Thursday, April 30, 2009

PITY HIM AFTERWARD by Donald E. Westlake

Pity Him Afterward

Though this is one of the rarely mentioned novels by Donald E. Westlake I have to say was flat out dazzled from beginning to end with Donald Westlake's 1964 novels PITY HIM AFTERWARD.

The story concerns an escaped madman who takes the identity of a man who is headed to a theater that does summer stock. While we see the story several times from the madman's point of view, we're never sure who he is. This is a fair clue mystery.

In quick succession, a young woman who works summer stock is found murdered in the house where the young, struggling actors stay. A part-time chief of police appears to find the killer.

Two points: writers owe their readers fresh takes on familiar tropes. The madman here is no slobbering beast but rather a deranged and sometimes pitiful lunatic (the opening three thousand words are among the most accomplished Westlake pieces I've ever read). And the police chief Eric Songard is one of the most unique cops I've come across in mystery fiction. He works nine months of the year as a professor and summers as a police chief. The small town he oversees usually offers nothing worse than drunks and the occasional fight. Murder is another matter. Westake gives us a cop whose self-confidence is so bad all he can do is try and hasten the appearance of the regular cops from a nearby district. Meanwhile he has to pretend he knows what's going on. Songard could easily have gone to series. He's a great character.

As the story is told, we get a believable look at summer stock with its low pay, brutal hours, frequent rivalries. The payoff is that some of the actors will get their Equity card at the end of the nine week run and thereby become professional actors.

Then there is the telling. The craft is impeccable. Precise and concise and yet evocative because of the images Westlake constantly gives us.. You also have to marvel at the rhythm of his language, watching how'll he'll shave an anticpated word here for a certain effect, add a word there for the sake of cadence. These sentences are CRAFTED.

There are so many great Westlake novel it's impossble to rank them. But given what he accomplished, I'd have to say this is one of his early best.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009




I'm joining Duane Swierczynski and Bill Crider in recommending that you order the July selection from Stark House.
It's hard to know which to be more excited about, the three rarely seen Harry Whittington novels or the long, superb piece of scholarship by David Laurence Wilson. Wilson's introduction gives you a bracing history of Harry, what the paperback original market was like at its peak, and the the strange history of "blackbox" softcore porno. This is a must-have book. Advance orders takennow.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

You can't make this stuff up





Jesus License Plate In Florida Causes Controversy (VIDEO)
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Read More: Charlie Crist, Florida, Florida Dmv, Florida Jesus License Plate, Florida Jesus License Plate Video, Florida Religious License Plate, Video, Politics News

A Florida program which allows you to design custom license plates is set to get another two designs that are already causing controversy. The two new designs are Christian-themed, one featuring a cross in front a stained-glass window and the other an image of Jesus Christ in a position that most resembles him on the cross.

A similar bill has passed in South Carolina, but a federal judge has halted production while the constitutionality of the license plates is adjudicated.

Floria Governor Charlie Crist was asked about the whether this violates the separation between church and state. He responded, "If they don't want one they don't have to buy one."

Richard Neely (originally published Nov. 2005)

I'm posting this again because Steve Lewis ran a piece on Neely the other night. I thought I'd second the motion that Neely deserves to be back in print.

------

I happened to read The Damned Innocents by Richard Neely last night. Kiny crime pulp circa 1970s. Enjoyed it very much. Thought I'd repost this piece on Neely.


Richard Neely (originally published Nov. 2005)

The first time I ever spoke to Richard Neely, suspense novelist extraordinaire, he kept trying to place my name. "It's so damned familiar--wait a minute, you're the guy who called me the de Sade of crime fiction."

Loose lips sink ships. So can old reviews. I figured that our busines would sink if he ever remembered that long ago review. But he laughed. "I think I was just ahead of my time."

Actually, I'd meant that remark as a compliment because I was pointing out that Neely, despite the Irish name, took a very French approach to the psychological machinations of sex in his books. Three of his books became French movies. Somebody apparently agreed with me

Neely, a very sleek and successful advertising man, is gone now and so, undeservedly, are his books. The Walter Syndrome, his bestselling suspense novel, was almost ruined for me when I guessed the ending on page two, something I never do. But I pressed on and it was well worth it. This was a take on Psycho set in Thirties and the storytelling is spellbinding. The voice is worthy of Fredric Brown at his best.

I was thinking of Neely last night because I was finishing up his novel The Plastic Nightmare, which became an incomprehensible movie called Shattered. Neely loved tricks as much as Woolrich did and Plastic is a field of land mines. He even manages to spin some fresh variations on the amnesia theme. It's as noir as noir can be but mysteriously I've never seen Neely referred to on any noir list. My theory is that his books, for the most part, were presented in such tony packages, they were bypassed by mystery fans. They looked mainstream.

The Damned Innocents became a fair French flick. What it missed was the sorrow. Neely always caught the sorrow of sexual betrayl with a kind of suicidal wisdom. While his books aren't kinky by today's measure, they're dark in the way only sexual themes can be. Love kills, baby.

Not that he didn't have a sudsy side. He wrote a couple of big sexy workplace novels that I could never plow through but he also wrote The Ridgeway Women which was SUPPOSED to be a big sexy workplace book that was undermined in a good way by the riveting neuroses and desperation of all his best books. This was Arrested Development played as drama.

A Madness of The Heart suffers from a style Neely seemed to have invented from scratch for this particular novel. It's another dazzler--a really convincing story about a rapist and the human debris he leaves in his wake--but the prose gets in my way every once in awhile. It isn't that it's fancy-schmancy, it's just that it gets labored sometimes. And gives us more information than we need.

I liked Neely, man and writer, and I liked his books, too. Somebody should bring him back. He's my kind of noir writer--down and out in the dark underbelly of the success-driven American middle class, like non-Trav John D. MacDonald only doomed without hope of salvation.

Monday, April 27, 2009

the party of nude gingrich at its finest

From Huffington Post
by Jason Linkins:


Colbert Study: Conservatives Don't Know He's Joking

Last week, Stephen Colbert revisited a segment he had done on Florida Representative Bill Posey, who sponsored a bill that "would require future presidential candidates to provide a copy of their original birth certificate," in order to put insane rumors of President Barack Obama's birthplace to bed.

Colbert thought a similar measure be taken to end the whisperings that Posey was a human-alligator hybrid. Posey, in response to Colbert, said, "I expected there would be some civil debate about it, but it wasn't civil...There is no reason to say that I'm the illegitimate grandson of an alligator." And one wondered, "Does Posey not realize that Colbert is not speaking in earnest? His reaction seems uniquely stupid!"

Stupid, yes. But apparently it's not unique at all, according to a study from Ohio State University, which proves, with math and stuff, that lots of conservatives seem to not understand the intrinsic, underlying joke of The Colbert Report:
This study investigated biased message processing of political satire in The Colbert Report and the influence of political ideology on perceptions of Stephen Colbert. Results indicate that political ideology influences biased processing of ambiguous political messages and source in late-night comedy. Using data from an experiment (N = 332), we found that individual-level political ideology significantly predicted perceptions of Colbert's political ideology.

Additionally, there was no significant difference between the groups in thinking Colbert was funny, but conservatives were more likely to report that Colbert only pretends to be joking and genuinely meant what he said while liberals were more likely to report that Colbert used satire and was not serious when offering political statements. Conservatism also significantly predicted perceptions that Colbert disliked liberalism. Finally, a post hoc analysis revealed that perceptions of Colbert's political opinions fully mediated the relationship between political ideology and individual-level opinion.

I think a lot of conservatives are going to pissed when they realize that Stephen Colbert's performance at the 2006 White House Correspondents' Dinner was not, in fact, an awkward and ineffective attempt to praise President George W. Bush, but actually a bitter and satiric criticism of his incompetence!
PREVIOUSLY, on the HUFFINGTON POST:
Florida Congressman Continues To Stonewall On His Half-Alligator Genetic Heritage (VIDEO)
Anti-Gay Group Sends Letter To Colbert Thanking Him For Mocking Them
[

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Edgar All Poe

There's a long, mesmerizing picee about Poe in the New Yorker by Jill Lepore. To me anyway--extraordinary that she could pack so much information and opinion in the space she was given. I've read full-length biographies of Poe that weren't as illuminating.

Jill Lepore:

"When Edgar was two, his mother died of consumption. Edgar and a brother and sister had little more to depend upon than the charity of strangers. The Poe orphans were separated, and Edgar landed in the home of a wealthy Richmond merchant named John Allan and his sickly, childless wife, Fanny. Allan, who ran a firm called the House of Ellis, never adopted the boy, and never loved him, either. Poe, for his part, took Allan’s name but never wanted it. (He signed letters, and published, as “Edgar A. Poe.”) In 1815, Allan moved his family to London, to take advantage of the booming British market for Virginia tobacco. Poe attended posh boarding schools. Then, during the Panic of 1819, the first bust in the industrializing nineteenth century, banks failed, factories closed, and Allan’s business imploded. Allan, plagued with two hundred thousand dollars of debt, returned to Virginia. Poe turned poet. The earliest verses in his hand that survive were written when he was fifteen: “Last night, with many cares and toils oppress’d, / Weary, I laid me on a couch to rest.” Adolescent melancholy, and nothing more. But on the same sheet of paper, just below Poe’s scrawl, Allan had calculated the compound interest on a debt.

