Friday, December 31, 2010
Friday, December 24, 2010
Monday, December 20, 2010
Wednesday, December 8, 2010
Boyos, David Marinick - First rate crime story in the manner of Eddie Coyle. Marinick's a former Massachusetts state cop turned armored car robber turned writer who knows exactly how to leverage his experience in both previous careers to enhance the third. His characters are presented unapologetically and without judgment, and they talk like guys talking to each other, not for effect. Wacko Curran is a criminal bad enough to be successful in the Boston underworld, with enough fullness of personality to allow you to empathize with him. You'll end up thinking along with him, setting your moral code aside to work with his, not unlike how Tony Soprano sucked in so many people. He's definitely on the list to read more of.
Dancing Bear, James Crumley - I didn't care for The Last Good Kiss as much as I thought I would, and was about to give Crumley a pass. Then I went through a period of several weeks where I tripped over positive references to Dancing Bear every couple of days. I also remembered I was pretty sick when I read TLGK, and that could have clouded my judgment, so I ordered up Dancing Bear. Now I have to read TLGK again. Crumley reads like no one else, and Milo Milodragovitch is a protagonist--certainly not a hero--unlike any other.
Eight Men Out, Eliot Asinof - The true story of how the Black Sox threw the 1919 World Series. One of those stories you couldn't have made up, presented evenhandedly to allow the reader to make up his own mind whether the banned players were wronged, though there's no question where Asinof stood on the question of Sox owner Charles Comiskey. I NetFlixed the movie while reading the book, and truer depictions are rare. Highly recommended not just for baseball fans, but for anyone interested in a snapshot of America 90 years ago, and for the parallels to today.
Discount Noir, edited by Patti Abbott and Steve Weddle - A collection of over forty flash pieces, inspired by the web site, "The People of Walmart," created in response to a writing challenge on Patti's blog The stories were of such a high caliber, drew such a broad sample of talented writers, and offered so many different takes on the same germ of an idea, that e-publisher Untreed Reads took it on. A quick and varied read containing something to appeal to any fan of neo-noir, though not necessarily of Walmart.
Terminal Damage, by the writers of "Do Some Damage" - One of the most underrated writing blogs, "Do Some Damage" features eight crime writers discoursing on matters criminal. Terminal Damage is a collection of stories that all deal in some way with airport security. Fewer writers and longer stories than Discount Noir, still containing uniformly good writing and a wide range of takes from the same starting place, with the added benefit of working occasional bits of each other's stories into each other. This will make you want to read more by each of these writers.
Friday, December 3, 2010
I understand why some publishers and editors are leery. They in the business of making money, and lost sales cost money. (The discussion of whether sales lose for some reason are gained back by the flip side of that reason can be left for another day.) It's the readers who worry me. To say it's all right for Lucas Davenport's nemesis du annee to rape, mutilate, and kill half a dozen women; he'd better not say "fuck" while he's doing it. There's something disturbing about a mindset that allows for that. I can't shake the image of being attacked bya knife-wielding nut job, screaming for someone to get this fucker off me, and my only source of assistance is such a reader, who raps me across the knuckles as I bleed to death for having a potty mouth.
In the interest of keeping all words in their proper context, and celebrating their flexibility, here's a little primer on the variety of uses to which our most flexible, yet forbidden word, may be applied. This is not safe for work, school, or around those who are easily offended. You have been warned.
Wednesday, December 1, 2010
Tuesday, November 30, 2010
In a fit of imagination rare even for someone of my creative inclination, my story is titled 634. I hope you enjoy it. Take some time to browse around the site while you're there. It's well worth the time.
Many thanks to Christopher for risking the high standards of his blog by inviting me to participate.
Friday, November 19, 2010
Wednesday, November 3, 2010
Tuesday, November 2, 2010
Let's hope November picks up the pace a little.
