Friday, March 29, 2013

Thursday, March 28, 2013

My Life in the Theater: George Gershwin Alone

This has pretty much been playing nonstop since 2001. We saw it in 2003 in Ford's Theater in Washington D.C. How can any play with Gershwin's music not be wonderful. And it was. Hershey Felder does a great job with the character and the music. You can probably catch this one somewhere right now.


How I Wrote Dope Sick: A Love Story
By J.A. Kazimer

Dope Sick: A Love Story started off with one thing—A simple mix-tape (Yes, I’m that old that it was an actual tape. For those who don’t know what a tape is, bite me). A mix-tape given to me by my boyfriend at the time. From that tape I should’ve realized our relationship, as well as many others since, was doomed. You see, the tape held a single song that defines me—Tainted Love.
While that defining moment and song didn’t kick start the book immediately, it did explain my odd obsession with Sid & Nancy, which was the first plot for Dope Sick: A Love Story. The relationship between Sid and Nancy fascinated me. Fueled by fame, drugs, violence and love their recklessness ended with Nancy’s murder, and Sid’s suicide by heroin overdose. But it wasn’t their terrible fate that drew me, but rather the way in which the loss of two lovers, so tragically, seals their romance. Why? What makes tragic death equal everlasting, true love?
Take Romeo and Juliet, if Romeo would’ve bothered to try CPR when he finds Juliet’s body, would the two star-crossed lovers be quite as star-crossed after ten years of marriage and three kids, or would they argue over money and bicker over the remote like most couples? But because Juliet and Romeo both suffered from stupidity, their love story has lasted since 1594.
With my twisted view of what is love, I started writing Dope Sick: A Love Story. My protagonist, Colin Wilde, fell in love at a very young age, but his true love, the needle, eventually left him a junkie. Following the death of his mother, Colin begins his dance with heroin as his music career begins to takeoff. Living it up like Sid Vicious, Colin meets and soon marries Lisa, his Nancy. A few years after their ‘I Do’s’ Lisa is dead, murdered, and Colin is the prime suspect. His record company quickly drops the heavily addicted rockstar as accusations swell. Soon Colin is left with nothing but his one true love, until heroin also betrays him, leaving him dying on a bathroom floor.
And this is where the story both ends and starts, after I refused to fall into the Love Story trap of star-crossed lovers and their incredibly stupid deaths. I decided to forget writing the next Sid and Nancy story and focus on what happened if Sid didn’t die.
With that, I also wanted to explore what it means to an addict to be clean. To wake up every morning, either facing the need for the needle or burying the desire until it fades to nothing. For those who’ve never experienced the pull of the needle, if you ever smoked cigarettes, it’s a similar question. Ask a former smoker, one who stopped years ago, do you miss smoking? Some will say no. They haven’t thought about it in years. Others, like me, will wake up every morning longing for what we can no longer risk.
Therefore the new opening of Dope Sick: A Love Story restarts with Colin Wilde, clean for two years and ready to return to both the world of music and the living after a self-imposed exile following his wife’s murder. What follows is Colin’s struggle to stay clean in the midst of a drug-riddled music industry while seeking the truth about his wife’s murder with the help of Zoe, a woman who just might turn his love story back into a tragedy.
And the rambling mess above is exactly why no one should ever ask a writer, “How’d you write….”

J.A. Kazimer is a writer living in Denver, CO. Novels include CURSES! A F***ed-Up Fairy Tale, Holy Socks & Dirtier Demons, Dope Sick: A Love Story, SHANK and Froggy Style. J.A. spent years spilling drinks as a bartender and then stalked people working as a private investigator. Visit: or

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Opening Credits: DAYS OF HEAVEN

What Did Bagdad Do to Us

NPR is doing a feature of women in combat this week and I was reminded of an old story of mine from SHOTGUN HONEY. Thought I would post it here.

                                                    What Bagdad Did to Us

US Army Specialist, Ronnie Bixby, spent 2004 in Bagdad. She’d become a member of the US Army Marksmanship Unit before her rotation began, but never fired her weapon during her entire stint in Iraq. Guarding Halliburton Trucks never drew direct fire on her watch, and she was asleep in her bunk when one of the trucks was carpet bombed, killing two soldiers.

Ronnie was quartered with women during her rotation and developed a close relationship with several of them. Oh, there were a few men she liked too, but it wasn’t the same. None of her closer female friends were lesbians despite the ubiquitous catcalls. All of them had someone at home, someone waiting for them.
Her CO created camaraderie among the men by humiliating the women. But it wasn’t the sort of hazing that could be grievanced. The CO never laid a hand on a female soldier or encouraged a male soldier to do so. Never used the more vulgar euphemisms that women in some units complained about.

So the women in Ronnie’s company felt like pussies for minding his tactics. Most of them had experienced worse in high school—being the sort of women they were. It was trivial, wasn’t it— the sort of teasing that went on in their unit. It seemed too insignificant to get upset about.

A point of agreement among the female soldiers was that trips to the latrine at night were a risk. Few of the women drank liquids after three in the afternoon so late night urination became a remote concern. It was difficult in the summer heat, but necessary.

Unfortunately, it was diarrhea that sent Ronnie to the john one night. She considered asking another woman to come with her but rejected the idea since it was nearly dawn. Cramping badly, she barely made it to the latrine, and when she exited a few minutes later, someone grabbed her.

“Are you a bitch, a whore or a dyke?” the man asked when she struggled with him. He threw her down on the ground then and raped her. The noise from the idling Halliburton trucks masked any sound.

When he was finished, he wiped himself and left saying, “I’ve had better lays than you out back at Flo’s Escapades in Austin.”

It was dawn by now and Ronnie had gotten a good look at the soldier’s face; thin, hatchet-like, as pale as the moon disappearing from the morning sky. Now she considered the rest of him as he walked away: the height, the build, the physique, a peculiar way of walking. Later, she saw him on the base and managed to catch his name. PFC Loomis. Hal Loomis.

She didn’t report the assault, but filed the information away. None of the women who’d been raped got anywhere with their charges. Two women had died of dehydration in the heat the summer before and still been ignored. Reporting such incidents only brought shame on the tattletale. It interfered with camaraderie and the esprit de corps, one woman was told.

