn't encounter all that much "romance" in its storyline. The narrative chronicles three very different sisters--though all are headstrong and resilient--living in Glasgow, Scotland, on the brink of World War II. Hitler's war planes are bombing London, and they also destroy parts of the Scottish cities, an interesting historical fact unknown to me. The sisters do fall in and out of love, so maybe that's the romance part, though bomb-ravaged Scotland isn't a very romantic spot.

I like the author's prose: accessible, vivid, and skillful. High marks are given also for the settings and characterizations. The ending sort of leaves you hanging, and I suspect there is a sequel, though I haven't researched it.

In sum, I enjoyed my time spent in Wives at War, and that's what reading is really all about, now isn't it?

Ed Gorman is the author of Stranglehold among many other fine crime and western stories. You can find him here Forgotten Books: A Purple Place For Dying

Of all the Travis McGee novels, this strikes me as the one that would have been right at home in Black Mask magazine in its prime. This is McGee just before he goes all Iconic Hero on us. Here he's a little grittier, a little humbler and a lot angrier for a good sound reason--the buxom blonde rich woman who hires him to get some dirt on her husband (she suspects he's embezzling her money) is blown away before his eyes in a grim stretch of Southwestern desert.

I mention Black Mask because as all of those boys (and those few girls) knew you had to keep twisting and turning your tales to keep audiences interested. And this book has enough surprises, blind alleys and shocks to rival the most calculated beach book. Plus it's interesting to watch how McGee has to outwit not only the mysterious people who killed the woman but also the law. You have to go all the way back to Erle Stanley Gardner's fine Whispering Sands series to find a novel where the desert is as much a a character as most of the people in the book.

JDM also shows us a slice of desert life, how so many aspects of daily life are calibrated to compensate for the troubles and dangers of living here. As always his portraits of people are spot on. He was one of the first crime writers I read who was able to create characters who were a mixture of bad and good. And here we meet people we shouldn't like much but are forced to because of circumstances.

I've never been sure why A Purple Place For Dying is rarely mentioned in the McGee honor role. To me it's a fine, grim take on the classic desert story as seen through the eyes of a weary, nearly broke, often perplexed McGee.

Joe Barone

Paul Bishop

Paul Brazill

Bill Crider

Scott Cupp

Loren Eaton

Martin Edwards

Glenn Harper

Randy Johnson

George Kelley

Rob Kitchin

B.V. Lawson

Evan Lewis

Steve Lewis/Kurt J. Evans

Todd Mason

Eric Peterson

James Reasoner

Kerrie Smith

Kevin Tipple

Thursday, October 28, 2010

How I Came to Write This Book" Tom Piccirilli


NIGHTJACK by Tom Piccirilli

An original to digital download novel ebook/dp/B00486U7PA/ref=pd_rhf_p_t_1

So how does someone come to write a horror-dark-fantasy-crime novel about a group of four people with multiple personality disorder who wind up together in a mental institution where a murder may or may not have occurred, leaving a list of 167 suspects including gods, creatures of myth, historical figures, private eyes, cowboys, and a talking dog? *gasp* And a protagonist who channels the spirit of Jack the Ripper, who can see all the other bizarre personalities and interact with them?

I have no clue. Scream “Cop out!” if you like, but I’m here to tell you the truth, friends, and the truth is that the longer I write, the less I understand the process. It’s like trying to explain how you breathe–the more you think about it, the more you’re likely to hiccup, choke, snort or hyperventilate. I’m always in awe of authors who can pinpoint the reasons, inspiration, and catalysts behind their fiction. My own muse is quite silent on the subject. She gathers up all the threads of my history and weaves and knots them together in a fashion that remains inexplicable to me.

The metaphor holds true. I never know what elements will reflect some small incident from my childhood or some unresolved situation or trauma. I look back on a scene and wonder, Why did I feel the need to discuss that? Jesus Christ, now everyone will know THAT about me. It’s that kind of a personal mechanism. I never know how deep the muse is going to ply. Maybe she’ll pluck some subject that’s currently on my mind. Maybe she’ll drag out my deepest fear. She might send me to the bureau where my high school yearbook resides. I could turn over from a dream and remember a line from Abbott and Costello that sends me to the keypad to knock out a new chapter. If it plays its part in making me, it plays its part in the work. And it all plays its part in making me.

