Tuesday, May 31, 2011


NERVE MAGAZINE asked the question above recently.

Who wouldn't you kick out of your bed or house? Or, alternately, who do you identify with in fiction?

I guess an awful of of women would choose Mr. Darcy from Pride and Prejudice, but he seemed too snooty for me. So I am going with Travis McGee despite my problems with sea sickness. The boat doesn't have to leave the dock right?

Monday, May 30, 2011

This is My War-Bless Those Who Lost Their Life and Those Who Tried to Stop It and Those Who Never Recovered


"How I Came To Write This Story": "For Keepsies"

Nearly five years ago I began writing short mystery fiction. I’m not a prolific writer and usually write only two or three short stories a year, most ranging between four and six thousand words. Although I have written a few longer pieces, never once have I written anything shorter.

In May 2009 I was diagnosed with thyroid cancer. A few weeks later my thyroid was surgically removed and until the end of my radiation cycle in October, 2009 I functioned (barely) as though I was continually overdosing on sleeping pills. Writing was out of the question because coherent thought was impossible. After radiation I began taking Synthroid, adjusting the dose on a weekly basis until my blood work became somewhat normal, but my brain continued to dawdle.

In January 2010, while my brain wandered around on its own, I was beginning to doubt I would ever again be able to create a readable story. Then Kathleen Ryan, my blogmate at Women of Mystery http://www.womenofmystery.net/ mentioned a contest on NPR. The required theme was “Apartments and Neighbors” with a submission length no longer than 750 words. The topic dragged up an old memory. The length presented a real challenge. Such a tiny word count means that every word MUST count. Still, I needed to restart my writing career and I chose this as a beginning. I struggled to write the story and, because I actually finished it before the due date, I paid the $25 contest fee, (something I never do) entered and didn’t win, but that was fine because “For Keepsies” got me back to the keyboard. In the following months I wrote three additional stories, all of which I placed, including one purchased by Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine. http://www.themysteryplace.com/eqmm/ I also spent a couple of months doing the story edits for an anthology, Murder New York Style: Fresh Slices, to be released this September.

So, “For Keepsies” revved me into a highly productive year and—sat in the file cabinet. In my heart I was glad the story hadn’t been selected for the NPR venue because I believed it was too personal to share. Every story I write is made entirely from whole cloth. I’d never taken a person, an incident, or even a quote from my real life. Only the settings of my stories come from the real world. But this story is based on a true incident from my childhood, and drawing from my own life is a very new experience for me as a writer.

Now and again I would take “For Keepsies” out, read it and then put it back in its folder. Last December it finally dawned on me that the story is fiction, and didn’t need to be locked away like some teenager’s secret diary, so I sent it to David Cranmer, publisher of Beat To A Pulp. David is a good friend and BTAP, as I’ve often said, is a site where writers can move away from what they normally write, try something new and get polite and, often, brilliant critiques from writers and readers alike. I was thrilled when David accepted the story.

I’d like to invite you to read my first flash piece, “For Keepsies,” which was published at Beat To A Pulp last month.


Sunday, May 29, 2011

An Interview with Amy Hempel

It's in Vice Magazine. I like the sound of that. A great short story writer.

Here is "In the Cemetery Where Al Jolson is Buried"

Detroit Symphony Orchestra Returned

And put on an all-Tchaikovsky night with pianist, Olga Kern, playing Piano Concerto One. It was breathtaking, but the night was marred by yet another musician defecting to more salubrious pastures. The Concertmaster, Emmanuelle Boisvert, has been picked off by the Dallas Symphony.

This marks about the eighth or tenth musician lost since the strike. And probably the biggest loss. Can we resume the status of a wold-class symphony? Doubtful now. More like a Civic Orchestra. And can Leonard Slatkin be far behind once his contract expires?

Here she is. Emmanuelle Boisvert.

WHAT PIECE OF CLASSICAL MUSIC IS YOUR FAVORITE? I am torn between Tchaikovsky's Violin Concerto, Beethoven's Ninth and Rachmaninoff's Piano Concerto #3.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Saturday Night Music: Rod Stewart's Forever Young

Best of luck for those graduating in the next week or two.

What is Your Comfort TV Show?

What show do you go to for the same sort of solace that a good donut or a top-notch hamburger brings? What show would you watch reruns of if you woke up at three and couldn't get back to sleep? What show did you mourn the loss of or would mourn the loss of?

Because the writing is so spot-on on Fraiser, because the characters never bore me, this is my comfort food. And I have seen some episodes half a dozen times.

Friday, May 27, 2011

THE SUMMING UP, Friday, May 27, 2011

A new review on Crimespree Cinema.

Again, a week off on June 17th. Or at least a week away from me.

Please excuse my lack of comments on your blogs. Blogger won't let me comment on my normal computer.