(more)

"“I have an inveterate habit of speaking the truth,” Poe once wrote. That, too, was a lie. (That Poe lied compulsively about his own life has proved the undoing of many a biographer.) In 1830, he finally made it to West Point, where he pulled pranks. “I cannot believe a word he writes,” Allan wrote on the back of yet another letter from his wayward charge. Poe was court-martialled, and after that Allan, who had since married a woman twenty years his junior, cut him off entirely. Poe went to New York, but, unable to support himself by writing, he left the city within three months, returning to Baltimore to live with Mrs. Clemm and little Virginia. He published his first story, “Metzengerstein,” about a doomed Hungarian baron, his gloomy castle, and his fiery steed. He won a prize of fifty dollars from the Baltimore Saturday Visiter for “MS Found in a Bottle.” One of the editors, who met him, later wrote, “I found him in Baltimore in a state of starvation.” In these straits, Poe wrote “Berenice,” a story about a man who disinters his dead lover and yanks out all her teeth—“the white and glistening, and ghastly teeth of Berenice”—only to realize that she is still alive. It has been claimed, plausibly, that Poe wrote this story to make a very bad and long-winded joke about “bad taste.” Also: he was hungry."

for the rest go here:

http://www.newyorker.com/arts/critics/atlarge/2009/04/27/090427crat_atlarge_lepore

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Nelson Algren

Jack O'Connell was nice enough to send me a link to an LA Times piece about how Nelson Algren's fiction has all but faded from sight. Until I was in my mid-Thirties or so, Algren was holy writ. The small group of literary writers I hung out with in Iowa City would frequently read Algren out loud to each other. His work amazed shocked and sorrowed in ways nobody had before. I still have fifteen of his books. I still read three or four of his stories every month. But if I mention him to most people I get the old blank stare. Of all the Chicago writers it was impossible to believe that James T. Farrell or Nelson Algren would ever disappear from our interest and respect. But man have they ever.

Here's an excerpt from the fine piece by David L. Ulin:


So what, exactly, is Algren's legacy? That's the question the Steppenwolf event means to raise. The show is built around a series of interviews he gave in the early 1960s to a writer named H.E.F. Donohue (later published as "Conversations With Nelson Algren"). The one-night-only affair seems appropriate, given Algren's state of cultural eclipse. Perhaps the most telling anecdote comes by way of the late Studs Terkel, the author's lifelong friend, who recalls going to see Billie Holiday with Algren in 1956, when Lady Day was getting near the end.

In Terkel's words: "Billie's voice was shot, though the gardenia in her hair was as fresh as usual. Ben Webster, for so long a big man on tenor, was backing her. He was having it rough, too. Yet they transcended. There were perhaps fifteen, twenty patrons in the house. At most. Awful sad. Still, when Lady sang 'Fine and Mellow,' you felt that way. And when she went into 'Willow, Weep for Me,' you wept. Something was still there, that something that distinguished an artist from a performer: the revealing of self. Here I be. Not for long, but here I be. In sensing her mortality, we sensed our own."

An incredible run

That something that distinguished an artist from a performer: This is also at the heart of Algren's writing, or at least the five books he produced between 1942 and 1956, which remain among the most serious and moving in American literature. Beginning with "Never Come Morning," the story of a Polish hoodlum and boxer in Chicago, and ending with his New Orleans romp "A Walk on the Wild Side," it's as good a run as has ever been put together by any writer anywhere.

With these books, Algren defined postwar American urban fiction, interweaving threads of social realism, his own leftist politics and noir. Still, what drives his work is always character, the challenges and degradations of daily living, of trying to make one's way in a world that doesn't care.

for the rest go here:

http://www.latimes.com/entertainment/news/arts/la-ca-nelson-algren26-2009apr26,0,1285589.story

Ed here: I remember Norman Mailer's odd Maileresque comment after he and Algren had disagreed on a tv show: "Two middleweights fought to a draw."

Friday, April 24, 2009

When the Patient Gets Lost in Translation

The above is the title for an article appearing in the NY Times today. The piece discusses the difficulties American doctors have dealing with patients who don't speak English.

But how about the other way around?

Three years ago I went to the big clinic up north for an annual checkup and a stem cell harvest. Now I want to emphasize that with one exception the care I've had there has been superior in every way. The place is so fantastically laid out and organized that we spent part of the time just walking around the campus enjoying the architecture.

The first two days we were there I had approximately a dozen tests. The results would show the status of my multiple myeloma. Though it is incurable there are several drugs that can extend life. I dion't remember now exactly what the problem was but a few of the tests I'd had in Cedar Rapids indicated that the folks up north needed to evaluate my neck. The kind of pain I was having felt very much like the pain I had when the cancer first appeared next to my spine.

At the conclusion of the tests we were given the name of the doctor who would go over the conclusions with us. We were both nervous obviously.

I was never sure what nationality the man was. He was likely in his fifties, good suit, eyeglasses, expensive shoes. He spoke slowly in English but his accent was thick enough that I couldn't understand some of the words. No sweat. The report could be summarized in a sentence. There was cancer on my neck or there was not cancer on my neck. Every doctor we'd dealt with up there had been been friendly but concise.

The conference began when I asked this doctor what the verdict was. And when he told us how he wanted to proceed Carol and I looked at each other wondering what the hell he was talking about. He would not simply give us the answer, he said. He wanted to read the report. He held the report up. It appeared to be four or five single spaced pages.

I tried to be polite. I told him that a) we'd never be able to understand the medicalese (I'd seen many such reports by then) and b) and I was very apologetic) I was having a difficult time understanding him when he spoke. Which was sure as hell true.

But he insisted. He began to read. Carol and I kept glancing at each other. To us it was gibberish. He got about half a page out when I said, "Just tell me if the cancer is on my neck."

He got mad. "This is how I make my reports." From the on he willed me out of existence. He refused to answer my questions; and he refused to make any kind of eye contact with me.

He addressed everything to Carol. I don't remember exactly how Carol cut him off but somehow she did. We'd been in there twenty minutes or so by now. And we just left. With no answer.

We were stunned. We stood in the hall as all these busy doctors and nurses and patients flowed around us. And somewhere among them was this big red-headed Irish doctor who obviously read the anger and confusion on our faces. He asked if we were all right. We both started telling him what had happened. He said the other doctor's name and kind of smiled. Then he said "C'mon into my office."

He walked over to his desk, leaned over--he was probably six two or six three--and said, "I need your full name and your social security number."

I gave it to him. He started punching keys. He spent no longer than a minute reading. Then he looked at us and smiled and said, "Oh, hell, you're fine."

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Graham Greene

Graham Greene has been one of my five favorite writers since tenth grade or so. I always wanted to know more about him but as his biographers discovered he only rarely took personal questions. His two autobiographies proved even more frustrating and elusive. They spoke little of himself.

There was always great debate about why he was never awarded a Nobel Prize especially given some of the lesser lights the prize went to so often. I think I'm correct in saying that it was William Goldman (another great admirer of Greene's) who wondered if it was Greene's Catholicism (heretical as it was) that kept him from getting it. But Catholics have won many times. Nathan Perkins wondered if it was Greene's left-wing politics. But the prize has been given to many writers more left than Greene. Other theories have been put forth over the years but none of those seemed to address the real possible reason--

In some circles Greene had a rather seedy reputation. He spent a lot of time in whorehouses, he was not known to refuse a drink, he stole one of his best friend's wife (though hardly against her will) and his general behavior often contradicted the impression readers got from his novels and stories and screenplays and he (correctly) predicted that in Central America priests would someday pick up arms to overthrow their fascist governments.

We'll never know.

Richard Greene (no relation) has edited a volume of Greene's Uncollected Letters. Michelle Orange reviews the volume in the new issue of The Nation. Talk about your man of parts.

"Richard Greene warns, `"The sum of all these discoveries is to make Graham Greene a stranger to us again."'

Michelle Orange:

A stranger with no shortage of calling cards: devout Catholic, lifelong adulterer, pulpy hack, canonical novelist; self-destructive, meticulously disciplined, deliriously romantic, bitterly cynical; moral relativist, strict theologian, salon communist, closet monarchist; civilized to a stuffy fault and louche to drugged-out distraction, anti-imperialist crusader and postcolonial parasite, self-excoriating and self-aggrandizing, to name just a few. "But who are you, Mr. Greene?" Yvonne Cloetta, his last mistress, remembered Greene being asked throughout his career. "I am my books," he insisted, a problematic deflection for several reasons, the most obvious being that the Greene oeuvre and its secondary materials support any number of conclusions about who their creator was and what he believed. Indeed, in Greene's two memoirs he manages--resolutely, annoyingly--to reveal little of his emotional life. Considered as a literary trope, Greene's contradictions hold the appeal of universality: in him, we can all locate some part of ourselves. As a man, he may be too like us for adulatory comfort. Even among his fans, abiding love for Greene is rare; for a man who considered disloyalty to be a privilege of the faithful, the hair shirt fits.

http://www.thenation.com/doc/20090504/orange?rel=hp_currently

Ed here: I'd challenge Orange on one thing. Greene's essay "On The Virtues of Disloyalty" is one of the most valuable insights into human behavior I've ever read. It taught me to distrust all groups, even those whose principles I generally agree with. All groups, no exceptions, expect you to march in lock-step and if you refuse for a principle of your own you are banished and despised. Disloyalty is in fact and in deed a virtue.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Stephen King and Max Brand

If I ever get organized this planet is in for trouble...Fortunately for humanity I can't find any of the doomsday weapons I created decades ago.

