Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Dancing withe the agent what brung yiz

Is it just me and my disconnected life here in Ioway or has a lot of the talk about changing agents sort of drifted away?.

There was a time, a year ago say, when a number of writers were talking about dumping agents and moving on to new magic ones. Believe me, I've had a few bum agents myself so I sympathised. But then I always try to keep in mind that I've been a bum client for a few agents (maybe more than a few) as well. Two way street.

But not so much talk about the agent leap-frogging now. Maybe it's because most if not many agents don't had the clout they had even a few years ago. Just as Hwood has tightened star budgets, so have, in some (and I stress SOME) imprints at SOME publishing houses. They still wildly overpay for certain books but not as much as before and not as often.

A lot of take and or leave it today. Agents seem to go through a little pro form dance knowing full well that they'll generally have to settle or lose the deal. Ask any mid-lister if this isn't the case.

I've never been privvy to the inner workings of the mega-agencies but I suspect that even they aren't quite as successful across the board as they once were.

All this is as intractable, alas, as Iraq.

I'll end on a happy note. A prominent editor said today that mass market sales are up sigificantly over the last two years.

This is something that writers, agents and publishers alike should celebrate.

Monday, November 27, 2006

John Ford from Bob Levinson; Jerry Healy

Re my comments about John Ford the other night Bob Levinson noted:

1. Ford won more Oscars than any other director. None for a western, although "Stagecoach" was nominated. The wins: "The Informer," "The Grapes of Wrath," "How Green Was My Valley," "The Quiet Man." He didn't write 'em, but he sure knew how to get 'em on the screen. (Thinking about it, "The Quiet Man" is sort of a western in civvies, with an Irish brogue...)

2. Ford wasn't a right winger (like Wayne). When C.B. DeMille was pushing the Directors Guild to oust president Joe Manciewicz and other lefties, it was Ford who stood up to DeMille and won.

3. Think it was "Sgt. Rutledge" that dared build a (military) western around a black lead, Woody Strode. That was 1960, and a first.

4. "Red River" is the best western Ford never made. Hawks, but you constantly hear movie buffs (so-called) mistake it for Ford.

(later from Bob)

Agree with how you peg Ford's vision of the west, but he was always a man who preferred myth to reality (including the one he continually manufactured for himself as a director). Think "The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance." "The Searchers" is a terrific film, one I've seen a number of times, but even here, were Ford playing full fair with the truth, Ethan Edwards er would have killed Debbie once he had her, knowing what the Indians would have turned her into, etc., etc. Ford always had one eye on the screen, the other on the box-office, and the eyepatch made it impossible to always detect which was which. ; )

Making an excuse for Hollywood "back when," since the cameras first rolled, the concern was always for box-office and that invariably meant serving the public's need for escapism and uplifting themes; truth be damned, if necessary. Exceptions abound, of course, but you don't find them a lot of them listed among the top grossers overall. People like DeMille, going all the way back to "The Squaw Man," and Ford caught on fast and used it to create and fortify their own myth of directorial greatness.

The Mann (Stewart) movies, excellent; ditto Boetticher's output. Fuller was possibly the one writer-director least distracted by entertainment protocols. "The Steel Helment." "Park Row."
"Pickup on South Street." "The Big Red One." On and on, but never the box-office returns of a Ford or DeMille. Peckinpah and "The Wild Bunch"...


When I was that kid collecting autographs, often stationed myself along with other "hounds" at Paramount's DeMille gate, the major drive-on point for stars, about thirty or so feet from the DeMille building. Whenever DeMille appeared, he was always pleasant, polite and gracious to us, always coming over when someone called out for an autograph.
(Our home is about a mile from his home atop DeMille Drive...)

When Ford was prepping the "What Price Glory" Fox remake, he staged the play at Grauman's Chinese as a one-night fund-raiser, hoping it would convince Tracy and Cagney to co-star. They were in the audience, watching an all-star cast perform, including stars in bit parts, e.g., Wayne with one line as a wounded soldier). I asked for his autograph after he parked and headed for the stage door; got a grunt as well as a signature. (Cagney wound up co-starring with Dan Dailey after Tracy refused to be second-billed to his old drinking buddy...)

Here's an add-on I may have written you once before (or maybe it was to Bill Crider). I bought my way into Grauman's and the show that night, a buck and a quarter for what turned out to be an aisle seat in the last row of the orchestra section. Cagney and Tracy were seated side by side in the front row. When I saw them, I made a beeline down, autograph book and pen in hand, and made the signing request. Both were notorious for not signing, more so Tracy than Cagney. Cagney wondered if I should be there doing this, but took the book and signed. Tracy refused, so I challenged him--as only a kid could do--wondering how he had said no when Mr. Cagney had said yes. He gave me a look, took the book, and signed...

Ed here: I think I went a little nuts dissing John Ford. Bob brought me back to reality. Ford was a fine entertainer, a point I seem to have overlooked.


Ed here: I sent this out to my political mailing list today and Jerry Healy sent me a response:

Ed: The over-55s will remember the days when the movie studios
> controlled all publicity. All stars were smart, sensitive, straight,
> happily married, sober and patriotic. Studio publicists wouldn't lie
> to us would they?
> I always skim the news before I started my next writing session. This
> was in the Daily News this morning. All I read was the first sentence
> and I burst out laughing. Out loud. It says everything about the
> showbiz of our time. Substitute Debbie Reynolds or Sandra Dee or
> Annette Funicello for Spears here:
> Daily News
> November 28, 2006 -- BRITNEY Spears is picking up a lot of bad habits
> from new best pal Paris Hilton. Not only has she stopped wearing
> underwear and started flashing her crotch to cameras -
> Ed here: the crotch grabbing is something else we can blame on Michael
> Jackson.

Jerry Healy:


I didn't know Britney had ever WORN underwear.


Pee-Wee Herman

An interview with Stephen Mertz

Stephen Mertz has written novels, under a variety of pseudonyms, that have been widely translated and sold millions of copies worldwide.

His first national sales were to the digest mystery magazines of the 1970’s and his first novel, SOME DIE HARD, a private eye novel set in Denver, was published under the pseudonym of Stephen Brett. Steve’s writing output increased dramatically when he emerged as one of the country’s most in-demand writers of series paperback novels, averaging four books per year for years. “Because I was writing for several publishers, editors asked me to use pen names so I wouldn’t compete with myself. Besides, I didn’t want to be typecast as a writer who only wrote one kind of book.”

For the past several years, Steve has concentrated on reducing the volume of his output to focus on developing the quality of his work. This strategy has resulted in well-received novels of dark suspense (NIGHT WIND, 2002 and its sequel, DEVIL CREEK, 2005), hardboiled noir (FADE TO TOMORROW, 2004)) and a mainstream international thriller, THE KOREAN INTERCEPT, 2005.

Stephen Mertz lives in the rural Southwest, and is always at work on a new novel.

1. Tell us about your current novel.

The mass-market paperback edition of THE KOREAN INTERCEPT is out in December from Leisure Books. We’re hoping readers have had it with stolen nukes, crazed terrorists and Latin drug lords. I know I have. This one kicks in a new direction with a (hopefully) fairly clued puzzle tying it together.

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

HANK & MUDDY is a noir thing about a fictional meeting between two rough-and-tumble American music icons, Hank Williams and Muddy Waters. July, 1952. A steamy night in Shreveport, Louisiana. Misadventures ensue. The lead characters alternate, chapter by chapter, as narrators. It’s about the things that divided American society in 1952 and still do today.

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


4. What is the greatest DISpleasure?

None that I can think of. If it’s not pleasurable, I try not to do it. Well, I guess the pay could be better, but I suspect most folks feel that way about what they do.

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

Call my agent.

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

Edward S. Aarons. Ennis Willie. Roger Torrey. And there’s Mike Avallone…

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

Gazing back through the mists of time, the only part of selling the first one that I recall was the trouble I had to go through to get my money (a glorious, much-needed $750) out of the sons of bitches at Manor Books. Acquiring what was due me (at least contractually) cost me no money but did involve a pot smoking mime in a western Colorado mountain college town who still had a license to practice law in New York.

But it’s funny. Nearly all of my work in mass market paperback over the years has been written under a pen name or house name or ghosting or…you get the picture. Commercial scribbling. Since turning away from those markets about five years ago, I’ve had some success in hardcover but except for a movie tie-in book more than a decade ago, THE KOREAN INTERCEPT will actually be the first mass-market paperback to carry my name. I’m proud and excited about that, especially since some people who should know have said it’s a pretty good book.

So…can a writer publish a first paperback novel after already publishing so many books? That’s how it feels to me.

Sunday, November 26, 2006

John Ford

I was reading some of David Thomson's older essays tonight and came across his piece on John Ford, the one that got Thomson in so much trouble with so many students of film.

What he basically said was that the only really good film Ford ever did was The Searchers and that the rest of them--paerticularly those he's celebrated for--are mawkish, formulaic, ham-handed melodramas set in a west that never existed. He does allow that at least a few of the later films such as Cheyenne Autumn do try to get away from his claptrap about the Army in the west. Read a military journal sometime if you want to see how full of beans Ford was.

God, I'm glad Thomson wrote that. I've always felt the same way about Ford. I agree especially with what Thomspon said about My Darling Clementine. What a piece of bullshit, a drunken Mick's mauldin tribute to a "code" that is laughable. Give me Deadwood any day.

As Thomson suggests, look at the directors who worked at giving us a more realistic portrair of the west--Anthony Mann certainly and later Sam Peckinpah. Gunsmoke at its best was far truer to the reality of the frontier than Ford ever was.

This is beginning to sound personal. And cranky. I apologize for the tone. -Ford was an important director in the development of a certain type of stagey and paper-thin melodrama. He was both popular and influential. I'm not taking anything away from his success. But even as a kid I thought all the John Wayne stuff was a crock. I knew a lot of tough guys growing up and not a one of them remotely resembled Duke because Duke was another of Ford's fantasies. I had relatives die in WW11, Korea and Nam and never saw a soldier yet who spoke the Duke comic-book crapola about the glories of war and the wonders of machismo.

