Wednesday, November 30, 2011

TV Series' Music

HOW I CAME TO WRITE THIS STORY: Cath Bore and Thomas Pluck

"Killing For Company" - by Cath Bore

This story is inspired by "Be My Baby" by 1960s US girl group, The Ronettes.

I've always loved the girl vocal groups from that period. On the surface the music is very sweet, innocent and romantic but if one listens carefully and soaks up the atmosphere you can detect elements more knowing and subversive than a superficial appreciation provides.

My killer in Killing For Company has two every distinct sides - one as a professional upstanding member of society and the other - well, you can guess.
The title of the song itself gives some hint to why the murder of a young boy happens, but I'll let you work that one out for yourself!

Free Bird, Thomas Pluck

My story for Off the Record is "Free Bird." The original title was"Freedom Bird," and it's an idea I had for a long time, ever since I heard that soldiers in Vietnam called the transport plane that headed home "the freedom bird." A friend in high school drove a '79 Firebird Trans Am with the golden phoenix emblazoned on the hood, and the two images merged in my mind. I thought about a vet tortured by what he'd done, who wanted his son to do the right things with his life. From the son's point of view he's overbearing, so the boy dreams ofescaping in his Pop's Trans Am one day. It's the kind of story that simmered in my mind for many years before Luca's invitation set the pen into motion, and I hope that like a good gumbo, the flavors have
mellowed and made for a satisfying story that you'll remember for some time.

Luca had a great idea and put in a lot of work to gather 40 writers to write stories and two forewords for this book, and I can't imagine a better e-book bargain at the moment. He's supporting two charities that improve children's literacy, and what better gift can you give
than the power to read? It's a great project and I'm proud to be a part of it.

Best Film Director?

Who do you think is the greatest film director? At least for you.

I am going to go with the Coen Brothers here. I know there are artier choices like, well, you know the names. But for pure enjoyment it's the Coen Brothers for me.

My first inclination was to choose Alfred Hitchcock. But his films are pretty similar. Second Claude Chabrol but the language barrier interferes with my complete trust in a choice.

Consider the range of:

Blood Simple, Raising Arizona, Miller's Crossing, Barton Fink, Fargo, The Big Lebowski, Oh, Brother, Where Art Thou, The Man Who Wasn't There, Intolerable Cruelty (yes, I liked it), No Country for Old Men, A Serious Man, and True Grit.


Yes, there were three missteps along the way (Hudsucker, Ladykillers and Burn This for me), but my goodness, look at the versatility above. There are at least three films here that rank among my very favorite movies.

Okay, name names.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Movie Themes: American Beauty-Thomas Newman

How I Came to Write This Story: Nick Quantrill and Darren Sant

How I came to write...”Death or Glory”

I’ve been fortunate enough over the last few years to contribute short stories to a number of anthologies, but never one as much fun as this. I’m a massive, massive music lover, so when Luca Veste asked if I’d like to contribute a story based on a song title and support the good work of literacy projects around the world, I would have paid for the privilege. Seriously.

My choice was always going to be a song by The Clash, so that meant something from “London Calling.” It’s an album which is never far from my CD player. It’s a career high which ties up all kinds of musical loose ends including punk, rock, country, jazz, reggae and ska. More importantly, it’s always struck me as being a very visual album. I can see the guy in “The Clampdown” slowly becoming what he despises and the defiance of the guy in “Guns of Brixton”. But most of all, it’s “Death or Glory” which has always fascinated me.

Ultimately, you can interpret lyrics as you wish, but to me, “Death or Glory” is about what you do when you realise life is on top of you and not necessarily in front of you. It seems to me that there are two options - you can either give in and let bitterness and disappointment consume you, or you can find a way forward that makes sense to you, even if you can’t change the world like you maybe once wanted to. Some people manage to negotiate that, others don’t. My aim was to take the guy in “Death or Glory” and use the details in the song to examine that dilemma. I have no idea if Joe Strummer would have approved of my interpretation of the song, but I’d like to think he would have approved of this fantastic project.

Darren Sant. Karma Police

Like probably all of the writers in the anthology I am a huge fan of music. Selecting a particular track from the many possible choices should have been an arduous task. However,

after a f
ew moments thought not only did a song title come to me but the story idea came with it. All writers have their own muse but when I get a strong idea so quickly I usually find that it’s a winner. When I try and bend a story over the anvil to make it fit it’s often not as successful as that initial idea that just comes to me in a flash.

I have liked Radiohead since the very first album. It’s the ultimate mood music. OK Computer is perhaps their finest album, it regularly ranks high in polls of top albums. The band has an interesting, haunting and melancholic style to their tunes that really speaks to me for some reason. Karma Police is a song title that is just begging to be made into a story and that is what I did. I have yet to read the anthology but I suspect mine is the only science fiction story. The story led the way because I don’t usually write sci-fi but I had a lot of fun writing it. I hope everyone who reads the story enjoys it.

Best Regards,

Forgotten Movies: The L-Shaped Room

I read the book by Lynne Reid Banks before I saw the movie. She also wrote two sequels to the story as well as the terrific kid's book THE INDIAN IN THE CUPBOARD.

