Thursday, July 30, 2009

From Brendan DuBois; A New Censorship in Hollywood?

Hi Ed ---

Not sure if you got the news or not, but I've heard that Bill Tapply, author of the Brady Coyne mysteries and a host of other books, died last night of cancer.

Damn.

He was active in the New England chapter of MWA, for a while we shared agents, and he was overall just the best... and he will be missed.

Well, thought you'd like to know.

And I visit your site at least twice a day; it's one of my favorites...

You take care.

All best, Brendan DuBois

-------------------------

A NEW CENSORSHIP IN HOLLYWOOD

(The London Times online)


Hollywood calls — but only if your face fits
The film industry is being stalked by a new McCarthyism that is more dangerous for being so insidious
Michael Freedland

Every time you go to a cinema, you should remember the acronym HUAC. More importantly, film-makers should have those letters engraved on their hearts. It is now more than 60 years since they seemed to represent a death sentence for the movies. The worrying thing is that, subtly, it could all be happening again.

HUAC stood for the House Un-American Activities Committee, which dedicated itself to rooting out what were quaintly known as reds under the beds. Any movie — or moviemaker — seen as vaguely communist, even just for associations with organisations bearing the word “peace”, was blacklisted. Film projects with themes that the committee did not like never got made.

Hollywood was a convenient target — because every time a prominent film-writer or a film star was brought before HUAC, camera bulbs flashed and the newspapers had pictures of them trying to answer the question “Are you now or have you ever been a communist?” It was wonderful publicity for a committee made up of congressman demagogues — including Richard Milhous Nixon — whose big dream seemed to be to make the Cold War grow hot.

This was the start of what became known as “McCarthyism”, although the evil Senator Joseph McCarthy hadn’t yet gone into business running his own show in the US Senate. It captured the public mood, resulted in the Hollywood Ten, mainly writers, going to jail, and destroyed careers — and lives.

For the rest go here:

http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/comment/columnists/guest_contributors/article6729592.ece

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

When Novelists Sober Up

Ed here: Richard Wheeler was kind enough to send me a link to a piece called When Novelists Sober Up by Tom Shone. It's excellent except for one thing--his notion that Richard Yates was a one-book author. Many people, me included, rate his collection Eleven Kinds of Loneliness as the equal of Fitzgerald or Hemingway's story collections. I see readers were quick to point this out to Shone. But it's an excellent and serious piece and makes me want to read Shone's own novel about drying out.

Here are some excerpts:

"In America William Faulkner and Scott Fitzgerald were the Paris and Britney of their day, caught in the funhouse mirror of fame, their careers a vivid tabloid mash-up of hospitalisations and electroshock therapies. “When I read Faulkner I can tell when he gets tired and does it on corn just as I used to be able to tell when Scott would hit it beginning with ‘Tender is the Night’,” said Hemingway, playing the Amy Winehouse role of denier-in-chief. He kept gloating track of his friends’ decline, all the while nervously checking out books on liver damage from the library; by the end, said George Plimpton, Hemingway’s liver protruded from his belly “like a long fat leech”.

"In fact none of these authors would write much that was any good beyond the age of 40, Faulkner’s prose seizing up with sclerosis, Hemingway sinking into unbudgeable mawkishness. When Fitzgerald went public about his creative decline in Esquire, in a piece entitled “The Crack Up”—a prototype for all the misery memoirs we have today—Hemingway was disgusted, inviting him to cast his “balls into the sea—if you have any balls left”.

(more)

“AA can only help weak people because their ego is strengthened by the group,” said Fitzgerald. “I was never a joiner.” Certainly, if what you’re used to is rolling champagne bottles down Fifth Avenue beneath the light of a wanton moon or getting into the kind of barfights that make a man feel alive, truly alive, the basic facts of recovered life—the endless meetings, the rote ingestion of the sort of clichés the writer has spent his entire life avoiding—are below prosaic. Richard Yates professed to find AA meetings impossibly maudlin: “Is just functioning living at all?” he moped, claiming he could not write a single sentence sober. His fall was even more vertiginous, and emblematic of the 1950s; like Kerouac, he was to write one masterpiece (“Revolutionary Road"), then nothing. "

For the rest go here:
http://moreintelligentlife.com/content/tom-shone/when-novelists-sober

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

I'll bet Orson Welles was never invited

In the Thirties P.G. Wodehouse was invited to William Randolph Hearst's San Simeon. The LA Times' Jacket Copy recently reviewed The Oxford Book of Literary Anecdotes, among them Wodehouse's description of Heart's modest little abode.

"I have been away for a week at Hearts’s ranch. He owns 440,0000 acres, more than the whole of Long Island!...

"The house is enormous, and there are always at least 50 guests staying there. All the furniture is period, and you probably sleep on a bed originally occupied by Napoleon or somebody....

"The train that takes guests away leaves after midnight, and the one that brings new guests arrives early in the morning, so you have dinner with one lot of people and come down to breakfast the next morning to find an entirely new crowd.

"Meals are in an enormous room, and are served at a long table, with Hearst sitting in the middle on one side and Marion Davies in the middle on the other. The longer you are there, the further you get from the middle. I sat on Mario’s right the first night, then found myself being edged further and further away till I got to the extreme end, when I thought it time to leave. Another day, and I should have been feeding on the floor."

Monday, July 27, 2009

Thrill-A-Minute

A week ago I picked up the galley of a novel that will be published later this year. I'd read a few of the writer's other books and liked them. Good writer. This was clearly his shot at a breakout novel, the kind of book that came into fashion with James Patterson. Breathless pace and surprises galore.

Two things. 1) The whole thing is ridiculous. All fiction is a contrivance of some kind but the burden of the writer is to keep the contrivances hidden from sight. You really have to stretch to make every chapter ending a cliff hanger. 2) I couldn't stop reading it. When I was away from it I couldn't wait to get back to it. I only almost gave up once and that was when he came up with the single dumbest Vile Secret a mystery novel suspect has ever had. Carol nudged me and wanted to know why I was laughing so hard. I really couldn't believe it. Was the writer putting us on? The other thing is all the Secrets. Gothic novelists have nothing on this book. Wheels within wheels within wheels. Nonsense most of the time. And I had a great time with it.

Back in the Seventies Barry Malzberg remarked that commercial fiction is often more about structure than writing. This certainly holds true with books like these. They are schematics with words to give them color and character.

I guess you have to pick your way through the glut of these books.. Some I really enjoy. Howard Roughan, one of James Patterson's collaborators, has an interesting take on big city life and knows how to put a true chiller-diller together. I like Harlan Coban and Jeffrey Deaver very much. I consider them the masters of the thrill-a-minute novel. They're very canny writers and good technicians. I wish I had their gifts. Malzberg was right. Structure is key.

The biggest compliment I can pay the writer of the book at hand is to say that at several moments in the book I thought Gee, I wish my own stuff was this exciting.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Drawn To Murder

I'm not a big fan of true crime. The only show I ever followed was the one Paul Winfield narrated and to me his voice was always the star of the show. But last night, bored, all I could surf up was the CBS 48 Hours Mystery. It turned out to be a powerful and frightening show. It was called Drawn To Murder.

A fifteen year old boy, a boy who draws horrorific sketches of women being mutilated (among many many other types of sketches) lives on the edge of town. In the field he crosses to get to the school bus he sees what he believes is a dummy. In fact it's a woman's body. He goes to school. She has been terribly mutilated. The cops show up. The lead cop decides he's got the killer. On the spot. They take the kid in and question him for something like fifteen hours non-stop. Good cop bad cop maternal cop etc. Pound pound pound. He didn't do it he says. The kid never wavers.

The cop is relentless despite the fact that over time the other two detectives working the case come to believe the kid is innocent. There is absolutely no evidence that ties the kid to the murder. None. The cop then decides that he'll "shock" the kid into confessing. The cop comes up with this ludicrous idea that the kid murdered the woman because he's angry at his mother for dying. They dummy up a fake newspaper and send it to the kid saying that he'll soon be arrested for murder one. There are cops all over town waiting for him to freak out. At the graveyard where his mother is buried. At a friend's house. At school. Seriously this is one of the goofiest damn ideas anybody's ever EVER come up with. One cop said he couldn't keep a straight face it was so stupid.

