Tuesday, March 31, 2009
I know I have.
A interview with John Irving brought this to mind when he spoke about reading THE MAYOR OF CASTERBRIDGE as a young man. I used to read books like that all the time in my twenties and thirties. I went through all of Thomas Hardy, George Elliott, Theodore Dreiser, Sinclair Lewis, Jane Austen, John Dos Pasos. Well, you get the idea. Oh sure, I read what we called mysteries then too--read them all the time, but I also managed a sizable number of literary books and not just contemporary lit. So what happened? Have you noticed a drift toward simpler fare in your reading or is it just me. Lisa Kenney reads book like this still. What about the rest of us?
What was the last 19th or early 20th century book you read by choice? For me, I wouldn't have a book to name if it wasn't for my book group: Madame Bovary, whew!
Monday, March 30, 2009
Denis Leary pitching.
Funny how we differ on what we find scary or kinky or odd.
We went to breakfast with the Easter Bunny on Saturday. Now the EB is one dude I've always found outre. I'd love to know who came up with the idea. EB is just a poor excuse for Santa now that the kids all sit on his furry lap and get their picture taken.
But that wasn't what bothered me. The EB was accompanied by a dude wearing a tux and top hat. And I mean escorted really; they came down the aisle as if they'd just been wed. Is this traditional?
My son told me it was because EB couldn't see through his mask. But why put the escort in a tux. How about a farmer's outfit instead? Do we really want our two-year olds dreaming of a dude in a tux escorting a huge rabbit down the aisle of a room used for wedding receptions later in the day. Do we want our kids to be exploring this moment in a shrink's office 25 years from now.
Do you find this weird or is it me? What freaks you out that other people don't seem concerned with?
Sunday, March 29, 2009
Another voice from Detroit this Monday. The WALKING MAN, a Detroit native. Check out his poetry and blog.
Here's the story of his Detroit.
Over on the west side I went to the same school from first grade to eleventh. Then because it closed and I had failed ninth grade algebra I was a half credit short of graduation as a junior. Yes it was a neighborhood Catholic school, but I was done with school the same year that Mr. Clemens (Paul Clemens, author of MADE IN DETROIT who was born in the mid seventies) was born so my outlook is much different. The Detroit of my youth was streets shaded with ancient elm trees that formed a canopy over most every west side street, a place where doors generally weren't locked and the neighbors were more organized by what church they attended and the kids by schools, Although every street had both Catholics and Protestants living on them. The city itself was organized by ethnic areas, Poles to Hamtramk, Blacks on the lower east side, Eastern Europeans south west by the bridge, Jews far north west, southern Whites more to the Dearborn border. Italians to the far east side, and the Celtic immigrants from Canada, like my mothers family to the north west side. My fathers family helped settle the state so they have been here for centuries originally from Massachusetts.
My parents were well educated, financially stable people who birthed a tribe of five heathens, My father was a registered pharmacist and a PhD. in chemical engineering who worked in the Chrysler labs in Highland park, my mother an MSW working at what was then called Catholic Social Services of Detroit on Hamilton and Boston. She rose from caseworker to the eventual head of the agency and carried it through it's troubled history of the 90's before she was finally alloed to retire in '01. All of my brothers and sisters went on from that Catholic neighborhood school to earn advanced degrees ranging from Social Work to law with an MBA, Education and Journalism thrown in. While I went more the route of Clemens father eventually becoming a Master Auto Mechanic.
When it was apparent that my mother was dying (three years ago) I took her to her chemo appointments and coffee afterwards for months so I could gently pump her for the oral history. It was illuminating to say the least. My parents owned a house on the Telegraph border of Detroit with Redford. The Catholic church had seen that integration was going to be a problem as early as the 1962, so it went about finding good-hearted white people to stay in the city in order to make the neighborhoods integrated. While in purpose there were many families who signed on for the program, saying they would stay even if their neighbors left. In practice, like all things, the wallet ruled and as property values fell, not from blacks moving into the area but rather because the market was flooded, most of them who made the commitment left. My parents never did. Never left the house they moved to when the left the city limit.
My clan always had a black woman who would baby sit while my mother and father worked and she was never addressed by us kids any differently than any of of our white neighbors. Mrs Hollowell. She was my first close exposure to black people and to be honest there was not a warmer human being in the city as far as I knew I remember her big boobs and rich laugh (hey I was six and seven so don't go there...they were huge). When my parents had those 60's cocktail parties. The ones kids always watch through the baluster railing it was mixed group of both blacks and whites and it was in my memory a social affair, Benny Napoleon, the future chief of police, was a frequent guest as he lived up the street when he was a sergeant on the force.
But the 70's were a time of trouble, the Black Panthers and the radical element of the white student movement was firing up hot and heavy in the rhetoric department so there was always some reason to fight. I was taken down by a group of fifteen black kids as I walked home just because I was white, I wasn't hurt but it had the potential to change my view if it had not been one of my black friends who stepped in and stopped the beating. I chalked it up at the time to just being the fat kid who had been beat by the white kids for years and now it was just a different color fist taking the swing.
In '67 after the riots, I took the city bus alone three days a week through that area to my mom's work and tutored reading to grade school kids five years younger than me. One of the kids who I helped was the younger brother of the leader of a street gang called The Dragons. I was given a pass as I walked the block to CSS, never hassled once; not for being white or for being fat in that all black neighborhood. It was in that neighborhood that I learned the Detroit motto of the the time; "it's better to have your shit on you than to have to go home and get it." Meaning be armed so you can retaliate immediately. STRESS was a very real issue in that area.
I never gave much thought to skin color, neither did the others that I occasionally hung out with, we were a group of boobs who didn't discriminate in our boobery. We smoked cigarettes and pot together, ran the streets and caused trouble with petty thievery from the shop owners regardless of our race.
The very first clue I had to the fact that Detroit was changing was when the all of the shops that serviced the neighborhood closed up and the stores went vacant then the buildings re-opened as store front churches. it was mostly noticeable to me because there was this grand old church that was a church and all of a sudden church meant something else, stores with the windows whited out and some weird singing going on, on Sunday morning. It didn't matter to me though because I had been given the option of not attending any church at all when I was twelve, that was the year I stopped identifying myself as Catholic.
