Saturday, March 31, 2007

Well, I'll be damned...

Many years ago, when I was editing a western anthology, I called a phone number I'd be given as contact for the late Steve Frazee's estate. Frazee had been a major figure in western fiction for three decades and was one of the people I studied when I started writing westerns myself. A man answered and I asked if he could put me in touch with the executor of the Frazee estate. And he said, "Maybe I can help you. I'm Steve Frazee." And indeed he was. I'd been misinformed. He wasn't dead.

One of the writers I admired (and imitated shamelessly) in the last throes of the true Gold Medal days (which ended, as I recall, sometime around 1975) was Charles Runyon. His Gold Medals usually featured small town working class protagonists who'd run afoul of local law. The stories were drenched with the drugs and crazies of the Sixties and were often driven by tangled often dark romances. A good deal of his material reminded me of the famous Joe Esterhaus (when he was a journalist and a damned good one) Rolling Stone piece about a Viet Nam vet returning to his small town home and finding a nightmare there that rivaled his time in Nam. Runyon got the era down very very well.

In 1973 a mainstream Gold Medal called Power Kill, a political thriller, was nominated for an Edgar and showed his range and his ability to write for larger audiences. All this time he was also writing science fiction and fantasy for the dominant magazines of the day. He published four sf novels and one horror novel (if my tally is correct). He was equally adept with these forms though this was an especially turbulent time in sf. The New Wave had swept aside many more conventional writers and got most of the publicity. It was a difficult time to make your way as a full-time sf writer.

I mention all this because when Greg Shepard and I were putting together the first three-fer for Greg's Stark House publishing (three Gold Medal novels long out of print for $19.95) my choice for one of the slots was Charles Runyon. He had to be in there with the novel many consider his masterpiece, The Prettiest Girl I Ever Killed, a novel invariably compared favorably to the best of Jim Thompson though, to me, it has its own voice and themes and ultimately isn't much like Thompson at all.

I had a hell of a time getting biographical material for my introduction to Runyon's book. He'd been dead for some time and had seemed to vanish from the writing world even before his demise. And then after three months of e-mails that I suspected might be hoaxes (and that turned ut to really be from his son after all), a woman wrote me and said that she'd known Runyon was she was a young woman and that she was sure he was alive. And here was his phone number and e-mail.

And damned if he wasn't. I had a very pleasant conversation with him this afternoon. And tomorrow I'll begin interviewing him by e-mail. I'll start running the interview here as soon as it's ready.

Friday, March 30, 2007

The Vengeful Virigin

F. Scott Fitzgerald once noted that Hemingway (then at his peak) wrote with the authority of success while Fitzgerald (then in the dumps) wrote with the authority of failure.

The authority of failure is what animates virtually all of Gil Brewer's work and certainly The Vengeful Virgin (now out from Hard Case Crime) is no exception. In outline it's nothing new--a very James M. Cainian scenario in which a TV repairman gets involved with an eighteen year old temptress who is taking care of a dying old man (and one we don't take to at all). He's promised to leave her a fortune when he dies. The trouble is he's dying very slowly. It won't surprise you that the temptress has thoughts of inviting the Reaper in a little ahead of schedule.

What makes this one of Gil Brewer's most successful novels is that a couple of the plot turns are truly shocking and that he is in complete control of his material. He paces this one well right up to the end. And the end is a powerhouse.

I mentioned the authority of failure. In Brewer's case it's usually because his protagonists let their dissatisfaction with their lot become a kind of self-pity that let's them justify whatever they need to do to improve their lot. They generally learn too late that maybe the old TV repair gig wasn't so bad at all.

Contrast this attitude with the reckless but doomed romantics of Charles Williams (whom I prefer). They're smarter than Brewer's men and there's rarely any self-pity. They seem to be on some kind of quest, which is a twist on the Cain-style tale. Yes they meet a bad girl. Yes they do something stupid. But what gets them through is enormous energy and a sense of mission and an undertow of anger. They're like Brewer's men, too, failures. But they are the tarnished knights that Phillip Marlowe and all his imitators only pretended to be.

Thursday, March 29, 2007

Elliot Chaze

Bill Pronzini has written an excellent overview of novelist Elliot Chaze's literary career. You'll find it on Mystery*File available here

Chaze is known in pulp circles for his flawless novel Black Wings Hath My Angel, which many people feel is the single best novel Gold Medal published during its heyday. As Bill details, Chaze also wrote several other novels, a few of which are also fine books.

As I was reading the Chaze piece last night, I started remembering the two or thre phone calls I had with him. At that time the original Black Lizard Publising Company seemed to be flourishing. Both Barry Gifford, the line's editor, and I wanted to get Angel back into print. I agreed that I'd try and track Chaze down. Took awhile but I finally got a phone number.

He seemed almost amused that anybody remembered Angel with such respect and interest. He talked first about a few of his other books. My interpretation--and I may be wrong here--is that he felt hardbacks published by major houses should be of more interest than a paperback original.

But as we talked, I kept bringing up scenes from Angel. And finally he began speaking enthusiastically about it. That is, until I told him what we could pay him for it. He then went into a low key but bitter story about how "New York" screwed writers at every turn. They didn't pay much, they didn't promote, they cheated you on royalties. While these were all standard writer complaints, he delivered them with singular ferocity.

He assured me several times that he liked me, that he just might have to look up one of my books, that he'd appreciate seeing some Black Lizard novels to look over. He obviously didn't want to end on a bitter note. He even invited me to call him again, which I did. The next call we mostly talked books and movies we liked. And toward the end about his career as a journalist in the South during the most turbulent decades since the Civil War.

He was a bright, gifted man. We never did reprint Angel because the line was sold suddenly. But I sure wish we had. I can see it with one of those great Kerwan covers on that shiny stock the Lizards used. Chaze would have been right at home with the other hardboiled greats, Fredric Brown, Peter Rabe, Jim Thompson, Charles Willeford and many others--Barry had developed, for my taste, the best reprint line of American hardboiled fiction ever offered anywhere.

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Our ancestors

I'm fascinated by our real heritage--the millions of years it took for us to crawl from the sea and then the additional millions of years it took to crawl from the beach and... The BBC ran this on the air today and I found it in print tonight. To me it's fascinating.


The extinction of the dinosaurs 65 million years ago had little effect on the evolution of mammals, according to a study in the journal Nature.

One theory had suggested the rise of the mammals was directly linked to the disappearance of the dinosaurs.

The evidence challenging the connection comes from the most complete family tree compiled for mammals.

It shows how different groups, such as primates and rodents, are related and when they diverged.

An international team compiled the mammal "supertree" from existing fossil data and from genetic analyses.

Throughout the Cretaceous Period, when dinosaurs walked the Earth, mammals were relatively few in number, and were prevented from diversifying and evolving in ecosystems dominated by the ancient reptiles.

Explosive evolution

According to the established view, the extinction of the dinosaurs removed this constraint, allowing mammals to diversify and flourish, and placing them on course to their present position of dominance on Earth.

Under this model, placental mammals split into major sub-groupings, which originated and rapidly diversified after the mass extinction event - thought to have been caused by an asteroid or comet striking Earth 65 million years ago (a point in time recorded in rocks and referred to by geologists as the K-T boundary).

Co-author Kate Jones, from the Zoological Society of London, told the BBC Radio 4's Leading Edge programme: "The meteor impact that killed off the dinosaurs has traditionally been thought to have given mammals the edge they needed."

Some mammals did benefit from the demise of the dinosaurs

More details
However, the supertree shows that the placental mammals had already split into these sub-groups by 93 million years ago, long before the space impact and at a time when dinosaurs still ruled the planet.

After the origin of these sub-groups - or orders - the rate of mammal evolution fell and remained low again until the Eocene Epoch, 55 million years ago.

The start of the Eocene was marked by rapid global warming and an explosion in the diversity of mammal lineages.

"The [supertree] is a new way of showing all the mammal species on the planet, starting with a common ancestor. Species relationships can be inferred from morphological characteristics and genetic sequences," explained Dr Jones.

"If we had done this from scratch, we would have had to get molecular and morphological data for 4,000 different species.

"What we did instead was use already published information from hundreds of researchers around the world. We used a new technique called supertree construction which allows us to get all the information that's out there, re-code it and re-analyse it as if it's all part of one dataset."

'Straw man' theory

The composition of rocks and marine sediments laid down at the boundary between the Palaeocene and Eocene epochs show that global temperatures rose by around six degrees Celsius in less than 1,000 years - an event known as the thermal maximum.

Dr Rob Asher, an expert on mammalian phylogeny at the University of Cambridge, said: "Palaeontologists have known for over a hundred years that not all modern placental mammal groups appear right after the K-T boundary.

"Most orders of placental mammals - what I mean by that is cats and bats and whales and people - appear at the Eocene. On the flipside, not all dinosaurs disappear at the end of the Cretaceous.

"There was a period of several million years at the end of this period which witnessed several extinctions of non-avian dinosaurs. So the old textbook idea that at the K-T boundary dinosaurs disappeared and mammals appeared is a bit of a straw man."

