Friday, September 30, 2011

The Summing Up, Friday, September 30, 2011

You can find my review of MONEYBALL on Crimespree Cinema.

THE SUMMING UP, Friday, September 30, 2011

Patricia Abbott, Savage Season, Joe R. Lansdale
Steve Aldous, Shaft Among the Jews, Ernest Tidyman
Yvette Banek, Speaking of Murder, ed. Ed Gorman and Martin Greenbert
Bill Crider, Don't Dig Deeper, William Francis
Scott Cupp, tgod's Man, Lynd Ward
Martin Edwards, Jumping Jenny, Anthony Berkeley
Cullen Gallagher, The Killing of the Tinkers, Ken Bruen
Ed Gorman, The Handle, Richard Stark
Jerry House, Phantom of the Opera, Gaston Leroux
Randy Johnson, I Gave at the Office, Donald Westlake
George Kelley, Ghost Guns, W.C. Tuttle
B.V. Lawson, Miami and Its Murder, Edna Buchanan
Evan Lewis, K'ing Kung-Fu Covers, Barry Smith
Steve Lewis, Error in Judgment, D.C. Brod
Steve Lewis/William Deeck, The Bells of Old Bailey, Dorothy Bowers
Todd Mason, Wimmen's Comix #13; Twisted Sisters 1 & @, ed. Dianne Noomin; Chicken Fat, Will Elder
J.F. Norris, The Weird Picture, John R. Carling
Richard Pangburn, Waling the Perfect Square, Reed Farrel Coleman
Eric Peterson, Killer on the Road, James Ellroy
David Rachels, Memory of a Passion, Gil Brewer
James Reasoner, Cave of a Thousand Tales, Milt Thomas
Gerard Saylor, Chasing the Devil, David Reichart
Ron Scheer, Death and the Dervish, Mesa Selimovic
Kerrie Smith, Murder Can Stunt Your Growth, Selma Eichler
Tomcat, The Slayers Series, PaulDoherty
John Wilson, The Galton Case, Ross MacDonald
Jim Winter, Something Wicked This Way Comes, Ray Bradbury
Kevin Tipple, Gods in Alabana, Joshilyn Jackson

Friday's Forgotten Books, September 30, 2011

Ed Gorman is the author of the new Bad Moon Rising. You can find him here.

Forgotten Books The Handle by Richard Stark

The Handle

Hard to know if a book was a fairly easy go for the writer or if it drove him to drugs and drink. I hope The Handle by Richard Stark was a pleasure for Donald Westlake to write because it sure is a pleasure to read.

The Organization has decided that it's tired of this German guy running his big casino on an island in the Gulf of Mexico. He's beyond the jurisdiction of the Feds and it's unlikely Cuba will do much about him. Thus Parker is hired to take the casino and its other buildings down--literally. To blow them up.

Now while The Handle is every bit as tough as Dick Cheney's heart, the hardboiled aspect is played off against the sorriest group of human beings Parker may ever have had to work with. And the sardonic way Westlake portrays them had me laughing out loud at several points.

Take your pick. There's the alcoholic hood who talks as if he's auditioning for a Noel Coward play; the mob gun dealer who had to quit drinking several months ago and has increased both his cigarette intake (four or five packs a day) while maintaining both his cancer cough and his enormous weight; the pedophile who turns out to be a ringer sent to spy in Parker and his friends; the Feds who are so inept both Parker and Grofield play games seeing who can lose their tails the fastest. And then there's the the married Grofield, Parker's professional acting buddy, who never passes up a chance to impose his charms on willing women. In this case he endeavors to put the whammy on the very sexy blonde Parker himself has been shacking up with. Isn't that called bird-dogging?

And then we have Baron Wolfgang Freidrich Kastelbern von Alstein, the man who owns the island and the casino and who, over the years, has managed to make The Third Man's Harry Lime look like a candidate for sainthood. Westlake spends a few pages on the Baron's history and it becomes one of the most fascinating parts of the book, especially his days in Europe during the big war.

The book is filled with the little touches that make the Stark books so memorable. My favorite description comes when Parker and the sexy blonde sit down to a dinner that Westlake describes as "viciously expensive."

A fine fine novel.

Patti Abbott, Savage Season, Joe R. Lansdale

This was the first of the Hap and Leonard books and I gather Lansdale didn't intend it to be a series until it proved so popular. And I can understand why. These two are just a match made in heaven even in this first installment. The dialogue is excellent, the setting winning, the atmosphere perfect, the plot--well serviceable because I think our interest in the sixties radicals might have faded in the years since its publication. They seem quaint, now don't they? Hardly any more relevant than the Algonquin Round Table or the Masons.

When Hap's former wife calls him for help, it leads to some bad sh*t for Hap and Leonard. She's got scruples, but not when it comes to using Hap. The book has not one but two femme fatales and Lansdale sure has some fun with both of them. And with the gang of buffoons they hangs out with. There is also a lot of violence, laughs and heart. It would have been a crying shame had the series ended here and it didn't.

I listened to this on audio and I have to say the reader Phil Gigante did a great job of pulling me into Hap's world. But I have yet to find a male that can do women's voices without having them seem creepy.