The second clue I had about things getting radically different in Detroit regarding race was when I went to Benedictine to finish my last year of high school. The only people I knew there were the four black kids whose parents would not let them graduate as juniors. they were all nerds, brilliant students etc but black. After the third time I kicked the snot out of a rich white boy (I had my growth spurt the previous summer and went to six foot to match my 240 pounds) who happened to be the schools favorite jock for referring to my friends as niggers, the school administration gave me my half credit and asked me to leave. I don't know if I made it harder or worse for the black kids I left behind but I am willing to bet that I at least started some conversations on the subject of being an asshole to the wrong person at the wrong time.
It was during the years of revolution in Detroit that I first started to write and haven't stopped since. I never went through the teen angst sort of poetry because I focused, like now, on a larger world view. I wish I had some of that early work but it was destroyed when I went to boot camp after leaving HS.
Unlike Mr. Clemens, I do not blame Coleman Young for Detroit's demise but rather I blame the whites who fled, no one forced them out, there was no mass foreclosure. I also blame Henry Ford but that is another story. If one takes an unjaundiced look at Young's history with an open mind to the days he lived in, his attitude is understandable. The man was a hero in the HUAC hearings of the forties ("I am not a snitch"), he was blacklisted by Joe McCarthy and labeled a communist in the days of the great red scare. He came back here, made a living and in the overall was no more shady than quite a few Detroit Politicians who came before him. Louis Mariani just to name one who served ten months for tax evasion. I also blame the great verbal war of separation between Young and Patterson. The rhetoric from both sides fueled the great divide that is 8 mile. They would both be more interested in getting column inches as opposed to working together. Neither man would suffer a slight, even a small one, from the other. No Coleman Young was black but he in no wise was racist. Not in the vein of Kwame. Young was the first mayor I voted for and I would vote for him again because I understand his history and what he was trying to accomplish. He was not of the same mold as Monica Conyers and the rest of the fools who lead this place now. They are Marcus Garvey styled black nationalists and they, like he was are idiots who will never succeed.
Unfortunately though now I live in an area where there is a vocal minority of people who follow that same idiotic philosophy, while I have neighbors that are the same as I have always had, good and kind people, I also now am told by others that this is their city. and to be honest I am tired of the racial dialog. I am tired of every question and answer being framed in terms of race. I have long been able to afford to move, I could now even catch a place in one of the Pointes but I want all the way out. It just isn't home anymore. And even if it finds a way to become something viable, a place more concerned with the people than the rhetoric, I still want out. I have spoken up, I have changed some minds, both black and white but all I want now is some peace and I am ready and willing to leave here to find it. But I will leave on my own damn terms not on those of a racist fool who screams Jesus on Sunday and hate again by Monday.
My Town Monday is the brainchild of Travis Erwin. Look and you shall find him.
Saturday, March 28, 2009
Something like 300, 000 Arabs from 22 countries live in the Detroit Metro area. No, this is not Monday because I am really talking about food today.
Detroit and its suburbs are sprinkled with outstanding Middle-eastern cuisine, and I have become one of its biggest fans. It's a healthy cuisine, lots of veggies. But the Arabic restaurants have lots of meat too, boys. Middle-eastern chefs know how to use spices to enhance flavor. It's all you can do not to lick the plate.
It's also a incredibly reasonable cuisine in these hard economic times. The restaurants around here give you free turnips, pita and garlic sauce with a $3.oo sandwich. Most of them are modest but there are some upscale ones too.
What are the most common types of restaurants in your neck of the wood? (We also have a ton of Thai). What ethnic food do like the most and barbecue doesn't count if you live in the southwest.
Friday, March 27, 2009
Joe Barone, Around the World with Mrs. Polifax, Dorothy Gilman
Paul Bishop, The Vampirella Novels, Ron Goulart
Michael Carlson, I Should Have Stayed Home, Horace McCoy
Craig Clarke, White Star, James Thayer
Cathy Coles, Sharon Fiffer's Jane Wheel Mystery Series
David Cranmer, A Family Affair, Rex Stout
Bill Crider, An Eye for an Eye, John B. West
Martin Edwards, The Scoop, The Detection Club
Dave Fuller, War Music, Christopher Logue
Cullen Gallagher, 13 French Street, Gil Brewer
Ed Gorman, The Best 100 Crime and Mystery Books, HRF Keating
Matt Hilton, War Against the Mafia, Don Pendleton
Jerry House, The Steve-Sim Novels, August Derleth
Randy Johnson, Chiefs, Stuart Woods
George Kelley, From the Terrace, John O'Hara
PK, The Works of Janet Dawson
Judy Larsen, Crossing to Safety, Wallace Stegner
Todd Mason, The Unexpected, edited by Leo Marguiles
Steve Myall, Joe Blade. Matt Chisholm
Scott D. Parker, The Sins of the Father, Lawrence Block
Eric Peterson, The Last Days of Disco, Whit Stillman
Ray, Saturday Night and Sunday Morning, Alan Sillitoe
James Reasoner, Pushover, Orrie Hitt
Sandra Ruttan, The Long-Legged Fly, James Sallis
Kerrie Smith, Anatomy of a Murder, Robert Traver
Budd Schulberg reading
PS. Don't forget April 10th is the Friday for forgotten stories. Please tell me a couple days ahead if you're posting and please include the anthology, or magazine or the site where you found it on your post. I have mine picked out.
Dave Fuller is the author of the Edgar-nominated first novel, SWEETSMOKE. Visit him here.
WAR MUSIC, Christopher Logue
An Account of Books 1-4 and 16-19 of Homer’s Iliad
I set before you a translation. No, not a translation – the author does not read Greek – an account, of Homer’s Iliad. How tame that sounds. How shall I convey to you the roaring language, the rousing intensity, the sudden, vivid visuals? Among extraordinary versions of The Iliad, Christopher Logue’s is my favorite; it is alive, lively, and athrob in my hands.
