Friday, July 31, 2009
Esther Williams out of the pool and reading.
The Summing Up, Friday, July 31, 2009
Patti Abbott, Spies, Michael Frayn
Michael Carlson, Whaleboat House, Mark Mills
Bill Crider, They Thirst, Robert McCammon
Martin Edwards, THE LIST OF ADRIAN MESSENGER by Philip Macdonald
Craig Johnson, Doctor Dogbody's Legs, James Norman Hill
Randy Johnson, Time and Again, Jack Finney
George Kelley, A Twist of Sand, Geoffrey Jenkins
Todd Mason, The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, April 1973, ed.Edward Ferman
Clayton Moore, Fuel-Injected Dreams & Boy Wonder, James Robert Baker
Donna Moore, Shadow Boxer, Eddie Muller
Terrie F. Moran, Naked Comes the Manatee, Carl Hiassen
Scott Parker, The Tar-Aryam Krang, Alan Dean Foster
J, Kingston Pierce, The Eighth Circle, Stanley Ellin
James Reasoner, Love Me and Die, Day Keene and Gil Brewer
Kieran Shea, Memoirs of a Caddy, David Noonan
Kerrie Smith, Doon to Death, Ruth Rendell
R.T., The Investigation, Dorothy Uhnak
August 21st. How about "Forgotten Movies?" This is Dick Adler's idea and a good one and to give credit where it is due Steve Allan suggested this a few years ago too.
Dick Adler wrote this week about Chinatown. Not forgotten exactly, but perhaps a movie that needs to be seen again. Crank up your DVD players and tell us what we all need to watch. Again or for the first time. August 21st. Let me know if you have a movie review to post on my blog or one on yours.
Come on-you know you have one.
Clayton Moore is the crime and mystery columnist for Bookslut.com and reviews fiction and nonfiction for Kirkus Reviews, The Denver Post and other media outlets. His work has also appeared in Paste Magazine, Atomic Magazine and The Rocky Mountain News.
Fuel-Injected Dreams and Boy Wonder by James Robert Baker
Every time I go in a used bookstore, I still buy books by James Robert Baker because they’re so hard to find, and I tend to give them away to the deserving (and those I think have the temperament to appreciate them). He was a truly gifted satirical writer, cult filmmaker, anarchist, left-wing iconoclast and activist, who was well ahead of his time but also deeply troubled, and ultimately committed suicide in 1997. Over the course of a half-dozen novels, he left behind two unconventional beauties that are, shockingly, his most mainstream work.
The first, Fuel-Injected Dreams, was thankfully re-released in 2003 by Thunder’s Mouth Press. It was so full of delightfully lewd turns of phrase that when I first ran across it in 1986, I couldn’t believe anyone would actually let you write like this, and it was one of the books that convinced me to start writing in the first place. A thinly-veiled (and as it turns out, somewhat prescient) portrait of the psychotic architect of the Wall of Sound, Phil Spector it celebrates low-brow language, the madness of rock n’ roll, and the visceral weirdness of sweltering Los Angeles. Just read the fantastic, five-page monologue that opens Fuel-Injected Dreams, a spinning, malevolent diatribe by DJ Scott Cochrane, and try not to revel in the joy of its retro-radio-inflected patois.
After being unchained from his booth, Cochrane gets embroiled with Dennis Contrelle, the fictionalized record producer, delving deeper and deeper into the man’s disturbing obsession with one of the bee-hived honeys in 1960’s girl-group The Stingrays. It’s a little dated in places and is embedded with a macabre twist in its denouement but otherwise holds up very well as an offbeat, sharply written pop-culture mystery referencing the maddening obsession of record collectors in those heady days before the music died.
Even darker is Baker’s own crack at a Hollywood that tempted and scorned him, the satiric out-of-print epic that is Boy Wonder(1988). It’s a exceptionally original idea for its time, a fictional oral history that portrays the life story of Shark Trager, a director broken by film school who turns into the producing wunderkind of the movie industry, through the memories of his friends, enemies, lovers and family. Fans of movie trivia will love it from Shark’s birth when his dad bumps some punk in a Porsche off the road in 1955 to his final drug-addled moments plowing through a theater full of filmgoers to the sounds of The Thrill of It All by Roxy Music.
In-between, Baker ravages every aspect of the golden age of movie making, skewering Close Encounters, Sam Peckinpah, Bonnie & Clyde, Touch of Evil and dozens of other celluloid moments. It has exploding suburbs, incestuous twins, chainsaw massacres and another romantic obsession as big as Shark’s drug-addled irises. It is, like Fuel-Injected Dreams, an acquired taste. But it’s also a shame that a writer as talented as Baker, who obviously loved the medium of film and the language of literature (even if the business didn’t always love him back)didn’t get the attention in his lifetime that he deserved. James Robert Baker is gone, but no, he shouldn’t be forgotten.Patti Abbott, SPIES, Michael Frayn
An elderly man returns to the scene of his childhood and remembers the games he played with a friend during the World War II. This book follows HEADS UP by Frayn, a brilliant novel about art forgery and the delicious play COPENHAGEN. I have a weakness for books where children get it all wrong, perhaps because I always did. And this book concerns two boys, overly caught up in the war, and inventing a role for one's mother during wartime England-spying on her and coming to the wrong conclusions. . One boy convinces the other that his mother is a German spy and they are both to ready to accept this, following her, taking notes, making this pursuit their preoccupation. The plot eventually turns everything they believe on its ear. Frayn perfectly captures the voice of children of that time: their ability to focus on behavior that is perhaps lost to modern kids. I wonder if kids today would bother to put down their cellphones and Ipods. I also wonder if adults have lost their allure. It did remind me of THE GO-BETWEEN, another wonderful British book by L.P. Hartley. You can't go wrong with either of these choices.
Craig Johnson is the author of Penguin’s Sheriff Walt Longmire series, The Cold Dish, Death Without Company, Kindness Goes Unpunished, Another Man’s Moccasins and The Dark Horse.
Doctor Dogbody’s Leg, by James Norman Hall
This almost unheard of book is one of my all-time favorites. As a land-locked cowboy, when my mind is troubled, I go down to the sea. The more romantic side of my nature has been lured by a few authors who saw fit to swash their buckles with a scalpel along with a sword, including C. S. Forrester, Patrick O’Brian, and Gabriel Sabatini. I suppose when they decided to make their heroes doctors, they wanted an erudite narrator who would be capable of uttering more comprehensible statements than “Argh… Shiver me timbers.” Whatever that means. I have to tell you, though that Doctor Dogbody’s Leg is the best.
