Sunday, January 31, 2010

Rip Torn

In the New York Observer Spencer Morgan writes about not only Rip Torn's current problems but some of his dilemmas in the past. In case you haven't heard:

"State police responded to an alarm at the Litchfield Bancorp building in Salisbury, CT at 9:40 PM last night. Police say they found Torn "with a loaded revolver" and he was "highly intoxicated." Law enforcement sources tell us Torn gained access through a broken window, which they believe Torn broke himself. Torn was taken to the Troop B barracks in North Canaan and is being held on $100,000 bond. Cops say Torn was charged with carrying a pistol without a permit, carrying a firearm while intoxicated, first-degree burglary, first-degree criminal trespass and third-degree criminal mischief." (Gawker)

Here's Spencer Morgan..I've done a lot of excerpting. Sorry for the choppiness.

"40 years ago… (Norman) Mailer and Rip Torn had bumped into each other by chance. They’d been walking in opposite directions on 23rd Street when the sound of gunfire put them behind the lamppost, together.
“Norman always dressed to the nines,” said Mr. Torn.
“And so behind the lamppost, he turned to me and said, ‘Why you always dressed like a fuckin’ bum! Dress up, put on a nice shirt and tie, and you’ll get more respect.’”
Mailer asked what was up with the (new film). Mailer meant Easy Rider, in which Mr. Torn had been offered the part that Jack Nicholson eventually played.

“I said, ‘They’re not going to pay me anything; they only offered me scale.’ Mailer said, ‘How much money you want?’ I said, ‘$3,500.’ He said, ‘I’ll give you $3,500.’” Which is how Mr. Torn ended up playing Norman Mailer’s crazed half-brother in Mailer’s film Maidstone, which included the improvisational fight scene that ended with Mailer chomping on Mr. Torn’s ear. You can still see the bite marks, 40 years later!

Mr. Torn points out that when he hit Mailer three times with the hammer, the head was “deliberately turned to the flat.” When Mailer was biting his ear, Mr. Torn called out, “Daddy, I need that ear to work!”

Rip Torn doesn’t like to fight, but he takes his fights seriously. He and Dennis Hopper got into it over dinner in Hollywood in 1967; Mr. Hopper apparently pulled a knife.

When Hopper later told the story on The Tonight Show, he said it was Torn who pulled the knife. Torn went to court. “It’s the only time I ever sued and I won a million dollars,” said Mr. Torn. Actually, it was more like $900,000. But that was still pretty good money.

for the rest go here:

Ed here: This news story will be funny to everybody but alcoholics who were blackout drunks. I say blackout because I doubt Torn could reconstruct his night even under deep hypnosis. That much booze fries millions of brain cells. Being a recovering alcoholic and having had more than my share of blackouts, I'm trying to imagine what Torn is going through today. Hopefully they've sedated him. The panic must be terrible.

I've been watching his movies and tv appearances since the early sixties. He was rarely bad but he has phoned a few performances in once in awhile. I never liked him in Tennessee Williams plays because Williams' work is usually so close to hysteria the lines don't need any help to go over the top. And Torn cartooned it up. Williams was my favorite American playwright for years until I hit thirty or so and then the mordancy of the melodrama started getting to me. At his best he redeemed it with his own style of bitchy wit as with Big Daddy in Cat On A Hot Tin Roof. But if Torn had the good fortune to be in one of Williams' best plays I never got to see it.

For me Torn's greatest triumph was his role as the only adult on The Larry Sanders show. Between Larry's insecurity ("Do these pants make me look fat in the ass?") and Hank's (the peerless Jeffrey Tambor) feckless ambitions (remember Hank's insistence that he wear his yarmulke on tv because he was proud to be Jewish when in fact he only wore it so he could tempt the lady rabbi into his bed which he didn't have a chance of doing) Artie kept the trains running.

You had the sense sometimes that in the final episode Artie would empty a Glock into both of them. Maybe his best performance was when his son who couldn't hold a job decided he wanted to work behind the scenes on the show. Artie being a lady chaser and a boozer had never been much of a father so out of guilt he talks Larry into let the thirty year old "kid" work there. Well between hitting on the women in the office and insinuating that Larry was gay and wrecking a car, the kid did all right. This was a Ricky Gervais moment done when Gervais was probably just finishing high school--you writhed through most of the episode. The kid was somebody who needed to meet a baseball several times in just half a minute or so. The ending was a great and totally unexpected hoot however. And Torn handled it perfectly.

I wish him the best.

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Sandra Ruttan: Writing Lullaby For The Nameless

Writing Lullaby For The Nameless

If I had developed a successful formula with the first two books in my series, it was thrown out the window in the third installment. In prior books, readers have seen Ashlyn and Tain partnered on the job, and Ashlyn and Craig personally involved. LULLABY’s old timeline pre-dates the personal relationship and has Ashlyn and Craig partnered on the same task force as Tain.

Until LULLABY, Ashlyn has been the most stable of the three. Tain struggles with his distrust of superiors, the conflict between being Native and leaving the reservations, and his pain over the loss of his young daughter and the tolerated discrimination that may have caused her death. Craig Nolan has a chip on his shoulder and something to prove, making him both relentless and reckless. Ash has been their anchor, personally and professionally.

In LULLABY’s old timeline, Ashlyn lacks experience and struggles as the members of her team spend more time working against each other than on the cases they’ve been assigned.

The relationship dynamics between the three protagonists has changed, as has their experience level, and each has their own agenda. The constables have also been pulled from the familiar backdrop of the Greater Vancouver Area and are working in BC’s rugged Rocky Mountains, near the border to the US.

Just in case I hadn’t set up enough challenges for myself, as I’ve already inferred, LULLABY has intersecting timelines. At the end of THE FRAILTY OF FLESH, Ashlyn was assaulted and miscarried the baby she was carrying. In LULLABY’s current timeline she’s reeling from the loss when she and Tain find themselves standing over a body in a dumpster and realize the victim is a girl they rescued from her abductors in the original investigation, a revelation that rips open old wounds.

And that isn’t the most devastating revelation of all.

Another major difference with LULLABY is that the catalyst for the story was rooted in real cases. For decades, little has been done about BC’s notorious Highway of Tears*. Women have been disappearing, some found murdered and some never found at all, and there’s never been an arrest. In the rural Interior of BC, police resources are stretched thin, and all too often political and racial tensions get in the way when crime spills on to Native reserve land. For the purposes of fiction, the bickering over jurisdiction and prejudices allow for a great backdrop to a story. In reality, these problems are allowing crimes to go unchecked, and denying the victims of these crimes any justice at all.

Glenn Harper (International Noir Fiction) called LULLABY FOR THE NAMELESS a “vivid, noir portrait of the hard-scrabble small towns, ethnic tensions, dark urban corners, and deep forest environments of contemporary Canada, through the eyes of three fascinating, troubled investigators.”

I can’t think of a more fitting summary for a book that has so much going on.

* Readers can learn more about the Highway of Tears through a series of articles from the Vancouver Sun.

Friday, January 29, 2010


Excellent article on Robert Ryan on Bright Lights Film Journal by Dan Callahn:

"The obvious precursor of demonish seventies actors like Harvey Keitel and Robert De Niro, not to mention Tim Roth, Gary Oldman and a host of others, Robert Ryan created a psychic space on screen where all dark human impulses could have free rein. He would scrunch up his creased, crumbling statue face into ever-craggier expressions of mistrust and touchy dismay, as if he expected the people around him to insult him at any moment but could never be fully prepared for the humiliation. Ryan's tiny, black beady eyes would glow malevolently like hot coals in the dark of film noir shadows, and there were angry lines near the bridge of his nose that got deeper as he aged, while his truculent voice got raspier every time he eased his way into his habitual flights of detailed self-pity; he was always stirring the embers of his ruined pride and then tenderly masturbating his ego with the ashes. Ryan built a substantial film career even though he was missing many of the standard emotions actors need to come across on screen; he couldn't do charm or love, only fear and sex, and he could never be totally sympathetic or likable, which was both his blessing and his curse. He doggedly pursued his own solitary themes as an artist, and at his best he was as harsh and intoxicating as whiskey belted straight from the bottle."

for the rest go here:

--------------------------------------Matthew Bradley

I've been working with Matthew for probably a dozen years. I've contributed to the books he's edited and he's contributed to mine. Though Matthew's work spans everything from literature to films he's started a new blog that Ideals exclusively with film. He's an excellent writer as well as an excellent critic. He wrote an amazingly good piece on the Matt Helm movies--amazing to me because I can't stand them but thought his article was a knock-out. Be sure to check it out.

-------------------------------------King of The Hill

Today on NPR Terry Gross interviewed Matt Judge who created, among many other winners, King of The Hill. I have a special fondness for that show because on one of our trips to Mayo we ended up in a tiny dark motel room--the only one we could find near the hospital--where the TV offered only four channels, two of them religious. I was so sick I could barely get out of bed. They ran King of The Hill episodes all the time. I came to love that show especially because it drowned out the interminable racket made by the dozens of girls staying there for the State Basketball Tournament. Judge was very good explaining how he came to give each character an accent. I tells ya if there's a heaven I'm sure it pipes in Terry Gross's laugh 24/7. She always sounds so surprised and so full of pure girly joy when she laughs.

