Saturday, April 4, 2015

“The Flash” - Early Impressions

Scott D. Parker

Some of you might wonder why I use the term “early impressions” on a TV show that debuted last fall and is fast approaching the end of it’s freshman season. Well, that’s because I’m behind on The Flash and I’m racing to catch up before the season ends.

I’ve caught up on GOTHAM. I’m five episodes into The Flash now and I can pretty much see how this is going to go, at least in these early episodes: Barry and his team at S.T.A.R. Labs—Caitlin the doctor who helps make sure Barry doesn’t die while running; Cisco the tech genius who makes all the gadgets and names the villains of the week, and Dr. Harrison Wells, the brilliant scientist whose particle accelerator caused all the havoc in Central City—learn what Barry’s abilities are and helps him channel them while stopping all the bad-guy meta-humans who are also discovering their powers.

The central idea is that the particle accelerator malfunctioned on the night of a big storm. A lightening bolt struck Barry and turned him into the Flash. What I liked very much early on in the first episode is that we see Barry in his day job—CSI Tech—doing amazing observational things. Basically he had a super-power before he had a super-power. But this also establishes this show with the police procedural framework, not to the extent of Gotham, but taking a page from the X-Files. So far, all the other meta-humans are bad guys, a conceit I do hope they change in season 2. Each time, the bad meta-human can do odd things like control the weather or multiply himself. The team have to figure out a way for Barry do defeat them.

And I do mean ‘the team.’ Yes, Barry’s the one in the suit but he can’t do this super-hero thing by himself. He needs his support group.

The casting of Grant Gustin as Barry Allen is great. He brings an ebullient exuberance to the part, the job of being a good person who discovers that he’s got super powers. None of the overly angst stuff, just like “Wow, look what I can do.” I am really enjoying watching him be Barry Allen.

In a cool bit of stunt casting, John Wesley Shipp—The original Flash from the 1990 TV show—plays Barry’s dad, who is falsely accused of killing his wife 14 years before the show starts. Like all good shows like CASTLE or X-FILES, there’s a central mythology—the mom’s murder in a glowing yellow lightening storm in which young Barry saw a man—that needs to be solved while they deal with the villain of the week. It’s tried and true and I don’t have a problem with it. The scenes between Barry and his imprisoned father are heart-tugging.

I also really enjoy the foster father, Joe West, played by Jesse Martin, knows that Barry is the Flash, or the Blue or the Red Streak. (He’s not the Flash in name yet). The only thing that West asks of Barry is to keep his powers a secret from his daughter, Iris West, on whom Barry has a crush. Naturally, she starts being a reporter and starts a blog devoted to The Blur and, well, we know where this is going.

There are a few basic network TV tropes in play here, but the real joy is in the fact this show is just plain fun. No dark tales a la Gotham or Arrow although I’ve only seen the pilot. The DC Easter eggs (Grodd!) are also fun to pick out.

All in all, I plan to catch up on Flash by the time the season wraps so I can watch in real time.

Anyone else watching The Flash?


On ELEMENTARY on Thursday, there was a moment, late in the episode, where Sherlock had to explain his reasons why he could not, “in good conscience,” provide a sperm sample to a lover who wanted to have a child. It is brilliant. It is among the best examples I’ve ever seen of what it’s like to be imprisoned by his powers of observation. Johnny Lee Miller delivers the lines in an achingly melancholy way. This will go down as one of the best moments of the entire series. It’s at the 39:00 minute mark in this video. It’s the whole episode.

Thursday, April 2, 2015

Porochista Khakpour on inspiration and The Last Illusion

By Steve Weddle

Porochista Khakpour's book SONS AND OTHER FLAMMABLE OBJECTS was one of those rarities in our line of work -- a book worth all the hype.

Her newest one, THE LAST ILLUSION, recently came out in paperback.

"An audaciously ambitious novel that teeters along a tightrope but never falls off." (Kirkus, starred review)

From the critically acclaimed author of Sons and Other Flammable Objects comes a bold fabulist novel about a feral boy coming of age in New York, based on a legend from the medieval Persian epic theShahnameh, the Book of Kings.
In an Iranian village, Zal's demented mother, horrified by the pallor of his skin and hair, is convinced she has given birth to a "white demon." She hides him in a birdcage for the next decade. Rescued by a behavioral analyst, Zal awakens in New York to the possibility of a future. A stunted and unfit adolescent, he strives to become human as he stumbles toward adulthood. As New York survives one potential disaster, Y2K, and begins hurtling toward another, 9/11, Zal finds himself in a cast of fellow outsiders. A friendship with a famous illusionist who claims-to the Bird Boy's delight- that he can fly and an affair with a disturbed artist who believes she is clairvoyant send Zal's life spiraling into chaos. Like the rest of New York, he is on a collision course with devastation.

