Monday, November 30, 2009

Lionel White's The Money Trap-Glen Ford & Rita Hayworth

Another prize in this issue of Noir City Sentinel is Vince Keenan's piece on the films that Glen Ford and Rita Hayworth made together. Vince is particularly eloquent on the subject of The Money Trap based on (for me) Lionel White's finest novel of the same name. Don Westlake always acknowledged his debt to White. But he wasn't just talking about the caper novels that helped establish Parker. Get a copy of the novel and you'll find it reads very much like early Westlake hardboiled. As Vince notes, the movie is an especially grim one. And it does have a decided pre-hippie Sixties feel to it. Deaths in a thousand Danish modern living rooms while consuming a few million martinis.

Vince Keenan:

Hayworth’s star faded as Ford made some of his most successful films. But
his luster had also dimmed by the time they were drawn together for one final
movie that makes the most of their rich history. The pity is hardly anyone saw it.
The Money Trap(1966), like many black-and-white films of the mid-to-late
60s, seems infused with a sense of its own futility. That only intensifies the over-
all mood of melancholy. Naturally, this Burt Kennedy-directed adaptation of a
novel by Lionel White (The Killing) haunted the bottom half of double bills before
vanishing into the ghostly realm of late-night TV.

Ford plays weary LAPD detective Joe Baron. The echo of the name Dave
Bannion from The Big Heat is apt; Joe is a wised-up Dave back on the force and
opting to coast. He’s married to a wealthy younger woman (Elke Sommer), and
that’s taking a toll. The Money Trapsurrounds him with flesh – Sommer teasingly
undressing at the edge of the frame, loads of curvy women in garter belts – all of
it fueling Joe’s fear that living off his wife’s money has diminished him as a man.
The missus begins having cash flow problems just as Joe catches the case of
a thief gunned down in front of a safe by Mob physician Joseph Cotten. Joe and
his partner (a bristling Ricardo Montalban) scheme to heist the safe’s contents
themselves. When Joe approaches the thief’s widow he’s stunned to discover that
it’s Rosalie (Hayworth), his first love from the old neighborhood. At that point The
Money Trapbecomes more than a solid crime drama. It’s transformed into a med-
itation on age and memory.

Hayworth’s ravaged, almost unrecognizable face retains its bearing. This is a
woman who was once a queen, and Ford will always regard her as one. “Tell me
how you been,” Joe implores. “I been around,” Rosalie replies. When Joe offers a
heartfelt “It’s good to see you, Rosie,” the look she gives him is shattering.
A quarrel with his wife sends Joe back to Rosalie, who’s living in the build-
ing where they first made love. They reminisce about the old days, comparing their
grim realities to the dreams of their youth. They sleep together, the weathered hunk
and the withered beauty giving each other some small bit of comfort in the long

Ed here: This is a must-read article. Hell, the whole issue is. Film Noir Foundation, Send what you can afford and the issue is yours.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

King Creole as Noir; Radney Foster, Tim McGraw

I've been pushing Noir City Sentinel (just log on to Film Noir Foundation and contribute to the cause and it'll be yours). There are so many fantastic articles I can't cover them all but Vince Keenan mentioned editor Dan Malcolm's piece as a special one. And it is. Malcolm takes a wise sometimes amused look at Elvis movies and then makes the case for "King Creole" being a noir. He makes his case very well.

"The sizzling jazz-blues-rock soundtrack is practically extrane-
ous to the pulpy proceedings, but it features several
of Elvis’s finest movie songs and performances,
including Leiber and Stoller’s kick-ass anthem
“Trouble,” “Dixieland Rock,” the chart-topping hit
“Hard-Headed Woman,” “Crawfish,” “New
Orleans” and the pulsating title tune. The richly
evocative, chiaroscuro New Orleans location pho-
tography is as atmospherically effective here as it was
in Elia Kazan’s Panic in the Streets(1950), and the
screenplay by Robbins and Herbert Baker often
crackles with brutal wit in the best noir tradition.
“That’s a pretty piece of material,” Danny says to the
haunted, horny hooker as he fondles her one night on
the street. “You oughta have a dress made out of it.”
Another piece of pulp poetry: one evening when
Ronnie is set up to seduce Danny in Maxie’s pad, the
smitten lad laments, “Your heart wouldn’t be in it.”
“You wouldn’t miss it,” she fires back. This isn’t ter-
rain typically associated with Elvis—it’s a world
removed from the sunny Vegas racetrack and the
happy Hawaiian luau. Hoods, hookers, killers, strip-
pers, and stylishly seedy nightclubs occupy this (land)..."

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------------------------------Country western singers

Last night I, in my usual intemperate way, dismissed an entire group of people, namely the current crop of country western singers. I enjoy a number of them actually. My favorite is Radney Foster who is one hell of a song writer. And for all his status as a he-man lady killer Tim McGraw has chosen to work with some excellent writers who certainly produce some atypical C&W songs. Hard to believe that anybody else at the top could get away with a song as brutal and sad as "Angry All The Time" about a failing marriage. He also did "Red Rag Top" which to me is shocking in a C&W context because it deals with a pair of teenagers who decide to get an abortion rather than the girl's having the baby. Given that Buck Owens once had to take out a full page ad in Variety apologizing to the C&W world for covering a Beatles McGraw choosing to release that one took some guts. If you have iTunes get them both and you'll see what I'm talking about. And be sure to get Foster's "Nobody Wins." A great great piece of work.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Nelli McKay

Nellie McKay:


"Her music has showcased different genres, from jazz to rap and disco to funk. Her eclectic style and sharp lyrics distinguish her as an original voice. Her songs sometimes have a political tinge; she is a vocal feminist, and wrote a satirical song relating to feminist issues called "Mother of Pearl". McKay also "is a proud member of PETA" (album notes), wrote a song ("Columbia Is Bleeding") dealing with the issue of Columbia University's cruelty to animals, and ("John John") about her feelings in favor of political candidate Ralph Nader as well as performing concerts as benefits for WBAI."

Ed here: Since Patti Abbott posted about music today--and since I've already run my mouth about rap and the Toby Keith school of country music (give me Hank Snow any day)--I thought I'd mention one of my favorite very talented and amusing singers.

Like most human beings I get tired of most songs after I hear them sixty or seventy times on the radio. As fetching as Norah Jones' Come Away With Me CD was I o'd on it because it was on the rock-jazz-elevator schedules for months. When I read that a smart young singer had written an album called Get Away From Me in response I had to hear it (remember, Married With Children's cynicism was created in direct response to the Cosby show's treacle).

Get Away From Me made me a fan. The lyrics are hilarious. The jibes at former boyfriends, the lyricism of the music one moment morphing into a show tune the next...fantastic. I've seen her interviewed maybe a dozen times. She's quite fetching and knows it. She overplays a bit now and then but she'll redeem it with a sarcastic response a few minutes later. Her most annoying habit, to me, is this breathy little girl voice she uses between songs on large stages. But she is quite quite fetching and she seems to be a genuine pop music scholar, pop of the Twenties and Thirties and Forties as well as today.

The CDs subsequent to Get Away From Me haven't done as well. Get Away was a Columbia product following which she had a battle with the suits as to how many tracks she'd be allowed on her next album. She went to a jazz label next and now she's at another jazz label. Back in 06 or so I thought she was going to be a major headliner. She's got the voice and the moves and the looks. She's funny as hell and she is in all ways an original.

I tuned in Prairie Home Companion (a show I don't much care for) just to hear her live. She did material from her her CD which covers Doris Day songs from the 1940s to the 1960s. It's a sensational album and I hope it outsells Get Away. Doris Day, so many people forget, was a first-rate big band singer before she ever went to Hwood. I hope Ms. Day likes her tribute album as much as I--and many critics--do.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Mr. Blandings; Connie Marshall

I've never understood why most serious film critics think that Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House is lesser Cary Grant-Myrna Loy-Melvin Douglas. For those few of you who've never seen it, the story is about and ad man and his family who who build a new house in the country. Many many many things go wrong. Of course. My favorite scene is when Loy tells the builder what colors she wants in each room. She goes into great and foolish detail. "Yellow but not yellow yellow; butter yellow; perhaps you could send your painter to the store to look at butter before he starts painting." No matter how incomprehensible her demands are the stolid builder just keeps saying "Uh-huh." He must say this fifteen times, always in the same way. He is an Olympian of patience. Or seems to be anyway. If you've never seen it make a point of renting it and watch Melvyn Douglas, one of my all-times faves, steal the movie from both Grant and Loy.