I wrote NIGHTJACK about five years ago, just as I was making my move out of the horror genre and into the crime field. It felt to me that horror was a young man’s game. Writing dark fiction about the fears that lay ahead around the next corner, as opposed to crime, which seemed to be an older guy’s arena. Dark dramatic fiction dealing with the regrets and mistakes coming up behind you. My inherent story themes and current concerns dovetailed perfectly with my mid-life crisis. Since I started my screaming slide over the hill, I’ve become more and more invested in noir fiction. I don’t need speculative dreads anymore, I’ve got a wealth of real ones to keep me busy. The well of my past is deep. Just like yours. Just like anybody’s.

So NIGHTJACK was a swan song of sorts, a strange cross-genre fantasy that starts off in a mental hospital, moves to the mean streets of New York, and eventually winds up on a Greek island where myth and reality, the damned and the doomed, the dead and the divine all meet. I wasn’t sure if this one would ever see print. It didn’t fit in with my crime fiction career at Bantam. And my small press works, even the pieces that can be considered fantastical, leaned heavily toward the noir field. But digital publishing has opened up some new doorways for works that fall outside the usual parameters of one’s career. You don’t have to worry about your ugly babies anymore, you can allow the little hideous bastards out in public and let them lope along with the beautiful kids.

Tom Piccirilli is the author of twenty novels including SHADOW SEASON, THE COLD SPOT, THE COLDEST MILE, and A CHOIR OF ILL CHILDREN. He's won two International Thriller Awards and four Bram Stoker Awards, as well as having been nominated for the Edgar, the World Fantasy Award, the Macavity, and Le Grand Prix de L'imagination. Learn more at:

This piece also ran on SPINETINGLER on Monday.
Next week, Bill Crider

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

What Music Are You Playing Lately

"My Heart Cries for You" knocks it out of the park for me. What are you playing?

La Ronde, Part 4

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

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.

Next up, Rob Kitchin.

PS. Have a flash piece at A TWIST OF NOIR: Ramir Obabie

Monday, October 25, 2010

Monday Night:: Best Movie Lines

There was an article recently that called attention to how few good lines turn up in movies because movies are not about language anymore. I think that is really true. Few good lines indeed. When was the last time you heard a conversation in a movie.

What is your favorite gimmicky movie?

That's Kevin with his friend Clara at school.

And by that I mean, a movie like MEMENTO, RUN LOLA, RUN. 3D, or SPEED that uses something other than a traditional narrative to tell its story. A movie where the normal story-telling is disrupted by a concept that drives the plot. Or a gimmick. Sometimes they work for me, other times (BLAIR WITCH PROJECT-where a supposed documentary is being made) not so much. CATFISH worked better.

I loved MEMENTO.
What worked for you.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

RULE #10

Autumn clematis. Goodbye summer.
You knew it would happen. A reviewer in the NYT today called out Elmore Leonard on breaking his own rule #10 in his new book. "Leave out the boring parts that no one reads." But can we all agree on what constitutes "boring?" I doubt it.
Although that said, I am sure there are passages in books from a different era, we would all take a red pencil to. Thomas Hardy, for instance. Now I think Leonard's rules are basically good ones, but he set himself up for this by selling them as a little book, by making money from what should have just been some good advice.
Here are the rules first set down in the same publication, I think.
The whole thing is sort of like having your children remind you that you told them to keep both hands on the steering wheel, use a designated driver, and signal before changing lanes.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

The Continuing Problem of Unlikable Characters

There is a good piece in THE GUARDIAN concerning the problem for writers with their readers when they create unlikable characters. The writer of this piece offers many examples of nasty characters who create an indelible impression --mostly because they are unlikable. The comment section is interesting too.

Likable characters are often dependent on unlikable characters to give them the means of showing their niceness. So, in effect, the nasty characters really run the show in most books. The unfaithful husband, the office gossip, the peeping tom next door, the unscrupulous business man, the abusive father, the priggish friend, the jealous wife. And on and on. What kind of tension is there in a story without a heavy dose of such characters. And in a well-written unlikable character, you will always find a bit of yourself. Is it that quality that makes them hard to take?

I am trying to think of a great novel where there is no nasty character. Even if that character is nature or war, it occpupies center stage. And what is unlikable for some readers may hold verisimilitude for others-the way life is.
And then there is a complex character like Olive Kitteredge (Strout), in the book of that title, who is both nice and not nice over the years and through various eyes. That's perhaps the greatest creation of all--someone with the complexity we all have.

Can you think of a successful book with no unlikable characters? What nasty character works for you best?

Friday, October 22, 2010

THE SUMMING UP, Friday, October 22, 2010

Check out my review of CATFISH on Crimespree Cinema. I hope someone else out there has seen it because I am longing to give my interpretation of it.