It was after her return to the U.S. that Ronnie fired a gun. It was then that it became necessary.
She didn’t re-up and back in the states, it took surprisingly little time to find Flo’s Escapades on the Internet. Ronnie rented a place iin South Austin, got herself a job cleaning the cages at an animal shelter. She was good at the work, good with the animals. Soon she was offered a better job. But it wasn’t about the work. It was about waiting for the return of PFC Loomis. She knew he’d be back. The directory was filled with probable relatives. She cruised their houses, saw yellow ribbons on a few trees.

It was a nearly a year before Loomis swaggered out of Flo’s,

“Loomis,” Ronnie called from her car. Loomis looked up. “Are you a creep, a casualty or a just a plain dead man?” she asked him.

He looked at her as if she were crazy, which she was. She pulled the trigger on her gun and killed him with one shot, proving her inclusion in the U.S. Army Marksmanship Unit was well-deserved.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Tuesday Night Music: THE AVETT BROTHERS

Forgotten Movies: WINGS OF DESIRE

Looking at my journal, which I keep in fits and stars, the movies I gave the highest rating to in 1988 were THE DEAD, AU REVOIR LES INFANTS and WINGS OF DESIRE.

WINGS OF DESIRE (Wim Wenders) is the one that has stayed with me over the years. Partly because Hollywood tried to make its own version of this beautiful, moody, sad film.

Berlin is populated by angels who listen to the thoughts of the people below them. Bruno Ganz, in an amazing performance, listens especially to the thoughts of a beautiful trapeze artist and makes a decision based on his love for her. Peter Falk is the only American in this German film. Black and white works wonderfully in this film.

Monday, March 25, 2013

Movie Theme Music: KLUTE

How Do You Decide What to Read Next?

My entire house is pretty much a TBR pile. I have almost come to the point where once I read a book I either pass it on if I liked it or donate it to the library sales if I didn't. When Borders went under, I bought over a hundred books from them--I have read one.

So deciding what to read next is always chore. I pick a book up, read a page or two, and put it down. Same with another and another. Finally something grabs me. So it is very unsystematic.It almost drives me crazy latching on to the right book some days.

How do you decide what to read next?


This was certainly one of the best things to happen in Detroit in 1976. But it was almost a one-year career. It was also the year my son discovered baseball and sports. He was six and his love of sports has certainly lasted.

In fact, the first game the four of us attended was this famous one.

From Wikipedia: 
June 28, 1976: The Tigers faced the Yankees on Monday Night Baseball, with 47,855 attending at Tiger Stadium and a national television audience, "The Bird" talked to the ball and groomed the mound, as the Tigers won, 5-1 in a game that lasted only 1 hour and 51 minutes. After the game, the crowd would not leave the park until Fidrych came out of the dugout to tip his cap.

Can you think of a better game to take your kid to? Even his sister got a kick out of it at age five. 

Mark lifted the city at a time (and that seems to be any time since the sixties) that the city needed lifting. 
The origin of the original phrase "SAY SOMETHING NICE ABOUT DETROIT" came from two shopkeepers in the Tiger Stadium neighborhood in fact. Detroit has had a poor self image as long as I have lived here.

My son started collecting baseball cards that year and has a ton of them including Mark's. Are baseball cards worth anything today?    

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Saturday Night Music: Billy Swan


 Linda Ronstadt and Emmy Lou Harris

This is one of my favorite duets. I play it often.

What duet do you especially like?

Friday, March 22, 2013

Check out Stoker

right here.

Friday's Forgotten Books, March 22, 2013

 KINGSBLOOD ROYAL by Sinclair Lewis
(Review by Deb)
When Sinclair Lewis’s Kingsblood Royal was originally published in 1947, its subject matter was considered so controversial that the first edition’s dust jacket contained no endnotes and not a single inkling about the plot.  Some 66 years on, as we enter the second term of America’s first black president, a novel about a white man whose comfortable existence is upended when he discovers that a distant ancestor was black might seem little more than quaint; but it is a good reminder that for several centuries our country was shaped by a notion that “one drop of black blood makes you black” and all the pernicious psychological, legal, social, and cultural baggage that went with that concept.

Books like Robert Penn Warren’s Band of Angels—involving females who are (or think they might be) of mixed-race ancestry—flourished in the early and mid-20th century.  In countless novels, the theme of the “beautiful, tragic mulatto” was played out for all its taboo-teasing, sexual, and sentimental worth, usually ending with the heroine’s death.  Sinclair Lewis turns this trope on its head—because the main character of Kingsblood Royal is a man and one who, until he learns the truth about his ancestry, has lived the life of entitlement that came to white middle-class American males in the years immediately following World War II.

Neil Kingsblood is a veteran of that war, one who walks with a limp due to injuries sustained in the fighting.  He works in a bank and has married the bank president’s daughter, the aptly-named Vestal.  The couple have a young daughter and live in a house in a new development in the city of Grand Republic, Minnesota.  There’s plenty of Main Street/Babbitt material here and Lewis makes good use of it (although, to say that Lewis’s satire here is a little heavy-handed is putting it mildly), introducing us to the leading lights of the town, all of whom are obvious buffoons, hypocrites, lechers, drinkers, and philistines of the first order.

Lewis first describes Neil in a way that makes him seem similar to his fellow citizens:  a bluff, hearty, hail-fellow-well-met type whose mind is too clumsy to analyze his occasional discontent with the outwardly happy life he has chosen (or has it been chosen for him by virtue of his race, gender, class, and upwardly-mobile marriage?).  The book leisurely develops Neil’s story—we meet his family, friends, neighbors, co-workers, bank customers, and how Neil interacts with all of them.  We are almost 100 pages into the book before Neil, at his father’s urging, begins to research a family legend: could it possibly be true that the Kingsbloods are descended from Henry VIII?  Of course, that story has no basis in fact, but while looking into his family’s roots, Neil discovers that one of his ancestors was a black man born in Martinique.  The fact that this makes Neil all of 1/32 black seems utterly irrelevant to the modern reader, but in the strictly-segregated world of the late 1940s, Neil’s life is changed irrevocably by his discovery.

