Sunday, August 31, 2008


Mystery File has been running reviews of early Mickey Spillane by Bill Crider and James M. Cain by Max Allan Collins and fine articulate reviews they are. Both subjects took me back to when I first began to read crime fiction.

The summer of seventh grade I read all the Spillane novels I could find. I think The Big Kill was the then most recent one. I'd never read anything like them. Didn't even know that COULD BE anything like them. Not so much the violence but the sex and the ambience. The opening of One Lonely Night on that bridge. The last line of I, The Jury, It was easy I said. And another last line-- Juno was a man! Nothing I'd read up to that point had effected me quite that way. And I've rarely read anything since that seemed as diabloical and scary and somehow true as my first encounters with The Mick's books.

Same reaction in a different way when I was read Cain. I was a few years older and better able to appreciate the man-woman elements of the novels than I would have been earlier. I identified with Cain's people in ways I never quite did Spillane's. The working class people in Postman weren't all that different from the working class people in my neighborhood. And the man in Indemnity was the reckless sort I heard about when my father and uncles gathered on summer porches for beers and gossip. There was always somebody they knew who'd gone off the deep end and there was always a woman involved. Cain opened yet another door. I believe it was David Madden who called him "The poet of the tabloids" and how apt that description is. But in Cain's case the tabloids bled not black ink but red blood. Cain could hurt you. I'd put the final pages of Indemnity up against any other utterance in American fiction.

Saturday, August 30, 2008

John Carpenter; My stepdad; Palin

Interesting piece on John Carpenter whose fall from grace continues to facsinate and confound me. He was so good and then so bad.

John Carpenter Lives in a BAM Retrospective
Spend Labor Day with The Thing
By Scott Foundas
Wednesday, August 27th 2008
Village Voice

I'm not sure if John Carpenter ever actually spoke the oft-reproduced quote: "In France, I'm an auteur; in Germany, I'm a filmmaker; in England, I'm a genre director; in the U.S., I'm a bum." But as an Old West newspaperman once advised a certain U.S. senator: "When the legend becomes fact, print the legend."

Besides, those words sound like something Carpenter would say—or, if not him, one of his swaggering, mullet-haired, tough-guy alter egos. It's certainly true that Hollywood never quite knew what to make of this tall, lanky Kentuckian with his healthy distrust of corporate America and his colorful, trucker-bar repertory company, keeping him around only so long as his brand of subversive B-movie mastery continued to generate healthy returns on investment.


"The Thing (1982) was Hawks again, even if Carpenter's version owed more to John W. Campbell Jr.'s short story and to Carpenter's own abiding interest in the duality of man than to the 1951 movie. A flop upon its release (by Universal, two weeks after Spielberg's E.T.), this spatial masterpiece of desolate Arctic vistas at odds with close-quarters claustrophobia has since been hailed as a high totem of modern horror-making. There remains something deeply unnerving about Carpenter's ambiguity as to whether the movie's shape-shifting alien is distorting its hosts' personalities or merely revealing something of their primal selves.


"... there are two ways of seeing Carpenter: as a proficient genre director or as a kind of blue-collar shaman, waking us up to the all-too-real horrors of the modern world and its many threats to individuality and consciousness. He is what the late Manny Farber deemed a termite artist, nibbling away at the borders with his seemingly innocuous, low-budget quickies, unnoticed by most—which is, after all, the best way to stage a revolution."

Copyright © 2008 Village Voice LLC • 36 Cooper Square • New York NY 10003

------My Stepdad

He's still alive though less and less responsive. My mother was very happy that he woke up for about twenty minutes this morning and they talked. I had a good talk with my stepsister Linda this afternoon, too. She's always been a sweetie.

-----Sarah Palin

Has anybody noted that McCain choosing Sarah Palin is really the premise of a bad Hwood comedy? In the La La Land version she ends up as the completely inexperienced but tender-hearted Ms. Prez who proves to be the best president our country has ever had. But if you've been reading the blogs that are reprinting what the Alaskan newspapers have been saying about her all day--you'll realize just how terrifying this vp nomination really is. And what a psycho McCain is.

Thursday, August 28, 2008


My stepfather is dying so I probably won't be posting for a few days. He's 102 and so he's certainly had a good run but seeing him this afternoon only reminded me of his many good years as my mom's husband. He was just about perfect as a mate and all of us loved him a great deal. I'm aware I'm using the past tense but I doubt he'll live through the night. A very decent, bright, friendly guy and a very active one late into his nineties. He was a true friend and I'll sure miss him.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Heroes & Villains

(Title of my favorite Beach Boys song)

Many people in this business have friends and enemies alike. I know that "enemies" sounds a tad paranoid but writers, editors, actors, directors etc. seem to evoke strong feelings in people they come across in their careers. Friends assess us and like us anyway. Enemies can find nothing worthwhile about us at all.

TCM frequently runs a short film featuring actors and other movie people talking about Alfred Hitchcock. I saw it again this afternoon and the favorable and unfavorable comments are so extreme you wonder how they can be talking about the same man.

The lovable uncle or the boorish egomaniac?

I always run up against this when somebody asks me what I know about a given literary agent. Fifty writers swear he's the best, fifty writers swear he's the worst. In my usual helpful way I always say that the only way you can find out is ask if he'll represent you and see what happens.

Since I'm universally beloved this isn't a problem for me personally. But I'll bet at least a few of you find the give and take among writers occasionally bracing.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Errol Flynn

In the NY Times review of the four-movie DVD set of Errol Flynn westerns writer Dave Kehr discusses the problems Hwood had with turning swashbuckler Flynn (Robin Hood, etc.) into western Flynn.

"But on another level, as Flynn is said to have observed, his accent and manner were too Continental to fit smoothly into the imaginary space of the American frontier. The screenplays for his westerns — many written by Robert Buckner — continually come up with ingenious explanations for the hero’s curious courtliness and exotic speech patterns: in “Dodge City” he’s an Irish soldier of fortune who finds himself herding cows in Kansas; “Montana” (1950) just throws in the towel and identifies Flynn as an Australian sheep farmer (among the many professions Flynn practiced) who dreams of bringing these white, woolly creatures to western cattle country.

"But who could accept Flynn, with his pencil moustache and rakish smile, as a humble cowpoke in a 10-gallon hat? Warner Brothers got around this issue mainly through costuming, dressing Flynn in long frock coats that set him apart from the bandannas and bluejeans of the supporting players. With their slimmer profile, these costumes evoked the tailored three-piece suits of the 1930s far more than the mail-order dry goods of the 1880s. Wide-brimmed, flat-topped hats completed the ensemble, adding an ineffable touch of urbanity (and even a hint of zoot suit flair). This look established Flynn as a man apart, an aristocrat passing through the West without necessarily being a part of it."

for the rest go here:

Ed here:

No mention of Flynn would be complete without reference to Lee Server's masterful article "The Story of The Big Love," the 1961 Lancer paperback that detailed the last chapter of Flynn's life. (I read this in Gary Lovisi's Paperback Parade #32.)

"Not long before he died in 1959, that immortal swashbuckler Errol Flynn met his last and--one hopes--youngest mistress, 15-year old Beverly Aadland, a stunning blonnde real-life Lolita to Flynn's dissipated rouge of a Humbert Humbert."

Reporter and paperback crime writer Tedd Thomey worked with the girl's mother on the "Behind The Scenes Story." Said the mother: "There's one thing I want to make clear right off; my baby was a virgin the day she met Errol Flynn." Apparently not for much longer.

The book had a strange history. It became a cult classic of sorts. Esquiter included it in its Basic Library of Trash. William Styron (hyperbolically) had the idea of turning the book into monologues for a stage presentation. W.H. Auden used excerpts in an anthology. Robert Aldrich bought the film rights. And in 1991 it opened (briefly) as a Broadway play!

Of Mrs Aadland, Thomey said: "She was a fascinating woman, sad, funny, sweet, bad-tempered, foul-mouthed, sentimental."