This is the 1962 story of a pregnant French girl who finds a room in a boarding house when her father kicks her out and gradually comes to find a home there too. Other than Leslie Caron in the starring role, the cast is fairly unfamiliar to me although that is Brock Peters playing the horn. One of those movies where you could wallow in its misery. My favorite kind at fourteen (and sometimes now). One of the many British movies about the working class from the fifties and sixties. It is rare now to find movies that treat urban blue-collar people seriously although perhaps it was then.

What is your favorite movie about this segment of society?

You can find more movies at Todd Mason's blog.

Monday, November 28, 2011

How I Came to Write This Story: Benoit Lelievre and Les Edgerton

Benoit Lelievre, Blood on the Dance Floor

My girlfriend, life partner and real life buddy cop Josie works for Cirque du Soleil. She's not an acrobat or a contortionist or anything like that, but she's working there. That doesn't get me a lot of perks, except maybe for the bragging rights to say this, but I get to see a show once in a while.

Last October was the premiere of Michael Jackson: The Immortal World Tour at the Bell Center and being a Michael Jackson fan, I went there and had a lot of fun. It's a great show. I had a lot of fun over there, rocking out to MJ's tunes. I forgot about his dark half for a few hours and let the music carry me somewhere else.

It's a few days later that I have learned about Off The Record, Luca Veste's project of making an anthology with stories based on classic rock songs. Luca offered me a place on the project, granted I could write a story before the deadline and I did. On any given date that was not after a Michael Jackson tribute, I would have written a story about another song. Probably Motorhead's IN THE NAME OF TRAGEDY or The Stooge's DOWN ON THE STREET.

But not that day.

Still reeling from Michael's unparalleled danceable vibes, I decide to try my luck with BLOOD ON THE DANCE FLOOR, a song that tells a story about the dangers of desire. I love to write about desire because it's a deceitful emotion. It camouflages itself as love or other pure feelings, but it's nothing like it. Desire is a primal urge, a chemical reaction to beauty and pheromones. No matter how we try to disguise it, make it wear a veil of purity, desire is raw and often ugly.

I'm not going to spoil what BLOOD ON THE DANCEFLOOR (I know, Luca “britified” the title a little bit), but it's a story that involves desire, dancing (a lot of dancing) and a girl named Susie. Because that's what it's all about right? Desire. Women and a shitload of confusing behaviour. Thanks to Josie, Micheal Jackson, Cirque du Soleil and Luca Veste, this story was born.

Benoit Lelievre writes stories. They often involve crime, but they are about sad and desperate people, first and foremost. People who are pushed to the extreme and decide to retaliate and take back what's theirs. He also writes on a daily basis on his blog Dead End Follies ( where he reviews books, movies and talks about different things pop culture related.

Les Edgerton, Small Change

First, I’d like to thank Patti for her generosity in giving us space here to talk about how we came to write our stories for Luca Veste’s remarkable anthology, OFF THE RECORD. Patti has a well-deserved reputation for helping both new and established writers gain exposure to the reading public and to our colleagues and peers. Thanks, Patti!

Now. How I came to write my story for the collection, based on Tom Waits’ song “Small Change.”

I’ve lived in New Orleans for much of my life and from time to time, I’d go into a bar I haunted on a regular basis—The Dungeon--and the barkeep would say, “You just missed so and so.” He’d name a movie star or famous singer, and I’d shake my head at my bad luck. One time, I went into The Dungeon with my girlfriend Cat and the bartender told us we’d just missed Tom Waits. I asked where he’d been sitting and the guy pointed out a stool and I went over and sat down, positive I could still feel his body warmth on the seat.

One of those existential moments…

I’ve been a fan of Waits’ work forever. Most of it. I don’t care as much for the songs when he’s been through rehab—has too much of the smooth, mellifluous sound stylings of a Harry Connick, Jr. I much prefer the raspy, whiskey voice he employs that I imagine is his sound just before he goes into rehab.

The voice he sings “Small Change” with.

For years, I’ve used that song whenever I teach a unit on poetry when I’m toiling at a university. Kids are amazed that I consider this poetry and they much prefer it to the sonnets of John Donne or Andrew Marvell. Nothing against these fine poets, but today’s youth seem to connect with street minstrels like Waits somewhat more. Many are surprised to learn that there are those of us who consider songs like this as brilliant poetry. A few years ago, I spent three years as writer-in-residence at the University of Toledo and based a presentation on Mr. Waits’ song. The second year I was there, a pair of students approached me after the first class session and asked when I was going to “do the Waits thing.” They said that was the sole reason they’d taken the class. Cool.

So, when Luca Veste emailed me and the others about his project and asked us to write a short story about a song, it was the only one I even considered. The impetus of how to construct it was fairly straightforward and normal for a writer. I just played the “what if” game. What if Tom Waits gathered stories for his song material sometimes? What if he wandered into The Dungeon looking for material the day the bartender mentioned he’d been there?

From that, it was an easy story to imagine. I just put myself back in time to earlier that day in the Quarters so I didn’t miss him, erased Cat from the setting, and had Tom approach me to see if I had any stories to sell. And, he’d ask me. I look like a guy who has stories. That’s because… I do. And, if I’m going to tell them, I’d like the audience to pay me in drinks. That’s just kind of the way it works.

