Sunday, December 31, 2006

PRO-File: Donald Bain

Donald Bain is an extremely successful writer under his own name and at least one other.

Tell us about your current novel?

I'n writing the 29th book in the "Murder, She Wrote" series, and am about
to sign a new four-book contract. The one I'm working on takes place in
Cabot Cove over a Fourth-of-July weekend. Tentative title: "The Fireworks
Were a Killer." I've also signed a new two-book contract for a series I've
been ghosting for more than 20 years. The Bain writing factory is in
full-gear. Two MSW novels already written and in the pipeline are "Coffee,
Tea or Murder?" (I've shamelessly stolen from my own title). And "Panning
for Murder," set in Alaska, will be a hardcover in October 2007.

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

See above.

What is the greatest pleasure of a writing career?

Being known as a writer. People have an inflated reverence for people who
write. Of course, I enjoy the relative freedom it affords me (but as you
know, deadlines take away a lot of that freedom), and the learning process
that comes with researching the books.

The greatest DIS-pleasure?

Never having a steady paycheck. People who assume writing isn't hard work.
People who think because I work at home, I'm free to frolic with them
whenever they're free. Other than that, I love it.

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

Hire someone whose only job is to call every writer under contract and ask
how things are going. Writing is such solitary pursuit, and receiving
consistant encouragement from a publisher would be nice. Also, hire people
who can write a check faster than I can write a book.

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

The writers I admire are pretty much all still in print.

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

My first book was the history of stockcar racing, ghosted for Bill France,
then president of NASCAR. I did it for a flat $1,000 fee. My biggest
thrill was when "Coffee, Tea or Me?" took off, ended up on the Times
bestseller list for months, and sold more than 5 million copies worldwide
(with its three sequels).
Tell us about selling your first novel. Most writers never forget that

Saturday, December 30, 2006

Perry Mason DVD; New York Times

The Case of the Canny Counsel

Article Tools Sponsored By
Published: December 31, 2006

IN memory the old “Perry Mason” was campy and obvious. At the end of each hour Raymond Burr would rise commandingly from his courtroom chair and, with just a question or two and perhaps a peeved glare, elicit a detailed and tearful confession from a witness with more aptitude for murder than for perjury.

Those Perry Mason moments are as awkward and unrewarding today as they were in 1957, when CBS began broadcasting the series. But almost everything else about the show is splendid, and the 39 episodes from the first season recently released on DVD are a box of L.A. noir chocolates, well constructed and satisfyingly dark.

They start with that swaggering theme music, by Fred Steiner, and some irresistible episode titles (“The Case of the Cautious Coquette,” “The Case of the Restless Redhead,” “The Case of the Vagabond Vixen,” “The Case of the Lazy Lover”). The setups are brisk and racy, usually involving an attractive young woman, the suggestion of ill-considered intimacy and, in short order, a corpse.

Beautifully filmed in black and white, the shows have become period dramas over time, stuffed with relentless smoking, skinny ties, hard-to-get divorces, propeller planes and the threat of the gas chamber. All this was just scenery at the time, but it has now imbued the show with a real sense of place, of a California draped in shadows and suffused with gaudy ambition and sexual jealousy.

“Perry Mason” was also, week in and week out, a well-made television show, the work of professionals. It moves a little slowly for modern tastes, but it was precisely constructed, sophisticated and intricate enough to reward careful attention.

For the rest of the article log on here:

Ed here:

Owing to various hospital stays over the past five years, I've logged a lot of hours watching the Perry Masons referred to here. This Litvak review is excellent. And I certainly agree with it. Most of the hokum comes at the end when the light bulb appears above Perry's head and sometimes in the somewhat strained dialogue between Perry and Della and Paul Drake, which sometimes sounds like three people on morning TV making chirping sounds at each other.

What struck me most about the shows was how adult and seedy they are. A lot of the seediness is between the lines but boy is it there. As I mentioned here last week writing about the early Mason novels (those still influenced by Black Mask), the stories are packed with sex and the villains are frequently business men. You could be forgiven for thinking you're reading Upton Sinclair or Sinclair Lewis in sections of the early Masons. He sure didn't trust trust big business and he he had an almost socialistic scorn for the greed success inspires (I watched Treasure of Sierra Madre earlier today--a pure straight shot of B. Traven's rage was something Gardner would likely have understood).

Litvak's best point is that the early Mason TVs have become historical dramas. They are one of the most accurate depicitions of the Fifties I've ever seen. Lordy the fetishes we made of our clothes, cars, home furnishings. And the way we looked at poor people--rarely to be trusted, rarely able to speak with any clarity, lost in booze or self-pity or just plain despicable laziness. The Lonely crowd, The Man in The Grey Flannel Suit, The Status Seekers--some of the observations in the Masons are as acute as these bestsellers of the Fifties. There's a whole book waiting to be read on the sopciology of the first three or four Mason years--not that I'd read it, you understand. But it's mildly interesting to think about up there on my Unread shelf.

Richard Neely (originally published Nov. 2005)

Richard Neely

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

posted by Gormania at 1:13 PM 2 comments
Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Friday, December 29, 2006

Elizabeth Fackler and Bone Justice

Elizabeth Fackler has been publishing novels since the early Eighties. Her career has been divided between crime and western fiction. She is equally at home and equally exceptional in both forms.

The latest Fackler is called Bone Justice and continues her Seth Strummer western series with a storyline that is in equal parts horrific and romantic. Fackler's crime fiction has always been celebrated for its low-key but hardboiled drama. Her careful and evocative prose depicts the outlaw Strummer trying to figure out if his partner has turned into a man who deals women. In the course of the book we get to know the life stories of three different women who, while true to the era in which they're alive, also hold signifance for today, especially in the way Fackler demonstrates the violence they have to endure. Fackler tops herself here by setting the youngest woman on an unspoken spriitual quest--and a beleivable one--that will redeem a broken life.

There are so many fine writers who deserve more notice and acclaim than they deserve. For me, Elizabeth Fackler is right at the top of that list. She has a unique approach to the novel and speaks in a voice all her own.

Arson (1984)
Barbed Wire (1986)
Blood Kin (1992)
Backtrail (1993)
Road from Betrayal (1994)
Billy the Kid: The Legend of El Chivato (1995)
Badlands (1996)
Texas Lily (1997)
Breaking Even (1998)
Patricide (2000)
When Kindness Fails (2004)
Endless River (2005)

Arson and Barbed Wire are two of the toughest-minded small-town novels I've ever read. They deserve serious rediscovery as major pieces of crime fiction. The same can be said for all her westerns, most of which are now out of print. in both genres she does the same thing, takes familiar elements and makes them seem startling and new through the dazzle of her prose and the humanity of her forgiving gaze.

You can learn more about Elizabeth here.

Thursday, December 28, 2006

North Coast Journal excerpt on Stark House

On the cover North Coast Journal

December 28, 2006

GREG SHEPARD IS AN AMIABLE MAN SPORTING A CLOSELY CROPPED WHITE BEARD AND EARRING, AND HIS ENTHUSIASM AND PASSION when talking about the books he publishes is palpable. As the editor and publisher of Stark House, his own publishing imprint based out of his home in Eureka, he's a man with a mission -- to rescue forgotten classics of genre fiction from neglect and present them in trade paperback editions to a new audience.

His taste runs the gamut from gothic fantasy to bleak crime fiction and all points in between, and the list of the fiction he publishes reflects this. Most of these books were originally published as disreputable paperback originals decades ago, many long out of print, often with campy lurid covers that belied the surprisingly high quality of the writing inside. Many of the writers that Shepard grew up reading, such as Philip K. Dick, are now generally recognized as worthy, but there's still many undiscovered books to be dusted off and revived, and that's what he sees as his job.

"It started as a family business in 1998," he says. "My job was to find the books."

spacer dingbat spacer dingbat spacer dingbat###

Like many in the book business, Greg Shepard started out as a book collector. Years ago, he had many of the original copies of the books he now publishes in his own private collection.

Stark House was a logical extension of his previous jobs in the Bay Area. When he was still in his 20s, Shepard became the buyer for Rafael Book & News, a shop located in the building that housed Marin County's legendary Rafael Theatre. Later, he signed on with science fiction publisher J. Ben Stark, and worked as a traveling sales rep for Zebra Books, publishers of romance and historical fiction.

Eventually, he set out on his own, importing British books under the name Firebird Distribution. Among the books he imported were titles by British cult sci-fi writers like J.G. Ballard, but also hard-boiled American crime writers like Jim Thompson and David Goodis, whose work was only available at the time in British editions published by the English publisher Zomba Books.

In the early '90s, Barry Gifford's Black Lizard imprint was instrumental in bringing Thompson and Goodis (among others) back into print in America, giving the noir novel a higher profile here in its homeland. Still, larger economic forces made Firebird a losing proposition. With the rise of, readers interested in the fringe material being published in England could buy those books directly, online. In 2001, Shepard shut down Firebird to focus attention on his new business -- Stark House Press.

Zomba's publisher Maxim Jakubowski furnished Shepard with crucial connections with the authors he would subsequently publish, and their heirs. The noir revival of the '90s resurrected many forgotten writers, but many still languished in the shadows.

Shepard didn't initially begin his venture with the crime novels that are his current bread and butter, though -- instead, he set his sights on a British fantasy author who'd sold well through his import business.

"I simply went to an author that I knew about -- I sold a lot of books of hers in the United States, and almost nothing of hers was published here," he says "That's not true anymore, but at the time it was.

"Her name was Storm Constantine. I managed to track her down and she said, `Oh, yes, that'd be lovely. Let's do it.' The first book was a hardback, there were 1,000 copies printed up. We got Storm to sign all 1,000 of them, bless her heart. I think I'll always have copies of that book in a box. It was a collection of short stories, which are always a hard sell. I was terrifically green at it, so it didn't really occur to me to turn away any of her short stories. I did two more stand-alone (non-series) novels of hers. Since then she has created her own small press in England."

He's learned a lot about the publishing business over the years. At one point he found out that the press that he'd printed his first few books with was sub-contracting the work out to another press. "I said, maybe you can put me in touch with the people you're farming this out to so I can get a slightly better deal," he remembers. "So, I went to the source."

Most of the crime novels Stark House later published were originally published in America, but they'd been out of print for decades. This sometimes makes it hard for Stark House titles to be reviewed in the major journals that many libraries make their selections from.

"I probably should have found more books that haven't been published here," he says. "One of the toughest things is to get reviewed in Kirkus and Publisher's Weekly. They take kind of a dim view of just reviewing reprints. Never mind that the book's been out of print for 50 years, they don't seem to understand. I got a starred review in Booklist for Murder Me for Nickels by Peter Rabe, which is his only tongue-in-cheek, humorous mystery. I sold probably twice as much of that one as anything else."