I stumbled across this slim volume by James Hall, half of the Nordoff/Hall duo famous for the historic Bounty trilogy, in a used bookstore in Boston. The story of the author is as interesting as his novels. Hall, an American, fought in the trenches in World War I before the U.S. joined the war, then as an American fighter pilot—and was the commanding officer of the Hat-In-The-Ring Squadron with such luminaries as Eddie Rickenbacker. Hall explored the Pacific, island hopping on his own, finally settling in Fiji.
I suppose after producing some of the greatest sea-faring literature of our time, James Norman Hall decided to have a little fun later in life, and Doctor Dogbody’s Leg has made me laugh since I read the first chapter where the doc loses his ‘larboard’ leg to an American Indian’s cutlass. . . Then in another where he loses it to a French guillotine. . . And then again when he sacrifices it to the wolves in Russia in the service of Catherine the Great. . . Hmm, that would be three legs, wouldn’t it? Maybe I should explain—in ten chapters, Doctor F. Dogbody loses a leg a chapter, which probably qualifies the naval surgeon as either a human caterpillar or one of the great liars of all time. But after a night in mist-shrouded Plymouth and Will Tunn’s Cheerful Tortoise, repaired with a few old acquaintances from the Royal Naval, Dogbody (Imagine Baron Munchhausen, Harry Flashman and Horatio Hornblower all rolled into one) holds forth and it doesn’t matter if the stories are true or not, they’re just so good; like a bottle of good grog, you’ll find yourself metering each chapter out so that they last.
Thursday, July 30, 2009
It’s always a roll of the dice at events you haven’t done before; you never know if anybody’s going to show up. Judy and I were whistling down the I-5 in the San Joaquin Valley, and the temperature was burnishing the golden hills at a hundred and thirteen degrees.
I was fortunate to be selected by the Autry National Center to kick off their book club at the Western Heritage Museum in Los Angeles—it was to be the swan song of The Dark Horse tour. “It’s the debut of the program, so there might not be very many people…”
I glanced at her. “Yep, I know.”
If you haven’t ever been, the Autry is my favorite museum in the world, and one of the few where you can ride your horse on the equine trails of Griffith Park, tie off to the hitching rails at the museum, and go in. Try that at the Guggenheim.
When Gene Autry started the museum, he was adamant that it not be about the glorification of himself but more of a celebration of the entire West. Back in the late eighties, Judy and I were in LA when I started exhibiting symptoms familiar to every wife—I stood by the doors of stores and jingled the truck keys in my pocket and stood on sidewalks (not my natural element) and looked into the distance with my eyes set in a hard squint.
“Why don’t you go to the Gene Autry Museum?”
I’d been to the Roy Rogers Museum in Victorville, California (now having moved to Branson), and though I loved Roy, hadn’t enjoyed the experience. “I don’t think I can stand to see Champion stuffed.”
“It’s not like that.”
I went, and she was right. The Autry National Center of the American West now incorporates the Southwest Museum of the American Indian, the Museum of the American West, and the Institute for the Study of the American West. With a huge plaza area of Mexican tile, the Autry showcases many special exhibitions, multiple galleries of memorabilia, art, and statuary that contain so many treasures of the West that I won’t even try to list them. And they have the Wells Fargo Theatre which regularly has events including Native American Theatre, music of the American West, and this particular weekend… Me.
I spent the morning with my mouth open as we were given a backstage view of the museum and lunch in the boardroom. All I could think was how embarrassing it was going to be if there were only four people there, Judy, myself, Scott Frank, the Senior Manager of Education and Volunteers, who was to be on stage with me to do the interview, and Chrystina Geagan, the Director of Membership and Visitor Services at the Autry. The lovely young lady was hopeful in that a number of people had RSVP’d earlier in the week, but I still wasn’t sold; it was LA, it was a Sunday afternoon, and it was scorching hot—all symptoms of low turnout.
We made our way down the stairs that opened into the lobby where the line went out the door. I turned to Chrystina. “Do you have another event going on this afternoon?”
She smiled. “No, you’re it.”
Standing room only.
After the talk, Scott turned and congratulated me, “Well, it looks like your reputation has preceded you.”
I smiled back but admitted the truth. “I think it was Gene and the Museum’s reputation that preceded us all.”
PS: If you’d like to join the museum, please go to their website www.autrynationalcenter.org or http://autrynationalcenter.org/membership_home.php...You don’t have to live in LA, you just have to want to celebrate the West….
PPS: I’ve got a few events coming up, including a guest blog on www.jungleredwriters.com where I’ll be talking about women and lesser subjects (all subjects after women are lesser) all day on Wednesday, August 5th.
The Sheridan Library, Sheridan, WY, Thursday, August 6th at 7:00pm
Barnes & Noble, Littleton, Colorado, August 20th at 7:00pm.
Wednesday, July 29, 2009
Harrison Ford reading.
JERICHOW bears many similarities to THE POSTMAN ALWAYS RINGS TWICE.
It is set in a part of East Germany that faces the North Atlantic--which strangely makes it seem un-German to my eyes. Germany and the sea? But like everywhere else now, it is multi-cultural in composition, increasing the mistrust between characters. (In the book, of course, the husband was Greek; here's he's Turkish)
Thomas, a former soldier, is on the run from bad debts and death of his mother. Ali is a middle aged Turkish immigrant,who owns a chain of snack bars in central Eastern Germany along with his beautiful, younger wife. So the setup is very familiar although it plays out differently, and in the end, is about paranoia as much as anything. The characters are more enigmatic than in the Cain tale. I never completely understood the motivations of the wife and lover. But that doesn't ruin the film in any way. Mistrust is the central theme.
Christian Petzold writes & directs a film about three characters, each with a dark side to their character. This is grim film, and focused on these three and their dance of death to the point of claustrophobia.
I can't imagine anyone reading this blog wouldn't like it. Acting, directing, look, all great. Give it a chance if it comes your way.
Question: are we ever going to have dubbing of such quality that reading sub-titles becomes old-fashioned? I heard we were headed toward quality dubbing years ago and yet we still read films. It takes much away from our appreciation of its look and ambiance when we are always looking at the bottom of the screen. Luckily this was not a heavily-dialogued film.
