Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Sidney Sheldon; Harold Robbins

The news is filled with the details of Sidney Sheldon's life and death. I was only able to finish one of his books, a passing fair suspense novel THE NAKED FACE that won the Edgar in its year. He was a cartoonist rather than a novelist, his characters so much larger than life that they rarely did anything true to human behavior as we know it. Super soap opera, to be fair to him. I just don't happen to have a taste for it is all.

While his books didn't interest me, his career did. Yes, he had career stalls in his sixty year run but when you consider that he had two Broadway shows running simeltaneously in his early Twenties and international bestseller well into his eighth decade, his achievements were notable. He also wrote several very good old-school movie comedies.

It helped that he was respectable. He was grandfatherly on TV, you could safely give his books to just about anybody, and his Hollywood novels contained the kind of legend and lore that we never seem to tire of.

I've contrasted his press today with that that Harold Robbins got when he passed.

There was a time when Robbins was at least marginally respectable. Back in the late Forties and up to 1958, Robbins managed to not only to entertain but to elevate the form of popular fiction. I agree with Mario Puzo who once claimed that A STONE FOR DANNY FISHER is a serious novel about America in the Thirties and Forties. I think even the fanatically maligned THE CARPETBAGGERS was, if not a serious novel, a damned good trashy one that was besotted with the Hollywood of our fantasies. There's some very nice stuff in that book.

I've never been able to find a believable explanation--or at least a consistently believable one--for why he then turned his books into rather silly soft core porn machines. The easy answer, and maybe the true one, is that he caught the wave of the counter culture, the whole swinging Sixties thing a few years before it became a part of our entire country. He wanted to sell more and more books. And he certainly succeeded.

During the Sixties and Seventies there were many press stories about his yachts, his women, his drugs, his sleazy contacts with international crime barons, etc. etc. In the later Seventies there were even rumors that he was so addled with his hedonistic life that his books were being ghosted. I remember opening one up at a newstand one day--this was about a preacher I think--and being struck by how unlike Robbins the writing was. Even at his worst he was never this awkward.

He was a real writer in the beginning. As I say, I don't know why he decided that being a gazillionaire was more rewarding than turning out a good book. He had to have had plenty of money by the time he turned to porn.

Esquire did a long piece on him shortly before he died. He was rich but in sad shape, boastful in spots but well aware that his time as a literary star had passed. I wish somebody would write a serious biography of his life. It would be a damned interesting book.

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Bentley Little

From Ron at Galleycat one of the best sites on the web:

Ed here: Bentley Little writes some of the most searing and spellbinding horror novels of our time. One of the things that drives them is Bentley's anger at the injustice we see all around us. This quality gives his work a reality too often lacking in the horror genre. Ron at Galleycat posted this yesterday.

From Ron at Galleycat one of the best sites on the web:

Rafferty's Latest Dobby Horror Show

You might recall my delight earlier this month when the NYTBR assigned the new Hannibal novel to Terrence Rafferty, their all-too-infrequent horror critic. Well, last weekend they delivered the second installment of Rafferty's column. As we noted the last time this column came around, nobody else at the Review is covering mass-market originals, and very few of its contributors are writing with his full-on verve about any type of fiction. Here, for example, is Rafferty on horror writer Bentley Little:

"In a sense, his whole career—16 previous novels and a short-story collection—has been an elaborate self-conducted anger management program, from which he has yet to graduate. The Burning is just the latest in a series of Little novels in which boiling-mad victims of one social injustice or another set out to redress the wrongs done to them, and go way too far. And in all his books the writer appears to be working extremely hard to keep his sympathy for these angry devils from getting the better of him. In every novel, he maintains a running auto-critique, heckling himself like a drunken doppelganger in the audience, with the invective intensifying noticeably as the act nears its conclusion."

Admit it, even if you can't stand genre fiction, reading that description makes Little sound awfully darn interesting, doesn't it? Heck, last week Lee Siegel churned out how many thousands of words about Norman Mailer, and he didn't make him sound half as compelling as that.

Monday, January 29, 2007

War movie chic; Hwood rules; Marsha Hunt

From Page Six:
(Ed here--whatever happened to band of Brothers?)

IS the director of notoriously trashy "Showgirls" about to top himself? While it doesn't open here until March, Paul Verhoeven's war drama "Black Box" is already gaining notoriety in Europe. Its over-the-top scenes include star Carice van Houten dying her pubic hair blond and getting human waste dumped over her head while half-nude. Cosmo Landesman of London's Sunday Times writes: "Call me old-fashioned, but when it comes to Second World War yarns about the brave men and women who resisted the Nazi occupation of their country, I don't want to see sexy shots of pubic hair."

Ed here: brief but interesting piece on trying to get a decision out of the Hwood suits.

When It Comes to Patience, First Learn the Math
By Beth Lapides, Beth Lapides' first book, "Did I Wake You? Haikus for Modern Living," was recently published by Soft Skull Press.
January 28, 2007 Los Angeles Times

Everyone in this "I need it yesterday" town is waiting for something: the overnights, the weekend read, the end of the day when they can finally take the edge off all the waiting with a drink. In this business, waiting's the thing. Which is why the image of the Sardi's booth, with a post-show cast huddled in anticipation of the early edition, is one of the stickiest images in show business iconography. And it's why waiting tables is the quintessential Hollywood day job.

Unfortunately, I had not yet learned the primary axiom of Hollywood Math: The absence of yes over time equals no. So I kept waiting. (But later she concludes). Because sometimes the absence of no over time equals yes.


SAN FRANCISCO, Jan. 28 — The orange and blue neon lights of the Castro Theater shone blurrily on the damp asphalt beneath the crisscrossing catenary wires of the streetcars. The words on the marquee in the Friday night gloom, read:

“Marsha Hunt: In Person.”

Jim Wilson/The New York Times
The Castro Theater in San Francisco on opening night of the Noir City film festival.
Film Noir Foundation

John Ireland and Marsha Hunt in “Raw Deal” (1948).

Jim Wilson/The New York TimesMs. Hunt made more than 50 movies before her career was wrecked in 1950 by the Hollywood blacklist. One of them, a 1948 crime melodrama called “Raw Deal,” has gone on to an unlikely second life as a favorite of the cultish devotees of film noir. On Friday it opened the fifth annual Noir City film festival here, and Ms. Hunt, 89, was on hand to watch its dreamlike silvery hues make a rare appearance on a big — very big — screen.

Lithe and glowing, Ms. Hunt took the stage after the film and said she was surprised not only that this dark little B movie had found fans nearly 60 years after its release, but that so many of them were here, nearly filling the Castro’s more than 1,400 seats. The crowd was a mix of young and old, polished and scruffy, with only a few fedoras in sight.

“I can’t get over this,” Ms. Hunt said as the film festival’s founder and organizer, Eddie Muller, genially interviewed her at the foot of the stage. “It was a strange sort of film,” she added, “about as negative as you can get. They hadn’t coined the term ‘noir’ yet.”

She’s right. It’s hard to imagine a darker film, literally or figuratively, than “Raw Deal.” Consisting almost entirely of luminescent day-for-night photography, it’s the story of an escaped con (played by Dennis O’Keefe) and the two women who love him (Ms. Hunt was one; Claire Trevor was the other), and features, among other pitch-black set pieces, a villain (Raymond Burr) who disfigures his girlfriend with a flaming dessert, and a furious midnight brawl in a seaside taxidermy shop. At the end everyone is either ruined, dead or under arrest.