Steve Aldous
Yvette Banek
Bill Crider
Scott Cupp
Martin Edwards
Cullen Gallagher
Jerry House
Randy Johnson
George Kelley
B.V. Lawson
Evan Lewis
Steve Lewis
Steve Lewis/William Deeck
Todd Mason
J.F. Norris
Richard Pangburn
Eric Peterson
David Rachels
James Reasoner
Gerard Saylor
Ron Scheer
Kerrie Smith
Kevin Tipple
John Wilson
Jim Winter

Thursday, September 29, 2011

My Life at the Theater: Lend Me a Tenor

A more recent version.

I saw LEND ME A TENOR in 1989 in New York with its original cast which included Victor Garber, Tolvah Feldshuh and Philip Bosco. It was a very funny play. Set in 1934 and concerning the problems of replacing an opera star, it is full of screwball techniques, innuendo, double entendre and opening and closing doors. A good time indeed.
It's been revived since as this clip shows.



SOUTHERN GODS, John Honor Jacobs

It was October, 2007, and I was a thirty-seven year old bookworm who owned over two-thousand books including a first edition copy of William Faulkner’s Sanctuary and Light In August (both missing dust jackets) plus over sixty five of Rex Stout’s seventy five Nero Wolfe novels, not to mention beaucoup horror, fantasy, crime and mystery, and non-fiction books.

But I was thirty-seven and nearing the midpoint of my life if not lost in a wood and stuck in a dull and drudging job at a company owned by a cult (yeah, a cult – you’d think it would’ve been more interesting, but it wasn’t) and spent my days doing timeline animation, design and programming in Flash – remember Flash? The fucking iPad killed it. Now I’m a marketing manager – I saw the signs and got out, but I wasn’t happy about it. Actually, there’s still a soft place in my heart for Flash, since I spent so much of my life learning to master it. And I was damn good, too. Anywho.

Sucky job working for cultists. October, 2007. I start thinking about my old dream of becoming a novelist. I dug up some of the stories I wrote in college and re-read them. Hey, these weren’t too bad, I remember thinking. But I wanted to write a novel. Something bigger. So I head out to Barnes & Noble and bought a couple of books on novel writing, because, you know, that’s what you do. You don’t sit your ass down at the typewriter or legal pad or computer and start writing, you go look for someone to tell you how to write because we’re a generation of people who can’t think for ourselves, maybe, or maybe not. Some can, and I’m not claiming I’m one of them, though. So, in the How To section, I find a couple of books on writing, Lawrence Block’s Spider Spin Me A Web, which is a good ‘un, and NO PLOT? NO PROBLEM! A Low-Stress, High-Velocity Guide to Writing a Novel in 30 Days.

I read NO PLOT? NO PROBLEM! in about the time it took me to drive out to B&N and pick it up. In a nutshell, it’s the official guide to pimp the NATIONAL NOVEL WRITING MONTH, or, for the initiated, NaNoWriMo, which occurs every November.

Here’s what Chris Baty, the author of No Plot? No Problem! posits: the faster you write, you access parts of your brain you don’t normally access. If you can burn through 50,000 words in a month – the length of a short novel, say The Catcher in the Rye or Of Mice and Men or John Rector’s The Grove – you’ll write a bunch of crap, yes, it’s true, but you’ll also write some stuff you can use and you’ll gain a confidence and mastery you didn’t have before. For more experienced writers, you’ll have a fire lit under your ass and a big hunk of novel at the end of November. But watch out for the tryptophan.

So I joined up, and I did it, completing the challenge. I wrote 50,000 words toward Southern Gods that November and by March of 2008 – or thereabouts – I had finished it. AND HOLY CRAP I WROTE A NOVEL! 94,000 words of pure unadulterated John Hornor Jacobs bullshit on a page. I printed that motherfucker out. It was a stack of paper ten inches high. But that wasn’t cool enough. I went to Lulu and made a book and sent it to myself. When it came, I hoisted it up like a monstrance holding the eucharist and presented it to the missus, who praised me to high heaven but didn’t ask to read it and I didn’t offer. We both knew my newly found authorial confidence was as brittle as Arkansas ice.

In the following year, I revised and rewrote parts of it seven times because seven is the mystical magical combination of both four and three, the best of all numbers, and I workshopped it on the Online Writers Workshop (or Oww!) and I took it to Borderlands Press Boot Camp and workshopped it there. Of all of those workshops, I took maybe 5% of the advice I received because in the end, it didn’t work for me. Or the source of the advice was suspect. Way I figured it is, don’t take advice from writers who can’t write their way out of a paper sack, and most workshoppers are workshopping because they can’t. Exceptions, there are always exceptions, but as a general rule I think it holds true and I’ll stand by it.

Anywho, I started shopping it around to small presses, but more importantly, I immediately began writing This Dark Earth. I wrote it - novel #2 - in seven or eight months and then I immediately began The Twelve-Fingered Boy. I wrote it in four months. And then I landed an agent, who began selling them.

And here we are.