Tuesday, July 28, 2009
You might want to join two authors who wrote books entitled THE SONG IS YOU-Megan Abbott and Arthur Phillips, who will both read from their novels and try to raise some money for Union Settlement, the social service agency in East Harlem where Megan works.
Ron Hogan, who put this event together in record time has all the information on Beatrice. Entry is a scant $10 and you will be doing a good thing for a music program at Union Settlement.
There will be music and talk and the money raised will go to the good people of East Harlem.
Monday, July 27, 2009
Thanks to Christopher Grant.
Elinor Whitney reading. (I don't know either)
We rewatch TV shows on occasion. They make a good nightcap, entertainment while cooking or cleaning, even a dinner accompaniment when we've been together all day long for months.
We never watch a drama a second time. See it once and it's history in our house.
Why? We puzzled it out on a walk today.
Dramas are almost completely dependent on their ending. So if you know the ending, there are few pleasures along the way.
Comedies put greater effort into their dialog. I can remember almost no dialog from any TV drama I've ever seen. But comedies often have several good lines on each show. Lines you can repeat years later.
Comedies often have set pieces that are memorable. Think of Frasier with all the screwball episodes. Think of Seinfeld with all its routines. I can still remember episodes of Dick Van Dyke, Mary Tyler Moore, All in the Family, Cheers, Mash, Taxi? Wouldn't you watch the episode of Taxi where Jim takes his driving test if it were on right now?
What episode of a drama holds the same place in your heart?
When I watch a show for the first time, I am just as likely to choose a drama as a comedy. But it will never get rerun in this house. I remember it too well and only for its conclusion. Does this make sense? Do you watch any dramas for a second time? Is the writing less sharp? Is all pleasure dependent on its ending? What do you think? Maybe it's not you, it's me?
Buster Keaton reading.
Marshall, Michigan is about two hours from Detroit and one of my favorite places to visit due to their lovely old homes. Every fall they have a tour of them, yet I always seem to miss it. Marshall has some great antique stores, incredible homes and a Main Street that's largely intact. It also has a museum of magic, a Civil War Museum, one of the oldest continuously used cemetery, an historic theater with an organ and other great venues. If you are driving between Chicago and Detroit, it's a perfect destination.
More My Town Monday posts can be found here.
Sunday, July 26, 2009
Charles Gramlich, a good friend of this blog and Friday's Forgotten Books is a psychology professor and a writer of many novels in the Talera series of fantasy novels. He's just published a book on writing that looks like sure-fire addition to my shelf of them.
You can find him here and in Abita Springs, LA. with his lovely wife, Lana.
Saturday, July 25, 2009
For those who get BBC American I saw a sneak preview of this new series and thought it had great potential. A ghost, a werewolf and a vampire tough it out together in 2009 England. You can find more about in here. It's on tonight at 9. Guess which one this is?
Inger Stevens reading.
I took a collection of short stories by a single author along with me when I knew I was going to be doing some waiting. Read Story One and it was a winner. Story Two, great too, but the setting was much like the one in the first one.
Story Three, now the characters are beginning to seem a little similar. All three stories on their own were winners in any book. Full of atmosphere, character, and enough plot for a short story at least.
But read one after the other, this author's stories lost something critical-- freshness and surprise.
Now I wonder why publishers don't take say three or four writers, each different in style, atmosphere and theme, and publish perhaps three stories from each of them in one volume.
Sure there are collections where every story is from a different author-but you don't get the feel of any individual author that way. They are usually the "best of" or more thematically linked.
What do you think? Would you split the royalties in order to have four of your stories in a book? Would you as a reader find this interesting? Are there single-authored collections where each or most stories are distinct or are they just not meant to be read all at once?
Friday, July 24, 2009
In case anyone hasn't seen this.
THE SUMMING UP, Friday, July 24, 2009
Patti Abbott, The Joe Binney series, Jack Livingston
Paul Bishop Crossroad Blues, Ace Atkins
David Cranmer, The Hidden Stone Mystery, Fran Striker
Bill Crider, Charlie Opera, Charlie Stella
Martin Edwards, The 31st of February, Julian Symons
Cullen Gallagher, The Western Film Charlie Silver
Ed Gorman, A Shot Rang Out, Jon L. Breen
Randy Johnson, Death Rides the Pecos, Davis Dresser
George Kelley, The Given Day, Robert Van Gulik
B.V. Lawson, Cry, the Beloved Country, Alan Paton
Todd Mason, Explainers, Jules Feiffer, Impollutable Pogo, Walt Kelly
Kathryn Miller Haines, The Woman Chaser, Charles Willeford
Juri Nummelin, Action Girls, Floyd Smith
Scott Parker, The Commanche Scalp, William Colt MacDonald
James Reasoner, Conquerors from the Darkness, Robert Silverberg
Peter Rozovsky, Hare Sitting Up, Michael Innes
Stephen Jay Schwartz, The Brotherhood of the Grape, John Fante
Kerrie Smith, The Dark Side of the Island, Mark Hebden
R.T. Zadig, Voltaire
THE RAP SHEET and pattinase are taking two weeks off-the weeks of August 28th and September 4th--just in terms of Friday's Forgotten Books and The Book You Have to Read, of course.
The Summing Up will be delayed. I've been called away.
Ed Gorman is the author and editor of many fine crime and western novels. You can find him blogging here.
A SHOT RANG OUT by Jon L. Breen
I'm about to review a book that is hardly forgotten; it's new. I'm reviewing it because a) I think it's an important book and b) because it didn't get the coverage it deserves. I should also note that the book is dedicated to me but I'd like to add here that I was reading and learning from Jon Breen long before I switched from men's magazine adventure and science fiction to mystery and got to know him personally.
The name Anthony Boucher is one of the most revered in mystery fiction. I have three volumes of his Sunday columns and what strikes me again and again when I reread them is the concision and precision of his his reviews. He had the ability to give you a real sense of the book and his reaction to it in one hundred words or less. Try that sometime. It ain't easy. Boucher also brought a truly catholic approach (I'm not making a pun here, Boucher having been a devout Roman Catholic) which enabled him to review Charlotte Armstrong with the same understanding and enthusiasm he rolled out for Ross Macdonald.