At this point, we understand why Lewis has spent 100 pages leading up to the moment of discovery; why early in the book there were long passages in the book detailing the Kingsbloods’ fraught relationship with their live-in black housekeeper and her flashy boyfriend or why Neil has spent quite a bit of time wondering about the interior life of the black porter who greets all of the train passengers by name; or even why the book contains a anecdote (presumably one that would have been considered funny in 1947) about the then-common practice of giving black dogs the name “Nigger” and the unsuccessful attempts the Kingsbloods make to rechristen their dog “Bandit.”  Neil has been looking at racial prejudice from the lofty vantage point of someone uninvolved by its real, cruel consequences; but in the space of a few hours, Neil has moved from one side of the racial divide to the other. In his mind, he is now part of the world that includes housekeepers, porters, shoe-shiners, and even the quiet black doctor he has met through his work at the bank securing loans for veterans.

Lewis cleverly communicates Neil’s shock at his discovery:  while Neil travels on the train back home after learning about his ancestry, his half-formed thoughts dart hither and yon in complete confusion and contradiction for several pages.  At first he pledges he will never tell a soul; then he decides he will admit the truth; then he worries about what Vestal will do once she knows (in many parts of the United States at this time it would have been illegal for Vestal to be married to a man of mixed race).  Neil’s outward appearance—red-headed, blue-eyed—has not changed; neither has his daughter’s blond and pink coloring altered, but Neil’s perception of himself and his child has changed utterly.  He has so internalized the insidious indoctrination of his society—that being non-white is to be inferior and being any fraction non-white ancestry makes a person inferior—that he can no longer see himself living as a white man—although he realizes that to remain silent and continue to be white would be the “safe” thing to do.  Neil also believes that his fellow citizens will be able to “see” that he is now black as he carefully examines the texture of his curly red hair and checks his fingernails for what he has been told are tell-tale bluish cuticles.  The fact that nobody has previously been able to determine Neil’s ancestry does not change Neil’s belief that now he knows the truth, others will be able to discern it also.

I found the book palled to a certain degree after Neil decides to publicly admit his heritage.  A number of predictable things happen:  job loss, social ostracism, family anger (none of Neil’s siblings want to acknowledge their heritage), a divorce, a broken engagement, the death of Neil’s father being blamed on the stress of the situation, a mob gathering to try to force Neil to leave his home in an all-white suburb.  I felt that Lewis had initially painted Neil too much as a “get along to go along” type to make his transformation into a courageous civil rights crusader completely believable.  I also had a little bit of The Help déjà-vu:  why is a white character always given more credit for doing things that the black characters have been doing, under far more onerous circumstances, for their entire lives?  On the other hand, even if Lewis’s intentions outstripped his execution when he wrote this book, when we look at the long, complicated history of race in our nation’s history and consider how far we’ve come in just over half a century, this book is less a curiosity than an important time capsule that has perhaps been unjustly forgotten.


A book Phil was reading about Pat Nixon mentioned this story and I had to pull this collection out again. Peter Taylor was a terrific writer who wrote mostly short stories although I well remember reading his novel,  A SUMMON TO MEMPHIS. And this story, THE OLD FOREST takes place in Memphis too. Taylor has an interesting way of framing the story: he looks back on it from old age and by doing this he deprives the story of a certain tension, but instead focuses the reader on the elements he wants to emphasize. Class, gender, culture.

Nat is a recent college graduate, now working for his father, and also recently engaged to a very nice girl--the kind of girl Memphis society expects him to make his wife. In Memphis in the late thirties, rich boys often had dalliances of various depths with town girls, even while engaged to others. The town girls were not necessarily loose girls but rather just not debutantes. Often they were smarter and more fun than the girls the boys eventually married. Nat invites one he has a relationship of sorts with to accompany him on a trip to his Latin class. They get into an accident and Lee Ann disappears. Everyone wonders what Nat's part in her disappearance is, including his fiance, of course. It is she who eventually takes the situation in hand. Nat comes across as a callow youth, unequal to either woman, who between them straighten things out. 

This is an interesting look at class and gender in the late thirties in Memphis. There is a mystery of sorts but the real mystery is why people married people who were their social equals rather than the ones who they desired, found interesting, loved. Well worth reading Taylor to discover the social norms of the time.

This collection includes several other short stories as well. 

Sergio Angelini, THE CASE OF THE LATE PIG, Margery Allingham
Joe Barone, DEATH OF A COZY WRITER, G. M. Malliet
Bill Crider, I'LL FIND YOU, Richard Himmel
Scott Cupp, THE SORCERER'S HOUSE, Gene Wolfe
Martin Edwards, THE CASK, Freeman Wills Croft
Ed Gorman, THE BIRTHDAY MURDER, Lange Lewis
Randy Johnson, COPP FOR HIRE, Don Pendleton
Nick Jones, MY ENEMY'S ENEMY, Kingsley Amis
George Kelley, CHECKPOINT CHARLIE, Gerard de Villiers
Margot Kinberg, THE MYSTERY OF A BUTCHER'S SHOP, Gladys Mitchell
Rob Kitchin THE BIG GOLD DREAM, Chester Himes
B.V. Lawson. THE GREAT MILL STREET MYSTERY, Adeline Sergeant
Evan Lewis, PASSING STRANGE, Richard Sale
Steve Lewis, SHOOT TO KILL, Wade Miller
J. F. Norris, VANISHING MEN, G. McLeod Winsor
David Rachels, BLACK WINGS HAS MY ANGEL, Elliott Chaze
James Reasoner, SLETTERY'S HURRICANE, Herman Wouk
Ron Scheer, THE HEART OF THE NIGHT WIND, Vingie E. Roe
Michael Slind, LOOKING FOR RACHEL WALLACE, Robert B. Parker
Kerrie Smith, MAIGRET'S SPECIAL MURDER, Georges Simenon
Kevin Tipple, OF ALL THE SAD WORDS, Bill Crider

TODD MASON WILL COLLECT LINKS NEXT FRIDAY. To celebrate five years of forgotten books, I invite anyone who can make the time to write about a forgotten book. I will either post the link or post the review. Let's call Friday, April 19th the date. 