Enter this hired gun forensic psychologist. He looks as if he spends more time in front of the mirror than most models do. A real fancy pants. He is interviewed and hands out the biggest pile of Freudian bullshit I've ever heard in my life. He says he's absolutely sure the kid it. No question.

This is just the start of the story.

The kid goes into the navy, tries to start a new life for himself. He doesn't want to live in Fort Collins again after he gets out because the cop'll be on him for sure. He's now in his mid-twenties, honorably discharged. The cop flies to California and arrests him and drags him back.

By this time the female detective who questioned the cop has been demoted back to patrol. The other detective whose scorn for the cop is clear quits. But the cop and the DA team (a really stupid young woman and a would-be hotshot (but very bush league) man go to court. There is no evidence. The hired gun psychologist comes back and they go through the drawings with the jury and the hired gun says this is the killer right here and he's convicted.

The kid serves nine years. He's appealed twice for a new trial. No way. Getting a new trial is virtually impossible. But a young female lawyer decides to help him. She gets a a real hot shot older criminal attorney to help her. They plead the kid's case hoping the judge will grant a new trial.

Very interesting trial. We see all the stuff the cop kept from turning over. The stupid DA kept saying who else could it be. Well, there was a doctor who was a convicted sex offender (he had a hidden camera set up in his bathroom so he could film women going to the pot) who lived right across the street from the field where the body was found and then there was an angry boy friend whose DNA was later found inside the dead woman's underpants--but who else could it possibly be? Gee, it just had to be the kid. The cop looked at absolutely nobody else. Ever One piece of evidence after another showed that the kid could not possibly have been the killer. This went on and on.

The judge won't even let the DA testify. He grants a new trial and releases the kid on the spot. The cop had been called out of town for family business and wasn't at the hearing. Yeah right family business.

Remember when those young law students at Northwestern (with the help of Governor Ryan) got several men on the Illinois Death Row freed with DNA testing?

More than 230 people have been freed from prison because of DNA evidence. Estimates are that more than 100,000 prisoners have been railroaded into prison. The kid is suing the cop and the DA. I hope these two bastards end up in a homeless shelter. I'm assuming the young woman DA will find her natural calling and find work at a Clinique counter.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Mean Streets

I mentioned the writer Kim Morgan the other night. I've certainly come late to her, as her archives prove. She's now written the most eloquent assessment of Martin Scorcese's Means Streets I've ever read. I'm quoting a bit of it here:

"Let’s just start with the opening -- an opening that ranks as one of the greatest title sequences of all time. The screen is black. A faceless narrator exclaims: "You don't make up for your sins at church; you do it in the streets; you do it at home. The rest is bullshit, and you know it." A young man wakes up in the middle of the night. The sounds of the city are outside. He walks over to his bedroom mirror, takes a look at himself and then returns to bed. As his head reclines toward his pillow, he is suddenly moving in slow motion. The thumping beat of the Ronettes' "Be My Baby" begins and the scene shifts to a screening of Super-8 films of the young man and his friends. Just as Ronnie Spector breaks into the beautifully sweet chorus of "Be my, be my baby," the film reveals its title in plain, typewritten letters: Mean Streets.

"Yes. This opening always gets me right in the gut and mysteriously both the hard and soft places of my heart. It even, at times, almost makes me cry. No, not almost. It does make me cry. It’s just so raggedly lovely and wonderfully bittersweet and beautiful and tough and tender. It's reminiscent of a past that isn't entirely mine and yet, Scorsese makes me feel like it was -- almost one hundred percent. ). "

For the rest go here:
http://sunsetgun.typepad.com/sunsetgun/2009/07/i-miss-new-york-city-i-miss-the-new-york-city-ive-never-seen----the-one-ive-seen-only-in-movies-and-after-spending-time-in.html

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Forgotten Books: A Shot Rang Out; stuff

A SHOT RANG OUT by Jon L. Breen

I'm about to review a book that is hardly forgotten; it's new. I'm reviewing it because a) I think it's an important book and b) because it didn't get the coverage it deserves. I should also note that the book is dedicated to me but I'd like to add here that I was reading and learning from Jon Breen long before I switched from men's magazine adventure and science fiction to mystery and got to know him personally.

The name Anthony Boucher is one of the most revered in mystery fiction. I have three volumes of his Sunday columns and what strikes me again and again when I reread them is the concision and precision of his his reviews. He had the ability to give you a real sense of the book and his reaction to it in one hundred words or less. Try that sometime. It ain't easy. Boucher also brought a truly catholic approach (I'm not making a pun here, Boucher having been a devout Roman Catholic) which enabled him to review Charlotte Armstrong with the same understanding and enthusiasm he rolled out for Ross Macdonald.

These are the same traits I've always found in Jon Breen's criticism and his hefty new collection proves my point. The book opens with overviews of fifteen careers, including those of Michael Connelly, Elmore Leonard, Chester Himes, Ellery Queen and P.D. James. The length of these gives Breen the opportunity show how careers are built (consciously or unconsciously) and to cite the triumphs and disappointments along the way. My favorites here are Jack Finney and Margaret Millar. Finney is one of the most elusive of genre writers; his career included everything from hardboiled to fantasy to outright whimsey. And I'd put Millar up against Agatha Christie any day.

This section is followed by "Short Takes on 100 Writers." I love things like this. It's fun to be reminded of books you cared about but haven't reread in years and writers you passed over previously but now, thanks to Breen's profile here, want to try this time around.

The rest of the book comes in two sections. "Topical essays" covers everything from American Women Mystery Writers to The Ghost and Miss Truman (a very wry entry) to Murdering History (the historical novel) to How To Write Mysteries in Six Difficult Lessons (with several guests including Elizabeth George and Loren Estleman). This is followed by short punchy pieces on such subjects as The British Mystery and Nancy Drew and Plagiarism. His piece on my tenure as the editor of Mystery Scene had me (literally) howling out loud. Somebody once said that they bought the magazine just to see what it would look like this time. I sure did change formats a lot. Thank God Kate and Brian took it over. There are even a pair of true crime reviews, his take on Patricia Cornwell's job on Jack The Ripper bracing to be sure.

In sum, if you have any interest in the field of mystery and suspense, this book needs to be on your shelf. It would also make a great present. A witty, shrewd, serious look at the genre that is finally coming into its own in popularity and critical esteem.


KIM MORGAN

I give, I surrender, I'm sorry. At least ten of you wrote me off line to tell me what a moron I am. I'd never heard of Kim Morgan? Do I know anything at all about movie criticism? Was this some kind of Onion-esque joke?

Sorry. I don't know how it was that she escaped my attention all this time but she did. As I mentioned I've been reading through her archives. She's a fine stylist and a unique thinker.

I apologize, Kim.

SURF MUSIC

I recently updated my software and in so doing lost many saved messages. Would the reader who was kind enough to record and send me all the surf music please write me. I've now listened to it and was knocked out by it. Thanks very much.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

e-books; Gorman interview

For those of you who, like me, have never even seen a Kindle or other e-book device, there's a very informative article on The Wrap today. This is one of the few articles that gets into the numbers involved.


Those e-Books Are Here to Stay ... Get Used to Them
By Rafi Mohammed

In last week's New York Times, Motoko Rich and Brad Stone wrote that “no topic is more hotly debated at the moment than the timing, pricing and ultimate impact of e-books on the financial health of publishers and retailers.”

The primary debate centers on how low-priced ($9.99) digital books affect demand for more expensive ($25+) hardcover books. Since digital books are more profitable to publishers, my response is “who cares?”

The norm in the publishing industry is to set a wholesale price equal to 50% of the hardcover list price. A $25 list price yields a $12.50 wholesale price. Interestingly, publishers also sell e-books to retailers at the same 50% (of hardcover retail) price. Thus, when Amazon sells a popular e-book for $9.99, it is usually losing money on each sale.