These are the same traits I've always found in Jon Breen's criticism and his hefty new collection proves my point. The book opens with overviews of fifteen careers, including those of Michael Connelly, Elmore Leonard, Chester Himes, Ellery Queen and P.D. James. The length of these gives Breen the opportunity show how careers are built (consciously or unconsciously) and to cite the triumphs and disappointments along the way. My favorites here are Jack Finney and Margaret Millar. Finney is one of the most elusive of genre writers; his career included everything from hardboiled to fantasy to outright whimsey. And I'd put Millar up against Agatha Christie any day.
This section is followed by "Short Takes on 100 Writers." I love things like this. It's fun to be reminded of books you cared about but haven't reread in years and writers you passed over previously but now, thanks to Breen's profile here, want to try this time around.
The rest of the book comes in two sections. "Topical essays" covers everything from American Women Mystery Writers to The Ghost and Miss Truman (a very wry entry) to Murdering History (the historical novel) to How To Write Mysteries in Six Difficult Lessons (with several guests including Elizabeth George and Loren Estleman). This is followed by short punchy pieces on such subjects as The British Mystery and Nancy Drew and Plagiarism. His piece on my tenure as the editor of Mystery Scene had me (literally) howling out loud. Somebody once said that they bought the magazine just to see what it would look like this time. I sure did change formats a lot. Thank God Kate and Brian took it over. There are even a pair of true crime reviews, his take on Patricia Cornwell's job on Jack The Ripper bracing to be sure.
In sum, if you have any interest in the field of mystery and suspense, this book needs to be on your shelf. It would also make a great present. A witty, shrewd, serious look at the genre that is finally coming into its own in popularity and critical esteem.
Patti Abbott, The Joe Binney series by Jack Livingston
Jack Livingston was an American writer who wrote a series of novels in the 1980’s about a
hard-boiled, hard-drinking detective named Joe Binney, who happened to be deaf. Binney lost his hearing while working as a Navy diver, but, despite this disability, he managed to work as a private investigator in New York, aided by his assistant, Edna.
There are four Joe Binney novels: “A Piece of the Silence,” “Die Again, Macready,” “The
Nightmare File,” and “Hellbent for Election.” According to my log, I read them as fast as I could, finding both the writing and the plots compelling. Four books in five years from Mr. Livinston and then nothing. I wonder what became of him. Can someone help me out?
1. A Piece of the Silence (1982)
2. Die Again, Macready (1984)
3. The Nightmare File (1986)
4. Hell-Bent for Election (1987)
Stephen Jay Schwartz’s debut crime thriller, BOULEVARD, is due out
September 15, 2009 from Forge Books. He blogs regularly at
www.murderati.com . You can learn more about him at
THE BROTHERHOOD OF THE GRAPE by John Fante
My introduction to John Fante came from an interview I read with Charles
Bukowski. Fante was a huge influence on Bukowski and, when I find a
writer I love (like Bukowski) I tend to read all of his/her influences.
If anyone has ever told you about Fante they’ve probably steered you
towards Ask the Dust, which has somehow become his signature book. The
novel was made into a move in 2006 starring Colin Farrell and Salma Hayek,
directed by Robert Towne.
While I appreciate the terse, visual writing in Ask the Dust, it comes
nowhere near the fervor I feel for Fante’s The Brotherhood of the Grape.
I’ve never read such charming, poignant and humorous depictions of
intergenerational Italian-American antics as I have in Brotherhood. Fante
nails the characterization of the ancient adulterer Nicholas Molise, the
narrator’s father, a stubborn, steadfast alcoholic, gambler and craftsman
extraordinaire whose commissioned brick and stone-work is represented all
over the small town of San Elmo, California, where he lives with his
ultra-religious wife, Maria.
The beauty of this book comes from Fante’s characterizations of the family
members, which includes narrator Henry, an adult son in his fifties who,
much to his father’s dismay, became a writer instead of a stonemason. The
novel opens with Henry receiving a call from his brother, Mario, telling
Henry that his parents are getting a divorce. Apparently, Nicholas has
been drinking and gambling and having an affair on his wife. By the time
Henry arrives in San Elmo his parents have patched things up a bit, and,
before Henry can get the hell out of town, his parents conspire to get him
to help his father build the man’s final great work—a smokehouse in the
The book is about the complexity of family relationships. Fante delivers
on character, for sure. He proves himself a master—really one of the very
best—at depicting the modulating feelings of love, regret, expectation and
resentment that define the family experience in America, and, most
particularly, the American immigrant experience, where the dreams of one
generation conflict greatly with the dreams of their children.
Ultimately, it is the love of friendship, of Paesani, that proves a
greater bond than that of familial love. Nicholas’ drinking buddies, all
septuagenarians like him, are there for him through thick and thin. They
do not judge his drinking, gambling or womanizing, but take him at face
value, as the man he is, as the Piason they have come to cherish over the
many years of their acquaintance. In the end, these are the friends who
Nicholas searches out to share his final moments.
And yet, Fante does a brilliant job of marking Henry’s changing attitude
through the story. Henry eventually comes to respect the man he has spent
his entire life avoiding. He doesn’t forgive his father for the terrible
emotional abuse he experienced as a child, but he does learn to see that
his father has a special soul—as his mother, who endures even greater
shame and embarrassment, learned many years before.
Brotherhood of the Grape is a quick, easy read that you wish would never
end. It is my favorite book by John Fante, and it ranks in the top twenty
of my all time most-enjoyable reads.
Kathryn Miller Haines
Detectives Beyond Borders (Pete Rozovsky)
Thursday, July 23, 2009
A few weeks ago, Eric Beetner and I had a discussion via blogland about the sorry state of most movies today and he surprised me with the information that he had actually written and directed a 50-minute movie--TAKING YOUR LIFE.
He has been employed as a film editor and is also a writer so I was not totally surprised he could do such a thing and do it well. When he offered to send it to me, I was delighted. But what I was surprised at was the subject matter. My assumption that a crime writer would make a movie about such things was quickly cast aside as I watched a movie about life and death issues. Literally.
I asked him a few questions and he kindly agreed to answer them.
How did you come to make TAKING YOUR LIFE?
