Monday, October 31, 2011

Hellacious Halloween

Begins today and continues all week over at Thrillers, Killers and Chillers.

Flash pieces to curl your toes.

Oh, the Horror

The movie poster.

To celebrate Halloween, what is the scariest book you have ever read?

I'll nominate GHOST STORY by Peter Straub and THE OTHER, Tom Tryon

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Sunday Night Laughs" Mary Tyler Moore

Your Sunday Routine

The New York Times has a Sunday routine column where celebrities (who else) reveal what they do routinely on Sundays.

Since my recent retirement mine doesn't differ greatly from the rest of the week.

I spend longer reading the newspaper. At one time, I would have said I watch football but no more. At one time I would have said, I walk down to Borders after lunch and look at books but no more. At one time, I would have said we pick up Danish, but not that either.

The only sure thing is I will spend time on this computer, read more than on other days, have a glass of wine around 4:30 and watch either Masterpiece Mystery or Dexter and Homeland tonight.

Do you have a Sunday routine? I hope it is more exciting than mine.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Changes in Race and Gender

Three times this year we have seen plays where the gender or race of a major character in a play was changed. In Richard III at Stratford, a woman played the part of Richard. Although it didn't affect my reading or enjoyment of the play, I have friends who couldn't get past it--the physical differences were too great. It didn't bother me much to have a woman play Richard, because we were not supposed to see it as a shift in genders. The actress was still playing the role as male.

Then in THE HOMECOMING, an African-American actress played a part that was traditionally played by a white actress.

But in THE HOMECOMING, a play about working class Brits, having a black actress play the wife of a character, changed it quite a bit. Were we not supposed to notice this working-class bloke had married a black woman? Or was she supposed to be interchangeable with a white actress?

Pinter did not mean for the issue of race to be addressed-the means of discussing it were not in the script. So we had to treat her as a white woman although she was not.

Can a white actress effectively play the part of a traditionally black character in works like A Raisin in the Sun or The Color Purple? Can a man play a woman without it being a statement about sexuality? Does race/sex matter?

At the Shaw Festival, the male lead, a nineteenth century British clergyman, was played by a black actor. Was he supposed to be a typical Englishman? In this case, I doubt it made any difference.

Clearly there are far fewer black playwrights and black characters in plays. And in many cases it makes little difference to have black actors play the part. But in some cases, and I would say THE HOMECOMING might constitute one, it does matter. The character is too pivotal-- to change her race.

What do you think? Does changes in gender or race affect your reading of a work?

Friday, October 28, 2011

The Summing Up, Friday, October 28, 2011

Check out the new PLOTS WITH GUNS for my usual cheerful story. And also the stories of other fine writers. Thanks, Sean!

The Summing Up, Friday, October 28, 2011

Yvette Banek. Green for Danger, Christianna Brand
Joe Barone, Bad Faith, Aimee and David Thurlo
Nigel Bird, Bucket Nut, Liza Cody
Bill Crider, The Gathering Place, Jon L. Breen
Scott Cupp, City of Corpses, Norvell Page
Martin Edwards, Was Corinne's Murder Clued, Curtis Evans
Ed Gorman, Shooting Star and Spiderweb, Robert Bloch
Jerry House, Protect and Defend, Jack Valenti (Max Allan Collins)
Randy Johnson, Mother Finds a Body, Gypsy Rose Lee
George Kelley, Multiples, Robert Silverberg
Margot Kinberg, Halloween Party, Agatha Christie
Kate Laity, The Best of Myles, Flann O'Brien
B.V. Lawson, The Hand in the Glove, Rex Stout
Evan Lewis, Dead Dolls Don't Talk; Hunt the Killer, Too Hot to Hold, Day Keene
Steve Lewis.Richard and Karen LaPorte, The Nine Wrong Answers, John Dickson Carr
Todd Mason, The House of the Nightmare, Kathleen Lines, ed. and various anthologies
J.F. Norris, The Death Wish, Elisabeth Sanxay Holding
Richard Pangburn, The Ghost Hunters, Deborah Blum
Eric Peterson, The Spy, Clive Cussler and Justin Scott
David Rachels, Plunder Squad, Richard Stark
James Reasoner, A Man Named Jones, Charles B. Stilson
Gerard Saylor, Zeppelins West, Joe R. Landsale
Ron Scheer, Goodnight Nebraska, Tom McNeal
Kerrie Smith, Murder for Christmas, Thomas Godfrey and Gahan Wilson
Kevin Tipple. Dice Angel, Brian Rouff
TomCat, The Novels of Dorothy Disney

Friday's Forgotten Books, October 28, 2011

Last Friday in November, special edition: Canadian Books.
(For those who care to read one, of course. Any review is always welcome).
Here is the site for the Crime Writers of Canada if you'd like to review a crime novel.

Ed Gorman is the author of Bad Moon Rising and other fine novels. You can find him here.

Shooting Star and Spiderweb by Robert Bloch

Though Robert Bloch made his reputation with horror or horrorific stories and novels, he worked steadily throughout his career in the mystery and crime genres. Shooting Star, one half of the new Hardcase Crime double book (more of these please), is not only crimonious it's also set in Hollywood, one of Bloch's abiding fascinations.

