Sunday, June 16, 2019

A Group of Crime Writers Walks Into a Bar . . .


Earlier this week, a group of people who make things up for a living decided to try sticking to the facts instead.
Eileen Rendahl, me, Mick West, Holly West, Ann-Marie L'Etoile and James L'Etoile holding our prizes for winning the true crime pub quiz--books!
A local pub was hosting its regular quiz night, but for the first time, the trivia had a true crime theme. How could a bunch of mystery writers pass this up? Eileen Rendahl and DSDer Holly West are huge true crime readers and podcast fans, including of the juggernaut My Favorite Murder show. James L’Etoile brought his considerable knowledge of serial killers, and I pulled from the hodge-podge of random details rattling around my brain. Our group was rounded out by civilians (aka non-mystery writers) Mick West and Ann-Marie L’Etoile. Individually, we all had huge gaps in our knowledge. Collectively, we were awesome.
We arrived early in order to properly hydrate.
We had perfect scores for the first two rounds, and on the third round only missed the real title of the Unabomber Manifesto (“Industrial Society and Its Future”).

We were feeling pretty good about ourselves until the fourth and last round, when “the wheels came off,” as L’Etoile put it. We only answered two of nine correctly. (For example, what well-known true crime writer co-authored And The Sea Will Tell in 1991? The answer was Vincent Bugliosi—we said Joseph Wambaugh.) We were growing increasingly more worried by the table next to us, which was full of librarians. Terrifying, knowledgeable librarians. Had they aced the fourth round while we were busy trying to figure out which area on the Mendocino Coast was the location of several different sensational crimes? (Geography did not turn out to be one of our strong points.)
In the end, we managed to eke out a victory, which we noted with some subdued, adult-like applause. Nope, that’s fiction. We really whooped and hollered like little kids. And then the librarians came over to introduce themselves. They were, as most librarians are, delightful people who were also funny and charming—but still terrifyingly knowledgeable about crime (there’s a novel in there somewhere, I know there is).

Saturday, June 15, 2019

Year of an Indie Writer: Week 24

by
Scott D. Parker

Slow week that ended on a high note.

As I mentioned last week, I'm backing away from the every day blogging for a bit. I considered a Tuesday, Thursday, Saturday schedule...and didn't get my act together to do that this week. Still, I reviewed John Wick and Dead Poets Society at 30.

Alas, no new fiction written this week. But proofing on BRIDES OF DEATH continues well. It'll make its 1 July publication.

I did, however, get some new ideas for future stories, so that's always a good thing. Wrote them all down for my future self.

Weird. In January when I started this series, I didn't expect to have weeks in which there would be zero new writing. But that's the reality right now. I could blame life stuff, but it's not that. It's just a blank.

Which I why I'm filling up the bucket by reading new and different things.

Reading List


The novel I'm reading is one I picked up on my vacation to Corpus Christi, Texas, last week: THE SCAM by Linda Evanovich and Lee Goldberg. By my own memory, I have not read any of the Fox and O'Hare series. Yes, this isn't the first one, but I've long decided to go with the book that caught my eye and read it rather than go "Hey, this book looks cool, but it's the fourth title, so I better go back and read the first three and only then get to the book that caught my eye." Yeah, that never happens anymore.

On audio, I'm listening to two non-fiction books. AMERICAN MOONSHOT by Douglas Brinkley is helping me get ready for next month's 50th anniversary of the moon landing. BTW, it is this book that gave me my ideas.

The other audiobook dropped just this week: SONGS OF AMERICA: PATRIOTISM, PROTEST, AND THE MUSIC THAT MADE A NATION by Jon Meacham and Tim McGraw. Both co-authors narrate the book. So far, McGraw reads the lyrics to the songs (from the 1700s), but I hope as we get to the 20th Century, they'll actually play the songs. This book seems tailor made for audio. Man, can Meacham write some glowing prose.

Record of the Week (Month and Year)


Bruce Springsteen's Western Stars.

So excited was I for this record (based off the three singles released ahead of the album) that my routine yesterday morning was altered. I woke, started listening, and only then visited the restroom and snagged my coffee.

