Saturday, May 21, 2022

Legacy Authors and That Last Book

Scott D. Parker

One of my favorite sub-genres of music is when legacy artists create new music in the 21st Century. I’m not talking about bands like Bruce Springsteen, Bon Jovi, or Def Leppard who never stopped putting out new music. I’m referring to bands like The Beach Boys (That's Why God Made the Radio), Eagles (Long Road Out of Eden), or David Bowie (Blackstar) who go into the studio basically knowing that the soon-to-be-recorded album will be the swan song. The songs can sometimes acknowledge the passing of time, the artists’ ages, and their long careers.

Yesterday, one of my favorite bands joined the ranks of legacy artists creating new music that fits into this mold. Chicago released “If This Is Goodbye,” from their forthcoming album (not sure if they’ll use XXXVIII or a more streamlined 38). From the title alone, you get the vibe of the song. It is a wistful song with a typical surface meaning of two lovers looking back over their lives but we all know what it’s really saying: This band, through triumphs and tragedies and reinventions, has persevered but the end is nigh. Here’s the link.

It is a sobering thought to have yet another band that have been there my entire life reach the end of the road. KISS, my other favorite band, is literally on their End of the Road Tour. But those founding members of Chicago have been working musicians for nearly 60 years, 55 as Chicago. That’s a good, long run, and they deserve to do whatever they way to do, be it touring or just kicking up their heels and marveling at their accomplishments.

Authors, however, are different. At least I think they are.

I don’t presume to know if every single series character ages. I can’t say if Agatha Christie wrote her last Hercule Poirot novel knowing it would be the end or not.

I’ve only recently started reading the novels and blog posts of Max Allan Collins but in his posts, he talks about slowing down. Now, his output is still pretty prolific, but he acknowledges that some of the aspects of writing—namely the research he needs for his historical mysteries—is more challenging that it used to be. Again, I’m not as well versed with his bibliography as others are, but I wonder if he’s going to start writing that final Heller novel knowing it’s the last one.

Didn’t Michael Connelly age Harry Bosch along the way? Ian Fleming died while writing his final James Bond novel so I suspect that he didn’t approach The Man With the Golden Gun in that way. I don’t know about Sue Grafton’s Kinsey Millhone either.

What about authors who, say, haven’t written a book in twenty years and suddenly come out with a new one? I’m not talking about a found manuscript, a la Erle Stanley Gardner’s 2016 novel The Knife Slipped (written in 1939), that is then republished.

Maybe I’m zeroing in on series characters that actually age along with their creators. How many of them got their last book with an eye to the author knowing it was the last book?

Wednesday, May 18, 2022

SPIDERHEAD and What Happens When the Party is Over

 This post was originally going to be about THE LOW WHITE PLAIN, but then I remembered

1. I'm not particularly great at self-promotion, and 

2. It's probably more important to push the book when people can, you know, buy it

so if you're curious about what my writing process was like or the music I listened to that inspired the novella, you'll have to wait for next week. 

Instead, I want to talk about something I've been thinking of for a while now. 

The trailer for the new Netflix film, SPIDERHEAD dropped yesterday. The movie is based on the classic (and, yeah, I don't care that it's less than 15 years old, it's a goddamn classic) George Saunders short story, and it actually looks pretty good. Not as good as the story, mind you, but good. 

I first read "Escape from Spiderhead" a couple of years ago.  I had gone through a Saunders phase years before, but somehow "Escape" had never made it in to my rotation. Probably because it was new and hadn't been collected yet. The friend who insisted I read it was part of my writers group at the time, and we'd just read one of his stories. It was a surreal, almost nightmarish story, about an elevator repair man trying to keep a building from falling down and rolling - like a Katamari Dynasty ball - over the house he shared with his hateful wife, and was directly inspired by Saunders' "Escape from Spiderhead". 

But this, the thing I want to talk about, isn't about the Saunders story. No matter how good it is. Instead, I want to talk about my friend.

My friend (I'm not going to give his name here because I'm not sure how he'd feel being written about - he's a quiet guy!) is an amazing writer. There's a lot of Saunders in his voice (the way characters think things like, "what the heck was that fracas?" and the deadpan, offbeat way they look at the world) but he's still unmistakably him. While Saunders uses his voice to lower expectations and strip the story bare, leaving the reader open to the constantly engaging narrative, my friend uses that voice, or something pretty similar anyway, to make things more and more bizarre until he uppercuts you with a single image or line that makes everything taste like ash in your mouth. 

I remember almost all the stories of his my friend has written. There's the elevator guy story I mentioned above. There was the story about the two guys robbing a haunted house, but the ghosts are a bickering married couple who keep trying to vomit Ghost Juice on the robbers, ineffectually. Another was about a weird man going to church in the middle of a panic attack, trying to walk the line between being neighborly and purposeful, who, in the middle of his panic attack remembers throwing frogs in to the fire as a child and eating a note left by a kidnapping victim. Another involved a fruit stall and, if I'm remembering correctly, a motorcycle that was powered by a certain kind of vegetable (or maybe it was allergic?). 

As outlandish as these stories sound, they were all human. Heartbreakingly human, actually. And though all the stories could have been tightened up or improved in small ways, the core was there, perfect in a way that only the most unique stories can be. They should have been published. They should have been read by lots of people. They should be known. 