The hook here is novel for those of us who can remember how actor William Boyd bought up all his Hopalong Cassiday movies when they fell from popularity in the Forties and later sold them to TV. Buy low sell high. They brought him millions. Failed literary agent Mark Clayburn, now paying the bills as a private eye, is hired to prove that a Boyd-like actor wasn't the decadent man the press revealed him to be following his murder. The man who hires Clayburn bought up the dead star's Hoppy-like movies and expected to make a fortune. But since the films are aimed at kids...who wants to see a hero whose tastes off-screen were, to be gentle about it, sleazy.

In Spiderweb failed actor Eddie Haines is hired to be a "psychiatric consultant" to the stars by a rather arch villain named Professor Hermann. By blackmailing Eddie, Hermann has found the perfect tool for his racket. There are moments that reminded me of Nightmare Alley throughout the book and more than a few scenes that move the novel into the kind of realistic horror of Psycho. Shooting Star is driven by its mystery storyline; Spiderweb, though the storyline is less focused, depends on shock material to keep you turning the pages.

Neither of these novels is major Bloch but both deserve reading. For one thing they encapsulate a number of the obsessions, sociologically, of the Fifties. For another we see the dark side of Bloch's obsession with Hollywood. In such masterpieces as his short story The Movie People we see his almost innocent sense of what the movies gave to him as a youth. When he speaks of Chaplin and Keaton and Lloyd it's as if he's speaking of secular saints. The movies of his boyhood are holy to him.

In these novels and many short stories he deals with the business side of Hollywood. The voice becomes by turns sardonic and angry as he witnesses the passion and beauty of the great films and film artists reduced to power plays and dishonest deals rendered by men who have no idea what they're defiling.

I enjoyed both of these books enormously.

Yvette Banek

Joe Barone
Nigel Bird
Bill Crider
Scott Cupp
Martin Edwards
Jerry House
Randy Johnson
George Kelley
Margot Kinberg
Kate Laity
B.V. Lawson
Evan Lewis
Steve Lewis/Richard and Karen LaPorte
Todd Mason
J.F. Norris
Richard Pangburn
Eric Peterson
David Rachels
James Reasoner
Gerard Saylor
Ron Scheer
Kerrie Smith
Kevin Tipple

Thursday, October 27, 2011

My Life at the Theater: THE HOMECOMING


Saw this mesmerizing production of Harold Pinter's THE HOMECOMING last weekend at Stratford's Shakespeare Festival.

Realized midway through, this was the second time we had seen it. The first time was at the English Theater in Amsterdam in 1997 when we saw an equally fantastic production with Michael Sheen playing the pimp brother. It had just played the West End and probably went back there afterward.

This is a difficult play-Pinteresque you might say. It careens from humor to danger to pathos in seconds. Loved it. Just rented the movie from the library. Anyone seen it? I think this is the only Pinter play I have seen on stage although I have seen some of the films.


Despite terrific reviews, a strong leading man, a great novel from James Sallis, it looks like DRIVE has stalled at under 40K. Did you see it? If so, what do you see as its weakness in terms of doing better business?

In an interview with Keith Rawson, Sallis, in September, expressed delight in the production. Almost everyone liked it but....

Did word of mouth hurt it? It did a third of its business opening weekend.

Does the public spurn literary noir? Was it too violent? A similarly noirish film, WINTER"S BONE, was more successful but it had a sympathetic protagonist. Driver was not exactly that.

Did it need a larger advertising budget?

What movie's lackluster performance at the box office surprised you? I am constantly surprised by what the public likes and what it doesn't. I could never be an odds maker.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

What Writer Should We Know About and Don't?

Elizabeth Taylor.

And not the actress but the English writer. You may have seen or heard about a recentish movie made from one of her novels, Mrs. Palfrey at the Claremont. But all of her books are wonderful studies of middle-class women in England mid twentieth century. You will not go wrong with any of them. But Taylor like Barbara Pym, Christina Stead and so many others has faded away. Despite a reissue of many of her books by Virago, she is largely forgotten.

An assessment of her work can be found here. Many contend that the problem of her "name" led to her second-tier, at best, status.


Short story collections

Who is forgotten unjustly in your opinion?

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

How Many Canadian Writers Can You Name?

Canada is about 20 minutes away from me. Going through US Customs coming back into the USA is a major pain so we don't often go.

But we did last weekend and I went into a bookstore that had a nice section on Canadian authors. I had read a handful: Alice Munro, Margaret ATWOOD (sorry), Margaret Lawrence, John McFetridge, Mordecai Richler, Robertson Davies and Sandra Ruttan, (if you count people now in the U.S.) And there were more that I knew about. But so many I didn't. How about you? Do you read fiction by our neighbors to the north?

I have a challenge here: a reading challenge. How about reading a book by a Canadian author over the next month and we will all post a review on the last Friday in November. The book doesn't have to be forgotten-but I think most would count as neglected. Let's pump up the numbers for our Canadian pals.

Forgotten Movies ABC Afternoon Playbreak

The ABC Afternoon Playbreak was an American television anthology series that was broadcast on ABC from 1973 to 1975. The ninety-minute dramas aired once a month and featured some of the more popular television and film stars of the 1970s (Diana Hyland, Bradford Dillman, Patty Duke, Diane Baker, David Hedison).

This was a delight for me, home with two toddlers at the time. The one movie I remember vividly from the series, even forty years later, starred Clu Gulager and Kay Lenz in Heart in Hiding.