Thursday, March 21, 2013

My Life in the Theater: A Catered Affair

A charming version of that old chesnut by Paddy Chayefsky that starred Davis, Borgnine and Reynold.
The new stage version with book by Harvey Fierstein and music by Bucchino will not have you leaving the theater humming, but with a tear in your eye. This was wonderfully done and acted at the Stagecrafters Theater in Royal Oak, Michigan. A real treat.

Star Turns

Watched this again the other night and was struck by how slight a movie it was. Truthfully, originally I was swept away by the music and scenery and Clooneyness of it. This time it seemed like a LIFETIME movie.
I doubt it would have ever been made if Clooney hadn't signed on. It was well done for what it was, but gee, tell me what made it a feature film for a major studio. Clooney.

What other films would never have been made but for the star who agreed to be in it?

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Tuesday Night Music: Alpine

Forgotten Movies: Baby Boom

I love Diane Keaton. And I feel a bit badly that she didn't have the career she deserved in many ways. She is such a skilled comedienne. But she is also a terrific dramatic actress, SHOOT THE MOON is one of my favorite examples and I have referred to that film on here already. She is great too in LOOKING FOR MR. GOODBAR (also used that one) and REDS. She has been stuck in a lot of mediocre movies for the last twenty years. And BABY BOOM is certainly no classic. But I am fond of it anyway. Even if the ending sort of takes everything back.

In BABY BOOM, Diane plays a very successful businesswoman who suddenly finds herself with a baby left to her by a dead cousin. She tries to fit the baby into her super busy life and that doesn't work. So she leaves her career to take care of the kid, moves to the country, falls in love with Sam Shepard, and eventually finds a way to make things work out all around. Having it all is possible apparently. But what makes this work is Diane's ability to work her way into your heart, much as the darling baby does.

Monday, March 18, 2013


Short Stories

Sometimes, well often really, Phil's work influences mine and this week he's been reading Ann Beattie's book on Pat Nixon, MRS.NIXON. It's not just about Pat but also various influences on her life, reflections on the times. It refers to a lot of short stories because Ann Beattie is primarily a short story writer. And I was able to read three of them online-all enjoyable.

Delmore Schwartz. "In Dreams Begin Responsibility", which imagines the narrator seeing a movie of his parents' courtship and of his desire to stop it and the reel before they went on to make each other so miserable.

Peter Taylor's, "The Forest" which I will look at in more depth on Friday.

Russell Banks, "Sarah Cole: A Type of Love Story" which turns the princess and the frog tale upside down.

I am still working out how these fit together, but they did. I think it has something to do with the chasm between the sexes in what they expect to get from a relationship.

What great short story have you read recently?

Say Something Good About Detroit

Cotton Foundation

Grosse Pointe Park borders Detroit, and one of the poorest areas of Detroit. For many years the Park has been suffering a downward slide as stores emptied out and the housing stock declined. The picture above is of a vintage gas station and is the first piece of a new development for the area. The Red Crown has just opened there and looks to be a fabulous place for cool food and trendy drinks. And miraculously they were able to keep the facade untouched.

But that is just the beginning because the entire four block stretch of retail shops is all being redeveloped by the civic minded Cotton Family, who have also done much for medical services in the area. And not just the retail area. They have also been buying declining housing stock, making repairs, and renting units at low rents to college and medical students. On the retail end, a church is becoming a brewery, an old market is becoming a bakery, and at least two other restaurants are coming in. A hospital health system with ties to the Cotton family will broaden its facilities at one end. The entire stretch may be pedestrianized.

On the west side of Detroit, there are several trendy suburbs like what the Cotton family have in mind.. But the Grosse Pointe Park Development will be much closer to Detroit and will spring up almost overnight.

GPP is an interesting city. It is the only one of the Pointes to routinely vote Democrat. It has some of the biggest homes in the area and some of the most modest. It has two lakeside parks. But its proximity to Detroit has always been seen as a negative. Perhaps the Cotton family will make it the gem it deserves to be.

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Sunday Night Poetry: Galway Kinnell

LIFE AFTER LIFE: Kate Atkinson

My book group in Michigan read Kate Atkinson's newest novel as our March selection. It is very different indeed from her last four novels, which featured the much loved Jackson Brodie. My group has been together, with the occasional exit or entrance, for 12 years, reading perhaps 120 books over that time. We vary what we read: current novels, non-fiction books, short story collections, plays, classics. We have between 6 and 10 women at each meeting and try hard to stick to a discussion of the book, looking at the plot, character, writing style, symbolism, trying to notice how a book captures a particular period of history or an issue we care about. We are of similar age and bring a common sensibility and history to the discussion.

LIFE AFTER LIFE came to us an an arc from Little, Brown, just before its official publication date. I was the only group member who had read Kate Atkinson before so the group was unfamiliar with her as an writer. This novel was different from the others (or from any other book I have read) and for a time it felt a bit remote stylistically, difficult even.

So I started over again at another reader's suggestion. And this time I felt like Saul on the road to Damascus. I could hardly turn the pages fast enough.

The quote below, (and Atkinson calls upon philosophers quite often in her work) is apt.

They say that Euripides gave Socrates a copy of Heraclitus' book and asked him what he thought of it. He replied: "What I understand is splendid; and I think what I don't understand is so too - but it would take a Delian diver to get to the bottom of it."*

LIFE AFTER LIFE is the story of Ursula Todd, born in 1910, and dead the same day. Except in the multitude of narratives presented after that first one, (often in just a page), she survives and goes on, only to die again and again in the various ways children and 20th century people died. In some of the new or alternate histories, Ursula remembers (in some indefinable way) enough of the last life, to stave off death or misfortune. Except when she doesn't. Or when things go awry in another way entirely. We come to know Ursula's childhood in great detail. We get a complete picture of an upper-middle class family, mostly devoted to each other, before and between the wars.

Later, the book spends a lot of time on the Blitz, and its impact on Ursula is profound. Indeed these are some of the most heart-rending passages.Ursula Todd forfeits much in LIFE AFTER LIFE to pursue a larger goal. I will leave it to you to find out what that goal is. And whether she is successful.

Of the six of us who read the book, four found it brilliant, magical, funny, charming, and transcendent. An incredible expression of imagination, research and gifted writing on the part of Atkinson. The other two readers admired the writing, the themes, the evocation of wartime London, but found the repetition of incidents and the alternative narratives difficult to permeate. They prefer more linear concrete plots.

