Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Richard Wheeler; Gorman


Terrill Lankford's guest piece is filled with truth, graciously stated, and I find myself admiring him enormously. I too had noted that the WSJ story didn't really come to grips with the way established authors are being ratcheted out of business by chain buyers who order only the net sale number of the author's previous book. In fact, I thought the WSJ reporter just didn't get it. I am glad you are offering a forum to a person as gifted and truth-seeking as Terrill.

Richard Wheeler


From Ed

Every once in a while I read a short story that seems to me just about perfect in every respect--character, plot, atmosphere and some combination of the three that will keep it in memory for years to come.

Ian Rankin certainly doesn't need any more publicity or praise but in the case of "The Hanged Man," he certainly deserves it. A contract killer is hired to off a fortune teller/astrologer. But her personality is such that he gets drawn into a mysterious psychological game she's playing in her shabby little room with all the proper psychic-scam props. Not wanting to tip the author's hand, let me simply say that he builds suspense to a nail-biting degree and then slapsy ou across the face with a truly shocking ending.

I've now read the story three times and let me tell you that there were so many ways he could've tripped over his own cunning I'm awestruck that he stage-managed every single element of this tale flawlessly. A masterpiece.

In case you don't know why Rankin is now a world-wide bestseller, look for this story in the forthcoming A New Omnibus of Crime edited by Tony Hillerman and Rosemary Herbert. It's probably been reprinted in other antholgies as well since it's first appearance.

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Welcome back Jon Breen and Terrill Lankford

From Terrill Lankford--

Many months ago, on another incarnation of Ed's blog, I went on a rant about how the strange buying practices of the chains was leading to an even stranger practice of an ever-growing number of writers adopting pseudonyms to trick the computers/buyers at the chains into ordering their books with fresh eyes and not slashing pre-orders of new books to match the actual net sales of the author's last book. I have a feeling this piece was read by more people than all my books combined. It was copied and quoted all through blog-dom (and yes, I know a couple of you jokers out there had your way with me behind my back - Cowards! Meet me in the square come midnight! And bring your dying clothes!)

Ahem... where was I? Oh yes. Not long after this blog ran, I had a series of long conversations with Jeffrey Trachtenberg, who was preparing an article about this very subject for the front page of the Wall Street Journal. Mr. Trachtenberg's article ran many months later, on Nov. 8, under the title: "Authors adopt aliases after their books flop" (Hey, Jeff, tell me next time if you're going to use a title like that!). The article was shorter than I thought it would be and it didn't focus on what I think the main reason is that this practice is becoming so popular: the ordering habits of the chains. That said, it was still an insightful piece and I stand by my contribution to the article. But since only a small quote of mine was used, and, by the very nature of this kind of article, it was taken out of full context, there is something I want to clear up in case I hurt any feelings out there. The quote Mr. Trachtenberg used was:

Mr. Lankford says switching monikers is unethical. "If somebody didn't like my book under my own name it would be wrong to sell another book to that person under a different name," he says. "Just to defeat the computers at Barnes & Noble and Borders isn't a good reason for doing this."

Once again, this article was quoted and linked all through Blogville. Debates broke out. Houses were burned. Fruit carts were overturned. And I got nailed in a few blogs for my scandalous attitude. How dare I claim that using a pseudonym is unethical! I didn't respond anywhere because I've been healing up from my latest car accident (a jackknifing 18 wheeler hit me this time. I hate when that happens) and I've been a bit blogophobic of late. (I've been noticing a lot of the dark side taking over out there.)

The thing I want to clarify is that I find NOTHING unethical about using pseudonyms - in most cases. Many people have adopted them for many reasons. Whether it be because a writer was so prolific that he/she didn't want to flood the market with his/her name (we can't have every third book in the stores sporting the name "James Reasoner" on the spine) or because they were changing genres and didn't want to confuse fans who would follow them into places those fans might not want to go or just the simple desire to protect their private life. The names writers put on their books, like everything else about their work, SHOULD be THEIR own decision (but we all know that this is often not the case). And all who go this route have their own reasons for making this decision. The ethical problem I faced - and I am only speaking for myself here - is the idea that I might adopt a pseudonym in a shallow attempt to confuse the chains, which, in turn, becomes an act of deception that is passed on to the readers. After looking at it from as many angles as I could, I just concluded it was wrong - for me. Many other writers have taken the opposite attitude and more power to them. It's a tough business - and getting tougher every day. If they feel this is the best way to stay in the game, so be it. For some, it will work. For others it has led to a series of two book deals, history repeating itself over and over again. And maybe that's enough. They are still getting published (some of them, at least). Maybe the idea of developing a brand name will soon be a thing of the past in publishing except for the lucky few who break big with their first or second books.

The most insulting thing about this practice is that it smacks of the quick-fix. The easy play. The kind of move that executives dream up over martinis and then slap each other on the back like they are geniuses. I've heard the same story being told by so many writers, about how their editors or agents have come up with this brilliant idea to beat the computers, that it almost feels like it's a fad. The long term ramifications of the practice are not being considered (and no, I'm not going to go through all that again). And by buying into the practice we don't address the real problem at hand, the "logic" behind the math that is eroding the business as a fertile ground for developing writers.

The bottom line is this: I hope I did not offend any of the thousands of writers out there who have adopted pseudonyms - for whatever reason - to bring their work to the public. I'm very aware that whatever led to your decision to take this course of action is your own business and none of mine. I was speaking only for myself and my own personal feelings about my decision to stick with my own name - no matter how much it costs me! Please accept my apology if that wasn't clear in the article.


Mike Connelly recently signed THE LINCOLN LAWYER at my favorite bookstore, MYSTERIES TO DIE FOR, in Thousand Oaks (my girlfriend is a co-owner, so I'm contractually obligated to call it my favorite bookstore). A few days after the signing a very nice lady e-mailed me and said she saw me in the crowd and wondered if I would speak at the Burbank Library some time before the end of the year. I said I would be glad to do so (pain pills at work), and now the day is upon us. It's this Wednesday, Nov. 30 at 7:00 PM. I'm fairly certain this will be my last public appearance for quite some time, so if any of you live near Burbank, please drop in and say hello (and/or goodbye). Books will be for sale, but there will also be a lot of giveaways, so I'll try to make it worth your time. And they are promising us all free coffee. This will be just like an AA meeting, but shorter. The place:

Burbank Central Library
110 N. Glenoaks Blvd.
For more information call: 818-238-5600

Hope to see you there.

And if not, see you some time next year!

And be careful out there!


Steamed again? Meet me behind the barn at: lankford2000@earthlink,net
From Jon Breen

A couple of film notes (one current, one retro):

1) The movie version of Scott Phillips's novel THE ICE HARVEST is a dandy, recommended to anybody who likes very dark comedy and doesn't mind a little blood. Billy Bob Thornton is establishing a niche for himself as a specialist in cynical Christmas movies--but this one makes BAD SANTA look like GOING MY WAY. Ordinarily I would predict an Edgar for a movie this good, but I think this year's will go to CAPOTE, which is notable for much more than just Philip Seymour Hoffman's remarkable impersonation. If it wins the Edgar, it will be the first film about the writing of an Edgar-winning book to win an Edgar. (In fact, it's probably the first movie about the writing of an Edgar-winning book period.)

2) Rita and I have been revisiting the old Perry Mason movies from the '30s, taped off air from TCM some years ago. We have all but the first one, THE CASE OF THE HOWLING DOG (1934), which Leonard Maltin finds the least interesting. (Mike Nevins disagrees, and I'd be inclined to believe Mike.) Though Warren William, who played the role four times, was a much more formidable actor than either Ricardo Cortez or Donald Woods, who each played it once, the latter two made better Masons simply because they were closer to the character in the books. And I believe Ann Dvorak, who plays Della Street in THE CASE OF THE STUTTERING BISHOP (1937) opposite Woods, was the all-time best Della, even edging out TV's Barbara Hale. (The worst was Genevieve Tobin in THE CASE OF THE LUCKY LEGS (1935) with William--she was a fine actress, but the director obviously told her to try to play it like Joan Blondell, and the result is just too cutesy for words.) By the way, STUTTERING BISHOP was the only Mason film not to play Paul Drake as a silly comic relief. Obviously, the Mason TV version was better, but the old films are fun to watch. Best one may be THE CASE OF THE CURIOUS BRIDE (1935), which has one version of William's eccentric Mason, a good Della in Claire Dodd, an attractive client in Margaret Lindsay (owner of one of the best female speaking voices in film), Michael Curtiz as director, Errol Flynn as murder victim, and that great '30s chanteuse Winifred Shaw belting out a song called (believe it or not) "A Dark and Stormy Night."

Monday, November 28, 2005


One of my favorite people and favorite writers Sandra Scoppettone blogged recently about the prospect of an older writer working with a much younger editor. She notes that this isn't necessarily a difficulty though the potential is there. At 64 (tomorrow) I find that all of my editors are much younger than I am. Oddly, I've found more difficulties working with Hwood Twenty-somethings than their NYC counterparts. I suppose that's because I make literary as well as filmic references when I use examples. I lose them with the literary references. And it's not because I use obscure ones, either. A friend of mine, for instance, mentioned Elmore Leonard and drew a blank in response. I don't know if this is true but I remember a piece in an LA magazine saying that young people industry out there know much more about TV than they do books. That would explain it, though it strikes me as a pretty big generalization.

