Wednesday, February 28, 2007

The Rap Sheet; Payback

Some very intersting material about The Rockford Files on The Rap Sheet today. Ed Robertson talks about how the show changed and temporarily declined after creator Roy Huggins left it (I've never understood why Huggins and James Garner split up after so many years together--I just remember Huggins saying on an interview show "I love Jim and Jim hates me") but that Stephen Cannell turned it around eventually.Really interesting material.
I haven't seen this covered anywhere but the current issue of Premiere magazine. Nothing showed up on Google either. The 1999 Mel Gibson crime thriller Payback is coming out an DVD in April. The whispers were that Paramount held it this long because of Mel Gibson's rep. People forget...maybe. The other whisper is that director Brian Hegeland wanted to do his own final cut, which is the one that will be released.

Premiere says that Hegeland wants to excise Kris Kristoferson's villain role entirely and restore most of the footage that Gibson cut when he fired Hegeland. Fair enough. I guess.

The magazine gets in a funny shot at the last. ""Gibson himself was not involved in the DVD release, due to his controversial plan to translate the entire film into the Pitchtish dialect and disembowel 17 background actors in the film's final scene."

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Scaring the bejabbers out of me

I was talking via phone the other day with an old friend who helped me way back in the early Seventies meet a few of the magazine editors I was trying to sell to.

The subject was what scared us. We both agreed that because of our our age bad health for our loved ones scared us most followed by bad health for ourselves. From there our lists became idiosyncratic.

Number three for me was anything that alters context in a sudden, violent way. You're sitting on a city busa nd a guy you suspected of being a junkie jumps up and begins vomiting blood. A sudden assault such as the time when I, in my early twenties, met girl at a pool party who told me to pick her up at seven for a movie. She told me to honk once and she'd hear me. Late summer, long shadows early. I was sitting behind the steering wheel when two large hands pushed through the open window and seized my neck, strangling me. After total panic and terror, I managed to open the door and shove it hard enough to move him back a few feet so I could break his hold. Her just ex-boyfriend of course. She hadn't mentioned him. I took my soft ball bat (yes I played and badly) with me when I got out of the car. He didn't cower exactly but he did begin apologizing and then he started to cry. He loved her, he was crazy at the moment, he was sorry he'd grabbed me. I'd been there myself so I understood though I still wanted to bend the bat over his head. I didn't of course. I mention this here because four hours later I was still shaking. Virtually my entire body shook. I've never been so shaken before or since.

A close number four is anything that involves tight spaces. I am claustrophobic to a disabling degree. I still have sweaty moments on elevators; can't have medical tests that involve being fed inside a tube-like device without taking tranks heavy enough to knock me out; and I have the occasional nightmare of being buried alive thanks to material I read once for a hsitorical novel--this was on obsessive fear people had in the 1800s. And it was warranted. Premature burial was not that uncommon back then so people asked to be buried with bells in their coffins, strings up top they could tug on, even friends to stand vigil for forty-eight hours to listen for any cries.

As for simple fears, I'd say Robert Bloch still wrote of the spookiest one. Midnight. A frantic knock on the door downstairs. You in your pajamas bearing your flashlight reluctantly answer the knock--only to find a fully-garbed clown standing on your porch. His crazed eyes fully apparent. That would sure do a job on me.

Monday, February 26, 2007

Ellen & the Awards

There was a moment back there in time when I almost felt sorry for TV's resident arrogant prick David Letterman. I'm talking about the time he hosted the Academy Awards and was denounced for essentially doing his nightly show instead of coming up with a new and daring concept.

I see by the reviews that Ellen Degeneres is facing the same sort of reviews today. Where were the political zingers? The bawdy moments? And, yes, the unctuous moments that even the chilliest of hosts seems to get to?

You ask Letterman to host the show, you get Letterman. Same with Ellen. You get Ellen. She's been charming me for almost a quarter century when I first spotted her on a terrible cable sit-com about real estate agents. Pure charm. There's just something about her I like and I'm not even sure what it is. So Ellen is fine with me.

And today she has my sympathy. The morning reviews were just about all terrible. She's too soft, too amiable, what the hell's the deal with that red velour suit anyway? Ain't she got no respect for the vaunted night of the Hollywood circle-jerk?

I hope she has some way of coping with all this crap out because it sure would be difficult to deal with. To me she did a commendable job. And no, Dick Cheney, she's not a member of the insurgency.

Lynch mob forms on the right fellas.

Sunday, February 25, 2007

Would you like a book with that beer, pal?

Ed here: Sarah Wineman posted this interesting story on galleycat last week. I thought there'd be more discussion about it. Who needs bookstores when we have Starbucks? Book dunking contests, calorie free books perfect for folks on a diet, chocolate covered munchy books for special end of possibilities. A free Gold Medal novel with a Big Mac and Fries? Hell, yes! I think I liked it better when bookstores sold books and Starbucks didn't exist for any reason at all. May I refill that $7.50 cup of coffee for you, madam?

Could Starbucks Trump B&N as Publishing Power Brokers?

So posits Crown editor & thriller writer Jason Pinter after comparing and contrasting the opening one-week sales of Chris Bohjalian's THE DOUBLE BIND - picked as Barnes & Noble's second store-wide pick - and Starbucks' sophomore choice, Ishmael Beah's A LONG WAY GONE. According to the March 4 edition of the New York Times bestseller list, Bohjalian's THE DOUBLE BIND will debut at #3 on the hardcover fiction list, while Beah's A LONG WAY GONE will come in at #2 on the hardcover non-fiction list, which is impressive enough.

Go a little deeper into the first-week Bookscan numbers (which account for anywhere from 50-70% of total sales) and things get really interesting. That's because Bohjalian sold over 17,000 copies in his first week, while Beah's book moved over 26,000 units - and of Beah's total Bookscan-accounted sales, over 19,000 were from "other" stores. "I can only assume this means Starbucks," said Pinter. "In fact, if this is correct, Beah sold more copies at Starbucks alone than Bohjalian sold in total."

But before we anoint Starbucks as the true heir apparent to Oprah, Pinter cautions that "there's a major difference between offering one book for sale and offering thousands." (Ron would also point to Beah's moving appearance on The Daily Show last week as another potential prime mover for sales, as Jon Stewart put the comedy on hold for five minutes and confessed the memoir "made my heart hurt.") "At the same time," Pinter concludes, "it's very curious to see that Beah seems to be outpacing an author with a bestselling Oprah pedigree, primarily due to the efforts of one store. And that store being considerably more famous for their double venti half calf mocha lattechinos than their success pushing literature."

Saturday, February 24, 2007

Stephen Marlowe & Etc.

The response to Steve Marlowe's piece on collaborating with Richard Prather was so positive I asked Steve if he'd ever considered writing his autobigraphy. Steve said his wife Ann had urged him to. Now I was urging him to. And now Stark House is urging him to. And with a contract in the offing, it looks as if it may just happen. This would be a major addition to the history of our field and the story of a remarkable man and writer. Stay tuned.

We're socked in by a major ice storm with 6-8 inches of snow on top of it predicted for tonight. Fortunately, I have four E. Howard Hunt novels I've yet to read. Of the three I've read, The House on Q Street is still the best. And when you read three in a series back to back you begin to see the similar narrative patterns. The Steve Bentley books, I suspect, are his best work except for his three early literary novels. They're gentler versions of Donald Hamilton's Matt Helm stories, which the early ones pre-date by four or five years.

So much gentler, in fact, that in most places where cliche violence would take place, Bentley manages to contrive a way around it. He even expresses occasional sympathy for a bad guy.

This was apparently before Hunt went nuts. Only a few years later he would be involved in the Bay of Pigs disaster, so pissed at Jack Kennedy for calling it off that he continued to fly over the beaches where the insurgents were to show his support. It's been argued that that was a misguided act of courage, one that could well have cost him his life. And maybe so. He was going against orders to return to base. And he was certainly endangering his life.

But suggesting that he wear a red wig and parachute into Cuba to bump off Castro? My only explanation for that is that he'd already met G. (for Great God A-mighty!) Gordon Liddy who at this point in his history was being admonished by a judge for waving a pistol around in the court room, a pistol Liddy was placing in evidence and assuring the judge was empty. It wasn't, of course (this being a Thre Stooges episode) and when it went off the Judge was wise enough to duck, even though the bullet smashing into the wall a safe three or feet from his bench and wouldn't have hurt him. Liddy was apparently ALWAYS crazy. But you have to wonder what happened to Hunt somewhere along the line.

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Letter from Jon Breen

Hi, Ed. I'm really enjoying the blog. On American playwrights: I still like Williams and Miller, agree with you on O'Neill, interested in your enthusiasm for Odets. Many years ago I saw a production of Awake and Sing at a seaside theatre in West Los Angeles. Sal Mineo and Herschel Bernardi starred in it, and I remember it being impressive, but I don't think I've ever seen another play of his staged. Great piece by Stephen Marlowe on his collaboration with Prather, who was probably an underrated writer--I haven't read any books by him in years but have hung onto them based on fond memories, and I certainly will read the current reprint from Hard Case.

We all know titles can't be copyrighted, but aren't there some titles that are too famous to be legitimately reused? I got a reading copy of a forthcoming romantic suspense novel from Tor (scheduled for July publication) with the title Kiss Me Deadly, by Susan Kearney. Besides being a familiar Spillane title, KMD was made into a film considered a minor classic even by some who didn't admire Spillane as a writer. (Sort of like naming a racehorse Man 'O War or Secretariat, which by the way the racing powers that be would never allow.) Anyway, wouldn't the romantic suspense reader find the title off-putting--or isn't the title as generally familiar as I think it is? Pardon me while I go put the finishing touches on The Great Gatsby.