E-books are more profitable than their hardcover counterparts for publishers. With significantly lower production, warehouse, royalty, and delivery costs, as well as no profit-draining returns from retailers, e-books are relative cash cows.

For the rest go here:
http://www.thewrap.com/blog-entry/those-e-books-are-here-stayget-used-them_4444#comments

GORMAN INTERVIEW

Tom Piccirilli was good enough to interview me about my new book and some personal issues as well over on The Big Adios. Thanks, Tom.

http://thebigadios.yuku.com/topic/848/t/Ed-Gorman-07-21-09.html?page=-1

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Crime of Passion; About Time; Entourage

CRIME OF PASSION

Noir of The Week reviews a film called Crime of Passion this week. The first paragraph marks the movie as a fascinating take on women's roles in the happy housewife suburbs of the Fifties.

"The subversion of the American dream is the theme in the superb proto feminist film Crime of Passion, from director Gerd Oswald (A Kiss Before Dying, Screaming Mimi). Released in 1957, Crime of Passion is a woman-centered noir--a film ahead of its time in its depiction of a career woman who sinks into housewife hell and is subsequently driven to commit murder."


ABOUT TIME

CNN interviewed the hosts of the show "Mythbusters" about the conspiracy theorists who believe the Apollo Moon landing was faked, and the their extensive efforts debunking the claims of the Moon landing deniers.

However, buried towards the end of the interview is a gem of video of Buzz Aldrin, famously one of the first astronauts to walk on the Moon, being confronted by one of these moon landing skeptics several years ago. The man angrily calls Aldrin a "coward" and a "liar." Aldrin tells the man to get away from him, and when he refuses, Aldrin promptly punches him in the face.

MORE ENTOURAGE (from New York magazine)

"Over the weekend, poor Seth Rogen had his attractiveness impugned by the writers of Entourage when, in Sunday's episode, Turtle (Jerry Ferrara) posited that Katherine Heigl would not date a person who looks like Rogen in real life. (As the piece points out Rogen has slimmed down considerably.) He responded, terrifically, on E!'s Daily 10 yesterday, and the good folks at Movieline were nice enough to transcribe it.

"Yeah, those guys are assholes. I actually ran into Matt … Kevin Dillon in a Starbucks. And he's like 'You know, I've got to kind of apologize because apparently the guy who created our show doesn't like you so much.' And I said 'Well, I have reason to believe because I think [showrunner] Doug Ellin is a moron from all I can understand so it makes sense he doesn't like me.' And I've kind of said some disparaging things about the show. Although in our defense, [producer] Mark Wahlberg called us misogynistic in an interview, so I think they kind of started that … It's on. Luckily I never have and never plan on watching Entourage."

Monday, July 20, 2009

You erased WHAT?

Lee Pfeiffer at Cinema Rerto always has something interesting to say about the media.

"If you find it shameful that most of the kinescopes of early TV classics were taped over to save money, you'll really be outraged by the news that NASA has admitted that some brainiac at the space agency deliberately erased all of the original videos of the first landing on the moon - in order to save a few bucks. NASA discovered the scandal in 2006, but has not identified who came up with the great idea or when it occurred. Fortunately, saner heads turned over the broadcast tapes (which were substantially lower in quality) to Lowry Digital, the company that specializes in restoring Hollywood classics... The downside of this is that NASA admits that those conspiracy nuts who think Capricorn One is a documentary, are now citing this as further proof that man didn't land on the moon. "

for the rest go here:

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

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Entourage; Walter Cronkite

It's not pleasant watching Entourage stagger to the finish line. I caught the new episode last week and it had the hyped-up feel of most shows when they're nearing the end. Not stunt-casting but stunt-plotting. Will Eric get hitched? Will Lloyd make it through Ari's boot camp? Isn't it ironic that somebody as cool as Vince can be so lonely in his big house?

To me the problem is that the show is too much married to fake Hwood macho. I logged on to the show's website this morning. Apparently they spotlight the Best Lines of every episode. Here's this week's spotlight: "Pussy can smell other pussy and they have to pounce on it. That's why when you're on a hot streak you got to press. Just like blackjack." (The website says "P---y"). Fake hardboiled and too cute and stilted for my taste. Maybe writers talk to each other like that but I don't think regular people do. But contained in those lines is the essence of the entire show. Strike a pose.

The problem is that even in Hwood with all its temptations these guys should be growing up a little. Maybe not in reality but in the series anyway. Same old same old is not only dull it marks them as losers. I mean I'm assuming there are in actuality some well-adjusted thirty-somethings in Hwood. What worked in the Larry Sanders Show was that Larry and Hank were the flakes but Artie was the sane, responsible one and held everybody together. You need a dramatic contrast. Ari's as crazed and self-indulgent as his wards.

Entourage was fun for awhile but that while is long gone.

WALTER CRONKITE

I was probably ten when Walter Cronkite took over the CBS Evening News. He immediately became the only newscaster I believed. There was always something contrived about Huntley-Brinkley to me and Howard K. Smith at ABC came off like an irritating little know-it-all.

Glenn Greenwald, one of the finest bloggers and columnists in America, wrote about Cronkite said in 1968 when he used his newscast to denounce the Viet Nam war. The effect of his words could be felt worldwide. Uncle Walter said that LBJ was wrong about the war.

"The Vietcong did not win by a knockout [in the Tet Offensive], but neither did we. The referees of history may make it a draw. . . . We have been too often disappointed by the optimism of the American leaders, both in Vietnam and Washington, to have faith any longer in the silver linings they find in the darkest clouds. . . .
"For it seems now more certain than ever that the bloody experience of Vietnam is to end in a stalemate. . . . To say that we are closer to victory today is to believe, in the face of the evidence, the optimists who have been wrong in the past" -- Walter Cronkite, CBS Evening News, February 27, 1968.

Greenwald contrasts this with the words of David Gregory, one of the oiliest and most self-serving faux journalists on TV. By any standard you care to name the American press carried the Bush administration's water when it came to promoting the invasion of Iraq. They were craven and cowardly and as hawkish as anybody on the right wing. But Gregory bristles when someone speaks the truth about what a bunch of hacks and toadies the mainstream press was and remains. Only the people at McLatchy got it right. They debunked virtually everything the Bush administration said. They called them liars outright. Not that anybody paid much attention. The McClatchy reporters don't twinkle with stardust the way Gregory and his pals do.

"I think there are a lot of critics who think that [in the run-up to the Iraq War] . . . . if we did not stand up and say this is bogus, and you're a liar, and why are you doing this, that we didn't do our job. I respectfully disagree. It's not our role" -- David Gregory, MSNBC, May 28, 2008.

TIM RUSSERT
(Ed here: The tributes Tim Russert got on his death pissed me off. He used his show to promote the Bush administration. Remember what Mary Matalin, one of God's sorriest creatures, said (paraphrase) When we wanted to get the word out, we called Tim Russert. I still remember him slapping down anybody who dared challenge the administration about the invasion of Iraq. Greenwald refered Russert today as well:

"A reader reminds me that -- very shortly after Tim Russert's June, 2008 death -- long-time Harper's editor Lewis Lapham attended a party to mark the release of a new book on Hunter Thompson, and Lapham said a few words. According to New York Magazine's Jada Yuan, this is what happened:

"Lewis Lapham isn’t happy with political journalism today. “There was a time in America when the press and the government were on opposite sides of the field,” he said at a premiere party for Gonzo: The Life and Work of Dr. Hunter S. Thompson on June 25. “The press was supposed to speak on behalf of the people. The new tradition is that the press speaks on behalf of the government.” An example? “Tim Russert was a spokesman for power, wealth, and privilege,” Lapham said. “That’s why 1,000 people came to his memorial service. Because essentially he was a shill for the government. It didn’t matter whether it was Democratic or Republican. It was for the status quo.” What about Russert’s rep for catching pols in lies? “That was bullshit,” he said. “Thompson and Russert were two opposite poles.”