But the idea that mammal fossils from the Cretaceous represent ones ancestral to today's mammals was a controversial question, said Dr Asher.

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17 Jun 03 | Education
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11 Apr 03 | Science/Nature

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Monday, March 26, 2007

Ten Overlooked Classics; Richard Wheeler

Sf Site used to ask writers to list ten novels that they felt had been overlooked or unjustly forgotten. Here are ten crime novels, in no particular order, that I think should be read and re-read.

Odds Against Tomorrow William P. McGivern
The 31st of February Julian Symons
How Like An Angel Margaret Millar
The Blank Wall Elizabeth Sanxay Holding
Night and The City Gerald Kersh
The Far Cry Fredric Brown
Cocaine and Blue Eyes Fred Zackel
True Confessions John Gregory Dunne
On The Yard Malcolm Braly
Something in The Shadows Vin Packer

From Richard Wheeler


News that Anna Nicole Smith died, in part, from chloral hydrate awakened memories in me. Sure enough, that was the ingredient of the Mickey Finn. The encyclopedias claim it originated early in the 20th century, but I have found references to it being employed on the Barbary Coast in the 19th, and have occasionally used it in my western stories. It is a weird drug to prescribe in modern times.


The big C

I read three different op-ed pieces today about Mrs. Edwards and her cancer. All were well-meaning and sincere in their wish that she lives many long years.

But each of them talked about her "courage" and "bravery" in going on with her life pretty much as it was, at least till fatigue from chemo sets in.

I question the words "courage" and "bravery" for a simple reason. Like Mrs. Edwards, I have incurable but treatable cancer. But I'm a long way from being courageous or brave. I go on with my life pretty much as it was for a simple reason--what's the alternative?

Each piece also mentions a mythical person who "just gives up and dies." I suppose there are people like this but in five years including three substantial stays at Mayo I've yet to meet a cancer patient who did that.

On my last trip to Mayo I lay five hours a day in a ward where we were all having our blood pumped through machines for a stem cell harvest. Of the eight people on the ward, two seemed to me to be very near death. But even they joined in with the rest of us talking about what we were going to do when we finally got to go back home.

And it wasn't anything fancy. It was just going back home and getting on with our lives. Again--what else would we do? I've had jobs since I was ten years old. I know no alternative to work. I'm not as prolific as I once was but maybe as a result the books are a bit better. Maybe. But the point is, if I didn't get up every morning and head immediately to my office to work (I eat breakfast after I get 750 words or so down on the screen) how would I spend my time?

I'm cerainly not belittling what Mrs. Edwards is going through. I take chemo every day orally and then have an infusion once a month to keep my spine from cracking. That's a very easy regimen compared to what lies ahead for her. But as she was quick to say words such as "courage" and "bravery" are well-meant but maybe too much.

I'll add a PS here. I have met a few UNbrave cancer patients, those being men who are so afraid of dying they take their fear out on their wives. One guy I liked and respected became somebody I wanted punch out by the time he shuffled off. He treated his wife horribly. Hard to imagine she wasn't relieved to see him go.

Sunday, March 25, 2007


I've commented before on the business of one writer ghosting another writer's book. Writer one gets sick; falls off the wagon; wife dumps him. Something amiss anyway. He can't do the book. He asks a friend. Friend writes the book, it's published and is credited (unless it's a house name job) to the bibliography of writer number one.

Nobody will ever know. Well, almost nobody.

This is not a new process. It may well have gone on back in Shakespeare's time.

I bring this up because I admire a novel by Leigh Brackett called STRANGER AT HOME. I've been assured she didn't write it. I also admire a novel by Henry Kuttner called MAN DROWNING. Apparently it's an open secret that Cleve Cartmill wrote it.

I guess I have to accept this scuttlebutt as fact. But I wonder. Brackett's style--that sweeping almost mythic prose--is very much in evidence in Stranger. I grew up reading her. I know from Leigh Brackett. I find it difficult to believe that she didn't at least go through somebody else's first draft and make it her own.

As for the Kuttner, a man I admire as much as I admire Brackett, if Drowning is actually by Cleve Cartmill then Cartmill was suicidal when he wrote it. I also know from Cartmill. I can't recall a single Cartmill novel that displays this sense of loss and despair. Despite the fact that Harpers published this in hardcover, this is very much a true Gold Medal novel. And the grotesque woman who hires the protagonist is right out of Kuttner. Not Cartmill. Did Cartmill do the first draft and Kuttner the polish?

See the trouble you get into when you try to fool people?

Saturday, March 24, 2007

Herman Stein -- Composer

Ed: We rarely honor the men and women who help make even mediocore films bearable. Here was one such man. And there's one great laugh quote from him in here too.

Herman Stein, 91, Composer of Moody Horror and Science-Fiction Scores, Dies

Published: March 24, 2007

Herman Stein, a little-known craftsman who, unseen but very much heard, helped terrify the audiences of a spate of classic horror and science-fiction films, died on March 15 at his home in Los Angeles. Mr. Stein, a former staff composer at the Universal studio in Hollywood, was 91.

The cause was congestive heart failure, said David Schecter, a record producer who runs the Web site Monstrous Movie Music (

A largely self-taught composer, Mr. Stein contributed to the scores of nearly 200 films, including westerns, comedies and dramas. Though he labored in relative obscurity, he became known in particular — if only to an ardent cult following — for his work on dozens of movies featuring little green men, big hairy things and oceans of primordial ooze.

Among his best-known films are “It Came From Outer Space” (1953), “Creature From the Black Lagoon” (1954), “This Island Earth” (1955), “Tarantula” (1955) and “The Incredible Shrinking Man” (1957).

“Herman Stein was one of the architects of the sound of 1950s science-fiction movies,” Jon Burlingame, who teaches film-music history at the University of Southern California, said in a telephone interview yesterday.

But if there was honor in being the Mozart of “The Mole People” (1956), there was little glory. At Universal, several composers typically worked on a single picture. (Mr. Stein’s frequent collaborators included Henry Mancini.) On most of the studio’s films, only the music supervisor, Joseph Gershenson, received on-screen credit.

In many of these films, though, Mr. Stein’s work formed the bedrock of the score. “He either wrote the main themes, from which he and his colleagues worked, or, equally important, wrote the opening music, which often sets the tone for the film itself,” Mr. Burlingame said.

Mr. Stein’s best-known musical passage is probably the jittery, ascending three-note “creature theme” from “Creature From the Black Lagoon.” Played by shrill trumpets, it recurs more than 100 times on the film’s soundtrack, heralding the monster’s appearances.

Herman Stein was born in Philadelphia on Aug. 19, 1915. A child prodigy, he took up the piano at 3, playing his first public concerts at 6. As a teenager, he taught himself orchestration by studying scores at the public library; as a young man, he worked as an arranger for well-known popular bandleaders, including Count Basie and Fred Waring.

In 1948 he moved to Los Angeles, where he studied composition with the noted Italian composer Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco. Three years later he joined the staff of Universal, where he remained till the end of the decade. Afterward, Mr. Stein composed mostly for television before retiring in the mid-1960s.

Among his other films are “Ma and Pa Kettle on Vacation” (1953); “Abbott and Costello Go to Mars” (1953); “Drums Across the River” (1954); and “The Intruder” (1962), a movie by Roger Corman about Southern racism starring a young William Shatner. Mr. Stein’s last film score was for “Let’s Kill Uncle” (1966), directed by William Castle.

He scored episodes of many television shows, including “Lost in Space,” for which he composed the warm, lyrical theme — oboe over strings — associated with the Robinson family.

Mr. Stein’s wife, the former Anita Shervin, a violist with the Los Angeles Philharmonic, died in 2001. No immediate family members survive.

Several of his film scores are available on compact discs in new recordings, produced by Mr. Schecter. One of Mr. Stein’s concert pieces, “Sour Suite,” for woodwind quintet, is featured on the CD “Woodwind Treasures,” from Crystal Records.

Throughout his life, Mr. Stein played down his contribution to Hollywood horror films — or, more precisely, he played down the films.

“There are pictures here you’ve never heard of,” he told The Philadelphia Inquirer in 2000. He added, “Because you’re lucky.”

Despite his own best efforts at self-effacement, though, Mr. Stein’s music remains indelibly imprinted in the minds of millions.

“The baby-boom generation grew up with these horror movies and monster movies,” Mr. Burlingame, the film-music historian, said. “We saw them all. And so we remember that music far more than a lot of the boring pictures that Stein wrote the music for that he was much prouder of.”

Friday, March 23, 2007

Freddie Francis, R.I.P.

Copyright 2007 Los Angeles Times
Print E-mail story Most e-mailed Change text size
Freddie Francis, 89; cinematographer
The two-time Oscar winner was best known for his exquisite black-and-white camera work in British films of the '50s and '60s.
From Times Staff and Wire Reports
March 23, 2007

Freddie Francis, a British cinematographer who won Academy Awards for "Sons and Lovers" (1960) and "Glory" (1989), died Saturday in London, British media reported. He was 89 and had suffered a stroke in December.

