Saturday, June 30, 2007

Kevin Burton Smith for President-Part Two

Well, as I thought, I got several responses to last night's post. I still want to vote for Kevin Burton Smith for President. In other words, I still agree with pretty much everything he said abou noir taking some unfortunate turns.

On Rara-Avis last night Alan Guthrie, a very good writer whose books I enjoy and admire, mentioned the name of Russell James who is, to me, the epitome of everything I like in noir. In case you haven't read him, he's a Brit who sometimes writes in the style of Ted Lewis, whose novel Get Carter became what is, for me, an exemplary hardboiled/noir novel.

"A vicious London gangster, Jack Carter, travels to Newcastle for his brother's funeral. He begins to suspect that his brother's death was not an accident and sets out to follow a complex trail of lies, deceit, cover-ups and backhanders through Newcastle's underworld, leading, he hopes, to the man who ordered his brother killed. Because of his ruthlessness Carter exhibits all the unstopability of the android in Terminator, or Walker in Point Blank, and he and the other characters in the film are prone to sudden, brutal acts of violence. Written by Mark Thompson {}"

I'd agree with Mark Thompson. It's one of the most violent films I've ever seen. There is no possibility of spiritual redemption for anybody in it. Looked at objectively, Jack Carter is no better than the gangsters he's killing--he's one of them. And yet we give him his vengeance because he's honoring his brother. And in the meantime the director (the excellent Mike Hodges) is showing us the environment in which all these people grew up. He isn't excusing them but he is explaining them to some degree.

I'm not sure who "gb" is but he wrote one of the letters I received abut last night's post. And I think he made some excellent points:

"The violence in the work of some of the classic authors like Thompson or Dan Marlowe never seems gratuitous or over the top in the manner of so many contemporary noir writers who think an exploding head and a blood-splattered windshield is the modern-day equivalent of a cartoon character slipping on a banana peel. One culprit behind this trend, in my opinion, is none other than Quentin Tarantino. Just as you say that many of the new novels are books based on other books instead of life, Tarantino's films mymic his predecessors' work behind a faux ironic smirk instead of expressing a genuine outlook on life.

"His influence on the rest of popular culture (from the ever more gross films of people like Eli Roth to many of the recent noir novels) is likewise tangible. The characters in these neo-noirs usually conform to the stereotype we have of what a hitman or a tough guy is supposed to be like -ruthless, insensitive, sadistic - even if they're nothing but walking punchlines. It is clear to me that many of these writers have never experienced anything even remotely close to violence in their lives. This is why their fake and sadistic depiction of it in their novels is more like a childish enjoyment of the forbidden rather than any meaningful statement. I believe this reliance on the gross also operates as a distraction from their obvious lack of storytelling skills. This is particularly evident in the new crop of novels where it is mandatory to include an action scene on every single page of their three-page chapters."

Ed here: I also got an off-line letter saying that given how dark many of my own books she's surprised that I don't like a lot of today's more violent novels. The answer is contained in gb's letter. And in what Patti Abbott said: "I'm working through an argument that first 9/11 and our response to it has produced writers and books that are nihilistic and despairing. This is certainly true in the literary fiction. Crime fiction was always dark but is perhaps even darker now. I'd like to think I just need prozac but I don't find too many optimistic people out there."

Absolutely true. Even a lot of so-called cozy writers are producing much darker books these days. In many respects this is a grim era. I fear for my grandchildren, the world they're growing up in. As Patti said it's difficult to go back to the old "likeable" protagonist, meaning the near-perfect hero we grew up reading about. But even in these times, even in a novel/movie such as "Get Carter" you find a grim but true meaning, a bitter dignity in existence. One of the off-line writers mentioned "Dr. Strangelove." That's black comedy with a pretty universal theme--hilarious, ridiculous, profound. The day Tarrentino and his followers come close to it, I'll buy a ticket to one of their movies.

Friday, June 29, 2007

Why I'm voting for Kevin Smith for President

Ed here: Over on Rara-Avis Kevin Smith put voice to something I've been feeling for quite awhile. That I relate less and less to a lot of it. Kevin makes the point that too much of it ignores the noir traditions of the past. While I agree with that to some extent, I also feel that too much of it is parodistic in nature, feeding on what came before rather than extending and enhancing it, a literary exercise that is essentially black comedy. But like the irony of the eighties and nineties a good deal of black comedy wears thin and rarely wears well. Make no mistake. The crime novel has to go in different directions. It was starting to get moribund over the last few years. But many of the new crime novels put me off to the degree that I know read traditional mysteries rather than many new hardboiled ones. In my case this may be simple age. If I had to name two writers who are doing something different with crime fiction I'd list Terrill Lankford and Jason Starr. Both of them write novels of substance and depth. Nothing flashy for the sake of flash. They're interested in life not in term paper novels that are sarcastic takes on what has gone before. I expect both Kevin and I can expect lynch mobs soon.

From Kevin: (I've edited a long piece down to several paragraphs):

After reading a spate of recent books by some of the more highly
touted practitioners of the "new noir," I've noticed something.

Not in all of them, mind you, but in enough of them to be disturbed
by what seems to be a trend. I hope not. Maybe I just hit a bad
string of books (and no, i don't want to name them). But...

Many of these books have increasingly little to do with the classic
noir films and novels their authors all claim to adore so much (but
may have never actually read).

If the original noirs were usually about normal -- or at least
identifiable characters -- being drawn into the darkness, that's long
gone. So many of the recent noirs I've read are populated by amoral
sociopaths who are already plenty dark.
Nowadays, though, the characters are more often big shot celebrities
or serial killers or globetrotting hit men or cannibal dope fiends or
the like, over-the-top sociopathic cartoons who seem to exist mostly
in books. And these guys are usually criminally clueless. These books
aren't presented as morality plays, but as clusterfucks of stupidity
and venality. These characters come pre-doomed and pre-damned; these
dumbfucks make one obviously bad choice after another -- the sort of
stupid choices that owe more to plot machinations than anything.

What happens to them isn't some slow, inevitable tragic fall from
grace into the darkness of the abyss, but more a turned-to-eleven
amplification of atrocities and bad luck, betrayals and
misunderstandings and coincidences that, again, only exist in
fiction. Certainly, things are more graphic and there's far more
obscene language, violence and sex than in the old noirs, which is to
be expected, I guess. But so much of it just seems so strained and
self-conscious; like a bunch of little boys trying to out-do each
other. These neo-noirs aren't presented as tragedy at all, but as
comedy of the cruelest sort, the "grown-up" equivalent of slipping a
frog down a girl's back.

And what's with all the torture and mutilation going on? Is Cheyney
secretly moonlighting as an acquisition editor?

I may be imagining this, but it seems to me that there's also a
growing contempt among the authors for their own characters, a kind
of mean-spiritedness that's creeping in -- a condescending sort of
self-righteous authorial stance being adapted that says "Yeah,
they're all scumbags, so I make them go through all kinds of shit.
Cool, huh?"

The old noir characters, whatever their flaws, had souls of some
sort. Hell, the books themselves had soul, and you got the sense that
the authors -- and readers -- cared about these characters on at
least some level. The characters who inhabit this cynical new breed
of noir too often are unlikable two-dimensional cardboard cutouts who
exist only to be put through their paces by an author with one hand
down his (or her) pants for the edification of his like-minded buddies.

All the meanness and carnage of these soulless wallows comes off more
like pornography than noir, at least to me.

Makes me wonder who's getting off on it.

Thursday, June 28, 2007

Richard Matheson alert; Dana Andrews redux

(Thanks to Vince Keenan for sending me this)

Cameron Diaz to star in 'The Box'
Richard Kelly to direct horror film

Media Rights Capital has set Cameron Diaz to star in "The Box," a PG-13 horror film that will be directed by "Donnie Darko" helmer Richard Kelly.

Kelly wrote the script based on a Richard Matheson short story. Production will begin in the fall.

Pic will cost north of $30 million and Media Rights Capital is committed to bankroll the entire film, as it did with "Babel" and Sacha Baron Cohen's "Bruno."

Based on the Richard Matheson short story "Button, Button," the film casts Diaz as a young woman who is given a mysterious box by a stranger. She's told that certain things will happen depending on which buttons she presses.

Kelly and Sean McKittrick will produce and Ted Hamm will be executive producer.

The recent $20 million opening of "1408" made the star-driven high concept supernatural thriller "The Box" feel like a viable financial proposition.