I was first introduced to Mr. Logue’s work as I read Guy Davenport’s The Geography of the Imagination. In the essay “Another Odyssey”, Davenport compared Homer translators, mostly of The Odyssey, but in a quick detour to Mr. Logue’s Iliad, Mr. Davenport sang his praises and included an example of his power.
Mr. Logue immediately caught my attention in his introduction to the text, as he quoted a translator’s inspired bit of profanity: “—Chapman had tried to abort the charge that his translation was based on a French crib by calling his judges “envious Windfuckers.” Logue continued on, discussing the response to the first portion of his published account: “After Patrocleia was published I began to get critical support not only from those connected with the composition and publication of verse but from those whom we may choose to count among the hopelessly insane: the hard core of Unprofessional Ancient Greek Readers, Homer’s lay fans.”
I count myself among the hopelessly insane. I am a particular fan of Robert Fitzgerald’s translation, and I quite enjoyed Robert Fagles’ more recent version as well. I quoted from Alexander Pope’s translation in my novel Sweetsmoke, which takes place in 1862. As a writer I have been decidedly influenced by Mr. Logue -- in Sweetsmoke, I named a character after him.
To give you a feel for Mr. Logue’s language, I must share. I have limited myself to the moments when Gods unexpectedly appear. Even now, knowing the work as I do, I still encounter moments that elicit delighted gasps of appreciation. I catch myself staring off, holding the book aside as his words settle in my brain.
Early in the narrative, Apollo has brought plague to the Greeks as a recently captured female slave was the daughter of one of Apollo’s priests. Agamemnon, forced to return this slave to save his men, insists she be replaced with another female slave, this one belonging to Achilles. Enraged, Achilles leaps 15 yards to push push-push push, push Agamemnon’s chest with his fingertips, then grabs the mace from the king’s hands, and as he is about to strike a death blow, Mr. Logue writes:
But we stay calm,
For we have seen Athena’s radiant hand
Collar Achilles’ plait,
Then as a child its favourite doll
Draw his head back towards her lips
“You know my voice?
You know my power?
Sudden swift violence, as God grabs man by the hair and wrenches back his head, stopping time. Gary Wills, in his introduction to War Music, compares Mr. Logue’s version of this moment to Chapman and Pope: “those great poets, make Athena’s intervention in Book 1 a symbolic checking of Achilles’ passion with the voice of reason. But Athena grabs him by the hair and jerks him around. It is as if his father’s ghost tackled Hamlet as he railed against Gertrude. Only Logue catches the weird interplay of god and human at that point.”
Later on, Greeks and Trojans agree to end the war, its outcome to be determined by a one-on-one battle between Menelaus and Paris. Menelaus quickly gets the upper hand. and it is at that moment Aphrodite steps in.
Menelaus shatters his sword on Lord Paris’ mask:
A hundred of us pitch our swords to him...
Yet even as they flew, their blades
Changed into wings, their pommels into heads,
Their hilts to feathered chests, and what were swords
Were turned to doves, a swirl of doves,
And waltzing out of it, in oyster silk,
Running her tongue around her strawberry lips
While repositioning a spaghetti shoulder-strap,
The Queen of Love, Our Lady Aphrodite,
Touching the massive Greek aside with one
Pink fingertip, and with her other hand
Lifting Lord Paris up, big as he was,
In his bronze bodice heavy as he was,
Lacing his fingers with her own, then leading him,
Hidden in wings, away.
What power in that one pink fingertip! This is no gentle Goddess of Love. A 2006 article about Mr. Logue by Liz Hoggard in The Observer refers to his modern references as “cheerfully anachronistic.” For some, those references may take a bit of getting used to, but Gary Wills makes a case that the spaghetti shoulder-strap is true to Homer.
And now to Logue’s treatment of Apollo’s sudden rage against Patroclus. You may recall, as the Trojans pressed the Greeks back and began to burn their ships, that Patroclus, friend and lover of Achilles, begged to disguise himself in Achilles’ armor to bring hope to the Greeks and push the Trojans back. Achilles reluctantly agreed, but warned Patroclus to do only that; he should not to try to take Troy. But deep in the heart of battle, successful Patroclus heeded not the words of his dear Achilles. His bloodlust was up and he pressed on and on, at first amusing Apollo, who flicked him back three times, then four.
Patroclus fought light dreaming:
His head thrown back, his mouth – wide as a shrieking mask –
Sucked at the air to nourish his infuriated mind
And seemed to draw the Trojans onto him,
To lock them round his waist, red water, washed against his chest,
To lay their tired necks against his sword like birds.
--Is it a god? Divine? Needing no tenderness?—
Yet instantly they touch, he butts them,
Cuts them back:
My sweet Patroclus,
As many as you can,
Coming behind you through the dust you felt
--What was it? –felt Creation part, and then
Who had been patient with you
The power bursts through the page, head thrown back, shrieking mask, sucked at the air to nourish his infuriated mind. The Trojans cannot resist him but are no match for him, with their tired bird necks aching for the blade. When Creation parts, that APOLLO! covers two full pages. You have been waiting for it, sensing it, and when it comes, Mr. Logue does not disappoint, Apollo who had been patient with you. Struck. From there, the death of Patroclus concludes brilliantly, and I could (and do) go on and on, wishing to share Mr. Logue with you over a glass of dark red wine, enthusiastically reading and exploring more favorite passages...
And so I urge you to rediscover the genius of Homer through the prism of Mr. Logue, and I envy you your first time.
JUDY LARSEN-I'm the author of ALL THE NUMBERS and a former high school English teacher. I live outside of St. Louis, MO with my husband, kids, dog and cat. I'm hard at work on what I hope will be my next novel.
Ed Gorman is the author of many books in the crime and western genre. His latest is SLEEPING DOGS. Also check out his yearly anthologies of crime fiction.
From time to time I see complaints on various blogs about how too many modern mystery readers (as well as some writers) seem to have no sense of--or much respect for--the writers who've gone before.