And that darkness was just fine with the moviegoers here, which applauded vigorously as the closing titles rolled, just as they had at the beginning when the credit for the film’s director of photography, John Alton, the master of all that darkness, appeared on screen.

Ed here: interesting to note that John Ireland gets top billing when the stars are Dennis O'Keefe and Marsha Hunt. But then nobody would know who O'Keefe is, right? Fair enough.

But if you grew up in Iowa you knew O'Keefe, of course. he was born and raised here. He had a decent career in the Bs as a sort of road show Cary Grant. Most of his films were forgettable but every once in a while he stumbled over a good script. This is his best movie and one hell of a good noir. Three times a decades the film magazine carry articles claiming that O'Keefe's career needs to be reconsidered. I don't know about that but here, older, heavier, a real sadness in the gaze, he does some fine fine work. And Raymond Burr is truly scary.

Sunday, January 28, 2007

Dail News sez Regan fired for Mantle not OJ

Hack job on Mantle KOd Regan

Top editor sunk by '7' after O.J. fiasco


O.J. Simpson's kill-and-tell book sickened America, but it was the crass sullying of New York hero Mickey Mantle that finally toppled publisher Judith Regan, according to New York magazine.
In a behind-the-scenes look at the scandal that rocked Rupert Murdoch's News Corp., the magazine claims the outcry against O.J.'s book, "If I Did It," left the famously temperamental Regan reeling, but still working.

It was her next project, a fictional account of Mantle's past filled with pornography, foul jokes and a seamy affair with Marilyn Monroe, which led to her downfall after the Daily News splashed it on page one.

"The supposed sullying of Mantle's name hit the cover of the Daily News," says the New York magazine piece, published tomorrow. And "[Harper Collins' CEO Jane] Friedman hit the roof."

"By this point, Friedman was sick of playing nice," the mag continued. "News Corp. executives were appalled, as was [News Corp. mogul] Murdoch."

"Mickey Mantle felt like another major blunder," says one executive of the book, which was to be called, "7: The Mickey Mantle Novel." "It just reinforced the sense that [Regan was] an irresponsible editor."

The falling ax hit Regan, who headed ReganBooks - an arm of Harper Collins. And it fell on the day News Corp. employees, including the staff of the money-losing New York Post, were celebrating their holiday party in New York's Hilton Hotel.

The firing was ordered directly by Murdoch, although its seasonal timing surprised even him, the magazine reports.

But the last to know was Regan herself.

"Everyone was shepherded into the conference room, where a long-suffering ReganBooks deputy made the announcement: Judith has been fired," the mag recounts.

Workers were told Regan had already been escorted from the building, but they later found her eating a sandwich at her desk, ignorant of her firing.

"So I'm eating a sandwich," the magazine reports her telling workers. "Why are you staring at me?"

Regan, who is now reported to be planning a break from work to travel, had apparently seen the O.J. book as the pinnacle of her career, the magazine article says.

But Simpson's hypothetical discussion of how he would have killed Nicole Brown Simpson and her friend Ronald Goldman disgusted the nation - and outraged relatives of the victims.

Regan was encouraged to speak out in favor of the book - including giving interviews about personal experience of domestic abuse - by News Corp. executives eager to make her take the heat, the magazine says.

"Executives had begun to realize they needed a villain, a scapegoat, distancing the company from the project, making it one woman's mad dream," the article reports.

The O.J. book was eventually canned and so was the Mickey Mantle project.

The magazine said talk of Regan's firing at the holiday party was met with applause by many News Corp. staffers.

"Friedman told editors that she had fired Regan," says the article. "When she said it, people began to clap."

Originally published on January 28, 2007

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Saturday, January 27, 2007

Whatever works

I got an e mail from a writer I knew back when we were both starting out. These days he writes as much non-fiction as fiction. he tells me that non-fic is in about the same shape as fic these days. Grim. At least in the slots he works.

I asked him if he still believed it was detrimental to his work process to read fiction. He replied that other than short stories and novelettes (he started out in science fiction) he hasn't read much fiction in the twenty-five years since we've communicated.

I'm a firm believer in the whatever works process. If you can only do your best work sitting inside a refrigerator wearing a snowsuit, go to it. There's no right or wrong when you're talking about stirring your muse.

But as I said to him then and said to him again, it's difficult to imagine a day passing when I don't read for at least two or three hour. That's my process. Now I don't always read a lot of genre. Right now for instance I'm going through a small stack of Larry McMurtry novels set in the Hwood of the eighties. Fine stuff. The writing's so good I get energy from it. It's so good it makes me want to be better with my own work.

Whatever works. Do any of you feel that reading fiction inhibits your own writing?

Friday, January 26, 2007

Blue Cheer

Ed Lynskey has published a number of notable short stories over the past several years so I was interested in reading one of his novels. If the landscape of Blue Cheer (Wildside) is somewhat familiar--backwoods (in this case West Virginia), a homegrown terrorist group, a number of physical confrontations--the writing itself demonstrates that there are truly no old ideas, just old treatments. Lynskey is both a skilled stylist and a wise reporter of human madness. His storytelling is smooth, realistic and full of large and small surprises. This manages to be in equal parts a novel of action and a novel of character. Hopefully Blue Cheer will bring Lynskey the larger audience he's deserved for some time now.

Brazoria mayor ends battle to ban racial epithet | - Houston Chronicle: "By RICHARD STEWART
Copyright 2007 Houston Chronicle

After facing intense opposition against a proposed ordinance that would have outlawed the use of the 'n-word' in his town, Brazoria Mayor Ken Corley announced Thursday he would drop the proposal altogether.

Ed here: I'm against banning laguage of virtually any kind and that includes sending Isiash Washington, jerk that he is, into some kind of Orwellian rehab where he gets his brain washed. I think we have to be very careful of this impulse to make everybody politically correct. But the gun we're turning on the Washingtons now can just as easily be turned on us someday. Any actor who can't get along with cast or crew should be fired but not sent to some shrink who'll bombard him with bromides and pretend that the guy is "cured."

Thursday, January 25, 2007

David Goodis

Millepede Press, which thus far has not made a single mistake in the way it has selected, packaged and marketed its books, has now issued two David Goodis novels just in time to join in the attempt by two or three different groups to repair Goodis' reputation and make it equal to that of Jim Thompson's. There was recently a David Goodis convention. Not many writers, living or dead, get a tribute like that.

The two novels here are NIGHTFALL and STREET OF NO RETURN. I prefer the former because it's a damned good story and because Goodis controls it throughout. And, if I might be allowed to sound suburban here, because it features a protagonist I don't mind identifying with. There's an excellent introduction by Bill Pronzini with key biographical information about Goodis.

STREET OF NO RETURN is more typical of Goodis' work for Lion and Gold Medal, the jinxed protagonist, the almost Lovecraftian darkness. STREET also makes clear the difference between Thompson and Goodis. Much as we might at least theoretically feel some compassion for the typical Thompson protagonist, he usually is, and make no mistake, a predator. The typical Goodis man is a victim.

I've always felt that if Goodis' books lacked that quintessential incandescent moment you find in the best of Thompson, he compensated by being a better craftsman. He turns Philidelphia into a city Dante would have appreciated. Robert Polito, in his fine introduction, also points out how Goodis varied his style and language, using in STREET, a "snaky diction" (nifty phrase) to create this particular take on his helltown.

