Thursday, July 31, 2008

The Coen Brothers and Barry Sonnenfeld

Ed here: Excellent article on the Coen Brothers and their original cinematographer on the occasion of MOMA in NYC.

The Coen Brothers Were Never Better Than with Barry Sonnenfeld
The Gruesome Threesome showcased at the MOMA
By S.T. VanAirsdale
Tuesday, July 29th 2008

Thank you, Barry Sonnenfeld.

Barry Sonnenfeld is known to tell the story of that day in Texas 25 years ago when he walked onto the set of Blood Simple—the Coen Brothers' debut and his first feature film as a cinematographer—and couldn't turn on the camera. Things seemed to work out OK over the next month and a half—and over the next seven years, in fact, when the trio's work on Blood Simple, Raising Arizona, and Miller's Crossing established each of them in careers that would fork dramatically in the decades to come.

The triptych is the highlight of MOMA's latest installment of "Collaborations in the Collection," an ongoing series that highlights film partnerships. Screening nine films, the program spotlights the Coens' stock players (including John Turturro, Frances McDormand, and Steve Buscemi) and technicians. Few behind the camera, however, had an impact as deep as Sonnenfeld's, whose presence can be felt even in the Coen films he didn't shoot—from the wildly formalist Southwestern sketches undergirding the Roger Deakins–shot No Country for Old Men to the accentuated archetypes recurring over all of the brothers' 13 films.

The native New Yorker met fellow NYU film-school alum Joel Coen at a party in 1982, when he and his brother Ethan had recently completed the script for Blood Simple. Sonnenfeld shot a mock trailer with them to attract investors for the $1.5 million feature. The film would be set in Texas—as likely a place as any to host a jealous husband's passion killing, Joel later acknowledged in the film's production notes, though its status as a right-to-work state meant cheaper labor on a non-union shoot.

For the rest go here

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Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Baby Moll by John Farris

John Farris was my generation's first literary rock star. When his novel Harrison High was published it quickly became controversial because of its honest depiction of life among American teenagers. This was 1959. America still believed that if teens weren't exactly like Ricky and David Nelson they certainly weren't like Elvis. Given the fact that many of these teens would be in the streets protesting the Viet Nam war only a few years later, you can see how badly books such as Pat Boone's Twixt twelve and Twenty misjudged them.

The paperback edition became a companion to Peyton Place, published a few years earlier, both Great Reads and both purveyors of unpopular truths.

Mr. Farris, now famous, was all of twenty-three when the book was published. But he was no beginner. Born in 1936 he could already claim the following novels in print:

* The Corpse Next Door (Graphic Books, 1956) (as John Farris)
* The Body on the Beach (Bouregy & Curl, 1957, hc) (as Steve Brackeen)
* Baby Moll (Crest, 1958, pb) (as Steve Brackeen)
* Danger in My Blood (Crest, 1958, pb) (as Steve Brackeen)

He was writing and publishing before he could legally buy beer.

Hard Case Crime has now given us a chance to look at some of Farris' early work with Baby Moll appearing this month. And fine work it is.

"Six years after quitting the Florida Mob, Peter Mallory is about to be dragged back in.

"Stalked by a vicious killer and losing his hold on power, Mallory’s old boss needs help—the kind of help only a man like Mallory can provide. But behind the walls of the fenced-in island compound he once called home, Mallory is about to find himself surrounded by beautiful women, by temptation, and by danger—and one wrong step could trigger a bloodbath."

If you have any doubt about Farris' writing skills open the book and read the first chapter. It is both lyrical and ominous, an unlikely combination in a paperback crime novel. This establishes the way Farris even then managed to take some of the familiar tropes of genre fiction and make them entirely his own.

The set-up itself is unique. Mallory called back to save the life of a boss he despises but a man he owes his life. The boss got him off the bottle.

The story, as it plays out, is also all Farris'. While parts of the first act brought Peter Rabe to mind Farris takes the gangster novel in a different direction. Given the relationship of the people on the island the book becomes almost Gothic in its entanglements and ambience.

Farris of course went on to write numerous bestsellers, a number of them staples of modern dark suspense and horror, but even here, early on, he was a cunning storyteller fascinated by the perplexity and perversity of the human soul.

Monday, July 28, 2008

Jenny Siler; Mad Men; The Scribes

About halfway through my chemo sessions I start watching the clock. Doesn't matter how I've been distracting myself--book, DVD, audio tape--when I hit the halfway point all I can think is getting out of there. I've never been able to count patience among my many virtues.

Unheard of thing happened today. I was so engrossed in a novel that it didn't quite register that the nurse came over, took out the IV and said goodbye. I know all these things happened because when she came back and said, "Are you all right?" I looked down at my hand and there was the band aid covering the spot where the needle had been taken out.

She was smiling. "We wondered if you were all right. You're usually out of here like a shot. But you've been sitting here for fifteen minutes reading."

True unexaggerated facts.

The book is called Shot by Jenny Siler. In broadstroke it's a not unfamiliar story about a sinister government-industry cover-up set in a small Colorado town. Lucy Greene's life takes a startling turn with the accidental death and then a burglar breaking into her home soon after. Right before his death her husband Carl contacted Kevin Burns, a CNN reporter who got tossed for fudging a story, and told him that he had a story that would Kevin back in business.

Not unfamiliar, as I say. But the truth is in the writing and Siler is about as good a stylist as I've come across in a long time, capable of images of people and landscapes that can rock you. She has John D. MacDonald's ability to take the recognizable types of contemporary popular fiction and give them quirky and real life. She is also a cunning plotter; she structures her story for maximum speed that nonethless allows her make the book as much about people as plot.

I tried to finish it when when I was driving home. (Now that's an exaggeration.)

A damned good writer, Jenny Siler.

----Mad Men

As you've been able to tell my negative review of Mad Men pretty much put that show to rest, eh? Ratings soared! I know I'm in the minority and I'm pretty sure it's me not you.

-----The Scribes

Scribe Awards

Winners in bold type. Link via Lee Goldberg.


CSI NY: DELUGE by Stuart M. Kaminsky
MURDER SHE WROTE: PANNING FOR MURDER by Jessica Fletcher & Donald Bain
**AMERICAN GANGSTER by Max Allan Collins
LAST DAYS OF KRYPTON by Kevin J. Anderson
HITMAN: ENEMY WITHIN by William C. Dietz
52: THE NOVEL by Greg Cox
**30 DAYS OF NIGHT by Tim Lebbon
**NANCY DREW AND THE CLUE CREW #10: TICKET TROUBLE by Stacia Deutsch & Rhody Cohon


**THE 12 DOGS OF CHRISTMAS by Steven Paul Leiva

Letters; I get letters...

(Responses to recent blogs)

(Robert S. Levinson is an award-winning bestselling crime novelist who spent years in the music business as one of the leading agents and public relations men. He represented some of the biggest mega-stars of the rock era. I almost convinced him to write his autobiography which, I was sure, would be eloquent, insightful and generous--just like Bob himself.)

Hi, Ed...

Just caught up with your Saturday blogging and thought to share with you...

Casey Kasem, one of the first and nicest guys I met and got to know quite well after I got into the business and was managing a band called "Don and the Goodtimes." A walking encyclopedia of contemporary music. Gave the band its first weekend playdates, at concerts he promoted at various municipal parks, one of the sidelines that helped make him a multi-millionaire.

Paul Revere & the Raiders were on Dick Clark's "Where the Action Is" when I landed my band a regular spot on the seires. Came a time Revere wanted to replace his bass player with ours, Charlie Coe, who was anxious to make the switch, and we wound negotiating an equitable trade. Think Charlie was still with Revere when he cut "Indian Nation."

"Tell Laura I Love Her" was written by Jeff Barry and Ben Raleigh. Jeff, a Brill Building legend, and I were briefly partners at one time, trying to turn his life story (and his catalog of chart hits) into a movie. Close but no production...Ben wrote many of the Elvis Presley movie songs and often dropped by my office to spend time with Grelun Landon, who joined me following Elvis' death and remained in almost daily touch with Col. Parker...

Memories, memories, memories...


(Ed here: per my comments on teenage tragedy songs a girkl I knew in highs school wrote m and said, "You liked that stuff as much as I did. You just wouldn;t admit it." Probably true, Karen.)

From Tom Piccirilli
(recent winner of thr International Thriller Award)
Hey Ed:

RUN STRANGER RUN is probably better known as HAPPY MOTHER'S DAY, LOVE GEORGE, if you can believe it. Came out a year or two before HAPPY DAYS, so Ron Howard was on the cusp of swingin into either serious dramatic shoes or comedic TV role all-innocence footsteps.

The story features Ron Howard as the new kid who comes to a quaint small town hunting for his biological parents. He finds his birth mom, played by Cloris Leachman, who refuses to tell him who his father is. Murders eventually start piling up around him.

The film also stands out for the fact that it's McGavin's only film directorial, and it also stars Tessa Dahl, daughter of Patricia Neal (and who plays Neal's daughter in the movie too) and Roald Dahl.

Worth checking out in that "didn't they make freakyass little movies back in the 70s" way.

From Mike Doran

Mike Doran said...
And did you know... David Janssen's last theatrical filn was the legendary Sun Myung Moon production INCHON? This one sat on the shelf for more than a year, being constantly re-edited, and Janssen's death was one of the main reasons. The Moonies simply decided to cut Janssen out entirely,which played merry havoc with the continuity (as memory serves, Janssen was to have had second or third billing after Olivier). As things turned out, David Janssen may have been the lucky one...

