Saturday, October 8, 2016

When Batman Met The Shadow: Batman 253

As much as I love and enjoy continuity and canonization of material in comics, I also appreciate the more free and open days of the past. Nowadays, DC Comics controls Batman so much that EVERYthing he does is canon and must align with every other book being published. The same is true for just about every other property published in comics nowadays. It’s great because we typically get great titles and stories, but the chances that characters from two universes meet can be pretty low.

Now so in the early 1970s. Batman was enjoying a dark renaissance after the comedic turn he took in the 1960s in both comic and on television. Denny O’Neal and Neal Adams had taken the Dark Knight back to the night and returned him to the atmospheric stories from the 1940s. By 1973, DC had earned the right to publish a new series featuring the pulp hero The Shadow. Denny O’Neal was the writer of that series as well. So I bet it was a no-brainer to have the two dark detectives meet.

Batman 253 was the result. These were the years where Batman’s typical rogues gallery was off-limits to writers, so Batman would face bad guys that were a whole lot less colorful but no less deadly. In this story, titled, “Who Knows What Evil?”, Batman tracks some goons to the docks. I got a huge chuckle and thrill with the opening text of the story: “It is a dark time at Gotham Freight Yards, when dawn is no more than a distant promise…a time when furtive men do furtive things…and when the Batman moves like an avenging wraith.” Pure pulp goodness.

No sooner does Batman take out the goons than one nearly gets the drop on him. But a bullet from the shadows knocks the gun out of the goon’s hand and Batman survives. He hears laughter, “coming from everywhere…and nowhere.” That’s his first clue. Alfred helps Batman figure out that the counterfeiters are based out of Arizona, Tumbleweed Crossing to be exact. Bruce Wayne arrives by bus—yeah, you read that correctly—and gets a room at the local hotel run by an old geezer named Bammy. No sooner does Bruce arrive than a gang of young hoodlums in dune buggies zoom through the town. The slang O’Neal writes for both the youngsters and Batman is so charmingly late 60s/early 70s. Again, after Batman learns that the hoodlums got bribed with “Fool’s money,” he hears the laughter again. Now, he starts to think it may be “Him.”

Later, at the hotel dining room, Bruce meets Lamont Cranston, complete with gray hair on the temples. Bruce doesn’t know of Cranston’s alter ego, but a remark from Cranston is the last clue Bruce needs. Here, in another charming note that’s now gone from comics, there’s a little yellow box: “Bruce [Batman] Wayne seems to have cracked the case! Have you?” It allowed young readers to be detectives. Love this. Later, toward the end of the book, another clue is revealed. The editor wrote a note with the page and panel number. Sure enough, the clue was there. Wonderful stuff!

As you’d expect, Batman travels to the counterfeiter’s hideout and fights them. And, in a very Robin-like move, Batman gets ink thrown in his face. His mysterious benefactor rescues him again, then leaves a note to meet back in Gotham the next night. They do, and The Shadow reveals himself. Basically, Batman is a huge fan and just wants to shake the hand of the old pulp hero. The Knight of Darkness, on the other hand, wanted to know if the Dark Knight deserved his reputation. He did.

As the Shadow melts into the night, Batman asks if the Shadow will come out of retirement. You know what the Shadow’s reply is before you even read it: “That…only the Shadow knows!”

This was such a fun issue. It lead directly into the Shadow comic series. The two heroes would meet again in Batman 259…but that’s a review for a different day.

Thursday, October 6, 2016

Life, friends, is strange

By Steve Weddle


This weekend I stopped by Hiram's Bait & Tackle for morning coffee. Hiram was a little worked up about the hurricane coming. He was in Florida for Andrew, so it's kind of a sore spot for him. We talked for a while and I passed on the mess of croakers he offered. I didn't feel like spending my weekend morning cleaning croakers, and I sure wasn't interested in eating any when any other food was available. The coffee was $1.49.