Ford and an array of other directors spent decades turning a serious part of American history into racist lies for the masses. And I don't mean this in any PC way. Dances With Wolves was just as much a left-wing distortion of Native American history as Ford's was a right-wing distortion.

I'm just glad Thomson had the nerve to speak up.
Aren't you sorry you asked?

Saturday, November 25, 2006



Thanks to holiday progamming--i.e., HBO not wanting to put anything new on the tube while a good share of the nation was traveling--I managed to catch up with the entire past season of Entourage.

I wonder if it'd be as fascinating a show if I lived in Hwood. Seen from a couch in Cedar Rapids, Iowa it's generally spellbinding.

Now, I take it it's a marginally realistic portrait of fast lane life in LA because so many celebs say it is. I have no way of proving otherwise. I assume that many liberties, epecially sociological, are taken with the show because hey it's TV.

My favorite of this season was the two-parter involving their old neighborhood pal who was recently released from prison. A profoundly spooky dude. Eric (the Irisher) was the first to recognize a sociopath when he saw one, though Turtle and Johnny Drama were quick to share that recognition. There's a scene with the whole crew at a gaziliionaire producer played on-the-money by Bruno Kirby (who would be dead not long after his turn here and deserved some better writing here) in which the ex-con just might blow the whole pending deal by insulting/turning off the producer. Ari the agent is on the verge of total meltdown trying to get the wanker to shut up before it's too late. Then there's a great turn--the ex-con steals the producer's most (sentimentally) valued possession and only Vince the star defends him. Some fine writing and even finer acting.

I still have the same problems I've always had with the show. The only two marginally adult characters are Eric and Ari. Ari is a prick but after twenty years of dealing with disasters large and small for advertising clients and politicians, I certainly sympathise with him. No matter how dutifully you work for some people, they're going to go ahead and fuck it all up for you. The expanded role of his wife this season is a good touch. She's a complex character. And she has all the money. To keep his agency open, Ari has to rely on her, something he obviously doesn't want to do.

Eric's usually the good guy. He not only works hard he's loyal in every way to Vince. And he tries to deal honestly in a cesspool of dishonesty. He went for a three-way with his very sexy girl friend and her girl friend thereby lifting himself out of the altar boy rut, which was starting to fray.

Each critic has his own Entourage favorites. Johnny Drama is all right most of the time, dull some of the time. But Turtle...I want to live in a Turtle-free universe.

The triumph of really great acting can be found in only one person associated with the show in my opinion and that 's Terrance McQuick, Ari's boss, as played by Malcolm McDowell. What an asshole. Deceitful, treacherous, merciless, he's everything you could want in a corporate villain. And he makes the villain perfectly beleivable. He's not Rod Steigering the part. No big melodramatic moments. He's simply being what he is a--a nasty remorseless deep sea creature filled wth greed and self-esteem. He's as much fun to watch as Bush saying heckuva job Brownie.

Despite certain of my qibbles, I'm impressed with the high level of writing and acting that the show has maintained over the seasons. I hope they've got at least one more good one in them.


Thanks to holiday progamming--i.e., HBO not wanting to put anything new on the tube while a good share of the nation was traveling--I managed to catch up with the entire past season of Entourage.

I wonder if it'd be as fascinating a show if I lived in Hwood. Seen from a couch in Cedar Rapids, Iowa it's generally spellbinding.

Now, I take it it's a marginally realistic portrait of fast lane life in LA because so many celebs say it is. I have no way of proving otherwise. I assume that many liberties, epecially sociological, are taken with the show because hey it's TV.

My favorite of this season was the two-parter involving their old neighborhood pal who was recently released from prison. A profoundly spooky dude. Eric (the Irisher) was the first to recognize a sociopath when he saw one, though Turtle and Johnny Drama were quick to share that recognition. There's a scene with the whole crew at a gaziliionaire producer played on-the-money by Bruno Kirby (who would be dead not long after his turn here and deserved some better writing here) in which the ex-con just might blow the whole pending deal by insulting/turning off the producer. Ari the agent is on the verge of total meltdown trying to get the wanker to shut up before it's too late. Then there's a great turn--the ex-con steals the producer's most (sentimentally) valued possession and only Vince the star defends him. Some fine writing and even finer acting.

I still have the same problems I've always had with the show. The only two marginally adult characters are Eric and Ari. Ari is a prick but after twenty years of dealing with disasters large and small for advertising clients and politicians, I certainly sympathise with him. No matter how dutifully you work for some people, they're going to go ahead and fuck it all up for you. The expanded role of his wife this season is a good touch. She's a complex character. And she has all the money. To keep his agency open, Ari has to rely on her, something he obviously doesn't want to do.

Eric's usually the good guy. He not only works hard he's loyal in every way to Vince. And he tries to deal honestly in a cesspool of dishonesty. He went for a three-way with his very sexy girl friend and her girl friend thereby lifting himself out of the altar boy rut, which was starting to fray.

Each critic has his own Entourage favorites. Johnny Drama is all right most of the time, dull some of the time. But Turtle...I want to live in a Turtle-free universe.

The triumph of really great acting can be found in only one person associated with the show in my opinion and that 's Terrance McQuick, Ari's boss, as played by Malcolm McDowell. What an asshole. Deceitful, treacherous, merciless, he's everything you could want in a corporate villain. And he makes the villain perfectly beleivable. He's not Rod Steigering the part. No big melodramatic moments. He's simply being what he is a--a nasty remorseless deep sea creature filled wth greed and self-esteem. He's as much fun to watch as Bush saying heckuva job Brownie.

Despite certain of my qibbles, I'm impressed with the high level of writing and acting that the show has maintained over the seasons. I hope they've got at least one more good one in them.

Friday, November 24, 2006

Deadly Pleasures; John D. MacDonald

I've spent the last few nights reading through four recent issues of Deadly Pleasures Mystery Magazine. Editor and publisher George Easter has managed to find writers who know how to review books and magazines in crisp and professional fashion. And given the range of material covered, I'd have to say that Deadly Pleasures offers a more comprehensive look at current mystery novels and collections than just about any other publication I've seen. George himself writes many of the reviews and fine mini-overviews. He's joined by such familiar familiar names as Marvin Lachman, Ted Hertl, Jr. and Bev DeWeese. If you have an interest in the mystery field, this is a must-have publication.


A few months ago a number of bloggers decided to make clear their thoughts about the work of John D. MacDonald. They didn't like much of what he'd written. As somebody who'd been reading him for fifty-plus years I tried not to be influenced by all the knocks but I did find myself passing up my monthly JDM re-read. Well, today, I took Soft Touch down from the shelf and read half of it in a single sitting. I loved it. JDM's best work was the logical extension of the stories you found in Black Mask. Except, for the most part, they were better written and much more realistic. What JDM did was take crime out of both the drawing room (which Hammett did) and the alley (where it's claimed Hammett and Chandler put it) and plopped it right down in the middle-class of middle-America. I think this is why people who prefer hardboiled fail to see the darkness in virtually all his work. Crime is going on for sure but it takes place amid discussions of mortgages, promotions, budgets and the kind of middle-class guilt you don't find in most noir fiction. Forgive me father for I have sinned. He once talked about the influence of John O'Hara's Appointment in Summara on his work. I see that four or five times a page in most of his novels. And since Appointment is one of my ten all-time favorite American novels, I'm happy JDM was bedazzled by that particular novel and author.

Thursday, November 23, 2006

Thrilling Detective Heroes

A few weeks ago I mentioned Bill Pronzini's observation that while most writers never become stars they can rise to the level of fine supporting actors. Or, as my favorite movie critic David Thompson has noted, a lot of us see certain movies for the character actors rather than the lumbering leads.

Thrilling Detective Heroes (Adventure House, $20) speaks directly to Bill's premise. Editors John Locke and John Wooley have gathered together pulp stories and wrters from the Thirties through the Fifties. With the exception of Carroll John Daly, most of them are forgotten today, though with the proliferation of pulp websites who's to say that such pulp stalwarts as Robert Leslie Bellem and Stewart Sterling won't find a new audience?

There are ten stories in all. Most have protagonists who are differentiated from the other protagonists through some kind of angle or gimmick. There's even a hobo detective called Bagdad.

The other thing the stories have in common is the sheer pace and pulse of pulp. This is meat and potatoes fiction. And that's what provides the fun. TCM has been running a lot of crime movies from the Thirties lately. I've watched a number of them. They're very much like their pulp magazine equivalents. Good versus evil with prim good girls and sexy bad girls told in short explosive scenes that race toward even more exlposive endings. Whether we're aware of it or not, this is where most of us came from.

This is a book that most popular fiction libraries should put on prominent display. While none of the stories rise to the level of Chandler or Hammett or even John K. Butler at his best, they certainly make a case for the second tier of the pulp boys. They demonstrate that these folks were craftsmen of a high order. If they didn't bother much with characterization, they excelled at action and atmosphere.

There's also a long and really engrossing introduction that charts the history of the Thrilling pulps.