Known for his exquisite black-and-white photography in such British films of the 1950s and '60s as "Room at the Top" (1958) and "Saturday Night and Sunday Morning" (1960), as well as "Sons and Lovers," Francis finally got a chance to direct.

After his 1962 debut, "Two and Two Make Six," he quickly made several films in succession that established his credentials as a director. But they were all horror movies, and he found himself typecast.

"I realized I was becoming a cult figure in horror films," he told Daily Variety in 1998, "and nobody would back me to direct anything else."

Some of the more than two dozen films he directed became cult classics, including "Paranoiac," "Dr. Terror's House of Horrors" and "Tales from the Crypt."

But he grew dissatisfied and returned to cinematography when David Lynch hired him to photograph "The Elephant Man" in 1980. The success of that project led to jobs with other prominent directors, including Karel Reisz for "The French Lieutenant's Woman" in 1981 and Martin Scorsese for "Cape Fear" in 1991.

He was director of photography for Lynch two more times, in 1984 for "Dune" and in 1999 for "The Straight Story."

The American Society of Cinematographers honored him with its International Achievement Award in 1997.

Born in London in 1917, Francis got his first job as an apprentice to a feature stills photographer. He joined the British army when World War II broke out and worked as a cameraman and director making training films.

After the war he worked as a camera operator for John Huston on "Moulin Rouge" (1952), "Beat the Devil" (1953) and "Moby Dick" (1956) and for other directors before becoming a full-fledged director of photography on "A Hill in Korea" (1956).

Among Francis' survivors are his second wife, Pamela Mann, and their two children, Suzanna and Gareth, and another son, Kevin Francis, from his marriage to Gladys Dorrell, which ended in divorce.

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Thursday, March 22, 2007


As I said last week, I'll be reviewing various mystery publications from time to time. And it's a pleasure to speak up for this one, Crimewave edited by Andy Cox of TTA publications in England. You can get a good look at this fiction magazine here .

The first thing I appreciate is that Andy publishes a wide range of story types. Many of them are dark, true, but he doesn't fall into the trap of pushing darkness for its own sake.

The latest issue is #9. It is the best issue yet. The packaging is striking, really slick, a bit like a literary magaine but with more punch. And the stories...

At this point I'm going to turn it all over to Andy and let him (via his own promo copy) tell you what you've been missing.

The Crimewave series continues to pick up rave reviews and endorsements from the likes of Ian Rankin ("A must-have collection of the hottest crime stories around"), Ed Gorman ("The best in cutting edge crime fiction") and Ellen Datlow ("Head and shoulders above every other mystery magazine"). You just can't read stories like this anywhere else.

Every CW is much bigger than it ought to be, making a subscription ever greater value for money: 160-172 large format pages for £5.50 including p&p? Bargain!

And now to the stories in #9


Edited by Andy Cox

Reviewed by Terry Grimwood

The rules are: no noir, no hard-boiled, no procedural. So what exactly do you find in the pages of a journal named Crimewave? It was a mystery to me, until I opened the pages of the beautifully presented Issue Nine.

From first to last, the stories in Crimewave Nine are skilfully crafted, tightly plotted and a joy to read. The collection opens with Blue Morpho by Shelley Costa, a quiet yet menacing examination of discreet murder and its consequences, in which a lake and surrounding landscape are as much characters as the humans. From here, the weather gets stormy for Carlisle-set The Night of the Great Wind, Mick Scully’s dark meeting of disparate-yet-connected characters, literally and figuratively blown together during a gale.

Things get enigmatic and claustrophobic for Gary W. Shockley’s The Rainbow Killer in which a serial killer, who might or might not be a Judy garland fan, indeed, might or might not exist at all, apparently stalks the city. Who is the woman who arrives in a fear-wracked black community? Who is the streetwise scoundrel she gets mixed up with?

Stealing from Garbo by Ron Savage sharply, and with great wit, focuses on a career thief who finally meets his match and Dogwood by Susan Overcash Walker takes you into the mind of a serial killer who has to make one last sacrifice to stop his own lethal habit. A remorselessly brutal tale that is also strangely moving and one of the highlights of the collection.

Scott William Carter’s Last Stop on Dowling Street snapshots a violently seminal moment in the life of a racist bigot and leaves you as sweaty and over-the-shoulder-glancing as its unpleasant protagonist. You Will be Wearing Green by Daniel Bennett warns of the dangers of talking to strangers. In A Handful of Ashes by Ian R Faulkner a widower finds a way of being truly joined to his late wife, while Robert Weston investigates the secret of the Black Box and troubles you with the emotional dilemma of the man who intends to steal it in Thinking of Alice.

Final furlong now and it’s Kevin Prufer on The Gold Watch, dark yet optimistic and peopled with a truly affecting relationship between a sharp-witted young boy and a hardened cop, closely followed by Work in Progress, Scott Nicholson’s thoroughbred story of uneasy reunion and bloody art. Coming up on the outside as they round the last corner is The Frozen Lake by John Shirley, my personal favourite, which takes you into the model-kit filled attic of a taciturn, self-absorbed husband, where his long-suffering wife finds some vile secrets. So, what would you do in her place?

Andy Cox has, for me, always been a difficult editor to please. Not because he’s a sulking tyrant, but because the target he sets for submitted fiction is both notoriously specific and yet hard to define. A difficult target that, in this case, has resulted in a publication of excellence.

Crimewave Nine: Transgressions edited by Andy Cox. Digest size, 164pp, £6.99 or £22/4 (non-UK, refer website). Published by TTA Press, 5 Martins Lane, Witcham, Ely, Cambs CB6 2LB.

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Wednesday, March 21, 2007

So long "Bud"

From Mark Evanier: News From Me

Over in the David Letterman newsgroup, Letterman authority Don "Donz" Giller has reported the death of character actor Calvert DeForest, who was a fixture of Dave's TV shows, first as Larry "Bud" Melman on the NBC show and later under his own name on CBS. According to Giller's posting, DeForest died Thursday night from a heart attack after contracting pneumonia.

DeForest was born in 1921 and did not intend to have a career in show business. His mother was an actress and discouraged it, but he told interviewers he needed no discouragement in that area. He did, however, appear in a student film that caught the attention of Mr. Letterman. To his surprise, DeForest (who was then working in a Social Services office) received an offer to be part of a sketch on Dave's show and that led to regular appearances as the character, Larry "Bud" Melman. Dave and the writers especially loved putting DeForest into sketches and situations where the hapless actor had no idea what he was doing. DeForest read everything off cue cards and could almost always be counted on to pause or stand in all the wrong places. Once after he showed a tiny bit of on-camera professionalism, Dave reportedly remarked, "If he ever gets good, he'll be of no use to us."


There may have been odder ducks on TV--somebody like Tiny Tim I suppose--but none as hopelessly and hilariously as amateurish as Calvert DeForest. He never did quite master the notion that if you were interviewing somebody, you had to put the microphone up to his face. He'd even do it to himself--start talking and then turn the microphone away before he was finished speaking. He was incapable of guile.

And this lead to an honesty rarely seen on the tube, at least in the early days of the Eighties. He'd generally go along with Letterman's insults--Letterman for all his talent is a smug high school jerk--but one time Letterman dispatched him to Mexico (?) by SUV or somesuch vehicle and Larry Bud clearly didn't like traveling. He had to call Letterman's show every night from the road. He was none too happy at the top of the week. By the end of it he was angry. He kept saying "I want to come home, David. I want to come home, David." He damn well meant it.

I always felt sorry for him. He was a member of my tribe, the outcasts. When Letterman got especially mean I even felt protective of him. But, again like Tiny Tim, I'm afraid I had no interest in him as a human being. I didn't WANT to know anything about him because I figured that would be pretty fierce stuff. Maybe he had a reasonably happy life but somehow I doubt it.

So long, Calvert.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007


The only series I read regularly are those that offer worlds I want to visit. This may be because before I began reading mysteries reguarly I read science fiction. World building is critical in sf and fantasy.

And it is in mystery fiction, too. Sherlock Holmes. Agatha Christie. John Dickson Carr. Indelible worlds. Or Mr. and Mrs. North. Craig Rice's various detectives working out of Chicago. Hammett, Chandler, Chester Himes' Harlem novels.

And Bill Crider's small town Texas series, the latest of which is MURDER AMONG OWLS (St. Martin's, $23.95) This time Sheriff Dan Rhodes has to decide whether Helen Harris' death was accidental or criminal. At certain points in his investigation his deputies are his biggest hindrance to solving what is now clearly a crime. Wizards they're not.

Any novel that references the Warner Bros. cartoon icon Pepe Le Pew on the third page is a can't miss reading exprience for me. And Crider does this as he does everything else--nice and easy. The sentences and the scenes flow so gracefully you might overlook the difficulty of keeping the writing so spot-on.

