Friday, December 30, 2011

Thursday, December 29, 2011

My Life at the Theater-I AM MY OWN WIFE

We saw this in 2003 at the Lyceum Theater in NY. It was a one-man show starring Jefferson Mays in a play written by Doug Wright. Wright based it on his own conversations with German transvestite, Charlotte von Mahlsdorf.

It tells the story of an antique dealer, transvestite living in Eastern Germany under the Communist occupation and the dreaded Stasi and her difficulties with this situation. Mays played forty roles in the production and played them well.

One- person plays are not my favorite theater experience (although Ellen Burstyn) playing Shirley Valentine was an exception.

Mays was very very good though and the play was good enough that I bought the script. It won the Tony for best play and the Pulitizer Prize in 2004,

Ten Things I'd Like to See Retired in 2012

1. The Kardashians-even though I am not quite sure who or what they are.
2. Any play or musical with the word "Nun" in it. (Nothing against a serious look at a nun, just these insipid shows).
3. Al Sharpton as a TV host
4. Netflix
5. GOP debates
6. Discussion over whether Zooey Deschanel or James Franco are cute or annoying. I vote ANNOYING.
7. Attempts by Amazon to take over the world.
8. Real Housewives from anywhere
9. Man v. Food and Dinners, Drive-in and Dives. (Sorry, Phil)
10. The one-percent.

Adding: British royalty and the New York Times insistence on only showing high-priced fashions, homes, food, marriages. Do they think only the wealthy peruse their pages? I may be just getting started.




by Eric Beetner

I’ve been told to slow down. I’m not good at it though. See, 2011 turned out to be a prolific year for me. Most years are, you’d just never know it because all the pages in the world, if they are left on my computer – who cares? This year saw several releases and for that I’m grateful and proud.

I should note that it seemed as if all year Patti and I were stalking each other. By the time we finally got our ever-so-brief face time at Bouchercon we’d already been between the covers of several anthologies with a few more still to go.

D*cked, Off The Record, Grimm Tales, Pulp Ink. I have been lucky enough to be invited into all these stellar anthologies alongside Patti and several other top writers I am honored to share a table of contents with. The scariest part of an anthology is wondering what the other writers are going to surround you with, and if your own story will be up to snuff. I had nothing to fear in any of these collections. Every one is a top notch collection.

Pulp Ink has some of the flat-out hardest core crime stories all year. Appropriate since the inspiration was a Tarantino movie. I was beyond thrilled when Nigel Bird handed me the title “Zed’s dead, baby”, and I’m pleased with the story that came from that prompt.

D*cked is the craziest anthology I’ve ever seen and it prompted me to write the craziest story I’ve ever written – one narrated by Dick Cheney’s heart. In an election year the world needs to know about this book.

Off The Record took dozens of classic songs and re-imagined them as crime tales and then gave away all the profits to children’s reading charities. How could I go wrong with California Dreamin’? Of course, my dream is a dark one, despite all the sunshine.

Grimm Tales has been in the works for a while now so no one can accuse us of jumping on the bandwagon of reinventing Grimm Bros. fairy tales in a new genre. The results here are outstanding. My take on Cinderella is one I’ll not be reading to my kids any time soon.

I also had two novellas published this year. Dig Two Graves puts me alongside Patti again in the Snubnose Press stable of writers. With the high bar raised by Monkey Justice and Keith Rawson’s The Chaos We Know, my sordid revenge tale slipped behind the velvet rope and took up residence aside some serious talent.

Dig Two Graves had been sitting around for a while and when Snubnose announced they were throwing their hat in the ring I couldn’t resist sending this nasty little adventure their way. So far the response has been great. My Mother had to stop reading only two pages in. Score one for me, I guess. I warned her.