As of this writing, I've heard the album all the way through twice. Gorgeous music. So many things to say about this record the words are tumbling over each other. I'll have an in-depth review probably next week, but this is the Album of the Year for me. I can't imagine any other record can top this, especially the emotional reaction on first listen.

The fourth single, Western Stars, also dropped yesterday. Here's the video:

Friday, June 14, 2019

206: Nicolas Cage as Batman


The new SEVEN MINUTES WITH podcast is up.

SoundCloud link

Apple Pod

This is episode 6 of the second season.

Jedidiah Ayres talks about film and Holly West discusses TV. Chris F. Holm is on special assignment.
Chris F. Holm: chrisfholm.com/
Holly West: hollywest.com/
Jedidiah Ayres: spaceythompson.blogspot.com/

Jedidiah Ayres-> Too Old to Die Young, Red Riding, Pusher

More Jed on movies: spaceythompson.blogspot.com

Holly West-> When They See Us

SevenMinutesWith.com

Thursday, June 13, 2019

The Knott of Rejection



By David Nemeth

Throughout my education, I have many great teachers and one of the best was the poet Bill Knott (1940-2014). In an obituary in Open Letters Monthly said:
The intensity of our grief at an artist’s death should not be a measure of how widely their work was known, but how intensely it was loved, and by whom. Knott’s poems are and were a beacon to younger writers, a constant reminder that the innovative can be classically beautiful, and that on the page, the coldest anger can fire the mind.
I'm bringing up Knott because of how he embraced the rejection and criticism of his poetry. When Knott had given up on publishers (or was it the publishers giving up on him), he started self-publishing his own work. And these books usually included quotes critical of his work: "Bill Knott . . . is so bad one can only groan in response" or ". . . Knott seems to hate himself . . . and he seems to hate his readers".

Then there were collages of rejection slips and letters that he dedicated a blog to, a few hundred of the thousands of rejection slips i've got over the years—. The blog had the subtitle: "why I spent so much time trying to do something which the 20-30 pages below show I had no talent for, is a mystery to me—just more evidence (if any were needed) to prove what a futile waste my life was—"



Was Knott seriously pissed about the criticism and rejection? From Robert Baird's New Yorker piece, "Remembering Bill Knott":
You always wondered with Knott, but the mask never slipped. Elisa Gabbert, a poet who studied under him at Emerson, told me that she eventually came to believe that some of Knott’s pranks, like the anti-blurbs, were part of an elaborate performance: “It was kind of a goof, but that was his whole life. It was a really grand goof.” At the same time, she said, his anxieties about fame seemed utterly genuine: “He was just so suspicious of praise and of success.” 
What I do know is that Bill Knott decided to own the rejections and the criticisms until they became a part of his work. As writers, getting rejected hurts, a bad review even worse. But we all have a choice either to drown in the negativity or embrace it as part of the job.

Wednesday, June 12, 2019

The Godfather, Part 2 (see what I did there?)

I admit when I'm wrong.
And boy, was I wrong!
The first third of The Godfather novel is nearly a shooting script for the novel, but after Michael escapes to Italy after killing Sollozzo and the police captain, the novel becomes a rushed mess that doesn't know what it wants to be.

At first, I enjoyed the expanded Johnny Fontane story arc. It quickly becomes a criticism of Frank Sinatra's Hollywood lifestyle, and his childhood buddy Nino Valenti is a poor stand-in for Dean Martin. Connie Corleone nee Rizzo has been moved out to Vegas with her abusive husband and shacks up with a hot shot surgeon who became an abortion specialist because "surgery was too depressing," because people wouldn't listen to his infallible wisdom. This section reads like a crap pulp scare novel and I couldn't help but imagine the Doc wearing glasses and talking around an unlit pipe that was always in his mouth. It's beyond parody. This is where Connie's vaginal "problem" becomes an entire story arc, after the Doc wags his finger over her "primitive  beliefs" and explains in excruciating detail how pelvic floor surgery can give her a world class sex organ.