Last night I talked about Connie Marshall, the young actress in Home Sweet Homicide. I mentioned that she disappeared after making several A movies and being a cover girl for major magazines. Today somebody sent me a link that explained her disappearance:

"Her last picture was "Rogue Cop" 1954 as Francis an uncredited part. Connie then went back to West Beverly High school in 1955 having been told she had polio thus ending her short career in the cinema. She met and married Frank Geldert and they had four children, three girls and a boy. Connie continued in her love of the art for the rest of her life, something which her children have kept. She passed away on the morning of 22nd May 2001 at 8am in her family home in Santa Rosa, California of cancer. This little girl will not be forgotten and was sadly over-looked in her time in the picture business.

IMDb Mini Biography By: Malcolm James / "

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Craig Rice; Astaire-Rogers; Ugly covers

Carol and my daughter-in-law Mitsue are in Japan for ten days meeting up with our oldest granddaughter Shannon who is studying there. Since Mitsue grew up in Tokyo she's able to show Carol places ordinary tourists might not see.

I'm home alone but with so much work to do I don't mind. For Thanksgiving dinner I had three eggs, soy bacon, a large helping of spinach and a diet Pepsi. Gobble gobble.

Late this afternoon I quit working and watched, thanks to my buddy James Reasoner, Home Sweet Homicide, the comic mystery Craig Rice wrote about a crime novelist, who not unlike herself, tries to write with her three children as a distraction. This is a real charmer. Lynn Bari and Randolph Scott are the adult stars but thirteen-year-old Peggy Anne Garner is top billed with a very little Dean Stockwell and a true find Connie Marshall as the youngest daughter. There is a murder in the neighborhood and the kids decide to solve it themselves, hiding information from detectives Randolph Scott and James Gleason because in all of their mother's books cops are stupid and/or crooked.

I can't remember a movie where the child actors carried so much of story. The first ten minutes introduce us to the three children. Peggy Ann Garner was a big star at the time (though in 1946 her star was fading fast) but she was upstaged, for me at least, by both Stockwell and Marshall. You don't expect seven and ten year olds to do perfect line readings, with the emphasis in the right place, but these two only miss when the script gives them a clumsy line.

I don't think I've ever seen Randolph Scott play a detective. He does a good job, folding his Southern Gentleman charm into a hard-eyed cop persona. Gleason's part is broadly comic and forgettable. It's nice to see Lynn Bari without a gun in her hand. Here's she not a femme fatale but a hard-working mother. She was talented working actress if never a star. Her IMDB indicates that she worked steadily in movies for decade then switched to TV and after 1952 vanished. Too bad, as the bio writer notes, because she was indisputably talented. The camera loved her. She was in the news again only in 2002 when she died. No idea of where she'd spent her after-Hwood years.

Cute but not cutesy is the best way to describe Home Sweet Homicide, with two child actors giving remarkable performances. You'll enjoy it.

----------------------------Fred and Ginger

I get all the Fred Astaire-Ginger Rogers movies confused as to titles. I'd actually rather Astaire sing than dance but I do enjoy watching Rogers dance. So elegant ala the old Pauline Kael line-"Astaire gave Rogers class and she gave him sex." Turner ran a bunch of them this morning and I believe it was in the Gay Divorce (which I watched about twenty minutes of at breakfast) that I saw one of the strangest and most excessive ensemble dancing pieces ever put on film. Hermes Pan directed Astaire and Rogers as usual but somebody named Dave Gould choreographed and directed the ensemble piece. An enormous++++ set on a sound stage and maybe fifty or sixty dancers constantly shifting from one scene, one costume to another. I started laughing out loud. This wasn't campy--it was just awful, a military battle lost after the first shot. I wish I would've timed it. It threatened to never end. More and more excess and also a few quick shots that were out of focus. I'm sure they had to use them because in all the frenzy on stage they had nothing else in this ninety-car smash-up on Dancers Highway....

---------------------------Ugly Giant Heads

ugliest giant heads on science fiction book covers

among other things this site has a list of sf's grossest foods

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

A sequel to the Shining?

Ed here: This is from The Torontoist from Nov 20, link provided by The Wrap) Be great to see what King and David Cronenberg could come up with. My two favorite King films are still The Dead Zone and Cujo (I know, I know: but before you ask Cujo? Huh? See it again.)

"Last night at Toronto’s packed Canon Theatre, fans of Stephen King were treated to a 15-minute reading from the author’s new novel, Under the Dome, and nearly an hour’s worth of typically funny anecdotes and keen observations during an on-stage interview with director David Cronenberg. Then King dropped a fan bombshell on the crowd by casually describing a novel idea he began working on last summer. Seems King was wondering whatever happened to Danny Torrance of The Shining, who when readers last saw him was recovering from his ordeal at the Overlook Hotel at a resort in Maine with fellow survivors Wendy Torrance and chef Dick Halloran (who dies in the Kubrick film version)…


"So what would a sequel to one of King’s most beloved novels look like? In King’s still tentative plan for the novel, Danny is now 40 years old and living in upstate New York, where he works as the equivalent of an orderly at a hospice for the terminally ill. Danny’s real job is to visit with patients who are just about to pass on to the other side, and to help them make that journey with the aid of his mysterious powers. Danny also has a sideline in betting on the horses, a trick he learned from his buddy Dick Hallorann.

"The title for King’s proposed sequel? Doctor Sleep.

Perhaps sensing that he’d let the cat out of the plot bag a little early, King then told Cronenberg and the audience that he wasn’t completely committed to the new novel, going so far as to say, “Maybe if I keep talking about it I won’t have to write it.”
Let’s hope King doesn’t have too many interviews booked in the next six months."

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Forgotten Books: A Hidden Place by Robert Charles Wilson

Forgotten Books: A Hidden Place by Robert Charles Wilson

In the course of a year I usually read twenty or twenty five novels that impress me. Some for characterization, some for story, some for milieu. But I rarely read a novel that astonishes me.

When Robert Charles Wilson's first novel A Hidden Place appeared as a Bantam paperback original in 1986, I wasn't sure what to make of it. I received it along with three or four other science fiction Bantams. I think I put it on the bottom of the stack. The other novels were by writers I knew. Whatever reluctance I felt vanished when I read the first page.

The story here concerns a young man named Travis Fisher who is sent to live with his aunt because his mother, a troubled woman, has died. What he finds in his aunt's house is an intolerable uncle who demands that Travis lives by steely rules he himself frequently breaks. He also finds Anna, the strange beautiful woman who boards upstairs. Travis is so stunned by her he can barely form sentences. He also takes up Nancy Wilcox, a smart, witty girl who is bursting to escape the brutal social order of this small town.

Parallel to this story line is the one of the odd hobo Bone. Because the novel is set in the worst years of the Depression, Bone becomes our tour guide, showing us exactly how people of various kinds behaved during this time. Bone is a transfixing figure, as mysterious as Anna and perhaps linked to her in some way.

I don't want to start listing plot twists here. All I'll say is that each is cleverly set up and magnificently sprung on the reader. What I'd rather talk about is the writing. In the course of reading A Hidden Place, I heard many voices--among them Sherwood Anderson, William Faulkner and the Theodore Dreiser who wrote An American Tragedy. The irony is that Wilson is a Canadian. He may or may not have read any of these writers. But except for John Steinbeck, I've never read place description to equal the power and poetry of Wilson's shantytowns or railroad goons; nor have I encountered a better picture of the small towns of that era.

But most of all the book is about people. Wilson's characters will take up permanent residence in your memory. So many of them ache for things they can't have, for things they don't even understand. Wilson writes with a razor.

Twenty years later we find that Robert Charles Wilson is a highly regarded science fiction writer, winner of many awards and several lengthy studies. I believe I've read every novel he's published. But much as I love them I always go back to this one. In its sorrows and its griefs and the beauties of its writing, we find a rare kind of truth, a statement about what it means to be human.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Being prolific;Raymond Carver-Stephen King

Tonight Duane Swierczynski on Secret Dead Blog quotes from a New Yorker series from the 1930s called Legends of The Underwood. The man profiled is Arthur J. Burk, a pulp magazine stalwart who said he wrote four thousand words a day but could do triple that if need be.

I've written a fair amount of fiction in thirty-some years but I was never fast. I've always done a thousand or fifteen hundred words a day. There were times I was doing two thousand but they never lasted. Writing tires me. And since I've been sick it saps me even more. Mornings are my best time and I enjoy my time at the machine.

But later on...

------------------Raymond Carver/Stephen King

I want to recommend a fine review Stephen King published in the NY Times yesterday about the new biography of Raymond Carver. King at his best.