--------------------------------------Not a political opinion

The O'Keefe guy who is in the news for doing whatever he did or tried to do to Sen. Landreau's office-I've never heard of a judge sentencing a twenty-five-year-old to stay with his parents. Isn't he a little past getting grounded? I can just hear a Czarist judge saying to Trotsky-ok, you go home right now with your mom and dad and you don't leave your room until they say you can.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Pro-File: Julie Hyzy

Pro-File: Julie Hyzy

1. Tell us about your current novel (or project).

I’d love to! My third White House Chef Mystery, Eggsecutive Orders, just came out in January. The series features chef Olivia (Ollie) Paras who feeds the First Family and occasionally saves the world. This third book is set in the week leading up to the annual White House Easter Egg Roll. Not exactly mysterious, right? But … Ollie is also dealing with the worst kind of dinner guest— a dead one. NSA head Carl Minkus keeled over while dining with the president. Turns out, he was poisoned. Now Ollie and her crew have been banished from the kitchen until their innocence can be proved.

2. Can you give a sense of what you're working on now?

I’m currently at work writing a second book in my brand-new Manor of Murder Mysteries. The first in that series, Grace Under Pressure, will debut in June and I’ve recently jumped back into those characters’ lives to begin the second installment. My protagonist, Grace Wheaton, is the curator and director of Marshfield Manor a palatial home/museum/tourist attraction. When she arrived she thought she would have her hands full managing the estate—she had no idea she would be dragged into solving a murder and discovering that her family history holds some unsettling secrets of its own.

3. What is the greatest pleasure of a writing career?

I love writing and I find almost all of it to be incredibly gratifying. If I had to put my finger on the one greatest pleasure of a writing career, however, it would have to be creating characters. Plotting is fun, wordsmithing, while frustrating can be ultimately rewarding, but creating characters is by far the best. I love “connecting” with old friends inventing new ones. Sometimes I work very hard to put a character together exactly the way I envision, sometimes characters pop into my head fully formed and ready to play. Either way, I love every minute of it.

4. What is the greatest DISpleasure?

Never having enough time to get everything done. With newsletters to write, personal (and group blogs) to keep up on, websites to update, bookstores to contact, and—most importantly—relationships to maintain, I often feel pulled in fifty different directions at once. This year will be a busy one. Even though I’m no longer president of the Midwest Chapter of MWA, it’s my daughter’s senior year in high school, which means that in the fall it will be her first year in college. Lots of stuff involved with that. And even though I don’t want to miss a minute of it, I still have two books to write and promote.

5. If you have one piece of advice for the publishing world, what is it?

If someone can talk you out of being a writer, then quit now and save yourself years of pain. But if this is truly your passion, then never, ever give up. Write every day. Don’t take shortcuts. Learn everything you can and keep learning. Make good connections. Persevere.

6. Are there two or three forgotten mystery writers you'd like to see
in print again?

To be honest, I have so many books in my TBR pile that I haven’t had a chance to notice who’s missing. So many wonderful books—and new ones coming out every day. I am so far behind… but what a wonderful problem to have!

7. Tell us about selling your first novel. Most writers never forget
that moment.

Absolutely! My first novel, Artistic License, was a standalone romantic suspense. I didn’t make it a series, because I honestly never believed it would sell. I’d been fortunate to have several short stories published in anthologies, but I wasn’t sure I had the guts to submit a novel. I’m glad I did. Sure, I received a lot of rejections, but even as I turned the manuscript around and submitted it elsewhere, I decided to embark on a new novel – Deadly Blessings. This time, however, I decided I would start a series. Rejections for Artistic License piled up—agents and editors I contacted weren’t interested. Some of them were kind enough to offer feedback and whenever I received any commentary, I’d go back to my manuscript to determine whether the criticisms were valid. Most often they were. Rather than get me down, the agents’ and editors’ feedback gave me hope that I really could do this. Encouraged, I dove back in, made changes, and tried again. And again…

I met Debbie Brod at a Love Is Murder Mystery Conference in 2003. At the time she was an acquisitions editor for Five Star. We were introduced by a mutual friend and Deb very kindly agreed to read Artistic License and get back to me. I was shocked—shocked—when she called me at home about a month later and told me that she was recommending it to Five Star. It was a Sunday morning, and when I got off the phone I jumped around and shouted a lot and my family thought I was a bit nuts. Actually, that’s not completely true. They’ve known me long enough to know I’m a little nuts. They also knew how important this was to me. I think we all jumped around and shouted for quite a while ;-)

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Forgotten Books: The Luck of Ginger Coffey

The Luck of Ginger Coffey by Brian Moore

When I was but a lad I read an interview with Graham Greene in which the master said that “Brian Moore is my favorite living novelist.” Who? I’m afraid that the “Who?” still pertains today. Despite accolades from every conceivable quarter Brian Moore never came close to getting the readership he deserved, this despite seeing at least three of his novels turn into well-received feature films and TV movies.

He is a literary dazzler of the highest order. After I’ve pistol-whipped somebody into agreeing to read one of his books, I generally hand them a copy of The Luck of Ginger Coffey, a novel I’ve read at least ten times in forty-some years.

The situation is this: as long as he was in the Army, Irisher James Francis Coffey was all right. His life was laid out for him. But when Coffey (much like Moore himself) takes his wife Veronica and their daughter and moves to Montreal he fails at a series of jobs he considers beneath him (John D. MacDonald did the same thing—he said bosses resented him telling them how to run their businesses after he’d been there two days). His various failures have taken their toll on his marriage. Veronica can’t take any more of his daydreams. (He will be Somebody by God.)

A man named Gerry Grosvenor befriends him and gets him a job as a proofreader. Coffey promises Veronica that he’ll take this only until his “break” comes along. In other words he’ll quit or get fired soon as he usually does. She leaves him, taking her daughter and the little money Coffey has, and flees to Gerry Grosvenor.

We then follow the disintegration of James Francis Coffey in a country not his own wandering lost in the pipe dreams he’s had since childhood. Hilarious, brutal, sad, loving, we watch Coffey try to face reality while winning back his wife. We’ve all known Coffeys; a fair share of us WERE Coffeys in our twenties. But, as F. Scott Fitzgerald said, if you use a type then your burden is to turn him or her into a true person. And what a person Coffey is, so vividly alive that half the book you want to get your hands around his throat and squeeze real real tight; and the other half buy him a beer and say for God’s sake, man, and start talking to him as if you were his father. Now cut out the bullshit, Coffey. For your sake and for your poor little daughter’s.

This book is so elegantly written, so perfectly conceived and rendered that I hold it as a marvel of novel writing. If you’ll give it a chance, I think you’ll agree with me.

By the way, this became a fine motion picture with Robert Shaw as Coffey (a bit older than Coffey in the novel but excellent casting nonetheless) and the wonderfully wistful Mary Ure.

By The Way #2 Brian Moore wrote two at least two Gold Medal novels and one Dell in his hungriest days. Somewhere between them he published The Lonely Passion of Judith Hearne which won a number of notable European literary prizes. He got the awards but no money to speak of so he went back to paperbacking.

Wreath for a Redhead (1951) (U.S. title: Sailor's Leave)
The Executioners (1951)
French for Murder (1954) (as Bernard Mara) GM
A Bullet for My Lady (1955) (as Bernard Mara) [3] GM
This Gun for Gloria (1957) (as Bernard Mara) GM
Intent to Kill (1957) (as Michael Bryan)

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Bill Crider; Philip K. Dick; Max Allan Collins; Literary Magazines

For the past twenty-four hours I've been hearing about this big secret about Bill Crider. I assumed it had to do with a book Bill would soon announce was ready for publication--and one that had won him a six figure contract. Seriously. Well this supposed book that WAS announced is funny but I sincerely wish Bill had gotten that six figure deal I had in mind. He's well worth it--one of the finest writers I know--and it's about time. But I have to say even if they didn't make him any money these blurbs are hilarious!

-------------------------------------Philip K. Dick
From The L.A. Times

The series is written by Scott Timberg, the L.A. freelance journalist who runs the West Coast culture blog the Misread City. He's also a longtime (albeit sometimes closeted) fan of science fiction.

"When author Philip K. Dick called Tim Powers to ask him to come by his Fullerton apartment for a drink one evening, the Cal State student expected the kind of night he and other aspiring writers often spent with the science-fiction titan. That is, a wide-ranging bull session about religion, philosophy and the glories of Beethoven -- along with some incongruous chatter about car repair -- over wine and beer.

That night in 1976 started out the usual way. But it soon took a bizarre turn: While writer and student were chewing the fat, Dick’s wife, Tessa, and her brother began grabbing things – lamps, chairs, the crib – seemingly oblivious to the two friends.
“She and her brother were carrying things out of the house,” recalls Powers. “I said, 'Phil, they’re taking stuff, is this OK?’ ”
“Powers, let me give you some advice, in case you should ever find yourself in this position,” Dick responded. “Never oversee or criticize what they take. It's not worth it. Just see what you've got left afterward, and go with that.”

---------------------------------------Max Allan Collins

On his new blog post Max Allan Collins talks about many things including his history as a stone Smothers Brothers fan. He also talks about his early years as a young married man facing the draft. Great stuff.