A blind professor falls in love with a young model. Kay Lenz won an Emmy for her portrayal. I always had a mad crush on Clu and Kay was just delightful. I saw her a few years ago on THE CLOSER. But I have missed Clu's recent outings.

For more forgotten movies, visit Todd Mason.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Holding on to your Voice

And I may have talked about this before. But occasionally, when I read a book with a very strong narrative voice, I find that voice or style of writing drifting into whatever I am writing. I know some people don't read fiction because of this. But I have to read fiction. My first writing workshop teacher claimed this problem was a temporary one, but I still have it.

I just read two books with exceptionally strong voices and oddly both books have the word orchard in it. The Orchard, Theresa Weir, and Orchard by Larry Watson. The voices are different but both are very commanding. Then I started the new Charles Frazier book, and his style, so descriptive, completely threw me off. Dialogue is rarer than a mold-free autumn in Michigan.

Does this happen to you in your writing? To you find yourself taken over by another writer's voice?

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Sunday Night Laughs: Marx Brothers

We Three Kings


In my youth, these three men were considered to be great actors.

Dog Day Afternoon, Serpico, Chinatown, The Godfather, Taxi Driver, Raging Bull, Five Easy Pieces, The Last Detail, Mean Streets, Good Fellas, Scarface.

And now, not so much. Oh, perhaps the occasional Kevorkian or About Schmidt, but on the whole.... Did they settle too easily for whatever came along? Were they not quite the actors we thought they were, did the style change? Like many actresses, did they need youth on their side.

Now we still get excellent work from Robert Duval, Gene Hackman, Tommy Lee Jones, Dustin Hoffman. But these were more character actors than the three kings.

Is it the character actor that has the longer career? What do you think?

Saturday, October 22, 2011

The Summing Up, Friday, October 21, 2011

Jeff & Jackie Meyerson and Phil in Niagara on the Lake

P. Abbott, Orchard, Larry Watson
Yvette Banek, The Great Films, 50 Years of Motion Pictures, Bosley Crowther
Joe Barone, Potshot, Robert Parker
Bill Crider, City, Clifford Simak
Scott Cupp, The Brains of Earth, Jack Vance
Martin Edwards, The Crooked Hinge, John Dickson Carr
Ed Gorman, Baby Moll, John Farris
Jerry House, The Education of Uncle Paul, Algernon Blackwood
Randy Johnson, The Well of the Worlds, Henry Kuttner
George Kelley, Act of Passion, Georges Simenon
Margot Kinberg, Presumed Innocent, Scott Turow
Rob Kitchin, Gernethill, Denise Mina
B.V. Lawson, The Puzzle of the Blue Banderilla, Stuart Palmer
Evan Lewis, High Priest of California, Charles Willeford
Steve Lewis/William D. Deeck, Call Mr. Fortune, H.C. Bailey
Steve Lewis/Ray O'Leary. The Wench is Dead, Colin Dexter
Todd Mason, Beyond and Alongside Tolkien and His Peers
J.F. Norris, Seance, Mark McShane
Richard Pangburn, Night Ride and Other Journeys & Jazz, Charles Beaumont
Eric Peterson, Liner Notes-Nuggets Box Set
David Rachels, Nothing in Her Way, Charles Williams
James Reasoner, Trailin', Max Branc
Richard Robinson, Smith and Other Events, Paul St. Pierre
Gerard Saylor, The Girl on the Fridge, Etgar Keret
Ron Scheer, Lime Creek, Joe Henry
Kerrie Smith, The House You Can In On, Martha Grimes
Kevin Tipple/Barry Ergang, The Innocent Mrs. Dubb, Elisabeth Sanxay Holding
Tomcat, Tomb Raider, Paul Doherty

Saturday Night Music; Indifferentemente From Passione

Friday, October 21, 2011

Friday's Forgotten Books, October 21, 2011

A sudden (pleasure) trip takes me away this morning. So whatever happens after 8:30 will be left undone until Sunday. The Summing Up will appear on Sunday too. Sorry if anyone was missed.

Mar Preston is the author of No Dice, a murder mystery series featuring Detective Dave Mason of the Santa Monica Police Department. Long ago she graduated from the University of California, Los Angeles with a degree in history, and from the University of Southern California with a Master's Degree in Creative Writing, both of which have done her absolutely no good in writing about the world of crime. Preston makes a temporary home in a village in the mountains of central California. Temporary because she has alternate waves of longing to return both to Santa Monica, and to North Bay, Ontario.

Blackfly Season by Giles Blunt

I grew up in North Bay, Ontario or Algonquin Bay, as Giles Blunt calls it in "Blackfly Season" where the Canadian blackflies drive you mad from spring until winter. His bringing to life this unimportant city in Northern Ontario where the buzzing whine of the blackflies is only one of the reasons I admire his work so much. He's a terrific read just in terms of story, but there's so much more.

This is the third mystery featuring Detective John Cardinal of the Algonquin Bay Police and his French-Canadian partner, Lise Delorme. An attractive red-head staggers out of the bush, with no memory, covered with blackfly bites, and a bullet lodged in her brain. Cardinal and Delorme work against the victim's resistance to telling them who shot her and may try again. A quick clue leads them from an outlaw motorcycle gang, to a crooked RCMP officer, to a grisly occult group's murder spree.