Shepard tracked down the heirs to the estates of the writers he publishes through contacts he's developed over the years in the book business, but it's come to the point that his reputation is such that some of his authors (or, more commonly, their heirs) seek him out. Such was the case with one of his recent additions, noir writer Gil Brewer.

Shepard's operation is the very definition of a cottage industry, and started as a family affair as well. His father was an editor and his mother was a copy editor, so it was only natural that Shepard would go into the family business. When starting his own venture, he enlisted his brother Mark as the art director and designer, and his ex-wife Campbell painted some of the book covers. His friend Ed Gorman, a crime novelist, is an associate editor and advisor.

Eureka might seem like an odd place to publish from, seeing as its quite far removed from the supposed centers of the publishing industry, but for Shepard, it's ideal.

"I wouldn't live anywhere else," he says. `My ex-wife and I moved up here 11 years ago, and I just love the place. I just really don't have the desire to live someplace else."

He has several other part-time jobs, but publishing books is his true love, and he devotes much of his free time to his publishing concern.

"I just kind of dovetail all these things together," he says. "It's pretty much a one-man operation, though, with the exception of the art direction. Modern digital technology makes it possible. It would never have occurred for me to do it without scanning software. I'm a tolerably good typist, but I'm a lazy typist and the very notion of typing all this is beyond me. And then of course if you had to have somebody else type it would add to the unit cost. They're really not big money makers per unit. Ideally, the estate is probably making more than I am, and that's a good thing. This thing is to benefit the people who came before, and the people that might rediscover these people."

There's a long history in this country of specialty small presses, especially those devoted to genres like crime fiction, fantasy and science fiction, which have loyal fans who are voracious readers. Perhaps the best known of the early genre small presses was Arkham House, which was originally founded in the '30s by August Derleth to perpetuate and keep in print work by H. P. Lovecraft shortly after his demise. It's somewhat fitting. then, that Stark House brought back into print some of the work of dark fantasist Algernon Blackwood, who was published in the U.S. by Arkham House in the '40s . Pan's Garden, a collection of some of Blackwood's best stories, is a prime view into this writer's unique worldview. Blackwood's writing is strongly rooted in nature, the environment and a sense of place, a connection that Shepard notes might be of interest to many residents of Humboldt County -- in particular the story "The Man whom Trees Loved," in which the forest accepts and subsumes the soul of a man. Writing in a style quite unlike Lovecraft's overheated alienation, Blackwood drew strength and solace from the wild, and the worst rejections are delivered to those, like the character in his story "The Temptation of the Clay," who try to heartlessly profit from nature.

Shepard's also published out-of-print books by Vin Packer, a pseudonym for Marijane Meaker, who is perhaps best known for her later young adult novels under the name M. E. Kerr, but who wrote groundbreaking lesbian themed crime novels in the '50s and '60s. One of those books, The Evil Friendship, was based on the same New Zealand murder case that inspired Peter Jackson's film Heavenly Creatures. Her book Intimate Victims, a story of an embezzler who trades places with a sleazy social climber, bears some similarity with Patricia Highsmith's Strangers on a Train, and in a new introduction to the book Meaker reflects on the fact that their subject matter was so obviously similar that a contempory reviewer at the time of the book's release compared the two without knowing they were a couple. Meaker recently published a memoir about her relationship with Highsmith that garnered her an interview on NPR's Fresh Air, but that visibility didn't have too much of an effect on sales of her Vin Packer novels. Shepard says that each of his books sells to a different audience, and Packer's books do quite well with libraries, which is one of his main markets. There's also a substantial gay and lesbian audience that he sells Packer's books to.

Elizabeth Sanxay Holding, who Raymond Chandler once called "the top suspense writer of them all," is a less well-known writer whose books Shepard publishes mainly because he enjoys her fiction so much.

"That was a personal thing -- I really wanted to get her back into print," he says. "To mixed results. She's no bestseller, but she just writes such wonderful books that I just feel that if I could keep them alive in the current marketplace situation then I'm doing some service. She died back in the '50s." Shepard shrugs off a suggestion that the women writers on his list reflect some attempt to address neglect of attention to women crime writers, but it's obvious that he wants to share with the world what he calls "absolute gems" in the genre, regardless of gender.

Another Stark House reprint, Shake Him Till He Rattles, was originally published in 1963 and is set in San Francisco's North Beach jazz scene. A sadistic cop and ex-con play a cat-and-mouse game in which no one is innocent. In the book, author Malcolm Braly created a singular hybrid of the beat hipster novel and crime fiction that anticipates similar work by James Ellroy 20 years later (though thankfully without the over the top posturing and self aggrandizement that mar Ellroy's later novels). Another Braly book, On the Yard, was an admitted influence on the prison sequences in Jonathan Lethem's recent novel Fortress of Solitude, and was called "the great American prison novel" by Kurt Vonnegut.

The life experience that Braly brings to the table sets him apart from many other hard-boiled writers who were romantics in disguise -- there's a life lived with no illusions that shines through his pages. Braly's familiarity with the world of crime was not merely an imaginative one -- he spent much of the first 40 years of his life in and out of prison (his first stint was in the Preston School of Industry near Redding) before editor Knox Burger offered him a book deal and a chance to make his living through writing. Knox Burger was a central figure to many of the writers Shepard has revived; as editor of Gold Medal Books, a '50s-era imprint that specialized in paperback originals, he published Vin Packer and gave Kurt Vonnegut his first publication. Burger is still alive, and he still gives advice to Shepard on his publishing ventures (he shrewdly advised Shepard to put a Vonnegut blurb on the front cover of Shake Him Till He Rattles).

Though a majority of Stark House's books are formerly out-of-print fiction, Shepard has published other material as well, most notably a collection of essays in tribute to the '50s cult sci-fi movie Invasion of the Body Snatchers, edited by Ed Gorman and that film's star, Kevin McCarthy, and featuring a piece by Stephen King. "That was published as a favor to Ed Gorman," Shepard says. "When it was published, it was almost instantly remaindered when the publisher went under -- it didn't have a long shelf life. I loved dealing with Kevin, he's a fun guy. He bought a bunch of the books and takes them to conventions. I should hope to be so lively at 92."

For complete article log on to

Shepard has his eye on the future, and would like to eventually build Stark House up to the point where he can pass it on to someone else.

"Right now I'm trying to keep the cost down, and I can do that by printing smaller quantities," he says. "Once I have to print a minimum of two or three thousand, all the sudden I have some pretty big bills that I have to contend with. To do one [book] a month, I'm doing it my way right now. When the year is over, I'll have done 10 or 11. I had a schedule I made in January, and I've kept to it throughout the year. Just the fact that you can publish something on schedule is considered impressive in the small press world. You announce it for October, and you cross your fingers that it'll be in bookstores by January. There are a few small press publishers that make a living at it and are able to quit their day jobs. A lot of them are just people like myself that do it out of love, and in every free moment that you have."

book cover: Violence is My Business, Turn Left for MurderCHAPTER ONE

When I got there the man hadn't yet made up his mind about jumping. I tried to drive through to where the state police were unloading big floodlights from a truck, but a burly deputy stood in front of the car with his hands on his hips. I braked and he came around to stick a red face in through the window.

"End of the line, Mac," he said. He had peered through the dusk at my District of Columbia plates, not liking them. "You can't park around here. Any place around here. We got enough trouble with the college crowd."
I took out the photostat of my license and showed it to him. He wasn't impressed. "Now tell me the guy up there is your client."

I shook my head. "No, but he's involved in a case my agency's on."

"Besides, this ain't D.C."

I pointed to the small print at the bottom of the license, where it says I'm bonded in Virginia too. Before the deputy could make up his mind about that, one of the floodlights came on. The crowd buzzed and hummed with excitement as the beam swung and probed up through the gloomy twilight of the cold autumn sky.

"There he is!" someone shouted....

One upcoming project in the new year is the first book in a fantasy trilogy by his ex-wife, Campbell Shepard, which is also the first original novel published by Stark House. "I felt strongly about it -- she has new ideas all the time about this thing," he says. "I want to get the ideas out there."

"The Long Tail," a recent book by Chris Anderson, argues that catering to smaller niche markets can be more profitable than the outdated blockbuster, one-size-fits-all mentality. The theory is that cumulatively, less popular books (or movies, or CDs) can actually outsell the big-budget dinosaurs. Small publishers like Shepard have garnered an increasing share of book sales by focusing on under-served markets for fiction that isn't considered profitable enough in today's ruthlessly bottom-line financial climate, but still has a substantial audience. Because of the consolidation of corporate publishing, many current midlist authors find their books going out of print, never mind obscure classics from 40 years ago.

Economic woes aside, the only way some out-of-print novels see the light of day is through the auspices of someone like Greg Shepard, who publishes his books as a labor of love, but now has the ability, through desktop publishing, to bring forgotten hard-boiled classics out of the shadows.

Jay Herzog writes about art, literature and culture at



Comments? Write a letter!

North Coast Journal banner

© Copyright 2006, North Coast Journal, Inc.

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

From Bookgasm--my Top Ten

Since I’m never sure what “best” is supposed to mean, I’m submitting these books because they gave me great degrees of pleasure in a variety of ways:
• THE HUSBAND by Dean Koontz
• DARK HARVEST by Norman Partridge
• ASK THE PARROT by Richard Stark
• ECHO PARK by Michael Connelly
• THE DEAD LETTERS by Tom Piccirilli
• ROAD TO PARADISE by Max Allan Collins

–Ed Gorman

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Bookgasm on Stark House

Posted by Bruce Grossman on December 26th, 2006

If I were to do a standard Top 10 list of the year’s best books, five of the slots would be taken up by a certain plucky little publishing house in California. So why not just cut the standard list in half and focus directly on the venerable Stark House Press, purveyor of many fine two-in-one collections of classic crime novels.
Top 5 Twofers from Stark House Press:
1. A NIGHT FOR SCREAMING / ANY WOMAN HE WANTED by Harry Whittington – This book made me such a fan of Whittington, aka the king of the paperbacks. Now I’m always on the lookout for more of his stuff in the used stores (usually to no avail), so I hope Stark House reissues some more.
2. WILD TO POSSESS / A TASTE FOR SIN by Gil Brewer – Brewer’s lead character could drink Charles Bukowski under ther table. This is a dark world of noir to which we all should be exposed, because they sure don’t write like him anymore.
3. THE DEADLY DAMES / A DUM-DUM FOR THE PRESIDENT by Douglas Sanderson – Canadian noir, eh! I guess these were the books that Bob & Doug read while not hosting THE GREAT WHITE NORTH. Sanderson writes like a freight train – you just better hold on.
4. AN AIR THAT KILLS / DO EVIL IN RETURN by Margaret Millar – Putting this at number four was a little hard for me. It’s edged out by Sanderson by a mere hair. With this book, you’ll see why Ross Macdonald’s wife is actually a better writer then the man who gave us Lew Archer. This ain’t no chick lit!
5. SHAKE HIM TILL HE RATTLES / IT’S COLD OUT THERE by Malcolm Braly – Finishing up the list is, of course, one of the first books I got to review for this site: a great twofer from an ex-con. The only reason it’s this low? Just look at the competition. I mean, it’s like pick your five favorite Martin Scorsese films.