So now you know…

Blue skies,


Kevinisms on turning five

"People always say eagle eyes. But they could also say someone has peregrine falcon eyes."

"Did Andy Warthog paint that? It looks like a painting by him."

"I probably won't take the training wheels off my new bike until I am seven or eight."

"Daddy says now that I am learning to twirl in my skating class, I have to switch to hockey ."

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Sunday Night Laughs: Woody Allen

"How I Came to Write This Story" Paul Brazill and R. Thomas Brown

OFF THE RECORD is an e-anthology where each story is influenced in some way by a song. The project was put together by Luca Veste.

The proceeds from this anthology will benefit literacy charities in the UK and the US:

In the UK, National Literacy Trust:

In the US, Children’s Literacy Initiative

For a truly amazing play list of the songs by Court Merrigan, go here. Ain't technology grand!

Paul Brazill-Life on Mars

'It's a God-awful small affair.' -Life On Mars? David Bowie.
When Luca Vesta chose the song for me to use as inspiration for his Off The Record anthology, I knew I was onto a good thing.

I'd known the song Life On Mars? since I was about 10 - almost 40 years. I loved it for it's drama and those lyrics that always fired up the imagination when I listened to Bowie.

The theme that I took from the song- and ran with- was the sci-fi fantasy of people searching for life on Mars when there were 'Sailors, fighting in the dance halls' down on earth. The contrast between the high minded notion and the low life.

Of how things are and how we think they are.Or how we want them to be.

And how we are all connected beneath the stars. Only a few degrees of separation between us. And if that is such a good thing, after all.

R Thomas Brown-Dock of the Bay

When Luca asked if I wanted to be a part of this, I jumped at the chance and knew exactly what song I would use. Dock of the Bay by Otis Redding is a song I've always loved. My parents would play it on car rides, and it's a tune that I find myself singing for no reason quite often. For me, it evokes different emotions depending on my mood. In more reflective states, its a simple song about the satisfaction of wasting time simple things. When times are tough, the words about nothing changing and ever present loneliness are familiar and somehow comforting.

The setting of the story is on a dock, so that part is a direct reference. The other inspiration is about the things I worry about these days, though not literally what happens in the story. Losing job and family are things I've seen happen to friends, and seem all around. Those things bother me and are the fuel for most of any anxiety I have. In the story, a man has suffered both of these things, and has run out of fight. He has one final plan to extract some measure of revenge from the person he sees as responsible.

R Thomas Brown

Will ebooks have the same resonance?

One of the things I like most about having books on my shelves is that it takes me back to the time I read them. It puts them in my hand again and brings them to mind. I wonder if reading a book on an ereader will have nearly this effect. Ten years from now, will you look fondly back on the December you read The Ranger by Ace Atkins if you read it on an ebook? Will it stick with you the same way? Would Miami Purity have been the same in an anonymous gray box? What about The Great Gatsby, Double Indemnity.

I think the answer is no. The physicality of print books keeps them fresher for us. Even if the book is not in your home right now, it's in a bookstore, a library, somewhere you'll be reminded of it.

I think there is a place for ereaders, but don't throw the baby out.

I am sad to think that our grandchildren will probably never bond with books they way we have. Our disposable society marches on.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Friday's Forgotten Books, November 25, 2011

Canadian Books!!!

Todd Mason will have the links today but you probably know the usual suspects by now.

Deb was a technical writer in the financial and software industries for the
better part of two decades. Then, after being a stay-at-home mom for several years, she went to work in the public school system and currently works with autistic students in a special ed classroom. She loves to read across all genres, but mysteries are her favorite.


Leonard Cohen was born in Montreal in 1934, which makes him the same age as my mother. I don’t quite know how that happened, because he always seemed so much younger than my parents when I was a teenager obsessively listening to “The Songs of Leonard Cohen” LP. Today Cohen is best known for his vast catalog of music, including “Suzanne,” “Joan of Arc,” “First We Take Manhattan,” and the beautiful “Hallelujah,” which seems to have been covered by every singer with a recording contract. However, in the 1960s (after graduating from McGill University in 1955 and trying law school and some other career paths), Cohen published several volumes of poetry and two novels: THE FAVOURITE GAME (1963) and BEAUTIFUL LOSERS (1966). I discovered these books in the 1970s; I enjoyed THE FAVOURITE GAME, but it was BEAUTIFUL LOSERS I read repeatedly during my teen years.

BEAUTIFUL LOSERS begins with an unnamed (and undoubtedly unreliable) narrator who is living in utter squalor, unwashed and filthy. Despite his living conditions, the narrator is a scholar, a historian whose major field of study is a luckless Indian tribe whose name has historically been translated as “loser.” The narrator tells the story of a love triangle involving himself, his late wife Edith (one of the last members of the aforementioned tribe), and F, the domineering man loved by both the narrator and Edith. When the novel begins, F, like Edith, is already dead—although a “Long Letter from F” forms the middle portion of the book. Intertwined with the hallucinatory story of spiritual and sexual love, betrayal, drug abuse, mind games, religion, philosophy, politics (especially the Quebec independence movement), mental illness, and suicide, is the story of Catherine Tekakwitha, a 17th century Mohawk who converted to Catholicism, lived a post-conversion life of intense self-denial (one would be tempted to say masochism), died at a young age, and became a saint.