In tones haunting yet humorous and unflinching yet reverential, The Last Illusion explores the powers of storytelling while investigating magical thinking. Its lyricism, inventiveness, and examination of otherness can appeal to readers of Salman Rushdie and Helen Oyeyemi. A celebrated chronicler of the 9/11-era, Khakpour reimagines New York's most harrowing catastrophe with a dazzling homage to her beloved city

Here she talks about the influences that brought her to that book -- or that book to her.

During this period, I also began teaching American experimental literature—which seemed influenced by the Latin American school—and it was through David Markson, Lydia Davis, Kathy Acker, David Foster Wallace, and many other innovators in fiction that I kept faith that the strangeness of the book would in the end only help it find its audience. >>

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

My Favorite 7 Things

by Holly West

Before I begin today's post, I'd like to direct your attention to Keith Rawson's recent LitReactor article: Why The F*ck Aren't You Reading Eric Beetner? Indeed, why aren't you? 

Now, on to the post:

If you're friends with crime fiction writers on Facebook, then you might've seen a recent meme in which writers are tagged to reveal seven things about their writing. Sometimes I find memes like this tedious but this one has been interesting--maybe because instead of having to answer a pre-established set of questions, we're able to say whatever we choose to.

Anyway, here are a seven of my favorites, as posted by my author friends on Facebook:

1) GO DOWN HARD took so long to sell that when Brash Books publishers Lee Goldberg and Joel Goldman told me they loved it and wanted to publish it, they asked if it had to be a period piece. I have since updated references to such antiquities as "Kinkos" and "flip phones." -- Craig Faustus Buck, author of PSYCHO LOGIC and GO DOWN HARD

2) I wrote the lyrics and sang "Estrogen Overdose" with the rock group Idiot. I sucked but we were friends so who were they to stand in the way of my dreams. The song was about a lad we knew who was taking estrogen to grow breasts. It was glitter days, and all bets were off. -- Josh Stallings, author of ALL THE WILD CHILDREN and the Moses McGuire crime books

3) Sometimes I think I am incapable of writing a happy ending. I got halfway through what was intended to be an erotic romance (meaning - it HAS to have a happy ending) and realized that giving the protagonist two kinds of cancer sort of killed the vibe. -- Renee Pickup, writer, editor-in-chief of Revolt Daily, Books and Booze podcaster, and class facilitator at LitReactor

4) My ultimate goal as a writer is to be so famous I don't ever have to come back to Facebook again. -- Rob Hart, author of NEW YORKED

5) I know what year all my characters are born and I name them accordingly. For example, there are no 45-yr-old Briannas in my stories because nobody born in 1969 was named Brianna. I use the Social Security website to find first names. -- Jen Conley, writer and editor at Shotgun Honey

6) The first draft of anything is for me, because it's usually a mess and only going in the direction of where I want to be. The second draft goes to my wife, the third is usually good to leave the house. -- Alex Segura, author of SILENT CITY

7) My early readers usually end up asking me to be less mean to my characters. I think this is because in the raw version I'm very focused on the grief and anger and destruction that comes from a murder.In the first drafts, all of my characters are in varying degrees of despair at the end of the book, in the second draft I give some of them a break, and by the third most of the characters have a little bit of hope. A reviewer on Amazon knocked me down to four stars for being so mean to Marty. I have never been so delighted to lose a star. -- M.P. Cooley, author of ICE SHEAR

Do you have any deep, dark, writing secrets? Feel free to share them in the comments.

Monday, March 30, 2015

Clean Reader app -- **shrugs**

The Clean Reader app controversy tornado blew through town. It struck me as an odd one but what the hell do I know, I'm not a writer.  Here's a couple of very random thoughts to fill my time here on this fine Monday afternoon.

-There are readers who will not abide violence towards children and animals. They will not abide profanity. Flat out. These folks also read a lot. A few years ago I went to Bouchercon in Baltimore and the first time I heard someone remark that they will not read a book that contains violence towards animals I chuckled to myself. By the time I heard it the sixth time I realized that this was a thing. The same with profanity. So it's easy to poke fun an someone who might want this app but I can see a reason for it existing. And people using it.