Important books, and emminently readable ones. Millipede scores again.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

E. Howard Hunt

From Fred Blosser


You may already have flagged this for the blog if the story was reported this morning in your local paper.  The Washington Post reports that Watergate figure and Gold Medal author E. Howard Hunt died yesterday at age 88.  Story linked here:  The obit notes Hunt's career as a novelist, including his work as Gordon Davis, Robert Dietrich, and other noms-de-plume.   Paperback collectors will recall that at the height of the Watergate story (1973-74), Pinnacle brought several of his old Gold Medal books back to print under his own name to capitalize on the publicity.  As David St. John, he also wrote a series of spy novels for Signet in the mid-'60s about Peter Ward, an imitation James Bond.

As I've noted before, I remember thumbing through a 1947-maybe 1948 Esquire about twenty years ago and finding an article about the leading young literary writers to come out of WW 11. Mailer, Capote, major players like that--and included among them was E. Howard Hunt. Apparently he wrote pretty good war novel. But by 1951 he was publishing paperback originals, which had to indicate a real career crash back then.I've never seen that satisfactorily explained by the way.

Also Bill Crider has slide show of Hunt's pb covers. You can count the decades of his career when you see them. You and link to it from my Links list here.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Otto Penzler & Uncertain Endings*

Last night, in reviewing Otto Penzler's extraordinarily good anothology Uncertain Endings, I mentioned that I didn't understand Otto's antipathy to female writers. Otto responded in the following letter.

Hi Ed,
Many thanks for the nice review. It's a book I'd wanted to do for 35 years--ever since I turned 50.
I mainly bash women writers because, well, they're mainly lousy writers with no sense of literary style or ambition. While she's a despicable human people, I think Ruth Rendell is brilliant. I love P.D. James. I loved Patricia Highsmith's work. I have (mostly) been a great fan of Minette Walters and Denise Mina. Often Liza Cody. I've liked early Patsy Cornwall. I think Joyce Carol Oates, for all her brilliance, is underrated. So sue me if I find nothing redeeming or original in Lillian Jackson Braun, Rita Mae Brown (and, of course, Sneaky Pie Brown), hairdresser mysteries, etc. They're not written for me, so mostly I try to leave them alone. It's when they start winning awards or are outrageously praised (either publicly or to me personally) that I feel a need to respond. It would be easier if I let them be. I just cain't.
All best wishes, Otto


BTW I really can't say enough good things about Uncertain Endings or Penzler's remarkable introduction. One of the outstanding anthologies of the last few years. Among the many excellent stories in the book, the one that has obsessed me for three days running is Aldous Huxley's "The Gioconda Smile." This is a novel compressed with skilled precision and concision into about 12,000 words. (As I recall, JT Ballard, back when he writing for the science fiction magazines of the Sixties, did his own take on this story.) Among the many stunning aspects of the story is that Huxley creates a protagonist who is a true intellectual (for good and ill) and doesn't just state this but demonstrates it on every page--how virtually every emotional reaction the man has is informed by his knowledge of classical art be it architecture, painting, poetry or history. He is also widely read in the sciences and several of the more astonishing metaphors are scientific in nature. I've read the story three times in four days and will probably read it again tonight. It's that rich in its ironies, self-delusions and treacheries.

Monday, January 22, 2007

Barbara Serenella; Otto Penzler; Kill It and Grill It

Sad news:

Barbara Seranella's Home Page: "Barbara Seranella
Born April 30, 1956
Died January 21, 2007

Barbara Seranella, 50, bestselling mystery author and resident of Laguna Beach and PGA West in La Quinta, died peacefully on January 21, 2007, at 4:15 p.m. EST (1:15 p.m. PST) at the Cleveland Clinic in Cleveland, Ohio, with her husband Ron Seranella and her brother Dr. Larry Shore at her side. Barbara, who died of end-stage liver disease while awaiting a liver transplant, leaves behind her husband Ron, brothers Larry Shore of San Francisco and David Shore of Woodacre, parents Nate and Margie Shore of La Quinta, and stepdaughters Carrie Seranella and Shannon Howard.

Private funeral arrangements are being made by the family. A celebration of Barbara's life is being planned for February; details will be announced later."
posted by Bill Crider @ 12:04 PM

Book review

While I'll never understand why Otto Penzler berates most female mystery writers the way he does, I have to say that his editorial choices are otherwise pretty damned good. He turned Mysterious Press into a major player and the anthologies and collections he edits are usually impeccably selected.

Uncertain Endings (Pegasus $23.95) is certainly no exception. Billed as the "most baffling mysteries in literary history," this anthology "paradoxical puzzle stories" gave me a full weekend's pleasure. All you need to do is read the the tableof contents for author names and you'll unholster your credit card instantly. How about Ray Bradbury, Roald Dahl, Mark Twain, Stanley Ellin and the much underrated O. Henry among others?

This is a serious, dazzling collection of styles, historical periods and plain good writing. This goes on the keeper shelf for sure.

Kill It and Grill It

My less than enthusiastic take on Ted Nugent and his scumbag appearance at the Texas Governor's Ball last week earned me funny phone call from one of our blog readers.

A woman called and said that she'd sat next to Nugent in high school study hall. Her impression of him wasn't especially favorable--no surprise--but then her impression of herself wasn't much better. She called herself "a bookish nerd." She said that she had to credit him with fulfulling his boasts. He said he had a band people would want to hear and after all the predictable trials and tribs he did become something of a one hit wonde after all. Then (my addition) he became a cult hero for people who eat roadkill.

Sunday, January 21, 2007

Jerks On Parade-Show Biz takes*

I once saw a photgraph of several prominent TV newsmen at a Georgetown party with several prominent senators of both parties. It crystallized for me just about everything that's wrong with news and congress. Both are tools of the elite and have little if anything to do with us except in a marginal and cynical way. Both forces are in fact one. I was glad to see this take on the situation in the Washington Post this morning, This concerns the hiring of Rich Little as "the guest comic" as penance for hiring Stephen Colbert last year:

As for Little's being hired this year by the White House Correspondents' Association, Black said: "It's like going from Jackson Pollock to paint-by-numbers. God love Rich Little, but he's not in this decade. He's in no position to pose any threat to anyone. He makes Bob Hope look like Lenny Bruce. It's sad that we've reached this point" with comedy as political expression.

Another reason to scrap the dinner altogether, suggests Rem Rieder, editor of the American Journalism Review. After the Colbert controversy last year, and an earlier one in which Bush joked about not finding weapons of mass destruction, Rieder wrote that such press-politico events reflect the "smugness" and arrogance of the news media, suggesting that they are "part of a wealthy elite, completely out of touch with ordinary Americans."

The hiring of "a controversy-free" Little underscores the point, he says: "Do we really need a neon sign to proclaim the coziness of the White House press corps and the White House's occupant? It's really hard for me to understand making a decision like this, particularly so close to the WMD debacle. The dinner must go."


In a long interview with the New Jersey Ledger, comes a definition of the kind of comedy that makes you squirm:

In addition to the commentary on the perils of modern celebrity, what "The Office" and "Extras" share (along with "Curb Your Enthusiasm" and the American "Office") is a fondness for the comedy of embarrassment, those moments when a person sticks his foot so far in his mouth that he can taste his socks. As Ricky Gervais notes:

"You've got to write about what you know, really. As a middle-class, Western male, I'm not being shot at, I'm not starving, the worst thing that happens to me is I make a fool of myself. That's it. What's the most interesting thing in a day for a normal person? The bus driver was rude, or you accidentally insulted someone, they took it the wrong way. Everyone can identify with that."