On Monday I had a book come out in France. The book is the French translation of Country Hardball. It's called Le Bon Fils, which means "the good son." You can get a copy, if you'd like. You can even read one of the translated stories for free. (PDF download)

When the book published in 2013, I stood up at some bookstores and said some things. I went to some places and signed some books. There were posters. There were mailings and ads. There was cake and whiskey, stacks of books, reviews and chatter. Interviews. Posts. Having a translation of your book published is different.

A few hours after the book officially published on Monday, I was at Hiram's again, having a cup of coffee. I asked him about a three-hundred-year-old rapier. (He's a bit of an expert on slender, pointed swords. I don't know why.) We talked about rapiers, about Spanish versus Italian influences, and I finished my $1.49 coffee, which was the same price it had been before I was an international author.


The New York Review of Books worked on outing Elena Ferrante. You can read about that in the Independent and elsewhere, of course. In the New Yorker. The Washington Post. Other places. Most of the Bookternet was very mad with the NYRB for outing Ferrante. I don't know if the same people were as mad when Ron Rosenbaum hunted down pee-drinking J.D. Salinger. Or when folks tried to work out details in the life of Thomas Pynchon. Seems to me that the Ferrante case is somewhat different. I don't want to talk about that. Invasion of privacy is bad. Authors should be able to remain safe and sound. Etc. The point that's been missed most places that have complained about the NYRB outing piece, I think, is that having the Ferrantes and Salingers and Pynchons writing is wondrous. Marvelous. Delightful.

When many of our authors are engaging with their readers on Twitter and Snapchat and Facebook and Instagram and email and blogs and elsewhere, having a little mystery about the author is pretty magical. Engaging with your favorite authors is wonderful, too. Seeing Joe Clifford eat a pepper is great fun. Sharing song recommendations with Kent Gowran and other writers is pleasant, comforting, and helpful. Drinking in a bar with Jay Stringer or watching Alafair Burke's nachos get swiped is part of a life of wonder, certainly. But having a little mystery around the author of a book you're reading is, well, it's rather like living in a world with clouds, isn't it? I mean, you can have the sunlight shine on everything, but sometimes life is more interesting when the mountains are hidden by clouds.

One of the reasons that I hate, detest, and cannot stand magic is that it isn't magic. It's a trick. It's misdirection. When I was a child, I was promised magic. I was promised men with enormous wings. I was promised dragons. As I grew, life became old men pulling loose coins from behind my ear. I want magic back. The mystery. The wide eyes and caught breath. I love that magic. I don't want to chat with Pynchon on Twitter or know how he felt about the Mets' wildcard loss. I don't want to know what Elena Ferrante's favorite coffee flavor is or see a photo of her dinner. I want some magic. I want wonder.


I recently returned to Spotify and could use your help with a writing playlist. Jay Stringer has a Tom Waits playlist on Spotify. Others have mostly ambient music. Others have rain sounds. Here's what I have so far, and I welcome your help. Thanks.

Wednesday, October 5, 2016

Ripped From the Headlines

by Holly West

My love of true crime is one of the reasons I write crime fiction.

But before I get into that, I'd like to announce that THE BIG BOOK OF JACK THE RIPPER, edited by Otto Penzler, is now available. It includes my Anthony Award-nominated short story, "Don't Fear the Ripper," and other contributors include Anne Perry, Lyndsay Faye, Harlan Ellison and Jeffery Deaver. Clearly, I'm in good company.

Has there ever been a serial killer more fascinating than Jack the Ripper? I'm gonna go out on a limb and say no. THE BIG BOOK OF JACK THE RIPPER anthology includes a good deal of fiction on the subject, but it also has a non-fiction section, making it unique among the crime anthologies I've been a part of. Which brings me back to the subject of this post: True Crime.