All the best,

Stephen Marlowe on collaborating with Richard Prather

Almost exacty fifty years ago, Richard S. Prather and I decided--with a nudge from our mutual agent--to write a novel pitting our two private eyes, Shell Scott and Chet Drum, against each other until they could realize, almost too late, that they both were working the good side of the street in a complex case with nationwide implications. This was the novel that would become DOUBLE IN TROUBLE, published by Gold Medal in 1959 at just short of double the length of a standard Gold Medal book.
There were circumstances that made the first draft, when we finished it, half again as long as that.
For one thing, until then, we had never met. We developed the plot as we went along, mostly by long-distance phone call. There were telegrams too, including one that went something like "Body of Hartsell Committee lawyer found in Rock Creek Park" that must have startled the Western Union operator.
For another, our work habits couldn't have been more different. Dick liked to plan carefully as he went along, writing a detailed outline, chapter by chapter, from which he developed a first narrative take and then an expanded one that would become his first draft. I liked to work by instinct, writing as the ideas came, and outlining a chapter only when I'd finished drafting it. I'd got to calling this a post-outline, and it would prepare me for subsequent chapters, and it is still the way I write.
Well, we finished that first draft by writing alternate chapters, as those of you who read the book may remember, Scott narrating chapter 1, Drum chapter 2, and so on--to a total of more than eight hundred pages--enough for three Gold Medal books. Drastic measures had to be taken.
Ever been out to the Coast? Dick asked me by phone. Nope, I hadn't. Well, said Dick, come on out and we'll help each other cut. How? I said. There was a silence. Maybe, I suggested half-heartedly, I cut your deathless prose and you cut mine. Maybe, Dick said. Come on out.
So a couple of days later I flew out of Idlewild for LA, and was met at the airport by Dick Prather and his wife, Tina, in a snazzy pale blue Caddy.
"It's yours while you're here," Tina said.
"Well, you see, we'll work together at the house but we figured you'd like some privacy, so we booked you a room at a seaside motel."
"So the car is all yours while you're here," Dick explained.
The Prathers were like that--private people but the best hosts I'd ever known.
Their house was a modernistic, mostly glass cube high on a cliff overlooking Laguna Beach.
We couldn't wait. We set right to work in the brilliant Southern California sunshine. It went like this:
"How about this paragraph in chapter two, where Drum says--well, take a look. Not exactly deathless prose, is it?"
Dick asked. "And it doesn't really advance the plot, does it?"
I bristled. "What about here on the very first page, where Scott says..." I countered.
Dick pointed out something else that needed cutting in chapter 2; I did the same in chapter 1.
Tina suggested, "Why don't we have a drink?"
We had gin-and-tonics on the terrace. I watched a hummingbird hover over an exotic tropical flower. "Nice view," I offered. I had never seen a hummingbird hover before.
"We can go for a drive in the hills later," Dick suggested. "Pretty nice country up there."
We both smiled.
"Boys," Tina said. "You have a book to cut."
Either Dick or I sighed instead of saying, "Sure, and he wants to cut my part to ribbons."
It was as if Tina heard the words. "I have an idea," she said. "But maybe you won't go for it."
"What's that?" either Dick or I, or maybe both in unison, said doubtfully.
Tina smiled disarmingly. She was very pretty. "I'll sort of be the referee," she said.
And we finished our drinks. And the hummingbird veered off with its nectar. And we went to work.
By dusk we'd done a first pass through the first two chapters, cutting excess verbiage. In a tie--at first they were almost always ties--Tina supplied the deciding vote. And pretty soon it became clear that she was as objective as could be. We had to cut a couple of hundred pages, and it didn't matter to Tina whether they were her husband's or mine. We all wanted the same thing, after all.
It took two weeks, with an occasional half day off for a drive or walk, an occasional night on the town. The Prathers were a team, their love for each other obvious, their ability to work together and bring a third person into that work remarkable. I was going through a bad patch at the time with my first wife, and I envied them. Looking back on it from this remove, I think they became the template for my second marriage.
The Prathers were unassuming and always gracious. Even our political differences--they were conservative, I liberal--didn't seem to matter.
And Dick, as we made our way chapter by chapter through the revision, tried to give too much of the credit for the detection to Chet Drum. So I began to give more of it to Shell Scott. Turned out a dead heat. We were friends.
The book? DOUBLE IN TROUBLE went through several printings and made an appearance on the NYTimes softcover best-seller list.
Tina Prather died a couple of years ago, Dick earlier this month. Working with them meant a lot to me in more ways than one, and I'll never forget them.

--Stephen Marlowe

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

E. Howard Hunt

COMING SOON -- An original piece by Stephen Marlowe about how he and Richard S. Prather collaborated on one of the most famous Gold Medals of them all, DOUBLE TROUBLE. Stay tuned.


I'm halfway through The House on Q Street by Robert Dietrich aka E. Howard Hunt. And despite a few far-right observations enjoying the hell out of it. At this stage in his career his early start as a literary novelist is still in evidence even though the book is by and large standard but excellent pulp. The style here is very polished with none of the crudities of lesser pulp and there are many sophisticated references to art and music and literature. The type of references that one probably does encounter in Georgetown and environs. The refrences never get pretentious and in fact help take us into a world I've never visited before.

Who'd have thought that you could build a hardboiled series arond a CPA protagonist? But when you think of it, money is at the center of most crooked deals in Washington. And it wasn't any different back in the Cold War Fifties. If Hunt reminds me of anybody, it's a less violent Donald Hamilton. The world views are similar and so are the attitudes. Dutiful Cold Warriors to the end.

I'd recommend this book without qualification. Even though he became a nutjob later on (or maybe he was always a nutjob), Hunt here shows himself to be one hell of a good storyteller.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

The new Vanity Fair

Very interesting issue of Vanity Fair--

James Wolcott uses his colum to remind us of a movie that, while not a cult classic, seems never to go away. My first memories of Andy Griffith were from the Ed Sullivan show when he'd appear as a hayseed and tell us in broad comedic strokes about a small Southern town much like Mayberry. This was seven or eight years before his TV show. Cornball stuff though amusing.

In tenth grade I went to see a movie called "A Face in The Crowd." I was just beginning to become aware of directors then and as a result automatically saw everything Elia Kazan directed. Whatever I expected I didn't get. Griffith still played the hayseed but this time he wasn't amusing at all. As an enormous TV star he was a dark force, a facist presence all gussied up in his pore boy trappings.

Even then I knew that the movie didn't quite work. But that didn't stop me from being absorbed and impressed with it, particularly with the performances of Griffith, Patricia Neal and Tony Franciosa. Not to mention a very young and dazzling Lee Remick as a baton-twirling beauty who obsesses Griffth.

Wolcott quotes a passage from Neal's autobiography in which she talks about accidentally slapping Franciosa so hard one take that he began to cry. And he continued to cry all through lunch. If that's true, it's a disturbing take on acting. How hard could she have hit him?

The most interesting part of the column is Wolcott's discussion of how drama in the Fifties divided pretty neatly into two categories--drama abve the Mason-Dixon line, drama below the Mason-Dixon line. Below meaning the influence of Falkner-Erskine Caldwell-Tennessee Williams. Above meaning mostly Arthur Miller--over the top passion versus cold scolding.

I was a big fan of Tennessee Williams when I went through college on a playwrighting scholarship but somewhere in my Thirties I found myself unable to sit through even his best plays. Just too florid. And I've never liked Miller beyond Death of A Salesman. So the Mason-Dixon judgement doesn't work for me personally. In my dotage my favorite American playwrights are Eugene O'Neil and Clifford Odets (who is finally being produced again in both NYC and LA).

Very good piece by Wolcott. And rent the film if you get a chance. There are some truly hair-curling scenes.


Another piece is by Ann Sheridan (?) on film noir. In addition to some great movie posters, her assessment of overlooked noir actors is especially interesting. She touts Robert Ryan and Dana Andrews among others. I always prefered Ryan to Bogart as a noir icon and quiet insular Andrews never got his due for those sad doomed characters he created wth such soft-spoken power. Plus there's a poster of a Lawrence Tierney starrer that should scare the hell out of anybody in his right mind.

Monday, February 19, 2007

Leigh Brackett;Cover paintings; Gore Vidal

Best sentence I've read all day:

A bad whipping wind--
"Somewhere a screen door slammed with the protesting futility of a dying bird beating its wing."

Chandleresque to be sure but then Leigh Brackett never tried to disguise the debt her crime fiction owed to him. Brackett wrote a number of fine crime novels and stories--the quote is from "I Feel Bad Killing You"--as well as a great deal of science fantasy and a number of screenplays, most famously "The Big Sleep" with Wm. Falkner and Jules Furthman and the first draft of the third Star Wars.

A Tiger Among Us is my favorite of her crime novels though I like them all.


Interesting piece on Galleycat today about writers and the covers their books get. Publishers seem more comfortable covering a book with a painting that suggests a particular genre, even when the book itself doesn't belong in that genre. I understand the thinking behind this and to a degree I see it as a necessary evil. Books that fall between genres are probably harder to pitch to wholesale buyers, no matter their merit. (I guess--how the hell do I know?) But it does get ludicrous sometimes. I remember picking up a western novel that was pitched as an authentic tale of Kansas right after the Civil War. It was Gone With The Wind done by Monogram Studios.


I read the piece on the fiction of E. Howard Hunt in the NY Times today and found it moderately interesting. At the end Gore Vidal is quoted as saying that he and Truman Capote were up against Hunt in 1947 for a Guggenheim grant and that since he lost he's never had much faith in awards since.

In my college days I thought Vidal was a pretty cool guy. But as I've grown older I've realized two things about him. One, he is the same sort of person his arch enemy Wm. F. Buckley is--patrician, eliitist and totally irrelevant as an observer of how most of us live. And second, he is a terrible fiction writer. His coldness as a TV personality is all too much present in his fiction. I've never read a novel or a short story of his I thought was worthwhile. They're either political potboilers sanctified by the endless research he boasts of or they're stunts ala Myra Breckenridge.

I say this with all sincerity--Alfred Knopf was right to get excited about Hunt's two initial novels (Knopf published both of them). They are fine novels. And even his potboilers are better than Vidal's, though get ready for crazed conspiracy theories that will give you headaches and maybe even crabs.

This boy was ready for a padded cell long before he a) offered to parachute into Cuba wearing a red wig and assassinate Fidel Castro and b) decided the guy he wanted as his number two on the Watergate break-in was G. Gordon Liddy. (On that fateful night when they were a block from the Watergate, a cop car came along and Hunt and his henchmen ducked into a deep doorway. Liddy, afraid the cops might spot them, suggested they shoot out the streetlights. Cops never notice streetlights that get shot out when the squad car is about thirty feet away.)

Sunday, February 18, 2007

Britney Spears' new look; early McBain

Ed here: As the grandfather of four girls, I naturally worry about how they'll fare in the wold. So damned many pitfalls and temptations. Thus I don't find anything amusing in the terrible mental disintegration of Britney Spears. Where the fuck are her parents in all this? God knows she's been their ATM machine for years. As (almost) always, Ray Richmond of the Hollywood Reporter and the Past Deadline website offers true wisdom on the subject. The following is an excerpt from his recent column:

Ray Richmond Hollywood Reporter

And what reason does Britney give for getting rid of her hair? Why, her hair extensions were too tight, of course, which is a bit like having a hangnail on your right ring finger and deciding to just lop off the entire digit.