Published: November 19, 2009
Raymond Carver, surely the most influential writer of American short stories in the second half of the 20th century, makes an early appearance in Carol Sklenicka’s exhaustive and sometimes exhausting biography as a 3- or 4-year-old on a leash. “Well, of course I had to keep him on a leash,” his mother, Ella Carver, said much later — and seemingly without irony.

"Mrs. Carver might have had the right idea. Like the perplexed lower-middle-class juicers who populate his stories, Carver never seemed to know where he was or why he was there. I was constantly reminded of a passage in Peter Straub’s “Ghost Story”: “The man just drove, distracted by this endless soap opera of America’s bottom dogs.”

"Born in Oregon in 1938, Carver soon moved with his family to Yakima, Wash. In 1956, the Car vers relocated to Chester, Calif. A year later, Carver and a couple of friends were carousing in Mexico. After that the moves accelerated: Paradise, Calif.; Chico, Calif.; Iowa City, Sacramento, Palo Alto, Tel Aviv, San Jose, Santa Cruz, Cupertino, Humboldt County . . . and that takes us up only to 1977, the year Carver took his last drink."

for the rest go here:

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Levinson vs. Stanley

I'll state my prejudices up front: Alessandra Stanley, columnist for the New York Times is one of the dimmest and most pretentious culture vultures of our time. That she is usually wrong is not the issue--it's that she often ASTONISHINGLY wrong.

Recently she drubbed director Barry Levinson for his film Poliwood, an indictment of the intersection of politics and entertainment. Just about everybody with eyes, ears and common sense applauded the film. Not Stanley, of course.

Levinson responded to her yesterday in The Huffington Post.

"It may be true that I am overly sensitive to her critical writings ever since reading a review she wrote some time ago about a Walter Cronkite documentary that was part of PBS's American Masters series. I had nothing to do with that project other than to see it and to read her review, which began, "There will never be an anchorman like Walter Cronkite. And thank heaven for that." It was a shocking opening line -- an assessment that I would certainly disagree with -- but nevertheless, she is allowed to express her own opinion. However, the line that really caught my ire for its blatant inaccuracy was what she said about Cronkite informing the nation about the assassination of President John Kennedy: "He informed and consoled the nation with stoic grace. But it's hard to imagine that anyone in that chair at that moment, wouldn't have been just as memorable, simply because he was there."

Anyone in that chair! Anyone? The impression you get from Ms. Stanley is that there was only one network and one person reporting this event back then. Is she suggesting that Walter Cronkite was the only reporter informing us about this assassination? The reality is there were three networks and they were all reporting the event, and Walter Cronkite is the only one we remember. Why do we remember Cronkite as he took off his glasses on that tragic day and reported that the young president had just been assassinated? According to Ms. Stanley, it had nothing to do with Cronkite's unique ability as a newsman or his special ability to connect with an audience. It was because he was the only one there, reporting. To defend her thesis she had to carefully eliminate two networks from history -- and two chairs. Yet this is what Ms. Stanley does: she alters reality to fit her thesis. It is blatantly inaccurate and deceitful. It is a bogus sentence, illogical, and fraudulent. That is not valid criticism, and should have no place in such a respected paper as the New York Times. But it was written, and it was printed."

Ed here: That was Stanley at her snottiest and worst.

Levinson: Now I come back to Poliwood.

Ms. Stanley states, "In politics, the only thing worse than no access, is too much access." She goes on to say, "At its core the film is a screed about everything that was wrong with politics and media during the 2004 election, carried over and misapplied to the 2008 campaign."

For the record, the film essay has nothing to do with the 2008 campaign. That's why there is no footage of the candidates leading up to the conventions, and no footage of them campaigning on the road, leading up to the election. There is also no footage of the candidates stating political positions. No footage of strategy sessions. No discussions with the political operatives of either side. No footage of the fears or anxieties, the second-guessing, and the tiresome campaign trail. I only cover the two conventions and the inauguration merely as the backdrop for the intersection of politics, media, and entertainment as the cameras followed the journey of the Creative Coalition through these events."

Ed here: How Stanley got her job is just as mysterious as how she's managed to keep it.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Joseph Losey; Lester Dent

I've mentioned The Film Noir Foundation before. The estimable Eddie Muller founded it and continues to present noir in all its aspects around the world--and present it in the most intelligent and compelling ways possible. By sending a contribution to the Foundation you'll receive The Noir City Sentinel when it appears. This magazine is the finest ongoing history of noir I've ever seen. Here's how to contact the Foundation. (By the way I want to thank Vince Keenan for introducing me to the Foundation.)

Here's the contents page of this issue:

Noir City Sentinel Nov / Dec 2009

The Energizing Enigma of Joseph Losey
AConversation with Foster Hirsch 4
Don Malcolm
Losey on Losey in Hollywood
Quotes from the Exiled Director 5
ARemake That Works:
The Rarity of Losey’sM 7
Carl Steward
Before They Made Him Run:
Joseph Losey’s Hollywood Noirs 8
The Lawless Don Malcolm
The Prowler Anastasia Lin
The Big Night Robert Ottoson
At the Center of the Storm:
He Ran All the Wayand the Blacklist 10
Jake Hinkson
“First is First and Second is Nobody”
The Philip Yordan Story 12
Alan K. Rode
Noir in Iran 22
Ehsan Khoshbakht
Abraham Polonsky
“The Most Dangerous Man in America” 24
Greg De Cuir
Noir ... Or Not?
King Creole 1
Will Viharo
ABook Versus Film Comparison
The Sound of Fury 16
Jake Hinkson
Noir’s Unsung Heroes
Art Smith 17
Jake Hinkson
Noir’s Not-So-Nice Guys
Luther Adler 18
Eric Beetner
Radio Noir, Part 3:
Silver Tongued Dicks 19
Anne Hockens
Sirens of the Sentinel
Gale Sondergaard 20
Eddie Muller
Noir Couples
Rita Hayworth and Glenn Ford 28
Vince Keenan
Letter from the Publisher 2
This Dirty Town 3
J. J. Hunsecker Jr.
Noir City 8 Preview 3
Book Review
Blanketing the Blacklist 21
Don Malcolm and Dan Akira Nishimura
Mr. Modern Noir
Dark Country 26
Will “The Thrill” Viharo

Ed here: There is an excellent Foster Hirsch with the late (and blacklisted) director Joseph Losey. Gail Russell's story has always struck me as particularly sad and obviously Losey had the same impression of her.

"Gail Russell, who didn’t want to be an actress, was
picked up by a talent scout when she was a clerk in a
department store in Beverly Hills, came from a lower
middle-class family. She died of alcoholism because she
was so deathly frightened of acting, but she had in her the
makings of a great star. I had a tragic time with her. I think
she had the most beautiful eyes I have ever seen, the most
moving eyes. And she was immensely sensitive.
She didn’t know anything. Paramount had her under
contract—like a horse. She got a big salary then, and I had
absolute instructions from them not to let her have a drink.
The very first time I shot with her I had a long night-track-
ing shot. It was a half-night, we finished at twelve.
She couldn’t
remember a single line
and it was three or four
pages of important dia-
logue. I wasn’t trained
enough then to say “Well,
we’ll shoot it another
way,” and I kept trying to
get it by coaching her in
her lines, and finally I
said “What’s the matter?”
And she grabbed
me, her hands were icy
cold, she was absolutely
rigid, and she said “Look,
I don’t want to be an actress. I’m not an actress. I can’t act.
I never had a director who gave me a scene this long
before. I can’t do it.”
And I said “Oh yes you can. I’m sure you can, and
you are an actress.”
“No, I’m not, I’ve never kidded myself. I’m not an
actress. I hate it, I’m frightened of it. Get me a drink and
I’ll be alright.”
So I said, “You know, I’ve been told not to get you a
drink?” She said. “Get me a drink!”
I got her a drink and she did the scene.
By this point Macdonald Carey couldn’t remember his
lines. She had absolutely destroyed him. It was a very bad
start for me on that quick picture, to spend the whole night
on one set-up. And I just barely got it..…This started her
drinking and she was drunk throughout the rest of the pic-
ture. That isn’t to say she was bad. I think she was very
good often, but sometimes I had to shoot scenes in
ways to disguise the fact she was drunk. "

--------------------Steve Mertz

Writer Steve Mertz wrote me a thoughtful letter about my Lester Dent profile. I'm running it here because Steve can;t conect with my blog for some reason.


Forgive me but I seem unable to post this on your blog comments, due solely to my lack of smarts. So since it's to you, well heck, here it is:

Nice piece on Lester Dent, one of my all-time favorites for all the reasons you cite.