Split Decision is my entry into the Fight Card series of novellas set in the 1950s. The series is loosely tied together but each is a standalone book written by a different author under the blanket pseudonym Jack Tunney. The two that came before, Felony Fists and The Cutman, were great so I knew I had to be on my game when they invited me to pen an original story. The slate of entries for 2012 is already mighty impressive and I look forward to lining up these books on my shelf as they come in. (Yep, they do have print versions available, with alternate covers and our own names on them too)

So, yeah, a big year. That’s not even mentioning the three novels I completed that still await discovery. So will I slow down in 2012? Doubt it. I’ve been taking a break in December to handle publicity of the books and to sell our house and move. But, the ideas are piling up and I’m getting antsy. I only hope I can have another great year of generous editors, gracious writers and kind readers like I had in 2011.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Timeless Movies

A lot of movies only seem good at the time--or for the first time. Which ones hold up best for you?

Here is my list.


Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Tuesday Night Music: Mumford and Sons

Forgotten Movies: Whistle Down the Wind, 1961

Written by Mary Hayley Bell, Hayley's mother, WHISTLE DOWN THE WIND tells the story of some English schoolchildren who take care of a man they believe is Jesus-Alan Bates plays the man on the run from the law. The music is a knockout, as are the gorgeous setting. I barely remember thi one but I was such a big Mills fan, it sticks a bit.

For more forgotten movies, check out Todd Mason.

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Merry Christmas!

to all my online friends, you mean so much to me.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Thursday, December 22, 2011

My Life at the Theater-RUMORS

Saw this in 1989 at the Broadhurst Theater on Broadway. It starred Christine Baranski, Ron Leibman, Larry Linville, Jessica Walter, Mark Nelson and others in a laugh-filled farce. The play was by Neil Simon and it was directed by Gene Saks. I can't tell you much more than that there was a lot of doors opening and closing.

Baranski was amazing.

I bet Jeff saw this one too.

Like Crazy

There are so few good love stories, I could not resist writing about this one. It may be gone from the theaters now, but the DVD is surely on its way. Too late to post it on Crimespree Cinema so here it is.

A British student ignores her student visa regulations when she falls in love with an American student one summer, and this precipitates a world of trouble for them both.

They can't seem to find long-term happiness with each other or with anyone else. They are locked in that summer romance, can't see past it.

There is scarcely a false note in this sad little Valentine. Every character is shown to their best advantage, including the parents and other lovers. How often does this happen?

Starring Anton Yelchin, Felicity Jones, Jennifer Lawrence, Charlie Bewley, Alex Kingston and Oliver Muirhead.

Directed by Drake Doremus, who seems to have come out of nowhere to do this great little movie.

What love story do you find satisfying? Movie or book or TV?

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Jerry Lewis

I have never been a big Jerry Lewis fan, but after watching the doc this week, I almost get it based on this one clip. But still remain clueless about why false teeth and bad haircuts are funny.

What about you?



by Mike Dennis


I've said before that I can't make up stories, despite having written four published novels, numerous short stories, and a few more novels that will, thankfully, never see the light of day. What I do is start with some flimsy thread, like a central character, or a setting, or even a couple of lines from a song. From that, the central character develops a little, then takes me wherever he wants to go. I only tag along to chronicle the journey.

The Ghosts Of Havana was particularly a difficult experience. All I had was an opening line, which I lifted from one of my bottom-drawer novels. I liked it, and because it conveyed a certain tension right away, I ran with it, thinking it could eventually become a coherent novel.

About a hundred pages in, however, the ice curtain fell. The whole book froze in place, and I couldn't go anywhere with it. The story came grinding to a halt and the characters, who normally tell me what to do, took an extended vacation.

See, this is what happens when I'm forced to make up a story. Day after day, I returned to the computer and day after day, the word count was the same: zero. I liked what there was of the story so far, but I needed help and plenty of it.

Well, since I had ripped off the opening line from an earlier novel, I started rummaging around in that drawer among other discarded novels for an idea, a notion, anything.

It wasn't long before I found my salvation.