So anyway, after she shaves her head Britney evidently figures, hey, the evening is young -- and I've got this hot new Sinead O'Connor look I need to show off! So she hightails it to a tattoo parlor in Sherman Oaks and reportedly gets a black, white and pink cross on her lower hip and a pair of red and pink lips on her wrist.

The jokes aside, this is all very sad, of course, the way this young woman is so acting out in order to...well...something. From drunken binges to pantyless shots in limousines to close shaves, the lass appears to be imploding before our very eyes. This wouldn't be nearly so tragic save for the fact she's the mother of two young children. Somebody in a position of authority needs to sit her down in a room and break it to Britney that this is a very good way of A. Getting social services interested in taking away your kids and B. Making sure you make Lindsay Lohan look like a Jehovah's Witness by comparison.

The hair will grow back. I fear that the brain may not.

Death in The Navy

Read a great old Gold Medal by one Richard Marsten a/k/a Evan Hunter a/k/a Ed McBain this afternoon. Fine fudmental storytelling and enough energy to put steroid users to shame. He had it from the git-go. This is out under numerous titles. Worth a look if you want to see how th basics are done by a master.

Saturday, February 17, 2007

E Howard Hunt; The Triumph of The Thriller

Ed here: when Howard Hunt died a few weeks ago, I mentioned that he begn his writing life as an accaimed literary novelist. Here from the NY Times is an expansion on that part of his career.

Published: February 18, 2007

When E. Howard Hunt died last month at 88, he was remembered as the longtime Central Intelligence Agency officer who helped organize the botched Bay of Pigs invasion and served jail time for orchestrating the Watergate break-in. Less well known is that Hunt was once a promising literary writer.

E. Howard Hunt
Like so many in the first wave of C.I.A. men, Hunt, a Brown graduate, worked for the Office of Strategic Services during World War II, then headed to Europe in 1948, where he traveled in the Paris-Vienna orbit of other literary-minded Ivy Leaguers working in government jobs, some covertly. He spent much of the ’50s in Latin America, and left the agency in 1970, having been sidelined in the ’60s after the Bay of Pigs mission went awry. But before all that, while still in his 20s, Hunt published short stories in The New Yorker and Cosmopolitan, then a showcase for serious fiction.

Not exactly on a par with Nabokov and Cheever, whose work was appearing in The New Yorker at the same time, Hunt instead imitated the hard-boiled Hemingwayesque style in vogue in those years. “I thought of the North Atlantic, where I’d rolled around on a tin can for almost a year,” he wrote in “Departure,” a story about soldiers waiting to be sent home from the South Pacific, published in December 1943. “That had been tough, too, but there was always Boston or New York or Norfolk at one end of the line and Reykjavik or Londonderry at the other. At least they were places. Towns, cities, villages with people and pubs and stores and shops and girls who looked like girls you’d seen before.”

Hunt’s first novel, “East of Farewell,” published in 1942, when he was 23, was also a fictionalized account of his time on convoy duty in the North Atlantic. Hunt recalled his surprise when the prestigious publisher Knopf agreed to take it on. “Amazingly to me, the work was quickly accepted,” Hunt wrote in his memoir, “American Spy,” which is scheduled to appear in March. “Reviews were all I could have hoped for, but I couldn’t compete with the real-life war blaring in the newspaper headlines and newsreels. Sales were not good enough to escalate me to full-time author.”

The New York Times reviewer called “East of Farewell” a “crashing start for a new writer.” Critics weren’t so fond of Hunt’s fourth novel, “Bimini Run” (1949), a love triangle set in the Caribbean. The Times found it “lifeless and unexciting,” but it sold 150,000 copies and Warner Brothers bought it for $35,000, a fortune at the time. In 1946, Hunt had been awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship and had gone to Mexico to write a novel, “Stranger in Town,” which sold well in paperback. That year, two other up-and-coming writers were denied the same fellowship. “The only thing Truman Capote and I have in common was Howard Hunt beat us out for a Guggenheim,” Gore Vidal recalled in an interview. “That sort of summed up my view of prizes and foundation work; they would instinctively go to the one who was least deserving.”

In 1948, Hunt went to Paris to work for the Marsh

(Thanks to Richard Wheeler for the tip and link)

From Powell's bookstore reviews

Today's Review From

The Triumph of the Thriller: How Cops, Crooks, and Cannibals Captured Popular Fiction
by Patrick Anderson

Guilt-Free Pleasures
A review by Chris Bolton

There are readers who simply can't get enough of novels with unreliable
narrators, beautiful sentences packed with vivid, poetic prose,
and lofty themes about the power of language and society's collective

And there are other readers who prefer a nice, juicy murder.

For the latter, it can be a strange and lonely journey. Sure,
the books they prefer often reside at the top of the bestseller
lists, but they rarely merit a mention in the New York Times Book
Review, let alone on shortlists for prestigious awards. More often
than not, when they're even mentioned in literary circles, it's
in a scornful tone or referenced as a "guilty pleasure."

I think that's a crime. So does Washington Post book critic Patrick
Anderson, a one-time novelist who believes some of today's strongest,
freshest, and most vital writing is being hidden in plain sight,
in the much-maligned category of genre fiction.

The Triumph of the Thriller is Anderson's impassioned chronicle
of the emergence of the thriller novel -- which, in his estimation,
encompasses detective fiction, espionage books, police procedurals,
and, well, almost anything that's more fun than work to read.
Anderson writes:

It annoys me to see fine writers dismissed as genre
those who salivate over the latest incomprehensible postmodern
gimmickry. A book is a book is a book. Labels are necessary to
organize bookstores, but serious readers should pay them no mind.

While award-winning literary novels occupy themselves with such
white-knuckled matters as "what separates art from reality" (as
if that could be an issue of genuine concern anywhere but in literary
fiction), Anderson believes that the social novel has gone underground
in recent years and resurfaced in the guise of genre books.

He notes that the crime novels of George Pelecanos (including
Hard Revolution and The Night Gardener) offer scathing insight
into the current, tenuous state of race relations in the shadow
of our nation's capital -- and, in a larger sense, the entire

[Pelecanos] and Richard Price and others are writing in the Steinbeck
tradition of those who care about dispossessed Americans. The
question is whether the people who write about fiction understand
the power and importance of his uncompromising bulletins from
the front.

He calls Dennis Lehane's Mystic River "an American tragedy" on
a par with the work of Graham Greene and Theodore Dreiser: "Insofar
as Mystic River is a crime novel, it is one that transcends and
transforms the genre, as Hamlet transcended and transformed the
revenge plays that inspired it."

To its credit, The Triumph of the Thriller never sinks to the
level of apologia. Instead, Anderson argues that the first-rate
writing that occupies so many genre shelves exists on its own
merits, and that enjoying these books needn't involve the word
"guilty" outside the context of a courtroom thriller.

Anderson opens with a brief history of crime fiction, touching
on early contributions by Poe, Conan Doyle, and Christie, before
expanding on the evolution of the detective novel through Chandler
and Hammett up to present-day luminaries like Michael Connelly.

In my review of City of Bones, I said that the [Harry] Bosch
novels were "the best American crime series now in progress."
Several novels later, I'll go further and say that if we consider
the depth and seriousness that Connelly has brought to Harry's
characterization, the excellence of his plotting, the precision
of his writing, his unsurpassed grasp of the police culture, and
the moral gravity of his work, the Bosch novels are the finest
crime series anyone has written.

Anderson acknowledges there is much bad writing alongside the
good -- often to better sales. He devotes an entire chapter to
a handful of writers whose work he considers deplorable, singling
out one-man industry James Patterson for particular scorn.

James Patterson is possibly the best-selling writer of fiction
in America today. He is also, in my view, the absolute pits, the
lowest common denominator of cynical, scuzzy, assembly-line writing.
If, on the bullshit scale, people like Pelecanos and Leonard rate
a perfect 0, Patterson is the other extreme, a bloated, odiferous

Well, he certainly doesn't mince words -- but at least he provides
ample, cringeworthy evidence to support his assertion.

I have a friend who is constitutionally incapable of reading
any novel that isn't written in the most poetic of language; she
simply loses interest in "plain" prose and couldn't get involved
in a genre novel if she tried to force herself. On the other hand,
I revere Elmore Leonard's tenth rule of writing: "Leave out the
part that readers tend to skip." When it comes to many literary
novels, I tend to feel that the rule encompasses nearly everything
between the first and last pages. (I wish all ten of his rules
were taught in creative writing workshops.)

However, Anderson is a lover of all good writing, and doesn't
intend The Triumph of the Thriller as an argument for the irrelevance
of literary fiction. "I don't expect everyone to agree with my
views," he writes. "We all have different tastes, often amazingly
so." Readers who dismiss thrillers as a waste of paper aren't
likely to have their minds changed by Anderson's book, though
I suspect several might reconsider their positions.

The Triumph of the Thriller is full of interesting trivia and
analyses for genre fans -- who may find new titles they'd never
heard of (while, perhaps, bristling at certain omissions) -- and
it also works as a terrific primer for those who haven't glanced
at crime fiction since their brief, preadolescent Agatha Christie
phase. It doesn't exactly break new ground in its assertions,
but it provides absolution to thriller fans who no longer want
to feel guilty for their reading pleasures.

Hardcover (New) $24.95
Adobe Reader Ebooks (Adobe Reader Ebooks, Microsoft Reader Ebooks and Palm Reader Ebooks) starting at $14.36 (List price $17.95)

*Please note that copies are limited to on-hand quantity; used copies, in particular, may be available in extremely limited supply.

Friday, February 16, 2007

Nutjob of The Day; Richard S. Prather

Nutjob of The Day Award:
From Josh Marshall's Talking Points memo:

It's amazing what it's come down to. On the senate floor this afternoon, Sen. Sessions (R-AL), in arguing against the surge resolution, gave an entirely new rationale for the invasion of Iraq: We invaded Iraq to prevent Saddam Hussein from being able to say that he'd won the 1991 Gulf War.

Ed here: !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Richard S. Prather's death has special meaning for people my age who grew up reading paperback originals. Even kids who hated reading read Prather because he was just so damned much fun. His creation Shell Scott was as iconic in his way as all the hardboiled private eyes he spoofed. Was there an LA lass that Shell didn't get to eventually?

He was a better writer than he generally got credit for, every once in a while he'd slip in a Scott that was darker than the general run and he'd surprise you with how skillfully he coud turn from parody to realism. Hard Case recently published The Peddler, which is a nasty little mob novel. If you haven't read it, pick it up.