Out of courtesy to the man, I’ve always regarded his work as he did. The Docs can be fun in their juvenile exuberance (especially so with some of the later ones like “Let’s Kill Ames,” which are adapted from his unsold crime novels), and his contribution with that series, providing a template for high adventure that exists today, is significant. But posterity should also regard the work he was proudest of and signed his name to, which is his best work and definitely worthy of the current reassessment it’s receiving. Books like Dead at the Takeoff and Cry at Dusk sparkle with qualities and a voice that is Dent’s alone.

Love your image of him sitting at a typewriter in the telegraph office at the start of his career. Here’s one from the opposite end of that career:

It’s 1956 and Dent sits in his den writing Honey in His Mouth at his farm at La Plata. The pulps have died. His hardcover career has sputtered out. Few seem to want his work. But he’s writing this little masterpiece word-by-word, page-by-page, giving it his best while knowing that it will probably never sell in his lifetime. He was right, and 50+ years later, here we are talking enthusiastically about the “new Lester Dent novel."

The thing is, he knew. He knew that someday, somewhere, even if it was long after he was gone, someone—a whole lot of someones--would be reading that book and he owed them the absolute best he had. I find that inspiring.

--Stephen Mertz

Friday, November 20, 2009

Lester, we hardly knew ye

Over on Davey Crockett's Almanac writer Evan Lewis reviews the Lester Dent novel Dead At The Take-Off, which I immediately ordered on Abe.

Dent's always fascinated me. He wrote something like eighty Doc Savage novels and maybe forty Avenger novels plus numerous other pulp stories all the while wanting to be taken more seriously by his peers. He seemed to be on his way with his story Anglefish, which is still frequently reprinted. That was his Black Mask story and he was convinced that editor Joseph "Cap" Shaw was going to teach him how to be a better writer. Then Shaw left Black Mask and Dent's dreams went with him.

I didn't pay much attention to Dent's crime novels until Hardcase published Honey In His Mouth, a book you really have to read. As I mentioned to Charles Ardai "This is the damnedest book I've ever read."And I'm not exaggerating. The protagonist is the worst person in the book, a sociopathic con man who is presented with cunning and real wit. But the book is filled with sociopathic con artists. And the plot, so wild it threatens to careen out of control every few chapters, is resolved with breathtaking skill. Dent was a real writer, a sly, very modern, very intelligent wordsmith.

I always picture him working nights in that little telegraph office in small town Missouri back before he got invited by Street and Smith to come to NYC. Reading all those pulps and knowing he could do a lot better.

BTW I'm sure pulp experts will correct some of my half-facts here.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Harlequin - bad idea or good idea?

Ed here: The Harlequin folks have announced that they're going into big time into self-publishing. While a glance at various websites seem to be dominated by people against the move some writers apparently think it's a good--or at least inevitable--idea.

Here are three letters from Smart Bitches:

PK said on...
11.17.09 at 05:40 AM
Wow! This is big news. I mean with the proliferation of self-publishing and in some cases, leading to a regular publishing contract, Harlequin is making a bold and probably savvy step.

A friend of mine self-published a series of books that were very successful. That success brought her to the attention of Sourcebooks who is now her publisher. It seems that Harlequin means to jump on the bandwagon early on or at least engage in a low risk/high reward business model. If the self-published authors already have a platform (my friend did) and write well (my friend really writes beautifully) but perhaps might get lost in the traditional publishing channels, then Harlequin skips the part where they come in late after the author/book has proven that they can drive sales and build an audience.

I think it’s genius.

Would I want to do it myself? No, not yet, but that doesn’t mean I don’t think it’s a brilliant idea and an equally bold and strategic move.

Manna Francis said on...
11.17.09 at 06:02 AM
Jesus Christ on a pink pogostick. $360 for a one-page press release? $600 to buy a review somewhere (which might not even get published!)? $479.00 plus $29 *a month* to create and host an author website? Oh, but a mere $90 to get into Google Booksearch and Amazon Search Inside (and another $90 for Barnes and Noble!). I guess that’s supported by the $8,399.00 it costs for the six week publicity package.

Crikey. If I had that kind of money to throw around, I wouldn’t need to sell any books.

Manna Francis said on...
11.17.09 at 06:16 AM
$342.00 for a 1700 word sample edit. $204 for US copyright registration. Dude.

Nice money if you can get it. Actually picking up any new authors is just going to be gravy on top.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Shout-Out To Lee Goldberg: Best!

Lee Goldberg has been admirably exposing the self-publishing racket for several years now. When somebody asks me about publishing a book him-or herself I e-mail them Lee's website url. He makes his case with facts and figures. They always dismiss my lack of enthusiasm for self-publishing as "snobbishness." One of them even had a friend call me to tell me how "happy she is" with her self-published book. So there.

Lee has probably covered this but since I ran across it in Laura Miller's column in Salon today I thought I'd share a bit of it with you. It seems that the National Book Awards not have a competitor--The National Best Book Awards for self-published books.

Laura Miller:

"Why bother to set up a Web site regurgitating cover art and promo copy that anybody can find on The answer, of course, lies in the National Best Books 2009 Awards, a contest that features no fewer than "150 active categories," including three subcategories of "Animals/Pets" and 13 subcategories of business books…By all indications…everyone who enters in any category winds up listed as a "finalist."

"Best of all, as USABN's Web site freely promises, "the National Best Books Awards are the ONLY Awards Program in the nation that offers direct coverage to the book buying public for every entry." Like the Special Olympics, this is a competition that everybody wins. If you enter the 2010 contest by the end of this year, they'll even throw in a "six-month full-color listing on," which is "valued at $1500.00!" despite the fact that none of the publishers whose books are listed there now seem to have paid for this service or even to be aware that it's been provided.

"Every winner and finalist -- i.e., everyone who enters -- can purchase gold medal-style stickers announcing the fact, which can then be slapped on the cover of the book, making it look deceptively similar to books that have won legitimate prizes like the Newbery Medal. The fee for all this is $69 (about what you'd pay to nominate your book for the National Book Awards or the Pulitzer), though you do have to pay it for each category you wish to enter…

"That's still not much cash to shell out for a bogus award that will impress those friends and relatives who haven't heard of the National Book Awards in the first place and will perhaps even (briefly) deceive the few who have."

Ed here: Apparently unemployment hasn't touched these folks yet.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Barb and Max Allan Collins; Zane Grey Theater

From Barb and Al Collins:

Book Signing: Mystery Cat Books, Cedar Rapids, IA, 2 - 4 pm

Barb and I are signing at Mystery Cat Books this Saturday. We’ll have both QUARRY IN THE MIDDLE and ANTIQUES FLEE MARKET available, and many rare out-of-print M.A.C. items will be on hand, as well. It’s possible Ed Gorman may drop by, which provides a sighting opportunity second only to Bigfoot and the Loch Ness Monster.

----------------------------------Dick Powell

Happy hoofer, hardboiled star, TV production magnate-I ran across this while looking for something else. Consider all the shows that came from this. I really do miss anthology series.

Dick Powell's Zane Grey Theater, sometimes simply called Zane Grey Theater, is a Western anthology series which ran on CBS from 1956-1961.

Zane Grey Theater was ground-breaking in that six episodes were developed into subsequent series: (1) Trackdown (from "Badge of Honor") starring Robert Culp as Texas Ranger Hoby Gilman, (2) Johnny Ringo (from "Man Alone"), starring Don Durant, both on CBS, (3) The Rifleman (from "The Sharpshooter") with Chuck Connors as Lucas McCain, and (4) Stagecoach West starring Wayne Rogers and Robert Bray[episode needed], both on ABC, and (5) The Westerner (from "Trouble at Tres Cruces"), starring Brian Keith as Dave Blassingame, and (6) Black Saddle (from "Threat of Violence" with Chris Alcaide instead of series star Peter Breck as Clay Culhane), both on NBC. In addition, Wanted: Dead or Alive, with Steve McQueen playing the bounty hunter Josh Randall, was a CBS spinoff of Trackdown, and Law of the Plainsman, starring Michael Ansara as a Harvard-educated, Native American U.S. Marshal was an NBC spin-off of The Rifleman.

Monday, November 16, 2009

City That Never Sleeps

Last night we watched a fierce little B+ movie called City That Never Sleeps (1953). This was one of the films Herbert Yates hoped would convince Hollywood and distributors alike that Republic Pictures could produce more than programmers. The days when Gene Autry and Roy Rogers brought in millions were over. TV now gave away cowboys and old serials free.