"At the center of it all are those underrated performers, the Smothers Brothers, hip subversives posing as white-bread American boys. I loved them from the first time I saw them on (wait for it) Jack Parr’s TONIGHT SHOW. In the midst of a lot of smug and self-important folk musicians, the Smothers Brothers came on with their lampoon version of folk that had, in its day, the impact of Andy Kaufman. Initially, Tommy just seemed to be an idiot screwing up the act. We did not know we were witnessing one of the last great traditional comedy teams in the Laurel and Hardy/Abbott and Costello/Martin and Lewis mode. And Dick Smothers was and is a genius straight man.

"I had all their albums. Grew up listening to them. Saw them perform at Hot Springs, Arkansas, at a nightclub/casino (a mob operation my middle-American parents took me to), and got to speak to them both and get my first celebrity autographs. They were extremely kind to me. (I would have been, perhaps, 16.) From junior high on, my friend Jim Hoffmann and I did Smothers Brothers impressions at parties and shows — we got great laughs in the time-honored tradition of kids stealing the acts of professionals, butchering those acts, and getting undeserved giddy praise from their classmates."

for the rest go here"

---------------------------------------Literary Magazines

Thanks to Richard Wheeler, who sent me the link, I read a very interesting piece on the death of literary fiction magazines. Here's the final paragraph but you have to read the whole thing. It's well worth it. Thanks, Richard

From The Death of Fiction by Ted Genoways in Mother Jones

"To pull out of this tailspin, writers and their patrons both will have to make some necessary changes—and quick. With so many newspapers and magazines closing, with so many commercial publishers looking to nonprofit models, a few bold university presidents could save American literature, reshape journalism, and maybe even rescue public discourse from the cable shout shows and the blogosphere. At the same time, young writers will have to swear off navel-gazing in favor of an outward glance onto a wrecked and lovely world worthy and in need of the attention of intelligent, sensitive writers. I'm not calling for more pundits—God knows we've got plenty. I'm saying that writers need to venture out from under the protective wing of academia, to put themselves and their work on the line. Stop being so damned dainty and polite. Treat writing like your lifeblood instead of your livelihood. And for Christ's sake, write something we might want to read."

for the rest go here:

Monday, January 25, 2010

Pro-File: J.T. Ellison

Coming February 23

J.T. Ellison:

1. Tell us about your current novel (or project).

THE COLD ROOM (2/23/2010) is the fourth novel in the Taylor Jackson series. It delves into some of the most difficult material I’ve ever had to research – necrophilia and adoption. It took me into worlds I didn’t know existed, but that’s the whole point to writing, isn’t it?

2. Can you give a sense of what you're working on now?

I’ve just finished the final revisions of book five, THE IMMORTALS, and I’m about halfway through book six, THE PRETENDER. I’ve got a couple of short stories brewing as well.

3. What is the greatest pleasure of a writing career?

The solitude. I enjoy being in my own head with these characters, so writing never feels like work. And getting to meet my literary idols at conferences. It’s insane.

4. What is the greatest DISpleasure?

How can there be any displeasure to writing? I get paid to make up stories. It’s a dream come true. Even on the worst writing day, when nothing is coming, I’m still happy. It’s like pizza. No matter how bad it is, it’s still great.

5. If you have one piece of advice for the publishing world, what is it?

Listen to the consumers. Their tastes seem to be changing, and the opportunity is there to expand literature into the marketplace in the same ways as music and movies.

6. Are there two or three forgotten mystery writers you'd like to see in print again?

John R. Maxim – all of his Bannerman books are outstanding – breaking all conventions for thrillers.

7. Tell us about selling your first novel. Most writers never forget that moment.

My agent, who is a fabulously nice guy, played a bit of a joke on me. He called, all morose, and I swear I thought he was going to tell me that he was giving up on me. Instead, he started to laugh, and told me I was going to be published. Then he gave me the news that the offer was for three books. Then he told me to call my husband. (Yes, I can repeat every single word of that conversation. It was a big moment.) What was so cool – my parents were visiting. So I was able to call my husband, get him on the phone, and tell all three of them at once. I managed to get a few words out before I broke down. We drank excellent champagne that night to celebrate. It was awesome.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Memory by Donald E. Westlake

About the time I reached the middle of Donald Westlake's novel Memory (to be published in March by Hard Case Crime) I started wondering what his career would have been like if this extraordinary novel had been published in its time (1963) and won the recognition and acclaim it deserved.

The man we follow through the labyrinthine twists of this dark journey has no real idea of who he was. It's amnesia but of a special kind. Memories come at him like attacks. He fears them. Is he running from something? He wonders not only who he was but what kind of man he was. Though these tropes are familiar to readers of crime fiction Westlake makes them fresh and horrifying.

A good deal of the novel is a journey. Our man needs to get to New York City but he has no money. Westlake then gives us a work novel. The man, now called Cole, takes a factory job. The details of the job and the relationship are rendered not in genre terms but in the way mainstream writers would handle them. Living in a small room. Trying to save money for the bus ticket he needs. Getting caught up in the sad social life of the factory workers. There's a particularly affecting love story in the center of this section. There is also a cat-and-mouse with a police chief that shows how a familiar genre staple can become a perfect work of art.

Not even when Cole finally reaches New York and is able to find his old apartment there is no peace for him. He has lost his identity. He can get all the union cards, driver's licenses, bank statements bearing his name he wants but he knows the truth. These are only symbols to appease a society that demands identity. His erratic and sometimes dangerous behavior frightens and baffles him him as much as it does his old friends.

There is a Philip K. Dickian madness to everything here. It is our world and yet not our world and only Cole understands this. He is Cole and he is not Cole. And this allows him to see beyond the falsity of most social interactions. His particular kind of madness is a terrible kind of sanity.

I don't know if this is Westlake's finest novel. Certainly it's his most serious one. It demonstrates clearly that he had the skills and range and soul to become a major mainstream novelist. Woulda shoulda coulda. Who knows. But this is a magnificent piece of work and makes the reader feel the loss of the man all the more.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

The whole truth and nothing but the--well, sorta

Ed here: Gawker ran an excerpt from Shocking True Story: by Henry E. Scott, the tale of the rise and fall of Confidential magazine, the "TMZ of the 50s" as somebody wrote today. People my age probably remember the lurid covers and the gasp-worthy headlines. While some of their stories contained a few facts some contained none. Liberace was among the first to sue them. They'd hinted he was gay. Yes. He won the case. This gave courage to others. I believe a few careers were damaged or maybe even ruined by the magazine.

From the book Shocking True Story by Henry E. Scott excerpted in Gawker

"It was August 1953, and Harrison smiled the smile of a man who knew he was at the top of his game in the greatest city in the greatest country in the world. On almost every corner he passed in the five blocks between his home at the Parc Vendôme on West Fifty-seventh Street and his Broadway office, there was a newsstand. And on each newsstand only Harrison's magazine promised the answer to the question that was on every American's mind: "Why Joe DiMaggio Is Striking Out with Marilyn Monroe!"

"Harrison had launched his semimonthly Confidential nine months earlier with a press run of 150,000 and a racy mix of stories that included a feature on a homosexual wedding, a portfolio of pictures of women in their underwear, an exposé entitled "I Was Tortured on a Chain Gang," and a "science" story by a Manhattan psychiatrist that revealed that athletes are lousy lovers. No matter that the gay wedding, purportedly set in Paris, was staged and photographed in Harrison's New York City apartment, that the chain gang story was utter fiction, and that the underwear pics were retreads from Harrison's stable of girlie magazines-Beauty Parade, Whisper, Eyeful, Titter, Wink, and Flirt. Readers loved the pulp paper magazine with the lurid red and yellow covers that used exclamation marks as often as other magazines used periods. Now, by issue number 3, Harrison knew that Hollywood was the country's richest source of sensational stories. And with the August issue of Confidential he was to learn for sure what Twentieth Century-Fox already knew-Monroe sells."

for the rest go here:

Friday, January 22, 2010

New Books-DEAD AIR by Mary Kennedy

From Mary Kennedy:

Can you sell a book in five words? Yes! My darling agent sold DEAD AIR to Penguin on the basis of this high concept pitch: Frasier meets Murder She Wrote. These five magical words landed a 3 book deal for a Penguin mystery series called The Talk Radio Mysteries.

Like every writer I know, I borrowed from my own background to create the character of Maggie Walsh, the “shrink turned radio talk show host” in Dead Air. In real life (which really is stranger than fiction!) I’m a licensed clinical psychologist in private practice on the east coast. and yes, I really do have a background in radio. Right out of college, I worked as a radio copywriter for a rock station in Nashville, Tenn. So I blended my two careers to bring Maggie to life.

As Maggie says, she closed up her Manhattan practice because she was “sick of the cold, sick of the high real estate prices and sick of listening to peoples’ problems all day long. So she moved to sunny Florida where she snared a job as the host of a call-in show at a radio station called WYME.

And she’s a big hit in south Florida. But there’s just one problem. She seems to stumble across a dead body in every book. (Jessica Fletcher, anyone?). In DEAD AIR, a popular guru is a guest on her show and is murdered that very night. And just to up the ante, her roommate is charged with the murder! Maggie, with the help of her zany sidekick, Vera Mae, has to swing into action and solve the crime. Maggie is tempted to join forces with a hunky detective, Rafe Martino, but as far as he’s concerned, the police already have their man. Er, woman. Stay tuned, everyone. DEAD AIR is on the shelves now with new releases coming out in June and October..