THE SUMMING UP, Friday, May 27, 2011

Yvette Banek, The Burning of Billy Toober, Jonathan Ross
Paul Bishop, Nolan#1 Bait Money, Max Collins
David Cranmer, Spring Fire, Vin Packer (Marijane Meaker)
Bill Crider, Eternal Fire, Calder Willingham
Scott Cupp, The Unnatural, David Prill
Loren Eaton, Black Cherry, Doug TenNapel
Ed Gorman, Lemons Never Lie, Donald Westlake
Jerry House, The Adventures of Gremlin, DuPre Jones
Ed Lynskey, A Cry in the Night, Whit Masterson (Wade Miller)
Randy Johnson, Mad River, Donald Hamilton
George Kelley, The Classic Philip Jose Farmer
Margot Kinbert, The Withdrawing Room, Charlotte MacLeod
Rob Kitchin, The Brush-off, Shane Maloney
B.V. Lawson, The Midnight Plumber, Maurice Proctor
Evan Lewis, "Hunch" and "Death Song" Paul Cain
Steve Lewis, The Saint and the Templar Treasure, Leslie Charteris
Todd Mason, Movies on TV, ed. Steven Scheuer, Roger Ebert's Video Companion, 1996
J.F. Norris, The Flying Death, Samuel Hopkins Adams
Juri Nummelin, Diamond-Back, James Reasoner
Richard Pangborn, Man's Storm, Keith Heller
Eric Peterson, Let it Be, Colin Meloy
David Rachels, Big Man, Ed. McBain
James Reasoner, Negative of a Nude, Charles E. Fritch
Richard Robinson, R. Holmes & Co. John Kendrick Bangs
Gerard Saylor, Power of the Dog, Don Winslow
Ron Scheer, Red Saunders, Henry Wallace Phillips
Mike Slind, No Good from a Corpse, Leigh Brackett
Kerrie Smith, Huysman's Pets, Kate Wilhelm
Kevin Tipple/Barry Ergang, Wilders Walk Away, Herbert Brean

Friday's Forgotten Books, Friday, May 27, 2011

Taking a week off on June 17th. If anyone wants to step in. let me know. Otherwise, we may all need a break.

Ed Lynskey, A Cry in the Night by Whit Masterson. Bantam. 1956. Originally published in hardcover as All Through the Night, Dodd, Mead & Co., 195

When Robert Wade favorably reviewed The Blue Cheer at the San Diego Union-Tribune a few years back, I was on cloud nine. Mr. Wade of the writing tandem Wade Miller is one of my favorite of the classic noir authors. Sadly, it appears the Trib’s book page got axed in these lean days. At any rate, Whit Masterson is another pseudonym used by Mr. Wade and his writing partner Bill Wade who had a fatal heart attack in 1961. They wrote some thirty novels together.

A Cry in the Night is a nifty police procedural concerning the kidnapping of a young lady, Liz Blossom, by a sex fiend, Hill Loftus. The next five hours are unrolled in tense fashion as the police investigation and then pursuit are mounted. Liz’s love interest is Owen Clark, a young Korean War vet now working as an insurance executive where he first met Liz.

A Cry in the Night garnered some critical notice when it was published. The Saturday Review called it an “A-1 thriller.” I found its writing to be first-rate, as would be expected of any Wade Miller project. Right there is enough reason for me to have reread it now. Some of the police methods like using index cards to track the sex fiends and telephone switchboards to call the patrol cars are wonderfully campy today. A few of the plot twists are based on convenience, but then cops do catch lucky breaks in their investigations.

Plus for a novel published in 1955, Hill Loftus comes off as just plain creepy. His mannerisms (leering over the unconscious Liz) and small acts of cruelty (pouring ammonia on a stray dog) make him repulsive. Nothing that graphic or gory is presented. The violence is muted and offstage. Disturbing the reader without using a hammer is a credit to the authors.

I don’t know if A Cry in the Night is available as an e-book. I didn’t see it listed on Amazon or Barnes & Noble. The online used booksellers or brick-and-mortar bookstores might be your best bet. I bought my copy for $3.50 from a used bookstore.

A Cry in the Night (1956) was also made into a B-film noir. Seventeen-year-old Natalie Wood, fresh off the popular Rebel Without a Cause, was cast as Liz Blossom and Raymond Burr played her abductor, ironic since Burr was gay. Edmund O’Brien played her father, the police lieutenant heading the investigation. Whit Masterson took the co-credit for the screenplay writer. I’ve never seen this film noir. The movie reviews indicate it has a dated feel and resorts to a didactic message given on wild, reckless youth. This came on the cusp of the free-loving, acid-dropping sixties.

Ed Lynskey’s new crime novels presently on sale include the hard-boiled LAKE CHARLES and the soft-boiled QUIET ANCHORAGE.

Ed Gorman's fun anthology (with Dave Zeltserman) is getting the treatment this week on SPINETINGER, You can find him here.

Lemons Never Lie, Donald Westlake

There are so many twists, turns, starts and stops in Lemons Never Lie by Donald E. Westlake as Richard Stark that the novel becomes a kind of crime picaresque filled with mugs, thugs, killers, victims and Parker's redoutable thespian friend, Alan Grofiled. There's also a lot of notably brutal violence.