Greg Shepard of Stark House Publishing sent me this--things are booming there:

Other news: got another starred review in Booklist for Rabe's Blood on the Desert! An article will appear in the Dec 11th NY Times on Benjamin Appel. Should have review copies of the Stephen Marlowe book next week. And that Mystery Scene interview will run in the Holiday Issue. It all seems to be happening for Stark House at once.
Richard Wheeler sent this along:

Once in Fashion, the Brown Derby Became Old Hat

Only the stories of film legends remain as the last of the restaurant's four former locations faces the wrecking ball.

By Cecilia Rasmussen


November 27, 2005

In its 50-year heyday, the Brown Derby was where Hollywood hung its hat. The all-night eatery was as sublime as the top-grade, top-dollar caviar it spooned out, and as proudly low-brow as its buck-a-burger.

The first of four Brown Derbys opened on Wilshire Boulevard in 1926, across from the Ambassador Hotel. It was the only Derby shaped like a hat. During the 1920s, '30s and '40s, more Derbys opened, all serving as clubs for the Hollywood elite.

Legends revolved around Derby spots where Spencer Tracy, Ralph Bellamy and Pat O'Brien tippled into the wee hours.

The Derby was where Clark Gable proposed to Carole Lombard. Lucille Ball and Jack Benny lunched on Cobb salads, invented on the premises and named for the owner, Robert Cobb.

Cobb catered to the strange tastes of celebrity clients, concocting a grapefruit cake for dieting gossip columnist Louella Parsons and crafting a wedding cake of shortbread and caviar for Harpo Marx.

The second Brown Derby opened at Hollywood and Vine on Valentine's Day in 1929, drawing stars whose caricatures would line the walls.

Two years later, the third Brown Derby opened at Wilshire Boulevard and Rodeo Drive in Beverly Hills. The fourth and last opened in Los Feliz in 1941.

The fourth Brown Derby is the last to remain standing, but it too is slated for the wrecking ball unless preservationists can save it. Its Brown Derby days ended around 1960; it has more recently operated as a nightclub and restaurant.

Its domed roof and lamella ceiling survived various remodelings. The ornate, oval bar, though not original to the building, was immortalized in the 1945 film "Mildred Pierce," in which Oscar-winning actress Joan Crawford recited the line: "Why should people come to eat and go someplace else to drink?" This Derby also portrayed the exterior of Arnold's Drive-In for the 1970s television series "Happy Days."

It opened in a building rented from director-producer Cecil B. DeMille, who had built it as a theater. When talkies came in, the theater became obsolete before it ever opened.

You'll find the rest in the LA Times of yesterday

Sunday, November 27, 2005

Max Allan Collins (no post last night; keyboard fritzed

Muscatine’s Max Allan Collins concludes ‘Perdition’ trilogy
By David Burke | QUAD-CITY TIMES

MUSCATINE, Iowa — Through the years, Max Allan Collins has learned to be cautious.

Too many times the Muscatine author-filmmaker has been told a project based on one of his works was going to take off to higher planes. One shining example, he said, was a movie version of his “Ms. Tree” novels, with Raquel Welch in the title role, which was canceled the day before it was supposed to start filming.

So he was cautious when a film version of his graphic novel “Road to Perdition” was going to be turned into a movie. His agent called frequently to tell him who was attached to the movie — Tom Hanks and Paul Newman in the lead roles, Jude Law in a supporting role, Oscar-winner Sam Mendes directing.

“With every one of these, it seemed like more and more of a practical joke to me,” Collins recalled from his Muscatine home.

Even when he’d read it in the industry trades, he still didn’t believe it.

“I’ve had so many things almost happen through the years. I’ve had so many books and comics that I’ve done sell to Hollywood ... (So) I’ve learned not to talk about this stuff and embarass myself until the cameras were rolling,” he said.

Collins knew it was reality in the spring of 2001 when he visited the suburban Chicago set and met the performers and filmmakers. He drove back to Muscatine, wrote a 40-page synopsis for two sequels — and shut it in his desk drawer.

“I waited until the movie opened,” in July 2002, he said. “When the movie opened and the reviews were stellar and we were the No. 1 movie in the nation, I went to my agent on Friday and said, ‘I want this document on the desk of every major publisher in New York on Monday.’”

New York publisher William Morrow made a pre-emptive offer for both of the books. “The Road to Purgatory” was released a year ago, and “The Road to Paradise” will be in stores on Tuesday.

“If you want to put it crassly, I took advantage of the movie,” Collins said. “It gave me a platform to present my novels to people who didn’t know who I was.”

Collins, 57, said that “Paradise” brings the trilogy “full circle.” Michael, its main character, was introduced in “Perdition” making a getaway with his gangster-hit man father. In “Paradise,” Michael — who has changed his name and concealed his identity and past — is taking his daughter on a trip from Arizona to Chicago. One of the stops is Rock Island’s Chippiannock Cemetery, where Michael’s parents and brother are buried.

The “Road” books spanned a time frame from 1931 to 1973.

“Now we come to the great absurdity,” Collins said. “My career started in 1973, and this book takes place in 1973. I’ve lapped myself.”

It’s already received good reviews, with Publishers Weekly calling it a “compelling mix of history, bloodshed and retribution ... Readers will eat it up and beg for more.”

For Collins, the “Road” books are at the end of a dozen years of work that started with a pitch given to him at a comic book convention, to turn his film noir sensibilities into graphic novels as part of a major push for the genre.

About 10 books were published, and the recent “A History of Violence” was the only other one turned into a movie.

“It’s always been a struggle, and continues to be a struggle, to get sort of non-superhero and non-science fiction graphic novels out to a wider, mainstream audience,” Collins said.

Although Collins is closing the books on the series, it might not be the end of the road after all. He’s been approached about a prequel movie, and has entertained treatments of the “Road” books of everything from an animated TV series to a Broadway play.

“I consider this finished in the sense the trilogy is finished, but I’m always thinking about that kind of stuff,” he said. “But — no cameras are rolling and no money has exchanged hands.”

The “Perdition” movie reached the $100 million benchmark at the box office, and won an Oscar for its cinematographer, the late Conrad Hall.

Collins continues to have a number of projects in the works himself. He and Quad-City author Matthew Clemens have sold more than 1 million copies of their books tied in to “CSI: Crime Scene Investigation” TV series. He’s collaborating with his wife, Barbara, on the beginnings of a lighter series of books about mother and daughter detectives — the first is called “Antique Roadkill.”

He’ll release a DVD box set early next year of his movies — “Mommy,” “Mommy’s Day,” “Real Time: Siege at Lucas Street Market” and “Shades of Noir” — and will release a new movie next year. “Eliot Ness: An Untouchable Life” is a film version of the stage show about the Chicago crimefighter that debuted in Des Moines this year.

And Collins knows that on everything he publishes and releases, likely for the rest of his life, will include the phrase “By the author of ‘Road to Perdition.’”

“This is sort of the final act of a story that for many novels I’ve been exploring the first and second acts of for many years,” he said. “It was satisfying to bring this full circle.

“I feel it ends in a very satisfying way.”

For more information, see www.maxallan

Friday, November 25, 2005

Leigh Kennedy

Picked up a dollar copy of The Best of Shadows edited by Charles Grant the other day at a library dollar bin. Grant, a good writer, prefers "quiet horror" to say the noisy horror of the people I usually read and like, King, McCammon, etc. My problem with quiet horror is that it's sometimes so quiet it puts me to sleep. I can think of two exceptions immediatly, "A Certan Slant of Light," which is one of the most stunning short "stories I've ever read. Mr. Grant published it in one of his early Shadows volumes. The other is one I read today in Best of . The Silent Cradle," by Leigh Kennedy, Shadows 6, 1983 (World Fantasy Award nominee) is, for me, the perfect horror story. I wish most horror stories were as clean, cunning and stylish as this one--certainly including my own. A family suddenly becomes aware that they have a new baby. Not even Mom can remember having it. Well, they think they have a new baby anyway. As the years pass, the school teachers tell them they have a third child, the doctors tell the same and so do the two family's other two kids. There's a whole paper trail for numbr three but nobody can exactly remember ever seeing it. The rising horror--the hint that these people may well be clinically insane--stokes the grief and panic of everybody involved. What is going on here? I say what I always say when I want to pay another riter the ultimate compliment--Lord, do I wish I'd have written this.

Thursday, November 24, 2005


From Done Deal, the listing of movie script sales:

The Beast In The Jungle
Log Line: John Marcher, who believes he is destined for a special fate, waits for this fate to occur rather than living life. Ultimately he is left a broken man.
Writer: Edward Ricourt
Agent: Maura Teitelbaum of the Abrams Artists Agency
Buyer: She Spun Films
Price: n/a
Genre: Drama
Logged: 6/20/05
More: Based on the Henry James short story of the same title, copyright 1903.

Ed here: Wow! Even though this is my favorite Henry James story, I can't imagine how it came to be scripted. You should look up the story, which is for James pretty linear and emminently readable, because if you do you'll see what I mean. I remember seeing a director on TV saying that he'd always wanted to film The Bear by Falkner. That would be only slightly more problemmati, structurally, than The Beast in The Jungle.

Happy Turkey Day!