You won't forget his characters, from the wannabe poet/addict who imagines himself being interviewed by David Letterman and Martin Amis, to Doofus Toofus, the amiable drug dealer hanger-on. The addict's daily plans to get clean "next Monday" sound spot-on authentic. I loved the by-play between the Chinese etymology professor and his post-doc slave.

The characters behave in a natural way, the way you might imagine yourself reacting to situations, rather than the over-the-top sensationalism that makes me stop reading some popular authors. Cardinal and Delorme are real people.

Blunt creates a tight plot with crisp dialogue that moves fast, bringing the reader in close to watch how a depraved murderer and his distortion of a Santeria-like religion are created. You may not care to linger over the details here, and Blunt's depiction is just right—enough detail—but short of gruesome.

John Cardinal's pursuit of the murderer keeps the plot moving, but Blunt's portrayal of his helplessness in the agony of his wife's severe depression brings this mystery up to literary quality. Again, Blunt knows exactly when to pull back from Cardinal's melancholy home life and make something happen that you just didn't expect.

The plot is a fine one that leads to dark places and a climactic ending. I wager you'll remember the characters longer.

Orchard, Larry Watson (White Crosses, Montana 1948, Laura)

This novel owes a lot to the story of the Andrew Wyeth's "Helga" paintings.

Ned Weaver is a narcissistic artist who persuades a neighboring Scandinavian farm woman, Sonja House, to pose for his paintings. She has recently lost a child and is somewhat alienated from her husband. Money is tight.

Weaver and House are two narcissistic men and it is easy to figure them out--what they want and how they go about getting it. Sonja is enigmatic--we never understand exactly why she poses for the pictures. I think this was deliberate. She is the unknowable, a woman from another culture, the subject of two male fantasies. Perhaps she has come to feel that she blends into the color palette of countryside too much.

And this did not detract from this being a lovely and well-written novel about life in Door Country, Wisconsin, mid twentieth century. It was especially good at exploring the artistic impulse and how a man, a great artist, would think, act, feel.

Ned Weaver is the most vibrant character, even as he is the most loathsome.

Ed Gorman is the author of the Sam McCain series of novels. The most recent being BAD MOON RISING. You can find him here.

Baby Moll by John Farris

John Farris was my generation's first literary rock star. When his novel Harrison High was published it quickly became controversial because of its honest depiction of life among American teenagers. This was 1959. America still believed that if teens weren't exactly like Ricky and David Nelson they certainly weren't like Elvis. Given the fact that many of these teens would be in the streets protesting the Viet Nam war only a few years later, you can see how badly books such as Pat Boone's Twixt Twelve and Twenty misjudged them.

The paperback edition became a companion to Peyton Place, published a few years earlier, both Great Reads and both purveyors of unpopular truths.

Mr. Farris, now famous, was all of twenty-three when the book was published. But he was no beginner. Born in 1936 he could already claim the following novels in print:

* The Corpse Next Door (Graphic Books, 1956) (as John Farris)
* The Body on the Beach (Bouregy & Curl, 1957, hc) (as Steve Brackeen)
* Baby Moll (Crest, 1958, pb) (as Steve Brackeen)
* Danger in My Blood (Crest, 1958, pb) (as Steve Brackeen)

He was writing and publishing before he could legally buy beer.

Hard Case Crime has now given us a chance to look at some of Farris' early work with Baby Moll appearing this month. And fine work it is.

"Six years after quitting the Florida Mob, Peter Mallory is about to be dragged back in.

"Stalked by a vicious killer and losing his hold on power, Mallory’s old boss needs help—the kind of help only a man like Mallory can provide. But behind the walls of the fenced-in island compound he once called home, Mallory is about to find himself surrounded by beautiful women, by temptation, and by danger—and one wrong step could trigger a bloodbath."

If you have any doubt about Farris' writing skills open the book and read the first chapter. It is both lyrical and ominous, an unlikely combination in a paperback crime novel. This establishes the way Farris even then managed to take some of the familiar tropes of genre fiction and make them entirely his own.

The set-up itself is unique. Mallory called back to save the life of a boss he despises but a man he owes his life. The boss got him off the bottle.

The story, as it plays out, is also all Farris. While parts of the first act brought Peter Rabe to mind Farris takes the gangster novel in a different direction. Given the relationship of the people on the island the book becomes almost Gothic in its entanglements and ambience.

Farris of course went on to write numerous bestsellers, a number of them staples of modern dark suspense and horror, but even here, early on, he was a cunning storyteller fascinated by the perplexity and perversity of the human soul.

Yvette Banek
Joe Barone
Bill Crider
Scott Cupp
Martin Edwards
Jerry House
Randy Johnson
George Kelley
Margot Kinberg
Rob Kitchin
B.V. Lawson
Evan Lewis
Steve Lewis/William Deeck
Steve Lewis/Ray O'Leary
Todd Mason
J.F. Norris
Richard Pangburn
Eric Peterson
David Rachels
James Reasoner
Richard Robinson
Gerard Saylor
Ron Scheer
Kerrie Smith
Kevin Tipple/Barry Ergang

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Kevinisms 4 7/8

Kevin "You're a teacha, right, Poppop?"
PP-"Right, Kevin."
Kevin "Can you explain to me why it is dark in China when it's light here?"

Kevin, "You're a teacha, right PP."
PP-"Right, Kevin."
Kevin. "Can you explain to me why horned toads shoot blood out of their eyes?"

