Sunday, April 18, 2021

#indiebookstoreday

By Claire Booth

This coming Saturday is Independent Bookstore Day. For an author, there are no better friends than independent booksellers. They host book signings, promote local authors, and contribute to local economies. And they’ve been hit hard this past year. Now, as things start to open up, many are putting together safe in-person activities or online events to celebrate the day. I’ll be at my “home store,” the wonderful Face in a Book in El Dorado Hills, California (where they’re going to do well-ventilated sidewalk tables and I’ll be wearing a mask). 

A pre-Covid local author event at Face in a Book. That's me on the right with fellow local crime fictioners James L'Etoile and Cindy Sample. (Remember when we could stand so close? Sigh.)
So why should you venture out to your local bookstore that day? Here are a few good reasons:

They’re always friendly and kind and put a lot of work into everything they do.

They’re psychic—they can figure out what you’ll like within two minutes of talking to you.

They’ll broaden your mind, by recommending books you wouldn’t have considered otherwise.

Dashiell of the Raven Book Store in Lawrence, Kan.
They often have furry employees (see photo).

They see nothing wrong with having a five-foot tall TBR* stack.

Who else can you use a literary pun with and have them think it’s funny?

They’ll special order pretty much any book you want.

They let you serve wine at book signings.

The events they host are a vital part of community life.

*To Be Read

And if there isn’t one located near you, consider ordering from an out-of-town store and having it shipped. You can find bookstores or place orders across the country at either www.indiebound.org or www.bookshop.org. Shop local, shop books!

Saturday, April 17, 2021

What Are Some Literary “Jumping the Shark” Moments?

by

Scott D. Parker

Sometimes old things trigger new questions.

For the longest time, our front living room was television-less. That’s where the library is, it’s where we set up our Christmas tree, and it serves as the guest bedroom. We didn’t mind not having a TV in the front room, but during last year’s NFL season, I pulled out an old TV we had and one of those digital antennas and converter box and set up the TV. I’m the only one in the house who enjoys football and I didn’t want to hog up one of the good TVs just to watch a game.

It’s been kind of fun having that old TV available. I plugged one of our VCRs (yes, really) and a portable DVD player so I could watch the occasional show on it. In terms of live television, however, when it’s not being used for football, it’s on MeTV.

Imagine my surprise, a couple of weeks ago, when suddenly MeTV was not where it usually was. The network recently purchased a station here in Houston and started broadcasting from that new channel. A channel my old converter box/antenna combo did not receive. Cue a drive to Target to purchase a new combo setup. Viola! They work perfectly and I now can get MeTV.

But this new converter box also has a recording feature. It’s like a DVR but only for over-the-air channels. No problem for me. So one afternoon I pulled out the instruction manual to figure out how to record things.

And I received a happy surprise.

“Happy Days” was airing at that time and wouldn’t you know it, the episode in question was “Hollywood, Part 3.” What? You don’t know that episode by title? Well, it’s the exact fifth episode where Fonzie jumps the shark.

Naturally, I ended up watching the rest of the episode.* Yeah, it’s as cheesy as you remember it to be, but I reckon my nine-year-old self was glued to the TV in suspense, just like the Cunninghams were.

The term “jumping the shark” has been used to define when a TV show went off the rails. That is, when it stopped being the original thing it was and became something else, usually a shell of its former self. Just me writing this brings to mind many a show to your minds. That time when Bruce Willis and Cybil Shepherd got together in “Moonlighting.” That time when Victoria Principal discovered Patrick Duffy’s Bobby Ewing in the shower and they told you the entire season you had just watched…was a dream. That time when David Duchovny left “The X-Files.” Those are just off the top of my head.

Then I got to thinking: Are there literary “jumping the shark” moments? Are there books in long-running series that jump the shark? I know there must be, but I’m not coming up with any. Granted, I’ve not read many long-running series. There are 52 In Death books by J.D. Robb (Nora Roberts). John Sandford has written 31 in the Prey series. Twenty-five Jack Reacher books exist and I don’t even want to start counting the number of series James Patterson has written. Erle Stanley Gardner wrote 80 Perry Mason novels (and 30 Cool and Lam novels). The old pulp writers Lester Dent (Doc Savage) and Walter Gibson (The Shadow) wrote a novel a month for years.

The point is, there are many a long-running series in the book world. Have (or did) any of them jump the shark?