As Lee Server remarks, "How many other Broadway plays could boast the credit `adapted from a paperback published by Lancer Books?'"

Monday, August 25, 2008

This review appeared on Patti Abbott's blog Friday night. It articulates perfectly the sub-genre that some call "suburban noir." Thanks to Kelli for letting me reprint it.

Kelli Stanley is the author of Nox Dormienda

The Blank Wall and The Innocent Mrs. Duff
by Elisabeth Sanxay Holding

Raymond Chandler called Elisabeth Sanxay Holding (1889-1955) “the top suspense writer of them all.” And he should know … his reading intake was far more prodigious than his writing output, and Chandler made a point of keeping up to date with the genre.

She began as a writer of romance in the Twenties, but ventured into the more (at least then) lucrative arena of detective and suspense fiction when the Great Depression sunk the economy.

Of the eighteen novels she completed before her death, the most famous is probably The Blank Wall. Filmed as The Reckless Moment in ’49, an atmospheric noir starring James Mason and Joan Bennett (and directed by the legendary Max Ophuls), it was remade with a great deal less style and talent (in my opinion) as The Deep End (2001).

Chandler actually persuaded Paramount to purchase another Sanxay novel, The Innocent Mrs. Duff, and worked on its film adaptation in the spring of ’46 before parting ways over its handling … one of those great lost scripts I’d love to unearth from a vault someday.

Now, Chandler is my favorite writer, and I take his recommendations seriously. So I purchased a first edition of The Innocent Mrs. Duff (1946), and found myself wondering why Patricia Highsmith is justly venerated and Sanxay Holding is largely forgotten.

A psychological suspense thriller built on a taut, perfectly structured character study, the novel ticks away like a metronome, building up an unbearable tension. One of Holding’s earlier titles was Miasma (1929), and that eponymous sense of death and decay also informs the later story.

Narrated in the first person by a middle-aged, middle-class alcoholic snob – ambitious, deluded, and utterly narcissistic – the plot and tension are driven by his growing paranoia and suspicions of the title character … his beautiful, newly-married, twenty-one year old second wife.

The book simply grabs you by the throat and won’t let go. Holding can write dread as well or better than any writer … and like Shirley Jackson, her quiet moments and what Chandler calls her “inner calm” fuel a palpable sense of horror.

I’m happy to report that Academy Chicago Publishers has packaged The Blank Wall and The Innocent Mrs. Duff together in an affordable paperback. Stark House Press also offers new editions of several of her titles.

Anthony Boucher, in a New York Times review, wrote: “For subtlety, realistic conviction, incredible economy, she’s in a class by herself.” Sixty years later, Elisabeth Sanxay Holding still is.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Bringing Travis McGee to the screen

Bruce Grossman was kind enough to send me a link to this long, interesting article on the troubles John D. MacDonald and various Hollywood people had (trying) to bring Travis McGee to screens big and small.

"Eventually, MacDonald signed with Jack Reeves and Walter Seltzer of independent production company Major Pictures. They intended to have McGee appear in a new motion picture every eighteen months a la James Bond. Naturally, The Deep Blue Good-by would be a good place to start a McGee movie series, yet the first movie slated for the screen was the 7th McGee book, Darker Than Amber. MacDonald received the script on June 14, 1968 and was unimpressed to say the least. In a letter to Jack Reeves, MacDonald prophetically stated that, "I am as sure of the sun rising tomorrow that you will make just one McGee movie.

"Aside from basic structure and some good visuals, you have a dog. It has a coarse and amateurish stamp, with less class and taste and insight than many a good television script...You have got something for the third feature at Kentucky drive-ins during the mating season....If you bomb with this, you are going to put me out of business insofar as the cinematic McGee is concerned. If you go with what you sent me, you bomb. It is that easy. I did not think that you would manage to lose McGee in the very first script, and turn him into some kind of hunk of dull, swinging, ass-chasing brutality, with no humor, no lift, and no awareness."

Ed here: Other than that he loved the script.

for the rest go here:

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Blog Reviews; Todd Goldberg

On her blog today Patti Abbott raises some interesting questions about book reviewing on blogs.

As more and more book reviewing shifts from print to online, what are the obligations of those who talk about books on their blogs?

This is a subject that makes me uneasy. I often recommend books on this blog, but I've never panned one. Unlike panning a movie, panning a book on a blog feels too personal, especially on collective blog sites like this one. And I don't feel qualified to write a "review."

I think it's appropriate to talk about books I like. The more the better. But to talk about ones I don't like....well, I just wouldn't.


Is it possible someday soon that a site with nasty reviews of books will attract attention the way various radio shows and political blogs do? Amazon reviews, not supervised at all, are often nasty and unfair. Or so favorable that you can't believe them either.

for the complete post go here:

Ed here: I can speak only for myself. I'd never dump on another writer's book. Too many good ones to promote for one thing. And for another bar karma. But I can see a blogger, probably not a writer, make a name for him- or herself being posting nasty reviews.

On the other hand unending excessive praise for every book reviewed puts me off too. The books I recommend I have real enthusiaism for.


In the LA Times Sunday book section (available on line now) Todd Goldberg writes about his experience writing the Burn Notice tie-ins. In addition to being an entertaining look at how a literary writer approaches a commercial project it's a fine piece of writing on its own.

Friday, August 22, 2008

Trey R. Barker

Last week I started rereading 2000 Miles To Open Road by Trey R. Barker. We published it at Five Star and it got nothing but raves from virtually very quarter. Trey is a young police officer who I predict will be a major name in crime fiction once his new books begin appearing. We had in common at the time we published his first novel the fact that we were both going through the early stages of battling cancer. We didn't know this until after the book was published. Trey's experience was brutal. But the cancer diary he kept is one of the most eloquent and articulate pieces of real life I've ever read. Happily he's doing well now. We've exchanged a few letters in the past several days and I'll quote from two of them here as a way of enticing you on to his blog. It offers and exceptionally perceptive take on life, writing and the life of a police officer. Here's the link:


"And you're right about neo noir street crime. Most of it, it seems to me, is so over the top anymore...2000 MILES TO OPEN ROAD is - vaguely - my version of that kind of highly stylized violence and street crime. What's funny to me is that, when faced with real street crime and real violence, most people I've dealt with find themselves feeling sort of let down, as though it were somehow anticlimactic, because they've been taught that it'ss got dramatic music and it's in slow motion with tilt/pan camera angles and everyone involved says really profound things as it's happening.

"Ain't like that at all and if writers would read more non-fiction, they'd know that."

" I loved the letter from your son. I was going to respond but hadn't set up an account and didn't have time then blah blah blah. We haven't had any farm accidents around here this summer but, as I was going to say in the response, most of the farmers seem to have a constant, low-level anxiety about it, as though when it happens they'll be shocked but not surprised. Actually, it's sort of like big city cops, who seem to always have that will a cop die today question in the back of their heads."

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Death Race 2000

I've always liked the original Death Race 2000 (1975). The black comedy, the scuzzy settings (sometimes low budget can work to your advantage), the over the top acting (except for the Brandoesque turn of David Carradine's) and the crazy characters. This was uniquiely American--Nascar to the highest power. One of Roger Corman's better movies.

Now there's Paul W.S. Anderson's version. Anderson's a good director and with the budget he has he''ll make one of those Rollerball-Running Man movies that opens on action and sets out playing can you top this right to the end. I was surprised when his Alien vs. Predator turned out to be a good movie.

But I wonder if the remake witll have the spirit, the intellectual cajones of the brilliantly trashy original.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Rogue Cop

From Noir of The Week:

"Rogue Cop is one the best film noirs of the 1950s, standing alongside such classics as The Big Heat (1953) and The Big Combo (1955). The film is dark and the atmosphere tense and gritty. The tone of the movie is set from its opening moments, as the credits are stamped against the backdrop of police activity in the city, sans musical accompaniment. The storyline effectively highlights the standard plot of a flawed “hero” changing sides and going up against a particularly ruthless antagonist – the character motivated less by the need for redemption than revenge. Sadistic villains were almost a staple in noir cinema: from Tommy Udo to Vince Stone to “Mr. Brown”. Until participating in the noirish shootout that ends the film, Raft’s Dan Beaumonte is never explicit in his evil actions; however, the scene in which he dispatches Nancy to his “friends” in punishment for her taunting him is chilling in what it suggests.