If you think Andy Griffith of Mayberry with an edge and a tart tongue you'll have a good sense of of the world Crider creates in these fine books. He's admirably unsentimental about his town and its people, seeing them for what they are. The good ones are good without being saints, the bad ones are bad without being Hannibal Lechter. Real people doing real people things.

Two highlights--the dog who's scared of the cat and a hilarious chain saw chase between a lunatic and his seventy-something would-be prey. I've never read this scene in any form anywhere else before. It is pure Crider and the essence of his best work.

You'll like Rhodes and his town. And for sure you'll want to come back for more.

Monday, March 19, 2007


Like just about every other reviewer, I was disappointed in the Jeff Goldblum show on NBC. Hwood folks are fond of saying that nobody ever sets out to make a bad movie and I'm sure that's true, the same way we all never intend to turn in a bad book. It happens.

The thing with the Goldblum show is that it isn't really bad. It's just bland and overly familiar. So, and this is a point nobody else has made, maybe there's hope. First of all, let Goldblum be Goldblum. Maybe not extreme Goldblum but 3/4 Goldblum. Second, I suspect that most of the scripts need some serious punching up. Though likely several of them are in the can. Lee Goldberg could tell us about that. Third, find a different way to handle the occult. Maybe kid it a little. This, for me anyway, is the blandest part of the whole show. Right now books for both adults and young adults are ripe with intriguing and amusing approaches to suoernatural themes. Steal a couple of those.

I want to see Goldblum succeed. Tenspeed and Brownshoes and the Kauffman remake of The Body Snatchers are two of my all-time favorite pieces of film. And both owe very much to the talents of Goldblum.


Sunday, March 18, 2007

Esquire Gallery; The circus is back in town

In the 1960s Esquire magazine began running a series of covers that startled and rocked the design world. There's been no equivalent since. The mid-Sixties and the Viet Nam war brought a fiery boldness to every aspect of media. Here's the best of it.


Ed here: Thursday the LA Times ran a long article assessing Phil Spector's chances of being found innocent. Not too good. But then, after OJ, who knows? Spector was
a rock and roll genius, no doubt about it, though for me Brian Wilson's music will last much longer than Spector's. I didn't pay much attention to his personal life until I heard the story about him locking the Ramones in a studio overnight. Eccentricity is one thing (Elvis once put a bullet into a TV screen) but locking somebody in a studio because they wouldn't do it your way? He's a sad man. But
the woman he killed is infinitely sadder.

From the Hollywood Reporter:

The murder trial of pioneering rock producer Phil Spector finally begins on
Monday, more than four years after a B-movie actress was found shot to death at
his castle-like mansion outside Los Angeles.

The trial, delayed repeatedly since Spector was indicted in 2003, will be shown on live television amid fascination with the 1960s musical genius turned recluse who once described himself as having "devils that fight inside me."

Fifty news organizations applied for a seat in the Los Angeles courtroom for the biggest celebrity trial since pop star Michael Jackson's 2005 acquittal on child molestation charges.

Proceedings start on Monday with jury selection involving 300 potential jurors and questionnaires to assess how much media coverage of the case they have absorbed.

Spector, 67, is best known for his innovative "Wall of Sound" recording technique and work with The Ronettes, The Righteous Brothers, The Beatles, Tina Turner and Cher.

Spector, who is free on $1 million bail, denies the charges that he killed actress Lana Clarkson in February 2003.

He told Esquire magazine in an interview shortly after his arrest that Clarkson "kissed the gun" in a bizarre suicide for reasons he did not understand.

Los Angeles judges have been reluctant to allow cameras in court since the 1995 acquittal of actor and former football star O.J. Simpson on murder charges after
a trial telecast live that brought sharp criticism of the city's justice system.

Friday, March 16, 2007

The conspiracy that killed Marilyn Monroe...

From the Sydney Morning Tribune:

For four decades there have been rumours that Marilyn Monroe's death was not a simple suicide. Now a Los Angeles-based Australian writer and director, Philippe Mora, has uncovered an FBI document that throws up a chilling new scenario.

The screen legend Marilyn Monroe...the FBI report says she "expected to have her stomach pumped out and get sympathy for her suicide attempt", but it suggests she was left to die. Photo: Harold Lloyd/The Harold Lloyd Collection

BOBBY KENNEDY'S affair with the screen idol Marilyn Monroe has been documented, but a secret FBI file suggests the late US attorney-general was aware of - and perhaps even a participant in - a plan "to induce" her suicide.

The detailed three-page report implicates the Hollywood actor Peter Lawford, Monroe's psychiatrist, staff and her publicist in the plot.

The allegations suggest the 36-year-old actress, who had a history of staging attention-seeking suicide attempts, was deliberately given the means to fake another suicide on August 4, 1962. But this time, it is suggested, she was allowed to die as she sought help.

The document, hidden among thousands of pages released under freedom-of-information laws last October, was received by the FBI on October 19, 1964 - two years after her death - and titled simply "ROBERT F KENNEDY".

It was compiled by an unnamed former special agent working for the then Democrat governor of California, Pat Brown, and forwarded to Washington by Curtis Lynum,then head of the San Francisco FBI. Despite a disclaimer that it could not be sourced or authenticated, it was considered important enough to immediately circulate to the FBI's five most senior officers, including director J. Edgar Hoover's right-hand man, Clyde Tolson. for the rest

Ed here: Back in 1994 Tor published a novel of mine about Marilyn Monroe called THE MARILYN TAPES. The premise was that the Kennedy Brothers and J. Edgar Hoover had been audio taping Monroe's bedroom at the time of her death. Both tried desperately to get those tapes. The reels would destroy the Kennedys. Hoover could use them to blackmail Jack and Bobby whom he loathed (at this same time he was having Rock Hudson followed and constantly photographed leading one to conclude that Hoover was jealous of ass-bandits whether they be straight or gay).

I spent most of 1993 writing the book. For the first and only time I hired a reseracher. She lived in LA and had access to all kinds of Marilyn material. Early on I was intrduced to the Marilyn cult. One guy called me and said that his group would have to "approve" my manuscript before I pubished it. They cared deeply, he said, about her reputation. Other callers told me strange Marilyn stories they wanted to to see in the book. I still don't know how they learned I was writing it. Maybe the researcher told them.

I'm no Marilyn expert. In the course of writing the novel I came to dislike her enough to lose all interest in her. She wasn't smart but she was cunning; and her disloyalty to people was stunning.

But I learned enough to know this.

1) The Kennedy-Lawford-etc. conspiracy has been around for years. Here's why I doubt its valiity. Remember Monica Lewinsky? I saw her on Larry King one night where she allowed as how in the month after her first tryst with Clinton she told "only three or four people." Do the math on that. And those three or four people told how many other people? Who needs mass communications when you have this much word of mouth going on. Same with the Kennedy-Lawford theory. You've got a minmum of five people involved in this plot. No group of five people, including Lawford who drank a lot, can keep such a dark secret forever. They're going to share it with somebody. And that somebody is going to share it with somebody else. Etc. It just doesn't work. Sorry.

2) The book that contended that J. Edgar Hoover was a cross-dresser? No way. Made up of whole cloth. The same as the story, passed down through the decades, that Hoover wouldn't go after the Mafia because a mob boss had a photo of J. and Tolson in bed together. Urban legend. It's always put this way: "I didn't see it myself but a buddy of mine knows somebdy who DID see it." False. The even better story is the one about (this may have been the same book) Hoover dressing up in a nifty black cocktail dress for New Year's Eve 1958. Please. The most feared and despised man in Washington, D.C?. People praying for his downfall. And he goes out in a cocktail dress? Sure he does. Hoover and Tolson were probably gay but I wonder if they ever acted on it. My opinion only. In my reading I got the sense that Tolson was a decent guy. Hoover was a ruthless psychotic paranoid prick. Other than that I hold his memory in the highest regard.

Stanley Crouch on film noir from Slate

Noir AmericaCynics, sluts, heists, and murder most foul.
By Stanley Crouch
Posted Thursday, March 15, 2007, at 7:05 AM ET

Film noir evolved from the American crime thrillers that rose to pulp prominence between 1920 and 1940. Hollywood took those tales and put the focus on cynics,
fall guys, sluts, heists, and murders most foul. The huge screens in movie theaters provided lurid masks for the resentments that pulse within Americana. Our hatred of the upper class and of goody-two-shoes morality got plenty of play. So did our repulsive puritanical troubles with sexual attraction, our reluctant but ultimate belief in the righteousness of force, and our tendency to answer life's pervasive horrors with conspiracy theories.
Noir's popularity was inevitable. How could American audiences resist the combative stance of an unimpressed hero whose ethos could be reduced to: "Is that so?" How could they fail to be lured by all of the actresses cast as Venus' flytraps? Everything in film noir takes place at the bottom, in the sewers of sensibility.
It holds that the force of the world is not only indifferent to, but obviously bigger than, the individual, which is why personal satisfaction, whether illegal or immoral, is the solution to the obligatory ride through an unavoidably brittle universe.