"The storyline has all the commerciality of 'The Ring,' but with Richard and Cameron, this film can rise to the level of 'Rosemary's Baby' and 'The Others,'" said Modi Wiczyk, the former Endeavor agent who founded and runs MRC with Asif Satchu.

"My hope is to make a film that is incredibly suspenseful and broadly commercial, while still retaining my artistic sensibility," Kelly said. "I am especially excited to be working with Cameron Diaz, an actress I have always admired."

Read the full article at:

From Tom Piccirilli:

Just a note to say you were spot on calling Dana Andrews the spiritual brother to Robert Ryan. FALLEN ANGEL, LAURA, and WHERE THE SIDEWALK ENDS makes him my #2 in noir faves behind Ryan.

He was also damn good in CURSE OF THE DEMON, a classy horror movie that's so good it ramps up from a B-flick to at least an A minus.

Ed here: Thanks for reminding me about CURSE OF THE DEMON. Even given the cheapo effect near the end (one that Jacques Torunier battled against putting in) "Curse" is for me one of the few horror films that unsettle me--there's something unspoken going on that's really unseemly. Much as there is in Val Lewton's The Seventh Victim which I watched again last week. I'm glad to see "1408" make money. Maybe now there'll be room again for grown-up horror instead of kiddie gore.

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Literary time travel

One of my fondest memories of growing up was reading the magazines my folks subscribed to. The Saturday Evening Post was great for western short stories and The American was even better for mysteries. To name just two.

In 1986 Jon and Rita Breen edited a fine anthology called American Murders which reprinted 11 short novels from the American Magazine(1934-1954). By now I've probably read and reread it cover to cover four or five times. For me it's literary time travel.

My favorites are those short novels published during the war years. I suppose this is true because they tally with my first memories of--everything. Dads abroad at war, Moms struggling with jobs and kids and ration books and the fear of a uniformed man knocking on the door with bad news. And popular culture of every sort vibrant and vital with propaganda.

One of the great war-time images in the Breen anthology occurs in "Murder Goes To Market" by Mignon Eberhardt. She writes of going shopping with her ration book to a then-new concept known as a Supermarket. The way she describes this place is almost science-fictional. My God--aisles! Shopping carts "that look like perabulators!" And the choice of "(carrying) your loot away in a paper bag or in a market basket or (letting) a boy carry it for you." Zounds!

This reminds me of the way John D. MacDonald highlighted air-conditioning so often in his pulps stories of the Forties and his early paperbacks of the Fifties. A revolution was at hand!

F. Paul Wilson once noted that detective stories give us "snapshots" of an era better than any other kind of fiction. I certainly agree.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

B- Movies

Ed here: Unlike most of my friends, I hate wasting time watching lousy movies. I've always left movie theters and turned off VCRs when I lost interest in what was on the screen. So the idea of paying money for pictures you KNOW are lousy going in...Here's a piece that appeared in the NY Times:
New DVDs


Warner Home Video has brought a very diverse group of 12 films together into four box sets collectively called “Cult Camp Classics.” Unsurprisingly, not all of them are cult films (if there is any fan frenzy over John Guillermin’s “Skyjacked,” it is certainly muted); a few aren’t even campy (Howard Hawks’s “Land of the Pharaohs” could be the most down-to-earth costume epic ever made); and none of them would qualify as classics, even in the Ed Wood pantheon.

What these films have in common is a starless obscurity that makes them difficult to release into the name-driven DVD market. If the condescending “cult camp” label gives them a commercial hook, I guess that’s for the good, at least as long as it means getting prints as carefully restored and transfers as technically perfect as these.

With a clean face and pressed clothes, even a desperately impoverished drive-in picture like Edward Bernd’s “Queen of Outer Space” (1958) can make a good impression. One of a large number of low-budget films from the Allied Artists library now owned by Warner Brothers, this tale of virile American astronauts landing on a Venus populated by scantily clad women (Zsa Zsa Gabor among them) probably looks better now than it ever did at the drive-in. With its once-faded DeLuxe color pumped back up to something like its original intensity, William P. Whitley’s cinematography takes on the Pop Art shimmer of Pedro Almodóvar’s early films, a crazy quilt of violently mismatched hues.


Poor Dana Andrews comes in for a beating in the box Warners has titled “Terrorized Travelers.” This former A-list star, who had become the embodiment of the returning World War II veteran in William Wyler’s “ Best Years of Our Lives” (1946), was deep into a struggle with alcoholism by the time he appeared as the traumatized ex-fighter pilot in Hall Bartlett’s 1957 “Zero Hour!” and as the embattled husband and father in a duel with thrill-seeking teenagers in the 1967 “Hot Rods to Hell.”

The second film, in particular, draws on Mr. Andrews’s 1940s stardom, pairing him with his “State Fair” co-star Jeanne Crain under the direction of John Brahm, another ’40s figure. In a plot line that could be a parody of a World War II campaign picture, Mr. Andrews plays a debilitated authority figure (he can’t drive as a result of a devastating car accident) trying to transport his wife and children across the California desert to what seems like a grim new life managing a small-town motel.

The family’s caravan of middle-class decency is attacked by speed-crazed youths in souped-up cars, urged on by a decadent blonde played by Mimsy Farmer. The film may be stiffly executed, but its underlying anger and bitterness are hard to shake. Given the year of its making, “Hot Rods to Hell” may represent one of the last times that the aging, pre-boomer generation got to have its cranky say in a movie industry that would soon shut out most voices over 40.

for the whole thing go here
Copyright 2007 The New York Times Company

Ed here: The sad thing here is the Dana Andrews appearance. He was a major actor and a damned good one. He did four or five noirs that were notable including "Laura" and "Fallen Angel." I always saw him as the spiritual brother of Robert Ryan, opposite in only one way--in Ryan despair became rage; in Andrews it became sorrow. Very quiet sorrow. And very quiet sorrow has no business in a film called "Terrorized Travelers."

Monday, June 25, 2007

The last McGee

Ed here: The last few days that most excellent site Rara-Avis has been filled with speculation about a partially finished "final" Travis McGee novel that John D. MacDonald may or may not have left behind. The subject seems to have come up because of something that appeared in Time magazine long ago.

Here's a typical question from the site:

It would appear that John D. MacDonald is confirming the existence of
the rumored final Travis McGee novel. Has the existence of this
manuscript, completed or not, ever been confirmed? Was MacDonald
having some fun, or did he actually write a novel where McGee dies?
Has anyone on the list done any research on this, or know of anyone
who has?

Ed here: I asked Judi Rohrig, a fine dark suspense writer and a good friend of mine, what she thought of the possibility of such a manuscript. Judi has been involved for many years with people who knew JDM in Florida and staged numerous celebrations both during JDM's life and following his death.

Morning Ed.

I had the opportunity to ask Ed Hirshberg about this several years ago. Ed -- for those who may not know -- was a friend of JohnD's and the brother of an even closer friend. He was also one of the last major keepers of the light via his editorial responsibilities for the JDMBibliophile, a fanzine JohnD even contributed to. According to Ed, JohnD himself asked if it would be okay if this last Travis novel -- the BLACK BORDER FOR MCGEE -- could be dedicated to Hirshberg. Of course, Ed consented. Ed's dead now, and not around to ask anymore.

Cal Brandenberg, who has also been one of major keepers of the light, told me in an interview I did with him that was never published, that Walter Shine (ALL JDM loyal should bow their heads in honor of this man and his wife, Jean, for their work) and several others scoffed at these claims. If anything, JohnD was pulling Ed's leg.

As far as anyone I know has been able to determine, there is no manuscript. Certainly, there doesn't appear to be one at the Smathers Library archive at the University of Florida in Gainesville which has over 300 boxes of manuscripts, cards, personal notes, pictures, and books (all of which JohnD donated).

I guess only JohnD's son would know, and he only makes himself known when publishing matters arise.

In my own opinion, there is no BLACK BORDER book. Read THE LONELY SILVER RAIN again, especially the end.

Finally, Meyer and Travis talk about Jean, the daughter of McGee and Puss:

"How much went into the trust" he asks.
"Everything," I say.
He stares in consternation. "Everything? Everything?"
"Well, I saved out about four hundred bucks, and so I've got to scramble around and find some slvage work real soon."
He puts his hand on my arm, beams at me and says, "Welcome to the world."