Monday, December 25, 2006

Careers: Erle Stanley Gardner

I've never been able to figure out why Raymond Chandler felt he owed such a literary debt to Erle Stanley Gardner. He told Gardner that he'd once copied a Gardner story so closely that he couldn't submit it for publication. I guess he felt it would look like plagiarism. But what did he learn from Gardner? Certainly not style. Certainly not dialogue. Certainly not structure. Writers learn from unlikely sources, true enough. But Chandler seemed to lavish so much praise on Gardner you have to wonder what inspired him exactly.

But Chandler was a snob and when you examine the nature of his praise, you get a sense he was being condescending. He said that only when you wrote at great speed (as Gardner did) could you make such unbeleivable plot turns palatable to otherwise sensible readers. I've always wondered what Gardner made of that. He was no fool.

All this comes to mind because I had several doctor appointments in the past few weeks and I'm always careful to bring fast and uncomplicated reads along with me. For the last few doc visits I brought along Perry Mason novels. Early Perry Mason novels, I should note, when Mason was still a creature of Black Mask rather than The Saturday Evening Post. Throughout his career he was wise enough to recognize one of the great true American boogeymen, big business. His social conscience came fom his days as a lawyer when he represented Native Americans, black Americans and Latino Americans in towns that did not want them.

I still find the Masons good reads. True, Gardner worked with stereotypes--The Bad Wife, The Crooked Cop, The Loyal Servant--and he told his stories largely through (sometimes interminable) dialogue but while I'm reading them I'm almost always caught up in the puzzle he's given us. Nobody is what they claim to be. Everybody has a secret, usually a nasty one, the exception being the tortured person Mason has agreed to take on as a client, usually while shunning much more lucrative work.

The early Masons were written before Gardner decided to make his work "timeless." There is little place description in the later books. He didn't want to "date" them. I like the history I get from the first dozen Masons, from all of the Doug Selbys and even from the A.A. Fairs written during the war years. I enjoy sitting in the tea rooms, bars, mansions, hotels and trains of the Thirties and early Forties. His work became far less interesting when it was shorn of any physical specificity.

The Masons owe much more to the Golden Age than most critics seem to have noticed. Their plot pieces are no less unlikely, the clues no less exotic and the conclusions no less bombastic. But I'm not complaining. Most Golden Age stuff except for John Dickson Carr is difficult for me to gak down. But somehow Perry, Della and Paul make it all fun again.

Sunday, December 24, 2006

Bud Flannagan--who?

First printed Friday, November 11, 2005

Bud Flannagn
If you remember hm at all, you remember him under his stage name Dennis O'Keefe. He spent much of his career being called the road show Cary Grant. He was handsome enough, I suppose but he lacked Grant's ease with himself. He was a tall lanky troubled Mick whom you could easily imagine had a taste for the bourbon. And a few punches thrown in the parking lot after a night's imbibing.
I thought of him today because by accident I picked up an old copy of Mystery Scene that carried a two page list of overlooked but memorable noirs. O'Keefe a/k/a Bud Flannagan appeared in four of twenty of them.
Iowans were always curious about him because he grew up here. He survived his first decade in Hwood by doing just about everything, writing, dancing, directing plays at various small L.A. Theatres. His break came when he started doing the Grant-influenced stuff in what proved to be about two decades worth of B-movies, most of them comedies that won him excellent reviews and a decent living. He was an affable, even occasionally silly screen presence just like Grant but there wa always that hint of anger he couldn't quite hide even when he played it as simple frustration.
He never broke through, though he had a season of starring in his own TV sit-com and doing third billed roles in a few A pictures.
What he is remembered for by cult devotees today are his film noirs, especially the two directed by Anthony Mann. An unpopular confession here--despite O'Keefe's excellent performance, T-Men has always seemed tedious to me. I can admire what Mann did with it but somehow it never catches fire for me.
Raw Deal, on the other hand, is in my top ten noirs. O'Keefe is older, heavier and meaner. He seems more comfortable in this part than any I've ever seen him in. He's not a typical bad guy--he's dangerous in the Lawrence Tierney way (speaking of Mick drunks). And Mann plays him off beautifully against the women who love him--the good woman (Marsha Hunt) and the floozy (Claire Trevor)--in exemplary style.
Mann has never used his B-movie stock company better. Here you find Claire Trevor, Marsha Hunt, John Ireland and Raymond Burr giving ruthless performances. But the movie is driven by the reckless, obsessive rage of O'Keefe. His IMBD credits list runs to seven pages--a long, long career. But this is the best of his career.

The reviewer for IMBD liked the film as much as I do:

Folks can go on and on about a visual style. The fact is, RAW DEAL exemplifies more than just an atmosphere. There's a catalyst for horrific violence driven by the desperation of the characters, their psychosis and their inability to escape from the choking shadows not only around them, but inside their heads. This movie, a cheap b-production with only one actor with stand-out talent, Claire Trevor, and a young powerful Raymond Burr, manages to seem authentic all the way through because it doesn't hold back on the violence or the threat of violence. There's a desperate prison escape, by hero O'Keefe, who's trying to get to Burr the crime boss, for whom he took a fall. Burr wants O'Keefe dead so he doesn't have to worry about O'Keefe ratting on him. O'Keefe uses two women he knows, his floozy Trevor and the good-girl counselor he really loves (she's cast in light and draws him like a moth) as cover. The movie then follows O'Keefe as he does a mini-FUGITIVE, like the television show, making love to his women and encountering a raging lunatic in the woods who doesn't have anything to do with him, but might get O'Keefe caught anyway by swarming police on the hunt for the maniac.

In this rough noir, you get a suicide by cop, a guy fighting not to get his face impaled on a set of wall antlers, a flaming friccasee thrown in a drunk woman's face, a nasty deception and the good girl getting tortured, and a bloody final encounter between psycho Burr and O'Keefe, with plenty of face-ripping and falling from burning buildings. That's not standard stuff, and if you can get into babe Trevor with light shimmering on her lips as she tries to figure out how to save her thug O'Keefe from the police, Burr, and the younger angel ready to steal him away, then you will enjoy hell out of this film.
posted by Gormania at 4:18 PM 1 comments

Saturday, December 23, 2006

PRO-File: Jeremiah Healy

Tell us about your current novel?--TURNABOUT (Leisure Books mass-market pb reprint, March, 2005) is under my own name (Jeremiah Healy) and deals with a former FBI agent who installed a security system in a mansion on the North Shore of Massachusetts. Problem: The rich, older client calls him, claiming his grandson has been kidnapped from the place, and the client wants the security man to figure out how the system failed and to find his grandson.
> Can you give us a sense of what you're working on now?--A stand-alone thriller involving the stalking and implosion of a major Boston law firm. I'm also collaborating with a couple of executive producers in Hollywood on a potential police-procedural series based on, believe it or not, an aspect of investigation NOT yet tapped by the current franchise programs.
> What is the greatest pleasure of a writing career?--The short-term freedom to be the captain of how you spend each day.
> The greatest DIS-pleasure?--The long-term insecurity of not knowing when the next paycheck will arrive.
> If you have one piece of advice for the publishing world, what is it?--For writers, don't think of your profession as a "career." Rather, think of it as a series of projects, some of which will fly higher than others, and some of which will never get off the ground. And also write next the next book you really WANT to write.
> Are there two or three forgotten mystery writers you'd like to see in
> print again?--Donald Westlake's pseudonymous "Tucker Coe" novels, Benjamin M. Schutz's "Leo Haggerty" novels, and Dennis Lynds' pseudonymous "Michael Collins" novels, all three series private-eye and superbly written.
> Tell us about selling your first novel. Most writers never forget that
> moment.--I'd sent the manuscript of BLUNT DARTS to 28 publishers before the 29 accepted it (back in 1982, when I started submitting, the author could still snail-mail a full manuscript directly to an editor with no literary agent in-between). Later, that 29th editor (the great Ruth Cavin, literary and literal godmother to many of us) was vindicated in her opinion by the book being nominated for a Shamus Award, a paperback auction for the mass-market reprint rights, and the New York Times putting it on its holiday list as one of the seven best mysteries of 1984. Seventeen more novels, and three collections of short stories later, I'm still truckin'.

Friday, December 22, 2006

Our sacred obligation as mystery writers

From the New York Times:

As if mystery writers did not have enough to do just trying to come up with a good yarn, now they may have to worry about their readers’ psyches.

by Stuart Goldenberg

Mystery Appeal: Effects of Uncertainty and Resolution on the Enjoyment of Mystery (Media Psychology) Abstract Only

A new study finds that people with low self-esteem don’t seem to like it much when a story ends with a twist. In a whodunit, they like the “who” to be the person they suspected all along.

The findings appear in a recent issue of Media Psychology, and were prepared by Silvia Knobloch-Westerwick of Ohio State University and Caterina Keplinger of the Hanover University of Music and Drama in Germany.

Mystery writing, the authors note, is big business in the United States, with about three new books coming out a day. Their appeal is generally not in the depiction of a crime but its aftermath.

“Mystery deals with the solution of an enigma, especially with identifying who is guilty of committing specific, previously unresolved criminal acts,” the authors wrote.

For the study, the researchers asked 84 college students to read different versions of a short mystery titled “Murder Because of Lust and Greed?” (It may have lost something in translation from the German.) It tells the story of a businessman who is stabbed in his villa; the victim’s wife and his lover soon emerge as suspects.

In some versions, the main suspect proves to be guilty. In others, she does not. In still another, there is no hint given of who the killer is while the story unfolds.

Before the students read the stories, they were given psychological assessments. While those found to have low self-esteem did not like surprise endings, those with more self-confidence did. Both groups liked stories in which it was unclear who was guilty until the end.

“People whose self-esteem tends to be a little low,” Dr. Knobloch-Westerwick said, “they probably enjoy that little self-esteem boost they apparently get when they say, ‘I knew it all along!’ ”

Thursday, December 21, 2006

PRO-File Jack Bludis; Fred Blosser; Ed Lynskey

Jack Bludis has published more than 40 novels and over 400 short stories in several genres using various pseudonyms. His latest novel, Shadow of the Dahlia is set in the Hollywood during the time of the infamous "Black Dahlia" murder. It received a Shamus nomination. His story “Munchies” was nominated for both a Shamus and an Anthony. Jack has lived in Baltimore most of his life but travels often, particularly to NYC and Southern California.