There’s so much more to it all than just saying, “I wrote that and that and this” and it took me X months. But in the end, telling you about how I’ve read countless books on the Southern experience, read Suetonius and Herodotus and Livy and Ovid and Caesar, that I read books on the history of the Catholic church, researched border blasters and the history of blues and rock-n-roll and Memphis, studied WWII and our battles in the Pacific and at Guadacanal, read journals of Marines doomed to die, learned about radio stations and recorded conversations of my father and his friends reminiscing about seeing Elvis play the Silver Moon in Newport, Arkansas, or buying whiskey in backwoods tonks and cold Coca-Colas from rollin’ stores, those converted school buses that travelled around the country-side as mobile general stores, tricked out with a genny and loaded with nails and lard and flour and salt and the staples of a country existence, but cold Coca-Cola first and foremost, the liquid the South was built on; how I went to Stuttgart and England and looked at the buildings and breathed the air Bull breathed, or would breathe (that same rarified air I’d been breathing all my life, full of water vapor and diesel exhaust and the whine of a trillion mosquitos) and then in that desperate November, performed some bizarre trick of mental distillation and converted all those disparate, wildly varied subjects into the burning alcohol of the novel. I discerned some bright filament running through them all and threaded the needle of my narrative with it. All that becomes too hard to truly convey. So, I resort to just saying, “I wrote Southern Gods in five months. You should do NaNoWriMo.”

You write and write and write and eventually you’re done and the world creeps back in. But for the time you’re burning it out, it’s all you, your world, your characters, your love and hate and desires all spilling out onto the page. There’s nothing like it and you can’t know how it truly feels until you’ve done it.

So stop waiting. November is just a month away. Get your house in order, kiss your wife and kids and pet the dog. And write.


Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Your Typical Family Dish?

I am reading 97 Orchard Street for my book group and enjoying it quite a bit. It looks at five waves of immigrants (German, Irish, Eastern European Jews, Italians, that came to inhabit this address on the lower east side of New York (where the East Side Tenement Museum now sits). And it is worth a visit if you're nearby. (You can even take a virtual tour online).
And most especially, the books deals with their cuisine. Amazing how much work dishes that looked simple entailed from the recipes included.

I finally have a reason for the dull cuisine I was brought up on. The Irish truly had no foods to work with in inventing their cuisine. And once the potato famine hit, things got worse. My mother's maternal ancestors were Irish, English, Scottish and Welsh. The only spices or condiments really in our cupboard was salt, pepper, cinnamon and nutmeg (for holidays). There might have been some garlic salt. Our typical dinner was a piece of meat, a potato and a frozen vegetable swimming in butter. Dessert, which we always had, was pudding or canned fruit.

Although my maternal grandfather was German, the only salute to that was sauerkraut on occasion.

My father's family was also German and what a treat it was to go to their house for a meal.

What was the typical meal from your childhood? And what ethnic group did it come from?

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Flash Fiction Challenge

Reginald Marsh is a painter I am very fond of. He considered his work to be social realism and most of his scenes were from New York in the twenties and thirties.

You can find many examples of his work if you just google-image his name.

Challenge: Write a story in any genre of under 1000 words based on one of Marsh's paintings. If you don't have a blog, I will post it.

End date: Three weeks from today, October 18th.

I will donate $5.00 for every story submitted to Union Settlement, a social service
agency in East Harlem servicing 16, 000 people, with a minimum contribution of $100.

This agency is near and dear to our family and badly in need of donations in these hard times.

Hope someone wants to play. It's my money, but your talent I'm buying.

Forgotten Movies: Blackmail (Silent version)


It was my great privilege to see a new print of the silent version of Alfred Hitchcock's 1929 film BLACKMAIL last Friday. The Alloy Orchestra enhanced the experience greatly by playing the music for the 79 minute film. If you've never heard them play background to a film you've missed something special.
I also can't say enough about how riveting this film was.
For the first time, I understood why some people had trouble adjusting to sound. This film was all about faces, shadows, shots. The viewer needed very little help in following the plot. And the final scenes in the British Museum were terrific. This film for me, demonstrates how great a director Hitchcock was because they are simply no dull spots.

The plot is simple. A man attempts to seduce a young girl and she defends herself. A man spots her fleeing the scene and tries to blackmail the girl. The tables are turned by the end.

The plot is not the thing though. The beauty of their faces and A.H. shots make this movie.
Hitchcock made two versions of this film because sound machinery was not yet widely available. Many people find this to be the superior version. I can't imagine otherwise.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Nothing but the Facts, Ma'am.

On Art Hill in St. Louis, the hill ascending to the art museum, a flag was planted for every victim of the attacks on 9-11. Boy, it was moving.

Facts and Fiction

We have several friends that allow tiny things to bother them in movies. Once in a while it happens to me, something seems anachronistic or wrong for an era and I am taken out of the story while I mull it over. For instance, in MONEY BALL Billy Beane asks his assistant to text him the game details. Did texting take place in 2001? ( I guess it did but I wasn't aware of it yet). That bothered me for a long time. Also the eye glasses seemed wrong for that era too. But on the whole, these things roll off of me. I am not looking for complete historical accuracy or a complete understanding of the plot while watching or reading something.

But for some of my friends, everything must make complete sense and be historically accurate. If they don't understand a character's actions, they are nonplussed. If a baseball team's exercise room looks too 2011 for 2001, they can't get past it.

What about you? And not just in movies, but in books. If something is clearly not right--for instance characters go to see a movie made in 1964 in 1963-- does it make you crazy? How much accuracy do you require? How often do the small things become big? Can you wait for the story to explain itself--and if small things don't quite make sense, does it ruin the story?