What more could possibly be said? The era JohnD captured better than any home movie or documentary could offer had ended. A new one was beginning, but just like Moses never made it into the Promised Land, JohnD was leaving the telling to others. Dean Koontz? Stephen King? He enjoyed very much what little he had seen of their writing.

But I digress.

Somewhere out there is the Busted Flush and ole Trav, still trying to shuck the pretty ladies out their shorts and stomping out bad guys. I hope.

I hope.



Sunday, June 24, 2007

"Stewardess, I think the man sitting next to me is a doctor."

Ed here: One of the great joys of my fourth decade was sitting in a theater with Carol watching "Airplane!" It was so relentlessly funny I remember nearly choking on my popcorn a few times. This broke all the rules for parody/satire.
Now one of my favorite blog spots brings a new insight into the movie.

Thoughts on Popular Culture and Unpopular Culture
by Jaime J. Weinman

With Zero Hour coming out on DVD, I wonder: does anyone else find it kind of shabby that Airplane! didn't give any credit to the writers of Zero Hour?

It's often said that Airplane! is a parody of the 1957 film, but it's actually a remake, and a very faithful remake at that: Zucker, Abrahams and Zucker followed Zero Hour almost scene for scene, and a majority of the dialogue comes directly from the three writers of the original script. (Zero Hour was based on a CBC television drama written by Arthur Hailey, Flight Into Danger; the movie script is credited to Hailey and the film's producer and director.) Airplane! is, in essence, a longer, more expensive version of an old staple from live comedy, which is taking the script of a "serious" movie or play and playing it for laughs. But as Zucker/Abrahams/Zucker have acknowledged, it also helped them because they didn't have any experience with story structure; by using the story and dialogue of Zero Hour, they had a decently-structured plot that they could pump full of jokes. When they had to actually create a story and characters from scratch, in Top Secret!, it was a huge flop (I love Top Secret!, but I'm not surprised it failed, because there's no story for the audience to hang onto). I think, on that basis, that Paramount should have given credit to Arthur Hailey and the other writers, because their work isn't just being spoofed in Airplane! -- their work helped make it successful.

Saturday, June 23, 2007

Just say Noah

Just Say Noah
Evan Almighty's appalling effort to pander to religious moviegoers.
By David Plotz

This was a recent headline on Slate's Entertainment page. As we all know by now, movie reviews don't have much influence on popularity these days. Many's the film that gets trashed and somehow makes it to number one.

But Evan Almighty, starring Steve Carrell and Morgan Freeman, seems to have ignited almost personal rage in reviewers. Those that didn't find it offenseively inane and unfunny found it, as David Plotz did, a swinish attempt to cynically appeal to religious folks. Religious folks as defined by Hwood, that is.

Here's Hollywood's Jeffrey Wells this morning:

Evan Almighty has tanked in relation to earlier box-office projections. It did around $11 million yesterday in 3600 theaters, and therefore won't take it much more than $33 or $34 million by Sunday night, which is significantly lower than the $40 million weekend projection that Universal and other handicappers were putting out a few days ago.

Every big-timer who contributed to this film in some significant way needs to drive out to the desert and hide out for a week or two. I would if I were in their shoes. I'd be packing my stuff right friggin' now, and I'd definitely bring along one of those khaki fisherman's hats and a couple of pairs of Ray-Bans.

Ed here: Remember, the film may do much better business today and tomorrow but given its cost of $200,000 plus, it doesn't look promising. Not to mention the cost in reviewer ill will.

Friday, June 22, 2007

Life and life only per Mr. Dylan

One of the books I like to dip into now and then is a collection of short essays by horror and suspense writers called HORROR edited by Stephen Jones and Kim Newman. I'm in there, too, but I never reread my stuff because, like Seinfeld, I'm trying to set a record for not-puking.

The authors gathered here talk about books that they like especially. One of the more interesting is David Bischoff's take on House of Flesh by Bruno Fischer, in which Bischoff speculates on Gold Medal Gothic.

Another particularly involving one is by Elizabeth Massie on Thomas Tryon's HARVEST HOME. In setting up her take on the novel she writes an interesting paragraph about one of our basic emotionional needs. This is a perfect way to discuss a book about a small town:

"By sheer virtue of being cast in our own bodies at birth, we are destined to live lives of isolation and alienation. With few exceptions, we spend our remaining years in an attempt to leap or crawl from ourselves into some collective better, emotionally and physically. There is a hard-wired need in most people to seek out and to belong to a communal whole. Not necessarily a need to go as far back as the bicameral mind, bt an urge to find a group with whom we have things in common, with whom we feel most often comfortable, a group that accepts us for the unique oddities that we are."

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Thank you, Mr. Boucher

So it's 1985 or so and Carol and I are with Marty Greenberg and Bob Randisi at TSR Games & Publishing in the wilds of Wisconsin and one of the people we meet there is Pat McGilligan our editor (Bob & I sold him on a sf novel that Bob would do alone when the time came, me busy with another project) and he was a likeable, witty guy I sort of left in memory right there in Wisc. So then it's the early 1990s and I read this rave review of a biography of Alfred Hitchcock by Patrick McGilligan and I think nah, impossible. Patrick's a common name for micks; McGilligan even more common. But as usual I'm wrong. He's not in Wisc. He's in Hwood and he's doing very important books about film history.

So what does this have to do with Anthony Boucher? I was looking through the Psycho chapter of McGilligan's Hitchcock bio the other night and came upon a fact I'd forgotten. Psycho was submitted to Universal where three readers wrote coverage on it. They all came to the same conclusion. Psycho a feature film? Are you kidding? If Hitch's people saw the coverage they probably didn't bother to show it to him. Why waste his time on something so unfilmable? But Hitchcock was a fervent fan of Anthony Boucher's Sunday mystery reviews in the New York Times. Boucher loved the book, Hitchcock ordered a copy immediately and the project was soon underway.

Thank you, Mr. Boucher.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Uneasy Riders

Over on the Shocklines blogsite horror and dark suspense writers and readers have been discussing western fiction for the past three days. Here are my contributions of the seventy-two hours starting off with my response to the news that 3:10 Yuma (a fine Elmore Leonard story) with Glen Ford is going to be remade:
I'm with David Bell. I'm leery of remakes on principle. While not a perfect picture, 3:10 for me was a solid good one. I always remember the two worst remakes I've seen--worst for me because the originals were in my all-time top ten best--Night and the City and Cape Fear. DeNiro went a long way to spoiling both of them by chewing the scenery and Martin Scorcese arrogantly or stupidly chose to disregard the themes and tone that made the originals so memorable. I don't hold out much hope for 3:10. The new filmmakers in Hwood understand how to make pretty pictures but few of them seem to understand how to tell a story or get beyond stereotypes in character. Other than that I think the picture will be hunky-dory.
Hey, great, Bring Me The Head of Alfredo Garcia. Any movie that begins with a guy picking crabs out of his boxers has just gotta be good. I remember back then dragging various people to see it. They tried to have me put in some time on the violent ward for awhile. But time's vindicated ole Sam. It's one hell of a good strange beautiful true movie.
Since we're recommending westerns I'd like to push "The Silence" a spaghetti western based on a true story. If you don't expect American production values and you don't get seasick watching all the zooms in and out (this was the seventies, remember how we'd start in Chicago and fast zoom all the way into New York City?) it is for me (and not for everybody admittedly) one of the grittiest grimmest most powerful films I've ever seen. Klaus Kinski is sort of the ultimate villain in this one.
Among the best American westerns ever made are those done quickly and inexpensively by director Budd Boetticher and star Randolph Scott in the mid-to-late 1950s. These are among the most celebrated in film history and deservedly so. My favorite is 7 Men From Now because of the ironic relatsionhip between Scott and Lee Marvin. John Wayne owned some of the scripts and was scheduled to star in them but was too busy with his A movies to do Bs so he handed them off to Scott and Boetticher. There aren't any other westerns quite like them. Here's the list written by somebody for a festival:

7 MEN FROM NOW, 1956, Batjac Prod., 78 min. Dir. Budd Boetticher. The first of the Randolph Scott Westerns (and Budd’s personal favorite of all his movies), the legendary 7 MEN FROM NOW was long thought to be a lost film – until it was recently restored by the UCLA Film & Television Archive, with the cooperation of producer John Wayne’s son, Michael. And what a rediscovery it is: Scott stars as a tight-lipped sheriff relentlessly hunting the men who killed his wife, while fending off distractions from lovely Gail Russell and loquacious bandido Lee Marvin.