About fifteen years ago, I'd started a novel about a man who grew up with a terrible family secret, one his mother only told him about very generally, with no details at all. The secret was contained in a mysterious box his mother had squirreled away, and when she died, he learned of its contents. Right about that time, he realized people were trying to kill him. That's about as far as I'd gotten with that book when I permanently set it aside.

But wait! The idea of a lethal family secret hidden away in a box … could it possibly fit into my current novel, the one that would become The Ghosts Of Havana? I made a couple of minor changes and grafted that idea onto the novel for a perfect fit. From there, I sailed to the ending.

Another novel completed where I didn't have to make up the story.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Dolly again "Shine"

Thanks, Loren.

Tuesday Night Music: Dolly Parton

How I Came to Edit This Book: John Kenyon


So, I had an idea about this time last year as I was reading some fairy tales to my then-3 year old: what if you took the premise of a fairy tale and recast it as crime fiction? It wouldn't take much; these tales, particularly in their true Grimm-fueled depravity, are quite dark. I was reading "Puss in Boots" and immediately began to think of a plot that would pull the story into the present.

But how to explain this premise? If I submitted the story to a publication, would it require a long set up? If not, without that context, would it work? I decided that the best bet would be to surround it with like-minded stories. Thus, a idea was hatched. I got on my blog, Things I'd Rather Be Doing, and issued a challenge to writers to pen a story that updates a fairy tale as a crime fiction story.

The response was fantastic, and I ended up with 16 great stories (with my own humble contribution making it 17 total). I posted the links, people read the stories and liked them and then, well, that was it.

But the stories wouldn't go away. I kept going back to them, thinking there should be a more permanent way to present these. I had just read the collection Discount Noir and Terminal Damage, anthologies with a similar genesis, and realized what I had was an ebook just waiting to be published.

I contacted the folks behind Discount Noir, Untreed Reads, and made my pitch. They were enthusiastic about the project, and we then spent the last several months working on it -- editing the stories with the writers, lining up the wonderful Ken Bruen to write an introduction, working with Untreed on the presentation and design and more.

In the meantime, popular culture seemed to catch up with what I conceived while reading to my son that day. There was a film retelling of "Little Red Riding Hood," and at least two television shows, including the NBC show, "Grimm." The world, it seems, is ready for this.

The result is GRIMM TALES, what on the surface is a collection of crime fiction stories from the likes of Nigel Bird, Patricia Abbott, Eric Beetner and others, but which is actually much more -- a way to tap into the innocence of another time... and then sully it, and evidence that a great story has resonance no matter the context.

Forgotten Movies: I WANT TO LIVE

I WANT TO LIVE is a 1958 film directed by Robert Wise and starring Susan Hayward, in an Oscar performance, as Barbara Graham, a prostitute convicted of murder and awaiting execution. Susan Hayward seems to be largely forgotten today but in the late fifties and early sixties, she was quite a hot commodity. I haven't seen this in years but it was mesmerizing in my youth. For more forgotten movies check with Todd Mason.

Grimm Tales

Just in time for the holidays, GRIMM TALES is available at UNTREED READS today. Thanks to John Kenyon, its editor, for all the hard work.

A discount on DISCOUNT NOIR awaits those who purchase it.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Monday Night Music: Ray and Betty

My 5 Favorite (Non-Crime) Books Read in 2011

I feel awkward about mentioning crime fiction titles so these will have to do.

What were some of the books you most enjoyed in 2011?

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Sunday Night Laughs: One Foot in the Grave


As a movie lover, many of my favorite movies are about movie- making, and HUGO, Scorcese's holiday treat could not be lovelier, especially its scenes in a train station in Paris. It is ultimately not for children so much as for people who love movies. It was a bit too long, a bit too ponderous, and perhaps the actor playing Hugo was a bit miscast, but it certainly deserved an audience larger than the ten people in mine. I think it has been lost among the many more child holiday-appropriate movies. I urge anyone who loves movies to give it a try--and in 3D at a big screen theater.

What is your favorite movie about movies? Hard to beat CINEMA PARADISO, isn't it?