Friday, July 17, 2009

The Great American Hero



As a stone Steven J. Cannell fan I was interested in an article the LA Times ran the other day on the 80s show The Great American Hero. In the course of the lengthy piece we get a good look at how a TV show is sometimes born, some of Cannell's work methods and an interesting insight into the chemistry--or lack thereof--between the two stars.

What also worked was that Katt, the theater upstart, and Culp, who had been a television actor since the 1950s, did not get along well on the set and the friction only heightened the abrasive banter between their characters, who were opposites in politics, disposition and generational sensibility. “You couldn’t put us in the same room without a verbal confrontation about how we were going to approach a certain aspect or scene or something and neither of us was going to back down.”

Did the pair ever soften toward each other? “We did reach a sort of détente … although we were never buddies we did find a good working relationship on set.”

Cannell also talks about the possibility of a Great American Hero movie

For the rest go here:
http://latimesblogs.latimes.com/herocomplex/2008/11/greatest-americ.html

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Kim Morgan; Maurice Broaddus

I'd never heard of Kim Morgan before. She still hasn't heard of me. But over the course of a few days I saw her name dropped on a few film sites so I thought I'd check her site out.

She's a good writer, a person with her own opinions and a way of integrating some of her own life into her essays on various movies. Here's a sample from her current post.

"Nicholas Ray's In a Lonely Place is one of the most heartbreaking love stories ever committed to film. It's certainly one of the most poignant pictures (violently poignant at times) within the canon of film noir, a genre haunted by doomed love.

"Noir love -- the kind that causes characters to throw that "Baby I don't care" caution to the wind -- is frequently a cynical fancy that won't survive the angst and ugliness inside the man or outside the world. Its happiness is typically intense, but brief. Love or lust often motivates action in noir, particularly via a femme fatale (as in Double Indemnity or Out of the Past). But it also holds up a mirror to myriad themes, largely existential, that hang over characters with profound malaise. Ray approaches the torments of Camus and Sartre with In a Lonely Place (1950) showing, not only the delicacy of true love, but the delicacy of creativity, violence, trust, and a person's own position in an often ugly, alienating world and the inner nausea it creates.

"So begins my video essay on Nicholas Ray's 1950 masterpiece In a Lonely Place, a movie I love and admire and one I understand better each each year I live in this often alienating city -- Los Angeles."

For the rest go here:
http://sunsetgun.typepad.com/

MAURICE BROADDUS

Several months ago a mutual friend asked me to read a story by Maurice Broaddus. He'd yet to sell anything. I really liked the story. Today our mutual friend e mailed me and said that Maurice just signed a three-book contract with HarperCollins. Congratulations, Maurice!

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Slings and Arrows

Over on Pulp Serenade tonight Cullen Gallagher excerpts an article William Campbell Gault wrote for Writer's Digest back in 1956. Squeezed in among all the positive pump pieces about making that sale! Gault's blunt and sometimes grim words reflect a partial truth about full-time writing. His point is that's it a strange and troublesome way to make a living and in places he shows real bitterness about trying to survive the game:

"His first mystery novel, Don’t Cry for Me, was rejected by everyone, but finally was picked up and even won an Edgar. Gault’s reaction? “You think you are big now, but you are nothing.”

"If anything, what is so surprising about this article is its discouraging, embittered tone. The “you” in the article never gives up – but it seems that Gault wonders why anyone would continue through such hardship, disappointment, and failure. Even success for Gault is tinged with the knowledge that it not everlasting, nor assured to ever happen again."

Ed here: Gault wrote this at a time when there were still hundreds of magazines that bought short stories, dozens of publishers of both hard and soft cover and a TV market that had an insatiable need for stories. Things are completely different today.

Couple points here: Every once in awhile I get a call or email from a writer asking if he or she should go full time. This usually comes after the third or fourth novel sale or a serious Hwood option or sale. I took the chance as did many of my friends. But most of us started in the Seventies or Eighties when there were many, many opportunities for writers. And while we've suffered all the slings and arrows Gault talks about, most of us have survived. But today...no way. Maybe if you landed a huge book contract or Hwood bought your last novel for Big Money, maybe. Otherwise, no way. Given the marketplace, it's just too risky. Not that my words have ever stopped anybody. And they shouldn't. More than a few writers who didn't heed my words are doing quite well. Still and all houses have been lost, marriages have broken up and addictions have returned because the scramble to survive got to be too much.

Even though he didn't mean it to be, Gault's tone functions as a cautionary. You can see that he's given in to real despair at times. Now, every writer I know has had terrible disappointments and has had to spend some time working through them. This is the time when you hear all the bitching and you don't mind it because you've been there yourself or you walk around dreading that it's going to happen to you.

But there are writers who are always bitching and they're the ones I avoid. Nobody ordered us to be full-time writers (not even Dick Cheney has those kinds of power) so we either make the best of it or we get out. Just get on with your work and hope for the best. The real trouble with writers who constantly bitch is that they tend to be jealous of anybody who is more successful than themselves. To quote myself, Nobody wears jealousy well. We all have one or two people who success baffles us. We don't think much of their work; we've never had their luck (and luck figures prominently). But again we get back to work and forget our envy. He didn't become popular just to spite us. He wrote a book people liked.

There was a semi-famous writer in another genre who was relentlessly promoted by a Big Star. Personally I thought the guy's work was pretty boring but the reviewers loved him. A major house offered him a three book contract. Two of the books were that month's leads, something most writers will never get. But despite all the promotion, it didn't work. The books bombed. He'd always been a prick about other writers. I talked to him a few times when I was editing Mystery Scene and no matter who I'd mention he'd manage to put down in some way. I finally said that three or four of the people he dissed were friends of mine and I thought they were very good writers. He backed off. His failure at the top turned him even more rancid. He even wrote a piece tearing into the Big Name who'd basically sponsored him. Approach these people with bio-hazard suits. Jealousy is a pain in the ass to listen to and ultimately I feel dirty for having not changed the subject or walked away.

All this is addressed or hinted at in Cullen's piece tonight. Well worth reading.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Forgotten Books: The Collected Stories of Stephen Crane

As the prime creator of Realism Stephen Crane shocked the world of letters both in his writing and his personal life. His first book was Maggie: A Girl of The Streets and he spent a good share of his adult life (as much of it as there was--he died at twenty-eight) living with Cora Taylor, the madame of a brothel. He wrote dozens of short stories as well as his masterpiece The Red Badge of Courage.

While he was accepted and praised by the literary critics of the time, he was frequently derided for the pessimism and violence of his stories. He brought "the stink of the streets" into literature as one reviewer said. But his streets could be found all over America, not just in the cities.

The Open Boat, The Blue Hotel, The Bride Comes to Yellow Sky, Shame and The Upturned Face give us portraits of different Americas. As I was rereading them lately I realized that they all have two things in common--their utter sense of social isolation and the intensity of their telling. Hemingway always put up The Blue Hotel as one of the most intense-"bedeviled"--stories in our language and man he was right. The fist fight in the blizzard on the blind side of the barn is one of those most hellish insane scenes I've ever read. And the ironic words at the last honestly gave me chills, even though I knew what was coming. His years as a journalist gave him a compassion for society's discards no matter where they lived or what color they happened to be.r

His sense of place changed writing. Whether he was writing about the slums of Brooklyn or the endless ghostly plains of Nebraska in winter, his early years as a poet gave his images true clarity and potency. One critic of the time said his stories were possessed of "a filthy beauty" and that nails it.

Only a few of his stories are taught today; Red Badge is mandatory in schools. But in the many collections available of his stories you find a passion for life and language that few writers have ever equaled. Too many American masters get lost in the shuffle of eras. Crane is not only an artist he's one of the finest storytellers I've ever read.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Passport To Peril

To me the four big names in espionage fiction are John Buchan, Eric Ambler, Graham Greene and John le Carre. Each changed the form profoundly. Passport To Peril, the latest book from Hard Case Crime, was first published in 1950 and contains set-pieces borrowed not only from Buchan and Ambler but also Alfred Hitchcock. The only influence I don't see here is Greene. In some respects it's a compendium of espionage tropes that filled spy novels from the time of Buchan all the way up to the Cold War, which this novel is very much about. And it's the familiarity that makes this fun.

