Wednesday, July 31, 2013


How I Came to Write This Book: THE SAME MISTAKE TWICE

THE SAME MISTAKE TWICE is available at Untreed Reads.

HOW I WROTE THIS BOOK: The Same Mistake Twice

By Albert Tucher

In the summer of 2000 I signed up on a whim for a fiction writing class at the Union County College in Cranford, NJ. Our teacher, Tom Cantillon, gave us weekly writing assignments, and one week he had us write an action story. From somewhere came a mental picture of a man and a woman standing by a car parked on the shoulder of a deserted highway.

So far, so noir, but who were they? I decided that they were a cop and a prostitute, and just to keep things interesting, I made her the good guy. He wanted to kill her, and she needed to stop him.
I couldn’t think of a motive that would play in 1,500 words, until I made the police officer a woman also. The motive became jealousy over a man who had been paying Diana—I knew her name immediately—and ignoring the officer.

The story turned out well, but I realized that it was open-ended enough to become the beginning of something bigger. It is now the first chapter in my currently unpublished novel Do Overs. For a long time that book was the beginning of Diana’s main story arc.

But it proved a tough sell, even after my friend and colleague Elaine Ash, aka Anonymous-9, did some needed major surgery on it. Elaine suggested that it had too much challenging material, including a cop killing and some hard-edged, explicit sex, to be the reader’s introduction to the Diana saga. She wondered whether I had a story that could come before Do Overs.

In fact, I had a novella with a solid noir premise: a John Doe turns up after ten years in a shallow grave, with nothing to identify him except Diana’s phone number freakishly preserved in his pocket. The number is one that she used only briefly, when she was just weeks into her career as a prostitute. Rather than give the police a list of her clients—certain death for her business—she decides to investigate, with results that could be fatal for her.

That story came in at 16,000 words. Elaine read it and said that it needed more. For starters, it needed the viewpoint of Detective Dale Tillotson, who has appeared in many of my short stories, and whose friendship with Diana is tested by the case. I also realized that the story is about the return of old mistakes and old enemies which gave me my title, The Same Mistake Twice. The theme also enabled me to rethink and reuse some material from Do Overs that had ended up on the cutting room floor. The result came in at 31,000 words, and Jay Hartman at Untreed Reads said that accepting the story for publication was “a no-brainer.”

I love it when that happens. The confusion lifts, and I have to think hard to remember what it felt like. Next time, why don’t I just skip the hard part and go straight to the good stuff?
Let me make a note of that.

Monday, July 29, 2013

Opening Credits: RHODA

Say Something Good About Detroit: Robin Watson

Robin Watson is a member of my writing group. She wrote this piece for the summer issue of CULTURE MAGAZINE. She is working on a novel set in Detroit,  about, surprise, a chef. 

50 Shades of Cheese

I confess: Cheese is not my only passion. I’m a color junkie, too. From that first big box of crayons to midnight showings of Fantasia to Downton Abbey’s rich d├ęcor, I’ve never been able to get enough. I follow color the way some people follow Brangelina. Martha Stewart’s Araucana chicken-egg hues spark my imagination, as does color guru Donald Kaufman’s custom-blended barn paint based on a green dumpster. Certainly, I’d find a use for that shade, too.
If inspiration indeed comes from anywhere, why not the cheese counter? I recall that scene in Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream Housewhere Muriel tells the house painter, “If you’ll send one of your men to the grocer for a pound of their best butter, and match that exactly, you can’t go wrong!”
I understand the sentiment. Before me at the market weren’t just wheels of cheese, but a veritable palette of options. Vibrant orange Mimolette (I can envision my kitchen in that tint). Morbier’s grey-ash racing stripe set in pale yellow topped with blush-colored rind (guest room). The dreamy aquamarine of Shropshire Blue (my bedroom, definitely). My mouth watered. My heart soared.