After it was over I went to IMDB to see what some others thought of it. Thirty-one people posted opinions and nearly all of them mentioned two things--how "odd" the movie was and how wrong Chill Wills was for it.

Gig Young plays Johnny Kelly, a Chicago street cop who is cheating on his wife with Mala Powers. Their plan is to run away together. But Johnny's father, a detective on the force, senses something wrong and pleads with him to talk about it. But Johnny won't. Johnny needs money. He hates being broke all the time and he also hates the fact that his wife Paula makes more money than he does. He goes to a crooked lawyer Biddell played by Edward Arnold. Arnold offers him five grand to interrupt a robbery that will take place later that night, a robbery done by one of his most trusted men, Stewart, the actor William Tallman. But there's something about the set-up Johnny doesn't like and he starts to walk. Then Biddell coyly mentions that Johnny's young brother will be in on the heist, too. If Johnny wants to protect him he'd better be there. Everything is now set in motion.

The screenplay is generally excellent but because it's by Steve Fisher (a writer I like) it has to have a few mandatory moments of treacle and at least one weird narrative trick. The trick here is having Chill Wills (who in God's name cast him?) do the voice over as the soul of the city or somesuch. We're panning parts of old Chicago and Wills is intoning all the pulp cliches about cities (Tonight there will be death in the streets and birth in the hospitals etc) and then--Wills shows up as Johnny's squad car partner for the night where he continues to pontificate, mostly about what swell guys cops are.

The direction by John H. Auer and the cinematography John L. Russell are excellent. This is a noir in the classical sense. Mala Powers is very good and William Tallman, a cunning and convincing actor who never got his due, makes a unsettling villain. When he goes crazy you buy every second of it.

As I watched it I thought about Gig Young. Just about everything I've read about him noted that beneath the droll charm there was great anger and bitterness. He lived in the bottle. But in this role he got to drop all the bullshit. Here he is much closer to the Gig Young his biographers portrayed--bitter, self-pitying, confused, afraid.

By movie's end I realized that even though he'd won the Academy Award (best supporting) for his his too-flamboyant depiction of the dance marathon conductor, he'd been miscast. He should have played the lead. I've always thought that They Shoot Horses, Don't They was a miserable film. Jane Fonda was too slick and showy, Michael Sarrazin dull and useless. Young could still have done it back then. He would have brought real neurotic depth to the driter who takes up with Gloria. His performance in City Never Sleeps show that.

A fine little movie. Not perfect but passionate and memorable.

And by the way there was another piece of miscasting. Instead of Bonnie Bedelia being fourth billed, she should have had Jane Fonda's part. Bpnnie Bedelia has been there.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

You can't go home again--thank God

For us Saturday nights are the dead zone for watching TV. We usually watch something On Demand because cable has zip. I was doing my usual psychotic channel surfing when I saw that Housewives of Orange County was on. I had to talk Carol into it but we watched.

No fun in it anymore. Though some it is probably producer-contrived, their meanness to each other manages to be savage and dull at the same time. You have one blonde whose obsession with money got old two years ago calling another dumb blonde a slut because she may or may not have slept around while her rich fiance was dying of cancer.

And Slade is back. I used to feel sorry for Slade when he was with his first babe. She was a ruthless silly hussy whom Slade seemed to genuinely love. Ah but Carol figured it out last night. She didn't hurt Slade's feelings. He put up with her just because he wanted to be on TV. Now that, as one of the dumb blondes noted last night put it so eloquently, Slade has "bagged" three of the Housewives is he looking for a fourth? Slade, wimpy as always and still painfully trying to be macho, is the male version of the Housewife.

The only one who seems genuinely happy is the dumb blonde whose fiance just died leaving her a pile of money, said money being discussed by the two bitchiest of the bitches.

The only one who remotely shows any humanity is the former Playboy Playmate who is now heavyset. I didn't used to like her because of her children who were the most spoiled kids I'd ever seen and/or heard of. But they're grown now and gone and something like wisdom has come to this woman. Her comments on how ugly the show has become and how they need to understand and forgive each other were lost on the others. Significantly, she's leaving the show.

We live in an era where many, many people will say or do anything to get on tv. Usually we associate this with so-called white trash or trailer trash. But listen these women are all jingled and jangled up with jewelry and endless wardrobe changes and stretch limos and shopping trips that are like military invasions. And they're every bit as trashy as anybody who's ever been on Jerry Springer.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Forgotten Books: A Memory of Murder

Ray Bradbury's first collection, published in 1947 by Arkham House, contained so many memorable and lasting stories it has become legendary. A single book by a young writer including true masterpieces such as "The Lake," "The Small Assassin," "The Homecoming," "Uncle Einar" and many, many more--just about unthinkable. A fair share of these stories were later included in The October Country, a collection that is for me the equal of The Martian Chronicles.

There's another collection that in the scheme of Bradbury's career is far less important but equally interesting. When Dell published A Memory of Murder we were given our first look at the crime and suspense stories Bradbury wrote for such pulps as Dime Mystery Magazine and New Detective Magazine. Most of the stories appeared between 1944 and 1946.

I've probably read this book four or five times over the years. It has the energy and inventiveness of all good pulp with the bonus of watching a young writer struggle to find the voice that is really his. In several of the stories we hear the voice that Bradbury will later perfect. He's often proclaimed his admiration of Cornell Woolrich and here we see the dark Woolrich influence, especially in the excellent "The Candy Skull" (Mexico has long fascinated Bradbury; here it's nightmare Mexico), "The Trunk Lady" and (what a title) "Corpse Carnival." One of Bradbury's most famous stories is here also, "The Small Assassin," written for a penny a word for Dime Mystery Magazine in 1946.

The most interesting story is "The Long Night." I remember the editor who bought it writing a piece years later about what a find it was. And it is. A story set in the Hispanic area of Los Angeles during the war, it deals with race and race riots, with the juvenile delinquency that was a major problem for this country in the war years (remember The Amboy Dukes?) and the the paternal bonds that teenage boys need and reject at the same time. A haunting, powerful story that hints at the greatness that was only a few years away from Bradbury.

What can I tell you? I love this book. At its least it's a pure pulp romp and at its best it's the master about to change science fiction forever. And making a memorable pass at making his mark on crime fiction as well.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Shtick With a Thousand Lives

I've been laughing at these two for fifty years

Shtick With a Thousand Lives

Published: November 12, 2009

MEL BROOKS and Carl Reiner have been cracking each other up for nearly 60 years. The two met while working on Sid Caesar’s early television series “Your Show of Shows,” when they cooked up a routine in which Mr. Reiner played an earnest, unnamed TV interviewer, and Mr. Brooks, the 2,000 Year Old Man.

In a Yiddish accent, the old guy held forth on the questionable wisdom of an absurdly long life, touching on topics including parenthood (“I have over 42,000 children — and not one comes to visit me”), Shakespeare (“He was a dreadful writer.” “Every letter was cockeyed, he had the worst penmanship I ever saw in my life!”) and the Black Plague (“Too many rats, not enough cats”).

The shtick yielded five comedy albums, television appearances with Ed Sullivan and Steve Allen and a 1975 animated television special, all of which are included in Shout! Factory’s remastered 50th anniversary four-disc reissue (three CDs and one DVD), “The 2000 Year Old Man: The Complete History,” in stores Nov. 24. Mr. Brooks and Mr. Reiner even won a Grammy in 1999 for the fifth album, “The 2000 Year Old Man in the Year 2000.” Their wry satire of pop culture influenced a generation of comedians while it helped make Jewish humor American humor. There are hints in the albums of their own later work, like Mr. Brooks’s bits on the Spanish Inquisition in his 1981 movie “History of the World: Part One.”

for the rest go here:

Thursday, November 12, 2009

The 25th Hour

My buddy Vince Keenan was nice enough to send me a link to the following Noah Forrest review of Spike Lee's The 25th Hour which was either (generally) panned or ignored. I've said before that few movies have ever moved me the way this one does. There is a long scene near the end when Edward Norton and his father are driving that gives me literal chills no matter how many times I see it. And Philip Seymour Hoffman is heartbreaking as only Hoffman can be. And sexy as Anna Paquin is in True Blood you see the real range of her talent here.

Noah Forrest:

"25th Hour is the most culturally relevant and important film of the past ten years; it floored me on a cerebral/emotional level as well as a cinematic one. Not only does this film tell us about where we are as a people post-9/11 -- and where we might go afterwards -- it also pulls us by our lapels and confronts us on a human level. It is a great story, told in the best possible way.