The discussion of LIFE AFTER LIFE was by far the longest discussion of a book we have ever had. And we have read many serious books like: MADAME BOVARY, 1000 YEARS OF SOLITUDE, THE YEAR OF MAGICAL THINKING, THE POISONWOOD BIBLE, TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD and on and on. But with this book, Atkinson's method of telling the story was as interesting and novel as the characters and plot. I think this is the first time we have paid method very much attention.And you will certainly find Atkinson's a powerful part of the novel.

For me, the point of the book was not to keep close track of these alternate narratives in any systematic way. If you as a reader are able to let go of that idea, to let the text wash over you, to absorb what Atkinson is trying to say, to admire her cleverness in style, to luxuriate in her philosophical references, in her notions of what women in the 20th century endured, the symbolism, the way she imbued every character with life, depth and, for the most part, loveliness, LIFE AFTER LIFE will fill you up. 

I can't think of a better book written over the last decade.  

*After a bit of research into "Delian divers," I can say that the quote is regarded by philosophers as mostly metaphorical in that the people from Delos were known for clarity of thought, but it also an allusion to the Delian diver being seemingly immune to drowning in the depths.

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Saturday Night Music: Summer Wine

Enduring Appeals

An interesting article in the Sunday NYT magazine, recounted the story of the author's lifetime obsession with John McClane (Die Hard).

But I have my own secret vices. There are a few sitcoms which I will watch repeatedly. And I am talking about watching certain episodes a dozen times. Not sure why except that sitcoms are like a tranquilizer for me. If I need to relax....

I never watch an episode of a drama a second time, just sitcoms.

The list would include FRASIER, CHEERS, SEINFELD, THE LARRY SANDERS SHOW and THE BIG BANG THEORY. You like what you like.I don't watch any of these consistently but when I need comfort TV, I come back to them. Doesn't matter that I've seen the episode before.

What is your enduring obsession? What interests you as much as it did the first time you stumbled on it.What can you read, watch, search for, do over and over?

My review of HOLY MOTORS, a most unusual movie, is up on CRIMESPREE MAGAZINE. 

Friday, March 15, 2013

Friday's Forgotten Books, March 15, 2013

THE SPEED QUEEN by Stewart O'Nan

I believe that Stewart O'Nan can write any genre of novel, from a POV from either sex, set in any time period, and make it work. THE SPEED QUEEN, written in 1997 was his brilliant attempt at writing noir. The subject of a pre-publication controversy, O'Nan's original title was Dear Stephen King, but Doubleday changed the title under pressure from King's lawyers. (Later King wrote O'Nan a letter telling him how much he's enjoyed the book).

The book is framed as a series of questions answered into a tape player by murderer, Marjorie Standiford, nicknamed the Speed Queen because of her love of the drug and love of fast cars. Marjorie looks back at her life on the outskirts of Oklahoma City, her boyfriend, a car freak named Lamont, how she got pregnant, goes to car shows and learns to mainline speed. A story every mother yearns to read about their child.

Sent to jail for drug possession,  she is seduced by another inmate. When the two are paroled, they move in with Lamont, Marjorie finds out that Natalie is sleeping with Lamont, just as a $9000 drug buy turns ugly. Under the influence, the three hit the open road, murder an elderly couple and botch a gory, Charles Manson-like robbery at a Sonic before being chased down by the police. There is the possibility for a stay of execution as Marjorie tells her story. She maintains her innocence in the murders until the end.

The thing that sells this rough, raucous and sad story is the voice O'Nan captures so well. The entire story moves as if on speed. Apparently a play has been made of it. Can't imagine why no movie.

Sergio Angelini, THE GREEN PLAID PANTS, Margaret Scherf
Les Blatt, THE NIGHTINGALE GALLERY, Paul Dougherty
Brian Busby, THE SIN SNIPER, Hugh Garner
Bill Crider, ME, HOOD, Mickey Spillane
Martin Edwards, MURDER AT CAMBRIDGE, Q. Patrick 
Curt Evans, MURDER ON TOUR, Todd Downing
Ed Gorman, PLUNDER SQUAD, Richard Stark
Randy Johnson, BLONDE LIGHTNING, Terrill Lee Lankford
George Kelley, MAGIC HIGHWAY, Jack Vance
Rob Kitchin, THIRTEEN HOURS, Deon Myer
B.V. Lawson, MURDER AT THE FOUL LINE, edited by Otto Penzler
Evan Lewis, UNDER THE ANDES, Rex Stout
Steve Lewis, MISSING FROM HOME, Peter N. Walker
Todd Mason. 7 Quick Reviews: Harlan Ellison, Gary Jennings, R. A. Lafferty, John D. MacDonald, Evan Hunter, Avram Davidson, Kirsten Sundberg Lunstrum, et al.
Steve Nester, TAPPING THE SOURCE, Ken Nunn
J.F. Norris, THE MAN WHO MISSED THE WAR, Dennis Wheatley
Juri Nummelin, THE PICTURE OF DORIAN GRAY, Oscar Wilde
James Reasoner, PLAGUE OF THE GOLDEN DEATH, Brant House
Richard Robinson THE COBRA, THE KING OF DETECTIVES, Richard B. Sale.
Gerard Saylor, ICE BREAKER, John Gardner
Ron Scheer, UNTAMED, Max Brand
and THE WEST WIND, Cyrus Townsend Brady
Michael Slind, MURDER AT HAZELMOOR, Agatha Christie
Kerrie Smith, THE WILL AND THE DEED, Ellis Peters writing as Edith Pargeter
Kevin Tipple, Patrick Ohl, BROKEN FACE MURDERS, Darwin and Hildegarde Teilhet

Thursday, March 14, 2013


NEXT TO NORMAL won the Pulitzer Award for Drama in 2010 despite not being nominated. It is a spectacular musical, unlike any other. It deals with the affect of mental illness on a family-and the difficulty of treating it despite all the pharmaceuticals we have to treat it with. Amazing performances, great set, great play. Loved it.

We saw it at the Meadowbrook Theater in Rochester, Michigan. Yes, local theater is great. Say what you want about Detroit, we do have local theater and plenty of it.

Do Books Still Have Staying Power?

