Saturday, February 28, 2009

Eastwood thinks political correctness has made society humourless

Ed here: I have to say up front that I've never been a fan of Clint Eastwood's. My opinion only and I may the only guy on the planet who holds it. I find his limitations as an actor grating, trying to disguise those limitations with the same few mannerisms used over and over again (the eye squint, the tight voice etc). I also find his movies to be missing something, soul maybe. They're competent and they're dramatic but somehow they never quite soar the way a Scorcese does or even, to a lesser degree, the way an Robert Aldrich or Joseph Lewis did at their best. My opinion only.

I say this because I want to make it clear that I'm not drawing down on Eastwood alone here. It's just that his statements encapsulate something I've always wondered about when they say "political correctness inhibits us." Now I have a narrow definition of pc. To me it's nothing more than being polite. What Eastwood and people like Limbaugh etc apparently advocate is going back to the days when it was acceptable to mock people. I remember reading jokes that said "A fag is the homosexual gentleman who just left the room." "A kike is the Jewish gentleman who just left the room." "A nigger is the African-American gentleman who just left the room." Etc. I'm not an honorable person. I have at least as many biases and prejudices as most of the people I know. But I do try to deal with them. And at the risk of sounding like a prig, I really do find these words offensive. And never funny.

I understand that there some subjects that are difficult to discuss. Race is certainly one of them. Pressure groups force certain subjects off the news--or insist that their version of it be put ON the news. This is inhibiting and we're all the poorer for it. But I don't think this has anything to do with political correctness. Not at all.

Life's a bitch for a lot of people, especially those who don't measure up to the standards of acceptability in our society. Where's the pleasure of rubbing their faces in it?

From Yahoo:
Eastwood thinks political correctness has made society humourless

Fri, Feb 27 01:15 PM
London, February 27 (ANI): Acting legend Clint Eastwood , 79, apparently believes that political correctness has rendered modern society humourless, for he accuses younger generations of spending too much time trying to avoid being offensive.

The Dirty Harry star insists that he should be able to tell harmless jokes about nationality without fearing that people may brand him "a racist".

"People have lost their sense of humour. In former times we constantly made jokes about different races. You can only tell them today with one hand over your mouth or you will be insulted as a racist," the Daily Express quoted him as saying.

"I find that ridiculous. In those earlier days every friendly clique had a 'Sam the Jew' or 'Jose the Mexican' - but we didn't think anything of it or have a racist thought. It was just normal that we made jokes based on our nationality or ethnicity. That was never a problem. I don't want to be politically correct.

We're all spending too much time and energy trying to be politically correct about everything," he added. (ANI)


Friday, February 27, 2009

The Poker Club gets poked

You are here: Home / The Poker Club Writer Calls Review of Film Shocking!
The Poker Club Writer Calls Review of Film Shocking!

Submitted by Thomas Somach on Fri, 02/27/2009 - 12:38.
The Poker Club

Johnathon Schaech, a writer of an upcoming poker film, The Poker Club, responded to special contributor Thomas Somach's review of the film, saying it was "quite shocking".

Somach, who posted the unflattering review of The Poker Club on his website at, admits to having never screened the film.

"Having not yet seen the film, based its analysis on media accounts about the movie, plus the pre-release publicity offered by the movie production company," Somach says.

Maybe not the way Roger Ebert would go about doing things, but then again Somach is not exactly a movie critic to begin with..

Mr. Schaech sent the following email to Somach:

"Tom-Please let me introduce myself. My name is Johnathon Schaech. I'm one of the writers of The Poker Club. I'm also he lead male actor in it and the producer. So as you can imagine, I put a lot of my life into this piece. Seeing the review (on today was quite shocking, didn't expect anything like this. It's called The Poker Club, but except for the first scene, there is very little card playing in the film.

"Poker is the metaphor. The concept of the film is that the game of poker relates to our behavior in life. We have hidden feelings and strategies, and then we have a surface agenda. This gap deepens, the larger a conflict becomes. You have bluffs and lies. Chance impacts us greatly. Each move can have a chain reaction through our social circle, and so forth.

"The director of the piece is Tim McCann, who has made award-winning films Nowhere Man, Runaway and Desolate Angel. And I've been in such award-winning films as Little Chenier, Sea of Dreams and Finding Graceland, all of which I'm certain you've never seen. So by getting a release by a major studio, we feel is a great thing. People will get to see the movie. The film will be seen in selected theaters and then released on DVD, so straight to DVD is the title Sony gives it. So what I'm trying to say here is, ‘Don't judge a book by it's cover.' That doesn't necessarily mean the film is lousy.

"The cast are all creditable actors, not movie stars. We are simply trying to have our film have a chance to be seen. The consequences of killing the burglar? We know about the King of the Castle laws. We want everyone to question WHY our main character makes such a stupid mistake. It's the second major plot twist that puts their reasoning in perspective. Tom, If you ever actually see the movie, you'd understand. is a cool site and I've used it before. All the best, Johnathon Schaech."

Somach believes the film will go straight to DVD.

"If they send it (the DVD), we'll review it," he said.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Too little too late

Sarah Weinman's post today discusses a somewhat snarky column in The Guardian about Ruth Rendell's novels over the past ten years or so. The critic complains that Rendell's books are now out of touch with the world today. Her books are filled with anachronisms and attitudes of the sixties, seventies and eighties.

I'm always sorry to see someone I admire as much as Rendell get harpooned this way, especially since the steely point of the weapon is aimed directly at age.

But I have to say this is a legitimate discussion. Here's Sarah's take:

"While I think (Imogen Russell) Williams is being a bit nitpicky here, there is a larger concern when authors keep at series for a long time, or deliver a book a year on subjects that they owned in their heyday but have a less firm grasp on as they age. There's a point when many people realize they don't have the time, energy or inclination to keep up, stay modern, or alter their viewpoints with changing times, and frankly, the result of such efforts between pages (or read with e-ink) can be pretty damn embarrassing."

I think most writers try to stay current in the obvious ways. Making sure that they know the differenc e between a cell phone ad Blackberry etc. Shaping their fiction to fit the dominant tropes of the era is another matter. Writers like to laugh (and understandably) at the suggestions of agents who tell them to work in the current popular form. In the Eighties many of us were told to write Mary Higgins Clark novels. Then Robert B. Parker novels. Then Carl Hiaasen novels. And on and on. The problem with these suggestions is that they produce terrible books. When I was editing Mystery Scene I got bombarded with letters and galleys. And I could generally tell in the first few paragraphs of the cover letter what was going on--guy who'd been writing p.i. novels was now doing a Mary Clark or a Stephen King or a Dean Koontz.

Clark-King-Koontz--all great writers and for one reason. Because they're writing what they believe in. Their books don't have anything to do with marketing. Their books are expressions of their own hearts and souls.

That's one of the problems older writers have. The other is simply the the relentless march of decades. Just about every ten years or so a new style or new form comes along. Right now neo-noir is the darling of the critics if not large numbers of readers (but it's getting there). And with writers as good as Guthrie, Starr, Bruen, Swierczynski, Piccirilli, Faust and Zeltersman (among many many others) we're seeing an explosion of enormously talented writers striking out on their own and taking noir in new and exciting directions.

Their own directions. Their attitudes shaped by their age, their experience, their beliefs. You can fake it if you want and try and write like them but it'll always be bogus. Because it's theirs not yours.

And there'll always be a new kid in town. Ten, fifteen years from now the wheel will turn once again. Something else will come into fashion.

But faking it is a sorry thing to see. I always think of the poor crooners in the sixties when the Beatles came in. Sinatra, Andy Williams, Perry Como, Johnny Mathis--all covering the Beatles and looking damned silly doing it on the tube. Hell even Tony Bennett was forced by Columbia to do an entire album of Beatles covers. For him that had to be painful. He's a Rodgers and Hart man.