"Based on the film's synopsis, one wouldn’t expect a transcendent movie experience; it’s about Monty Brogan, a former drug dealer’s last day of freedom before he goes to prison for seven years. But the film is so much more than what the plot purports to be about. It’s about friendship: Monty’s relationship with his two best friends Jacob and Frank, one an introverted private school teacher and the other a typically high-strung and narcissistic Wall Street trader; it’s about love and trust: Monty’s relationship with his long-term girlfriend Naturelle, who may or may not have ratted him out to the cops; it’s about family: several moving scenes that Monty shares with his father James, a pub owner who traded in alcohol for club soda.


"The film wouldn’t be what it is without the performances, of course. Every part is played to perfection by a truly stunning ensemble cast that includes Barry Pepper, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Anna Paquin, Rosario Dawson and Brian Cox. Edward Norton, however, is the glue that holds it all together as Monty. Norton has the distinct honor of being in two films that are the best of their respective decades (this film and Fight Club for the '90s), but his performance in 25th Hour is not showy in any way. Most of the film he’s reactive to the larger than life personalities around him, but he’s active when it counts in certain moments. "

Be sure to read the entire review.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Forgotten Books: Loser Takes All

I mean no disrespect when I say that I imagine Graham Greene conceived of Loser Takes All (one of his self-described "entertainments") as a film before he decided to write it as a short novella. It's big and colorful and hangs on two cunning twists that neatly divide the piece into curtain act one and curtain act two.

The story concerns the honeymoon of Mr. Bertram and his bethrothed Cary. They are planning to go on a modest short vacation when fate, in the the person of Dreuther, an incalculably rich man for whom Bertram is a lowly assistant accountant, intervenes. Bertram solves an accounting problem that nobody else in the incalculably vast corporation can figure out so Dreuther rewards him with the promise of a honeymoon on his yacht and nights of glamor in the casinos of Monte Carlo... Cary is thrilled.

Well, they go to Monte Carlo but soon learn that Dreuther has forgotten his promise. They are left to make do with their pitiful finances. They can't even pay their bills. Then Bertram, a math whiz, goes to a casino and tries out his own system for winning. And even more than that he begins to see how he can bring down Dreuther...

The rich men of the Fifties are perfect matches for the Wall Streeters of today. Their greed and lust is literally without bounds. Greene creates four distinctive scenes of black comedy when dealing with them. But even more, at the point when Cary sees her new husband change because of his winnings, Greene begins to examine the morality of greed. He also, in the midst of the action, gives us a painful subplot about adultery.

I was re-reading William Goldman's Adventure's In The Screen Trade the other and found this salute that I'd forgotten: "I think Graham Greene was the greatest novelist in English this century."

If you read Loser Takes All, you'll begin to see what Goldman was talking about.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009


One of the real pleasures of my teenage years was reading the space operas of John Brunner, which mostly appeared in Ace Double Book form, sometimes taking up both sides.

Except for Leigh Brackett and some of Edmond Hamilton, I couldn't handle most space opera after I reached about age fifteen. But Brunner was both a superb writer of swift colorful action stories and a true citizen of the world, this last lending his tales a real sense of history which he projected into the future.

His characters were never standard pulp issue, either. They usually had problems unrelated to the plot some of which, realistically, were never resolved even as the curtain fell. He also had a somewhat baroque sense of humor. I recall one of his Ace novels opening with a parody of a very sophisticated party. I appreciated it even more when I saw the same thing a few years later in the then-shocking movie "Darling." Brunner had tucked his swipe at pre-Euro-trash into space opera. He got an early start on his action tales, selling his first novel at 17 as by Gil Hunt.

This was all in the Sixties. Came the Seventies and Brunner received the Hugo award, the British Science Fiction award and the French Prix Apollo. You don't get those babies writing space opera. From the Daily Telegraph, UK: "The Squares of the City (1965) was a study in mathematical psychology in which two ruthless politicians manipulate people in a real-life chess match. Brunner's more pessimistic stories included The Sheep Look Up (1972), a depressing look forward to the horrors of pollution; and The Shockwave Rider (1975), in which computers spread viruses and other evils. In this he was to prove wrong those experts who at the time dismissed the possibility of electronic viruses." These are his acknowledged masterpieces.
There were few science fiction writers as popular or influential as Brunner during the Seventies, especially after the appearance of The Shockwave Rider. He'd gone rather quickly from competent paperback man to bestselling genre master with a worldwide following.

What happened next has never been clear to me. Though I've heard various explanations, the one given most often is that he put several years research and writing into a historical novel called The Great Steamboat Race and that it flopped badly, shaking the confidence of author and publisher alike.

Something sure happened because when you look at the books he wrote in the Eighties, you see a writer essentially reverting to the work of his early days. Not outright space opera but definitely work far less ambitious than the novels that brought him awards and acclaim. His health got bad. His wife died. I'm told that at one convention he announced from the dais that he needed work and to please put him on their list. Any writer who pitches himself like that may get a contract but he sure isn't going to get much money.

He died at a convention, too. Heart attack.

As much as some readers admire The Traveler in Black (as it is a masterpiece of fantasy) , I think the better seldom-mentioned Brunner book is The Whole Man. Brunner creates not only a bleak future society unlike any I've ever encountered in sf but he also gives us a mutant-freak as a protagonist, a bitter, angry confused man who defies all the conventions of the form. A number of writers tried something like this previously--notably A.E. Van Vogt with Slan--but nobody brought the passion or dystopic poetry Brunner did to the theme.

Six months or so before his death I wrote a long retro review of The Whole Man for a sf magazine and sent a copy to Bluejay editor Jim Frenkel who was then republishing a few Brunner titles. He sent it on to Brunner and told me that Brunner was greatly pleased with it. I'm glad he got to see it. He deserved a lot more praise than my little review could have given him.

Monday, November 09, 2009

Pariah; Bored To Death; Internet

I can't remember if I read Dave Zeltserman's Pariah in manuscript or got an early galley but as soon as I finished it I felt protective of it. I knew there would be some people who just wouldn't get it. Because if there are 143 rules about writing crime fiction Dave managed to break 156 of them. Believe me you have never NEVER read a novel like this one. A major major novel. Yesterday The Washington Post ran a long exuberant review of it.

By Maureen Corrigan
Monday, November 9, 2009

By Dave Zeltserman

Serpent's Tail. 280 pp. Paperback, $14.95

What a sick puppy of a writer Dave Zeltserman is! I didn't think a suspense story could get any more dark and twisted than Zeltserman's pulp masterpiece of last year, "Small Crimes." In that nasty little immorality tale, a crooked ex-cop bent on redemption gets released from prison and finds out that nobody -- not his ex-wife, not his young daughters, not even his elderly parents -- wants him back. The kicker is that they're right. By the end of "Small Crimes," I was wrung out thanks to the ingeniousness of Zeltserman's nonstop plot twists and the stark meanness of his universe. Now comes "Pariah," a doozy of a doom-laden crime story that not only makes merry with the justice system, but also satirizes those bottom feeders in the publishing industry who would sign Osama bin Laden to a six-figure contract for his memoirs, if only they could figure out which cave to send their lawyers into. If there's any other young writer out there who does crime noir better than Zeltserman, I don't even want to know. As it is, I can barely handle reading him without altogether losing whatever faith I've got left in humanity.

The antihero of this latest excursion into the underside is Kyle Nevin, a former heavyweight in the South Boston Irish mob. Eight years earlier, Kyle was set up by his former boss, Red Mahoney, to be murdered during a big bank heist; but fate smiled on Kyle, and another guy took the fatal bullet instead. Now, just released from eight years in the slammer, Kyle is out for revenge, sniffing out Mahoney the way a half-starved bloodhound would catch the scent of an underdone Big Mac. As is required in any work of crime noir worth its grit, we readers see the world through Kyle's bloodshot eyes. And here lies Zeltserman's particular brilliance: As a murderous sociopath, Kyle, like his predecessors in the Zeltserman lineup, is so boisterous in his self-justifications (for everything from breaking the little finger of a litterbug to kidnapping a sickly child to burning alive a close relative in his bed) that a reader can't help but laugh at the fervent illogic of it all.

for the rest go here:

--------------------BORED TO DEATH

Maybe the best episode of all last night when all three principals box three of their enemies. Well, two of their enemies, since the one fighting our cartoonist keeps apologizing for fighting him and telling him how much he admires his work.

Shout out to Patti Abbott: I thought the performance of the was rendered by none other than Ted Danson. We finally got the backstory that made him real (at least to me) and he was certainly up to it.