Best Books of 2007 (NYT)
I wonder if with fewer stores and  libraries do books still remain on our radar once the first bloom has passed. I am not talking about forgotten books this time, but rather books from say 5-10 years ago. Here is a list of the Edgar nominations from 2005. Here is a list of the best books as chosen by the New York Times.

How many of them have you heard mentioned recently? Are we all about today now? Are we all about classics from the distant past?. Do you think it is more difficult to keep a book in print than ever before. I wonder. Although, in a sense, books might have more staying power. If you troll blogs, as I am wont to do, people are telling each other about books written some years ago. We are more in contact with a wider range of people than ever before. I used to get all of my recommendations from a few sources. Now they come from everywhere.

What book from 2000-2008 have you recently read? Although I have read a handful, none of these books were recently read. I have CALIFORNIA GIRL in my California pile. But now I am back in Michigan.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Opening Credits: McCabe and Mrs Miller

Flash Fiction Challenge Day: THE WHITE VAN

March 2013 Flash Fiction Challenge:
Write a story of about 1000 words about a white van.

by Jerry Jerman

“How much longer?”
“How much longer what?”
“How much longer do I gotta wait? I mean hell I’ve been here every day for nearly a week. You don’t know. You’re not here. You’re off in some hotel somewhere, right?”
“You’re breaking up. I told you to get a decent cell phone. Anyway, what’s it to you? You need to be somewhere else? You have an important meeting you’re missing?”
“I’m just getting sick of this shit. Just sitting in this damn van alone all day every day. Hell, man, my ass is getting tired.”
“You’re getting paid, aren’t you? You complaining because you’re not getting paid?”
“No, that’s not it. Of course I’m getting paid—”
“Well, shut up then and forget about your ass. Your ass is getting well paid for sitting in that van and keeping your eyes open. When the guy shows up then you can call back and we’ll go from there.”
“That’s another thing.”
“This guy I’m waiting for.”
“What about him?”
“That’s what I mean—what about him? What’d he do to get this all this attention? . . . Hey, hey, you still there?”
“I wonder about you, bub.”
“Can’t I ask a few questions?”
“You always ask too many questions.”
“Aren’t you a little curious?”
“I’m not a cat. I don’t get paid to be curious. I don’t think about it.”
“For chrissake, just think about it. I’m sitting out here in this goddamn smelly van for a week waiting for a guy I’ve never seen before. You don’t know what it’s like. You’re not here. You’d wonder about it yourself.”
“You know what I wonder? I wonder why I’m bothering listening to you on this crackly phone, that’s what I’m wondering. I’ve got to go. I’ve got other things to do than listening to you bitching.”
“Hey, wait a minute. Why can’t I ask a few questions? What’s the harm? Why can’t I wonder about stuff?”
“What’s to wonder about? It’s a job.”
“Some job.”
“I’ll let you in on something, bub. You might need to consider another line of employment. Something that’ll give you a lot of time to think about things. To wonder about what you’re doing and all. You know what I mean?”
“I’m just saying—”
“You’re just saying too damn much. Just shut up why don’t you? Sit back and play games on your phone or read a magazine or whatever you got in there and forget about your ass and wondering about what you’re doing there and why the earth spins in space and whatever the hell else you’re wondering about. OK? Will you do me that favor and just shut up?”
“Geez, you are in some kind of mood today.”
“Well, you sort of put me in it, bub, you know?”
“Just for your information, I’m sick of playing games on my phone. And I don’t have any magazines or newspapers or nothing. I’d plug in a portable TV but that’d run down the battery and I sure as hell don’t want to get stuck on this godforsaken street in a goddamn stinking white van that sticks out like a sore thumb. Who picked this van out anyway? That’s another thing. Every other car on the street is black or red or navy blue. It makes me stand out.”
“For God’s sake I’m hanging up.”
“Wait a minute. Just think about it. I’m set up in a large ass white van on a street of dark cars and I’m supposed to watch for some guy you just described to me? What’s wrong with this picture?”
“You tell me. You’re in the van.”
“I’ll tell you. It’s weird is what it is. I wonder if someone’s watching me, you know?”
“What the hell are you talking about?”
“Think about it. I’m sticking out here like the only tooth in the mouth of some damn hick from Arkansas. For days, man. Maybe I’m being set up. Maybe I’m the one who’s being watched.”
“I think you’ve been alone for too long.”
“That’s what I’ve been telling you!”
“Tell you what. There’s a corner grocery. You can see it from there, can’t you?”
“What? A grocery? You mean the one that says Nina’s? Down on the end of the street?”
“Yeah, that’s it.”
“What about it?”
“Since you’re sick of cell phone games go down to that grocery and buy yourself some magazines. Some good ones. You know, the titty ones. They might be under the counter in that place, but I’m sure they’ve got them. Then just take your magazines back to the van and think about something else other than how smelly it is or how your ass is sore or what’s keeping this guy. OK?”
“You want me to get some dirty magazines?”
“It’ll take your mind off your troubles, bub. And it’ll put an end to this call.”
“I’ll tell you what will put an end to . . .”
“I’m losing you again. You still there?”
“Yeah, yeah. Hey, I think that’s him. That’s the guy!”
“Our guy?”
“Yeah. He just came out of that grocery we were talking about.”
“You’re sure it’s him?”
“Dark brown hair, moustache, nice gray suit, tan briefcase.”
“You sure?”
“I’m telling you, it’s the guy. It’s him.”
“OK, good. So I’ll tell you what to do.”
“For chrissake tell me. I’m ready for this.”
“Just sit there. Stay where you are.”
“Stay put. In the driver’s seat. That’s where you are, right?”
“Yes, I’m in the goddamn driver’s seat, but what is this?”
“I’m telling you to stay where you are. OK? You got that?”
“Yeah, but he’s crossing the street. He’s coming across. He’s coming toward the van. For chrissake.”
“Stay put.”
“What’s this all about?”
“You’ll find out.”
“For chrissake.”
“Just stay put.”
“Ah, man, I can’t believe you did this to me. I can’t believe . . . Hey? Hey?”

Jerry Jerman: By day I work as marketing director director for Outreach at the University of Oklahoma. I also teach humanities and film (including film noir) for OU. A while back I published six children's books, but my true love is crime fiction.