This brief summary does not do justice to the profound depth of the novel, the various voices within it (comic, tragic, learned, foolish, yearning, interrogatory), the richness of its language, the rapid shifts in perspective. Yes, it is a sixties time-capsule: veering wildly in tone, leaving so much ambiguously half-said, containing simultaneously so much intellectual heft and so many intensely-detailed descriptions of sex and torture; it seems to epitomize a certain sixties outlook and attitude. This is not a novel for the weak of heart, but if you know Leonard Cohen only from his music and you’re in the mood for a real change of pace, I highly recommend BEAUTIFUL LOSERS.

Incidentally, this is the novel which contains the passage that begins, “God is alive; magic is afoot,”

famously used in a chant/song by Buffy Ste. Marie.

Charlie Stella is the author of six novels about the New York underworld, most recently Johnny Porno.

Seizing the Day

John McFetridge’s Let It Ride presents a lot of subplots to keep readers engaged. A husband and wife, fresh from a swing party, are mistakenly whacked by a hit man while in a semi-compromising position in their car while driving home from a swing party. The hit man could only see the driver (so yous figure out the position). A couple of veterans used to hustling drugs and guns out of Afghanistan are joined in Toronto where one of them,

JT (a Canadian Afghanistan veteran) is about to earn his full patch (become a made man, so to speak) for the gang run by Richard Tremblay (another subplot), a full patch who seeks the ultimate power (cappo di tutti cappi, so to speak). Vernard “Get” McGetty is the Detroit half of the connection and always looking for something better. After delivering some hardware up to JT in Toronto, he’s shown the ropes of the motorcycle gang world (and notices how many of the motorcyclists drive SUV’s) … JT shows him how they operate and it is impressive.

There’s also Sunitha, an Indian "rub and tug" (hand job) hooker with a second gig heading a small band of women who rob massage parlors of the almost rich and not so famous. She wants more and is ambitious enough to get it. Once she hooks up with Get (after JT takes him for some relief), she sees gold in her future.

Literally gold.

There’s also a subplot that has to do with the law trying to solve the couple murdered in their car … Maureen McKeon is cop no longer satisfied with her home life, her husband or young infant ... and she’s drinking again.

There are also those pesky, but not so powerful eye-talians out and about; with a subplot within their story as well.

Hookers and hit men abound … the names of the characters sub-title each chapter so there’s no reason to get lost. Let It Ride is chock full of references to the author the author of Let it Ride is most often compared to (say that three times fast). The name Elmore Leonard and several of his works make a few appearances, in tribute, I suspect. The references work well, as does the writing in this exciting page turner from the Toronto Bills very own crime fiction specialist.

The bit about full patches … essentially, a Full Patch = Made Man … north of the border there are motorcycle gangs that operate much the same way traditional organized crime does (or did); those seeking full honors in the program need to prove themselves over time … earn their stripes (so to speak) and then be approved by a board (of sorts) before they can become full patch members. There are rules one needs to abide along the way (or at least not get caught breaking them) and some are pretty similar to those the Italian-American mob are supposed to abide by.

Like don’t screw the wife of a made guy/full-patch and get caught without expecting to meet your maker. It’s one of the rules tested by JT …

No spoilers here … but know that McFetridge does very good work. He teaches as well as entertains. Let It Ride offers convincing snapshots of the different characters who inhabit our world. Like them or not, their choices are much more understandable by the novel’s several endings (each character has one, whether open ended or not). I never imagined motorcycle gangs were so powerful until I saw a documentary on the subject. It was chilling. Let It Ride was a reminder of just how powerful a group of determined sociopaths can be in a society unprepared for the violence and protected by law enforcement as corruptible as politicians.

Take a journey with this character driven novel of crime that takes place north of the border. You’ll meet interesting people at each turn; characters that both frighten and intrigue. Let It Ride is the character driven page turner we expect from McFetridge and we’re always glad to see some of his characters from prior works appear. Comparisons to the master from Detroit are valid. North of the boarder, McFetridge’s people inhabit the gritty world it is better to read about than taste first hand. Let It Ride lets us do that. An intriguing novel about opportunistic characters seizing their day. Carpe Diem indeed. McFetridge is the real deal.

Kent Morgan writes a sports column in Winnipeg, Manitoba and is a candidate for the Hoarders TV show as he is losing a battle with the books in his home. He hates it when every week reviewers write about Forgotten Books that he knows has and hasn't read, but can't find.

The Kate Henry Series - Alison Gordon - McClelland & Stewart

Alison Gordon was the first female sports writer assigned to an American League beat when the Toronto Star gave her the job of covering the Toronto Blue Jays. In 1985, her book about that not-always-pleasant experience titled Foul Balls: Five Years in the American League was published to positive reviews. After leaving the "toy department" Gordon began a mystery series with its main character a Toronto sports writer named Kate Henry. The first book was titled The Dead Pull Hitter and she followed up with Safe at Home, Night Game, Striking Out and Prairie Hardball.