Saturday, December 17, 2011


There are a lot of people that spend their lives writing/talking/thinking about another person. This is especially true of scholars. Norman Sherry has spend his life writing about Graham Greene for instance. Similarly there are people who are obsessed with Edgar Allan Poe, Arthur Conan Doyle, Lyndon Baines Johnson (Caro), John Adams (McCullough). And on and on. Countless scholars have studied every move Shakespeare made.

What person could inspire that devotion in you? Who's interesting enough to write books about in your opinion.

Who comes closest to being your obsession?

Friday, December 16, 2011

THE SUMMING UP, Friday, December 16, 2011

Santa has a new elf.

THE DESCENDANTS is on Crimespree Cinema.

THE SUMMING UP, Friday, December 16, 2011 (abbreviated version because I have to clean).

Abbott, Spies, Frayn
Angelini, Fletch, Mcdonald
Banek, An English Murder, Hare
Crider, Ghostly Gaslight, ed, Moskowitz and Newton
Cupp, The Peculiar Exploits of Brigadier Feellowes, Lanier
Eagleton, By Reason of Insanity, Stevens
Edwards, Careless Corpse, King
Gallaher, The Twisted Ones, Meeker
Gorman, The Killer, Miller
House, Good and Dead, Langton
Johnson, A Murder Before Eden, Pratt
Kelley, Secret Notebooks of Agatha Christie, ed. Curran
Levin, The New Centurions, Wambaugh
Lewis, The Simon Bolivar Grimes Collection, Price
Lewis/Hubbin, Jackpot, Pronzini
Mason, Comix and the Black Castle; Dying of Fright, Daniels
Norris, The Third Lady, Natsuki
Rachels, Scorpion Reef, Williams
Reasoner, Invasion of the Crimson Death Cult, Steele (David)
Saylor, Death of a Dude, Stout
Scheer, The Heart of the Desert, Morrow
Smith, The Under Dog, Christie
Tipple/Ergang, The Floating Lady Murder, Stashower
TomCat, various holiday mysteries


A Book That Meant a Lot to You

First a question, men out there: do you put on a sport's coat to go to the dentist if you are not going to work before or after your visit?

Laurie Colwin's HAPPY ALL THE TIME is one of those books you force on other people. She also wrote some great books about cooking and several other novels. When she died suddenly of a heart attack at an early age (48) , it made the book seem even more special.

What book means a lot to you? Not necessarily the best book you ever read, but the one that spoke to you long ago and still does.

Friday's Forgotten Books, December 16, 2011

Todd Mason will collect links for the next three weeks. But if you need a break, please take one.

Ed Gorman can be found here.
Check out Ed's latest release: BAD MOON RISING.

Forgotten Books: The Killer by Wade Miller

Wade Miller was of course Bob Wade and Bill Miller. They collaborated on a few dozen novels until Miller died of a heart attack in the office they shared. He was forty-one.

Much of their best work was done for Gold Medal. The Killer is a fine example. A rich man named Stennis owns a number of banks. His son works in one of them. During a robbery his son is killed. Stennis hires a big game hunter named Farrow to find the notorious bank robber Clel Bocock and his gang. When Farrow locates them he is to call Stennis who wants to be there to watch them die. Farrow is a unique character and not just because of the big game angle. He's middle-aged and feeling it, something rare in that era of crime fiction.

The search for Stennis--and the love story that involves Bocock's wife--takes Farrow from the swamps to Iowa (including, yes, Cedar Rapids) to Wisconsin to Colorado. The place description is extraordinary. Probably too much for today's readers but the Miller books are filled with strong cunning writing. Same for twists and turns. For the length of the first act you can never be sure who anybody is. They're all traveling under assumed names and with shadowy motives. The only thing that binds them is Clel Bocock.

For anybody who thinks that Gold Medals were largely routine crime stories, this is the novel you should pick up. Stark House published this a few years back (still available) along with Devil On Two Sticks, one of the most original mob novels I've ever read. There's also an excellent David Laurence Wilson introduction on the careers of the two writers.