A fine gift for the holidays.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Stephen Woodworth

The fourth novel in the exciting and inventive Violet Eyes series from author Stephen Woodworth has finally arrived. FROM BLACK ROOMS continues the adventures of Natalie Lindstrom, the ex-government operative who has fled her past in order to seek a normal life for both her and her daughter. But her link to the dead may forever keep her from the land of the living...
In every generation are born a select few souls with violet-colored eyes, and the ability to channel the dead. These Violets are used to bring forth the spirits of murder victims to allow the dead to confront their killers in court, produce new works of art by deceased masters, and even protect the secrets of the agency that controls them, the North American Afterlife Communication Corps (NAACC).
Having left behind the NAACC and the underworld for a new career in the art world, Natalie now must square off against an old foe from her past in order to protect a tortured artist she can't resist.
Click here to read an excerpt
"IN GOLDEN BLOOD is a fine addition to this fresh and fascinating speculative series. If you aren't already following this series, then do yourself a favor and read these books—I'm sure you'll agree that Stephen Woodworth is an author on the rise." —
"Fast-paced and imaginative sequel to his amazing debut, THROUGH VIOLET EYES...The separate story threads weave together seamlessly as Woodworth unveils the "Needlepoint killer," whose viciousness makes Hannibal Lecter seem like a Sunday School teacher. As with THROUGH VIOLET EYES, the violence in this book is matched by its intelligence." —Publishers Weekly
"[A] gripping, taut thriller, an outstanding debut novel...a polished, power-packed supernatural thrill ride that grabs you from the start and doesn't let go." —Locus
"THROUGH VIOLET EYES has a great cast of characters, a smooth-flowing plot, and a great premise....I had a great time with this book." —Fantasy and Science Fiction
"Eerie and complelling." —Mystery Scene
"Best book I've read in years! Part Silence of the Lambs, part The Lovely Bones, THROUGH VIOLET EYES delivers a highly evocative, thrilling punch. You won't put it down." —Lisa Gardner
"THROUGH VIOLET EYES is a fast, smart novel, brighter than a meteor and twice as scary. Stephen Woodworth provides shocks and thoughts in equal measure, and climbs right to the top!" —Greg Bear
"Shades of Minority Report and The Eyes of Laura Mars color Woodworth's chilling debut novel....Woodworth turns the conventional murder mystery on its ear [and] makes for a tantalizing puzzle rife with red herrings, made all the more entertaining by brisk pacing and strong internal logic." —Publishers Weekly

Fiction - Thrillers | Bantam
Paperback | October 2006
$6.99 | 978-0-440-24253-6


Ed here:

One of the most disapponting movies I ever saw was Predator. Part of the disappointment was self-inflicted. I thought the premise was so old-fashioned cool and yet so unique at the same time that it just couldn't miss.

Well, it missed. Missed terribly. Depite a few excellent scenes, it was a pretty standard chase movie.

A critic of mystery novels once remarked that all mystery denouments let him down. All this--for that?

But every once in a while you do find an original notion that is enhanced by some extraordinarily good writing. The Stephen Woodworth novels about the people with violet eyes are just such books. I read four of them over six days and every one of them combines the pleasure of a nifty science fiction idea with the paciing of superb suspense fiction.

He also has a subtle way with character. He plays against the innate melodrama of the form and thus give you moments that are human rather than just theatrical. For me the good books are the ones with those little grace notes of sentiment and sorrow and irony that stay in the memory long after the rest of the book fades.

This guy is good, very good. I sure hope there are more of these books in the pipeline. And any other he cares to share with us.

Monday, November 20, 2006

Jon Breen on Casino Royale; Fred Blosser; Ray Richmond

Jon Breen on Casino Royale

Last Friday on my local NPR station, I heard a couple of film critics, Henry Sheehan and Lael Lowenstein, talking about the new James Bond movie Casino Royale. Sheehan said it was the best Bond film he’d ever seen. Lowenstein wouldn’t go quite that far but did think it was the best of recent years. Sheehan was way off. There is no way the over-the-top latter day Bonds without Sean Connery could ever equal the lean and mean first three (Doctor No, From Russia With Love, and Goldfinger). Lowenstein was closer to the mark, at least up to a point.

I’ve seen every Bond film and enjoyed even the weakest of them, but the critics’ comments, laudatory as they were, made me doubt I would enjoy this one very much. It sounded as if they were trying to add serious depth and sensitivity to the character, and that’s just not a good idea. I remembered Batman Begins, which won great critical praise but which my wife and I found so boringly pretentious we walked out before it was over.

After two hours, my fears about Casino Royale had not been realized. Unfortunately, it was a two and a half hour movie. Daniel Craig makes a good Bond, quite possibly the best since Connery. As usual, there are great action sequences, including some impressive stunt work. Despite the absence of Q and Miss Moneypenny, there is at least some humorous byplay. But in that last half hour, things go irreparably downhill. The problem is this: 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. Laughter is an appropriate response to a Bond adventure, but it should be laughter of appreciation, not laughter of ridicule. The romantic subplot in this film as it develops in the last half hour unfortunately invites the latter.

Not that Bond in love, even with a touch of pathos, can’t be done successfully. It was managed over thirty years ago in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, the single Bond outing of George Lazenby, a much less gifted actor than Daniel Craig.

The Michael Richards Matter

Ed here: One final word on the Michael Richards matter. The two black men showed remarkable restraint in telling Richards that he what he was saying was uncalled for. I'm no fan of hecklers but I certainly thought their remarks showed great class under pressure.

Fred Blosser:


My initial thought: this was all a publicity stunt, including the planting of "hecklers" in the audience to create a fake ruckus. I don't take anything in show biz at face value anymore. Richards hasn't been in the public eye in years. It's like the fading actresses and internet pinups who do nude layouts in Playboy in an attempt to restart their careers. If it was on the up and up, it's simply another example of the sad state of "comedy" these days, where using rude or offensive slang for its own sake is somehow perceived as being funny.


Yesterday Ray Richmond didn't have much good to say about Michael Richards. Understandably. But like me he seemed moved to a reluctant sympathy for the man after seeing him on a Letterman feed. This is not to be confused with condoning what Richards did. But last night I saw a man in hell and having been there more than a few times myself I had to feel sorry for him.

Ray Richmond:

A Remorseful and Seemingly Shellshocked Michael Richards Apologizes On 'Letterman' Tonight Via Satellite

It just so happens that Jerry Seinfeld was slated to appear on "Late Show with David Letterman" tonight to hawk the release of the Season 7 DVD of "Seinfeld." And considering the Michael Richards racial-epithet-spewing brouhaha that exploded today, the timing could not have been more fortuitous for Seinfeld's series co-star and longtime friend, who makes an appearance from Los Angeles via satellite during Seinfeld's already-scheduled guest stint. Reported to be near tears, Richards utters a heartfelt and achingly sincere apology for his behavior that was captured on tape. It airs tonight at 11:35 p.m. on CBS.

Interviewed by Letterman, Richards is said to look haggard and forlorn and seems genuinely devastated by the fallout from his Friday night stand-up gig at The Laugh Factory in West Hollywood. He apparently makes the point that he is not a racist and was not under the influence of drugs or alcohol at the time (hallelujah to that) but that he obviously has some significant anger issues to work out. Uh, yeah.

(For the transcript check here


Bill Crider pays an excellent adieu to Robert Altman on his website tonight

Michael Richards update; Frank Evans

For those of you who are interested Michaels Richards will be on the David Letterman show.

I knew what I said about Richards-Gibson would be controversial to some people at least.

From: Mark Adams
For those who accept Mr. Gorman's characterization of Mel Gibson's apology as one "in which he casts himself as the victim" I provide the actual text Gibson's apology. How anyone could read it and describe it as Mr. Gorman has is beyond me.

"There is no excuse, nor should there be any tolerance, for anyone who thinks or expresses any kind of anti-Semitic remark. I want to apologise specifically to everyone in the Jewish community for the vitriolic and harmful words that I said to a law enforcement officer the night I was arrested on a DUI charge.

"I am a public person, and when I say something, either articulated and thought out, or blurted out in a moment of insanity, my words carry weight in the public arena. As a result, I must assume personal responsibility for my words and apologise directly to those who have been hurt and offended by those words.

"The tenets of what I profess to believe necessitate that I exercise charity and tolerance as a way of life. Every human being is God’s child, and if I wish to honour my God I have to honour his children. But please know from my heart that I am not an anti-Semite. I am not a bigot. Hatred of any kind goes against my faith.

"I’m not just asking for forgiveness. I would like to take it one step further, and meet with leaders in the Jewish community, with whom I can have a one-on-one discussion to discern the appropriate path for healing.

"I have begun an ongoing program of recovery and what I am now realising is that I cannot do it alone. I am in the process of understanding where those vicious words came from during that drunken display, and I am asking the Jewish community, whom I have personally offended, to help me on my journey through recovery.

"Again, I am reaching out to the Jewish community for its help. I know there will be many in that community who will want nothing to do with me, and that would be understandable. But I pray that that door is not forever closed.

"This is not about a film. Nor is it about artistic license. This is about real life and recognising the consequences hurtful words can have. It’s about existing in harmony in a world that seems to have gone mad."

3:15 PM

Ed here: Mark, Gibson's whole response seemed scripted to me. That's just the way I heard it. Maybe he genuinely feels sorry for what he said. But it didn't feel that way to me. And there was here and there the tone of self-pity. I'm not writing him off a human being. I don't think what he did was unforgivable, though I understand people who can't forgive him. I think a bit of the reaction was over the top. But still and all you can't look at his movie about Christ and see that it's anything but an anti-Semetic screed. I'm sorry if I made it sound so personal. I just thought the tv appearance didn't sound human and that the movie was a hate piece. The same with Michael Richards. It saddens me that somebody whose work I admire has that kind of hatred in his brain. I believe we're all raised to be racists (and I includde some blacks but they've got a hell of a lot more reason to hate whites than whites have to hate them). But it's what Father Hesbergh at Notre Dame always said--we're raised to be racists so our measure is how we deal with those thoughts and impulses. Richards failed the test--as did Gibson--miserably.

Frank Evans wrote me ofline:

"How do you disarm two men with knives?"

My wife and I laughed about that. I didn't mean to sound tough. I'm not tough and never have been, much as I've dreamed of emptying out a few bars in my time. So how do you disarm two men with knives? I should've made it clear. As I recall, it took lots of time and lots of begging. Since they had the knives we had no way of threatening them. I didn't really think they'd cut each other but who the hell knew when they were that loaded. One would trip accidentally and stab the other guy. They didn't drink during our badgering so I think they managed to see how stupid it was to be fighting over a quarter and then they finally put the knives down. I remember clearly that they woudn't shake hands. Life in the small city.

Murdoch; Richards


This day would be notable if only for the fact that Rupert Murdoch actually admitted that he did something wrong and canceled the OJ book. He was insane to let it get this far. No matter how much the book might have earned (and I think it would have bombed) it couldn't equal the amount of loathing ir brought brought his various media outlets. Not to mention the immorality of it. Go away OJ you spotlight-hugging creep.

And now...

(BTW I won't look at the video. Couldn't handle it for the two young guys he took his feelings out on.)