It's a dilemma for every writer because every writer will someday face just what Ruth Rendell is facing now (though I still think she's one of the most brilliant writers alive).

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Philip Jose Farmer, R.I.P. Gorman-Mason

The following appeared, in a slightly different version, in the most recent edition of The Farmerphile.

Phil Farmer

When I was fourteen I called up the editor the science fiction magazine Other Worlds. I was nervous about this of course but I was on a sacred mission.

The latest issue of the magazine had included a letter from no less a master than Philip Jose Farmer. Phil wanted Raymond A. Palmer (better known to fans as RAP) to know that he’d better not be kidding about his forthcoming “discovery,” which he claimed was a novel as good as early Edgar Rice Burroughs. Phil was not to be taken lightly.

Couple things. As we all know Phil holds ERB in the highest esteem so he didn’t want RAP trifling with the man’s name or legend. And as for RAP himself…he was the one who’d fished the first story in the Shaver Mystery out of the wastebasket in his office after his assistant editor, the excellent writer Howard Browne, pitched it there, grumbling that it was trash. Well, while it was trash indeed, RAP revised it and turned it into saga that would take Amazing Stories, where he then worked, to nearly a quarter million in circulation. Unheard for an sf magazine.

In case you’re not aware of it the Shaver Mystery, so named for its writer Richard Shaver, consisted of exploits of an ancient civilization that lived in the bowels (an appropriate region given the story itself) of the earth and intended Real Bad Things for Earth. As I recall Shaver even visited those bowels a few times.

I didn’t mention Shaver during my phone call. I was so nervous I just kept muttering about Phil Farmer. “What about Farmer?” I recall RAP saying as if I was a prankster. RAP had fallen on hard times. He’d left Amazing Stories and now published his own magazine Other Worlds. The magazine was done on the cheap and filled with his carnival-barker boasting about upcoming issues and how great they would b. The magazine’s publishing schedule was at best irregular. I admired RAP then and I admire him still. He’d been run over by a truck at a young age and was forever after stooped and small. But he’d become a popular pulp writer and then editor. I can imagine him that day trying to make sense of some hayseed kid calling him and being so scared he couldn’t get to the point. But he was courteous and patient and I think maybe just a bit amused.

“Ask Philip Jose Farmer to write a story for you.”

I got the words out but not much else. RAP said he’d do just that but that he was busy now and needed to go. I spent the rest of the day in my sf-packed room wanting to vomit because I’d made such a fool of myself.

My admiration for Phil and his work goes back many decades. I believe I bought just about every book he published, including the very cool Essex House novels which I treasured especially because I had to drive some distance to get them. He’s always been style and substance, from his immersion in the world of pulp figures to the wry detachment of Lord Tyger, a fantastic (in all senses) adventure and a serious treatment of religious myth.

And then of course we have Riverworld. For me there’s never been a concept as compelling and beautiful as Phil’s masterful novel set on the great river. Alltime Allhistory Allhumanity. In its own way it’s another examination of religious myth—the great religion of the universe, its essence. I’ve read the books and stories many, many times. In my stoner days I’m told that I read from them out loud. Leslie Fiedler certainly shared my enthusiasm. It was through his essays that Phil was brought to the attention of the serious lit people.

I have my Phil Farmer shelf along with my Raymond Chandler shelf, my John O’Hara shelf, my Dashiell Hammett shelf, my Ray Bradbury shelf, my Graham Greene shelf, my Richard Matheson shelf, my F. Scott Fitzgerald shelf, my Fritz Leiber shelf, my Robert Bloch shelf, my Algis Budrys shelf, my Philip K. Dick shelf—seventeen shelves reserved for the best of the best. They form a kind of church for me and I go there often for pleasure and wisdom. In my mind they’re all co-equal, parts of a vast whole that helps me to understand what do about what one philospher called “the dilemma of existence.”

I don’t know what Phil would think about his work being likened to a kind of scripture—my kind of scripture, anyway—but in its way it is. His imagination has long helped me escape the shackles of realism. Whether it be The World of Tiers, Herald Childe, Doc Caliban and Lord Grandrith or Opar—or the alternate universes of such fine standalones as Night of Light, The Stone God Awakens, The Unreasoning Mask—his worlds are lucid, exciting and meaningful. And memorable. If pressed I could probably recite whole paragraphs from various pieces of his work.

All of which is to say that I was really flattered when I was asked to contribute a story to Tales of The Riverworld. But as thrilled as I was I was also anxious about it. I’ve written for a pretty good number of anthologies but I’d never written for the approval of one of my true literary gods before. Don’t forget I was championing him when I was only fourteen. And in those days long distance calls didn’t come cheap. And here I was writing for a book he was editing.

Phil accepted my story so I assume it was at least adequate. And a spiffy book it was, too. Top of the line in design and typeset. As was only fitting, given the prominence of the theme and its creator.

I’m no less pleased and thrilled to be writing this for Phil. He is one of my favorite writers and favorite people. His work will read and revered for many ages to come.

--Ed Gorman

Update: Over the years I talked to Phil several times and we exchanged a number of letters. Our mutual friend the writer Tracy Knight had introduced us and kept us informed of how the other was doing. We exchanged books, too. I was particularly pleased that he liked three of the books I sent him. I felt his enthusiasm was honest because he sure didn’t like the fourth book. We discussed at some length the private eye novel he’d always wanted to write. But his health worsened and he never got to it. He’s on the River now and I hope to meet up with him again someday.

----From Todd Mason

Philip Jose Farmer, a writer who was shaking up fantastic fiction right out of the gate with his novella “The Lovers” (STARTLING STORIES, 1952, and the single biggest marker that STARTLING was ready to challenge all the other sf magazines as a source of first-rate fiction, and briefly led to STARTLING apparently being the best-selling magazine in the sf field), has died at age 81, family members report.

“The Lovers” was a borderline horror sf story, involving the affair between a human man and a humanoid alien woman, where things, it can be said, don’t quite work out the way he expected. A lot closer to William Burroughs than Edgar Rice, a comparison that Farmer would explore in later work (such as his WB’s version of Tarzan story, “The Jungle Rot Kid on the Nod.”). Farmer would go on to write further major work dealing with sexual themes, playful notions of the interface between fiction and reality (notably TO YOUR SCATTERED BODIES GO), and some relatively straightforward, if sometimes pornographic, horror fiction. He also wrote fiction as if by the characters in Kurt Vonnegut’s books, “Kilgore Trout”’s VENUS ON THE HALF SHELL and more, mostly for THE MAGAZINE OF FANTASY AND SCIENCE FICTION in the 1970s.

A restless innovator, by no means always achieving what he set out to do, but I think he mostly had fun doing it. He’d been suffering from a long illness.

Todd Mason

Monday, February 23, 2009

The Cutie; The Long Silence After

Donald E. Westlake's The Cutie, previously known as The Mercenaries, works very well as a both first novel and a glimpse into the Westlakian future. The new Hardcase edition is welcome indeed.

Clay is the bought-and-paid for fixer of mob boss Ed Ganolese. If he dresses better than the others who work for Ganolese and is a little cleverer with the patter and is attempting to woo a woman who has serious doubts about the state of his soul , he is nonetheles a pretty typical foot soldier at heart. He does what the boss says and that occasionally means killing somebody.

Billy-Billy is a sad junkie-dealer who gets framed for a murder he claims he didn't commit. He turns to Clay for help because he too is a member of the Ganolese family albeit not an important one. Clay would just as soon give him an "accident." But for some reason this nobody junkie is important to the boss and the police alike. The city is being torn apart by people searching for Billy. But why? The plot twists back on itself beautifully at several points and the mystery becomes all the more mysterious.