"Rogue Cop was nominated for an Oscar for Best Cinematography, Black-and-White (John F. Seitz) and received high marks from the critics. The New York Herald-Tribune rated the picture “a simple, streamlined movie about crookedness.” This was a unique compliment indeed during the message-laden reign of MGM studio boss Dore Schary."

I watched Rogue Cop awhile back on TCM and afterward I started re-reading William P. McGivern. If, as has been said, Jim Thompson was the dime-store Dostoyevsky, I suppose McGivern was the dime-store Graham Greene. The same tightly wound stories of evil and guilt and the search for redemption. Very Catholic themes and obsessions.

Odds Against Tomorrow is McGivern at his very best. One of the finest crime novels I've ever read. And Robert Wise translated it perfectly to the screen. The Big Heat (which made another fine movie) is another McGivern that should be back in print. I also like his early hardboiled whodunits, very much of their time which oddly enough gives them a real freshness and vitality today. Heaven Ran Last opens with the narrator cuckholding his war buddy--nasty stuff. Blondes Die Young (as by Bill Peters) is rife with marijuana and sex, demonstrating how the boys back from WW11 were changing mystery fiction.

Most of his work was that of a solid and clever pro. But at least a share of it deserves to be back in print. You can find all his work on Abe for cheap.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Matheson Uncollected: Volume One

As I've said before, Richard Matheson has probably influenced more writers than any other author alive. Three generations of men and women have borrowed both his singular storytelling skills and the peerless ways he structures his fiction, short and long alike.

Barry Hoffman at Gauntlet Press has created a unique Matheson library of tv and fim scripts, short novels, short stories new and old. Now he's begun Matheson Uncollected: Volume One.

Here we have a range of short stories, all of them excellent plus an aborted novel from the fifties about a married couple aboard a transport rocket ship headed to a moon colony where humans have already set up shop The richnss of ideas and emotions make for an unfinished piece of writing that makes you wish Matheson had finished it.

The Enemy Within was one of the first Star Trek's true standouts. Here you'll find the shooting script for the episode. Tony Albarella's comments throughout the book are exytremely well-done and never more so than when he discusses the history of this script. Gene Rodenberry had an ego, yes he did.

When you take a few steps back to appreciate the astonishing amount of exemplary work that Matheson has done in every field of fiction, you'll see why he is considered the true master and why Gauntlet's Matheson Library is so important.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Robert Downey, Jr. on The Dark Knight; Blurb-O-Matic; Tarrantion's Holocaust ;

Comparing Iron Man to The Dark Knight, Robert Downey Jr. said:

"My whole thing is that that I saw 'The Dark Knight'. I feel like I'm dumb because I feel like I don't get how many things that are so smart. It's like a Ferrari engine of storytelling and script writing and I'm like, 'That's not my idea of what I want to see in a movie.' I loved 'The Prestige' but didn't understand 'The Dark Knight'. Didn't get it, still can't tell you what happened in the movie, what happened to the character and in the end they need him to be a bad guy. I'm like, 'I get it. This is so high brow and so f--king smart, I clearly need a college education to understand this movie.' You know what? F-ck DC comics."


He Blurbed, She Blurbed

Published: August 15, 2008

"A new company recently emerged on the publishing scene, offering writers the chance to buy and sell book endorsements. Aimed at self-published authors, Blurbings LLC traffics in “blurbs,” the often hyperbolic declamations on book covers alerting readers that they’re holding the greatest single work of literature since the Bible — or perhaps since “The Da Vinci Code.”

"At least one writer was so affronted by the idea of blurbs for cash that he complained to the Authors Guild. But the more jaundiced might say that asking one unknown writer to endorse another unknown writer hardly helps to make one of those writers known. Besides, some might argue, what the company appears to have done is simply put a price — starting at $19.95 for 10 blurbs — on the logrolling and back-scratching that have long marked the process by which mainstream publishers or agents ask authors to blurb a book.

Caveat lector! The endorsements on books aren’t entirely impartial. Unbeknownst to the average reader, blurbs are more often than not from the writer’s best friends, colleagues or teachers, or from authors who share the same editor, publisher or agent. They represent a tangled mass of friendships, rivalries, favors traded and debts repaid, not always in good faith. There’s some debate about whether blurbs actually help sell books, but publishers agree they can’t hurt. Often, agents try to solicit blurbs even before a publisher buys a book. "

for the rest go here:

-----------------------------Tarrantino's Holocaust

Xan Brooks in The Guardian wonders about Quentin Tarrantino making a movie about The Holocaust

"Rumbles of controversy surrounding Quentin Tarantino's forthcoming Nazi flick have now been amplified by the apparent leaking of the film's script. It suggests that Inglorious Bastards comes packed to the gunnels with torture scenes, revenge attacks and casual slaughter (as opposed to, say, the sensitive, poignant human drama that is the director's usual stock in trade).

"Inglorious Bastards, in a nutshell, focuses on the escapades of eight Jewish-American soldiers who are parachuted behind enemy lines and ordered by their commanding officer to "git me 100 Nazi scalps". It is not a Holocaust movie, as such. But it uses the death camps as a touchstone and therein lies the danger. "This is pop culture meets Nazi Germany and the Holocaust," explains German film critic Tobias Kniebe.


"According to his detractors, Tarantino's proposed marriage of pulp fiction and Nazi brutality will be "completely unpredictable". Maybe so - but here's a prediction to be getting on with. Inglorious Bastards (when it is finally released) will be callous and crass and gleefully sadistic. It will toss historical accuracy to the wind and employ the Holocaust as nothing more than a convenient excuse to show lots of cackling Nazis getting their gruesome just desserts. It will be wildly irresponsible and morally defunct. For all that, it will be a more sensitive, truthful and satisfying film on this subject than the Oscar-winning Life is Beautiful. And for that we shall be thankful."

for the rest go here

Friday, August 15, 2008

Tuesday Weld

A few days ago Cinema Retro ran a really interesting piece by Tom Lisanti on four starlets who never quite fulfilled their promise. Yvette Mimiex, who never did anything for me; Carol Lynley who became a pretty good actress; the forgotten Diane McBain and Tuesday Weld. Of all the starlets I ever had teenage crushes on Tuesday Well ranked numero uno. Not only was she gorgeous and sexy she was also self-aware in a way starlets never are. She was, in comedies, well aware of her effect on men. You could see this early on when she starred in Dobie Gillis. But from the git-go she was a good actor on her way to becoming a truly fine one. You have to wonder how much of her turbulent life effected her career. At seventeen (as I recall) she was living with John Ireland, a man in his Forties.

Here's Cinema Retro:

"Tuesday Weld had more of an edge to her than Mimieux and Lynley, and in keeping with her real life wild child persona see-sawed back and forth between the mischievous hormonal teenager (Rally 'Round the Flag, Boys, 1959; Bachelor Flat, 1962; Soldier in the Rain, 1963; I’ll Take Sweden, 1965); the tramp (Wild in the Country, 1961); and the self-absorbed sex kitten (Lord Love a Duck, 1966). Weld undoubtedly could have become a superstar but she famously turned down Lolita (“I don’t have to play Lolita—I am Lolita!”) and backed out of Bonnie and Clyde due to pregnancy. After playing a murderous psychopath to great effect in the little-seen Pretty Poison (1968), she turned down in quick succession True Grit, Cactus Flower, and Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice once again assuring that she would never be known to the masses. In the Seventies she kept working steadily in studio productions (Play It As It Lays won her kudos in 1972) and even received an Academy Award nomination for her supporting turn as Diane Keaton’s sister in Looking for Mr. Goodbar (1977) but never appeared in a box office smash though by the Eighties she was still copping leads opposite major stars in big movies—Thief (1981) with James Caan; Author! Author! (1982) with Al Pacino; and Once Upon a Time in America (1984) with Robert De Niro."