Michael Richards went insane Friday night. I say this with sadness because on Seinfeld the man gave me hours of pure unalloyed joy (though it took him two seasons--ala Ted Baxter on Mary Tyler Moore--to find his true character.)

There's an old Hwood saying Never meet your heroes. I've been lucky in that the heroes I've met have been pretty decent people with the exception of the anti-semite who was SO anti-semetic I literally thought he was putting me on. Unfortunately he wasn't.

I'm taking this excerpt from Ray Richmond's fine column Past Deadline. Unlike most people I think you DO say ugly things you don't mean when you're drinking and/or drugging. I've said them and I've had them said to me and I base this on being stoned for nearly twenty years running. I'm not excusing bad behavior. I'm just saying that it isn't as cut-and-dried as many tv "experts" make it.

Hell, I've seen people get in knife fights over a quarter. Being stoned past a certain point is insanity. Literally. You grab what's handy skin color, religion and, if all else fails, a frigging quarter (fortunately two of us were only beginning our nightly brain damage, so when we heard the yelling we went in and grabbed them and took their knives away).

Mel Gibson doesn't count. His "apology" in which he casts himself as the victim tells me that he said exactly what he wanted to say. He's got some real problem there.

Anyway, from the fine Ray Richmond column Past Deadline:

" very much another Mel Gibson-like moment (albeit one in which Richards apparently didn't even have Gibson's excuse of being drunk, though don't be surprised if in the coming days that's exactly what this humiliating meltdown is blamed on). Yeah, how long before it's announced that Richards has checked into an "unnamed rehab facility" to battle a "longtime drinking problem" that's grown out of his "fizzled career since 'Seinfeld'"? In Hollywood, far better and trendier to be a closet alcoholic than a closet bigot.

"The outburst evidently stemmed from Richards being heckled by a couple of African-American patrons while performing a standup routine at The Laugh Factory in West Hollywood over the weekend. His resulting rant is so ugly and vile it can scarcely even be paraphrased here, but suffice it to say it involves repeated usage of the word "nigger" -- screamed at the top of his lungs during one particularly disturbing burst.

"One of the patrons at the club evidently shot the video. And while the audience at first is laughing, thinking it's part of the act, as Richards continues his onslaught there are gasps and murmurs and a stream of people starting to file out. Finally, Richards -- seemingly spent and perhaps grasping the impact of his words -- walks offstage sheepishly as the emcee tries to restore order.

"We don't see what inspired Richards to go postal, but it hardly matters short of someone having threatened his family. (And not even then, actually.) Heckling is simply an occupational hazard for a comic, and Richards is hardly a novice. It's difficult to imagine what could have spurred this sort of racist, rageful invective short of chemical inducement. I hope against hope this isn't ascribed to booze (how about personal accountability, just as a refreshing change of pace?) but fear that it's inevitable.

"Regardless, it figures to be especially tough for Richards to put something this jarring and revolting behind him. He's going to have a lot of 'splainin' to do, and we can expect that process of diversity training and the mea culpa interview circuit to begin any minute now. ("This is Dr. Phil McGraw, and my guest tonight is Michael Richards. Michael...WHAT WERE YOU THINKING?"

"UPDATE: My journalist friend Joe Rhodes sent along the following thoughts, and I believe them to be particularly salient -- enough so to add them to the post in addition to the comments section:

"I have seen Richards lose his shit before. I went to his house once for an interview and he was on the phone when I arrived, in the middle of a heated rant with what sounded like an ex-girlfriend. Instead of ending the call, or sending me somewhere out of earshot, he motioned me into the living room and continued going postal for a full 10 minutes or so, with me sitting right there on the couch. I had no idea what triggered the conversation or whether his anger was merited, but it was not pretty. I wasn't asked to leave the tirade off the record, but I don't remember if I specifically alluded to it in the piece.

"I did make it clear in the story that he was a much more complicated and darker character than he showed on 'Seinfeld.' And I remember thinking that, unlike Jason Alexander --who seems grateful for the chance and takes all the typecasting in stride -- Richards seemed really pissed off about being pigeonholed as Kramer for the rest of his life.

"The on-stage rant seems like a misguided attempt at doing a take on 'political correctness' by using the most shocking words he can think of and daring the audience to be offended. Sort of an Andy Dick approach. But, hoo boy, does he misfire. His undercurrent of bitterness just comes blowing out on stage and instead of funny and/or thought-provoking, it's just scary and sad.

"Comedy is hard."

Sunday, November 19, 2006

Richard S, Wheeler; Harry Whittington

From Richard S. Wheeler

Even as mass-market westerns continue to disappear from the racks, new forms of the western story are rising. The relentless decline of mass-market westerns is, I believe, largely the fault of the rigid publishers who still slap a picture of a cowboy with a blazing gun on almost every cover no matter what is inside. When the last mass-market western rolls of the press (any day now) it will still have the cowboy and blazing gun on its cover. But I won't spend time here about that.

We are seeing the rise of a phenomenon: the university press western. A few presses, such as the University of New Mexico and University of Oklahoma, are generating western fiction, some of it good, even as the old ritualized mass-market variety vanishes. 
One of the most remarkable of these is High Country, by Willard Wyman, published by the University of Oklahoma Press. It is a breathtaking novel about a packer and follows his life in from the 1930s to the 1960s. I rank it as one of the greatest of all westerns, and believe it will eventually make the all-time-best-western lists, once it has been widely read. If anyone has any doubt about that, look at the reader comments on Amazon.

  Its hero, Ty Hardin, grows up on a hardscrabble ranch and becomes a packer, taking people into the Bob Marshall Wilderness of Montana, and eventually into the Sierra Nevada. It's also a great love story. In fact, the women in the novel are as enduring and strong and richly textured as the men, especially Cody Jo, the wife of Ty's mentor, for whom he has a tender and unrequited love. Hardin packs for the Forest Service and for hunters and for adventurers who want to probe deep into wilderness. In World War Two he sees mechanization replace mules, and after his wounding and discharge he retreats to the high country, where he can continue to do the things he loves, and be near the woman he loves.

  Its author, Bill Wyman, is a retired California English professor, dean of students at Stanford, and headmaster of a private California school. He is a packer himself, and is as deeply rooted in the lore of mule packing as his hero. He knows the mountains, their joys and dangers, as well as his hero does.

  The novel won two Spur Awards (best first novel, and best long western novel) and I suspect it will be widely celebrated. Beyond that, it is well on its way to becoming a legend.

  Meanwhile, academic presses, of all things, are starting to churn out western fiction. Years ago, William Kittredge said that western fiction had to get out from beneath the "western" in order to bloom. At the time he said that, around 1990, he angered me. It smacked of academic elitism. Now I simply agree with him. He had taken a closer look at the sclerotic western fiction pouring from the mass-market houses than I had. The pocketbook western proved to be too calcified to change or grow, and its present demise does not mean the end of western fiction, but the beginning of something much better.



Back in the 1950s you could run but you couldn’t hide from Harry Whittington. Those were the days when many if not most paperbacks were sold in wire racks found in drug stores, grocery stores and what were then called dime stores.

Harry told me that he’d once seen five books of his displayed on the same rack, all published that month. He worked for everybody, from Gold Medal all the way down to Carnival. He did westerns, nurse romances, tie-ins, war stories and of course crime novels. The last was his true calling. There there was no sub-genre of suspense/mystery he didn’t like. Or apply himself to.

I mention Harry because Stark House Publishing has just published two of his best in a single attractive volume, A Night for Screaming and Any Woman He Wanted. I should also mention here that I’m a free-lance editor for Stark House, though I’d be reviewing this two-fer with the same enthusiasm even if I weren’t.

Harry’s world was not one of ratiocination. There wasn’t time for that. Most of his white working class protagonists were on the run from cosmic forces that would have given Lovecraft pause. In Night, for instance, the villain is so oppressive you seriously begin to wonder if the protagonist will survive. Seriously. The setting is one of those labor camp where drifters and small-time cons are forced to toil for the local politicians who make money on them. If the characterizations are less subtle than COOL HAND LUKE, the violence is every bit as painful. There are two scenes that literally made me wince. Harry knew the Deep South all too well.

Any Woman is a working class nightmare of a different kind. A once crooked cop stumbles on to a situation even he doesn’t want to cover up and joins his former enemy the DA in trying to right it. But the DA dies mysteriously and the cop is forced to go after the mob that runs the town by himself. Although this is a familiar 50s theme (the crooked town), Harry throws in a complication that makes the story personal and harsh. Harry always said that he knew how to do two things – plot and create characters. And this book proves that wasn’t any empty boast.

Here’s the Stark House website: Publisher Greg Shepard is bringing back the favorites of the 50s including Malcolm Braly, Gil Brewer, Stephen Marlowe, Day Keene, Vin Packer, Doug Sanderson and now Harry Whittington. He needs your support and I feel he deserves it, which is why I’m lending a hand. As I mentioned on my blog the other day, I recently paid $15 for a paperback from ABE. Well, I just got it today. It’s yellowed and the spine cracked when I opened it. Stark House sells two-fers (two books per volume) in handsome, sturdy editions for $19.95 that will last much longer than most pbs. I have no financial stake in this, I merely want to see the line thrive. Check out the website.

Saturday, November 18, 2006


Since we're approaching gift giving season let me recommend the trade paper edition of David Thomson's Biographical History of Film, a book I quote here frequently. This isn't because I agree with every one of his evaluations of various stars and directors. Some of his opinions infuriate me. I'd throw the damned thing across the room if it wasn't so heavy. But all in all it's the best book on film I've ever read--more breadth and depth even in the shortest of the pieces.

I'm half way through Lisey's Story and really enjoying and admring it. A lot of genre readers tired of King early on. They wanted him to be less expansive and stay stritcly to plot. And sometimes he certainly sprawls.. But in his sprawling he changed popular fiction forever, made it (despite the opinion of the snobs) much closer to literary fiction in its reality of place and character.

I'm hoping some of the old gang from my previous blogs write a few pieces for us again, that means you Richard Wheeler and Terrill Lankford and several others.