I grabbed a bright yellow and Wizard of Oz-esque emerald Sage Derby (solarium) and a deep-gold and chocolate-tinged Cahill’s Irish Porter Cheese (den) and headed to my local Benjamin Moore store. The spectrometer couldn’t handle food, but color-matching whiz Mary Ray suggested mixes like Da Vinci’s Canvas with a tweaked Grassy Fields and Valley View, Bittersweet Chocolate, and Hadley Red. Still, I was unsure. Combining these passions begged for a higher power. So I rang up Donald Kaufman himself. My timing was perfect.
“My wife and I were just looking at some cheeses,” said Kaufman, whose wife is also design partner Taffy Dahl. Together they’ve blended 30,000 to 40,000 custom colors, including some now in the Oval Office. “We were marveling at the different soft, creamy whites, the grays, the greens, the rind colors. We’re always looking for good color.”
“Color can be anything,” he said. “We’ve very often been asked to match food from ripe mangoes to Gaines-Burgers. Natural material has more intrinsic depth and nuance than any manufactured material.”
So how can I bring those cheese colors to life?
Kaufman demurred. There are so many considerations. The light, for one. A room with bright light brings out the yellow, definitely a consideration for cheese. Then there are the room’s architecture, atmosphere, and context.
My best bet, he said, is to experience colors in each room as the light changes throughout the day, as well as in artificial light. Usually, this is done by painting walls in large swaths and comparing. I proposed actual cheese swatches, and an amused Kaufman goaded me on.
So up went slabs of cheeses affixed to boards propped opposite windows. On the mantle. On my desk. It was nice to have room-temperature cheese within reach, but I worried about mice. Pinching off little nibbles like a mouse, I paced between rooms, charmed and daydreaming.
Finally, I was sated with both cheese and research. But something still gnawed at me and I couldn’t put a name on it. That’s because Kaufman designates colors by numbers. Instead, I hungered for evocative words.
But Kaufman was adamant. “Names bring in emotional associations that get in the way of really experiencing colors,” he insisted.
I felt an unnumbered color rising in my cheeks. Would he feel differently about Bayley Hazen Blue if it were Bayley Hazen 37?
“Absolutely,” Kaufman affirmed. But he was off to lunch. “There’s a cream-colored goat thing in the fridge.”

Written by Robin Watson
Illustration by Richard Mia

Say Something Good About Detroit: And From the Huffington Post some great (and sad) pictures of Detroit.

Huffington Post

Saturday, July 27, 2013

Saturday Night Music:

Best combination of a first and last line in a novel.

Phil's hydrangea

We are often asked our favorite first line.

The Atlantic Monthy just published this list.

But what about the combination of the two. My candidate for best is George Orwell's first and last line from 1984.

“It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen.”

... and the last line.

"We all loved Big Brother."

What is yours?

Friday, July 26, 2013

Friday Night Music: LIsa Fischer (and the Rolling Stones)

To go with my review of 20 Feet From Stardom in Crimespree Magazine, here is one of the best.

FFB will be redone tomorrow as I cannot correct the right margin.

Friday's Forgotten Books, Friday, July 26, 2013

Sergio Angelini, BINARY, Michael Crichton
Joe Barone, KILLER'S WEDGE. Ed McBain
Bill Crider, I WAS A TEENAGE DWARF, Max Shulman
Martin Edwards, THE BEAST MUST DIE, Nicholas Blake
Curt Evans, TIME TO CHANGE HATS, Margot Bennett 

Jerry House, THE INVADING ASTEROID, Manley Wade Wellman
Randy Johnson, THE SINGING SCORPION, William Colt MacDonald
Nick Jones, ROAD DOGS, Elmore Leonard
George Kelley, THE REFORMED GUN, Marvin H. Albert
Margot Kinberg. WITNESS THE NIGHT, Kishwar Desai
Rob Kitchin, LAIDLAW, William McIlvanney
Evan Lewis, DURANDEL, Harold Lamb
Brian Lindenmuth, WAKE IN FRIGHT, KennethCook'
Todd Mason, E PLURIBUS UNICORN by Theodore Sturgeon; NINE HORRORS AND A DREAM by Joseph Payne Brennan; (HORROR STORIES FROM) TALES TO BE TOLD IN THE DARK edited by Basil Davenport

John F. Norris, THE DOGS DO BARK, Jonathan Stagge
Juri Nummelin, THE LADY IN THE CAR WITH GLASSES AND A GUN, Sebastien Japrisot
James Reasoner, HEAT, edited by Russell Davis 