A black and white phenomenon, film noir is thought to have achieved its greatest heights between 1945 and 1950, though the apparent moment of final brilliance arrived in 1958's Touch of Evil, directed with the heightened imagination of genius by Orson Welles. As a genre, film noir appeared as an antidote to the Hollywood conventions of pristine character and fulfilled romance because its creators sensed that "rah rah" was no longer the best prescription for the blues. Possessed of a shrewd aesthetic that was both meretricious and rebellious, film noir generously utilized sex and violence, firmly rooting itself in American culture.

A number of its most influential directors were European Jews like Fritz Lang,
Otto Preminger, and Billy Wilder, all of whom had escaped the Nazis. The enthusiastic support of the Third Reich by the German people had convinced such artists that conformity always had to be questioned, ridiculed, and perhaps resisted. Another assumption was that corruption hid behind images of a gilded civilization, high-class refinement, uplift, and thorough social improvement. So,
in one sense, Adolf Hitler was a major player in forming the sensibility of film noir. That Austrian boy whom Chaplin accused of having made off with his mustache had done it again but, as usual, not in the way the paperhanger intended.

With the recently released two-disc DVD of 1944's Double Indemnity and the three volumes of The Film Noir Classic Collection, one gets the essentials of the style and all of the information necessary to recognize the "school" that the French saw long before Americans did. Barbara Stanwyck, Claire Trevor, Jane Greer, and Peggy Cummins are each but separately the brilliant stars of Double Indemnity; Murder,
My Sweet; Out of the Past; and Gun Crazy. They are the essential film noir amalgamations of Eve, Salome, and Carmen: there to bring men down through the pulsating syncopations of their glistening orifices. After but one night with any
of them, men were not only willing to bay at the moon of homicide but snap at it with a determination that pushes a full circle of murder into the air.

Double Indemnity is the first film in which Billy Wilder's impeccable talent as a director and a screenwriter came forward in full force. It is also considered the first pure film noir. Though Stanwyck and Fred MacMurray have been rightfully praised as the murderous lovers, they are nearly overmatched by the imperishable skill of Edward G. Robinson. Robinson's extended speeches are delivered like dark, probing arias—they are full of wit, syncopation, and an intuitive recognition of
the sinister that we learn is essential to being a great insurance detective.
There is no better performance in all of film noir.

Claire Trevor, an adroit master of subtle vocal modulations, blooms downward in Murder, My Sweet, like a flower overladen with a working girl's perfume. The
actress appears lyrically jaded, but it is easy to see how she helped define the femme fatale in an era when only allusion was available. Opposite the spectacularly ominous Lawrence Tierney in Born To Kill, Trevor projects a sexual longing that is realistic but never overstated, compelling in its desperate but bungling confusion. Her performance gives a viewer the impression of eavesdropping on a soul excruciatingly barbed with tender and dangerous contradictions.

Ed here: as you can see this long piece is well worth reading. For the rest log on here:

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Carl Franklin; Mystery Scene*

From copyright 2007

By Micah Robinson
Contributing sources: Variety

A little earlier this month, I brought you news of a new Halle Berry picture based on the real life incident in Tulia, Texas where half the town’s black male population was convicted and imprisoned in an absurdly shaky drug bust devoid of
any physical evidence whatsoever and based solely on the word of one rather undependable white cop. The film, Tulia, is going to be made by Lionsgate under
the direction of Carl Franklin.

Now comes word that the film will be hosting two reunions of sorts. They’ve just cast Billy Bob Thornton to star in it, so he would not only be reuniting with Berry after their Monster’s Ball, but also with Franklin, who directed Thornton in his first major theatrical film as one of the murderous leads in One False Move. Franklin’s also doing a rewrite of the script. There hasn’t been definite word on Thornton’s role, but I would imagine he’d have to be portraying corrupt police officer Tom Coleman, the man who instigated the entire incident.

I’m hoping that the pic will get past the obvious injustice done to these folks to look at the root causes that could not allow for something like this to happen in
a small southern town, but for it to be applauded by the townspeople and ignored nationally for far too long before something was done about it. This wasn’t an incident that occurred in 1939 or 1959. This was 1999, and for all of our talk and self-congratulations on how much progress we’ve made, incidents like this are ugly reminders of how deep the sickness goes and endures.

Ed here: For all the faux noir (guys who read a lot about the skids but have never lived them out) it is rare that we find a screenplay written by somebody who's been there. It's even rarer that the screenplay is then directed by a man or woman who understands the streets AND the actors it takes to embody those streets.

For me the best hardboiled film since Chinatown was One False Move. Not a fake moment in it. Not in the writing, acting or directing. So to me it's great news
that Carl Franklin is working again with Billy Bob Thornton. If this pcture even comes close to their previous teaming--and there's certainly that potential given the material--it will be a fine fine film. And with Halle Berry as a bonus!


Mystery Scene

For eighteen years I edited Mystery Scene magazine. By the end of my tenure I was completely out of ideas about how to improve it and thus take it up a notch or two.

Fortunately, Kate Stine bought the magazine and along with her husband Brian
Skupin proceeded to make it the pre-eminent news and feature magazine of the
mystery field. Hardboiled or cozy, old novels or new, movies, audio, tv…whatever aspect of mystery fiction interests you you'll find it in Mystery Scene. And presented in a package that's professional, easy to read and worthy of design and layout awards.

If you read only one magazine for mystery news and views, this should be the one. Accept no substitutes or imitators. Mystery Scene is the real deal. And that goes for advertisers, too. If you want THE news magazine for reaching readers and
buyers, Mystery Scene is the only place to go.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

The Saint

From ComicMix

TNT drama series in development
They may know drama, but do they know genre?
TNT has a few new series in development that could be of interest to us all:

The Talisman – a six-hour limited series scheduled for summer 2008; a new project from DreamWorks Television and executive producer Steven Spielberg, based on the Stephen King and Peter Straub novel of the same title.

The Saint – a new one hour series based on the Leslie Chateris classic character – the famous Simon Templar. From executive producer William J. McDonald and producer Jorge Zamacona. The Saint was featured in movies dating back to the late 1930s (starring the great George Sanders) and the British television series from the
1960s starring Roger Moore. I can hear the theme song now...

The Company – a limited one-hour, six-part series debuting in August with Chris O'Donnell, Alfred Molina and Michael Keaton that looks at the CIA's activities during the Cold War, based on the bestselling novel by Robert Littell. Batman, Robin, and Doc Ock? Sure, why not.


The Saint? Again?

Simon Templar debuted in 1928 and Leslie Charteris continued writing about him until1960 when he began using ghosts to help him. Movies, TV, comic books, radio, pulps, slicks over and over in various countries...This is one durable dude.

My favorite Charteris story dates back to when George Sanders was playing the Saint at the RKO B-movie unit. Charteris bombarded the suits with letters insisting that they try getting Cary Grant for the part. Grant was by then an enormous international star...and he was going to do a series of B movie? Doubtful.

When Sanders left his younger and more vulnerable brother Tom took over. Fifteen years later Tom was aboard a bus taking him to a body pile where indigent
alcoholics went to die. He didn't make it. He died en route.

The Saint may not be Tarzan or Superman or Sherlock Holmes...but he's certainly
a creation who adapts well to each generation.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Extras; The Real Housewives

A whole gang of you wrote me off-line (well, two people) to say that I never delivered on my promised reviews of the final episode of Extras or the first couple of this season's Real Housewives of Orange County.

There were some fine comic moments in the final Extras though I think the script
got away from Gervais and Merchant. Hearing the Gervais character denounced from
the rostrum of the big music award show was spot on. Just thinking of all the women you failed as friend, confidante, lover...and then one of them having an international audience to trash you for your failings...Very good. I was cringing all the way. It was mean hilarious stuff. The sub-plot about about Merchant as the dimwit agent getting arrested for doing (I think) coke in a bathroom stall along with a faded little comedian and an innocent Gervais...not so good. The Irish woman was as stupid and fetching as always so I wasn't surprised that Gervais ALMOST got sentimental in the last few minutes, a long shot of them walking in silhouette down a long hall and talking about how, if they couldn't find anybody else in five years, they'd become lovers.... A solid B.

Gervais is a major major talent. I don't know if Merchant has much of an acting range but his agent dude is one of the most pleasingly aggravating characters I've ever run into on the screen. A guy born to be punched out...several times a day. What was especially amusing this season was that they wrote in an assistant for the agent who was just as stupid as his boss. I've never seen Gervais-Merchant really bad. I doubt I ever will.

I only slogged through one full episode of Housewives. Maybe it was all their plastic surgery that bedazzled me for half their first season, though balloon bazooms of the size they prefer (or their men prefer as they're quick to remind us) border on comedy. The children are more interesting than the adults, spoiled, arrogant and yet confused and vulnerable, at least most of them are. (The two
wanna-be major league ballplayers are every bit as sneeringly upper-middle class
as their parent.) The kid in and out of various types of jails needs a lot of our prayers. Seriously. He's a lost kid and you suspect his ruthlessly self-absorbed mother (she actually had to live in a house most of us would envy after the
divorce--she makes it sounds like Whitechapel in the years of Jack The Ripper) sounds as if she's happiest when he's behind bars so that he won't get in the way
of her love life. His little sister's love for her brother is gut-wrenching. You don't seee a lot of real loyalty on the tube these days but when you DO see you remember what life should be about.