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Movie Guides on the net have started to amaze me. I suspect some of them are put ons. What else can you think when you see a site that gives The Hidden five stars (and I love The Hidden) and Fatal Attraction one. Or that gets downright sentimental about the movies of Roger Corman but finds Fritz Lang pictures "boring."

I'm all for democracy. Everybody's entitled to his or her opinion, of course--I'd never say otherwise. What am I, a commie? But if some of these sites aren't a put-on then they're written by eleven year olds presently housed on the violent ward.

I say this because I'm looking for DVDs to buy as Christmas gifts. I usually stick to familiar sites but I thought I might discover a few off-trail ones containing a gem or two. Earth Girls are Easy gets four and a half stars?

Happy Thanksgiving everybody.

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Curt Cannon, Matt Cordell, Ed McBain and Evan Hunter

Had to go to the doc's today (nothing serious) and just as I was walking out the door the mailman handed me a package from Hard Case Crime containing The Gutter and The Grave by Ed McBain ($6.99) with a great, gritty cover from R.B. Farrell.

It was the right book for a rainy day. I read half of it at the doc's office and then came home and read the second half instead of going to work on my own book. It had that kind of hold on me.

You want the good old stuff, this is the good old stuff. I still remember reading it in my high school days when it was a Gold Medal called I'm Cannon for Hire by Curt Cannon. McBain had done a series of stories for Manhunt about a private eye named Matt Cordell who went a little bit too far in beating the holy crap out of the dude currently bomping Matt's part-time wife.

From there Matt, shorn of ticket and gun, goes straight to the Bowery to do his 24/7 drinking, working on cases only when he's dragged into them, usually by a friend in need.

And it all works, an exciting reminder of just how good Evan Hunter/Ed McBain always was at simply telling a hardboiled pulp tale. This one is a search through society high and low as Matt tries to find a murderer and a little bit of dignity. It also contains three beautifully crafted set pieces and some very nicely observed moments about being down and out in New York City circa 1958. The plot's a pip and the people all talk McBainspeak which is still, for me, as good as crime fic dialogue gets.

This is the best seven bucks you'll spend on a paperback this month. The good old days are here again. You can almost imagine The Gutter and the Grave in one of those creaky old metal swivel paperback racks as each turn reveals either another Gold Medal title or a Dell First Edition.

Monday, November 21, 2005


Andrew Coburn

I've been saying for years that the single most neglected major crime fiction writer in the United States is Andrew Coburn. And here he is with a new novel to prove me right again.

I've spent two days trying to think of a tidy way to describe On The Loose (Leisure,$6.99) and thus far my best shot is to imagine a collaboration between John D. MacDonald Ruth Rendell. MacDonald for the page-turning excitement of following the most unique serial killer since The Bad Seed and Rendell for some of the quirkiest characters outside several of her own masterpieces.

Coburn is a profoundly American writer as he demonstrates in this novel that spans slightly more than a decade in the life of a small New England town. The storyline never lets you go. The murders are committed by one of the mostly stunningly enigmatic killers in mystery fiction. He is barely ten the first time he strikes. He is not much older the second time. The killings are what propel the storyline.

But Coburn's sense of the town and the lives of his people are what give the book the depth and range of a true novel. He does what Hitchcock did in Shadow of a Doubt--takes a story that has a death-grip on its readers and then walk thems around the lives and town that surround the killer. The fading beauty lost to excess weight and clinical depression; the police chief who believes he is beyond passion only to find it again and risk being crushed by it; the man dying of AIDs and the woman who befriends him; the divide between rich and poor that belittles both sides.

And the writing itself. Coburn plays all the instruments in the orchestra for this book which is, by turns, lyrical, funny, solemn, sarcastic, violent, terrifying and human in a way page-turners rarely are.

It's time for Andrew Coburn to be recognized for the master stylist and storyteller extraordinaire he has been for more than two decades now. On The Run--and everybody in the book really is running from something--proves that he gets better with each new novel.

posted by Gormania at 5:27 PM  


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Sunday, November 20, 2005

Greatest Hits

As some of you may know, Marty Greenberg and I have produced annual Best of the Year collections for the past fifteen years. As a consequence, I read a lot of magazines and a lot of anthologies in looking for short stories for our books. Inevitably, the mystery field being a relatively small if ever-expanding field, I read anthologies edited by friends of mine.

In the case of Robert J. Randisi, he's one of my long-time BEST friends, which I need to relate here before I proceed to tell you that his GREATEST HITS anthology (Carroll&Graf, $26.00) is one of the finest collections of stories published this year. As the cover copy explains, these are original tales of assassins, hit men, and hired guns by such sterling crime fiction names as Lawrence Block, Lee Child, Jeffery Deaver and John Harvey who each demonstrate exactly why their names shine in any context. Block gives us his wryly existential hit man Keller at his wryly existential best while Deaver and Child give us some fine new riffs on the killing trade. Harvey is Harvey, ruminative and as always readable as hell.

Also notable is a reprint about Max Allan Collins* now-retired killer in "Quarry's Luck," a decorously atmospheric and violent tale that shows off just about all of Collins' enormous range of skills. Barbara Seranella gives us a steely story of head games as does, in a completely different way, Christine Matthews. Jenny Siler writes the toughest tale between these covers without ever striking a false note as so much tough-guy fic does thse days. Kevin Wignall, Marcus Pelegrimas and Jeff Abbott contribute stories that are worthy of consideration for any Best of book currently being published. And Bob Randisi's own story is a ready-made cable TV movie--twisty, amusing and played for heart.

The winner of the highy coveted Gormando in Greatest Hits has to go to James W. Hall's loopy and wonderful serio-comic "The Catch" about a guy who still charges a mere $200 a hit as long as you can convince him the hit is "necessary."

I can't think of a better original anthology published this year. Honest.

*Another long-time best friend of mine

Saturday, November 19, 2005

Andrew Coburn

I've been saying for years that the single most neglected major crime fiction writer in the United States is Andrew Coburn. And here he is with a new novel to prove me right again.

I've spent two days trying to think of a tidy way to describe On The Loose (Leisure,$6.99) and thus far my best shot is to imagine a collaboration between John D. MacDonald Ruth Rendell. MacDonald for the page-turning excitement of following the most unique serial killer since The Bad Seed and Rendell for some of the quirkiest characters outside several of her own masterpieces.

Coburn is a profoundly American writer as he demonstrates in this novel that spans slightly more than a decade in the life of a small New England town. The storyline never lets you go. The murders are committed by one of the mostly stunningly enigmatic killers in mystery fiction. He is barely ten the first time he strikes. He is not much older the second time. The killings are what propel the storyline.

But Coburn's sense of the town and the lives of his people are what give the book the depth and range of a true novel. He does what Hitchcock did in Shadow of a Doubt--takes a story that has a death-grip on its readers and then walk thems around the lives and town that surround the killer. The fading beauty lost to excess weight and clinical depression; the police chief who believes he is beyond passion only to find it again and risk being crushed by it; the man dying of AIDs and the woman who befriends him; the divide between rich and poor that belittles both sides.

And the writing itself. Coburn plays all the instruments in the orchestra for this book which is, by turns, lyrical, funny, solemn, sarcastic, violent, terrifying and human in a way page-turners rarely are.

It's time for Andrew Coburn to be recognized for the master stylist and storyteller extraordinaire he has been for more than two decades now. On The Run--and everybody in the book really is running from something--proves that he gets better with each new novel.

Peter Gunn

Saw an episode of "Peter Gunn" last night and decided that if this particular show was typical of the rest then what I liked most about the series was the music.

The Henry Mancini score was what set and carried the mood that made the show unique. The dialogue wasn't any better than most half hour TV crime shows of its era. And the acting was at best wobbly. Johnny Staccatto would cover much of the same terrain a few years later but bring more reality to the turf. It was another show that was helped considerly by its music, in this case Elmer Bernstein.

I mention music because I read an interesting piece about Bernard Herrmann last night. He did a lot of radio which I didn't know about, and he did it not for the money, which wasn't very good, but for the sake of his friends. He also suggested to his young wife Lucille Fletcher, who'd often expressed a desire to write, that she try her hand at a radio play. She did. She sat down and wrote one of the two or three most famous radio plays of all time, "Sorry, Wrong Number." It launched her into a long and successful writing career.

There's been a pause here while I took a phone call, in the course of which I logged on to Bill Crider and James Reasoner's blogs only to find--total coincidence--that James is also writing about music.

In my twenty years of producing commercials and documentaries, I probably saw a couple hundred pieces of film that hadn't been scored when I first saw them. With one terrible excetion (the music damned near ruined the documentary), the music added generously to the spot or film it had been composed for. A few times it even saved the project.

Many people go publicly unsung in the movie and tv business, none more than composers and orchestra leaders.

Friday, November 18, 2005

Harry Whittington

I was looking through a catalog for 50s paperbacks and naturally enough I came across Harry Whittington's name just about everywhere. He wrote for companies large and small, some so small that even today I've never seen one of their books.

This started me thinking of the one mystery about Harry I was never able to clear up even after three somewhat lengthy interviews and a couple of plain conversations.

The story is familiar to most people who have even a cursory knowledge of his career. One day, after dropping from the heights of Gold Medal and Crest, Harry found himself writing Man From Uncle Books for a flat $1000. But not even this was the bottom because soon enough his agent would tell Harry that Harry just wasn't marketable anymore. Period.