H.R. F. Keating is a distinguished novelist (the Inspector Ghote stories for just one example) and critic (for years he reviewed crime novels for the Times of London) who has written a book that is a graduate study course in the history of mystery. In one hundred thoughtful--and sometimes brilliant--short essays he traces the mystery from Poe to the late eighties and P.D. James.
This is a sleek, witty, rich travel guide through examples of every kind of mystery, from Christie to Wambaugh. With pieces on, G.K. Chesterton, Mary Roberts Rinehart, Dorothy L. Sayers, Rex Stout, Ngaio Marsh, Margaret Millar, Ed McBain and many, many others Keating touches on the themes, styles, trends of every decade from 1868 to 1986. You may not want to read every single book Keating recommends but the essays will give you a helpful, historical sense of the mystery's evolution over more than a century.
I've mentioned before that Keating is so good a stylist, he's fun to read just for how he shapes his sentences. He also has his own slant on writers. Much as I admired Julian Symons his own collection of opinions (Bloody Murder) cost me a couple of molars from grinding my teeth. Keating is more gracious; he finds the most interesting book in a writer's bibliography--not always the most popular. He never offers us a bad book just so he can score points.
"Indispensable" is rarely used appropriately but it certainly applies here. If there is one book that belongs on the shelf of every mystery reader, this is it.
JERRY HOUSE lives and plays in southern Maryland. He wrote this on the eve of his 39th anniversary. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
THE STEVE-SIM NOVELS by AUGUST DERLETH
August Derleth is probably best known today as the co-founder of the specialty press Arkham House and for his role in bringing H. P. Lovecraft to prominence; in the mystery field, one can cite the Solar Pons and the Judge Ephraim Peck series. Back in the day, however, Derleth was well-regarded as a regional writer; his Wisconsin Saga and Sac Prairie Saga incorporated novels, short stories, poetry, journals and non-fiction. Certainly one of the candidates for his best work is the series of ten juveniles about the Mill Creek Irregulars.
Steve Grendon (Derleth's fictional alter-ego) and his best friend Simoleon Jones (based on one of Derleth's life-long friends) are growing up in a pre-war (but ageless) Sac Prairie, Wisconsin. Steve's curiosity and hard-headedness draw the pair into numerous problems and mysteries.
Mysteries, shmysteries. The real draw in this series is Derleth masterful evocation of his small-town youth, the assorted characters who people Sac Prairie, and his love of the area and its history. Many of the characters also appear in other works by Derleth, often under the eye of a slightly older Steve, but this series has a magic of its own. Think Fred Dannay's The Golden Summer (as by "Danny Nathan"), many of the better Manly Wade Wellman juveniles, and a (somewhat less-lyrical) Ray Bradbury.
All ten books in the series are currently available in paperback from The Battered Silicon Dispatch Box. The books are The Moon Tenders, The Mill Creek Irregulars, The Pinkertons Ride Again, The Ghost of Black Hawk Island, The Tent Show Summer, The Irregulars Strike Again, The House by the River, The Watcher on the Heights, The Prince Goes West and Three Straw Men. Highly recommended.
Scott D. Parker
PK the BOOKEEMONSTER
Thursday, March 26, 2009
With the new facebook application, you now see correspondence between people in your network and other people in their network. People you don't know at all. This seems too private to me. Do you really want to see guys setting up dates with their girlfriends or parents and children making plans for Easter dinner? Or do I have some special version of facebook that allows this. Why is this a good idea? Okay, maybe for writers it is. But what about the rest of the world?
This was supposed to go up Saturday...so if you want to think it over....
Thanks to Kaye Barley for the Sisterhood Award. Because I can't bear to choose, (and in effect-not choose), I will thank all of the bloggers on the left column. I check out each and every blog there almost every day. So brothers or sisters, I value your voice.
How important are endings to you? My husband will fidget his way through a book or movie and then declare it great if the ending pleased him. I am more forgiving of a less than stellar ending if the characters and atmosphere win me over.
Often the ending is telegraphed inadvertently and I can't get too upset about that either. I guess endings are more important in genre writing than in literary stories. The puzzle ironic lack of justice that makes it work.
But since I find endings very hard to execute (much like the landing from a balance beam), I'm happy to forgive less than perfect ones. If the book or movie is going to lose me, it happens way before then.
Wednesday, March 25, 2009
This comes from the Monkey Cage--I hope you didn't think I could do this kind of fancy footwork. I wonder if all those people who commented on my blog during the election will come out of the woodwork for this.
Department of Argh: Is Obama Approval Under 50%?
An absurd amount of attention has been given today to a new Zogby internet poll…It takes five seconds to put the new poll in perspective. Take that long to look at the chart above. The Zogby poll stands out pretty clearly in the chart, no? To make a lot of the Zogby poll is to deliberately ignore the context in which it appears. Yes, the left is correct that it is an outlier. A huge one. The right looks desperate or ignorant by embracing this result as meaningful.
That is Charles Franklin, doing the Lord’s work over at Pollster. I have talked to pollsters who dislike Pollster because they don’t differentiate among polls (e.g., this Zogby poll goes in their chart) and because they find the precision of their horse-race trendlines (“Obama leads McCain by 3.4 points”) a bit artificial. But in cases like these, the Pollster charts are invaluable for separating signal from noise — naturally occurring sampling fluctuation, house effects, and God knows whatever juju goes into Zogby internet polls.
We watched this movie grudgingly; lots of people told us we would enjoy it. What they didn't say was how amazingly beautiful it was. Watching a man walk in the clouds took my breath away.
Much of it resembled a heist movie because extraordinary planning and the assembling of a team went into the feat. The footage from the era of the walk was just charming, reminding me of scenes from Elvira Madigan.
It would have been better to see this at a theater, but it's fine at home too. It may seem silly to want to walk on wire, but the passion that went into the feat propels it into the stratosphere of dreams.