Looking for some old stories of mine today I plowed through a box of books and came across, among many other old things, acollection of interviews with Stephen King called Feast of Fear. I'd interviewed hims back in the mid-Eighties for Mystery Scene. He's a great interview subject, smart, flip, wise and passionate about many different things.

I was thumbing through the book and I came across a bit that reflects Duane Swierczynski's very cool Legends of The Underwood on his Secret Dead Blog. I was especially happy to see that King once again praised western-thriller-detective writer Max Brand who for me is one of the great pulp storytellers of all time. When he's at his best his narrative skills are unmatched and he has a range of characters that are the pulp of equivalent of Erskine Caldwell (whom I, like Faulkner, think is one of the great American short story writers).

"I love Max Brand (Frederick Faust)..Frank Gruber tells a fabulous anecdote about him in his book The Pulp Jungle. He says Brand worked at one of the major studious as a "grind" rewriter. Every day, the co-worker who told Gruber the story said, Brand would arrive with a very large steel thermos filled with pure vodka. He would open it, pour a cup into the red top, and begin to write. He wrote all day without stopping except to the bathroom (and to refill his Thermos. from some source in his car, apparently at noon). He never exhibited symptoms of drunkenness. He wrote with hardly a single strike-over. He would finish a quart or two of straight vodka each day, the writer who shared Brand's office said, and he would finish his "grind-work" by 1pm or so. For the next four hours he wrote (his own stuff) either Dr. Kildare or Westerns. And some of those Westerns are damned good stories. You can't put `em down, because the characters actually seem real.

Here's bit of his bio from Wikipedia:

Faust was born in Seattle to Gilbert Leander Faust and Elizabeth (Uriel) Faust, who both died soon after. He grew up in central California, and later worked as a cowhand on one of the many ranches of the San Joaquin Valley. Faust attended the University of California, Berkeley, where he began to write prolifically for student publications, poetry magazines, and, occasionally, newspapers. He did not attain a degree, as he was deemed a troublemaker, whereupon he began to travel extensively. He joined the Canadian Army in 1915, but deserted the next year and went to New York City.

During the 1910s, Faust started to sell stories to the pulp magazines of Frank Munsey, including All-Story Weekly and Argosy Magazine. When the United States joined World War I in 1917, Faust tried to enlist but was turned down. He married Dorothy Schillig in 1917, and the couple had three children. In the 1920s, Faust wrote extensively for pulp magazines, especially Street & Smith’s Western Story Magazine, a weekly for which he would write over a million words a year under various pen names, often seeing two serials and a short novel published in a single issue. In 1921 he suffered a severe heart attack, and for the rest of his life suffered from chronic heart disease.

His love for mythology was a constant source of inspiration for his fiction, and it might be that his classical influences, as well as his literary inclinations, are part of the reason for his success at genre fiction. The classical influences are certainly noticeable in his stories, many of which would inspire films. He created the Western character Destry, featured in several filmed versions of Destry Rides Again, and his character Dr. Kildare was adapted to motion pictures, radio, television, and comic books.

Beginning in 1934 Faust began publishing fiction in upscale slick magazines that paid better than pulp magazines. In 1938, due to political events in Europe, Faust returned with his family to the United States, settling in Hollywood, working as a screenwriter for a number of film studios. At one point Warner Brothers was paying him $3,000 a week (at a time when that might be a year’s salary for an average worker), and he made a fortune from MGM’s use of the Dr. Kildare stories. He was one of the highest paid writers of that time. Ironically, Faust disparaged his commercial success and used his own name only for the poetry that he regarded as his true vocation.

When World War II broke out, Faust insisted on doing his part, and despite being well into middle age and having a heart condition, he managed to become a front line war correspondent. Faust was quite famous, and the soldiers enjoyed having this popular author among them. While traveling with American soldiers as they battled in Italy in 1944, Faust was mortally wounded by shrapnel. He was personally commended for bravery by President Franklin D. Roosevelt.i

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Silverberg; Gorman

Terrific overview of Robert Silverberg's work and life in the LA Times today by Scott Timberg. One section of the piece focuses on the republication of Silverberg's masterpiece Dying Inside:

""Dying Inside" never found a wide audience, but it's been hailed by those who know it. Michael Chabon has called it "one of those rare novels that manages to be at once dazzling and tender." The book, which the New York Times once called "the perfect science fiction novel for people who don't like science fiction," was reissued last month by Tor.

"Part of what makes the novel so resonant is that Selig's power, which he likens to "an endless radio broadcast without commercials," begins to fade. This thing that's alienated him has also provided his sense of self. When it starts to die, he says, it's like hearing the sentences of the New York Times fragment into a Joycean steam of consciousness.

"Like much of the best science fiction, this dying gift acts as a particularly open metaphor -- for aging, for impotence, for a writer's powers of empathy and insight. Jonathan Lethem, an admirer of Silverberg's, has described the novel as "an intimate allegory of the artist's quandary."

"Silverberg was a very disenchanted writer," Lethem says -- and one who, like Roth, exposes male anger. "Sometimes it comes across in a very ferocious way -- his own brilliance comes burning through the framework of the story, and it can be quite bracing."

Silverberg's editor was so braced, in fact, when she read his manuscript that she inquired about his mental health.

"I wasn't feeling all right," Silverberg recalls. "But it wasn't the story of my life."

for the rest go here:
http://www.latimes.com/entertainment/news/la-et-robert-silverberg21-2009apr21,0,15112,full.story

GUILD



Guild should be on the stands about now. I wanted to dazzle you with review quotes but the only one I could find (twenty-six years old) was on a torn yelllowing piece of paper that appears to be Booklist:

"Annie, the avenging angel, is a strange angel indeed with a little-girl innocence that her own past has not been able to touch...the other characters, major and minor, are drawn with careful touches that make them unique and that make the book disturbing and memorable."

Monday, April 20, 2009

The truth about having a bestselling paperback

I've been reading Lynn Viehl's novels for several years. No matter what genre she's working in her work is fresh and vital. This morning she published an excellent piece about how a recent novel of hers--one of the The Darkyn series, which is a rich dark fantasy series--became #19 on the NY Times list.

(Theanks to GenReality)

The Reality of a Times Bestseller

A few years ago I made a promise to my writer friends that if I ever had a novel hit the top twenty of the New York Times mass market bestseller list that I would share all the information I was given about the book so writers could really see what it takes to get there. Today I’m going to keep that promise and give you the stats on my sixth Darkyn novel, Twilight Fall.

We’ve all been told a lot of myths about what it takes to reach the top twenty list of the NYT BSL. What I was told: you have to have an initial print run of 100-150K, you have to go to all the writer and reader conferences to pimp the book, you can’t make it unless you go to certain bookstores during release week and have a mass signing or somehow arrange for a lot of copies to be sold there; the list is fixed, etc.

I’ve never had a 100K first print run. I don’t do book signings and I don’t order massive amounts of my own books from certain bookstores (I don’t even know which bookstores are the magic ones from whom the Times gets their sales data.) I do very little in the way of promotions for my books; for this one I gave away some ARCs, sent some author copies to readers and reviewers, and that was about it. I haven’t attended any conference since 2003. To my knowledge there was no marketing campaign for this book; I was never informed of what the publisher was going to do for it (as a high midlist author I probably don’t rate a marketing campaign yet.) I know they did some blog ads for the previous book in the series, but I never saw anything online about this particular book. No one offered to get me on the Times list, either, but then I was never told who to bribe, beg or otherwise convince to fix the list (I don’t think there is anyone who really does that, but you never know.)

Despite my lack of secret handshakes and massive first print runs, in July 2008 my novel Twilight Fall debuted on the Times mm list at #19. I’ll tell you exactly why it got there: my readers put it there. But it wasn’t until last week that I received the first royalty statement (Publishing is unbelievably slow in this department) so I just now put together all the actual figures on how well the book did.

To give you some background info, Twilight Fall had an initial print run of 88.5K, and an initial ship of 69K. Most readers, retailers and buyers that I keep in touch with e-mailed me to let me know that the book shipped late because of the July 4th holiday weekend. Another 4K was shipped out two to four weeks after the lay-down date, for a total of 73K, which means there were 15.5K held in reserve in the warehouse in July 2008.

Here is the first royalty statement for Twilight Fall, on which I’ve only blanked out Penguin Group’s address. Everything else is exactly as I’ve listed it. To give you a condensed version of what all those figures mean, for the sale period of July through November 30, 2008. my publisher reports sales of 64,925 books, for which my royalties were $40,484.00. I didn’t get credit for all those sales, as 21,140 book credits were held back as a reserve against possible future returns, for which they subtracted $13,512.69 (these are not lost sales; I’m simply not given credit for them until the publisher decides to release them, which takes anywhere from one to three years.)

My net earnings on this statement was $27,721.31, which was deducted from my advance. My actual earnings from this statement was $0.