Monday, October 11, 2010
Patti Abbott has another of her challenges running, this one a little different. Instead of giving a topic and seeing what everyone can do with it at once, she's proposed a round; the topic is jealousy. Patti went first. My task was to use the character who inspired the jealousy, and write a story about what made him jealous. Subsequent weeks will follow the same pattern.
So, here's my contribution. I'll post links to new stories as they come up each Tuesday. (Apologies to Patti for not getting ahead of the curve last week, and, especially for not commenting on her excellent story that provided me with such tasty fodder. I've kidded about it over the last week or so, but things really have been busy, and my attention span has been more like a taffy pull than a train of thought. I promise to do better.)
BLINDED BY THE BRILLIANCE OF HIS OWN REFLECTION – Part 2 of LA RONDE
"Jimmy! Jimmy! Over here!"
"James! One more, please! James!
Grady Disch watched the media fawn over James Preston and forced a smile. It was Grady's book—a book of poetry, no less—that had them here. The best selling book of poetry since Ogden Nash, not that a cheap comic like Nash was comparable to Grady Disch.
The critics hadn't cared for it. "Warmed-over sentiments that need more time in the oven." "Ostentatious prose with a rhythm." What were poetry critics but unsuccessful poets, and what were unsuccessful poets, aside from jealous? Grady had sales.
What really put the book on the map was the audio version. University of New Mexico Press took the unusual step of releasing an audio book of Grady's poems, and got James Preston to read them. Grady thought Preston was a ham, though a ham with a marvelous speaking voice. True, Preston did appear in last year's Scorsese film, but everyone knew that was DiCaprio's picture. The timing of Preston's breakout performance, coupled with the release of the audio book, recorded while he was still struggling off-Broadway with no public profile, pushed them over the top in sales, and won a Fowler Prize.
A Fowler would never be confused with a Pulitzer or a Man Booker, or even an Edgar. The Fowlers were spawned when university presses banded together in a time of uncertainty and created a series of awards devoted solely to books published by their brethren. Willows Touching the Ground to Reach the Sun had won for best audio book. Not best audio book of poetry; best audio book. Period. It was a coup.
Grady had looked forward to the tour, thrown together when someone at UNMP saw the perfect publicity storm taking shape while it was still a nameless depression. Crowds were ten times those expected, and Grady basked in the acclaim, the adulation, and the women. Mostly the women, one in each city, except for two in Cincinnati, which Grady had not previously considered to be a literary hotbed.
It rankled that Preston got most of the attention, with his slightly longer than fashionable hair, sloe eyes, and perpetual one-day's growth of beard. There was always a reading, and Preston would presumptuously make a show of bringing Grady up to share the applause, as though they were applauding the reading, not the words. Grady could have read the poems himself—he probably read Lies My Mother Told After the Dissolution of Her Second Marriage better, anyway—but Preston surely could not have written the words.
Truth be told, Grady was glad when the tour ended. He was sick of Preston's incessant attempts to hog the stage, and he needed some sleep. A year later they were together again to accept the award. The Fowlers had never seen such media. Where once stood a handful of photographers—at least one paid by the award committee itself—now were over a dozen. Preston had only the week before finished touring for his latest picture, a star turn for Quentin Tarantino, something about Jewish gangsters joining the CIA to hunt Nazis in Argentina after the war. Scarlett Johansson played a former OSS killer who joined a convent in Buenos Aires to atone for atrocities she'd committed and falls in love with Preston while an SS Colonel (Stanley Tucci) stalks them both.
Grady stood near the door, feigning patience, while paparazzi swarmed over Preston, trying to get his good side. To Grady, Preston's good side was the back of his head, walking away, but such was popular taste. A handler caught the actor's eye, pointed to his watch, and Preston made excuses and moved toward the door. Grady stepped forward, hand extended, to enter with his award-winning collaborator. Their eyes met for an instant and Preston said, "Sorry, I have to get inside. Sorry," never stopping, and Grady realized the actor didn't recognize him.