Kevin. "You're a teacha, right PP."
PP "Right, Kevin."
Kevin, "Can you tell me what the fastest land animal in Asia is?

Kevin "I want to be a teacha too."
PP. "What kind of teacher do you want to be?"
Kevin. "A swimming teacher."

My Life at the Theater: Stand

I saw STAND at the Purple Rose Theater in Chelsea Michigan in 2002. The play was written by Toni Press-Coffman and was a meaty play.

(From a local newspaper review. I remember the performances better than the plot. It was excellent)

A sports radio talk-show host, Liz (Sandra Birch) finds herself negotiating with a kidnapper for the release of a little girl.

The radio host’s emotional response to the violence around her is balanced by the more contemplative reactions of her producer (Lynch Travis), a Vietnam Vet who tends to look at the big picture when discussing the kidnapping or his son’s recent experience with violence. But in the end Liz loses patience with patience itself.

The DJ, as embodied by Birch's dynamic performance, registers a purely emotional response to a world in which violence seems immutable and compassion seems irrelevant. However fruitless or inarticulate it is, when Liz finally raises her voice in a extended howl of protest, she’s showing us the only truly logical response to the horrors of the world. -

I have seen Sandra Birch in several plays and she is always a pleasure to watch. I am tempted to go see her in Imagining Madoff, playing here now. It is fun to follow local actors throughout their career. Luckily Detroit has a pretty vibrant theater scene that enables this.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

My Understanding of Math

Who Are You a Fan of?

One more story to read from Seana called THE NORMANDIE.
And another story from Painting with Footprints.
A check for $125 winging its way to Union Settlement. Thanks for all writers that took the time and effort to write a story. If your story took as long as mine did, it amounts to about $.25 an hour, generous wages for the thirties. You are the best!

This is a topic I have been kicking around all week, asking my book group, dinner partners, everyone we have made contact with--who do you admire?

Who are you a fan of? It doesn't have to be a perfect person and you do not have to be a fan because someone is a world class philanthropist.

Either living or dead counts. Just someone who inspires you in some area.

I am just going to choose two because after that it become an avalanche.

Hillary Clinton, who got lemons and made lemonade. Despite disappointment in her marriage, and in 2008 as a candidate for the Presidency, she went on to be a terrific and tireless Secretary of State. She supported the man who defeated her with, at least public, full-hearted support. She is smart and an advocate for many important causes.

Jeff Daniels, who has done so much to support the state of Michigan and the City of Detroit, by remaining here, opening a fantastic theater which performs plays from local writers and has outreach programs for kids, doing fund-raising for various local causes, being a spokesperson for the State. And for defying our notion of actors as being narcissistic. No one in Michigan is not a fan of Jeff's.

Randy Johnson chooses North Carolina congressman Brad Miller(Democrat) who helped displaced workers.
Charles Gramlich, his wife and fellow writers and bloggers
George Kelley, Chan Gailey, Buffalo Bills Head Coach & writers who take on difficult topics
Chris LeTray, ,Yvon Chouinard, Founder of Patagonia
Jeff M. Paul Newman
Kitty, Her mother

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Tuesday Night Music: Early Dean Martin

Thanks to B.V. Lawson for hosting me on IN REFERENCE TO MURDER today.

And Happy Birthday, Phil, to the world's most perfect husband and father. And as I repeat every year, a man who has never sent me to sleep less than happy.

(Megan and Phil) And Megan has very high heels on.

Flash Fiction Challenge: Reginald Marsh's New York

If any more are out there, please let me know.

Incidentally anyone who would like to make a contribution to Union Settlement in lieu of writing a story, here is their address. Union Settlement is one of the oldest organizations to provide social services to its neighborhood in the country, beginning their mission in 1895.

Union Settlement
237 East 104th Street
New York, NY 10029-5499


Daniel Moses Luft

Robin Hood had started half an hour earlier and the last of the stragglers had come in and paid their tickets. I saw Betty leave the ticket booth with Charlie as he cradled the cash drawer in his arm. They were talking quietly to each other and she was laughing. I liked Betty.

I knew they would be upstairs together for a few minutes while he rolled the quarters and bundled the ones and smoked a slow cigarette. Then Betty would leave and it would just be Charlie and me until the last show let out. Maybe we would go to his house or maybe back to my place.

I was staring as Errol Flynn made eyes at Olivia de Havilland when I saw the three police uniforms walk out of the darkness and up the aisle. They must have come in the exit from the alley. The front doors were all locked. They brushed by me without a word and headed for the stairs straight up to Charlie’s office.

I knew he would still be up there with Betty and I wondered if this was for Charlie. If the police had finally caught up with him. For the five years I’d worked for Charlie he’d been reporting half-full houses as the money from big movies had rolled into the safe upstairs and another one in his house.

It had been great, it was money to pay off his house and car and money for my apartment. Money that took us to dinner on the east side while Hal, Charlie’s assistant had covered the slower, Monday closing shifts. It was money that added up daily from rolls of quarters and dollar bills that had made me feel safe for the first time since my Johnny had died on the construction site in Queens.

I really hated the stupid yellow and blue uniform and the flashlight but I loved the movies. And it didn’t take long before I loved Charlie and his house and his car and his steaks and his cocktails. I loved falling asleep in his big bed and I loved waking up and strolling downstairs to his refrigerator full of food.