Follow-up Question


By the way, Happy Days went on for another six years, eleven seasons in total. Were all those post-shark episodes bad? Probably not. The TV show Dallas recovered from the Bobby-in-the-Shower moment, but The X-Files and Moonlight didn’t.

So if there is a book series that jumped the shark, did that series recover?
 

*Side note: The other plot for this episode (and probably parts 1 and 2) was Richie mulling over a choice of whether or not to attend college or head out to Hollywood and sign a film contract. I had completely forgotten this since I probably saw the episode on the date of its airing and then never again since. But there’s a nice scene between Richie and his dad. Howard Cunningham gives his son a nice pep talk, ending with a reminder: no matter what Richie choose, his father will support him and be proud of him. Now that I’m a dad myself, this scene got to me in a way my nine-year-old self couldn’t possibly have imagined.

Thursday, April 15, 2021

Snakes on a post

 



This week, Beau takes a look at Rattlesnake Rodeo from Nick Kolakowski.

Jake and Frankie managed to escape that terrible game, but their problems are just beginning. They’re broke, on the run, and hunted by every cop between Oregon and Montana. If they’re going to make it through, they may need to strike a devil’s bargain—and carry out a seemingly impossible crime.

Rattlesnake Rodeo is a neo-Western noir filled with incredible twists. If you want true justice against the greedy and powerful, sometimes you have no choice but to rely on the worst people… More>>


Wednesday, April 14, 2021

Writers' Room Wednesday: Better Call Saul

 



From Adam Harper at stage32.com:

I saw this in twitter land and thought that fellow Stage 32 people may find it interesting/useful.

If you don't want to ruin the Better Call Saul season 4 finale for yourself, don't open this image and squint at it!

Does anyone else do similar? My home is too small for an outlining wall :-( I was using an excel spread sheet but, a writer friend introduced me to Trello this week and I'm hooked on it!  More >>

Tuesday, April 13, 2021

Lending the Key to the Locked Room

Since last year, when I rediscovered the pleasure of reading locked room mysteries, a favorite of mine from when I first began reading mysteries as a teenager, I've used Locked Room International, the small publishing house started by John Pugmire, as a resource.  Over the last several years, he's published an impressive, and growing, catalog, of novels centered around a locked-room or impossible crime.  You can check out the LRI list of books here if you're interested: http://www.mylri.com/books/.  

What I especially like is that many of the books published by LRI are books written since 1980, whether by Frenchman Paul Halter or by one of the Japanese practitioners of modern honkaku (authentic or orthodox mysteries).  The locked-room mystery novel is alive and well, and I enjoy reading these kinds of stories set in the more contemporary world than the Golden Age Mystery world, wonderful as those classics often are.  Browsing through the list of LRI books recently, I decided on one that sounded like fun, and it turns out I was not disappointed.  Lending the Key to the Locked Room by Tokuya Higashigawa, originally published in 2002 and translated last year, kept me both suitably puzzled until its solution and quite amused.   

In brief: Ryuhei is an aspiring filmmaker who just been dumped by his girlfriend.  When she gets murdered, drunken threats he made to kill her turn him into the main suspect.  He has an alibi, but it's shaky.  He claims he was watching a film with his friend at his friend's home movie theater.  The two avid cinephiles made a night of it, watching a crime film, drinking, eating.  But his alibi is shaken because on the same night as the screening, his friend is stabbed to death in his bathroom, with the door to the apartment locked with a door chain.  Nobody but Ryuhei was in the locked apartment at the time of the killing, and Ryuhei had been passed out during the actual murder.  He wakes in the morning to find his friend's dead body.  With all the evidence against him, Ryuhei panics and flees the scene, which doesn't make him any less suspicious to the police.  

Lending the Key to the Locked Room has a tongue in cheek tone and an amusing eccentric detective who gets involved in the case.  But the mystery itself is genuinely tricky and plays fair with the reader in all the ways a "fair play mystery" should do that.  It's also something of a treat for film lovers, since a lot of the plot revolves around discussions of genre films and different cuts of certain films.  For escapism and the exact type of mental workout I love from these books (not that I ever figure them out), it delivered.  I'm really getting into these Japanese locked room mysteries, with their air-tight and baffling plots and their emphasis on the puzzle itself.  So far the ones I've read have not taken themselves too seriously, and that's all for the better.  Thanks to Locked Room International for making a bunch of them available in English translations.