The Man in the Van
Patti Abbott
Danny had seen her face, pinched and white at the window, ever since he began coming here. Many windows in the area overlooked this street and the ocean across from it but only one drew his attention. He’d reckon half the condos here were empty in January. And the rest of the occupants came and went—he could picture some of them after all this time: the man with the swinging briefcase, the Hispanic kids going off to school in their uniforms, the Korean woman in green who probably worked at a nail place, the woman with the walker.

But the woman with the pinched, white face, was always up there—peering at him like the face of God. What the hell did she do at that window all day? He didn’t see a computer screen but she was there too much for it to be happenstance.

“Buddy.” It was a town cop again. “You living in this van?”

“Someone report me?” Danny asked, looking up at the window where the woman continued to sit. She was staring out at the ocean now, pretending to ignore him. Acting like she wasn’t the one who made the call. He could imagine her saying, “Officer, there’s this pervert who hangs outside my place.”

“Nobody reported you.” The cop was heavy and chasing anyone down the street would have its difficulties. His car had a surfboard on its roof. Be fun to watch this fat daddy go after a drowning swimmer.“We keep an eye on cars that are here too much. Run the license plate numbers. You know. Bet you been through this routine before.”

“What’s too much?”

A shrug. “How about we take a look in the van?” The cop started to move toward the rear.

“Have a search warrant?” 

The cop laughed. “Don’t need a warrant to check a mobile vehicle although yours isn’t exactly mobile. You might be harboring drugs, illegal aliens, guns. Who knows?”

Danny unlocked the back door without saying another word. In the van’s rear window, he could see her reflected face, still at the window. Shit! She was staring at him again now. What the fuck?

“Well, you got yourself set up real nice back here,” the cop said. “Bike, sleeping bag, surfboard, coolers full of food, beer. Even a little stove to cook on, clothes. Looks like home sweet home to me. Can I see the registration and your license?”

Danny handed them over and the cop ran them both on a program on his IPad. Everything was high-tech now—he could probably be jailed, tried, and incarcerated courtesy of this gadget.

 “Nothing coming up on you, but you can’t live in this van on a street around here. These folks aren’t gonna overlook it. Look, there’s places to go if you’re homeless.”

“I’m not homeless,” Danny said. “I move the van every night. I’m just here in the daytime. Surf, ride the bike, hang out.”

The cop was already shaking his head. “Folks who live here like to have this spot open for guests—they pay the high taxes to insure it. You can’t monopolize it.”

“Someone complained then.”

“No one complained. Just get a move on, Mr….” He looked at the license again as he handed it back. “Stark.”

Danny waited until the cop had left, and then backed the van up and took off. He drove to the next town, parked the van, pulled the bike out, and rode it back. She was still there. He knew she’d called the cops. Gotten tired of having her view ruined by his van. He should throw a scare into her. Show her who she was messing with.

A package lay on her front steps. Eight condos in the building-four on each side of the door. The door was coded, but after he’d pushed a few buzzers, someone rang him in. People were too lazy to be bothered with checking. Grabbing the package, he bounded up the two flights and knocked at her door. No answer.
So she could watch him all day long, call the cops, make his life pure misery, but not open the door. He knocked a bit louder—didn’t want to bring down whoever let him in. Still no answer. The door looked easy to open. Should he try it? As a teenager, he and his friends had done it for fun-broke into houses, took what they could, and then trashed the place. Twenty years ago now, but this door looked just like the ones they’d popped back then. Trashing her place might be just the thing—the way to get back at her. Scare her a little. Once he'd liked doing that.

He was inside within seconds. Cheap locks for an oceanfront condo. He moved about silently, but it looked like nobody was home. Kitchen, empty. Dining room, empty. Living room, empty. And then he saw it in the window: it was an electric fan—one of those old ones that swiveled back and forth—with a dummy’s head attached to it. Back and forth, back and forth. What the fuck! What could it be for? He found out a few seconds later when a pelican headed straight for the huge glass window. The moving fan, tucked right up to the window, scared it away just in time.

His woman with the pinched white face was a nothing but a dummy’s head on a fan.

“So you’re just parked on the street to do a little surfing?”

It was the same cop he’d met earlier standing at the open door, gun pulled. “Not up to anything else, huh?”

“I thought she was hassling me.” He started to point to the fan. “Thought she’d called it in.”

“That’s a damn poor story,” the cop said. “Maybe you can come up with a better one on the way to the station.”

The White Van

by Toe Hallock

Emma rescued her cooling cup of coffee from where she had left it on the kitchen counter. Moving to the living room, she perched on a wicker stool and took in the splendor of sand and surf forming the Pacific boundary of Manhattan Beach. The window facing west offered a wide-angle panoramic view of the entire South Bay. All the way from Palos Verdes south, to Santa Monica north. On clear days she could even spot Santa Catalina thirty miles straight across the sea; and, sometimes, the Channel Islands off towards Santa Barbara up the coast.  Directly below her beach house was Highland Avenue. Sometimes she would feel the rumble of vehicles, especially the heavier ones as they passed by, since the entire neighborhood of what were originally weekend get-aways was built upon a series of rising sand dunes. Looking down and toward the beach is Caluican Park, named after the one-time sister city. From there two parking lots stepped their way down to the Strand where the extinct Pacific Electric Red Cars traversed  tracks parallel to the ocean.  And then ran all the way east to San Berdoo.

Her latest boyfriend Randy had not contacted her for three days. Which agitated her no end. He hadn’t responded to voice mail or text messages. She always figured him more responsible. A software engineer, he chose to take California’s  Highway One to his destination, San Jose. By his way of thinking, driving along the coast might help him clear his thoughts, sort out his jumbled mind, in solving a complex computer program glitch.

At least, thank God, there was no sign of the white van in the parking lot. She  felt as she was being stalked. By whom, she had no clue. And why? Maybe she was just feeling guilty. It wasn’t her fault she had to shoot her lunatic husband. With his own service revolver, no less. While he was asleep. It was self-defense. So the jury ruled. She got everything. The house, the car, and his government pension.