My advance for Twilight Fall was $50,000.00, a third of which I did not get paid until the book physically hit the shelf — this is now a common practice by publishers, to withhold a portion of the advance until date of publication. Of that $50K, my agent received $7,500.00 as her 15% (which she earns, believe me) the goverment received roughly $15,000.00, and $1594.27 went to cover my expenses (office supplies, blog giveaways, shipping, promotion, etc.) After expenses and everyone else was paid, I netted about $26K of my $50K advance for this book, which is believe it or not very good — most authors are lucky if they can make 10% profit on any book. This should also shut up everyone who says all bestselling authors make millions — most of us don’t.

My next royalty statement for Twilight Fall probably won’t come until October or November 2009, but when it does I’ll post copies of it so you can see what a top twenty Times bestseller does in the first year after it’s released.

In Publishing telling the truth about earnings smashes the illusions publishers and writers want you to believe and, like breaking mirrors, it never brings you good luck. Thing is, when I was a rookie I wanted to know exactly what it took to have a top twenty Times bestselling novel, because that was such a big deal to writers. Everyone I asked gave me a different answer, told me a bunch of nonsense, or couldn’t/wouldn’t tell me at all. For that reason I want you to see the hard figures, and know the reality, and the next time someone asks you what it takes, you can tell them the truth.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

J.G. Ballard, R. I. P.





Cult author JG Ballard dies at 78
J G Ballard
Ballard was best known for the novel Empire of the Sun

The author JG Ballard, famed for novels such as Crash and Empire of the Sun, has died aged 78 after a long illness.

His agent Margaret Hanbury said the author had been ill "for several years" and had died on Sunday morning.

Despite being referred to as a science fiction writer, Jim Ballard said his books were instead "picturing the psychology of the future".

His most acclaimed novel was Empire of the Sun, based on his childhood in a Japanese prison camp in China.

Ed here: For those of us who were reading "the magazines" (as they were always referred to back then) we recall that J.G. Ballard's work arrived in the early Sixties with the effect of an invasion. Readers of Fantastic magazine had gotten used to stories slightly more sophisticated than those of its earlier pulp days but nothing prepared us for Ballard (or a number of other giants hitting their stride at the same time--see below).

His prose and people struck me the as the equivalent of so many of the European avant-garde films prominent at the time. He used science fiction and fantasy tropes to show us a world of bleak political failure and broken human connections. I remember stories of his in Fantastic that I'd read over and over again trying to understand how he created his somber effects, too young and ignorant to understand that this wasn't about technique, it was about worldview.

I read him throughout his career though the books I treasure most are those published by Berkley in the first years of work hitting American shores.

Fantastic, with little money and a mediocore reputation, became a major player at the time because of one woman. Here's a sketch of her from Wikipedia:


Cele Goldsmith Lalli (1933 – January 14, 2002) was an American editor. She was the editor of Amazing Stories from 1959 to 1965, Fantastic from 1958 to 1965, and later the Editor-in-Chief of Modern Bride magazine.

Goldsmith began working on science fiction and fantasy magazines under Paul W. Fairman. When Fairman left Ziff-Davis in 1958, Goldsmith took over as editor of Amazing Stories and Fantastic. Goldsmith was open to new authors and experimentation in writing. Among her discoveries were Thomas M. Disch, Ursula K. Le Guin, Keith Laumer, Sonya Dorman (as a fiction writer), and Roger Zelazny. She was also instrumental in bringing Fritz Leiber out of an early writer's-block-induced retirement (a 1959 issue was devoted entirely to his fiction), and was among the first US editors to publish British author J. G. Ballard.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

T. J. MacGregor

Trish MacGregor and I have been good friends since the mid-Eighties. Trish is married to another fine writer Rob MacGregor and I'll be surprised if their beautiful daughter Megan doesn't someday start writing her own books. Here's Trish's take on getting published:

"For years, my writing was confined to nights and weekends and whatever free time I could steal from my day job. I wrote five novels, all of which were rejected, and finally found the right voice with my sixth novel, IN SHADOW. It was set in Miami, involved a designer drug that enhanced telepathy, and featured a white and black cop who were investigating a series of murders.

"The book was rejected twenty four times before Ballantine bought it in September 1984 the Monday after the premier of Miami Vice. My editor admitted that he decided to buy the book after seeing the first episode of Vice. Timing, passion, and a relentless belief in yourself are crucial to success in any field, but particularly in writing. Never give up!" (From Booktalk)

Over the past two decades Trish has published suspense as well as paranormal fiction of a superior kind, as many reviewers attest. But of course she's suffered all the slings and arrows most of us have. Selling novels these days takes a kind of hand-to-hand combat. It's not for the timid.

So I thought I'd share some of Trish's good news with everybody: Trish just got a three book contract with TOR for a new series of edgy fantasy-horror set in Ecuador, a country Trish knows well. A hard-soft deal, the first book written.

There's a fair share of doom and gloom among writers these days. And understandably. So it's nice to share some good news for once.

Congratulations, Trish.

Friday, April 17, 2009



You have to be really REALLY old (like Bill Crider) to know who Bobby Driscoll was. For noir fans he was the kid in The Window one of the truly great Bs. He was my first cousin, my mother and his father the youngest of a large family so they were very close. It was cool being his cousin when he won the first kids' Academy Award. A few short years later it wasn't so cool when he started getting arrested on various charges.

I found this drawing by accident. It was done by a man named Pete Emslie. He has a site you definitely should spend some time on. The drawing depicts Bobby and British actor Robert Newton. As Emslie points out in the full piece, they both had sad ends. Bobby and Newton were in "Treasure Island," a film that holds up well today.

Pete Emslie:

"Today is the birthday of Bobby Driscoll, who had a memorable career as an impish child actor, but whose life ended all too soon and tragically in 1968 at the young age of 31. After some years of drug and alcohol abuse as a young adult, Bobby was finally able to clean himself up, yet found himself shunned by the entertainment industry and unable to get work. How different it is nowadays, when even repeat offenders like Robert Downey Jr. seem to get welcomed back into Hollywood's arms for an infinite number of second chances. Bobby Driscoll was never given a second chance though, and he died impoverished after having shown such promise so early on in his young life."

for the rest go here:
http://cartooncave.blogspot.com/

The man who drew this is very talented. Scroll through his whole site.

Pete Emslie:
I've worked as a cartoonist in the print medium for nearly 30 years. Currently, I continue to freelance, as well as teach in the Animation program at Sheridan College. Though my feet may be physically planted in this 21st century, my mind prefers to take up residence in the 1960's - a time when everything in commercial art and popular entertainment still made sense to me. It was Sinatra's world and I'm still livin' in it. Welcome to The Cartoon Cave...

http://cartooncave.blogspot.com/

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Ben Gates Is Hot

John Frazier is one of my favorite critics. He has a literate, easy-going style that is much like listening to a friend tell you about a book he thinks you should read. I've spent the past few days reading Robert Terrall novels, the Ben Gates series (as by Robert Kyle) in particular. Terrall was the eldest of a disappearing breed--a man who wrote for pulps, slicks, hardcovers, paperbacks and even tie-ins before they were the big business they are today. So I thought I'd check out John's website and see what he thought of Terrall.

(go here for John's website: http://www.jottings.ca/john/thriller_quik2.html)

Here John describes private investigator Ben Gates:

"He is convincingly embedded in Manhattan, with believable professional contacts and associates—a middle-aged part-time secretary who fears the typewriter, a Jewish confrere, Davison, who looks like a quarterback and catches cold easily, a gossip-columnist who he can draw on for information, a friendly-adversarial police-lieutenant. And you believe that he is well enough known to make tabloid headlines when he fouls up during a case.

"Moreover, he appears to be Ivy League, or at least to have gone to a decent prep school. He is comfortable around the rich when a case takes him that way, as is (fictionally at least) Kyle himself. There are thoroughly convincing round-heeled debs, dissolute preppies, money-hungry upper-East-Side divorcees, and other more or less obnoxious types in the novels. Kyle knows how they speak and how their minds work.

"He is also excellent at devising central situations that permit of interesting complications—threats of libel action against a scandal mag that sounds very like Confidential; theft and murder at a posh country-estate wedding where Gates is guarding the presents; an Albany hotel full of lobbyists pro and con a bill to legalize off-track gambling; a take-over attempt against a Manhattan corporation.

"The books are essence-of-late-Fifties, early Sixties, when formal structures and taboos were still strong but anarchic pressures were starting to build up inside them."

A perfect description except for the line about Terrall having to suffer the "taboos" of the time. Ben Gates is Hot opens with an anonymous letter detailing what will happen to the fourteen-year-old daughter of Gates' client if the client doesn't do what a mobster wants him to. This line appears in the letter: "(Your daughter) may not come back to you the same kid. Some of these bums are cunt crazy or should I draw you a picture."

The C word in 1964? Wow. Whod'a thunk it?

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Bob Dylan talks about songwriters

There's a long and terrific exclusive interview with Bob Dylan on Huffington Post; Read the whole thing here:
http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2009/04/15/bob-dylan-exclusive-inter_n_187216.html

Excerpt:

BF: Have you ever thought about composing anything with those Nashville songwriters?

BD: I've never thought about that.

BF: Neil Diamond did an album years ago where he co-wrote with different Nashville songwriters.

BD: Yeah, that might have worked for him. I don't think it would work for me.

BF: You don't think it would work for you?

BD: No. I'm okay without it. I'm not exactly obsessed with writing songs. I go back a ways with Hunter. We're from the same old school so it makes it's own kind of sense.