Posted by Cinema Retro in Tom Lisanti on Thursday, August 14. 2008

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Letter from my son

My son Joe is forty-two years old, a systems engineer in aero-space. He lives by choice in the country and commutes. This is a letter I got from him today.

Last night I wrote about what happened to my neighbor's grandson.

On my drive home last night, I noticed some squad cars and emergency first responders at a neighbor's field last night. I also saw a news crew there. I knew that could not be good.

Another neighbor called this morning to tell me what happened.

My neighbor's 7 year old grandson got crushed between a tractor and a John Deere Gator. His 10 year old sister was driving the gator...His dad and Grandpa saw there was trouble, raced over there and tried cpr but the little guy was gone.

There are a million ways to die on a farm. There are so many things that can kill you on a big farm. Farming demands so much from farmers including, occasionally their lives, and worse still, the lives of their kids.

The sadly ironic part is, this farmer (the grandpa) is the safest, most thoughtful guy...really takes the roads slow, thinks everything through. I see other farmers race their machinery down the road…not this guy. For this to happen to him is especially sad.

I went to his house today after work. All I could do to just hug him and cry with him....

He told me he tried everything to save the little guy…

Man, what can you say. I think I cried as hard as he did…I felt so bad for him and his son.

My neighbor is trying, in his mind, to think what he could have done differently that would have saved him.

That's a human rea ction I suppose. To analyze such tragedies and think how any action by you could have changed things. I think, were I him, I'd do it for the rest of my life.

Out in the country people behave like humans were meant to. His neighbors put all his machinery away for him, collected his crop and delivered it for him. Tomorrow I will meet with the local neighbors to cut more of his hay and deliver it. He told me how great his neighbors were. But he's a guy that will help you whenever you ask him. It's no wonder all the farmers from 10 miles around are coming tomorrow.

Doing something, anything, for a friend when they are this profoundly shaken and sad helps you, I think, more than them…

God's logic is sometimes unfathomable.

Life in the country is hard and not for everyone. You have no shelter from the rain, wind, snow. If you have a medical emergency, you will not see an ambulance for a long time. If you have a criminal attack you, you must deal with him yourself. An emergency call to the sheriff could take 20 minutes to get a deputy to your house. They might as well not come if you are in a fight for your life.

But the other side of that coin is the cooperation of neighbors. My neighbors will help each other plow snow, plant crops, harvest crops and in extreme cases, do the farm work when a tragedy such as this befalls one of the "neighbors." People 10 miles away from me are my neighbors. I know them, their tractors, their trucks, their kids and their dogs. I do not know their political affiliations or religions as those are two subjects we never discuss. We are a giant family of souls that depend more on each other than any government agency for help in an emergency.

I am the odd guy in my neighborhood. I put full Marshall stacks out in the back and blast into the cornfields. I don't raise crops or livestock. I bought an old farmstead, because I love open space, the independence of the people and the freedom to make loud noises with guitars, Harleys and firearms.

My idea of paradise is a place where I can pee on the front yard, shoot a pistol out the back door and play my Marshall amps as loud as I want. That is where I live. Here, in rural Iowa.

My neighbors earn their living farming and ranching. And even as odd as I am, they've accepted me. I am grateful to be a member of their family.

As I sit here tonight, I imagine the pain and the heartbreak of my neighbor and his son. And there are no words in the English language that can adequately express the ruin of having your own son die in your hands.

I know they are awash in grief.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008


gin forwarded message:

From: The Mystery Company

Date: August 13, 2008 3:05:26 PM EDT


Subject: Power outage


The power's out in our building; looks like it's going to be out for a little while now. We're closed at the moment; will re-open as soon as we possibly can. The phones are also down.

A pole behind us snapped, crashing down on the roof of the building behind us, wires, transformers and all. Duke Energy crews are working as I write this. (I'm out of the building myself right now; I left to find an internet connection so that I could send this message.)

I'll continue to monitor the situation, and let you know as soon as we re-open.

In the meantime, we are of course open online at I hope you'll browse our inventory there. You can make purchases using our shopping cart and secure server. As always, there's free standard shipping on all orders placed over the website to all US addresses. We can really use your orders, being forced to closed like this; we need to find some dollars somewhere today! We'll offer 20% off ALL website orders of 2 or more in-stock books for the next 24 hours, 'til 3 pm tomorrow.

I'd intended to write you all today to tell you about how much we enjoyed all our events last week, including the overtime victory of Austin Lugar's Shameless Shamuses team in our 100 Favorite Mysteries gameshow at Glendale on Saturday. And I planned to encourage you to attend our send-off party for Austin, this Sunday evening, August 17, at 5:30 at the store (for dinner). But I'm kind of frazzled by the disruption here.

Hope to be back in touch with you all soon with the news that we're open again.

Yours in the dark,

Jim Huang
The Mystery Company &

Kate Stine, Editor in chief
Mystery Scene Magazine
331 W. 57th Street, Suite 148
New York, NY 10019-3101
Tel: 212-765-7124
NEW FAX NUMBER 212-202-3540

FROM ED---------------------------------------

I've mentioned my friend Jim Rigney before. He wrote international fantasy bestsellers under the name Robert Jordan. Jim passed on nearly a year ago. His wife famous Tor editor Harriet McDougal and I have exchanged e mails through the months. Recentlyy she asked me if I'd like his impressive collection of John Dickson Carr novels. Jim and I talked about Carr a lot. He's one of the few Golden Agers I still enjoy. Anyway the books arrived in two huge boxes today. This is special gift and privilege.


Congratulations to Bookgasm on its third birthday. It gets better every day!


I need to get in touch with somebody who is a real Mac expert. Reasonable rates but very willing to pay.

I also need to get in touch with somebody who can put together a full page ad for me. Same rates as above.

Maybe he really IS Batman

Batman West Eyes Dancing Show

13 August 2008 5:00 AM, PDT

Original Batman star Adam West is set for a stint as a contestant on hit U.S. talent show Dancing With The Stars.

West, who played the Caped Crusader in the 1960's Batman TV show, is one of the stars shortlisted for the popular show.

And despite being nearly 80, the veteran actor is still a frontrunning favourite to win the series' next season.

A source tells New York Gossip column PageSix, "Adam is in outstanding shape. He works out an hour a day and walks with his big dog on his farm in Sun Valley, Idaho."

A representative for West says, "(He is) not definite yet, but is one of the people they are seriously looking at. They will decide on everyone on Aug 25."

copyright IMDB 2008

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

JohnD; Who Knew

From one of my favorite writers and favorite people Judi Rohrig:

Morning, Ed. Hope all is well with you. It surely feels like fall here in the big toe of Indiana.

Anywhooo... Thanks for keeping JohnD's name out there. Sadly, the Bibliophile ceased when EdH died. Several people (including me) offered to keep it going, but lots of it was tied to the University of South Florida where EdH was professer emeritus. Cal Branch has done the best to hold onto the JDM group, but mostly they've evolved to embrace living authors, people I'm sure you know (like Michael Connelly, Kristy Montee, Tim Dorsey, Jonathan King) offering a gathering in June in Lido Key (off Sarasota).

The last time we stayed on Siesta Key, we took a sunset cruise out of Sarasota where the anticipation of that flas of green occurs just off shore from JohnD's home. Sadly there wasn't any mention of JohnD at all. But it was meaningful and sweet to see the sun set as JohnD might have seen it. Not so sweet was seeing the lopped down mangrove growth just north of his home. I read later that the people had been fined for hacking job, but... Well, you know what an environmentalist JohnD was.

Okay, there may be a lot writers can learn from JohnD, but I know he didn't write for writers: He wrote for readers. Like the best do. Just doing his job, spinning some yarns.