From Ray Richmond and his Past Deadline column: Isiah Washington, Time-Warner,

On Isiah Washington insulting fellow cast member TR Knight by calling him a "faggot"

Again, Washington's intolerance should have been addressed with greater zeal back when the original incident erupted last fall. Instead, it was more or less covered up and deemphasized once the initial storm passed. It opened the door to what happened Monday night, when an actor who clearly was drunk on hubris and conceit seized the microphone from his boss to sneak in a jab at a man whose only sin appears to be a sexual orientation different from Washington's.

The message we're supposed to take from this now is everything has been fixed. It's back to being one big happy dysfunctional family. The fires have been extinguished. Everyone promises to behave. But of course, that's the perception that had to be sold publicly. The truth, however, is no doubt substantially murkier, and it's probably this: we're all making way too much money off of this show to allow for trouble in the ranks, so let's all just shut up, drive down our feelings and get back to work.

Ah, harmony in Hollywood.

(Ed here: I might note that in the past Washinton has allegedly twice had crew members get restraining orders against him. How does this jerk keep getting work?)

The Time-Warner Firings:

The ax fell on Thursday at Time Inc. in New York (and elsewhere), and when the chopping was finished the carnage proved devastating: nearly 300 jobs slashed company-wide at Time magazine, People magazine and Sports Illustrated. The blog Gawker noted that this came despite having just completed a year during which the company notched a profit of about 18%. So what we appear to have here are lambs again being sacrificed at the altar of moolah. What else is new?

The People magazine bureaus in Chicago, Washington, D.C., Austin and Miami are being shuttered, as are the Time mag bureaus in Los Angeles, Chicago and Atlanta along with the News Desk. Yes, Time magazine is getting rid of its News Desk. Does that mean the newsweekly is going out of the news business? It seems utterly incomprehensible.

Saturday, January 20, 2007

Congratulations Bill Crider

I don't want to slight anybody here. There are a good number of unsung excellent writers trapped in the mid-list ghetto. I'd need three pages to list them.

But the writer I want to congratulate tonight has been at it for better than a quarter century and has excelled in mystery, western and horror. And at novel length as well as short story form.

In fact it's for one of his short stories "Cranked" – Damn Near Dead by Bill Crider (Busted Flush Press) that I'm singling him out tonight. In case you haven't heard, Bill's story was one of five nominated for an Edgar.

His novel Blood Marks remains one of the freshest takes on the serial killer storyline I've ever read. His Sheriff Dan Rhodes series combines wit and sociology in the way of K.C. Constantine. You get a portrait of Texas noirish bombast mostly misses. The real Texas I like to think.

I don't know how many of Bill's stories I've reprinted in various anthologies. Whatever the number, it's not enough. Once again, he works in many different forms when creating short stories. "Cranked" is just one of twenty or more Crider gems in the shorter form. He needs a collection.

So--congrats, Bill. Well deserved and here's hoping you get some more of that attention you've so long deserved.

Friday, January 19, 2007

Like a really really irritating dirtbag

The word always was that macho he-man loudmouth Ted Nugent was a draft dodger. I don't know if this piece clears that up but the rest of it sure clears up any doubts I had about him. Becoming legal guardian to avoid prison? If it's true, it's just one more reason that inviting him to this weiner roast was even more unfathomable.

From Huffington Post: by Ken Levine

Please Give a Warm Welcome to Ted Nugent!

So when Ted Nugent performed at the Texas Governor's Inaugural Ball with machine guns, a Confederate Flag T-shirt, and started shouting offensive remarks about people who don't speak English, uh was this a surprise to anyone? This wasn't John Davidson they hired. This was Ted Nugent, he of the biting live chickens on stage rumors.

Even if Mr. Nugent (or, as he's also known, Sweaty Teddy, Deadly Tedly, Great Gonzos, and my personal favorite - Theodocious Atrocious) was told to just sing his big hits that would mean "Wang Dang Sweet Poontang." Imagine starting the ladies choice dance with that?

Were the Johnny Mann Singers just unavailable that night?

Had anybody in the party planning committee read any of Mr. Nugent's quotes? Here are two of my faves:

Gun Control: "Only a coward supports gun control. You know how to stop carjacking? Shoot the carjacker. If someone is going to kill me for my Buick, I'm gonna shoot until I'm out of ammo - and then I'll call 911."

Feminists: What's a feminist anyways? A fat pig who doesn't get it often enough?"


Andy Williams had a gig in Branson that night?

I still can't get over it. Ted Nugent? At the Governor's Ball? Author of "Kill It and Grill It". Legal guardian of a 17 year old Hawaiian girl to avoid statutory charges. The man who got a draft deferment by reporting to his draft board with a week's worth of excrement and urine in his pants (although I'm sure Texans would still have preferred he dressed for the ball like that than sport a Confederate flag). The only thing surprising to me is that THEY were surprised.
Amy Grant wanted too much money?

Personally, I find it hilarious. Mr. Nugent has said he's considering running for Governor of Michigan in 2010. I bet even he's smart enough not to hire himself to sing at the Inaugural Ball.

Thursday, January 18, 2007

Bob Randisi's gamble pays off

Several years ago Robert J. (Bob) Randisi decided to start writing books larger in scope to build more of an audience for himself. If you've been on any of the reviewing sites--or picked up a newspaper--lately you'll know how well he's succeeded with his novel Everybody Kills Somebody Sometimes, a book set in the Las Vegas of the early Sixties and starring the Rat Pack no less.

On top of that comes The Picasso Flop (Mysterious $24) which Randisi has co-authored with World Poker Tour TV host and commentator Vince Van Patten. This is another "insider" book, the world of professional poker playing laid out for the reader in colorful and suspenseful scenes as protagonist Jimmy Spain (recently relased from prison) is hired by a Texas gambler (and former cell mate of Spain's) to teach his daughter how to play poker. Unfortunately, murders start piling up at the casino and the young woman Kat finds herself the chief suspect. Some of the character sketches rival Elmore Leonard anti-heroes in their larky downscale lives.

Randisi builds his story with masterful tension, showing us how the poker tour system really works but never forgetting to turn the suspense screws tighter, either. The climax is a beauty and a surprise and certainly invites a second and even third book set in the world of Vegas poker.


Caught the first episode of HBO Extras' second season last Sunday. So far my favorite episode is still the one with Ben Stiller as the crazed and egotistical film director who keeps quoting his box office numbers to everybody. But in a quieter way the episode last Sunday came close to hitting that high mark. This season Millman (Gervais) manages to sell a sit-com to the BBC which then proceeds to "take it to committee." What was once an original and unique show is now just another sit-com. Millman tells off the BBC show runners and threatens to quit. Will he? This season benefits from Gervais' partner Stephen Merchant being on-screen, too. He has an odd presence that manages to be irritating and amusing at the same time. This guy has no principles at all. He'd kill your mother for $1 if he knew how to load the gun.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Charles Beaumont on pulp fiction

One of the best pieces ever written on the real pulp fiction of the last century was done by Charles Beaumont for Playboy back in 1962. Thanks to the article is available once again in full. I was struck by the opening paragraphs and wonder if kids today are still drawn to books and magazines the way we were or if it's video games and special effects movies that will shape their memories and creative pursuits.