How I Came to Write This Story: Heather Dearly

How I came to write this story: Heather Dearly

How I came to write "Troubled Water"

By Heather Dearly;

I wrote about death and dark waters in the break room of a Federal facility where I’m no longer employed. I’m not sure if I’m happier that I no longer work in claustrophobic, gray space or that I’m a contributing author for Anne Frasier’s Deadly Treats anthology.

Theresa Anne—that’s what I call her, although some times I drop the Anne and other times the Theresa—has been a friend of mine since 2007. You can read about how we met online here:

Blog story short, a book and a cause brought us together.

Theresa Anne became not only a dear friend—one of my closest—but an encouraging mentor. I wouldn’t have written Troubled Water if she hadn’t decided to celebrate Halloween with a collection of stories written by people who adore the holiday as much as she does. This is my first published story, so I’m beyond grateful to be included alongside award winning talent.

I wish I could share with you an interesting insight into how I came to write the words, but I can’t, because I have no idea. To be frank, I’m amazed I wake up most mornings and make it through the days unscathed.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Friday Night Lights

As the new TV season begins, I am thinking about series I missed.

I fell out of watching Friday Night Lights about the time it went off NBC and onto Direct TV. I just watched the first episode again with the thought of going through the entire series. (I decided it was too big of a time commitment eventually).

I have to say though I have never seen a stronger first episode of a show. So sure-footed and sophisticated in its story telling: pathos, grit, surprise, humanity, realism, a sense of place, time and character. So canny in introducing its cast--a large one--in ways that defined them.

What other TV series began this strongly?

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Saturday Night Music; Feist and Paisley

Skip the picture and listen to the music. Love it.

Friday, September 23, 2011

THE SUMMING UP, Friday, September 23, 2011

THE DEBT on Crimespree Cinema.

THE SUMMING UP, Friday, September 23, 2011

Patti Abbott, On Beulah Heights, Reginald Hill
Yvette Banek, Flea Market Fidos, Barri Leiner, Marie Moss
Joe Barone, Another Man's Moccasins, Craig Johnson
Bill Crider, Avon Giant Mystery Reader
Scott Cupp, Secret of the Earth Star, Henry Kuttner
Martin Edwards, Fatal Descent, John Rhode and John Dickson Carr
Cullen Gallagher, The Cage, Talmage Powell
Jerry House, The Even Hand, Quincey Germaine
Randy Johnson, Shakedown for Murder, Ed Lacy
George Kelley, Getting Off, Lawrence Block
Margot Kinberg, Jar City Arnaldur Indriadson
K.A. Laity, St. Patrick's Confessio
B.V. Lawson, Mistletow from Purple Sage, Barbara Burnett Smith
Evan Lewis, The Road to the Rim, and To Prime the Pump, A Bertram Chandler
Steve Lewis/Barry Gardner, Wireless, Jack O'Connell
Todd Mason, World Fantasy Awards, Volume 2, Leiber and Schiff
J.F. Norris, The Rembrandt Panel, Oliver Banks
Juri Nummelin, Outoa huminaa, Joe Novak
David Rachels, Bodies are Dust, P.J. Wolfson
James Reasoner, The Longest Way Home, Robert Silverberg
Richard Robinson, The Bats Fly Low, Sax Rohmer
Gerard Saylor, Lost, Michael Robotham
Kerrie Smith, The Secret House of Death, Ruth Rendell
Kevin Tipple/Barry Ergang, The Man Who Liked Slow Tomatoes, K.C. Constantine

Friday's Forgotten Books, Friday, September 23,

Christa Faust, Megan Abbott and Lawrence Block at the reboot of Hardcase Crime at the Mysterious Bookshop in New York.

Ed Gorman is the author of STRANGLEHOLD and the editor of ON DANGEROUS GROUND among many other books. He recently won an EYE for Lifetime Achievement from the Private Eye Writers of American (Shamus Awards).

Forgotten Books: Chicago Lightning by Max Allan Collins

Technically this book is brand new but since the some of the stories in Chicago Lightning date back as far as 1984 I think it qualifies for this particular post.

I need to say up front that Max Allan Collins was my teacher in my transition from short story writer to novelist. I'd started and given up many novels before his advice finally took hold and I finished and sold one. During this period I studied (outlined and read and read again his books) as a guide for my own. Al (which most people call him) has written more successful series than anyone I'm familiar now or in the past. Nolan, Quarry, Mallory, Ms. Tree, Elliott Ness and even more. The first three I practically memorized in trying to learn how to write my own books. This wasn't any kind of forced march. I still reread them all today. They're that good. And that enjoyable. Al is first and foremost an extraordinarily skilled storyteller.

But Nathan Heller is my favorite of all his protagonists. First of all consider how unique the Heller saga is in the history of crime fiction. Here we have the first and finest merging of the private detective and historical novel. Collectively they are a history of headline America in the past century. Each Heller novel resonates far beyond its main story. Readers are given a real sense of the various eras the novels take place in. An amazing accomplishment.

Chicago Lightning collects the Nathan Heller short stories Here we meet such imposing historical figures as Mickey Cohen, Frank Nitti and Thelma Todd. All the stories are based on real cases of the 30s and 40s. (The introduction is a true writer's tale that you'll remember long after finishing it.)