I asked Harry twice about this and he said that that was just the way it was so he went back to full-time work for the government. I remember that I seemed to surprise him when I asked why he didn't look around for a different agent. But again he just said that that was how things were and so back to full-time jobs.

Harry was a pro's pro. He did it all. I can understand how he stopped hitting the top markets in the mid-60s. The market was changing, his kind of lean, mean sex-and-murder book was no longer in fashion. But Harry could write anything. And all his agent could get was flat-fee work for hire? Harry Whittington?

A few years later, he did contact another agent and was almost immediately back in the saddle with adult westerns nd ultimately, back at Gold Medal/Fawcett, with Southern plantation epics. But I'm sure this agent could have sold him back when his came came to a so-called end.

I've often wondered if that was really all there was to it. That he would give up the fight so easily, take the word of a single agent that he was no longer marketable.

Anybody help me out with this?

Thursday, November 17, 2005

Jonah Hex

I gave up reading comic books about the time I started college, the early Sixties. No special reason, I guess, other than that they'd begun to strike me as excessively juvenile. I even wrote an article about my feelings for Dick and Pat Lupoff's deservedly legendary fanzine, Xero. I called it "The Incredulous Eye." What I wished for in the article is what Stan Lee did with Spider Man soon after. Gave Twenty-somethings a comic book that dealt with wit and realism about their own lives. We couldn't soar through the air, true, but we did share many of Peter's emotional problems.

I didn't go back to comics until the Seventies and the character that brought me back was Jonah Hex. These stories were horrorific, occasionally almost supernatural, westerns that brought to the page what Italian westerns brought to the screen. Jonah was as strange and frightening as any ghoulish cowpoke the Italians ever produced.

Now DC has done us the favor of putting more than 500 pages of Jonah in a nifty trade paperback for only $16.95. I like all the stories in it but especially those written by Michael Fleisher who brought eerie humor and almost merry slaughter to the Hex myth. The stories date from 1970-1974.

My comic collection, as such, consists of about twenty hardcover collections and maybe forty single issues, including Ms. Tree, a run of Warren black and whites and a small run of Disney Carl Barks issues I've kept now for more than forty years. I'm about to get the Joe Kubert Tarzan hardcover for my twenty-third birthday.

Fond as I am of certain old Batmans, Supermans, Spidermans, none of them will ever hold the sheer power over me I feel for the Fleisher Hex's and several Will Eisner tales.

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Stark House and Benjamin Appel

On his blog tonight, Bill Crider is nice enough give readers a preview of the next Stark House book, a double volume of Brain Guy and Plunder by Benjamin Appel.

Getting this to market was no easy task. Bill Pronzini had reprinted Appel in one or maybe two of his anthologies. Appel's daughter then wrote to Bill asking if there might be anybody interested in bringing some of her father's novels out again. Brain Guy was one of the most influential tough guy novels of its era, though from the reviews I've seen, I think it was a bigger hit with the literary critics than with genre ones. It works as both pop entertainment and "serious" fiction, whatever that may mean.

Bill asked me if Carla could write me and I said sure. Three different publishers later, Appel is back in print. One publisher folded, the other said he could publish it in 2008. So I took it to Stark House and here we are.

Very interesting contrast between the two novels. The first was a hard back from a prestigious house, the second is a Gold Medal original. Appel was a working writer for several decades and appeared in a variety of magazines and book formats. A few of his novels did well in book clubs.

He was an intense, powerful writer with a real sense of rackets and racekteers of all kinds. He had W.R. Burnett's ability to bring real nuance to characters and scenes that dozens of other writers had used only as cliches. I hope this double volume brings him the recognition he deserves.

Carla asked if she could write an introduction. Greg Shepard of Stark House said of course. She said she wasn't really a writer but thought the family would appreciate it. She is, in fact, a graceful and supple writer who gives us a realistic but tender portrait of what it's like to have your pop around the house all day when other pops are potin the real world getting yelled at by bosses.

Tuesday, November 15, 2005


Hi Ed,

While I know you have the best of intentions, I think you're wrong about the use of the word "storyteller." It's more and more a perjorative especially when used by those reviewers you call both hoity and toity.

It's not that I agree with that, of course. But I do think that, in general usage, it's used in a dismissive way.

Ted Wright

Ed here:

Well, maybe so. But in that case, I have to say that I don't care. To be called a good storyteller is still a compliment to me. Raymond Chandler once said that nobody can please them all and nobody should try. Most of my audience, such as it is, is comprised, I'm sure, of genre readers. And those are the readers I write for. I quoted John D. MacDonald a few weeks ago. "I write for men who carry their lunches in pails." The example is outdated now, I suppose, but the truth of it isn't. He was talking about writing popular fiction. I get letters from cops, ministers, teachers, beauticians, factory workers, engineers, insurance salespeople, store clerks and college professors who seem to like what I do, in general anyway. They tell me I'm a "good storyteller." And I'll still take that as a high compliment anyday.

Monday, November 14, 2005

Winter's Eve

Our first snow is falling as I write this, day becoming night with little or no real dusk. Carol's building a fire in the fireplace and I just finished up my day's work.

These were the kind of days I remember when I first started reading adult mysteries in sixth or seventh grade. I'd consumed all of Doyle, Poe and the Ellery Queen, Jrs. I'd gone through the Hardy Boys and Nancy Drews (hopeless crush on Nancy and watched those Bonita Granville movies every time they came on TV.) And then one day a kid I went to school with said his mom was taking a couple of boxes of books to the Y sale. Knowing I liked mysteries, he said his mom had a bunch of paperbacks. I went home with him and she told me to take what I wanted. I ended up with something like a dozen book club editions of Erle Stanley Gardner and I was hooked. After Captain Video, I went to my room and started reading those Gardners. I was always eager to put off home work as long as possible. Homework instead of Perry Mason? Oh, come now, Dobe, as the late Maynard G. Krebs used to say.

I remember not understanding anything but the plots. Now I realize that the Masons were usually about the transgressions of rich and powerful people. Gardner was no Marxist but he was certainly skeptical of the downsides of raw capitalism. I knew what adultery was but I didn't see how often Gardner used it as a subtext for further comments on greed, this time of the flesh.

The books I read dated from the early Forties, before Gardner began barking straight dialogue into his dicta-phone. He was excellent at mood and atmosphere back then, especially in his under-rated DA series. The Masons had an exact sense of place if not time (he was adamant about not "dating" his books, which I think was a mistake).

Memory associations are haphazard and rarely make any kind of linear sense. I read a piece in the Atlantic not long ago about smell carrying some of our most vivid memories.

But on evenings like this, Gardner and those book club editions almost always come to mind, the best kind of memories for old ones like me..

Sunday, November 13, 2005

Crime Club

I'm glad Ellen Nehr lived long enough to see her enormous volume about the Doubleday Crime Club appear. It detailed the contents of every single Club volume ever published.

I doubt that people under the age of 35 have ever seen a Crime Club book. In the beginning, back in the late Twenties and well into the Thirties, the line was known known for its covers as well as the fiction inside. Over the years they published writers as diverse as Dorothy B. Hughes, Sax Rohmer, Stuart Palmer, Leslie Charteris, Wm. DeAndrea and Charlotte McLeod along with innumerable one-shot writers and writers whose books have vanished utterly. They published hundreds of good, readable mysteries by pulp pros who wanted the pleasure of seeing their material between boards. Fredrick C. Davis comes to mind. He had his flaws but of the forty or so of his books I've read over my lifetime, I can't recall a dull one. And several of his novels were exceptional in every respect. Certainly I'd say the same about Dolores Hitchens, an even better writer who could turn cozies pretty damned dark. She had the ability to swing from her atmospheric cozies to outright brutal privte eyes stories. She even wrote a first-rate western.

It was essentially a library line and that's what made me think of it. The the other day I looked through boxes that were the remnants of a recent library book sale and found several Club titles to take home. Of all the hardcover mystery lines of the past, the Club is the one I get most nostalgic about. By the end of its run, its packaging was a disappointment to anybody who remembered its glory days--cheap paper, abysmal binding, horrible covers. One thing never changed and that was the wonderful inky smell of the books that seemed to last for months after you'd first read them. For book junkies, that is the smell of heaven.

Having lived in various small towns after the big war, I got used to book mobiles serving places that didn't have libraries close by. And in those days book mobiles were packed with Doubleday westerns, science fiction and Club titles. Libraries subscribed to list and received the books once a month, like magazines.

I suppose Five Star is not unlike a version of the old Club, a library line that fulfills the needs of virtually every kind of mystery reader. I hopw we're fulfilling the needs of mystery reders as well as the Club once did.

There is more than a little remorse in this particular post. Two years before she died, Ellen and I got into an argument over something she was alleged to have said. Only a year later did I learn that Ellen was telling the truth and that this other person, a prominent editor, was lying because that was her wont--not just about Ellen but about everybody who crossed her threshold. She loves mischief.

I apologized then and I apologize now. I sure miss you, Ellen.

Saturday, November 12, 2005


From Richard Wheeler:

The Western Americana blog has a fine study of TV and radio Have Gun Will Travel...

Ed here: I checked it out. Richard's right. A fine piece about one of the best western series ever to appear in America.