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Sunday, July 27, 2008

Gettin Sentimental; David Janssen; Lost Movies

From Cinema Retro- Getting Sentimental With John Cleese

"Attention all eligible ladies! If your goal in life is to marry John Cleese, you may want to reconsider. Appearing on a British chat show, former Monty Python star Cleese had jaws dropping when he unleashed his anger on the two women in his life who have caused him the most angst: his now deceased mother and his third wife, whom he divorced in a bitter, high profile court case. Of his mum, Cleese said, "'And she lived to 101 - I thought I'd never get rid of her.' Of his ex-wife, he said, "'Her voice alone could tear the testicles off a rabbit. She never stops talking." "

-----------City In Fear

From Internatioal Movie Data Base:

"City in Fear, a 1980 ABC made for television movie,which is loosely based on the Son of Sam murders, is television at its best. Anyone who gets the chance to view this movie will be in for a treat. The viewer can't lose with veteran actors like Robert Vaughn, Susan Sullivan, Mickey Rourke, Perry King and the forever amazing, but often underrated actor, David Janssen.

David Janssen would have been an Oscar nominee in films had he lived. The character of Vince Perrino played by Janssen is that of a frustrated, cynical alcoholic columnist, who is a man of many excesses one of them being alcohol. Janssen is hired by a wealthy Robert Vaughn, who recalls Janssen as a legendary columnist, who he (Vaugh)hopes can revamp a Los Angeles newspaper that has just been brought by Vaughn, when a series of murders of young women begins, that will by the end of the movie create a reign of terror in the city.

"Watching this movie is almost like gradually seeing the curtains close in on the career of one of the finest actors in film and television. David Janssen died of a heart attack on February 13, 1980, he was 48 years old. City in Fear was a three (3) hour movie of the week. City in Fear aired on ABC a month after his death."

Ed here: This review overpraises the movie, I think, but it's an intersting film only because it reminds us of the influence newspapers once held. It reminded me in fact of a darker version of the old Lou Grant newspaper series with the excellent Ed Asner.

Janssen is especially interesting here because he's hustling rather than hiding. There are several good scenes with Janssen and Robert Vaughan who brings real nuance to his role. Janssen looks burnt out--no making up the baggy eyes, the burgeoning paunch--and that only helps the character. There's a great scene with his agent trying to sell Jansseen to Vaughan in a haughty irritating way. He's trying the old We have absolutely no interest in your offer routine. Janssen looks near death and tries one of his grimacing smiles on Vaughan who then cuts through the bullshit by listing how much Janssen owes to his ex-wives, the IRS, his bank. Janssen adds disollution to his usual sorrow and it's moving to watch.

I used to watch the Irv Kupcinet show in Chicago. No more decent man was ever in front of the camera than Kup. On weekends he usually had stars coming through town to promote films and tv shows. Janssen looked rehab-ready. Really bad and probably half in the bag. I may be confusing shows here but I think this was the one where Tennessee Williams was also a guest. Talk about rehab-ready. Ole Tennessee was born that way. There was a moment of tension when the subject of male gay stars came up and Janssen offered to name a few if Kup wanted him to. Real panic in Kup's eyes. He didn't have that kind of show. Too nice a guy. I don't recall that Janssen was particularly mean about it. His whole interview was sort of off the wall anyway so this fit right in. He chain smoked and sipped what might have been wine and looked forlorn and allowed himself one of those occasional painful laughs. He would be dead within sixty days.

He's very good in this movie. He didn't make it on the big screen but he was a classic player on the small one. He brought intelligence, compassion and quiet grief to a medium that abhorred all three.

------------Run Stranger Run

Looking through John Stanley's Creature Feature book and came across a listing for Run, Stranger, Run (1973) A psychothrillerdirected by Darin McGavin with Ron Howard, Cloris Leachman, Patricia Neal, Bobby Darin and Simon Oakland. What a cast. Anybody ever see this movie?

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Michael Connelly; Casey Kasem; Teen Angel; First Line

Terrill Lankford has produced another excellent video for Michael Connelly. Go here

What I admire about it so much is that it not only builds suspense it takes you into the heart of the book while it's doing so. I'm hoping that someday soon somebody will be doing a video for Terrill himself, one of the most gifted crime novelists of our time.

------Casey Kasem

While driving over to Mystery Cat books today I heard a a 1970-something rebroadcast of a Casey Top 4000 or whatever the hell it was. In the days of many less pound sand far sturdier knees I was a half-assed runner. I always listened to Casey on my Walkman or whatever they were then. My favorite part was the weekly dedication, which I assume was written by some demonic stoner on casey's staff. But I'd forgotten just how cheesy they were-- Straight from Nathaneal West's Miss Lonelyhearts. I'm sending one to the old Caster just to see if he'll use it.

"Dear Casey-- looks like I now not only have my sister knocked up but my Mom, too. Ever since the cops took Dad away again I've kind of had to become the Man of The House, if you know what I mean. Dad always said it was Ok if I spent time with Sis but Mom was strictly hands off. Well, Casey, now my Dad's gettng out of prison and boy is he going to be pissed off at me. I was wondering if you could play his favorite Elvis song `Big Hunk `O Love' and tell him it's from his son DeWayne. Thanks, Casey, I knew you'd understand."

------Indian Nation

I remember a local dj playing Paul Revere's "Indian Nation" one day and then getting all sappy about Native Americans and the Mesquakie reservation (now casino) about thirty miles form here. One of the phoniest most cynical hammiest (and to me irritating) Poltiically Correct songs of all time done by a bunch of no-talent white boys...and this dj is getting all misty. But then there was Running Bear back in The Fifties, another white boy paen to the folks we stole this country from. But it had a great fake Indian chorous hooba-hooba,ias you the elderly persuasion will likely recall.

These were second only to the teen tragedy songs, my favorite being Tell Laura I love Her. Wasn't this the one where the dipshit teen singing the song is in the Indy 500 or something, wipes out aand they drag his burning body out and his last words were Tell Laura i Love Her? I remember laughing out loud the first time I heard it and a girl I knew telling me how insensitive I was. Needless to say she was right. And needless to say it became number one.

-------Politically InCorrect

Carol collects opening lines to share with students in her writing class. Any time I see one I type it out and e mail it to her so she'lll have a record of it.

Donald Hamilton and Philip Atlee are two espionage writers of the Fifties, Sixties and Seventies I find fresh as anybody working today. So I reread them frequently.

Today I grabbed Atlee's The Death Bird Contract from the shelf opened it up and immediately did cartoon eyes--you know. when your eyes bug out like Slinkies?

Here's the first sentence: "I awakened from a dark, drugged sleep, and without opening my eyes knew I was in Mexico because I could smell Mexicans."

Thursday, July 24, 2008


Carol and her sister Christy are on an eleven day vacation on the east coast. They've spent yesterday and today at a Cape Cod hotel so they can hang around with our friends Kevin and Kate McCarthy. Carol says even at 93 Kevin is as dashing and courtly as ever. Nobody tells showbiz stories than Kevin. The vacation cultimates in three days with our son in CT. Granddaughter Kate is having her fourth birthday.

--------William Castle

There's an excellent article on Wlliam Castle on the Time Out London website. Thanks to John Betancourt I have excellent copies of Castle's first three films. They were based on the popular 1940s radio series The Whistler and they are hard-core noir. In fact two of the storylines are based on Cornell Woolrich stories.

---------Roger Ebert

Roger says goodbye to the tv show he helped create. And that made him famous. A melancholy piece that choked me up a few times. Brought back so many memories. As I've said before Roger and I were friends in the Fifties and eary Sixties because of science fiction fandom. (Look in the Amazing Stories of that time and you'll see the name of a certain Bill Crider in there, too.) But at my age and in my health the memoir reminded me of how god damned strange life is.

The people back then. Dick Lupoff, who still writes some of the most unique and memorable fiction of our time. Kent Moomaw, who maybe had more raw talent than any of us, dead by his own hand at seventeen. An excited post card from Marion Zimmer Bradley telling me about selling her novel The Door Through Space to Ace Books. Ron Haydock the most dashing of us all fronting a really good Chicago rock band and then heading to California where nothing went right and he ended up buried in soft corn porn and getting killed by a truck while hitchhiking. One of three sweetest women on the planet Juanita Coulson, and a gifted wonderful writer she is. And her husband Buck who loved playing the curmudgeon. Their fanzine Yandro able to brighten my bluest day. The guy who ended up joning the American Nazi party. The guy who tried to murder his wife. The guy who always had the finest grass an earthling ever partook of--and happy he was to hand it out. Seeing Roger again in the mid-Sixties when I was producing commercials in Chicago (man, Chicago had a lot of bars). For the most part still the finest and most interesting group of people I've ever known.

for the rest go here:

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

The New Hollywood

Ed here: Cinema Retro linked to this article from the UK Guardian. It's a fascinating look at the New Hollywood and an interesting history of how we got here--starting with radio in the Twenties.