Prairie Hardball may be my favourite because it takes Kate away from her comfort zone of Toronto and Florida to the province of Saskatchewan where she grew up. She brings her partner, Toronto homicide detective Andy Munro, with her to see her hometown of Indian Head. The reason for the trip is to watch her mother and the other Saskatchewan women who played in the All American Girls Professional Baseball League during the 1940s and early 1950s be inducted into the provincial Baseball Hall of Fame in Battleford. Philip Wrigley had recruited many of the best young softball players from the Wheat Province and neighbouring Manitoba to play in his "Glamour League." Some of the players have been warned to stay away from the induction and when one is murdered, Kate as might be expected becomes involved in the investigation.

After Prairie Hardball was published, Gordon seemed to lose interest in writing. At least that's the impression I got from her in a brief email correspondence. In 2004 on her blog, Confessions of an Idiosyncratic Mind, Sarah Weinman began a series called The Disappeared and her first author was Alison. In it she gives a much better summary and analysis of the books than I could so I encourage you to track it down. Weinman suggests that Gordon's books succeed because they are character-driven. In the comments section, there is one from Alison herself where she says she hasn't disappeared, but is living happily ever after in Toronto. She said that she had felt that she had gone as far as she could with Kate Henry and hadn't stopped writing because of lack of interest by her publisher.

She also added that occasionally a bunch of her Presbyterian ancestors show up in the middle of the night to inform her, in heavy Scots accents, that she is wasting her God-given talent, but so far she had managed to drive them off. I guess she continues to do so. The last I heard about Alison came in 2009 when she wrote an afterword for a new edition of The Men From Glengarry, a book written by her grandfather Rev. Dr. Charles William Gordon in 1901. He wrote under the pseudonym of Ralph Connor and sold millions of books around the turn of the 20th Century. Connor was Canada's best-selling author and in my opinion his granddaughter Alison is one of our country's best mystery novelists.

- # -

Patti Abbott, Depth Rapture, Carol Bruneau

Often when we go to Canada (20 minutes away) I will pick up a book by a Canadian author and although I have good intentions, they often join the mountain called the TBR pile. So this was an ideal time for me to dig into one.

Depth Rapture is one of five published works by Ms. Bruneau. The stories in Depth Rapture take place in various parts of Canada and England, and although they are not crime stories, a lot of them are certainly noir. Many concern two girls (and then women) named Barbie and Marilyn and the people in their lives.

The early stories are about their girlhood in the sixties and we follow them as they find careers, marry, have kids of their own. There is little joy n these stories. One story that particularly impressed me was "Where Adders Lie." A young girl is forced to spend one Sunday a month playing with a deaf girl, who her family picks up at an institution. The reason for this monthly visit or the girl's institutionalization remains murky as adult actions often due to children. The family expects some sort of gratitude for this act and Corinne, the deaf girl, gives them none, remaining mysterious and unknowable until the final scenes of the story when she sheds some light on the adult world that lies ahead for Barbara.

Another story, "The Park Street Bridge" takes a look at the fate that awaits girls on the loose. Marilyn and Barbara spend all the time they can at a resale shop, but getting there in time one night means crossing a railroad bridge. But the real danger comes later when they accept a ride home from two boys.

This is a fine collection of stories. The writing is lovely and the characters jump off the page.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

My Life at the Thearer: Crime of the Heart

Not from the production I saw in 1995, of course. I saw this at the Royal Exchange Theater in Manchester and I think I saw it again at the Hilberry Theater, our university graduate theater company. Beth Henley was the first woman to win the Pulitizer Prise in 28 years for this play. It opened on Broadway in 1981. It was also a movie with Jessica Lange, Diane Keaton and Sissy Spacek.

This was quite a great production, starring Alison Peebles, Robin Weaver and Lesley Sharp as the three sisters.

Henley went on to write MISS FIRECRACKER and other fine works.

Happy Thanksgiving

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

BOAT MAGAZINE's second feature is on Detroit

Check out their website here. Nice video. This is Detroit. I just ordered it, have to see how they cover it after living here for months. From Bosnia to Detroit. I guess Somalia is next.

Bill Crider says this helps, so if you have a spare minute, go over to Amazon and click like for Monkey Justice.

I need all the help I can get and thanks to anyone who's bought it or blogged about it or reviewed it on Amazon.

And congrats to Tiger, Justin Verlander. Cy Young and AL MVP. That's a rare thing.

Forgotten Movies: A CHRISTMAS MEMORY

Of course there is a Hallmark Hall version of this, but this was the original one from 1966 and I remember it as fondly as any holiday movie I've ever seen. Capote narrates it himself. It was directed by Frank Perry and Geraldine Page as the boy's cousin is breath-taking. It's simply told and filmed.

It was made for ABC's STAGE 67. Wonderful. You can practically watch it from the clips on you tube but I am not sure where else because NETFLIX won't allow me access (but not let's get into that again.) I know it's early to be talking about Christmas movies but this one is timeless.

Check out Todd Mason for more choices.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Saturday Night Music: The Mamas and the Papas

Cass Elliot, one of the greatest voices...ever.

Martha, Marcy, May, Marlene on Crimespree Cinema.


Charles Gramlich has graciously interviewed me on his blog Razored Zen.

A year or two ago, BIG BANG THEORY took a gamble in introducing two new females to the largely male cast. The gamble paid off. The women enriched the show, humanizing the scientists, adding a little sexuality (okay, very little), but broadening its appeal. Girls' night out can challenge the men in its biting humor.