I am a movie guy. I went to film school. I am an editor by trade (mostly TV) so it's not like I just woke up and wanted to make a movie. The trouble is money. (ain't it always) I have been screenwriting for a number of years and I even got paid for it a few times. Nothing made it to the screen though. My career is painfully typical in that regard. So I set out to make something that showed I could write and even direct. I knew I had to do it on the cheap so I wrote something short but something that had a full feature-length structure of beginning, middle and end. It ended up being not that short, almost an hour long. I also wrote a story that would seem appropriate on video because I knew I couldn't afford to shoot film. There is nothing worse than seeing a film and thinking "Gee it was great but if only they'd had a few more bucks." With that in mind I wrote around locations I knew I could get for free and situations that are cheap i.e. it is a dialogue driven film, not one about car chases. After that I just sat down to write and this is what came out. I have 16 feature length screenplays and several shorts and now with my fiction I have over a dozen published short stories, a novel coming out in the fall (co-written with JB Kohl) and a solo novel already done and another in progress. In short, new ideas are not a problem.
So once I had a script I thought would be good it was time to call in all my favors from casting to locations to a place to do the editing. I cut it myself obviously. I'm not going to pay anyone to do what I can do quickly and easily even though the common belief is that it is wrongheaded to edit anything you have directed. So after that it was just having one other person to keep on top of the little logistics and my good friend Peter agreed to help me out. (for no money I might add) So we produced together and I found a good DP that came cheap but worked out really well and other than that it was a skeleton crew and we shot it fast and cheap. The offices I used are from the TV show I was working on at the time, I used my own edit bay, the actors provided their own wardrobe, their own houses and apartments, we used no makeup, my wife catered the film. We shot over 9 days and it all went incredibly smoothly. While touring the festival circuit I was always hearing horror stories of shoots gone bad, over budget and long and I think other indie film makers were getting annoyed with me because I had such a great easy time of it.
This seems like an unusual first movie for a younger person, especially since the protagonist is an old woman. Where did the keen insight into her particular situation come from?
I wish I was as young as you think I am. I was 37 when I made the film and yes, the main character is an elderly woman but I reject the whole "write what you know" thing. I'm a crime writer who has never committed a crime. I don't even drink. This film is not a crime story, but still. It is far from the first script I have written.
Most people who see it assume that the character of Nate is based on me. He works in TV on crappy reality shows, wants to be a documentary film maker, etc. But that is not the case. When my wife read it she knew immediately, "You're Helen." I put a lot of my own philosophy into this character of an 80 year-old woman. I wanted to know her inside and out and also to have all the answers when people asked questions about her motivations. I guess I'm kind of contradicting myself. How much more can I write what I know than to do a version of myself but you get the picture.
It has been extremely gratifying to hear from older people that the character rings true. Kathy Joosten, who stars, said when she accepted the role, "I feel like you wrote this just for me." That was a great phone call.
I've also always been fascinated by suicide. Don't know why. No need to worry about me. I got that all out of my system in high school.
Did you write it initially as a screenplay?
Yes. It started as a movie and was always going to be one. It has been floated that it might make a good stage play but I just haven't gotten around to that. I do too much already. I had to give up being a musician, I don't paint much any more, I parted with my screenwriting agent at ICM (anyone know someone who's looking for a new client?). I have spent my whole adult life being very spread thin by all my interests. No regrets though. I've been a touring punk rocker, sold my art, gotten paid to write scripts, now have sold a novel. Now, if I could just get rich on any of it!
How did you persuade Kathryn Joosten to star in the film? She is such an important part of its success. We never doubt her existence for a minute.
Favors. A dear friend of mine is a casting agent (helps to live in Hollywood) She did Buffy The Vampire Slayer, Without A Trace and many indie films and other stuff. She cast the film for me and Kathy was the first name she threw out for Helen. I thought, "Great! Will she do it?" Kathy said no solely based on the fact that it was an indie with an unproven director. Her manager urged her to read it and when she did she told me she just had to do it. She even refused any payment. It was an insulting amount anyway but it was so great of her to tell us, "Spend it on crew lunch." That's even her house in the film. We had a location set up but she said, "Aw hell, just shoot here. I don't have to wake up as early!" She is a great, great pleasure to have in the film. At our premiere screening her son told her, "Mom, that's the best you've even been." I loved hearing that. She gets very easily typecast as a grumpy neighbor or crotchety old maid so this was just fun for her to flex her acting muscles for a little bit.
There is a moment during one of her long monologues that I let run for a 3 1/2 min uninterrupted take. She was so in character that it still blows me away. As an editor I see too many performances too cut up. She loved that as an actress that we did a lot of long takes of things. It's hard to get fully into a moment when you shoot it in 10 sec pieces. All the actors commented on that on set. They liked the way I just kind of backed off and let them go for most of it.
A little trivia - during shooting is when she auditioned for Desperate Housewives which she went on to win the Emmy for. The rest of the cast was brilliant too. I got so very lucky.
I agree. All of them played their parts brilliantly. How can people buy it?
I'm not above pimping my wares. It is available at Indieflix. This is a DVD equivalent of a POD publisher. You order one, they burn one. The link is: http://www.indieflix.com/Films/TakingYourLife
You can view a trailer there as well. You can always contact me directly through my directing website ericbeetner.com not to be confused with my writing site ericbeetner.blogspot.com Told you I do too much.
Do you have plans for another film?
Oh lots of plans. No money. All our discretionary income of the last few years has gone toward adopting our two daughters. Money well spent, I say. I am working on one project that I think I can do on the ultra cheap. It would be a web-based series of short films but I am still working out details. This is the first I've even written about it at all so maybe this will inspire me to go ahead and do it. Time to call in more favors!
Like I said I split with my screenwriting agent so I am on the hunt for a new one but I am so piss-poor and selling myself that I have been terrible at it. I am hoping that with more of my fiction getting out there it may make me seem more legit and with this film as an example that I can write for the screen and I can direct actors then maybe I can get some interest. I just keep plugging away hoping that the cream will rise. Mostly in this town it is the over-confident loudmouths who climb the ladder but that's not me. If I stay a fairly obscure nice guy who never sells out his integrity then it is a life well spent. Aw, hell, talk to me on my deathbed and I'll be screaming to sell out.
I'm proud of the film and so far everyone who has seen it has liked it for what it is. It does tend to spark discussion. It is heavy and will make you think. Even if someone hated it I'd rather elicit a reaction than be met with indifference.
Festival crowds have really enjoyed it. We won the audience award at the California Independent Film Festival. I even got invited to The University of Pennsylvania to screen the film. That was fun. But if you've got an hour to spare, give it a try.