This reads like bad mid-century soft erotica. Notice I said bad; I've read plenty of good, entertaining novels of that stripe by Lawrence Block under pseudonyms. Mario would have done well to read them, and not be so clinical. The only reason for Connie's sexual awakening, which culminates in the line, "like a carpenter hammering together pieces of two-by-four, the doctor was building her a new snatch from the ground up", is so she can introduce the good doctor to Johnny Fontaine, where he immediately diagnoses his weak voice as cancerous polyps on his larynx. He shaves off the polyps and saves Johnny's voice, but can't save Nino Valenti from drinking himself to death. I wonder if Puzo was disappointed that Dean Martin lived to be nearly 80 years old.

The novel descends into exposition rather than action, with Michael taking on the mantle of Don with natural ability, becoming a more ruthless version of his father. There is little tension for the back half of the novel, and the only interest for me was nostalgia, as he praises the "primitive" ways of country Italians and how much better it is to marry a virgin like they did in the old country, than have to send your wife in for vaginal reconstructive surgery, like they do in liberated '60s America! All Michael does for two years in Italy is walk around with two bodyguards until he sees Apollonia, the virginal yet sensuous nymph of few words (I think she says five?) that he pursues to marry. They have sex and then she gets blown up in the car, in a scene that is just as stupid as the one in the film. She's never fleshed out into anything but a simple sex object and is killed so he can pursue Kate, who he must bend to his will now that he's a Don and not a "college boy."

My pet theory is that Puzo sold the novel before it was completed, and had polished up the first third. Once the advance and PR hype took hold, he rushed the rest, which has the expository feel of a first draft. Coppola was smart to cut the Fontane and Connie subplots, but he somehow managed to make a 175 minute movie out of what's left. In the book, the fight over Vegas with Moe Greene (a Bugsy Siegel stand-in, he's killed the exact same way as the real mobster) is rushed and not explained; we only see the aftermath. In the movie, they change his murder to the infamous eye shot because Siegel was shot five times with an M1 carbine, twice in the head, which popped one eye out of its socket. The book is so rushed by this point that the Corleone's rival is dispatched in a single line, in a master stroke by Michael, whereas in the beginning, they obsess over every detail of how to get the gun in the toilet for the hit on Sollozzo.

Is the book worth reading? It was certainly entertaining, even the bad parts. And it serves as a good lesson of what not to so with the second half of your novel.

Tuesday, June 11, 2019

Feeding the Lake

So I'm working on the new novel, which is the same novel I've been working on for awhile now, and too often it's 156 words done on that day and 258 words on the next day and 171 words done on the day after that.  I write variations of the same words and sentences over and over for a couple of hours to get those 156 or 258 or 171 words, but, come the end of the day's writing stint, that meager total is all I have done to my semi-satisfaction.

In all honesty, that's how most days go, and one gets used to being a snail.

But sometimes its get frustrating, or even depressing, and when it does, I like to think about this quote from the great Jean Rhys. (Born in 1890, died in 1979.  First book, a short story collection, published in 1927; last book, an unfinished autobiography, published in 1979.  So a 52-year career. Total output: 5 novels -- none over 200 pages; 3 collections of short stories - none over 225 pages or so; and the unfinished autobiography - about 175 pages.  And this is someone who spent more of her adult life writing than not writing, so the slim output wasn't because of laziness).



And her quote, spoken late in her life during an interview:

“All of writing is a huge lake. There are great rivers that feed the lake, like Tolstoy or Dostoyevsky. And then there are mere trickles, like Jean Rhys. All that matters is feeding the lake. I don't matter. The lake matters. You must keep feeding the lake.”

Slow as I am with my daily trickle of words, I have to say this quote strikes a chord with me. I find, often, that I take heart quite a bit from it. 

Monday, June 10, 2019

Crime with a twist. Comedy with a kink. Comedy noir.

By Marietta Miles


Because of the specific intent of most crime thrillers, they often lean to the dark and heavy. Making murder, robbery and general mayhem funny is no easy task. It takes a delicate balance and at the same time, the courage to commit completely. 


There might be chases, twists, double-crosses, hopefully a bit violence, and distinct characters. Psychotic mob bosses. Bungling henchmen. Down-on-their-luck detectives or hit-men. Fast-paced story lines and bursts of unexpected drama make for the best ex.


As most of my stories are rather weighty, I often yearn to dip my toe in the bubbly water of the funny pool. Ready to dive in, I take a look at some of my favorite films in this category.



