Monday, April 30, 2007

The care and feeding of yesterday

While there are many good sites dealing with current fiction, there are only a few that deal with the fiction of past times with any intelligence. Nostalgia is riveting for up to ninety seconds. Then you want much more.

Steve Lewis' Mysteryfile blog is my favorite site for a serious look at the mystery fiction of the past century. Many well-known writers including Bill Pronzini have contributed fine articles about forgotten writers and forgotten books. Virtually every day Steve runs a new piece, often illustrated with book jackets, as he works his way toward the ultimate collection of mystery criticism.

Today he's running a long interview I did with Charles Runyon. Chuck was in the last wave of the Gold Medal suspense writers. For me he was the best of that group. As his interview attests, he's also led a life most of us probably view with a bit of envy and even more of a bit of shock. Thanks to Stark House, one of his best novels THE PRETTIEST GIRL I EVER KILLED will soon be back in print. With others, hopefully, to follow.

Steve recently reviewed an Edward S. Aarons Sam Durrell spy novel. Even though the book was published in 1956, Steve assesses it with the same zeal and insight he would a new novel. No gauzy nostalgia here.

And that's what makes his site so valuable to me. There are so many new books I want to read that I need some guidance into the past. You can waste a lot of time and money on old books that aren't worth reading. But with the Mysteryfile blog you usually get a hepful judgment on the book at hand.

And there's always the bonus that it's just a hell of a lot of fun to read and look at.

Sunday, April 29, 2007

From crime to creeps

From Variety:

"Looking to create some buzz, CBS will choose from a pilot slate that includes zombie drama, 'Babylon Fields.'

CBS' 'Twilight' is a drama about a private investigator/vampire.

The network known for its solid, stable schedule is now looking to add another "s"-word to its programming vocabulary: sexy...

Poised to finish a fifth consecutive season as TV's most-watched net, CBS execs could have easily ordered up more of the meat-and-potatoes crime dramas that put them on top. Instead, they've assembled a development slate filled with the sort of swing-for-the-fences ideas normally associated with a net desperately plotting a comeback.

There are still plenty of dead bodies in the Eye's future. But this year, the corpses are taking the form of zombies, vampires and demons.

On the fantasy/sci-fi side, "Babylon Fields" is an hour Tassler describes as " 'Ordinary People' meets 'Day of the Living Dead.' " In other words, yes, there are zombies -- but the show's also about personal relationships, and what happens when the ex-wife you thought was dead suddenly is back in your life.

Then there's "Demons," the Joe Roth-produced drama from "Joan of Arcadia" creator Barbara Hall. It's about a priest waging war with Satan on more than one front."

Ed here: So far the movie horror boom doesn't sem to have translated significantly the publishing industry but it sure looks to have done so with at least one network, CBS.

This should make for an interesting fall season.

Saturday, April 28, 2007

The Big B

Can't we forgive Alec Baldwin? He's given us so much
By Stephanie Zacharek (Salon)

Under Fire, an Actor Lashes Back With a Plan
For the good of viewers — and readers — Alec Baldwin must not leave “30 Rock.”
(New York Times)

The reaction to Alec Baldwin's repellent phone message to his eleven year old daughter Ireland prompted swift and understandable outrage in the media. I still have a problem with Kim Basinger or her lawyer leaking it (who else would have benefited?) but it's done and done and Baldwin sure looks bad.

But surprisingly and perversely at least two trustworthy tv columnists have spoken in his defense. Remember, I said perversely.

Stepehanie Zacharek says (basically) that we should forgive him just because he's such a fine actor.

Alessandra Stanley, noting that in the course of his damage control Baldwin promised to write a book on parenting, said ironically that Baldwin is a failure on talk shows and thus would be the same in print. So let him act for God's sake and spare all of us the embarrassment of reading his would-be tome.

They're both saying the same thing--he's too good an actor, especially on 30 Rock, to lose.

Speaking to these columns, a winger said that Don Imus deserved such high-power media friends. But Baldwin is no Imus. Imus was a hater disguised as comedian. He got what he deserved, at least by my lights.

But Baldwin is a boozy troubled man who was apparently trapped in the marriage from hell just as his wife was. If the divorce reflects the marriage both of them have equal amounts of my pity. But from what I can tell neither have done well by their daughter. Otherwise the divorce would have become official long ago.

I admit to being a long time fan of Baldwin. He's one of my two or three favorite actors except when he's called upon to be heroic. Heroic he ain't. Dark is what he is. He was great on Sat Night Live numerous times (remeber him as the chief surgeon at the Los Angeles Hospital for Breast Enlargement and Penile Enhancement--the only hospital you could get into following a massive earthquake?) and he was great in any number of films, most recently The Cooler.

I wish Badlwin and Basinger the best. I wish it even more for Ireland.

I just can't believe that a man as intelligent as Baldwin--however frantically they threw together his apology tour--hooked up with tv's favorite sociopath Dr. Phil.

Thursday, April 26, 2007


John Trinian was a working name of Zekial Marko. He was a former
> convicted criminal who started publishing when he got out of jail
> in the early sixties. His first novel was under his real name
> (Scratch a Thief, Fawcett Gold Medal 1961, also as Once a Thief),
> after which he started using the pseudonym. As Trinian, he
> published five or six novels with various paperback houses, such
> as Pyramid.
> Scratch a Thief is an excellent novel, you should try it. That's
> the only book I've read by him, sadly, so I can't comment on the
> others. >
> Juri Nummelin (on Rara-Avis)

Ed here:

Further information on Trinian has him writing for The Rockford Files and other TV shows. While I don't think he was as good as Malcolm Braly, another Gold Medal author who served hard time, I do think his novels had both a lyrical and sexual aspect that we don't find in most of Braly.

I just finished Trinian's SCANDAL ON THE SAND (1964) and I have to say that it offers just about everything I ask for from a novel. A unique story, a strong voice, a definite worldview and several compelling characters, most notably the rich young woman at the book's center, Karen Fornier.

A dying killer whale washes up on a stretch of deserted Southern California beach. Karen, hungover and dismal that she finally gave into the childish wanna-be macho man Hobart, the one her parents would like her to marry...she leaves their beach motel hoping to lose him. Wandering along the beach she finds the whale and for her its appearance is almost religious. The way she bonds with it is moving and is a credit to Trinian's skill.

Hobart insists that the whale is dead and should be cut up for cat food. He finds a sinister, arrogant young cop, Mulford, who agrees with him. Mulford orders a tow truck to come in and drag it away. He then orders Hobart and Karen to leave the area. Hobart sees in the harsh machismo of Mulford everything he's secretly wanted to be, that not even his considerable inheritance could buy him. He sides with Mulford and tries to drag Karen away. But she defies them both and stays. Not even when the whale proves to be alive will Mulford stop the tow truck. He says he'll shoot the whale.

All this is being observed from close-by a hood named Bonniano who is to meet a runner who will give him enough money to escape to Mexico. Bonniano is in the news for being a hit man who last night iced a prominent mob figure. Everybody's looking for him.