The book begins with Grofield visiting Vegas to partake of a robbery that will give him the money to survive one more season in his summer theater. Grofield, in case you didn't know, is a "purist" when it comes to acting, his chosen profession. No movies or television for him. Stage only. But it takes his other profession, robbery, to support his theater. Only his long-supportive wife understands how hard he works at both careers.

A man named Myers has set up a robbery plan and has called in amateurs to help him. With the exception of a man named Caithcart and a dangerous man named Dan Leach, the group is a zero. As is Myers. Now Myers, who speaks with a boarding school accent, is one of the great villains in Westlake's world. He is a true sociopathic murderer; a serial killer of a kind. Grofield and Leach decide against working with him.

This is the set-up. There's an early twist that lets us know just how nasty Myers is. And then the various adventures start. Grofield resembles his friend (and fellow robber) Parker only occasionally. For instance, he loves chit-chat, feels sorry even for a guy who tries to kill him and lets another live that (as reader) you know should be killed on the spot, slowly and joyously.

There's also a lot of witty humor. Grofield gets into the damnedest conversations with people. Once in a while you may even forget you're reading a crime novel. Westlake has a great time riffing on all the cliche exchanges you read in most crime fiction. At a couple of point Grofield starts sounding like a TV shrink.

Lemons Never Lie is Westlake at his very best. While there's a screwball comedy-feel to some of the misadventures, the unrelenting violence reminds readers that the Richard Stark is the master of the hardboiled. The masterful plotting, the wry way the genre cliches are turned inside out, and the earnestness and humanity of Alan Grofield make this a pleasure from page one to the unexpected ending.

Yvette Banek
Paul Bishop
David Cranmer
Bill Crider
Scott Cupp
Loren Eaton
Jerry House
Randy Johnson
George Kelley
Margot Kinberg
Rob Kitchin
B.V. Lawson
Evan Lewis
Steve Lewis
Todd Mason
J.F. Norris
Juri Nummelin
Richard Pangborn
Eric Peterson
David Rachels
James Reasoner
Richard Robinson
Gerard Saylor
Ron Scheer
Mike Slind
Kerrie Smith
Kevin Tipple/Barry Ergang

Thursday, May 26, 2011

My Life at the Theater: You Can't Take it With You

This is from the movie but I saw the play at the Shaw Festival at Niagara on the Lake in 1999 and enjoyed it immensely. I have seen it at other places too. I couldn't find a play clip that did it justice so this is from the wonderful movie with Jean Arthur and Jimmy Stewart.


I actually wrote the first chapter to SICK over two years ago. At the time, I wasn’t really sure what the story was going to be, but that first chapter, with my main character Ash (not his name at the time) waking up to find his daughter burning up with a fever and his wife unresponsive, that was crystal clear to me.

Where it all came from…? Well, I’ve always had a fascination with mortality, and science, and plagues, and those kind of things. I’ve been reading books like LUCIFER’S HAMMER, ON THE BEACH, THE ANDROMEDA STRAIN, THE WHITE PLAGUE, THE STAND and Y: THE LAST MAN since I was a kid. So I guess it all had been mixing around in my mind for so long, it was natural that something like this chapter would come out at some point.

And boy did it come out. It just leapt from my keyboard onto the screen in one quick burst of activity. I was actually working on another book at the time, and had to set it aside for a couple hours while I wrote the chapter. When I was through I put it aside, and went back to what I was working on, planning on building on the chapter in a few months.

But the thing is, when you’re writing books that have been contracted by a publisher, you have to run your ideas by them first. Twice I pitched variations of SICK it to my then publisher (at the time under the title THE WRONG MAN), and twice I was told, “We’d rather you do something else.” In a way I’m glad they did that. I wrote two other books I really was happy with. But SICK still stuck in my mind—not the back, right in front, daring me to do something about it. Just after the new year I knew I could wait no longer. I decided to just go ahead, write it, and release it myself.

I have to say I’m glad that I both waited and did it on my own. My original vision for the book was a much closer held story, all told in first person from Ash’s point of view. But as soon as I sat down to write the actual novel I knew first person wasn’t going to cut it. My gut was to go bigger and wider. And my gut turned out to be right.

I’m a write by the seat of my pants kind of person, so I had no clue at the time just how much that change was going to free me up and really make the story sing. New characters kept showing up on the page…and scenes that I wasn’t sure how they would fit with everything else. But they all did fit, even better than I could have hoped. And like how that first chapter just jumped out of me two years before, the whole story did the same.

It was like it had been waiting there, urgent to get out. And, honestly, with a plot itself thick with urgency, I think that was the only way I could have written the story.


Wednesday, May 25, 2011

A Sense of Place

I just finished THE ICE PRINCESS by Camilla Lackberg and although it was a fine "mystery," it had virtually no sense of place. It could have taken place in any town. Is it the translations that are smoothing out phrases, dialect and words that might have placed it? Or are writers deliberately trying to universalize their settings? Or is every place pretty much the same now.

Other than for a few mentions of a different monetary system, I might have been in Kansas.