 


The Sting – Directed by George Roy Hill

Starring – Paul Newman and Robert Redford

The Sting is the classic 1973 crime caper in which Robert Redford and Paul Newman play a pair of grifters looking to get even with a ruthless mob boss who killed their friend. The movie is set in Chicago during the 1930’s. These cons cook up an elaborate plan for revenge complete with actors and sets. However, the grift doesn’t go as planned and chaos ensues.

Favorite scene: Poker planning scene, intercut with Eileen Breenan trying to dissuade Charles Durning from searching the private rooms of her gin joint. “You’d be busting in on the chief of police.”




A Fish Called Wanda - Directed by Charles Crichton

Starring – John Cleese, Jamie Lee Curtis, Kevin Kline, and Michael Palin

This fast-paced heist comedy tells the tale of a British crime boss as he organizes a giant diamond heist. The plan is bungled, leaving his hapless henchman, played by Michael Palin, and a pair of vulgar American associates, Jamie Lee Curtis and Kevin Kline, to find where their boss may have hidden the diamonds. Wanda attempts to seduce George's stuffy lawyer, Archie Leach (John Cleese), to find out where he hid the diamonds.

Favorite scene: The interrogation scene. Otto (Kline) attempts to force Ken (Palin) to tell him where the diamonds have been hidden by eating his much-loved fish one by one. Both Kline and Palin make this scene hilarious.




Dirty Rotten Scoundrels - Directed by Frank Oz

Starring – Michael Caine, Glenne Headly, and Steve Martin

Dirty Rotten Scoundrels is a remake of Bedtime Story, a 1964 heist film. Marlon Brando and David Niven originally played the Steve Martin and Michael Caine characters. These two are international con artists preying on gullible wealthy women all along the French Riviera. Martin and Caine compete over which one will grift innocent heiress Glenne Headly.

Favorite scene – The dinner scene. Caine and Martin compete to win the emotions of Headly. “May I go to the bathroom?”





The Big Lebowski – Directed by Joel Coen

Starring – Jeff Bridges, Steve Buscemi, John Goodman, Julianne Moore, Phillip Seymour Hoffman

Not initially a hit, The Big Lebowski became a cult phenomenon well after initial release. The movie stars Jeff Bridges as "The Dude", a Los Angeles slacker and bowling aficionado. He is mistaken for a millionaire of the same name and assaulted as a result. The millionaire’s wife is kidnapped, and he hires The Dude to deliver the ransom to secure her release; but the plan goes awry when the Dude's friend schemes to keep the ransom money. As the story moves forward, we find that no character is who or what they appear.

Favorite scene – The Dude covered in ashes.



Raising Arizona – Directed by Joel Coen

Starring – Nicolas Cage, Holly Hunter, Trey Wilson

H.I. "Hi" McDonnough (Nicholas Cage) is a thoughtful but misguided career criminal. Hi falls in love with Edwina, or Ed, an intake officer he becomes acquainted with during his many arrests. Eventually, Hi asks Ed to marry him and promises to go straight if she says yes. They live simply in a trailer in the gorgeous Arizona desert, where Hi holds down a factory job while Ed continues as a police officer. After trying unsuccessfully for a child of their own, Ed slips into a deep depression. When a well-to-do local family gives birth to quintuplets, Hi sees an opportunity.

Favorite scene – When Hi falls off the wagon and attempts to steal diapers. “Better hurry it up, I’m in dutch with the wife.”





Hot Fuzz – Directed by Edgar Wright

Starring – Simon Pegg, Nick Frost, Bill Nighy, Timothy Dalton

Nicholas Angel, ace detective from London, is transferred to the small, crime-free village of Sandford. Not necessarily welcomed with open arms, he does meet overeager officer Danny Butterman. Danny is infatuated with cop movies and the excitement he believes comes with being a big city police officer. However, a run of gruesome deaths rock the quiet village and Angel is convinced that Sandford is not what it seems. Together with the hapless and hilarious miniscule police department Angel and Danny must get to the bottom of the murders.

Favorite scene – Shakespeare dinner theatre. “Love me, love me…”


More to enjoy...The Pink Panther🗡Trading Places😃Fargo🗡 Pulp Fiction😃Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels🗡My Cousin Vinny.

What are some of your favorite crime-comedies?