Karyn Reeves, THE D.A. HOLDS ACANDLE, Erle Stanley Gardner
Richard Robinson, SHAPECHANGER'S SONG, Jennifer Roberson
Kerrie Smith, A DARK ADAPTED EYE, Barbara Vine
Kevin Tipple/Barry Ergang, THE LONG GOODBYE, Raymond Chandler
James Winter, GUN CHURCH, Reed Farrel Coleman
Zybahn, BIG FISH, Daniel Wallace

Thursday, July 25, 2013


Edward Champion and THE BAT SEGUNDO SHOW

Whereas I used to listen to books on tape while I did my housewifely chores, I recently found something else that's a lot of fun. Maybe you all knew about this long ago.

Ed Champion, host of the Bat Segundo Show has audio interviews via podcast with more than 500 writers, humorists,  musicians, film-makers, etc  Crime writers Ariel S. Winter, Charlie Huston, Megan Abbott, Laura Lippman, Ian Rankin and Duane Swierczyncki are in the archives along with humorists like Amy Sedaris and Dave Barry, film-makers like Mike Leigh and Sarah Polley, interviewers like Dick Cavett and musicians like Bonnie Tyler. There are also essayists and topics of interest examined.

What makes these comprehensive interviews work so well is that Ed has read the book. And not just a writer's current book but their previous ones. He is able to ask interesting and probing questions and get people to talk about their process, their influences, all of the things that you wished someone would ask. He is able to draw from an encyclopedic knowledge of literature for these interviews.

I especially enjoyed the interview with Laura Lippman done after her most recent book (AND WHEN SHE WAS GOOD), with Claire Messud after THE WOMAN UPSTAIRS, with Stewart O'Nan after LAST NIGHT AT THE LOBSTER and with Aimee Bender after THE PARTICULAR SADNESS OF THE LEMON CAKE. But I am still at the beginning of the archives. 

If you like hearing writers talk about their books, I highly recommend THE BAT SEGUNDO SHOW.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Themes: The Simpsons

The Haunted House

Phil is getting ready to see the newest haunted house movie, THE CONJURING. Although I enjoy books or stories about haunted houses, I cannot bear seeing them. So my favorite one is going to be THE HAUNTING OF HILL House, which is oh, so sublime due to its subtlety.

What is your favorite haunted house story or movie?

Tuesday, July 23, 2013


Two Shows You Should Be Watching

if you have BBC AMERICA or SUNDANCE.

ORPHAN BLACK has the best performance on TV I have ever seen. If you like a combo of science fiction and crime fiction, this is for you. It is on BBC-America and has been renewed. Watch one actress play six parts and you will be amazed that each one is completely distinct. Sometimes she plays one character pretending to be another.

RECTIFY on SUNDANCE is the story of the release of a man in prison, on death row, for 20 years when DNA evidence makes the case against him murky. This is a slow and contemplative look at what happens to someone after 20 years alone. It examines southern culture, religion, philosophy. Terrific stuff.

Forgotten Movies: RECKLESS MOMENT

I have been anxious to see this film since I read the book THE BLANK WALL by Elisabeth Sanzay Holding last month. This is a strange clip but the rest were too long.

Lucia Harper: You don't know how a family can surround you at times. 
Martin: Do you never get away from your family? 
Lucia Harper: No. 

In some ways, this quote is at heart what the book and movie is about because in it a woman continues to tend to her family responsibilities both large and small throughout a tumultuous situation. Joan Bennett plays a mother of two teenagers suddenly called into action to protect her daughter from an unscrupulous man. From her first actions, she begins a slide toward total ruin but somehow through devotion and ingenuity manages to save herself and her daughter. James Mason plays the villain, who is unexpectedly, smitten. 

There are scenes of bucolic family life interspersed with frantic attempts by Bennett to raise money and take care of various threats to the family. This makes for some difficult but interesting transitions. 

Max Orphuls directed this, along with three other films in Hollywood. It is better than the B movie it was intended, no doubt, to be because the source material is strong and original. Geraldine Brooks plays the daughter with a sexuality and hysteria that you won't see again for a decade or more. There are some clunky transitions here and there and I can imagine a better movie with Barbara Stanwyck, but on the whole, it is a pretty fine drama. 