I highly recommend you do if you like movies with substance. And I hope Eric continues to make movies.
Wednesday, July 22, 2009
Tuesday Weld reading.
and walk over the the nearest bookcase or pile of books. What book do you reread on a rainy Saturday?
My choice: THAT NIGHT by Alice McDermott. I was knocked out by this in the nineties. Would I still be?
Tuesday, July 21, 2009
(From the Monkey Cage)
Sometimes you just have to gut it out. Having watched the Teddy Kennedy autobio on HBO and heard his words about the necessity of universal health care thirty years ago, how can we still allow the rich to determine what health care the rest of us get? Forty-million people who can't get mammograms or flu shots or a chest x-ray is a disgrace.
LBJ vs. Obama
LBJ approval in July 1965, on the eve of Medicare: 66%
Obama approval now: 57%.
Monday, July 20, 2009
Need I say who's reading?
What TV show do you find the most erratic? Usually you can pretty much predict that a certain show will be good or bad? You watch it once or twice and discard it. Or stick with it for the long haul.
But certain shows seem bi-polar. My favorite example is THE CLOSER, which seems to be written by two very different teams of writers--one who favors cute, kitteny and parents-oriented. These episode make our Chief seem like a ditsy broad.
The other team who comes up with some pretty interesting cases-ones that look at the strains between various police orgs working in LA. From week to week, I never know which team will show up. So I stick with it, but 65% of the time, regret it.
What about you? What TV show has bi-polar problems for you?
Ann Arbor Street Art Fair, The Original
It is impossible to describe the number of artists, visitors, restaurants, shops, etc that take place in the annual Ann Arbor Street Art Fair. The fairs are judged and you will find artwork in every media and at ever price. Half a million people descend on this town every year. This was a good year for the fair-weatherwise, if a bad year economically. I saw as many people as ever, but less artwork being purchased.
The oldest of the four art fairs, taking place mid-July, the Ann Arbor Street Art Fair, The Original, was established in 1960 by a collaboration between the Ann Arbor Art Association, the University of Michigan, and two business groups. For 50 years, The Ann Arbor Street Art Fair has been connecting a carefully selected group of artists with an appreciative audience from Ann Arbor and across the country. During this half century, the Fair has won many awards, provided substantial economic benefit to the local business community, and often been recognized as the brand of Ann Arbor.
The “Original” moniker in the Fair’s title comes not only from the event’s history, but from its unique role as a leader in the art fair community. It was the first Fair to jury an outdoor show in 1965 and was integral in the creation of the online jurying system Zapplication, now in use by hundreds of fairs across the country.
The Fair has also been a leader in programming throughout the years, initiating events like the Townie Street Party. This special free kick off event takes place the Monday before the start of the Fairs (July 13th 2009) and gives the community a chance to celebrate the Art Fairs before the crowds come to town. Other programs like the Kid’s Art Fair give young artists the opportunity to exhibit and sell their work. The New Artist Program allows University level artists to experience what it’s like to fully participate in the Street Art Fair.
The Performances on the Lawn program is a big hit with the Fair crowd too. Housed within a huge 60’x 90’ tent, this line up s \howcases an exciting and eclectic mix of music, dance and magic by local community groups and professionals that is family friendly, forward thinking and innovative. The Performances on the Lawn program features over 30 acts throughout the four days of the Fair, creating an intimate and inviting sense of community that complements the exceptional visual art that surrounds it.
The Fair also hosts Imagination Stations with “make and take” activities for younger children and Visual Art Workshops as well. Programs like these help to encourage a broader understanding of art while providing area artists with an opportunity to engage fairgoers in community art projects. The Original Fair has recently made a huge commitment to sustainability as well, introducing the Zero Waste Program in 2008 with a goal of minimal environmental impact. This program was one of three invited to present at the 2009 annual MFEA Conference.
As a result of its leadership, The Original Fair has won numerous awards, including the Governors Award (State of Michigan), several Reader’s Choice Awards (Ann Arbor News, Ann Arbor Current), a Gold Pinnacle Award (International Festivals and Events Association), and the title of the Number One Art Fair in the country (according to the AmericanStyle magazine readers survey, October 2004). It has made the list of Top Ten Fairs and Festivals every year since.
In 2003, the Ann Arbor Street Art Fair, the Original relocated to North University Avenue and the streets surrounding the landmark Burton Carillon Tower. This gorgeous new location on the University of Michigan’s Central Campus is set amidst elegant architecture and beautifully landscaped pedestrian walkways.
Ann Arbor State Street Art Fair
The Ann Arbor State Street Art Fair was established in 1968 and is sponsored by the Ann Arbor Street Area Association. It features almost 400 artists and takes place in the shopping districts around State Street.
Ann Arbor Summer Art Fair
The Ann Arbor Summer Art Fair was established in 1960 and is run by the The Guild of Artists & Artisans. Originally called the Free Arts Festival and held on the Diag, in the University of Michigan's Central Campus, in the mid-70s it was renamed to become the Ann Arbor Summer Art Fair. Currently, it is held in two locations, one on State Street, and the other on Main Street and Liberty Street between Main and 4th Avenue. In addition to 375 professional artists, the fair also features performances and children's activities.
2009: Celebrating 50 years of Ann Arbor's Art Fairs ~ [The Ann Arbor Summer Art Fair Website]
Ann Arbor South University Art Fair
"Diversity, Live it on South U" Celebrating 50 years of Art on the streets of Ann Arbor
Ann Arbor's South University Art Fair: Since the first Fair appeared on South University in 1960 many things have changed and yet so much remains the same. The idea for an Art Fair, first proposed by Bruce Henry, owner of Artisan’s Gallery on South University, now has a life of its own. Colorful paper fish hung by the merchants flew gaily from the lamp-posts during the first fair and that theme is echoed in this years poster designed by Chuck Wimmer (Booth E191). Ann Arbor’s South University Art Fair featuring almost 150 artists is where the past meets the future. Cutting edge creations blend with traditional styles, and local and international artists combine to bring you the unmistakable flavor which epitomizes the youngest of the Ann Arbor Art Fairs. Great ethnic restaurants, hip and quirky stores plus plenty of easy access parking at the Forest Parking Deck make South U. the best possible starting place for your Art Fair adventure.