THE TALL T, 1957, Columbia, 78 min. Dir. Budd Boetticher. Tense, sexually ambiguous story of rancher Randolph Scott kidnapped by killer Richard Boone (in a career-making performance) and his gun-happy henchmen. Brilliantly scripted by Burt Kennedy (based on an Elmore Leonard story), THE TALL T switches effortlessly from folksy humor to tragic violence, leaving the viewer literally breathless. "In every one of the Scott pictures, I felt I could have traded Randy’s part with the villain’s." – Budd Boetticher. With Henry Silva, Maureen O’Sullivan.

DECISION AT SUNDOWN, 1957, Columbia, 77 min. Dir. Budd Boetticher. The most atypical of the Ranown Westerns, the morally complex DECISION finds Randolph Scott hunting for the man responsible for his wife’s suicide, but realizing he himself may be at fault. Co-starring Karen Steele, Noah Beery.

BUCHANAN RIDES ALONE, 1958, Columbia, 78 min. Dir. Budd Boetticher. Scott stars as a former mercenary, carrying $2,000 in blood money, trapped in a border town by a corrupt family. Everyone is willing to trade a dead man’s honor for hard cash in this almost comically remorseless Western. With Craig Stevens, L.Q. Jones.

RIDE LONESOME, 1959, Columbia, 73 min. Dir. Budd Boetticher. Complex, poetic revenge tragedy starring Randolph Scott as a sheriff-turned bounty hunter, using a young desperado to flush out his murderous older brother. Scott’s final act of absolution at the hanging tree ranks with John Wayne’s last moments in THE SEARCHERS. With Pernell Roberts, James Coburn.

COMANCHE STATION, 1960, Columbia, 74 min. Dir. Budd Boetticher. In the last of the Ranown cycle, Scott buys a white woman back from the Indians, hoping to find his wife. Instead, he finds himself locked in a lethal struggle with a bounty hunter (Claude Akins) to return the woman to her husband for a large reward.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

The Night Reveals

A few years ago I announced here that I could no longer read Cornell Woolrich. I'd read a collection of his in which virtually every story turned on a coincidence that would make even "Seinfeld" writers blush.

I'm getting rid of some more books and in so doing came across a Woolrich collection I'd never read: 10 Faces of Cornwell Woolrich. Last night I cracked it and read a story called "The Night Reveals." I'm once again a Woolrich fan. Yes, there are a few minor coincidences but nothing that causes you to quit reading. The atmosphere is horror-like noir, the story relentless in its sweep, and the characters all the hysterics, sad losers, creeps and killers we've come to love in Woolrich. A really fine piece of work, as is the next story in the book, "Debt of Honor," which just might have been the basis for one of those half-hour shows in early TV days like "The Schlitz Playhouse" or "Climax." A perfect thiry minute drama. And a really slick piece of plotting. Nothing major but it's fun to watch a pro throw fastballs across the plate all day as Woolrich does here.

Monday, June 18, 2007

An interesting take on Psycho

Ed here: As a writer, I'm always looking at the way various books and movies are structured, mainly because I need the help. I look at novels such as The Red Right Hand in genuine awe. How the hell did he ever figure out how to do that? Same with the novel Psycho. I'd been reading and enjoying Bob Bloch since 1953. He'd even written for my fanzines and I'd talked to him on the phone a few times. I still remember getting the hardcover novel Psycho from the library. Quantam leap. Unlike anything Bob had ever done before (though there'd been hints of it in stories such as in the stunning "Enoch"). Not that you'd know how important his book was from Bob. One of the true great and modest gentlemen of my time on the planet. I'm running this sample fom the free encyclopedia tonight. I stumbled across it yesterday. If you want to see the whole thing, the e address is at the bottom.

Alfred Hitchcock's Psycho Opens in New York (1960)
The release of Psycho is often seen as a turning point in film history, representing the shift from Classical to the more experimental "Post-Classical" film. It was a groundbreaking film in its depiction of sex and graphic violence, and its exploration of mental illness was unprecedented. The film's "shower scene" has taken on iconic status as one of the most terrifying scenes ever filmed. Who wrote the novel on which the film is based? More...

Psycho is a 1959 novel by Robert Bloch.
Plot summary
The story is divided (below, but not in the actual book) into several sections, by the character whose point of view is mostly followed in that chapter.
Mary (chapters 1-4)

The novel begins when one of the main characters, Mary Crane, embezzles $40,000 from her employer and leaves town so she can marry her boyfriend, Sam Loomis. On the way to Loomis' house, she is forced to stop at the dilapidated Bates Motel, on the side of the highway. The owner is Norman Bates, middle-aged alcoholic whose pastime is taxidermy. He is attracted to her, and offers to have her up to the house for dinner. Mary gives him a fake name when she signs the registry.

Bates and Mary make small talk, and he mentions that his mother wasn't happy about him "seeing" Mary. He admits that she became "ill" after his father died and worsened after a man she had been seeing died as well. When Mary suggests that she be "put somewhere", however, Bates bursts out into semihysterics. "A boy's best friend is his mother," he insists.

Afterwards, Mary readies herself for a shower (while Bates watches through a peephole) and decides to give the money back before she ends up like Bates. While she is in the shower, however, an old woman surprises her with a butcher knife, and "cuts off both her scream and her head."
Norman (chapter 5)

Shortly before Mary is killed, Mother rants at Bates for daring to bring a woman into her house, threatening to "kill the bitch." Norman gets drunk in an attempt to drown her out, and slips into unconsciousness. Bates enters Mary's room after he comes to his senses, and, finding her dead, cleans up after Mother. He pushes Mary's car along with her body (and the $40,000, of which he is ignorant) into a nearby swamp. He falls asleep and dreams that Mother is sinking in quicksand, only to turn into him as she screams for help. When he awakes, Mother has returned, and he decides to keep her crime a secret, realizing that she is all he has.

Sunday, June 17, 2007

My fanzine days

For those interested in my early science fiction days (all two of you) here's a brief piece I wrote for Earl Kemp's excellent web fanzine this issue. You can check it out in full at My fanzine days ran from 1957-1961. Somebody recently wrote a piece (as I recall) about a car trip that Roger Ebert, sf-mystery writer Wilson Tucker, Vic Ryan and I took to Cincinatti where the 1961 Midwestcon was going on. Them were the days my friend.

Ted White Still Scares Me

By Ed Gorman

The first science fiction fanzine I ever saw was edited by a man named Guy Terwilliger, and I believe it was called Twig. It was extremely spiffy. Guy (I may not be spelling his last name correctly) took enormous pride in his work. And that included the articles that were so nicely laid out. I was hooked. The year was 1956 or 1957. These people were actually writing about SCIENCE FICTION.

For the next four years I was an active fan. My favorite fanzine was Yandro. Juanita Coulson was not only talented but also nice. Husband Buck was gruff but nice. Hell, that kind of relationship played beautifully on screen (Katherine Hepburn, Spencer Tracy). Why not in real life?

Yandro was a gathering place for two or three generations of fans and writers. My peer group, if that’s the proper characterization, was Roger Ebert, Vic Ryan, Mike Deckinger, and—And I can’t remember any other names forty-six or forty-seven years later.

I suppose there were more prestigious fanzines. But for reasons I don’t recall I never quite took to them. Maybe I was intimidated by them. I knew how stupid I was. But did other folks have to know?

When Richard and Pat Lupoff began publishing Xero I had two favorite fanzines. The Lupoffs were like the Coulsons, helpful and welcoming, even to Iowa hayseeds like myself.

I had two writing heroes in the sf field. Robert Silverberg and Harlan Ellison. I was stunned by the level of craft Silverberg had achieved by age eighteen. And early on you saw in Ellison’s work the darkness he would mine in the masterpieces that would start appearing from him just a few years later. And Silverberg’s masterpieces would follow soon after.

Toward the end of my tenure in fandom I published a fanzine called Ciln. I had no idea what Ciln meant. But the other people on the violent ward thought it sounded pretty cool, so I went with it.

The three [There are four issues, numbers 1, 2, 3, and 5, in the Bruce Pelz Collection, University of California, Riverside. –Robert Lichtman] issues were sort of spiffy (not as spiffy as Twig) because they came enclosed in two-color George Barr covers. Knockouts. Among the contributors were Greg Benford, Marion Zimmer Bradley, and Robert Bloch. Bob in fact wrote for two of the issues.