The Summing Up, Friday, October 22, 2010

Joe Barone, Pastime, Robert B. Parker
Paul Bishop, The Man From T.O.M.C.A.T, Mallory Knight
Paul Brazill, Cocaine Nights, J.G. Ballard
Bill Crider, The Open Shadow, Brad Solomon
Scott Cupp, Norman Saunders, David Saunders
Mike Dennis, Slayground, Richard Stark (Donald E. Westlake)
Martin Edwards, Trent Intervenes, E.C. Bentley
Elizabeth Foxwell, The Chocolate Cobweb, Charlotte Armstrong
Ed Gorman, His Name Was Death, Fredric Brown
Glenn Harper, The Last Llanelli Train, Robert Lewis
Randy Johnson, Come Seven, Come Death, ed. Henry Morrison
George Kelley, Amos Walker, The Complete Story Collection, Loren De. Estleman
B.V. Lawson, Speaking of Murder, edited by Gorman and Greenberg
Evan Lewis, The Virgin Kills, Raoul Whitfield
Steve Lewis/Allen J. Hubin, Target of Opportunity, Max Byrd
Tom Llewellyn, Mr. Mysterious and Company, Sid Fleischman
Todd Mason, Drunk Stoned Brilliant Dead: The Writers and Artists Who Made the National Lampoon Insanely Great, edited by Rick Meyerowitz
Eric Peterson, The Rainbow Cadensa, J. Neil Schulman James Reasoner, The Clue of the Forgotten Murder, Erle Stanley Gardner
Gerald So, The Graduate, Charles Webb
Kerrie Smith, Crime for the Connossieur, Gerald Sparrow
Kevin Tipple/Barry Ergang, Small Game, John Blades

DISCOUNT NOIR winds its way into the world

If you thought standing in line at your local warehouse store was murder, then you haven't been to Megamart. These flash fiction tales of superstore madness and mayhem will make you think twice the next time you hear "clean up on aisle 13."

This anthology contains works by: Patricia Abbott, Sophie Littlefield, Kieran Shea, Chad Eagleton, Ed Gorman, Cormac Brown, Fleur Bradley, Alan Griffiths, Laura Benedict, Garnett Elliot, Eric Beetner, Jack Bates, Bill Crider, Loren Eaton, John DuMond, John McFetridge, Toni McGee Causey, Jeff Vande Zande, James Reasoner, Kyle Minor, Randy Rohn, Todd Mason, Byron Quertermous, Sandra Scoppettone, Stephen D. Rogers, Steve Weddle, Evan Lewis, Daniel B. O'Shea, Sandra Seamans, Albert Tucher, Donna Moore, John Weagly, Keith Rawson, Gerald So, Dave Zeltserman, Dorte Hummelshoj Jakobsen, Jay Stringer, Anne Frasier, Kathleen A. Ryan, Eric Peterson, Chris Grabenstein and J.T. Ellison.

"The Untreed Reads Store ( (within the next 24 hours) (within the next 24 hours)

Amazon/AmazonUK is experiencing a temporary delay. Hopefully it will be available for sale within the next 48 hours. For now, there is a Kindle version available from Smashwords. It's not as well-formatted as the Amazon version (as I mentioned previously, Smashwords does their own conversion instead of using our properly-formatted file) but it IS available.

Over the course of the next few weeks, the title will be picked up by our various distributors and sent out to the 60+ retailers listed on the right side of our homepage for worldwide distribution. As we have readers on every continent (yes, I've confirmed a reader on Antarctica...they like mysteries), this will be a huge plus. The UK market in particular loves short stories and mysteries, so we're expecting it to be popular there. "

Friday's Forgotten Books, October 22, 2010l

Tom Llewellyn, author of THE TILTING HOUSE, grew up in a drafty, old house (without tilting floors) on the shores of the Puget Sound. One winter, the house got so cold that the water in the toilet actually froze. Tom studied creative writing at the University of Washington in Seattle. He has worked as a trade journalist and copywriter, and is the cofounder of the guerrilla art project, Beautiful Angle. Tom lives with his wife and four rambunctious children in a Victorian-era home (with tilting floors) in Tacoma, Washington, the city which provides the setting for The Tilting House, his debut novel from Tricycle Press, an imprint of Random House.