Like you.

Thank you for the gift of your words. And for keeping JohnD's name out there.


----------Who Knew?

On Salon. com this morning writer Louis Bayard claims that The Wild, Wild West (first season out on DVD now) is "The 1960s' gayest show" (And here I thought I always thought that honor went to Bonanza!)

Aug. 12, 2008 | "West. James West."

"Oh, let me come right out and say it. To a kid of the late 1960s, "The Wild Wild West" was as gay as a show could get. Like "I Spy," like "Batman," it was a portrait of two men in domestic partnership. Jim and Artie didn't just work together; they lived together, rode together, celebrated together. Of course, the show's creators took care to give Jim a vigorous and straight lifestyle. Virtually every episode finds him seducing -- and, in the same hot breath, reforming -- some busty blond minion. But more than heterosexual, Jim West is truly sexual, in a way heroes of westerns usually weren't. See how snugly his clothes are tailored to his form -- the bolero jacket, the extra-tight trousers (not to mention Season 4's leather chaps, which would not be out of place in a gay pride parade). And see how readily he takes those garments off at the slightest incentive. See how he carries that fine body of his. Jim West is a man who enjoys being desired.

"And who is in a better position to appreciate that effort than Artie? Ross Martin has a rip-roaring time playing the character "in character" -- Artie's a master of disguise and dialect -- but in his scenes with Conrad, he becomes softer and more tranquil. Watching them together, you realize that while Jim is often focused inward, Artie is always looking at his partner. Where else would he look? He has no girlfriends to speak of (a fact he sometimes complains about). Then again, he doesn't seem to need them. It's a token of the two men's understanding that Jim can go off on his amorous rampages, safe in the knowledge that Artie's waiting back at the train, with the champagne magnum and the freshly chalked billiard cues.

"I didn't quite grasp it as a kid, but "The Wild Wild West" showed me how two men could live together and love each other without forfeiting any of society's prerogatives. Which makes the show even more of a fantasy -- and even more of a pleasure. Long live Jim and Artie, in their train bound for trouble."

Monday, August 11, 2008

Rosemary's Baby; Small Crimes

I stumbled on an interesting article about producer William Castle by David Parkinson. I'm a fan of Castle's two The Whistler movies (both based on Woolrich stories via the 40s radio show of the same name) and saw them referenced in Google. The piece is reasonably comprehensive. There's a section on Rosemary's Baby, a movie that just couldn't seem to get finished. And yet another example of what a jack-off Frank Sinatra was (though undeniably, I almost hate to admit it, the best pop singer of all time). Castle bought Rosemary's Baby before anybody else. When he took it to Paramount he assumed in was in control.

"Castle had been in a similar situation two decades earlier (wanting to direct) , when he associate-produced Orson Welles' The Lady from Shanghai after his own treatment of Sherwood King's pulp novel If I Die Before I Wake had been rejected by Columbia chief Harry Cohn. But while Castle had been prepared to step aside for his hero Welles in 1947, he doubted the atheistic Polanski's suitability for Rosemary's Baby. Soon the two men were arguing over Polanski's choice of Tuesday Weld for the part of Rosemary Woodhouse. Eventually, with Robert Evans' backing, Castle prevailed and Mia Farrow was cast ahead of Jane Fonda, Julie Christie, Elizabeth Hartman, Joanna Pettet, and Polanski's wife, Sharon Tate.

"John Cassavetes landed the role of Rosemary's husband, Guy. But this brought a third director on to the set, and when Polanski wasn't squabbling with Cassavetes about motivation and method, he was feuding with Castle about schedule delays and the advisability of actually depicting Satan's spawn on the screen.

"The biggest problem during production, however, was caused by Frank Sinatra. He wanted to co-star with new wife Mia Farrow in The Detective, and when it became clear she would not be finished on Rosemary's Baby in time to start Gordon Douglas's cynical policier Sinatra ordered her to abandon the Polanski picture. However, Farrow refused to quit and Sinatra had her served with divorce papers in front of the cast and crew on the morning that Polanski shot the party sequence in which Rosemary's friends (including an uncredited Sharon Tate) lock Guy out of the kitchen to express their concern at her condition. Castle later regarded this incident as the first manifestation of the curse that descended upon the project. But worse was to follow."

For the rest go here

------Small Crimes

About a month ago I reviewed (and raved about) Dave Zeltserman's new novel Small Crimes. Today PW gave it a starred review and compared it the best of James Ellroy. Congratulations, Dave.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Isaac Hayes; John D. Macdonald

Posted by Cinema Retro in Obituary

Isaac Hayes, who won both a Grammy and an Oscar for his hit title song from the 1971 film Shaft, was found dead at his home in Tennessee today. Hayes was 65 years old. Police are investigating the circumstances of the entertainer's death. His body was found near a treadmill. There was no indication of foul play. Hayes was a big influence on today's rappers and became an iconic figure in the soul music scene. He also dabbled in acting in Blaxploitation films of the 1970s including playing the title role in Truck Turner. In more recent years, he gained new fame as the voice of Chef in the envelope-pushing animated TV series South Park. However, Hayes quit the show when the producers began to mock his religion, Scientology. Hayes denied that higher-ups in the controversial organization had pressured him to leave the show, but the producers cited the fact that Hayes had no problem with the program's constant snipes at Christianity. For more on Hayes' life and career click here

Ed here: My favorite memory of Hayes, whom I liked a great deal, was his turn as the ex-con James Rockford knew in prison. Calling him "Rockfish" and bitching all the way. One of the many great character actors on that series and a terrific performer no matter what he was doing.

Last night I posted a piece about the mythical (and it is mythical) final Travis McGee novel...

Brendan DuBois said...
Ah, the joys of Travis McGee. In the mid 1980s, just as I was breaking into the mystery field, I encountered JDM and his works, and devoured them all... a pity that he's nearly forgotten nowadays.

Some time ago, I was in Florida with the missus, and we took a drive to Ft. Lauderdale, just so I could go to the Bahia Mar Marina. Found the plaque for the Busted Flush, and got a Bahia Mar baseball cap, which I wore for my first book jacket photo in 1994...

Ed here:

Ross Macdonald's sales went into a slump following his death but then came back with solid and consistent numbers. I've reread most of his novels in the past five years and they've dated hardly at all. The McGees don't hold up so well. The sexual attitudes are not only quaint they're borderline offensive and the derring do seems overmuch all too often. Not to mention the speechifying. My favorite McGee is the Green Ripper because it's a good story told with urgency and passion. Nothing gets in the way of the story.

But I still don't understand why, as Brendan says, he's nearly forgootten these days. All his great Dell and Gold Medals novels, and they are prime examples of pulp fiction at its best, are available inexpensively on abe and other used book sites.

We live in an age when neo noir dominates most of the press and internet attention. Rabe and Goodis are the prefered choices from the Fifties; Dan J. Marlowe and Jim Thompson (who really came to notice when Gold Medal started republishing him) in the Sixties. I understand that. I just wish there were room for old John D. these days but there doesn't seem to be.

Saturday, August 09, 2008

The Last McGee

I was at Half-Price the other day and two people, Travis McGee readers, asked the me The Inevitable Question. I still get asked this off-line fairly often. So here's my post from June 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.



Friday, August 08, 2008

Elizabeth Sanxay Holding; Michael Connelly

Martin Edwards asked me which Elizabeth Sanxay Holding novels he should start with. As always I warn that my preference is completely subjective. I've quoted part of Mystery Scene review to bring another perspective to Holding. For me Net of Cobwebs is her most chilling novel and Miasma probably her strangest, almost dream-like in places. (Lady Killer is her larkiest--she seduces us into liking a pretty young woman who is both the heroine and essentially a goldigger. But of course there is, as Boucher noted, always an undercurrent of dread at work too.)