Friday, November 17, 2006

Fred Blosser; John D. MacDonald


Little or nothing new for the aficionados, but maybe it will stir some curiosity among the unwashed. I don't understand the reference to Sam Peckinpah, though -- unless he's referring to Peckinpah's movie version of THE GETAWAY, but you could just as well offer Stanley Kubrick (on the basis of THE KILLING being adapted from Lionel White by way of Jim Thompson). I would classify Elmore Leonard as an incidental GM writer.

Fred Blosser

Ed here: Have to disagree with you, old buddy. I've never seen the Gold Medal infuence attributed to everything from cyberpunk and Sam Pekinpah before. Nor do I think that Elmore Leonard was an "incidental" GM writer. I suppose he was in the sense that GM published only two books of his but at that time Leonard didn't have a big name nor a publisher behind him. He sold to anybody who'd by him. As for the books themselves, I happen to think that Valdez Is Coming is bar none his best novel of any kin. And The Big Bounce was breakthrough book in that it was the first novel in which we heard the Leonard "voice." The voice would later be honed and refined but this was its initial appearance. And they were both GM books.

Several of you wrote me off-line to see if I'd reprint the John D. MacDonald interview I did twenty-some years ago now. His wife Dorothy told me that interviews sometimes made him uncomfortable. He warmed up as we went along. You'll note how thepost-war theme of the interview complements the 1000 Words About Gold Medal we reprinted last night--and thanks for letting us reprint it you guys.


I interviewed John D. MacDonald three times over the years, twice for Mystery Scene. He generally hated giving interviews. I think this one was an exception. His wife was ill, and he was starting to experience health problems of his own.
My impression of him was that he was neither humble nor arrogant. He took pride in his writing, but he viewed much of it as not working out quite as he’d hoped. He told me once that he sometimes judged his books by percentages. This book did 70% of what he’d hoped; that one did 80%.
He was generally kind to other writers, notably Charles Williams whom he mentioned in two different interviews. He seemed to feel, as do I, that Williams should have broken out. My feeling was that Williams was too dark for the middle-class readers who flocked to John D. — which is funny because John D’s early Gold Medals and Dells were pretty damned grim.
I think I’m borrowing something from Larry Block when I say that some reviewers, especially in Europe, thought he was tame by the lights of Jim Thompson and David Goodis. They didn’t grasp the spiritual violence of such novels as A Key To The Suite (about a sales convention) and Slam The Big Door (the hollowness of success). Most of us die little deaths before the final big death. We lose jobs, mates, dignity. Key, for instance, charts the demise of several careers and at least two marriages in ways every bit as powerful and memorable as any shootout.
I enjoyed the Travis McGee’s but always felt that they were inferior to his non-series work. They made him rich and brought him true fame, but I often sensed that he wished he was still writing books such as Dead Low Tide and The End of The Night. Those early Gold Medals and Dells were some of the best crime novels of his generation. — Ed Gorman

The Damned proved that you are a born mainstream novelist. Do you recall the circumstances under which the book was written, and were you aware it was taking your career in a slightly new direction?

I was not trying to fit books into market slots. I wrote The Damned because I knew the locale, and I was interested in what would happen if a lot of people got jammed up at the crossing. A lot of things would happen to them, and that is the definition of a story.

While the critics have always talked about how Travis McGee puts rather helpless women back together, female characters such as Laurie in April Evil are very strong in their quiet ways. You seem to like your strong female characters better than the weaker ones – or is that me misreading?

I think that most of us have a greater liking for strong and solid people than we have for the wimps of the world. With strong people you can tell where you stand. Nobody, of course, is too strong to ever be broken. And that is McGee’s forte, helping the strong broken ones mend.

Soft Touch was an interesting variation on your early work. Here we had the resolute war veteran-intelligent, forceful, capable – so familiar in your early books ... yet here he goes bad. Your readers don’t seem to mention that book quite as often as some of your others, but it’s an almost flawless performance. Is it one of your personal favorites?

I think I would have a warmer feeling about Soft Touch had it not been made into a pretty sorry motion picture called MAN TRAP. I think the book worked fairly well, in that it almost did what I wanted it to.

What was it like, as a young family man, to embark on the hazardous career of freelance writer?

It was nervous, but not too bad. I had four months of terminal leave pay at lieutenant colonel rates starting in September of 1945, ending in January 1946. I wrote eight hundred thousand words of short stories in those four months, tried to keep thirty of them in the mail at all times, slept about six hours a night and lost twenty pounds. I finally had to break down and take a job, but then the stories began to sell. I was sustained by a kind of stubborn arrogance. Those bastards out there had bought one story “Interlude in India,” and I was going to force them to buy more by making every one of them better than the previous one. I had the nerves of a gambler and an understanding wife.

What are some of your favorite memories of your early writing days?

Every sale had a kind of iron satisfaction about it. “I showed you guys.” I remember standing in front of the downtown post office in Cuernavaca and opening a letter with $1,000 in it for “Louie Follows Me,” bought by Colliers. In late 1949 I wrote a long pulp novelette. My agent, Joe Shaw, asked me to expand it. I resisted, but complied. I hate puffing things. Cutting is fine. Everything can use cutting. But puffing creates fat. Gold Medal took it for their new line of originals. It was titled The Brass Cupcake.

What are some of your least favorite memories of that time?

Professionally, I do not recall any particularly bad memories. The book which just won’t jell. The editor who gets fired when you have half a book in his shop. The clown who was taking my old pulp stories and changing the point of view and selling them to Manhunt. I began to learn my trade in late 1945. Had I begun ten years later, I would never have had the chance to earn while learning. The short-story market was sliding into the pits. Luck is being born at the right time. I had an agent who kept me out of Hollywood despite some pretty offers. I was lucky to have a man so wise. I decided against doing a series character in 1952. I had no good reason. It was just a gut feeling. I didn't start McGee until 1964. By then I could avoid being trapped in the series. Saying no was the purest kind of luck. FOOTNOTE.

Which writers of your generation, suspense or mainstream, do you feel have been undeservedly neglected?

There are some, of course. Charles Williams comes to mind. I do not want to enumerate those who wrote too seldom or too short. Or who went into another line of work. That was their decision.

Would you share with us some of the books you feel you’ve learned a great deal from, both as a man and a writer?

Bronowski, The Ascent of Man; Tuchman, A Distant Mirror; Aries, Centuries of Childhood. I have made lots of these lists. They change from time to time

The House Guests manages to portray an interesting family in a way that’s sweet without being treacly. One senses that your family has helped you, in a variety of ways, be the writer you are today. True?

My family has given me the support one might expect. Approval, backup, affection, respect.

The House Guests is also remarkable in one other way. You make the felines in your life assume almost human shape without resorting to any Disney tricks. I remember especially one of your lines: “A cat cannot abide being made to look ridiculous.” Do you still get great pleasure from cats?

The present cats in residence are Bogie, an eighteen-pound male neuter tiger, and Canella (Cinnamon in Spanish), a spayed tabby. They are the same age, four, and I believe they are related.

When you look back over the past thirty years of writing, do you have any major regrets?

No regrets.

How did Travis McGee come into existence?

At the request of Knox Burger, then at Fawcett, I attempted a series character. I took three shots at it to get one book with a character I could stay with. That was in 1964. Once I had the first McGee book, The Deep Blue Goodbye, they held it up until I had finished two more, Nightmare in Pink and A Purple Place for Dying, then released one a month for three months. That launched the series.

Do you find a series character confining?

I do not find a series character confining. I do other kinds of books in between the McGee books. First-person fiction is restrictive only in that you can’t cheat. The viewpoint must be maintained with flawless precision. You can’t get into anyone else’s head. The whole world is colored by the prejudices and ignorances of your hero.

Does Travis have any secrets we should know about?


Will you describe a typical day for Travis when he’s eighty-five?


Do you recall your mood while writing The End of the Night? It’s a much better book than In Cold Blood, yet it’s also more despairing than Capote’s work. The curious thing is that you dedicated it, rather cutely, to your cats.

I remember that when I wrote The End of the Night I was very curious about the social and political effects of the mind-altering drugs. This was a new force in our arena at the time I wrote the book. At that time my cats, Roger and Geoffrey, had the habit of napping on my big work table. They scruffed up my pages and left pad marks. So I dedicated the book “To Roger and Geoffrey, who left their marks on the manuscript.” That sounds cute to you? How about the people who had no idea I owned cats? They thought I was talking about editors.

Whom do you read for pleasure these days?

I might as well tell you the titles of the books on my nightstand and on the table by the couch. Fadeaway – Rosen, Table Money – Breslin, Something about a Soldier – Willeford, Hugging the Shore – Updike, Blue Highways – Moon, Plumb– Gee, A Perfect Spy – Le Carre, It – King.

Would you tell us a bit about any works-in-progress?

In the fall there will be a book of letters called A Friendship, letters to and from Dan Rowan (Laugh-In) from 1967 to 1974. In the spring there will be a new edition in hardcover of Slam the Big Door, and a bit later, the twenty-second McGee, as yet untitled.

What would you like your epitaph to say?

He hung around quite a while, entertained the folk, and was stopped quick and clean when the right time came.

Copyright © 1984 by Ed Gorman. Previously appeared in The Big Book of Noir, edited by Ed Gorman, Lee Server, and Martin H. Greenberg, Carroll & Graf, 1998. Reprinted by permission of the author.
New introduction copyright © 2005 by Ed Gorman.

FOOTNOTE. Nothing has caused more interest in this interview than the accusation JDM made about the unnamed writer who rewrote some of his early stories and submitted them to Manhunt. This is not the same incident, by the way, in which Dimitri Gat agreed that his second mystery, Nevsky’s Demon (Avon, 1983) paid too close an homage to MacDonald’s The Dreadful Lemon Sky. Gat’s book was recalled, and he was required to apologize.
As for the Manhunt situation, Ed does not know who MacDonald was referring to, nor does anyone else. In the Readers Forum is a short recap, along with a note from Jeff Falco, who has a couple of last thoughts on the matter. (Steve)

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Gold Medal Books - 1000 words

Here's a really fine history of Gold Medal and its impact on literary and film culture courtesy of
The writers describe their site as being "a group of graying eternal amateurs discuss their passions, interests and obsessions, among them: movies, art, politics, evolutionary biology, taxes, writing, computers, these kids these days, and lousy educations." 2 --Ed

1000 Words -- Gold Medal Books

Michael Blowhard writes:

Dear Blowhards --

Another installment in my all-too-occasional series of looks at culturally-significant, underknown phenomena and events, "1000 Words."