Whether you return via bus to your car in the shopping center empty handed or full of art, you will enjoy the fair. The food itself is reason to attend.
Visit more MY TOWN MONDAY SITES, HOSTED BY CLAIR DICKSON HERE.
Saturday, July 18, 2009
Theresa and Megan reading.
You can access their joint interview in Phoenix's Poison Pen Bookstore right here.
Not sure how long it will be up but it's loads of fun because Patrick asked great questions and they had a lively audience. Isn't the new technology great.
I am a big fan of Egoyan's earlier movies but for some reason, this one, troubled me. I felt the front story, full of intrigue and excitement, left the end story seemingly trite and predictable.
It seems like we were deliberately misled about what the story was about.
I think thrillers can get away with this tactic, but this was not a thriller. Even though it appeared to be for a while.
There was also an extremely improbable final scene. Hard to discuss this without spoilers.
Yet all the reviews for this movie are very favorable. Do you ever feel like you missed the boat with a book or movie? Do you wonder if that something that would have pulled it altogether eluded you?
Friday, July 17, 2009
Friday's Forgotten Books, July 17, 2009
Paul Bishop, Dead Ball, Barry Cork
Booked For Murder, Crippen, John Boyne
Bill Crider, The Anthony Boucher Chronicles, edtied, Francis Nevins
Gary Dobbs, Wilt, Tom Sharpe
Martin Edwards, The Nursemaid Who Disappeared, Philip MacDonald
Ray Foster, Choice of Straws, E. R. Braithwaite
Cullen Gallagher, Writer’s Digest (Vol. 36, No. 1),Gold Medal Books: In Their Own Words, edited Inez Salinger
Ed Gorman, The Collected Stories of Stephen Crane
Randy Johnson, The Navy Colt, Frank Gruber
George Kelley, Wild Thyme, Green Magic, Jack Vance
Michael Kortya, Tomato Red, Daniel Woodrell
William Landay, The Friends of Eddie Coyle, Geoge V. Higgins
B.V. Lawson, The Best American Mystery Stories 1997, edited by Robert B. Parker
Rafe MacGregor, Falling Angel, William Hjortsberg
Todd Mason, First Hubby, Roy Blount, Jr.
Scott Parker, Naked in Death, J.D. Robb
Eric Peterson. Devil Born Without Horns, Michael A; Lucas
James Reasoner, The Girl in the Golden Atom, Ray Cummings
Kerrie Smith, Wobble to Death, Peter Lovesey
Louis Willis, The Conjure Man Dies, Rudolph Fisher
The entire sixteen months' worth of choices is here.
Ed Gorman is the author of THE MIDNIGHT ROOM, SLEEPING DOGS and many other fine crime and western novels.
The Collected Stories of Stephen Crane
As the prime creator of Realism Stephen Crane shocked the world of letters both in his writing and his personal life. His first book was Maggie: A Girl of The Streets and he spent a good share of his adult life (as much of it as there was--he died at twenty-eight) living with Cora Taylor, the madame of a brothel. He wrote dozens of short stories as well as his masterpiece The Red Badge of Courage.
While he was accepted and praised by the literary critics of the time, he was frequently derided for the pessimism and violence of his stories. He brought "the stink of the streets" into literature as one reviewer said. But his streets could be found all over America, not just in the cities.
The Open Boat, The Blue Hotel, The Bride Comes to Yellow Sky, Shame and The Upturned Face give us portraits of different Americas. As I was rereading them lately I realized that they all have two things in common--their utter sense of social isolation and the intensity of their telling. Hemingway always put up The Blue Hotel as one of the most intense-"bedeviled"--stories in our language and man he was right. The fist fight in the blizzard on the blind side of the barn is one of those most hellish insane scenes I've ever read. And the ironic words at the last honestly gave me chills, even though I knew what was coming. His years as a journalist gave him a compassion for society's discards no matter where they lived or what color they happened to be.r
His sense of place changed writing. Whether he was writing about the slums of Brooklyn or the endless ghostly plains of Nebraska in winter, his early years as a poet gave his images true clarity and potency. One critic of the time said his stories were possessed of "a filthy beauty" and that nails it.
Only a few of his stories are taught today; Red Badge is mandatory in schools. But in the many collections available of his stories you find a passion for life and language that few writers have ever equaled. Too many American masters get lost in the shuffle of eras. Crane is not only an artist he's one of the finest storytellers I've ever read.
Louis Willis, THE CONJURE MAN DIES, Rudolph Fisher
In 1995, I retired from my job as a Federal government employee, and in 1996, after being away for 42 years, I returned to my hometown of Knoxville, TN. In 2000, I enrolled in the Master Degree program at the University of Tennessee and received my degree in English literature in 2004.
After receiving my degree, I looked around for something to occupy my time. So, I became editor of the newsletter for my high school class in which I keep the members of the class of 1954 informed about other members and reunions. I became interested in digital photography but didn’t take any courses. I just like to take pictures and use my camcorder to video my oldest grandson’s football and basketball games so that I’ll have the DVDs of his career from the time he was five years old and told me he was going to play in the NFL.
Most important, I returned to my first love: reading. I began once again to read detective stories. I am reading my way through mysteries and crime fiction written by Black American writers and trying, as my blog indicates, to make readers aware of these Black American writers.
Other than Shakespeare, I have no one favorite author; some of my favorites are Langston Hughes, Zora Neale Hurston, Arthur Conan Doyle, Raymond Chandler, Walter Mosley, Charlotte Carter, William Faulkner, Ernest Hemingway, Katherine Ann Porter, Eudora Welty. As for the authors of today, I have not read enough of them to have a favorite. Moreover, so many novels are published each year that I don’t think I could read enough of them to pick a favorite. As far as possible, I try to read the writers of detective/crime fiction. In one month of the year, usually December, I read a non-mystery novel by a contemporary author. YOu can find more of Louis' reviews here.
I recommend to readers of detective stories a novel I consider a classic of the genre and which I have included in my canon of Black detective/crime fiction. THE CONJURE-MAN DIES: A MYSTERY TALE OF DARK HARLEM by Rudolph Fisher (1897-1934) is the story of African mysticism and murder in Harlem. Fisher was a major literary figure in the Harlem Renaissance in the 1920s and early 1930s. During his short career, he wrote only two novels, THE WALLS OF JERICHO and THE CONJURE-MAN DIES. At the time, THE CONJURE MAN DIES was the only detective novel written by a Black American.