It was dark and mysterious, as rituals ought to be, and—for those who enacted it—a holy and enchanted thing. If you were a prepubescent American male in the Twenties, the Thirties or the Forties, chances are you performed the ritual. If you were a little too tall, a little too short, a little too fat, skinny, pimply, an only child, painfully shy, awkward, scared of girls, terrified of bullies, poor at your schoolwork (not because you weren’t bright but because you wouldn’t apply yourself), uncomfortable in large crowds, given to brooding, and totally and overwhelmingly convinced of your personal inadequacy in any situation, then you certainly performed it. Which is to say, you worshiped at the shrine of the pulps.

What were the pulps? Cheaply printed, luridly illustrated, sensationally written magazines of fiction aimed at the lower and lower-middle classes. Were they any good? No. They were great.potent literary drug known to boy, and all of us suffer withdrawal symptoms to this day.

No one ever kicked the pulps cold turkey. They were too powerful an influence. Instead, most of us tried to ease off. Having dreamed of owning complete sets, in mint condition, of all the pulp titles ever published, and having realized perhaps a tenth part of the dream—say, 1500 magazines, or a bedroomful—we suffered that vague disenchantment that is the first sign of approaching maturity (16, going on 17, was usually when it happened) and decided to be sensible.

Accordingly, we stopped buying all the new mags as fast as they could appear, and concentrated instead upon a few indispensable items. Gradually we cut down until we were keeping up the files on only three or four, or possibly five or six, publications. After a few years, when we had left high school, we got the number down to two. Which is where most of us stand today. We don’t read the magazines, of course. But we go on buying them. Not regularly, and not in any sense because we want to, but

Monday, January 15, 2007

The immortality of film

I always thought that books would outlast movies because movies, until the advent of home video, were difficult to obtain and play at home or at school. Remember how many times the films you saw in high school and college suffered technical glitches in the course of being shown? The lights would come up and the leading smart asses in the group would start goofing on the hapless projectionist?

But times, as they are apt to do, have changed.

We live in a media culture that is almost completely visual, everything from video games to dumb ass blockbuster special effects movies to newcasts that won't deal with anything they can't get good video of. Visual visual visual.

I thought of this recently because I spent a good part of the week watching Turner Classic's salute to Anthony Mann. I wondered if a writer would ever be given such a tribute. Then I saw the Peckinpah documentary and was convinced that even with the aid of the internet reading would probably continue to decline in this country.

Hard to believe that even the greatest of novelists would ever be dealt with in this manner outside of NPR (which recently an extraordinary two hour celebration of Walt Whitman) to PBS.

Sunday, January 14, 2007

Elizabeth Foxwell-Clues The Partesky issue

Elizabeth Foxwell is a fine writer of fiction, a fine editor-anthologist, and a fine guiding hand/ managing editor of Clues. She's handed Sara Paretsky one of the grand prizes in the game of novel writing. An entire issue examining all of Paretsk's work in great and enjoyable depth. I can't improve on the piece posted on Rara-Avis tonight. So I'll just run it here. I've read the issue and it's illuminating in every respect.

The winter 2007 issue of _Clues: A Journal of Detection_ has been
published, which focuses on author Sara Paretsky, in honor of the 25th
anniversary of the debut of V. I. Warshawski. The table of contents
appears below; further details at

To order the issue or a subscription, contact Heldref Publications'
Customer Service Dept, tel: 1/800-365-9753 or 202/296-6267, email:

Elizabeth Foxwell
Managing Editor, _Clues: A Journal of Detection_

Clues: A Journal of Detection
Vol 25, No. 2 Winter 2007
Theme Issue: Sara Paretsky

Introduction - Margaret Kinsman

Ruined Landscapes, Flooding Tunnels, Dark Paths: Sara Paretsky’s
Gothic Vision
Susan Allen Ford

Mythical Musical Connections: The Mother-Daughter Bond in the Work of
Sara Paretsky
Natalie Hevener Kaufman and Carrollee Kaufman Hevener

V. I. Talks Back: Sara Paretsky’s Unlikable Characters as Foes and Foils
Rachel Schaffer

Homeless Women and Social Justice in Sara Paretsky’s _Tunnel Vision_
Donna M. Bickford

Defining the Enemy: Housewives and Detectives
K Edgington

New Maps of Chicago: Sara Paretsky’s _Blood Shot_
Tim Dayton


Saturday, January 13, 2007

Terrill Lankford's brilliant overlooked novel

I have about a dozen novels I keep on a shelf to the right of my desk. The writers include Fitzgerald, Graham Greene, Nathaniel West, Dorothy Parker, O'Hara, and about half a dozen contemporary novels. I keep these there as vitamins for when style and lucidity wane in my own work. In the truest sense I derive inspiration from reading twenty-five pages or so of them.

Lately I find that the novel I pick up most often is Earthquake Weather by Terrill Lee Lankford which, in some respects, is an amalgam of Fitzgerald-West-O'Hara.

The falsely accused protagonist is nothing new but set against natural disaster in the bowels (in all respects) of the movie industry you have something completely fresh, especially when he's presented in language as powerful and lyric and spot-on true as Lankford is able to summon here. The pace is as relentless as the people and the noir effects are born not of standard noir tropes but of the world today, a new kind of noir where Bush, infomercials, special effects movies, trash TV and street gangs are the noises you hear rather the the somber trumpet of traditional noir. There are moments when you think you're reading Philip K. Dick.

The novel works perfectly on three levels--as an insider novel work novel about present day Hollywood; as a dark driven story about the Wrong Man; and as a Westian portait of a man in the final stages of spiritual disintegration. It's the final level that sets this book apart from the flavors-of-the-month and the overwrought neo-noirs of our time. Finally the book is about a man who is a victim of himself and those he's chosen to surround himself with. This is the theme of a good deal of classical literature and Lankford seems well aware of that on every page of the book.

Yes, it was well reviewed. I think it even appeared on a few Best of The Year lists. But given its worth, it passed, in hard and soft appearances, without sufficient note.

It's easily available on abe and alibris. Do yourself a great favor and order it now.

Friday, January 12, 2007

And Mickey Spillane & Mario Puzo are pitching ideas too?

One of the many great bits in Donald Bain's autobiography EVERY MIDGET HAS AN UNCLE SAM COSTUME (Barricade Books $22.95) is his brief description of the days when he used to go up to a publishing company waiting room for a chance to pitch an editor some ideas for stories of the Real Balls Adventure variety. He describes some of the competition in that same room including Mickey Spillane and Mario Puzo. How's that for competition?

Most writers who practice their craft full-time end up writing all sorts of things to make a living. Yes, they see themselves primarily as novelists but novels don't always keep the bank account out of the red.

What's so much fun about this book is Bain's witty observations about the various worlds of fiction, advertising, public relations and ghost writing he's encountered over several decades. This is real life for many, many writers, especially since the days B-movie-type publishing has pretty much vanished.

Bain's currently writing all the Murder, She Wrote books, stories I've expressed amiration for before. They're clever, fast air-clue mysteries that show Bain's writing and humor at their best. Urban legend has it that he's also he author of most of the Margaret Truman bestsellers, though he contiues to deny this.

If you really want to know about the writing life, this is the book for you. True, most of us don't get to dine Gina Lolobridgida as part of our assignment...but Bain took the job on like the man he is. With no complaints.

One of the most enjoyable books I've read in a long time.

Donald Bain--from NAL

Donald Bain, Jessica Fletcher’s longtime collaborator, is the author or ghost/author of more than 80 books, many of them bestsellers. Among his books, the airline comedy, Coffee Tea or Me?, published almost 30 years ago, together with its sequels sold more than 5-million copies worldwide and was the basis of a television movie-of-the-week.