Net of Cobwebs
The Blank Wall
The Unfinished Crime

From the Mystery Scene review:

"Between Miasma (1929) and Widow's Mite (1952) Holding published eighteen suspense novels, which earned her solid reviews, the admiration of Dorothy Hughes and Raymond Chandler among other writers, and the interest of Hollywood (The Blank Wall was filmed twice as Reckless Moment (1949) and The Deep End (2001). In the introduction to this collection Gregory Shepard claims that Holding was among the first crime writers to ask not so much whodunit as whydunit, which made her the precursor of the woman's psychological suspense novel and forerunner to Patricia Highsmith and Ruth Rendell. Miasma and Lady Killer provides an excellent introduction to her world.

"Miasma features a young doctor, Dennison, who is seduced by the wealth of an older local practitioner who hires him as his assistant. When several patients die under odd circumstances, Dennison begins to suspect that his benefactor's money comes from the inheritances he is receiving. By the novel's end Dennison has lost his fiancée, his job, and his innocence.

"These two novels will especially appeal to readers interested in the history of crime fiction, but their carefully crafted plots will also appeal to readers looking for a good old-fashioned crime story with a skillfully created aura of suspense."

----------------------The Brass Verdict

Terrill Lankord, whose work should be in every mystery library, has produced another extraordinary video for Michael Connelly's forthcoming novel The Brass Verdict.

Thursday, August 07, 2008

Forgotten Books: The Blank Wall; Bob Randisi

When Raymond Chandler called Elizabeth Sanxay Holding "the top suspense writer of them all" he may even have been sober. During this period Anthony Boucher said “For subtlety, realistic conviction, incredible economy, she’s in a class by herself."

From Wikpedia:

"Elizabeth Sanxay Holding wrote romantic novels during the 1920s, but, after the stock market crash in 1929, she turned to the more lucrative genre of the detective novel. From 1929 through 1954, she wrote eighteen detective novels, which sold well and earned her significant praise for her style and character development. Her series character for these novels was Lieutenant Levy. Holding also wrote numerous short stories for popular magazines of the day."

Holding is probably the only one-time romantic novelist whose work reminds me, at various times, of both Cornell Woolrich and David Goodis in its phantasmagoric delineation of reality. Even though many of her books operate on one level as tart commentaries on life in the upper classes, the characters involved are generally dark and desperate.

From womenwriters:

"The Blank Wall was first published in the 1940s and is set somewhere just outside of New York during World War II. Lucia Holley, mother of teenaged children and housewifely wife of a soldier away fighting in the Pacific, is a most unlikely protagonist for a tale of murder and blackmail and conspiracy... She is surprised to discover in herself a person different to the dull vaguely incompetent housewife she had come to believe herself to be. And the person that her children want her to be at the same time as they condescend to her for being so."

Some of the language in the above tells you how her publishers promoted her at the time, the romance novelist turned `tec writer. But as both Chandler and Boucher indicate that's a superficial reading of her brooding and sometimes agonized novels. In The Blank Wall the discovery of the killer is only the start of the real story, the beginning of a madness laid out with terrifying intensity. A few parts of it reminded me of Psycho.

You can find Holding in both Margaret Millar and Dorothy B. Hughes, women whose audiences were male and female alike and women who enjoyed turning reality upside down. Stark House has brought back many of her books in inexpensive editions. The Blank Wall has been made into a movie three times, most recently as "The Deep End" with Tilda Swanson and with a gay theme not in Holding's novel. The film was a critical but not commercial success and those of us who'd hoped it might bring Holding back into general notice were disappointed.

An elegant stylist, a wicked humorist and a powerful nail-bititng suspense novelist, Holding deserves to be recognized both for her achievemnts and her influence.


I've sold film right to my first Rat Pack book, EVERYBODY KILLS SOMEBODY SOMETIME, to Sandy Hackett, the late Buddy Hackett's son. I will be writing the screenplay. Plans are to begin filming January 2010. Sandy Hackett will star as Sands Casino pit boss Eddie G., who in the story is asked by Frank Sinatra to help find out who is sending Dean Martin threatening notes, while they are filming Ocean's 11 in 1960 Las Vegas. All of the Rat Pack members appear in the book, as well as other historical characters like Sands boss Jack Entratter, George Raft and Angie Dickinson.

This book was followed last year by LUCK BE A LADY, DON'T DIE, and in December HEY THERE (YOU WITH THE GUN IN YOUR HAND) will be published. All the books come from St.Martin's Press,and I'm presently working on the fourth, YOU'RE NOBODY TIL SOMEBODY KILLS YOU.

If you need any other information please let me know.


P.S.Just by coincidence the Rat Pack film ROBIN AND THE 7 HOODS will be appearing on Broadway in 2010.

Red Sky In Morning

It's fitting for two reasons that Max Allan Collins (here writing as Patrick Culhane) should quote Herman Wouk at the start of his new novel Red Sky In Morning.

Wouk's quote concerns his Naval service in WW11 for one thing and it is Naval service and the Second World that is the heart of this story.

And quoting Wouk, the greatest popular storyteller of his time, signals the reader that this is among the most ambitious novels Collins has written to date. Red Sky is not a crime novel. It is a big riveting mainstream novel that to includes a crime. It is very much in the traditon of Herman Wouk.

Ensign Peter Maxwell is called up from the reserves just after Pearl Harbor and ends up, given his talents, leading the Navy choir. But Maxwell wants to be in the real war and manages to get aboard an ammunition ship, a perilous asignment he's happy to have. Especially since the other members of his musical quartet have joined him.

The USS Liberty Hill is stationed at San Francisco's Port Chicago and quickly ships out for a shakedown cruise. It is here we meet Lt. Commander John Jacob Edgar, the type of man who leads by intimidating rather than inspiring. He is especially contemptuous of junior officers and the African-Americans aboard the ship.

The sweep of the story keeps you turning pages as the young ensign confronts an explosion, a storm and the murders of some of his quartet members. But as good as Collins is at keeping the story compelling, he also gives the reader a gripping sense of the war as seen from a Naval ship and the fears and prejudices of its crew. Like Wouk, Collins works in a broad historical context, giving you popular culture images of the time as well as the political climate in which the war was fought. He makes some telling and surprising points about the war that rarely get mentioned in ther glossy movies about that time.

Collins dedicates the novel to his father, who was not unlike ensign Maxwell, and you can feel the special passion that gives the book. This is a major novel, rich with drama, humor, history and real poignance as Collins reveals the best and worst in the human heart..

Looking for a car that's sporty, fun and fits in your budget? Read reviews on AOL Autos.
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Tuesday, August 05, 2008


Well, last night's post about blurbs elicited a number of intersting responses. If I'm reading them correctly the consensus seems to be that quotes from big name writers help. But there are perils involved in the whole business. I thought Sanrda Ruttan's letter was particularly thoughtful.

Sandra Ruttan said...
I've definitely heard variations of "I'm not a big name so a blurb from me won't help" but... the thing is, is it better to go with no blurbs at all?

I'm not convinced blurbs help, but it is only the bestsellers - the Rankins, Lippmans, Connellys - that dare to put out a book without a blurb on the front cover. Not having a blurb is a curiosity, and I guess for the people who do pay attention to these things they think either you're full of yourself or you aren't that good.

My own experience is such that getting new blurbs from known names was pretty well impossible for me, so I turned to other new authors, and one of them met me with a laundry list of conditions for supplying a blurb that was about three paragraphs long.

It's a popularity game for so many, choosing only to blurb when it will bring attention to their name, and often more about trading favors than anything else. Best story I know is a very well-known author who blurbed another author. Blurb appears on the cover. My SO picked up the book, and in an e-mail exchange with the blurber said, "I'm reading X by X right now." The author responded, "Never heard of it."

I've given up on it. If it's all about kissing backside and not about writing, I don't want the endorsements. I've grown to distrust most of them.

Monday, August 04, 2008

Why won't you blurb me?

Why won't you blurb me? (Copyright Salon 2008)

I had an agent and a book deal for my first novel. All I was missing was quotes for the back cover. Next time, remind me to suck up to more famous writers.