Above the world so high,,2291381,00.html

The age of gods and princes on the silver screen has passed, as we turn instead to fleeting celebrity and digital thrills. Phil Hoad tells of how we conspired to kill the stars

Friday July 18, 2008
The Guardian

After he assailed Oprah Winfrey's couch in May 2005, you have to hope Tom Cruise mused on the meaning of change. When he imagined his outbreak of zaniness, maybe it played in his head like a bar scene from Cocktail; but the derision with which the public greeted it was a tiny hint that the mood toward movie stars had darkened since Cruise's jubilant 80s and 90s. Hollywood's reigning king of kings was sacked by Paramount 14 months later, and though he was later made head of the revitalised United Artists, he's not in the clear yet: the knives are already out for his much-delayed Hitler assassination pic, Valkyrie.


Dark clouds have gathered over the whole of Hollywood's top tier. "Star power is definitely waning," says one producer at a major Hollywood production company. "There's no mystique any more. The power of celebrity has been commodified, and that weakens people's willingness to go and see stars. I can see Tom Cruise on Perez Hilton; why should I go to the cinema?"
The showbiz colossi that straddled the industry in top-heavy, high-concept blockbusters are fading: Arnold gone to politics; Mel gone off the rails; Bruce, Sly and Harrison all making their last throw of the dice with the recent returns of their superannuated franchises. Other stars have followed in their wake, of course, but few with the power to carry a movie. Will Smith is the only actor widely regarded as a sure thing at the box office, transcending race, class and even, as this month's Hancock showed, duff reviews.

You can't exactly say the stars got small, but somewhere along the line, in the 90s, it was the pictures that got big. The huge franchises that now dominate the release schedules, rolled out like military operations, often employ ensemble casts and invariably splurge on the CGI, decentralising the importance of the star actor. The Sparta epic 300 was typical of new-millennium thinking: jacked up to the helmet plumes on comic-book attitude and blue-screen aesthetics, but not a big-name actor in sight.

In this climate, the studios are beginning to seriously question whether the A-list are worth the going rate. Going or gone are the deals that were routine a few years ago, whereby a star would receive a fixed fee plus a percentage of the eventual box-office haul (Keanu Reeves tops the earning charts, having bagged $30m plus 15% to make an eventual $256m from the Matrix sequels). With the DVD profits that made these deals possible shrinking, and the world economy on the turn, Hollywood is looking to tighten its belt.

For the rest go here,,2291381,00.html

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

FORGOTTEN BOOKS - The Pat Hobby Stories

Losers have always interested me more than winners. There's a line from a Leonard Cohen poem "The simple life of heroes/The twisted lives of saints." I'll take the saints (though Cohen isn't talking about folks the Vatican bestows sainthood on that's for sure).

My formative years were the Fifties. The films that influenced me the most were the noirs my father took me to and such fare as The Sweet Smell of Success and A Face in the Crowd. No heroes there. The same for my preferred reading (in additon to the Gold Medals and sf)--Hemingway, James Jones, Irwin Shaw (short stories), Graham Greene and Richard Wright among others. No heroes there either. Same for theater (I was writing terrible plays early on). O'Neill, Miller, Williams. Not a hero in sight.

We call a good deal of crime fiction dark. But is it? Cops replaced cowboys and now we have Cops (or investigators of any kind) with Personal Problems and reviewers think this is some kind of dangerous fiction. Not to me.

The constraints of commercial fiction are such that you risk losing a sale if your protagoist is an outright loser. The Brits were way ahead of us Yanks. Derek Raymond has spawned two generations of daring writers. The first time I read him I was struck by how much the texture of his prose remided me of one of my five favorite books of all time, Dow and Out in Paris and London by George Orwell. I read fifty pages of it the other day. What with globalization the world is once again as Orwell described it in the Thirties.

The literary writer Brian Moore (who started out writing Gold Medals and Dell originals under three different names) made a brief early career out of losers. The Lucky Of Ginger Coffee, for only one example, is about a daydreamer most people love but ultimately a selfish man whose daydreams are destroying his wife and children. He can't accept that he's an average guy--a loser. And that turns him into a dark loser indeed.

F. Scott Fitzgerald's work is filled with losers. Handsome, poetic ones, yes, but losers nonetheless. Winter Dreams, as one of his best stories is called, describes the near lifelong love of a man for woman he can never have. He has great business success but still there is his failure to possess her. The last few pages will give you chills.

Here we have The Pat Hobby Stories. They are set in the Hollywood the late Thirties and feature a once prominent screeenwriter who is reduced to virtually begging for work at the various studios that once wined and dined him. The Fitzgerald myth is so tied to the notion of Romantic Loss that we forget that he was also funnier than hell. And causitc.

As Arnold Gingrich said shortly after Fitzgerald's death, "These stories were the last word from his last home, for much of what he felt about Hollywood and about himself permeated these stories."

And damned good stories they are, too. Not major Fitzgerald but cunning and crafty tales of bars, studios, whores of both genders, unhappy winners and drunken losers.

My favorite here is "Pat Hobby and Orson Welles." The luckless Hobby is hanging around the writer's building trying to cadge anything he can get--even a B-western--when somebody mentions Orson Welles. And Hobby almost loses it. Everywere he turns he hears about Orson Welles--newspaper, magazines, radio, movies. Orson Welles Orson Welles.

Fitzgerald uses Welles as a symbol of generational turn. Hobby and other men his age were major players in their time but now their time is gone. One studio head admits (reluctantly) to Hobby that he doesn't know what the hell all the fuss about Welles is either but dammit the young people on his staff swoon every time his name is mentioned. So this studio head and others push enormous sums of money on Welles. Hobby bitterly wnders why Welles doesn't stay in the East where he belongs---with the snobs. The West, dammit, is for common folk. (Well, except for the mansions and Rodeo Drive.)

This is a book fileld with boozy grief, hilarious bitterness and a fascinating look from the inside as to what writers went through under the old studio management.

As Fitzgerald himself said, "This was not art, this was industry. (Who) you sat with at lunch was more important than what you (wrote) in your office."

A fine little collection.

Monday, July 21, 2008


Patti Abbott has a funny bit on TV commercials tonight. I'd like to add three more to the list of risible spots.

The contact lens commercial with the gorgeous girl playing the National Geographic type photographer out in the desert? Please. This woman is laughable in this tough-chick role. The grittist she does is her nails.

I've said here before that I'm willing to lead a planet-wide prayer asking that God teach plugster Billy May how a microphone works. You don't have to SHOUT at it. It does the shouting for you. His carnival barker approach must work because he's now hawking two new products. But I'm sure at family meal time his kids make him eat outside. The blast of his voice would be too hard to take otherwise.

The new John McCain commercial today that blames Barrack Obama for gas prices. No kidding. The part that irritates me is the chorus of voices shouting Obama! when the voice over dude goes and Who's to blame? Lynch mob anybody? I think we're probably working up to that. Hang the Negro! McCain is a stupid man (yet another howler this morning--when he confused Pakistan and Adghanistan!), a privileged bully boy used to geting his own way. Graduated near the bottom of his class in both high school and Annapolis--and only got through the latter because he came from generations of Admirals. Just like Bush at Yale. And spare me his POW story. It has no bearing on a run for the presidency. I honestly expect him to lose it and call Obama a racist name before the campaign is over.


Senator Bernie Sanders and Matt Tiabbi are among the few honest brokers in the senate and press respectively. From a long Tiabbi interview with Sanders.

"Here's the thing: nobody needs me or Bernie Sanders to tell them that it sucks out there and that times are tougher economically in this country than perhaps they've been for quite a long time. We've all seen the stats — median income has declined by almost $2,500 over the past seven years, we have a zero personal savings rate in America for the first time since the Great Depression, and 5 million people have slipped below the poverty level since the beginning of the decade. And stats aside, most everyone out there knows what the deal is. If you're reading this and you had to drive to work today or pay a credit card bill in the last few weeks you know better than I do for sure how fucked up things have gotten. I hear talk from people out on the campaign trail about mortgages and bankruptcies and bill collectors that are enough to make your ass clench with 100 percent pure panic.

"None of this is a secret. Here, however, is something that is a secret: that this is a class issue that is being intentionally downplayed by a political/media consensus bent on selling the public a version of reality where class resentments, or class distinctions even, do not exist. Our "national debate" is always a thing where we do not talk about things like haves and have-nots, rich and poor, employers versus employees. But we increasingly live in a society where all the political action is happening on one side of the line separating all those groups, to the detriment of the people on the other side.

"We have a government that is spending two and a half billion dollars a day in Iraq, essentially subsidizing new swimming pools for the contracting class in northern Virginia, at a time when heating oil and personal transportation are about to join health insurance on the list of middle-class luxuries. Home heating and car ownership are slipping away from the middle class thanks to exploding energy prices — the hidden cost of the national borrowing policy we call dependency on foreign oil, "foreign" representing those nations, Arab and Chinese, that lend us the money to pay for our wars."


I learned today that BBC Audio, the large print publishers, will be bringing out SLEEPING DOGS. This makes me very happy so I'm pleased to report it.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

E. Howard Hunt

Charles Ardai has announed that he'll be publishing an E. Howard Hunt novel in the Hard Case line. I've talked about Hunt here before. Watergate made him notorious though even before then he had a reputation for somebody who swung a little too wide in politics.

He once offered to parachute into Cuba wearing a red wig and kill Castro. The only thing he hadn't worked out was how he was going to escape. Some of this tale may owe more to urban legend than fact but remember Hunt HIRED G. Gordon Liddy to help him burgle Dem headquarters in Watergate. This doesn't say much for his judgement. Liddy was already on the shortlist of the craziest of GOP ops.