When the pandemic happened, our writers group broke off for obvious reasons, and now that it's in the middle is it over it's never going to be over it's going to get worse is this as good as its going to get? phase, it hasn't resumed yet. 

But if my group ever does get back together, I'm not sure my friend will be there. 

We've stayed in touch through the pandemic, of course, but any time writing comes up, he stays quiet.

I hope I'm wrong, I hope he's 300 pages in to a bizarre and truthful and heartfelt novel about robots from mars invading a dildo factory or something, but I worry he's moved on. That writing, for him, is something he'll want to get back to, but may never do. And that breaks my heart. It makes me wonder why, for some of us, writing becomes this sustained thing, this ritual in our lives, and for others it becomes a candle that eventually burns out. It makes me wonder what will happen if my own candle burns out. If that ever comes to pass, will I simply shrug and move on, an invisible weight lifted off my shoulders? Will I mourn it? Or does it happen gradually, so that you don't even notice it? And how does it feel when you do notice? Can you get it back?

What happens when the party is over? 

This is all maudlin and overly-introspective and slightly anxiety filled (and probably my own exhaustion after having written so much the last few months and my anxiety at taking a few nights off to play video games and the inevitable jitters of having a book coming out in two weeks), and it's as much about missing my friend and his strange but touching stories as it is about writing in general, but I wonder. 

Sometime, in the hopefully near future, our group will get together again. 

And hopefully, I will have something to bring. Something to share, something to be critiqued and pulled apart so that I can make it better. 

And hopefully, hopefully, my friend will be there too, and I'll get to read his stories and the weird way he sees the world and its people (so weird, but so able to be touched) and I'll know that either it never leaves you at all, or that the party actually doesn't have an invitation and you can come back any time. 


Monday, May 16, 2022

P.I. Tales

 A picture containing calendar

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By Marietta Miles

In 2022 Michael Pool, Denver mystery writer and private detective, started P.I. Tales Publishing in order to spotlight stories about modern detectives written with old-school style. Along with traditional novels, P.I. Tales features the popular Double Feature series.

Each Double Feature release contains two classic but quick detective mystery novellas. These volumes can be read in one sitting and there is no skimping on thrill or detail. With three titles to choose from the series has a little something for everyone.

P.I. Tales Double Feature

Book 1

Crimson Smile / The Path of Jackals: A P.I. Tales Double Feature 

In Michael Pool's Crimson Smile, private investigator Rick Malone has seen his share of marriages gone bad. When a wealthy Denver socialite stands accused of murdering her husband, Rick is called in to run an investigation into her claims of self-defense. But his client's needs soon diverge from the facts, and those facts have the power to end more than just Malone's career, they could also end his life.

In Hunter Eden's The Path of Jackals, former war correspondent Fennec Suleiman lives and works as a private detective in Egypt. When a fame-obsessed American teenager goes missing in Cairo, Fennec is called in by the girl's superficial parents to find her. The investigation soon takes him to Cairo's darkest corners, though none darker than his internal struggle to balance reality against the visions of Anubis that constantly plague him. Can Fennec find the girl before she discovers the true price of fame?

Book 2

Hallmarks Of The Job / Aloha Boys: A P.I. Tales Double Feature 

In Frank Zafiro's Hallmarks of the Job, Meticulous private investigator Stanley Melvin likes to keep his work grounded in reality, not at all like the classic detective novels he has read incessantly since childhood. But his best friend and annoying neighbor Rudy quickly points out that his routine "cheater" case is rapidly taking on all of the features that Stanley steadfastly insists are mere fictional tropes of the genre.

In Michael Bracken's Aloha Boys, Private investigator Morris Ronald “Moe Ron” Boyette is still adjusting to his new digs above Millie’s Tattoos and Piercings when a homeless woman hires him to find her missing half-brother. Searching for the young man sends Boyette through the depraved underbelly of the local university, reunites him with a mob boss best left in his past, and leads him to question everything he thought he knew about families.

Book 3

Dixon Guidry Gets Lost / All Souls Are Final: A P.I. Tales Double Feature 

In William Dylan Powell's Dixon Guidry Gets Lost, Dixon Guidry trudged to a Deer Park refinery with his beat-up lunchbox every day for twenty years. Every day but his last day on the job, that is. With few friends, no family, and no clue as to why he disappeared, Guidry seems to have gone up in smoke. And as his Happy Retirement sheet cake sits uneaten in the office refrigerator, his former employer is desperate to uncover Guidry’s whereabouts. That’s where oilfield-worker-turned-private investigator Roughneck Mike comes in.

In Will Viharo's All Souls Are Final, a long-buried memory resurfaces in retired private eye Vic Valentine’s tormented psyche, forcing him to reckon with a pivotal event in his past while recovering from a psychotic break in his present. Most of the action revolves around his erotic, erratic experiences with a secret satanic pornography cult in turn-of-the- twentieth-century Los Angeles, as he is seduced into a decadent den of delirious danger by a sexy client whose mysterious boyfriend Vic accidentally killed. Or did he? Discover the shocking truth in a sordid series of twists and turns down this rocky road to raunchy ruin.