These and others play into the story of whale on the beach. The character sketches show the influences of Sherwood Anderson and John O'Hara and the cutaways to life on the beach bring the 1964 era alive. Boys wearing white clam digger pants--girls lying about in pink bikinis with transistor radios stuck to their ears--and just about everybody managing to grab themselves a little marijuana whenever the opportunity comes up...all this being the lull before the flower power storm that was less than two years away.

A cunning little book. rinian was the real deal.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Hitchcock; Black Wings

"When I see a Hitchcock movie, as when I read a novel by Graham Greene, I feel I have entered a universe in which evil exists."

The new issue of American Heritage has a fine lengthy overview of Hitchcock's movies (and their collective theme of justified paranoia) by David Lehman. The above quote is one of Lehman's most telling points.

Understandably, much of the piece deals with Hitchcock's biggest successes, from Shadow of A Doubt to North by Northwest to Psycho to The Birds. But when I read an overview of the man's career I feel obliged to defend some of the films that weren't as successful commercially or critically.

FRENZY often gets treated as if it was Hitchcock's attempt to dabble in porno. Yes, it's surprisingly carnal coming from a man whose sexual icons were usually icy blondes. But its carnality and vulgarity seeme to me Hitchcock's way of saying to all his young imitators that he could be modern, too. The fault with this film is the script. The killer is far more interesting than the hero. This becomes even more of a problem because the actor playing the killer not only has the better part--he's a better actor than the hero.

THE TROUBLE WITH HARRY is one of the few times I've ever been able to sit through anything one could call "whimsical." Maybe it's the gorgeous glorious way H films the New England autumn. Maybe it's the simple charm of Edmund Gwen. Maybe it's the way a very young Shirley MacLain (in her first screen role) sweetly seduces the camera every time it comes near. Or maybe it's just the idea that a corpse keeps getting moved all over the county while local law enforcement tries to figure out what the hell is going on. Whatever, it has true charm.

MARNIE is a mess. I've always thought Sean Connery was miscast. The script wanders and pages go by without it focusing the way it should. But Tippi Hedren is convincing enough--and her backstory intriguing enough--that there's the kind of neurotic grit to the film you might find in a report by a social worker. Except for Connery the performances are excellent and that may be why, despite its considerable faults, I like it.

FAMILY PLOT demonstrates that H never lost his love for rear screen projection. There's a scene in here where the car in which stars Bruce Dern and Barbara Harris are in nearly goes off a cliff. It is so oviously a studio process shot that the entire sequence makes you resent Hitchcock. Was he just lazy? Did he really think he could fool modern audiences? Did he prefer (like John Ford in Liberty Valance) the look of the sound stage to the look of reality? That's the first thing I think of when somebody mentions Family Plot which is too bad because otherwise, for me, it's a very enjoyable movie. The A story with Dern and Harris is actually a very sweet tale of two para-hippies trying desperately to become con artists. The trouble comes with the B story, with William DeVane and Karen Black (her major career ended way too soon for me). Their acting is fine but the scriptwriters stumble badly in trying to merge this heist storyline with the A story. Still, Dern and Harris are so much fun who gives a damn that threst of the picture is so wobbly?


LAST COMMENTS (I swear) about my purchased edition of Black Wings Has My Angel. My copy arrived today from It ain't pretty but, as long as all the words are there, I'm not going to complain. I checked out the (bare bones) copyright page and under "First Published 1953, Gold Medal Books," it says: "Nearly reprinted, 1990, Black Lizard." What's THAT all about???? Then there's " Edition 2005" and the ISBN number and, finally, it says Blackmask Online is a division of Disruptive Publishing, Inc. (interesting name). Of course, I googled THAT and it looks as if Disruptive Publishing is connected to Fictionwise E-books......... Very interesting, I say. I would have thought there would be some mention of the Elliott Chaze estate or something but what do I know?

Ed here: In the mist of memory, I recall Barry Gifford telling me that Black Lizard had made arrangements with Eliott to publish Black Wings. But the company was sold before their edition could appear.

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Book store closing

Richard Wheeler sends this new story along:

Revered bookstore to shut its doors this year
By Ramón Rentería / El Paso Times Copyright 2007 by El Paso Times

Yvonne Morgan, a teacher at Clardy school, looked through history books at the Book Gallery at 2706 E. Yandell. The store's owner, George Skanse Jr., plans to move the store because he can no longer afford to pay its property taxes.

Joseph Blackburn loves going on safaris in the Book Gallery, a used and rare bookstore in El Paso since the 1950s and now looking at closing down.

The store is so popular among literary circles in El Paso and the United States that Pulitzer Prize-winning author Cormac McCarthy, a longtime customer, still drops in sometimes.

For Blackburn, every shelf in the rustic two-story building located at 2706 E. Yandell Drive represents tons of undiscovered adventures.

"I find things I can't find anywhere else. And it's always a surprise," said Blackburn, a retired schoolteacher who lives near Ascarate Park.

Owner George Skanse Jr. has hung up the "going out of business" sign to try to sell at least two-thirds of the store's 300,000 books by the end of the year. He is frustrated over escalating property taxes that he said have doubled in recent years and made staying in business increasingly difficult.

The Book Gallery boasts an inventory of 300,000 books. The store's owner, George Skanse Jr., plans to close the bookstore after more than 50 years in operation.

Ed here:

I don't know what the situation is elsewhere but around here Half Price (a corporate giant in the used book business) is kaing things tough for small local used book dealers. I like Half Price but it is another example of how mom-and-popism in so many endeavors is becoming a thing of the past.

Monday, April 23, 2007


The careers of writers and performers have always fascinated me. Sometimes their lives are more interesting than their work. Mark Evanier's magnificent site News from Me is a daily account of careers large and small, packed with information you're unlikely to find anywhere else.

I mention this because of a fine Anthony Lane piece New Yorker piece about Barbara Stanwyck. You can read it by simply logging on to the New Yorker website.

Bill Pronzini wrote a long piece on Gil Brewer that I will have here on its own link very soon. It's one of the most moving, despondent looks at the life of a free-lance writer ever put to paper.

Bad decisions, addictions, making the wrong enemies, falling out of fashion--from the mightiest of us to the most humble, each of us is prey to mistakes that can serously damage if not end careers.

I remember a nightclub singer named Don Cornell saying with great assurance to Jack Parr one long ago night that rock and roll had peaked and that real singers were about to reclaim the music charts. Dn admitted that he hadn't been getting a lot of club work lately.

I remember Faye Dunaway, years after its release, trying to make some sense of the damage Mommy, Dearest had done to her career. I agreed with her. I didn't care much for the movie nor her performance. But look at all the actresses who had done over the top films and had gone on successfully from them. But there was some inexplicable aspect to her performance that neither ciritcs nor audiences could ever quite forgive. And her career has never recovered.

Billboard magazine used a computer to figure out that most major pop stars have a five year run at the top. No more, no less. There are only a few exceptions.

Seeming to be aware of this, Kenny Rogers on local TV allowed as how he was into his "fourth year" and he sure hoped that he could beat the five year jinx. His voice was plaintive as he said this. He even sounded a bit afraid.

I suppose that's part of the appeal of life stories about writers and performers. The fear. It makes for great drama. Just ask Faye Dunaway.