THE CONJURE MAN DIES should be canonized because Fisher shows that he was a master of the closed-door type mystery and because of his use of African culture and Black American characters and culture. THE CONJURE MAN DIES, however, is not a social document demonstrating Black folks could write novels. It is a good story well told.
THE CONJURE-MAN DIES is the classic closed-door mystery. Frimbo, an African fortune-teller, is found dead in his office but reappears later very much alive and helps New York police detective, Perry Dart, and Dr. John Archer, M. D., who also helps Dart, identify the victim and trap the murderer. To the classical detective story formula, Fisher adds the milieu of the Black community of Harlem, Black detectives, an African victim, and African and Black American cultures.
Fisher also goes against the classic conflict between the amateur and the police detectives. Dart and Archer are the Holmes and Watson of Harlem. In their relationship, neither Dart nor Dr. Archer is superior to the other. Both think logically. But Dart thinks like a detective, speculating much of the time, while Dr. Archer has a scientific mind and is more cautious in his observations and conclusions. He wants scientific proof.
Frimbo, a tribal Chief in his home country of Liberia, was the intended victim but his servant, who, to protect the Chief, often took his place, was murdered instead. In helping Dart and Dr. Archer, Frimbo becomes the third detective, putting his life in danger. Dr. Archer describes Frimbo as “’a native African, a Harvard graduate, a student of philosophy—and a sorcerer.’” Fisher explores African culture and philosophy through interesting philosophical discussions between Frimbo and Dr. Archer, who dislikes Frimbo because of his superior attitude.
Bubber Brown, a streetwise Harlemite and would-be detective, adds the comic to the story and is instrumental in helping solve the crime. He is a misdirection character who lightens the gothic atmosphere and leads the reader through the dark Harlem underworld, which adds two gangsters to the most likely suspect list because of their relations with Frimbo. Bubber joins the search for the killer in order to clear the name of his friend Jinx from the list.
“Dark Harlem” in the title suggests a gothic atmosphere. Where in Harlem can such atmosphere be found? How about a funeral home full of dead bodies? Frimbo’s office is in the same building as the funeral home. His seemingly mystical ability to tell the fortunes of the middle class Harlemites who visit him and the necessary examination of the dead bodies when the original murder victim disappears creates gothic atmosphere Harlem style.
If you enjoy Sherlock Holmes stories, you will enjoy THE CONJURE-MAN DIES: A MYSTERY TALE OF DARK HARLEM. I wish Fisher had written more novels about his two Harlem detectives Perry Dart and Dr. John Archer and at least one novel about detective Bubber Brown.
Rafe McGregor is the author of THE ARCHITECT OF MURDER. He's one of the foremost authorities on Sherlock Holmes and you can find him here.
Falling Angel by William Hjortsberg.
Once again my choice for a forgotten book is one which was made into a successful Hollywood movie. Angel Heart (starring Robert De Niro, Mickey Rourke, and Lisa Bonet) appeared on the big screen in 1987, nine years after the publication of Falling Angel, and proved a faithful adaptation of the novel. Apparently the film only broke even with its seventeen million dollar budget, but it has subsequently acquired something of a cult status (rightly so, in my opinion). Nonetheless, as far as I can tell the book is only currently in print thanks to No Exit Press, who published an eighteenth birthday paperback edition in 2005.
Falling Angel almost defies description, and it’s very difficult to write about it without revealing too much of the ingenious plot. Essentially, it’s a hardboiled detective story set in New York in 1959, and the plot follows private eye Harry Angel’s attempt to track down a missing wartime crooner named Johnny Favorite. There is an eerie and unsettling atmosphere as Angel learns that Favorite wasn’t a very nice chap at all, even if he was a very successful singer. I’ll leave it there, suffice to say that the writing is worthy of Hammett, Thompson, and Chandler at their best. To quote Stephen King on the novel: “Terrific…One of a kind…I’ve never read anything remotely like it.”
And I think that’s one of the reasons it has largely been forgotten. As much as publishers and readers all praise ‘originality’ in novels, it’s quite obviously that they (and we – I’m as much to blame as anyone) don’t really like anything too original. What shelf does a cross-genre novel go on in a bookshop? How can a truly original novel be marketed in terms of, ‘if you liked author A, you’ll love book B’, etc.? As readers we like to know what we’re picking up, because the book we select often reflects our mood and is certainly determined by the type of entertainment we’re seeking. Books like Falling Angel aren’t predictable in any way, and I probably wouldn’t ever have stumbled across it if I hadn’t sought it out after seeing the film. More than anything else, that shows the novel’s impact on me: knowing the solution of the mystery didn’t ruin the story for me, and I can’t remember when that last happened.
If you haven’t seen Angel Heart yet, buy the DVD, put it on the shelf, and track down a copy of the book first.of the best crime novels of the twentieth century, and it’s such a shame to see it fading into obscurity…
Michael Koryta is the author of five novels, including the 2008 LA Times Book Prize winner, Envy the Night, and the forthcoming The Silent Hour.
TOMATO RED, Daniel Woodrell
In a literal sense, Daniel Woodrell's "Tomato Red" doesn't meet forgotten book standards as it is neither an old text, nor, I suspect, forgotten by a single soul who actually read it. Overlooked, then, let's c If you like noir, hardboiled crime, or clever mysteries, you definitely won’t be disappointed. Falling Angel is one all it that, and agree that such a thing is a damn shame because Woodrell is as good a writer as anyone alive. There's no easing into the story in Tomato Red -- we pick up our narrator, Sammy Barlach, riding a good crank high and breaking into a mansion with a pair of "trailer-park bums," the sort Sammy imagines are the only crowd that will have him. From there you're along for a swift, insightful, and tragic ride narrated in a way only Woodrell can manage. There's a touch of Twain in the observations of his protagonist/narrator -- "You might think I should've quit on the burglary right there, but I just love people, I guess, and didn't." -- and a dose of James Agee in his handling of rural social class frustrations (rage?) but the writing is all his own, and there aren't many writers out there who can come close. Is Tomato Red as powerful and fully realized a novel as Winter's Bone or The Death of Sweet Mister? No. But it's a hell of a book, one that can make you laugh out loud in the first half of a sentence and then twist your heart in the second, and when you find a writer capable of such feats, you ought to read every word they put on paper.
Booked For Murder