BF: Do you listen to a lot of songs?

BD: Yeah - sometimes.

BF: Who are some of your favorite songwriters?

BD: Buffett I guess. Lightfoot. Warren Zevon. Randy. John Prine. Guy Clark. Those kinds of writers.

BF: What songs do you like of Buffett's?

BD: "Death of an Unpopular Poet." There's another one called "He Went to Paris."

BF: You and Lightfoot go way back.

BD: Oh yeah. Gordo's been around as long as me.

BF: What are your favorite songs of his?

BD: "Shadows," "Sundown," "If You Could Read My Mind." I can't think of any I don't like.

BF: Did you know Zevon?

BD: Not very well.

BF: What did you like about him?

BD: "Lawyers, Guns and Money." "Boom Boom Mancini." Down hard stuff. "Join me in L.A." sort of straddles the line between heartfelt and primeval. His musical patterns are all over the place, probably because he's classically trained. There might be three separate songs within a Zevon song, but they're all effortlessly connected. Zevon was a musician's musician, a tortured one. "Desperado Under the Eaves." It's all in there.

BF: Randy Newman?

BD: Yeah, Randy. What can you say? I like his early songs, "Sail Away," "Burn Down the Cornfield," "Louisiana," where he kept it simple. Bordello songs. I think of him as the Crown Prince, the heir apparent to Jelly Roll Morton. His style is deceiving. He's so laid back that you kind of forget he's saying important things. Randy's sort of tied to a different era like I am.

BF: How about John Prine?

BD: Prine's stuff is pure Proustian existentialism. Midwestern mindtrips to the nth degree. And he writes beautiful songs. I remember when Kris Kristofferson first brought him on the scene. All that stuff about "Sam Stone" the soldier junky daddy and "Donald and Lydia," where people make love from ten miles away. Nobody but Prine could write like that. If I had to pick one song of his, it might be "Lake Marie." I don't remember what album that's on.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Clash By Night

Each of us has a book or movie or piece of music that we want our friends to not merely enjoy but exult over the same as we do. I've written here two or three times about the film Clash By Night. I first saw this in a triple-feature house in the Sixties and I've been pushing it ever since. Barbara Stanwyck, Robert Ryan, Paul Douglas in a love triangle that still has the power to shock because of its misery and pain.

Now Megan Abbott has written a extraordinary piece about it for Noir of The Week. Don't miss it.

Megan Abbott:

"On his DVD commentary track, Peter Bogdanovich notes, in passing, that some call Fritz Lang’s Clash by Night (1952) a film noir, which he refers to as a genre. He dismisses such claims on the ground that it is not “a thriller or a suspense piece.” He concedes, however, that it’s “shot a bit like a film noir.” There’s a lot in his comments to irritate noir aficionados, most especially their reductiveness. But what Bogdanovich misses most is the fever that pulses through the movie is the same one that burns through most classic film noir: that constant, brooding fear of sexual betrayal and loss of power. In fact, few movies better capture the post-war mood of gender anxiety and rage."

for the rest go here http://www.noiroftheweek.com/2009/04/clash-by-night-1952.html

Monday, April 13, 2009

Karma by Walter Mosley

I rarely read an anthology straight through. I read a few stories in one and then go on to different anthology. Even though it may take me several years to finish every story in a book I do keep going back till I'm done.

In 2005 Otto Penzler published Dangerous Women, an anthology packed with good stories. My favorite is Karma by Walter Mosley, which is really a short novel about a sleazy private eye named Leonid McGill. I couldn't turn the pages fast enough and not only because of the cunning way Mosley sets up his cross and double-cross and double double-cross but also because of the people he gives us, not last his own family.

McGill has three children, at least one of whom was fathered by somebody else (as he knows) and who proves to be his favorite. His ex-wife has returned after many years because she's tapped out. She runs the house and keeps everybody in food and clean underwear but she sure isn't crazy about McGill. Then there's his ex-lover, a younger woman than his own sixty-something. She has the power to give him one of his few erections but she too keeps him at bay--he lied to her and she won't forgive him.

I've never met any of these people before, including the hoods sent out to collect on his ongoing juice loan. One of them's a nice guy; the other one should be pistol-whipped for a couple of days just for existing. And then there's the femme fatale. One of those sweet young fashionable things out of Chandler. Except in Mosley's hands she's not what you think.

The plotting here is flawless. As I said it's a true page-turner that manages, at the same time, to be a melancholy story about old age, betrayl and the kind of quick deadly violence that really hits you.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Dying Inside

There was a time back in the late sixties and early seventies when science fiction was almost as exciting as sex and all the drink and drugs everybody was ingesting. This was the New Wave and for all the unreadable pretentious drek it produced it also brought forth so much brilliant enduring work--Harlan Ellison, Samuel R. Delaney, Ursula LeGuin, Philip Jose Farmer to name just a few of the writers--that reading them was as heady as anything you could ingest or smoke. And the people I knew--wanna be writers, actors, painters, singers--TALKED, ARGUED, RANTED about what they read in a way I've never seen since. These books were holy to them.

I remember when Robert Silverberg's Dying Inside was published. People were consumed by it. There had been nothing like it. Yes it was science fiction but only because of fits central metaphor--a man of enormous intelligence who'd been able to read minds since boyhood was now (as the story began) losing his powers. There had never been a novel that so clearly and powerfully bridged the gap between genre and literary fiction. For one thing it dealt with the era as well as anything I'd ever read because it didn't rely at all on the media cliches of the time (the cliches that many hippies and street people began to adopt for themselves) but rather gave us a voice the defined a deeply troubled man and a deeply troubled time.

ORB (Tor) has republished Dying Inside and Michael Dirda of The Washington post reviewed it Friday. Even if you think you hate science fiction, buy this book. You will never forget it.

Here are some exceprts from Dirda's long excellent review:

By Michael Dirda
Thursday, April 9, 2009; Page C12
DYING INSIDE

By Robert Silverberg

THIS STORY
Super Powers, Super Decay
Join the Discussion in Michael Dirda's 'Reading Room'
Orb. 302 pp. Paperback, $15.95

David Selig is in his early 40s, with his youthful promise long behind him. A lonely child and a smart aleck in elementary school, he grew up feeling isolated from the rest of the world, happiest with his books. Even at the age of 10, he seemed so maladjusted that his hardworking parents sacrificed to send him to a psychiatrist, to no good purpose. He and his adopted sister have cordially hated each other their whole lives.

At Columbia in the mid-1950s, Selig did reasonably well in his literature classes, and after graduation he went to work briefly in a stock brokerage firm. Over the years he fell seriously in love twice, and both affairs ended disastrously. Most recently, he has been eking out a living by ghost-writing term papers for the Columbia students of the 1970s. He lives by his wits, just above the poverty line, and he is going bald.

He is also losing his ability to read people's minds -- and with it his entire past life, his very sense of self.

Paradoxically, his easy awareness of people's inner lives has left him isolated and alone. "Without it I might have been a happy nobody instead of a dismal one." Only when he probes deeply into a person, down past the surface personality into the unconscious, does Selig find that his power brings him an experience of nirvana-like, oceanic oneness. Yet now his special gift has grown temperamental, as variable as the weather. But what can he do? "Powers decay. Time leaches the colors from the best of visions. The world becomes grayer. Entropy beats us down. Everything fades. Everything goes. Everything dies."

(more)

Silverberg's novel offers an eerily evocative picture of New York life in the late 1950s and '60s: a time of bisexual professors, swinging singles, Black Power, psychedelic drugs and all-round social and political upheaval. Given Selig's bookishness, the novel is also suffused with buried quotations from T.S. Eliot, James Joyce, Samuel Beckett, Lewis Carroll, Shakespeare and many other literary eminences.

(more)

Most of the time David Selig addresses the reader in a self-pitying first-person voice, though some sections seamlessly switch to third-person narration. Silverberg is a master of multiple verbal registers, catching perfectly the tone of a term paper on Kafka, the period jive talk of a black basketball player, the flirtatious chatter of cocktail parties, the back-and-forth snapping of a brother and sister, the Yiddish idioms of Selig's parents, the earnest fogyness of a Columbia dean, even the stream of consciousness itself.

Some characters, like Selig's promiscuous sister, Judith, and a racist basketball player, are especially vivid creations. Or take the hip French professor Claude Guermantes-

(more)

It's insane that "Dying Inside" should be subtly dismissed as merely a genre classic. This is a superb novel about a common human sorrow, that great shock of middle age -- the recognition that we are all dying inside and that all of us must face the eventual disappearance of the person we have been. More and more, as time goes by, our bodies break down, our minds start to lose their quickness, and, suddenly, inconceivably, our best work is behind us.

for the rest (and this is how reviews should be written) go here:

http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2009/04/08/AR2009040803663.html

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Children of Chaos

Greg F. Gifune will soon take his rightful place among the finest dark suspense writers of our time. Of the novels of his I've read t Children of Chaos is his best to date.

Children is a Conradian novel--the effect of a single act on an entire lifetime--about three boys whose rainy night encounter with a strange man (or is he not a man at all?) and his subsequent death dictate the fate that will, thirty years later, bring Phil the writer to find his old friend and now insane cult leader Martin in an abandoned church in the dusty hell of he Mexican desert.