Tell us about your current novel?
It’s a police procedural about a religious
crime—absolutely NOT child abuse, too much of that going
around. I wrote it about NYC about 20 years ago, when I
didn’t know what I was doing. I have taken the basic story
and I am rewriting it set in a small, Western Maryland
City. I’ve taken longer on this than and two or three other
books combined, but it is a lot longer—about 500 ms pages.
It has substantial changes from the original.

Can you give us a sense of what you're working on now?
Working on the above novel. I generally only write stories when
someone specifically requests one or I really, really want
to be in something. 3500 word stories take me longer than
most novellas and even longer than 6,000 word stories.

What is the greatest pleasure of a writing career?
The first two--Getting nominated for the Shamus for my
story “Munchies” one year and my novel *Shadow of the
Dahlia* the following year.
But I think the biggest thrill, not pleasure, was when I
was completely surprised that I was nominated for an
Anthony for “Munchies.” It was one of those moments when I
looked at the e-mail several times before it sunk in. In
truth, I was hoping for the Shamus nom, never dreamed I’d
get an Anthony nomination.

The greatest DIS-pleasure?
On the book I’m working on now. Years ago, I was called
from the shower on a Sunday morning by an agent who said I
“had a best seller.” A week later I received a letter
telling me he wasn’t going to handle it. That is

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

Take a lesson from Harlequin and Charles Ardai. Set lines
for various types of books. Harlequin covers just about
every female taste with different lines. Charles Ardai at
*Hard Case Crime* appeals to the noir readers among us. One
of the biggies, St. Martins, e.g. should have a line for
PIs, another for Police Procedural, another for noir,
another for Amateur Detectives and even a one for
Crime-solving Cats. Let the reader know what she or he is
getting not just by cover art, but by naming the subgenre.

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

I think *Hard Case Crime* is taking care of that end of the
hardboiled and noir readers. I don’t, and haven’t read much
in other lines, but one of my all-time favorite books is
*The Universal Baseball Association, Inc., J. Henry Waugh,
Prop.*, a long title, by Robert Coover.

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

I learned of my first novel sale and my first short-story
sale on the same day. The Story had already been published
without a by-line and I had to search for a story that
still had the previous months copy. Three months later I
received a checks for $50 for the story. They paid my
advance for the novel almost immediately. In those days,
1970s, they were not so quick to get mags and books

A lesson for other writers: when the publisher of the book
and two others of mine went under, my fourth book came back
with a rejection saying: “We’d love to publish this, but we
need a cleaner manuscript.” I worked hard, sent it back and
sold it.

It’s a pleasure answering these questions. It brings back
the good thoughts, and the bad things don’t seem so

Jack Bludis
*Shadow of the Dahlia* available at

xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx From Fred Blosser

Ed, I was looking at a couple of past blogs and felt compelled to add further to the discussions, despite the time lag between then and now. If this email were a carton of milk, it would probably be past its "use by" date. But if things are otherwise slow and you think the comments are worth considering, here they are:

JOHN FORD (posted Nov. 26-27):

I find it difficult to take Ford's extremes -- the sentimentality on one hand and the rowdy slapstick on the other. Even in the '30s and '40s, they probably drew snickers and groans from some sections of the movie theater. But even in regard to the sentimentality -- when Ford doesn't try to push it, and lets a scene carry its own weight, he's hard to beat. Example: the scene in YOUNG MR. LINCOLN in which Lincoln talks to Ann Rutledge, clearly in love with her and she clearly receptive to his attention, in youthful, awkward ways, and the best the abashed Lincoln can say to express his love: "You have purty hair, Ann. I always did like red hair." Then cut to a montage of seasons, and Lincoln trudging through snow to lay flowers on her grave. Never fails to choke me up. Ford had the genius of letting character speak through a few well-chosen words, a facial expression, a way of standing, a certain placement against the backdrop. In contrast, today's Westerns want to talk the viewer to death -- maybe one reason why so few of them do well at the box office, let alone get made anymore. I don't think the ending of THE SEARCHERS is necessarily untrue to history or to the protagonist's character as it was developed in the movie. And at any rate, I can't conceive that THE SEARCHERS would have been any stronger or more satisfying dramatically had Ethan dusted Debbie at the end, or tried to, as in the original novel. Wayne's most jingoistic roles weren't those in the Ford movies, they were the ones in the later movies that Wayne produced and had written for him, first by his pet screenwriter, James Edward Grant, and then by others after Grant died..


I also think highly of Mr. Breen's talents and insights as a critic, and have for many years. But one of his tenets in the comments on CASINO ROYALE is open to question: " James Bond, certainly in the movies and maybe in Ian Fleming’s novels as well, is a larger-than-life comic-book sort of figure who is not meant to be taken too seriously." The scriptwriters for CASINO ROYALE followed the structure, mood, and downbeat ending of Fleming's novel -- his first -- fairly closely. After Vesper commits suicide (overdose of sleeping pills, which the movie amped up to a big blow-'em-up set piece), Fleming says of Bond, "His eyes were wet, and he dried them." In Fleming's novels, Bond is pretty consistently a morose figure whom Fleming, at least, seemed to want readers to take seriously. The movies added the insouciance to the character, beginning with FROM RUSSIA WITH LOVE. (Connery's freshman Bond in DR. NO was pretty much the usual Brit attempt in the late '50s and early '60s U.K. thrillers to imitate American tough-guy.) Some observers seem to want Roger Moore to take the fall for adding a cartoonish tone to the series, but it actually began in the Connery era, and I don't see much of a shift in tone from Connery's final Bond for Eon Productions, DIAMONDS ARE FOREVER, to Moore's Bond in LIVE AND LET DIE. In addition to the sole Lazenby outing that Jon mentioned, Eon also tried sporadically to rein in some of the cartoonish excesses and add some dramatic heft to Bond in FOR YOUR EYES ONLY, in the two Timothy Dalton vehicles, and in the Pierce Brosnan films, especially GOLDENEYE But clearly, conditioned by 40 years of splashy stunts, outsized special effects, and sillly double-entendres, the public pays $10 a ticket for a Bond movie to see action, not drama. And so, the somewhat uneasy fit in CASINO ROYALE between bang-bang and sob-sob, made especially uneasy because Vesper's demise in the movie is crammed into one of those big show-piece scenes of everything getting blown to hell.

INFLUENCE OF GOLD MEDAL BOOKS (article posted Nov. 16; observations by you, Mr. Wheeler, and me posted Nov. 17):

Although I don't have any particular expertise on Gold Medal, I've read enough GM product and enough about the line that I didn't find much in the essay that I didn't already know. Regardless, "the unwashed" was an unfortunately snide choice of phrase, especially since any number of real experts could blow me out of the water with their knowledge. Fact of the matter is, it never hurts to remind people how great the GM line was, especially those under 40 who never knew the glory days. I'll cede the discussion about Elmore Leonard to your good points about VALDEZ IS COMING and THE BIG BOUNCE, and anyway, the article simply said that Leonard was published by GM, a factual statement. I may have misinterpreted the author's intent in saying "what if you could trace ... Sam Peckinpah ... back to [GM]," but I inferred the reference to mean that Peckinpah's own artistry, or public interest in his artistry, could be associated directly with GM. I think that's overstating the case, in the absence of any reference to Peckinpah being a GM fan in anything I've ever read about him. THE DEADLY COMPANIONS was based on a GM novel by A.S. Fleishman, and THE GETAWAY was based on the Jim Thompson novel (from Lion, not GM, if I remember correctly), but both properties were brought to Peckinpah by others, according to the biographies. If instead meant that Peckinpah's vision and the GM vision reflected a similar world-view of post-WWII cynicism and disillusionment, I'll go along with that. But in context, it appears to me that the essayist was a little carried away by enthusiasm. Aren't we all sometimes.

xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx From Ed Lynskey

Hi Ed,

The above in your December 11th blog re: Len Zinberg (a.k.a. Ed
Lacy) caught my eye. As usual, I'm behind in my posts. Anyway,
I hadn't read this L.Z. story. I'm racking my brain, trying to
recall if I read any such themes emerge in his other stuff. I
remember he wrote a series of "GI-returns-home" vignettes for
THE NEW YORKER right after WW II. Maybe in those pieces. (Now,
Bart Spicer was damn homophobic in his novel, ACT OF ANGER.
Those views later moderated a bit.) L.Z. is an interesting
writer. Thanks for the heads up -- I'll look for this

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

PRO-File Robert J. Randisi -- Murder Ink Closes

Ed here: I'm always careful never to overestimate how many books Robert J. Randisi has written in his three decades as a full-tme writer. But every time I HAVE estimated his total, I find that I've underestimated it. I can't keep up. In addition to constantly making himself into a better and better writer, Bob co-founded Mystery Scene with me, created Private Eye Writers of America and helped launch any number of careers. His current novel EVERYBODY KILLS SOMEBODY SOMETIME is getting great reviews in most major American newspapers.

Tell us about your current novel?
The current novel oin the stores is EVERYBODY KILLS SOMEBODY SOMETIME, a mystery featuring the Rat Pack when they were in Vegas in 1960 shooting the film Ocean's 11. The main character is pit boss Eddie G., who gets drawn in to doing a favor for Frank Sinatra, namely helping find out who is sending threatening nnotes to Dean Martin. It is getting stringly and widely reviewed. I've just delivered the sequel, LUCK BE A LADY, DON'T DIE.

Can you give us a sense of what you're working on now?
As I said above, just delivered the second Rat Pack, and I'm working on the follow up to a book called THE PICASSO FLOP, which will be out in Feb. These are Texas Hold 'em mysteries I'm writing with poker analyst-actor-former tennis star Vince Van Patten. I'm also writing two new westerns as we speak, and have contracts for a few more.

What is the greatest pleasure of a writing career?
Listening to people shovel snow and dig out their cars while I'm lying in bed knowing I only have to walk a few feet to go to work. Also seeing a idea I really love come to fruition, esepecially after I've been told it wouldn't work.

The greatest DIS-pleasure?
When publishers and reviewers don't get what I'm trying to do. It's frustrating. Also the whole self-publishing debacle. There's just too much of it going on and a lot of bad stuff out there

If you have one piece of advice for the publishing world, what is it?
Have more respect for the midlist.

Are there two or three forgotten mystery writers you'd like to see in print again?
I'd like to see somebody bring back the Hardman books by Ralph Dennis. That was a great paperback P.I. series. I'd also like to see Thomas B. Dewey and the Kanes--Henry and Frank-- reprinted.