For m
ore information about the author and the book, visit

Mr. Mysterious and Company by Sid Fleischman

As a first-time children’s novelist myself, I have an obsession with the first books of successful kid-book writers. Louis Sacchar’s “Sideways Stories from Wayside School,” came out years before “Holes” topped bestseller lists, Roald Dahl’s “The Gremlims” was published years before Charlie found his chocolate factory, and Sid Fleischman’s “Mr. Mysterious and Company,” introduced him years before he won the Newberry Medal for “The Whipping Boy.”

I first read “Mr. Mysterious and Company” when I was about 10 years old—35 years ago. It fascinated me. It’s about a pioneer family, traveling in their covered wagon on the way to a new and possibly better life in distant California. But theirs was no ordinary wagon. Read Fleischman’s description of it here:

It was a most remarkable sight. Even the hawks and buzzards sleeping in the blue Texas sky awoke in midair to glance down in wonder.

A covered wagon was lurching west along the barren trail to Cactus City, but it was like no other wagon seen in those parts before. To begin with, it was the wrong color. Its canvas was bright red and could be seen for miles. The wheels were painted gold, like a circus wagon, and the horses (if seeing was believing) were as white as swans.

The man driving this most remarkable wagon and these white horses was himself a most remarkable man. He wore a stovepipe hat, as tall as Abe Lincoln's and just as black, and had a smiling red beard even sharper than the letter V. If the hawks and buzzards could have read, they would have seen his name in golden letters a foot high on the sides of the wagon: MR. MYSTERIOUS & COMPANY

Mr. Mysterious (aka Andrew Perkins Hackett) is a traveling magician. He’s taking his wife and three children, Anne, Paul and Jane, out west to live on a farm and go to school. Anne, the oldest, is looking forward to a more stable life. But Paul and Jane long for the magic show to continue. Why wouldn’t they? In the show, they get to see Jane float through the air. They can watch the head in the box move its lips and talk (that's Paul behind the whiskers). They get to help Mr. Mysterious--Pa himself--make a cow lay an egg and a chicken give milk.

Along the way, they run into adventures galore, including showdowns with the notorious Badlands Kid. The Kid is armed with six-shooters. The family’s only defense is a wagon full of magic tricks. Who will win? Will the family survive long enough to reach California? And what will happen to the magic show once they get there?

Fleischman does a fantastic job of combining the adventures of frontier life with the mystifying trickery of a magic show. The author comes by his knowledge honestly. Before writing books, he worked for years sawing ladies in half as a vaudeville circuit magician.

Because of Fleischman’s continuing popularity, the book came back into print a few years ago, so it’s easy to find. I still have that original copy and I read it to my own kids recently to find out how it held up. They loved it. You will, too.

Ed Gorman is the author of STRANGLEHOLD, A TICKET TO RIDE and many other fine novels. You can find him here.