I've probably written about this before, but I'll touch upon it again, briefly. As a kid, I was an avid reader. One of my quirks, however, was that I tended to re-read the books I loved, which meant that I'm not as widely read as I might've been had I not read ARE YOU THERE GOD, IT'S ME, MARGARET umpteen times. I've skipped so many of the classics that I'm sometimes embarrassed to admit how many books I haven't read, especially given the devotion I had for books.

In my twenties, I slowed down considerably. When I did read, it tended to be chick lit or romance. In fact, I didn't become an avid crime fiction fan until I was in my early thirties, thanks to an introduction to Sue Grafton's Alphabet series by one of my online friends. What can I say? She had me at "A."

It's accurate to say that crime fiction re-ignited my love for reading and now you'll never see me without a book (well, my kindle).

Once I discovered crime fiction, it didn't take me long to get around to reading true crime. Up until that point, I still hadn't begun to write my first novel, but I knew that when I did, it would be crime fiction. My interest in the genre was enhanced greatly by the true crime sub-genre (or is true crime a genre in itself? So confusing. As Josh Stallings says, F*ck Genre).

When I finally sat down to start writing the book that would become MISTRESS OF FORTUNE, it was based on the real life unsolved 1678 murder of Sir Edmund Berry Godfrey. Likewise, "Don't Fear the Ripper" is a fictional take on the solving of the Jack the Ripper crimes. I like to think of them as true crime brought to life through fiction.

Here are some of the true crime books that have influenced my fiction:

1) IN COLD BLOOD by Truman Capote
My favorite true crime book of all time, and one of my all time favorite books in general.

This is probably the first narrative non-fiction book I ever read and it hooked me on the genre.

Ahhhh, Erik Larson. This book began my love affair with his writing and while I haven't enjoyed his two most recent (IN THE GARDEN OF BEASTS and DEAD WAKE) quite as much, I eagerly anticipate every title.

4) THUNDERSTRUCK by Erik Larson
As much as I loved DEVIL (above), I loved THUNDERSTRUCK more.

5) MY DARK PLACES by James Ellroy
I have a confession to make. Besides THE BLACK DAHLIA, MY DARK PLACES is the only other Ellroy book I've read. I love them both, so I suppose it's time for me to delve into his other work.

This was a more recent read, even though the book came out decades ago. And I'd say it's a must-read for any lover of true crime.

I couldn't turn the pages of this book fast enough. It combines my fascination of religion and true crime and it provides an in-depth look at what it calls the "violent" origins of the Mormon religion.

8) Pretty much anything about the Black Dahlia

Tell me what I've missed. What are your favorite true crime books?

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

Stuff that Helps Make Other Stuff

Mike McCrary guest blogs this week.  Mike has written the novella Getting Ugly, the novel Remo Went Rogue, and now his newest book, Genuinely Dangerous.  He knows how to tell a tale at a breakneck pace, and the violence in his books, of which there's plenty, comes mixed with a lot of dark humor.  I asked him to talk about this violence/comedy mix and some of the books and films that combine these elements that have influenced him most.

Here's Mike:

Coming up with something truly (I mean truly) original is almost impossible, in my opinion at least. I mean it’s 2016 (almost 2017) and if you consider all the books, movies, TV shows and whatever other form of storytelling that’s been released into the universe over the last 50 or 60 years, the idea of coming up with something that’s never, ever been done before is more than a little daunting.
Most writers I know are all taking the stuff they love, the stuff that inspires them, and mixing it up, filling in the gaps and slapping it with their own spin. Oh yeah there’s that thing I read last year that I dug, that movie from childhood, that character from that thing, that idea I had in the shower, while droping the kids off, yeah all that, all of that could be something.
It’s possible that all that together might not suck.
They take it all, run it through their own personal, messed up view of the world, hit chop on the blender, rewrite, chop, rewrite, oh wait that thing I saw the other day, delete that shit, rewrite and then serve along side a big-as-your-face tumbler of booze.
I tend to tilt towards crime fiction that blends humor with action, violence, lots of profanity and questionable people making questionable decisions. Always try to keep it fun, entertaining and never boring.
Quick bit of backgroud so some of this make sense. My new book, Genuinely Dangerous, is about a down and out filmmaker who decides the way back into Hollywood is to embed himself with a crew of criminals and film a documentary as if he’s a war correspondent. What could go wrong?
So here’s a few of the millions of pounds of books and movies that have inspired all of my stuff and in particular, Genuinely Dangerous.  