By Rebecca Johnson

Aug. 4, 2008 | A few years ago, I went to a party at the writer William Styron's house in rural Connecticut. The great man himself was somewhere else, but his daughter, my friend, had invited a few people over for dinner. After the meal, I wandered into the living room, where I saw a long table piled high with unbound book manuscripts, all as thick and unwieldy as a Manhattan telephone book. Curious and slightly sheepish (was I being too nosy?), I went to take a closer look. A thin coating of dust lay over the manuscripts, many of which had yellowed with age. I leaned down to read the cover letters. Each was practically identical. "Dear Mr. Styron: It gives me great pleasure to present the debut novel of writer X." Each letter writer went on to praise the author as a talented new voice on the American literary scene and then requested a blurb from Styron. I looked (in vain) for a name I recognized. I hadn't written a novel at that point in my life (though I wanted to!) but I remember feeling distinctly chilled by that graveyard of hopeful dreams.

A decade later, I managed to beat the odds by finding an agent and a publisher for my own first novel. All seemed to be going well until, about six months before publication, my editor called to discuss the issue of blurbs. For the paperback version of my book, I'll have plenty of reviews with which to lard the back cover but, pre-publication, the first-time novelist needs quotes like "Genius!" or "Masterpiece!" or "Johnson writes like an angel!" from other, more established, writers in order to lure potential readers. Thus commenced the dreaded search for blurbs.

No problem, I told my editor. I've lived in New York City for 25 years. I'm a professional journalist. Some of my best friends are novelists. I rattled off their names to my editor and was met with a worrisome silence.

"What about Ann Patchett?" she asked. "Do you know her?"

for the rest go here:

Ed here:

Ah yes, blurbs. Like most writers, I've been on both sides of the gun. Seeking blurbs, dealing with requests for them. As for the seeking...I've only had a few embarrassing experiences, the most memorable (i.e. I can't forget it) with a writer who told me very politely that I was a minor hack and blurbing me would forever ruin his reputation. That one really hurt. I'd called him because my editor said that major name blurbs would help. I try to blame him but I can't. I was the one who called. I was the one who asked.

In general, though, most writers I've asked (and I've never made a habit of such requests) have been cordial and willing to at least look at the book. This isn't to say that I haven't been turned down. But at least they didn't make me feel that I came loaded with a terminal case of cooties.

When a writer asks me for a blurb, which isn't all that often, I usally say, and quite seriously, that my name as a sales tool has little or no value. "Damn, man, if Gorman likes it this'll go all the way to the top of the NY Times!" Most of the requests I get are from writers who've just started to publish. Remembering how helpful established mystery writers were to me when I began I feel guilty if I don't give their book a look over. And if the look over is ok I read the whole thing. In the past five years I've read a number of really fine first novels in the mystery, fantasy, horror and western fields.

I'm not convinced that blurbs are all that helpful anyway but since the industry thinks they are I play along.

How about you writers out there? Any interesting blurb stories? Any strong opinions on the subject?

In case it didn't register, when Rebbeca Johnson, writer of the blurb piece, mentioned that she set off seeking blurbs and ended up at William Styron's house...well, my search was a bit different. I ended up at Carter Brown's.

Sunday, August 03, 2008

One more post - the last - promise

My favorite political reporter Josh Marshall just posted this. Not how CBS handles Obama and McCain. Note also that the person quoted is a twit named Mike Allan the hack who conducted thr infamous Bush interview in which he said (clearly moved) You've given up golf in honor of our troops haven't you? (Fifteen minutes after the interview was air Josh Marshall was able to find three different videos of Bush playing golf, one within two weeks of this lying interview. So of course CBS quotes an obvious enemy of Obama's the mush-mouthed Mike Allan. Note the detail they use to diss Obama; virtually no detail where McCain is concerned.

O-Force One
Posted by Allison O'Keefe| 101

From CBS News' Allison O'Keefe:

Barack Obama’s new campaign plane is nothing short of grand. Well, for the candidate that is.

Obama’s section of the plane rivals that of any first class. Recently the front cabin of the Boeing 757 was retrofitted to install four individual chairs that resemble La-Z-Boys. They are free-standing and made of plush leather with pockets on the sides. There is also a booth which seats four for a meeting or a meal.

His chair has his name and campaign logo embroidered on the back top -- “Obama ‘08” on one line and “President” underneath. To one side is a small table stacked with newspapers ready for the candidate’s arrival. The table of the booth is always covered in snacks and cheese and is where Obama spends most of his time during flights meeting with staff and sitting for the occasional interview.

“Typically the candidate's cabin is like business class -- roomier and less chaotic than the staff and press areas, but still short of the accoutrements of a pro team's charter,” says Politico’s Mike Allen, a frequent campaign flier.

After looking at a few photos of Obama’s cabin, Allen quipped, “Air Force One may seem a tad claustrophobic.” Check it out for yourself:

There are five sections on the 757, the first of which is Obama’s section, which can seat up to eight people at a time, although rarely are all eight seats taken. Depending on the destination or length of trip, Sen. Obama is joined by body man Reggie Love and a few senior staff members or perhaps a key Senate colleague. Recently, Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., hitched a ride from Washington, D.C., to her home state for a full day of campaign events.

The next two sections are outfitted with expansive business class seats for senior and junior level staff including Obama’s media team, which films all of the candidate’s events for promotional purposes.

The back two sections are traditional coach seats where the Secret Service, reporters, cameramen and some of the communications staff sit. It is a rite of passage each election cycle for the party’s nominee to retrofit an aircraft to distinct specifications. While the campaign pays for their share of the plane, the news media also pay thousands of dollars to fly with Obama for each leg of his campaign.

CBS News’ John Bentley, who's covering the John McCain campaign, reports that McCain flies in a slightly smaller Boeing 737, which has four compartments: the first class area, where he sits; the “straight talk” area for interviews; a business class section for staffers; and the back of the plane, where the press and secret service sit.

In McCain's spacious first class area, there are 12 plush leather seats for the candidate, his wife and senior staffers. The “straight talk” area features a long leather bench and another first class seat which McCain sits in when he talks to the press – or would, if he used the area.

Since they acquired the plane with its specially modified area, McCain has spoken to the press there precisely once, over a month ago. All of these sections are separated by curtains, which are always shut as tightly as possible as soon as the plane takes off in order to keep the different sections of the plane from interacting with each other.
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I'm not sure who first said "Please do not understand me too quickly" but it's what I need to say here in response to several off-blog letters I've received in the past twenty-four hours. These were not happy letters, their authors accusing me of trashing Obama. Please do not understand me too quickly, folks. If you read what I said carefully I (with one exception) talked only about Obama as a TV personality. As a man I have great respect for him. Look where he came from and look what he's achieved. I'm taken with Michelle, too. We come from similar backgrounds.

To some degree I was venting about what I see as either lethargy or stupidity on the part of his campaign people. Obama may want to take the high road as the "concilliator" but that isn't going to cut it. There is no more savage a political machine than the GOP's.

What I'm especially worried about is the way Obama and his people are responding to these new John McCain commercials. Obama got a four-five per cent bounce when he returned from abroad. That bounce is gone and he's not only tied with McCain but in one poll today he's behind. My irritation with Obama supporters who dismiss the ads so blithely was shared today on the George Stephanoplous show (yes the same guy who, along with right wing sleazebag Charlie Gibson, did everything they could to humiliate Obama in their turn at hosting a primrary debate). His guests were divided left and right and they all agreed, even Donna Brazile (whom I like and admire very much), that thse ads have already driven Obama's negatives up a few points and have certainly erased any gain he got from his trip.

Now David Gergen is an old guy who's been around Washington politics for thirty-five years. He's bland and old school and he can be pretty dopey. But he was on his game today. When the other three said that these hits were probably "short term" and that McCain might pay for the nastiness on the other end, he disagreed on "short term." Who knows what that phrase means. McCain has set his campaign in motion with these commecrials. There will be no turning back. This will be his approach. This and appearing (no kdding) with heavenly clouds behind him and a black and white photo of him as a POW. Beam me up, Sparky.