I dislike this. I want to be put in a different place. I have read books set in the South, which seem more foreign that this book (see Woodrell, Sallis or Pelecanos for especially strong senses of place).

Even the food mentioned was the same fare we eat here.

Who is especially good at evoking another place?


"How I Came to Write This Story: Performance Anxiety"

By Keith Rawson

Over the past three years and 70 short stories, there isn't a chance in hell I could tell you how I came to write 95% of them. Most of my stories start off as snippets of half heard conversations, things I see through out the day, or even phrases that somehow cement themselves in my head and repeat over and over until the framework of a story begins to take shape.

But there's one story that's stuck with me over the past couple of years that has more or less haunted me as a writer:

Performance Anxiety
( http://chrispimental.com/panxiety/performance.html )

The story bloomed from a conversation with a friend at my previous job. The story she told me was of a friend of her's (at least I hope it was a friend and not a proverbial "friend".) whose boyfriend had an obsession with body fluids.

The boyfriend had already convinced the girl to allow him to give her a golden shower (No I'm not going to describe the act. If you don't know what it is you've been living under a rock since the sexual revolution.) and he was trying to take it a step further and convince her into allowing him to defecate on her. As my co-worker told it, her friend would be covered in plastic wrap so it wouldn't touch her skin, but still, the entire act, (and the girl's seeming lack of self respect.) covered in plastic wrap or not, turned my stomach, but the seeds of a story buried itself and wouldn't let go.

Originally I intended "Performance Anxiety" to be the story between a prostitute and one of her long time johns, but no matter how I worked the story, the characters didn't fit, at least until I cast the long time john as a fetish porn director and the prostitute as a performer.

Since finishing the original story, the characters featured in it have gone onto occupy over 45,000 words and I've become a bit obsessed with pornography. (Not so much with the imagery, but with the mechanics such as production, financing, and the performers) And just when I think that I'm done with these characters and I'm ready to move on, their voices resurface, causing me to sit down at the machine and bring them into the world.

Keith Rawson is the author of many short stories and the editor of the online zine CrimeFactory. He interviews many crime fiction writers for the online site Spinetingler too.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Mercy Street, Anne Sexton with a video

What a nice job someone did of putting this all together.

And this.

Forgotten Movies, May 24: Pelle, the Conqueror

Pelle the Conqueror won an Oscar for Best Foreign Language film when it was originally released in the late eighties. It absolutely blew me away at the theater. A classic, coming of age movie set in the nineteenth century, it details the life of a father (Max von Sydow) and his son, forced to immigrate to Denmark to find work after the death of the his wife. They are told that life in Denmark will be easy; they will be rich.

The find work as laborers on a farm in a desolate seaside landscape. It is a hard life indeed. Max von Sydow is wonderful as the elderly father of young Pelle but the child's role is also very well acted, and it is he who is Pelle, the Conqueror. Bille August directed this and also wrote the screenplay.

I give few 10s in my little notebook, but this won one. Anyone else out there seen it?
For more Forgotten Movies, see Todd Mason's site.

BLOGGER is not allowing me to respond to comments as of now. URG!

Monday, May 23, 2011


This is a game my husband, Phil, and I play. How much would someone have to pay you to see again or for the first time a particularly undesirable movie.

His top choice is Steel Magnolias; he would have to be paid $5000 to see it again.

My choice is THE MAGDALENE SISTERS, where I would demand $1500. Now TMS is a good, very good, movie but I can't bear to watch the torture in it again. Any movie with torture commands a huge payoff for me.

Steel Magnolia is just too girly and weepy for Phil. So there are different reasons for high figures here.

We both would ask about $1000 to watch TERMS OF ENDEARMENT. Death of young mothers does not sit easily with me and I am not fond of Shirley McLaine.
Too girly and weepy for Phil.

FORREST GUMP-there is no amount.

What movie would you demand the most money to sit through again and why?



by Garnett Elliott

Back around October of ’09 or thereabouts, Patti Abbott issued a flash fiction challenge for noir stories involving Wal--, I mean, a Big Box Conglomerate Associated with All Things Negative of American Consumerism. I hadn’t written much flash at that point, and I’ve never been what you’d call a ‘joiner,’ but I couldn’t pass on this one.

I work with people who get a lot of panic attacks. Wal-Mart (there, I said it) holds a special place for those blessed with chronic anxiety. Something about the narrow aisles. Or the way normally decent folks start acting like rodents once they’re inside. But as much as they’d like to, nervous people can’t always avoid the place. The prices are too damned reasonable. So they learn to shop when it’s not so crowded.

Like three in the morning.

When I decided to write Freak Shift I didn’t have a plot and I didn’t have any characters. The night-side of Wally World was my only premise. How to get some ideas? Research. I stayed up late and headed over to the closest store, not five minutes away (Arizona’s lousy with Wal-Marts--my hometown of Yuma has three).

That night I saw many things. A drug deal, going down under the weird orange-amber light of the parking lot. Insomniacs--or at least people dressed like they’d just slipped out of bed--wandering the aisles with no shopping carts and no clear intention of buying anything. Homeless dudes sampling produce. Fit-looking people riding handi-scooters. And of course, the stockers and cleaning staff going about their nocturnal tasks.