Sunday, April 22, 2007

How Like an Angel

I've always held the opinion that some writers are just too good for the mass market. This is a true of a number of literary writers but it's also true of at least one writer of crime fiction, the late Margret Millar. For all her many deserved awards, she never became the enormous commercial success she deserved to be.

For me she's the single most elegant stylist who ever shaped a mystery story. You revel in her sentences. She used wit and dark humor in the direst of novels long before it was fashionable in the genre. And she was a better (and much fairer) bamboozler than Agatha Christie.

I recently reread her How Like and Angel and its richness, its darkness, its perverse wit make me repeat what I've said many times before--if this isn't the perfect mystery novel, it comes damned close.

The story, complex as it becomes, is simple in its set-up. Private eye Joe Quinn, having gambled away all his money, begins hitchiking from Reno to Caifornia. Along the way he sees the Tower, the symbol of a religious cult that eventually offers him not only shelter but a chance to put his skills to use. Sister Blessing asks him to find a man named Patrick O'Gorman. The man is dead. Which makes Quinn suspicious of why they want him located.

Among its many pleasures is the way this novel, published in the early sixties, anticipates some of the fringe cults that would grow out of the flower power days. There's more than a touch of ole Charlie Manson in the Tower.

Call your favorite mystery bookstore for this one. If they don't have it, I'm sure they can get it. I think you'll be as amazed by it as I am. This is one of the most artfully rendered novels of any kind I've ever read.

Saturday, April 21, 2007


This week's Entertanment Weekly contains a fine column by Stephen King about rehab for alcoholics and drug users. Noting how many celebrities have gone into rehab recently (many, it seems, against their will), he talks about his own time in rehab in the early 1980s.

The contrast between the rehab center he chose (one of the images is of a room furnished in "Early YWCA" and you get the impression that this applies to the entire place) and the opulence of the rehab facilities where stars go today.

When my time came to give up drink and drugs, I rented a cabin on the river for two weeks and rode it out alone. I'd had friends who'd gone into rehab--hell, I 'd taken several of them there--but I knew I'd never make it with other people around. Cold turkey worked for me for two weeks. Tears, rage, fear, constant mood swings. Yes I can do this; of course I can't do this. I was proud of myself when I got back to the city. What I hadn't realized till then was that the cabin had been an escape. Staying dry in the course of days and nights with all my anger, shame, melancholy, loneliness and simple overwhelming need for whiskey and drugs...seeing people I hated and who hated me in return...going through the grind and pressure of shooting commercials...dealing with the shame of being the crazed self-destructive attack-dog addict I'd been...this was going to be very different from staying dry in the cabin. This was going to be one son of a bitch to master.

King talks about the process of stripping away as many of your self-delusions as you can in hopes of finally seeing yourslf as you really are. And who you really are addict. Doesn't matter if you're a world-famous writer or a garage mechanic. What you are first and foremost is an addict. Until you deal with that you can't sufficiently deal with anything else.

King wonders if this is the process the stars go through in their posh retreats. Like him, I doubt it it. I saw a ten minute cable report on one of these places and it resembled a luxurous resort more than anything else. The slick dude who ran the place had memorzied every feel good cliche that Dr. Phil hadn't already copyrighted. The rehab places I'd taken my buddies to were much like a boot camp. Strictly regimented, few visitors, constant counseling including group therapy. TV off at 9:30. I don't know if this is the right way to go but at least you have to face up to what you've done with your life.

As I watched Mr. New Age walk us through the paradise rehab he manages, it soon became obvious that what he was was the cruise director. He was there to see that his famous guests were happy. Difficult to imagine him putting the hammer down on somebody making several mil a year, especially when they're sharing the wealth with him. Somebody who can get your luxury rehab some serious media time. Somebody it'll be fun to gossip about with your intimates. Somebody who can get you invited to some pretty keen Hollywood parties after their month long stay is over.

Friday, April 20, 2007

Black Wings 2

From Mary Cannon:

Hi, Ed - I purchased Black Wings Has My Angel via - A company called published/reprinted it in 2005. It is a 140-page paperback. Curious, I went to but couldn't really make heads or tails of it - it referenced "Munsey's" next to book listings but there wasn't a lot of detail.

From Duane Swierczynski (about the pending movie adaptation)

I hope this also means there's a reprint of BLACK WINGS, along with other Chaze titles.

Ed here: The problem with reprinting it is that it's in public domain which is apparently aware of. Somebody could bring out a very inexpensive edition and undercut one with a better presentation and some good background material. I have an idea how to do this properly and I've already contacted two publishers about it. Stay tuned.

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Eliot Chaze & Black Wings

Thanks to tips from Vince Keenan and Bill Crider I checked out the following story from Hollywood Reporter:

Wood to produce 'Black Wings'
By Borys Kit
April 19, 2007

Elijah Wood is making his first foray into producing, teaming with Anthony Moody and Rob Malkani's Indalo Prods. to bring to the big screen an adaptation of Elliott Chaze's legendary noir novel "Black Wings Has My Angel."

The script is being penned by Barry Gifford ("Wild at Heart," "Lost Highway") and writer-producer-director Christopher Peditto.

Chaze was a newspaperman and columnist in Mississippi who wrote books on the side. "Angel," published in 1953, is considered one of the shining lights of the Fawcett Gold Medal paperback line and a pulp classic.

The story centers on an antihero, an ex-convict, who stages a daring armed car robbery in Colorado with the help of a call girl whom he picked up in a backwoods Mississippi motel.

The book was out of print for about 50 years and Peditto spent 10 years chasing down and securing the film rights.

"It's the material," said Wood, summing up why he decided to dip his foot into producing waters. "I've always been intrigued by noir novels and noir films. I love that style. And to unearth something from that era that hasn't been made into a film or is not a remake is really exciting. It's a lost classic."

"Angel" reunites Wood with Indalo, the producers behind his recent "Day Zero," which is set to have its world premiere this month at the Tribeca Film Festival. That experience also helped in his decision to become a producer.

Copyright 2007 by the Hollywood Reporter

Ed here: Well, this is exciting for a couple of reasons. Not only will we get to see one of THE classic noirs on the screen but there's a very good chance that it will be done extremely well.

I know Barry Gifford from the old Black Lizard days of course. He's not only a fine novelist but an equally fine screenwriter as Wild At Heart and several other films have shown.

Five years ago or so Chris Peditto was trying to sell a noir series to cable. He adapted two of my novels and the scripts were excellent.

I only wish Eliot Chaze was alive to see this. I mentioned a few weeks ago that I'd spoken to him about Black Wings and inevitably I told him what a fine picture it would make. He agreed.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Bob Clark & Black Christmas

On Bookgasm today the lead review looks at two books dealing with the history of slasher movies. Not being much of a gore fan, I never cared much for them with two exceptions.

The most obvious one being Halloween of course. For me it's still the best movie John Carpenter ever made with the possible exception of his remake of The Thing. He made it fun to be scared again.

A few years before then Bob Clark's Canadian production of Black Christmas established the genre. I'm not saying here, as some do, that Carpenter simply knocked off Black Christmas but it's reasonable to assume that he saw it and was influenced by it, the same as most writers are influenced by a good deal of what they read. It's all part of the process.