Survivor (Chuck Palahniuk)
This was a huge influence. I’m a big Palahniuk fan and this is one of my favorites. I -- like a lot of people -- saw Fight Club in my twenties while I was drifting to figure myself out and working a dead-man-walking corporate gig that I hated. That movie expressed everything that I felt and could never express. I devoured the book and haven’t looked back since. A lot of it is just the way Chuck writes. I’d read him if he wrote a book on knitting. I re-read Survivor while I wrote Genuinely Dangerous and then realized the whole thing, the whole story I was doing, could be done as a satire. A dark comedy.
This changed everything. Broke it wide open. Thanks, Chuck.
Severance Package (Duane Swierczynski)
I stumbled upon Severance Package in an LA bookstore one day. Something about it caught my eye and it changed my writing life forever. I was doing screenplays and never even considered writing books, just didn’t think it was for me and didn’t think my writing would work with books.
Within a few pages my jaw dropped. It was like getting permission. Severance Package is fast, violent, funny, filled with big action, amazing, and I had never read anything like it. I stepped back thinking, Wow. This exists in the world? You can write books like this? I had no idea.
It took several years for me to try writing books, but you can circle me stumbling across Mr. Swierczynski as the moment that the universe said it was okay for me to do so.
Big Magic (Elizabeth Gilbert)
This is more a writerly type book. Nonfiction, but for me, it’s essential for any writer that’s gone down that dark path of writer-angst.  Even if you haven’t gone that way, you should check out Big Magic anyway, perhaps most of all, just to keep you off that path. She does a great of job of balancing compassion with shut the fuck up. I found this book (audio book actually, it’s fantastic) at a time when I needed it and it turned a lot of things around for me.
Also cheaper than therapy. Just saying.
Big Maria (Johnny Shaw)
This is one of the funniest books I’ve ever read. Period. If you write funny, you try to do this. That’s all I’ve got on this one.
Savages (Don Winslow)
If Severance Package was the catalyst, then Savages was the tipping point for me. Like with Duane’s book, Savages was a moment where I thought this is something I can do. Not in any way suggesting that I’m Don Winslow or Duane Swierczynski, but what I am saying is that those books were the call to join the party.
Don introduced me to the idea of attacking the page. He’s not writing this thing to wisk you away to a land of balloons and unicorns. He’s telling you a story and he’s not asking permission to do so. The book demands your attention from page one and doesn’t stop until the last body drops.

Rock N Rolla (Guy Ritchie)
Guy Ritchie going back to the kind of stuff I love him doing. The movie never got the recognition I thought it deserved. To me, it’s just as good as Snatch or Lock, Stock but I never see or hear people throwing it in there.
It’s a great lesson in mixing comedy, crime and crazy while keeping it in its own lane of reality. It’s also a masterclass in how to keep multiple stories going on multiple levels and all running at the same time.  
Hurlyburly (David Rabe)
Loved this little movie with a big cast. Based on a play and it views like it’s based on a play.  Very dialogue driven with some rock-solid performances. It’s a great dive into the Hollywood mindset, both exaggerated and real, and has all the moral ambiguity you’d want and expect from a movie biz tale. It was great to revisit the film while working on Genuinely Dangerous.
Kind of like visiting old friends from LA.
I’m kidding.
I’m not.
Bonnie and Clyde (Gene Wilder)
This is obviously a classic crime film that we all know and love, but for me the key for Bonnie and Clyde was the small part Gene Wilder played. This is what would become a catalyst for the book.
A guy completely out of his depth with a group of criminals, but too caught up in his own shit to fully realize that he’s in a really dangerous situation with really dangerous people. Gene stole part of that movie and I had this idea that he should have his own story.
So there ya go. Not enough internet available for me to name all the stuff that’s inspired me to write. I’ve left out the obvious stuff like Tarantino, Chandler, Agatha Christie, Jim Thompson, Gillian Flynn, Elmore Leonard, Choose Your Own Adventure books, Mash, Judy Blume, Dr. Suess…
You get it. 