As I said Heller is my favoriteCollins protagonist and as I read these stories again I realized why. He is a rich, complex human being who grows and changes with each new appearance. Yes, you can count on him to be hard-boiled and cynical but then he constantly surprises you with his compassion and his street wisdom. You can never be sure how he'll react to a character or a situation. That's damned good writing.

The stories themselves are masterful. My long-time favorites such as "Kaddish For The Kid," "Marble Mildred" and "The Strawberry Teardrop" are here but so are some I'd never read before including a couple of new knock-outs "Unreasonable Doubt" and "Shout-Out on Sunset."

One story, "The Blonde Tigress," is the best example of why this is such a fine book. As with every story, Collins wrings so many surprises in both character and plot that you start to remember how much plain damned fun it is to spend your time with a book. Writers as well as readers such read Tigress and analyze it. If I ever taught a class in short fiction this would be one of my choices.

This is a book you'll enjoy and admire. I promise.

Patti Abbott, On Beulah Height, Reginald Hill

Reginld Hill's police team of of Dalziel and Pascal is always asatisfying read. I don't think I ever read this book before but came to it after Val McDermid said it was one of her favorite crime novels in a recent interview.

And it is a doozey. So damn fine writing in these pages.

Three little girls go missing in a short period of time back in the seventies. They are all from a small town due to be flooded to create a reservoir. Suspicions fall on a strange loner, a man possibly mentally challenged, but he disappears before he can be apprehended.

This crimespree happened when Dalziel was a young man and the case still haunts him. Suddenly a chance to solve it arises when another girl disappears as a drought begins to bring the drowned town back to life. Complications in the life of Peter Pascal also contribute to the sense of dread that infuses this novel. This is a haunting story with brilliant writing, atmosphere, and a very fine plot.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

My Life at the Theater, September 22, 2011

Apparently in 1995 I saw Dangerous Corner at the Atlantic Theater Company in New York. The play was written by J. B. Priestley and directed by David Mamet. It starred, among others, Felicity Huffman and Rebecca Pidgeon.

I have no memory of the play. None at all. Does anyone? Here is the sparkling review. Money wasted, I guess.

How I Came to Write This Book: Frank Bill's Crimes in Southern Indiana

Sometime in 2007 I’d written a story called the Old Mechanic based on stories my mother told me and the first time I met my real grandfather. It got a two page rejection letter. The editors at Talking River Review had been going back and forth. They really liked the story but had a few things they didn’t like. I got pissed and wrote The Penance of Scoot McCutchen.

Sent it back to the same journal. It got accepted. I re-wrote and edited a story called A Coon Hunter’s Noir. Sent it to Hardboiled magazine. It got accepted in 2008. From here, I wrote Trespassing Between Heaven and Hell, Old Testament Wisdom and took a few pieces from a novel I wrote in 2007 that never got published. A Rabbit in the Lettuce Patch and Officer Down. More followed and in toward the end of 2008 and the beginning of 2009 I wrote Rough Company, Beautiful Even in Death, Hill Clan, Tweakers (another version of Officer Down), The Need, All the Awful, These Old Bones and Flesh Rule.

I was getting a lot of attention. Neil Smith of Plots With Guns told me I needed a novel. I said I have enough stories for a book. He said, short stories don’t sell. But maybe you could connect them. I thought they were connected enough by region. I hadn’t named the book yet and thought, they all take place in southern Indiana. Called the book Crimes in Southern Indiana. I sent the manuscript to DZANC BOOKS. They had a contest for short story manuscripts and if accepted they’d pay you $1000 bucks. They turned CISI down rather quickly.

My good friend Kyle Minor mentioned an agent. I queried her. She said send the manuscript of stories. The agent got back to me in 24 hours. Dug the stories but wanted a novel as well. My novel wasn’t finished. I sent Crimes in Southern Indiana to an agent Neil Smith and Scott Phillips mentioned, it took a while but the agent got back to me. Dug the stories and after reading the first 25,000 words of my manuscript, she signed me.

Not quite a year later I had a two book deal with Farrar, Straus & Giroux and I was writing a story called Cold, Hard, Love that made it into Needle: A Magazine of Noir. I also wrote a piece called Luz Verde for the Crime Factory anthology: Nightshift. During the first round of edits with my publisher, I fused Luz Verde and Flesh Rule together, I wanted something that made this connection to the region I was born and raised in like Poachers by Tom Franklin did when I first read it. Only I wanted it to mirror the changing climate, combining the old world that my grandfather knew as a hunter with the newer climate I see exploding in the small towns. Those two stories became one, Crimes in Southern Indiana.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Your Favorite Ida Lupino Movie

This film rates pretty high with me (ROAD HOUSE). Lovely crisp cut here.

What about you?

Professors Get Emails Like This Every Week

Hello Professor Abbot this is XXX from your PS XXX class. Unfortunately, due to the flu I'm unable to make it to class today, if you don't mind may you just email me some of the points you're going to go over in class today so next week when I go to class I won't be as lost. Have a great weekend.

Now why would a student think a professor has the time to send a student his lecture via email? Did you ever do this in school? Obviously this is something new with the advent of email.

Students out there: Know that this immediately puts you in the pain in the ass column on the grade sheet. GET THE NOTES FROM ANOTHER STUDENT.