Bain is a graduate of Purdue University and received its highest award for his work in educational radio and television. (He was designated a Purdue “Distinguished Alumni” for 2003.) He went on to work professionally in broadcasting in Texas and Indiana, and co-hosted more than 200 shows in New York with Long John Nebel, then king of late-night talk-radio.

A public relations executive for McCann-Erickson and American Airlines, Bain also was a consultant to Pan Am for the introduction of the 747, the takeover of National Airlines, and a national campaign to promote air travel. Two of these projects earned Silver Anvil awards from the Public Relations Society of America (PRSA). In 1985, with his wife, he co-founded Hyphenates, Ltd., which has provided editorial services to a wide variety of companies.

Bain has worked for over 30 years as a professional jazz musician, has taught at the college level and has written myriad magazine articles. He is a member of Sigma Delta Chi, the Writer’s Guild of America, the Authors Guild, the National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences, and the Mystery Writers of America.

Don Bain is married to Renée Paley-Bain, also a writer, and who collaborates with him on the “Murder, She Wrote” series. He has two grown daughters and four grandsons.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

The real reward

I was in the central library today looking at the mysteries when I saw a guy who was probably late sixties, early seventies smiling over at me from the other side of the new books display. My memory being what it is, I wasn't sure if I knew him or not. He asked me when the next Sam McCain book was coming out and I told him soon. He then did a kind of highlights reel of his favorite McCain scenes in the first six books. He literally knew much more about the novels than I did. He said that even though we were of different generations, McCain's adventures were enough like his own that reading the books was like getting in a time machine and going back to the Fifties and early Sixties. He said that his wife loved them, too, and that now they're going to start reading Carol's books also.

My pleasure as a writer has always been the writing itself. That's the real reward. The business side is just that--business. Not a great ordeal. But not much fun, either, especially the self-promotional aspects that have now become so necessary. For writers like me--and there are a lot more than most folks realize--self-promotion is an embarrassment. For writers who enjoy it, great. But for those of us who'd rather stay home...not so great.

But it is fun to run into a reader occasionally and talk about what he or she likes/dislikes about your books and inquires about what lies ahead for the characters. I always wanted to tell Henry Gregor Felsen how much his hot rod books meant to me while I was growing up. We lived reasonably close to each other but somehow I never had the chance to meet him. Maybe I should've found out what library he frequented and stood by the new books display.

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

A short version of Norman Mailer's Enemies List

From New York magazine copyright 2007

W henever Norman Mailer puts out a new book—his latest, The Castle in the Forest, about Hitler, comes out next week—eager profilists find it compulsory to mention that the famous pugilist has “mellowed.” It’s hard to dispute, given his two canes and near blindness, but if the reviews for Castle are bad (and the buzz ain’t good), don’t be surprised if the old lion roars yet again. After all, it was only last month in Esquire that he took on one longtime foe, Times critic Michiko Kakutani, saying, “What put the hair up her immortal Japanese ass is beyond me.” Below, a necessarily much-abbreviated dossier, Mailer’s All-Time Enemies List.

(Photo: Bernard Gofryd/Getty Images)
William Styron
Crime: Allegedly bad-mouthing Mailer’s wife Adele.
Action taken: Wrote a critical piece in Esquire and a letter to Styron in 1958 that said, “I will invite you to a fight in which I expect to stomp out of you a fat amount of your yellow and treacherous shit.”
Blowback: Styron sniped at him in print for 25 years, and one of his villainous characters bore a certain resemblance to Mailer. They finally reconciled in 1985.

(Photo: Fred R. Congrad/New York Times Co./Getty Images)
Truman Capote
Crime: Saying of Mailer, “He has no talent. None, none, none!”
Action taken: Mailer sat on him.
Blowback: In 1980, Capote told an interviewer that while Mailer called In Cold Blood a “failure of the imagination … now I see that the only prizes Norman wins are for that very same kind of writing. I’m glad I was of some small service to him.”

Adele Morales Mailer
Crime: Calling her husband a “faggot” when he was drunk and stoned at 4 a.m. at the tail end of a party to launch his mayoral campaign.
Action taken: Stabbed her twice with a penknife, nearly killing her.
Blowback: Though she refused to testify against him, he did spend seventeen days in Bellevue’s psych ward. They finally divorced two years later. She wrote a book about it in 1997.

McGeorge Bundy
Crime: Being Lyndon Johnson’s national-security adviser during the Vietnam War.
Action taken: At Capote’s Black and White Ball in 1966, he invited the official to step outside to settle their foreign-policy differences in a street fight.
Blowback: Not much, after Norman Podhoretz and Lillian Hellman calmed them down.

Peter Manso
Crime: Writing a biography of Mailer in 1985 that, despite being authorized, was not to Mailer’s liking.
Action taken: Cut off relations when the bio was published and thereafter referred to him as a confirmed enemy.
Blowback: In a 2002 book about Provincetown, Manso wrote—among many unflattering things—that Mailer had a doctor’s wife procure psychedelic drugs for him. Mailer fired off a letter to a local paper asserting that “P. D. Manso is looking for gold in the desert of his arid inner life, where lies and distortion are the only cactus juice to keep him going.”

Germaine Greer, Kate Millett, et al.
Crime: Being feminists—and in the case of Millett, coining the phrase “male chauvinist pig” to describe him.
Action taken: Attacked them all in a retrograde essay titled “The Prisoner of Sex” and in a vicious debate at Town Hall with Greer and other women, immortalized in the 1971 D. A. Pennebaker documentary Town Bloody Hall.
Blowback: At Town Hall, Mailer was practically booed off the stage (with help from audience members Betty Friedan and Susan Sontag). Greer denounced the “masculine artist in our society” as a “killer,” but only after saying she wanted to sleep with Mailer. The two went for drinks afterward, but nothing reportedly came of it.

(Photo: Bernard Gotfryd/Getty Images)
Gore Vidal
Crime: Comparing “The Prisoner of Sex” to “three days of menstrual flow” and Mailer to Charles Manson.
Action taken: Head-butting him in the green room of The Dick Cavett Show in 1971, then telling him, on-air, that he ruined Kerouac by sleeping with him. Six years later, he threw a drink at Vidal—and punched him—at a Lally Weymouth soirée.
Blowback: Still on the floor, Vidal said, “Words fail Norman Mailer yet again.” Days later, Vidal went on Cavett’s show to assert that Mailer had—literally—stabbed his second wife in the back. They, too, reconciled in 1985.

Michiko Kakutani
Crime: Reviewing his books negatively.
Action taken: In 2005, he told Rolling Stone, “Kakutani is a one-woman kamikaze. She disdains white male authors, and I’m her number-one favorite target … But the Times editors can’t fire her. They’re terrified of her. With discrimination rules and such, well, she’s a threefer … Asiatic, feminist, and ah, what’s the third? Well … let’s just call her a twofer … She is a token. And deep down, she probably knows it.”
Blowback: Stay tuned. Someone at the Times has to review The Castle in the Forest, and we can be reasonably certain critics won’t like it. Kakutani hasn’t recused herself, and the takedown is her stock-in-trade.

Monday, January 08, 2007

Jethro Lives!

I once saw an interview with Max Baer Jr. about the time he produced and appeared in a very nice little B picture called Macon County Line. Baer, in case you don't remember, played Jethro on The Beverly Hilbillies. There was one problem with the interview. Max is a terrifying dude. He just sat there, amiable enough in conversation, but looking lethal--as if he wanted to bite the head off a hawk ala Conan the Barbarian. Because of the interview I always wondered what happened to him.