Ed here: If you're inclined to write a New Books piece for your latest novel or collection feel free to send it here. At the moment I won't accept pieces from self-published books. Sorry.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Gail Cross

Back in the early eighties--maybe 1981--Carol asked me if I'd look at the sample advertising of a young woman she'd met. I then had a tiny agency of my own. I had no idea what to expect. But when I sat down with Gail Cross to look at her book I couldn't believe that the only job any local art director had offered her was paste-up (a now-forgotten term thanks to computers). She had the best book I'd ever seen.

Very quickly Gail's work became our primary asset. She not only created fantastic ads, she worked on Mystery Scene and helped organize the place. I never came close to paying her what she was worth.

I think it was through Mystery Scene that she made her first contacts with the small press. When she and her husband Phil and son Michael moved away we kept in touch but even so I was surprised at how often I began to see her name on extraordinary covers and book designs. Suddenly people were asking me if I really knew Gail Cross. I was happy to say I did because in addition to her considerable talent Gail is one of the finest people I've ever known--bright, sweet and funny.

This is the artwork for Gail's new Ellery Queen cover. She'll be doing more for EQ in the future. I wanted to acknowledge her here and to wish she and Phil and Michael all the best.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Pro-File: Doug Allyn

1. Tell us about your current novel or project.
I tend to work on several things simultaneously, and have just finished a pair of not-so-short stories, (12K words each.) They’ll simmer a bit before a final edit, then off into the ether.

2. Can you give us a sense of what you’re working on now? For openers, I’m basking in the glow of the term ‘sense.’ being used in reference to my work, even peripherally. I’ve long been convinced that some of my stories do make sense… But I digress. At the moment, I’m assembling a cast for a new novel. The villain’s already in view, the others are still lurking in the shadows. I hope they bring a story with them, because at this point, I haven’t a clue what it will be.

3. What is the greatest pleasure of a writing career?
Actually, this moment is pretty close to it. A novel in its embryonic stage, when all things are still possible. The plot and characters are fresh, the dialogue crackles, and the scenes are falling neatly and inexorably into place, one after another. Bob Parker died at his desk. I hope his story was working. I can’t think of a better way to go. Really.

4. The greatest displeasure? That would be the feeling that follows the initial creative rush, when you’re halfway into the book, and realize that your brilliant shipwreck scene was done better on Gilligan’s Island and your heroine is way too Xena Warrior Princess. The cure? More work. If this gig was easy, everybody would do it. And like sex; even when it’s bad, it’s still pretty good.

5. Advice to the publishing world? Enough with the vampires. On New Years Eve my love nibbled my neck and I ran shrieking from the room.

6. Are there any forgotten mystery writers you’d like to see in print again?
Sure. Stephen Becker (Covenant with Death) John O’Hara (And Other Stories) A wonderful thing about the Net is that you can find almost any book ever printed, if you’re willing to pay shipping costs from New freaking Zealand or wherever.

7. Tell us about selling your first novel. Selling any novel is a major rush, but that first one? Wow. Ruth Cavin of St. Martin’s bought my first book. When my agent gave me the news, I was over the moon. But… A few weeks later, I had dinner with Ruth in the City to seal the deal, and she was so charming, and so erudite, that I realized how unprepared I was, and that I would have to raise the level of my game to have any hope of success. I’m still working on that.

PS. What I said about dying at my desk? I meant that. But I’m no hurry. I’m having way too much fun. Every aspect of the entertainment industry, including publishing, has been disrupted by the colossal impact of the Web on lifestyles world wide. In time, it will sort itself out. (Maybe.) But in the meanwhile, all writers can do, is write. Which is what we do anyway.
On good days, I feel like a lone Tatar warrior with a strong bow and a sturdy pony, wending my way through the chaos of Beijing in flames, squinting against the smoke. Looking for opportunity.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Pro-File: Jon Breen

Pro-File Jon Breen

1. Tell us about your current novel (or project).

My most recent novel is Probable Claus (Five Star), a Christmas book that came out last February, allowing plenty of time to build toward its eventual status as a holiday perennial. Give it a couple more years. It is a sort of parody of the Big Trial genre in which the official Santa Claus of a Midwestern city (state unspecified, so I didn't have to worry about keeping the law accurate, and I was never good at geography anyway) goes on trial for murder of his Scroogish brother. I've always had humor in my writing, but this was my first try at a full-scale comic novel. Some of my critical writing is gathered in A Shot Rang Out (Surinam Turtle/Ramble House).

2. Can you give a sense of what you're working on now?

Two book-length projects I might eventually finish. My third novel about bookdealer Rachel Hennings, working title First Edition, has existed in chapters and synopsis form for a few decades, and if I ever write the whole thing, I'll go the Sue Grafton route and keep the setting in the 1980s. The other one is a humorous classical detective story based on a cruise to Antarctica my wife and I took around New Year's 2000. All I need here is a plot. I always have a few short stories at various stages of completion, including a sequel to "The Missing Elevator Puzzle," the only short story of mine ever to get awards nominations.

3. What is the greatest pleasure of a writing career?

Some writers claim to hate reading their old stuff because they find flaws and realize it didn't live up to its potential. Others like me enjoy reading their own work when it appears in print or years later. As I've often pointed out, this is no indication of merit. Some great writers are in the first category, while some lousy writers undoubtedly find every word golden. The main pleasure, though, is not satisfying myself but entertaining others. The audience doesn't have to be huge, and may only be measured by the fact someone was willing to pay for the work, but I can't imagine writing something without the idea in mind that someone will read it and enjoy it.

4. What is the greatest DISpleasure?

Always having had a day job, thus never having to depend on writing for my livelihood, I've probably dodged most of the greatest displeasures. I've also had good luck with editors and agents. Horror stories are few.

5. If you have one piece of advice for the publishing world, what is it?

Treat publishing like a business but not like a multinational corporation.

6. Are there two or three forgotten mystery writers you'd like to see
in print again?

A lot more than that, and the mystery field is better than average at honoring its past. (Thank you, Rue Morgue, Stark House, Hard Case Crime, Crippen & Landru, Ramble House.) Charlotte Armstrong, one of the finest crime novelists of the past century. Helen McCloy, an underappreciated American classicist. Anthony Berkeley/Francis Iles, as important a figure in the British Golden Age as Christie or Sayers. Thomas B. Dewey and William Campbell Gault, two first-rate private-eye writers of the '50s and '60s. Ed Lacy, one of the most prolific paperback writers of that same era. It's astonishing that Ellery Queen is mostly out of print in this country, though still appreciated in Japan.

7. Tell us about selling your first novel. Most writers never forget
that moment.

The novel that became Listen for the Click (British title Vicar's Roses) was first-drafted early in the 1970s, went nowhere in its first incarnation. My wife and in-house plot doctor Rita offered a solution for the main problem: bland and boring male lead, shrewish and unlikable female lead. Picture someone you know in the roles, she advised. I picked two acquaintances (a fellow mystery writer for Jerry Brogan, a colleague at college for Donna Melendez), used them in a way that they would never recognize themselves, and it turned out much better. After a couple more rejections, including Harlequin's short-lived Raven House line, the novel sold to a wonderful editor who launched many mystery writing careers, Sara Ann Freed at Walker and Company.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Forgotten Books: The Ham Reporter by Robert J. Randisi

These days Bob Randisi is probably best known for his larky look at The Rat Pack, novels that aren't just fun to read but also map out show biz morality--or lack thereof--with skill and grace. Randisi's changed publishers for the next couple and I can't wait to read them.

But the novel I'd like to discuss here is Randisi's 1986 historical The Ham Reporter first published by Doubleday in 1986 and reprinted last year (along with The Disappearance of Penny and still available) by Stark House.

It's nice to think that Gene Barry's TV depiction of Bat Masterton was historically accurate but unfortunately--and I thought Barry was a good actor--it wasn't. Now that you've recovered from your shock I'll note that Randisi gives us the real story. Masterton ended up in New York working on a newspaper as a columnist and reporter. And because he was outspoken he got into one hell of a lot of trouble.

One such moment came when Masterton wrote a column accusing a boxing promoter and his minions of fixing a prize fight. The promoter blazed back accusing Masterton of having concocted his own reputation as an old west gunfighter and claiming that Masterton only shot young cowboys in the back.

During all this Masterton became friends with Damon Runyon. The Ham Reporter deals with how they get caught up in this and other battles in the New York City of 1911. Randisi brings the city to real life, high and low alike. There's a particularly good chapter on the street gangs of New York. It has the same resonance as Borges' piece on Billy The Kid who, as most people forget, was a NYC street ganger himself.

I've probably read this novel four times over the years. I like the people, the local color and the way Randisi demonstrates how press wars (Fox News anybody?) are nothing new.

A fine, rich novel that just about any reader will enjoy and appreciate.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Pro-File: Parnell Hall

Parnell Hall is the author of the Puzzle Lady crossword puzzle mysteries, the Stanley Hastings private eye novels, and the Steve Winslow courtroom dramas. His books have been nominated for Edgar, Shamus, and Lefty awards. Parnell is an actor, singer/songwriter, screenwriter, and past president of the Private Eye Writers of America.