All this will become familiar to Westlake readers not to mention Stark readers. Mobsters, civic corruption, paid murder, merciless cops and a man like Clay who doesn't question the morality of what he's doing--he just does it. The only difference between The Cutie and later Westlake is the style. It's more garrulous than even the two novels that would soon follow it. But this isn't to suggest that it's weak in any way. It isn't. It's a strong, tough, original approach by a man who would soon make the crime novel all his own.

------------The Long Silence After

John Shane is a young Chicago filmmaker who asked if he could turn my short story The Long Silence After into a short film to take to festivals. I think he did a good job. Thanks go to Ben Springer at Gravetapping who alerted me to it being on the net.

Take a look:

Evan Hunter and The Blackboard Jungle

The other night I linked to a Fredrik Pohl blog that Bill Crider noted. Pohl suggested that Evan Hunter got the idea for The Blackboard Jungle from a publisher and he then wrote it based on the suggestion.

Todd Mason has done his usual good job of getting to the truth. He contacted Barry Malzberg, an excellent writer of science fiction fantasy, who worked at the Scott Meredith Agency for years. This was the agency where Evan Hunter was working at the time he wrote his breakthrough novel.

Todd received the following from Barry today:

"Not so. BLACKBOARD JUNGLE is an expansion of Hunter's short story "To Break A Wall" which appeared in NEW WORLD WRITING in 1952 (it's anthologized); the essential story is there (in that version however the kids do _not_ stand up for him and the teacher is destroyed)."

Thank you, Todd.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Will journalism ever recover

Another news story in the Bill Crider vein:

Fox anchor banned from camp of missing girl's father
Geraldo Rivera was issued a trespass warning on Saturday
By Paul Pinkham, Deirdre Conner
Story updated at 11:54 AM on Sunday, Feb. 22, 2009

As the search for 5-year-old Haleigh Cummings entered its 13th day, the county was abuzz about the contentious interview with her father Saturday night with Rivera.

Cummings got upset when Rivera said he'd been told by members of Haleigh's mother's family that Cummings hit the child and has said he is 75 percent sure he knows who has her.

Putnam County Sheriff’s deputies arrived on the scene later, and issued Rivera the trespass warning at the request of the two property owners on whose land the Cummings family is camping while their trailer remains closed off as a crime scene.

A trespass warning means Rivera would be arrested if he came back onto the property. Rivera told deputies he understood and stated he would not come back to the address, but declined to sign the trespass warning, according to a sheriff’s office report.

Check back with or read Monday’s editions of The Florida Times-Union for more on this story.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

John McPartland

I've been reading John McPartland Gold Medals the past few weeks so I thought I'd reprint this piece from 2007. I've never been able to turn up much about him. From his books, a few of which are excellent, I imagine he knew his bars and his knew his ladies. He never worked the tough guy cliches and some of his novels read very mainstream in part albeit of a kind of Beat mainstream crossed with noir. I wish somebody would reprint a few of his books. They're worth reading.

From 2007 John Fraser- writing about 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 caf├ęs 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.

Friday, February 20, 2009


Frederik Pohl is one of the most distinguished science fiction writers and editors of all time. Like many of my generation Pohl's work (sometimes with his friend and collaborator the late C.M. Kornbluth) defined the social science fiction in vogue during the reign of editor H.L. Gold and his Galaxy magazine of the Fifties and Sixties. Pohl is a pro and changed with the times, writing many award-winning novels and stories in contemporary sf as well. But for me his most lasting work can be found in his first half dozen collections and novels such as The Space Merchants (with Kornbluth) and Drunkard's Walk (solo). I mention all this because in his time Pohl has known just about everybody who was anybody in the NYC publishing scene. Bill Crider linked to Pohl's blog tonight and turned this up:

"Evan Hunter, which in turn is a pseudonym of Sal Lombino, whom I had known slightly back around 1950, when he was a sort of office manager for the Scott Meredith Literary Agency.

"The story goes that Lombino answered the phone one day when a publisher was calling.

"Publisher: “Listen, we have a great novel title and we need somebody to write the novel for it. The title is The Blackboard Jungle and it should be about troubles in our high schools. Got anybody who could do that?”

"Lombino: “Sure we do. How about, let me see, oh, yeah. How about, uh, Evan, ah, Hunter?”

"Well, something like that, anyway. I don’t guarantee I’ve got all the details straight."

Ed here: Has anybody else ever heard this version of how The Blackboard Jungle came to be? Obviously Pohl is a reliable reporter and novels have been borne of even vaguer descriptions between publisher and writers. But as a longtime Hunter-McBain fan (I read the first 87th Precinct Cop Hater when it was a brand-new paperback) I'm curious about this story.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

HE IS LEGEND Christopher Conlon

Christopher Conlon is the editor of the new Richard Matheson tribute anthology, He Is Legend (Gauntlet Press, 2009), as well as Poe’s Lighthouse (Cemetery Dance, 2006) and The Twilight Zone Scripts of Jerry Sohl (Bear Manor Media, 2004). He is the author of the recent well-received suspense novel Midnight on Mourn Street (Earthling Publications, 2008) as well as two collections of short stories and three collections of poetry. Visit his website and blog at

Q. Tell us about HE IS LEGEND.

A. Ed, thanks for asking.. HE IS LEGEND is an all-original fiction anthology of writers riffing on worlds and characters created by Richard Matheson—sequels, prequels, stories told from different points of view and so on. It’s being published by Gauntlet Press, and it’s scheduled to be released this month. Actually I just got my copies a few days ago. It looks great, I must say—Gauntlet did a splendid job with it.

Q. For readers unfamiliar with Richard’s work, which books would you suggest they start with—and why?

A. My immediate answer is his novel I AM LEGEND, even if you’ve seen the much-altered Will Smith film version—maybe especially if you have. The original novel features everything that was so memorable about Matheson’s early fiction—the taut writing, the excruciating suspense, the one-man-against-the-world theme. It also happens to have been the first novel I ever read by Matheson, around the age of thirteen—and it was one of the truly unforgettable reading experiences of my life. But oh, there are so many others that would fit the bill just as well: THE SHRINKING MAN, certainly, which has all the qualities I just described from I AM LEGEND along with the benefit of having a really fine film version, something which I AM LEGEND still lacks—despite three tries over the years. But for people who don’t care for that kind of terror story, I might recommend his beautiful time-travel romance, SOMEWHERE IN TIME. And you can’t go wrong with any vintage collection of Matheson’s short stories.

Q. Amazing to see the names you managed to get for this book—all testifying to the fact that Richard is one of the most influential writers of our time. Stephen King, Joe Hill, F. Paul Wilson, Joe Lansdale, Whitley Strieber and many, many more. Did you have any difficulties finishing the book?

A. Anybody foolhardy enough to edit an original anthology—and this is my second, after POE’S LIGHTHOUSE—has difficulties. There are always ego issues with people, money issues, contract issues, deadline issues, you name it. The editor, really, is nobody’s best friend—except maybe on the day he’s writing the checks. Now, most people—I’m talking about writers, artists, publishers—are wonderful to work with. Over the two anthologies I’ve done I would say ninety-five percent of the folks involved presented me no significant troubles at all. It’s that last five percent that kills you.

Q. How long did it take to finish the project?

A. Too long. It was delayed several times, much to my frustration, as decisions were made—beyond my control—to add more and more names, ask more and more writers. From the signing of the contract with Gauntlet to the release of the book has been nearly three years. Still, given the final list of people we ended up with in the Table of Contents—which, I’d like your readers to know, includes a guy named Ed Gorman—it’s hard to complain too much. The book is done, anyway. And it’s a good book..