Saturday, April 10, 2021

Of Course There Are Mobsters in New Jersey in Bury the Lead by David Rosenfelt

by

Scott D. Parker

If it's New Jersey, of course mobsters are involved.

In this, the third book featuring lawyer Andy Carpenter and his intrepid pooch, Tara, our hero is taking it easy since his last case. By taking it easy, we're talking not working. While he might be itching to get back in the courtroom, Andy's barely lifting a finger.

Until his friend, Vince Sanders, comes calling. He's the owner of the local newspaper, and his star reporter might need some legal help. Young Daniel Cumming is being used by a serial killer who kills women and then severs their hands from their bodies. Daniel writes stories about the killer, including direct messages. Vince just wants Andy handy to absolve the newspaper from anything untoward should anything go awry.

And something does go off kilter. Big time. The latest victim is found in a park in the same condition as all the others. The difference is Daniel. He's also in the park, unconscious and wounded. He claims he tried to stop the killer, but the police ain't buying it. Now, Andy has a real client with real stakes. Daniel is put on trial as a serial killer, and Andy must defend the cub reporter.

Step one: learn about Daniel and his background. But with each new revelation comes new wrinkles in the case and new layers about Daniel's past. 

And, of course, the mob gets involved.

Famously, when he was crafting the template that would become the Perry Mason TV show, author Erle Stanley Gardner stated that no one cared about Perry's personal life so there was hardly anything mentioned. David Rosenfelt has a different opinion and it's one most of us appreciate. We get a lot of Andy's personal life in these books, and it's one of the things that makes them so interesting. Andy isn't some cardboard character going through the motions. He comes across as a real flesh-and-blood guy. We get a lot of personal details in this third book, including his desire to marry his girlfriend, Laurie. She also serves as his private investigator. He wants to and she's noncommittal. Quite the flip from the usual way we think about relationships.

Speaking of unusual, Andy's an interesting guy. He's very smart when it comes to the law, but not always keen on other aspects of life. He's not what you'd call a man's man. Sure, he drinks beer, watches sports, and bets on them, but he doesn't own a gun and he's not that great in a fight. In fact, there are a few scenes where he's scared to death. I find that wonderfully refreshing in a character. It does make him more relatable as a regular guy who gets caught up in irregular events. I don't bet on sports and I typically only watch the NFL, but there are more than a few things about Andy to which I relate. Perhaps that's why I'm enjoying this series so much.

We also get more dog stuff. Author Rosenfelt and his wife rescue dogs, so it is natural for his character to do the same. In a continuation of events from past books, Andy is in partnership to create a kennel. He's a dog lover and with his substantial inheritance, he wants to give dogs good homes and places to live in the meantime. It's a great character trait and one clearly used to sell the series. Want proof? Check out the covers.

Five of the first six book covers are your standard-type mystery cover you see on a dozen other books. Book five, Play Dead, features a dog. Then, starting with book seven, New Tricks, there are dogs on every cover. It works. In fact, it helped sell me my first Andy Carpenter novel, Dachshund in the Snow back in December.

I'm listening to this series so I have to again give a shout out to Grover Gardner. He voices Andy's first person narration with a wry tone in his voice. I've listened to many other Gardner-narrated stories, but he has fast become "Andy Carpenter" to me.

If you want a good mystery series with honest and real characters and a lead who is not a superman, then the Andy Carpenter series is right up your alley. 

Other books in the series:

Open and Shut

First Degree

Thursday, April 8, 2021

Beau is on the hunt

 


This week, Beau takes a look at BOISE LONGPIG HUNTING CLUB by Nick Kolakowski

***

When you want someone found, you call bounty hunter Jake Halligan. He’s smart, tough, and best of all, careful on the job. But none of those skills seem to help him when a shadowy group starts taking his life apart piece by piece.

First Jake comes home to find a dead body in his gun safe. He thinks it’s a warning—and when you drag people back to jail for a living, the list of people who want to send that kind of message is very long indeed. With backup from his sister Frankie, an arms dealer and dapper criminal, Jake plunges into the Idaho underworld, confronting everyone from brutal Aryan assassins to cops who want his whole family in jail.

But as Jake soon discovers, those threats are small-time compared to the group that’s really after him. And nothing—not bounty hunting, not even all his years in Iraq—can prepare him for what’s coming next. Jake’s about to become a player in the most dangerous game ever invented…

Boise Longpig Hunting Club is a wild ride into the dark heart of the American dream, where even the most brutal desires can be fulfilled for a price, and nobody is safe from the rich and powerful.