They sat next to each other after Preston gave a performance of acting happy to see Grady, as though he hadn't deliberately snubbed him five minutes earlier. Grady graciously insisted that Preston speak first onstage, where he gave a concise speech honed from years of watching awards shows: short, covering all the bases, and only as excited as he had to be about winning an award he clearly considered himself to have grown beyond.
Then Grady spoke—at length—about the primacy of the written word. How verbal interpretation was but a valiant effort to describe the shapes and relative positions of spots of ink on paper, depending on an interloper between the author—or, of course, poet—and his audience that must ultimately fail. Describing—in detail—the almost telepathic communication between the poles of reader and writer that a speaker could not help but damage through his intercession. He read an excerpt from his newest poem, To Write the Unspeakable Dream, not noticing the audience's increasing restlessness until a stage whispered, "For Christ's sake, Disch," carried into the house and Preston, still smiling at the audience, murmured into his ear, "You might want to start wrapping up, Grady."
The applause that accompanied them back to their seats was a tenth of what ushered them onstage and Grady realized—too late—that even here, among his supposed peers, jealousy and petty emotions reigned. The same men and women who had voted him the prize were now as jealous as the critics they had proven wrong, wounded by his popularity while their volumes sold in the dozens.
Three interviewers, one at a time, asked perfunctory questions of him at the reception, while committee members brought Preston champagne, as though he couldn't get through the adoring throng on his own. Bastards, all. His new volume, From the Fingers of God to the Eyes of the Blind, would establish him as the most important American poet since Frost. Maybe even Browning.
He'd read the audio version himself.
Saturday, October 9, 2010
Damn, I'm late this month. Busy time at work, as a software upgrade at [government agency name redacted] coincided with the end of the government fiscal year, and was a cluster fuck (official techno-governmental term) from the get-go to boot. This kind of slovenly site maintenance probably accounts for precipitous decline in my followers. I'll try to do better.
The Rare Coin Score, Richard Stark. Why does it always take me so long to "discover" what everyone else has known for years? This is my first Stark/Parker novel, and all I can do is slap my forehead for not starting sooner. I don't know where this one ranks in Stark's oeuvre, but it was damn good. If you've never read any of these, don't repeat my mistake any longer than you have to. If you have read one, I'm sure you're read more.
Bad Luck and Trouble, Lee Child. You know it's mind candy and will rot your hypothalamus is you read too much of it, but it's really good mind candy. Not the best Child I've read (The Hard Way or Killing Floor) but still a lot of fun watching him get the band back together, and for the insights into how Reacher's mind works.
Romance, Ed McBain. I sure loves me some Ed McBain. Not the best 87th Precinct novel by a long shot, still better than 90% of what's been written. He invented the genre, and we're still waiting for someone to do it as well. There are lots of good procedurals available now (see below), but no one has ever equaled McBain's chops for how the story is told, and the little asides his narrator dropped in.
Every Bitter Thing, Leighton Gage. Another procedural, this one set in Brazil. He's not McBain (no one is), but his Mario Silva series can be mentioned in the same breath as the 8-7 without embarrassing Gage. (High praise, considering how I feel about McBain.) His cops have actual interpersonal relationships you can see and understand, and his use of the Brazilian Federal Police is inspired, keeping things fresh (Americans don't do things this way), giving his cops access to the best information and techniques available (they're feds, after all), but not having to go through all the convolutions American writers have to in order to justify the FBI's involvement in cases they'd never touch for real. I'll be looking for more of Mr. Gage.
Friday, October 8, 2010
Maybe I should post more? Or, given the caliber of what gets posted here, maybe I should post less. The problem with these numbers is that even a steady decrease will appear as an increasingly plummeting readershp rate. Lose one more and it's a 16.7% decrease! Another gets to 20%!! Holy shit!!!
I have absolutely no idea how to stop this impending catastrophe and get readership levels back where they used to be, which makes me fully qualified to work in the marketing department of a major publisher.