I talked with him several times on the phone and the conversation always got around to him leaving Gold Medal for Pocketbooks and a lot more money. Or what promised to be a lot more money. Pocket coud never figure out how to sell him. Remember that ridiculous male model with the ridiculous spray-painted white hair? Contrast that with the great GM illustration of a grinning Shell. Acrimony ensued. Prather sued Pocket and his career, for all practical purposes, was over Michael Seidman brought him back for a few Tor books, and damned good ones they were, but time had passed for the Prather approach to crime fiction.

So long, Richard. And good night, Shell.

Thursday, February 15, 2007

Blue Cheer; Nut Job of The Day; Never Trust a Headline

Here's a review of the book I pushed so enthusiastically a few weeks ago.
You rally should get this one from Point Blank Press.

From Booklist
Blue Cheer by Ed Lynskey

PI Frank Johnson, who moved to rural West Virginia in search of
peace and quiet, stumbles on his noisiest case yet when a
Stinger missile explodes in the air over his property. He thinks
it ought to be a simple matter to find out why the missile was
in the skies over West Virginia, but when he is beaten up, and
then his best friend’s wife is murdered, Frank quickly realizes
he has caught the tail of a monster. Soon he is hot on the trail
of a cult called the Blue Cheer, and stopping their murderous
plans means putting his own neck right in the line of fire. This
is the second novel to feature Frank Johnson (following The
Dirty-Brown Derby, 2006),and it definitely lives up to the buzz
the author has been generating among genre enthusiasts. Lynskey
has a sure hand, and he tackles the PI genre like a veteran,
packing the book with great lines like "Awaking the next morning
on the cusp of the DTs, I quit drinking cold turkey, a knack the
Black Irish carry in their genes." Top-of-the-line hard-boiled
fare from a novelist and a small press we hope to hear more from
in the future.
— David Pitt

Nut Job of The Day

Rep. Virgil Goode (R-VA): Without the 'surge', US currency may read "In Muhammed We Trust".

(Flashback: Rep. Goode warns that America will be overrun by Muslim hordes.)

--Josh Marshall

Never trust a Headline:
Ed here: I saw this stry headlined as the following on three different sites:
"Jim Carrey calls Tm Cruise a "big joke." Here's the full story:

JIM Carrey isn't a $20 million-a-movie man anymore. "I don't want to pick scripts just to keep me in the status-phere. You have to take the plunge to expose your true self," the rubber-faced funnyman tells Time. After several comedy duds, Carrey has turned to horror with "The Number 23," a low-budget shocker about a man consumed with numerology. He also admits his reputation may be taking a dive: "Everyone gets to be the big joke for a year. That's this business. Last year it was Tom Cruise. I could be the next Kathie Lee Gifford."

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Me Tarzan You Nobody

Somebody on line mentioned Lin Carter yesterday so I of course got nostalgic for the mid-Sixties which was right before I took my sacred vows with drink and drug. I looked up Carter on the net. Now you know and I know that he was generally a pretty miserable writer. He had to two good books in him by my estimation The Man Who Loved Mars and Time War. As with all his books you knew on page one exactly who he was "homaging." In Mars he was homaging (doesn't that sound dirty?) Leigh Brackett and Wars he was imitating Van Vogt. His worst work was his attempt to recreate the mystery pulps of the Thirties, Doc Savage, The Shadow and etc. But for some damned reason I bought and read all 900 (I'm joking) of his books and finished every one of them. To his credit, he was a damned fine editor. His Ballantine Fantasy series remains (for me) the benchmark of classic reprint lines.

One of the Carter pieces mentioned his affection for Edgar Rice Burroughs. I logged on and am glad I did. Burroughs has always fascinated me and I'm not sure why. Maybe because as a young man he was rather pretentious and vainglorious about himself while all the while being a failure at everything he tried. We've all known people like that (I was certainly one fo them myself--Brian Moore's great The Luck of Ginjer Coffee gets him down onpaper for all time) and while we might snicker at them we know there's something sad about them, too, that the bragging is empty and recognizing themselves in the morning mirror is painful.

Then he became a writer. Sort of just like that. An idiotic turn in a sappy Hwood movie. Then he became a writer. And by God not just any writer. Early on he created Tarzan, books still in print in virtually every country today, nearly one hundred years after their first appearance. I still read two or three Burroughs novels a year. He's not anywhere as good as Rafael Sabatini; and it's sacreligious to even utter the names Robert Louis Stevenson and H. Rider Haggard in the same piece. But I recently reread the first Tarzan novel and think I found the obvious reason for Burroughs' enduring success. He wrote books for innocents. He didn't know a damned thing about Africa, his prose occasonally makes you want to give the book in your hand a hot foot, and nobody will ever be outdone in his hatred of Germans (I ain't crazy about them either but still).

But in his innocence he allowed himself to create human creatures who have virtually no human responses. Swinging through the trees in a loincloth? Jane giving it all up to leave in a tree house? Apes and lions living in terror of this white dude? An "Africa" that bears no relation whatsoever to the real thing, an Africa in fact that's closer to the Burroughs Mars than any place else?

When you talk about the aventure novels scooped up by boys early in the last century you ARE talking about Stevenson and Haggard and Sabatini. But for all their adventurousness each of their books come with serious themses. Haggard's She remains nothing less than a bitter look at the mortality of our our species; a very dark book at its core. Sabatini's novels are implicit condemnations of imperialsim and expansionism. And the underlying psychology of Stevenson's bad guys invariably alter the lives of their young victims forever. Consider Treasure island, for instance, in juxtaposition to The Treasure of Sierra Madre. In some ways they're identical. And yet the Stevenson is a young adult book.

But it's fun sometimes to escape all that with Edgar Rice Burroughs. One of my favorite images in all literature is John Carter in that Arizona cave deep in the night when he's summoned to Mars. It's one of the most eerily beautiful scenes I've ever read.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

The Deathman Cometh - Richard Wheeler on Obits

At my advanced age, I pay attention to obituaries more than I once did. It is not just that I am losing friends and acquaintances. The people who populated public life when I was young are slipping away, celebrities, eccentrics, the distinguished and the obscure. Each obituary brings back memories and sometimes moments of great tenderness.

The art of obituary writing has fallen on bad times, especially since the task has largely been turned over to families who write their own and pay for the newspaper space. I hadn't thought much about what makes a good obituary until recently, when my wife gave me a 2001 Scribner book, 52 McGs. These are the fifty-two best obits written by Robert McG. Thomas for the New York Times, largely in the late nineties.

Suddenly I found myself in an unexplored and beautiful world. Robert McG Thomas's secret was to capture the character of the deceased, and present it gently, through anecdote, and occasional physical description. In the brief space of an obit he caught people's essence better than most novelists, and I came to regard him as something of a genius.

His obits refrained from criticism, even of the most noxious, but a simple recitation of the dark facts in such a life sufficed. He was at his best with eccentrics and the notorious. Among the subjects of his obits was the woman who created the Bridey Murphy hoopla, the fixer for the Chicago mob, the country's top genealogist, the pastor who buried Lee Harvey Oswald, the postmaster who introduced the ZIP code, the lady who inspired the expatriate literary life in Paris of the 50s, the conman who invented a primitive tribe on Mindanao called the Tasadays, and on and on.

Part of what I derived from this richly-wrought book is the utter diversity of our lives, a diversity that no novelist could possibly capture. Robert McG. Thomas found his true vocation late in life, wrote brilliant obits for several years, only to die at age 60 in the year 2000. I count him among the true literary masters of our times. And I have learned that the art of writing obituaries can be the highest calling of all for those of us who write.

Monday, February 12, 2007

Another triumph for The Grammys

Jeff Lebowski had it right: "The fucking Eagles?"

Salon - David Marchese
Oh, to have been a fly on the wall during the production meeting before last night's Grammy Awards. I imagine it went something like this: A hopelessly out-of-touch baby-boomer industry bigwig dumped a pile of his favorite albums on a boardroom desk, said "make it happen" to a bunch of yes people and walked out. How else to explain such a backward-looking and tone-deaf production?

And, most mind-blowingly, there was a three-song tribute to those young tyros the Eagles. Ladies and gentlemen, I give you the 2007 Grammy Awards.

It was actually sort of fitting that the show began with a song about a hooker ("Roxanne") because the lackstravaganza that followed exhibited all the decision-making smarts and sensitivity of a cheap one-night stand. Justin Timberlake, pop music's most kinetic performer, was stuck behind a piano for the first of his two appearances. The cryptic jazz genius Ornette Coleman was paired as a presenter with Natalie Cole -- I guess because their last names have a syllable in common. Noted head-banger Al Gore earned loud applause when he and Queen Latifah presented the award for best rock album to the Red Hot Chili Peppers. Beyoncé sang a song, "Listen," that wasn't nominated for a Grammy (but was for an Oscar, where she's expected to again perform it in a mere two weeks). MTV's Video Music Awards apparently lent its hokey fraudience, which filled the space at the foot of the stage and gyrated obediently during the performances. Then there was this whole weird biz where television viewers were repeatedly implored to vote to give one of three pretty young things the chance to duet with Timberlake. Having never seen any of these girls before, I was thus hard-pressed to care when one of them (Robyn Troup) ended up singing "Ain't No Sunshine" and "My Love" with J.T. The one time Timberlake was free to dance, unencumbered by a baby grand, he's paired with an amateur.

A possible clue to the evening's origins came when, during his brief speech telling everyone how amazing the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences is, academy prez Neil Portnoy revealed that seeing Elvis on TV when he was 6 years old made him realize what he wanted to do with his life. That fact was instructive. It makes sense that the Grammys -- so soulless and bland -- are headed by a man who saw Elvis on TV and thought: "I want to be a record executive."

Jeff Lebowski had it right: "The fucking Eagles?"

Ray Richmond - Hollywood Reporter

Mind you, the Grammys (try asking a teenager or young adult if they know what a Gramophone is, evemn though this is what the Grammys were named for) have been around a mere 49 years, or precisely as long as me -- and I don't really consider myself ancient (much). But in a record industry that no longer presses records and sells fewer and fewer CDs as the MP3 continues its stranglehold on the business, it's increasingly difficult to work up much enthusiasm for this kudofest. If you know if any Grammy parties and Grammy pools going down tonight, consider yourself in what appears to be a tiny minority.

Sunday, February 11, 2007

John Fraser on thrillers

The other night I introduced you to the website and writing of Englishman John Fraser. I've continued reading his various essays and found all of them to be remarkable as examinations of the type of fiction we care about. I'm excerpting here part of a long essay on thrillers and thriller writers.