1000 Words -- Gold Medal Books

What if you could trace the French New Wave, Sam Peckinpah, cyberpunk, "Pulp Fiction," "Mulholland Drive," and "Sin City" back to one business gamble taken by a third-tier publisher in 1949? In fact, you can, and without being guilty of too much overstatement. A little, sure, but not that much.

The publisher was Roscoe Kent Fawcett of Fawcett Publications, and his gamble was to try something no one else had tried before. He decided to publish original novels in paperback. In 1950, his new line of paperback originals was launched. It was called Gold Medal Books, and it became not just a tremendous commercial success but a culture-shaping one too.

Before discussing the impact of Gold Medal Books, let me take a few paragraphs to situate Gold Medal in time. The immediate post-WWII era was an interesting moment in publishing history. A variety of vectors were in collision:

* One was the existence of paperbacks themselves. In 1949, paperbacks were still a recent innovation. The first large-scale experiment in paperback publishing had only taken place 1935 with Britain's Penguin Books; soon after in the States, Pocket Books began selling paperbacks. During WWII, soldiers developed the habit of carrying around, reading, and trading paperbacks. Tastes were shaped; new readers were reached.

* Another vector: the era of "the pulps" was drawing to a close. The pulps were cheap magazines that published sensationalistic fiction. They had their origins in the late 1800s; Frank Munsey's "Argosy" is usually cited as the first pulp magazine. The pulp magazines often specialized in male genres: adventure, sci-fi, war, crime, western. And they were often seriously popular. The most successful pulps often had monthly print runs of over a million copies. They also had their artistic achievements. The pulps were where sci-fi flourished. And, under the editorship of Capt. Joseph T. Shaw, the hardboiled detective fiction of Black Mask magazine developed into something remarkable. But by the late 1940s, the pulps had begun to run out of commercial steam. Even so, the demand for hard-hitting and juicy fiction persisted.

* Another: the new taste for comic books. Comic strips may have been around for a while; Fawcett Publications itself got started in the late 19-teens with a joke-book / comicstrip publication called Captain Billy's Whiz Bang. But comic books per se were an innovation of the 1930s (and Fawcett -- as much a distributor as a traditional publisher -- had had a major hit with Captain Marvel). Superheroes, adventure, crime ... Once again, fans were won over and expectations were affected.

* And a final vector: Mickey Spillane. Spillane (who died only this past July, aged 88) was the author of the Mike Hammer detective novels. As a publishing phenomenon, Spillane was like nothing ever before witnessed. His first novel -- the two-fisted, paranoid-macho, hardboiled "I, The Jury" -- sold only a couple of thousand copies when it was released in hardcover in 1947. But when Signet released the book in paperback the following year, it stunned the book industry by selling many millions of copies. Former GI's and flyboys had seen a lot of tough action, and they'd brought back to the States the habit of comic-book and paperback-novel reading. Mickey Spillane's hard-hitting fiction appealed to them strongly. Was it pure coincidence that Mickey had, before turning to novel-writing, written for the comic-book industry?

In any case, Roscoe Kent Fawcett wondered why he shouldn't cater to the comic-book / pulp-fiction / former-GI market. And why not, he wondered, skip entirely over the whole damn hardcover-publishing ritual and offer readers tough, pulpy, hard-hitting novels in easy-to-obtain, cheap, straight-to-paperback form?

No one would dispute that Gold Medal revolutionized American book publishing. For one thing, Gold Medal represented the first serious challenge to the traditional hardcover-publishing game. In a famous response, Doubleday's LeBaron R. Barker said that paperback originals could "undermine the whole structure of publishing." (Yippee to that!) Even in the line's first year, some Gold Medal novels sold hundreds of thousands of copies. Very quickly, other publishers (Dell, Lion) moved to imitate Gold Medal's strategy.

For another, it may also not be an overstatement to assert that Gold Medal had a greater impact on the content and form American fiction-writing than any other postwar book publisher. Gold Medal novels were intended as reliable, disposable entertainments: fast, short, and full of action. Noir-ish intrigue, westerns, and adventure tales were the general rule; sensationalism and sleaze were encouraged. Despite that, though, writers -- in TV and movies as well as on-the-page fiction -- as well as audiences are still looking to these books for inspiration.

Gold Medal was emphatically a business, and anything but a high-minded one -- reserving, for example, the right to do with the books' covers what it pleased, which included not just choosing the art but also the title. Still, the writers generally liked the work. Gold Medal dealt with them fair and square, relatively speaking. Editing was quick and to-the-point. Snobbery was nonexistent. If Gold Medal retitled your book, well, what the hell, and on to the next one.

The writers did OK financially too. They were tickled that they didn't have to split their royalties with a hardcover house, and that they were paid instead on the actual number of copies sold. Was it a coincidence that Richard Carroll, the best-known of Gold Medal's editors, wasn't a longterm publishing guy? Instead, he had previously worked as a Hollywood story editor.

And get a gander at some of the writers Gold Medal put into print: Elmore Leonard, Peter Rabe, Kurt Vonnegut, Day Keene, Jim Thompson, William Goldman, John D. MacDonald, Louis L'Amour, David Goodis, Richard Matheson, Charles Williams, and John Faulkner (William's brother).

Depending on how you read the history, the glory years of Gold Medal-style book publishing were over by the mid-1960s. But the influence of the era lives on. It's in the very air around us.

To illustrate, let me connect a few dots. French New Wave titans Jean-Luc Godard and Francois Truffaut both loved Gold Medal books, and both based films on novels by Gold Medal authors: Godard's "Pierrot le Fou" was based on a novel by Lionel White; Truffaut based "Shoot the Piano Player" on a novel by David Goodis. By the way, did you realize that Godard based "Made in USA" on a novel by Donald Westlake? Hey, I see that Donald Westlake wrote a few books for Gold Medal himself.

Closer to home, the movies of the American film renaissance of the 1970s were partly inspired by such New Wave artists as Godard and Truffaut. "Bonnie and Clyde," for instance -- one of the two films that's generally said to have kicked off the American film renaissance -- was a deliberate attempt to make a New Wave-esque movie. The script of "Bonnie and Clyde" was at one point even offered to Truffaut to direct.

Moving into the present ... David Lynch is an example of a guy in love with the dreamy mood of exploitation and noir. On a couple of his films, Lynch collaborated with the noir specialist Barry Gifford. Gifford in turn was, in the 1980s, the creator of Black Lizard Books, an outfit that brought a number of Gold Medal titles back into print.

The recent and current indie movement in American film considers itself inspired not just by such Gold Medal-influenced auteurs as Lynch, but by the Gold Medal-influenced American films of the 1970s. P.T. Anderson, Robert Rodriguez, and Quentin Tarantino are directly inspired by '70s films. Rodriguez is now making a sequel to his (and Frank Miller's) ultry-pulpy "Sin City" ; Tarantino of course directed a film straightforwardly entitled "Pulp Fiction," as well as another that was an adaptation of a novel by onetime Gold Medal novelist Elmore Leonard -- who, like Westlake, continues to create wonderful fiction.

And the noir, violent mood of many current video and computer games? Straight out of -- or at least partly out of -- Gold Medal fiction.

Moviebuffs revere the careers and influence of Roger Corman and AIP, hardheaded exploitation-meisters who nonetheless created tons of fun movies and gave many talented people their first breaks. Music buffs love plunging into the seedy, exuberant, unself-conscious early years of rock and roll. Perhaps it would be OK to say that the Gold Medal (and Lion and Dell, etc) years were the fiction-writing equivalent of these more-familiar artistic Big Bangs. So why aren't they better known than they are?

The canon-maker-wannabes of respectable culture are people you'd expect to be foot-draggers, of course. And where Gold Medal fiction is concerned, they haven't disappointed. Back when Friedrich von Blowhard and I were in college, the official story of postwar American fiction recoiled entirely from the Gold Medal writers. At the time, the line of descent went: Capote, Cheever, Bellow, Updike, Mailer, Roth, Pynchon ... No, actually: Even Pynchon was considered a little too poppy for the era's profs and critics. Incidentally, I have nothing against this stuff, which I've read a great deal of. It just doesn't represent anything like a fair account of postwar American fiction.

These days, it appears that some academics and intellectuals have finally seen fit to make room -- a little room -- for Gold Medal-style fiction. Many colleges now offer a course or three in the history of hardboiled and / or detective fiction. Even the disntinguished Library of America publishes a couple of volumes of pulp fiction.

All that acknowledged, I also have to report that I have found it astonishing how stuffy the New York City trade publishing biz remains. Many people in it know little about the early days of Gold Medal, and few of them have read much of this fiction. Imagine finding yourself among movie people unaware of Roger Corman, or rock musicians unfamiliar with the Sun Sessions. Bizarre.

But the hell with the prisses, eh? Hipsters and fans of lowdown fiction keep the era alive. They also keep trying to kick some raw energy back into fiction-book publishing. It's hard to manage, though. Much has changed. Publishing has gone corporate ... Many people no longer read the way they once did ... Fawcett still exists, but in name only; it was sold in 1972 to CBS, and was then acquired by Ballantine (a division of Random House) in 1982. Black Lizard was bought by Vintage in 1990.

Today, Max Phillips and Charles Ardai's Hard Case Crime reprints some of the Gold Medal books and promotes Gold Medal-style new work too, complete with ultry-pulpy covers. The excellent Stark House Press reissues a lot of old-school fantasy, mystery, and suspense -- including early lesbian tales by the Gold Medal novelist "Vin Packer," which continue to inspire today's queer authors.