I got scared for him up there with those officers. And what about Betty? She was just a kid in school. What would those cops do to her with her hands momentarily on the money too. Charlie had only hired her a month ago and she was lousy with the money. Charlie said her cash was never even. She was honest and didn’t know a thing about money. Charlie liked that.

I ran upstairs and opened the office door without knocking. Charlie was tied up to his chair with a bloody nose while Betty was in the corner wearing only a slip, shear and short. Her uniform was lying in a pile in the middle of the room along with her stockings. The men in the uniforms looked at me and I saw their unshaven faces. They didn’t look much like the police at all. These were a couple of Paul Munis and and Edward G. Their guns looked real though.

“What’s going on?” I nearly whispered I was so scared.

Edward G. grabbed me by the arms and shoved me into Betty. She was crying.

“What have you done to her?”

“Done to her?” the bigger Muni said. “Hell lady we been making her put her clothes back on. They were both bare naked when we come in.”

I looked at Betty again as her little body got even smaller as she cringed in the corner. I looked back at Charlie and saw how messy his pants and shirt were, like he got dressed really fast.

The three men ignored me as they turned to Charlie in the chair.

“Last time Charlie,” the little Muni said.”Give us the combination.”

Then I knew.

“Go to hell,” Charlie said before the little guy hit him in the stomach.

Edward G. turned to me. “Hey lady you spend a lot of nights with Charlie and he won’t give us the number to the safe. Do you know it?”

I could open that safe with my eyes closed I’d done it so much, and I knew that it had more money in it than they’d ever expect.

Then I saw the look in Charlie’s eyes, he was never going to give them the money. Thousands, at least five and maybe ten thousand were in that steel box. I knew that Charlie would never give up the combination. I looked at his face, his bloody broken face and I thought of little Betty with her uniform in her hands.

I pulled out my best Jean Harlow innocent girly voice: “I don’t know the combination. Only Mr Walters knows it.” They all sighed. Big Muni said: “We’ll find out.”

Little Muni continued. “We been watching you for weeks and you’ve only gone to the bank once. Now there must be around a thousand or fifteen hundred in that box and it’s ours now. I don’t care how long you last, it’s ours.”

The big guy snapped open a knife. “This is gonna hurt you Charlie.”

Edward G. walked over to us and nearly picked us up off the floor. He dragged us to a closet down the hall. At least it had a light in it.

I looked at Betty and was pretty sure she didn’t know the combination. Charlie loved a lot of women in his life but he’d never trust a girl as young as Betty. Could he? I figured that when they were done with Charlie they’d come for me next. I’d give them the combination and head straight to Charlie’s house and empty the safe there. If they came for Betty first, well I wasn’t sure how long I’d go before I give it to them.

But then something strange happened. When Betty was finished dressing she looked very calm, tough, almost smug. Like Barbara Stanwyck.

The Ohrbach Girl

by Patricia Abbott

I was eating creamed spinach at the Horn and Hardart’s on 8th when Dave Lombardi walked in looking snazzy in a gray drape-cut suit topped by a soft fedora. His shoes looked new too. I pushed my scuffed tee-straps farther under the table.

”Maria Batista, you gotta be kiddin.’ All the chow in those slots and that’s what you gave up your dime for. Who are you—Popeye? ”

I didn’t even look up. Dave Lombardi and my pop had been partners once—buddies in small-time schemes. Pop was always lookin’ for a soft mat to land on, and Dave kept one ready. My trouble was I was outta work and Dave—well— maybe he could help me. Ma had gotten herself on relief but not enough to buy the kind of rags I liked. At 23, I was getting too old to live off her anyway.

“Still outta work?” Dave asked.

Ma must’ve been flappin’ her jaws about me losing my millinery job. I shook my head and shoveled more spinach into my mouth.

“Listen, kiddo, I might have a lead.”

I rolled my eyes. “Hard to warm up to goin’ to jail, Dave.” I pushed the empty plate away, my stomach protesting at the disappearing dish.

In a few slick moves, Dave tossed the plate in the bin, fed the slot, opened the window and presented me with a lemon meringue.

“Piece of pie’s not gonna buy many favors,” I said. We had some history—him and me.

“Can’t I be a nice guy?”

I licked the meringue. “Sure. Whenever you get the urge.”

“Got your Dad’s smart mouth.”

“Pop wanted to leave me somethin’ more than his bills.”

Dave sighed. “Okay, quit the patter and I’ll tell you about the job.”

Putting a small piece of pie in my mouth and savoring it, I waited.

“Guy down at Orhrbach’s wants a reliable girl to make hats. Girl that won’t talk union. Chatter is, there’s gonna be a strike. Heard about it?”

I hadn’t. And a job at Orhrback’s sounded pretty okay to me. I couldn’t afford to be sweet on unions.

“You’ll really be workin’ for me. Figure the crowd watchin’ the picket line is a good place to pick some pockets. We could just tumble onto the subway things get outta hand. There’s gotta be an opportunity for mischief with all the bedlam.”

“It’s not a pick it line,” I said. I shoulda known no job from Dave would be legit.

“Enough with the smart aleck routine. Wanna job or not?” His voice had a curl in it.

“So how do I fit in?” I put down my fork to concentrate.

“Get to know the dames that shop there. Which ones carry a lotta dough Maybe we’ll need you to create a ruckus. Have to see how to play it.” He paused. “I like havin’ a man, or in your case a girl, on the scene. May take a week or two to find the best hand to play.”