Praise for BOISE LONGPIG HUNTING CLUB:

“Nick Kolakowski spins a ripping pulp yarn of smart-ass bounty hunters and bad-ass crime queenpins caught in the Jean-Claude Van God-Damnedest take on The Most Dangerous Game since Hard Target, but with no bad accents.” —Thomas Pluck, author of Bad Boy Boogie and Blade of Dishonor

“Bounty hunters, a Monkey Man and Zombie Bill, explosions, sharp violence and even laughs. Kolakowski brings the goods with this one!” —Dave White, Shamus Award-nominated author of the Jackson Donne series

“A bounty hunter, his underworld criminal sister, and a dead body stuffed in a gun safe. What could possibly go wrong? In Boise Longpig Hunting Club, Nick Kolakowski unleashes a sordid and delightfully twisted tale of double crosses, revenge, and good ol’ redneck justice. Like the bastard child of Joe Lansdale and James Lee Burke, this one is well worth the sleepless night you’ll spend captivated.” —Joe Clifford, author of the Jay Porter thriller series and The One That Got Away



 

Wednesday, April 7, 2021

Writers' Room Wednesday: Justified



On Story: 513 Justified: 

Inside the Writers’ Room

Writers from the hit show Justified discuss adapting Elmore Leonard’s short story for television and the evolution of the show’s tone, rhythm, and setting.



Tuesday, April 6, 2021

Joshua Chaplinsky on 'The Paradox Twins'

Scott's Note: Joshua Chaplinsky guest blogs this week, talking about his new novel, The Paradox Twins. Chaplinsky is the managing editor of LitReactor.com, as well as the author of the novella Kanye West - Reanimator and the story collection Whispers in the Ear of a Dreaming Ape.  The Paradox Twins is his first novel, and it is, quite clearly, a genre blender. 

Here he is:

April 6th marks the release of my debut novel, The Paradox Twins, courtesy of CLASH Books. It’s an epistolary work comprised of excerpts from various memoirs, novels, screenplay adaptations, and documents of public record. These conflicting sources combine to tell the story of estranged twin brothers who reunite at their father’s funeral to discover they have aged differently and no longer look alike. 

A pretty good setup, if I do say so myself. One that could go in any number of directions. I find doubles and doppelgangers to be inherently noirish tropes, and although this sounds like the setup for a Hitchcockian thriller, I should be honest—The Paradox Twins is not a crime novel. 


So that begs the question, What am I doing here on Do Some Damage? I mean, aside from Scott inviting me. I assume he knows The Paradox Twins isn’t a crime novel. I didn’t even consider the alternative at the time—he made an offer and I accepted. When it comes to promotion, I’m a “say yes to everything” kind of guy. So don’t blame him. 

If I’m to continue being honest, I’m not sure what category The Paradox Twins falls under. It definitely doesn’t adhere to a single genre’s rules. At its core, it’s a family drama set firmly in reality, but it’s also a sci-fi novel and a ghost story. It’s got elements of existential horror and satire as well. It plays with structure and format in a way that could be described as ergodic. I wouldn’t necessarily call it experimental (although the “e” word did find its way onto the cover copy), but if I did, I would say it’s accessibly so. There’s a lot going on under the hood, which doesn’t make it easy to target a specific audience.

Which is why I decided to target all of them.

Well, not all of them. My approach is a little more focused than that.

You see, I’ve found a certain overlap in readers of modern genre fiction. Especially denizens of the small press scene. Maybe that’s because a lot of the best small presses run the gamut, publishing everything from poultry farm crime dramas to metaphysical high school murder-sleaze to intergalactic sex romps. Presses like Perpetual Motion Machine, Apocalypse Party, Word Horde, Weird Punk Books, Broken River Books, Soho Press, Kingshot Press, Down & Out Books, and of course my own publisher, CLASH Books. In the last few years they’ve published an impressive array of titles, everything from African horror, gothic fairytales, and military sci-fi to video game influenced poetry, personal memoir and dystopia. Hell, they’re even publishing an entire book about ska. Ska! It’s almost as if they’re a genre unto themselves. Like a lot of these presses.