Q. Has Richard seen it?

A. Yes, he has, and I’m told he likes it a lot and feels honored by it. But I’ve had no direct communication with him since we originally got his permission to do the volume. I hope he gets in touch with me—I’d love to hear from him. The book was truly a labor of love.

Q. We all have stories about how Richard's work affected us. What has reading him most of your life meant to you?

A. To me, Richard Matheson is the ultimate storyteller. Nobody does it better. Throughout his career he’s had that uncanny talent for creating interesting characters and putting them in compelling situations—situations that keep you turning the pages long into the night. It sounds easy, but as any writer knows, it isn’t. It’s damned difficult to find the right mixture of plot idea and development, character insight, pacing, and all the rest of it—and to wrap it all up in a prose style which is appropriate to the material, neither too plain nor too showy. In his finest works Matheson is unparalleled at putting it all together into an unforgettable whole. HE IS LEGEND, THE SHRINKING MAN, fifteen or twenty of his short stories—these simply can’t be improved. They’re literally perfect. Perfect in the way that the best of Ray Bradbury is perfect. Very damned few people can manage that. So what has he meant to me? His writing has been a beacon, a guidepost, an instruction manual, an inspiration. Which is why HE IS LEGEND has such an intensely personal meaning for me, and why I’m so happy to have done it.

Q. What’s next for you, Chris? More anthologies?

A. Actually I doubt I’ll do any more anthologies, for the reasons I alluded to before as well as others. I’m primarily a writer and poet, not an editor. In the case of both my anthologies I really got into them as a bit of a lark, but they turned out to be vastly complicated and time-consuming enterprises and, in a way, sort of thankless ones. I’m immensely proud of both of the books, but putting them together wasn’t always a pleasant experience. I have a new novel out, MIDNIGHT ON MOURN STREET, and I’m writing another. I’ve recently turned MOURN STREET into a play, which will be receiving its first professional public performance—a staged reading—in April. I have stories coming up in Dark Discoveries magazine and some anthologies—other peoples’, I mean. For me it’s always been about the writing, really. Editing has been a sidelight, and it could be that I’m done with it now. But then again, who knows? If some wily rascal suggests a really good anthology idea to me, or one pops into my head some stormy night—hey, just as in a good Richard Matheson story, anything can happen.


Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Selling books

Over on Murderati J.D. Rhoades articulates very well some questions I've always had about mid-list writers promoting themselves. I don't have any answers and I haven't even figured out how I really feel about the matter but J.D. does set a person to thinking. Here's an excerpt:

"...But I think the point's still valid: you may sell some books through the kind of marketing "everybody says" you have to do. But I really don't think that the people who make blockbusters blockbusters are buying books because they saw a trailer, or even because they saw a website.

"I know this sounds like heresy. But I think we here at Murderati, and all of us folks who frequent the book blogs, are a bit of a skewed sample. Most of us are not only hard-core book geeks, we also probably spend a lot of time on the Internet.

"But here's something I've noticed. A lot of the biggest readers I know, including mystery readers, don't spend a lot of time Web-surfing, and those that do aren't hitting the book sites. My in-laws are voracious readers, and they don't even have a computer (which gives them more time to read). Several of my colleagues in the law biz read a lot, and I can't remember a single one of them telling me they bought a book because they saw a trailer for it on YouTube or stumbled across the author's website. I know I've sold some books via people I've met on Facebook, and a few due to the blogging I do, but none of those sales were enough to kick me up to the bestseller lists. And while there have been a couple of times I'd have had to take off my shoes and socks to count the number of books I've sold at bookstore events, more often than not I can just use the fingers of one hand. There have only been a couple times when the sales themselves justified the cost of the gas."

For the complete piece go here:

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

The Shootist & Gran Torino

That most excellent writer Lee Pfeiffer at Cinema Retro links to an article about a topic going on the net--the similarities betwen The Shootist and Gran Torino.

"I no longer feel like a voice in the wilderness - another film critic has written about the parallels between Clint Eastwood's Gran Torino and John Wayne's final film The Shootist. The former is certainly inspired by the latter, though both are great movies in their own right. Robbins presents some film clips to illustrate his point, plus also provides a welcome glimpse of young Clint in the Universal monster movie Revenge of the Creature."- Lee Pfeiffer

The article's short but the movie clips are excellent.

for the article go here:

Monday, February 16, 2009

Estelle Bennett

The Gurdian UK) takes note of Estelle Bennett who was one of three original Ronettes. In the course of this notably sad obituary writer Richard Williams comment on the history of the early Sixties girl groups:

"With their heavy mascara, exaggerated beehives and tight dresses, the Ronettes looked like trouble, even when they were smiling for the camera. Their street-corner chic, adapted from the Spanish Harlem hoodlums among whom they had grown up, cast a spell upon young men of the early 1960s, including the members of the Beatles and the Rolling Stones. The queue of suitors attracted to Estelle, the oldest and quietest member of the trio, included Mick Jagger and George Harrison. The image proved more influential than that of the myriad housewives-in-waiting who were their rivals in the pop charts of the early 1960s. From the Shangri-Las through Deborah Harry to Duffy, countless singers would take inspiration from the Ronettes' sound and attitude.

"Estelle was not the group's lead singer. That role was taken by her extrovert younger sister Veronica, better known as Ronnie, whose voice throbbed with a sensuality that provided the group's trademark sound during the days when their hit records - including Be My Baby, Baby I Love You and Walking in the Rain - were being masterminded by the producer Phil Spector. The group's third member, Nedra Talley, was a cousin of the Bennett sisters."

For the entire article go here:

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Cats v dogs

Tonight Bill Crider links to a Roger Ebert column about why Roger prefers dogs to cats. He says that's because dogs give him "unconditional love" while cats are, well, cats. You are there at their pleasure and you'd better get used to it.

I've had both dogs and cats all my life and have loved and cherished them all. But the thing I like about cats is their independence. I don't consider this coldness, it's just their nature to do what they want. Johnny Carson used to tell stories about how much he hated cats and how much they hated him. He seemed to imply that they were cold and hostile animals. Carol and I have found that to be the opposite. When we write they're sprawled on our desks; when we watch TV they're on our laps; when we sleep they're often in bed with us.

I know what Ebert means, though. Dogs liked to get lavish love and give lavish love. Personally, and all this is personal of course, I find that tiresome after a time. I want to say have a beer and chill for awhile ok?

But dogs know what they're doing. There was a science fiction story in the early seventies that always made me laugh as I read parts of it out loud to people with my Lab sitting in my lap. If I remember correctly (and I probably don't) the premise was that dogs had lasted longer than any other creature on earth because they were the greatest of all ass-kissers. And they will carry one this way until our planet is smoking ash. Their unconditional is not without purpose.

We used to believe it was cockroaches that would be the last earth creature to persh. Then we decided it would be Keith Richards.

Now we know the real truth...woof-woof.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Paper Doll

I haven't read Robert B. Parker regularly for years but occasionally I'll look back down the list for a book I haven't picked up. The other day I bought a copy of Paper Doll (1993) and I'm glad I did. This is Parker at his best.

Boston swell Loudon Tripp hires Spenser because the police haven't found the murderer of his wife. Tripp is obsessed with the woman, painting for Parker a portrait of a beautiful, elegant woman whose good works and kindness would have made the saints envious.

The action jumps back and forth from Boston to South Carolina as Spenser begins to paint his own portrait of the woman, one very different from Tripp's. The plot reminds me of a few of Hammett's Continental Op mysteries about wealthy families--lies upon lies, delusions upon delusions, false starts and dead ends that Spenser must somehow turn into truth. The South Carolina chapters are especially fine. Parker gives us a small Southern town that skirts the usual cliches because of a compelling relationship between an old black man and the old white man he works for. Neither is a fool and they are a long way from saints.