The prosecution argued that she had acted in bad faith. Brought up rumors as to her irresponsible lifestyle. That her husband was upset about her promiscuous behavior, and wasteful spending habits. Apparently, she wanted it all. So when he attempted to reign her in, she killed him. Plain and simple. On the other hand, the defense brought up facts in her favor. Such as, he was forced into early retirement because of self-control issues. He needed anger management counseling. The agency would help in his re-hab. But nothing was guaranteed, or certain to be successful.

When she left the courtroom that day in triumph, she felt a slight tug at her purse but thought nothing of it because of her elation. Until she got home. It was then she discovered a folded piece of paper with a two sentence note:

“When the white van appears; Expect your worse fears.”

From that day on she spotted white vans everywhere. They would show up in various parking spots all around Manhattan Beach. Hell of a scare tactic. At one point, she even called the local Police Department. Their response was that all vans are white, nothing we can do until you have more details. Emma realized that her late husband, in his line of work, dealt with a number of characters who operated outside the law. Some who dished info that helped him solve a case. And those he kept from prison for services rendered. Were any of them assassins ready to uphold his honor?         

 Staring into the distance, she suddenly saw the white van appear.  “Jesus Christ! Won’t this ever end?”  

The phone rang. Landline, because he insisted it was safest in an emergency. Emma  answered. “Randy? Is it you, honey?  Where are you?”

The answer was chilling. “At the bottom of a cliff. Dead. Mutilated. And you’re next.”
“Wait, wait!” Emma shouted into the phone. “Who is this?” But it was no use. Looking out she saw the white van. With  a streak of blue across its right fender. She trembled. That was the color of Randy’s pickup. Damn!
White Van

A.J. Wright

         Everywhere I go these days the white vans seem to be there. It's gotten so bad I'm not sure if they are following me, or I am following them.  This whole mess goes back to that night at Bellini’s Ghost, the bar I used to frequent before the neighborhood gentrified. I was in there one night, and this stranger comes in, and Tony asks him “What will you have?” and the guy grins and says, “Make mine danger.”  Tony, who was seldom amused by anything, burst out laughing and asked, “What’s in that one?” and the guy reeled off a combination of bizarre ingredients, and Tony made him one on the spot. We never saw that guy again, but Tony tells the story over and over when somebody says, “Make mine blah blah” and he says, “How about a danger instead?” Like I said, we never saw Mr. Danger again, but I distinctly remember that when he left he crossed the street and got into a white van and drove away.

            Now that I think back on it, my life started its slow but inevitable downhill slide about that time.  You know the song—if it weren’t for bad luck, I’d have no luck at all. Mother finally died of cancer after years of painful lingering. The crops died, and the plague spread across the land. No, wait, different story. Oh, and my cat disappeared. I think a hawk or coyote got her. They’re moving into the cities, you know.

            I met a girl and that ended badly, too, although not with cancer, plague or coyotes. Her name was Melody, and for a while the song was sweet. After a few years on the job I had at a local bank, a new owner sacked many employees and I was one of them. I decided to go back to school, and found a culinary program at a local community college that promised good eating if nothing else. Or so I thought.

            She was in that class, and from the first day I paid attention to little else. That hair, that walk, the world weary pout were just too much. “You aren’t planning on stalking me, are you?” she asked me after the first class, no doubt having noticed my inability to take my eyes off her.  She had waited in the hall for me to exit. “Do you feel a stalking coming on?” I responded, trying to sound concerned. She laughed at that, and just then I became her next victim.

            Over the next year we made it to class enough times to pass and get the certification in culinary studies or whatever it was, but just barely. I wonder what I’ve done with that certificate, which looked pretty impressive mostly due to the fake parchment paper and the fake font used I guess. Probably gave it to Mother, and her stuff hit the dumpster before the ink on her death certificate was dry.

            Anyway, when not in class that year Melody and I found plenty of things to do. Every morning she began with something like, “Why don’t we go to the art museum today? I hear they have a new exhibit of 19th century European death masks” Or “Why don’t we go to the library downtown? I hear they have an exhibit on medieval poisons.” Always death, death, death. How and why a woman who looked like a bunco blonde spent so much time dwelling on death was beyond me. At that time, anyway.

            But I really wasn’t paying attention as well as I should have been, I guess. I had some kind of fever that kept distorting my reality, no matter how many doctors I consulted. I really didn’t need a doctor; I knew what was wrong with me. Ray Charles used to sing it, with a bit more zip.  Then came her request.

            Nothing about it rang any bells with me, although a six-year probably would have balked. She wanted me to take a small, locked suitcase across town to her brother. I didn’t know she had a brother. Now that I think back on it, I wasn’t too sure about a mother and a father, either. Anyway, I had strict instructions. I was to take a cab to the 22nd Street subway stop, take the subway to 48th Street, and then take another cab to his apartment. A white van with no markings would be parked in front of the building. I had to deliver the suitcase by 3:00 pm, but I had a two hour head start.

            So I set off on this delivery quest, confident that just a simple journey lay ahead of me. I might as well have been with Dante heading down into the inferno. Well, maybe not that bad, but still…The first cab got stuck in a traffic jam, and then broke down. As he left me at the curb and headed off on foot himself, he apologized for his poor attention to auto maintenance.

            I had no clue, so I set off toward the subway stop on foot, hoping traffic would start moving again and I could catch another cab. I finally made it to the subway and rode it as far as 48th Street, wondering all the while what made that case so heavy. As I emerged at street level and began looking around for the second cab—well, third, but Melody didn’t have to know—I realized it was already after 3.      

            What happened next is still a confused blur, but maybe it will come back to me in another lifetime. Two men came up to me on either side, one poking something hard pushed into my back. I was instructed to go with them to the nearest dark alley, and now my head hurts terribly and I’m still in the dark.

            I’ve learned one thing. Mr. Danger and his white van never disappeared; they are everywhere. In fact, I think I’m going to finally get in one very soon, one that says “Jefferson County Coroner” on both sides.
White Vans Parked Elsewhere (I am missing a few that haven't posted as of 8:30. I will add as the day goes on although it's turned into a babysitting day so I might be slow on the draw), 

Kieran Shea Rob Kitchin 
Loren Eaton 
Jerry House
Sandra Scoppettone
Al Tucher
John Weagly
Bob, The Wordless
Dana C. Kabel  
Dyer Wilk 
Kathleen Ryan