HIS NAME WAS DEATH by Fredric Brown

After the big war American lives were in flux. Millions trekked to the suburbs to begin an entirely new way of life. And many of the prohibitions that had been common before the war were now relaxed.
Kurt Vonnegut once remarked that the novels of John D. MacDonald charted the Fifties and early Sixties so well that students of sociology would be able to read them decades later and get a true feel for the era.
I feel the same thing is true of several of Fredric Brown’s novels, including His Name Was Death, a novel so cunningly crafted that Anthony Boucher in the New York Times said on publication, “You’ll be compelled to read through in one sitting to one of the very few endings that have genuinely surprised me in a long time.”
In addition to the stunning story there’s also Brown’s take on mid-Fifties. His mid-Fifties. While suburban mysteries came into fashion Brown frequently wrote about life in small cities, in this case a Midwestern burg where a series of murders has baffled police and terrified the citizenry. The city resembles aspects of Brown’s Milwaukee. The characters likely resemble the people he knew in his earlier life.
Fredric William Brown was born into the working class, educated in public schools and night school as well as a year at college. Brown spent nearly twelve years working as an office worker during the Depression. From there he became a proofreader at the Milwuakee Journal. Given his penchant for drinking and his fondness for bars, Brown certainly encountered the types—if not the actual people—he uses in His Name Was Death.
The prototype for Darius Conn, small-time businessman, might well have been one of Brown’s drinking buddies. Successful but not as much as he lets on; likes his nights out with the boys because frankly his marriage has gone stale; and talks a lot about the same kind of dreams heavy drinkers always talk about.
That’s the façade Conn presents anyway. In truth he murdered his wife over a year ago. The police accepted it as an accident. And his plan for becoming an important businessman is being financed by his turning his printing business into a forgery operation.
But then one afternoon the fetching Joyce Dugan, his trusted Girl Friday, talks to a man who stops in to see Conn so he can pick up some money Conn owes him. Dugan calls around and finally locates Conn who tells her, yes, use the desk fund to pay him. And then have a nice weekend. Well, turns out the desk fund doesn’t have enough so she opens the safe and takes the extra money from there. Not knowing of course that it’s counterfeit.
Brown was clearly one of those writers who enjoyed amusing himself. This story could have been told in a straight-forward fashion but it wouldn’t have near the power it does. Brown tells his tale from nine different points of view. And with a dark chuckle up his sleeve, he shows how each one of them meets his or her fate because of Joyce Dugan giving the man (an old high school boy friend, as it turns out; and a far more preferable mate than the bullying gambler she married) just a few counterfeit bills. A remarkable narrative structure that Brown used at lest twice again.
In true page-turner fashion, Brown sets up his story in an intricate set of inter-locking cliff hangers. His depictions of raw fear, terror, rage, betrayl are played off against moments of black humor and even sweet romance.
This is one of Brown’s true crowd-pleasers and should have been one of his biggest sellers. But Brown, who was often referred to as a “writer’s writer,” was never a big seller. I once talked to the man who’d been the sales manager of Bantam Books during the Fifties. His favorite writer bar none was Fred Brown. He said he did everything he could to break him out but it never happened.
So I go back to my thesis at the top. Brown did the realistic every day of the working class so well it may have limited his appeal. The time was dominated by private detectives and the romance of the mean streets. Brown’s streets were mean all right but they were filled with many of life’s losers, the kind of in-laws most of us dread having. Philip Marlowe was handsome, brave and witty. Brown’s good guys were sixty dollar a week salesmen whose ambition was to move out of their sleeping rooms into real apartments. Getting laid in a sleeping room ain’t easy.
But time has been kind to the best of Fredric Brown’s novels and stories. He has yet to develop the cult he deserves but at least his name and discussions of his work are appearing with more and more frequency on websites of film and noir.
And what you should read is one of the finest crime novel the Fifties, a decade rich with many true masterpieces.

Joe Barone

Paul Bishop

Paul Brazill

Bill Crider

Scott Cupp

Mike Dennis

Martin Edwards

Elizabeth Foxwell

Glenn Harper

Randy Johnson

George Kelley

B.V. Lawson

Evan Lewis

Steve Lewis/Allen J. Hubin

Todd Mason

Eric Peterson

James Reasoner

Kerrie Smith

Gerald So

Kevin Tipple

Thursday, October 21, 2010


"My wife and I moved to a house where we had this weird weed-like tree where this large root system ran under our front and side yards. Every day little weed/trees would sprout out from this, and they'd grow fast. If you didn't pull them out, within a week they'd be about a foot high and would start developing thorns. So every day I'd walk around our property pulling out hundreds of these suckers, and after a summer of this, I told my wife I was going to write a book about it. She told me I was nuts. So that left me no choice but to write The
Caretaker of Lorne Field."

Dave Zeltserman is also the author of Pariah, Small Crimes, Killer, 21 Tales and the forthcoming Outsourced. Be sure to read Dave's story in DISCOUNT NOIR, coming to ebook venues soon.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010



The organization HOME FOR OUR TROOPS builds specially adapted homes for severely injured veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, at no cost to the veteran or the veteran’s family.

Image uploads are disabled so just picture this wonderful book.


From the desk of Charles Ardai--

We've got some big news to announce today:
After a year's hiatus, Hard Case Crime will be returning to bookstores with new titles in 2011, thanks to a deal we just signed with UK-based Titan Publishing.
Titan is a publisher both of fiction and of gorgeous art books focusing on pop culture such as movie poster art, pin-ups, newspaper comic strips, and Golden Age comic books, and has worked with filmmakers such as J.J. Abrams, Joss Whedon, and George Lucas.

Titan has been around for 30 years, has more than 200 employees, and in addition to publishing books also has a magazine division, a retail division (Titan owns the famous Forbidden Planet bookstore in London, and until recently co-owned the Murder One mystery bookstore with Maxim Jakubowski), and a merchandise division that produces items such as t-shirts, sculptures, and accessories. We look forward to exploring ways we might develop some cool Hard Case Crime products with them!

But first things first: books.
Hard Case Crime will relaunch in September/October 2011 with four new books, including CHOKE HOLD by Christa Faust (sequel to her Edgar Award-nominated MONEY SHOT), QUARRY'S EX by Max Allan Collins (the latest in the popular series of hit man novels by the author of "Road to Perdition"), and two never-before-published novels by MWA Grand Masters (names to be announced shortly).