From Jon Breen

Hi, Ed.  In yesterday's L.A. Times, they had an article about the coming changes in their op-ed page, which includes firing both Scheer and their very talented (and very conservative) political cartoonist Michael Ramirez.  Today's letters-to-the-editor was entirely devoted to reader reactions, almost all negative and the majority objecting to both firings.  Since Scheer and Ramirez were the most controversial and polarizing figures in the paper, the obvious effect is to make the op-ed blander.  They don't really give a reason, apart from there being a new publisher and a new op-ed editor and they thought it was time for a change.  The general opinion seems to be that the reasons were partly political but also cost-cutting.  The Times has been cutting back on its content for some time.  They have gone years without a first-string drama critic, though they recently hired one, and they intend to do without an editorial cartoonist.  Both Scheer and Ramirez are quoted as believing their politics were at least a factor.

All the best,


Ed here: It's scary. The newspaper chains, like the huge corporations that own most of the tv and radio stations, are still afraid of the Bushies. I can remember columnists being dumped back during the Nam days. But I can't remember any other open season on cartoonists. Things'll get even worse, I suspect, as newspapers lose more and more of their circulation to the net. Many big avertisers, especially local ones, exert a good deal of right-wing pressure on local media outlets. I suspect left-wingers would do the same but they aren't the movers and shakers.

Licensed to Rebrand

EVERY up brings a down. Every big brings a small. And as fans of James Bond say, every "Moonraker" brings a "For Your Eyes Only." Which is to say, Bond movies have a tendency to get bigger, more explosive, more outrageous, until someone on the inside says, "Hey, this isn't 007!" and the next movie is tougher, leaner.

After 1967's "You Only Live Twice," featuring a hollowed out volcano and the kidnapping of spacecraft, came 1969's "On Her Majesty's Secret Service," a taut espionage drama with a tragic ending. After the space station shoot-out of "Moonraker" (1979), the producers gave us the low-tech, vengeance-driven "For Your Eyes Only" (1981).

In 2002, we saw "Die Another Day," a film with an ice palace and an invisible car. Naturally, Bond producers are feeling the need to dial it down. To that end, they hired Daniel Craig, a lesser-known actor they hope will show the world an edgier 007.

In one sense, that's nothing new. The Bond movies have long shown a new attitude whenever there is a new star. Yet the decision to rebrand Bond has never been made lightly. When Sean Connery quit, Eon Productions pleaded with him to stay. But Mr. Connery was adamant, and in 1969 the first "new Bond," George Lazenby emerged. Mr. Lazenby, a very physical actor (he broke a stunt man's nose during his screen test), was given a very physical film, full of brawny, hyperactive fights.

Did the Bond filmmakers then decide a new star was the right way to reshape the franchise? Not on your life. They hired Sean Connery back for one more film at a hefty price (for 1971). But when Roger Moore took over, the tone of the series had to change. Mr. Connery was rough, feral and physical. Mr. Moore was tongue-in-cheek, gentlemanly and a bit of a lightweight.

The Bond creators responded to their new star's sense of humor, and the films acquired clown suits, slide whistles and animals doing double-takes. While some fans felt the comedy went too far, a generation grew up viewing 007 as a funny guy, and the producers clung to their successful star for dear life; so much so that Mr. Moore was still punching bad guys and romancing blondes at age 58.

Ed: this is a short article worth looking up in the New York Times. I'd never thought of movie franchises as branding before but I think she's on to something.

Friday, November 11, 2005

Bud Flannagn

If you remember hm at all, you remember him under his stage name Dennis O'Keefe. He spent much of his career being called the road show Cary Grant. He was handsome enough, I suppose but he lacked Grant's ease with himself. He was a tall lanky troubled Mick whom you could easily image had a taste for the bourbon. And a few punches thrown in the parking lot after a night's imbibing.
I thought of him today because by accident I picked up an old copy of Mystery Scene that carried a two page list of overlooked but memorable noirs. O'Keefe a/k/a Bud Flannagan appeared in four of twenty of them.
Iowans were always curious about him because he grew up here. He survived his first decade in Hwood by doing just about evereything, writing, dancing, directing plays at various small L.A. Theatres. His break came when he started doing the Grant-influnced stuff in what proved to be about two decades worth of B-movies, mostly of them comedies that won him excellent reviews and a decent living. He was an affable, even occasionally silly screen presence just like Grant but there wa always that hint of anger he couldn't quite hide even when he played it as simple frustration.
He never broke through, though he had a season of starring in his own TV sit-com and doing third billed roles in a few A pictures.
What he is remembered for by cult devotees today are his film noirs, especially the two directed by Anthony Mann. An unpopular confession here--despite O'Keefe's excellent performance, T-Men has always seemed tedious to me. I can admire what Mann did with it but somehow it never catches fire for me.
Raw Deal, on the other hand, is in my top ten noirs. O'Keefe is older, heavier and mean. He seems more comfortable in this part than any I've ever seen him in. He's not a typical bad guy--he's dangerous in the Lawrence Tierney way (speaking of Mick drunks). And Mann plays him off beautifully against the women who love him--the good woman (Marsha Hunt) and the floozy (Claire Trevor)--exemplary style.
Mann has never used his b-movie stock company better. Here you find Claire Trevor, Marsha Hunt, John Ireland and Raymond Burr giving stunning performances. But the movie is driven by the reckless, obsessive rage of O'Keefe. His IMBD credits list runs to seven pages--a long, long career. But this is the best of his career.

The reviewer for IMBD liked the film as much as I do:

Folks can go on and on about a visual style. The fact is, RAW DEAL exemplifies more than just an atmosphere. There's a catalyst for horrific violence driven by the desperation of the characters, their psychosis and their inability to escape from the choking shadows not only around them, but inside their heads. This movie, a cheap b-production with only one actor with stand-out talent, Claire Trevor, and a young powerful Raymond Burr, manages to seem authentic all the way through because it doesn't hold back on the violence or the threat of violence. There's a desperate prison escape, by hero O'Keefe, who's trying to get to Burr the crime boss, for whom he took a fall. Burr wants O'Keefe dead so he doesn't have to worry about O'Keefe ratting on him. O'Keefe uses two women he knows, his floozy Trevor and the good-girl counselor he really loves (she's cast in light and draws him like a moth) as cover. The movie then follows O'Keefe as he does a mini-FUGITIVE, like the television show, making love to his women and encountering a raging lunatic in the woods who doesn't have anything to do with him, but might get O'Keefe caught anyway by swarming police on the hunt for the maniac.

In this rough noir, you get a suicide by cop, a guy fighting not to get his face impaled on a set of wall antlers, a flaming friccasee thrown in a drunk woman's face, a nasty deception and the good girl getting tortured, and a bloody final encounter between psycho Burr and O'Keefe, with plenty of face-ripping and falling from burning buildings. That's not standard stuff, and if you can get into babe Trevor with light shimmering on her lips as she tries to figure out how to save her thug O'Keefe from the police, Burr, and the younger angel ready to steal him away, then you will enjoy hell out of this film.

Thursday, November 10, 2005

Richard Neely

The first time I ever spoke to Richard Neely, suspense novelist extraordinairre, he kept trying to place my name. "It's so damned familiar--wait a minute, you're the guy who called me the de Sade of crime fiction."

Loose lips sink ships. So can old reviews. I figured that our busines would sink if he ever remembered that long ago review. But he laughed. "I think I was just ahead of my time."

Actually, I'd meant that remark as a compliment because I was pointing out that Neely, despite the Irish name, took a very French approach to the psychological machinations of sex in his books. Two of his book became French movies. Somebody apparently agreed with me

Neely, a very sleek and successful advertising man, is gone now and so, undeservedly, are his books. The Walter Syndrome, his bestselling suspense novel, was almost ruined for me when I guessed the ending on page two, something I never do. But I pressed on and it was well worth it. This was a take on Psycho set in Thirties and the storytelling is spellbinding. The voice is worth of Fredric Brown at his best.

I was thinking of Neely last night because I was finishing up his novel The Plastic Nightmare, which became an incomprehensible movie called Shattered. Neely loved tricks as much as Woolrich did and Plastic is a field of land mines. He even manages to spin some fresh variations on the amnesia theme. It's as noir as noir can be but mysteriously I've never seen Neely referred to on any noir list. My theory is that his books, for the most part, were presented in such tony packages, they were bypassed by mystery fans.

The Damned Innocents became a fair French flick. What it missed was the sorrow. Nelly always caught the sorrow of sexual betrayl with a kind of suicidal wisdom. While his books aren't kinky by today's measure, they're dark in the way only sexual themes can be. Love kills, baby.

Not that he didn't have a sudsy side. He wrote a couple of big sexy workplace novels that I could never plow through but he also wrote The Ridgeway Women which was SUPPOSED to be a big sexy workplace book that was undermined in a good way by the riveting neuroses and desperation of all his best books.

A Madness of The Heart suffers from a style Neely seemed to have invented from scratch for this particular novel. It's another dazzler--a really convincing story about a rapist and the human debris he leaves in his wake--but the cadence of the prose gets in my way every once in awhile. It isn't that it's fancy-schmancy, it's just that it gets in the way sometime and seems to fall short of its purpose.