The name of the author is Robert B. Parker. No, this Parker hero doesn't lift weights or crack wise or have a Susan Silverman. This Parker's middle name is Bogardus not Brown, which is the middle name of the more prominent Parker.

Here is the basic story: The narrator, a man named John Stodder, is traveling to Budapest on the Orient Express. He purchased the forged passport he has to help him get into the city where he hopes to find his missing brother. A mysterious beautiful young woman appears. She is frantic with fear. At first he doesn't believe her that somebody is trying to kill her but a peculiar German man shows himself and Stodder, whose passport ironically belonged to the man the German killed, is now in the center of it all. He and the beautiful mysterious woman jump off the train and hide in the bitter winter night that is patroled everywhere by heavily armed Russian soldiers.

Passport To Peril has more hooks, twists and red herrings than any novel I've read in recent memory. Same with chapter ending cliff hangers. Part of the fun of reading it--and it's a blast--is its depiction of life after WW ll in the adventure fiction of the time. We meet Commies, countesses, sadistic guards, Germans who mean to bring back the Reich, the whole sick crew. If the book moved any faster it would rip free of its covers and take flight.

I can't attest to the authenticity of espionage depicted here. But Brown is so skilled he makes it feel real and that's all that matters.

Well worth your money. An enjoyable night's reading.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Mr. Paradise

I hadn't read an Elmore Leonard novel in some time but the old urge came back as I thumbed through Mr. Paradise. Everything looked to be in place. In most of Leonard's novels of the 90s and after there's a stock company of damaged people. This gives the books humanity. There's also often a set-up that goes wrong. And there is always storytelling architecture that is unparalled. All present and accounted for in Mr. Paradise

The novel is named after an eighty-four year old Detroit lawyer Anthony Paradiso who likes to hire lovely female escorts to dress up as cheerleaders and do some cheering as he watches tapes of previous Michigan football games. The night the book opens escort Chloe Robinette convinces her friend Victoria's secret model Kelly Barr to accompany her. Chloe's running out of tricks and maybe an additional woman will make the standard routine seem fresher. Kelly reluctantly agrees to go.

This is a bad choice of nights because Paradiso's man Montez Taylor has paid two hit men--the stock company choices for Stupid Criminals this time out--to kill Paradiso. Enter detective Frank Delsa who'll not only disentangle all the entanglements but fall quickly in love with the comely Kelly Barr.

There is a lot of violence, a lot of great patter and some great man-woman stuff, the familiar elements of many of Leonard's later novels. The man gives value for your entertainment dollar.

As I was reading I became aware of how Leonard's approach to novels has changed crime fiction. There is the matter of leaving out all those words he claims nobody wants anyway. There is the matter of writing so cinematically you feel guilty for not bringing popcorn along. And there is the matter of a kind of hipster irony informing all of it except the romance scenes. It makes us all feel like insiders instead of tourists when we're talking street stuff.

I'll always prefer his earlier books but his body of work is undeniably the most important of our time. And Mr. Paradise is a hell of a lot of fun.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Susan Oleksiw; Bill Crider; Pulp Serenade

This week Susan Oleksiw wrote a really interesting piece for a blog called Terry’s Place. It’s well worth reading.

“Today I welcome author Susan Oleksiw to Terry's Place. Join her as she takes us on a journey to India.

“My First Love

“One of my favorite pastimes is wandering the aisles of independent bookstores checking out the mystery novels, looking for books by new writers and new books from old friends. Writers take me into little known corners of the world—Dana Stabenow teaches me about Alaska, Alexander McCall Smith about Africa, and Cara Black about Paris. I love learning about a new place, and I understand the satisfaction derived from writing about a city or landscape well loved. For me that place is India.

“My character Anita Ray grew out of a deep love of India and a longing to experience that country when I couldn’t get there. If I couldn’t take my vacation traveling out to the beach at Kovalam, I could send Anita, watch her stop at the local temple, enjoy a bowl of fruit sitting on the beach, or ride along with her on a bus into the hills. She took me to all the places I loved but were too far away to get to."

For the rest go here:
http://terryodell.blogspot.com/#3

BILL CRIDER INTERVIEW

Rafe McGregor got away from many of the usual questions and Bill was ready with some memorable answers.

http://rafemcgregor.blogspot.com/

PULP SERENADE

This week Cullen Gallagher was kind enough to interview me for his always enlightening blog. One of the questions he asked was what my typical writing day was like. I said that these days I try to write fifteen hundred words a day and that I generally write seven days a week. To date I’ve received eleven e mails off line asking me if I’m this productive why has there been such long lapses between my novels. I should have clarified. When I’m working on a novel I work hard to get everything down in the first draft. Unfortunately that rarely works. So yes I may be writing fifteen hundred words a day but there could be weeks of Rewriting going on. These days a novel takes me three to four months before it’s shipped off. And I’m not always writing novels. I write short stories—even though not nearly as often as I once did—articles, columns and occasionally screenplays. I just need to be writing. After nearly thirty years at it I feel incomplete if I haven’t put in a day’s work at the computer.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Stuff




Bill Crider linked to Lynn Munroe's website that contains a long and fascinating history of the thirty-eight novels that never show up on Harry Whittington's bibliography. I sure wish Lynn would collect all the pieces he's written into book form. Above is one of the Missing 38. Go here for the complete article:
wyciwyg://0/http://list60.tripod.com/themissing38.htm


PULP SERENADE

Cullen Gallagher was kind enough to ask me some questions about my new novel The Midnight Room and my writing process in general
For the rest go here:

http://www.pulpserenade.com/2009/07/interview-with-ed-gorman-on-midnight.html


PEGGY NOONAN

Yes, she is insufferable to listen to, so studied and dramatic, the smartest and snootiest girl in Catholic school all growed up and ready for battle. Every once in awhile she nails something and she sure has nailed Sarah Palin.


"She was hungry, loved politics, had charm and energy, loved walking onto the stage, waving and doing the stump speech. All good. But she was not thoughtful. She was a gifted retail politician who displayed the disadvantages of being born into a point of view (in her case a form of conservatism; elsewhere and in other circumstances, it could have been a form of liberalism) and swallowing it whole: She never learned how the other sides think, or why.

In television interviews she was out of her depth in a shallow pool. She was limited in her ability to explain and defend her positions, and sometimes in knowing them. She couldn't say what she read because she didn't read anything. She was utterly unconcerned by all this and seemed in fact rather proud of it: It was evidence of her authenticity. She experienced criticism as both partisan and cruel because she could see no truth in any of it."


For the rest go here:
ttp://online.wsj.com/article/SB124716984620819351.html


LEONARD COHEN

Cohen has been one of my favorite writers since I read Beautiful Losers back in the mid-Sixties. I have most if not all his albums as well as his novels. He's had a troubled life and speaks of it eloquently in this interview in the UK Guardian.

Do you think dealing with depression was an important part of your creative process?

LC: Well, it was a part of every process. The central activity of my days and nights was dealing with a prevailing sense of anxiety, anguish, distress. A background of anguish that prevailed.

How important was writing to your survival?

LC: It had a number of benefits. One was economic. It was not a luxury for me to write - it was a necessity. These times are very difficult to write in because the slogans are really jamming the airwaves - it's something that goes beyond what has been called political correctness. It's a kind of tyranny of posture. Those ideas are swarming through the air like locusts. And it's difficult for the writer to determine what he really thinks about things. So in my own case I have to write the verse, and then see if it's a slogan or not and then toss it. But I can't toss it until I've worked on it and seen what it really is.