I've also mentioned that Hunt started out not as a pulp writer but a mainstream if not literary one. In addition to three novels he also wrote a pay of note and was cited as one of the bright new lights to come out of the big war by the then very influential Esquire. One of the five others mentioned included Norman Mailer and Gore Vidal.

I've never been able to find out why a writer who was working in mainstream fiction as late as 1948 suddenly appeared in 1950 writingt books for Gold Medal. That had to be seen as a step down.

He was a good solid craftsmen. Many reviewers didn't want to admit that because of his association with Watergate but he knew how to tell a story--some of them quite lurid, especially his horror novels of the Seventies as by David. St. John--but for me his Steve Bentley novels about politics were my favorites.

If you want to know the mind set the privileged right-wing Cold Warriors of the Fifties and Sixties just pick up one of his Bentley novels. These weren't the Doomsday books so popular at the time but rather believable mysteries involving the sort of people you meet in and around politics. The rich, right-wing kind. In case you hadn't noticed, they're with us today. Most of them involve the intersection of money and politics. Hunt had been CIA and a GOP op for many years. He spoke true.

Hard Case is doing on a Gordon Davis, HOUSE DICK. It's a good one and worth the wait.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

YAs are bustin out all over; Blog Views

Ed here-with so many genre writers turning to writing Young Adult novels, I thought this might interest those of you who (like me) sometimes get confused as to what's appropriate for YA and what's not. From the NY Times:

I'm YA and I'm OK

Published: July 20, 2008
When my agent called to tell me that my novel, “Cures for Heartbreak,” had sold to a publisher, she said, “I have good news and bad news.” The good news: an editor at Random House had read it overnight and made an offer at 7:30 a.m. The bad news: the editor worked at Random House Children’s Books.

My agent recounted the story of my novel’s sale, its rejections and close calls, and its particularly close call with editors at two Random House adult imprints. Both had wanted to buy it until the editor in chief decided the novel would be “better served” by the young adult division.

My literary novel about death and grief, which I’d worked on for eight years, was a young adult book?

for the rest go here:


I was in a supermarket the other day when a man came up and introduced himself as regular reader of this blog. He said he enjoyed it but he gets the sense that I prefer the writers of the past to the writers of today. I said that that was the case sometimes but that in the last few months I've praised a lot of contemporary authors as well.

The thing is that most writers today promote themselves on line. And many of the same writers, the prominent ones, get muy space in print and on web. So I like to remind writers where they came from by talking about memorable writers of the past.

But as I look back over the past months I see I've recommended, among others, Allan Guthrie, Megan Abbott, Duane Swierczynski , Ken Bruen, Dave Zeltserman, Tom Piccirilli, Christa Faust. And I'd add to that list John McFetridge whose novel Dirty Sweet I finished today. He's one cunning, gifted writer. A major new talent.

Friday, July 18, 2008

Clifton Adams

"It was in the streets of Palamera that Gunner Flagg lost interest in bank robbing as a profession."

Clifton Adams was a jazz musician who wrote westerns of a high order in the Fifties and Sixties. Donald Westlake has talked about how much he admired Adams' The Desperado when it first appeaared from Gold Medal back in the Fifties. And numerous other writers of both crime and western have talked about his influence on them.

While the recent floods didn't do any serious damage to our house in Cedar Rapids, rain did leak ito a couple of boxes in a corner of the basment. Books of course. I was salvaging what I could when I came across four Adams titles, two crime and two westerns. I got hooked on the opening sentence quoted above and read forty pages before I remembered that I had a lot of stuff to do today.

I like Adams because his bad guys have always struck me as real card-carrying members of the criminal class. They aren't mythic. They just want money or sex and power. When you read James Reasoner's fine Draw: The Greatest Gunfighters of The American West you soon see what joke the mythic west is. The criminal class, whether high or low, has always been the same in just about every historical context. I'm sure that street gangs controlled parts of ancient Rome and we have only to look at early New Orleans and Boston to see that various forms of gunfighters roamed the streets and killed a whole lot of peope.

Adams wrote a lot of books and as result some were better than others. I'm partial to A Partnership With Death. I once said that David Goodis didn't write novels, he wrote suicide notes. I could say the same about Partnership. Hot Town is a Hammett-like noir that could have appeared in the early years of Black Mask when they ran hardboiled westerns. One hard mutha of a narrator telling one mutha of a tale of crooked politcians in the old west. You have only to look at the oil indstry today to see that this binch is still doing well. The Most Dangerous Profession is a western crime story about a drifter signing on to guide four easterns on a hunting trip. Good grim stuff.

He wrote, that I've been able to figure out, four Gold Medal crime novels and all of them are excellent. Vintage Hardboiled Reads reviewed Death's sweet Songs awhilee back and had this to say:

"Joe Hooper owns a fled-bag motel in Oklahoma and is about to go under. Along pulls up Karl Sheldon, with his beautiful young wife Paula. Hooper is desperate for extra cash and Shelden, with sexy Paula's help, wheels him into a payroll robbery. Things go wrong, deadly wrong....

"This may be the best crime fiction novel that Gold Medal published in the 50s. It's a story of how things can spiral out of control once you take that step-and you can't go back. Joe Hooper is a character the reader cares for, even as he goes bad. You feel the weight and burden he carries, which slowly drags him deeper and deeper until the end; where he decides his own fate. Adams builds on the relationship between Hopper and his father in the story. Hooper struggles knowing he is disappointing his father through his actions and this compounds his inner torment. Hooper sweats it out throughout the novel and we are right there with him.

"Strong characters, nicely paced and well told. Definitely noir-fiction. Robbery-Cheating-Murder-This one slams into you."

He also wrote a pair of Ace crime novels as Johnathan Gant (paired with other writers in Double Book form) and at least one soft core novel.

Like most writers, he had at least one obsession and in his case it was the relationship between fathers and sons. On several occasions he had the ability to hurt you with his observations on that theme.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Dean Koontz; Talking To Mr. Frazee; Hunting

My friend Dean Koontz has been doing podcasts on his website lately. Dean is a very witty and talented reader and actor so they're well worth listening to.

One of the podcasts concerns the time Dean and Gerda decided to stop by ole Cedar Rapids and visit the Gormans. Carol always says she knows when I'm talking to Dean because no matter where I am in the house she can hear me laughing.

Here's the podcast (scroll down):

-----Steve Frazee

The other night Mystery*File ran a review of a movie based on a book by one of the finest western novelists in history, Steve Frazee. His crime story--it'll knock your socks off--My Brother Down There, won the Edgar.

Anyway, when I was starting out thirty years ago I wrote a lot of western stories because I love the genre. An editor asked me if I;d like to edit an anthology of my favorite stories and I said of course. One of them was by Steve Frazee. I started gathering permissions for the various stories. I asked around about Mr. Frazee and was told he was deceased and that I needed to talk to his son, who was handling the estate.

So I call this number and a very polite gentleman answers and I said that I wanted to talk to Steve Frazee's son to get a story clearance. And then I said, quite respectfully, that I was sorry that Mr. Frazee had passed on and would this gentleman be nice enough to have the son call when he got back home.

And then the man said, "Well, looks like I'll have to do. I don't know who told you I was dead but I guess they haven't told me yet."

I was talking, of course, to Steve Frazee.


My post about the Chemo room and the self-styled tough guy keeps on garnerig mail. Two people wrote me and said that I was wrong to stereotype hunters and that just because he wore a PROUD HUNTER ballcap didn't automatically make him a jerk.

I'm a Midwestern boy. For a year I lived on a farm and went hunting with my uncle. My grandfather hunted and now my son hunts. I'm against hunting unless you're starving and really need the food. I'm a vegan and have been for twenty six years. Back then Carol was diagnosed with MS and our world came crashing down. I found a copy of the controversial Dr. Swank MS diet book and by God it worked for us. She had two years of terrible symptoms but has since been symptom free. The first thing Dr. Swank said was give up all meat. I knew it would be tough for Carol to do that so I did it myself.

The irony is that she's gone back to eating chicken and the occasional piece of beef. Not me. I'm PETA all the way.

I didn't mean to stereotype hunters, I simply meant to describe a belligerent, swaggering tool who did a Clint Eastwood walk getting to his Chemo lounger.

And swaggering is something I know about having spent more time than I care to remember drinking in taverns and bars where the parking lot was there for two reasons--to puke in and to watch two guys damned near kill each other over ladies or chance remarks. This was David Goodis territory and there were swaggering fools all lver the place. Hell I did my share of swaggering myself, though it was probably pretty embarassing to watch.

The only time I have disagreements with hunters is when they tie their pleasures into all the NRA bullshit. I have a moral disagreement with hunting but since I don't run the world I guess I'll just have to live with it.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Stephen Crane

I've been reading Stephen Crane since I was in Seventh grade. The nun assigned me a short story of his to appraise for my weekly reading assignment. Even then I new he was my kind of writer.

In college one of my English profs said that the line of American Lit went from Twain to Crane to Hemingway. That was the connective tissue that spawned the greatest writing in the first half of the last century.

Every once in awhile I hear the argument that Hammett actually pre-dated Hemingway and so the line should include him. I hadn't thought about any of this for a long time--I have other things to do, dammit; Dancing With The Stars is in finals this week!--unti the other night when for no particular reason I picked up Crane's Collected Stories and read The Blue Hotel.