Wade Miller got lost in the shuffle of bringing back the writers of the fifties and sixties. This book, so strong on character and place and plot turns, will demonstrate why more of their books should be in print.

Patti Abbott, SPIES, Michael Frayn (this review appeared first in 2009)

An elderly man returns to the scene of his childhood and remembers the games he played with a friend during the World War II. This book follows HEADLONG by Frayn, a brilliant novel about art forgery and the delicious play COPENHAGEN. I have a weakness for books where children get it all wrong, perhaps because I always did. And this book concerns two boys, overly caught up in the war, and inventing a role for one's mother during wartime England-spying on her and coming to the wrong conclusions. One boy convinces the other that his mother is a German spy and they are both to ready to accept this, following her, taking notes, making this pursuit their preoccupation. The plot eventually turns everything they believe on its ear. Frayn perfectly captures the voice of children of that time: their ability to focus on behavior that is perhaps lost to modern kids. I wonder if kids today would bother to put down their cellphones and Ipods. I also wonder if adults have lost their allure. It did remind me of THE GO-BETWEEN, another wonderful British book by L.P. Hartley. You can't go wrong with either of these choices.

Sergio Angelini
Yvette Banek
Brian Busby
Bill Crider
Scott Cupp
Chad Eagleton
Martin Edwards
Cullen Gallagher
Jerry House
Randy Johnson
George Kelley
B.V. Lawson
Doug Levin
Evan Lewis
Steve Lewis/Allen J. Hubbin
Todd Mason
J.F. Norris
Richard Pangburn
David Rachels
James Reasoner
Gerard Saylor
Ron Scheer
Kerrie Smith
Kevin Tipple

Thursday, December 15, 2011

My Life at the Theater-THE SECRET GARDEN

I saw this at the St. James Theater in 1991. Phil wasn't wild about seeing it to put it lightly. But in 1991, he was working on a book where all the papers were at the NYPL so we saw a lot of plays.

What I remember most about this production was its lushness. The book and lyrics were from Marsha Norman (what happened to her?) and the music was from Lucy Simon, based, of course, on the story by Frances Hodgson Burnett.

Daisy Eagan (who won a Tony) seemed to be a break out star in the lead. Mandy Patinkin was also in the production along with Rebecaa Luker, Alison Fraser (nominated for awards for her work here).

It was on Broadway for almost two years.


Every once in a while, a movie does justice to a book and this is a great example. Karen Fossum's Oslo thriller DON'T LOOK BACK gets an A+ treatment at the hands of the Italians. Pristine, perfect, thrilling. Toni Servillo is dignity itself amongst the mountains and lakes and murder in northern Italy. Even the music was right.



A series of accidents.

Or fate.

You could call the birth of THE FEEDSTORE CHRONICLES either one I suppose

The journey began in the early spring of 1989 when I landed a job I’d never considered applying for. My decision to hire on at that dusty Texas feed store was made on an impulse. Of course I had no idea my new boss was the world’s most morally bankrupt man, nor did I realize working for him would change my life, both then and now.

Flash forward nearly two decades, to February of 2007. I’d been writing with middling success for nearly a decade when I found myself at a weeklong writing workshop out in Tucson, Arizona. The workshop was an intense series of exercises as well as pitches to various agents and editors. To unwind each night we writers would gather in one of the cabins and imbibe in copious amounts of adult beverages while bullshitting. Given my Texas roots I probably did more than my fair share of that bullshitting, but for once that proved to be a good thing.

At the exit meeting, the editor who’d organized the workshop sat down with each writer, and explained what he viewed as our strengths and weaknesses. His words to me went something like this … “Travis you’re a good writer, but a better storyteller. At night when everyone was sitting around with a beer in their hand, you were the voice they wanted to hear. But you think too much about the words you put on paper. Go home. Write something not as a writer but as a storyteller. Pretend you’re sitting on a barstool and telling a tale to a half-drunk stranger perched beside you.”