Tuesday, March 24, 2009
George Kelley was blogging about his so-so reaction to the Cage movie KNOWING last week and it occurred to me that certain actors just never work for me in a movie. Nicholas Cage would be one of them. He always seems ready to burst into flames whether the movie deserves that performance or not.
Another issue that spoils a film sometimes is over-familiarity with a performer in a movie where unknown actors might work better. For instance, I saw TWO LOVERS last week, and although Paltrow's performance was just fine, all I could think about was: so this is the body she's promoting all over town right now.
Her role, in a small indie kind of film, begged for a female who brought no baggage onto the set (and I'm not talking about excess weight).
Mel Gibson-I can't imagine going to see a movie starring Mel again. Same with Richard Gere--he always seems like a wolf in sheep's clothing. Julia Roberts-I'm always waiting for her to flash the big smile. Matthew McConaghy-didn't he start out to be a credible actor--and then Kate Hudson caught up with him. Would she still be making movies if she wasn't Hollywood royalty?
Is this just me? Are you always willing to give an actor a second or fifth chance? Or does their name on the credits sink it for you?
Who takes you right out of a story? Whose movies do you stay away from?
Monday, March 23, 2009
And I guess I am talking about one-book characters more than series characters. Of course we remember Wexford, Poirot, Adam Dagliesh, Tom Ripley, Tess Monaghan, Alan Banks, Morse, Harry Lime, etc. But how often does the name of a character from one book stay with you.
On Facebook, Stephen Allan mentioned Frank Wheeler and I knew who it was immediately (perhaps because of the recent movie). Same with Daisy Buchanan, Dean Moriarty, Humbert Humbert, Yossarian, Hester Prynne, Sammy Glick. Which characters from one-book efforts, (where the title of the book was not the name of the character) stay with you?
Who was indelible their only time out?
Sunday, March 22, 2009
First what Motown should be about.
Cobo Hall, officially Cobo Conference/Exhibition Center, is a convention center situated downtown. It and the adjacent Cobo Arena are named for Albert E. Cobo, mayor of Detroit from 1950 to 1957. Designed by Gino Rossetti, both Cobo Hall and Cobo Arena opened in 1960. It underwent a significant expansion in 1989 and presently holds 700,000 square feet (65,030 m²) of exhibition space.
Cobo Hall is the site of most conventions that come to Detroit-the dog show, the boat show, and most importantly, The North American Auto Show every January. It is located in the center of Detroit, if Detroit can be said to have a single center. Just off the Detroit River, near the Joe Louis Arena, at the apex of the freeway system, near the Renaissance Center-- home to GM.
I have been to Cobo Hall once--the first short story I ever wrote won a prize from the North American Auto Dealers and the prize was tickets to the show and publication in their program. I had lived in Detroit for 25 years by then and had never been inside Cobo Hall. It was a dark, cramped, and dreary facility that reminded me of the sixties or seventies architecture-the era of its inception. Ten years on, and it's only worse-leaking, drab, depressing.
It needs a complete renovation but the Detroit mayor and the Detroit City Council are at odds on how to achieve this. The Council wants to keep it in the hands of Detroit despite its inability to pay for it or to even coordinate such a renovation. The mayor, Ken Cockrell, is willing to let a bi-county initiative take charge of the project and facility in order to keep it going. The projected cost, about 300 million. The auto show alone brings many, many millions of dollars into the city.
It looks like the stimulus money cannot be used so if the City Council can't bring itself to turn Cobo over for renovation and ownership, the facility will probably close in the near future. If this isn't a sign of the way things are handled in Detroit, I don't know what is. We will turn down help rather than admit we need it. This was the attitude of Coleman Young in the seventies and eighties and it still permeates Detroit thinking. Similar debates have taken place over the fate of the Detroit Zoo and its premier park Belle Isle.
There is talk of moving the show to Chicago or canceling it altogether. If GM and Chrysler disappear, what's the point of hosting it anyway? Sad news as usual from and for Detroit.
My Town Monday is the brainchild of Travis Erwin.
This is my son-in-law's cover for his first novel, coming out from Harper Collins this fall. Visit his site and learn to diagram a sentence. Or read a few pages of this rollicking novel. He is one terrific writer.
P.S. The novel is about a girls' school on the upper east side of New York, hence the notebook page cover.
Saturday, March 21, 2009
I attended a reading by novelist Ralph Freedman on Thursday night. He read from his new novel RUE THE DAY, which tells the story of a man who inadvertently betrays his wife during a HUAC committee examination and that betrayal's aftermath.
Mr. Freedman wrote his first novel in 1948 after emigrating to the US from Germany. RUE THE DAY is his second novel, and in between he wrote biographies of Herman Hesse and Rainer Maria Rilke among other works. He earned a Ph.D and taught at schools such as Princeton.
I haven't read the novel yet, but based on his reading, I think it will be a very fine story. But the inspiring thing about the evening, of course, is that a man 89 years old wrote a novel and is on a book tour promoting it. He stood for perhaps thirty minutes reading to the audience in a strong voice and answering questions eagerly. He attended a party afterward and was toasted by an admiring group.
RUE THE DAY is available from Twilight Times Books.
So what has inspired you lately? Who or what gave you a lift?
PS-You hipsters probably already know this site, but I just became aware of it. Interviews with many of the best writers of our time. I was just listening to Donald Westlake. Hat tip to Kathy Cunningham.
Friday, March 20, 2009
Amy Winehouse reading.
For a complete list of the books, see here.