Ohrbach’s sat on Union Square and every Saturday there was some kinda strike or protest. Place was Red Central with the subway lines and buses spewing out jobless people with time on their hands. I usually took my sandwich outside to see what was goin’ on. Sometimes people from up on Broadway put on a play. Other days writers shouted their angry poems. Meanwhile, the clerks from Ohrbach’s marched around holdin’ their signs. Even when Orhrbach got himself an injunction from some judge on his payroll, the workers found ways around it.

The job was A-OK s'long as you didn’t mind back-breakin’, poor-payin’ work. Guy I worked for was nice enough, but jeez, that Ohrbach was a cheap bastard. Livin’ with Ma, I could make out, but some of ‘em supported a family on eight bucks a week. Fifty-seven hours for chicken feed. And Ohrbachs wasn’t no Bonwit Teller’s. It was a crummy crowded store—damp and stuffy. After a while, I wanted to carry a sign myself. Dave and his scheme began to eat at me.

“This is the set-up,” Dave told me, on the phone in the building's vestibule one night. “Create a disturbance on the square. Somethin’ that'll pull security out of the store. Maybe accuse someone of being a Red. Or a thief. Get into a brawl.”

“I weigh 100 pounds. Think I can take on some of them bruisers millin’ around?”

“Just cause trouble. Monkey Business—that’s what the newspapers call it when the Commies do it. Guards are waitin’ for it since some noodle head opened a crate of mice in Notions last week. Ohrbach beefed up the force and I got two guys inside now who are just waitin’ to empty the tills and jewelry cases.”

“What if I say no?”

“Milliners are a dime a dozen.”

Saturday was a nice day and the crowd was the biggest yet. Someone gave kids balloons that read, “Don’t Buy at Ohrbach’s” and the cops were wrestlin’ them away. Kids were crying like Santa had forgotten to stop at their house. One kid had a bloody nose, another broken glasses. Oh, that Ohrbach. He had every crooked pol in his pocket.

As I puffed up with rage, it suddenly came to me how to make a disturbance—though probably not the one Lombardi had in mind. I grabbed a picket sign from the nearest girl and dashed into the center of the square where a statue of George Washington riding a horse sat. Putting the sign in my mouth, I mounted that statue and stuck the sign under George's arm.

A cheer went up, and a thousand people rushed the statue, stickin’ their signs around the base forming a barrier from the cops. We got our picture in the Daily Worker though none of the other newspapers touched it—chicken shits.

Things worked out okay for Dave too. His guys cleared all the first floor tills and the jewelry counter before the cops came. My take was enough to buy Ma a new radio.

‘Course Orhbach fired me and dozens more the next day. You never can win with those guys.


Please visit the following blogs for more stories based on Reginald Marsh paintings. And thanks to all.

Kieran Shea

Loren Eaton

Thomas Pluck

Peter Rozovsky

Dana King

Chad Eagleton

Gerald So

Sandra Seamans

Katherine Tomlinson

Rosemarie Keenan

Ron Scheer

Yvette Banek

Caftan Woman

John Norris

Rob Kitchin

Gill Hoffs

Todd Mason

Todd Mason 2

Marylinn Kelly

William Morgan


Monday, October 17, 2011

Eugenides' Vest

One of the funniest twitter accounts ever. Go on--try it out. Or on.

And he found the perfect sixties' shirt to compliment it.

Since THE MARRIAGE PLOT stands at #11 on the Amazon chart, I think a little teasing is not out of line.

And this is one of those days, I will do anything rather than put words on paper.

Six years and still scanning the Internet for your pleasure.

How I Came to Write This Story: Patti Abbott

"Monkey Justice" is, of course, the title story in MONKEY JUSTICE (the original illustration by Mark Satchwill from Dark Valentine zine shown here)

Its genesis is easy to remember. I overheard the entire story on a bus ride into work. No kidding. Well, not the part about the protagonist working with monkeys, but the rest of it.

Who could resist using a story about a man's wife and mistress giving birth to his daughters on the same day? The guy on the bus becomes Gene, the beta male, in my story. I even watched him de-bus at the Science Center.

He will never know that his story became my story and the title of this collection.

It was almost too easy to write it until I thought to insert the part about monkey behavior. Who doesn't like monkeys and how could I resist using it for a title of the collection? Spending a week or two looking over recent Capuchin monkey experiments was a treat. And those four anthropology courses finally paid off.

"Like a Hawk Rising" is the first story in MONKEY JUSTICE

I only realized the genesis of this story when I sat down to think about it years after I wrote it. Today, in fact.

I remember at the time being very keen to write a story Neil Smith would take for PLOTS WITH GUNS, which he did. I think I sent him several before he took this one. (And another one or two afterward). He's mean one, Mr. Grinch. (Only kidding).

This story is obviously derived from my love of REAR WINDOW. Like Jeff Jeffries, my protagonist, Bernie, is laid up with a broken leg. But unlike Jeff, he has less to look at out his window in the Florida suburbs, so he ends up watching the kid next door who keeps a menagerie of odd animals in backyard. So its animals in cages instead of hot urbanites through their windows.

One of the threats in my story is the boy's father, who pays the occasional visit to the house next door where he torments his son. The other threat is the man Bernie and his wife owe money to--and with the broken leg he cannot earn (as a second- story man) enough to meet his debt.