John Fraser:

I am speaking of the kinds of novels in which one or two well-defined central consciousnesses are involved in some way or other with illegality and are themselves at risk. From this point of view it is immaterial whether the characters are private detectives, spies, cops, professional criminals, unjustly accused jockeys, etc.

What counts is what happens next—and next—and next, and having numerous suspense points, large or small, at which one’s anxiety increases. Being able to step through a door into that kind of experience and lose yourself there for an hour or two can be a blessing.

Other people lose themselves in other ways. I lose myself in thrillers, and emerge from them relaxed and refreshed; as did Wittgenstein, presumably, after reading Black Mask magazine.

Or go painlessly to sleep.

Unfortunately it is an experience that I find increasingly rare these days, as the supply of good new thrillers in the local bookstores dwindles, partly, perhaps, because of marketing policies. (Maybe it’s time I took out a subscription to Crime Time and tried figuring out which reviews sound trustworthy. Paperbacks are no longer cheap thrills.) But for awhile thrillers sustained me while I was engaged in some reasonably strenuous intellectual activities—getting a Ph.D. in English; publishing articles and a book or two.

And what interests me here are certain value-charged patterns in them that make them more than “mere” entertainment; that enable them to connect up in indirect ways with my serious reading and my own real world.

The kinds of thrillers that matter to me most and that I can keep rereading are what I have come to think of as Homeric ones. They are full of physicality, of a vivid rendering of place, of the pains and pleasures of the senses, including, often, the pleasures of relaxing after effort, the pleasures of good food and drink, of sleep, of love.

“My” thrillers take me into John D. MacDonald’s Florida and John Welcome’s Provence, into the various exotic countries visited by Adam Hall’s Quiller and Simon Harvester’s Dorian Silk, into the comfortable American bars and lounges of the old Gold Medal paperbacks. And they celebrate, in one way or another, the vigorous movements of more or less healthy bodies.

But if they are works of action, there are some complexities to the idea of action. What matters in them is not simply dramatic action in the plot-summary sense.

What is desirable, to begin with, is a convincing sense of a live, muscled body and an individual consciousness engaged convincingly in doing something physical with complete concentration, and doing it well.

It is an experience that I myself have had only rarely, it seems to me good in itself, and it can be refined all the way up to the kind of self-transcendence described in Eugen Herrigel’s classic Zen in the Art of Archery.

In thrillers the actions of that sort need not be violent, though an element of risk is important.

There is nothing violent about the unforgettable episode in Erskine Childers’ The Riddle of the Sands (1903), the book that first introduced the term “secret service,” in which a small-boat enthusiast, with the narrator to do the rowing, brilliantly navigates a dinghy across ten miles of thinly covered North Sea sandbanks in an impenetrable fog.

Nor is there violence in the scientist Giles Yeoman’s three-day cross-country hike over the mountains into Yugoslavia in Martin Woodhouse’s Bush Baby, or the times of boyhood happiness out by the Humber estuary, with their secretly saved-up-for shotgun, that Jack Carter recalls spending with his brother in Ted Lewis’s great Jack’s Return Home (superbly filmed by Mike Hodges as Get Carter, with Michael Caine).

And part of the many charms of Peter O’Donnell’s Modesty Blaise books is the many episodes in which she and Willy Garvin engaged in sporting activities—hang-gliding, fencing, golf, etc— for pure pleasure.

But of course it is the episodes of dangerous and high-speed action that matter most, such as the car chase through the frozen Warsaw streets in Adam Hall’s The Warsaw Document or Modesty Blaise’s various hand-to-hand combats with formidably strong and skillful adversaries.

And what characterizes such episodes is not simply violence. It is the successful solving of problems, at times a very rapid succession of problems. And those problems form part of larger sequences of problem-solving that entail a high degree of concentration.

The tautness, the concentration with which Jack Carter observes, probes, defines, deciphers, and finally uncovers how and why his brother was murdered, and then surges forward to take revenge on all those involved, entails a single-minded commitment to his brother’s memory, unshaken by his recollections of their differences and disagreements and his brother’s eventual rejection of him.

The Modesty Blaise books preeminently are distinguished by their presentation of protagonists who live in a Zen-like fashion that enables them to move, without any strain, from small pacific enjoyments to large-scale dangerous action.

At times, too, as it does in Jack’s Return Home and the Modesty Blaise books, the problem solving can have considerable elegance, in ways that recall the movies of Chaplin and Keaton or a classic silent comedy like René Clair’s The Italian Straw Hat.

The episode near the end of Geoffrey Household’s incomparable manhunt novel Rogue Male, for example, in which the narrator uses the corpse of his beloved cat companion, wantonly killed by the Nazi agent who has trapped him, to escape from his filth-caked burrow has the neatness of the manoeuvre in Easy Street by which Chaplin as a rookie cop on a tough beat cons the towering neighbourhood bully into gassing himself with a street lamp.

And I never tire of the ingenious improvisings and transformation of a man-on-the-run book like Buchan’s The Thirty-Nine Steps, wherein the hunted man “becomes” almost instantaneously a milkman, a road-mender, etc., or the robbing-the-bank ingenuities of Richard Stark’s Parker novels.

As times, as in Stark’s Butcher’s Moon, Dashiell Hammett’s Red Harvest (his best novel), and Ross Thomas’s glorious The Fools in Town are on Our Side, the large-scale problems posed—clean up the town, wipe out a gang—lead to solutions of baroque complexity.

But it is also satisfying to read less dramatic things like the account in Butcher’s Moon of how a professional criminal in an unfamiliar town goes about finding clandestinely an unoccupied apartment from which he can carry out his campaign.

Large or small, it is comforting to be reminded that problems are sometimes soluble; that closure is possible.

Risks, skills, and problem-solving are also on display in the writing of thrillers.

Like the hero or heroine, the good thriller writer must have the kind of kinaesthetic grip upon the physical world that is a sine qua non of all effective action and most good fiction.

Writers like those that I have referred to project themselves (via their narratives) into the physical world, holding as a unity in their minds the physical setting and the movements and feelings of the characters in it.

The opening pages of Rogue Male are unforgettable for Household’s self-projection into the dazed, half-animal consciousness of the narrator after he has fallen from the top of a cliff into a saving patch of marsh, with frightful lacerations to his buttocks and hands, and knows only that he must hide from the German officials who will soon be on his track.

And a passage like the following from Donald Hamilton’s Line of Fire likewise gives us the sensation of simply being there:

"They were leaving now. Two of them had the girl and were leading her to the car… The third man had the sister and kids backed up against the kitchen door like a family portrait. I could just barely make it all out at the distance, as I ran diagonally across the field toward a spot from which I could cover the dirt road leading out of the place. The furrows were straight, and deep for running. The young corn was just coming up. Habit had me trying to avoid the plants as I ran, which made it something like a game of hopscotch. I stopped that foolishness."

Friday, February 09, 2007

Maureen Dowd on Chick-Lit

Heels Over Hemingway

Published: February 10, 2007

Maureen Dowd.

I was cruising through Borders, looking for a copy of “Nostromo.”

Suddenly I was swimming in pink. I turned frantically from display table to display table, but I couldn’t find a novel without a pink cover. I was accosted by a sisterhood of cartoon women, sexy string beans in minis and stilettos, fashionably dashing about book covers with the requisite urban props — lattes, books, purses, shopping bags, guns and, most critically, a diamond ring.

Was it a Valentine’s Day special?

No, I realized with growing alarm, chick lit was no longer a niche. It had staged a coup of the literature shelves. Hot babes had shimmied into the grizzled old boys’ club, the land of Conrad, Faulkner and Maugham. The store was possessed with the devil spawn of “The Devil Wears Prada.” The blood-red high heel ending in a devil’s pitchfork on the cover of the Lauren Weisberger best seller might as well be driving a stake through the heart of the classics.

I even found Sylvia Plath’s “The Bell Jar” with chick-lit pretty-in-pink lettering.

“Penis lit versus Venus lit,” said my friend Leon Wieseltier, the literary editor of The New Republic, who was with me. “An unacceptable choice.”

“Looking for Mr. Goodbunny” by Kathleen O’Reilly sits atop George Orwell’s “1984.” “Mine Are Spectacular!” by Janice Kaplan and Lynn Schnurnberger hovers over “Ulysses.” Sophie Kinsella’s “Shopaholic” series cuddles up to Rudyard Kipling.

Even Will Shakespeare is buffeted by rampaging 30-year-old heroines, each one frantically trying to get their guy or figure out if he’s the right guy, or if he meant what he said, or if he should be with them instead of their BFF or cousin, or if he’ll come back, or if she’ll end up stuck home alone eating Häagen-Dazs and watching “CSI” and “Sex and the City” reruns.

Trying to keep up with soap-opera modernity, “Romeo and Juliet” has been reissued with a perky pink cover.

There are subsections of chick lit: black chick lit (“Diva Diaries”), Bollywood chick lit (“Salaam, Paris”), Jewish chick lit (“The J.A.P. Chronicles” and “The Matzo Ball Heiress”) and assistant lit, which has its own subsection of Hollywood-assistant lit (“The Second Assistant”), mystery lit (“Sex, Murder and a Double Latte”), shopping lit (“Retail Therapy”), the self-loathing genre (“This Is Not Chick Lit”) and Brit chick lit (“Angus, Thongs and Full-Frontal Snogging”).

The narrator of that last, Georgia, begins with a note to her readers: “Hello, American-type chums! (Perhaps you say ‘Howdy’ in America — I don’t know — but then I’m not really sure where Tibet is either, or my lipstick.) ... I hope you like my diary and don’t hold it against me that my great-great-great-grandparents colonized you. (Not just the two of them. ...).”

Giving the books an even more interchangeable feeling is the bachelorette party of log-rolling blurbs by chick-lit authors. Jennifer “Good in Bed” Weiner blurbs Sarah Mlynowski’s “Me vs. Me” and Karen McCullah Lutz’s “The Bachelorette Party.” Lauren Weisberger blurbs Emily “Something Borrowed” Giffin.

I took home three dozen of the working women romances. They can lull you into a hypnotic state with their simple life lessons — one heroine emulated Doris Day, another Audrey Hepburn, one was the spitting image of Carolyn Bessette, another Charlize Theron — but they’re a long way from Becky Sharp and Elizabeth Bennet. They’re all chick and no lit.