A real treat.

-------------------THE INTERNET IS KILLING STORYTELLING (Thanks to Mark Johnson for the link)
from the Times Online

Narratives are a staple of every culture the world over. They are disappearing in an online blizzard of tiny bytes of information
Ben Macintyre

Click, tweet, e-mail, twitter, skim, browse, scan, blog, text: the jargon of the digital age describes how we now read, reflecting the way that the very act of reading, and the nature of literacy itself, is changing.

The information we consume online comes ever faster, punchier and more fleetingly. Our attention rests only briefly on the internet page before moving incontinently on to the next electronic canapé.

Addicted to the BlackBerry, hectored and heckled by the next blog alert, web link or text message, we are in state of Continual Partial Attention, too bombarded by snippets and gobbets of information to focus on anything for very long. Microsoft researchers have found that someone distracted by an e-mail message alert takes an average of 24 minutes to return to the same level of concentration.

The internet has evolved a new species of magpie reader, gathering bright little buttons of knowledge, before hopping on to the next shiny thing.

for the rest go here:

Sunday, November 08, 2009

Margaret Millar

I reread How Like An Angel the last two nights so thought I'd reprint this.

I've spoken here many times of my admiration for the novels of Margaret Millar. Her fate seems to be that of great praise but not many readers. She won an Edgar, she was frequently judged to be as good a writer as her husband Ken Millar (Ross Macdonald), and her books are dazzlers both as stories and exemplars of witty and sometimes mordant style.

I also once said that there are writers too good for the masses and I sometimes wonder if Millar isn't one of them. She makes few concessions to the commercial mystery. Her people are very much her own. In this regard she reminds me of someone I'm sure she read early in her career, Elizabeth Sanxay Holding. Her characters are unique to genre fiction, drawn from life rather than books. And I'm pretty sure this is off-putting to readers who want the familiar types we find in so much commercial fiction.

I'm saying all this because I've just finished reading the Spring 2007 issue of Clues, which is mostly devoted to Millar. Editor Dean James has put together the most interesting, enlightening and memorable work I've ever seen about her. Tom Nolan, who wrote the outstanding biography of Ross Macdonald a few years back, takes us here into the hearts and lives of two writers who are not only husband and wife but (as a Millar quote gently suggests) competitors. A fine fine piece.

Ana Patricia Rodriguez, on the other hand, gives us a polemic on Millar's view of Mexicans and Mexico as found in her Tom Aragon novels and in the standalone BEYOND THIS POINT ARE MONSTERS. Rodriguez is indisputably correct. Millar's writing reflected the opinions of many white, middle-class (or upper-middle-class) Californians. Their misgivings about the immigrants weren't expressed in any "common" vulgar way but you do see in Millar's writing the disdain she and her crowd felt for them.

The essay by Kelly C. Connelly compares the psychologoy in Dorothy Sayers to the psychology of Millar. And Dean James tells us which Millar books are in print.

Robert Barnard takes a sage look at Millar's final novels, among them the sinfully overlooked THE MURDER OF MIRANDA. For one thing, the sections dealing with the poisoned pen writer at the country club are among the most savagely bitchy (and hilarious) moments in all of Millar's writing. And for another, I've rarely seen a more moving portrait of a beautiful woman who is losing the one thing she's depended on all her life--her looks, The twins here are out of the black humor of Terry Southern. Barnard's as good a critic as he is a novelist and short story writer. I put him at the top in all three categories.

There's also a Caren J. Town piece on the racism and sexism that Deborah Knott must face in the excellent novels by Margaret Maron. "The Same old Same old" says it all.

Update--so why aren't you on the net ordering yourself some Millars right now?

Saturday, November 07, 2009

Top Ten; Punisher

Well, I got four off-line letters today about the Publisher's Weekly Top Ten post of late night. So to make myself perfectly clear:

1) I don't think there was any kind of conspiracy in voting the list. The jury (and there may well have been a woman or women on it) voted their honest beliefs. I doubt sexism had anything to do with it.

2) As I said, choose another jury at random and you'd have a different list, maybe a very different list. We're talking random variables here. This is a completely subjective process.

3) I love getting awards. And it's nice to see friends get them. They are definitely legitimate signs of recognition as long as you admit that there are plenty of other deserving books that got lost in the shuffle.

4) When I see winners at the Academy Awards say that every one on the list was equally as good, I believe them. I mentioned losing by one vote. Well, when I read the winning book I looked at it this way: I felt mine was better written and was more realistic but I had to given the other book its freshness and swagger. If I'd been on the jury I'd probably have voted for the other book.

5) I'm not going to name a genre here but there's one that's absolutely obsessed with awards. I quit because of it. I think the mystery field treats the subject just about right--serious interest but no obsession.

---------------------------------THE PUNISHER

This afternoon I bought and read the Max comic book issue of the The Punisher to check out two of my friends who had stories in it. Tom Picciirilli and Duane Swiercyznski had, for my taste, the best of the issue. Tom's got bit of theater business in the pay-off that is stunning.

Charlie Huston, Greg Hurwitz and Spike Milligan are also in the issue with good stories.

And stunning illustrations throughout.

Friday, November 06, 2009

No women?

From Galleycat:

By Jason Boog on Nov 06, 2009 09:23 AM

When Publishers Weekly released a series of Best Books of 2009 lists this week, the "Top Ten" list did not include any books by women authors. GalleyCat wrote about the ensuing controversy on Wednesday, as the founders of Women In Letters And Literary Arts (WILLA) passionately rejected the list.

The story generated a stream of Twitter posts and plenty of literary debate. Since that story, a number of other news outlets reported on the story, including the Guardian, NY Times, Salon, and Publishers Weekly.

Ed here:

You know, it's entirely possible that the group voting on the Top Ten best books arrived at their decision honestly. Truly felt that these were the most deserving choices. Of course then you have to look at the composition of the group itself. All lists, awards, kudos, plaques are the result of completely subjective judgements.

The problem here is the kind of importance we vest in top ten lists of any kind except sales. My top ten'll probably be a lot different from yours and yours'll be a lot different from the guy next door's. I mean they're fun to read, top ten lists are, but in the long run who gives a rat's ass? They're most useful to individual winners for promotion--and that's a fair use--but beyond that, not much.

Look at awards.

Look at all the enduring movies that didn't even get an Academy Award nomination. Look at all the enduring novels The National Book Awards seem never to have heard of. The Grammy Awards have long been a joke. Even the lauded Rock and Roll Hall of Fame is a commingling of favors and foolishness.

I've won a fair share of awards and lost many, many more. The only time losing bothered me was when a friend told me that I'd lost by one vote and that the vote had been his. I didn't care about so much about losing--in fact the book I lost to was better than mine--but I wish he'd hadn't given me the background.

Awards come, awards go. Every once in awhile they're even deserved. I like to win awards and so do you. But sometimes we lose all perspective about them. And the same with Top Ten lists.

All this said, I have to find it strange that with so many female writers at the peak of their game that all the slots went to men. Not even one woman?

Thursday, November 05, 2009

Brendan DuBois on John D. MacDonald

A Different Take on John D. MacDonald


Brendan DuBois

The postings and writings about John D. MacDonald on Ed Gorman’s blog got me thinking about my own memories of this famed grandmaster.

One of the most embarrassing details about me being a mystery author is just how ill-informed I am about the field, especially when I first started out. I sold my first short story to Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine back in 1985 and knew nothing --- zip, zero, nada --- about mystery fiction. So I immediately began a crash course in reading the greats in the field.

At the time, I recalled seeing John D. MacDonald’s works in the bookstore, library, and listed on the New York Times’ bestseller list, so along with Robert B. Parker and Ed McBain, that’s where I started. The first John D. MacDonald book I read was one in the Travis McGee series, “The Green Ripper.” All right, it was number 18 in the series, but being the callow youth at the time --- I’m still callow but no longer youthful --- I remember it had a great cover, showing a man in monk robes, with an Uzi submachine gun slung over his shoulder.

I read the book in less than two days, loved the rip-roaring action and skilled writing, and noticed the listing for the other Travis McGee series. Thanks to a well-stocked town library, began reading the books in order, starting, of course, with “The Deep Blue Goodbye.” My, that was a fun couple of years, devouring all the Travis McGee books, as well as a number of his stand-alone thrillers, and his two collections of mystery short fiction.

One of my goals starting out was to meet this master in person, but this was never to happen. As a relatively new member of the Mystery Writers of America, I saw in the MWA newsletter one day in 1986 that he was ill and was a patient at a hospital in Milwaukee. I sent him a get well card, and learned a bit later that he died there on December 28, 1986.