Susan isn't around much, Hawk even less. This is mostly Spenser working with a bulldog Boston detective named Quirk and a younger Boston cop whose lover is dying of AIDs. There is a long fight scene that is a small masterpiece. If I taught a writing class I'd use a few of the South Carolina chapters to show students what a scene should do, ebb and flow and then pay-off.

A book filled with real menace and real sadness. When Parker's on he's got few peers.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Dave Zeltserman

Commentary from Crime Writer Dave Zeltserman
First appeared in Dark Party Review

Recently on Jason Pinter's blog, “The Man in Black,” he had folks offering their thoughts on what problems exist in the publishing industry and what could be done to fix them. Some interesting ideas were tossed around, and while I don't want to kick a dog when it's down—especially a dog I'm dependent on, here's my suggestion: every single person in publishing who was involved in turning down JK Rowling's Harry Potter needs to be fired. Booted out the door. Now!

But I digress.

I want to instead write about a film option I just sold and how it relates to the problems with publishing. The film option sold is for an unpublished book titled “28 Minutes.” I originally wrote this book in 2004, with the title then as “Outsourced.”
The book was about a group of software engineers who were made basically unemployable due to the industry's push to outsourcing (the process of moving American job overseas to places like India). Desperate as they see their middle class lives crumbling apart, they come up with an almost brilliant plan to rob a bank. Almost brilliant, since things don't quite work out as planned.

In 2005 my literary at that time started shopping the book around and there was initially a lot of interest with editors in New York digging the book, but ultimately none of them could get it through their editorial boards, and the feedback I got from one of the publishing houses was that the board was worried whether outsourcing would still be relevant by the time the book was published (it would've been published in '06 or 07, yeah, right, outsourcing was really about to disappear from the public consciousness by then!).

Early in 2006 a top film agent, Steve Fisher at APA, read the book and decided he was going to get this made into a movie. He started pitching it then, and there was a lot of interest in Hollywood, and over the last three years there have been a lot of false starts with different players.

On Tuesday, I signed a contract selling the film option for this unpublished book to Constantin Film Development and Impact Pictures with John Tomko (“Ocean's 11,” “Falling Down”) and Jeremy Bolt (“Resident Evil,” “Death Race”) to produce. Here's the difference between how Hollywood looked at the book and how the publishing industry looked it—Hollywood looked at it as a great story that would make a great movie, and while deals along the way fell apart due to scheduling conflicts, it never changed the excitement that they had for this book. The New York publishing houses, on the other hand, looked for excuses not to publish it. I think in a nutshell that points out what's wrong with the New York publishing industry.

So where does this book stand now? Well, last year I stripped out the outsourcing angle, making the software engineers more as people out of work because of time and technology passing them by, and have a deal in place for the UK rights and am now working out the US rights. Can the New York houses still find an excuse not to publish it? I doubt it, but they can be a creative bunch, so we'll see.

(Dave Zeltserman lives and writes in Massachusetts. His crime novel “Small Crimes” was called a “thing of beauty” by the Washington Post and National Public Radio named “Small Crimes” one of its five best mystery novels of 2008. Dave also publishes his own blog, Small Crimes. He publishes the column Thoughts from the Shadows for DaRK PaRTY.)

Improving on the original

Last night's rant was about the Hollywood obsession with remaking masterful movies. posted today a story about a movie that needs to be remade. The original was decent but was severely limited in special effects and a script that offered none of the pleasures of reading John Wyndham. This novel inspired many writers of my generation, including J.G. Ballard who made the form all his bitter brutal own.

My first wife and I were such Wyndham fans that on the frantic way to the hospital we were kicking names back and forth because the birth of our boy or girl was imminent. Cathy looked at the Wyndham novel in her hand and pointed out that I was reading The Midwich Cuckoos by him as well so...our son Jospeh Wyndham Gorman was born.

This could be a great mini-series. And don't be put off by killer plants. Wyndham made it work beautifully and it can be made to work on film, too.

Stellar cast signs on to U.K.'s new Day of the Triffids miniseries

Dougray Scott, Joely Richardson, Brian Cox, Eddie Izzard, Jason Priestley and Vanessa Redgrave have been lined up for The Day of the Triffids, a modern miniseries update of the classic SF novel for the BBC, Variety reported.

Power will co-produce the miniseries with Canada's Prodigy Pictures, based on John Wyndham's best-selling 1951 novel about an invasion of mobile, carrion-eating plant monsters.

Patrick Harbinson (ER) wrote the script for the two-part miniseries, which will air on the BBC later this year.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

One of the most morally repugnant stories I've ever read

Ed here: When these bastards go to prison I hope they're put into the general population. They won't last sixty days.

Pa. Judges Accused of Jailing Kids for Cash

Filed at 4:39 p.m. ET
WILKES-BARRE, Pa. (AP) -- For years, the juvenile court system in Wilkes-Barre operated like a conveyor belt: Youngsters were brought before judges without a lawyer, given hearings that lasted only a minute or two, and then sent off to juvenile prison for months for minor offenses.
The explanation, prosecutors say, was corruption on the bench.
In one of the most shocking cases of courtroom graft on record, two Pennsylvania judges have been charged with taking millions of dollars in kickbacks to send teenagers to two privately run youth detention centers.
''I've never encountered, and I don't think that we will in our lifetimes, a case where literally thousands of kids' lives were just tossed aside in order for a couple of judges to make some money,'' said Marsha Levick, an attorney with the Philadelphia-based Juvenile Law Center, which is representing hundreds of youths sentenced in Wilkes-Barre.
Prosecutors say Luzerne County Judges Mark Ciavarella and Michael Conahan took $2.6 million in payoffs to put juvenile offenders in lockups run by PA Child Care LLC and a sister company, Western PA Child Care LLC. The judges were charged on Jan. 26 and removed from the bench by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court shortly afterward.
No company officials have been charged, but the investigation is still going on.
The high court, meanwhile, is looking into whether hundreds or even thousands of sentences should be overturned and the juveniles' records expunged.
Among the offenders were teenagers who were locked up for months for stealing loose change from cars, writing a prank note and possessing drug paraphernalia. Many had never been in trouble before. Some were imprisoned even after probation officers recommended against it.
Many appeared without lawyers, despite the U.S. Supreme Court's landmark 1967 ruling that children have a constitutional right to counsel.
The judges are scheduled to plead guilty to fraud Thursday in federal court. Their plea agreements call for sentences of more than seven years behind bars.
Ciavarella, 58, who presided over Luzerne County's juvenile court for 12 years, acknowledged last week in a letter to his former colleagues, ''I have disgraced my judgeship. My actions have destroyed everything I worked to accomplish and I have only myself to blame.'' Ciavarella, though, has denied he got kickbacks for sending youths to prison.
Conahan, 56, has remained silent about the case.
Many Pennsylvania counties contract with privately run juvenile detention centers, paying them either a fixed overall fee or a certain amount per youth, per day.
In Luzerne County, prosecutors say, Conahan shut down the county-run juvenile prison in 2002 and helped the two companies secure rich contracts worth tens of millions of dollars, at least some of that dependent on how many juveniles were locked up.
One of the contracts -- a 20-year agreement with PA Child Care worth an estimated $58 million -- was later canceled by the county as exorbitant.
The judges are accused of taking payoffs between 2003 and 2006.
Robert J. Powell co-owned PA Child Care and Western PA Child Care until June. His attorney, Mark Sheppard, said his client was the victim of an extortion scheme.
''Bob Powell never solicited a nickel from these judges and really was a victim of their demands,'' he said. ''These judges made it very plain to Mr. Powell that he was going to be required to pay certain monies.''
For years, youth advocacy groups complained that Ciavarella was ridiculously harsh and ran roughshod over youngsters' constitutional rights. Ciavarella sent a quarter of his juvenile defendants to detention centers from 2002 to 2006, compared with a statewide rate of one in 10.
The criminal charges confirmed the advocacy groups' worst suspicions and have called into question all the sentences he pronounced.
Hillary Transue did not have an attorney, nor was she told of her right to one, when she appeared in Ciavarella's courtroom in 2007 for building a MySpace page that lampooned her assistant principal.
Her mother, Laurene Transue, worked for 16 years in the child services department of another county and said she was certain Hillary would get a slap on the wrist. Instead, Ciavarella sentenced her to three months; she got out after a month, with help from a lawyer.
''I felt so disgraced for a while, like, what do people think of me now?'' said Hillary, now 17 and a high school senior who plans to become an English teacher.
Laurene Transue said Ciavarella ''was playing God. And not only was he doing that, he was getting money for it. He was betraying the trust put in him to do what is best for children.''
Kurt Kruger, now 22, had never been in trouble with the law until the day police accused him of acting as a lookout while his friend shoplifted less than $200 worth of DVDs from Wal-Mart. He said he didn't know his friend was going to steal anything.
Kruger pleaded guilty before Ciavarella and spent three days in a company-run juvenile detention center, plus four months at a youth wilderness camp run by a different operator.
''Never in a million years did I think that I would actually get sent away. I was completely destroyed,'' said Kruger, who later dropped out of school. He said he wants to get his record expunged, earn his high school equivalency diploma and go to college.
''I got a raw deal, and yeah, it's not fair,'' he said, ''but now it's 100 times bigger than me.''
More Articles in US »