I liked Neely, man and writer, and I liked his books, too. Somebody should bring him back. He's my kind of noir writer--down and out in the dark underbelly of the success-driven American middle class, like non-Trav John D. MacDonald only doomed without hope of salvation.

Wednesday, November 09, 2005


I've noticed comments on various blogs over the past few months that insist the term "storyteller" has now become code for inane hack--i.e., writer of popular fiction.

I don't see any reason to let either the hoitys or the toitys approriate that term. I grew up reading very strong stories and that's what I've wanted to be since sixth or seventh grade. A storyteller who writes, at least upon occasion, strong stories.

What's wrong with entertaining people? Looking back through history you can see that it's always been a popular calling and craft requiring an abudance of skills. And this applies to everyone from Max Brand to Leo Tolstoy. Whatever their differences as writers, they both made readers turn the pages. That compulsion is in both Mystery Ranch and Anna Karenina.

So when somebody calls me a storyteller, I'm flattered, even if he means it as an insult. The hell with him.
And speaking of supreme storytellers, it's good to see Stuart Kaminsky named the MWA Grandmaster this year. He's done it and and he's done it well.

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

News news news

Amusing/bemusing article in the Wall Street Journal today discussing the sorry fact that writers must use pen names once their own names fail to charm the computers of the chain stores.

These days, publishing veterans talk about "the death spiral" of authors' careers. A first novel generates terrific reviews and good sales, but with each succeeding book, sales get weaker and the chains cut their orders until they don't stock any at all.

And it doesn't matter how long you've been in the business: take William P. Kennedy, the author of many military thrillers, who changed direction completely:

William P. Kennedy went one step further. By the early 1990s, the military thrillers that had made his career were no longer selling well. Determined to reinvent himself, Mr. Kennedy sent his publisher a novel involving kidnapping and high finance called "The Trophy Wife." His editor at St. Martin's Press thought the book would appeal to women if it was written by a woman. He pressed Mr. Kennedy to change his name. An amused friend of the author suggested Diana Diamond.

The book, published in 2000, was a success. So was a subsequent title, "The Babysitter." The third, "The Good Sister," hit the best-seller lists. TV talk-show host Kelly Ripa invited the author to appear on "Live with Regis and Kelly." He wore, as a joke, a wavy, blond wig. Although Mr. Kennedy revealed his true identity during the program, it didn't hurt his sales. As Ms. Diamond, he has published six novels.

Mr. Kennedy has some regrets about becoming Diana Diamond, mostly because the literary career of William P. Kennedy appears to be over.

"I still submit books under my own name but it seems to be the consensus that they won't sell," says Mr. Kennedy. What irritates him most, he says, is that he's now acclaimed as the "Queen" of a genre known as the relational thriller. "If I was a sensitive person I'd be suicidal," he says.


The charming and erudite Elizabeth Foxwell has started her own blog at

Given her writing talent and her knowledge of mystery fiction past and present, this promises to be a good one.


Fianlly, looks like my novel The Poker Club will be turned into a movie

(From Variety this morning)

'Buick' getting in gear
Romero to helm King story for Chesapeake


George Romero will helm an adaptation of the Stephen King novel "From a Buick 8" for Chesapeake Films, which is ramping up its initial slate.

Shingle also has set Tim McCann to direct suspense thriller "The Poker Club" by suspense novelist Ed Gorman, a co-production with Infinity Media ("Capote") and Exile Films.

Both scripts were written by Chesapeake principals Johnathon Schaech and Richard Chizmar.

The duo's other projects include an adaptation of King and Peter Straub's bestselling novel "Black House" for Akiva Goldsman's Weed Road Prods. and a pic based on Douglas Clegg's "The Hour Before Dark" for Trilogy Entertainment and United Artists.

First up for the banner is "The Poker Club," based on the suspense thriller by crime scribe Ed Gorman. This tale of suburban violence focuses on four buddies who discover and accidentally kill a burglar -- who may not be alone -- in the kitchen during their weekly poker night. Their lives and the lives of their families are forever changed by the difficult choices they must make.

A January start date in Manitoba is planned for "Poker."

"From a Buick 8" is the story of a state trooper who is killed on the side of the road. The man's colleagues try to help his son cope, but when the boy discovers his father's dark secret in the barracks' back shed, things start to stir not only in the shed but in the hearts and minds of the veteran troopers who surround him.

"I'm very excited that George is interested in directing 'From a Buick 8,' " said King, has worked with Chizmar and Cemetery Dance for years.

Schaech stars in the indie dramas "Sea of Dreams," being released this month in Mexico, and next year's "Little Chenier," alongside Clifton Collins. He is in Louisiana filming "Roadhouse 2," on which he and Chizmar did a rewrite.

Romero most recently directed the summer horror pic "Land of the Dead."

McCann directed "Runaway," which nabbed the feature prize at the Austin Film Festival.

Chesapeake and Romero are repped by Gersh.

Date in print: Tue., Nov. 8, 2005, Los Angeles

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Monday, November 07, 2005

Letter from Will Cosgrove


Over the past few years you've turned me on to a lot of books, dark ones (I'd never even heard of Malcolm Braly before you started pushing him) and light ones. Thanks to you I'm now collecting all the A.A. Fair books by Erle Stanley Gardner and loving them. Are you still reading them? I remember you read just about every kind of fiction there is.

Will Cosgrove

Ed here: As I've mentioned many times before, I read across the board. Last week I read half of Raymond Carver's Collected Stories (will finish the rest soon--wonderful stuff), all of Flappers & Philosphers (I actually own a battered first edition) by F. Scott Fitzgerald, several comic books, the Keith Ablow I reviewed last night and, as it turns out, today (waiting all day for my car to be fixed) The D.A. Cooks A Goose by Gardner. The D.A. books are sort of noir-lite in their way, much like the material Gardner wrote for the early black Mask, modern western setting with a really intriguing puzzle. There's a lot of writing in these. This was, presumably, before he learned to beller into a dicta-phone and forsake description of all kinds. Gardner's A.A Fair books and now his D.A. series are among my prime entertainment for light reading. And then there's always Rex Stout and the Bernie Rhodenbarrs.

Because of James Reasoner's post on the Silverberg/Lesser Ace double space opera, I searched through an old box of twenty or so doubles I own and there it was. I'll be reading that soon. I checked a Richard Russo novel out of the library today, too. I also plan to get to the new Joyce Carol Oates novel. I know this makes me sound like a fast reader. I'm not. I just spend a lot of time turning pages.

Sunday, November 06, 2005

Keith Ablow; Elizabeth Foxwell

I long ago gave up trying to keep up with who's hot/who's not in mystery fiction. Way too many writers for that.

I mention this because though I've seen the name Keith Ablow around for several years, I never read anything by him. Till yesterday.

In Murder Suicide Ablow manages to do something only a handful of writers have ever done, at least that I know about. He gives us a genius and makes him beleivable. Science fiction, in particular, has long been presenting geniuses, few of them coming off realistically.

John Snow is our man and early on he's murdered. The thrust of the book is to find out who killed him. There is also the possibility that he committed suicide, though we know better than that because this is a mystery novel.

There is the wife, the troubled children, the cuckholded husband, the surgeon, the business partner--any one of them could have murdered the strange man Snow, whose life was complicated by epilepsy and the sort master mind that virtually makes him a species apart from the rest of us.

I enjoyed the book all the way through. Ablow writes well, occasionaly even remarkably, his characters are people I've never met before, and his background as a forensic psychiatrist gives the whole story a fresh keyhole through which to watch the characters who, are to a person, vivid and real.

Mr. Ablow has a growing following and it's easy to see why.


Clues, Fall 2005

Managing editor, the very talented and very nice Elizabeth Foxwell, turned over this issue to Mary P. Freier who devotes all six articles to the subject of Information Literacy which is, as she explains, "A term coined in the 1980s to refer to a person's ability to recognize an information need, know where to look for the information, evaluate what is found, recognize the economic value of information, and use that information ethically."

Most of those points apply to what police officers, private investigators and amateur sleuths do every day on their way to discovering Whodunit.

Each article is well worth reading but my favorite is Julie M. Chapman's look at Bernie Rhodenbarr as an information gatherer. Even in a somewhat academic setting, Bernie is fun to read about.

Elizabeth also edits a companion magazine called Storytelling, A Critical Journal for Popular Narrative. I'm not smart enough to understand all of it but most of the piece on Wm. Falkner's "A Rose for Emily" is very intriguing.

Saturday, November 05, 2005

Another Kamiya piece from the first decade of Salon + Dwight Garner

Anthropologist Philippe Bourgois went deeper into America's crack culture than anyone before him.
Too deep.


America's moral wars grow harsh and increasingly cartoonlike. On the right, resentful moralists, oblivious to the shaping power of history, demand that individuals be held absolutely responsible for their actions. On what's left of the left, pious academics, oblivious to the fact that individuals also choose their fates, insist that societal oppression excuses criminality.

Shocking images from the inner city -- pregnant women smoking crack, murderous dealers flaunting their Mercedes, teenagers gunned down for a pair of shoes -- are constantly invoked by conservatives as evidence of moral pathology. Now an academic named Philippe Bourgois has decided to reclaim that terrain for the left, by going far more deeply into the brutal reality of the ghetto than his ideological opponents ever have. His "In Search of Respect: Selling Crack in El Barrio" is a stunning piece of reporting that overturns the dogmas of left and right alike -- including, disconcertingly, those clung to by Bourgois himself.