So it made sense for me to go where fans of these publishers congregate, no matter what genre banner they rallied under. Most venues proved welcoming to outsiders. It wasn’t long before I had a nice little blog tour going. I scheduled an interview with a speculative fiction site and a guest post on a horror blog. A small transgressive press agreed to host an excerpt. I secured reviews on a number of horror, literary, and weird fiction websites. Twins was recommended in roundups on IO9 and Vol. 1 Brooklyn. I’ve guested on three different podcasts so far, one of which is a Random House podcast for serious-type authors (not sure how I managed that one).

I also took note of the trails blazed before me. One novel that influenced my approach was the genre-defying masterpiece Liminal Space, by Zack Parsons. 

For my money, Liminal Space is one of the all-time great genre experiments. And it achieves this without mashing everything together into an unrecognizable gray mush. It’s kind of like David Mitchell’s Cloud Atlas, but without the nesting doll structure or changing cast of characters. One reviewer described it as “a helter-skelter journey through mind-blowing SF, western dime novel, noir mystery, and near-future dystopian horror that somehow manages to become a cohesive, thought-provoking whole.” The nearly unanimous consensus is that it shouldn’t work, but it does. Like gangbusters. 

It’s books like Liminal States that are constantly at the back of my mind when I’m writing. Whenever my self-doubt says, “You can’t do that!”, Zack Parsons says, “Oh yes you can, motherfucker!” (because I imagine Zack Parsons would curse, and it sounds cooler that way). David Mitchell, on the other hand, would be more reserved in his encouragement to break the rules. More of a “Go for it, old chap!” kind of guy.

Then, when I’m staring at the finished product thinking, “What the hell am I supposed to do with this?” I look to books like Liminal States to guide me in my promotional efforts. Where did Parsons get reviewed/do interviews? What circles were tweeting about his novel? Was he covered by each of the genres represented in his writing? Did the more conservative outlets go out of their way to feature his book? You do this with a handful of examples and you start to bank options.

Of course, they say if you’re going to break the rules, you’d better do it well, and if Liminal States was a turgid pile, no one would have paid any attention. The few who did would be clucking their tongues. So if the imaginary version of one of your favorite writers is encouraging you to take risks, you need to be confident in their abilities as well as your own. And then you need to go out there and share your risky business with anyone who’ll listen. Because although genres may be rigid, communities don’t have to be. 

Am I implying I broke the rules well? How the hell should I know? My book just came out. You probably shouldn’t be coming to me for advice. And now that I think about it, I don’t remember Liminal States selling that many copies. I once tweeted at Zack Parsons asking him when he was going to write another novel, and he told me hopefully never, because it was a horrible experience. 

So there’s that. 


You can get The Paradox Twins right here.

Saturday, April 3, 2021

Len Wein’s Batman: Batman 307

By

Scott D. Parker

As a kid in the late 1970s, comics were one of my go-to things (Star Wars, KISS, and early Star Trek fandom were the other main loves of my life) and Batman was my favorite. Still being a young kid in late elementary, I didn’t pay attention to the names of the writers or artists. I just bought the books and read them, ingesting the stories over and over again.

When I review the covers of my issues of Batman, it turns out some of my favorites were all scripted by the same guy: Len Wein. Unknown to me at the time, Wein had already co-created Swamp Thing for DC and rebooted the X-Men over at Marvel, including the co-creation of Wolverine, Storm, Nightcrawler, and Colossus. Nope, all I cared about was good Batman stories, and for a stretch there in late 1978 and all through 1979, Len Wein was the monthly writer (mostly) for Batman.

With the cover date for Wein’s first issue being January 1979 (although it hit the spinner racks a month or so earlier), I thought it would be fun to re-read Wein’s Batman run forty years later and see how it holds up. Spoiler: his run is among my favorites of all-time. In fact, Wein wrote one of my favorite all-time comic stories, Batman vs. The Incredible Hulk. But that’s a different post.

Speaking of holding up, Batman and Bruce Wayne in the 1970s is my favorite version of the character. Dick Grayson is off to college, leaving Bruce to move out of Wayne Manor and into Gotham City proper. He takes up residence at the Wayne Foundation building, and operates there for most of the decade. It is one of the neatest buildings in comicdom, what with the giant tree in the middle of the building, which secretly houses an elevator to the basement where the Batmobile is kept. For a young boy like me, this was the coolest thing ever.