Some of these people found their way into the story.

The funniest part was, I ended up blowing a hundred bucks. That was not my intention. But as I strolled around, observing, I kept coming across these great deals. 100% Combed Cotton Fruit of the Loom undershirts, in four-packs? Into the cart. Tube socks? Always need those.

When the trip was over I was poorer, but I had a plot. Of sorts. I spent a couple weeks (far too long for an eight-hundred word story, I know) banging out and then obsessively re-arranging what would become Freak Shift.

I’m not that proud of the end result. Let’s call it a learning experience. Got into a nice anthology, though.

And someone made money off the process.

But not Steve or me.

You can find Garnett Elliot's stories in Thuglit, Plots with Guns, Beat to a Pulp, All Due Respect and other fine zines.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

"How I Came to Write This Story': Dave Zeltserman

"HOW I CAME TO WRITE THIS STORY" Dave Zeltserman's Julius Katz

"How I came to write this story"

The name “Julius Katz” is a dead giveaway that the characters in this story are in some way a tribute to Nero Wolfe, even if you didn’t know that Julius’s sidekick is named Archie or that his nemesis on the police force is named Cramer, and I originally wrote this for the Black Orchid contest that Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine runs with the Wolfe Pack.

I love the Nero Wolfe books. I’ve read and admired all of them. Actually, I should say I love Rex Stout’s writing—Stout and Dashiel Hammett are easily my two favorite crime & mystery writers, and I’ve read everything I’ve been able to find from Stout, including his first novel, How Like a God, which is a dark and twisted noir masterpiece. How Like a God received a good amount of critical acclaim when it was published but sold poorly. A lesson I’m sure Stout learned from that is if you want critical acclaim, write noir, if you want to make money, write anything else!

What I loved so much about the Wolfe books—other than Stout’s terrific and witty writing—was the relationship between Nero and Archie. Nero might at times get peeved enough at Archie to fire him, and Archie might get equally annoyed at Nero and quit, but the two of them would die for each other if needed.

For a while I had this idea floating in my head of a detective series featuring a brilliant, eccentric, and ultimately, very lazy detective, like Nero, who also has a sidekick who can annoy the hell out of him, but in this case the sidekick would be an advanced piece of technology with the heart and soul of a hardboiled PI.

My feelings towards Rex Stout’s work were so reverential that I almost bypassed writing this novella, but I took the Black Orchid contest as a challenge since this type of a more charming mystery is so different than the dark noir and crime thrillers that I’ve been writing. And there was the added challenge of making my tiny advanced piece of technology, Archie, a very human character, as well as making the relationship between Julius and Archie strong enough to drive the story. Once I pushed myself to write it, I had a lot of fun. The story is far lighter and with more humor than the darker novels I’d been writing, and it was good to pull myself out of those depths.

There are similarities between Julius and Nero—both are brilliant, both are gourmets, and prefer their own desired activities over working. There are differences—Julius is athletic and handsome, and a fifth degree black belt in Kung Fu. He’s also a womanizer, and prefers gambling over almost any other activity. Julius is also a wine connoisseur, while Nero prefers beer. Julius also has a touch of larceny in him, and probably shares more DNA with my Pete Mitchel con man than he does with Nero.

So how’d the story do? Well, it lost the Black Orchid contest, but Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine picked it up and it ended up winning the Shamus Award for best PI story, the Derringer Award for best novelette, and 3rd place in Ellery Queen’s Readers Choice Awards. The follow-up story, "Archie’s Been Framed," came out last year and won first place in EQMM’s Readers Choice Awards. A new Julius Katz story will be in Ellery Queen later this year, and I’ve just released the first Julius Katz full-length novel as an e-book, Julius Katz and Archie. So yeah, I’m glad I entered that contest!

Dave Zeltserman is the author of OUTSOURCED, THE CARETAKER OF LORNE FIELD, PARIAH, and many other fine novels and stories.

Saturday, May 21, 2011


I found this scene extremely erotic. However, my husband did not. Is there a huge difference between what men find erotic and what women do? Some men probably found this scene more erotic. Is naked or a bed an essential part of eroticism?

How Well Do You Know Your Spouse's Book Preferences?

Phil and I often make mistakes when picking books for each other. If you had to describe the sort of book your spouse or significant other likes with three or four adjectives, what would they be?

I would pick well-written, quirky, foreign setting, twist ending for Phil's taste.

Phil says I like books with crimes, marriages, U.S. setting, contemporary. I do not necessarily agree with his assessment. I often like foreign settings, for instance, and I would say relationships rather than marriages.

How about you?

Friday, May 20, 2011

THE SUMMING UP, Friday, May 20, 2011

Yes, Phil's tulips are still blooming in Michigan. When the rain doesn't knock them down.

BRIDESMAIDS is on Crimespree Cinema.