Bourgois, an anthropologist at San Francisco State University, lived among Puerto Rican crack dealers in New York City's East Harlem for five years. He immersed himself utterly in his subject's lives, hanging with them in crackhouses, partying with them, grieving with them, celebrating with them, dodging the cops with them, earning their complete trust. From thousands of hours of taped conversations, Bourgois constructs a densely-textured documentary that affords unparalleled insights into the culture of the street.

There are terrible revelations here, offered casually in project staircases over snorts of coke and heroin; there are brief moments of joy and banal cruelty and boredom. Few passages in contemporary literature are as heartbreakingly pathetic as the scene in which one of Bourgois' main informants, Primo, talks about his son, whom he has largely abandoned. Such passages, almost cinematically vivid, give human faces to a demonized group, revealing the shallowness of the moral judgments we are so quick to pass. And by demonstrating how structural economic changes -- the disappearance of factory jobs and the concomitant growth of the service economy -- have slammed the door on the dreams of young males in the underclass, Bourgois demolishes the conservative myth that opportunity is equal for all Americans. He convincingly demonstrates that crack dealing is indeed a "rational career choice" for many ghetto youths.
Crisis in Critville:
Why you can't trust book reviews


In a tart and clear-eyed essay he titled "Confessions of a Book Reviewer," George Orwell once wrote that it is "almost impossible to mention books in bulk without grossly overpraising the great majority of them." And he added, perhaps unnecessarily: "Until one has some kind of professional relationship with books one does not discover how bad the majority of them are." More than 50 years later, have books gotten any better? Have reviewers? With Orwell's confessions in mind -- and before you flip open your local Sunday book section this week -- let's open the floor for a few questions.

1) If Orwell's thesis about critics "grossly overpraising" books is still true, how can I test it?

The next time you bump into a book critic at a party, ask what he or she has read in the past six months that's really blown their hair back, that they've really admired. Chances are they'll be stumped -- at least long enough for you to refill your drink -- even if they've written a heap of glowing reviews during that time. (In print, they purred about the new Edwidge Danticat or Thomas Beller book. In person, they get cagey.) I propose a new rule: Critics may only praise books they're willing to force their friends to read.

2) Can I trust book blurbs?

Are you kidding? One true story, among many: This writer once reviewed a moderately bad novel titled "No Regrets," by a woman named Fern Kupfer, for a national magazine. (Okay, it was the Village Voice.) I referred to Kupfer's novel, in what I then thought of as a nifty stab, as "the best example yet of what can only be called Vintage Contemporary Lite." (This was in the late '80s, when Vintage Contemporaries were in vogue.) When the paperback came out, I was blurbed thusly: "The best example yet of what can only be called vintage contemporary life." Small "v", small "c", no "Lite." Talk about Orwellian. Ask your local book critic for his or her horror stories.

3) Do critics try  to get blurbed?

Only those who are aspiring to be Joel Siegel or, on a somewhat loftier plane, Michiko Kakutani. But here's a game you can play: The next time you're in a bookstore in a major city, preferably New York, scan for the book critics hovering by the "new paperbacks" table. (Critics look just about how you'd expect them to look -- a little pale, a little paunchy, a little ink-stained wretchy.) No, they're not buying books. They get those for free. They're checking to see if their reviews are blurbed on the backs of new arrivals. If they are blurbed, critics worry they're becoming Gene Siskel. If they aren't, critics worry they're not on the map.

4) Why do I keep buying highly-praised books that turn out to really suck?

Three words: literary grade inflation. Critics read so much gray, mealy, well-intentioned schlock that anyone who is halfway readable -- T. Coraghessan Boyle! Barbara Kingsolver! Gish Jen! -- begins to seem like a Writer for the Ages. Another word: laziness. It's far easier to write a positive review than a negative one. (Think about the mash notes you've written. Now think of the break-up letters.) Certain plummy phrases -- "deeply-felt first novel," for instance, or "one of the best young writers of his/her generation" -- practically come pre-programmed on the junior reviewer's laptop. Dissent, on the other hand, requires a deft touch, a nice high style, and enough knowledge and vigor to make your opinions stick.

5) Are there any great, eagle-eyed, up-and-coming attack dogs out there?

Not really. Walter Kirn, the regular book columnist for New York magazine, isn't exactly a critical hero of mine, but he had a nice run going last year, grandly letting the air out of a whole pile of overpraised novels (including Cormac McCarthy's "The Crossing" and Howard Norman's "The Bird Artist"). You felt that, among the critics writing in the glossies anyway, Kirn was at least reviewing as if books really mattered. And Leon Wieseltier, while not exactly a young Turk, did a whole career's worth of heavy lifting when he lowered the boom on Cornel West's hazy phrasings in a New Republic cover story last year.

6) So, then, are there any reliable young critics I can hitch my reading to?

Nope, sorry. Kirn's fine for high, inside hardballs, and he's always a pleasure to read. But he's not remarkably erudite -- and he surely doesn't have the world of literature spinning in his palm the way, say, John Updike does. (Updike is, hands down, the most reliably probing critic currently writing for a popular audience.) Lit crit, sad to say, doesn't seem to be a real calling for young writers any longer. There are some bylines that are worth scanning the horizon for (Adam Begley in Lingua Franca and the New York Observer and Stacey D'Erasmo in the Village Voice are two that pop immediately to mind), but there's no critic with a regular forum who can summon up the passion or the influence that, say, Pauline Kael had during her tenure as film critic at the New Yorker. Nobody that gets people talking, and becomes a satellite that other critics can spin around and bounce off of. Maybe the potentially great book critics are out in the ether, writing music or film reviews. Or maybe what used to be called belles lettres simply aren't as valued as they once were. In today's literary culture, the authors of grindingly second-rate novels are far more revered than first-rate essayists. Wasn't always so.

7) Is the literary fame game rigged, as James Wolcott implied in his bruising Wall Street Journal review of the "The End of Alice," the new novel from that New York media darling A.M. Homes?

Not entirely, but probably more than you want to know. Anyone who's toiled at a women's magazine (I have, briefly) knows that it's far easier to pitch a novelist's new book if that novelist happens to wear a size 6 and look great in Anna Sui. Similarly, if Richard Avedon has ever happened to photograph you, even if you just wandered into the background of one of his street shots in the '60s, your chances of being profiled in The New Yorker are immediately doubled.

8) What's James Wolcott doing in the Wall Street Journal anyway? Isn't he a staffer at The New Yorker?

Wolcott -- probably the shrewdest and noisiest book critic alive during his stints at Harper's and Vanity Fair in the '80s -- has been a mere half-submerged tidal buoy at Tina Brown's New Yorker, where he's been relegated to the TV beat and appears only irregularly. When he does write about books for The New Yorker, you feel his sights have been limited somehow -- he can no longer blast those writers (and there are legions of them) who in some way dwell under The New Yorker's umbrella. Is someone going to start printing Free James Wolcott bumperstickers?

9) Should there be term limits for daily book critics?

Four years maximum, given the track record of the critics at the New York Times and most other dailies. Daily critics, with the Washington Post's Jonathan Yardley as a possible exception, have the half-life of snow tires. They calcify quickly. These days you can count on Michiko Kakutani to swat at anything (Phillip Roth, Nicholson Baker) that -- sexually, morally -- puts some sweat on her brow. And reading the Times' other critics, Christopher Lehmann-Haupt and Richard Bernstein, it almost doesn't matter whether they're writing pro or con; the tone doesn't vary. (Their earnest, straight-on, eight-paragraphs-of-plot-summary prose is the equivalent of what used to be called, in football, "three yards and a cloud of dust.") No one's regularly throwing sparks. Anywhere.

10) So what's to be done?

We have the annual Day Without Art. We need the Year Without Book Reviews. It's time for critics to have their sorbet course, flitter for a while among the daffodils, cinch in their belts, and start all over again. We could all of us -- readers, writers, critics -- stand to shed a few blurbs.

Reasons to Live; Reasons to Die

Reasons to Live--the Salon writing of Gary Kamiya

"You, sir,
are an unmitigated cad!"

An Appreciation of George Sanders


First and always, there was the voice: silky, insinuating, impeccable, its languid Oxford cadences reflecting a malice so well-bred, a lasciviousness so refined, that even the most exacting hostesses would always make a place at their tables for it. Then there was the face: supercilious, intelligent, a mask of urbanity that did not quite conceal a lingering hope that life might yet hold some surprise. It was the face of a man who had seen it all, but was too polite to point it out -- the face of George Sanders, the greatest cad of all time.

What gives Sanders' persona its enduring charm? Part of the answer lies in its strangeness: a Sanders character is an emissary from a world that no longer exists. Just as there are no longer any circumstances in which one can imagine saying, with the chorus of puffing 19th century husbands, "Sir, your insolence is intolerable!" so the lamentable fact is that there are no longer any cads. Our diminished modern keyboard of sexual villainy no longer possesses that peculiar note. Assholes, losers, creeps, yes. Bozos, jerk-offs, schmucks and idiots, to be sure. Men with "issues," co-dependents, sex addicts and those "unable to commit" -- these can be found on every bar stool. But cads? They have gone the way of dueling scars, vapours and the monocle -- an ocular accessory, not coincidentally, much favored by our hero.