Additionally, Titan Publishing plans to acquire all existing stock of Hard Case Crime's backlist from Dorchester Publishing and to resume shipping these titles to booksellers immediately.
New books will be published in paperback (possibly some in hardcover as well!); ebook editions will also be released across multiple platforms. Titan is distributed in the U.S. and Canada by Random House.

We're very excited about working with Titan (indeed, we had offers from five publishers and chose Titan over several that were much larger and better-known) -- they love pulp fiction as much as we do and appreciate that in books like ours the visual dimension is just as important as the storytelling. It's hard to imagine a better home for Hard Case Crime.

Gone But Not Gone

Has it occurred to you that the words of many deceased people still inhabit our hallowed cyperspace?

I thought of this when I came across David Thompson here and there this week. This is something entirely new-that your blog, website, facebook page, etc. will continue to be available after you are not. Is this a good thing?

But do you want people reading your words after your death. I am not talking about stories that continue to be available online but your personal thoughts. Your diary in effect.

Should you have something in your will signaling you intention? Do you need a blog caretaker? This sounds like a joke, but it isn't... exactly.

In David's case, he died a natural death. What if the writer is a suicide? Should their last words be taken down or remain? Should people be able to sift through a blog later? I am sure this is being given some thought by legal minds, but what do you want?

Do you want your blog, website or whatever left alone or removed? Do you feel queasy reading the last words of someone now dead? What is the etiquette if the blogger does not state a preference? Some deaths do not allow time for one.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Tuesday Night Music-Lest We Forget-Mavis Staples



HUH! Does Don go nuts every time he goes to California?
Does Don need to marry a woman as helpless as Betty?
Can Don spend a night without a woman in his bed?
Is Don afraid of smart women except in the workplace?
Would Don have married any woman he came upon after he was given the ring? Perhaps it was THE RING.

"Oh, how do you solve a problem like Don Draper?
How do you hold a moonbeam in your hand?"

Great season. What did you think?

LA RONDE, Part Three: "Provocateur" K. A. Laity

You can find Part 3 here on Kate's blog.

You can find Part 2, here on Dana King's blog.


Monday, October 18, 2010

Beat to a Pulp--Round One

Beat to a Pulp-Round One is now available on Amazon. I have a copy and have read half a dozen stories-all great. David Cranmer took a chance on publishing this book himself--giving it the best cover, font, and editing all on his own dime.

Make his faith that it would find an audience be justified.

Halloween Grows Near

Happy Birthday, Phil! The world's most perfect husband.

What's your favorite scary story, novel or movie? I doubt that any book scared me more than THE OTHER by Tom Tryon. Except maybe SALEM'S LOT, Stephen King.

Sunday, October 17, 2010


On Amazon now.

In stores, July 2011. Little Brown, Regan Arthur Books

Thirteen-year old Lizzie Hood and her next door neighbor Evie Verver are inseparable. They are best friends who swap bathing suits and field-hockey sticks, and share everything that's happened to them. Together they live in the shadow of Evie's glamorous older sister Dusty, who provides a window on the exotic, intoxicating possibilities of their own teenage horizons. To Lizzie, the Verver household, presided over by Evie's big-hearted father, is the world's most perfect place.

And then, one afternoon, Evie disappears. The only clue: a maroon sedan Lizzie spotted driving past the two girls earlier in the day. As a rabid, giddy panic spreads through the Midwestern suburban community, everyone looks to Lizzie for answers. Was Evie unhappy, troubled, upset? Had she mentioned being followed? Would she have gotten into the car of a stranger?

Lizzie takes up her own furtive pursuit of the truth, prowling nights through backyards, peering through windows, pushing herself to the dark center of Evie's world. Haunted by dreams of her lost friend and titillated by her own new power at the center of the disappearance, Lizzie uncovers secrets and lies that make her wonder if she knew her best friend at all.

Saturday, October 16, 2010


"I was wondering if you and/or the blog readers have an answer for this: when you finish reading a book you really like, how long do you wait until starting the next book? Immediately? The next day? If it's one of a series are you more likely to go on to the next in the series right away or read something else first?"

For my part, I always start another book immediately or that same day at least.
But never another book by the same author and usually a different kind of book. For instance the last few books I've read: BROKEN SHORE (crime) STRANGLEHOLD (crime), FATHER OF THE RAIN (lit), I'D KNOW YOU ANYWHERE (crime), CARETAKER OF LORNE FIELD (horror), THE HELP (mainstream). Forgive the "dreaded" classifications here but I am trying to point out there are different sorts of books-mostly but not entirely about crime.