I was then and am now political. I introduced politics every chance I got, especially in the letter column. Around this time Habakkuk was getting ready to appear. In case you never saw it, it was a thunderous exciting amalgam of mainstream politics, left-wing politics, fringe politics, beat writing, confessional writing, and a letter column that was probably read carefully by those FBI agents not busy following Dalton Trumbo and Rock Hudson around. It was where outcasts of all stripes hung out and I was right at home. All these remarks about Ciln and Habakkuk are from memory. Twenty-five years ago, in our second move, my wife Carol and I both lost boxes of the material we’d written in earlier times. I haven’t seen Ciln or Habakkuk for probably thirty years.

During my time as a fan there was one thing I dreaded and that was getting into a fanzine argument with Ted White. Even when he was wrong, he was persuasive. And when he was right, God help you. In memory anyway, he got into more fights than Ali had in his entire career. Most of them were minor battles but a few were epics.

The thing was, I thought Ted was an excellent writer. And an interesting writer. He was one of those people who could take a dull subject such as magazine circulation and turn it into a spellbinder, at least for those of us who cared about magazine sf. I probably read a hundred columns, essays, and long letters by Ted, and never found even one of them boring.

Later, when he began writing professionally, I enjoyed his books and stories too. And when he began editing Amazing and Fantastic…I don’t think he’s ever gotten his due for the astonishingly good job he did with them. They were among the few sf magazines I kept when I unloaded about a thousand or so of everything else when I was diagnosed with incurable but treatable cancer five years ago (doing pretty well, thanks).

And one of the reasons they were so damned readable was because of Ted’s presence in them. Stories, editorials, essays, responses to letters, even a few reviews, as I recall. And some fine stories from writers who would soon be major, not least Dean Koontz, George R.R. Martin, and Lisa Tuttle.

And best of all, I never got into an argument with him. He disagreed with me enough to ding me once in Yandro, but after I hid in my basement bomb shelter for six days, I was doing just fine.

I can still smell the mimeo ink, still rub my fingers together and feel the texture of Twilltone paper, still feel the pride in seeing that first George Barr cover as I stapled it to the rest of the fanzine.

I met an awful lot of very decent people back then and if there’s a heaven I hope that at least part of it is a vast newsstand where we can find all those sf magazines from our era sitting right next to the Ace Doubles and the Ballantines and the Bantams and the Signets that were the lifeblood of our vampiric obsessions.

This is a photocopy of the cover of Ciln 5 (n.d. 1961) with gorgeous artwork by George Barr. Courtesy Bruce Pelz Collection, The Eaton Collection, University of California, Riverside. (Earl's site has a fine cover reproduction)

Miscellaneous quotes from Ciln 5:

Comments on the Magazine Field, October 1961

Donald Wollheim, editor, ACE Books:

“The slump in SF periodicals has not affected ACE Books in any way.
“We will continue to publish on a monthly basis, keeping up our doubles and occasionally adding a second title per month in way of a good single novel or anthology.
“There has been no change in our print orders or pattern of publishing unless it’s been for the better.”

Richard Ballantine, publicity, Ballantine Books
“The SF slump is, I believe, largely confined to magazine publications in that field. Book sales are lower only in terms of number of titles available; the volume remains the same. This is to say that ‘trashy’ SF material is not selling—its elimination from newsstand distribution would eliminate the so-called ‘slump.’ Immediate Ballantine publishing plans include three forthcoming originals: 30-Day Wonder (Richard Wilson), Drunkard’s Walk (F. Pohl), and Trouble With Lichen (John Wyndham).”

I also asked why Ballantine found English SF more to their liking (besides the fact that it is better written).

His reply:
“In conclusion, the fact that British authors seem, in general, to have a better grasp on English usage than do their American counterparts is by no means trivial. Imagination, to be sure, is the keystone of SF. But it must be translated into the terms of the printed word.”

- - -

Saturday, June 16, 2007

You got that right--plugola

I'm listing here some services I think you should know about.


Gerg Shepard of Stark House Press has scanned several of my old novels for re-publication. They were scanned and proofed with 100% accuracy and the prices were far below equal services I found elsewhere.


Crimespree deserves much more support in the States. While it's popular in Europe, it doesn't have much of a profile here. I always find two or three stories per issue strong enough to consider for reprint in our annual Best Of anthology. Plus it's beautifully made.


Over the years I've probably dealt with a couple dozen different internet used booksellers. My complaint about most of them is that they never mail when they say they will. I've paid priority rates for books that weren't mailed for two weeks. I once paid $80 for a rare paperback that literally fell apart in segments when I opened the cover. The exceptions are--I'm glad to say--all the mystery bookstores and (for general books and magazine including pulps) Pandora's Books.


I've had so much trouble with small indy suppliers that I now stick to Amazon and Barnes and Noble. If you've had good experiences with others let me know, especially if they offer better rates than the big two.

Friday, June 15, 2007


Paramount's ace screenwriting team of Billy Wilder, Walter Newman and Lesser Samuels came up with their bitterest, most trenchant screenplay to date with 1951's The Big Carnival--which, perhaps significantly, was one of the team's few flops. Kirk Douglas stars as a hotshot big-city reporter who has drunk himself out of every job he's ever held. Reduced to working for a backwater New Mexico daily, Douglas smells an opportunity to return to the Big Time when a miner (Richard Benedict) is trapped in a cave-in. Thanks to Douglas' promotional savvy, the miner's plight turns into a national news event, attracting thousands of onlookers, newsreel cameramen, radio commentators and sideshow hucksters. To prolong the ballyhoo, Douglas deliberately slows down the rescue of the unfortunate miner--who dies as a result. Thoroughly disgusted with himself, Douglas returns to his newsroom to deliver an impassionated speech of self-hatred, then drops dead at the feet of his startled editor. Test-marketed under the title Ace in the Hole, The Big Carnival turned out to be too bitter a pill for audiences to swallow. As a result, Billy Wilder would never write or direct so uncompromising a project again. ~ Hal Erickson, All Movie Guide

Ed here: I watched this movie yesterday for something like the tenth time in my life. I came to it late, I was in my Thirties, and came to it with the belief that the hype surrounding it ("Hollywood's darkest movie") was only that, hype.

"Dark" is so overused these days (including by me) that it means a variety of things to a variety of people. So let's call this cynical. It posits the idea that average people like us play a major role in urging the press to titillate us with thrills that frequently involve the deaths of innocents. In this case, the innocent is a miner trapped in a cave-in. The Douglas character is the villain here--and given his limitated but powerful skills this is likely his masterpiece--and he is breathtaking in his evil. Only at the very end is he as sick of himself as we are--though I suspect that Wilder ended it this way because there
would be riots in the theaters if the reporter didn't die.

As it turned out, theater riots weren't Wilder's chief worry. Quite the opposite. Getting people into the theater was his concern. The picture bombed.

For me the fim is like watching a coiled rattlesnake, waiting for it to strike and inflict its poison. I don't know if it's major Wilder but it's certainly an important and brave look at mass media. Given reality shows and news of Paris Hilton etc, though, Wilder's snarling disdain for hyped media events seems almost quaint.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Scottoline Moves to St. Martin's; Ralph Dennis

Scottoline Moves to St. Martin's
PW Daily reports today that after fifteen years with HarperCollins, New York Times bestselling thriller writer Lisa Scottoline has inked a four-book deal with St. Martin's Press. Her last book with HarperCollins, LADY KILLER, will be published in February 2008. "I'm just thrilled about the group of people at St. Martin's and the plans they have for me," Scottoline told PW. "It's a big change but I'm looking forward it. I think this will be an interesting, fun and exciting time. They're very creative and dynamic people with a real esprit. I feel caught up in their enthusiasm."

Scottoline's new editor at St. Martin's Press will be vp and associate publisher Jen Enderlin. "I'll miss Carolyn Marino, who was so wonderful an editor at HarperCollins," said Scottoline. "But I hope to have an equally wonderful relationship with Jen. She's so enthusiastic about my writing and has new ideas for my books."
copyright 2007 by Galleycat


Ed here: I'm reprinting this from last year because I read a Ralph Dennis novel last night and was reminded how good he was at what he did.

from 2006

Ralph Dennis

Tommorrow night I'm going to run a piece by the writer Richard A. Moore on the subject of the most beloved obscure private eye writer who ever lived, that being Ralph Dennis who published eleven novels in his Hardman series in the early 1970s.