Following the death of Clark and his son a few weeks ago, I started going through my DVDs of his work. I watched Black Christmas last night and admired it even more than I had in the past.

First of all, to put the Carpenter matter to rest, Black Christmas and Halloween are very different pictures. The latter is a romp, the roller-coaster cliche fitting it perfectly. There isn't much in the way of characterization and the acting, while decent, isn't memorable except for the iconic virgin Jamie Lee Curtis.

Black Christmas is spiritually, and from the git-go, a much darker picture. The characters are college age and their personal concerns richer than those of the high schoolers in Halloween. The external world comes into play, too. Lives are lived outside the plot.

Much of the film's success owes to the performances Clark was able to get from his performers. They bring a real edge to the movie in the way of Hitchcock characters. Even in a film as hermetically sealed as Psycho (after all, we open on an adulterous tryst that quickly gives way to grand larceny and flight--no simple roller coaster here), Hitchcock takes the time and trouble to make his characters (most of whom are dealt with somewhat broadly) intrigue us.

A look at some of the cast members tells you why Clark was so successful--Keir Dullea, Margot Kidder, John Saxon, Art Hindle among others--solid pros all.

Because the characters interested me the film was more than just plot twists, though there are four exemplary ones in the final act.

Brian Garfield once noted that the film The Gunfighter has lost its power on contemporary audiences because it's been imitated so often. I think this is probably true of Black Christmas as well. But at least for me it holds up nearly as well as it did when I first saw it thirty-three years ago.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Pulp Fans attention

Paiso Publishing, a magazine and game publisher, is establishing a line of books that will hopefully acquaint modern readers with some of the important books that have shaped contemporary fantasy. You mean this stuff wasn't thunk up in 1992? The line will be calld Planet Stories. Nice.

Among the titles that will be offered are

Almuric Robert E. Howard
City of The Beast/Warrior of Mars Michael Moorcock
Black God's Kiss C.L. Moore
Elak of Atlantis Henry Kuttner
The Secret of Sinharat Leigh Brackett

The only selection I'd quibble with is the Moorcock. Certainly he's a great writer but I don't recall his Edgar Rice Burroughs "homage" being all that memorable. Of course I read it in the Sixties when dope and drink had me communicating with Mars in a way John Carter never imagined possible. There are several other Moorcock straight adventure fantasies that are timeless classics.

The selections of Moore and Kuttner are timely for me because I've been reading their three "Lewis Padgett" mysteries. There is always the problem with the Kuttners of who wrote what. At what point did Catherine take over the writing; and at what point did Henry sit down to spell her.

The odd thing--and I may be entirely wrong here--is that the mysteries don't read like either of them, making me wonder if they were farmed out, the way Man Drowning by "Henry Kuttner" was. I still have a difficult time believing that Cleve Cartmill was the ghost. And I'm sorry for him if it was because he never did much for me until this book, which turned out to be one of the most spirtually spooky hardboiled novels I've ever read. The love story is painfully true and the scenes in the desert with the madwoman haunting.

Monday, April 16, 2007

Money for nothin'...and novels for free

Ed here: The battle is joined. There are writers, profession even known writers, who are putting some of their material, including novels, on the net free for readers to share, some of them in the belief that this will help their careers. David Wellington is one of them. Galleycat published this about him today. Any opinions?

More from "Scab" Writers; Also Agents & Editors

David Wellington has been making his horror novels available online for the last three years, and it was based on the success of those ebooks that he's been able to get publishing deals with Thunder's Mouth for Monster Island and Monster Nation and Three Rivers Press for the almost-in-stores 13 Bullets. So when he heard about Howard V. Hendrix's scorn for webscabs, whom he described as writers "undercutting those of us who aren't giving it away for free and are trying to get publishers to pay a better wage for our hard work," Wellington felt more than qualified to write a forceful rebuttal.

"I'm so surprised at the bizarre notion he has of how publishing works," Wellington began, "and how it should work. Writers of speculative fiction don't comprise a union. They are in direct competition with one another, both for the attention of editors and publishers and also for sales to book-buyers." He also found the use of the term "wage" odd, given that creative writers are actually paid advances against royalties. "Writers are on their own to get their own careers going, and to make their own rent," he advises. "If giving away work for free online works toward that end I can't recommend it enough."*

Saturday, April 14, 2007

Questions...I get questions

Will there be another two-book year's best anthology?
Yes, as far as I know.

When will your McCain novel Fools Rush In be available?
Right now I'm not sure but I'm hoping for late May or early June

A friend of mine read your western Ghost Town and said it was as good as your suspense novels?
Most of my westerns ARE suspense novels. You'll find little of the usual in them. Most people in the old west weren't gunslingers or lawmen or if they were they weren't much like the types you see in western movies. One reviewer said that I don't write westerns anyway; I write Midwesterns, which is probably true. People forget that at ne time, Iowa and Wisconsin and Mssouri WERE the frontier. Ghost Town, which is one of my two favorite westerns, was based on a freak malaria outbreak in Wisconsin in the 1880s. It's a very urban western.

Do you have a single favorite novel of your own?
The one mystery people seem to like best is THE AUTUMN DEAD; the one dark suspense people seem to like best is CAGE OF NIGHT; the one horror/fantasy people eem to like best is RITUALS; and western people can't seem to agree on which is my best so I'll say that for me the two best are WOLF MOON and GHOST TOWN

Friday, April 13, 2007

Welcome to the ghetto

A science fiction writer who, like me, grew up in the Fifties was lamenting the other day that science fiction would never be respectable to the literary establishment (i.e., people who don't eat with their hands at awards banquets). I disagreed, reminding him of what it was like when we were teenagers and had to hide many of the magazine covers because of the semi-naked girls and the ridiculous monsters.

He said, yes, that was the obvious kind of snobbery. Who wouldn't make fun of reading material like that I( even though the reading material was downright sophisticated compared to the covers)? He mentioned that sf writers and producers and publishers today simply worked around the nature of their material. The way Heinlien had early on in his career. I wasn't sure what he meant by the H reference and he had to hang up before I could ask him to elaborate.

Then today I logged on to the WIRED website and-- (copyright 2007 WIRED)

Cormac McCarthy's The Road is set during a nuclear winter. Two survivors walk south, breathing toxic air, seeking out the continent's last canned food while ducking bands of flesh-eaters.

Describe it as "post-apocalyptic," as most critics did, or as a masterpiece of dystopian literature. Just don't call McCarthy's novel "science fiction."

Even when clearly appropriate, film studios and publishers avoid the phrase "science fiction." So do the novelists, film directors and editors in their employ. McCarthy's book, which is about to become a blockbuster -- Oprah Winfrey will tout it on an upcoming TV show as part of her book club -- is just another example of how the powers that be dodge the term, especially when it applies to "serious" fiction or cinema.

You won't find the words "science fiction" in Random House's bio of Arthur C. Clarke Award-winning author China Miéville. Instead, he's called the "edgiest mythmaker of the day." Michel Gondry's The Science of Sleep? It's classified as comedy, drama, romance and fantasy, but not sci-fi, at

The nose-thumbing is nothing new. In the '50s, Robert Heinlein dismissed the term, opting for "speculative fiction." (What fiction isn't?)