Miserable scheming greedy men and women in whom I have no interest .

Monday, March 12, 2007

Letter to Carol

Last week Carol attended a huge gathering of Young Adult writers and grade school students. As I've said before, she's not only an excellent writer but an excellent speaker. I thought I'd share with you the sort of leter she frequently receives after visiting schools. Wish there'd been more like Carol in my school days.

Dear Mrs. Gorman, I wanted to let you know how much I enjoyed listening to you recently at the Literature Festival in Warrensburg, Missouri. I especially wanted to thank you for the loving response you gave to a question from one of my 4th grade students. He asked you if you ever wrote science fiction and you responded that no, authors tend to write what they like to read. And then you asked him if he liked science fiction. He shared that yes he does, and he wants to be a film producer of science fiction movies. You asked his name and told him that you believed he would be able to make his dream come true and that you would watch for his name in the coming years. The grin from ear to ear on Jackson's face was priceless and I heard him retell the encounter with immense pride to other students on the bus ride home. I am sure it is a memory he will treasure for a lifetime! Thank you so much for mak ing the effort to validate one little boy's dreams! Best wishes to you and your family. Sincerely, Patricia Platt

Beauty isn't always pretty

Ed here: Last year I wrote a short story called "Beauty" based on seeing a cable documentary about beauty pageants for girls ages 4-6. The mothers were terrifying. Stage mothers as depicted by Phillip K. Dick. Beauty is still a roll of the dice. A genetic crap shoot. For all we rely on plastic surgery, if this is the best those docs can make Paris Hilton* look then plastic surgery's halycon days are still far off. We're not the first culture to be obsessed with beauty. But we are becoming more neurotic about it. As witness these paragraphes from the NY Times this morning. This reads like Phil Dick & C.M. Kornbluth collaborating.

NY Times

DePauw University severed its ties today with a national sorority that attracted controversy when it evicted two-thirds of its DePauw members late last year. The sorority called the evictions an effort to improve its image for recruitment, but the evicted women described it as a purge of the unattractive or uncool.

“We at DePauw do not like the way our students were treated,” the president of the university, Robert G. Bottoms, said in a letter to the sorority, Delta Zeta. “We at DePauw believe that the values of our university and those of the national Delta Zeta sorority are incompatible.”

The national sorority forced 23 members of its DePauw chapter to leave the sorority’s house in December, and a half-dozen more women later quit in protest.
The action greatly diminished the chapter’s diversity, because the women who were allowed to stay were all slender and conventionally pretty. Those evicted included some overweight women; several nonwhite members either were evicted or left the sorority on their own.

*a name never to be mentioned in the presence of Bill Crider

Sunday, March 11, 2007

"Homaging" the best

Science fiction/fantasy writer Lawrence Watt-Evans hit on an interesting idea a few years ago that I came across again the other day. In a column about some of the science fiction and fantasy books of the sixties that he feels have been overlooked, Lawrence talks about the art (or craft) of working in the style (and presumably voice) of another writer. Most of us do this early on in our careers. But there are a few who do it throughout their years at the keyboard. (This is from Lawrence's 1998 website The Misenchanted Page.)

Star Rogue, by Lin Carter

Here's another of my favorite books, believe it or not. Okay, I know what you're saying -- ''Lin Carter? Gimme a break! All he ever wrote was junk!''

Well, yeah, that's mostly true. Most of his fiction was bad imitations of Edgar
Rice Burroughs, Robert E. Howard, and others. A lot of it was sword-and-sorcery, a genre that's usually pretty bad anyway, and Lin Carter wrote some of the trashiest ever (though not as bad as Gardner Fox -- I've never understood how Fox could write so wonderfully for comic books and so very, very badly when he wrote novels).

However, think for a moment -- how can anyone write well, when imitating Howard, or Burroughs, or Lovecraft, all of whom were basically second-rate writers? Sure, they wrote nifty stuff, but stylistically, most of their work was horrible.

And usually, you see Carter imitating those horrors, so of course it sucks!

In Star Rogue, however, he was trying to imitate Heinlein, and Heinlein is not the sort of purple-prose paid-by-the-word Victorian hangover that Burroughs, Howard,and Lovecraft were. The result is actually quite tolerable.

The story involves an adventure of Saul Everest, Earth's only immortal man and the galaxy's top freelance secret agent, semi-retired. The star rogue of the title -- a gravitational anomaly cruising the galactic rim -- is simply something to get him into action, totally irrelevant to the plot and explained away in a single sentence near the end of the book. It's all sort of free-form space opera, with terraformed asteroids, telepathic aliens, psionic warfare, intelligent spaceships, galactic empires, attempted coups, and all sorts of fun stuff going on. It's a lot of fun. Not great literature, but really one of the best space operas I've read. Honest! From Lin Carter!

Makes you wonder how he'd have done if he didn't imitate anyone, doesn't it?

Star Rogue was a Lancer paperback original, never reprinted so far as I know, but
it sold pretty well and turns up used a lot.

Ed here: If you'd like to read the rest of the piece, go here

What intrigues me about Lawrence's take on Carter (and he was a bad but sometimes enjoyable writer ) is the notion of him improving his writing simply by knocking
off a higher grade of writer.

I suppose this notion has something in common with Hemingway's "Great writers don't imitate, they steal" and Fitzgerald's advice to his daughter Scottie that her
prose will only be as good as the writers she reads and studies.

In fact I remember a piece by Harry Whittington back in the fifties in which he
said that if you wanted to hit the downmarket paperbacks then you read the people writing them but that if you aspired to hit Gold Medal you read Falkner and Fitzgerald and Hemingway etc.

None of this is as spurious as it may sound. I'm one of those writers who, far
from NOT wanting to be influenced even after a quarter century of writing professionally, am always eager to read writers who can help me improve my craft.

I've never read Space Rogue by Carter but I'll have to look it up. An actual GOOD Lin Carter novel? Worth a few bucks to find out.

Friday, March 09, 2007

Mark Murphy; Nancy Drew

Mr. Gorman:

On "Mr. and Mrs. North," could you mean Richard Denning instead of 
William Lundigan? Granted, the two of them could easily tie in a "Who 
is the most colorless?"contest.

I remember Lundigan from "Man Into Space," I think it was called. He 
also was from my hometown of Syracuse, N.Y., and I can remember my 
brother getting his autograph at the local airport when the TV show 
was airing.

Thanks so much for resuming your blog. I hope you are doing well. I 
have come late to reading your work, and I'm sorry about that, but 
the good news is that I have a lot of good reading to look forward 

Mark Murphy

Ed here--Thanks for correcting me, Mark. Yes, Denning and Lundigan were pretty colorless. Denning did a decent job acting in "Lady At Midnight" a solid mystery film written by pulpster and later writer-driector ("Suddenly" probaby his best pic) Richard Sale. Still, as you're watching it, you wished he was on speed.
Ed here: A few years ago a rather uppity literary book publisher (I forget which) opined that graphic novels were a fad. This was similar to Frank Sinatra announcing that rock and roll would be history by 1958. Uh-huh. David McCullogh's published just announced that Mc's enormous bestseller 1776 will now become a graphic novel. Talk about a prestige package. And multiple copies will be in virtually every school in the U.S.

Here's more on graphic novels: from ComicMix copyright 2007

Nancy Drew draws
Teen sleuth movie uses GN promos
When you think of famous fictional females and hear "teen sleuth," I'll bet only one name comes to mind. Well, other than Veronica Mars.

Did you know that Nancy Drew stories are now being published in graphic novel format? NY-based company Papercutz is serving the teen and tween markets in a big way, and it's about to get bigger.

Papercutz, whose Nancy Drew #1: The Demon of River Heights won the Benjamin Franklin Award last year from PMA, the Independent Book Publishers Association, also puts out young adult graphic novels featuring those other teen mystery-solvers The Hardy Boys, as well as Zorro and a really adorable-looking "teenage Charlie's Angels" book called Totally Spies. But it's Drew that's going to draw this summer, as Warner Bros. will be releasing a Nancy Drew movie this June 15 starring Emma Roberts, the star of Nickelodeon’s hit show Unfabulous. And ICv2 reports that WB will be using the graphic novels to promote the movie. The GNs will be given out as prizes in on-air radio promotions, and will also be available as the "Gift With Purchase" during the movie's mall tour in major markets.

Papercutz is also seeking artists to help draw their graphic novels, particularly those "versed in the manga style." Nancy Drew is currently drawn by Sho (Sei) Murase, a woman of Japanese and Korean descent who grew up in Spain, then moved to Canada and now lives in California -- a real multicultural phenom! She's also the author of Sei, Death and Legend published by Image Comics and is currently also working on the graphic novel series ME2 for Tokyopop.