But these are cult / coterie phenomena. Excellent as it is, Hard Case Crime bears the same relationship to Gold Medal that Chris Isaak does to Elvis Presley. (Nothing against Hard Case or Chris Isaak, both of whom I like.) So who are the innovative, earthily-opportunistic fiction publishers of today? There are great, buccaneering publishers alive: Peter Kindersley, Jack Jensen, and Berndt Taschen come to mind. But these guys publish little if any fiction. Some small presses have done shit-kicking work with fiction. But none have been able to connect with a large audience.

Why should this be so? Have movies and television usurped the creation of and the taste for pulp fiction? Has the multiplication of entertainment options meant that Americans now look to books for respectable pleasures, and leave the gritty fun to other media? Are today's wild-ass and funky cultural energies more likely to go into music and YouTube than into novel-writing?

Perhaps all the above are true. In any case, the takeaway lesson, as far as I'm concerned, is: It's nearly always a mistake to think of the on-the-page-fiction thang as a matter of high-mindedness, let alone of writers-writing. "Fiction" certainly involves writers writing, of course. And high-mindedness makes the occasional appearance. But on-the-page-fiction is nearly always a matter of commercial calculation, publishing, design, timing, money, promotion, luck, and audiences as well. Oh, and criticism too. Sometimes.

Here's a CNN article about Hard Case Crime. You can tickle the eyeballs for hours with great pulp visuals at the Pulp Gallery. Bill Crider has written a number of columns about the glories of Gold Medal fiction; they're collected here. An interview by Ed Gorman with the Gold Medal novelist John D. MacDonald is here.

Lee Server, Martin Greenberg, and Ed Gorman's "Big Book of Noir" is a wonderful compendium of all kinds of noir and pulp fiction goodies. I'm also a big fan of Server's "Encyclopedia of Pulp Fiction Writers," and "Over My Dead Body" a fast survey of the early years of paperback originals. Here's an interview with Lee Server.

Stephen Alexander Loeb proclaims Gold Medal Books his favorite publisher ever.

In previous postings with popular-fiction themes: I praised James M. Cain's "Mildred Pierce"; I marveled over the excellence of Ira Levin; I listed the contempo authors who make me happiest; I sketched out the origins of the vampire novel; I saw a lot of virtues in Jackie Collins; I rapped about the differences between literary and non-literary fiction; I riffed on the differences between film people and books people; and I wrote an introduction to film noir.



Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Roger Zelazny; Ross Thomas

From Ron Hogan at galleycat (reporting on a book party he'd attended):

"Which reminds me how I was chatting with Juliet Ulman of Bantam about a recent acquisition that was described as "a science-fiction Cormac McCarthy," which prompted me to joke about how The Road is a fancypants version of Damnation Alley. (Maybe three readers aren't cocking their head at the screen after that line...and that's okay. I have a quota for the number of sheer geek references I'm allowed to make each month.*)"

Ed here: remember when Roger Zelazny was king of the known universe? Back when I went cold turkey on both booze and drugs, I spent a lot of time going alone to movies. On occasion I'd go to a multi-plex and see three of the flicks. I had great memories of the novella version of Damnation Alley. And I was really up for the movie. My hopes were destroyed within the first five minutes of the film. How you could screw up a simple linear storyline the way they did is baffling even by Hollywood standards. In a sense it was a forerunner of The A-Team and just about as stupid. I hadn't written for a fanzine for years (this was 1974) but when I got home that night I wrote a very angry review of the film and sent it off in the morning. I remember getting some angry letters attacking me for not understanding the "subtext" of the film. Yeah, right.

Ross Thomas, The Procane Chronicle

One of life’s true pleasures is reading a Ross Thomas novel. He never lets you down when you re-read him, either.

I’ve now read The Procane Chronicle for the third or fourth time, and even though I now know all the amazing surprises Thomas blesses his readers with, the prose alone is as much fun as the story. The only writer living today who can even come close to the grace and nimbleness of Thomas is Lawrence Block. Block knows from sentences.

In this one, Phillip St. Ives is dragooned by poverty as usual to act as a go-between when a blackmailer sets a price. St. Ives is hired to make sure that both sides keep their promise. The stake this time is a possible Mafia war.

As always, Thomas gives us a radiantly cynical take on Washington, D. C. and all who do business there. Though thirty years have past since original publication, Procane depicts a nation’s capitol no different from the one we know today. St. Ives is lied to and betrayed by everything on two legs, even – or especially – those fine looking female legs.

For me, Thomas was one of the two or three best crime writers of the last century. He brought to each book a witty and brutal intelligence that exposed all of us as less than we’d want to be.

You’ll have to get on to ABE or one of the other web sites to buy it, but it’ll be well worth the trouble. If you’ve never read Ross Thomas, this is good place to start.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Anne Stuart; Bill Pronzini

Ed here: Last week romantic suspense novelist Anne Stuart wrote a blog piece talking about the struggles she's had to endure over the years mostly due to indifferent publishers. She included in her complaints her present publisher Harlequin. She was promptly criticised by many for committing career suicide especially because, two days after her piece appeared, her new Mira (Harlequn) book appeared on the NY Times extended bestseller list. She was then called an ingrate. Why would she complaine about the company that finally helped her make the bestseller list?

My own reaction to her article was two-fold. I didn't think it was wise to publicly attack the people who paid her--and I thought she was heroic to state exactly why making a living at writing fiction is so difficult. Every point she made was valid.

On Galleycat today a writer named Deborah Smith came to Anne's defense. What should be kept in mind here is that editors have just as many sour tales to tell about writers as writers do about editors. I say this after having edited two magazines and two lines of books. I once spoke to a group of writers who got angry when I defended editors. They took the position that all writers are by nature innocent, reliable and pure of heart. While editors on the other hand... It just ain't so, folks. Believe it or not there are a number of writers who are a pain in the arse to work with. And when promises are broken on the editorial side (we're really going to promote your book etc.) the decision is often made by senior editors who work closely with the publisher. The editors lower down on the food chain don't have that much say in the matter. That said, I repeat that Anne's complaints were absolutely accurate and rendered in a reasonable tone. She is a brave woman and a damned good writer.

In Defense of Anne Stuart from Galleycat

The Anne Stuart story has become one of our most popular items this month, sparking conversations across the book-lovin' blogosphere. It also prompted novelist Deborath Smith (right), herself a NYT bestselling author, to write in with a few words of support for her colleague. "Anne may sound wishy-washy to you," Smith emails, "but look, it's a freakin' miracle her book made the NYT list given the general screw-ups, apathy, bad planning and all-around incompetency of the NY pub houses. She made that list because she has slogged her way through numerous disasters and built a readership; not because Harlequin suddenly decided to do something sweet for her."

"So yes, she can be thrilled and make nice with Harlequin today while still expressing real caution and cynicism," Smith adds. "Harlequin didn't make her career for her; no publisher did. Anne succeeded on her own while surviving an enormous amount of publisher bungling that makes it, as I said, a miracle that any author rises out of the shadows to find an audience." Is the path to publishing success as dimly lit as Smith describes it? Or do authors succeed thanks to their publishers, rather than despite them? Tell us your stories...

Posted by Ron | 11:24 AM | Mailbag |


The Crimes of Jordan Wise, by Bill Pronzini.

Walker & Company, $24. Publication date: July 2006.

Actuary Jordan Wise tells a joke on himself a third of the way through the novel: (paraphrase) an actuary is somebody who doesn’t have the personality to be an accountant.

If you watch many true crime shows, you see a lot of Jordan Wises. People who fall into crime through circumstance rather than those who go looking for it.

Jordan becomes a criminal only after meeting Annalise, a troubled and very attractive young woman who needs two things badly – sex and money. But in order to get the sex on a regular basis, Jordan must first provide the money. He embezzles a half million dollars and flees with Annalise to the Virgin Islands. In this first part of the novel, there’s nice James M. Cainian detail about how Jordan comes alive for the first time in his life. Some of this is due, whether he admits it or not, to the danger of committing a serious crime. But most of it is due to Annalise and his profound sexual awakening.

The central section of the book reminds me of one of Maugham’s great South Seas tales – lust, betrayal, shame played out against vast natural beauty and a native society that, thanks to an old sea man named Bone, that Jordan comes to see value in – even if Annalise, her head filled with dreams of Paris and glamor, does not. Old Maugham got one thing right for sure – as Pronzini demonstrates here – a good share of humanity, wherever you find them, are both treacherous and more than slightly insane.

There are amazing sections of writing about sea craft and sailing that remind me not of old Travis McGee but of the profoundly more troubled and desperate men of Charles Williams who find purity and peace only in the great and epic truths of the sea. That they may be as crazed and treacherous as everybdy else does not seem to bother them unduly.

There are also amazing sections (almost diaristic sections) where Jordan tells of us his fears and desires, his failings and his dreams. In places he deals vididly, painfully with his secret terror of not being enough of a man in any sense to hold Annalise.

The publisher calls this a novel and so it is. Pronzini brings great original width and breadth to the telling of this dark adventure that is both physical and spiritual. He has never written a better novel, the prose here literary in the best sense, lucid and compelling, fit for both action and introspection.

You can’t read a page of this without seeing it in movie terms. The psychologically violent love story played out against a variety of contemporary settings gives the narrative great scope. And in Jordan Wise and Annalise he has created two timeless people. This story could have been set in ancient Egypt or Harlem in 1903 or an LA roller skating disco in 1981. As Faulkner said, neither the human heart nor the human dilemma ever changes.

Monday, November 13, 2006

Stephen King

Here's a chunk of an interview with Stephen King
An audience with the King
By Gary Kemble. Posted: Sunday, November 12 2006 .

My first Stephen King books, bought second-hand 15 or so years ago, feature black covers stamped with the tag-line "The Master of Horror". No-one could argue that King's initial offerings (Carrie, Salem's Lot and The Shining) weren't horror.

But even after more than 30 years of best-selling novels in genres as diverse as science fiction, fantasy, crime, romance and literary fiction, he remains defined by horror.

On the train into London I saw a poster for Lisey's Story which read: "First he chilled your bones. Now he'll break your heart". (Who writes this crap?!)