The building shows up in Batman issue 307, but not before in intriguing two-page prologue. A beggar woman is asking for spare change. A man in a trench coat, fedora, and scarf approaches and gives her two gold pieces. The next page, she falls dead, right under the title, “Dark Messenger of Mercy!” The artist in this issue is John Calnan and Dick Giordano.

The first time we see Bruce Wayne, he is in his office, staring out the window. Next to him is Lucius Fox in his debut. I’m not sure the thought process Wein went through to create Fox, but the character has been around for these last forty years. Morgan Freeman played him in the Christopher Nolan Batman movies. From the chit-chat between Fox and Wayne, however, it’s clear Wayne has not shared his secret identity. The two men talk about business and name drop a man named Gregorian Falstaff (love the name) who, according to Wayne, “He’s rumored to have have a fortune which makes mine look like so much lunch money.”

Darkness literally falls over Gotham in one short panel, and Wayne excuses himself. He tags up with Alfred who has the Batman costume at the ready. As he swings off the top of the Foundation building, Batman makes a comment to Alfred: “When I start making value judgements—deciding who’s important enough to avenge—it’ll be time to hang up my mask forever.” Here in 2019, with the recent passing of Stan Lee, many folks mentioned Lee’s strong streak of social justice running through his words. Here, in 1979, Len Wein does the same thing for Batman.

Meanwhile...at police headquarters, a man named Quentin Conroy is livid. He wants Gotham’s finest to help him find stolen property, gold coins to be exact. Unbeknownst to both men, Batman is sitting in the same room, legs casually crossed, fingers steepled. The Caped Crusader in convinced he can find Conroy’s missing money, especially since two of the coins turned up on that dead woman’s corpse.

Street level, Batman approaches a sleep bum and there is a funny couple of panels. In the boxed panels, Wein writes “Without question, the Batman is an impressive figure. His unexpected visage, looming large out of the darkness, is often viewed with admiration...or hostility...or outright fear…” “But rarely indifference.” This as the bum goes back to sleep. See? You can have humor in a Batman story. Anyway, an Irishman named Shamrock (natch) approaches and asks the hero if he needs helps. When Batman says he’s investigating the murder of the woman, Shamrock knew her. He volunteers to escort Batman down into the sewers to meet some folks who might have seen something.

What Batman sees is a group of people living in an underground tunnel, the area kept warm by the steam pipes. Here, Batman meets Slugger (from the ‘48 Gotham Giants baseball team), Poet (Shakespeare of the sewers), and Good Queen Bess. Through dialogue alone, Wein gives these characters their accents and particular ways of speaking. Shamrock always says, “Laddie,” while Slugger talks like a New Yorker: “Pleased to meet ‘cha!” Batman learns there have been other deaths...and Queen Bess actually has two of the coins with her. The Dark Knight Detective ascertains the gold coins are laced with a contact poison, absorbed through the skin.

No sooner does Batman make this discovery than a piercing scream fills the bowels of Gotham. Another woman is being attacked! It’s the man with the fedora and red scarf. Batman leaps to action. A fight ensues, and Batman gets himself whacked by Scarfman’s cane. In the melee, two things happen. One, Scarfman’s hat and scarf fall away, revealing a face the citizens of the underworld know. Two, Scarfman’s cane cracked a steam pipe. It’s about to blow. So Batman gets between the pipe and the people. It explodes, hurling Batman across the room.

Later, Batman’s “new tattered friends” say Scarfman looks just like one of their own: “Limehouse” John Francis Conroy, a man who used to sleep with them before just disappearing. Being the detective, Batman soon finds his way to Quentin Conroy’s house (because Batman can get into any room in Gotham, right?). Heated words are exchanged and Quentin confesses John Francis was his father. He kept the gold coins as a remembrance of his father, a man who ran out on his family while Quentin was a kid. The modern pressures of the world drove John Francis to the streets, supposedly dying in a gutter.

But Batman isn’t so sure.

The next night, we see Scarfman prowling about. He gives coins to a man who extends his hand...the gloved hand of The Batman! Oddly, Batman is wearing a sling, proof not only did the steam explosion hurt him worse than we saw three pages ago, but reminding readers the Caped Crusader is really just a man, a man who can get injured. A second battle commences, but Batman’s shoulder hampers him. Scarfman swings the cane too wide, allowing Batman to come in underneath him. A powerful punch to the mid-section topples Scarfman. The odd cast of characters are also there, cheering on Batman. Scarfman questions their motives. All he wants is to give these street people some mercy and peace. But “the peace of the grave” is something they shun. Just as they shun him.
Scarfman’s mind snaps. He accuses Batman of turning these “friends of his” away from him. His face is misshapen, resembling John Francis Conroy, but a few panels later, it is revealed to be Quentin all along. Quentin, looking almost like a young boy.