The books are short enough that I was able to read two of them last night preparing for this entry. The story goes, and the story is wrong, that maybe just maybe Robert B. Parker read one these got his idea for a white p.i. with a black superdude buddy. That is the one similarity the two series share and it's not much of a similarity at all. To me, on a lesser level, the mixed race buddies go back to at least The Lone Ranger.

Where Parker is resolutely BWM and upscale, Dennis is resolutely blue collar (or below). Both men prefer the worlds of their invention to the worlds most of us would call reality. Both the are very good at giving the patina of reality to their respective worlds but their wise enough not to give us naturalism in their books. Chandler was very real either.

Dennis coulda been a contender. His was a narrower fix on the p.i. field than Parker's but if he'd lived longer that might have changed. Parker is a great mass entertainer. A true and enduring star. I'm not sure that Dennis, or most of us, have that quaity in us. That's not to lessen Dennis' achievements, which are considerable. It's just that he never takes us anywhere different. He pretty much lives on the mean streets with down and outers. Parker takes on life in pro sports, life on a college faculty, life on tracking a serial killer. He's like great and classic boxer. He knows enough to keep moving.

Richard Moore is a fine writer in his own right and brings all his gifts to this intriguing piece on the sad life of another fine writer, Ralph Dennis.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Faulkner and Hawks

"I've always gotten a goofy kick out of Howard Hawks' Land of the Pharoahs (1955), which has an upcoming 6.26 DVD release. One reason is that a presumably half-drunk William Faulkner helped write the script. I don't know of any eyewitness accounts of Faulkner's behavior during this period, but if you were Faulkner wouldn't you booze it up if you were stuck writing an ancient Egyptian costume flick?

"Here are four more reasons: (1) those slinky bikini-harem costumes worn by costar Joan Collins (only 21 at the time of filming, and allegedly referred to in mid '50s industry circles as "the British Open"), and the way Jack Hawkins, as the Pharoah Khufu, tears off her covering veil in an early scene, (2) Dimitri Tiomkin's grandiose, slam-bang musical score, (3) Hawkins' tough-guy performance as an arrogant man of action, and (4) the finale that has a crying, screaming Collins ("I don't want to die!") realizing she's been tricked into being buried alive inside Khufu's pyramid."

Jeffery Wells--Hollywood Elsewhere copyright 2007

Ed here: Over the years I've probably run into twenty or so stories about Faulker in Hollywood, most of them involving him getting loaded and sneaking on to a train and heading back to Mississippi while he was supposed to be turning in four pages of script a day. Nobody hated Faulkner more than the execs who were paying his freight. He was desperately in need of the money but couldn't take the work seriously. Not take "Land of The Pharoahs" seriously?

One of the great Hawks-Faulkner tales involved Hawks introduced Faulker to Clark Gable not exactly a brainiac. Gable was polite and said, "And what do you do, Mr. Faulker?" And Faulkner said (alledgedly), "I write books, Mr. Gable. And what do you do?"

Tuesday, June 12, 2007


Lee Goldberg wrote one of my favorite novels of the past few years, THE MAN WITH THE IRON ON BADGE, and he brings that same kind of skill to focus on the novels he writes about the TV detective Monk (which also happens to be my favorite TV show).

Mr. Monk and The Two Assistants is the best Monk novel yet. Remember Monk's fist assistant, the demonstrative Sharona Fleming? She reappears in hopes that Monk will help her prove that her husband is innocent of the murder charge he's facing. Of course Monk now has a new assistant, the more refined Natalie Teeger. Needless to say this novel isn't big enough to hold both of them. Not only must Monk deal with murder and his numerous neuroses, he must also wriggle his way between his two assistants.

There is some especially good detection here as well as some of Monk's most impressive battles with germs. Goldberg not only writes the novels, he also writes some of the TV scripts. His affection for the series shines through in these novels that are so rich with humor and character.

Monday, June 11, 2007

All our love and prayers, Judy

From Bill Crider:

Some Fairly Bad News
I hate to put this kind of news on such a formerly light-hearted blog, but I think I'd better get it out of the way. Judy's been going through some medical testing, and we thought things were going to turn out fine.

We were wrong.

Today we were told that she has lymphoma. That's not good news. So far, that's all we know. We don't know if it's Hodgkins or non-Hodgkins. Or anything else. She's being referred to M. D. Anderson, which is a fine cancer facility, and she'll get the best of care, I'm cure. I don't know what this means to our future, but for now I'm pretty much going to shut down the blog. If there's any good news, or bad news, I'll post it here eventually.

It's been fun, but I think the fun's over for a while. Prayers and good thoughts will be much appreciated. You guys behave yourselves.

Bill Crider

Sunday, June 10, 2007

Dedication to the one I love/hate/did not get preggers

Thanks to Sarah Weinman's always sensational Sunday Round Up of items on her Confessions of An Idiosyncratic Mind I happened upon the following article from the London Sunday Telegraph::

Authors agonise over their dedication as it is the most revealing page in the whole book, says Edward Docx

"There are some novelists who will tell you that it's the characters or the plot that cause all the trouble, or the research, or the pacing, or managing point of view, or controlling tone; but you would do better not to believe them. All of these are exasperating. But the thing that really screws you up is the dedication.

"The book may be good, bad or both, but once it is finished you can dodge it, stand by it, disown it, move on, say you did or didn't mean it, point out that you made it up, insist that it has nothing to do with you or anything that has happened in the past. The dedication, on the other hand, is where you have to say exactly what you mean. The dedication is where you can balls up the rest of your life."

Ed here:


The toughest dedications for me come when a book is reissued ten, twenty years out from its original publication. God alone knows how you're feeling these days about the person you dedicated it to. back then

To my wonderful wife Nadia

Did you have to get a restraining order
against me and humiliate me in front of
the whole bowling team?

-- To my all-time favorite editor Cliff Knotes,
one of the most decent, perceptive people
I've ever known.

Remember when you wouldn't give me a contract
for the novel that went on to win the Edgar, the Shamus,
the Anthony and the Donald Trump Humanitariun awards?
No wonder you raced out of the Edgar banquet as soon as
my name was announced. I woulda been ashamed, too.

-- Dedicated to Alfred E. Noonan the finest friend and
and collaborator a writer could ask for.

You sonofabitch, you got lucky with that punch you threw last
time I saw you in Chicago. Next time I'm putting you right
where you belong--right on your fat ass..

Thursday, June 07, 2007

Blog reviews

That most excellent writer Patti Abbott recently talked about, among other things, the effectiveness (or lack thereof) of blog reviews.

PA:" I wish I believed that blog reviews really helped writers much. But the general public still thinks of them as bogus. When I talk about seeing a book reviewed on a blog, people look at me like I'm talking about the one-page newspaper I used to put out in elementary school with my trusty printing press." Patti Abbott

Ed here: I think one of the reasons blog reviews aren't taken seriously is the names of the sites on which they appear. I'm a bit more than half-serious here. Take my own blog name, for instance.

TENDER IS THE NIGHT by F. Scott Fitzgerald

"A triumph of betrayl and passion."
The New York Times

"Perhaps Fitzgerald's most profound novel."
The Paris Review

"Without question Fitzgerald's masterpiece."

"Engrossing from first page to last."
newimproved gorman

Now just what the hell is a newimprovedgorman, anyway?

Eventually book readers will catch up with reviews posted on blogs. But for now site names send many readers into culture shock. How seriously can you take a review that is attributed to "Bras, Boobs and Knuckle Sandwiches?"

Maybe all my public relations years are guiding me here. Maybe I'm being a prig. But I think decorousness plays at least a small role in the usefulness of blog reviews, particularly when it comes to using quotes that go on the front and back covers of books.

"You won't want to miss this one!"
I Throw Dung In Your

See what I mean?

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Ray Bradbury; Please don't be cynical

MATCH TO FLAME by Ray Bradbury
(Gauntlet Press)

This may well be the most valuable collector's editor of Bradbury's work ever published. Here we have the collection of stories, letters, notes that all combined to create the final version of FARNEHEIT 451. The most imposing of the stories is "The Fireman" (1951 which later was expanded into the now famous novel. Bradbury cuts across all forms of fiction, from the most cerebral to the most popular. His work--his very being--has now inspired three generations of readers and writers alike. Even though he admits that a few of the earlier stories here are fledgling pieces, I found the whole book fascinating in the way it demonstrates the creative process behind his masterpiece.