Paul Bishop, Harvard Lampoon's J*ames B*ond Alligator, I*n Fl*m*ng
Paul Brazill, Suckers, Anne Bilson
Michael Carlson, Joe Gores' Interface
Craig Clarke, Walk in Shadows, Nicholas Kaufmann
Cathy Coles, Art History Mystery Series, Iain Pears
Bill Crider, The Way to Dusty Death, Alistair MacLean
Martin Edwards, Sunspot, Desmond Lowden
Elizabeth Foxwell, Philip Bennion's Death, Richard Marsh
Cullen Gallagher, Murder Plus, Marc Gerald
Ed Gorman, Go Home, Stranger, Charlie Williams
Lesa Holstine, The Old Man in the Corner, Baroness Orczy
George Kelley, Kiss for Killer, (Honey West) G.G. Fickling
Randy Johnson, The Gift Horse, Frank Gruber
Todd Mason, The Horror Hall of Fame, edited by Robert Silverberg and Martin Harry Greenberg
Kris Neri, The Tightrope Walker, Dorothy Gilman
Charlie Newton, God's Pocket, Pete Dexter
Scott D. Parker, First Evidence, Ken Goddard
Eric Peters, Horror Show, Greg Kihn
James Reasoner, Strictly for Cash, James Hadley Chase
Kerrie Smith, Memento Mori, Muriel Spark
Charlie Newton is the author of Edgar-nominated first novel, CALUMET CITY. Visit him here.
GOD'S POCKET, like all Pete Dexter’s novels, ends sans sunshine. Should Pete ever find a ray at the end, his sales would increase tenfold. I would read them three times instead of twice. I would still marvel at the sentences, at the characterizations, at the overwhelming sense of place, but I wouldn’t feel like my mom forgot my birthday for the third year in a row.
Rereading Dennis Lehane’s Mystic River, I have to believe his spectacular opening twenty years later pays homage to God’s Pocket. Pete was living in South Philadelphia at the time and set the novel where he was, the same way I do mine. No, set is the wrong word, that’s what I do. Drenched or soaked or maybe swallowed does God’s Pocket justice; so lights-out, totally there that I knew this section of South Philadelphia in thirty pages like I know Chicago after fifty years. For my money, these two novels are the Old and New Testament if you want to read or write place as a character, urban America without the apologies or the fashion statements.
Style? The seamlessness of Elmore Leonard at his best, but with the bite of the early masters, the truth between the lines, slowly closing the doors, dimming the lights, walking you down an alley until you’re naked and alone. If they ever find a vaccine for grinding, inevitable hopelessness, it will have been extracted from Pete’s dead-on renditions.
Kris Neri has published more than sixty stories and three novels. Her latest publication is a collection THE ROSE IN THE SNOW: TALES OF MURDER AND MAYHEM. Her latest nove is NEVER DAY DIE. She had been nominated for the Anthony, Agatha and McCavity awards and won the Derringer.
But then I looked at my own bookshelves at home, and the books displayed in the most prominent positions. Those are the books I return to again-and-again for my own readings. Suddenly, I went from not remembering a single one, to remembering too many!
I don’t think the book I selected qualifies as forgotten, I’m happy to say. But since there aren’t many copies of Dorothy Gilman’s THE TIGHTROPE WALKER in the major wholesaler warehouses, it sure seems neglected.
I bought my hardcover copy decades ago at the Earthling Bookstore in Santa Barbara, California. I didn’t find it on a shelf, but on the sale table out front, with other shopworn books. I know I bought a stack of sale books that day, but THE TIGHTROPE WALKER is the only one that has moved with me from house to house and also across state lines. Now the tattered dust jacket is gradually disintegrating into literal dust — it looks like paper lace. But it still holds a prominent spot in my library.
THE TIGHTROPE WALKER features Amelia Jones, a sad young woman who finds an alarming note in a hurdy gurdy that has come into her possession. It reads, “They’re going to kill me soon…” and it’s signed by just the first name, Hannah. Alone and terrified herself, Amelia senses the fearful isolation in the note. Soon, this sheltered young orphan sets out in the big, bad world, which she’s largely avoided until then, determined to discover what happened to Hannah.
Along the way she encounters a wider range of personalities than she ever knew existed, finds love, and most importantly, finally faces the darkest episode from her own past. She solves a murder that went unrecognized as a murder, and posthumously brings justice to someone who, through her writing, made a difference in Amelia’s life. She also finds herself.
The title comes from the first paragraph and provides a metaphor for the way Amelia views life at the start of the book. “Sometimes I think we’re all tightrope walkers,” she says, “suspended on a wire two thousand feet in the air, and so long as we never look down we’re okay, but some of us lose momentum and look down for a second and are never quite the same again: we know.”
Especially inventive is the book within a book thread. Amelia discovers that Hannah was the author of her favorite childhood book, THE MAZE IN THE HEART OF THE CASTLE. As we watch Amelia overcome obstacle-after-obstacle, we see MAZE protagonist, Colin, do the same, as his story also provides clues to what happened to Hannah in those final days. Interestingly, THE MAZE IN THE HEART OF THE CASTLE is a real novel for young readers that Gilman published years earlier. (And a copy of that also enjoys a primo spot on my shelves).
Though this charming story, with its engaging protagonist, works as an effective mystery, it’s so much more. THE TIGHTROPE WALKER is really a journey of self-discovery.
It came into my life when I needed to move ahead more boldly and to look at the shadowy corners in my own mind. Amelia’s example helped me to do that. I still re-read it whenever my courage needs a nudge.
Ed Gorman is the author of many marvelous crime and western novels. Try GHOST TOWN if you want to read one of the best.
GO HOME, STRANGER, Charles Williams
"His narrator is generally an ordinary, curiously amoral fellow fueled by greed and lust but curiously detached from his own crimes." Geoffrey O'Brien on Charles Williams
O'Brien's description is apt for virtually all of Williams' paperback originals except one, that being 1954's GO HOME, STRANGER. Here Williams gives us a true hero--named Reno--a true heroine and even a tender brother-sister relationship.
Reno's sister is a famous actress who is accused of murdering her husband in a fit of jealousy. She is being held in a small Gulf Coast jail and is already convicted in the minds of everybody except her attorney and her brother. The novel focuses on Reno's search for the killer who framed his sisters. STRANGER is a good mystery. Williams sets up an almost mythic individual much Graham Greene's Harry Lime--a tirch spoiled psychopath possessed of deadly chamr and animal cunning. Reno believes he's hiding in the swamps that surround the town. Williams' place descriptions are Conradian--pace becomes a character at least as powerful as the human beings. The bayous have never been more sinister. There are three set pieces involving chases through the woods that are among the most vivid action scenes Williams ever wrote. It's interesting to watch Williams work with more convention material than usual. He certainly knew hot to handle it. But I suspect in the course of writing it, he wished he could make Reno at least a bit like his other protagonists, "A curiously amoral fellow fueled by greed and lust."