Please do not confuse these books with the love-and-marriage of Jane Austen. These are more like multicultural Harlequin romances. They’re Cinderella bodice rippers — Manolo trippers — girls with long legs, long shiny hair and sparkling eyes stumbling through life, eating potato skins loaded with bacon bits and melted swiss, drinking cocktails, looking for the right man and dispensing nuggets of hard-won wisdom, like, “Any guy who can watch you hurl Cheez Doodles is a keeper,” and, “You can’t puke in wicker. It leaks.”

In the 19th century in America, people often linked the reading of novels with women. Women were creatures of sensibility, and men were creatures of action. But now, Leon suggested, American fiction seems to be undergoing a certain re-feminization.

“These books do not seem particularly demanding in the manner of real novels,” Leon said. “And when we’re at war and the country is under threat, they seem a little insular. America’s reading women could do a lot worse than to put down ‘Will Francine Get Her Guy?’ and pick up ‘The Red Badge of Courage.’ ”

The novel was once said to be a mirror of its times. In my local bookstore, it’s more like a makeup mirror.

cussler--the saga continues

Hollywood's most unglamorous feuds
Related Stories
- Cussler v. Anschutz
As novelist Clive Cussler takes the witness stand today in a Hollywood breach-of-contract trial, his lawyers say they want to prevent the author from being portrayed as "an unstable, racist crackpot," a "befuddled alcoholic" and an "overall bad guy."

Entertainment lawyer Bertram Fields said that attorneys for Denver billionaire Philip Anschutz were trying to use such allegations, all of which are denied by Cussler, to divert the jury's attention from the facts.

"For weeks, you are going to hear personal stuff about Mr. Cussler," Fields warned jurors during opening arguments last week. "Hold your ears. You'll hear them claim that he was difficult and cantankerous and grumpy and even rude."

Anschutz's attorneys conceded that they would fully explore Cussler's conduct — particularly accusations that he made racist and anti-Semitic slurs — to demonstrate that the 75-year-old author acted unreasonably during development of the movie "Sahara." But they said they had no plans to exploit additional evidence that could prove damaging to Cussler's reputation.

The attorneys said they never intended, for example, to disclose to the jury that Cussler believed the moon landing was a government hoax or that he was intolerant of his fans, calling one loyal reader "a loathsome toad."

"The idea that we are trying to get away with something is nonsense," said Alan Rader, Anschutz's attorney from O'Melveny & Myers. "Cussler breached a contract by acting in bad faith. That is our focus."

Cussler initially sued Anschutz's Crusader Entertainment for allegedly reneging on a written agreement that gave him extraordinary approval rights over the adaptation of "Sahara," one in a series of his bestselling Dirk Pitt adventure novels. Anschutz countersued, claiming that Cussler deliberately undermined the adventure film, which has lost about $105 million.

Each side has spent three years and millions of dollars preparing for the trial, which is expected to last about two months.

When he initiated litigation in January 2004, Cussler said in an interview, he had no idea that he would be subjected to an assault on his character.

"I was hurt because it's not true," he said of allegations that he used racial and religious epithets and engaged in "erratic" behavior. "I think you can figure out why they are doing it."

The allegations are contained in sworn depositions taken from dozens of witnesses, including producers, directors and screenwriters. They include testimony that Cussler tossed over his shoulder a script he called "a piece of crap," engaged in a telephone "screaming match" for 2 1/2 hours with actor Matthew McConaughey and launched a "tirade" against actor Tom Cruise for failing to meet with him to discuss playing Pitt.

Cussler's attorneys filed nearly two dozen motions seeking to preclude unflattering information about Cussler from the trial. "The only purpose for introducing such evidence would be to publicly embarrass Mr. Cussler," they wrote.

Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge John P. Shook rejected many of the motions, ruling that much of the material was relevant to the case and should be heard by the jury. On the allegation that Cussler exercised his approval rights based on racial prejudice and anti-Semitism, Shook wrote that jurors were entitled to hear "whether or not Cussler's decisions were affected by bigotry."

But the judge ordered that other evidence was inadmissible, including allegations that Cussler abused alcohol after the death of his wife and his views on the moon landing.

Shook also barred testimony about a "doodle" made by Cussler depicting Anschutz's partner, Crusader executive Howard Baldwin, kissing the derriere of then-Paramount Pictures Chairwoman Sherry Lansing. Cussler sent the drawing to his agent to show Baldwin "brown-nosing" the head of Paramount. It was drawn on a copy of a June 17, 2002, news release announcing that Paramount had signed a three-year motion picture deal to distribute Crusader films.

"It's a joke," Cussler testified during a deposition. "I don't know what else to say."

Perhaps the most damaging testimony came from Carole Bartholomeaux, Cussler's former public relations consultant of 18 years. She said Cussler made disparaging remarks about blacks, Jews and women during the screenwriting process. At least four other witnesses also stated that Cussler used racial and anti-Semitic slurs.

The jury of eight women and four men includes four African Americans.

Bartholomeaux also testified that Cussler began drinking excessively after his wife of 47 years died of cancer in January 2003. In court papers, Cussler's lawyers said that Anschutz's attorneys hoped "this so-called evidence will cause the jurors to view Mr. Cussler as an out-of-control or befuddled alcoholic and overall 'bad guy' once it is time for them to decide the issues."

Anschutz's lawyers said they had no intention of raising Cussler's use of alcohol.

Bartholomeaux is depicted by Cussler's lawyers in court documents as a "vengeful" former publicist who allegedly was fired "for financial improprieties." They wrote that Bartholomeaux was exacting revenge by providing Anschutz's lawyers with "tall tales" and "pernicious ammunition to hurt and embarrass Mr. Cussler."

Bartholomeaux, who is expected to testify in the trial, has declined to comment on the case.

During opening arguments, Fields sought to paint a sympathetic picture of Cussler.

"Mr. Cussler is 75 years old. Very recently, he had open heart surgery," Fields told the jury. "He is far from a professional witness…. He also uses colorful phrases. He is a character. He says what he means and he means what he says."


Wednesday, February 07, 2007

John Fraser--John McPartland

Dear Ed,

McPartland deserves the attention. He seems rather to have slipped through the critical net, maybe
because he didn't deal in the to my mind rather cliched noir depressiveness,
with the inevitable failure of love. I'm glad you yourself have been onto

He can really SCARE you, can't he?



John Fraser has a very readable and wise website devited to books of various kinds.

John McPartland by John Fraser

John McPartland

She was the kind of woman a man noticed, mostly because of her eyes. Dark, almost black pools, they had a warmth that I felt could turn to fire. She had turned her head, looking over the shoulder of the man she was with, and we looked at each other. The third or fourth time it happened he noticed it and I paid some attention to what he was like.

He was a type. You find guys like him driving ten-wheeler transport trucks, or flying, or sometimes as chief petty officers in the Navy, on a sub or a destroyer. Square-built, tough tanned skin, big hands with knuckles that are chunks of stone.The type—what makes him recognizable as a wanderer, a fighter, sometimes a killer—shows in his face.

Big white teeth, yellow a little from cigarettes like his fingers, and he smiles with his teeth closed, talking through them when he’s angry. A thin line of short black hairs for a mustache, sideburns of curling hair, hair black and curly, a face that is rough and yet young, and it won’t change much if he lives to be fifty. The eyes are fierce, amused, hard.

It’s a special breed of man, and the breed are men. Maybe a mixture of German, Irish, French-Canadian, with a streak of Comanche, Ute, or Cheyenne in there about three generations back. You meet men like this one in the truck-stop cafés along U.S. 40, with the diesels drumming outside; or you meet them walking toward the plane on the airstrip; or in jail, still smiling, still ready for a fight.

This guy was laughing as he swung off the bar stool. He was still laughing as he walked over to me.

The Face of Evil (1954)

McPartland is that rarity, a writer of tough novels who feels tough himself. (Was Spillane a barroom brawler? If so, did he win?)

McPartland was one of the Gold Medal blue-collar writers; had served in Korea; obviously knew the black-market milieu of that war; came back and wrote raw, rugged, at times very powerful novels; obviously drank, lived with a mistress and illegitimate kids before it was OK to do so; and died young of a heart attack. He was the kind of person who knew what it meant to be in trouble with the law, doing dumb impetuous things, getting into fights.

What comes across again and again in his novels is his understanding of power, the hard masculine will to dominate others, break them, destroy them. His bad guys are some of the most frightening in thriller fiction: Southern rednecks, syndicate “troopers,” the Mob. His fights are fights in which the loser can get hurt very badly.

When a black-marketing non-com says he’s going to scramble someone’s eggs with his combat boots (crush his testicles), or the middle-echelon syndicate enforcer Whitey Darcy tells the fixer Bill Oxford, “We’re going to make you cry, feller,” or when Buddy Brown, the twenty-year-old petty crook in Big Red’s Daughter (1955) tells Jim Work that he’s going to make him crawl, we know that’s just what they intend to do.

They are hard men.

King McCarthy in The Face of Evil (1955) is a natural fighter. Buddy Brown wins his first two fights with the hero—knocks him down with a sucker punch; gets a painful lock on his knuckles and punches him in the throat while they’re sitting drinking beer in a barroom booth. And the Syndicate, the Mafia, punish offenders ruthlessly. Oxford knows what it will be like to go to prison and have your kidneys smashed by an inmate, crippled with pain for the rest of your life every time you pee. Johnny Cool’s end in The Kingdom of Johnny Cool is dreadful.

However, in most of the novels there isn’t just violence, there’s also love, and things work out all right in the end for the hero and heroine. They very easily couldn’t, though. A strong, focussed counter-energy on the part of the heroes is necessary.

McPartland’s best book is The Face of Evil, about the fixer Bill Oxford, who’s been on the long downward slide of compromise, complicity, corruption, and has been sent to Long Beach by the PR agency to which he’s attached to ruin a genuinely decent reform candidate, upon pain of being stripped of all his high-living perks and slammed into prison. It is tense and well-made throughout.

The Kingdom of Johnny Cool is his other best novel. When it appeared, I wrote to Ross Macdonald (a total stranger, but he’d done a Ph.D. in English himself) to ask him to review it for a student journal I was co-editing. He declined, saying that it seemed to be simply Spillane-type melodrama. He was wrong.

The novel is a powerful account of a Sicilian criminal’s rise and fall in America—a more interesting one than W.R. Burnett’s Little Caesar (1929)—and it takes us into dark cold waters full of predators. McPartland was on to the Mafia as a subject twelve years before The Godfather, and his attitude towards it is far healthier than Puzo’s sentimental power worship. There’s nothing cute or admirable about McPartland’s Italianos.