Man, my prof was right. Twain's there in the rough humor; Hemingway's there in the bleakness and fatalism; and Hammett is all over it. especially in the dialogue, that blunt anxious male talk that made Hammett the master (for my taste, much more than Chandler).

I think Blue Hotel is one of the best stories in the language. If you can find a copy of the old PBS TV version of it, take an hour and watch it. The savage weather, the paranoia, Crane's obsession with Nebraska as a kind of mythic graveyard...A brutal mesmerizing story that you can still hear echoes of in hardboiled fiction.

-------------Chemo Room

I received an even dozen letters about my post last night inquiring about my health. Yes, I have incurable cancer but right now I'm doing pretty well. I'm going on seven years with a cancer that has claimed the lives of eighty per cent of the people who were diagnosed with it the same day I was. So I've been blessed. The prognosis is another three-five years. And who knows maybe I can beat even that. I have some very bad days but most of the time I do ok. Not great. That'll never happen for me again. But decent. And I'm alive to see my grandkids grow and spend my days with my beautiful wife Carol and to be in the running for the Histler Man of The Year Award. What more could a Democrat ask for? Thanks for the letters, friends.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Kate Stine; Elmore Leonard; Blissed Out

Hi Ed,

Art Taylor has written a terrific article about books dealing with civil rights which discusses THE COLOR OF HATE.

Would you happen to have a photo of Joe Hensley? If not, could you maybe post a query on your blog to see if anyone else has one we could use in Mystery Scene?

Hope all is well with you!


Kate Stine, Editor in chief
Mystery Scene Magazine
331 W. 57th Street, Suite 148
New York, NY 10019-3101
Tel: 212-765-7124

Ed here: I don't have a photo of Big Joe but maybe one of you out there could help out. He was one hell of a guy and one hell of a writer.

---------Elmore Leonard

I get several review books a week. I open the package and read ten, fifteen pages and if it looks like something that might interest me, I put it on the To Read stack.

In the past two days I've received six crime novels (I also get science fiction and fantasy) and this morning I sat down to see which of them I might like to review.

Three of them surprised me. They started out more Elmore Leonard than even Elmore Leonard is. At one point in one of them I thought I was reading an old Leonard called Gold Coast. Honest.

I suppose Hammett and Chandler were as slavishly copied, too, in their time but my little experience this morning startled me. Wow. So many crime writers have adopted his style, his attitude even some of his scenes.

Just think--if you had to pay a writer for copying him Elmore Leonard would be richer than the Saudis.

----------The Chemo Room

Like most cancer patients I receive a couple of cancer magazines a month. One of them is scientific and I at least give that one a look. The other is inspirational. I have nothing against it but I'm pretty hard to inspire.

I have been diagnosed three times with cancer. The third time turned out to be a mis-diagnosis but it got my attention nonetheless.

I was diagnosed with my first cancer, of the thyroid, in Jan and had two operations for it. Complete success. Month and a half later I was dignosed with multiple myeloma. Incurable.

Around this time I started reading some of those inspirational articles that said that cancer would so consume my attention that I would begin to see all my other concerns as foolish and forgettable. No more pettiness, jealously, anger, spite. I would finally be the dude the nuns always said I could be.

Unfortunately, I was one of those faux hippies who, no matter how many drugs, how much wine, coud never reach Bliss. And I'm afraid my cancer self has failed the same kind of test. I'm still the same pricky guy I've always been.

I was reminded of this while I was getting chemo this afternoon. Usually my stay in the chemo room is pleasant. The nurses are great and the atmosphere is gentle and friendly.

I contribute to this beatific atmosphere by never running my mouth about politics. Hell, a good share of us in there are dying. Better to talk about the grandkids and old times and how those new meds are doing for you.

Today however I sat next to a guy about my own age who swaggered in with a McCain button and a ball cap that said PROUD HUNTER. There was one only seat left. Next to mine, of course.

I buried my head in the new Richard Stark novel (which is great by the way) sensing that it would be best if I just smiled at the guy and paid no attention to him.

This proved hard to do when he started yapping to the guy on the other side about how the Dems and the gays and the Muslims (Guess who? Just like in that New Yorker cover of him!) were a bunch of anti-American sissies who wanted to destroy all that right thinking `mericans hold dear.

Even a couple of the nurses, passing by, smiled at me and rolled their eyes. I of course wanted to play Homer Simpson to his Bart. You know, starngling him till his tongue stuck out a yard or so.

To be my credit I almost made it to the end. But when he started in on Michelle Obama I couldn't take it anymore. I started laughing out loud. Theatrically loud. His head swung around and he glared at me, not sure how to interpret my laughter. "What's funny?"

"Your Rush Limbaugh routine." And then I said, "You seem like way too bright a guy to believe any of this crap. You're just putting us on, right?"

"Hello, no, I'm not putting you on."

"Oh, God, I'm sorry."

But for the final fifteen minutes of my chemo, he spoke his idiocy in a much lower voice.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Interesting bank disaster effect on movies

copyright Financial Times
Paramount forced to suspend $450m financing
By Matthew Garrahan in Los Angeles
Published: July 15 2008 00:12 | Last updated: July 15 2008 00:12

The credit crunch has hit home in Hollywood after Paramount Pictures, which has released a string of hit movies this year, was forced to suspend plans for a $450m film financing.

The studio has been working with Deutsche Bank on a financing that would have provided funds for up to 30 films, including possible blockbusters such as the sequel to Transformers and a new version of Star Trek.

However, Deutsche has decided to close its film finance unit and concentrate on other areas. With the Paramount deal proving difficult to close because of a market-wide lack of enthusiasm for the senior debt component of the deal, the financing has effectively been left in limbo.

Although another bank may yet step in and rescue the package Paramount is likely to have to put the deal on ice. Liquidity has dried up and although film slate deals can generate lucrative returns, potential lenders are steering clear of asset classes that are not triple-A rated.

Both Paramount and Deutsche Bank declined to comment.

Under the Deutsche deal, which would have also covered Tropic Thunder, the new Ben Stiller comedy, and The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, which stars Brad Pitt, the syndicate assembled by the bank would have effectively taken a 25 per cent of each of the 30 films.

But while the bank was able to assemble the equity and junior debt component, the credit freeze meant the bank could not generate interest in the deal’s senior debt component.

In the last few years Wall Street has beat a path to the door of Hollywood studios, with lenders and investors eager to share in the glamour and potential returns of the film industry.

for the rest you ned to log on to Financial

The Strand Magazine Awards

Laura Lippman and Marcus Sakey win the Strand Magazine’s Critics Award

New York, NY, July 14, 2008 -- The winners of the 2007 Strand Magazine Critics Award are Laura Lippman for best novel (What the Dead Know) and Marcus Sakey for best first mystery novel (The Blade Itself). The winners were announced at an invitation only cocktail party in Manhattan, by bestselling author Jonathan Santlofer.

Both of the winners and several of the nominees were in attendance at the Midtown Executive Club. Lippman and Sakey were gracious winners thanking the panel of book reviewers, congratulating their fellow nominees and acknowledging they were up against stiff competition.

- Down River by John Hart (Thomas Dunne Books/Minotaur)

- The Shotgun Rule by Charlie Huston (Ballantine Books)

- The Strangler by William Landay (Delacorte Press)

- The Watchman by Robert Crais (Simon and Schuster)

- What the Dead Know by Laura Lippman (William Morrow)

Best First Novel

- The Blade Itself by Marcus Sakey (St. Martin's Minotaur)

- In the Woods by Tana French (Viking)

- The Mark by Jason Pinter (Mira Books)

- Missing Witness by Gordon Campbell (William Morrow)

- When One Man Dies by Dave White (Crown Publishing)

Lippman a former journalist for The Baltimore Sun, is no stranger to winning many of the top crime fiction prizes, she has won the Edgar, The Anthony, The Shamus, and The Barry Awards. Her latest novel Another Thing to Fall was released this March by William Morrow.

In just two years, Marcus Sakey has blazed a trail as a new and talented mystery author with his two well written crime novels The Blade Itself and At The City’s Edge. A former St. Martin’s author, he has recently signed a deal with Dutton who will publish his next book Good People in August.

"This was such a great group of nominees, it must have been difficult to choose the winner," said Frank Simon, Associate Publisher of The Strand. "Laura and Marcus were worthy winners, in the past few years Laura has produced a fantastic body of work and Marcus is a new talent who I have no doubt in the future will be nominated for the best mystery novel award."

Nest year, the panel of judges will led by Otto Penzler and will feature critics from The Washington Post, the LA Times, The Associated Press, NPR, Time Magazine, Publishers Weekly and The New York Sun. For more information, please contact Christine Jones at 248 569 3702 or


Sunday, July 13, 2008

Piccirilli; Edwards; Sallis

Two writers who are good friends of this blog have won major awards:

The International Thriller Writers Award for Best Paperback Original has gone to Tom Piccirilli for his novel The Midnight Road.

The UK Crime Writers have given the Short Story Dagger to Martin Edwards "The Bookbinder's Apprentice"


-------Thomas Disch

Ed here: James Sallis his written an eloquent goodbye to his friend Tom Disch and in the course of it reminded all us scribblers what our chosen calling is really all abou.