Tell us about selling your first novel. Most writers never forget that moment.
It was beyond exciting. My first novel was a P.I. novel called THE DISAPPEARANCE OF PENNY. The editor wanted to buy four books, but just at that moment the publisher put a freeze on buying. We waited a few months--agonizing months--and then he decided to buy them one at a time. We never got beyond the first, but we did go on to do any other things together, including the Gunsmith series, which has now cracked 300 books. Also exciting was having PENNY reprinted last year by Stark House, celebrating 25 years since it was published.


Many Suspects Seen in the Death of a Mystery Bookstore


Published: December 20, 2006

Case closed.

Murder Ink, the mystery bookstore on the Upper West Side of Manhattan, is going out of business after 34 years, along with its younger sister store, Ivy’s Books and Curiosities. On Monday the owner, Jay Pearsall, posted a sign in the window announcing that Dec. 31 would be the final day.

“We’ve been having a hard time keeping up,” Mr. Pearsall said.

The list of suspects is long. The rent has been increasing by 5 percent a year and currently runs $18,000 a month, Mr. Pearsall said. A Barnes & Noble at 82nd Street and Broadway has been chipping away at business for years. Amazon and eBay killed off mail-order business and sales of rare books.

And at some point in the mid-1990s, Mr. Pearsall said, he realized something even more troubling.

“I used to do apartment buys,” he said. “Children of people in the neighborhood who had died would sell their parents’ books; lots of them immigrants, lots of them Jewish, educated, liberal, and they just had all these great books. I realized that our clientele was dying.”

For the last few years, he said, the store has depended on sales from nonbook items that yield larger profit margins, like greeting cards, journals and action figures of Carl Jung and Rosie the Riveter.

The original Murder Ink opened in 1972 on West 87th Street as perhaps the first bookstore devoted to crime and detective fiction. Its founder, Dilys Winn, sold the store after three years to Carol Brener, who owned it for 14 years. In 1989 Mr. Pearsall bought it, and three years later moved to 92nd Street and Broadway.

There are currently about 2,500 independent bookstores in the United States, not counting stores that deal only in used books, said Meg Smith, a spokeswoman for the American Booksellers Association. In 1993 the number stood at about 4,700.

Dyana Kimball, a 31-year-old theater director, noticed the sign at Murder Ink on her way to the subway Tuesday morning. “I’m so sad,” she said. “I feel like they curate books more than just sell all of the best sellers.”

As the New Year’s Eve closing approaches, Mr. Pearsall said his thoughts had turned to his 10-year-old son, Riley, who practically grew up in the store, and to Gus, the 11-year-old wire-haired pointing griffon who spends his days there.

Then there are the books.

“When I see ones that I can’t order again, it’s hard,” Mr. Pearsall said. “Whether it’s ‘Finnegans Wake’ or ‘Pat the Bunny,’ it seems impossible that we won’t order or sell those again.”
Delete It Cancel Cancel

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Booklist review: Peter Rabe

From Booklist (advanced review)

Rabe, Peter. My Lovely Executioner/Agreement to Kill. 2006. 289p. Stark House, $19.95 (97819333586113).
Though the titles attached to Rabe’s pulp thrillers often appear to have been chosen by a dart-throwing editor in the basement office of a seedy publishing house, the words inside were chosen with a precision belied by the speed with which they were written. Rabe can pack more into 10 words than most writers can do with a page: “Jessie sat next to me, but it was just clothes.” In My Lovely Executioner, Jimmy Gallivan finds himself busted out of prison against his will—he only has three weeks left to serve on a seven-year sentence—because someone important thinks he knows something he can’t remember. In Agreement to Kill, Jake Spinner walks out of prison on his own, having served his time, into an old grudge match that soon takes an unpredictable turn. Executioner is a tightly wound, claustrophobic thriller with a can’t-miss predicament, while Agreement, a skosh less successful, is almost a character study, as we watch would-be criminal Spinner try to kill his humanity. Not all of Rabe’s efforts gleam quite so brightly, but these reprints prove the publisher knows how to mine for gold. —Keir Graff

Ed here: It was my pleasure and privilege to know Peter Rabe. Just before he was diagnosed with terminal lung cancer, he was scheduled to come to Cedar Rapids for a four or five day visit. The visit never took place. He died pretty quickly. I wish he was alive to see all the current and sudden interest in his career. He was convinced he'd been forgotten.

Order your advance copy now at

Another Stark House winner

Sunday, December 17, 2006

Pro-File Bill Crider

Tell us about your current novel?

MURDER AMONG THE OWLS. is coming from St. Martin's in February. The acronym is from Older Women's Literary Society. The book's about Sheriff Dan Rhodes, a cat, and, of course, the OWLS. How can it miss? For some reason, even Kirkus liked this one.

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

Right now, nothing. I sent a new Sheriff Rhodes book to St. Martin's in November, and I'm waiting to see what happens next. I have a new agent, and I hope she's pitching some ideas for me. We'll have to see if there's any result.

What is the greatest pleasure of a writing career?

Well, let's see. This month I'd say it was the fun of telling a story, putting all the parts together, and seeing it work out in the end. Maybe I say the because I so recently finished a novel.

The greatest DIS-pleasure?

This month's answer: Having to make changes and revisions in the story I've told.

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

Buy (and sell) more of my books!

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

Stark House and Hard Case are doing a fine job of this, bringing back Harry Whittington, Charles Williams, Malcolm Braly, Day Keene, Gil Brewer, Peter Rabe, and others. I wouldn't mind seeing Lionel White get a reprint, just to name one more.

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

It was fun, for sure. Jack Davis called me to tell me that our Nick Carter novel had sold, and I'm sure Ernest Hemingway never felt more proud. That was back in 1981, and I still get a kick out of looking at the cover of THE COYOTE CONNECTION.

PRO-File: Greg Cox

Ed here: Greg Cox has done it all in publishing. A long-time editor at Tor-Forge, an excellent writer of horror and science fiction on his own, and an in-demand author media tie-in novels, Greg has survived nicely in the hand-to-hand combat that publishing has become for many of us.

Tell us about your current novel?

"52" is a novelization of an ongoing DC comic books series. The biggest challenge is boiling a fifty-two (!) issue storyline down to a regular-sized novel!

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

As I speed towards the end of "52," I'm already trying to line up some more media tie-in work. This involves brainstorming book ideas with various editors that I know. Nothing definite yet, but there are prospects.

What is the greatest pleasure of a writing career?

I get to indulge my inner fanboy by writing for some of my favorite characters and series: STAR TREK, BATMAN, BUFFY, etc.

The greatest DIS-pleasure?

A dental plan would be nice.

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

Hire me to write more of your cover copy!

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

I'm more of a scifi/horror guy, so my suggestions are along those lines:
Charles Beaumont.
John Wyndham.
Peter Haining (anthologist)
Not sure if any of those are exactly "forgotten," but you'd probably have trouble finding some of their older books at your neighborhood Barnes & Noble.

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

I actually remember placing my first short story even more vividly, possibly because I was dressed as an orangatuan at the time. Seriously. I was volunteering for a Halloween haunted house in Bellingham, Washington when I got the letter informing me that my story had been accepted! By a necrophilia zine, no less.

My memories of the first novel are a little fuzzier, mainly because it was kind of a complicated arrangement. I ended up getting hired to collaborate with another writer on a young-adult novel set in the universe of a third, more famous author. (ROBERT SILVERBERG'S TIME TOURS: THE PIRATE PARADOX by Greg Cox and Nick Baron, now sadly out of print.) This took awhile to get sorted out so it's probably no wonder that I don't recall one specific "Eureka!" moment.

Saturday, December 16, 2006

Careers: John Brunner

One of the real pleasures of my teenage years was reading the space operas of John Brunner, which mostly appeared in Ace Double Book form, sometimes taking up both sides.
Except for Leigh Brackett and some of Edmond Hamilton, I couldn't handle most space opera after I reached about age fifteen. But Brunner was both a superb writer of swift colorful action stories and a true citizen of the world, this last lending his tales a real sense of history which he projected into the future.
His characters were never standard pulp issue, either. They usually had problems unrelated to the plot some of which, realistically, were never resolved even as the curtain fell. He also had a somewhat baroque sense of humor. I recall one of his Ace novels opening with a parody of a very sophisticated party. I appreciated it even more when I saw the same thing a few years later in the then-shocking movie "Darling." Brunner had tucked his swipe at pre-Euro-trash into space opera. He got an early start on his action tales, selling his first novel at 17 as by Gil Hunt.
This was all in the Sixties. Came the Seventies and Brunner received the Hugo award, the British Science Fiction award and the French Prix Apollo. You don't get those babies writing space opera. From the Daily Telegraph, UK: "The Squares of the City (1965) was a study in mathematical psychology in which two ruthless politicians manipulate people in a real-life chess match. Brunner's more pessimistic stories included The Sheep Look Up (1972), a depressing look forward to the horrors of pollution; and The Shockwave Rider (1975), in which computers spread viruses and other evils. In this he was to prove wrong those experts who at the time dismissed the possibility of electronic viruses." These are his acknowledged masterpieces.
There were few science fiction writers as popular or influential as Brunner during the Seventies, especially after the appearance of The Shockwave Rider. He'd gone rather quickly from competent paperback man to bestselling genre master with a worldwide following.
What happened next has never been clear to me. Though I've heard various explanations, the one given most often is that he put several years research and writing into a historical novel called The Great Steamboat Race and that it flopped badly, shaking the confidence of author and publisher alike.
Something sure happened because when you look at the books he wrote in the Eighties, you see a writer essentially reverting to the work of his early days. Not outright space opera but definitely work far less ambitious than the novels that brought him awards and acclaim. His health got bad. His wife died. I'm told that at one convention he announced from the dais that he needed work and to please put him on their list. Any writer who pitches himself like that may get a contract but he sure isn't going to get much money.
He died at a convention, too. Heart attack.
As much as some readers admire The Traveler in Black, I think the better seldom-mentioned Brunner book is The Whole Man. Brunner creates not only a bleak future society unlike any I've ever encountered in sf but he also gives us a mutant-freak as a protagonist, a bitter, angry confused man who defies all the conventions of the form. A number of writers tried something like this previously--notably A.E. Van Vogt with Slan--but nobody brought the passion or dystopic poetry Brunner did to the theme.
Six months or so before his death I wrote a long retro review of The Whole Man for a sf magazine and sent a copy to Bluejay editor Jim Frenkel who was then republishing a few Brunner titles. He sent it on to Brunner and told me that Brunner was greatly pleased with it. I'm glad he got to see it. He deserved a lot more praise than my little review could give him.