To be sure, if one defines a cad simply as a man who trifles with the affections of what inexplicably used to be called "the sex," he is indistinguishable from a garden-variety asshole. And perhaps, at bottom, there is little ethical difference between the two. This makes Sanders' feat all the more impressive: virtually single-handed, he sublimated the scoundrel, transformed the bounder into a work of art. "In matters of grave importance, style, not sincerity, is the vital thing," said Oscar Wilde's Gwendolyn, a phrase one can almost hear emerging from Sanders' slightly-curled lips; and indeed, in the course of a long career in which he played every variety of sexual adventurer, he gave such glorious style to his characters that one would rather burn in hell with them than sit in heaven with the good, the true and the maritally dutiful.

Reasons to Die

Federline's Hip-Hop Revealed

Kevin Federline boasts about his life with wife Britney Spears and demands to be called "Daddy" in a track from his forthcoming hip-hop debut. The 27-year-old's LP has yet to be released, but a track called "Y'All Ain't Ready" has appeared on the internet. Federline celebrates the lifestyle he shares with Spears and their baby son Sean Preston, but makes an embarrassing slip - confusing the word paparazzi with the surname of opera singer Luciano Pavarotti. He raps, "Back then they called me K-Fed/But you can call me Daddy instead/Go ahead and say whatcha wanna/I'm gonna sell about 2 mil, oh, then I'm a goner/I know you all wish you was in my position/Cause I keep getting' in situations that you wish you was in, cousin/Steppin' in this game and y'all ain't got a clue/Getting anxious? Go take a peep/I'm starrin' in your magazines now every day and week/But maybe baby you can wait and see/Until then all these Pavarottis followin' me."

Friday, November 04, 2005

John Dunning's Radio Book

From Bill Crider:

On the Air -- John Dunning

On the Air is a massive (over 800 pages) encyclopedia of Old Time Radio. John Dunning discusses every show you've ever heard of, and a few you haven't. I was lucky to get this book at a huge discount, thanks to having seen a mention of the sale on Ivan Shreve's Thrilling Days of Yesteryear. Only 19 bucks, plus postage, which makes it the biggest bargain I've found this year.

Ed here:

I got a review copy of this when it first came out. I remember thumbing through it thinking how unfair that a master of fiction like John Dunning should be a master of non-fiction, too. Enormous doesn't begin to cover the range of what he does here.

It's difficult to recreate the age of radio shows for people born after the late Forties, difficult to make them understand that sitting in the living around the radio was as much of a family time as watching early TV was. Just as ritualized, just as much fun.

Bill mentions The Great Gildersleeve, which was also one of my favorites. With the exception of a dozen or so adventure shows--the usual ones, The Green Hornet, Suspense, Superman, Gene Autry, etc.--I liked comedies best because the really good ones created their own worlds so vividly that I carry them with me today. Gildersleeve's bluster; Jack Benny's ancient car; Fibber McGee's closet; Charlie McCarthy's lusty affection for women; and Tarzan--the movies couldn't afford to do any of the wilder Edgar Rice Burroughs novels because of budget constraints--the radio show didn't have that problem, the episodes filled with Leopard men and spires of lost civilizations and prehistoric beasts--and Sgt. Preston of the Yukon. I swear my body temp dropped five degrees everytime the sound guy hit the whipping winds of the Alaskan tundra.

If you want to know from radio, this is the book to get. Thanks, Bill, for reminding me again.

Thursday, November 03, 2005

Catching up

An interesting letter from Richard Wheeler


In October I lectured at a writers conference in western Montana. In a workshop period I proposed to my fiction students that they write biographical novels. I've written six; no one else is writing them, I explained, and I have the whole field to myself, which may be why I somehow survive as a novelist. I had jotted down the names of 25 or 30 Montanans who might be good subjects for biographical novels, and listed the names, which included Gary Cooper and Myrna Loy.

My wife, an English professor, was quite intrigued with the whole idea, noted that there are biographical short stories too, and thought it might inspire her university creative writing class, as well as her composition class. So she presented my ideas to her students, and read my list of potential subjects, including Cooper and Loy. Then reality intruded. Not one of the students had ever heard of Gary Cooper or Myrna Loy.

That has had a profound effect on me, a lesson taught to a decrepit 70-year-old about the transitory nature of celebrity and fame and distinction. It shifted my own objectives somewhat, but I'm still sorting it out. Those generations live in their own world, and we can't expect them to know or appreciate ours. I will write for my own, and when my own dies out, my work will die with it, and that is how it should be.


Ed here:

The other night Marty Greenberg and I were talking on the phone, as we do most nights, and were discussing how lousy the shows were on the old ZIV TV network (my friend and writer par excellence Tom Nolan was a child actor who often appeared in ZIV productions) and then Marty started laughing and said that we had to be the only two people in the entire world who were discussing ZIV TV at this moment Who could argue with that? . As you suggest, we take our time with us.


Lynn Viehel

A few weeks ago, I swapped books with the writer Lynn Viehl who works under various names in various genres. Her blog is Paperback Writer and it's generally excellent. Yes, she can be feisty. And fun. And instructive.

Two of the books Lynn sent me belong to a series called the Darkyn, which are vampire-like creatures hunted and haunted by humans for centuries. This very clever reversal of good and bad is matched by the role of the Vatican, an unseemly group of perverts and killers. The heroine's brother is alas, one of them.

These two books mix myth, science, religion, lust, mystery and romance into an breakneck epic storyline as colorful as any Sam Raimi movie--huge Technicolor moments but also quiet and very human times, too. Lynn Viehl writes with such passion you expect her to exhaust herself somewhere along the line. But these two books held me from first page to last.

If I had to choose one, I'd said the first entry, If Angels Burn, is slightly better because of the character Dr. Alex Keller, who is one of the rare believable medical women in recent fiction. There's a sorrow about her that Viehl is able to convey with great force throughout the book. But Private Demon, book two, isn't, as I said, any kind of let-down.

Lynn Viehl is a first rate storyteller, far better than many on the bestseller lists. Her books deliver 100% pure reading pleasure. The way any book should.

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

Johnathan Lethem Picks

Ran across a 1999 Salon piece by Johnathan Lethem in which he picks "Five terrific novels overshadowed by their film versions."

Lethem's list:

True Grit
Endless Love
They Shoot Horses, Don't They?
The Manchuran Candidate
The Hustler and The Man Who Fell to Earth

Ed here:

Though True Grit as a movie was a true crowd pleaser--not that there's anything wrong with that--it lacked the mythic quality of the book. This book was a Journey; the movie was a journey.

Endless Love--didn't see, didn't read. (Lethem thinks this is a major American novel, which he compares to Philip Roth and Richard Yates. Hell, I'd be happy to be compared to Yates' mailman.)

They Shoot Horses, Don't They?--Lethem likes this movie much more than I do. I thought it was a melodramatic botch. They Shoot Horses is as good and important as anything by James M. Cain (who, for me, was far better than either Hammett or Chandler.) But you sure can't prove it in America. In Europe it's exalted. Here it's almost totally forgotten.

The Manchurian Candidate--I agree with Lethem that novel and film were Richard Condon at his best. I also agree that the neglected Winter Kills was another Condon masterpiece, book and movie. Lethem pretty much dismisses the rest of Condon's novels but I think he's wrong in at least one case, Prizzi's Honor being, if nothing more, impeccable entertainment.

The Hustler and The Man Who Fell To Earth--Walter Tevis never got his due. His problem, on a smaller scale, was that of Graham Greene's. The lit crowd thought he was too popular and the popular crowd thought he was too lit. I also agree with Lethem's assertion that with the Hustler follow up, The Color of Money, Scorcese was nuts to throw out most of the book--though given thatt we now know that Tom Cruise tends to take over any project he's on...maybe it was Cruise (why pick on somebody as cute and sweet as Katie Holmes, Cruise...can't you Hwood power boys leave anything or anybody unsullied?) who rewrote the script to enhance his own role. Tevis was a wonderful writer. I know half a dozen people who knew him well from his Iowa City days and they say that he was a wonderful man s well. Lung cancer in his mid-fifties and a career criminally ignored.

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

The best Hitchcock

After nearly fifty-five years of watching Alfred Hitchcock movies, I've decided that my favorite of his films is Shadow of a Doubt. And for a simple reason.

As much as I like noir, the ideal crime story for me contrasts the darkness of noir with the lighter qualities of everday life. The monstrousness and decadence of the streets becomes all the more monstrous with the contrast.

I don't think any fim I've ever seen does this as well as Doubt. In the two masterful performances of Theresa Wright and Joseph Cotton, you have the eternal struggle of good and evil. But you also have, and more importantly, a decent young woman losing her spiritual innocence, a far more subtle matter than simple good guys vs. bad guys.

Good triumphs over evil in the obvious way. Even if Hitchcock had wanted it otherwise, the movie code of that era wouldn't have permitted it. Evil loses but does it?

When Wright learns what her beloved uncle really is, she is changed forever. She must face a world that her innocence protected her from. In this sense, evil claims another victim. The world will never be as familiar or comfortable as it was before. ("After such knowledge--" as the poet had it and had it right.) And she will be forced to bear the burden of knowing what her uncle is--while nobody else in her family ever will.

I taped it last night and will likely watch it again tomorrow. It's that good.