"Outside the science fiction world, little notice seems to have been taken of Tom's death. Not that he fit at all comfortably in that world either, mind you. He was one of a kind, possessed of a particular, quirkily American genius, forever on the fence between the literary and the pulpish, poetry and fiction, realism and the fantastic, genteel and aggressive, uptown, downtown.

"He wrote some of the best short stories ever put to page. A lot of the best short stories ever put to page. And his novels, especially "Camp Concentration," "334" and "On Wings of Song," for their quality and their influence, merit a place among the classics of SF. Add reams of astute criticism, hundreds of poems, marvelous romps like "Black Alice."

"Making their way to the inmost chambers of caves, bypassing other interiors that seem to us just as suitable, our ancestors covered walls with their paintings. We've little idea what purposes (social? religious?) the chambers served, all those detailed renderings, those grand animals. But there in privacy a few invented, for us all, the entire vocabulary of our arts: image, narrative, celebration, form. They speak to us still: We were here. This is what we saw. This is how we experienced our world."

For the rest go here,0,3532164.story

Saturday, July 12, 2008


Yes, another cranky post from Gorman...

Tonight Patti Abbott talks about the use of backstory in fiction. I thought I'd post my response here.

One of the reasons I read so little contemporary hardboiled crime fiction is because there is so little character development. The old hardboiled stuff had its character cliches but so does the new stuff. You see same characters again and again all comepeting to be cool and stylish in that neo-noir way.

This is probably my age showing yet again. But I grew up reading Hemingway and Falkner and Fitzgerald and John O'Hara and Irwin Shaw (short stories) and Cheever and I was always aware that some of their greatest art was in how they used backstory to enrich the reading experience. Hell, some of their best writing and most stunning observation was in the backstory.

And I found the same thing in JohnD, Charles Williams, Peter Rabe, Vin Packer, W.R. Burnett etc.

I realize that fiction has changed, in many respects for the better, but terseness for the sake of terseness gets tiresome to me.

If you want to know how backstory can be just as powerful and compelling as fron story (and not slow the action) I recommend reading Appointment in Samarra by John O'Hara.

Friday, July 11, 2008

Anthony Boucher about Richard Matheson; Jack O'Connell

Todd Mason was good enough to send along the following Anthony Boucher tribute
frm the 1958 World SF Convention

[Lastly, we should not overlook the convention's Guest of Honor Richard Matheson, for whom Anthony Boucher wrote an appreciation:]

One day in November, 1949, a 23-year-old graduate of the University of Missouri's School of Journalism, who had been trying for five unsuccessful months to see if he could get anywhere as a freelance writer, sat down in an old two-family Brooklyn house, wrote a 1200-word short-short in 40 minutes, and sent it off (God bless him!) to that brand-new publication, The Magazine of Fantasy (which was soon to add + Science Fiction to its title).

McComas and I found in the slushpile this story beginning "X - - - - This day when it had light mother called me a retch"; and our eyes popped. What was the matter with us, we asked, that we'd never heard of this Richard Matheson? Obviously a first rate professional - probably a writer in some other line experimenting with science-fantasy. And would readers, we asked ourselves further, put up with such experimental technique, or would they insist on closer adherence to familiar pulp methods? We very nearly decided (a terrifying if-crux) that the story was superb but unpublishable; but after all it took up only three pages. . . .

Those three pages were in our Summer, 1950, issue, which contained stories by Elisabeth Sanxay Holding, Cleve Cartmill, Andre Maurois, H. R. Wakefield, and A. Bertram Chandler, all pretty fair fantasy-writers. But the sensation of the issue, as every fan now knows, was Richard Matheson's "Born of Man and Woman". It was the most spectacularly successful of all the many notable firsts F+SF has brought forth.

Within a matter of months, Matheson had advanced from unpublished writer to author of an accepted classic.

Needless to say, matters moved more slowly after that. Stories don't always write themselves in 40 minutes; not all stories (even good ones) sell; not all sold stories (even great ones) create much stir. But at the end of a little over a year from his first sale, Matheson had sold 13 stories, chiefly to us, to Horace Gold, and to Damon Knight.

And what's important about those early sales, as about all Matheson stories since, is that they were widely varied in manner and matter, yet all recognizably Mathesonian - never just-another-commercial-story that might carry any by-line at all.

Matheson has gone on to many types of writing - crime novels, paperback s.f., stories for magazines outside our field (especially Playboy), films - and all his work is marked by the same integrity, the same ability to retain individuality while filling the needs of a market.

And what is the most striking characteristic of this Matheson individuality? It is that, as Robert Bloch has written, "Matheson gets closer to his characters than anyone else in the field of fantasy today. . . . You don't read a Matheson story - you experience it."

He has many other virtues, notably an unusual agility in trick prose and trick construction and a too-little-recognized (or exercised) skill on offtrail humor; but his great strength is his power to take a reader inside a character or a situation.

On its more realistic level, this power can be verified. In "Old Haunts" Matheson wrote from the inside about middle age. In "The Test" he described an agonizing parent-child relation which he has never experienced. In each case, I know that his projection from within is so painfully real and true that I believe him unquestioningly when be shows what is inside an amorous Venus girl or an involuntary telepath or a mutant who drips green.

How Matheson knows these things could itself be the subject for a Matheson story. I've no idea how it's done; but believe me, he knows.

Listen to him.

-------Jack O'Connell
writes a piece about keeping notebooks. I find myself keeping one these days so I was intersted in what Jack had to say.

Ecstatic Days
Jeff VanderMeer

Jack O’Connell / Resurrectionist Week: O’Connell on “The Notebook”

“Good Christ,” I can hear him muttering. “Not another ramble on the meaning of notebooks.”

As usual, I mostly agree with Hector (my pet name for the imagined reader in the shadows, always a little bitchy, never prepared to give me an inch). “Didn’t Ms. Didion cover this subject pretty splendidly about four decades ago?” H asks. “You really think you might have something to add?”

Probably not. But let’s find out.

In Jill Krementz’s photo book of writers’ desks, we view more than a hundred pages of scribes at their main lab stations—each one in some way utterly suited to its owner—before we come to Richard Ford, whose desk differs somewhat from those of his colleagues. “My ‘desk’,” writes Ford in the commentary that accompanies his photo, “is more of a concept than a thing. It’s like the ‘Belize desk’ at the State Department; an idea more than a place you actually sit at.”

While I’ve worked at the same desk since 1975, Ford’s definition fits well with my own sense of my notebook.

The notebook, to me, is an idea, an all-encompassing repository for my quirky consciousness as it winds its way forever upriver. It’s a continuously evolving incubator, inherently messy, fragmented, idiosyncratic, loquacious, forgetful, quixotic, and occasionally (okay, often) full of half-witted and badly expressed notions.

for the rest go here

Thursday, July 10, 2008

William Campbell Gault

As I've mentioned before, one of the true pleasures of editing Mystery Scene for eighteen years was getting to talk with (on the phone) so many of the writers I'd grown up reading.

One of my favorites was Bill Gault. Here's what I wrote about Bill on Bill Crider's blog in 2005: " I'm pretty sure that Raymond Chandler called Bill Gault's Don't Cry For Me the best private eye novel of Bill's generation (still looking for the quote). Its voice remains one of the most compelling and unique I've ever read--that of a decent guy who votes Republican and strikes out in the love zone. Not your average crime story hero. In fact, not a hero at all.

"Bill was the sweetheart of sweethearts. I can still hear that tobacco cackle of his. We talked three or four times a year for several years and it was always a pleasure. He was everything I admire as a child of the working class."

I mention Bill tonight because there's an interesting review of his novel The Canvas Coffin For me Coffin is good solid Gault but if you want a remarkable crime novel start with Don't Cry For Me. I remember asking Bill where the voice for that book had come from and he knew exactly what I meant. We'd spoken in an earlier conversation about Mark Twain's notion that good writing is to a large degree speech. Bill said that he "heard" the voice early in the book and then just sort of hung on for the ride. The Edgar Committee agreed. He won for Best First that year.

Gault deserves to be brought back. He was a compelling short story writer who looked at the world honestly if sardonically and found a good deal of it to be depressingly hilarious. His various takes on the culture of Fifties Southern California hold up well today.

My favorite Bill Gault story, which I've told here before, came one night when we were talking about his old friend John D. MacDonald. They were friends from the pulp days but had had a falling out over the Viet Nam war. Bill was against it, John D. for it. They didn't communicate for several years. But around the time of this phone call they'd started corresponding again and Bill was very happy about it.

So we're rambling on and Bill said You know how much money John made on those Gold Medal paperbacks--one hell of a lot. And you know what he did with it?

Now being the low born type I am I was ready for some gossip. He bought fourteen year old hookers? He spent it all on his heroin addiction? He was helping to fund a violent overthrow of the government?

No, Bill said in an accusatory way, he invested it!

I laughed my ass off. He sounded like one of my uncles back from the war. Now why would a regular fella invest his money when he could blow it on booze and broads and a little gambling now and then?

He started laughing with me, of course. But his John D story made me think of all those early paperback guys who died broke financially and spiritually (read Bill Pronzini's great profile of Gil Brewer for just one example). I think I would've preferred the John D. way.

Find a copy of Don't Cry For Me. If it was good enough for Chandler it should be good enough for the rest of us.