For the rest go here:

//www.guardian.co.uk/music/2009/jul/10/ghomeshi-interviews-leonard-cohen/print

Thursday, July 09, 2009

An Interview With David Morrell



THE SHIMMER

When a high-speed chase goes terribly wrong, Santa Fe police officer Dan Page watches in horror as a car and gas tanker explode into flames. Torn with guilt that he may be responsible, Page returns home to discover that his wife, Tori, has disappeared.
Frantic, Page follows her trail to Rostov, a remote town in Texas famous for a massive astronomical observatory, a long-abandoned military base, and unexplained nighttime phenomena that draw onlookers from every corner of the globe. Many of these gawkers—Tori among them—are compelled to visit this tiny community to witness the mysterious Rostov Lights.

Without warning, a gunman begins firing on the lights, screaming “Go back to hell where you came from,” then turns his rifle on the bystanders. A bloodbath ensues, and events quickly spiral out of control, setting the stage for even greater violence and death.

Page must solve the mystery of the Rostov Lights to save his wife. In the process, he learns that the decaying military base may not be abandoned at all, and that the government may have known about the lights for decades. Could these phenomena be more dangerous than anyone could have possibly imagined?





1. You've written that the starting point for several of your novels was news stories. Was that the case with The Shimmer?

The common question all writers get is, “Where do your ideas come from?” In the case of THE SHIMMER, one Sunday morning about five years ago, I opened my morning newspaper and saw an article in the travel section about mysterious lights that appear almost nightly outside a small town in west Texas, called Marfa.

According to the article, the lights have been seen for as long as people have been in that area. As far back as 1889, a rancher moving a herd of cattle saw the lights and feared that they were the campfires of marauders from Mexico. He and his men pulled out their rifles and guarded the cattle all night. In the morning, they searched for where the fires had been, but they found nothing.

In World War One, the locals feared that the lights came from Germans who were in Mexico, perhaps getting ready to invade. In 1980, something called the Marfa Ghost Light Hunt involved 200 people using aircraft, horses, motorcycles, car, and trucks, searching for the lights and their origin, but the hunters were never able to catch the lights.

Equally interesting, if you and I went there, one night I might see the lights while you would not—but the next night, you might see the lights and I wouldn’t see anything.

I cut the article from the newspaper and put it on a shelf of other intriguing articles that I keep in my office. For three years, the article nagged at me

2. Roswell conspiracy theorists, among many other conspiracy lovers, will find that your novel ups the ante considerably. The story you present is much more mysterious than a pair of dead aliens in an airplane hanger somewhere. Have you listened to late night radio's take on UFOs and aliens?

Readers need not worry that I’m dredging up UFOs or aliens or any of those tired old theories. I like to believe that my novels surprise readers. The novel does dramatize a conspiracy, however. In actuality, next to where the Marfa lights are most visible, there’s an abandoned military base that dates back to World War Two. There’s also a nearby observatory. I couldn’t believe my luck when I researched that part of west Texas and found these settings. I imagined an alternate version of Marfa, which I call Rostov, and I incorporated both the observatory and the abandoned military base into my novel. But again, no UFOs and no aliens.

I can’t resist adding that the James Dean movie GIANT was filmed in Marfa. Dean was fascinated by the lights and often went to see them. He dragged his costars Elizabeth Taylor and Rock Hudson to the observation area, but they weren’t able to see them. Only Dean did. Three days after finishing his work on GIANT, he was killed in a car crash. I incorporate this into THE SHIMMER, although James Dean becomes James Deacon and GIANT becomes a film called BIRTHRIGHT.

3. The love story here is particularly powerful. The police officer Dan Page, who must save his wife Tori from her fixation with the strange lights, is a more believable and complicated character than you find in the standard adventure novel. But Page is in the tradition of the Morrell protagonist, the competent, self-reliant man who is troubled by his past. I find a fair share of your protagonists to be obsessive men. Are you aware of that?

Yes, many of my protagonists are obsessed with a goal that they intend to achieve at any cost. Most of them had something terrible happen to them. They realized how dangerous life can be and became obsessed with acquiring skills that will help them defend against life’s uncertainties. The police officer Dan Page is a private pilot, for example. That activity saves his sanity because flying is so complicated that he can’t think about anything else when he’s in the air. He says it’s his way of “getting above it all.”

As for the love story, it’s not a conventional one in the sense of romance and sex scenes. I’ve been married forty-four years and am in awe of my wife. Her strength, her decency, her good nature, her generosity. In THE SHIMMER, I wanted to depict a couple whose marriage was dying—not because of infidelity or anything like that, but instead because they forgot why they wanted to be together in the first place. During the course of the novel, Page and his wife Tori learn to love one another again. It’s as if the lights allow them to see one another’s spirit. The final scene is deeply emotional and honestly earned, something that raises the bar for what an author can put in a thriller.

4. The Shimmer has a large cast. Does the material dictate the scope of the book? Several of your novels have been much leaner than this one.

Sometimes a particular subject matter requires a large cast. I’m fascinated by the films of Billy Wilder, especially his noir period. SUNSET BOULEVARD. DOUBLE INDEMNITY. The latter comes, of course, from James M. Cain’s wonderful book. Few authors are as lean as Cain, and I certainly wrote a number of lean books that were influenced by Cain, FIRST BLOOD and TESTAMENT among them. One of Wilder’s overlooked noir films is ACE IN THE HOLE, sometimes called THE BIG CARNIVAL. It’s set in New Mexico, where Kirk Douglas is a newspaper reporter who hears about a man who’s trapped in a cave. Douglas makes a big deal about the story until people come from miles around, hundreds of spectators and then thousands.

That film came to mind when I wondered how to dramatize a scene in which a man starts shooting at the lights, screaming “Go back to hell where you came from!” He then turns the rifle on a crowd of bystanders, killing twenty of them. I decided that I’d use a television journalist to show how such a shocking event might be publicized until increasingly larger crowds are drawn to the area, creating even more turmoil.

I also needed to show how people who live in the town react to the sudden influx of thousands of people. I needed to characterize the local chief of police and a Highway Patrol officer and the mayor and a special operations colonel who’s in charge of a military effort to weaponize the light. Characters at the observatory needed their own scenes. THE SHIMMER kept growing in that manner. It’s not a long book in terms of pages, but it sure feels big.

5. This is a familiar question but I think it's relevant here given the number of sub-plots. Do you generally outline before you begin writing and do you stay with the outline?

At the start of every project, I write a letter to myself in which I ask myself why a particular project is worth a year of my life. I then ask all kinds of questions about how the story might unfold. By the time I finish the letter, which might be twenty single-spaced pages, I have a pretty clear idea of what the story needs and where it will take me. I find this method to be more creative than writing a standard outline.

6. There's a real sense of history in The Shimmer. I'm talking about the backstory scenes. This enriches the people and the story. Have you always done this?

Some of my author friends, like Steve Berry, call me “the professor.” Unlike many writers, I’m classically trained in the sense that I have an MA and PhD in American literature from Penn State. For sixteen years, I was a professor at the University of Iowa. I love adding history to my novels—anything that gives the plots texture and teaches my readers while entertaining them. My fans often tell me that my books are different when read a second time. The first time, if I did my job, the force of the story keeps them turning pages. But the second time, readers notice all kinds of historical and even philosophical details that I embedded in the novel but that aren’t noticeable at first.

7. The lights that are the central element of the book effect different characters differently. Tori for example, is trying to save her marriage by following the lights while the Colonel wants the power the lights can give him. Are you suggesting that people are pre-disposed to reacting a certain way to the lights--good people in a positive way, bad people in a negative one?

I thought of the lights as mirrors of each observer. Someone who is hateful will become more so when he sees the lights. Someone who is lonely and empty will be filled with an emotion that is almost like seeing God. Someone in law enforcement, a professional skeptic, won’t be able to see the lights because of the guarded way that person sees the world. In a way, this is a novel about how what we are affects how we see reality. One of my favorite sections involves a character looking at a huge aquarium in which there seem to be only plants, rocks, and a miniature shipwreck. Then the character realizes that what he is actually seeing are dozens of cuttlefish, which are squid-like creatures that have the ability to change colors and assume the shapes of objects around them. One theme of the book is that our assumptions control the kind of reality we think we’re seeing.