Absolutely terrible news

From reports that producer/director Andy Fickman (Race to Witch Mountain) is currently developing four RKO Pictures horror remakes with Twisted Pictures (Saw), starting with I Walked With a Zombie, based on a strange 1943 movie.

Adam Marcus, who helmed Jason Goes to Hell: The Final Friday, will direct the movie, about a nurse who uses voodoo to resurrect the wife of a plantation manager. "We're just getting ready to start going out for casting on that, and we'll film that in New Orleans in the spring," Finkman told the site.

Race to Witch Mountain opens March 13.

Ed here:

The grace, the elegance, the literary sources of myth and legend that inspired the beautiful films of Val Lewton will now be handled by the guy who did Jason Goes To Hell?

I don't have anything against hackwork--I've done my share God knows--but there are pieces of art you should never touch. Or in this case defile.

From the producers of Saw...King Lear. "He's a crazy old bastard with naked chicks in the basement of the castle...and an axe that demands the flesh of virgins!"

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Movies you'll be seeing in `09

From the (apparently conservative) site Big Hollywood a look at what liberal Hollywood will be offering in 2009. A long list and very funny. I agree that movies are not only schlockier than ever they're preachier, too. I was on the treadmill the other day and caught about fifteen minutes of an old West Wing (I know, tv not movies but the same thing). Holy pontification, Batman--three way-too-serious characters standing around a table firing platitudes at each other. I remember I couldn't ever get into it when it as new. Looking at it now it belongs on Mystery Science Theater. Here are three samples of what you'll be seeing in the "octoplex."

Movies Are Your Best Entertainment Value
by Iowahawk (David Burge) Copyright 2009 Big Hollywood

Incident at Amity: Steven Spielberg directs this cerebral CGI-heavy remake of ‘Jaws’ slated for summer release. Insiders say the 34-year update will feature “additional points of view” and “be less judgmental about sharks.” Starring Willam H. Macy as the anti-shark fundamentalist, and Russell Crowe as the Great White.

Dark Spinach: Brooding, conflicted superhero sailor man (Matt Damon) must face his own inner demons and canned vegetable addiction to save his anorexic lover (Gwyneth Paltrow) in the violent screen adaptation of Frank Miller’s graphic novel. Featuring Mickey Rourke as Bluto.
High School Musical 5: Donner Pass Prom Party. Music, love, and cannibalism are in the air as the Wildcat gang gets stranded in the High Sierras. Featuring the hit Zach Cody - Melissa Vanessa duet, “I Never Thought It Could Taste So Good.”

Monday, February 09, 2009

Pro-File: Nancy Pickard

Nancy Pickard has written series and stand-alones alike. Her novels have won virtually all the major awards and appeared on many bestseller lists. And her short stories are as finely wrought and penetrating as her novels. She is a major voice in crime fiction.

1 Tell us about your current novel.

Huh. I guess by "current" you mean the one that doesn't want me to finish it? I'll tell you about it--it is stubborn, mean, and vindictive, that's what it is. Damn novel. When and if I ever finish it, it will be sweet as pie, lovable, and my best friend. It's called The Scent of Rain and Lightning, and it's about what happens in a small town in Kansas when they send the wrong man to prison, and when that man's son and his alleged-victim's daughter fall in love with each other. It will be my second "Kansas" book in what I hope will be a bookshelf of stand-alones set in my home state. I don't think I have another mystery series in me, though sometimes I wish Jenny Cain or Marie Lightfoot would tell me one more story. It would be particularly satisfying to do another Jenny book; Marie's stories are much harder to tell because of the rather extreme difference in the voice of the chapters that she "writes" and those that I write. (She's a true-crime writer, and the three novels about her contain chapters from the book she's currently writing.)

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

See answer #1, although "working on it" may be a misnomer. Fighting with it, trying to sneak up on it, giving it anything it wants if it will only let me finish it, that's a more accurate description of what I'm doing.

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

Finishing this book? Okay, seriously, the greatest pleasure for me is when it flows. Then the days dance by. I am Fred Astaire, only less dead. You would like to have lunch with me then, because I am great company. Now? Not so much. Do you ever kind of envy unpublished writers? (Unpublished writers, don't throw things at me, okay?) I'm not talking about the ones who are going through the pain of submitting and getting rejected; I mean those who are still caught up in the innocent happiness of "just writing." I remember those days, myself, when I couldn't wait to get out of bed every morning to begin writing. I think there's something about becoming a professional anything that eventually leeches some of the joy from almost any job, but the one joy that has never diminished for me has been the high of the "flow." When it goes on for days or weeks, life feels very, very good, and I want it to last forever. Those are the times when I love being a writer. If that's not happening, none of the rest of it--not even awards--is much of a pleasure. The other part of this career I truly love, believe it or not, is speaking to groups of people. When I'm having a tough time with the writing, the speaking gigs lift my spirits a lot, because it reminds me that all this sometimes-hard work results in bringing pleasure to other people. Writing can be such a me-me-me existence; it's lovely to encounter the ones for whom we do this stuff.

4. The greatest DIS-pleasure?

See answer #1. Seriously.
Dealing with the business end of it is no picnic either, at times. I'm not crazy about that part of it, although I love a lot of people in that part of it. I adore my long-time editor, Linda Marrow, and I've had only one agent for all these years--Meredith Bernstein. We are a happy little team that works well together. The only one of us who ever causes any problems is me when I'm having a hard time meeting a deadline, and even then they are the souls of patience and encouragement, bless 'em.