THE SUMMING UP, Friday, May 20, 2011

Yvette Banek, The Devil Met a Lady, Stuart Kaminsky
Joe Barone, The Man With a Load of Mischief, Martha Grimes
Paul Bishop, The Guns of Navarone, Alistair MacLean
Bill Crider, There Was a Crooked Man, Day Keene
Scott Cupp, The Space Willies, Eric Frank Russell
Gary Dobbs, Quatermass, Nigel Kneale and HOT FOR CERTAINTIES by Robin Douglas-Home Martin Edwards, The Problem of the Green Capsule, John Dickson Carr
Ed Gorman, Bad Ronald, Jack Vance
Tony Hays, The Egyptian Cross Mystery, Ellery Queen
Jerry House, The Other Side of the Mirror, Enrique Anderson Imbert
Randy Johnson, The Two-Shoot Gun, Donald Hamilton
George Kelley, Dangerous Ways, Jack Vance
Rob Kitchin, A Stone of the Heart, John Brady
B.V. Lawson, The Six Men, E. & M.A. Radford
Evan Lewis, "The Tasting Machine" Paul Cain (Black Mask)
Steve Lewis/Barry Gardner, Old Scores, Aaron Elkins
Ed Lynskey, The Men From the Boys, Ed Lacy
Todd Mason, The Encyclopedia of Jazz, Leonard Feather
J.F. Norris, The Green Jade Hand, Harry S. Keeler
Richard Pangborn, Brittle Innings, Michael Bishop
David Rachels, The Sour Lemon Score, Richard Stark
James Reasoner, Sin Camp, Anthony Calvano (Thomas R. Ramirez)
Gerard Saylor, Give Us a Kiss, Daniel Woodrell
Ron Scheer, Ralph Connor, The Sky Pilot
Kerrie Smith, Unguarded Hours, Rendell and Simpson
Kevin Tipple, Private Heat, Robert Bailey

Friday's Forgotten Books, Friday, May 20, 2011

Ed Lynskey’s new Appalachian noir LAKE CHARLES from Wildside Press is available in Kindle and paper in June. Or if you like it soft-boiled, his small town cozy featuring two senior lady sleuths QUIET ANCHORAGE is also out now. Purchase links for Lake Charles on Amazon: Kindle: http://tiny.cc/c6eh1
Paper pre-sales (release end of June): http://tiny.cc/9juvu

The Men From the Boys by Ed Lacy. 1956. Harper & Row.

Ed Lacy (1911-68) is an old-line pulp fiction writer whose hardboiled and noir oeuvre I’ve enjoyed reading over the years. He’s quite a character himself: WW II hero, playwright, Communist Party member, The New Yorker contributor, and MWA stalwart. I wrote a long profile on his life and literary output for Mystery*File (http://tiny.cc/gc5t0).

Lacy’s real name is Leonard Zinberg. From what I could find, he adopted the pseudonym as a way to evade the Communist witch-hunts blackballing authors and writers throughout the 1950s. Men is dedicated to Carla who I believe is Mr. Lacy’s daughter from his interracial marriage.

Several years ago after my first reading, I felt lots of enthusiasm for Men, and I decided to give it a second read and see how my impressions held up. Well, it’s not without its warts, but I still found it a compelling and worthwhile enough title to say a few words about here.

Marty Bond, 54, is an ex-cop pensioned off and now reduced to working as a hotel detective in a genuine dive called the Grover. He also oversees a stable of working ladies and refers to himself as a “pimp.” Trouble starts when his young stepson Lawrence shows up at the hotel. They haven’t seen each other in a while. Lawrence is a volunteer auxiliary cop responsible for directing things after they drop the big one, an almost hysterical fear in the 1950s. Of course, the cynic Marty is dead-set against Lawrence’s police career ambitions.

Lawrence brings to Marty a fishy story about a local butcher (Men is set in NYC where Lacy lived and worked as a full-time writer) who was robbed of fifty gees and then turned around and recanted his robbery claim. Before long, Lawrence is waylaid and beaten up in an alleyway. Marty’s ex-wife Dot asks for his aid to investigate and pry the brutish goons off Lawrence’s back. A street savvy and relentless sleuth, Marty complies and tangles with the organized crime elements.

Marty is a physical wreck. He sucks on mints, sees a doctor pal for his upset gut, and still likes to hoist the bottle when he’s not puffing away. Lacy trowels on the grit and grime to each scene in almost depressing fashion. A cancer scare knocks Marty off his rails, and he contemplates suicide via a bullet or sleeping pills.

But you can’t help but to root for the guy. Under the hardboiled patina, he’s a romantic sentimentalist as well as a man whose word is his “bond.” He buys perfume for his whores. He loves to surf fish. He drops into matinees. He digs gorgeous sunsets. You get the feeling on some level Marty is Ed Lacy.

So, if you like your books with a solid noir and hardboiled 1950s’ flavor, then I highly recommend Men. It would’ve made a great film noir. I may very well go back in several years and read Men again. The slim volume is 146 pages long, and its brisk pace makes for a one evening read. I found the 1956 Pocket Books paperback (yellowing and detaching at its spine) which is readily available online and in used bookstores where I bought my copy for $1.25.