8. This would make a fantastic mini-series. Have you gotten any Hollywood interest as yet?

The book is circulating among producers, but William Goldman’s famous statement remains more true than ever. “No one knows anything.” The movie business has been stunned by the collapse in the world economy. In an effort to bet on big box office receipts, Hollywood seems inclined to make only those films that are based on comic-book characters. Everyone’s afraid to say “yes” to a project because, if a film isn’t financially successful, executives lose their jobs.

9. Because you basically created the modern adventure novel what do you think of the form today in books? In movies?

Thrillers have never been more popular or more varied. I’m delighted to have been a co-founder (with Gayle Lynds) of the International Thriller Writers organization. Our members include all kinds of stars like Lee Child, Sandra Brown, R.L. Stine, Steve Berry, James Rollins, Katherine Neville, Kathy Reichs, Vince Flynn, Joseph Finder. Each of these writers is distinct from the others. Moreover, they are serious about what they do. In contrast, when my novel FIRST BLOOD was published in 1972, there were only a few types of thrillers. I was (and hope I still am) a pioneer.

Movies are another matter. It’s been a long time since I saw a thriller that I thought was effective. The latest James Bond movie QUANTUM OF SOLACE was the worst of the series. The cuts were so fast, presumably to imitate the Jason Bourne movies, that I could not follow what was happening. The handheld camera was out of control. The script and direction felt calculated rather than inspired. Characterization was ignored. The plot ideas seemed recycled. We’re a far cry from NORTH BY NORTHWEST or THREE DAYS OF THE CONDOR.

10. Is there a literary accomplishment that has still eluded you?

I treat each book as a special project and want to keep trying new approaches to what a thriller can be. Sometimes something comes along that I hadn’t considered. For example, five years ago Marvel Comics asked if I’d write a 6-part comic-book series about Captain America. I jumped at the chance and had a wonderful time writing CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE CHOSEN, adding an afterword to the series when it was collected in a book—and even including my script for the first issue. I’ve written liner notes for CDs. If there’s a type of writing that I haven’t tried, when I’m given the chance, I go for it.

Wednesday, July 08, 2009

On The Run by Andrew Coburn

There are so many neglected crime writers it's impossible to even begin to list them. But one writer who has been neglected for decades is Andrew Coburn.

I've spent two days trying to think of a tidy way to describe On The Loose and thus far my best shot is to imagine a collaboration between John D. MacDonald and Ruth Rendell. MacDonald for the page-turning excitement of following the most unique serial killer since The Bad Seed and Rendell for some of the quirkiest characters outside several of her own masterpieces.

Coburn is a profoundly American writer as he demonstrates in this novel that spans slightly more than a decade in the life of a small New England town. The storyline never lets you go. The murders are committed by one of the mostly stunningly enigmatic killers in mystery fiction. He is barely ten the first time he strikes. He is not much older the second time. The killings are what propel the storyline.

But Coburn's sense of the town and the lives of his people are what give the book the depth and range of a true novel. He does what Hitchcock did in Shadow of a Doubt--takes a story that has a death-grip on its readers and then walk thems around the lives and town that surround the killer. The fading beauty lost to excess weight and clinical depression; the police chief who believes he is beyond passion only to find it again and risk being crushed by it; the man dying of AIDs and the woman who befriends him; the divide between rich and poor that belittles both sides.

And the writing itself. Coburn plays all the instruments in the orchestra for this book which is, by turns, lyrical, funny, solemn, sarcastic, violent, terrifying and human in a way page-turners rarely are.

It's time for Andrew Coburn to be recognized for the master stylist and storyteller extraordinaire he has been for more than decades now. On The Run--and everybody in the book really is running from something--proves that he gets better with each new novel.

Tuesday, July 07, 2009

Bring Me The Head of Alfredo Garcia



I still remember the first time I saw Bring Me The Head. Hot afternoon, beer and passing around a few joints, celebrating the end of an interminable shoot on a film we shot for a bed manufacturer's Vegas convention (yes, they actually pay people to do stuff like this). A couple members of the crew were big Peckinpah fans. I was too but for some reason I wanted to see something lighter that day, mostly because the whole project had been such a hassle.

As I recall the film opens with Warren Oates checking himself for crabs. I was howling. I tried counting up the number of rules Peckinpah had broken by using this at all let alone in the opening. I really got into the film. A friend of Peckinpah's said at the time that this was "Sam's alcoholic nightmare." And I could see what he was talking about. The entire film is a krazy cat mixture of black comedy, extreme violence and an alternate universe feel for everyday life. I mean carrying a guy's head around in a bowling bag?

Oates as always is terrific. He continually plays against the big moment, mumbling through and even throwing away many of his best lines. And every person in the movie seems to have stepped out of a Richard Stark novel. Duplicity is the password. And crazy is the norm here. Oates' problem is that he's not quite crazy ENOUGH. I haven't seen the film in years. Now's a good time to rent it again.

That very good site Cinema Retro links to a piece by James Christopher in the Times of London that looks at Garcia as well as two other films that Peckinpah made near the end of his run.


How Sam Peckinpah shocked Hollywood with Alfredo Garcia

In the 1970s Sam Peckinpah shot a handful of brutal thrillers that redefined Hollywood’s reverence for the old Wild West. The most infamous shock was a contemporary western called Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia, which Peckinpah assembled in 1974 while addicted to the booze and powders that would destroy his liver a decade later.

The film, which is rereleased on January 2, stars Warren Oates as a seedy piano player in a far-flung Mexican brothel. You can smell the failure. The actor has never looked so wonderfully crumpled. But his grimy hero, Bennie, seizes the dangerous chance for a fresh start when a local warlord offers a $1 million bounty for the severed head of the fool who impregnated his teenage daughter.

As luck would have it, Bennie knows exactly who this fool is. Alfredo Garcia is an old squeeze of Bennie’s prostitute girlfriend, Elita (Isela Vega). He is also, conveniently, already dead and buried after a fatal car accident. There is no tasteful way around the rest of this surreal story. Bennie must dig up the body, chop off the head, and kill dozens of foot-loose bastards who want to steal his rotting prize.

for the rest go here:
http://entertainment.timesonline.co.uk/tol/arts_and_entertainment/film/article5318288.ece

Monday, July 06, 2009

NOW ON SALE - THE MIDNIGHT ROOM




FROM BOOKGASM THIS MORNING:

The Midnight Room
Author: Rod Lott


Ed Gorman’s THE MIDNIGHT ROOM is mismarketed. Its title has next to nothing to do with its content, and the cover makes it look like a serial-killer thriller. Oh, it has one of those among its characters, but Gorman uses him almost like a MacGuffin.

Instead, he’s written a super-solid crime drama that’s less about a string of murders and more about the ties that bind those investigating, familial and otherwise. And it’s thoroughly engrossing, starting with the opening chapter, in which the mother of a girl who’s been missing receives a mysterious package she didn’t order. Inside? Her daughter’s skull.

Me, hooked.


It’s difficult to run through ROOM’s plot without spoiling its many turns. But know that the killer’s identity is spilled quite early in the book, as if Gorman never intended it to be a mystery. We know what the investigators don’t, so it’s a little uncomfortable when one of them unwittingly gets involved with the murderer on a social level.

But the crux of the novel is the good cop/bad cop relationship between two brothers on the force. One is pretty much on the straight and narrow, who has nothing, but remains optimistic for the future. The other is a mess, who has everything, but goes out of his way to lose it with self-destructive behavior, including a collection of one-stand stands and other, slightly longer affairs.

The siblings’ relationship and its center placement reminded me of THE DEPARTED, because they’re supposed to be playing for the same team, but you wonder if they truly are. That’s just one area in which Gorman keeps you guessing; there are plenty of others.

Gorman makes writing novels look easy. Too easy. His prose is clean and unfussy, which allows his complex plotting to click into place without confusing the reader. Here, the only thing he does wrong occurs in the final scene, with one character reacting to the actions of another in a manner that struck me as completely false, or at least just too tidy and abrupt.