The Story About The Story

There’s always a story about the story.

Keith Rawson asked me to write a story for the Crime Factory: The First Shift anthology. Really nice when an editor asks you to be involved in a project he’s working so hard on. And he had lined up New Pulp Press as a publisher. I told Rawson I’d do it.

I probably wrote six drafts of the story. Somewhere in the second draft, the title “Hundred Proof” stuck and seemed good to me. I knew what I wanted to deliver. The one-inch punch. Short, with a bleak internal force and darkness and a jolt at the end. Haunting the reader forever. I kept that in mind throughout the remaining drafts. I thought maybe I had hit it when I wrote the last sentence. “He was sitting in a lawn chair by the picnic table, drinking a glass full of booze with bullets and ice in it.” It seemed okay. I sent it off.

Later, I got to read the story at the Stonecoast MFA Program, where I teach. Terrific group of students and faculty – solid readers and writers – and several of them commented on that last line. On the image of the bullets in the glass with the ice and liquor.

The other day, my contributor’s copy of Crime Factory: The First Shift arrived. It’s an impressive group of writers. After the intro by David Honeybone, Dennis Tafoya kicks it into high gear and it doesn’t stop. I even saw the names of a couple writers I know – Jedidiah Ayres and Charlie Stella. I had read something by Frank Bill and he was there. Ken Bruen needed no introduction. These were some heavy hitters. Trigger men. Gun molls and femme fatales. Outlaws and enforcers. An award-winning group of contemporary crime writers.

I kept looking at the index and the stories. What is appropriate anthology reading etiquette? Do you have to read the stories in order? The editors arranged them that way for a reason, isn’t the order part of the reading experience? I have no idea. But as I looked, I realized the stories were not arranged in alphabetical order by author last name. I noticed Dave Zeltserman was close to the middle. So I looked at the last story. Which happened to be mine. So if you flip to page 260 – although, granted, the contributor bios follow – the last sentence of fiction in the book, the final image that follows all these fine writers and their masterful stories, the last scene of it all is the bullets in the glass with the ice and the booze. That’s some pretty good writer’s luck to me.

Thanks to Keith Rawson and the Crime Factory crew of Cameron Ashley and Jimmy Callaway. And thanks to Patti Abbott, who wrote a good one too. I feel lucky to have my story included.

That’s the story of the story “Hundred Proof.”

Scott Wolven is the author of False Hopes (forthcoming) and Controlled Burn, with the title story recently selected for Best American Noir Stories Of The Century. Seven years in a row, his stories have appeared in the Best American Mystery Stories Series. Wolven teaches in the Stonecoast MFA Program/University of Southern Maine.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Tuesday Night Music: The Pointer Sisters

Forgotten Films: THE MUSIC OF CHANCE

This is not only one of my favorite movies, but one of my favorite books. Few book to film projects turn out this well.

Paul Auster is one of those writers that I sometimes love and sometimes don't.
Patinkin is even more problematic, but this story puts both men in a great light. And, of course, Spader is Spader- wild and unpredictable. Can't wait to see him in The Office this year.

In this book and film, James Spader (Pozzi) agrees to finance Nash (Patinkin) in a poker game with Flower (Durning) and Stone (Grey). Things don't go well and eventually they grow much worse. Just like the best of noir.

This movie got one of my highest rankings in 1993. The book would rank a solid ten since Auster invented the story. The director(Haas) seems to have slipped into obscurity after this. Too bad. It was well done.

You can find more movie, right here at Todd's Cinema.

Monday, September 19, 2011

From Hardcase Crime


After more than 9 years of detective work and negotiation, we’ve tracked down a lost novel by James M. Cain, the author of the noir classics MILDRED PIERCE, DOUBLE INDEMNITY, and THE POSTMAN ALWAYS RINGS TWICE, and secured the rights for Hard Case Crime to publish the book. The book is titled THE COCKTAIL WAITRESS and it has never been published before in any form. We’ll be bringing it out in Fall 2012.

THE COCKTAIL WAITRESS is the story of beautiful young widow Joan Medford, whose husband died under suspicious circumstances. Desperate to make ends meet after his death, Joan takes a job as a waitress in a cocktail lounge, where two new men enter her life: a handsome young schemer she falls for and a rich but unwell older man she marries.

Darn, this is exciting news. How nice it is to have HCC out there locating such gems and making them available to us for such a pittance.

Why Do You Read?

I found myself typing a comment on a blog saying I don't really read to be entertained. Is this true? Or is what entertains me different from what entertains you? I'm not sure. But books I enjoy share certain attributes. And I bet your favorites do too.

For instance, right now I am reading a novel about a woman with Alzheimer's who's losing her memory day by day. Not entertaining in the usual sense, but the writing is so good and her experience so relevant and poignant, I don't mind being sad about it. But is this entertainment? I don't know.

What entertains me is good writing.

Books have to be well-written for me to enjoy them. And by well-written I mean that they must pretty much adhere to new writing/speaking norms. I can't get past writing that uses words other than "said" for attribution. I can't take too many adverbs or adjectives. Exclamation points must be almost non-existent. I hate puns. Even the most clever, takes away from the story.
I don't want to find too many obscure words when simple ones will do.