The quest in this heart of darkness is driven by guilt, grief and madness to the degree that Gifune shifts brilliantly from realism to phantasmagoria and back again. The portraits of the boys as adults are indelibly rendered, rich in detail and brutal in judgement.

The narrative keeps you turning the pages and the undertow of dread anticipates the stark crazed power of the end as it's played out in the hell of lost Mexico.

This is a novel that will stay with you a long, long time.

Thursday, April 09, 2009

Babylon Revisited

Charlie Wales returns to Paris hoping to gain custody of his young daughter Honoria. Charlie was in no shape to take care of her when her mother died seven years ago. He was an alcoholic who spent all his time in the fashionable bars and restaurants of the glittering city.

Honoria has been raised by her aunt, a woman who despises Charlie for the way he treated his wife--much like Scott and Zelda, they battled a great deal--drunkenly locking her out in the snow one night not too long before she died. While there is no real connection between what he did and her death both the sister and Charlie are burdened with it--she in rage, Charlie in grief and remorse.

In the course of the story Charlie revisits some of the bars where he once drank along with his rich American friends and the more successful of the expatriate colony. But the world-wide Depression has changed everything. The bartender has a grim story for every name Charlie brings up. Death, madness, loss of fortune. The glamor of Paris is no more just as Charlie is no more, not the charming, glib, handsome Charlie of old anyway. He is now a frightened alcoholic trying to rebuild his life, limiting himself to one drink a day. He hopes.

At his sister-in-law's, while Charlie is trying to present himself as a responsible man these days, a couple he knew from the golden days burst in. They are loud and giddy and silly in their drunken folly. For them the heyday of the city has never ended. They've remained rich. Charlie sees in them the man he once was and is disgusted. He runs them out of the house. But to no avail. His sister-in-law insists on keeping Honoria. Charlie is in no condition, so tentatively sober, to take her.

Charlie ends up looking for the silly couple he ran out of the house. He sits at the bar with an empty glass in front of him. One drink a day. He's had his ration. Or so he tries to convince himself. But as night crowds in will he be able to control himself after his failure to get custody of his daughter?

You don't have to be an alcoholic to understand this story but it doesn't hurt. I quit drinking thirty-five years ago after fifteen years of living inside a bottle. But even after all this time I recognized everything Charlie is going through. Not a day goes by when I don't cringe at something I did in my bottle days, a cruel word or argument or fight. I'm haunted just as Charlie is.

The terrible beauty of the story is its portrait of a man who must face the world sober and is overwhelmed by it. He is weak and fragile man and in the two scenes with his little girl we see a man very near the crack-up Fitzgerald himself would have a few years after writing the story. The weight of these moments is crushing, for the girl and for Charlie Wales alike.

The gloom of the Depression is familiar to us today. Charlie's world is crumbling--and so is the world around him. Sitting in the bar with his empty glass, fighting off the desire to have a second drink, we have a portrait of Fitzgerald's last years. Hard to imagine that he'd be dead in his early forties. Even harder to imagine that he died with all his books out of print, forgotten by many, even mocked by a few. In his journals you find the following line : "Ernest (Hemingway) speaks with the authority of success; I with the authority of failure." If you look past the self-pity of that remark you see its irony. Hemingway's "success" has not worn well (except for the short stories) while Fitzgerald's "failure" is all too contemporary.

How did Bill Crider miss THIS one?

Police Chief Arrested for Using Taser on Wife
Posted by Christophe on Thursday, April 9th, 2009 at at 6:03 am.

The chief of a small Central Texas town’s police department has been fired and jailed for allegedly using a Taser gun on his wife after an argument.

Here's the video

http://buzznewsroom.com/wtf/police-chief-arrested-for-using-taser-on-wife/

Wednesday, April 08, 2009

Forgotten Books: The Long Saturday Night

Over what was essentially a quarter century career Charles Williams worked in various sub-genres of the suspense field. He came to prominence writing the small-town Southern crime novel and I always had the feeling that that was his favorite form. But he did adventure novels, sea novels, comic novels and his version of caper novels as well.

The Long Saturday Night rarely gets mentioned when the discussion turns to Williams and I've never understood why. This is a sleek and fevered man on the run novel that also incorporates another Williams acidic take on small town society.

John Warren is typical of the Williams Man. He is angry, even sullen much of the time in this case because of a wandering wife he loves far too much. Also like the typical Williams protagonist when he thinks of better days he looks back on his days as a college football player whose career was stopped by an accident. He's atypical in that he is a successful businessman, not a car salesman bored with life and up for anything if the sex is good.

Warren is a hunter. As the book opens he is returning to his office from an early morning session in a duck blind. A useless session. Though he heard two shots coming from another blind, he just assumed somebody had had better luck than his own. Turns out though that the shots were cover for a murder--and the dead man was a guy who would soon be identified as a man who rented office space from Warren--and who also had an affair with Warren's wife.

Couple problems. Warren is an outsider and people don't like outsiders so when the sheriff and especially his deputy start questioning Warren it's clear that he's in a lot of trouble. And when his wife finally wanders home he's even in more trouble.

This could almost be considered a companion novel to another Williams Gold Medal, that one called, conveniently enough, Man on The Run. What sets them apart from the usual chase novel is the intelligence of the narrator. He doesn't just run, he fights back. In this case he hires a private detective of note to help him find the real killer. And he keeps company with one of those bruised tentative women Williams likes so much--in this case his thirtyish secretary who is smart and decent without being treacly. Finding a sentimental note in Williams is tough unless it's buried in a revery about a woman who has betrayed him.

Triffault filmed this. I saw it a few years ago and didn't like it. Maybe it was my mood. There's a sadness at the heart of the best Williams novels and Triffault, at least for me, didn't get to it. He relied more on the cleverness of the story than the disappointing lives led by Warren and the secretary he comes to love.

This is a short book, a one sitting read, two at most, and an intense, brooding folk tale (as John D. MacDonald described the kind of book he and Williams wrote) that will stay with you for awhile.

Tuesday, April 07, 2009

Collectors' Guide To Vintage Magazines

Popular Fiction Periodicals: A Collectors' Guide to Vintage pulps, digests and magazines is one of those books you'll be reading and looking at for years. Packed with more than 1,800 photographs of magazines of every kind--mystery, science fiction, sports, skin, romance, western and so on--it is a virtual art gallery of news stand America in the twentieth century. Knock-out covers in every genre from the sweet to the grotesque.

Writer Jeff Cana has also identified and indexed authors and cover artists and even included information on author pen-names. He leads off with an excellent history of the American magazine stretching back to 1741. An imprssive piece of scholarship and a fascinating study.

Jeff also provides valuation tips for collectors, used book dealers and Internet sellers. The amount of research here is staggering. This is one of the holy books. A true keeper and a pleasure to just sit down and thumb through over and over.

Some people should just be hanged

April 7, 2009 · Print This Article
Green Bay - Police arrested a man suspected of killing an ex-girlfriend’s dog in an oven in Michigan.
The 31-year-old man is accused of breaking into an ex-girlfriend’s house and putting a 5-month old Pekingese-poodle mix in the oven.
The woman arrived at her home on the afternoon of Nov. 23 to a smoke filled kitchen and found her dog inside the hot oven.
The news sparked an outrage and the Humane Society of the United States offered a $2,500 reward for information leading to the arrest of the one responsible.
The suspect will be extradited to Brown County and is expected to be charged with animal mistreatment and burglary.
Written by Ryan · Filed Under Featured, Other
Tagged: animal cruelty, Brown County, Green Bay, Humane Society

Girls mow their lawns

Ed here: Having spent a fair share of my younger and more innocent years in advertising I'm always up to hear what the new boys and girls have been able to sneak past the censors. Way back in the mid-Sixties, when I was starting out, the shocker and the benchmark was the print ad for a certain feminine hygiene product that was introduced with a headline that said that a woman's most tricky deodorant problem wasn't "under her pretty little arms."

Well, they're still at it. This is from Salon this morning. The commercial, for all its heavy-handedness, is a hoot. It exults in its own coyness. There's a link below.

From Salon
Tuesday, April 7, 2009 03:30 PDT
Bush Shaving: The Musical!
by Mary Ellizabeth Williams

Let's hand it to Wilkinson Sword ad group. In its new series of international ads for the Quattro for Women bikini razor, it manages to combine bouncy jingles with the most heavy-handed symbolism since Georgia O'Keeffe, all while tossing in a fair amount of finger-wagging bodily disgust.

If your thing isn't trimmed, tamed and tufted within a centimeter of its cute little life, who's going to plant their tulips in that jungle?

In the company's MGM-worthy U.K. commercial (posted below), a comely, cat-wielding lass declares her cure for the blues is to "mow the lawn." As she and a bevy of pals push their mowers (pink, of course), they winkingly sing that "some bushes are really big," although the Asian chick has a bonsai that's "really small." I swear to God:

― Mary Elizabeth Williams

For the rest (and a link to the commercial itself) go here:


http://www.salon.com/mwt/broadsheet/?last_story=/mwt/broadsheet/feature/2009/04/07/lady_garden/

Monday, April 06, 2009

The 2009 New Jersey Power lifting Championships

I've been reading Charlie Stella's books for two weeks now and truly don't understand why he's not famous. He's a major writer with his own voice, style and worldview. He's also, as it turns out, a serious weight lifter. This morning he sent me a kind of journal about the power lifting event he participated in last Saturday. I'd never thought much about the subject but Charlie, as usual, makes everything vivid.