Other than that, this ROOM is definitely worth checking into for a few hours. That’s all it will take. —Rod Lott

Sunday, July 05, 2009




Thanks to Elizabeth Foxwell for linking to this. You can have a refrigerator magnet just like this. Order from The Onion store.

'Kitten Thinks Of Nothing But Murder All Day' MagnetBack to Magnets & Stickers Previous | Next

Hard-Hitting News Right On Your Fridge

Classic Onion headlines and photos are now available as refrigerator magnets. Sold individually.

Size: 2.5"w x 3.5"h

12 different magnets to choose from. See them all.

Quantity
$4.99

Saturday, July 04, 2009

John D. MacDonald - Judi Rohrig




I got this letter today from my good friend (and very good writer) Judi Rohrg. The JDM link, as Judi suggests, is packed with material of all kinds. My favorites so far a letter to John D. from his father as he was about to embark on his first European trip and a very sarcastic form rejection letter that John D. wrote for the amusement of himself and (I'd guess) his writing buddies. Great stuff! Thanks, Judi.

Hi, Ed!

Happy 4th of July! I hope all is going well with you.

I just wanted you to know that Cal Branche has updated his JDM Homepage. There is a lot more information there, so when you have a few minutes to simply browse, I highly suggest it.

http://jdmhomepage.org/jdmhomepage.org/index.html

Also, the Smathers Library at the University of Florida in Gainesville has completed its massive renovation of the JDM collection. Frankly, I wish I could jump in my car and take off right now. A few years ago Byron and I spent five hours there and made it through only two boxes (there are 198) of letters, pics, and galleys. The website alone might make you drool, so just be warned.

http://web.uflib.ufl.edu/spec/manuscript/guides/MacDonald.htm

Love
Judi

Friday, July 03, 2009

Reviews and reviewers

The Alice Hoffman incident blazes on. I'm referring to literary novelist Alice Hoffman taking it to a reviewer via Twitter she felt had wronged her.

Lillith Saintcrow (a fantasy writer I've just started reading and enjoying) recently wrote a long response to the Hoffmann incident on her blog. She's obviously in sympathy with Hoffman. I should note that everybody from Publisher's Weekly to Romantic Times has praised her books. She's very, very good.

I should note here that I don't see much of any of what Lillith is talking about in the mystery genre.


"Here’s the thing: we are awash, on the Internet, with people calling themselves “reviewers.” Pretty much everyone’s got a dog in the fight. There’s Amazon reviews, which are a sinkhole of comments that may or may not be about the book or item in question. There’s Internet “review sites” that do follow Sturgeon’s Law–many of them are there to stroke the “reviewer’s” ego, and end up being crap. There are group review sites where the group dynamic has more in common with the locker room or a Plastics clique.

(more)

"...I’ve read reviews where the reviewers obviously had a personal problem with something I’d said on my blog, or something they thought I said, or even something someone else said or a bad hair day or something, and they took it out in the review, on my book. I’ve read screeds that don’t even spell the characters’ names right, where it was obvious they didn’t even read more than the cover copy, spoilers galore, and a whole host of inappropriate and highly inflammatory reviews. They stung, yes. They were out there on the Net for everyone to see. And in some cases there were the usual blog swarm of Yes Men piling on to show how cool they were by trashing the subject du jour. Which just happened to be my book on that day.

"This is why I understand Hoffman’s frustration. We are literally drowning in reviewers, online and off. The Boston Globe reviewer did give spoilers, and did clunk through an embarrassing (and in my opinion, unwarranted) bad review. (The review reads to me like the reviewer wanted to cause a bit of ruckus by panning the book, for her own reasons. But that’s just me.) The seduction of the easy response was there on Twitter, and Hoffman took it. When you’re mad you don’t think straight. I’m pretty sure that at some point in the future I’m going to be mad enough to break my own rules and cause an Internet kerfluffle. The flesh, alas, is weak. "

Thursday, July 02, 2009

The Killers Inside Him




On Tom Piccirilli's great website The Big Adios there are some comments about a chapbook that Max Allan Collins and I put together way back in 1983 called Jim Thompson: The Killers Inside Him. Here's what (Max) Al had to say:

"This is a rare item that I have only a couple copies of. With the cooperation of Thompson's widow, Ed and I were trying to get the author some attention. I like to think we had something to do with his rediscovery or resurgence or whatever, but we were rarely if ever credited by later biographers and anthologizers. I did some editing and a tiny bit of writing on a novella had been deemed (by editors and even Thompson's wife) an unpublishable if interesting work. I didn't do a lot, other than clarify a few things and expand the ending to where it made a kind of sense. This was "This World, Then the Fireworks," which was reprinted in a somewhat different form in a collection that dissed me for fucking with the story, and yet used all my changes without credit but restoring the original, incomprehensible ending. Some minor touches of mine even made it into the movie version, which obviously wouldn't have been made if Gorman and I hadn't rescued this from Thompson's files. It's a very Thompson-esque thing, the way Ed and I are the forgotten men in the Thompson revival. I remain proud of the indepth piece I did, discussing virtually all of his novels. The cover is by Terry Beatty, my MS. TREE artist.

For the record, I was reading Thompson in high-school study hall in Muscatine, Iowa, in the mid-'60s, which probably has almost as much to do with how I turned out as Mickey Spillane and Chester Gould."


Ed here: For me the pleasure was getting to know Alberta Thompson and learning so much about Jim. I think we got a nice interview out of our many conversations. Same with Arnold Hano who'd been Thompson's editor at Lion books. As I mention on The Big Adios I remember sitting at Al's place and us trying to figure out just what the hell Thompson was trying to do with the ending. Very confusing. Al not only figured it out, he did a fantastic job of revising it so that it not only made sense but enhanced the drama. Boy talk about long ago and far away. 1983. Wow.

Wednesday, July 01, 2009

Up, Up and Away!



From Talking Points Memo:


Dem Congressional Candidate's Event Raided By San Diego Sheriffs
By Eric Kleefeld - June 29, 2009, 3:07PM

Now this is a truly bizarre story, about a Democratic Congressional candidate's fundraising event being raided by a whole squad from the San Diego Sheriff's Department -- including pepper-spray and a helicopter!

The San Diego Union-Tribune reports that a fundraiser for Francine Busby, who previously ran for the deeply-Republican Fiftieth District and came close to winning in the 2006 special election and subsequent regular election, was raided by sheriffs after an unnamed neighbor made a noise complaint. Busby now calls it a "phony" noise complaint, and the article says that multiple neighbors said there was no great noise at all.

Here's the twist: The fundraiser was hosted by a lesbian couple, and shortly before the sheriffs came a particular neighbor had shouted anti-gay slurs at the assembled crowd. "It was a quiet home reception, disrupted by a vulgar person shouting obscenities from behind the bushes," Busby says.

As one neighbor told the paper: "We didn't hear anything until the sheriff came, with eight patrol cars and a helicopter."

The sheriff's department claims that somebody kicked an officer. By the time it was over, multiple people were pepper-sprayed, one of the hostesses was arrested, and the whole neighborhood got to see quite a scene.

One of the officers defended the department's conduct -- turning the blame on the candidate: "The place got out of hand. If Francine Busby was there, why not take a leadership role, step up, and nip this thing in the bud?"

Late Update: An earlier version of this post referred to "tear gas." It has been changed to "pepper spray" to be more clear and specific.

Ed here: Study that photo from the San Diego Sheriff's Department. It looks like a paperback cover for a kick-ass science fiction novel. It's a fantasy and I think a dangerous ones.

Whatever happened to Protect and Serve? There were always crooked cops and violent cops but in general in popular culture cops were presented as hard-working, sensible, reliable people. Today popular culture generally depicts cops as the drama queens of Law and Order etc or the stormtroopers of Dirty Harry etc. And a lot of police departments seem to be buying into it. Remember the police department that tried to buy tanks?

The heavily photoshopped picture from the San Diego Sheriff's Department is laughable on the one hand, a masterbatory fantasy. But on the other hand I think it's an insult to the cops who just do their jobs day in and day out without dreaming of becoming comic book heroes.