And also for this handful of books I finished, there are double the number of books I started and discarded over this period.

Years ago, I plowed right through any series I stumbled on but no longer.

What is your progression and what is the timeline. Does anyone wait several days to absorb a book before starting another one? Is your next book at elbow length?

Friday, October 15, 2010

THE SUMMING UP, Friday, October 15, 2010

The Summing Up, Friday, October 15, 2010

Patricia Abbott, True Grit, Charles Portis
Joe Barone, Stardust, Robert B. Parker
Paul Bishop, Sexpionage and other Sixties Serials
Paul Brazill, Rogue Males, Geoffrey Household
David Cranmer, Unaccutomed As I Am to Public Dying, Larry Maddock
Bill Crider, The Eureka Years, Annette Peltz McCormas, editor
Scott Cupp, Sea King of Mars, Leigh Brackett
Martin Edwards, The Layton Court Mystery, Anthony Berkley
Dan Fleming, A Gypsy Good Time, Gustave Hasford
Ed Gorman, The Crimes of Jordan Wise, Bill Pronzini
Glenn Harper, Black August, Timothy Williams
Randy Johnson, Climb a Broken Ladder and B Girl, Robert Novak
George Kelley, Tragg's Choice, Clifton Adams
B.V. Lawson, Exeunt Murders, Anthony Boucher
Evan Lewis, The Case of the Six Coffins, by The Mysterious Wu Fang
Steve Lewis/William F. Deeck, A Corpse for Christmas, Henry Kane
Todd Mason, Adventures in Time & Space, Healy & McComas; Great Tales of the Supernatural
Herbert Wise and Phyllis Fraser
James Reasoner, Escape Across the Cosmos, Gardner Fox
Kerrie Smith, Shoestring, Paul Ableman
Kevin Tipple, Bullets, Steve Brewer

Friday's Forgotten Books, October 15, 2010

Ed Gorman is the author of STRANGLEHOLD and the forthecoming anthology, BY HOOK OR BY CROOK. He also has a story in DISCOUNT NOIR. You can find him here.


While this fine novel was published in 2006, I think it's appropriate here because while it got its due critically, it deserved a much larger audience.Actuary Jordan Wise tells a joke on himself a third of the way through the novel: (paraphrase) an actuary is somebody who doesn’t have the personality to be an accountant. If you watch many true crime shows, you see a lot of Jordan Wises. People who fall into crime through circumstance rather than those who go looking for it. Jordan becomes a criminal only after meeting Annalise, a troubled and very attractive young woman who needs two things badly – sex and money. But in order to get the sex on a regular basis, Jordan must first provide the money. He embezzles a half million dollars and flees with Annalise to the Virgin Islands. In this first part of the novel, there’s nice James M. Cainian detail about how Jordan comes alive for the first time in his life. Some of this is due, whether he admits it or not, to the danger of committing a serious crime. But most of it is due to Annalise and his profound sexual awakening. The central section of the book reminds me of one of Maugham’s great South Seas tales – lust, betrayal, shame played out against vast natural beauty and a native society that, thanks to an old sea man named Bone, that Jordan comes to see value in – even if Annalise, her head filled with dreams of Paris and glamor, does not. Old Maugham got one thing right for sure – as Pronzini demonstrates here – a good share of humanity, wherever you find them, are both treacherous and more than slightly insane. There are amazing sections of writing about sea craft and sailing that remind me not of old Travis McGee but of the profoundly more troubled and desperate men of Charles Williams who find purity and peace only in the great and epic truths of the sea. That they may be as crazed and treacherous as everybody else does not seem to bother them unduly. There are also amazing sections (almost diaristic sections) where Jordan tells of us his fears and desires, his failings and his dreams. In places he deals vividly, painfully with his secret terror of not being enough of a man in any sense to hold Annalise. The publisher calls this a novel and so it is. Pronzini brings great original width and breadth to the telling of this dark adventure that is both physical and spiritual. He has never written a better novel, the prose here literary in the best sense, lucid and compelling, fit for both action and introspection. You can’t read a page of this without seeing it in movie terms. The psychologically violent love story played out against a variety of contemporary settings gives the narrative great scope. And in Jordan Wise and Annalise he has created two timeless people. This story could have been set in ancient Egypt or Harlem in 1903 or an LA roller skating disco in 1981. As Faulkner said, neither the human heart nor the human dilemma ever changes.