Ed Gorman is the author of Strangehold and Ticket to Ride. You can find him here.

Forgotten Books
: Bad Ronald by Jack Vance

Jack Vance is such a revered sf/fantasy writer his career as a mystery-suspense writer has largely been overlooked. One of his early mysteries won the Edgar, in fact, and at least one of his suspense
novels was made into a TV movie, this being BAD RONALD which is a whole lot better than the 1973 Ballantine packaging would lead you to believe.

The era was still in the throes of Psycho. Numerous writers tried to run riffs on the basic Crazy Mama theme. Vance took the simple but suspenseful story of a seventeen year old kid named Ronald and paired him with an over-protective mother who had to hide him after Ronald committed an unthinkable crime, an event which Vance wisely skims quickly.. The only thing Mom can do is hide him in a hollowed out space in the house (a familiar trope in those days; in fact a more more celebrated novel was called CRAWLSPACE).

As grisly as the set-up is Vance deals with the rest of the novel (the police staking out the house; the nasty neighbors taunting her; and her near-breakdown) with, believe it or not, a healthy dose of black humor. All too soon Mom begins to understand Ronald is not only murderous but maybe even worse, he's a loser. He's pretty much happy to be hidden in the house. She feeds him three times a day (but makes him go on a diet); she gives him magazines hoping this'll keep him in contact with the real world--but he prefers working on his imaginary fantasy novel world; and he whimpers like a child when he can't get exactly the kind of"treat" he wants.

The dark humor only makes Ronald's psychopathology all the grimmer. We really are dealing with a freak here, one who should be chained to a dungeon wall for life. And the wily plot with many twists and turns shows just how many riffs you can run on freaky.

Unlike many of the PSYCHO riffs, there's a great deal of perceptive and nimble writing here. A very solid novel. The TV movie was straightforward and wasn't hip enough to include the humor.

Yvette Banek
Joe Barone
Paul Bishop
Bill Crider
Scott Cupp
Gary Dobbs
Gary Dobbs
Martin Edwards
Tony Hays
Jerry House
Randy Johnson
George Kelley
Rob Kitchin
B.V. Lawson
Evan Lewis
Steve Lewis/Barry Gardner
Todd Mason
J.F. Norris
Richard Pangburn
David Rachels
James Reasoner
Gerard Saylor
Ron Scheer
Kerrie Smith
Kevin Tipple

Thursday, May 19, 2011

My Life at the Theater

I saw THE WINTER'S TALE at the Stratford Shakespeare Festival in 1998. Most years we see one or two plays at the Stratford Festival. It is only two hours or so from Detroit. They generally have about four Shakespeare Plays, one Canadian play, three or four other classics and two musicals. It is a lovely setting and very English. If you are near enough to make the trip, you won't regret it. The Importance of Being Earnest, now on Broadway, came from Stratford.



by Sandra Balzo

How did I come to write RUNNING ON EMPTY, the first novel in my new series, you ask?

Well, it's a funny story.

No, really--it is.

The year is 2005, and UNCOMMON GROUNDS, the debut book in what has become my Maggy Thorsen coffeehouse mysteries, has just been published. My literary agent is submitting the second book in the series, HASTA BARISTA, BABY, which was later published as GROUNDS FOR MURDER. Note: I like my title better.

Anyway, an editor who rejected that book loved the "cleverness, humor and irreverence" of my narrative voice. She thought I might be the perfect person to write a new series she had in mind. These mystery novels would be set in "small-town America," with a rotating cast of characters. Would I work up a synopsis and three sample chapters?

Given HASTA/GROUNDS hadn't as yet had a nibble, I thought this new project might be a very good thing to develop.

Starting point, the setting. In my mind, the perfect location could be summed up as "Cabot Cove meets Desperate Housewives, with maybe a splash of Jan Karon's Mitford."

Since I didn't think such a place existed in real life--at least without my being sued--I created a fictional lakeside town in Wisconsin and made it a tourist destination.


Because my destination angle solved the "fresh-meat" problem. For any mystery series within a contained setting, you need a logical reason that newcomers are drawn to town. Some decide to stay and become part of your continuing cast of characters. Others leave--be it vertically or horizontally. And sometimes take one or more of your regulars with them. But without this infusion of fresh blood (literally), sooner or later you run out of victims. Or, worse, tip your readers to the killer's target. Or worst, to the killer himself or herself.

The other reason I built in the regular influx of visitors was that I was--and remain--fascinated by the idea of a tiny town that swells to epic proportions during tourist season. I'd visited Laguna, California, a few months earlier to see clumps of people literally dancing in the streets. And in restaurants, art galleries, even on the beaches.

Again, why?

It was late in the year and not a holiday, so I asked one clump what was going on. They shouted--in unison, now, mind you--"The tourists are gone, the tourists are gone," the way the Munchkins sang "Ding-dong, the Wicked Witch is Dead."

I realized the locals were quite sincerely "reclaiming" their town, if only for a while. And, by the way they started eyeing me, I figured this outsider had best get out of Dodge while she still could.