Please for God's Sake--DON'T BE CYNICAL

$600,000 Advance For First Novel By John Le Carre's Son

Written in his stars: son of Le Carré gets £300,000 for first novel
By Ian Herbert
Published: 06 June 2007

When the mere mention of your father's name is guaranteed to generate a stampede in a bookshop, the temptation to follow him into writing is understandable. Nicholas Cornwell, son of John le Carré, could congratulate himself for yielding to it yesterday as it emerged that he has signed a reported £300,000 deal with Random House for a first novel which depicts life on earth restricted to a 40-mile band circling the globe after a nuclear disaster.

Cornwell - whose father's real name is David Cornwell - was determined to avoid comparisons with him and has adopted the pen name Nick Harkaway in a deliberate attempt to create an independent identity. But the connection ensured that the work, entitled The Wages Of Gonzo Lubitsch created a frisson of interest this week at Book Expo America - the US publishing industry's biggest domestic convention - and six out of seven publishers alerted to the novel by Cornwell's agent, Patrick Walsh of Conville & Walsh, responded within 24 hours.

The Random House imprint William Heinemann eventually snapped up the book, which will be published next May in Britain and in the US, by Knopf.

Ed here: There's more but it's mostly gabble about how the guy is talented (and maybe he really is) and how the book sort of resembles Terry Prachett (I think that was one of the names) and how it "created a frisson of interest" at BEA.

I'm not sure what "frisson" means. But on a day when Paris Hilton walked free after serving three days I don't like the sound of it.

Richard Wheeler; Gardner Fox

From Richard Wheeler:

I've been doing some reviewing recently and have concluded that the country is suffering an epidemic of shoddy publication. I have never seen editing, copyediting, and proofreading sink so low. This is even true of the University of New Mexico Press (a particularly gross offender), as well as the little presses that have sprung up.

I have started to say so in reviews. In my reviewing for Roundup Magazine, of Western Writers of America, I am pointing to shoddy editing and proofing and copyediting. Why bother? Because incorrect usage detracts from meaning and obscures what is being said. Simply failing to include a closing quotation mark at the end of dialogue forces the reader to stop and interpret and pick up the thread. Punctuation has reached anarchic levels. Editors can't tell the difference between its and it's. They permit such howlers as "the Clark's" even though "the Clarks" is obviously plural. Where are the editors? Semi-literate authors are bad enough, but I am going after semi-literate editors and copyeditors and proofreaders now. Badly produced books are a national scandal.

Story editing has disintegrated also. I just read two University of New Mexico short story anthologies that would have profited greatly if the editor had imposed some serious blue-pencil discipline on the meandering and sometimes confusing stories. That is a paradigm for most of the publishing industry just now.

I am reading a book right now that has a name misspelled on a cover blurb ("Deborah Moran" instead of Deborah Morgan). The text is loaded with howlers.

In forty years of association with book publishing, I have never seen such editorial mayhem, and I plan to say what needs saying in any reviews I do henceforth.



Ed here: I grew up reading comic books. Many of my favorite stories were written by Gardner Fox. Mark Evanier, a fine writer and a fine website editor (News From Me), headed up the group that decided which living and which deceased comics figure would received the Bill Finger awards this year. Fox won in the latter category. Here's Mark's description of Gardner Fox's astonishing career:

Gardner Fox received a law degree in 1935 but instead opted for comics, writing his first stories in 1938 for the pre-Batman Detective Comics. He was also the first writer after Bill Finger to contribute to Batman's adventures and was responsible for several components of the character's mythology. Perhaps more notably, he created or co-created a bevy of important characters in comics' so-called "Golden Age," including The Flash, Hawkman, The Sandman, Starman, and Doctor Fate, and he launched what some call the first-ever superhero team, The Justice Society of America. In the late fifties and sixties, he worked on the revivals of most of those features, including the Justice League of America, and also co-created new characters such as Adam Strange. In his amazing career, he wrote an estimated 4,000 comic book scripts and also found time to author more than 100 novels, many of them under other names. Fox passed away in 1986.

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Communista? No!

I see on the net some fans of the alt rock group Wilco are pissed because the band is part of the new VW campaign. Last year it was John Mellencamp who defiled the grave of Buddy Holly and the others.

Couple points here. A) Getting any kind of radio/tv notice in the era of very tight (and generally paid for) Top 20 lists is just about impossible so singers and groups have to take any offer sent their way. B) It's naive to believe that artists of any kind can remain "pure" in an industry as corrupt and incompetent as the music business.

These bloggers remind me of some of the radicals I knew back in the sixties. I've probably mentioned before the night I was dragged reluctantly to an SDS meeting. I was against the war but I also had brother fighting it. I was conflicted as hell, especially when the grunts became the subject of all the scorn.

It was at this meeting that I met the Ken and Barbie of radical chic politics. "Pretty people drinkin thinkin that they got it made" in Dylan's memorable words. They were denouncing and decrying everything. Afterward I heard them discussing how they'd met. They'd spent spring break in (I believe) the Bahamas and had fallen in love there. They drove away in a brand-new Volvo. Real hard-core street people.

Second only to the guy who produced Easy Rider. He famously held a press conference around the pool of his Beverly Hills manse to announce his hope that "the common man" (he'd probably never met one) would go on strike (or somesuch) to protest the war. Another real hard-core street person.

I've never quite understood this idea that our entertainers (and I include writers) have to be "pure" in the sense of a Kafka or Proust. And it's irritating to hear people insist on it.

Monday, June 04, 2007

The Beagles

Ed here: Steve Mertz and I once flabbgerated a party at Max Allan Collins' house by mentioning that we didn't like the Beatles all that much and felt that the Stones were a much superior, infinitely more interesting band. Holy shit. People listened in disbelief. This was something like twenty-five years ago so our comments were even more heretical.

I haven't changed my mind. With all the hype over Sgt. Pepper's flooding every media venue available, I've listened till I can't listen any more. Even a quarter century ago most of the Beatles' songs had started to sound "quaint," of another era. There are a handful of masterpieces to be sure. But to sit down and listen to the Beatles for an hour...arrrgh.

On the other hand, to my completely untrained ear, most of the Stones songs sound fresh and vital even after almost forty years. Not all of them, of course. The ones that fail do so because they're ridiculously imitative (especially the ones that try and imitate the Beatles) or because they're just sloppy in both composition and play. But this type of failure is preferable to the Beatles' type of failure, which was their seemingly inexhaustible affection for treacle.

I admit I may be completely full of crap. Not the first time. But at least today, thanks to the only trustworthy enterainment columnist in America, Fox's (yes, Fox's) Roger Freidman I have actual proof that Paul McCartney is actually as much of a dick as I always suspected:

McCartney: Beatles' End Retold by Roger Friedman

Paul McCartney is about to be everywhere. His new album, "Memory Almost Full," hits Starbucks stores Tuesday in an unprecedented publicity and marketing blitz.

Of course, the main thing is: The album is very, very good. It's McCartney's best since the excellent "Flaming Pie" in 1997. Some of the songs on it are outstanding. "Ever Present Past," a kind of companion to his 1989 "My Brave Face," is a genius bit of pop. A five-song cycle that comprises the end of the album, along with a short rocker "Nod Your Head," could not be more perfect.

But still, the PR blitz means McCartney magazine profiles. Some of them, without meaning to, attempt to rewrite history. A very good piece in last week's New Yorker is a case in point.

To wit: It was McCartney, and not the always reviled Yoko Ono or the easily fingered Allen Klein, who brought about the end of the Beatles. At a meeting among all the parties in 1969, it was revealed that McCartney had violated a long-held agreement between him and John Lennon.

The pair had a tacit understanding that neither of them would ever buy more shares than the other in the music publisher that owned their songs at the time. Steven Gaines and Peter Brown describe the meeting in the very good Beatles biography, "The Love You Make." Brown was the Beatles' longtime publicist and present at every important event.

At the meeting, it was revealed that Paul and his lawyer/father-in-law Lee Eastman had been buying extra shares by the handful. Brown reveals in the book that at that point Paul had 751,000 shares of Northern Songs; John had 644,000. Upon learning this, Lennon, enraged, exited the meeting. Brown says he called Paul a "bastard." It was all over. The Beatles were done.

I asked Paul about this for a feature profile I wrote about him and Linda in 1989. Knowing Lennon would get so angry, would he do it again, I wondered?