Ed here: So I guess the nose-thumbing continues, eh? Mystery writers and readers shouldn't feel much better about their own genre. No matter how well mysteries sell a good share of reviewers, teachers and people who daub their lips with cocktail napkins at awards baquets still look at us as second- or maybe third-class citizens.

And I think that's probably good for us. A number of notable careers in sf and mystery alike have suffered when the writers began to take their reviews and/or sales too seriously. They get those cocktail napkins in their fingers and they don't stop daubing until they draw blood.

Thursday, April 12, 2007


If you'll forgive me the vanity of quoting myself, I once noted that David Goodis didn't write novels, he wrote suicide notes. I meant this metaphorically of course. And then I opened up the new Hard Case crime edition of THE WOUNDED AND THE SLAIN and right there in the first paragraph the protagonist plays "with the idea of doing away with himself."

Jim Thompson's books were peppy Broadway musicals compared to Goodis'. Except for a small group of French exitentialists right after the big war, I can't think of anybody who saw life as a bottomless cesspool more than Goodis.

This isn't to belittle the novel at hand or his work in general. He's a skilled, driven writer eager to take you on a tour of hell, hell being the lives of his protagonists. The physical settings may change but usually you have the same man--i.e., David Goodis--trying to survive being himself for at least another twenty-four hours.

The hook here is a couple going to Jamaica in order to give their marriage one more chance. But this is Goodis and we know better. Though they're very different writers, Goodis here reminds me somewhat of Tennessee Williams. But instead of the protagonist coming undone, Goodis surprises us with the plight of the wife trying to make some sense of her darker urges and compensate for a marriage she finds hopeless.

I read this in two sittings. The story is sound and intresting but Goodis is at his best here detailing the destruction of his people. As always, though, you hear in Goodis whispers of spmething better, an animal hope, an animal faith, that someday life will be better.

A very strong Goodis novel.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

LOVE HURTS--Barry Hoffman

There's good dark and bad dark. Fiction, that is. To me bad dark is fiction that tries too hard to be dark. Fiction written with the express purpose of BEING dark.

Fortunately there are writers like Barry Hoffman who use material that is of necessity dark. A group of friends watching as one of their own is assaulted by a gang? The girl at the prom who had her baby in the bathroom, dumped it in the wastecan, and then returned to the dance. A husband who can't quite deal with his wife's cancer. An a stunning story about soldiers who get sent back to Iraq again and again and again--

In the Sixties this type of fiction was described as having a "social conscience." I supoose that's true of these stories. But Hoffman isn't a preacher. He's an excellent storyteller and smooth stylist who lets the stories fend for themselbes--no sermons. And they're true stories, too, in the way that fiction is sometimes true. You'll recognize yourself and your friends in this fine collection. I sure did and I wsn't always comfortable doing it either.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

An Accidental Novelist- Richard S. Wheeler

Every once in a while somebody says to me that they're thinking of writing their autobiography. I try to ease on out the door and run screaming across the prairie until I can find a suitable place to hide in the woods.

Yes, I know YOU'RE fascinating. And so am I. God, I'm fascinating. The trouble is that for most of us, that fascination doesn't travel very far. In my case, if I published an autobiography it would sell only to my blood kin and our cat Tess, though in her case it would take some nudging. She prefers romance novels about horny vampires and vampirettes. I guess all her graduate work on Chaucer (which we had to pay for) was for naught.

But you know what? Richard S. Wheeler has written an emminently readable, interesting, entertaining memoir about how he stumbled into becoming a writer of fiction after having a very rough time trying to be a) a newspaper writer and b) an actor in Hollywood. and c) a real impoverished guy wondering what to do next. Well, thankfully for all of us, he struggled through a first novel he ultimately threw away and then hit the premiere western imprint of the time, the Doubleday DD brand.

This is the real story of a real writer. I've never read a a clearer fever chart of the ups and downs of a person who tries to sustain himself financially and emotionally as a full-time writer. We meet other writers, editors (a very warm tribute to the late Sara Anne Freed); agents (an equally warm tribute to Ray Puechner who was my first agent and who had in his stable at that time Joe Lansdale, Loren Estleman and Gary Paulsen among many others); and even Hwood windbags (who may well have stolen one of his movie ideas).

Into all this is tucked the story of Richard Wheeler human being. Life hasn't always proved easy for him and (if I'm not overreading) you sense a real loneliness in the man, a loneliness that has driven him for much of his life. He's the F. Scott Fitzgerald hero--the man who looks but never quite finds. Until, as in the ending of Fitzgerald's "Winter Dreams," he realizes that his life has been richer than he imagined.

I really recommend this thoughtful and rewarding memoir.

Sunday, April 08, 2007

Collaborative thrillers - Andrew Gross

The London Sunday Times this morning carries an interesting article by Alice Fordham about all the collaborating going on in the the thriller world. She notes, for example, that Clive Cussler has increased his output considerably by using collaborators.

And of course she takes a closer look at the James Patterson literary factory:

"One of Patterson’s regular co-authors, Maxine Paetro, reveales a rather different working relationship today. “Jim comes up with the story idea,” she says. “It’s pretty densely written and about 30 pages long. He sends it over to me for a month or two, while I think about it and come up with ideas. I add my two cents worth, and send it back to him. Sometimes he will say: ‘Maxine, that’s fantastic,’ which I love, but other times he says: ‘This isn’t how I tell stories’. ”

"Patterson is renowned for his “golden gut”, an instinct for what will and won’t work in a story. When Paetro receives the final outline, conceived by Patterson and worked on by her, she fleshes it out into a manuscript, which will become a 400-page book, and hands it over to him. “And it’s his book,” she says. “He runs with it from there, although he won’t usually make big changes.” When Larkin worked on the posthumous Robert Ludlum series, the brief was even more specific. The editors suggested a plot outline, and the deadline was so tight that Larkin had little time to worry too much about getting the voice just right."

I liked a number of Patterson's books before he became a bestseller and I got through two or three of his big hits before the short chapters and inane characterizations just did me in. I don't have anything against short chapters--some writers handle them skillfully--but the way Patterson's chapters end are often laughable.

Notice that I said "Patterson's chapters."

A librarian told me that some of his collaborative novels are much better than anything he's done solo. The last time I went to the hospital I took along two of the co-authored ones. She was right. If you see the names Peter deJonge or Howard Roughan you'll find yourself with some good lightweight reading. Maxine Paetro I can't tell you about. She's new to the mix.

I was curious about how Roughan would do on his own. I've now read both of his solo novels and enjoyed them. Some very nice stuff.

One other name to watch for among Patterson collaborators: Andrew Gross. His own first novel is just out now, The Blue Zone. It's a solid suspenser about a mostly innocent (Gross makes a pretty sophisticated moral judgment about this man here) businessman involved in the buying and selling of gold, among other things. Suddenly the FBI accuses him of being part of a drug cartel and it's up to his young good looking very bright and relentless daughter to save him. I don't have enough space to note even the major plot twists here. Not all of them are beleivable; a couple of them show too much debt to Patterson.