Lee Hoffman

Ed here: if you were a science fiction fan of the late Fifties and knew anything at all abut fandom then you knew who Lee Hoffman was--a true BNF Big Name Fan and a damned talented and damne nice one. Way back when mimeography was about the only affordable way you could print a fanzine, Lee did miraculous things with witty layouts and two color illustratons. She later went on to have a distinguished career as a western novelist. She also published science fiction and (as I recall) a gothic or two. Several of her Doubleday DD westerns sit on my book shelf in their original hardcover editions. I still read them every once in a while. They are excellent books but then Lee was an excellent person.

From Curt Phillips via SouthernFandomClassic:

"It's been reported tonight of Trufen that Lee Hoffman died last
night - Feb. 6th - of 'a massive heart attack'. No other details are
at hand yet. Lee is famous as the editor of Quandry - a vastly
influential fanzine of the early 1950's, and was a respected fan and
professional writer. She was also a very good person, and we have
just lost one of the most important fans in the history of our
subculture. More - I don't doubt - will follow."

For those of you who knew her, condolences. I only met her once, but
my impression is she was very beloved in the community.

Best, R.E.F.

Fred Blosser; Indys battle for survival

Ed, this may be an item of interest to the readers of the blog. I know some are fans of this particular artist. One of this year's great pop culture events occurred Saturday night but received scant notice in the media, aside from an article and a review in the NY Times. Ennio Morricone played a concert of his film music at Radio City Music Hall, his first ever in the U.S. I drove up from Virginia and discovered that my reserved seat could hardly have been better -- eight rows from the stage, in direct line with Maestro Morricone, and an unobstructed view.

Consider, this is a man whose scores I've enjoyed for almost 40 years, ever since I saw THE GOOD, THE BAD, AND THE UGLY at age 17 at my (now long-gone) neighborhood movie theater. The centerpiece of Saturday night's concert was a suite of themes from three of Morricone's spaghetti western collaborations with Sergio Leone -- the main theme from THE GOOD, THE BAD, AND THE UGLY; "The Ecstasy of Gold" from the same movie (this is the surging tune that plays as Eli Wallach delirously runs round and round the cemetery, looking for the grave where the gold is buried); the theme from ONCE UPON A TIME IN THE WEST; and the theme from A FISTFUL OF DYNAMITE.

Of interest to crime movie fans, Morricone also conducted three tunes from ONCE UPON A TIME IN AMERICA, the theme from THE UNTOUCHABLES, and the theme from THE SICILIAN CLAN (another longtime favorite from the time that I saw the 1970 Henri Veneuil movie during my college days).

Yesterday's New York Times ran a middling review that made some valid points. The concert was relatively short, a little over two hours, including three encores that repeated "The Ecstasy of Gold" and two other tunes that the orchestra and chorus had already performed. The producers missed a chance to add another dimension by not using a multi-media format in which relevant movie clips would have been projected onto a back screen. As a matter of personal taste, I would have discarded some of the music in the playlist and substituted the themes from THE BIG GUNDOWN, FACE TO FACE, "The Wild Bunch" and "Jack Beauregard" from MY NAME IS NOBODY, "The Man with a Harmonica" from ONCE UPON A TIME IN THE WEST, the theme from THE BATTLE OF ALGIERS (which ran on TCM the other night), the theme from THE BURGLARS, and the theme from FIVE-MAN ARMY.

But those are minor quibbles when one considers that this man is one of the great popular composers of the past 40 years, who with his friend Leone created movies that continue to have a profound influence on film culture. To see him in person, conducting music that reverberates in this country's vast collective unconscious, was grand. Nine out of ten people in the country may not know his name, but I betcha if they hear the opening notes of "The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly," they can identify the tune. Given his age (78), seeing him perform in public was probably an opportunity that I'll never have again.

My only regret was that I didn't plan ahead a bit better. After the concert ended and the crowd began to file out, I looked back and noticed that Morricone was standing on one side of the stage, speaking to some folks below. By the time I made my way through the crowd, he had gone backstage. I hung around for a few minutes, suspecting that with some persistence and polite wheedling, I might have a chance of talking my way backstage to shake hands with the Maestro, at least. But the hour was late, time was growing short, and my wife was waiting elsewhere, so I gave up the idea. But I'll be watching this year's Academy Awards telecast to see Morricone honored with a well-deserved Lifetime Achievement Award.

Fred Blosser

COLUMN ONE Copright 2007 Los Angeles Times
Bookshops' latest sad plot twist
By David Streitfeld, Times Staff Writer
February 7, 2007

Turning the page
click to enlarge

'Technology is here to stay, but I firmly believe that we will still have better things to do than sit in front of a computer.'
— Lewis Buzbee, author of “The Yellow-Lighted Bookshop”
San Francisco — FIVE years ago, Gary Frank decided to sell his bookstore here.

The Booksmith had built a fine reputation over a quarter of a century, thanks to an impressive series of author appearances and a high-traffic location in the old hippie neighborhood of Haight-Ashbury.

Yet hardly anyone expressed interest. Frank was disappointed but not surprised.

"Maybe they saw the future," he said.

A Clean Well-Lighted Place for Books, open since 1982 near City Hall, sought a buyer, couldn't find one, and closed last summer. Cody's Books shut its flagship Berkeley store after a half-century run. Black Oak Books closed one of its stores and is considering shutting the other two if a buyer can't be found. Numerous small new and secondhand stores have fallen with little fanfare.

The casualties are nationwide. Coliseum Books and Murder Ink in Manhattan shut down in recent weeks. Micawber Books in Princeton, N.J., couldn't make it. Dutton's 2-year-old outpost in Beverly Hills has closed, and the original Dutton's in Brentwood will be forced to shrink or relocate if the landlord carries through with plans to redevelop the site.

Rising rents and competition from the chains have imperiled independents for years, but San Francisco used to think it was immune. Cody's and other Bay Area stores helped spark the Beat movement, encouraged the counterculture, fueled the initial protests against the Vietnam War. In a region that sees itself as smart and civilized, bookshops were things to be cherished.

No longer, apparently. The stores that are still in business feel compelled to underline that fact.

"Rare but Not Extinct," one proclaimed in a holiday ad. Another, announcing a special sale in a leaflet, felt the need to emphasize, "We're not going out of business."

WHAT'S undermining the stores is a massive shift in buying habits brought about by the Internet. Ordering from, Frank said, has almost become the generic term for book buying.

Technology changes behavior, which reshapes the physical landscape. The era of repertory movie houses playing "Casablanca" and "High Noon" ended with the VCR. The telephone booth was replaced by the beeper, which was made obsolete by the cellphone. And the newspaper is under siege by the Internet's ability to recombine and distribute news without leaving ink on your hands.

"The bookstore as we know it is in dire straits," said Lewis Buzbee, a novelist who spent many years working in the local shops.

for the rest of the article long on here:f,0,5410850.story?coll=la-home-business

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Bio Randisi; Phillip K. Dick; Frankie Laine

Bob Randisi Update Update
This just in: Vince Van Patten is appearing on Fox News Live on Wednesday, February 21 at 10:00 AM, not February 10 as stated in the previous post. Check it out.


'Voices From the Street' by Philip K. Dick
A bleak mainstream novel by the sci-fi legend.

By Ed Park, Ed Park is a founding editor of the Believer.

IN "Search for Philip K. Dick" (1995), Anne R. Dick (the third of the visionary science-fiction writer's five wives) recalls a potentially life-changing response to the manuscript of "Confessions of a Crap Artist," a mainstream novel he had finished in 1959. "Alfred Knopf, himself, wrote Phil a letter saying he was interested in publishing it if Phil would rewrite the last third making the female character more sympathetic," she reports. "He compared the quality of Phil's prose to that of Salinger, Roth, and Mailer…. We were both thrilled with this letter. But Phil said, 'I can't rewrite this book! It's not that I don't want to, it's that I'm not able to!' "

In an alternate universe — of the sort that Dick fluidly conjured in novel after novel — Phil can do the rewrite. Encouraged by critics, he happily departs the precincts of science fiction, which had nurtured and released 10 of his books, and has a successful career producing highbrow, gently experimental fare. He reworks the territory of soured domesticity (à la Richard Yates and John Updike) in a working-class milieu anticipating Raymond Carver. Decades later, his oeuvre (like Philip Roth's) is lovingly enshrined in our national pantheon.

None of this happens in the real world, of course, save for that last outrageous twist: This spring, four of his best novels will appear in a Library of America volume edited by novelist and stalwart PKD champion Jonathan Lethem. Lauded in science-fiction circles, Dick (1928-1982) gained mass exposure after the movie "Blade Runner," based on one of his books, was released the year of his death. His carpet-yanking virtual realities have been film fodder ever since — most recently, Richard Linklater's stunning 2006 adaptation of "A Scanner Darkly."

But mainstream acceptance was Dick's first novelistic ambition, one that took years to dispel. An early fan of "scientifiction" stories, Dick also read widely outside the genre. In 1940s Berkeley, beginning at age 19, he roomed in a converted warehouse occasionally occupied by literary figures like poets Robert Duncan and Jack Spicer, with whom he struck up friendships. During this time, according to biographer Lawrence Sutin, he was inspired to steep himself in the classics ("I gained a working knowledge of literature from the Anabasis to Ulysses," Dick wrote in a 1968 "Self-Portrait"), with special attention to modernists like Ezra Pound and John Dos Passos. Sutin notes that from 1951 to 1958 Dick wrote dozens of science-fiction stories and six science-fiction novels, all of which were published, and seven mainstream novels, none of which found a publisher in his lifetime. "Confessions of a Crap Artist," written in 1959 and published in 1975, is a lean, semiautobiographical divorce drama that nimbly shuttles between points of view. The other surviving mainstream manuscripts gradually found their way to print, and with the publication of "Voices From the Street," finished in 1953, we have a complete view of the path not taken.

At the center of "Voices" is Stuart Hadley, a handsome, New Yorker-reading 25-year-old and amateur painter who is languishing as a repairman at Modern TV Sales and Service. Called "Stumblebum" by his boss, Jim Fergesson, Hadley is a dreamer with unclear dreams. His marriage leaves him cold, and his wife's pregnancy intensifies his feeling that life has trapped him. (His solution: memory-obliterating pub-crawls.) Taking note of a natty young man, Hadley imagines his bookcases hold "French novels in French paperback editions. Gide, Proust, Celine…." A liberal sort with socialist Jewish friends, Hadley is simultaneously attracted and repulsed by a group of holy rollers led by Theodore Beckheim, a charismatic black preacher — and also by the "strong, calculating, ruthless, efficient" Marsha Frazier, who runs a haphazardly produced magazine called Succubus that turns out to be anti-Semitic.