The LA Times answered my question yesterday:

Mad Max
Heavyweight champ Max Baer Sr. was unable to defend himself against 'Cinderella Man.' The job fell to Max Jr., who's going down swinging.

By J.R. Moehringer, Times Staff Writer
January 7, 2007

Max Baer Jr.

He walks into the coffee shop and heads turn. He's that type—the type who looks as if he must be famous, or else was famous once. No one walks that way, frowns that way, unless he has some inside knowledge of fame.

He wears billowy black sweatpants, a red windbreaker, a sleeveless black muscle shirt and Uggs. Not your typical outfit for Lake Tahoe in late fall—nor for a 69-year-old man anywhere in any season. But he makes few concessions to age. Against age he'll never stop punching. For instance, he's had three hair transplants and doesn't care who knows it. Blow-dried, delicately molded across his head, his hair is also tinted black to match his razor-thin mustache.

On his waist rides his most telling fashion statement, a small black fanny pack in which he usually keeps a loaded 9-millimeter Glock. But not today. Today, thank God, Jethro is unarmed.

He looks mad, which is good. That's how I pictured him. That's why I came up here to Lake Tahoe in the first place, because I'd heard Max Baer Jr.—who played Jethro in the 1960s sitcom "The Beverly Hillbillies"—was mad as hell about Ron Howard's 2005 boxing movie, "Cinderella Man," which Baer Jr. felt desecrated the memory of his late father, Max Baer Sr., the great heavyweight champion of the 1930s.It was a big story, for a few days, because it was such a kitschy contretemps—Jethro vs. Opie. In dozens of TV and radio interviews, Baer Jr. excoriated Howard and vehemently defended Baer Sr. Then the story went away, since there was nothing more Baer Jr. could do. The dead can't claim libel, so their kin can't sue. Baer Jr. was left to deal with his rage, and "Cinderella Man" was free to go into the world as the most widely and readily available depiction of his father.

For the rest of the interview go here,0,4406121.story?coll=la-home-magazine

Sunday, January 07, 2007

The ones that got away...

Just about every writer I've ever known has stories to tell about how close they came to fame and fortune--or at least not having to worry about scrambling for work.

i'm writing about this tonight because I got a call yesterday from a friend I hadn't spoken to in years. It was good to hear from him. Nice guy, good writer.

The last time we'd talked he was about to break out. He'd gotten an advance of $200,000, the novel was bought outright for more than the novel had made him, and for the first time in years, he thought he could relax a little.

His editor left, the orphaned book didn't get the necessary promo and discounting and subsequently it tanked--and the movie never came to pass. He's back to being a mid-lister.

In my twenty-five years of full-time writing I had two moments when I thought I'd move up at least one rung on the career latdder. My agent called and said that one of two women editors who'd ushered in the gothic boom of the Sixties had picked up a novel at the airport by one Daniel Ransom. She finally learned that Ransom was me. She called my agent and told him that if I'd take some direction she felt she could make me a paperback bestseller. We were excited.

Three weeks later she quit her job at one major house and moved to another. I, she said, would go with her. But before she was there long enough to read my pitch, she decided that she'd had enough of big house publishing and retired to a small house that only published books about goldfish. Or rocks. Or some damned thing like that.

Scratch one would-be break.

The second one came the day a famous movie won an Oscar. One of the people associated with it said at a press conference that her very next picture would be Moonchasers by one Ed Gorman. I'm told most of the trades picked up the story. I even got a few calls from reporters asking me what the story was about.

You quickly get cured of Hwood enthusiasm. Everybody out there thinks you're a genius and wonderful and about to become a brand name--while they have you on the phone anyway. But stupidly I really believed this one was going to happen. Such powerful Oscar-winning people, how could it not?

The story's too long and painful to detail here. The director and I slogged through two years of waiting only to see it all just drift away. Smoke, the fire itself long dead.

Since then it's been optioned by three or four other people. I'm not complaining. The option money's been good.

Still I had a few idle daydreams about a movie success bringing back in print the two novels I consider my best. Not big money and certainly no fame...but it would've been nice to see them back in print again.

But then most writers have stories like these...

Saturday, January 06, 2007

Talented newcomers

Most writers get far too many requests to read the manuscripts of unpublished authors. There just isn't time in most circumstances.
But the other side of this is discovering somebody who really can write and helping them get started--as Max Allan Collins helped me.
There was a time when I put in appearances at writers' groups and spent evenings talking about aspects of professional writing. Over the course of two or three years of this I met four people who went on to publish both short stories and novels in a variety of genres.
To a person they were shy about asking me to read samples of their work. I always said I'd read two chapters of a book or one short story under five thousand words.
My first discovery told me that here was a story that probably wasn't that good, that in fact after he'd finished it, he'd just stuck it in a drawer. That was a year ago or so. I read it that night and soon enough it was not only sold but Roger Zelazny himself was on the phone telling him what a wonderful piece of work it was.
Since then, as I said, I've met three other people who showed me short stories that were sold within a fairly short amount of time.
It's a good feeling when you see their first few pieces in print. You can kind of relive your own first sales through them. Whoever said that you can never equal the joy of your first was right.

Friday, January 05, 2007

Candace Proctor

Reader Chap O'Keefe, responding to my post on outlining versus not outlining, suggested logging on to the blog of writer C.S. Proctor for further discussion on the matter.

Good suggestion. In simple, lucid terms Proctor looks at several aspects of writing incuding not only plotting but building characters and using story arcs as defined by modern day Hollywood. She's a real find. I've slogged through entire how-to books on the subject of writing that have taught me far less.

I mention this because when I'm asked to recommend a book on the subject of putting together a novel I always suggest taking a look at any of them by Lawrence Block. He's not only realistic in his approach, he's also fun to read. The two other books I'd recommend are both by Dean Koontz and are unfortunately long out of print.

But take a look at what Candace Proctor is doing. Whether you're a pro or a beginner, she has a lot of solid, helpful information to share with you.

Thursday, January 04, 2007

Fighting in the dark

Not being a sports fans, I'm not much on sports metaphors. But in the thirty-some years I've been writing fiction, I have to say that I've come to regard the experience as one long boxing match played out in the dark. You just keep swinging, hoping to knock down your opponent--your own limitations of imagination and competence and stamina.

Outlines sometimes help but not that often and not that much, not in my case anyway. Not outlining gives me a sense of total freedom which is heady as hell until I walk square onto the first trap door. You can be imprisoned in that dark dank nether place down there for a long long time.

I don't mean to over-dramatize here. Most of the time I write with some fluidity and ease. Most of the time. But I'm soon punished for it by the days when the plot turns get dumb and the writing gets even dumber.

Fellini said that every picture was a war for him. That's a bit grand for someone like me. He had to worry about dozens of actors, locations, props, etc. All I have to worry about is why my magic computer has suddenly let me down.

I mention all this because I heard someone on Book TV say that he wished he wrote commercial ficton because he wouldn't have to worry about being (profound). You know, dashing off pop fiction is so damned easy.

In the course of a novel I go through depression, extended headaches, insomnia and the kind of distraction that makes me even worse company than usual. As Carol and I sit there watching TV I'm revising the scenes I wrote that day.

Again, I'm not trying to over-dramatize here. I'm sure that many if not most of us pop fic hacks go through much the same process. And in some odd way it only adds to the satisfaction of finishing a book that isn't quite as much of a disaster as you once feared it was.

But fighting in the dark never gets easier, does it?