I can't take long descriptions of what a character is wearing or looks like. Descriptions (IMHO) must serve a purpose other than filling a page. As a reader, I like to create my own mental picture of what characters look like unless there is a reason for the writer to tell me more-for instance, the dragon tattoo on Salander's back was a necessary fact. That Jack Reacher is a giant is a necessary fact to understand why he can't be physically overcome by his adversaries. ( I don't however need to go shopping with him).

And this might be annoying to many of you. How do you feel about the use of complete sentences in stories? People don't always speak in complete sentences so why do characters in novels? I picked up a copy of a popular crime fiction magazine at Bouchercon and nearly every character seemed like the same person. Not just in one story but in many of them.

I have a lot more characteristics that make a book good for me really, but what are some of yours? What do you insist on finding in books you read?


HOW I CAME TO WRITE THIS STORY: Mark Hull "Friday Night Dining with Marianne"

from Deadly Treats

When Theresa Weir (Anne Frasier) told me she was putting together a Halloween anthology and invited me to submit a story I was thrilled and flattered, having long been a fan of both Ms. Weir and her work. The parameters were 1000 - 3000 words, a Halloween-based theme, and we were to have fun writing the story. So, it was right up my alley except for the 3000 word limit -- I do tend to go on. And on. And on. But it would be good discipline for me, I thought, and I love discipline. So I scratched various organs of my body while I tried to come up with story ideas, and actually came up with two in very short order.

The first idea was a little (well, a lot) too gruesome for what Theresa had planned for the anthology, so I went with my other idea, which was to do a story inspired by a Halloween game we used to play as kids: we would turn off all the lights in the room, then pass around things like peeled grapes and say they were "eyeballs", boiled noodles and say they were "guts", and so forth. Of course we all needed years of therapy as adults from indulging in this pastime, but I decided to go with it anyway.

I imagined a fine-dining restaurant that served up people parts as their cuisine ("Soylent Green is PEOPLE!"), and from there it was a short step to needing a food critic to visit the restaurant. I sat down to begin the story and wrote the following opening:

"See ya, Hazel, have a good weekend!"

So said a coworker to me on his way out the door late one Friday. My name is Marianne Hazlitt, and I think that my coworkers call me Hazel in an attempt to endear themselves to me. That attempt fails. I hate my coworkers.

I have no idea where any of that came from, which is what I love about writing, but all of a sudden I had a character who I REALLY liked, and I couldn't wait to hear more of her story as it revealed itself. After some thought, I chose to write the story in a faux-Gothic manner to emphasize Marianne's repressed primness and to contrast with the more fantastic elements in the story (vampires, werecreatures, and so forth). I note in passing that I hate writing in the first person unless it really is about me, but this story seemed to call for that -- in fact, Marianne demanded that -- so I bit the (silver) bullet and wrote it in the first person anyway.

So that's how I came to write this story. The only thing I have to add is that, upon re-reading the story, I think I would alter the ending of the story somewhat for stylistic reasons, but both baby and bathwater are now in print so there you have it. Oh yeah -- my favorite phrase in the story? Glad you asked:

It had become an atramentous and tempestuous evening....

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Writing Male/Writng Female

I was reviewing my published stories yesterday and saw that 75% of them are told from a male POV. Phil refuses to let me analyze this with him and I am not sure I want to analyze it at all, but it got me thinking about what writers have done a good job of seeing the world through the eyes of the opposite sex.

A lot of female crime writers write credible male detectives. Ruth Rendell does an especially good job with Wexford although he doesn't exactly grow or change much. In other words, he is not a fully fleshed-out subject. Very few male crime writers write female protagonists--at this point I can only think of short story writer, Al Tucher's Diana.

But if we go to non-crime novels, we get a lot more of this. My favorite would be Emily Alone, written by Stewart O'Nan. I never once doubt Emily is a woman. And Tom Rachman has some convincing stories of women in THE IMPERFECTIONISTS. Evan O'Connell's MRS. BRIDGE also comes to mind.

Friday, September 16, 2011

My Mystery

This is not a riddle or a joke. I have puzzled over this for days now.

I was walking down the street to the library and pharmacy. Three teenage girls came around the corner and moved in front of me. Each girl had one bare foot and one shod foot. (same foot). The shoes were not the same.

Each girl was carrying, in her right hand, a shoe. But the shoe was not the one that matched her shod foot. Instead it matched one of the other girl's shoes. Can anyone make sense of this?

Friday's Forgotten Books, Sept. 16, 2011

Hopefully some one will pick up the links. Try here or here.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

How I Came to Write This Book: Lawrence Block

GETTING OFF debuts from Hard Case Crime on 9/20.


It’s not the first book of mine that started as a short story.

In 1983 I’d realized I was done writing about Matthew Scudder. The fifth book, Eight Million Ways to Die, had been the most successful critically and commercially, but it seemed to me to complete the story and leave me with nowhere to go. But I’d promised an anthologist a Scudder short story, so I wrote one set in the past. I called it “By the Dawn’s Early Light,” and it won an Edgar, and I thought of some other plot threads to keep it company, and expanded it tenfold into a novel, When the Sacred Ginmill Closes. That was the sixth Scudder novel, and this May Mulholland books brought out #17, A Drop of the Hard Stuff.