If I wasn’t an eternal optimist, I might have taken the editors comments as to mean only the inebriated found my stories captivating. Instead, I went home and did two things. One, I started a blog because an agent had told me I needed to develop a web presence, and two, I began writing a short story in the style the editor suggested.

That short story turned into a piece called Plundered Booty which appeared in the Deadly By The Dozen anthology published earlier this year. But this post is about THE FEEDSTORE CHRONICLES so let me focus back on it.

Finding it difficult to create fresh blog content on a daily basis, I soon began to rely upon my repertoire of stories from my own life, including my days at the feed store working for that incredulous boss. My blog series THE FEEDSTORE CHRONICLES sort of took off. For twelve Sundays in a row I ran pieces about those days and I saw my blog readership double, then triple during that time span.

Now I may not be the sharpest rowel on the spur, but it didn’t take me long to realize I needed to turn the collection of humorous vignettes in a full-out, coming-of-age comedy. The task proved harder that I imagined as I had to focus on my own shortcomings as well as the crazy behavior of my boss but in the end I discovered more about the person I am than I ever thought I would going in.

Funny thing is that feed store job; the one I never aimed to get in the first place, has had a hand in every facet of my life. Including the fact I can now call myself a published author.

Amazon link

Wednesday, December 14, 2011


I try not to do this too much but this one got to me. I hope you'll excuse me.


Issue two of the critically acclaimed pulp fiction journal. This issue includes stories by PATTI ABBOTT, STEVEN AXELROD, STEPHEN G. EONNAU, MATTHEW C. FUNK, JC HEMPHILL, JEROME K. JEROME, DAVID JAMES KEATON, JOHN KENYON, CHRIS LA TRAY, MICHAEL MORECI, LELAND NEVILLE, WILLIAM DYLAN POWELL, JEREMY SHANE, and JACK WEBSTER. Once again, the journal is edited by ALEC CIZAK and features stunning cover art by JEREMY SELZER.

Now available at CREATE SPACE. Coming later to AMAZON and other sites.

All I Want for Christmas.

The buy-American theme fits in perfectly with buying books, doesn't it? Even many foreign books have a US. publisher or distributor.

So what three books would you like to receive?

I am hoping for the Diane Keaton autobiography, the Pauline Kael biography and 11/22/63.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Tuesday Night Music: Ben E. King

Writing Question

Christmas at Santa's Workship at the Edsel Ford House in Michigan. Their daughter's playhouse is big enough to live in save for the low ceilings which my son managed to bump his head on three times.

Does this happen to you, writer friends? It only happens to me when I try to take a real story and fictionalize it.

I have a story I'm working on now that can be a flash piece if I stick to the facts; it can be a 2000 word story if I give them more nuance and texture; it can be a 4000 word story if I fill in the background more. And, of course, it can be a novel if I wanted to torture myself for a year again.

Flash pieces have become more attractive of late since there are more outlets for them.

Now it probably should be a novel, but I am not going there. So how do you know what length is right for a story? Especially if it's based on real events and could be as long as you liked.

Do you always know how long a story will be when you start to write it?

Tuesday's Forgotten Movies,THE KNACK-And How to Get It.

In my continuing attempts to resurrect public memory of Rita Tushingham's fabulous films of the sixties, here is THE KNACK from 1965 (Dir: Richard Lester). It concerns a young man's irresistible charms and whether such a skill can be passed on. Rita plays Nancy, a waif on her own in mod London who meets up with the boys.
This was Tushingham's area of expertise, playing waifs. Not classically pretty, she used her ability to play spunky yet innocent girls to great avail.

For more forgotten films, please consult Todd Mason at Sweet Freedom.

Monday, December 12, 2011


Isn't this the greatest facade for a library in the world?
Kansas City, Missouri.

I am often so taken with a book title, I have to at least give the book a shot.

This one is on reserve at my library right now: Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children.

The cover only bolsters my idea I will love it.

What are some of your favorite book titles?