But overall I'd give this novel a B+ for its supple writing, generally well-planned surprises and it's ability to hold me, front page to last, without lag. If you like the type of suspense novels aimed at today's bestseller lists, you'll keep an eye out for Andrew Gross. And for Howard Roughan.

Saturday, April 07, 2007

Max Allan Collins; Fredric Brown

Max Allan Collins has written so many fine novels it’s impossible to rank his books.. That said, BLACK HATS, as by Patrick Culhane, has to be at or near the top.
The premise is irresistible. Back in the days of Prohibition a seventy year old Wyatt Earp joins his old friend Bat Masterson in New York as they take on an even more legendary and dangerous force, one Al Capone.
This is a sleek, swift tale told with enormous skill and energy. And for all the action he gives us, Culhane provides the fascinating life stories of Earp and Masterton (who is now a newspaperman) and also of Capone. New York City in that era comes to vivid life here. And Culhane offers a subtle but deeply moving look at two human beings near the end of their lives.
Another major novel from a master.


Writer Duane Swierczynski has an interesting interview on his blog with a producer who plans to turn Fred Brown's THE LENIENT BEAST into a low-budget movie.

I agree with Duane. Brown should not only be in print but readily available. As Duane points out, Brown never wrote the same book twice and experimented with form as few genre writers ever have. My own personal favorite is THE FAR CRY, a novel good enough to be compared to Julian Symons' THE 31st OF FEBRUARY in detailing a believable and horrific descent into madness.

Friday, April 06, 2007

Charles Runyon; Brown Meggs

Ed here: These are the final Q&As with Charles Runyon.

What was your best career experience?
Winning a nomination for the Edgar Allen Poe award of the MWA for Power Kill.

What was your worst?
Having Lancer Books go belly-up just after publishing my novel of the occult, Dorian-7. I wish I'd been warned about their shaky finances. I wrote an article on the subject, "The Curse of Dorian-7" but never tried to get it published.

You mentioned that you've been writing a science
fiction trilogy. Have you given any thought to a crime
Many thoughts, backed up by notes, bits of dialogue, and in a few cases, almost-finished works that never quite made it to the marketplace. I'll take another look at the material and see what I have that is timely and appropriate, if you're interested in looking at it.

Do you read contemporary writers? If so, name a few
you feel are notable.
I read Stephen King's Cell, on the recommendation of my students, and found it admirable in many ways, but to me the most nearly perfect practitioner of the horror field is Peter Straub. Houses without Doors is my most recent sampling, but my alltime favorite is Ghost Story. I also enjoyed Superstiton. John Updike's suspense novel, The Terrorist, brings out his talent for deft characterization and subtle plot turnings, as well as being as timely as the morning paper. John Grisham is another oldtimer who's still eminently readable; The Painted House is one I recommend. Taking the whole field as my bailiwick, I'll mention Trial, by Clifford Irving, Skins of Dead Men by Dean Inge, and Acceptable Losses by Irwin Shaw. I'd also recommend The Greenlanders by Jane Smiley. Though it's not a genre novel, it's a fascinating story and well-written.

Which of your novels would you most like to see
reprinted and why?
There are at least three that might go down well with today's readers. The Last Score was rushed to completion as a work-for-hire, for Manfred Lee and Fred Dannay, and published under their byline of Ellery Queen. I still have a paternal affection for the book, and would like to see it reprinted under it's "rightful" parentage. Also, there was one I wrote under the nom de plume of Mark West, which was published under the unforgettable title: Object of Lust. Another rush job, done to the background music of a wolf growling outside the door, but I think it's worthy of another shot at the gold ring. If you recall the old limerick beginning: "There once was a hermit named Dave ..." you'll have an idea of what it's about. And finally there's my first one, The Anatomy of Violence, which still holds my interest despite a klutzy romantic element.

Ed here: I did a retro-review of SATURDAY GAMES by Brown Meggs the other night. Turns out our friend Bob Levinson was a friend of Meggs'.

Hi, Ed...

Surprised and so nice to see you writing about Brown Meggs. Knew Brown quite well in the old music years, before, during and after he tried and failed to make a living as a novelist. He was a classical music buff par excellence, the area he returned to with EMI after he quit writing fiction. Earlier, he'd been the (ultra-strong) right arm of Capitol Records Presidents Sal Ianucci and Bhaskar Menon.

Brown calls me up one day and orders, "Get the hell over here." I get the hell over to Capitol, where he informs me, Congratulations, I'm now Iannuci's personal PR rep in addition to the several acts I was handling for the label, and steers me into Sal's office. Sal says, "I don't need much attention, maybe my name in the trades once or twice a week." Two days later, his name was spread across Daily Variety, the front page banner: CAPITOL FIRES IANUCCI. (Courtesy of the higher ups at EMI; not my doing, but definitely the briefest client relationship I ever had...)

It's only rock-and-roll...


Thursday, April 05, 2007

Bob Clark

Director Bob Clark and his son were killed last night when an allegedly drunk driver crossed into the wrong lane and smashed into the Clark car.

I interviewed Clark several years ago and after the interview we exchanged some calls on (as I recollect) a story idea I had. In the way of Hwood it went nowhere. He struck me as a decent modest man very serious and enthusiastic about working as a writer and director in film.

"A Christmas Story" was his greatest popular work. By now it's as much of a holiday staple as "It's A Wonderful Life." I actually prefer the Clark pick to Capra one. Far less treacle. In fact very little treacle.

I was told that Clark would never discuss how much his "Black Christmas" influenced John Carpenter's "Halloween." A number of critics did, however, and from time to time the fan blogs bring up the subject. I see the influences for sure but Carptener took them and made them his own. My sense is that Clark likely felt the same way and was decent enough not to keep the subject alive. (On the other hand, I didn't really know him at all so maybe he became psychotic when the subject came up and decided to save himself the rage by refusing to speak to it.)

My favorite Sherlock Holmes film (and here I know I'll find several hundred thousand people eager to disagree with me) is Clark's "Murder By Decree," whch Pauline Kael (I think it was) dismissed as "pornographic violence." Which struck me as odd given her defense of Sam Peckinpah. But how can you do a picture about Jack The Ripper and not resort to savage violence? Jack London spent time in Whitechapel (ultimately having a breakdown) and if you read his pieces on it (the squalor, the poverty, the endlss street violence) you'll see that Clark's version is quite restrained.

So long, Bob. I'm doubly sorry that the drunken driver (as an alcoholic I have to be careful of hypocrisy here--I spent a lot of nights behind the wheel when I should have been bound and gagged in the trunk)--I'm sorry that a drunken driver took not only yourlife but your son's as well.

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

SATURDAY GAMES by Brown Meggs*

Here's a golden oldie for you: SATURDAY GAMES by Brown Meggs. If I'm not mistaken (and I often am) I believe this was the novel that was first submitted to acclaimed mystery editor Babara Norville when she was editing the fine line of Bobbs-Merrill mysteries back in the early Seventies. She gave Meggs advice on how to make his manuscript marketable and he did just that. And then (or so the story goes) he promptly sold it for a better deal to Random House.