1. Tell us about your current novel (or project).

THE PUZZLE LADY VS THE SUDOKU LADY (The Battle of the Century!), is based on an idea suggested by my editor, Ruth Cavin, who thought it would be fun to meet her Japanese counterpart. The book features crossword puzzles by frequent New York Times contributor Manny Nosowsky, and sudoku constructed by New York Times crossword puzzle editor, Will Shortz.

It's the battle of the century when Minami, the Sudoku Lady, shows up in Bakerhaven, Connecticut to meet Cora Felton, the Puzzle Lady, whose sudoku books have just edged Minami off of the Japanese Bestseller List. Before the rivals have a chance to square off, a killer strikes, and a sudoku puzzle is found at the scene of the murder. Now it's a fight to the finish to see who can unmask the killer.

Cora is eager to undo her Japanese counterpart. At least until the poor woman is arrested for murder and Cora realizes she's accidentally framed her for the crime. As if that weren't frustrating enough, the publicity of her arrest drives Minami's sales through the roof!

Now it's up to Cora to clear her rival's name, get her off the Bestseller list, and trap the real killer. Only, she better do it fast, before the cops find out what Cora did, and she winds up facing more jail time than Minami.

2. Can you give a sense of what you're working on now?

I've been working on my singing career. (pause for laughter). I have a music video, Kill em, on YouTube, and I just recorded a new song, Woodstock Generation, that I hope to have up soon.

Or did you mean books? I just finished CAPER, the latest Stanley Hastings novel. After getting hired by a contract killer and nearly getting shot, (in HITMAN), it's gotta be a welcome change of pace for the put upon PI when an attractive young mom hires him to find out why her daughter is skipping school. Fat chance. Faster than you can say Mann Act, Stanley is on the hook for kidnapping, abduction, extortion, and obstruction of justice. Worse, he finds himself the perfect alibi witness for an innocent murder suspect, only he can't testify without becoming a better suspect himself.

Now I'm working on The KenKen Killings. KenKen is the new rage, picking up where sudoku left off. KenKen puzzles are even in the New York Times, next to the crossword puzzle. So it's only natural that the Puzzle Lady would get involved in KenKen. What isn't natural is the fact that KenKen shows up with a corpse. But that's the way the Puzzle Lady likes it.

3. What is the greatest pleasure of a writing career?

Having it. The odds against it are so great, just getting published is like winning the lottery. And for someone with no marketable skills whatsoever, being able to write for a living is like a miracle.

4. What is the greatest DISpleasure?

Getting dropped by your publisher. When that happens, I have to reinvent myself and come back under another name. My Puzzle Lady books were originally written by Alice Hastings. Bantam even asked me for her bio. I wrote: "Alice was raised by English lit teachers with a fondness for the Sunday Times crossword and Agatha Christie. When not writing, Alice enjoys tennis, swimming, and coed softball." Bantam chickened out and put my name on the books when they learned I was arranging for the author photo.

5. If you have one piece of advice for the publishing world, what is it?

Save the midlist!

6. Are there two or three forgotten mystery writers you'd like to see in print again?

Erle Stanley Gardner and A. A. Fair. Who are actually the same person. I grew up on the Perry Mason books. The early ones, before the TV series, where Mason wasn't just a showman in court, but was always finding corpses, hiding evidence, planting evidence, spiriting away witnesses, etc, so the real mystery wasn't whodunit, but how in the hell will he get away with it? And the Donald Lam Bertha Cool books were a fun twist on the private eye. Lam is a lawyer who got disbarred for telling a client he knew a legal way to get away with murder. In his first adventure as a PI (The Bigger they Come) he pulls the trick on an astounded judge in a marvelous courtroom scene. I would love to see these books back in print.

Then there's J. P. Hailey, whose Steve Winslow courtroom dramas are the closest thing you'll find to the original lawyer as rogue detective early Mason novels. There's only five of them, but they deserve to be in print and - Huh? What do you mean, that's my pseudonym? So. What's your point?

7. Tell us about selling your first novel. Most writers never forget that moment.

When I wrote my first book, Detective, I went to Murder Ink and asked Carol Brenner how to get it published. She gave me the name of an agent, who read the book and rejected it. A few years later I moderated a panel on how to get your book published. That agent was on it. In my introduction, I said, "The first agent I gave my book to is on this panel. He rejected it. That book was nominated for the Edgar, was nominated for the Shamus, the fifth book in the series is in the bookroom now, and you cannot believe the wish fulfillment it is to be standing here saying this."


Coming in November from St. Martin's
The Second Dev Conrad Suspense Novel

We always hear about political dynasties in this country. The large ones, the Kennedys, the Cabot Lodges etc., are well-known. Back in the late Sixties while I was writing speeches for a Democratic congressman I started having beers with a GOP op and his wife who worked for our competitor. None of us felt we were working for mental giants. Amazing what you hear getting bombed in a bar. One of their best series of stories (they'd been in the field for a quarter century) dealt with this minor but very successful Midwestern dynasty. I never forgot their tales of a family dynasty so dysfunctional it would make Al Bundy and his tribe look like Ozzie and Harriet. I had to do a lot of disguising--these were prominent, wealthy people--but I managed to do it. It's much darker than the first Dev Conrad Sleeping Dogs and less concerned with process as such. I think it's a true portrait of how familial politics works and if anybody says I'm exaggerating all I have to do is point to the new book Game Change. You want to read about egotism, betrayal, bribery, adultery, blackmail, deceit, insanity and terror this is your book. And from everything I've seen, heard and read about over the years this is pretty standard for the big leagues and all too often these days for the minor leagues as well. I'm half way through it and every other page curls my thinning hair.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Pro-File: David Handler

David Handler has written six Connecticut shoreline mysteries featuring the mismatched crime-fighting duo of Mitch Berger and Des Mitry. His first, The Cold Blue Blood, was a Dilys Award finalist and a BookSense Top Ten pick. His newest, The Shimmering Blonde Sister, will be published this fall. He is also the author of eight novels about the witty and dapper celebrity ghostwriter Stewart Hoag and his faithful, neurotic basset hound, Lulu, including the Edgar and American Mystery Award--winning The Man Who Would Be F. Scott Fitzgerald. His most recent novel, the thriller Click to Play, was published last December. David lives in a two-hundred-year-old carriage house in Old Lyme, Connecticut.

Tell us about your current novel (or project).

1. My latest novel, CLICK TO PLAY, was published in December by Severn House. It’s a bit of a change of pace for me – a kick-ass, turbo-charged thriller about a renegade D.C. political blogger who discovers that the man who is about to become the next president of the United States may be responsible for the most famous mass murder spree in Hollywood history. It’s truly the sickest book I’ve ever written. I had so much fun I still get goose bumps.

Can you give a sense of what you're working on now?

2. I’m currently at work on my eighth mystery featuring the mismatched crime-fighting duo of Mitch Berger and Des Mitry. They take place in a historic New England village on the Connecticut Gold Coast called Dorset. Dorset is not-so-loosely based on Old Lyme, which is the village I actually live in. He’s a tubby Jewish New York film critic. She’s an alluring black Connecticut state trooper. They are both outsiders in this little slice of WASP Eden. They are both emotionally scarred. And, somehow, they have fallen madly in love. Prior to moving to Old Lyme I had only lived in big cities – Los Angeles and New York. Being an outsider myself, I am continually fascinated by small town life. There are nuances, rhythms and layer upon layer of interconnected family histories that make for wonderfully textured murder plots. Or at least I think so.

What is the greatest pleasure of a writing career?

3. My writing career has given me many exquisite moments, such as winning an Edgar award for my third Hoagy novel, THE MAN WHO WOULD BE F. SCOTT FITZGERALD. And I never, ever get over the thrill and amazement of holding a new book in my hands – even though I’ve now published nearly 20 of them. But the greatest pleasure is waking up every morning knowing that I get to spend the whole day doing exactly what I want to do. That, for me, is the ultimate definition of success.

What is the greatest DISpleasure?

4. I absolutely detest meeting someone at a dinner party or cocktail party and when I allow as how I’m a writer they say, “Have I ever read anything you’ve written?” I’ve been a writer my whole adult life and I’ve never known how to answer that question. On a more cosmic level, I’d say the greatest displeasure is how much time a novelist has to spend alone. I started my career writing for newspapers and sitcoms. There’s a lot of day in day out feedback and sharing. A lot of laughter. When you write a novel you are on your own – which is great but also leaves you thirsting for human contact. It takes a long time for me to write a book, sometimes a whole year, and staying focused and energized without any feedback or encouragement along the way can be very challenging.

If you have one piece of advice for the publishing world, what is it?

5. The digital revolution is already here. Get out in front of it, and fast, or we who write books for a living are all doomed.

Are there two or three forgotten mystery writers you'd like to see in print again?

6. A lot of the writers who influenced me when I was first getting started, such as Jim Thompson and Cornell Woolrich, remain iconic figures. But many of them are forgotten now, which is a real shame. Geoffrey Homes and Horace McCoy leap to mind, as do Gerald Butler, David Goodis and W.R. Burnett.

Tell us about selling your first novel. Most writers never forget that moment.