Wednesday, July 09, 2008

Repeating yourself; Dusty Springfield

The ingenious and industrious Marv Lachman has a funny piece on Mystery*File Blog tonight about how certain writrs repeat themselves. I remember when an English magazine did this to Jack Higgins. Higgins really repeated himself but I liked his early books anyway.

by Marvin Lachman

In clichesville, the equivalent of the gothic heroine is our old friend, the Private Eye – male variety. Frank Kane’s Johnny Liddell was a harmless example of the species – not vicious like Mickey Spillane but not possessing the social conscience of Mike Shayne of Lew Archer either. Recent reading of three of Kane’s books back-to-back showed that he “borrowed” liberally from himself. By the third book I had a feeling of déjà vu, and a fast rereading showed why, as the following quotes indicate. (NOTE: All page numbers are from Dell paperback editions.)


Poisons Unknown, page 63: “Gabby Benton was on her second cup of coffee, third cigarette, and fourth fingernail when Johnny Liddell stepped out of a cab. . . ”

Red Hot Ice, page 18: “Muggsy Kiely was on her third cup of coffee and her fourth fingernail when Johnny Liddlell walked into….”

Red Hot Ice, page 27: “Her legs were long, sensuously shaped. Full rounded thighs swelled into high-set hips, converged into a narrow waist. Her breasts were firm and full, their pink tips straining upward.”

Poisons Unknown, page 182: “The whiteness of her body gleamed in the reflected light from the windows. Her legs were long, sensuously shaped. Full rounded thighs swelled into high-set hips, converged into the narrow waist he had admired earlier in the evening. Her breasts were full and high, their pink tips straining upward.”

for the rest go here:

------Dusty Springfield

Last night I talked about swapping e mails with Jack O'Connell about various movies, tv shows and books we still care about even after many, many fads, movements and eras have come and gone. We both like Dusty Springfield's music very much and here's Jack writing tonight on the great Dusty herself.

"I was marginally aware of a couple of other ’50s-esque tunes by Dusty–“I Only Want to be With You,” “Wishin’ and Hopin’” and the Doris Day-ish (I always thought) “You Don’t Have to Say You Love Me.”

"Imagine my shock this week to discover that DS was a bisexual Irish soul singer from Ealing, England.

"Blame this, like so many things in my life, on insomnia. You’ve been there, certainly: It’s 3 a.m. and, giving up on any hope of dreaming, you’ve returned to the couch and the tube. You stumble onto Steve McQueen’s face and, of course, put down the remote. Pretty soon, you hear the familiar melody that, in your youth, was emblematic of everything you opposed–the muzakization of all that was genuine and visionary and original: “The Windmills of Your Mind.”

"But tonight, for the first time in your life, you’re not hearing “Windmills” as an anthem of easy listening brain rot. You’re not hearing it as prime fodder for a thousand lounge lizard piano men. You’re not even hearing it as a popular Carol Burnett Show punch line.

"Your ears don’t lie. You have crossed the Rubicon into fogy-dom. Yes, it’s 3 a.m., but this is no excuse. Admit it: You are digging the song. You are hearing its worth. You are letting it propel you backward into a perspective you didn’t think you could ever possibly possess.

"And so, for reasons you don’t fully understand, you start to do some research. "

for the rest go here:

Tuesday, July 08, 2008

Jack O'Connell's Baptism

For several years now my friend the brilliant (yes, brilliant) novelist Jack O'Connell and I have been trading e mails about pulp fiction, Gold Medals, forgotten TV showsand being raised Catholic . Oh--and how the world would be a much better place if it would onlyl do what we tell it to.

Jack's new novel The Resurrectionist has been called brilliant (yes, brilliant) by just about every reviewer and critic lucky enough to have latched on to a copy.

The world knows about his career but how did it begin? What was the inspiration? On Jeff Vandermeer's site Ecstatic Days Jack writes a fine true elegant piece about his literary Baptism.

Here are a few samples:

Jack O’Connell / Resurrectionist Week: O’Connell on His “Baptism”

"It is at this moment, in the waning hours of the fourth grade, that the latest issue of Our Weekly Reader arrives one Friday afternoon. Sr. Mary Charles waits until the end of the day to distribute our copies, which, upon receipt, I discover, contains a book-order supplement. I walk home wondering if the pulpy little supplement might offer another Peanuts or Andy Capp or Wizard of Id cartoon collection. Wondering which paperback will claim my hard-earned 50 cents. But when I enter my bedroom and spread out the supplement on my gunmetal desk, my eyes lock, at once, onto a different offering. And refuse to budge.

"Maybe it’s the cover art—though the reproduction is tiny and printed in black & white. Maybe it’s the thumbnail plot description, which sounds terrifically exciting. Maybe it’s the title itself: Time of the Great Freeze. But in the moment that I fixate on this little novel, I know I need look no further. I have found my selection. In addition, I know I’m done with cartoon books. And beyond this, I understand that I need to memorize the author’s name: Robert Silverberg.

"I fill out the order form. I find two quarters in the desk’s middle drawer and scotch tape them to the form. I place form and taped coins in an envelope and place it, like a holy relic, in the center of my desk. And for the rest of the afternoon and evening, I try to ignore the current of electricity vibrating along my spine."

for the rest go here

Monday, July 07, 2008

The Invaders

A friend of mine and I were talking about 60s and 70s TV series today and one of the shows that came up was The Invaders. So tonight I dragged out an old VHS tape I have and watched the first episode.

Hadn't seen the series in years and as it opened I realized I hadn't seen any of the Quinn Martin shows that dominated TV in the those decades in a long, long time. Man did he have a formula. Prologue, five acts, epilog. Dramatic voice over. Cool graphics in and out of each act. Brought back memories of The Fugitive primarily but also all those bland crime shows that had good runs back then, namely Cannon and Barnaby Jones. Cookie cutter, yes, but watchable.

The Invaders, probably because it was created by the grand poobah of paranoia Larry Cohen, had more going for it than any other QM production iwith the exception of The Fugitive. Because this thing mixes noirish effects and enough physical action to double as a Saturday morning program.

I'd also forgoten how efficient QM shows were. Not a wasted shot or moment. Everything plays to story. The story is simple enough, Roy Thinnes (who walked off a Hitchcock movie as I recall because he disagreed with Hitchcock on how to play a scene) is physically right for the show and that's all that matters. Here he's playing the David jansenn role butwithout the sadness Janssen brought to his roles.

One night on his way back home after a long trip David Vincent pulls over to sleep and sees a flying saucer land. The sound and lights wake him. He finds himself in a hick town that is almost deserted. A company has been buying up all the property including the main employer. Long story short, nobody believes him, including his business partner, James Daly. Ends up in a hospital run by aliens, escapes and tries to find evidence that the aliens exist.

It's a sweaty version of Invasion of The Body Snatchers with visuals that remind me in places of It Came From Outer Space, especially the aliens in working clothes.

I enjoyed it for what it is, relentless pulp acted and produced with showy skill and the ability to take itself completely seriously.

I am assured that the one to watch for is the episode with Suzanne Pleshette in which she plays a stripper. My friend tells me it's in the mail.

Sunday, July 06, 2008

Thomas Disch, R.I.P.

Ellen Datlow is reporting that Thomas Disch has died by taking his own life.

In the late Sixties and early Seventies The New Wave became the most controversial era in the history of science fiction. Many traditionalists abhored it, many New Wavers felt an almost religious duty to change the form into something far more experimental and meaningful than the old pulp formulas.

I was excited by a lot of it. The novels Terry Carr published in his Ace Specials line, for instance, remain on my shelves today. Not all were great but most were very good and a few turned out to be lasting contributions to the genre.

The first novel I read by Thomas Disch was Camp Concentration when it was serialized in the British magazne New Worlds, the Bible of the New Wave. I haven't read it in a few decades but back then I was struck by the purity of the concept and the skill of the execution.

I can't say I kept up wth his novels. For all their skill, even genius, there was a bitterness in them that put me off. I'm sure this marks me as hopelessly square but so be it. He was easier to appreciate, for me, in shorter form and he wrote many excellent short stories from early on to well into his later career.

He was a witty, cultured, often brilliant writer and the field is certainly the poorer without him. Fortunately, he left a large body of work behind him for future generations to enjoyand admire.

Here's are excerpts from Wikipedia .

As mentioned, Disch's New York began with a string of blue-collar jobs, working full-time while attending college. While he worked those jobs, he was trying his best to leave behind the influence of his father, a traveling salesman; he dipped into a wide variety of jobs - almost anything that would keep him afloat - while he investigated his many interests. Some of these jobs paid off later - doing grunt-work in New York theater culture allowed him to both pursue his life-long love of drama and led to work as a magazine theater critic. Before his critical and non-fiction work, however, he started with short stories, poetry, and eventually novels.

His first published poems, though reaching print later (the first in 1964, though not collected until 1972), were written alongside the stories and novels which made his name in the 1960s. Although he presented his poetry presented to a different audience than his fiction — even simplifying his by-line from Thomas M. Disch to Tom Disch — both genres emerged from the same expanding mind and changing times. Disch entered the field of science fiction at a turning point, as the pulp adventure stories of its older style began to be challenged by a more serious, adult, and often darker style. This movement, called "New Wave", tried to show that the ideas and themes of science fiction could be developed past the simple desires of an audience of twelve-year-olds. Rather than trying to compete with mainstream writers on the New York literary scene, Disch plunged into the emerging genre of science fiction, and began to work to liberate it from some of its strict formula and narrow conventions. Much of his more literary science fiction was first published in English author Michael Moorcock's New Wave magazine, New Worlds.