Excuse me. I need to work on my resume.
Wednesday, September 29, 2010
I started a new project this week and have a readable draft of the first chapter. Any comments or suggestions are appreciated. (I promise not to post the whole thing like it was a friggin serial; I'm just curious to see if people would want to read more after reading this.
Kenny Czarniak scraped ice off his windshield before he drove work, middle of April for Chrissakes. Punch in by five, get the lights and heat on and do an inspection before the work crews arrived at six. Lots of work to be done, less than a week before the Grand Opening of the Allegheny Casino. Even Kenny thought it was a shitty name. The joint wasn't that close to the river, and the town of Penns River was in Neshannock County, not Allegheny. The creative thinkers who put the deal together wanted to call it Penns River Casino, but the Rivers Casino people in Pittsburgh had a shit fit about trademark infringement and confusing consumers and half a dozen other things, so they changed it. Calling it the Allegheny Casino made it seem closer to downtown than Neshannock, which most people in the Burgh thought was redneck, anyway, and wouldn't come there to gamble. Like they wouldn't figure out where it was once they got directions.
Kenny was on the rag because he was a little hung over, his back and feet hurt from walking around all day, and he was tired of getting up in the middle of the goddamn night to watch other people work. He'd worked twenty-eight years at Osteen Tool and Die until they laid him off a year-and-a-half ago. His boy showed him an article in the Post-Gazette, how a lot of guys his age might reach retirement age before they found jobs, never work again. Every day the mayor was on the news, talking about how Pittsburgh's focus on the education and health care industries made the area recession-proof, which didn't pay Kenny's mortgage during the weeks at a time when Congress held back on unemployment extensions for political reasons he didn't understand. Mostly over whose dicks were bigger, he guessed.
He drove once around the building, looking for anything out of place. He was supposed to walk it, but fuck them. It was too goddamn dark and cold and he didn't feel like it. Thought about how excited Michelle had been when he saw the ad. Join the exciting gaming industry right here in Penns River. Hundreds of jobs. Kenny thought maybe he could be a dealer. He heard they made nice money and good tips. Hell, tending bar would be fine with him. Instead he got the 5:00 to 1:30 shift as a watchman making half of what he made at Osteen's. The good jobs all went to "gaming professionals" from out of town.
The building used to be a mini-mall. Penney's on one end, Monkey Ward's on the other, with a handful of little local shops in between. Nail salon, barber, wing joint, liquor store. They closed years ago, boarded up the windows. The Blockbuster in an outbuilding went tits up last year. The toy store next door saw half a dozen re-inventions before it managed to scrape by as one of those joints where everything was five bucks or less. That and the bank all that were left. Kenny had no idea who had money to put in the bank.
He parked fifty yards away from the service door in back. Room for at least a thousand cars in the lot, the constructions crews wouldn't take up ten percent of the spaces, but casino management wanted the employees to get used to parking remotely so customers could have the good spaces when the doors opened next week. Pulled his gloves on with his teeth and fished the casino keys out of his jacket pocket.
Some assholes had left bags of trash by the door again. Not everyone was in love with the idea of a casino in town and some thought it was funny to pull some half-assed harassment like piling trash in front of the doors. Didn't occur to them the only person they inconvenienced was Kenny, who was just like them and didn't give a shit whether there was a casino in town or not, so long as someone opened a place for him to work.
He looked down to find the key he wanted and when he looked up he saw the pile of trash for what it actually was, a bum sleeping one off. They rarely came this far from the old business district. Too spread out here, a five mile walk to the shelter where some of them took a bus into Pittsburgh to bum quarters off shoppers. Kenny'd nudge him awake and tell him to keep moving, point him west on Leechburg Road, town's that way.
Eight feet away and Kenny saw the off color of the skin on the guy's face. Leaned over and realized the strange coloring was ice crystals. Then he saw the bullet holes, one above each eye, and dropped the keys grabbing the cell out of his pocket.