Wein wraps up the entire story in three thin panels. We see Quentin being led away and Commissioner Gordon asking Batman about the clue. It was the heels of Quentin’s shoes, something we saw a few pages before. Many of the 1970s stories had clues the reader could follow, and it’ fun to go back and notice certain things you might have missed the first go-round.

Wein wrote a pretty decent script. I enjoy the non-super-villain aspect of these kinds of stories. Kind of like a breather before we get to the next issue featuring Mr. Freeze. Wein brings Batman’s humanity to the fore, both in how he protects the homeless but also, at the end, when he hopes young Quentin will receive the help he needs. He’s a true hero to all, discriminating toward none.

What did y’all think about this story?

Thursday, April 1, 2021

Revolving with Beau


This week, Beau takes a look at Revolver by Michael Patrick Hicks.

"Wow. Just... Wow. Revolver aims at the world we live in and blows its head off." - Edward Lorn, author of Bays End and The Sound of Broken Ribs

"Terrific and brutally aggressive." - Glenn Rolfe, author of Becoming and Blood and Rain

"Revolver is the most relevant work of fiction right now!" - Cedar Hollow Horror Reviews

“Hicks has written a seminal political – psychological thriller that packs a massive punch in a short space. … I think it’s a piece of fiction that will stand the test of time.” - Steve Stred, Kendall Reviews

"Hicks paints a picture of a world that's uncomfortably possible...passionate and well-written." - Black Guys Do Read

“Revolver ... takes the ‘shocking’ gold medal. A classic example of social science fiction … most gripping.” - David Wailing, author of Auto

"[A] truly gut twisting, heart wrenching, sphincter squeezing tale of lossand abandonment that stuck with me long after the last page." - Anthony Vicino, author of Time Heist


Wednesday, March 31, 2021

WRW: Breaking Bad

 


For WRITERS' ROOM WEDNESDAY, we're visiting the BREAKING BAD folks.





Read some

Tuesday, March 30, 2021

Nasty Against Nasty

While I await the epic fight that I'm sure we'll see in the coming Godzilla vs. Kong (which I hope I like as much as I liked the old King Kong vs. Godzilla as a child), I am thinking of the battle I saw presented when I watched I Care a Lot the other night.  

There's Rosamund Pike as the "lioness" Marla Grayson, who works the system to get court-appointed guardianship over helpless and affluent retirees so that she can get them consigned to assisted-living facilities and strip them of all their assets.  Not admirable, but she does what she does with such sociopathic skill and ferocity, not to mention sheer ballsiness, that you can't help but be impressed by her.  She has had a successful run for quite some time, apparently, and lives a stylish and comfortable life with her partner both professional and personal, Fran (played by Elisa Gonzalez).  With the unwitting aid of a clueless judge and the purposeful help from people in this world -- a doctor willing to make false diagnoses of dementia, an assisted living facility chief who aids Marla in isolating the unwitting seniors sent his way -- Marla has everything in place to keep accruing the wealth she is so keen on accumulating.  But then she works her scam on a woman named Jennifer, Dianne Wiest, and this particular elderly woman not only has all her faculties, but is not as alone in the world as Marla and her cohorts, despite their research into Jennifer's past, thought. Jennifer has a connection to a person who turns out to be a Russian gangster, and this gangster, in the person of Peter Dinklage, is as ruthless as Marla, as determined to "win" as Marla is.

I can't remember the last time I saw a gleefully nasty black comedy, but I Care a Lot is certainly one.  Do you enjoy a movie that pits one cold and unscrupulous person against an icy, albeit thoughtful, gangster?  If you do, you should like this.  And you can never go wrong with Dianne Wiest, whose character for a good stretch knows more than Marla does and whose secretive chuckle makes you chuckle with her. 

In Gone Girl, Rosamund Pike was totally committed to her character, and that movie played much more as a dark comedy on marriage than any sort of mystery or thriller.  Once again, in I Care a Lot, she's pitch-perfect, and as I watched, I was thinking how this kind of person is in some ways more unsettling than the proverbial tv and film serial killer. There are more people like Marla floating around the world, working their grifts and harming people, than serial killers.  And I won't give away the end, but let's just say that overall the film follows its basic premise through to its logical conclusion.  The Marlas of the world and the outwardly respectable gangsters of the world are doing quite well these days, and there are plenty of media venues for them, with their gleaming smiles, to talk up and promote their businesses. We are doing the planet a world of good, they say, and their media enablers nod approvingly.