During his long and varied career, Disch found his way into other forms and genres. As a fiction writer and a poet, Disch felt typecast by his science fiction roots. "I have a class theory of literature. I come from the wrong neighborhood to sell to The New Yorker. No matter how good I am as an artist, they always can smell where I come from."[5]

Saturday, July 05, 2008

Tom Piccirlli - John Keats

Eddie Muller praises Tom Piccirilli's latest novel (and a few more besides). San Francisco Chronicle on Friday.

"You can tell that Tom Piccirilli cut his teeth writing horror fiction. He loves sensation and never shies away from it. His prose has the visceral punch of the best pulp writers of the past century. His move into crime fiction is welcome: The Cold Spot (Bantam; 320 pages; $6.99 paperback) is both funny and ferocious as it describes a young car jockey's desperate attempts to escape the brutal legacy of his criminal father. Piccirilli bangs it out like an old-school penny-a-worder, but his stories are worth their weight in gold. Also out now is the more somber but equally good The Fever Kill (Creeping Hemlock Press; 224 pages; $16.95 paperback). Later this month comes The Choir of Ill Children (Night Shade Books; 240 pages; $25), a gothic noir that mates Flannery O'Connor with Stephen King, an unnerving prospect indeed."


Excerpts from a fascinating article in the current New Yorker on the immortal Romantic poet John Keats

"Of all the piteous elements in Keats’s story, none is more distressing than the idea that he went to his grave convinced of his failure… by Adam Kirsch

"In July, 1820, John Keats published his third and final book, “Lamia, Isabella, The Eve of St. Agnes and Other Poems.” He had no reason to expect that it would be a success, with either the public or the critics: in his short career, the twenty-four-year-old poet had known nothing but rejection on both fronts. After his first book, “Poems,” appeared, in 1817, his publishers, the brothers Charles and James Ollier, refused to have anything more to do with him. In a letter to the poet’s brother George, they wrote, “We regret that your brother ever requested us to publish his book, or that our opinion of its talent should have led us to acquiesce in undertaking it.” They went on, “By far the greater number of persons who have purchased it from us have found fault with it in such plain terms, that we have in many cases offered to take the book back rather than be annoyed with the ridicule which has, time after time, been showered upon it.”


..."When Keats’s long poem “Endymion” came out, the following year, from a different firm, the ridicule was even worse, and far more public. The leading Tory magazines of the day published savagely satirical reviews, linking the poem’s undisciplined exuberance with its author’s working-class origins. Keats was the son of a stable-keeper, and he had trained as an apothecary: no wonder, the critics smirked, that he had fallen in with the sentimental “Cockney School” of poets, led by the radical journalist Leigh Hunt. Keats’s class and his liberal politics were enough to damn him sight unseen.."


"... by the summer of 1820 he knew that he would not live to publish another book. Tuberculosis was slowly choking him to death, leaving him without the will or the energy to work: he had written almost no poetry since late the preceding year, and would write no more before he died, in Rome, in February, 1821.. Keats continued to believe that, with time and study, he would have become a great poet, but he was starting to agree with the critics that nothing he had written could prove it. A year before his death, he wrote that he was reconciled to failure: “ ‘If I should die,’ said I to myself, ‘I have left no immortal work behind me—nothing to make my friends proud of my memory—but I have lov’d the principle of beauty in all things, and if I had had time I would have made myself remember’d.’ ”

He died at age 24.

Friday, July 04, 2008

William Holden--noir hero?

Despite his looks and grace, William Holden never quite fit comfortably into the leading man role. There was always a sense of loss in his characters, sometimes obviously, sometimes submerged (as when he played comedy). But always there. Here are a few excerpts from an excellent article on Holden's career. For the complete piece (and a fine one it is) go here

The poignant case for William Holden
by Michael Atkinson posted July 2, 2008
Email | Print
William Holden: A Different Kind of Hero,
Film Society of Lincoln Center, July 2-15, 2008

"Such is the nature of our intimate, carking, rueful relationship with William Holden, on the surface one of the Hollywood century's typical all-purpose leading men, but beneath it the keeper of poisoned secrets, and a living embodiment of America's postwar self-doubt and idealistic failure. He seethed with disappointment as a persona, and we all knew what he meant. Holden was the anti-Duke, an avatar of hopelessness, shrouded in the smiling physique of an all-American boyo. For every high school football star turned pot-bellied gym teacher, every prom queen turned food-stamp mom, and every good-hearted B student turned Cracker Barrel waiter, Holden was the walking, talking, growling truth, in a sea of showbiz lies.


"Holden's fungal aura genuinely began to form in Rudolph Maté's The Dark Past (1948), in which he played a miserable, hair-trigger sociopath who has his wretched childhood dredged up for him by kidnapped shrink Lee J. Cobb, but it was Billy Wilder's camphorous Sunset Blvd. (1950) that seems to have been written with Holden's particular discomfort in mind. Wilder's disinterment of the old Hollywood, and Gloria Swanson's lurid incarnation thereof, got the press and the accolades, but it was Holden, emanating self-disgust in every scene, who gave the film its queasy force. It was still 1950, but everyone could tell just by the look on Holden's face that he was having to sleep with that ghostly woman, that he was a Hollywood whore trading in every gram of worth he ever thought he owned. What other star of the day could've, or even would've, embraced the moral horror of the role? Who else could've elevated shame to a state of being?


Holden is, again, the film's unsettled moral conscience—a role that in the real world requires familiarity with dishonor and calamity—just as he was more than a quarter-century earlier, as a young man, sitting on Norma Desmond's couch and wishing he were anywhere else, the compromised conscience of a new society.

Thursday, July 03, 2008

Somebody Owes Me Money

For some reason Somebody Owes Me Money rarely gets mentioned as one of Donald Westlake's comic masterpieces. Yet that's what it is.

From the start where luckless NYC cabbie Chet Conway accepts a tip on a horse as a gratuity rather than hard Yankee cash, Westlake takes us into a world where the dark gods are lying in wait to pounce. And pounce they do.

When Chet learns that he's won a longshot on the tip he was given he goes to collect from his bookie but finds him dead. Enter the cops, the mob, touts and myriad others as Chet tries to find a) who he can get his winnings from b) who killed his bookie because everybody seems to think that Chet did it.

Westlake's comic novels work because he buttresses the comedy with reality. As larky as the story gets at times there's always the underpinning of Chet's everyday life (wife and job, for example) to keep the reader satisfied that Chet is not, after all, so different from most of us.

The relentless pace, the cunning plotting, the colorful cast all serve a finely wrought mystery story that show Westlake in complete command of every vivid scene and every comical moment. Masterful and hilarious.

Tuesday, July 01, 2008

Jack O'Connell; The Poker Club; Eater

There's a long, rich Jack O'Connell interview waiting to be read right here Jack discusses his masterful new novel that is being praised both here and in Europe The Ressurectionist as well as his thoughts about the writing process, publishing and surviving as man and writer in our troubled times. Excellent interview.


Rich Chizmar, writer and publisher of Cemetery Dance, has in the past five years or so turned his attention a good deal of his attention to Hollywood. Rich with his partner actor-writer Jonathan Scacheech wrote and produced the film version of my novel The Poker Club. Rich told me today that Screen Gems will be releasing it on DVD yet this year.


And speaking of Rich and Jonathan, they're writing and producing Stephen King's feature film From a Buick 8. And tomorow night the first of two scripts they've written for NBC's Fear will be aired. It's based on Peter Crowther's story Eater. Pete sent it to me several years ago soon after finishing it. I e-mailed him right way in London and said this has gotta be filmed. Think of the chiller with a supernatural twist. It's really intense. Pete's written extraordinarily good mystery and suspense as well as science fiction and horror. In Eater it all comes together.

Tomorrow night. NBC. Be there. Aloha.

The Great Monster Magazines

Famous Monsters of Filmland, the magazine that inspired everybody from Stephen King to Steven Spielberg, appeared in 1958 . By then I was well into my Gold Medal books phase. I still read science fiction and I still saw most of the horror movies that came my way. But Famous Monsters, given my taste for hardboiled fction, struck me as pretty juvenile and not worth buying.

The Great Monster Magazines by Robert Michael ""Bobb" Cutter (McFarland) takes singular exception to my feelings about Famous Monsters. But just about everything else he praises strikes me as just about right.

As the publisher notes, "This work provides a critical overview of monster magazines from the 1950s to the 1970s. The term "monster magazine" is a blanket term, which, for the purposes of this study is used to describe both magazines that focus primarily on popular horror movies and magazines that contain stories featuring monsters which are illustrated in comic book style but printed in black and white."

Thus the book details the history of the hallowed EC comics, Jim Warren's fantastic black and white magazines, Marvel's long run of horror comics and various Conan sagas, Hammer films, and all the black and white horror magazines that translated the likes of Robert Bloch, Richard Matheson and Robert E. Howard into graphic form.

Cotter is an excellent writer and a great organizer. A good table of contents backed with a fine Index makes it easy for the reader to skip around if he chooses, though Cotter's chapters are coherent, thematic units so I read straight through.

This is both serious history and a somewhat nostalgic look back at the magazines and comics that helped shape so many of today's graphic creators.