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

Consider law school. People will like you less, but as you sit in your Caribbean hideway you won't care.
Oh, you didn't say, "one piece of advice for new writers," did you? All of my answers today are colored by my frustration with my book, lol. But okay--one piece of advice for the publishing world? Well, here it is: slow the f*ck down. Thank you.
What I mean by that profane little tantrum is that it kills me to see writers struggle with the sometimes-impossible demands that are placed on them by their publishers. (I'm not talking about myself.) The old dictum that a mystery writer needs to produce a book a year, at minimum, is a killer for a lot of writers whose natural creativity doesn't march that fast. I realize that for some writers, the incredibly prolific ones, that much time looks like a luxury, and they'd laugh at the idea of complaining about it, but it looks like a killer to the rest of us ordinary slobs.

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

This question brought tears to my eyes. Some of those writers are people I know and admire, and I won't name them, because I hope they and their books will come back so that they will not *be *forgotten.
As for the ones who are truly gone, how about Dorothy B. Hughs and Margaret Millar?

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

It was wonderful. I remember getting the word from my agent and then going immediately for a drive in my car. As I drove, I told myself, "Don't ever forget these feelings. It will never feel like this again."

8. What do you consider the highlight of your career thus far?

Having my last book, The Virgin of Small Plains, chosen as the Kansas book of the year for 2009, in a program called "KansasReads." As a result of that, I have been driving all over the state to visit libraries. For instance, a couple of weeks ago I went to 11 libraries in 11 towns in 11 days. I love every minute of this year-long journey through small-town Kansas, and I am very, very grateful for the reason for it.

Another high point occurs every time a writer draws me aside to quietly tell me that reading Seven Steps on the Writer's Path got them out of a dark place. Not all that many people have ever read that book about the emotional journey of being a writer, but it seems to have helped a few of them who have read it. That's what it's for, and it feels good to know it does the job.

9. How about the low point?

Just before I got over a writer's block and began writing again on Twilight.

10. Which book or short story would you recommend to readers unfamiliar with your work?

Book: The Virgin of Small Plains. Also, The Whole Truth.
Short Story: Out of Africa. Also, It Had to Be You. Also, Dust Devil. (I may change my mind on these in the next five minutes, and then change my mind again.)


Sunday, February 08, 2009

Stephen Marlowe

Yesterday The Mystery File ran a piece on the literary novels of Stephen Marlowe. It's well worth reading.

I believe it was back in the late eighties when I first contacted Steve. I asked him if he'd like to write a piece about his days writing for Gold Medal. He said he'd like to and a month later the manuscript arrived. It was a fine and sometimes fiery article about how the entire Gold Medal program changed when Richard Carroll, the most prominent of the early GM editors, died.

I'd been reading Steve from 1954 (I started buying Amazing Stories when I was twelve about the time Bill Crider did too) back when he wrote under his then real name Milton Lesser. Early on in our correspondence he didn't show much interest in his past work. He was focused on his literary novels. When he told me that he'd lost copies of many of his paperbacks and pulps I offered to send him some duplicates I had. He didn't want them. Long ago and far away he said.

I can't remember why he finally started talking about his Chet Drum novels. I'd been nudging him to write about them but I think something else happened to get him interested in his commercial work. Anyway The Private Eye Writers of America gave him its Lifetime Achievement Award and that really rekindled his interest. I introduced him to Greg Shepard at Stark House and they decided to publish two of Steve's past books in a single volume, Violence Is My Business and Turn Left At Murder. Though Violence was a Drum I actually thought Turn Left was the better book. In fact I think it's a classic suspense novel.

Through all this Steve would tell me about his life. I told him he should write his autobiography. So did Greg Shepard. Steve was working on it when he died. His wife Ann is finishing it for Stark House publication next year. Steve traveled the world for more than forty years. He met scores of interesting people, including a few literary lions and a lot of the paperback girls and boys now held in high esteem.

It should be a fascinating book.

Saturday, February 07, 2009

Sorta Good In Some Ways

One thing I've always admired about Cinema Retro's reviews is their willingness to look at many films in totality. The post on The Outrage, for instance, makes it clear that this western with Paul Newman, Laurence Harvey and Claire Bloom is a failure. It is lost in its own pretentiousness in many places, reaching for an importance the story can't support. Yet they find a number of elements to like, even admire, especially the acting of Newman, Bloom and Edward G. Robinson. Harvey is wasted in an underwritten part. I wish more reviews were willing to forego the all-knowing tone of the superior critic evaluating the work of the inferior creators. There's a somewhat irksome review of Joe Gores' Spade & Archer in the NY Times today that starts out smug and remains that way through much of its assessment. I'll take Marilyn Stasio's approach any day.

For The Outrage review go here:

Friday, February 06, 2009

Alan Marshall; Fred Blosser

Over on that excellent site The Violent World of Parker a letter about Don Westlake's soft core books contained the following: "Never read one of these. I don’t imagine Westlake would want me to, but I may have to track a couple of them down anyway at some point. "

Several years ago I found a soft-core novel (can't remember the title) that the dealer said positively absolutely was Westlake. I read it and found it to be a damned good piece of work. Set on a college campus in the late fifties the story involved a coed who got in trouble with the law. The writing was tight, perceptive and the social commentary spot on.

I e-mailed Don and told him how much I liked it. He said something like "I'll have to check that one out." And a few days later he emailed back and said that in all in all he was surprised the book had held up pretty well. He didn't want to see any of them back in print but he was able to acknowledge that at least a few of them were worthy examples of craft.


I send out political pieces culled from various sites to a list of people I know. They aren't just shots at the GOP; I get tired of Dems, too. One of the pieces I sent out brought this response from Fred Blosser and it speaks for me, too.

"The President needs to take a page out of the GOP's playbook. Remember
how the Bush paranoia apparatus hit the Code Red button to scare people
during the invasion of Iraq? How about a scenario in which 1 million
jobless Americans (shouldn't be hard to find that many) are mobilized in
a march on the Mall? A few press briefings in which the President
intones the dire (and all too true) prediction to the rest of us,
"Folks, without our jump start to the economy, this is your future," ...
and see what happens.

"Seems like the Dems have been bitch-slapped so many times by the Repubs
that they're paralyzed by Battered Spouse syndrome."


Thursday, February 05, 2009

The Punk Panther

If you're a professional writer, actor, director, composer--to name just a few job categories--then chances are pretty good that you'll occcasionally take jobs because you need the money or just have a hole in your schedule. Unless of course you're a major star. Then you can spend your time pissing on your former competitors as from a great height.

I speak to this because I can't believe how bad The Pink Panther 2 trailer is. These are presumably the funniest moments? When Steve Martin is good he's great but he's trafficed in mediocrity so often in his later years that you can only conclude that he has a lot of free time on his hands and needs to fill it up somehow. Maybe he should mow the lawn.

He was brilliant on his recent Letterman appearance. The set up with the plane floating in the Hudson, his timing as he narrated it and then starred in it--you see why he's endured. I can't think of another comic/writer/actor who could have pulled it off with such ease and style.

'And for me that only makes it all the more puzzling that he'd do these two Panther films. The franchise belongs so indelibly to Peter Sellers that it should be a felony for anybody else to try it. And even the last Panther with Sellers showed that the series was out of ideas and vitality.

Pink Panther 2 makes a damned good case for no good movie ever being remade.

Wednesday, February 04, 2009

Ben Schutz

I had to take my car in for servicing today. Took two hours so I read several stories in Deadly Allies 2 a fine anthology edited by Bob Randisi and Susan Dunlap in the early nineties. The story that grabbed me was Ben Schutz's What Goes Around. The number of riffs he ran on the standard private eyestory was amazing.

Here we have a young woman working her first case as a private detective having to turn to an established detective to help her on a case that he soon realizes is not at all what it seems. Then the fun starts, one twist after another, each beautifully rendered. A small masterpiece.