Whereas "Confessions" had both a wrenching, violent climax and a sense of humor, "Voices" is obsessed with rage and race and is unremittingly bleak, a mood intensified by its chapterless format. The title suggests James Joyce's polyphonic "Ulysses," but Hadley is a dominant, unifying presence. Though an early story line centers around an avuncular character named Horace Wakefield, hints of a Bloom-Dedalus dyad get snuffed early. The only deviations from Dick's patient, observant style are Beckheim's tour de force of a sermon and Hadley's violent, drunken ramble, reminiscent of Joyce's hallucinatory "Nighttown" chapter. (At times the novel reads like a hazy, low-rent version of Ayn Rand's "The Fountainhead," with Hadley's inchoate ambition as above reproach as Howard Roark's will to power; Hadley's one-night stand with the fearsome Marsha is, troublingly, a more vicious version of Roark's rape of Dominique.)

The word "primordial" pops up frequently in "Voices," and it's tempting to read this early book as a Dickian ur-text. Most fascinating is how Dick's major theme — a playful, terrifying disjuncture between realities — has leaked into this seemingly solid, realistically rendered setting. The book begins mock-epically, with store owner Fergesson opening up shop in Old Testament fashion ("his seventh day — a cup of black coffee"). Promoted to manager, Hadley grapples with the dark thought that "he might suddenly, blindly, burst out and destroy the safety of his microcosmos. In his archaic fury he might smash, demolish, pull down the only world in which he could exist." He quickly becomes accustomed to "the permanent reality of a small retail store," but those dark forces swarm in and destroy the status quo. By book's end, he is carving out a second life, starting a whole new world from scratch.

Dick completed one other novel in 1953. "The Cosmic Puppets" (published a mere four years later) is a slim, intermittently spooky book, a minor entry in the PKD canon but one that functions as a mind-bending footnote to the gargantuan "Voices." In it, New Yorker Ted Barton returns to his Virginia hometown to discover that everything has changed — street names, houses, inhabitants. The local paper reports that he died as a 9-year-old, and he discovers that the current townspeople operate under a mutual, sustainable delusion. All Barton wants is to get back to the status quo — a return to normalcy. What follows is a Zoroastrian freakout-cum-battle featuring golems, spiders, moths and gods. If "Puppets" is a lot more fun to read than "Voices," that shouldn't diminish the real struggle suffusing the longer, lonelier shadow of a book. The struggle lies not just in Hadley's losing bargain with the real world but in Dick's changing notion of what sort of writer he needed to be. •

Ed here:Imagine if Dick had finished Confessions the way Alfred Knopf wanted him to. A good chance Dick ight have been able to escape the sf ghetto. But what about the sf masterpieces that lay ahead? Confessions is is one my favorite literary novels because in it Dick feels free to expand on his characters more than his themes. And it's the usual neurotic, agigated and vaguely despicable Dickian crews. It's my favorite book of his. As for The Cosmic Puppets, it was half of an Ace Doubklebook and is a minor but entertaining sf novel with horrorific elments. I reread it last night to see how it held up. It was first opublished whole in Satellite sf and then appeared soon after in Ace DB. I remember not being disappointed eiter time.

Ed here: You liked him or loathed him. I liked his hits. I've heard some of his jazz albums from the forties and I thought he was pretty bad. Way too much crooner-sobbing and a vibratto that was frequently out of control. He probably could have had a longer run at Columbia but he had a run in with the reigning asshole there Mitch Miller. One of th reasons Sinatra left Columbia because, at the time "How Much is That Doggie In The Window?" by Patti Page was popular on Mercury, Miller came to Sinatra and told him he had a similar piece that would require Sinatra to bark--yes, bark--several time sin the record. I have no respect for Sinatra as human being--he wouldn't even do his own fighting; his thugs did it for him--but he was th best pop singer of all, flat out. To ask a man of his talent to bark...Mitch Miller said as late as 1962 that rock and roll would never last.


Singer Frankie Laine dead at 93
By Claudia Luther, Special to The Times
1:53 PM PST, February 6, 2007

Frankie Laine

Excerpt from "That Lucky Old Sun"
(MP3 audio)

Excerpt from "That's My Desire"
(MP3 audio)

Excerpt from "Rawhide"
(MP3 audio)
Frankie Laine, the singer with the booming voice who hit it big with such songs as "That Lucky Old Sun," "Mule Train," "Cool Water," "I Believe," "Granada" and "Moonlight Gambler," died today at Mercy Hospital in San Diego. He was 93.

Laine entered the hospital over the weekend for hip replacement surgery but suffered complications from the operation, said his friend A.C. Lyles, the longtime producer at Paramount Pictures.

In all, Laine sold well over 100 million records and was hugely popular not only in the United States but in Britain and Australia.

Even after his popularity crested after the rise of rock 'n' roll, Laine was heard for many years singing the theme to the TV series "Rawhide," which featured a young Clint Eastwood and ran until 1966.

Most of those who remember Laine for his biggest hits would hardly know that his body of work included "Baby That Ain't Right," "Rosetta" and many other songs that were more in the style of what Laine considered his roots -- jazz and blues.

"Years before Elvis Presley, Laine brought a potent blend of blues, jazz and country to popular music," jazz critic Don Heckman said. "Rarely acknowledged in Laine's work, he sang with the easy, loose phrasing and imaginative articulation of jazz performers."

Laine started out in jazz but was sidetracked by arranger Mitch Miller, who fashioned Laine into the popular artist that he is best remembered for being.

"When I told him I'd probably lose all my jazz fans [with these songs], I was right. I did," Laine told David Kilby of Australian Broadcasting Corp. "But he said I would pick up a lot of other kind of listeners, and I did, so he was right, too."

Miller produced most of Laine's hits in the 1940s and 1950s, including "Mule Train" and "That Lucky Old Sun." He said he loved Laine's voice because it sounded like "the blue-collar man, the guy who didn't know where his next paycheck was coming from."

Laine at first refused to do "Mule Train."

"You can't expect me to do a cowboy song," he told Miller. "I won't do it!"

But Miller persuaded him to record it and it was one of Laine's biggest hits.

Though Laine was big of voice, he said he didn't like being referred to as a "belter."

"I was just trying to emphasize the rhythmic aspects of the songs I sang, using my voice the way a jazz soloist uses his instrument," he said in "That Lucky Old Son," his 1993 autobiography (written with Joseph F. Laredo). "'Crooning' may have the more commercial style, but it wasn't for me."

Francesco Paolo LoVecchio was born March 30, 1913, the eldest of eight children of Sicilian immigrants who settled in the Little Italy neighborhood in Chicago. His father was a barber whose customers included Al Capone; his maternal grandfather was the victim of a mob hit. Laine said he came from a "big and poor, but happy" family.

As a kid, Laine sang in the all-boy choir at church, but first became excited about music when he listened to one of his mother's records on a windup Victrola: Bessie Smith singing "Bleeding Hearted Blues," with "Midnight Blues" on the flip side.

"The first time I laid the needle down on that record I felt cold chills and an indescribable excitement," Laine would say later.

This record was his first exposure to jazz and the blues, which would draw him into music.

At 18, with the Depression underway and his father out of work, Laine hit the road as a dance marathoner. Altogether he participated in 14 marathons, coming in first on three occasions. He and his partner, Ruthie Smith, made it into the Guinness Book of World Records for dancing 145 days straight (although he disputed Guinness, saying he and Smith danced for 146 days).

Laine said the life of a marathoner wasn't as grim as was portrayed in the 1969 film, "They Shoot Horses, Don't They?"

Monday, February 05, 2007

Randisi; Foxwell; Patterson from Galleycat

From Bob Randisi

Hey Guys,

  Since yours are the only blogs I read--and I never used to ready ANY--I thoiught I'd let you know that Vince Van Patten will be appearing on Fox News Live on Sat. Feb 10, 10:00 Pacific time, specifically to discuss our Texas Hold'em mystery The Picasso Flop. With a little bit of luck he'll even mention my name.

    Also, my first Rat Pack book shipped so well and was reviewed well enough for SMP to want two more. That's four, counting the one I just delivered. The first two are EVERYBODY KILLS SOMEBODY SOMETIME and LUCK BE A LADY, DON'T DIE. The third will  be HEY THERE, YOU WITH THE GUN IN YOUR HAND.

I published my first book with SMP in 1984, have been on a book every other year schedule with them. This is the first time they've ever given me a two book contract. Go figure.

Elisabeth Foxwell

Ed here: Because I have to go through my webmaster to add sites to my links I'll start recommending some that haven't made it to the links list yet. Writer, editor, mystery historian (and very nice person) Elizabeth Foxwell has one of the best sites going. You really need to check it out.

The Patterson machine rolls on--Galleycat

Inside Patterson, Inc.
I've said all along that to treat James Patterson like any other author - and hold him to the same standards - is an unwise move. He used to run an advertising agency, and the model he's concocted is clearly based on having a CEO come up with big ideas, and creative mouses scurrying around to flesh them out with backbreaking deadlines. (Or as Little, Brown publisher Michael Pietsch puts it, Patterson is effectively "developing a studio system for writers." That's contrary to the image of "the lonely writer in a garret," Pietsch says. "But a lot of great popular entertainment, even great and serious art, comes out of collaboration.") As it happens, USA TODAY's Bob Minzesheimer gets a clearer look at the working life (and success) of Patterson thanks to the author, his newest co-writer and other publishing insiders. Michael Cader at Publishers Lunch calculated that if Patterson were treated as a publishing house unto himself, he'd be tied for fourth for most No. 1 best sellers in 2006 — ahead of all of HarperCollins, a major publisher. Exactly.

Minzesheimer also discovers how Patterson's newest co-authorship with Michael Ledwidge came about. The latter had written three novels that yielded big advances but sold a combined total of 20,000 copies. He'd known Patterson in his doorman days, and the bestseller helped land an agent. When Ledwidge asked Patterson to look at a draft of what he hoped would be his fourth novel, Patterson had a counteroffer: Would he be interested in collaborating on a novel Patterson had in mind? Ledwidge says he agreed "at about the speed of light."

Patterson had the outline, Ledwidge fleshed him out and the younger author seems very happy with the arrangement, since he can now write full-time. "It's like a dream; to have one job, not two...If you look at the newsletter of the Mystery Writers of America, everyone is always talking about how to market yourself, not the writing part. Now I don't have to worry about that."

Posted by Sarah | 09:11 AM | Authors | Email this post