Anne Billson is a John Carpenter and Charles Willeford fan from
Her first novel, Suckers, was one the most refreshing and downright entertaining British novels of the nineties and was shortlisted for Granta's 'Best Young British Novelists' list in 1993.
‘Bleeding London Dry’ was Suckers’ fab tag line and, indeed, the
The narrator, Dora Vale, is a 'creative consultant' - a typically vapid eighties job description –who visits the headquarters of the uber-voguish Bellini magazine only to discover that it only does its business at night...
No less than Salma Rushdie described it as a satire on the eighties greed is good culture and he wasn’t far wrong but more than that it’s fun. A Molotov cocktail of Ealing Comedy, Hammer and even American Psycho, it’s the best way to spend your time in the company of yuppies- watch them suffer!
Sorry if I included anyone who doesn't have a review or missed anyone who does. Things have been a bit of a scramble this week. Just let me know if I missed you.
Thursday, March 19, 2009
Arthur Conan Doyle reading
Whether you like Obama or not, you can't deny that he's the most accessible, ominpresent president in history. My God, how will he last four years at this rate? He's running himself ragged, functioning as our leader, coach, father, minister, cheerleader, counselor, brother, prom date, civics teacher and friend. He's Charles Atlas, holding the world up with his tongue and heart.
I think we've heard more from Obama in two months than from his predecessor in eight years. Could anyone work harder? Now that's a good thing for me. Maybe not for you. What do you think?
Wednesday, March 18, 2009
Jack Klugman reading.
Observations for future stories-yours or mine.
People seem to arrive and depart Las Vegas at all hours of the night. There are rooms for $25 for people only needing one briefly and not for the usual short-lease reasons.
People greet you with good luck rather than good morning.
There is no seating in the hotel lobbies. If you want to sit down, you must play a game. The slots actually tell you they are not for sitting. You can also go into the restaurants and shows, of course. But no public seating.
Just like there is a fake Paris, a fake Venice, a fake New York-most of the shows seem about fakery-people pretending to be other people, people doing magic, that sort of thing. I wonder when this became Las Vegas.
Everyone smokes. It was hard to get away from it although they seem to spray perfume all over you too. My clothes smelled of both.
There are people in the casinos every hour of the day. Few of them look like they're having fun. Most of them have a drink, a cigarette, oxygen with them.
The food was surprisingly good. I didn't do a buffet but the regular restaurants were as good as anywhere--maybe a little more pricey though.
Why does the Jersey Boys Las Vegas cost more than the Jersey Boys on Broadway. All the shows were really expensive.
I attended three conference panels. In one, a guy older than me read two hundred haikus, mostly about his dead wife's sexuality. I don't think she would have approved. Another panel considered MAD MEN but only through the lens of Foucalt and the other post-modern theorists. (Academics can ruin any subject). The third panel had a good paper on in-house Las Vegas bands in the sixties and seventies. If anyone ever can use detail from this, I have her card.
In the Liberace Museum, they did not have much of any films/videos that showed him. Why? I imagine a lot of people have never seen him perform. They also refused to discuss his sexuality. Why?
Las Vegas is ugly. There is no profit in greenery. Nature keeps you outside. They want you inside.
I found Las Vegas endlessly fascinating. I'm going to read about, watch movies, but never return.
Okay. Las Vegas is officially over. Thanks.
Tuesday, March 17, 2009
Natalie Wood reading.
There is so much to say about Vegas and about the conference I attended but let me start with this.
Overheard in Vegas.
A passenger on the hotel shuttle bus was chatting with the driver and told her he'd supported himself for the last two years by placing bets for several Vegas gamblers (the driver and passenger knew each other).
This guy was given a comp room by the hotel and made several bets a week for which he was paid $150 or so each. He told her he expected to go back to the strip later that night to place just such a bet.
Now what does this mean? Why couldn't these gamblers place their own bets? Why did he have to go back to the strip to place it? Why at a specific time? Why don't I know any of these things? Help me out-- oh wise ones.
Monday, March 16, 2009
Two books set in Michigan, and published over the last few weeks, are getting terrific reviews.
STARVATION LAKE by Bryan Gruley takes place in northern Michigan and is a mystery set amongst hockey players and fans in a small community. Gruley is a Wall Street Journal reporter stationed in Chicago but with Michigan roots. He's being hailed as the new Dennis Lehane and the book, the next MYSTIC RIVER. For a terrific video that gives you a flavor of the novel and great pics of Starvation Lake, Michigan, go here.
I am 2/3 through this novel and an instant admirer of Gruley's ability to weave several complex story line. At the same time, he creates a compelling character, placing him in a distinctive place that he populates with a large cast of authentic characters. This is one book that will keep you on your toes as well as the edge of your seat.
The second Michigan-authored book shares these same strengths--THE LEISURE SEEKER by Michael Zadoorian. His first novel, SECOND HAND, appeared several years back and was set in a Ferndale, Michigan secondhand store. In his second novel, Detroit is the jumping off place for a couple who leave the state for personal reasons.
Mike also has a book of short stories (THE LOST TIKI PALACES OF DETROIT) coming out this spring. The title story was published in Detroit Noir.
Zadoorian was kind enough to sit down with me (via email) and answer a few questions.
PA: I don’t know if writers from other cities are always asked this question, but does Detroit play a major role in your work?