Guilty Pleasure...dammit, pleasure.

I think I got tired about Edwards S. Aarons Sam Durrell series about the time I hit college. I was by then a strident liberal and his Cold Warrioisms had palled for me.

What I didn't realize until several years later were how enjoyable his stand-alones were, even those written back in the Thirties for the how-low-can-you-go Phoenix House press.

Fortunately, I have about six or seven Aarons oldies left to read. I pick one up when nothing else is working for me. My favorites are those set during the war and right after the war. Especially those set in New York City where he spends some time making the city itself a charcater.

The one I'm reading now is Nightmare, a particularly tight and taut hardboiled number with a way too familiar theme--the drunken protagonist who can't remember anything surrounding the murder the cops he think he's guilty of.

While Aarons doesn't yet do one damned thing by way of freshening up the premise he does keep you reading and reading fast with his very beleivable people, his somewhat familiar but still heart and groin stirring femme fatale, and his various atmospherics. He does noir atmospherics exceptionally well.

I woldn't recommend him to anybody under fifty five. These one offs are so specific to the big war and its effects that as history and sociology (their chief values) they probably wouldn't be of much interest.

But for geezers...enjoy!

Thursday, March 08, 2007

TV nostalgia; Carolyn Hart; my collection

Jeff at The Rap Sheet mentioned (yesterday) his fondness for certain detective shows of the eighties and nineties. In a ruthless effort to make me feel even older than I already do, he talked about seeing George Peppard's "Banacek" when he, Jeff, was but a lad. I won't mention how old I was when "Banacek" came and went.

I started thinking about TV series I'd actually pay to see again and I could only come up with two--Tenspeed and Brownshoes and Naked City in the hour long format. I know Tenspeed will hold up. I hope Naked City will, too.

The local community college station runs a lot of fifties series. None hold up so far. My favorite is Ramar of The Jungle because it was all shot one the same standing set and interspersed with stock footage. I thought the George Reeves Superman was dorky even when I was nine. And Mr and Mrs North (which I liked because I had a crush on Barbara Brittain) is ridiculous in every way. Wm Lundigan (Mr North) has to be the single most passive actor I've ever seen. He belongs as a foil in a Monty Python Sketch.

The Lone Wolf is hilarious because the producers figured out a way to save money on live sound--star Louis Hayward basically narrates voice over the entire twenty-seven minutes with only a few scenes containing actual dialogue.

It's a terrible thing to lose your nostalgic feeling for your lost tv youth.

Carolyn Hart is one of the writers who made the cozy grow up. Real people confronting real problems aside from the mystery itself. Here's a promo for her next book. EG

Dear Ed,

I’m excited to announce the launch of SET SAIL FOR MURDER. Retired newspaper reporter Henrietta (Henrie O) O’Dwyer Collins responds to a former lover’s call for help and discovers that love, once kindled, never burns to ashes.

Henrie O turned down Jimmy Lennox’s marriage proposal. He later married Sophia Montgomery, world famous documentary film maker and step-mother to the now-grown heirs of a fortune. If Sophia approves, the heirs can receive control of their trust funds. Sophia decides to take the entire family on a Baltic cruise and then she will make her decision. Jimmy persuades Henrie O to join them on the luxury cruise. Jimmy hopes Henrie O will defuse the tension, but one of their fellow travelers has murder in mind.

All best wishes - Carolyn Hart

Set Sail for Murder, Morrow Dead Days of Summer, Avon

Available in bookstores and on line April 10.

Out There in The Darkness & The Moving Coffin

As some of you know, PS Publishing in London is publshing seven volumes of my short fiction in uniform hardback editions. Probably the easiest way for you to get them is to order them through Shocklines The first two volumes will be available soon.

Here's an excerpt from the Booklist review, the only review I've seen:

"Over the years Gorman's novels and stories have won the Shamus and Spur Awards as well as the International Fiction Writer's award and the Ellery Queen award. The 19 stories here range from the existential angst of `Different Kinds of Dead' to the the triple-cross blackmail of "Our Kind of Guy"...A collection to treasure by a modern master."

(I knew I'd get better reviews once I got my mom a staff position at Booklist.)

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Who knows if this'll happen but if it does...

From Ron at Galleycat

Would Amazon Buy Barnes & Noble?

Remember that speculation a few weeks back about a possible Borders/Barnes & Noble merger, based on little more than the fact that one investment group had shares in both companies and the guy writing the article thought it would be a good idea? SeekingAlpha, the website that floated that theory, now presents another bold take on the bookselling biz, from financial analyst George Gutowski: "[] should consider buying Barnes & Noble."

"An acquisition allows the combination of best of breed in both the internet and retail categories," Gutowski writes. "Barnes & Noble can entirely close down poorly performing internet distribution. The combination will minimize hyper price competition and allow markets for authors to be developed. In other industries, that is called profits and product development."

I'm not entirely convinced on how this "allows markets for authors to be developed," and I'm sure that independent booksellers would have their own opinion about what good such a move would do the industry. So sure, in fact, that I'm inviting you to tell me what you think.

Posted by Ron | 10:53 AM | Bookselling | Email this post

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Premiere magazine

Ed here: Looks like the early nineties were the last of the serious movie magazine days. Premiere and Movieline led the way in giving us a look at Hollywood as it really is rather than the fantasies spun by pr gurus and entertainment reporters. Premiere was more grown-up, dealing with facts, figures and the art of the deal. But in its often bitchy way Movieline managed to balance solid journalism with snarky columns. It was a true guilty pleasure with the emphasis on pleasure. Now comes words that Premiere has followed the long-gone Movieline into magazine hell. I'll miss it. There's a good deal of serious Hollywood journalism on the web these days. But I miss my magazines.


By Nick Nunziata
At next year's Oscars, I wonder if they'll have a syrupy little homage to the terminal patient known as Premiere magazine, a piece of the American film landscape about to uncork its very last issue ever.

I guess it makes sense. For the first time in ever, they started contacting us and considering us a legitimate source of film information and opinion. Of course they had to close shop.

I've been reading Premiere since the late 80's when it was a lot more like a trade publication and less like the somewhat glossy but still quite solid mainstream magazine it is today as it puffs a few more gasps of air before fucking right off to its home on the Internet, where apparently it appears there might be a future for film information and discussion. I haven't missed an issue since, except possibly when they ran their 'Women in Hollywood' issues because frankly, it keeps them out of the kitchen where they belong.

I felt bad when Movieline went from being good and ballsy to almost great (I was this close to becoming a columnist) to being worse than the filth in Ron Jeremy's unreachable places, but this is a real loss. America has nothing that comes close to EMPIRE and Total Film. Now it seems that the once lucrative soil of printed film material has become somewhat hostile, sending advertisers off to more digital pastures.

Monday, March 05, 2007

Hard Case--Lawrence Block; Richard S. Prather

Falling behind in my Hard Case crime reviews so...

Forty-two, forty-three years ago Lawrence Block, still a very young man, was writing prose so sleek and knowing that it holds up as first rate crime fiction all these years later. And of course he got even better.

LUCKY WITH CARDS is the tale of a cardsharp who seems lucky to escape some angry suckers he cheated in Chicago--lucky until he meets a fetching young woman named Joyce Rogers who enlists his services in helping to kill her husband, an important man in the small Midwestern town where our cardsharp is resting up after the beating the suckers laid on him in Chicago.

This is my kind of hardboiled, a beleivable low life in a beleivably low life situation with none of the feigned neo-noir posturing or the tough guy crapola of so much Fifties hardboiled. Block has a keen eye for middle class businessmen who are often the targets of con artists and it's amusing to watch him sketch them for us. The beer, the card table, the cigarettes, the dirty jokes, the pecking order--boys night out. Block gets it down just right.

A fine relentless reading experience.


I'm glad Richard Prather lived long enough to hold a copy of THE PEDDLER in his hands. The last time I talked to him he was very excited about this publication. And he deserved to be.

Like most kids my age I started reading Shell Scott novels when I was thirteen or so. At the time I wasn't aware that Prather had written anything BUT the Scotts. Then I stumbled on to a couple of his stand alones and I was amazed that anybody who could write the almost whimsical Shell Scotts could write the dark and brutal books he did for Lion and a few real downline companies.

THE PEDDLER takes one of the Fifties' most popular themes--the rise of a street urchin inside the mob--and makes it unique by making the context as memorable as the protagonist. Prather generally foregoes all the mob cliches and gives us instead an interior portrait of a rather unlikable and--all things considered--not too bright mob soldier. In this respect, Prather's book reminds me of Wade Miller's classic THE DEVIL ON TWO STICKS which, even more than THE GODFATHER, is the most unique and memorable mob novel I've ever read. You know the fate of these two men by the end of the first act. The fascination is how they will get there.

THE PEDDLER is one of those non-stop reads fueled by rage, sex and greed. It belongs in every serious hardboiled collection.