Patti Abbott is the co-editor of DISCOUNT NOIR, debuting on October 19th wherever ebooks are sold.
Reading a Forgotten Book
TRUE GRIT, Charles Portis

TRUE GRIT was reviewed by someone over the last 2 + years and I decided I needed to read it. When I saw a copy at a flea market for $.25 I decided the time had come. Or maybe it was the information that the movie was being remade by the Cohn Brothers and starring Jeff Bridges that sparked my interest.

At any rate, I grabbed the book and read it in a matter of hours. The voice of its protagonist, Mattie Ross, was just that compelling. The story was simple but told well. It stuck doggedly, as doggedly as Mattie, to Mattie's quest for justice with very few segues.

Mattie Ross is a straight-talking girl from Arkansas who's just lost her father to a deceitful farmhand. Justice for this murder will only be achieved if Mattie can capture Chaney herself.

Chaney, the murderer, is "trash" hired by Mattie's father out of pity. The two men go to Fort Smith to buy horses and Mr. Ross ends up dead after being robbed by Chaney.

Mattie hires Rooster Cogburn, the toughest deputy she can find, insisting on accompanying him despite repeated attempts to throw her off the trail. He is a one-eyed, trigger-happy drunk but with a lot of the "grit" the impresses a young girl.

Joined by a Texas Ranger, named La Boeuf, chasing Chaney for another crime. the three run down Chaney, now part of the Ned Pepper gang, and find themselves justice though at some cost. The book ends as Mattie, a spinster, tells us about the final days of each of the three posse members.

The book is framed by the conceit of an old woman telling a story from her youth. We see what happens through her eyes, the eyes of a young girl. You can't help falling in love with Cogburn and Mattie by the end of the book. True Grit applies to both of them equally. This is surely a classic American story. I wonder if it's on school reading lists.

Joe Barone
Paul Bishop
Paul Brazill
David Cranmer
Bill Crider
Scott Cupp
Martin Edwards
Dan Fleming
Glenn Harper
Randy Johnson
George Kelley
B.V. Lawson
Evan Lewis
Steve Lewis/William F. Deeck
Todd Mason
James Reasoner
Kerrie Smith
Kevin Tipple

Thursday, October 14, 2010

The Music From True Grit

The score from TRUE GRIT (just watched it for the first time) by Elmer Bernstein was the typical sweeping lush music of that era, the kind we came to associate with Westerns and wide-screen films. Every note seems familiar although I never saw the movie before last night. The only vocals come from Glen Campbell in the title song.

Now I am fairly sure with the new version in December the music will be very different. It will probably feature country music from that era. More authentic but perhaps not as evocative.

Do scores from composers like Bernstein still evoke the West to you? Or will a score full of fiddles, church music, tinny pianos and mandolins bring Arkansas home?


This is the first in what I hope will be a weekly feature on how writers came to write a specific book.

How I Came To Write This Book:
Johnny Porno
by Charlie Stella

A few years ago, after reading an article about the tragic life and death of Linda Susan Boreman (a.k.a., Linda Lovelace), I noticed a documentary had been made about the film responsible for her becoming an overnight celebrity and household name.

Inside Deep Throat was a masterful exposé that detailed the many variables at play behind the making of the film and how its political persecution became the driving force behind its financial success. Immediately after watching the documentary, my wife and I looked to each other and said, “Next book.”

That's from the forward in my book Johnny Porno. All I can add to it is the fact that I was pretty run-down idea wise regarding my fictional mob family (the Vignieri family) and was inspired by the historical novels of Craig McDonald (his Lassiter series). What I found looking back to that time (research) was a great deal of fun (the research itself) and the time frame worked well with my characters (who reappear throughout my seven crime novels).

It was special fun to write about my favorite character, Tommy Burns ... a quirky hit man in his infancy, so to speak.


Stay tuned on Thursdays for future installments of HOW I CAME TO WRITE THIS BOOK

Next up: Dave Zeltserman

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Wednesday Night Warning

Keep your eyes on this new trick from the airlines, fellow passengers. Delta Airlines changed our reservation from a direct flight to one with a stop on the way and didn't bother to notify us. A big change in departure times not to mention duration of the trip.

So check your itineraries often. I thought it was Northworst, but I spoke too soon.

What writer have you been meaning to read?

My son, Josh, carving a pumpkin and holding his kid the way he does everything. With great dedication.

Although I have knocked off books by a few writers new to me lately (Temple, Pelecanos) I have been meaning to read Ann Cleves for a long time now. What about you? Who haven't you gotten to yet?