Genuinely Dangerous is available here.

Monday, October 3, 2016

Calling All Authors

I'm going to be doing a new series of interviews with authors. Any genre, preferably in proximity to a publication or event date.

If you're interested in participating, email me the following:

Name of your book/event
Date of publication/event
Working email address
One crazy thing about you that isn't common knowledge

My email address is sandraruttan.spinetinglermag  (Remove the space.)

I can't promise I'll get to everyone, or how long it will take as I'll be squeezing this in around my work schedule, but I'm hoping to make this a recurring feature starting within the next month.

Sunday, October 2, 2016

Banned Books, or Why Captain Underpants is a Benefit to Society

Banned Books Week ended yesterday. It’s a week that celebrates the freedom to read. I love this week. As a reader and a writer, there is very little that is more important to me than people being able to write, publish and read what they choose.
This year, I was curious to see what kinds of books have been challenged lately. In perusing the lists compiled by the American Library Association (one of the fiercest defenders of the Right to Read), one entry in particular caught my eye because it shows the utter ridiculousness of those who are challenging books. 

In 2012 and 2013, the most challenged book was Captain Underpants, by Dav Pilkey. Challengers claimed it was “unsuited to the age group.” Pardon me as I laugh hysterically. Have you been around an eight-year-old boy? For even ten seconds? Because the people protesting obviously have not. No author has better hit the sweet spot for that age group than Pilkey. 

Now, you as a fuddy-duddy adult can roll your eyes at the quality, or the artwork, or the tattered condition of the library copy (because it’s been checked out so much). I have done all three. But you know what trumps all of those criticisms? The kid with his nose in the book.
I work with a lot of kids. And yes, in an ideal world, they’d start out with Anne of Green Gables, or the Hardy Boys. But that’s not how it works for most kids, especially ones who don’t necessarily have parents who are readers or tons of books available to them at home. They need an entry point. And for a lot of children, silly potty humor with underpants pictures is that doorway. When they’re done with that series, they want more. They might go on to Diary of a Wimpy Kid (also with pictures), or branch out into primarily text books like the Magic Treehouse series.
And then before you know it, they’re asking you for thicker, more complicated, more difficult books. Like Goosebumps, or James and the Giant Peach, or Blubber by Judy Blume. All of which have been challenged, according to the ALA. Why – because they’re too scary? Or too fantastical? Or too much like real life? Give me a break.
Each of those books speaks to certain aspects of a child’s world. Not every child is going to want to read all three of them, of course, but that’s why there are so many choices. That’s why there NEED to be so many choices, especially for young readers. Let them explore, find what they like. Then later, when they are a little older, they will be much more open to reading what perhaps doesn’t directly relate to their world. Books that about people who aren’t like them. Books that talk about different societies or problems or circumstances that the reader hasn’t experienced.
Because that is the beauty of books. They take the reader to places they couldn’t otherwise go. Whether it’s Hogwarts, or the Mississippi River in the 1800s, or a Native American reservation, or a post-apocalyptic Earth. Those books have been challenged, too. By people who not only have no desire to expand their horizons, but also think they have the right to dictate the horizon expansion of everybody else. And that is not okay.
So this weekend, I’m going to pull out my copy of The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn or maybe The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, and give thanks for thought-provoking, boundary-pushing stories and the people who fight to keep them on the shelves. They’re superheroes, just like Captain Underpants.