In 1989 I wrote a short story about a hit man whose work takes him to a town in Oregon, where he makes the mistake of getting to know his quarry. He has fantasies of retiring, settling there himself, living a new life. Then one day he wakes up, returns to reality, kills the guy and goes home. I called it “Answers to Soldier,” and Playboy bought it, and it got shortlisted for an Edgar, and I thought no more of it for a couple of years.

Then one thing led to another, and I’ve written four books about Keller, my Urban Lonely Guy of assassins, most recently Hit & Run. And I’ve self-published a novelette, “Keller in Dallas” that will be the opening section of a fifth Keller novel.

So a few years ago I was editing an Akashic anthology, Manhattan Noir, and was expected to write a story for it myself. So I did: older guy picks up younger woman in Hell’s Kitchen bar, hinting that it’s a dangerous neighborhood, that she has to be careful out there, and he takes her home, and we know he’s gonna kill her, and instead she kills him, and we get that this is what she does. I called it “If You Can’t Stand the Heat.”

A while later my friend S. J. Rozan’s editing Bronx Noir, and I owe her a favor in the form of a story. So I wrote one. Same girl, different story, and set in the Bronx. (Well, Riverdale. That’s in the Bronx, though some of its inhabitants seem to think otherwise.)

Then came Indian Country Noir. By now the young lady, who still doesn’t have a name she can call her own, has left New York for the greener pastures of Michigan, and an Indian-owned casino. She’s become my default heroine; ask me for a short story, and she’s what you’re going to get.

See, I’m getting so I really like this girl. And the next invitational anthology (Warriors, by Gardner Dozois and George R. R. Martin) took her story to a new level, as we find out who she is and what she’s about, and why she’s acting out so furiously.

By the time I finished that story (“Clean Slate”), I was in love with the girl. And I could see that I was writing a novel, and I could also see that it was probably going to be way over the top in terms of sex and violence. I figured I’d just let it be whatever it wanted to be, and over the succeeding months I completed it. Charles Ardai, who’d reprinted some of my early noir novels at Hard Case Crime, was hugely helpful with this one, as I engaged in the twin tasks of telling the rest of Kit Tolliver’s’s story (that’s her name, although she’s usually calling herself something else) and getting the early part into consistent shape.

I can’t recall ever having so much sheer joy writing anything in my life.

The open pen name (“by Lawrence Block writing as Jill Emerson”) and the subtitle (“a novel of sex and violence”) are both there for the same reason—i.e., to warn off and ward off those readers who were hoping for a cozy mystery about a gentleman burglar and his stubtailed cat. Because not everybody’s going to be ready for Kit and her way of coping with life. Publishers Weekly, always very generous in their reviews of my work, took exception to the sexual quotient of Getting Off. (And that’s okay: Too Sexy for Publishers Weekly! Is not the worst thing anybody ever said about a book.)

OTOH, Julia Barrett wrote the kind of review ( that makes an old man glad he learned to type. If some more readers really get Getting Off the way she does, neither I nor Jill Emerson have anything to worry about.

Getting Off is available for pre-order prior to 9/20 publication. Here’s a link:

Monday, September 12, 2011

Monday Night Music: Julia and Angus Stone


There are a lot of factors that go into choosing a movie.

We have friends who always go to a Helen Mirren movie, good reviews or bad for instance. My husband is strongly influenced by trailers. Other friends look for a political content. Still others, really demand entertainment: they want to laugh if they're going to lay out $10. Another friend will see almost anything within ten minutes of her house. And I am always amazed at people around me in the theater whose decision seems to have been made on movies available at the time they turned up. Sometimes a strong partnerpal pushes the decision.

I am mostly influenced by reviews. Even if the story doesn't interest me at all, if the reviews are good I am likely to see it. Not any one reviewer but the consensus of reviews you find on rotten tomatoes or metacritic. I see an awful lot of movies--probably more than 75 a year. So that consensus figure can be pretty low for me. Anything over 70% is fair game.

What about you? What is most likely to influence your decision?


How I Came To Write This Story (Slurp!) in DEADLY TREATS

LK Rigel

I met Theresa Weir in her Anne Frasier guise on Twitter – gosh, a couple of years ago now. It was serendipity. She was taking on a few coaching/editing projects at the time, and I was lucky enough to slip in.

Thank you, writing gods!

A few months later Theresa was considering starting Belfry Press and planned to edit a collection of Halloween stories for it. I was thrilled to be asked to contribute a story. I was then in the final throes of author aspiration – or expiration. I hated the submission process so much, and yet working with Theresa had revived my love of actual writing.

At the same time, I was beginning to notice how unhappy and stressed many published authors seemed to be about the whole thing. Wait a minute! Hadn’t they reached nirvana?

Slurp! is a reflection of my sense of the dark side of being an author under contract. Completely made up. Sour grapes on my part. I’m sure no one really feels like the main character:

You have to do more for less, everybody says so. Publishers don't fund book tours. Hire your own publicist. Lose weight. Be younger. Be clever on line. Have a good attitude. Contribute more. Expect less. With the last book, the advance was quartered and drawn over eighteen months. I spent it all on promotion and web design. Ha. Quartered and drawn. I made a note to tweet that.

Being part of Deadly Treats is such an honor. I can’t wait to read all the other stories.