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

PRO-File: Kristine Kathryn Rusch ``

Ed here: Kristine Kathryn Rusch has distinguished herself as a writer of mysteries and science fiction and as important editor during her tenure with The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction. Her Kris Nelscott mystery novles continue to grow in acclaim and popularity. And I almost forgot to mention that in addition to the two genres already mentioned, she's also an excellent writer of contemporary fantasy.

Tell us about your current novel?

My most recent novel is a science-fiction mystery called PALOMA. This is part of the RETRIEVAL ARTIST series, which are actually mystery novels written in a science-fiction universe. My most recent novel under my pen name Kris Nelscott is DAYS OF RAGE, and it just got listed by Kirkus as one of the ten best mysteries of 2006. I’m quite pleased by that.

What is the greatest pleasure of a writing career?

There are a lot of pleasures. I work for myself. I can take a day off when I want, and I can work harder than everyone else if I want. But the greatest pleasure is the stories themselves. Essentially, I get paid for making things up. What kid (or kid at heart) wouldn’t think that’s the best deal of all?

The greatest DIS-pleasure?

The industry itself. I just read an interview with romantic suspense writer Anne Stuart, and she mentioned that what causes a writer to burn out isn’t writing a lot, it’s the business. The business can be crazy-making. You can’t get wrapped up in it. When I started, I thought this was a sensible business, and I reacted to it the way an employee would. Now that I’ve been doing this freelance for more than 20 years, I have outlasted almost every editor, most publishers, and everyone on every sales force I came into touch with. My agent has been in the business as long as I have—as an agent the entire time—and he’s a rarity. I’ve learned to take everything in the business side of publishing with a big grain of salt. Because everything is different all the time—and, here’s the kicker, everything is exactly like it was 20 years ago. If you can’t hold two contradictory thoughts in your mind at the same time, then stay out of this business.

If you have one piece of advice for the publishing world, what is it?

Get out of the blockbuster mentality. You have to nurture writers of smaller books so that they can grow into blockbusters. (Of course, this advice will be out of date 5 years from now when the business pendulum swings back to nurturing small books and not paying enough for big ones.)

Tell us about selling your first novel. Most writers never forget that moment.

I was at work. I worked as a secretary for a forensic psychologist. THAT was a great writer’s job, let me tell you. I checked in patients (all of whom were interesting to say the least), and I typed up reports about cases that were going to go to court. Otherwise, I could read or write on the job. But I had to sit at my desk. My agent called, and told me. Fortunately the outer office was empty, so I could jump up and down and yell for a moment before anyone saw me. Then I had to be the sedate secretary again. I did call my boyfriend (who is now my husband) and he sent me a dozen roses—the first time I’d ever gotten roses, let alone a dozen. I stared at them through my entire shift, trying to let the idea that I had sold a novel sink into my brain. The rest of the day is lost, although I know we celebrated. I was just too dazed. It took 2+ years for the publisher to publish the book, because they wanted to give it a huge push and they kept moving the publication date back. So by the time it came out, I had sold 8 novels. I used to think that you’d sell a novel, cash the check, write another novel, sell it, cash the check, and they’d never ever get published. Or at least, it seemed that way to me at the time. I’ve since learned differently.

Monday, January 01, 2007

PRO-File: Stephen Marlowe

As you know, Ed, I've been around a long time, and "around" is the operative word. Sold my first short story in 1949, wrote probably a couple of hundred of them, s-f and crime, mostly early in my career. Novels after that. First one published in 1952, just when I entered the army during the Korean War. This--the novel, not the war--was science fiction, but before long I switched over to suspense, before switching much later in my career to what I think are unclassifiable novels combining suspense, fantasy, historical, and anti-historical elements.
It's likely that I did so much genre-wandering because I did so much geographical wandering. Have lost count of how many places I've lived--surely more than a hundred in twenty-odd countries. My older brother, mayor of his hometown and an admirable pillar-of-the-community type, which I obviously am not, once asked me what I was running away from. I tried to explain that "running toward" was more like it, or just plain "searching"--which all writers do, or ought to do. And just what do we search for? Ourselves, probably. Or the perfect story that always lurks somewhere, waiting to be found, if only you know how to find it.
My own favorite among my hardcover suspense novels is probably THE VALKYRIE ENCOUNTER. Among my unclassifiable novels (which publishers insist on calling literary novels: more about this later), it's either THE LIGHTHOUSE AT THE END OF THE WORLD or THE DEATH AND LIFE OF MIGUEL DE CERVANTES. LIGHTHOUSE is fantasy-suspense about Poe; CERVANTES is fantasy-historical about its eponymous hero.
But, hey, I never forgot my crime novel roots. My latest book in print is a Stark House edition of two of my paperback originals from half a century ago: VIOLENCE IS MY BUSINESS, a Chet Drum thriller that a lot of critics seem to like, and TURN LEFT FOR MURDER, which has special resonance for me because it is in part autobiographical: I, like the protagonist, grew up in a tough neighborhood on the mean streets of pre-World War II Brooklyn.
I've won a couple of awards, one in France for THE MEMOIRS OF CHRISTOPHER COLUMBUS, the other here in the States, the PWA life achievement award for my Chet Drum series. The second, as it is awarded by my fellow toilers, has got to be the more gratifying. I wish I could feel more strongly that I deserved it, because only about half my career is in the private-eye genre.
Which brings me to your question about advice to the publishing world. My pet peeve is publishers insisting on genre-ising every novel they publish. For me, as Gertrude Stein almost said, a novel is a novel is a novel. And, when no category quite fits, publishers still insist on genre-ising. Viz, mainstream novel or, worse, that kiss-of-death genre, the
"literary novel."
My work-in-progress defies genre-isation, which is all I'll say about it. My novels often come to me as a first scene and a last line. Then all I have to do is fill in the 98% between. See how easy it is?
The best all-but-forgotten crime novel I know is Stephen Becker's wonderful A COVENANT WITH DEATH. But I guess a lot of publishers these days would--their mistake--call it a literary novel.
The greatest pleasure I've got out of a writing career spanning more than half a century is the endlessly challenging need to wander far and wide in search of experience and then find ways to use it in my work The greatest displeasure? That there's never enough time to both do all the exploring I want to do and write as well as I can. But that's a frustration rather than a displeasure, isn't it?
I've spent as little as four days (!) writing a novel (THE STAR SEEKERS) and as long as two years (THE DEATH AND LIFE OF MIGUEL DE CERVANTES). The latter could well be my favorite among my own works. The former answers your question about how I felt selling my first novel. Actually, it was my second. The first, EARTHBOUND, was a fairly routine experience. Lester del Rey and I had been asked to outline a series of YA science fiction novels for the John C. Winston Company.I was twenty-three at the time. We saved two ideas each for ourselves, and my first went without a hitch, except that I began my Korean War service the day it was published. A few months later I was at a winter training exercise at Camp Drum, where I was temporarily attached to the 82d Airborne. I got a frantic call from my agent: How you coming on the second Winston novel? I'd forgotten all about it and it was due in a week. I spent a weekend telling myself it was impossible. Then on Monday the colonel I worked for, on hearing of my plight, said, "Son, how much are they paying you to write that book?" I told him the advance was a thousand bucks. "Son," he told me, "even the U.S. Army can't stand between you and that kind of money. Go home and write that book." Which I did--by the end of the week. I have never had the courage to read it, even though the publisher phoned to say good job.
But that was a long time ago. And now? Now I hope to hang around long enough to write a novel or two that will satisfy the critic who always sits perched not quite visible on my shoulder..