Ben had one of those frustrating careers that come along all too often. Most of his work was as good as--and in some cases much better than--crime writers on the best seller list. He had his own voice, his own take on humanity and he was a wizard with the tools of storytelling. He even managed to get published by two or three major houses but somehow it never went together.

Not too long before he passed his agent Lynn Meyers called me one night and told me about a novel Ben had written that a number of editors loved but just couldn't get through committee. Lynn wanted to know if I'd read it for Five Star. Well I did and I was stunned by it. Flat out it was the best book Ben had ever written. It was a brave, personal, disturbing, true book about the world as Ben had come to see it. I couldn't believe that nobody in NYC would publish it. We bought it immediately.

The reviewers went crazy for it. Everybody raved. We followed up with a collection of his short stories. More raves. Along with many more writers Ben deserves to be reprinted and remembered. He was a fine man and a fine writer.

This seems to be my week for quoting Kevin Burton Smith. Here's what Kevin said about Ben's last novel The Mongol Reply:

"This is not a comfortable novel, and many a reader might squirm with an unpleasant shock of self-recognition. But I think that Schutz, a forensic psychologist himself and the author, in the 1980s and early 90s, of a Shamus Award-winning hard-boiled series starring Washington, D.C., private eye Leo Haggerty (Embrace the Wolf, A Fistful of Empty), has returned to fiction after an absence of more than a decade with arguably his most angry and potent work yet. The Mongol Reply is an unrepentant, take-no-prisoners assault on the twisted and selfish games people play in the name of love, and the sometimes very brutal price that children (and ultimately, all of us) have to pay for their parent’s sins. Welcome back, Ben."

Tuesday, February 03, 2009

You can't make this stuff up


The Huffington PostFebruary 3, 2009

Joe The Plumber To Talk Strategy With Luckless Conservatives

February 3, 2009 10:02 AM

by Jason Linkins

Gah, this guy again. Samuel J. "Joe the 'Plumber'" Wurzelbacher, freshly returned from bankrupting Pajamas Media with his "I Don't Know, Maybe Journalists Should Shut Up, Or Something" tour of Israel, is now going to be meeting with the Conservative Working Group, making working for the Conservative Working Group the worst possible job anyone could have this week.

Hilariously, the people who serve on the Conservative Working Group don't seem to want to do much Conservative Working, since Joe's appearance is billed as an incentive to keep everyone from sleeping in:

If nothing else, GOP aides are using the appearance to get staffers to attend the 9 a.m meeting.

"In case you weren't planning to attend CWG tomorrow morning, you might want to reconsider because Joe the Plumber will be joining us!" Kimberly Wallner, an aide to South Carolina Sen. Jim DeMint, wrote in a message to her e-mail list this afternoon.

Anyway, we are told that Joe is not a "fan of the economic rescue package," so, woo: there's some real high-wire opinioneering, right there. He'll probably say that the media shouldn't talk about the economy any more, or math, and that maybe Paul Krugman should do more to help people with their digital TV conversions.

Anyway, how dull is this guy? Consider this. The article that reports this news in Politico begins with the sentence, "Fresh off his stint as a war correspondent in Gaza, Joe the Plumber is now doing political strategy with Republicans," and ends with the sentence, "Last month, Wurzelbacher did a brief stint as a war reporter for the conservative web site" Normally, you'd wonder where the editor was, allowing the double mention of "stint," but your eyes just glaze over, thinking about this guy.

Monday, February 02, 2009

Robert E. Relyea

Long, fascinating review of Robert E. Relyea's decades in Hollywood during which he functioned as an assistant director and many other things on movies large and small. Cinema Retro scores as usual. Here's an example:

"Speaking of TV western stars getting out of their contracts, Relyea relates that James Garner literally had to buy his freedom out of Maverick.. Warner Brothers was only paying him $450 a week – plus the studio took 50% of any earnings he made from public appearances. Even when when he had the opportunity to do a feature film on hiatus, he was contractually bound to work for Warner Brothers. It was on the set of William Wyler’s The Children’s Hour that Robert Relyea first met Garner. This was the actor’s first film after finally buying his way out of his TV contract – and now he was under the direction of the industry’s most intimidating filmmakers. As the new boy amongst a cast that included Audrey Hepburn and Shirley MacLaine, Garner was the one Wyler constantly picked on. Even for Relyea, who had already been exposed to the tantrums and bully tactics of other veteran directors, Wyler was the ultimate study in power-tripping. On the very last day of shooting the film, Wyler became exasperated with an actress who was having trouble delivering a line as it was written. What followed became a public execution, a slow public humiliation of the actress in front of Relyea and other members of the cast and crew. It caused the poor young woman to give up acting completely. Yet, Relyea recalls, that Wyler was not one to offer a single kind word to her."

For the rest go here

Sunday, February 01, 2009

Pro-File: S.J. Rozan


SJ Rozan, a native New Yorker, is the author of eleven novels. Her work has won the Edgar, Shamus, Anthony, Nero, and Macavity awards for Best Novel and the Edgar for Best Short Story. BRONX NOIR, a short story collection SJ edited, was given the NAIBA "Notable Book of the Year" award. She's served on the National Boards of Mystery Writers of America and Sisters in Crime, and is ex-President of the Private Eye Writers of America. In January 2003 she was an invited speaker at the Annual Meeting of the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. The 2005 Left Coast Crime convention in El Paso, Texas made her its Guest of Honor. A former architect in a practice that focussed on police stations, firehouses, and zoos, SJ Rozan lives in lower Manhattan.I

1 Tell us about your current novel.

THE SHANGHAI MOON is a Lydia Chin/Bill Smith book, narrated by Lydia Chin. It's the first in the series in seven years. Lydia's called in on a case that has its roots in the Jewish ghetto that sprang up when 20,000 European Jews managed to flee to Shanghai at the start of WWII. It involves the possible resurfacing of the Shanghai Moon, one of the world's most sought-after gems, that vanished in 1949 and has been hunted around the world, but never seen, since.

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

A new Bill Smith-narrated book, so far unnamed. To say more than that is bad mojo.

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

Having the opportunity to try to make real all the wild ideas flying around in my head. And to do research. I love research, which, if you're not doing it for a book project, is called poking around, reading, daydreaming... Learning about the Shanghai ghetto, what was going on in those years in China, was totally fascinating.

4. The greatest DIS-pleasure?

Loneliness, and the sense, each time I do make the ideas concrete, that my reach once again exceeded my grasp.

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

Go back to the days when eggs were spread among baskets! Forget selling a million copies of one book, try to sell fifty thousand copies of twenty books. It's more likely to work, and it produces more ideas/thoughts/worlds for readers to get involved in.

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

I'm not sure who's in and who's out of print these days. I think anyone who hasn't read Josephine Tey has missed something for sure.

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

I was at my architecture office, 4pm on a Friday. My agent called to say we had an offer, for two books. He gave me the highlights, asked what I thought. I told him to take it, hung up, whooped, and announced it to the whole drafting room. The boss was out of town, so we closed down immediately and repaired to the local bar.

8. What do you consider the highlight of your career thus far?

Winning the Shamus for Best Novel for CONCOURSE, my second book. It was a terrific thrill because I was such a dark horse, and because Sara Paretsky presented it to me and said she was proud of me.

9. How about the low point?

Every bad review is a low point. The good reviews, I think, "That's nice." The bad reviews, I think, "Oh, my god, that's true! How come I didn't notice?"

10. Which book or short story would you recommend to readers unfamiliar with your work?

For the series, you need to read from each point of view, so I'd say maybe the first of each: CHINA TRADE and CONCOURSE. Of course, I think I'm getting better as I go along -- you have to think that, otherwise you think you're stagnating or getting worse -- so maybe people ought to just go straight to THE SHANGHAI MOON.

-- S