A few years later, in the early 1990’s, I found myself in Florida with my wife Mona, near Ft. Lauderdale, and there was no question in my mind: we had to make a pilgrimage to the Bahia Mar marina and the famous slip F-18, where the “Busted Flush” had been moored for so many books.

Now, this was before the age of the Internet and Google, so I had no idea of what to expect… and I have to admit, as I drove into this area of Ft. Lauderdale, I was disappointed. It was so built up with condos, restaurants, high rises… and the traffic! I recall reading in some of the McGee books of how he would amble back from the beach to the “Busted Flush,” but based what I saw, poor old Travis would have had to used his football skills to race across all those busy lanes of traffic without getting run down.

Still, even with the built-up nature of Ft. Lauderdale, I did get a thrill of excitement when I saw the sign for Bahia Mar. After navigating past a grumpy traffic guard who didn’t know anything about John D. MacDonald or Travis McGee, we parked our rental car and walked into the marina store, which carried boat supplies, ropes, anchors and outdoor clothing. There, we met an older gentleman --- and damn me for not remembering his name --- who was proud of the marina’s connection with John D. MacDonald. He showed me a glass bookcase that had some of the McGee novels, some fanzines about John D. MacDonald, and a small framed painting of what the “Busted Flush” ---- McGee’s houseboat --- actually looked like. And no doubt seeing my fanboy reaction, he gave me a small print of the painting, which is one of my prized possessions.

Then we went out to the slips, and found a plaque commemorating slip F-18, which, alas, doesn’t actually exist due to their numbering technique. Still, there it was, and we took lots of photos, and before we left, I bought a Bahia Mar cap.

Later that year, no doubt partially inspired by this visit, I began writing my first detective novel --- “Dead Sand” --- and in doing so, I paid a slight homage to John D. MacDonald by ensuring all of my detective novels have a beach theme to the title, since they all take place in and around the tiny New Hampshire seacoast: Dead Sand, Black Tide, Shattered Shell, Killer Waves, Buried Dreams, Primary Storm, and the novel I’m currently working on, Barren Cove. Like the color scheme in MacDonald’s own works, I wanted to differentiate my detective novels from my stand-alone thrillers, such as “Resurrection Day” and “Twilight.”

And in another little homage, in the author’s photo published in Dead Sand and Black Tide, I’m wearing my Bahia Mar cap.

Alas, though, times and reading habits change. John D. MacDonald, who was such a publishing force in the 1970’s and 1980’s, is mostly forgotten now. I still have my collection of MacDonald novels, and still have my Bahia Mar cap. And a few years ago, once again, I found myself in Ft. Lauderdale, and I made my way back to Bahia Mar.

It was all different. The Bahia Mar marina was no longer a marina; it was a “yachting center.” The original marina store --- with its boating supplies, clothing and other goods --- was gone. In its place was a high-end gift shop, selling pricey gear with a generic Bahia Mar logo on it. Nobody in the shop had heard of John D. MacDonald, and the glass bookcase with the prized MacDonald books and artifacts was gone as well.

And in a few minutes, disappointed, so was I.

# # #

Wednesday, November 04, 2009

The end of the world as we know it?

The recent trend among superstores to sell hardcover bestsellers for under nine dollars has generally been regarded as bad news for non-bestselling writers. If you can get a massive King for nine bucks why pay $23 for a Gorman? I wouldn't.

But on The Today Show John Grisham, whom I've always considered a very erudite and classy guy, went even further, talking about how he wouldn't be hurt but hundreds of other writers would. He said there were other threats beyond the nine dollar books.

(This is from Galleycat) "And the price war is not the only challenge the publishing industry faces nowadays. E-books sold for the Amazon Kindle and the Sony Reader have eaten into profits of publishers and booksellers — and Grisham says the future looks bleak.

Regarding reading books electronically, he told (Matt) Lauer: “If half of us are going to be doing it, then you’re going to wipe out tons of bookstores and publishers and we’re going to buy it all online.

“I’m probably going to be all right — but the aspiring writers are going to have a very hard time getting published,” he added.

Ed here: As I've said to a couple of writers who came along when I did: Who knew the eighties and up to the mid nineties were the golden age for writers like us?

Tuesday, November 03, 2009

Forgotten Books: Danse Macbre

Danse Macbre by Stephen King

Forgotten? Nothing by Stephen King is forgotten. I imagine that virtually if not literally everything he's published is in print. That said, even some readers of his horror novels may have passed this one by. Not everybody is inclined to read a long overview of the horror field but they should because this is one of the most articulate, occasionally eloquent overviews of an entire genre I've ever read. And lest you think it might be a bit on the dry side, it's a hell of a lot of fun and far more revealing about the Stephen King of the early 80s than most of the interviews he gave back then.

What gives the book its gravitas is the fact that in discussing horror as an expression of the human condition, King demonstrates how dark fiction and dark movies fit into the sociology of various eras. One of his most interesting points, early on, is how fiction is fed by fact. He talks about the assassination of John Kennedy, how horror brought us together. "That moment of knowledge and three day spasm of stunned grief which followed it is perhaps the closest any people in history has ever come to a total period of mass consciousness and mass empathy and--in retrospect--mass memory." Where were you when JFK was killed? Most of us of a certain age can tell you exactly.

Kennedy's murder inspired a sub-category of horror, I think, the paranoid thriller. My favorites here would be John Huston's almost viciously disdained Winter Kills and (surprise) Larry Cohen's Best Seller, Winter Kills because of its vast conspiracy, Best Seller because its smaller but more cunning conspiracy. But horror fiction of all kinds was effected by Kennedy's murder because we as a people underwent a transformation that remains with us today. The cynicism, the anger, the madness that came from that day in Dallas could be felt in all popular art but most especially in what was being done with horror, mostly notably in Europe.

This is only one example in a book filled with commentary on just about every aspect of our lives and how it touches on the creation of horror fiction. King is riffing here like a great jazz musician, telling stories about his drive-in movie days on the one hand, referencing Thornton Wilder on the other. There are long looks at movies, at fiction, at publishing, at movie making, at the usefulness of crowds to distinguish between a critics' darling and something worth seeing. He plays the whole orchestra here.

I didn't really understand this book the first two times I read it back in the eighties and nineties. But this time I saw it for what it is. Ostensibly it's about horror but not really. It's about a couple of different eras and a couple of different generations and what happened in those times and to those people. There's no equivalent now for the many teenage delights King talks about. We're in a rougher age. Nor are many of the writers he recommends read much any more. They don't fit in with Twitter or even e-mail. And I'm not sure that a gentle soul like Fritz Leiber would have much time for reality TV--though he'd likely write a hilariously poisonous story about it.

But that's the beauty of this book and it is a beautiful book. It's a true honest generally unsentimental piece of Americana and a savvy look at how pop culture intersects with everyday life.

Monday, November 02, 2009

Bored To Death

As a few of you may remember, I quit watching Bored To Death after the first episode. Just couldn't get into it. Last night because I couldn't find anything else I tried it again. Carol came in and sat down when she heard me laughing. I really enjoyed the first part of the The Case of The Missing Semen. Next week part two. Zach Galifianakis is still for me the best part of the show. I knew ten of him in college and they were just as much pained and painful fun as he is. He's the Puck of existentialists. Jonathan Ames is serviceable but I think I'm maybe too old and weary to be much interested in naifs. The trouble is still Ted Danson who seems to have no idea what his character is about. He tries to cover this fact with all his usual studied Ted Danson bits of business but we're dealing with an empty vessel. Oliver Platt nailed his man in one asshole line. (And the idea of Jonathan getting to box the critic who ripped up his novel--a writer's most sacred dream!) The interviews with all the lesbian couples was really a hoot and it was fun to see Samantha Bee outside Jon Stewart's show. Instead of being punished for my for being so hasty in dismissing it, the gods are rewarding me--now I can go on On Demand and watch all the episodes I've missed.

Sunday, November 01, 2009

Team Jordan

I've written before about my friend Jim Rigney better known as the international bestselling fantasy writer Robert Jordan and his great epic The Wheel of Time. Jim was not only one of the most important writers of our time, he was a warm, funny, brilliant friend. On the Tor website I found a fascinating video with Jim's team who worked with him during his life and have carried on afterward. Jim's wonderful widow and editor Harriet McDougal also talks about how she decided that writer Brian Sanderson was the man to finish the saga. For those of you unfamiliar with The Wheel of Time, this is an inside look at how at Jim wrote one of the finest epics of all time.