7 . My first novel, KIDDO, wasn’t a crime novel at all. It was a traditional Jewish coming of age tale. This was back in 1986. My agent in those days, Roberta Pryor, had a terrible time selling it. It was turned down by 24 publishers over a span of nearly a year. Quite honestly, I had pretty much given up hope that I would ever sell it. And so had Roberta. One morning I was sitting in my living room reading Bernard Malamud’s obituary in The New York Times when the phone rang and it was Roberta calling to tell me that Bob Wyatt of Ballantine wanted to buy KIDDO. To this day I remain convinced that there was some whacked-out spiritual connection between Malamud’s death and my literary success. It was as if there were only so many chairs at the Jewish writer’s table and someone had to leave before I could be seated. That someone was Bernard Malamud. Weird shit.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Private Eyes

A friend of mine e mailed me a link to a somewhat absurd article that seemed to claim that there hasn't been a good private eye writer since the era of Chandler and Hammett. And my God the claims the writer made for Chandler. Fawning praise that turned ridiculous in places.

I won't go through my usual litany of Chandler's shortcomings as I see them. He was a wonderful stylist and storyteller but with few exceptions his characters were straight from B movies and his vaunted tour of LA seems (again to me) shallow when compared to Nathaneal West, John Fante or even William Saroyan. I might even throw in John K. Butler whose stories about a cabbie gave us some good Polaroids of the place and era. Compared to Hammett he knew zero about his mean streets.

I say all this with some regret because reading Chandler (and rereading Chandler as I frequently do) has given me so much pleasure. Virtually all of us who work in the form have learned from him. He's the giant; the head of the class. That I don't argue.

But when you compare him to the private eye writers who came out of the second world war and who spawned the generations that followed--this is the Golden Age of the private eye novel. Writers who write about reality from James Crumley to Loren Estleman and Marcia Muller and Harry Hunsicker.

I don't want to start ranting so I'll sign off.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Gossip headlines

Ed here: I got a funny e mail this morning asking if I ever planned to do gossip headlines again. Okey-dokey. These are from the Huffington Post's Entertainment section today.

Lindsay Lohan Forgets Her Bra

Katy Perry Is Menstruating, Not Pregnant

Madonna's Boyfriend Flashes Pubic Hair, Talks Career

Why Kiefer Wore A Dress On Letterman

Gwyneth: My Brain Drives Me Mental

Gossip Girl's Leighton Meester Acts Like A Brat At Restaurant

Jennifer Love Hewitt Bedazzled Her Vagina

Jessica Alba Loves Her Cellulite, Saggy Boobs

Channing Tatum Describes His Gruesome Penis Burn

Ed here: Hard to pick a favorite but I'd probably go with the bedazzled vagina

A notable launch

As many folks will tell you young adult and middle grade novels are selling very well, so well in fact that a new series that is already tied into movies is about to break. And break big time. This is from SF Scope:

Cornelia Funke's Reckless to debut with million+ printing
By Ian Randal Strock January 14, 2010

More news of Cornelia Funke's Reckless. Publisher Little, Brown Books for Young Readers has announced that they're planning to print one million copies for the US market, for a publication date of 14 September 2010. That pub date will be joint with Chicken House in the UK and Dressler in Germany.

The book "introduces brothers Jacob and Will Reckless whose thrilling adventures take them to a magical, yet haunting world." The book was "inspired by Grimm's Fairy Tales and developed with film-maker Lionel Wigram."

And, in what is becoming a trend with big children's book releases, there are plans in the scheduling for "a New York City premiere event for the book’s launch, which will be streamed live online. The publishers are also coordinating their marketing efforts for the book, which will be centered around the web site," according to Publishers Weekly. Funke released a statement saying "I breathlessly await September 14th. The publication of Reckless marks the first time in my career when my fans around the world will all be able to read my new book on the same day."

Related articles previously published on SFScope:

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Forgotten Books: Death's Sweet Song

Motels seemed to fascinate Gold Medal writers of the early Fifties. John D. MacDonald did at least one book with a motel setting, Day Keene did at least one, too, and I'm pretty sure there were two or three other writers who used motels as the focal point of their stories. John D. in The Crossroads talked about the serious business of running a big motel with all the amenities. But Keene and the book at hand, Death's Sweet Song by Clifton Adams, used failing motels as the reason their protagonists were willing to take a walk on the wild side.

Now Clifton Adams was mainly a writer of westerns and very good ones, too. Donald Westlake always pointed to Adams' The Desperado as one of the best of the Gold Medals (he was also right to note that its sequel, Noose For A Desperado, stunk).

Adams did a number of crime novels both under his own name and that of Johnathan Gant. Death's Sweet Song is the best of them about a man who needs money to save his motel who is all too easily talked into crime by a married couple he meets when they rent a room.

What gives the book its flavor is its desperation. Adams, whatever he was writing, worked in one of two modes. One was irony which he kept broad enough so that mass audiences could grasp it. It played off as humor. The other was a sweaty frantic fatalism that gave several of his westerns a true hardboiled edge. The opening page of A Partnership With Death is about as bleak as western fiction, H.R. DeRosso not withstanding.

This is a book that should have at least a small contemporary audience. Adams was an intriguing writer who had his own voice, his own style and his own angle of vision. I wish he'd written more crime novels.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Hitchens versus Vidal

I usually read Spencer Ackerman's blog posts because he's witty and wise. Today he linked to a Christopher Hitchens piece on H's former friend Gore Vidal. Hard to imagine egos of their size fitting into any public facility short of a football stadium. For a time I admired Vidal's courage but soon enough I came to see him as a singularly arrogant elitist, much like his arch enemy Wm Buckley, whose portentous verbal mannerisms covered up a trite and inane mind. I also once liked Hitchens for his courage, too. But he turned right abruptly following 9/11 and trumpeted the Iraq war. The hell of it is Hitchens has a first-rate mind in matters ranging from politics to art to popular culture. I still read him and think he's brilliant from time to time. Except when he puts on that old pith-helmet and plays John Wayne (who was after all a draft-dodger).

Spencer Ackerman summed up the Hitchens vs. Vidal piece this way (accurately): "The best case of un-self-conscious projection on the internet at the moment."

Here's a sample.

"I was fortunate enough to know Gore a bit in those days. The price of knowing him was exposure to some of his less adorable traits, which included his pachydermatous memory for the least slight or grudge and a very, very minor tendency to bring up the Jewish question in contexts where it didn’t quite belong. One was made aware, too, that he suspected Franklin Roosevelt of playing a dark hand in bringing on Pearl Harbor and still nurtured an admiration in his breast for the dashing Charles Lindbergh, leader of the American isolationist right in the 1930s. But these tics and eccentricities, which I did criticize in print, seemed more or less under control, and meanwhile he kept on saying things one wished one had said oneself. Of a certain mushy spiritual writer named Idries Shah: “These books are a great deal harder to read than they were to write.” Of a paragraph by Herman Wouk: “This is not at all bad, except as prose.” He once said to me of the late Teddy Kennedy, who was then in his low period of red-faced, engorged, and abandoned boyo-hood, that he exhibited “all the charm of three hundred pounds of condemned veal.” Who but Gore could begin a discussion by saying that the three most dispiriting words in the English language were “Joyce Carol Oates”? In an interview, he told me that his life’s work was “making sentences.” It would have been more acute to say that he made a career out of pronouncing them."

For the rest go here:

Monday, January 11, 2010

Robert Vaughn--Psychic

Thanks to a link in Cinema Retro I found an interesting article from the UK Daily Record on Robert Vaughan, a guy who's always seemed interesting to me. But a psychic he ain't.

"Take The Magnificent Seven. With the exception of Yul Brynner who had already won an Oscar for The King And I, the rest of us, who included James Coburn, Steve McQueen and Charles Bronson, were convinced we were going to be in a big flop picture.

"There had been a writers' strike and we started filming the picture with no script. All we had to go on was that we were going to remake the classic Japanese film The Seven Samurai.

"We spent a lot of time playing poker. They would tell us what scenes we were going to film the following day, then they would slide the script under the door, having worked on it that night.

"We figured this wasn't right and that we were going to be in a terrible film. Obviously we were wrong, because after Casablanca, it's the most often played movie on American TV.

"Similar story with Bullitt. Steve McQueen, who at that time had been a friend for eight years, sent me a script for this police film which he was going to be producing…


“ I read it but sent it back and I said I didn't much want to do it because I didn't understand the story.

"We went back and forth two or three times with me refusing to do it because changes I thought should be made hadn't been made. But every time the script came back the salary on offer had been upped a little more.

"So after the third or fourth time I decided I understood the script a lot better than I did. It became one of the biggest international grossing pictures of that year, with a classic car chase. So once again I was wrong."

Vaughan, a lifelong liberal, doesn't think much of Obama believing he's "ill-equipped" for the job. Given Vaughan's record for picking `em does mean Obama's a great president? :)

much of Obama and thinks he's "ill-eqipped" for the job. Given his track record for picking `em does this mean that Obama is a great president? :)

For the rest go here:

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Coming your way and not coming your way

Ed here: Fred Blosser brings us up to date on what is and isn't available on various types of home video selections. Thanks, Fred for all the work. BTW The Outfit--This is the real Parker here and I think Don Westlake felt that way, too. Duvall is sensational and true to Parker's real nature. Westlake also liked all the B-movie icons who appear in it.