Monday, September 27, 2010
Billy Bob Thornton plays Ed Crane, truly the man who wasn’t there. He rarely speaks, except directly to the audience through voice-overs, of which this film may use more than any other. He has gray hair, and his grayish clothing (this is a black-and-white film) always blends into whatever is behind him. He’s the perfect noir hero: a unassuming man leading one of Thoreau’s lives of quiet desperation. His one indiscretion—poorly choosing the means through which he tries to improve his life—brings down everyone around him as well.
Frances McDormand, a Coen favorite, plays Ed’s wife, Doris. McDormand is a wonderful actress, whose ordinary looks mesh perfectly with how the Coens make movies. Best know as the chief of police in Fargo, she’s also the femme fatale in their first effort, Blood Simple.
James Gandolfini (with hair) plays a crucial supporting role, as do several other members of the Coens’ repertory company, including Jon Polito, Michael Badalucco, and Richard Jenkins. A very young Scarlett Johansson also makes an appearance.
The Coens’ greatest skill here is to make watching things crumble around Ed both fascinating and entertaining. This is a movie not to be missed, the anti-action flick.
One side note: There is not a better living actor than Tony Shalhoub. Best known as TV’s Monk and from his earlier stint as Antonio Scarpacci in Wings, Shalhoub can do anything. His performance here, as fast-talking and -thinking attorney Freddy Riedenschneider is unrecognizable as Shalhoub if you aren’t looking for him. No one has greater range, nor more of an ability to submerge himself into a character. The best character working today.
Monday, September 20, 2010
I’ve probably seen The Hustler ten times now; every time I find something else to like about it. The story, the acting (Paul Newman, George C. Scott, Piper Laurie, Jackie Gleason, and the often overlooked Myron McCormick) is superb throughout. Robert Rosser’s decision to film Walter Tevis’s novel in black-and-white was inspired. The somber tone and dingy surroundings that make the movie would not have worked as well in color.
A few scenes will always stand out. The first marathon pool game with Fats. Eddie’s getting his thumbs broken. His speech to Sarah about his feelings when he’s really on, what we’d now call “being in the zone.” The resignation on the face of Minnesota Fats when he tells Eddie, “You better pay him.” I’ve long thought Sunset Boulevard was my favorite noir film; The Hustler might be better. (The vitriolic discussion as to whether either of those films are noir may begin anon.)
The Color of Money is good, not great. Scorsese was smart to go the opposite route: where The Hustler is all dark and shades of gray, The Color of Money is flash and dash. Nine ball instead of straight pool. He pays proper homage to his predecessor in various ways, thanks to an excellent screenplay by Richard Price, adapting Tevis again, though the film is, apparently, radically different from the written sequel.
The telling differences are just as the older Fast Eddie describes the differences between nine ball and straight pool. Straight pool is a thinking man’s game, every shot sets up the next. Nine ball is for bangers, you can slop the balls in and win. It’s quicker and flashier and better for TV. There’s not as much heart in The Color of Money. Maybe the emotions than come with the sense of loss felt in The Hustler are more powerful than the sense of gain at the end of TCOM. Whatever, it’s a fine movie, but The Hustler is a great one.
A couple of side notes. It’s often said Newman’s Oscar for TCOM was delayed payment for the one he should have won in The Hustler, his lifetime achievement award. Maybe. It’s still a hell of a performance, a mature actor taking the edges off of an older character and showing everything he’s learned in the interim.
And Tom Cruise. Cruise made TCOM during a stretch when I really thought he was about to become the next Paul Newman; I originally saw the movie as passing the torch. Cruise made Rain Man and Born on the Fourth of July at about the same time, and he was on his way to becoming the sex symbol who could actually act. No one—no one—confuses Cruise’s career with Newman’s now. Cruise really is Vincent Lauria, immense talent, but an incredible flake too much in love with his perceived persona to realize his full potential.