Sunday, March 04, 2007

The brand new Stark Houe schedule

Good news: Greg Shepard at of Stark Huse has landed a deal with SCB Distributors. Now the Stark House books will be much more widely available. The distributor wants four books a season so the schedule has now been refirgured again. Here;s the tentative schedule.

SEPT 07: A Trio of Gold Medals—Marlowe/Flora/Runyon

OCT 07: Underground/Collected Stories—Russell James

NOV 07: Snowbound/Games—Pronzini

JAN 08: A Devil for O'Shaugnessy/Three Way Split—Brewer

MARCH 08: Dogtown/Soultown--Lambert

APRIL 08: Anatomy of a Killer/A Shroud for Jesso—Rabe

MAY 08: A Shot in the Dark/Shell Game—Richard Powell

JUNE 08: The Killer/Devil on Two Sticks—Miller

SEPT 08: It's Always Four O'Clock/Iron Man--Burnett

OCT 08: The Old Battle Axe/Dark Power—Holding

NOV 08: Sweet Money Girl/Life & Death of a Tough Guy—Appel

Saturday, March 03, 2007

Richard Moore on TILL DEATH by Louis Trimble

(This first appeared in Rara-Avis in 2003 and later in Thrilling Detective site)

At some late night Bouchercon party standing around talking books with Hal Rice, I made a statement complimentary of the mysteries published in the Ace Double line. Hal puffed on his unfiltered cigarette and disagreed. "The art, yes, but most of their originals weren't very good. There was so much better out there." Hal was a pharmacist who had book racks back when that was where the paperbacks were sold. He was also a fan and grabbed copies of the paperbacks and magazines he liked for his personal collection. I didn't say so then, but Hal, wherever you are my friend, you were right. Putting aside romanticism. most of the Ace Double originals were bad to mediocre. Not all, just most.
As Hal elaborated to me that night, the average wasn't even close to Gold Medal or the other major lines, Signet and Avon. Alas, he was right.

But one of the regulars of Ace books in several genres was Louis Trimble and today I celebrate his TILL DEATH DO US PART (Ace 367 1959). I've always considered Trimble more of a western writer but he wrote a considerable amount of mystery fiction and by the time of this novel, he was a veteran of at least 15 years in the field.

Now I will confess that although I have several other Trimble mysteries, this is the first I've read. It won't be the last. TIL DEATH is a hardboiled mystery that begins in Mexico City and then moves for most of the action to a border area with characters crossing several times during the course of the novel. The first person viewpoint is an American private eye Tom Blane who operates an agency in Mexico City.

The novel opens with Blane hard up as his Mexican partner has left Blane high and dry as he bilked some clients and left Blane to face the music. Blane is hired by a business woman from a border city who wants him to investigate his former partner. So here was a client willing to hire him to do what he wanted to do more than anything. He takes the job, goes to the border city and soon finds his ex-partner very dead and himself very likely to be accused of the murder.

The writing is very hardboiled and the characters are well-drawn, although I think the number could have been trimmed. Among my favorites is the Mexican restaurant owner who also happens to own or control much on his side of the border. There is also a gay radio announcer who sends secret messages during his broadcast and is somehow tied into a blackmail scheme.

During the course of my career I have spent a fair amount of time in Mexico, working for and with Mexicans, and Trimble is spot on. He knew Mexico. This wasn't a case of a writer with a guidebook and an issue of National Geographic. There are subtle bits and pieces here that demonstrate that to me. Mexican attitudes and sensitivities are very well-captured.

The action is constantly moving and the murders are gory, often with torture.
Trimble is a good writer and now and then a phrase stands out. Towards the end when a feeling of multiple betrayals sinks into Blane, he thinks:

"If I'd had enough energy, I'd have kicked myself.

"I could smell everything I'd stepped into, fallen into, and got my hands into. After a while I was almost ready to turn myself in if the cops would guarantee me a hot bath."

This isn't a great, four star PI novel. But it is above average for any publisher, which may make it one of the best in the Ace Double line. It is certainly good enough in concept and execution to make me read more by Louis Trimble.

Richard A. Moore

Friday, March 02, 2007

Chiller; Mike Ripley; Bob Randisi; James Reasoner

Glenn Hauman from ComicMix

Chiller debuts
With an unexpected nod to The Simpsons
Chiller, a new cable TV channel from NBC Universal, launched today. It offers horror and thriller programming like Twin Peaks, Tales From the Crypt, Alfred Hitchcock Presents, Night Gallery, American Gothic, Friday the 13th: The Series and other shows that never really fit on the Sci-Fi Channel. It also, as you would expect, be running movies in the same, uh, vein -- Psycho, The Haunting, Showgirls, the usual.

But here's the fun part. Earlier today, here's what their website said tonight's schedule was:

The Shinning? Och! The wee lad who's been coding the website's seen the Treehouse of Horror one taa many times! (Sadly, it's been fixed now. Very hard to be chilling when people are laughing, I guess.)

Chiller is airing on Direct TV, channel 257; otherwise, complain to Dish TV or your local cable provider.

copyright by ComicMix
and ™ 2007 ComicMix, LLC.All rights reserved.

Ed here: Now here's channel I'd really watch a lot. But isspelling the Shining isn't the biggest laugh in the release. Hitchcock, Night Gallery, Psycho and..Showgirls? I knew it was horrorifically bad but...Showgirls on a suspense-horror channel? I actually enjoyed it as a pretty cool Bad Movie. But...

Let's see...the Brit Mike Ripley is a masterful writer of fiction, a widely praised critic and a columnist whose work for Shots magazine is superior to just about everything in internet mysterdom. When I say column what I'm really saying is a piece of work that is a magzine unto itself. Be sure to check this out.

Not again! Poor Bob Randisi collaborated with poker player and actor Vince Van Pattern on an enjoyable novel ABOUT poker called The Picasso Flop (St. Martin's). I've lost count of how many times Van Patten has been scheduled to appear on Fox TV but he keeps getting bumped by news events. Here's the latest from Bob:

Don't know if I'll this even maters anymore but we got bumped by Anna Nicole again. Now they PROMISE Vince will be on March 8th. I'll post the time when we get closer. Thanks everyone. RJR.

I've taken to keeping about ten copies of fifties and sixties mystery and science fiction magazines for bedtime reading. For when the novel I've been reading starts to go dull. Lately I've been reading through some Michael Shaynes and last night I found a particularly good story by James Reasoner called The Man in The Moon. A private eye tale about the murky relatonship between two physically battered little children and the less than ideal mom who got custody thanks to the power of her locally important father. What makes this different and powerful is the sociology of it--a lot of it takes place in a run down trailer park and the father is important because he owns a very minor trucking company. It's all to scale--in this hardscrabble county even a moderately successful small businessman can be king because nobody else has anything. The sheriff is a study in ego and politics. And nobody seems to give much of a damn about the kids. The mystery here hinges on the missing father who kidnapped the two kids who escaped from him. He's now on the run. The father wants to kill him, didn't want his daughter to marry him in the first place. But the private eye begins to have doubts about everybody involved and decides to stay around until the case is resolved--much to the displeasure of everybody else. This is a raw realistic story portraying pain and hypocrisy to an almost uncomfortable degree. A real winner.

Thursday, March 01, 2007

Richard Wheeler; Vicki Hendricks

A letter from our friend Richard Wheeler:

I wrote a friend that I had recently finished Elmer Kelton's memoir, Sandhills Boy, which surprised me by being a towering love story; I was reading a delightful bit of historiography called "And a Bottle of Rum: The History of the New World Told in Ten Cocktails." And I had just finished 52 McGs, the best obituaries of Robert McG. Thomas, of the New York Times, which I found compelling, and which introduced me to the art of writing a fine obit.

My friend replied: I like the variety of your reading material. Lately I have returned to some British military history: a biography of Lord Cochrane, the 10th Earl of Dundonald, who was, after Nelson, England's greatest naval hero (he served in the Napoleonic Wars, then after being convicted of some fiscal irresponsibility, he sailed off to Chile, became an admiral in their navy, also Peru's, Brazil's and Greece's!) I finished Mencken's three-volume autobiography, Happy Days, Newspaper Days, and Heathen Days -- great joys all, and God bless the printed page!

I replied, How lucky we are, you and I.


Vicki Hendricks is one of the many, many writers I haven't had time to catch up to but I'm glad I finally did. CRUEL POETRY is so drenched in sex and obsession you can work up a sweat before you finish the first chapter. A number of reviewers have compared her to James M. Cain and while I agree with that I'd also compare her particular take to some of the French mainstream writers who came out of the whole Francoise Sagan celebrity in the Fifties, those marijuana and jazz novels about the Parisian underground where few got out alive spiritually. There's even a strain of early Willeford here. But she's all her own person in this story of a woman so alluring at least two people (man and woman) are battling for both her body and soul. What she does best of all is show us how a woman as sexually powerful as Renata can inspire such an admixture of lust and fear in people, not least some of the johns who give her money. And she makes Renata, who could have easily become a parody of the bad girl, beleivable in every way, in every scene. You won't forget this one for a long, long time.