From Fred Blosser:

Ed, this may be of interest to the blog gang ... In the NY Times last week, Dave Kehr offered his thoughts specifically about the impact of Blu-Ray on the home-video market, and more generally about the fate of older movies as-yet unreleased by the major studios on either Blu-Ray or DVD. On the latter issue, Kehr sounded an initially pessimistic note: "After 10 years of DVD the studios seem to have concluded that all the films that will make money in home video have already been released; that number is a very small percentage of their output. Turner Classic Movies online says that of the 162,984 films listed in its database (based on the authoritative AFI Catalog), only 5,980 (3.67 percent) are available on home video."

Kehr argues persuasively that at least two of the big studios -- Paramount and Fox -- apparently no longer think it's worth the time and cost to mine their archives to add further titles to DVD or (for any but the most popular titles) to digitally upgrade the prints of older movies for high-def Blu-Ray. The prospects aren't completely bleak -- Kehr notes that Warners and Universal have instituted print-on-demand DVD-R lines for some of their catalog titles, an active gray market for non-studio DVD-R exists on the Internet, and more avenues may open in the coming decade -- but the article prompted me to think about older crime movies that haven't transitioned to mass-market DVD or Blu-Ray release in the U.S. Some that come to mind offhand:

----THE OUTFIT and THE SPLIT, two flawed but nevertheless interesting takes on Richard Stark's Parker.
----THE SICILIAN CLAN and THE BURGLARS, two glossy heist movies by Henri Verneuil.
----THE GLASS KEY -- both versions.
----Various films based on Mickey Spillane novels -- I THE JURY (both versions), MY GUN IS QUICK, THE LONG WAIT, and THE DELTA FACTOR.
----The '30s Perry Mason and Philo Vance series.

Same with Western movies missing in DVD action. My list begins with an uncut, widescreen print of Sergio Corbucci's THE MERCENARY. Unlike Corbucci's DJANGO and THE GREAT SILENCE, THE MERCENARY had major-studio (United Artists) theatrical release in the U.S., yet a good print remains unreleased on major-label DVD.

Not to say that any or all of these titles are completely unobtainable. I've seen THE GLASS KEY (the George Raft version) advertised on the gray market, but I don't know how good the visual quality is. Verneuil's THE BURGLARS is available from niche company Alfa Digital -- not a pristine restored copy of the quality that a major studio would produce, but it's suitably letterboxed and better than nothing.
Others titles in the top-of-my-head list have run on cable movie channels and will probably continue to appear at intervals. THE OUTFIT, THE SPLIT, MARLOWE, the Alan Ladd version of THE GLASS KEY, and the old Perry Mason and Philo Vance films have played on TCM. I THE JURY -- the 1983 Armand Assante version -- ran on Fox Movie Channel. I suppose if one has cable and wants a copy badly enough, one could DVR the TCM or Fox broadcasts and burn them at home on DVD-R.

Fox released THE SICILIAN CLAN on DVD abroad in 2007 in Region 2 format but not domestically in a Region 1 U.S. format. Koch Media in Germany has announced an official release of THE MERCENARY in Europe for later this month, with an English audio track. As far as I know, no U.S. studio has planned a comparably high-quality release of the Corbucci film here, even though a nice print of the movie plays infrequently on TCM.

As I learned several years ago, it's worth the modest investment in an all-region, all-format DVD player to access titles not available in the domestic Region 1 NTSC format. There are caveats, though. Not all French, German, Chinese, etc releases have English audio tracks or subtitles, and shipping/handling charges for DVDs from abroad are steep.

My own elusive and idiosyncratic grail on DVD is 1959's DU RIFIFI CHEZ LES FEMMES, with an English audio track or subtitles. A dubbed print titled RIFF RAFF GIRLS played in U.S. theaters in the early '60s and on local TV in the early '70s, so presumably it's not an impossible quest, but so far not very productive. The only home-video version of the film that I've been able to locate on the Internet is a used videocassette copy in France via for 65 Euros. Given the price, the fact that it's a non-U.S. PAL print in the obsolete VHS format, and the probability that it doesn't have English subtitles, I'm better off continuing my search.

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Saturday, January 09, 2010


Monk in an old west-style gold town named Trouble? The same town where a relative of his named Artemis Monk was assayer back in the late 1800s? The same man who suffered many of the same afflictions as Monk plus shared his detecting skills? And missing gold from a train robbery dating back to 1962? And dozens if not hundreds of people streaming in and out of Trouble over the years looking for the missing gold?

This all sounds crazy. And like a great good time. And it is.

A former San Francisco cop and good friend of Captain Stottlemeyer is murdered in Trouble and the Captain asks Monk and Natalie to drive there and see if they can find out who killed him. And why.

For me this is the funniest Monk novel yet. Monk and his maladies have never before met so many insidious enemies. As usual it's up the the fetching, patient Natalie to push and pull him through the case but this time there's a point where she finds herself helpless--Monk vanishes. The Monk-Natalie relationship is the soul of these novels and here it's front and center.

Lee Goldberg's story is rich with lore about the old Gold Rush in general and mining towns in particular. It is equally rich in Monk lore. I can't think of any other mystery character who makes me laugh out loud as often as Monk does. And in the current novel Monk is loopier than ever. Thank God.

In the course of the novel you'll notice the surnames of certain mystery writers who are probably familiar to you. They just add to the spirit of witty fun that stretches from the first page to the last. A fine fine novel. I can't wait for the next installment.

Thursday, January 07, 2010

NBC Shakeup -- Jay Leno Comes Out on Top

I don't usually do show biz news here but this story is pretty damned amazing. Here's TMZ:

NBC Shakeup -- Jay Leno Comes Out on Top
Posted Jan 7th 2010 3:50PM by TMZ Staff
Jay Leno is going back to his 11:30 PM time slot, and it's looking like Conan O'Brien is the odd man out ... sources tell TMZ.

We've learned Jay's 10:00 PM show will go on hiatus February 1. After the Olympics, Jay will take back his 11:30 PM time slot. What has not been decided -- whether Jay's show will be a half hour, followed by Conan, or whether Jay's show will be an hour and NBC says sayonara to Mr. O'Brien.

We're told Jay and Conan have both been told of the changes. As for Jay, interestingly, he'll get what he always wanted -- his 11:30 PM time slot.

Ed here: If I'm awake at the time the late shows run I'm in bed reading and have been for a few hours so I don't have a dog in this fight. I feel sorry for Conan but it seems to me it was predictable. He doesn't belong at 10:30. He's too odd for mass consumption. Jay Leno was at his funniest when he was a guest on David Letterman's old show. He got the mass audience he wanted but he had to turn into a yuk machine to do it. Nobody home. Be interesting to see if he can get his old numbers back and reign supreme at 10:30 once more. Letterman has always struck me (to quote Normal Mailer on Chandler Brossard) as "a mean, pricky guy" who no doubt spent his school years making fun of other people. He's always struck me as the eighteen year old whose body outstripped his brain. You suspect he's never been deeply hurt by anything and so he's comfortably smug even while he's zeroing in on sixty. That may just be psychobabble but that's my take on the guy. Unfortunately, he's the funniest of all the late night guys. His best years are far behind him but in this field he can still carry most nights. Conan's the big loser here.

Wednesday, January 06, 2010


I watched the 1973 John Frankenheimer production of The Iceman Cometh last night and thought once again that the two great American plays for me are Iceman and Death of Salesman with the A Streetcar Named Desire close behind.

The times I've seen Iceman on stage I've always watched to see how the character Larry Slade was played. He's the only one who doesn't live on "pipe dreams." Former Anarchist and fallen Catholic, he lives in the saloon listening to the drunken pipe dreams of his fellows. I suspect he's Eugene O'Neill, the man who, when told about the atomic bomb said, "Maybe this is what we deserve." No pipe dreams for him.

Nobody comes close to Robert Ryan's portrayl of Larry Slade. He turns O'Neill's highly stylized dialogue into brutal poetry. His speech near the end (which you can check out on Youtube) is among the saddest and most savage speeches in American theater. You sense that Slade wishes he could go back to his own pipe dreams, his own religion but he's seen too much cruelty, too much deceit and too much crushed hope to believe in anything. He waits for his death.

Ryan was one of the great American actors. He appeared in this Iceman version not long after his wife died of cancer and when he was near the end of his own life from cancer. It is not easy to look at his ravaged face and body. But it makes his performance all the more powerful.

Newsweek critic Paul Zimmerman, who was to die young himself, said of Ryan's performance: "It is Robert Ryan, his face a wreck of smashed dreams, who provides the tragic dimension that makes this Iceman a moving, unforgettable experience. Ryan played his part in the shadow of his own death. He died this year, leaving behind a lifetime of roles too small for his talent."

Tuesday, January 05, 2010

Forgotten Books: Scratch Fever

With all the well-deserved kudos being paid to his Quarry series--Quarry in The Middle is not only Max Allan Collins' best Quarry but also one of his finest novels period--I thought I'd pick up one of my favorite entries in one of his other series, the Nolan series.

Nolan is a mostly retired ex-thief who is forced to learn the hard way that the past is never past. Om Scratch Fever, however, the lead character is Jon, Quarry's unlikely but steadfast crime partner, a twenty-something comic book illustrator who also fronts a rock cover band--just as Collins himself does. Jon wants to make it full-time in comics but is having no luck so his income, such as it is, is coming from the band which, as the book opens, is playing its last gig as a band.