Hard not to like a film that leaves you both laughing and with a slightly bitter taste in your mouth.


Monday, March 29, 2021

UNLOADED: Crime Writers Writing Without Guns

 





With recent, horrific gun related murders as a backdrop, our society continues to argue about gun violence. The call for commonsense laws and local community efforts to raise awareness about gun safety is a starting point, but a point we should have been at years, if not decades, ago.

On the fifth anniversary of its publication, Do Some Damage takes a look back at the ground-breaking, Anthony nominated anthology UNLOADED: CRIME WRITERS WRITING WITHOUT GUNS and the equally popular follow-up, released in 2018, UNLOADED VOLUME 2.

Both collections were edited by Eric Beetner and authors for the first collection included; J.L. Abramo, Patricia Abbott, Trey R. Barker, Alec Cizak, Joe Clifford, Reed Farrel Coleman, Angel Luis Colón, Hilary Davidson, Paul J. Garth, Alison Gaylin, Kent Gowran, Rob Hart, Jeffery Hess, Grant Jerkins, Joe R. Lansdale, S.W. Lauden, Tim O’Mara, Joyce Carol Oates, Tom Pitts, Thomas Pluck, Keith Rawson, Kelli Stanley, Ryan Sayles, and Holly West. While bestselling authors E.A. Aymar, Chris Holm, Dana King, Nick Kolakowski, Lori Rader-Day, Bill Crider, Laura McHugh, James R. Tuck, Scott Loring Sanders, James Ziskin, John Rector, Sara Paretsky, and many more contributed to UNLOADED VOLUME 2.

All the writers provided their stories for free, and the proceeds from both anthologies were and continue to be donated to States United to Prevent Gun Violence, a nonprofit organization that supports gun violence prevention groups across the country.

The main objective of these two anthologies, both featuring tales of suspense, crime, and mystery, but no guns, is to draw the reader in with the action, tense story line, and pace they are used to from crime tales. With a variety of settings featured, the point that violent crimes can and will happen everywhere is effectively driven home. That violence can be unintentional, planned or fueled by rage is secondary to the tragic mark it leaves on the characters.

The collections speak to how the stories, with or without guns and much like society, will continue to thrill even in the absence of guns. In fact, when the crutch of a gun is removed, the writers create plenty of wicked ways to end a life; baseball bats, incinerators, trains, and cash registers. And the plots are interesting and hair-raising, as well; think a simian on the loose, a dying serial killer out for one last thrill, or androids with buried secrets. All of the stories are creative and dynamic, featuring traditional and non-traditional protagonists up to their necks in trouble and willing to go to extremes to come out on top.

These are tough tales, brutal stories that will leave the reader thoughtful and unnerved. A highly suggested collection with quite a bit to say about our society.

Sunday, March 28, 2021

Two Giants, and How One Paved the Way for the Other

By Claire Booth

I was scrolling through the news Friday night when I saw one thing. And right below it, another. Beverly Cleary died. Larry McMurtry died.

Two giants in the world of writers, who couldn’t be more different. He wrote tomes as varied as Lonesome Dove and Terms of Endearment. She wrote almost exclusively for children and young adults. He was mostly identified with Westerns and his “unromantic” (the New York Times’s word) view of that facet of American history. She reveled in the everydayness of being a kid and took on current issues. 

He won a Pulitzer.

She sold 85 million books.

He was 84.

She was 104.

So she came first. And I mean that as more than an observation about their ages.

If you went on to reading someone like McMurtry, you probably started with Henry Huggins, or Ramona the Brave. Especially if you’re from my Gen X cohort. If you fell in love with reading, if you identified with characters in a book, there’s a very good chance it’s because of Cleary. I remember reading the Ramona books and thinking, “This could’ve been written by a kid,” which when you’re a kid, is the highest praise possible.

And if you’ve experienced reading that good—that relatable—of course you’re going to seek out more. I didn’t arrive at McMurtry until adulthood, but his characters are just as universal. Which is the key to great literature. Which was what they both produced, to the benefit of generations of readers—of all ages.