The novel was good enough to be nominated for a first novel Edgar and to go through a number of printings here and abroad. It's a dazzler. Three upper middle-class Southern California types have a little too much grass and booze fun with a gorgeous wild woman named Emjay (this was the early Seventies remember). A private pool, a lot of sex and...Emjay somehow gets herself murdered. Which of the three men is guilty? Or are all of them guilty? Or none of them guilty?

This is a real puzzler populated by real people. The hip cop Anson Freres spends the book getting to know a number of people he'd rather not brush up against but must in the line of duty. The SoCal background is wittily sketched. And the sex scenes are truly torrid. They're also proof that less is more. The novel is saturated with sexuality but there's not a hard core moment to be found.

Meggs went on to write several other novels. I've read Saturday three or four times since its original publication. It's the reading equivalent of watching a really good athlete on a really good day. The craft here is dazzling.

And Meggs' life was nearly as interesting as his books.

Brown Meggs

mystery writer
Born: 10/20/1930
Birthplace: Los Angeles
A successful executive for Capitol Records, Meggs was also a talented mystery writer. He was nominated for the Edgar Allan Poe Award for his first novel, Saturday Games (1974). His other books include The Matter of Paradise (1975), Aria (1978), and The War Train (1981). Though he specialized in classical music and opera, Meggs made his greatest coup for Capitol Records when he secured the rights to distribute Beatles albums in the United States.

Died: 10/8/1997

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Charles Runyon

Here's Part Two of my interview with writer Charles Runyon. Here he speaks directly to the subject of his Gold Medal novels.-Ed

7. What was the genesis of The Prettiest Girl I Ever

I was making notes for the book while spending the summer in my old home town of Sheridan, a place with an almost one-to-one correspondence to the Sherman of the book. The characters were pulled from the scenery of my past, specific incidents belonging to a real person could be welded to a fictional person without the need to improvise more than details of the plot. It was very liberating and exhilerating, to find that I could shape my own reality, as long as I kept it within the realm of the believable. (Actually, the story is not as bizarre as it may seem; my home town is near the little town of Skidmore, famed as the home of the hog-stealer, arch-bully, pedophile and murderer MacElroy, who was finally "executed" by a shotgun blast in full view of thirty townspeople. Not a single one of those citizens stepped forward to identify the shooter. Someday, I may get around to doing that book.

8. Prettiest Girl is invariably likened to the novels
of Jim Thompson but when I reread it recently my take
was that there is a fundamental difference between
your book and just about anything Thompson wrote. Your
killer in control of himself—unlike many of the
Thompson protagonists who seem hard-wired to be at the
mercy of themselves—and he’s even a bit droll and
sardonic at times. In other words, he can stand back
and look at what he’s doing objectively. The
cumulative effect of this subtly but powerfully
underscores his madness. Given the verities of
paperback originals, this was an original approach.
Did you think of it that way? Or are you even
conscious of your writing decisions? Evan Hunter
always said that he tried not to analyze what he was
doing. He was afraid it would hamper his spontaneity.

I will have to read some of Jim Thompson before I comment on the difference between us. I always write in a close autobiographical style, even though I often change the pronouns to third person. When I finish a book, I always feel like a hollowed out lobster, all meat and flavor taken out, and nothing but dry pulp left inside. That's the reason I usually get in a few weeks of total leisure between novels; the creative energy needs time to rise to a level where I can begin pumping again. I think Evan Hunter is right in not analyzing his methods; the creative imagination is a shy, faery creature, and doesn't like the cold light of appraisal.

9. Sometimes you sound almost dismissive of your crime
fiction. Your science fiction seems to be your true
love. Are you unhappy when people say they prefer your
crime fiction to your sf?

No, I just assume that these are non-sf-readers by nature. As long as I could treat these crimes as merely head games, I could get considerable pleasure out of working out the problems. Having been a police reporter, I had a good grasp of the routine and the jargon, as well as tons of material. But I can date exactly when my preferences changed; in 1967 my younger brother was murdered, and the whole messy scene got involved with the stupidity of Vietnam and the decay of the courts, with the result that the murderer walked out of the courtroom smirking. This was too similar to the stuff I had been doing, and although I had many projects in the works, I never felt good about doing that sort of killer-oriented thing again.

10. You’ve written some of the most remarkable opening
chapters in suspense fiction. The first five thousand
words of The Dead Cycle, for instance, put me in mind
of The Doors’ “Riders on The Rain.” Except that
where the song is from the innocents’ point of view,
this is from the Riders pov. There’s a mythic
quality—almost of the old west—of the robbery gone
wrong, an elderly clerk shot dead by one of the
Riders, and them now desperately trying to get to the
Mexican border. This is so much more realistic than
much of the neo-noir we see today because the turf is
real and you know this turf, the small-town Midwest.
But it’s the underbelly of the Midwestern small town
you usually use. Was this intentional given that it’s
the setting of so many of your Gold Medal novels?

Sometimes I wonder if I'm really a fiction writer. The motorcycle story was based on an unusual honeymoon my wife and I took, riding double on a Harley through the back roads of Mexico in 1957. Add another couple, a murder, a stash of cash and some loose gash and you get The Death Cycle. It was fun to write, and to know that every bone-rattling jolt on that old Harley was paying off in hard core realism.

11. The Black Moth, which is set on a college campus,
is a notably different private eye novel in that the
protagonist is a p.i. masquerading as a professor. But
even here, in a more refined setting than you usually
use, the writing stays hard as hell. Your books are
proof that tough guys don’t have to swagger or be
violent to prove that they’re tough. They’re hard
asses and no less so when they don academic robes. Was
Black Moth based on your early experiences teaching
college courses?

At the time I wrote The Black Moth I had never taught a college English course, but it definitely foreshadowed my later career. The idea was to have a series of vicious murders taking place amid the mannered politeness of an exclusive girl's finishing school. And in Columbia Missouri, where I did my journalism study, there was Stephens College, the very model of such a school. My undergraduate years of dating Stephens girls paid off in some interesting characters and loads of verisimilitude. One of the fallacies of the lay person is that you can "create" characters out of whole cloth. With me, it's more of a cut-and-paste.

Monday, April 02, 2007

Charles Runyon; Donald Hamilton; Norm Partridge

Stark House will publish its first three-fer this summer--three Gold Medal novels long in need of reprinting. I wrote the introduction to Charles Runyon's THE PRETTIEST GIRL I EVER KILLED, a masterful suspense novel that puts Runyon in the top ten of GM writers in such company as Lawrence Block, John D. MacDonald, Charles Williams, Vin Packer, Richard Stark, Malcolm Braly and a handful of others.

At the time I wrote the introduction I was told that Runyon was dead. Not so, as I explained the other night, he's very much alive. I'll be running an interview with him over the course of this week. Here's the first installment.

1 The obvious mystery to those who were following
your career--when did you stop publishing and why?

In 1980, Jove published my novel, The Gypsy King, which I thought represented my highest effort, a cut above the genre sf and mystery novels I had been publishing. I was never content with working at the level of my last published work, but at the same time I wasn't sure which way to go with my future work. To fill in the time while deciding, I went back to the University of Missouri and picked up a Master's in Creative writing, in case I might need to work before my sales picked up again. However, the hiatus stretched on, and teaching did not blend with writing as well as I had hoped. Writing was still my preferred profession, but the path back to publishing was a rocky one, and nobody laid down a red carpet for me any more than they had at the beginning. Somehow the word got out that I had "passed on" in 1987, and the thought intrigued me, much as it once intrigued Tom Sawyer. What if I tried to reenter the field, not as an older writer reentering the field after a long lay-off, but as a fresh new face with reams of new ideas? However, thanks to you, Ed, that experiment has now been abandoned, or left to others to carry out.