MICHAEL ZADOORIAN: I think it does. Detroit, good or bad, is a huge part of what I am as a person and a writer. I grew up in the city, got both my degrees at Wayne State University, so it’s ingrained pretty deeply in me. I realize now that my fiction really started to work when I started writing about this area and the people I knew here. When I was writing THE LEISURE SEEKER, I thought I would miss having the story take place in Detroit, like it did in SECOND HAND, but it was just the opposite. Writing about Ella and John Robina (the main characters in THE LEISURE SEEKER) gave me a chance to write about a Detroit that I didn’t necessarily know first hand, but one that I had only heard about from my parents and aunts and uncles. Detroit is still a big character in the book since it was writ so large in the lives of Ella and John. The Detroit of their era is a completely different place, full of wonderful memories, but also conflicted feelings and fear too. Still, it felt important to me to feature the city in the story.
PA: Continuing on this theme for a minute, do you think growing up in Detroit has made you a substantially different writer than you might have been had you lived in say, Hartford Ct or Seattle, WA.?
MZ: Absolutely. I think the fact that I tend to write about things like thrift stores, abandoned roads, and things lost and found again is definitely influenced by my living here. That said, (and I’ve said it before) I think Detroit is a very creative place. I know so many creative people here: musicians, writers, artists, poets, photographers, D.J.’s, designers, screenwriters – you name it. All of them from Detroit. It’s a good place to do your thing. The fact is, for all of us, it’s home. I don’t want to live anywhere else. And believe it or not, there’s something special about this place. Despite all that’s messed up, I think there’s something inspiring about living here. It brings out a certain sensibility, a certain kind of authenticity that you might not necessarily find in Hartford, Connecticut.
PA: SECOND HAND was in many ways a love story. The couple in that novel is at the beginning of their story. It sounds like the couple in THE LEISURE SEEKER, is near the end of theirs. Are these two novels, in effect, bookends to a journey?
MZ: I hadn’t really thought of it, but you could easily look at it that way. Both books are certainly about love and death, things forgotten and found again. And at the heart of both books is a journey as a way to reclaim and redeem one’s life. So I guess they could very well be bookends. I do find myself writing about travel a lot. It seems to pop up in much of my work.
PA: THE LEISURE SEEKER tells the story of a cross-country trip by a couple with health issues. Another Michigan writer (now in Montana), Jim Harrison, has a novel out (THE ENGLISH PROFESSOR) where his character, a newly divorced man in his sixties, travels across country seeking redemption too. These two novels remind me thematically of ones written during the Depression: novels of unemployed men on the road seeking work. It’s interesting that both you and Harrison come from the state most hit by the current economic crisis. Did it occur to you when writing the novel that their journey may also be a flight from Detroit and what it represents? A flight from what the US has become? Is Detroit increasingly a place to leave?
MZ: I guess I think of the couple in my book, John and Ella, not so much fleeing Detroit as just seeking something else out there. For them, Detroit will always be their home and in many ways, they bring it along with them (in the form of their slides/memories or maybe just a bottle of Vernors). Though they do want to get away from their children and doctors back in Detroit, for them, it’s the journey that’s important. California has always been thought of as a sort of symbol of freedom, a golden state. (Certainly in The Grapes of Wrath, for instance, which also features Route 66.) And road novels are often about freedom and independence and finding one’s way in the world. But they’re also often about young people. That’s what was interesting about writing this book. John and Ella are seeking those same things, but they’re at the ends of their lives. They want independence from the people trying to control them, telling them how to live or die. They’re seeking a kind of relief, a freedom of the spirit.
PA: You also have a book of short stories (THE LOST TIKI PALACES OF DETROIT) coming out this spring. Do you find it difficult to move back and forth between the two genres? Do your short stories differ thematically from your novels? Are they sometimes blueprints for future novels?
MZ: Yes, I tend to cannibalize my stories for books. There are a lot of themes that I tend to return to again and again. Stories take me a long time to write and if I work on one, it probably means that I’ve been thinking about certain ideas or themes or just the weird stuff that obsesses me. Which means I’ll probably return to them eventually. People who read the story collection will most certainly recognize certain characters and themes and milieus from the books (the story Mystery Spot was my starting point for THE LEISURE SEEKER), but that’s okay. The stories are their own thing, connected but separate from the novels. I’m really thrilled to finally have them coming out in book form.
PA: Who have been your major influences as a writer?
MZ: Like a ton of writers who started in the Eighties, I was heavily influenced by the work of Raymond Carver, his short fiction and his poetry. His work touched me in so many ways, but also allowed me to understand the inner-workings of fiction in a way that I never had before. I don’t know why, but he allowed me to think that maybe I could write fiction. His work is deceptive in that manner of extraordinarily talented people: he made it look easy. Once I started though, I found out differently. I certainly wound up writing my share of Carver stories. Still, it was a way to learn. And whatever helps you to find your personal style or voice or whatever you want to call it, is a good thing.
SPENCE AND LILA by Bobbie Ann Mason is a wonderful book about an older couple and was a big influence on THE LEISURE SEEKER, as was MRS. BRIDGE by Evan S. Connell. The Mason book is probably more like my book than MRS. BRIDGE, but there was something about Connell's book that I kept returning to, a kind of quiet comedic despair that just felt right.
THE MOVIEGOER by Walker Percy is an incredible book and one that influenced SECOND HAND considerably. NOTES FROM UNDERGROUND by Dostoevsky ; Kafka’s THE TRIAL as well as his short stories; Charles Baxter’s short fiction and novels; Nathaniel West; Jack Kerouac; Tom McGuane; Flannery O’Connor; Henry Miller; John Cheever; Phillip Roth; Dawn Powell; Martin Amis and Paul Bowles.
PA: Who are you reading now?
MZ: I just started reading HIP: A HISTORY by John Leland, which examines bohemia and the concept of cool from its roots in early American civilization and slavery days right on up through the Lost Generation and the Beats to present day. I’m kind of a slut for anything bohemian/cool/beat/noir, so this is right up my alley. I’m also reading a Hard Case pulp paperback by George Axelrod from the 50s called BLACKMAILER. A book about the graphic artist Jim Flora, and a big anthology called THE ROLLING STONE BOOK OF THE BEATS. I recently finished Celine’s JOURNEY TO THE END OF THE NIGHT. Slow going, but interesting, if only for its short but important scenes in Detroit.
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