The show was not forced to do this in the way THE OFFICE has been asked to make changes due to the departure of Steve Carrell. It was a well-conceived choice.

THE OFFICE, on the other hand, perhaps fearful of introducing a new Michael Scott, elevated a minor play to his position. Unfortunately Ed Helms (Andy) is one of the show's most one-dimensional characters, and the series has hit the skids (IMHO).

Even the sporadic addition of James Spader as CEO has been too tepid to elicit much interest. Andy is the world's most boring boss and charater, and I assumed he would only be in that position for a few episodes but alas he's still there and I can barely bring myself to tune in.

Perhaps none of the supporting players have the moxie to steer this ship. But why not the addition of some brassy, man-hating woman, or OCD- sexual predator male to add some spice? Have the writers tired of the show? I can't think of an episode this year to rival any from previous years. Are they throwing up their hands?

What shows have been successful in replacing a lead character? Which ones have not? Has any show ever improved with a new face in a primary role?

What additions or changes destroyed the dynamics of a TV show?

Friday, November 18, 2011


From Charles Ardai--and this one has me excited.

We just added a new book to the Hard Case Crime Web site (, a first novel by a young Baltimore-based writer named Ariel S. Winter that we’ll be publishing next summer. It’s not the sort of book that generally attracts a lot of coverage merely as a result of being announced – obviously no one knows the author’s name yet, since he hasn’t published any books before. The main thing it does have going for it is that it’s an amazing, amazing book – one that really knocked my socks off – but that’s something no one else will appreciate until they actually get to read it, which is months away.

However –

There is another story here, which is the book’s very unusual structure. The book is called THE TWENTY-YEAR DEATH, and it’s the story of a husband and wife whose lives collapse as violence intrudes – not an unusual premise for a noir novel. But the form Winter chose for it is very unusual: he decided to tell the story of these two doomed characters in the form of three separate old-fashioned crime novels, each set in a different decade and written in the style of one of the iconic mystery writers of that time. It feels a little like opening a Christmas package and finding new novels by three of your favorite pulp-era crime writers. The first is set in 1931 and features a French police inspector investigating the death of a convict in a rain gutter 20 miles away from the prison where he was supposed to be serving a 40-year jail sentence. The second is set in 1941 and features a hardboiled private eye in Hollywood who is hired by one of the big movie studios to watch over one of their leading ladies, who either is showing signs of paranoid dementia or is actually being stalked by a mysterious man on the set of her new picture. And the third is set in 1951 and puts us deep inside the dark and troubled mind of a desperate man, a drunken writer who has lost almost everything he had and is about to tip over the edge separating ‘troubled’ from ‘dangerous.’

What’s more, these aren’t just pastiches – what's wonderful is that each book works not only as a tribute to a great mystery writer of the past but also as a standalone novel with substance and emotional heft, and as part of the combined larger whole. It’s fascinating, for instance, to watch a background character in the first book become a more central figure in the second and then the first-person narrator in the third. I don’t know any other book that’s ever done anything like it.

In any event…I fell in love with the book, and bought it even though it’s three times the length of our usual books (by far the longest book we’ve ever published – 180,000 words), and even though you’re always told, as a publisher, that first novels don’t sell. I did it because it’s a stunning performance and just left me grinning the widest grin I’ve had on my face for a long, long time.

The Summing Up, Friday, November 18, 2011

The Summing Up, Friday, November 18, 2011

P. Abbott, Mucho Mojo, Joe R. Lansdale
Yvette Banek, Monkeewrench, P.J. Tracy
Joe Barone, Rashomon Gate, I. J. Parker
Bill Crider, Hopscotch, Brian Garfield
Scott Cupp, Hot Time in Old Town, Mike McQuay
Martin Edwards, Plain Murder, C.S. Forester
Cullen Gallagher, Death Wish, Brian Garfield
Ed Gorman, Conan Doyle, Detective, Peter Costello
Jerry House, Flesh and Blood. ed. Max Allan Collins and Jeff Gelb
Randy Johnson, The Last Good Kiss, James Crumley
George Kelley, Hadon of Ancient Opar, Philip Jose Farmer
Margot Kinberg, The Bushman Who Came Back, Arthur Upfield
B.V. Lawson, Troublemaker, Joseph Hansen
Doug Levin, Ross Thomas
Evan Lewis, Hawks of the Seas, Will Eisner
Steve Lewis, The Murder of Miranda, Margaret Millar
Todd Mason, You're All Alone, Fritz Leiber
J.F. Norris, A Few Friends to Tea, Virginia Coffman
Richard Pangburn, Blood Type, Stephen Greenleaf
David Rachels, Memory of Passion, Gil Brewer
James Reasoner, Wild to Possess, Gil Brewer
Richard Robinson, Satan in St. Mary's, Paul Doherty
Gerard Saylor, Ask the Parrot, Richard Stark
Kerrie Smith, Sherlock Holmes Investigates the Murder in Euston Square, Ronald Pearsall
Ron Scheer, Skins, Adrian Lewis
Kevin Tipple/Barry Ergang, The Five Silver Buddhas, Harry Stephen Keeler
TomCat, Mourned on Sunday, Helen Reilly
Jim Winter, See Them Die and Lady, Lady, I Did It, Ed McBain
John W. Hammett Homicides, Dashiell Hammett

Friday's Forgotten Books, November 18, 2011

Next week, Canadian book reviews, which will be gathered by Todd Mason. Other reviews are welcome too. Thanks and have a happy holiday.