2 Can you give us a sketch of your life?

A rough sketch would show the young writer growing up on a farm in Worth County, Missouri, the most insignificant county in a not-too-significant state. I couldn't wait to grow up and leave the farm like most boys, but ran away from home at age 16 to work on a ranch in West Texas.
So we come full circle; 60 nears later I am back in Texas. The intervening years included army service in Korea, Germany and Indiana, J-school at Missouri University. I just missed a job on the National Geographic and instead went into industrial editing. It was either that or poetry which paid nothing. While working for Mr. Rockefeller's old outfit in Chicago an agent to whom I had been paying readers' fees for five years -- Scott Meredith -- suddenly started making sales. I lost no time in quitting my job and announcing that I was now a full-time writer. With a new baby and no income, I borrowed a lakeside cabin and sat down to write my first book. After sending it off to my agent, I took off for the West Indies, found an almost deserted island, and lay back to await the gentle shower of royalties. It didn't quite happen that way, but it was only a few months before the book sold to Ace; my reaction was to charter a yacht and take the wife and kid on a tour of the islands. I returned to New York suntanned but broke, still expecting the gilded life of a best-selling writer.

3 How about a sketch of your publishing career? Was
writing something you'd always wanted to do?

Since I was about 8 years old, and realized how easily (comparatively) words came to me. Before that I wanted to be a doctor, until somebody told me you had to go to school for endless years. I was already making preparations when in High School I took typing; the only other "boy" in my class was a pianist. (For the rest of the nitpicking career details, I'm sending an updated bio out of Contemporary Authors.)

4 Do you recall your first sale?

Of course; it was a short story called "First Man in a Satellite" to Super Science Fiction in 1957 -- fifty years ago! This was about the time the Russians sent up Sputnik so I was undeservedly credited with being a harbinger of the Space Age. I got a personal rejection from John W. Campbell, with his signature slanting across the bottom of the page as if tracing the path of a tumbling tumbleweed. He disparaged the whole idea of a midget in a space ship, adding that Lester del Rey had already done it -- better. Editors didn't care about writer's sensibilities in those days. I still treasure the letter.

5 Had you been selling novels and stories for a longtime before you decided to go full-time?

I think I answered that in the earlier questions.

6 Which gave you more satisfaction as a
writer--science fiction or crime novels?

It's the sf novels and stories that I remember with the most affection. The crime stories and novels were more neatly wrapped up, while the sf novels and stories open onto worlds of other plot possibilities. I'll get this back to you now and await the next half-dozen questions. I assume they will cover the background of the novel itself

Donald Hamilton is dead. Or maybe not. For a few hours it seemed that he wasn't, in fact, dead. Then I got this letter from Steve Lewis followed by a note from Bill Crider.
Hi Ed
> Just before I went out this afternoon I received an
> email from Charles
> Ardai confirming Don Hamilton's death. I barely had
> time to post a note to
> this effect on my blog before I had to leave, and
> I'm just now catching up
> on the details.
> Charles' first reaction when I asked him about
> Hamilton was that he was in
> a nursing home in Sweden, so for about an hour
> afterward I thought all was
> well. But when Charles called the son, here's what
> he discovered:
> Ah, Steve -- I'm afraid I was wrong. I just spoke
> with Don's son, and to
> my great surprise and disappointment, Don *has*
> died. He passed
> peacefully, in his sleep, and I believe it happened
> in Sweden, where he was
> living in a nursing home; he developed a persistent
> infection and his body
> just wasn't strong enough any longer to fight it
> off. Gordon says he went
> to sleep one night and was found dead in bed the
> next morning.
> He'd been suffering some health problems,
> unfortunately, including a broken
> leg about a year back. But I had no idea he'd died.
> Gordon simply didn't
> tell anyone, though he says that bit by bit he's
> letting people know now.
> Why the death record shows the death as having
> occurred in Ipswitch I don't
> know.
> I'm sorry for steering you wrong earlier -- I just
> couldn't believe it had
> happened without my finding out. But it did happen,
> I'm afraid.
> And so it's true, Hamilton is gone. I wondered a
> while back how many of
> the Gold Medal writers from the 50s were still with
> us. Marlowe for one,
> Vin Packer for another, and not too many others.
> Best
> Steve

Norm Partidge won the Stoker award for best long story in at the World Horror convention this weekend. I wrote to congratulate him and mentioning that Gabby Hayes was a role model of mine. Norm responded:

Andy Devine. Another role model of mine.
I have Andy Devine's AUTOGRAPH, Ed. On a Knott's Berry Farm ticket book!

I got it as a tot. Andy was sitting on a hay-bale in the sun. It was the same day I ate a piece of rhubarb pie, thinking it was apple. Ugh. I don't think even Andy would have put fork to that.


P.S. That was the same vacation I ran past Robert Wagner at Universal Studios to get the autograph of the guy who played Lt. Carpenter on MCHALE'S NAVY. I think Wagner's ego was scarred for life!

Sunday, April 01, 2007

Tom Piccirilli


Tom Piccirilli’s career is getting hot. Not only is he now being published primarily by Bantam but three different book clubs have taken his forthcoming novel THE MIDNIGHT ROAD. Getting hot and it’s about time.

In the meantime Tom remains true to his small press roots. Creeping Hemlock Press will soon publish both a full length novel and a novella that will only add to Tom’s literary luster.

THE FEVER KILL, the novel, is a rattlesnake-mean noir set in the land of truck stops and back roads. The protagonist Crease returns with vengeance on his mind only to learn—along with us—that even long-held assumptions can be wrong.

I lost track of how many plot twists have been set out for the reader, each of them as deviously employed as a minefield. Nothing is as it seems. Sex, betrayl, violence are here—this is a noir after all—but so is a lonesomeness as poignant as a Hank Williams ballad. Crease is looking for secrets only to realize that the biggest secret of all is himself.

The cast of characters holds many of the surprises I mentioned. They are sharply defined and believably detailed. Tom has obviously worked hard to move them away from the clichés of neo-noir.

And all this is even truer in FRAYED, the novella. Here Tom has done the damned-near impossible. He has given us a stingingly original story about a mental hospital and populated it with at least two characters (the leads) I’ve never met before in life or in fiction. I’m not going to ruin the story by telling you what binds these two men together. It’s too good to spoil.

The hospital defies all expectation. It’s a hospital conceived by the originators of Club Med. Or the toniest singles bar on the planet. Tom has a lot of fun overturning expectations here. It’s a nut house you’d never want to leave. That’s your first impression anyway.

I read this in one sitting because it was so original in every aspect that it left me no choice. I’d discovered literary gold.

Both these books are must-haves for Tom’s ever-increasing number of fans and admirers. In the last four years in particular Tom Piccirilli has really come into his own.