The story here concerns a fetching but deadly woman who once tried to murder Jon with a shotgun. She wanted all the robbery money for herself. But she disappeared and was presumed dead. And the money was nowhere to be found. But then Jon is on stage playing his type of song (one of the reasons the band is breaking up is because Jon hates the heavy metal and Catch Scratch Fever crap they prefer) when he sees back in the shadows of the big dance barn.

What the hell is going on? Well, nothing that Jon could have foreseen and because Nolan can't give him a hand this time, Jon and the band singer Toni (a smart-ass you gotta love) are left to face a situation that keeps evolving into one perfectly cast suspense situation after another.

If you're at all nostalgic for the early eighties, this is your book. Collins has John O'Hara's eye and ear for era and dialogue. This is a time trip back to the growing emergence of punk and how it played in the bars and dance halls and clubs of Iowa and the Quad Cities. Collins always shows his readers an Iowa few writers ever have. His people tend to be working class or criminal class. His mob guys aren't the romantics of the Godfather but the soldiers of The Sopranos.

To me Collins has always been an exemplary story teller. When I got to the end of the long first chapter--which encompasses little more than two hours of the same night--I went back through it just to study the craft. There is so much energy in Collins' work that you never notice the careful way he lays everything out. This is one of those books where a part of your mind is constantly playing ahead of the pages. In this case you're dreading the inevitable showdown that Jon will have to face.

If you like hardboiled fiction, put the Nolan series at the top of your list. Scratch Fever is like reading on steroids.

Monday, January 04, 2010

Brian Keene on self-publishing and surviving as a full-time writer

Brian Keene is one of the finest horror/dark suspense writers around. He's also one of the finest commentators on various aspects of publishing I know of. His blog almost always gets your juices flowing. Today he filed his tour-de-force. He touches on several key issues that effect writers and readers alike. This is a must-read. And be sure to read the comments, too. Lots of good ones.

Brian on self-publishing:

3. They’re all gonna laugh at you: Yes, self-publishing has become more commonplace, but it still carries a stigma*. That’s not your fault, and it’s not fair, but that’s the way it is. What you need to understand is that for every decent self-published novel there are 1,000,000,000 really shitty self-published novels. That’s what you’re competing against. Maybe your novel is the greatest thing since War and Peace, but in the minds of the general reading public, it’s another groan-or-giggle-inducing paranoid rant on how Princess Di was killed by the same Reptilian aliens who ordered Nixon to order Stephen King to kill John Lennon. (I am not making this up. Google it. There are people who really believe these things, and sometimes, they believe all of them at once).

If you’re writing with the ultimate goal of becoming a professional author, then you need to conduct yourself accordingly. You need to approach publishing professionally. You need to make a good impression. No matter how good your first novel is, if it’s self-published, neither you or your novel will be received fairly.

*This does not apply to comics, a field where self-publishing is often a badge of honor.

Brian on trying to make a living today as a full time writer:

As a mid-lister, I make my living by writing at least two mass-market books per year, and supplementing that income with small press work, primarily targeted at the collectible market. I’m not alone in this. Most of my mid-list friends earn their livings in the exact same way. Sometimes, you get a movie option or some comic book or media tie-in work, and that helps out. But you can’t count on those. For the last decade, the way many of us put food on the table was to sell one or two novels a year to a mass-market house, and then sell a few novellas or a short story collection to a reputable small press who specialized in producing books targeted at the collectible market.

Sadly, earning a living in such a manner is no longer viable in this economy. The collectible market is in trouble for a number of reasons. Here is the Cliff’s Notes version:

For the rest go here:

Sunday, January 03, 2010

Christopher Fowler

Christopher Fowler is probably best known in the U.S. for his Bryant and May series, which the Fowler interviewer for describes this way:

"Bryant & May are a pair of elderly, argumentative detectives who work in London’s Peculiar Crimes Unit. The names Bryant and May are instantly recognisable to many who remember boxes of Bryant & May matches. The Peculiar Crimes Unit is a police division founded during the Second World War to investigate cases that could cause public unrest. This isn’t so far-fetched, because several such units were founded during the war. There was a great deal of experimentation with crime, communication and scientific units at the time. In fact, my father belonged to one such unit. These men and women were all in their late teens and early twenties, and were encouraged to think in radical new directions."

As much as I enjoy the Bryant and May series I'm more a fan of his dark suspense and supernatural stories and novels. His work has a collective theme: urban dread. He illustrates his theme in a variety of styles and tones--black comedy, subtle whispered horror, Hitchcockian terror and anxiety neurosis played to the highest power. To him the city is a Lovecraftian monster that toys with people for its own sadistic amusement. Sometimes you feel that even Fowler's villains are victims of the monster--only playing out roles foredoomed by the beast.

Fowler's writerly virtues are impressive. He is a fine stylist, an even finer psychologist of his people, and he's a first-rate idea man, as good at certain moments as the late Ira Levin.

I mention this because somebody sent me a story of Fowler's called The Lady Downstairs which may be the most unique take on Sherlock Holmes I've read--it's narrated by Holmes' landlady who must put with up his arrogance, his endless late night visitors and his damned screechy violin playing. I wish I'd read this when it appeared on the BBC site in 2006. I'd definitely have put it into that year's Best Of volume.

Fowler's somebody you should read. Given his range--he's worked in many forms, including screenwriting--you're sure to find your type of story.

BTW I would link to The Lady Downstairs but when I tracked it back I found it on a site that may well be mostly pirated material. I can't be certain either way.

Saturday, January 02, 2010

William Faulkner and Film Noir

Ed here: I've been reading a collection of Faulkner's short stories and decided to see what I could find about him on line. Even when I was reading him back in my high school days I felt that he had a kinship with crime writers. Hard to get much darker than Faulkner at times. I mean Sanctuary alone would win would him Top Five Standing in the Existential Misanthropic Society. I came across this excellent piece on the Bright Lights Film Journal site.

Faulkner and Film Noir

"Some good pictures come out of Hollywood.
God knows how, but they do." — William Faulkner


This article originally appeared in issue 12 (Spring 1994) of our discontinued print edition. This issue featured several articles on film noir and neo-noir, all of which are now available online. See the table of contents below.

"In their movie Barton Fink (1991), Joel and Ethan Coen presented a character, W P. Mayhew, who was William Faulkner in very thin disguise. The image that lingers is a sad and disturbing one — Faulkner drunk and raving, wasting his genius and talent in the service of loudmouth producers of low-budget movies. But the Coens' depiction of Faulkner as a hapless drunk being destroyed by the Hollywood studio system is misleading. Though he was an alcoholic and hit some very low periods in Hollywood and elsewhere, Faulkner did not drink himself "into an early grave between B movie scripts," as one reviewer of Barton Fink concluded (Behrens, 25). In fact, Faulkner worked off and on as a scriptwriter for over 20 years, from 1932 to 1954 (even after receiving the Nobel Prize), and did not shuffle off this mortal coil until 1962. Far from destroying art and artist, it may be that film writing is all that enabled Faulkner to survive and get his work done. As his biographer Frederick Karl points out, "Faulkner not only survived, but thrived, some of his best work coming out of his early Hollywood years" (Karl, 483). It is also clear that Faulkner's work as a novelist and scriptwriter had an important influence on the film noir style from which the Coens have taken so much inspiration."

for the rest go here

Friday, January 01, 2010

Mike Shatzkin offers predictions for 2010 in the book world

I'm not smart enough to know if any of these predictions for the world of books in 2010 are likely or not but Mike Shatzkin at the Idea Logical blog sure offers some interesting thoughts. To read the entire piece (and it's well worth reading) go here:

5. Big publishers start to match their offerings to their marketing capability. The rearrangement of the big publishers’ IP portfolios will begin in 2010 as they emphasize what they do best: deliver narrative-writing and children’s books to multiple outlets in large quantities. This reshuffle will only begin to be evident in 2010, but we will see small slices of big publishers’ lists sold or licensed to specialist small publishers and we will see the beginnings of genre consolidation among the big publishers, with some publishers beefing up and others exiting romance, science fiction, and mystery. In 2010 the latter will take the form of list growth or cutbacks, not the sale of whole lists to a competitor. We’ll see that in 2011 or 2012.

7. Circumstances will outrun the ebook “windowing” strategy. By the end of 2010, the experiment with “windowing” ebooks — withholding them from release when the hardcover comes out — will end as increasing evidence persuades publishers and agents that ebook sales (at any price) spur print book sales (at any price), not cannibalize or discourage them and, furthermore, that this withholding effort does nothing to restrain Amazon’s proclivity for discounting. (Amazon can’t quit with so many competitors joining them; see number 11 below.) There will also be steadily increasing evidence that most readers distinctly prefer either digital books or paper for their narrative reading and the real minority is the people who routinely read both.

9. Authors with clout start looking more like publishers. Some authors who have developed huge followings on Facebook and Twitter and their own blogs start to demonstrate that they can have a serious positive impact on the books of other authors they favor. This leads to a variation on the time-honored practice of getting blurbs and jacket quote-lines as savvy editors and agents suss who the new author-megaphones are and line up to get their support. The prediction for 2010 is that this will start to become obvious. The likely prediction for 2011 will be that this leads to authors becoming quasi-publishers or, perhaps, getting “imprint” deals from established houses to select and promote other people’s writing.