Patti Abbott, Mucho Mojo, Joe R. Lansdale

Mucho Mojo is the second installment of the Hap and Leonard series by Joe R. Lansdale and a worthy follow-up to the first one. It concerns the disappearance of a number of 8-10 year old boys over a period of 10 years in a small town in Texas. It was very well done, of course, although I did find it improbable that such a long string of disappearances would get so little attention from the authorities given certain similarities. But all in all, I enjoyed this book immensely.

What I wanted to talk about here are the considerable strengths I found in this novel--almost amazing ones.

This is a novel by a white writer set entirely in the black community of a small town--and it never seems patronizing or inauthentic. Hap is virtually the only white character.

Secondly, Lansdale is able to write, almost obsessively, about sex without it seeming prurient or pornographic. His sex is tender and graceful.

Third-he is able to create believable characters with a few strokes of his keyboard. Truly, he can find a feature or embellishment to give them something to make them stand out.

Fourth-he can insert humor gracefully at even the darkest moments.

Fifth- he can use profanity without seeming crass.

What a writer. I am in awe.

Ed Gorman is the author of BAD MOON RISING and STRANGLEHOLD. You can find him here.

I always thought that Arthur Conan Doyle was a pretty cool guy. When I was young, I was all caught up in the almost otherworldly portrait he gave us of Victorian London and environs: the fog, the hansom cabs, the echoing footsteps down the dark alleys, the pitiful ones of Whitechapel, the self-indulgent ones of the aristocracy. And then when I got older and had more appreciation of what it was like for a father to lose a son, the way Doyle turned to mentalism of various sorts…

The one aspect of the Doyle story I’d never paid much attention to was his very real interest in true-crime cases. As Erle Stanley Gardner would do several decades later, Doyle helped clear innocents and thus helped them escape the gallows. And he worked with police from a variety of cities, towns and even other countries when they asked his opinion or advice on matters concerning open cases.

All this is documented in a fine new book CONAN DOYLE, DETECTIVE: THE TRUE CRIMES INVESTIGATED BY THE CREATOR OF SHERLOCK HOLMES by Peter Costello that moves as swiftly as a Doyle story while offering us a look at a Doyle most of us have ever encountered, even in some of the better Doyle biographies.

There are chapters on six of the UK’s most famous cases, including Crippen, Jack the Ripper and the Irish Crown Jewels. Even when Doyle was wrong in his conjectures, his process of deduction is fascinating to follow. Likewise, even in cases of lesser fame, Costello sets all the crimes in a context that helps give us a vivid sense of the era.

A real treat for several audiences: those who love Holmes, those fascinated with Doyle himself, those interested in the formation of modern crime-solving techniques and those (and there seem to be many) who wished they’d lived in the time of Queen Victoria.

Yvette Banek
Joe Barone
Bill Crider
Scott Cupp
Martin Edwards
Cullen Gallagher
Jerry House
Randy Johnson
George Kelley
Margot Kinberg
B.V. Lawson
Doug Levin
Evan Lewis
Steve Lewis
Todd Mason
J.F. Norris
Richard Pangburn
David Rachels
James Reasoner
Richard Robinson
Gerard Saylor
Ron Scheer
Kerrie Smith
Kevin Tipple/Barry Ergang
James Winter
John W

Thursday, November 17, 2011

MY Life at the Theater-Richard III and Henry VI

This was one of the great thrills of our life at the theater and of the year we spent in England (1994-95).

We were able to spend a bit of time in York that year and saw the double bill of Richard III and Henry VI at the York Theatre Royal-

It was called The Wars of the Roses--the struggle between the House of York and theHouse of Lancaster in the 15th century.

The Battle of Towton, 12 miles south of York, was fought by 50,000 Englishmen with casualities of 30,000 making it one of the bloodiest battles fought on English soil. Henry was deposed in 1461 after Lancaster's defeat at this battle and the crown moved into York (Plantagenet) hands. The program actually states it is a myth that he murdered his two nephews to prevent their ascension to the throne. Okay. Maybe it was Henry VII.

Of course, seeing this play done in York was a new experience since the people of York saw Richard III quite differently than other productions we have seen. He was their boy.

I have seen Richard III many times, including this summer, but Henry VI is less often performed. Very enjoyable.


I used to love netflix. For years I touted its perfection to everyone. We were in from the start and had almost 0 problems over the five years.

But come the changes in August, we bailed. But I love movies so...

We just spent a very frustrating day with Netflix, trying to get the $7.99 DVD in the mail plan. We could not find this alterative on the site. Anywhere.

Call One-She set up an account and said go ahead. We couldn't go anywhere. Every time I tried to order a movie, it changed my plan to the streaming one + the mail one for $16. I couldn't even get to the movies after a while.

Call Two-Oh, that other person did it wrong. Now it's all set up. Duh, no. Same thing. Streaming only.

Call Three-Gee, I can't figure out how to fix this. Maybe you should cancel this membership and you can start a new one. Sometimes that works. (Sometimes that works!!!)