Monday, July 22, 2013

Opening Credits: BREAKING AWAY

Best Background Vocals

Having just seen 20 Feet From Stardom, I began to think about what are the best background vocals I remember. The Pips in Midnight Train to Georgia equal Gladys if not surpass her.

What are some of your favorite background vocals?


Detroit students installing book benches where long waits for a bus are commonplace. DDOT (the city's bus service) tried to pull the plug but apparently relented.

Saturday, July 20, 2013

Saturday Night Music: Darlene Love

The Most Versatile Writer?

What writer writes across the largest canvass? In other words, who constantly surprises you with what he/she turns out next?

I am going with Stewart O'Nan who never seems to repeat himself. If you look at just three of his books you can see what I mean.

SPEED QUEEN is about a woman in jail, and how she got there. A PRAYER FOR THE DYING is about a nineteenth century doctor returning from the Civil War. LAST NIGHT AT THE LOBSTER is the story of a man closing down his branch of the Red Lobster for the last time. Here we have a crime novel, historical fiction, and a very contemporary story. His dozen novels are all very good and all very different in tone, subject, sex of the protanogist and age. Who else pulls this off?

Friday, July 19, 2013

Friday Night Music: THE CIVIL WARS

Friday's Forgotten Books, Friday, July 19, 2013

A Dram of Poison by Charlotte Armstrong

This MWA winner of the best novel of 1956 is unlike any other crime novel I've read. There is, in fact, no crime beyond an attempt at suicide and a communal effort to find the dram of poison. That the book is classified as either a mystery or a crime novel at all is odd. What it is is a love story, a story about two very nice people who find joy with each other by the story's end. It is somewhat suspenseful but what makes it shine is the originality of the writing, the sparkling dialogue, the unforgettable characters, most especially the star of the show: Mr. Gibson. The less I say about it the better. As Anthony Boucher said in writing a review of it in 1956, "Get It."

Ed Gorman ia the author of the Sam McCann and Dev Conrad series of crime novels.

THE HIDDEN by Bill Pronzini

The Hidden by Bill Pronzini

I know, I know, since this was published not long ago, it's hardly forgotten. But it is one of those books that deserved much more promotion and notice than it received. Bill Pronzini the master of mixing shattered lives and violence and The Hidden is almost claustrophobic in its shadowy Woolrichian power.

Bill Pronzini is not only a Grand Master of the Mystery Writers of America, he's a Grand Master of the dark and sinister noir novel. He demonstrates this again in one of his finest (perhaps the finest) books in his long career.

Jay Macklin is a failed man. A career as a baseball player was ended early by injury. As were other attempts at establishing himself. His decade-plus marriage to Shelby was so solid and good for a long time but unemployment and heart trouble (the latter something she doesn't know about) have taken their toll. Shelby finds herself attracted to a doctor at the hospital where she works as a paramedic.

The novel brings Jay and Shelby together in an anxious attempt to find their old love and respect. They travel to a cottage in rugged Northern California only to meet Brian and Claire Lomax, a married couple who has even more problems than they do. They also become aware of a serial killer who has been traveling this same area. A power failure seems symbolic of their marriage's final days.

Pronzini has always been at his best dealing with smashed lives. HIs descriptions of violent weather and pitiless nature only enhance the emotional turbulence that make the drama so rich. Gripping, sinister, unpredictable, The Hidden is a sinewy novel of treachery and terror by a true master of the form.