From Charlie:

(I should point out that there were at least half a dozen 15-18 years olds who outlifted me at much lighter weight class (make it a footnote please.

(I can't imagine being that strong at 16, brother ... but there was one kid there who looked like he could play in the NFL this upcoming season ... preferrably for my beloved New York State Buffalo Bills).

The 2009 New Jersey Power lifting Championships

Amici:

First, the excuses … Thursday I developed a head cold that turned into strep throat … I won’t count the very little sleep (as in two hours, maybe) because that’s normal for the ugly one (not sleeping the night before something I’m into … like power lifting, eating, drinking, you name it) … then the age thing … not for nothing, but either I was the oldest guy there (or 1 of the 3 oldest), but what makes it worse is I swore there were at least 3 or 4 other guys at least my age. No such dice. All were 3-4-5 years younger than moi (the somanabitch bastids).


The bright spot(s) … I wasn’t the ugliest guy there.


The stats … there were 59 lifters day 2 of the event (Sunday) and in the super fatso old man division, I have no clue how many aside from myself fell into the masters II division (50-59) because we didn’t stick around for the final tally(s)/medals. I could well have won my division (if I was the only lifter in it—why we didn’t stick around—those just don’t count; keep your medal(s)).


Of the 25 lifters in my “flight” (or round), just a few were lifting RAW (my choice of lifting) … what is RAW you ask? No lifting aids of any kind (like those dopey “bench press shirts” that make you look like a retarded gym rat with your arms forced up and in. Lifting with a shirt that helps you bench seems contrary to the point (to me). I mean, why not bring in a crane and just work the levers?

Anyway, I’m guessing there were less than a baker’s dozen RAW lifters in my flight Sunday so again, until the final stats are posted, I won’t know how any of us ranked regarding weight classes, divisions, etc.

But I do know how I did … going with a very conservative “call weight” for my first meet in 20+ years, I used my last warm-up, 325 (or, since they insisted on using kilos, 147.73 kilos). No problem.

My second lift was a weight I’ve been debating with myself (and Spartacus, the super mouse) for 2 weeks now and I have to admit, the goddamn mouse was right again. I should’ve called higher because the 165 kilos (363 pounds) went up very smooth and easy.

Feeling cocky after my second lift, I went for 175.45 (kilos/386 pounds). I ate it, but I can blame that on my not calling for this weight in my previous attempt (I simply ran out of gas).

I have two personal best lifts that I hope to take another shot at over the next two-three months (in other meets). My best ever was a 420 in the 198 class (a long time ago)… but that was pre-corkscrewed rotator cuff and closer to the prime days … a 425 in the fatty 275 class is my highest bench total … I went for 430 on my 50th birthday two plus years back and missed it by a very thin margin (and re-ripped my shoulder to shreds, which I blamed on a very ill conceived warm up--I know, excuses are a dime a dozen). The road back has been slow, but mostly painless and today was the start of another round of shots at an elusive 430.

Then again, I could just eat my way there and have sooooooooooooo much more fun doing it.

Very much against the boss’s desires, I will be training a dead lift and squat again, but I’m not sure it’ll be in time for this cycle of meets. We shall see …

The asides … as I said, it’s been awhile for me in an “official” meet and when we first got there and one of the judges doing equipment checks asked me what my starting weight would be and the rack size, I said, “325 and 36-D”.

That’s what I’m talking about …

And speaking of racks, this was the Principessa Ann Marie’s first ever power lifting event and although she brought along nursing study material, she was pretty much scared to death of the lifts. Her long ago prediction that I would’ve already suffered a brain aneurism lifting weights if I only had a brain, was WRONG yet again.

Or maybe I don't have a brain.

This from a woman who was a complete novice going in and felt she should be a coach by the end of the meet. She was yelling things like, “His ass came off the bench!” … “Lock your knees” … “Big wind now” … “Chalk up, chalk up!” “Come on fatty!”

Oi-vey …

The next meet … Saturday, May 9th in New Castle, Delaware … assuming I don’t injure myself and/or the strep throat doesn’t turn into E-coli, I should be a lot closer to the personal bests of many moons ago.

Tonight casa Stella smells like a Ben Gay festival (so what else is new?) … and the scotch is flowing … the Principessa isn’t happy about my decision to keep lifting but Spartacus (the super mouse) was full of encouragement.

I quote: “You can lift or you can die,” he said.

Sounded encouraging to me …

—Knucks

--
Charlie Stella
Mafiya: A Novel of Crime (January, 2008) Pegasus

Michael Crichton's new novels

From Gawker this morning:

BOOKS
Michael Crichton Died with an Entire Spare Novel in Reserve
By Ryan Tate, 5:12 AM on Mon Apr 6 2009, 1,398 views
While writing Next, his last published novel, author Michael Crichton simultaneously (and unexpectedly) wrote Pirate Latitudes, about "a pirate named Hunter and the governor of Jamaica, and their plan to raid a Spanish treasure galleon."

The novel was found in Chrichton's computer files by his assistant and will be published by HarperCollins November 24, the New York Times reports.

Crichton, who action novels tended to be grounded in science and technology, was also one-third done with the technological thriller he was under contract to write. HarperCollins is seeking "a high-level" thriller writer to finish it for release in fall 2010.

Crichton died in November following a long battle with cancer. They're still going through his computer files, so there's no telling how many more bestsellers he'll leave in his wake — or how many competing authors he'll continue to leave frustrated and jealous.

and from the New York Times even more:

By MOTOKO RICH
Published: April 5, 2009
Michael Crichton, the best-selling author of technological thrillers like “The Andromeda Strain” and “Jurassic Park” who died of cancer in November, left behind at least one finished novel and about one-third of a second. Both will be released over the next year and a half, his publisher said.

Sunday, April 05, 2009

Stuff

--------------------------How to know you're out of it

Photos: Popular TV Celebrities

Leighton Meester
Minka Kelly
Kris Allen
Audrina Patridge
Adam Lambert
Blake Lively

Ed here: This popped up on Yahoo this afternoon. Popular TV celebrities? I've never heard of any of them.


--------------------------Celebrity Poets Daily Beast

The Daily Beast has a feature today about, yup, celebs who write (and publish) poetry. I'm no snob. I'm sure there are celebrities who just might be pretty decent poets. But I'm also sure that the singer Jewel (appealing as she is) ain't one of them. When she was paid one million dollars for two books including a volume of her poetry I had to thumb through it in a bookstore. Yow. I wonder if any real poets killed themselves when they heard the news about her advance.


--------------------------The Literature of Death

The LA Times Jacket Copy has an interesting piece today about writers who address their imminent death in their work. John Updike and Raymond Carver are cited. Both men (I believe) died of lung cancer, a damned bad way to go. Updike's poem struck me as too mechanistic as if he didn't want to quite address his mortality head on. He talks about the modern process of dying, the almost Phil Dickian way hospitals and tests and surgeries as grotesque intrusions. As somebody who has incurable cancer, I've thought about writing a long autobiographical piece ending with my own forthcoming demise (I'm hoping that's a ways off yet) but then I realized that it's already been done by writers far better than I'll ever be. So finally I'd go with Raymond Carver's simple summation of his time in this vale of tears:

And did you get what
you wanted from this life, even so?
I did.
And what did you want?
To call myself beloved, to feel myself
beloved on the earth.

-------------------------Peter Lorre

Cinema Retro has a long and extraordinary piece--speaking of sorrow and death--on the actor Peter Lorre. In the course of talking about his career the writer mentions that Lorre tried to regain his status as a serious actor by gong back to Broadway in the early Fifties. Fine and dandy. The problem was that his co-star was Miriam Hopkins a fetching devilish bratty actress of real and sometimes reckless talent. Man poor shambling Lorre didn't stand a chance. They despised each other at their first meeting. The play never recovered the enmity.

http://www.cinemaretro.com/index.php

Hopkins,

Saturday, April 04, 2009

Nothing in Common

We watched an early eighties movie Nothing In Common last night. I'd seen it two or three times before. It always frustrates me because half of it is a very good movie.

Tom Hanks is a successful young ad man with problems. His parents, well into their sixties, are divorcing; his lady friend has broken it off because he won't commit; and the ad agency is in bad need of pleasing its biggest account.

The half of the movie that works well is the relationship between Hanks and his mother and father. For me this is Jackie Gleason's best performance. Here he's a version of an Irish Willy Loman. The difference is that he's always been a boozer and a chaser and his wife, played perfectly by the beautiful Eva Marie Saint, can take it no longer and is divorcing him. Gleason was never much of a husband or a father and so when Hanks tries to intercede he realizes he's dealing with a stranger, an angry, drunken, arrogant man whose health is failing and who is being eased out of his decades-long job. Gleason's performance is a brave one--he never once lets you like him. By the end you have some sense of him as a man but he's still a mean selfish bastard. There are very few established stars who would have had the courage to play it that way.

The other half of the movie is standard stuff. The ad agency. The cool people. The cynical people. The fun people. Yadda yadda yadda. Here Hanks and company try to keep an account by having Hanks sidle up to the client's bitch goddess daughter overplayed by the very sleek Sela Ward (his old girl friend Bess Armstrong is of course the polar opposite, appealing but so sweet she's unbeleivable). This part of the movie you can write yourself.