Paul did not hesitate.

"Absolutely," he replied. "I was investing in myself."

It was almost the same answer Paul had given John at that meeting.

In that sense, it was a smart move. McCartney today, with the help of Eastman, is a billionaire. And whether you like his solo work or not, McCartney became even richer following the Beatles' break-up thanks to a wildly successful career.

But let's not allow history to be rewritten. Avarice broke up the Beatles, not a wife or a girlfriend.

From Roger Freidman copyright 2007, Fox News

Sunday, June 03, 2007

David Markson--Who Knew?

Ed here--That fine fine site Rara Avis has been discussing, among other things, the two paperback crime novels of David Markson. I remember them because of their sometimes gaudy emotionalism, which was in fashion in those days. They were good examples of the private eye form as I recall and memorable snapshots of NYC in the early Sixties. I remembered them fondly but I didn't feel any compulsion to search them out and reread them, though I did wonder from time to time what happened to Markson. A couple of years ago I learned that he had become a literary star. Here, in case you're interested in his whereabouts these day, is the scoop:


David Markson is an American author, born in Albany, New York in 1927. He is the author of several postmodern novels, including This is Not a Novel, Springer's Progress, and Wittgenstein's Mistress. The Movie Dirty Dingus Magee, starring Frank Sinatra, is based on a novel of Markson's by the same name. In December of 2006, Shoemaker & Hoard will republish two of Markson's early crime novels Epitaph for a Tramp and Epitaph for a Dead Beat in one volume. His work is characterized by an unconventional approach to narration and plot, that is very much his own. While his early works draw on the modernist tradition of William Faulkner and Malcolm Lowry, his later works have almost completely stripped away plot in favor of a fragmented internal consciousness consisting mostly of scraps of historical, artistic, and biographical "facts". Dalkey Archive Press has published several of his novels.

Educated at Union College and Columbia University, Markson began his writing career as a journalist and book editor, periodically taking up work as a college professor.

In addition to his novels, he has published a book of poetry and a critical study of Malcolm Lowry.

Saturday, June 02, 2007

Anne Frasier's take on self-promotion gone mad

Ed here:I asked that most excellent crime novelist Anne Frasier if I could reprint her most excellent piece from Crimespace and she was nice enough to say yes. I'm reprinting it because I agree with it

Anne Frasier:

I’m worried. Really worried.

About how self promotion has become not only expected but required. The more the better. I recently heard a small-press publicist say their writers should invest more than their advance on promotion. Two years ago it was suggested that I start blogging, attend conferences, get involved in more online groups and online events, give talks at libraries, travel to small towns and speak, consider making a book trailer, have online contests, maybe a writing competition, join more organizations, enter my books in more contests, do a monthly newsletter, put together a mailing list, visit more bookstores. I’m sure I’ve left out a few things. The argument for all of this is that publishers have no idea if any of it helps, but it certainly can’t hurt.


The few who agree with me about the futility of self promotion usually say it takes away from a writer’s writing time.

That wasn't my problem.

It took away my leisure time. I’m exhausted, and I’m afraid it’s going to take me a very long time to recover.

It wouldn’t be so bad if my efforts had mattered, but we are all just kids at our individual Kool-Aid stands, holding up our signs, begging people to stop and buy. And on every corner is another Kool-Aid stand serving up another version of cherry-flavored anxiety.

Our family and neighbors shuffle over. But mainly we just stand around and drink our own stuff and go check out the other stands to see what flavors they’re selling that day. And while we stand there delivery trucks go by taking Kool-Aid to stores all over the country.

The national decline in reading isn’t our fault, and we can’t fix the problem by opening a Kool-Aid stand.

I’m giving myself permission to write. Just write. And maybe enjoy life a little bit while I’m at it.

Friday, June 01, 2007

Charles Williams

Ed here: Below you'll find a self-description written by the mwn who comprise 2 Blowhards. It's one of the most enjoyable, sites around. You can find it at

In which a group of graying eternal amateurs discuss their passions, interests and obsessions, among them: movies, art, politics, evolutionary biology, taxes, writing, computers, these kids these days, and lousy educations.

Here's Michael Blowhard's fine take on Charles Williams reprinted from the 2 Blowhards website.

November 20, 2006

Charles Williams
Michael Blowhard writes:

Dear Blowhards --

The reason I was thinking of Gold Medal Books last week was that I'd recently read two novels by the Gold Medal suspense specialist Charles Williams: "The Hot Spot" (source material for the sexy and seedy smalltown Texas noir by Dennis Hopper) and "Dead Calm," a sailboat thriller that was turned into an early Nicole Kidman movie. I loved 'em both.

A Texas-born high-school dropout, Williams knocked around a lot as a young man: Merchant Marines, electronics inspector, etc. He didn't publish his first novel, "Hill Girl," until he was in his 40s, but it was a big success. He continued to write popular novels, and he spent time working on screenplays in the States and in Europe. Yet he didn't wind up happy and comfortable. By the early 1970s, his wife had died of cancer and the kinds of books he knew how to write had fallen out of favor. While still in his early 60s, Charles Williams committed suicide.

Williams has always been one of the lesser-known of the better-known Gold Medal novelists, if that makes any sense. While Jim Thompson's work was rediscovered in the 1980s, Charles Williams' books have remained far harder to find. You don't see downtown hipsters walking around with Charles Williams novels under their arms, for example.

Yet those who have read him have always recognized how good he was. The great John D. MacDonald, for example, several times called Williams the Gold Medal writer who most deserved more recognition: "Nobody can make violence seem more real," MacDonald said. And such contemporary crime-fiction eminences as Ed Gorman and Geoffrey O'Brien have been generous with praise for Williams' work. Gorman called Williams "my favorite of the Gold Medal writers."

The two novels I read were very different in most ways yet they shared a a few characteristics too: a grownup view of the world somewhere between hardboiled and John O'Hara; a tone that's both juicy and unsentimental; and a fascination with storytelling, especially (oh bliss!) the mechanics of tension and suspense.

"The Hot Spot" (originally entitled "Hell Hath No Fury") is much the tangier, sexier, and more colorful read. It's full of sweaty, smalltown atmosphere, and is populated by no-good characters with a lot of shifty trouble and pleasure on their minds. If you liked the movies "Body Heat" and "The Last Seduction," well, this is those films' grittier, earthier, sexier grandma. And the storytelling! Good lord, what a tour de force. I don't know that I've ever read a better-plotted novel. Jaw-dropping yet plausible and "right" plot twists drop out of the blue about every ten pages.

"Dead Calm" is a more impersonal, sleeker piece of engineering. Yet it's shrewd, nervy, and enjoyable -- a humdinger -- in its own way. A couple sailing the South Seas on their honeymoon sees a becalmed sailboat on the horizon. Is anyone on board? Williams -- a sailing fanatic himself -- gives the sailing and ocean-going a lot of convincing authenticity.

He also gives the people and the relationships a kind of depth that makes most literary writers look like wet-behind-the-ears brats. Even as the action keeps moving forward and the backstory that lends the suspense weight keeps falling into place, Williams throws off observations, actions, and behaviors that are mercilessly incisive about marriage, sex, men & women, money, and sociopathology. All this intutive knowledge and wisdom is expressed in the book's story and action, by the way: there isn't a single "literary" pause for an essayistic aside.

And what a resourceful storyteller he shows himself to be. Narrative-wise, the book is like a tight little exercise in formal logic: With only two boats, the ocean, and a very small number of characters, how can the author possibly keep the surprises building? Yet he manages brilliantly. The book is a slow-closing, very deliberate trap that nonetheless manages to snare you. You think you can see what's coming, and you aren't wrong ... until a perfectly plausible, psychologically astute, and completely unexpected surprise clamps you in its jaw. In a saner world, both "The Hot Spot" and "Dead Calm" would be read, studied, and revered by everyone interested in narrative fiction.

Wikipedia's entry on Charles Williams is a good one. Almost no Charles Williams seems to be in print in this country. In France, by contrast, nearly all his work is. (Laugh at the French though we may, they sometimes appreciate what's best about our culture better than we do. Here's an extensive French page about Williams.) Hard Case, though, does publish "A Touch of Death," which I've just ordered. Ed Gorman reviews "A Touch of Death" here. Bill Crider raves about Charles Williams here. Ed Lynskey's essay about Williams is informative and appreciative.