But when asked about whether it is more difficult writing about grief than fear, King says he has never quibbled about being labelled a horror writer.

"And you won't hear me quibble with it tonight because people who buy a book, read a book, have a right to say anything they want or to categorise it in any way they want, and bookstores need a place to shelve their damn books so people can find them conveniently, so fine, let them put them where they want to put them," he said.

"I can do whatever I want to within that broad range of title - horror - it doesn't have to be giant bugs hopping out of manholes, but it could be. It could be cell phones that go crazy, but it doesn't have to be.

"You see, what I'm really interested in is sawing on your emotions and I'm very, very, very serious about that. I think at bottom this is what's really disturbed critics all along about my books, it has distracted them from the language.

"I'm a doctor of the emotions, that's all, except doctor puts too fine a point on it. I want to reach you, assault you ... make you know that I was there, make you aware when I came and when I left ... I'd like to leave a sonic boom when I go with a book, I'd like you to feel either very, very glad that book is over or very sorry that it's over.

"And when it's there whatever emotion you're feeling, I want you to feel that as fully as I do, I want you to experience it, whatever you feel in your life.

"I feel like a work of art is supposed to concentrate that and make it richer. This critical idea that it had to make it finer, I don't entirely buy it, but I think it has to enrich the experience.

"And if it's horror, fine. If that means Saw and Saw II and blood to the elbows, if that means Leatherface, bring it on, I just absolutely like that, that's wonderful.

"If it's something more subtle, something that works in a different kind of a way, that's terrific too. But if it's some other emotion, it might be that in Lisey's Story, if you cry, I'm not sorry, I'm glad because it means I reached your heart and that's a good thing. And that's what grief is, it's sadness, and if you feel that, I got that over."

While recounting one of the key ideas that led to the crystallisation of Lisey's Story - the legend that J D Salinger has one or more unpublished manuscripts squirreled away - another jet thunders overhead.

"If I were to die tonight... (King's eyes roll up) ...God forbid but if I did, who'd get the headline?"

The crowd laughs.

"You'd all die too but, in the Sun, it would say 'STEPHEN KING (and 4,000 others) DIE IN FIERY CRASH'."

King also addressed something that's been a constant annoyance to his fans - crappy film adaptations of his books.

"There's this story that James Cain used to tell about the young fella who came and started his interview by saying how the movies had ruined his books and he said, 'No they didn't young fella, they're all on the shelf up there and they're all just fine'. And that's the view that I take," he said.

"I understand what Hemingway said when he said the best deal for a writer is when Hollywood gives you a lot of money and never makes the movie. That's a point of view.

"Myself, I don't care. If they want to make the movie, the only thing I care about is that my rights in the thing should be protected and if I'm in I'm all the way in and if I'm out I'm all the way out and I promise I'll stay out of everybody's way.

"I'm always interested to see what happens. I'm like a kid that way. And when they're great I always applaud and when they're bad I remember what my mother used to say, which is if you can't say something nice, keep your mouth shut.

"And mostly I do that, unless somebody said, well Stephen King likes this movie, if I think it's a piece of shit I'm going to say it's a piece of shit. And if somebody says, you know, like with The Shining, 'Well it's really a great-looking picture', my view is yeah, you can frost a dog turd but that doesn't make it a Twinkie."

For the record, King loved The Shawshank Redemption, Stand by Me, Dolores Claiborne and Misery.

"I've always had a soft spot for Cujo, and I think Dee Wallace should have won an Academy Award for performing as that mother that saved the little boy in the Pinto. Loved it," he said.

Ed here

"I'm a doctor of the emotions, that's all, except doctor puts too fine a point on it. I want to reach you, assault you ... make you know that I was there, make you aware when I came and when I left ... I'd like to leave a sonic boom when I go with a book, I'd like you to feel either very, very glad that book is over or very sorry that it's over."

A doctor of emotions. That's the phrase that grabbed me when I read this. And that's why I still read King because when he's on reading him is a form of psychotherapy. He can hurt you. And not with the horrors but with your own reactions to his horrors.

Take Desperation. A couple good enough folks in a car get stopped by a strange sheriff and next thing you know they're under arrest and in a jail that could double as hell.

My reaction was idiosyncratic to be sure. When I was seventeen I was arrested for grand larceny. The amount was $150 cash. I had a modest police record mostly for raising hell but not for stealing (though I was a world class shoplifter). The thing was I didn't know anything about this $150. It was a set-up. Two girls I didn't know were pissed at a friend of mine for dumping their cousin. He and I would be sitting in a booth at Rexall and then one of the girls (in the booth behind) would say that while they were in the john Bob took their money.

Things got crazy. Bob had to work late at the gas station and didn't show up. And one of the girls who'd only seen Bob once insisted that I was Bob. I cut out before the girls decided to get the manager and tell him that $150 had been stolen from them. They did that later. Only the kid they described was me and the manager said that's Ed Gorman.

I always swept this steak house out every night at eleven, after it closed. Came a knock that night. A neighborhood girl real nervous saying that the cops were everywhere looking for me. I still didn't know what was going on. The cops got me on my way home. This began a long eight-night series of interrogations. I kept saying I was innocent. They kept saying I wasn't. I went on the lineup two or three times.

We got a lawyer and he advised that I plead guilty and not take the chance of going to reform school. But I just couldn't do it. I was innocent. On the ninth night one of the girls walked into the police station and confessed. I still have nightmares of being falsely accused. It was my version of Desperation and even if it was less dramatic than King's book, it was terrifying nonetheless. And by the way, in 1958 $150 was a lot of money.

King's also right about Cujo. Not only was the movie good, the novel is one of his best, a painfully true portrait of a marriage coming undone and the wife who loathes herself for being unfaithful. A bit of Madame Bovary in small-town Maine. Yeah I know it's supposed to be about a rabid dog and that part works fine...but it's really about the toll the years can take on a marriage.

Sunday, November 12, 2006

Bill Mahr & Real Time

I just watched a rerun of Bill Mahr's HBO series tonight and found it to be pretty dull stuff. The guests were Salman Rushdie, Candy Crowley and and an actor from The Office. Only Rushdie had anything amusing and interesting to say. I don't know who's selecting the guests but he/she is doing a bad job of it. In previous seasons the show had a vitality bordering on rage but these days Mahr seems to be as tired as his guests. I wish HBO would give a similar platform to Robert Klein, who is smarter and funnier than Mahr. I know, I know--Klein is sixty years old now so he wouldn't attract the demographic cable yearns for. But unless Mahr starts taking something and fast-acting, I doubt his show will be on much longer anyway.

Saturday, November 11, 2006


Elizabeth Fackler, a fine writer whether she's turning out a western or a mystery, has decided to try publishing for herself. You can get all the details at the following address.

As I've mentiond before, I'm not much for episodic tv. The only show I watch faithfully is Monk. It rarely disappoints me. Now I need to add another show to my list, that being Desperate Housewives. Carol watches it more often than not. I tried it a few times but just didn't get into it. Last Sunday night's show, however, was of Emmy-winning quality in writing, acting and directing. I can't recall seeing an hour long drama with this many twists and turns. Nor one that managed to mix the sardonic with the pathetic so skillfully.

This morning TCM played the first four Bugs Bunny cartoons. Interesting to see how Bugs evolved so quickly from an annoying wabbit into a fully developed sociopathic nuisance. It was also interesting to see how differently four directors handled him. For all the praise Bugs gets, my favorite Warner cartoon character is still Sylvester the cat. In the WB canon, he's the one true outsider.

Cable will be showing both The Iceman Cometh and Madame Bovary in December. Please to watch. As I've mentioned before, this was Robert Ryan's last film and it was clear he was dying in the course of it. His performance is matched by that of Lee Marvin and Jeff Bridges. While Jason Robards' version is considered the definitive one, this American Theater take on the Eugene O'Neill classic has a seedy power all its own. Madame Bovary is the Claude Chabrol version and it is stunning in every respect. Isabelle Huppert is almost ridiculously beautiful in the lead role. And her gradual breakdown is shocking in its truth. It'll stay with you a long, long time. I promise.

Friday, November 10, 2006

Character parts -Forgotten Movie actors

I like to read while I eat. Lately I've been working my way through David Thomson's enormous Biographical Dictionary of Film at lunch time. Thomson is the most interesting and entertaining flm critic since Pauline Kael--and every bit as frustrating. When I disagree with him, I want to all him up and read him his rights--before violating every one of them.

Today I read his take on Edmond O'Brien. Thomson notes going in that movie stars aren't supposed to sweat. That makes them too much like everybody in the audience. Part of movie stardom is inaccessability, fantasy. But what a clever hook because beefy O'Brien sweated all the time, especially in his most memorable movie DOA. He was also fat, frequently out of breath, devoutly neurotic and often frightened. He was, in other words, pretty much like the people in the darkness watching him on the big screen. An Everyman of sorts.

In the course of his entry on O'Brien, Thomson makes clear that he enjoys the odd-ball actors and actresses far more than he does the stars. Thus he finds Warren Oates vastly more compelling than Robert Redford and Jeff Goldblum more intriguing than Paul Newman.

When I was a kid I rarely wondered about the lives of the stars. But I was always curious about character actors such as Elisha Cook, Jr. and J. Carrol Naish. There was a vitality to their performances that the stars were rarely capable of matching. And in the case of Cook, there was a melancholy and weariness that I recognized even then as being much like my own.

Same with the women. The ones I was always excited about were the second- and third-leads. They were the ones I got crushes on. They were often as pretty as the leading ladies, sometimes even prettier. And they frequently had more interesting roles, the bitch, the tart, the victim.

Barry Gifford once remarked that when you see a musical with all those young gorgeous girl dancers you have to wonder what became of them. The majority probably became housewives; more than a few probably took to the streets as parts became harder and harder to come by; and a lucky handful became the wives of powerful Hwood men.

I've been watching a lot of silent films of TCM and the same impulse grabs me then, too. Who were they? What happened to them? Did they know they'd become immortal? A full century later I sit in our family room and watch them as--most likely anyway--another century from now people will still be watching them. This is probably heresy of sorts but to me film immortality is far more imposing than literary immortality.