Friday, December 15, 2006

Susannah McCorkle

Ed here: I tend to divide my music listening between rock and jazz. In the latter category Susannah McCorkle was one of my true lasting pleasures, though she was (according to Those Who Know) too cabaret for jazz and too jazz for cabaret. She made the hoariest of standards sound new. She had a voice that could both cut and crush. I never get tired of hearing her. For all the years I've listened to her I didn't really know much about her other than that some of my wife's theater friends in NYC were nuts about her. From Newsweek/MSNBC/Slate came this last month:
Books: Remembering Jazz Great Susannah McCorkle
A new biography details the talented, tragic life of singer Susannah McCorkle.
By David M. Alpern
Updated: 11:32 p.m. MT Nov 18, 2006

Nov. 17, 2006 - When celebrated jazz-cabaret singer Susannah McCorkle recorded a dirgelike version of the usually up-tempo tune “There’s No Business Like Show Business,” from Irving Berlin’s “Annie Get Your Gun,” many called it a refreshing, imaginative, alternative take, insightful about hard realities of the entertainment world, sensitive to Berlin’s own long struggle with dark moods.
“There’s no people like show people, they smile when they are low …” Susannah sang. “… You’re broken hearted, but you go on. You go on!” Now Linda Dahl’s new biography of McCorkle, who committed suicide five years ago, makes clear that track was a sad anthem of self-definition, McCorkle’s very own “You Don’t Know the Half of It, Dearie, Blues.”

Talented as a writer of short stories and profiles as well as an interpreter of “standard" songs from the 1930s, '40s and '50s (“The Great American Songbook,” as some would have it), with a score of CDs to her credit and gigs at posh nightspots like the Oak Room at New York’s storied Algonquin Hotel (think Dorothy Parker, Robert Benchley and their writers’ roundtable), McCorkle seemed a singular success. She was attractive, cheerful, helpful, interesting and caring with most of her wide circle of fans and friends, myself among them.

After she threw herself from her Manhattan apartment window at the age of 55, we were mortified. How could it be? Quickly came some basic context: she had her own long history of debilitating depressions; her father had committed suicide, as had an aunt; Concord Records had canceled a new CD recording; the Oak Room had downgraded her annual run, other bookings were scarce, a major love affair had ended badly.

But we knew that couldn’t be the whole story, though depression itself is one of today’s most insidious killers. So friends were pleased to learn that Susannah’s death—and life—had piqued the interest of music biographer Linda Dahl, author of “Stormy Weather: The Music and Lives of a Century of Jazz Women,” and “Morning Glory: A Biography of Mary Lou Williams.” I was eager to share memories of the Susannah I knew, and even more eager to learn what others had to say. Now I know, and almost wish I didn’t.

Dahl’s “Haunted Heart” takes its apt title from a 1948 ballad of lost love by Howard Dietz and Arthur Schwartz that appears on one of Susannah’s last recordings. The book might well have been subtitled “'All About Eve' Meets 'Three Faces of Eve'.” Dahl’s diligent research and informed analysis forge a compelling, sympathetic but often chilling view not only of McCorkle’s complexities but also of the difficult business of music itself and of the widespread always potentially fatal illness now better known as bipolar disorder, which the singer hid from so many, even from herself for many years.

From letters, interviews with family and friends, and Susannah’s own stories, both published and unpublished, Dahl assembles a disturbing story of music and madness, the portrait of a woman whose singing brought joy to many yet who could never fully enjoy her own life, her talent, intelligence and good looks. One of three daughters of emotionally distant parents, she grew up plagued by contradictory impulses: ambition and self-doubt, perfectionism and paranoia, strong sexuality and good-girl propriety. Suicide figured in several of her early short stories, even before her father, a frustrated academic, joined the Hemlock Society and took his own life.

McCorkle left California for Europe as a twentysomething in the 1960s to work as a translator, English teacher and professional writer, encouraged by widespread acclaim at the Berkeley campus humor magazine and early success in a writing contest. Despite exuberant letters home, however, she was often tormented by loneliness, traumatized by a rape, tortured by her first real love affair—with a married musician.

Then, hearing a Billie Holiday recording transformed her world; McCorkle at once was determined, even obsessed, with making that sort of singing her career—her life. In Dahl’s recounting, singing almost seems like a form of self-medication, a socially acceptable way for Susannah to unleash all the conflicting emotions of joy and sadness, hope and fear, passion and anger, that she harbored from childhood. But the contrast between the idealized world of the lyrics she loved and her own life only made for more pain. “She would sing these songs and want her life to be these songs. And it was not possible that her life could ever be that way,” recalls her close friend and fellow cabaret star Mark Nadler.

McCorkle, we learn from Dahl, sang at first like the Billie-wannabe she was, but later developed her own style, though she could also evoke vocal greats like Bessie Smith and Ethel Waters (a neighbor of mine in Brooklyn decades ago, and the subject of my first real conversation with Susannah). But even her singing was a study in contradiction. Called too jazzy by many in cabaret, where emotional intimacy with the audience is essential, she was not free-form enough for some real jazz aficionados. Her voice had an earthy lustiness, but also a lingering, little-girl quality. She could be rollicking on CD tracks, and strangely wooden in live performance, fixing her gaze on a near wall and avoiding eye contact with all the fans around her.

Rather than acting songs like some stars of the musical theater, she seemed more to channel the essence of great lyrics by Berlin, Cole Porter, Larry Hart, Ira Gershwin and less familiar masters like Leo Robin (“Diamonds Are a Girl’s Best Friend,” “Thanks for the Memory”) and E. Y. (Yip) Harburg (“Over the Rainbow,” “Old Devil Moon”). She also drew on her own linguistic skills to write sensitive translations for contemporary Brazilian classics. But in hiding the dark torments of her own soul, Dahl shows us, Susannah proved a better actress than we knew.
So, bravo! Still it was painful for me to learn how difficult Susannah could be with some of her colleagues, lovers and husbands (three of them, though she wed the first only to get an English work permit). And sadder still to learn how many of them failed her, consciously and unconsciously, as things fell apart. Like many with bipolar disorder, she didn’t like the side effects of some medications, and a new prescription was left unopened in her apartment at her death. She preferred a more holistic approach, an alternative-medicine, health-food regimen. But at the end, her holistic doctor took a week’s vacation. One psychiatrist no longer had time for her, and another couldn’t begin treatment right away. Good friends were busy with work and family—not realizing how close to the edge she was.

“There’s something irresistible in Down!” McCorkle sings on one of her last CDs, which seemed to me, on balance, increasingly autobiographical, less ebullient, more sadly introspective than earlier recordings. In the end, Dahl’s account suggests, a lack of places to do the kind of singing she lived for seemed to cripple her as much as the loss of income and prospects that singing had provided.

McCorkle’s many accomplishments—all the recordings, awards, loyal fans and friends, despite her inner demons—are a testament to her willpower. How she failed to prevail in the end is a stark warning about the immense danger of depression and the need to diagnose and deal with it directly. McCorkle’s musical legacy speaks—sings—for itself. Or to quote Dahl’s inevitable last line, going back to Berlin: “The melody lingers on.”

© 2006

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Anthony Lane on the new Thomas Harris novel

He has written one great Lecter book, “The Silence of the Lambs,” and two lesser ones, so why produce a fourth that is not merely the weakest but that makes you wonder if the others were so gripping after all? There is a puff of grand delusion here, of the sort to which all thriller-writers are susceptible. Compare “The Friends of Eddie Coyle,” an early novel by George V. Higgins, with the bulky solemnities of his later work; or, for that matter, “Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy” with more recent le Carré like “The Night Manager” or “The Constant Gardener.” At some point, each man started to hear that he was so much more than the master of a genre (as if that were an ignoble thing to be), and responded to such flattery by expanding his fiction beyond its confines, not realizing that what he felt as a restriction was in fact its natural shape. That is how a writer loses thrust and form, and how Thomas Harris went from this, a jailbreak in “The Silence of the Lambs”:

“Lieutenant, it looks like he’s got two six-shot .38s. We heard three rounds fired and the dump pouches on the gunbelts are still full, so he may just have nine left. Advise SWAT it’s +Ps jacketed hollowpoints. This guy favors the face.”

To this, a love duet from “Hannibal Rising”:

“I see you and the cricket sings in concert with my heart.”
“My heart hops at the sight of you, who taught my heart to sing.”

Ed here: I think Lane nailed it when he said "At some point, each man started to hear that he was so much more than the master of a genre (as if that were an ignoble thing to be), and responded to such flattery by expanding his fiction beyond its confines, not realizing that what he felt as a restriction was in fact its natural shape."

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Selling out 2

Ed here: When I first got involved in science fiction fandom in `56 Earl Kemp was already a serious and prominent fan out of Chicago. Earl's had an interesting life in publishing of various kinds, notably the soft core paperback market of the late Fifties and Sixties. One of the soft core writers he admired was Hal Dresner, who went on to have a major career in Hollywood and to write a very funny but also illuminating book of writing fiction strictly for money. Earl reprinted the following in one of his recent fanzines. (For all of Earl's current (fascinating) fanzines log on to

From Hal Dresner's The Man Who Wrote Dirty Books…

"…a writer sells out when he agrees to do a bad book; he consummates the bargain when he knowingly lets a bad book slip from his hands. But during the actual writing, there is no such thing as 'selling out' or 'writing down.' A writer has but one voice and he must use it if he is to write, no matter what he is writing. To try to alter that voice for any sustained period is as difficult as trying to talk in a falsetto for a month. He may simplify, but that is simplification and not easy to do. He may also embellish with prosy curlicues, but that is only obfuscation and the true voice remains beneath the fruity tones. He may revise and rewrite and fill his drawers and trunks and wastebaskets in the process. I prefer to keep my wastebasket empty and fill my wallet, so I publish my little keepsakes.

"But make no mistake. They are mine and that is my voice you read. It can't be any other way. The limitations and requirements of the book limit my register and filter my tone like a bad microphone but I am still using my true voice. So if you didn't like This Flogged Flesh, the chances are you won't like my 'real books' either.

look for earl kemp's current fanzines here:

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Larceny, Inc.


Larceny, Inc. (1942)
Directed by
Lloyd Bacon

Writing credits
Laura Perelman (play) and
S.J. Perelman (play) ...

Genre: Comedy / Crime / Drama (more)

Plot Outline: Three ex-cons buy a luggage shop to tunnel into the bank vault next door. But despite all they can do, the shop prospers...

Cast overview, first billed only:

Edward G. Robinson .... J. Chalmers 'Pressure' Maxwell

Jane Wyman .... Denny Costello

Broderick Crawford .... Jug Martin

Jack Carson .... Jeff Randolph

Jackie C. Gleason...Hobart (lunch counter man)

Runtime: 95 min

Ed here: I'm always grateful for anything that can distract me from my demons (Poe had nothing on me believe me) and Larceny, Inc. sure took me away for an hour and a half.