When it came to the fictional blocks of my own mysterious "Main Street," I filled them with people and places that could have been there forever. Then I introduced a prodigal daughter into the mix. AnnaLise Griggs left town for college and had never returned. Instead, she became a police reporter in a big, Midwestern city.

Of course, in that first book, the prodigal daughter would be forced to return:

AnnaLise Griggs stood in a Wisconsin courthouse when she picked up, on the first ring of her cellphone, the call every adult child dreads.

“AnnaLise, this is Mama,” her mother’s oldest friend and owner of Mama Philomena's restaurant said. “You must come home. Your mother Daisy, she went and siphoned all the blood out of poor Mrs. Bradenham.”

Well, maybe not every adult child.

AnnaLise eventually learns that Daisy, a regular volunteer at the town's blood drive, properly clamped off the tube running from "poor" Mrs. Bradenham's arm after the woman had donated her pint. Unfortunately, Daisy then cut the tube above the clamp, resulting in an inadvertent bonus donation on Mrs. Murphy’s part.

When AnnaLise does arrive home, she finds the family's former food market has been turned into a club with a '50s beatnik vibe. Jazz, bongos, poetry. All night. And Daisy still lives in the owner's apartment above it.

AnnaLise also finds that “Mrs. Murphys’s bloodletting,” as the accident has been dubbed, has been accepted--like “mother blinded by wiffle-ball” and “fisherman squashed like nightcrawler,” before it--into the annals of local lore.

Until people start dying, and in even greater numbers than usual for this quirky little town.

In future books, Annalise will start a class in "Journaling and Memoirs" and thus be treated to a literary bird’s-eye-view of the goings-on (and associated "offings") through the journals of nearly everybody in town.

Clever, huh?

I sure thought so. The aforementioned editor, though, was less enchanted: "Love the characters, love the voice. Hate the concept."

Okay, I could have been petulant and pointed out it was her concept, at least at the core. Or, to be fair, maybe the seed. The book was set in small-town America, after all.

But I took the literary high road. I threw the synopsis and three sample chapters into a deep drawer, then slammed it shut.


And I didn't look at it again.

Until . . .

Fast-forward four years. I now had five Maggy Thorsen books published, and I'm meeting with the editor who eventually bought that series. I mention the "Main Street" concept, and she bites. "Send me a synopsis and sample chapters."

Hey, I just happen to have those. Somewhere.

But yours truly is no longer living in Wisconsin. I'm now divorced and living in South Florida. My life has changed completely, and there's a whole lot of it still in boxes stuffed toward the back of a public-storage unit. Finding the particular one I dumped that drawer into is not going to be easy.

I never did unearth the paper hard-copy, but I did find the 3.25" floppy disk (remember those?) and a computer that--miraculously--still had a slot to insert the relic.

Since I already had a series set in Wisconsin, I decided to shift Main Street to "High Country," the mountains of western North Carolina. It was an area I'd visited and come to love, so I took a lake there, shoved it up against a mountain a few miles away and, voila, the fictional town of Sutherton, North Carolina, was born.

Scenic mountains, clear skies, fresh air and now twice as many fictional people to kill and be killed.

You see, High Country has two tourist seasons: Late spring through early autumn, when people like me flee the sweltering south for the coolness of higher elevations. And winter, when skiers arrive by the droves to ski down those elevations.

Which leaves just the month of November--unless, of course, the snows come early--for locals to enjoy their town in peace. When you get down to it, Suthertonians are not so different from their dancing counterparts in Laguna Beach. If, perhaps, more lethal.

I'll be returning to the real High Country in a few months, but, meanwhile, I hope you'll join me there for the first of the Main Street Mysteries, RUNNING ON EMPTY.

For now, though, I wish everybody a welcomed spring and a wonderful summer.



PS: The first three books in my Maggy Thorsen coffeehouse series have just been released on Kindle. I've also "put up" there a new, original novel entitled HEAVEN’S FIRE, about a fireworks family and the explosion that nearly destroys it. Hope those of you who also "e-book" will try them out!

Sandra Balzo...

Sandra Balzo turned to mystery writing after twenty years in corporate public relations, event management and publicity. A CUP of JO, her sixth Maggy Thorsen coffeehouse mystery came out this past fall, and Sandy's second series, Main Street Mysteries, debuted in April with RUNNING ON EMPTY. The books, set in the popular vacation destination of North Carolina's High Country, will alternate with the Maggy Thorsen mysteries. HEAVEN'S FIRE, about a fireworks show gone badly wrong, was just released directly to Kindle.

Balzo's novels have been nominated for both the Anthony and Macavity awards and received starred reviews from Kirkus and Booklist. In addition to her books about coffee-maven Maggy Thorsen, Balzo writes short stories, two of which have been published in Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine, winning the Macavity, Derringer and Robert L. Fish awards.

Balzo has handled publicity for three Bouchercons (World Mystery Conventions), as well as the International Association of Crime Writers, and has served as a national board member of Mystery Writers of America.