So the protagonist is impotent on several fronts.

Also, as in the film, Bernie's sexy female partner is called on to save the day. Twice. She risks her life in doing this.

The hawk is a tattoo on her jacket and on her back. Unlike Jeff in REAR WINDOW, who is blind to Grace Kelly's charms., Bernie's crazy in love with her and the hawk on the back is their secret.

I used to think it was a mistake to have Jeff Jeffries so oblivious to Grace's charms in Rear Window. Why not cast a less glamorous woman, why not dress her less elegantly?
But now I think, it was genius. It became an eternal talking point for REAR WINDOW and made Jeff a more multi-dimensional character. I think this point exactly is the one most often discussed.

So the similarities are certainly there with my story. It's an homage but not a steal.

If you've enjoyed my stories, could I ask you to post an amazon review under MONKEY JUSTICE. This is a little known author's best chance of getting read.
If you don't enjoy my stories, you may want to keep it to yourself. HA!

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Saturday Night Music: Billie Holiday

Three Days to the Flash Fiction Challenge.

If you have a blog, I will post the link to it. So if you can give me a heads-up by Monday and your blog address if you are new to me, that would be great. It really does work out better if I don't post too many stories on my blog. Since this blog is not a zine, my skills in making your stories look good are minimal.

If you don't have a blog, I'd need the entire story by Monday. And if you identify the picture or send it along, I will post it with the story. I'll do my best to make it look good. My email is on here, I think.

I found this a hard story to write. I always do though. 1000 words is not my favorite speed of travel. I wrote half a story about one picture before deciding it was the most depressing story I'd ever read. So I started over and I hope this one is a bit jollier.



This is a TV show on Showtime that I am betting almost everyone stays away from. I am scared of almost every medical show, but for some reason this one interests me. Almost every minute of the show is sad. Not just the Laura Linney character who has Stage Four melanoma, but her bi-polar brother who lost a baby, her friend who died this season, her husband who is loving but so desperate for money to finance her treatments in a trial program that he makes bad decisions, her son who is struggling with losing his mother and girlfriend, her black student who gets involved with the wrong boy...and on and on.

And yet, I watch because the acting and writing is excellent. And I feel invested in their journey.

I stuck out Sophie's Choice, Philadelphia, What's Eating Gilbert Grape and somewhat recently the book, NEVER LET ME GO and TURN OF MIND for similar reasons.

Do you stick with books or movies or TV shows even if they make you sad or uncomfortable if the writing is great? Or isn't it worth it to you? What show/book/movie scared you and yet you stuck it out?

Friday, October 14, 2011

The Summing Up, October 15, 2011

Phil and my son, Josh, didn't take Kevin to many Tigers games this year. They have to pay full-price for him now and he seemed more interested in riding on the ferris wheel and eating soft pretzels than watching a game. (He's only 4 after all). He also is ready to go home to bed by eight.

And Phil and Josh want to watch the game. Every second of it.

Kevin must have overheard Josh tell his wife that this would probably be the last game of the year (we think) because when Josh was leaving, on the bench by the front door, was Kevin's Tiger hat, his Tiger shirt, a book about baseball and a Tiger ball--all thing he had located and put at the door unbeknownst to them.

Phil had bought him that ball when he was two--I remember him picking it out in the gift shop. A neat pile for the trip.

Kevin was ready to go but got left behind (sell-out and tks cost $110). Sad to me, but humorous to men apparently. I bet no women will find it so though.

My review of IDES OF MARCH is on Crimespree Cinema.

The Summing Up, October 15, 2011

Patti Abbott, The Moviegoer, Walker Percy
Yvette Banke, The Silent Speaker, Rex Stout
Joe Barone, The Chinese Maze Mysteries, Robert van Gulik
Bill Crider, Hunter and the Hunted, Fredric Brown
Scott Cupp, The Zen Gun, Barrington J. Bayley
Martin Edwards, Hangover Square, Patrick Hamilton
Cullen Gallagher, Edwin of the Iron Shoes, Marcia Muller
Ed Gorman, The Murder of Miranda, Margaret Millar
Jerry House, Self Portrait Ceaselessly, Ross Macdonald
Randy Johnson, Room to Swing, Ed Lacy
George Kelley, The Planets Killers, Robert Silverberg
Margot Kinberg, Detective Inspector Huss, Helene Tursten
Rob Kitchin, Open Season, C.J. Box
K. A. Laity, Three Plays by Mae West, edited by Lillian Schlessel
B.V. Lawson, First Come, First Kill, Richard and Frances Lockridge
Steve Lewis/Curt J. Evans, Wicket Good, G.M. Malliet
Todd Mason, 5001 Nights at the Movies, Pauline Kael
J..F. Norris, The Secrets of Dr. Taverner, Dion Fortune
Richard Pangburn, Water Witches, Chris Bohjalian
David Rachels, Stopover for Murder, Floyd Mahannah
James Reasoner, The Further Adventures of Zorro, Johnson McCully
Richard Robinson, The Complete Venus Equilaterial, George O. Smith
Gerard Saylor, Songs of Innocence, Richard Aleas
Ron Scheer, Waltz into Darkness, Cornell Woolrich
Kerrie Smith, Gideon's Day, J. J. Marric
Kevin Tipple, A Real Basket Case, Beth Groundwater
Tomcat, Leonard's Law, Warren B. Murphy