Seeing Edward G. Robinson play broad comedy was fun, Jane Wyman was really a cutie, Broderick Crawford (seriously) did several bits of physical comedy that came straight from the Shemp Mo and Curly handbook, and Jack Carson in four set pieces damned near walked off with the whole movie. (I agree with David Thomson that watching Carson work was one of the great true pleasures of American film.) Of course having dialogue written by S.J. Perelman doesn't hurt.

And even in the early Forties playing a hapless soda jerk you can see Jackie Gleason (Jackie C. in the billing) developing both The Poor Soul and Joe The Bartender. Only seven years later he'd be trying them out on the Dumont TV network.

For all that this was an A movie it had some of the mutinous spirit of the better Bs. This could easily have turned into one of those cautionary crime tales Hollywood loved back then (crime doesn't pay with frog-like J. Edgar Hoover sitting sternly behind his desk) but there's never an apology made for the fact that just about everybody you like in the film is a crook and most of those you dislike are upstanding citizens.

This is in rotation on Turner Classic. If you enjoy it half as much as I did, you'll want a keeper copy. Next time I'll record it.

Monday, December 11, 2006

From Jon Breen--A Fine Review

Back in 1969, I sent an absurdly premature suggestion to August Derleth that he publish a collection of my mystery parodies under the Mycroft & Moran imprint of his Arkham House publishing operation. A cordial letter indicated he knew my stories and asked me to send along what I had. A subsequent letter quite rightly pointed out I didn’t have enough for a book but made some helpful suggestions: doing Rex Stout and Mickey Spillane in the same story is a bad idea; add some other familiar subjects. As a literary all-rounder Derleth was already one of my heroes, and now he impressed me with his extraordinarily generosity, with all the demands on his time of his own prolific writing and publishing output, in helping out a novice.

Thus I was surprised to learn recently that in the decades since his death Derleth has been the target of attacks for his personal and business practices in s.f., fantasy, and horror fandom. I came across an anthology, published in 2000 and still in print, that I had never heard of before but had to grab. Arkham’s Masters of Horror (Arkham House), edited by Peter Ruber, is ostensibly a collection of stories by contributors over the years to Arkham House’s publishing line, but the substantial introduction and four-or-five-page essays that precede each story add up to a virtual book-length history of the publisher and biography source on its contributors.

Arkham House was, of course, created by Derleth and Donald Wandrei to publish the works of their under-appreciated hero and mentor H.P. Lovecraft. I have read just enough of Lovecraft’s fiction to know he’s not my cup of tea. (I do admire his critical history Supernatural Horror in Literature and enjoy dipping into his letters.) But several of the writers in Ruber’s volume I am especially interested in—Robert Bloch, Ray Bradbury, Vincent Starrett—and the lives of writers in popular fiction genres always interest me.

Ruber’s introduction, “The Un-Demonizing of August Derleth,” is a successful effort to counter the fannish badmouthing of Derleth. In his operation of Arkham House and its imprints, he had to balance his love for what he was publishing and the interests of business, and per Ruber, he accomplished this with integrity, though he was sometimes reluctant to suffer fools gladly.

While I highly recommend this anthology, it suffers the modern plague of terrible proofreading and copy-editing. Ruber frequently uses the word “prolixity” as the noun for the quality of being prolific. I don’t think so.

Speaking of Derleth, one of his stories from the early ‘30s is reprinted in another highly unusual anthology, The Best of 10 Story Book: From Harry Stephen Keeler’s Spicy Magazine 1919-1940 (Ramble House), edited by Chris Mikul. The mag apparently was a semi-slick, under-the-counter fiction-cum-girly magazine, and the anthology includes some period nude photos, tasteful and tame by current standards. Keeler couldn’t pay much, but he boasted of having no taboos, of publishing fiction other magazine editors would not touch. On the basis of Derleth’s “Two Gentlemen at Forty” and Len Zinberg’s “Little Guy,” I believe him. Both stories have a matter-of-fact treatment of homosexuality I never dreamed would have existed in magazine fiction of the ‘30s. (Zinberg later achieved greater fame as Edgar-winning mystery writer Ed Lacy.) Other familiar names in the anthology include Carroll John Daly, Theodore Pratt, Kenneth Fearing, Jack Woodford, Zora Neale Hurston, Vincent Starrett, Harold Q. Masur, and editor Keeler himself with two stories.

Sunday, December 10, 2006

Westerns ARE selling -- Richard S. Wheeler

For your consideration. From Richard S. Wheeler.

While perusing the website of Western Writers of America I came across a November 20 press release that startled me. It said western sales were up. According to the Neilsen BookScan, which covers 70 percent of all book sales in the country, western titles were up 9 percent in 2005 and so far this year, up 10 percent. What's more, the release said, western titles listed in Books in Print had risen from 543 in 1995 to 901 in 2005.

The news startled me. It was contrary to all I've been hearing from NY publishers and editors. I queried the author of the release, wanting more substantiation, but she didn't respond. So I contacted Cara Milo at Nielsen and asked a number of questions about what sort of books were tracked. She replied as follows:

The sales of fiction western books have risen in the last two years; western nonfiction, academic books about the west and juvenile westerns would not be included in this trend. This increase is seen in units sold which is what BookScan tracks. As for your other question, we do not obtain data from distributors. I’ve attached a list of our panel of reporting retailers.

What interested me here is that BookScan does not track sales by distributors such as Anderson News, which have always been the great sellers of western fiction. I'm glad sales are up in bookstores, big box stores, chains, etc., but this data should be tempered by the absence of news about how distributors are doing.

As for Books in Print, it should be remembered that it does not distinguish between books published commercially and vanity books done by print-on-demand publishers such as PublishAmerica and iUniverse, etc. Also, POD publishing has made it possible for authors to put dead books back into print. At my request, Forge put eight out of print Skye's West novels into POD form, and they are back in print. Through the Authors Guild I put 15 reverted titles back in print. Sunstone Press will put six more reverted titles back in print. My friend Jeanne Williams has 45 titles listed in the Authors Guild back in print program, some of them westerns. Between Jeanne and myself, we may account for around 50 of those in-print titles. These trends easily explain why western titles in print are growing, but it scarcely means there is an upward trend.

But are commercial publishers doing more titles? No. It is now possible to see what they are doing by checking their websites. For example, HarperCollins did ten mass-market westerns this year, but has only one, an Elmore Leonard reprint, scheduled for the first quarter of 2007. Pinnacle, once a stalwart, is still doing some "William Johnstone" novels, and will do three next year, which is down sharply. But it has only one traditional western scheduled for 2007, a Max McCoy novel. It did three in 2006, two L'Amour imitations and one labeled a western but set on the east coast of Mexico. In short, my check of some publishers' websites indicated that there is no flood of new titles.

"Why such an upsurge in westerns?" the WWA press release asks, breathlessly.

I wish I knew.

Saturday, December 09, 2006

Stark House schedule

Even though I'm informally associated with Stark House Publishing, I'm also a fan of Greg Shepard's increasingly popular books. Fan firt, freelance editor second I guess. You'll be a fan too when you see what Greg gas got lined up for 2007.


SEPT 06: Wild to Possess/A Taste for Sin--Brewer

OCT: My Lovely Executioner/Agreement to Kill--Rabe

NOV 06: Look Behind You Lady/Venetian Blonde—Fleischman

JAN 07: Jimbo/The Education of Uncle Paul—Blackwood

FEB 07: Gold Medal Trio—Marlowe/Flora/Runyon

MARCH 07: The Old Battle Axe/Dark Power—Holding

APRIL 07: Underground/Collected Stories—Russell James

MAY 07: A Shot in the Dark/Shell Game—Richard Powell

JUNE 07: Snowbound/Games—Pronzini

JULY 07: The Killer/Devil on Two Sticks—Miller

AUG 07: Dogtown/Soultown--Lambert

SEPT 07: Sweet Money Girl/Life & Death of a Tough Guy—Appel

OCT 07: Anatomy of a Killer/A Shroud for Jesso—Rabe

Greg's got some other really fine books to fll out the year but since the ink isn't dry he's asked me to wait awhile before announcing them.


I was at a used book sale the other day and found a box of paperbacks and science fiction magazines from the Fifties. As I looked through them I was surprised to find that for me anyway, covers can inspire memories as specific as songs and movies. I bought this magazine at the drugstore, this magazine at the bus station, this magazine at th newstand etc. Fifty years ago. I also remember the arguments I got from other sf fans when I said that though Virgil Finley and Kelly Freas were certainly superior technically to Ed Emsh(willer), I still preferred Emsh. Looking at some of his covers in that box I realize now what I liked about his paintings--the layouts and the designs. Stark and dramatic and, for their time, fresh.

Friday, December 08, 2006

maybe hwood's right once in a while

Don't give him rewrite
Clive Cussler had wide discretion over the script for his novel "Sahara." Now, after many costly revisions, he's suing over what did hit the screen.
By Glenn F. Bunting, Times Staff Writer
December 8, 2006

PHILIP Anschutz made his first big splash in Hollywood five years ago when he cut a deal considered outlandish even by movie industry standards.

The Denver industrialist not only agreed to pay $10 million per book for rights to the best-selling Dirk Pitt adventure novels, he gave author Clive Cussler extraordinary creative control over "Sahara," the movie starring Matthew McConaughey and Penelope Cruz.

Cussler had final say over the director and lead actors (he boasted of turning down Tom Cruise for being too short) as well as wide discretion over the script (he disparaged writers as "hacks.")

By ceding so much authority to a novelist, Anschutz broke a fundamental rule in the film business: Keep the author out of the screenwriting process. Now Anschutz finds himself cast in a movie mogul's nightmare.

He has lost about $105 million to date on "Sahara," was forced to abandon plans for several Dirk Pitt sequels and is fighting one of Hollywood's most contentious lawsuits since humorist Art Buchwald battled Paramount Pictures over breach-of-contract charges. A jury trial is scheduled next month in Los Angeles.

Thousands of pages of legal documents — including transcripts of sworn depositions, confidential memos and internal e-mails — show exasperated studio executives, producers and directors scheming and back-stabbing over the $145-million production.

Cussler initially sued Anschutz's company, Crusader Entertainment, claiming producers reneged on a contract that awarded him "sole and absolute" approval rights.

"They deceived me right from the beginning," Cussler testified. "They kept lying to me … and I just got fed up with it."

Anschutz declined to be interviewed. But in his countersuit, he alleged that Cussler sought to blackmail his film company by withholding consent over the script unless it agreed to use the novelist's own screenplay. The multibillionaire also has accused Cussler of inflating the number of Pitt books sold and slandering the movie before its April 2005 release.

"It is the height of arrogance for Cussler to take $10 million to make a movie and then torpedo the franchise," said Alan Rader, Anschutz's attorney.

Anschutz also alleges that Cussler made derogatory remarks about blacks and Jews while exercising his approvals.