-There seems to be a group of writers that feel that any alteration to even a single word of their book alters if not damages the book. I understand that folks spend years writing their books and hold them dear but that argument strikes me as precious. I've skimmed enough books, for various reasons, to know that I can skip whole paragraphs and still get what your saying in the book.

-I grew up watching tons of movies that aired on Saturday afternoons on network TV. These movies were sanitized to  to make them fit network guidelines. No sex, no nudity, no profanity. Whole scenes cut for time. I loved these movies and still got what was going on in them. I'm pretty sure that Samuel Jackson's consent wasn't obtained when the "motherfuckers" in Jackie Brown were changed to "Maryland farmers".

-Thomas Jefferson (yes, that Thomas Jefferson) took a bible and cut out all of the supernatural elements of it because he didn't believe them. He wanted to get down to the essence of Christ's teachings and get rid of the Supernatural stuff that he didn't believe. For starters this meant that the miracles were cut out, the resurrection was cut out, passages indicating any divinity were cut out. You can buy a copy for your Kindle for a buck if you want. But my point in mentioning it is that Thomas Bowlder may have been marked down in history as infamous but this kind of thing has been done before.

-A lot of "classics" are published in an abridged format, particularly for kids. Did Melville consent to the abridgement changes to that Illustrated Classics edition of Moby Dick? Fuck if I know but my kids sure like the story.

None of this is coherent and doesn't make for a coherent case but those are my thoughts.

Sunday, March 29, 2015

In Defense of Jackie Collins

by Kristi Belcamino

I'm about up to *here* with people who feel they are superior.

In particular people who feel they are too superior to read certain books.

So here it is out in the open: I like Jackie Collins. I buy her books. I read them in one sitting.

Wait. That's not a confession. I already hinted at that a few weeks ago. I wrote a post about all the books I had pre-ordered so far this year. Jackie Collins' book, THE SANTANGELOS, was included in the post.

One anonymous reader felt turned off enough by this to comment "Yuk" or something similar.

At first I responded and then later, when I had calmed down, deleted my response. But now I figure is as good a time as any to address this.

I like Jackie Collins. I purposefully included her book in my post on this esteemed crime fiction blog. I am too old to be ashamed of my reading taste and frankly, too old to give a shit what anyone else thinks of it.

I read Jackie Collins because I love her heroine. Lucky Santangelo is an Italian-American ball buster. She is ambitious, successful, a rebel, drop-dead gorgeous, and will cut your nuts off if you cross her. My kind of woman. She also lives in a very exciting world that I love to read about. I've liked her since I was a teenager and I'm not going to stop liking her or pretend that I'm too cool to read a commercial fiction book because I'm now a published crime fiction writer.

See, it's utter bullshit that someone who loves crime fiction would look down on commercial women's fiction. Or romance. Or Sci-Fi. Or young adult literature.

A good story is a good story even if the writer doesn't write like Proust.

Literary snobs look down on crime fiction and say "yuk" about it. And you all know about that, and how that is a whole another discussion. So, why would I as a crime fiction writer, think I'm too cool to read Jackie Collins?

You may not like or read Jackie Collins, but I would bet you have your own "Jackie Collins" author who you read. Maybe one you consider a guilty pleasure. Maybe you hide those books and/or don't put them on your bookshelf.

And if someone doesn't want to buy my books or read them because I like Jackie Collins, that is fair.

Because if I'm looking for new readers, Jackie Collins' fans sound pretty good to me:

She recently asked her readers on Facebook who their favorite authors were. Here are some of the responses, but hands down the most frequent answer was HARLEN COBEN.*

You are probably saying STFU! That's right. Harlen Coben.

And believe me, I'll side with Harlen Coben fans all day long.

Here are a few tidbits about Jackie Collins:

* All 29 of her books have made The New York Times bestseller list.
* She has sold more than 500 MILLION copies of her books.
* Her books have been translated into 40 languages.
* Eight of her books have garnered either movie deals or TV series deals.

Give me some of that. All DAY LONG!

So, yes I read Jackie Collins. And I read Umberto Eco. And the Twilight Books, come to think about it. And when I get the new Collins' book, I'll read it and stick it on my living room bookshelf right next to OLD GORIOT by Honoré de Balzac. 

Okay. I feel so much better now. Now, your turn:

Here is your chance to shout out your JACKIE COLLINS-type author. Stand proud. Give it to me in the comments. 

Or not. 


* Besides Harlen Coben, Jackie Collins' fans listed these authors as their favorites:
Charlaine Harris
Stephen King
JA Jance
Agatha Christie
James Patterson
Janet Evanovich
Greg Isles
Danielle Steele