Sergio Angelini, THE SIEGE OF TRENCHER'S FARM, Gordon M. Williams
Les Blatt, PARTING BREATH, Catherine Aird
Bill Crider, BRIDGE OF BIRDS, Barry Hughart
Martin Edwards, THE MUMMY CASE MYSTERY, Dermot Morrah
Jerry House, DANCE OF DEATH, Jean Charlot
Randy Johnson, SKYROCKET STEELE, Ron Goulart
Nick Jones, LABRAVA, Elmore Leonard
Keishon, THE NEW CENTURIONS, Joseph Wambaugh
Evan Lewis, WEEKEND TO KILL, Frederick Nebel
J.F. Norris, BLUES FOR THE PRINCE, Bart Spicer
James Reasoner, RIDE A CROOKED TRAIL, Lewis B. Patten
Richard Robinson, STOLEN SEASON, David Lamb
Gerard Saylor, COLLUSION, Stuart Neville
Michael Slind, THE DAY OF THE RAM, William Campbell Gault
Kerrie Smith, DEATH OF A DUTCHMAN, Magdalen Nab
Kevin Tipple/Barry Ergang, THE BLANK WALL, Elisabeth Xansay Holding
TomCat, THE CASE OF THE LONELY HEIRESS, Erle Stanley Gardner
James Winter, BASKET CASE, Carl Hiassen

And yes, I really enjoyed WORLD WAR Z to my surprise. It's up on CRIMESPREE CINEMA.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Opening Credits: LOVE BOAT

What is the Greatest Album Cover Ever? (Not limited to rock)

Rolling Stone says this is the best cover ever. But my favorite Beatles album cover is this.

What's your favorite cover for any group or solo artist ever?

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Tuesday Night Music: Darlene Love, Tom Jones, The Blossoms

My Candidate for the Dopiest Song of My Youth

What's Yours?


Why is it I remember these old tv theme songs better than the plots? This show, a favorite of mine as a ten year old, was on from 1957-63 and starred Walter Brennan as the family patriarch who brings his son (Richard Crenna) his wife and their three kids to California to farm.  A very nice evocation of a rural family that predated and prefigured The Waltons. You might also think ahead to THE BEVERLY HILLBILLIES, but this was a different kind of show-played less for laughs than smiles.

Monday, July 15, 2013

Movie theme Music: Vertigo

How I Came to Write A WIND OF KNIVES

"Becoming through a Wind of Knives,"  Ed Kurtz

At a recent convention for horror writers, I was frequently asked—as we often do when catching up at such events—what was my most recent published work. As it happened, my new Western novella A Wind of Knives had just been released by Snubnose Press. It’s my first foray into the genre, though not my last, and I was ridiculously excited to talk about it. Of course, I was at a horror convention, so not a few of my colleagues were a bit puzzled.

“You mean it’s a horror-Western?”

Nope. As a matter of fact, it’s a love story. It’s also a revenge narrative, a meditation on loyalty, and did I mention the main character is gay? Hard sell. Lucky for me, Snubnose was up to the challenge. Of course, I get a tad irritated whenever I hear someone refer to A Wind of Knives as a “gay Western”—I can’t help but feel that diminishes the point, pigeonholes it in a way that devalues what I’ve tried to do with the book—but yes, the crime of homosexuality in Civil War era Texas is very much at stake here, and central to the forward motion of the protagonist’s journey. But more than that, more than anything, it is my hope that what I’ve written is a story about love.

I make no bones about being a genre writer; in fact, I’m damned proud of it. I started out in horror, and have since branched out into crime. But I always wanted desperately to write a Western (or 20, time permitting), as it is the most uniquely American form of narrative storytelling. As I’ve said elsewhere, many Western tales are enormous in scope yet at its best the genre is always about character: fascinating characters we get to know in important and intimate ways that give us no choice but to look inward as we join them for their journeys. The journey Daniel Hays undertakes in A Wind of Knives couldn’t be done any other way but under the aegis of this genre, as far as I’m concerned. The story of the American West is a story about becoming, for better and for worse and everything in between. I can’t think of a better template for a character’s inner expedition, and I think you’ll agree.

Besides, I just dig all the horseplay and gunfights. It’s fun, ya’ll.

I haven’t yet decided if we’ll see Daniel Hays, the protagonist from A Wind of Knives, again. Like I said, the genre, and this book in particular, are about becoming. And Daniel is only just beginning to come into himself by the story’s end. His journey (in true Western fashion, I think) is both geographical and deeply internal, yet incomplete. But ain’t life like that?

“There will come a time when you believe everything is finished; that will be the beginning.” ―Louis L'Amour

[A Wind of Knives is available now in ebook from Snubnose Press; paperback forthcoming.]