I've never been a Tom Hanks fan. I don't dislike his work but I get tired of his unctuousness. I remember one critic saying that there was always an element of "the child" in Hanks and maybe that's what I don't like. I'd put it as childishness. I never have the feeling that he's quite grown up. Early on he was compared to James Stewart but it's hard to imagine Hanks ever finding the rage and psychosis Stewart showed us (he was one scary sumbitch) in Anthony Mann's "The Naked Spur."

In Nothing in Common his rather tinny performance is overwhelmed by both Gleason and St. Marie. Hanks is dorky and way too immature to be interesting.

Friday, April 03, 2009

Probable Claus by Jon L. Breen

Ladies and gentleman, I think what we have here is a screwball comedy version of a legal thriller. How else to account for Santa Claus being put on trouble for killing his own brother? How else to account for big-time lawyers who are just as cheesy as the bad guys? How else to account for well...a crafty, cunning true-blue mystery filled with pop culture asides, including a hilarious nod to treacly Christmas movies.

Jon L. Breen is equally well-known as a writer and a critic. As I've said before I think he's the Anthony Boucher of our time--incisive, unpretentious and steeped in knowledge and love for the mystery genre.

He's just as skilled at creating his own fiction as this very witty novel about a generous rich man man (Santa) who is accused of killing his brother (a selfish man) all because of a theater the bad brother wants to pave over. Or burn down. Or taser. You know how bad rich brothers are--and so does Breen, who makes him well deserving of his fate.

Breen has written and written well virtually every kind of mystery story from fair-clue to hard-boiled to parodies of famous crime writers (look them up; they're a hoot). And all those skills--even a bit of hard-boiled cynicism--can be found on display here.

One of my favorite scenes in the book comes when The Big Boss is explaining to new lawyer about how lawyers bill their time to clients:
“Gordon, you misunderstand me....But it sounds like you’re telling me that every hour I’m awake should be billed to the client.”

“Not necessarily. I’ve come up with some of my best legal strategies when I’m asleep. In dreams, I mean. It can happen.”

A really great read.

Thursday, April 02, 2009

Johathan Lethem - news on Paul Williams

Paul Williams is one of the most important chroniclers of my generation. For me Rolling Stone never came close to rivaling the content of Williams' Crawdaddy. And that was just one of his many accomplishments.

I picked up this up on Tor.com and it was picked up from Boing Boing--Jonathan Lethem


POSTED THURSDAY APRIL 02, 2009 02:21PM EDT
Family of Paul Williams Needs Help
MANAGEMENT SERVICES
Via BoingBoing:
Jonathan Lethem sez,

Paul Williams, the legendary creator of Crawdaddy! Magazine, fell off his bicycle in 1995 and suffered a traumatic brain injury, which has led to early onset Alzheimer’s. His family’s having difficulties with his care, and so a few of Paul’s friend have set up a website both as a tribute to his life and work and in order to make an appeal for help.

Apart from being a true Founding Father of ‘rock writing’, and Philip K. Dick’s literary executor, Paul should be of special interest to Boing Boing readers for his place at the crossroads where the science fiction fanzines of the ’50’s gave rise to an empowered and self-aware music-fan subculture—and helped create what we now know as ‘the ’60’s’. For anyone with a curiosity about the formation of world-changing subcultures through grassroots media, Paul was there when blogging was a twinkle in a mimeograph eye.

The difficulties Paul’s wife, the singer Cindy Lee Berryhill, and his son Alexander, now face due to Paul’s need for full-time care are an opportunity for crowd-sourcing at its best. This is a rotten time to be hitting anyone up for contributions for anything, but it is simply the case that if everyone who acknowledged how Paul changed their life by his music-writing and editing—or by his efforts propagating the writings of Phil Dick back into prominence—were to give even five or ten dollars it would transform a very unfortunate situation. (If everyone whose life had been changed by Paul’s work but didn’t even know his name were to contribute, they’d build his family a castle.)

Short of donating, just visit the website and glimpse some of Paul’s many cultural legacies. The “Writings” section contains a lovely cascade of testimonials from people like Peter Buck, Lenny Kaye, Johan Kugelberg, Michaelangelos Matos, David Fricke, and others, some nice links to material like the original two-years run of Crawdaddy, and his legendary Rolling Stone interview with Phil Dick., as well as a guide to every book Paul ever wrote.

BOOKMARK PRINT

Kris Rusch; Kara Boulden

Kris Rusch is one of my all-time favorite people and writers. Mystery folk know her better at the Edgar-nominated and much praised writer Kris Nelscott. She is even better known world-wide under her own name as a writer of fantasy and science fiction. For several years she was editor of The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction--the class act of the field--and with her husband writer Dean Smith gives popular and valuable seminars about writing and the business of writing.

Kris started a new blog today and it strikes me as one of the most fascinating projects anywhere on the net. But let Kris tell you about it.


The Freelancer’s Survival Guide: Introduction

by

Kristine Kathryn Rusch

This post marks the beginning of an experiment. I will post sections of a work in progress—a book tentatively titled The Freelancer’s Survival Guide—here, on my website.

The book hasn’t sold. I haven’t tried to sell it. I haven’t even written it yet. In fact, the book hasn’t been much more than a glimmer in my eye for a decade. But now’s the time to do this project.

Here’s why.

The global economic crisis has put tens of thousands of people out of work. Some will regain their old jobs. Some will train for new jobs. And some will attempt to freelance—whether it’s as a consultant or an E-Bay Power Seller or as a writer.

Most people never intend to freelance. They fall into it, usually to make some extra money while looking for work. Other people quit their day jobs in the hope of becoming their own boss. They all find that working for yourself is much harder than it sounds.

I’ve been planning to write a book about the business of freelancing for more than a decade now. The normal way to write such books is to write a proposal (maybe some sample chapters), then query publishers to see if they’re interested. If they are, they’ll draft a contract, pay an advance, and set a deadline for the book. A year after the book gets turned in, it’ll see print.

The entire process can take as much as two years. By then, I hope, this crisis will be a thing of the past. Yes, some people will still be out of work. But most of the people who have lost their jobs in this recession will have new employ, and most first-time freelancers will have run screaming back to the nine-to-five world.

The moment for this project will have passed long before the book ever gets finished, let alone before it sees print.

for the rest go here: http://kriswrites.com/

-------------------Kara Boulden

http://kriswrites.com/ Graphic artist Kara Boulden was nice enough to create a portrait of me. (God knows why.) I wish I'd had her design some of my book covers--you know, the ones you never want to show anybody--and wish the publisher had just sent out with blank covers instead. She would've done a mighty fine job unlike the winos who got paid to do them. Thank you, Kara.

http://kriswrites.com/
http://karaboulden.blogspot.com/

Wednesday, April 01, 2009

Rogue Cop by William P. McGivern

As the title tells us, this is a novel about a crooked cop. The time is 1954 and the city is Philadelphia. It is a Hammett world of civic corruption and violence.

Carmody is a competent detective but a bad guy, having been on the take so long that his allegiance is to his mob bosses rather than the police force itself. But now there is problem. His younger brother Eddie, a patrolman, eye witnessed a murder and can identify the killer. The mob wants Carmody to make sure his brother doesn't testify. They hope Eddie will take a bribe and relent. But Eddie is a good cop and refuses.

Editors of the pulp era always talked about "narrative drive." Well this narrative will flatten you like a speeding bus. William P. McGivern graduated from the pulp (he worked a good deal for the Ziff-Davis magazines of Chicago) and learned how to keep the reader in heart attack mode. The scenes of Carmody pleading with his brother to forget about testifying--and then trying to placate the mob so that they won't kill Eddie--are classic moments of desperation.

I mean no disrespect when I say that I always considered McGivern a road show version of Graham Greene, a writer he clearly admired. Though his novels were never as rich or in some cases sly as Greene's, in their blunt American way they were compelling looks at our society and our ideas of success and loyalty and honor. There is real power in his best work and that work certainly includes Rogue Cop with its two soiled doves and its sad earnest look at the process of redemption.

I don't much care for the movie that was made of this. Robert Taylor is too slick and wooden to play a beast like Carmody. In various forms and under many different titles this movie has been remade many times and much better as "homages."

McGivern died way too young, early fifties of throat cancer. Most of his author photos show him with his pipe. He had a successful career by any measure and in his last years wrote the enormous (and excellent) bestseller Night of The Juggler. For me his finest novel is Odds Against Tomorrow which Robert Wise turned into a fine movie despite the fact that Harry Belafonte was never much of an actor. Robert Ryan and Ed Begley both made up for what Belafonte couldn't deliver.

Sparing Ed's Feelings

6300 of you wrote me off line to tell me I was rooked--no such thing as Kindle-smell. Dean Koontz called and we were talking and I started telling him about it and as I did...I realized I'd been had.

Does this mean the $47, 5000 I send to that Nigerian prince won't come back to me triple fold?

You can't make this crap up

From Andrew Sullivan's blog

Apr 2009 02:32 pm
Smells Like Kindle Spirit

A new product has launched: "Smell of Books™, a revolutionary new aerosol e-book enhancer." Kassia Krozser sighs:
As I write this, all I can think is that if more books smelled like crunchy bacon, I might become a breakfast person.