Cussler has denied the accusations. His lawyer, Bertram Fields, said that Anschutz and his attorneys with the firm of O'Melveny & Myers are seeking to portray his client as a "crazed racist and anti-Semite" because they cannot win the case on the merits.

"They want to get these charges in front of a jury," Fields said, "so blacks and Jews will hate him."

CLIVE Cussler, 75, was born in Aurora, Ill., and raised in Southern California. A graduate of Alhambra High School, he spent two years at Pasadena City College before joining the Air Force during the Korean War.

He worked in advertising before taking a stab at fiction. "The Mediterranean Caper," published in 1973, was the first of 19 novels starring Cussler's alter ego, Dirk Pitt. The author and his swashbuckling hero both have deep, blue-green eyes and a passion for classic cars, shipwrecks and Don Julio tequila.

The third Pitt novel, "Raise the Titanic!", was made into a 1980 film starring Jason Robards. It lost so much money that producer Lew Grade quipped, "It would have been cheaper to lower the Atlantic."

At the time, Cussler vowed never to let Hollywood destroy another of his books.

Philip Anschutz, 66, has earned billions in oil and gas, railroads, telecommunications, real estate and entertainment. A conservative Christian, Anschutz controls Regal Entertainment Group, the nation's largest chain of theaters. His Anschutz Film Group makes no R-rated films and focuses on projects that carry moral messages.

Unlike many production firms, his film company encourages authors to become involved in the development process. After collaborating with the stepson of novelist C.S. Lewis, Anschutz last year rolled out his biggest hit, "The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe," a biblical allegory based on the Resurrection. The film has taken in more than $1 billion in revenues, and a sequel is due in 2008.

Anschutz was a fan of Cussler's novels and saw an opportunity for a hit franchise similar to the "Indiana Jones" series. Working with film executives Howard and Karen Baldwin, who already had reached a preliminary agreement with Cussler, Anschutz arranged to meet in his Denver office with the author in June 2000.

Anschutz obtained the movie rights by agreeing to give Cussler $10 million per book and substantial control over the initial picture. The deal meant that Cussler would score a huge payday if the Pitt novels developed into a franchise.

read the rest in the LA Times here,0,3301265.story?coll=la-headlines-entnews

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Ed Lynskey - Wm. Krasner

Tonight noted fiction writer and critic Ed Lynskey takes a look at an overlooked writer:


Ed Lynskey


“Film Noir on the Page”: Inside William Krasner’s Imaginative World

One of life’s quaintest joys is ambling into your favorite used bookstore and digging out the book from an unfamiliar writer. Later while reading it, you see your find is a gem. I had that experience with William Krasner’s The Gambler. I’d never heard of William Krasner. So, I bought the yellowed paperback on a whim and, once home, stashed it for a snowy day. Last winter it snowed a lot.

The suspense author of eight novels, William Krasner was born in St. Louis, Missouri, on June 8, 1917. He died of a heart attack on October 29, 2003 in Berwyn, Pennsylvania. He was 86 and survived by four sons and grandsons. His employment included gigs at a department store, post office, and hospital while attending Washington University in the 1930s. During World War Two, he volunteered for the Army Air Force Corps and saw action in the Central Pacific. He graduated from Columbia University with a B.S. in Literature & Psychology in 1948.

Krasner’s war correspondence and a war journal (both from 1944) are housed at the University of Tennessee in Knoxville. The William Krasner Papers (mostly materials associated with his first four novels) are housed at Washington University in St. Louis. The New York Public Library contains his television script for Walk the Dark Streets filmed for Studio One (1950).

The first four novels by Krasner during the 1950s earned the respect of such critics as Anthony Boucher and James Sandoe. Krasner’s three 1980s novels attracted some notice from Newgate Callendar at the New York Times. Jacques Barzun admired the Sam Birge books, both in the 1950s and later in the 1980s.

Walk the Dark Streets made the checklist in Geoffrey O’Brien’s Hardboiled America: Lurid Paperbacks and the Masters of Noir. Charles Willeford praised Death of a Minor Poet. Also Krasner’s champion, Raymond Chandler in a 1951 letter to Frederic Dannay (one part of the Ellery Queen duo) wrote, “And it may also happen that single book, such as . . . Walk the Dark Streets by William Krasner . . . will immediately put that writer above and beyond a whole host of writers who have written twenty or thirty books and are extremely well known . . . ”.

Prolific and versatile, Krasner took a hiatus from writing novels (“My first four books did not earn enough to keep us going,” he said in a later interview) and freelanced for various scientific and social science magazines and journals. He also did a great deal of radio and TV work, including a TV show on the Salem witch trials. His pieces appeared in Harper’s Magazine and Saturday Evening Post.

During the 1980s after a disability in 1978 freed up his time, Krasner staged a comeback by writing three more novels. None sold in the numbers sufficient to land another publishing contract, and his last book, Look for the Dancer, only came out in Germany where he was always more popular than in the U.S. Krasner also kept a current listing in Poets & Writers Directory until his death.

The Gambler (Harper, reprinted in H&R Perennial Mystery Library, 1987), Krasner’s second book, first appeared in 1950 and definitively earned him his "film noir on a page” accolade. The narrative details the rise and fall of Ben Wulfson, a two-bit gambler residing in some provincial Midwest city. It’s the spring and Ben’s conflicts quickly emerge.

Ben rescues a pale, sickly young lady, Alice, abandoned on a park bench. He soon collaborates with an old pal, Tim Coogan, to run a covert craps game out of an old storehouse. Ben’s ambitions soon antagonize Stanley Malec, the big fish running the gambling racket on “commission row”. Meantime Ben encounters family difficulties with his bossy elder brother, Jack, and Jack’s harridan-wife, Millie.

The interplay between The Gambler’s light and dark imagery -- many scenes depicted half in light and half in shadow -- at first struck me as heavy-handed and even intrusive. Then it dawned on me: duh, it’s a noir, dummy. With this new perspective in mind, I began to admire and enjoy how Krasner manipulated light and shadows in the various scenes to spawn his noirish atmosphere. I’m sure other writers have aped Krasner’s innovation, and perhaps he wasn’t a real pioneer in using it. But it impressed me as a reader.

But consider this key passage (the novel’s original title was The Skylight Room) describing the sunlight streaming through a skylight in a seedy attic apartment where Ben holes up:

At about eleven each morning a diffused shaft reached down and

struck the baseboard of the north wall. Shortly after one it had moved

as far east as its angle of entry would let it, and slowly and painfully

then thinned out and disappeared. The rest of whatever sunlight there

was during the day, from wherever it entered, remained captive in

the shaft, searching tediously and strenuously over and over the same

little areas of streaked paint and plaster before giving up each evening.

There were no windows. (p. 164-5)

Elsewhere, Krasner enriches his narrative with detailed descriptions, often with laser-like precision. At one point, Ben Wulfson tracks his winnings during the course of a craps game: “the arithmetic that worked in his mind like knives trimming a piece of meat”.

In a late chapter, Ben tries to make a call to Tim Coogan from a pay phone. This scene runs on for five pages. The reader experiences Ben’s sheer desperation as he fumbles with his coins, clears his throat, and argues with the sullen operator. This profusion of details establishes Ben’s futility. The Gambler’s plot doesn’t offer flashy prose or slambang action.

Rather classic noir, as Krasner rightfully demonstrates, is more about the protagonist’s final defeat, mounting in a slow, inexorable process we the readers are powerless to halt. Critical opinion on The Gambler varied. Herbert Mitgang at the New York Times wrote of The Gambler, “A cut above the ordinary tough-guy novel,” while Jacques Barzun saw it as “a first-rate tale of meanness and crime in dingy streets.” The Gambler probably isn’t Krasner’s best fiction, say as Walk the Dark Streets, but it is representative of early American noir: stark, uncompromising, and fluent.


Barzun, Jacques and Wendell Hertiz Taylor, editors. A Catalogue of Crime. Harper & Row, 1989.

Book Review Digest. H.W. Wilson Company, 1949, 1950, 1954, and 1957.

Bourgean, Art. The Mystery Lover’s Companion. Crown, 1986.

Chandler, Raymond and Frank MacShane (editor). Selected Letters of Raymond Chandler. Columbia University, 1981.

Contento, William G. The Fiction Mags Index. (


Contemporary Authors, New Revision Series. Vol. 86. Gale Research. 2000.

Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine. #120, November 1953.

Kerkhoff, Claus. Review of On Dark Roads (German trans. Walk the Dark Streets).

Krasner, William. “Biography & Bibliography.”

New York Public Library Digital Library Collection, Miner (Worthington) - Studio One Production Files, 1948-1955, Series I: Television Scripts and Production Materials, 1948-1952. Box 12, Folder 3. “Walk the Dark Streets” (Television script).

Obituary for William Krasner.” Life in (

Obituary for William Krasner. Philadelphia Daily News. November 8, 2003.

O’Brien, Geoffrey. Hardboiled America: Lurid Paperbacks and the Masters of Noir. Da Capo Press, 1997.

Poets & Writers. “Directory of American Poets and Writers.” New York.

William Krasner Papers. WTU00065. University Libraries. Washington University. St. Louis, MO.

World War II Special Collections. MS 1881, Box 14, Folders 23, 24. James D. Hoskins Library, University of Tennessee, Knoxville, KY.

William Krasner’s papers are also archived at Howard Gotlieb Archival Research Center, Boston University, MA.

William Krasner Selected Bibliography


Sam Birge Mystery Series

Walk the Dark Streets (Harpers, 1949)(Edgar nomination for Best First Novel along with Bart


The Stag Party (Harpers, 1957)

Death of a Minor Poet (Scribners, 1984)

Resort to Murder (Scribners, 1985)

Look for the Dancer (Rowohlt Verlang, 1990)(published only in Germany)


The Gambler (Harpers, 1950)

North of Welfare (Harpers, 1954)(first chapters a short story in Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine

with Erskine Caldwell and Hugh Pentecost in the same issue)

Co-authored Francis Parkman: Dakota Legend (historical novel) with Randall King. Banbury, 1982.

Contributed to French Omnibus Polars Années cinquante -- Tome 2 (Presses de la Cité, 1992) along with Helen Nielsen, Eric Ambler, Ursula Curtiss, and William O’Farrell.


Children at Risk. National Institute of Mental Health. 1978.

Drug-Trip Abroad: American Drug-Refugees in Amsterdam and London. University of Pennsylvania Press, 1972.

Labeling the Children. U.S. Dept. of Health, Education, and Welfare, Public Health Service, Alcohol, Drug Abuse, and Mental Health Administration, 1970.

Training Foster Parents to Serve Dependent Children. National Institute of Mental Health. 1978.

Victims of Rape. DHEW Publication No. ADM 77-485. 1977.

End of Essay