The idea that the mainstream press is taken with Obama is nonsense. They haven't given him a pass on anything and they've given McCain a paass on everything. To hear Kelly O'Donnell swoon about him (she's covering him for NBC) makes you wonder what's really go on there. Maybe the ice maiden Cindy should keep a closer eye on things. (Kidding.)

I'm reprinting two short pieces from polical blogs today. The second one is interesting because it's an illustration of what the mainstream press is doing to Obama. Remember the forty-eight news cycle flap about Obama saying that he didn't look like any other president on the dollar bill. McCain ripping into him for playing the race card and the press just accepting his lie. . Well guess who said it first? And the Gergen quote says it all. This is reality. And it ain't gonna change.

Donna Brazile said that Obama needs to start running heavy tv schedules with commercials that point out his ideas for changing things and contrasting them with McCain's same old same old. OK. Run three of those but make every fourth an attack on McCain's lies. For instance, two admirals who were on his review board have indicated that despite what he claims in his autobiography, he was never considered for a position as an admiral. As I recall one of them implied that McCain he wasn't exactly a brainiac. McCain insist that the choice was his--serving as an admiral or going into "public service." Think of what the press did to Gore and Kerry (terrible candidates) on matters like this. Not a whisper about this recent story.

This'll be my last political column. I want to get back to pop culture.

Sam Stein | HuffPost Reporting From DC

August 3, 2008 01:16 PM

On Sunday, longtime Washington hand David Gergen took umbrage with John McCain's recent attack ads, charging that the Senator was using coded messaging to paint Barack Obama as "outside the mainstream" and "uppity."

"There has been a very intentional effort to paint him as somebody outside the mainstream, other, 'he's not one of us,'" said Gergen, who has worked with White Houses, both Republican and Democrat, from Nixon to Clinton. "I think the McCain campaign has been scrupulous about not directly saying it, but it's the subtext of this campaign. Everybody knows that. There are certain kinds of signals. As a native of the south, I can tell you, when you see this Charlton Heston ad, 'The One,' that's code for, 'he's uppity, he ought to stay in his place.' Everybody gets that who is from a southern background. We all understand that. When McCain comes out and starts talking about affirmative action, 'I'm against quotas,' we get what that's about."

McCain Mocked Idea Of Obama On Dollar In June
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The Jed Report | August 3, 2008 11:10 AM
Read More: Mccain Dollar Bill Race Card, Mccain Obama Playing Race Card, Mccain Race Card Accusation, Obama Dollar Bill, Obama Dollar Bill Race Card, Obama Faces On Dollar Bills, Obama Race Card, Politics News

Andrew Sullivan, Chris Bodenner, and Eli Sanders all note that the McCain campaign's strategy on race is to (a) play the race card and then (b) accuse Obama of having played the race card.

The issue here, of course, is that John McCain claimed great umbrage at Barack Obama's lighthearted comment that Bush and McCain would emphasize that "he doesn't look like all those other presidents on the dollar bills."

But if John McCain thinks that comment was playing the race card, then why did he play it first? One month ago -- in late June -- a McCain ad superimposed Obama's visage on a one hundred dollar bill as part of an effort to mock his supposed 'presumptuousness.'

Saturday, August 02, 2008


There's an interesting article in today's New York magazine about how the Obama campaign is responding to the advertising assault John McCain launched two weeks ago. To me it's a depressing article and confirms some suspicions I've had about Obama all along.

Up front I have to say that I've voted Republican many times in my life and that I think both parties handle their power badly. To me most of the people in the senate are crooks and a good share of the house members are, too. They just don't have the opportunity to rake it in the way the Senators do. So I've tended to vote against the party in power once I feel they've begun to abuse their priviliges. I came to hate Bill Clinton early on (long before Monica) and thus voted for Dole (who John MCain, as one columnist said today, makes Dole sound like Bobby Kennedy). I think Nancy Pelosi (whose autobiography released this week is hovering near 1000 on Amazon; a fate well deserved) should resign and get her own cable fashion show (a wildly narcisstic incompetent) and Harry Reid (a despicable little man who have had some pretty interesting photos of his colleagues to get his senator leader job).

The Republicans are even worse. Some really creepy people in the GOP lineup. Boehner (whom even GOP pundits admit is more crooked than Tom DeLay ever was) in the house and The Chinless Wonder Mitch McConell in the senate. Rove, Cheney, Gonzales etc. To name but a few.

What I was hoping for this time in this imperfect world of ours was a campaign in which the Deomcrats would wage a battle so fierce that we mistook them for the GOP. Swiftboat McCain, a shabby little man full of rage and stupdity (fifth from the bottom at Annapolis in a class of forty hundred and ninety seven; seventh from the bottom in high school). This is why I switched to Hillary in the last month of the primary. Much as I hate the Clintons I knew Hillary would give us a death-cage match even if it meant cryogenically freezing Bubba for a few years.

One of the points of the New York magazine article is that many of Obama's supporters seem to think these McCain ads are so over the top nobody will take them seriously. I think that's a deadly mistake. TOver and over I hear Obama people laughing that McCain is just jealous because he isn't as popular. These ads are not knock-out punches but they're body punches. Muhammed Ali, you'll recall, made history by doing in his opponents with body punches. Each ad is a punch and eventually will take its toll.

To be honest I got tired of seeing Obama overseas. His slickness and his piety have begun to irritate me. He seems to be too cool for the room, my room anyway. Maybe I've seen too many westerns in my years. But damn man at some point you have to draw down on the other guy when he's slapping you in the face and ridiculing you.

I mention the latter because the article implies that some of the people around Obama, including his mentor David Axelrod, want him to go tough. To retaliate. To attack. There is plenty of ammunition. I'd go all the way back to the Keating Five, McCain on the take. I'd go to all the obvious lies McCain told in the run up to the war (including saying that the Anthrax case "justmight be" the world of Iraq) to how he's let the soldiers down time after time to wearing candy ass loafers that cost $548--if Obama is a rock star what does that make McCain?).

But no, according to those close to Obama, he's worried about his "image." He wants to be known as above petty politics, apprently his word, a "concilliator." I don't know what world's he's living in but it's not the one I inhabit. What I'm hearing is that Obama is a Muslim, a (your choice of racial slurs), an elitist and something less than a man (unlike Toby Keith, a vocal McCain supporter, whose latest song advocates lynching; no kidding).

It's time for a change in our government. This one has done permanent harm to our democracy. McCain will only damage it the more. But I'm no longer sure that Obama is the right guy; I'm no longer sure that we didn't make a big mistake in the primary.

Friday, August 01, 2008

Overlooked Books-Earthquake Weather

The line goes from Dreiser to Fitzgerald to West to Schulberg to Mailer to Didion, some of the finest Americans writers who have tried to define the shared hallucination we call Hollywod.

Of all these writers, Terrill Lankford's Earthquake Weather most resembles, in its rich spare prose and elqouent despair, Day of The Locust. Mark Hayes has begun to realize that he may not become the successful producer he's hoped for a decade and a half. One sure sign of this is that he's working for a scumbag producer named Dexter Morton as a glorified script reader even though Morton has purloined his girl and his self-respect. Plenty of reason to kill a man, or so the police think, when Hayes finds Morton murdered and floating in his own swimming pool.

Lankford uses the set up to search Hollywood for the killer. In the course of this he gives us a guided tour of contemporary Hollywood, a trip that is by turns bleak, angry and bitterly humorous. The imagery is stunning throughout as is the psychology. A number of scenes make you squirm. Yes, there really are people like this. But, like Nathaniel West, Lankford sees most of his people not as bad people but simply as afraid and pathetic. Making them villains would make the novel second-rate. Not that there aren't a few true villains and they're indelibly rendered.

I've gone back to this novel many times. I open it at random and read ten or twenty pages just to savor the writing.

This is a major novel from a major writer. It deserved a much better fate.