I try to cancel my membership altogether and the site won't let me do that. Just keeps telling me how about how to stream movies.

I call to cancel my membership and they tell me it's cancelled. But yes, you made me cancel the first account before I opened a second. I now want to cancel the second one.

Can you tell me why you want to cancel it and answer a brief survey on customer service


I get the survey in the mail anyway. Four of them. One after each call. You can imagine what I said.

How did Netflix go from being the gold standard US company to being this? Four people answered my calls and not one of them knew how to fix it. Can it really be this hard or is this a technique they now use to force people to stream?

I now officially hate netflix. I feel like creating a logo to post on my blog. Maybe I will

Short Story Readers and Writers

First a question for those who have read a lot of EQMM or AHMM. I have read issues from time to time but not often enough to know the answer to this. Do they ever publish stories with an element of fantasy in them? Where the mystery is solved but perhaps through a bit of kismet.

What would you say is the number one reason, you get stalled with a story. Because right now I have about a half dozen sitting idle.

#1. It's somewhat based on a true story and that is actually handicapping me.

#2. I can't get the right voice or the proper person to tell it.

#3 I am trying to rework an old story and it's fine the way it is. Not meant to be a crime story.


#5 No good ending in sight.

#6 This seems all too familiar. Did I already write it or did someone else?

And I am sure there are more. What stalls you most often?

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Do You Get Lost in a Movie?

Someone said on here a few weeks ago that they have never been frightened by a movie. I have a friend that is so frightened at scary movies, she just can't see them. They play over and over in her head like an earwig.

Do you get so caught up with a movie that it makes you scared, or makes you cry or makes you angry. I can hardly watch movies where people are unjustifiably accused of something. It just drives me nuts. (THE WRONG MAN made me crazy).

What about you? Are you always able to remain outside of a movie or do you get swept away? I seldom cry at movies but when I saw PRIEST in 1997, I wept all the way home. Speaking of which, why has Linus Roache been relegated to TV movies.

Do you and the movie become one or are you always aware of it being just a movie?

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Tuesday Night Music: The Pixies

Movies in My Youth

At a dinner party on Saturday night (all of us movie lovers and over sixty) we remembered with puzzlement how in our youth, we went to a movie whenever we wanted--regardless of what time it officially began. The film would end and begin again immediately and when we came to the part where we began watching it, someone would say, "This is where we came in."

Then we would leave unless we liked it enough to sit through it again. Which we sometimes did. Or someone would say, "Let's see that part again where...." And after seeing it again, we would go.

Why did we watch movies that way? Why was the chronology not important? Did theaters not post times? Can't remember.

Forgotten TV Shows: HE AND SHE

HE AND SHE starred Richard Benjamin, Paula Prentiss and Jack Cassidy and ran during the 1967-68 TV season. He was a cartoonist, she a social worker, and Cassidy played the character from his cartoon on a TV show. It seemed very sophisticated at the time with more naturalistic acting and plots, following in the DICK VAN DYKE tradition.

I guess not everyone liked it because it only lasted one season. But I adored it. And especially Paula Prentiss. She went away too soon. That voice, that height, those eyes. Today we at least would have heard her voice in PIXAR movies.

Todd Mason has other links to forgotten movies.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Movie Theme Music: Elmer Bernstein: THE GRIFTERS


Just booked a trip to Tucson to celebrate my birthday and our anniversary in January. What books have you read set in Tuscon or Arizona that would enrich our experience? Any advice on sites we should see or good restaurants. Thanks!

The Personal Lives of Cops, PIs, Detectives, etc

Seven Amazon Reviews for Monkey Justice and a few blog posts about it-thanks so much, dear friends. I can't do it alone.


The other day someone said on here, "I never cared what Spenser cooked for dinner."

This led me to wonder if most people prefer crime books that stick to the facts of a crime and almost nothing but.

In a book I'm reading now by Joe Lansdale, probably a third of the story is about Hap and Leonard's personal lives. I don't mind this a bit if it's in the hands of a good writer like Lansdale. I feel that the more I know the two of them, the more interested I am in the crime they are about to solve. I actually find it tedious when a book is just a serious of interviews or action sequences. I guess I like the texture such descriptions provide. Of course, the skill of the author in doing this is crucial.

I may be in the minority here, and it may be because I read a lot of straight fiction and am comfortable hearing about someone's method of shaving, their trip to the vet with their dog with chiggers, the story of why their neighbor's walls are covered with photos. I like movies that do this too. I can feel Phil squirming beside me as I revel in watching how the Xs hang their clothes on a line.

What about you? How much personal life can you take? Did you mind reading about Spenser's cooking? Do you mind reading about Hap's sex life?

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Sunday Night Laughs

A little story of mine appears on FLASH FICTION OFFENSIVE.
Thanks David Barber.

The Best Ending Ever

Last Sunday, it was what kind of endings we liked best.

But this Sunday, right to the point, what are some of the best endings in books? James Hynes' NEXT dropped me on the floor not long ago. It was literally out of the blue. But I know as many people who hated it as liked it.

And I will never forget the satisfaction that came at the end of A PLACE OF EXECUTION by Val McDermid.

Inevitable, satisfying, and a bit of surprise--that's what I liked in these two.

What's your favorite ending to a book?