Saturday, February 11, 2023

Poker Face and the Spiritual Reboot


Scott D. Parker

Poker Face had me at Rian Johnson. But had I not known it was his brainchild, the show would have had me at the title font. 

That yellow font on the title card, the year represented by Roman numerals. What decade are we in? Well, the headspace of creator Rian Johnson was the 1970s and 1980s with shows like Colombo and The Rockford Files. I suspect he gets nostalgically triggered when he sees the title cards of those shows and others and wanted to bring sensibility forward to the 2020s.

What sensibility is that? A traditional crime-of-the-week series. But not just that: a new crime every week with a whole new cast. Which brings me to another 1970s TV it reminds me of: The Incredible Hulk. Both feature a lead who is being chased across the country, meeting new people every week.

Now I know what you’re thinking: there are plenty of crime-of-the-week shows from Law and Order to Castle to all those shows on CBS I don’t watch. That’s not new. No, it’s not, but the laid-back aesthetic is a refreshing return to a modern TV landscape full of season-long streaming shows to modernized takes on old tropes.

Both of those things are fine, and I enjoy them, but I also appreciate the slower paced TV shows that used to dominate networks with stakes that are not really that high. And I very much applaud Johnson for channeling that vibe into something new rather than a modern reboot of an old franchise.

He could just have acquired the rights to, say, Colombo (the obvious ancestor to Natasha Lyonne’s Charlie Cale) and created a story around Colombo’s grandkid who is a rumpled detective just like Peter Faulk. I’d watch that and chances are, you would, too. But we’d constantly be comparing the new actor/actress to Faulk, much to the detriment of the new show. Also, we’d probably have the admittedly fun “sequel” to some random episode that no one remembers save the dedicate Colombo fans.

No, what Johnson did was take all those elements and, crucially, made something new, unique, and his own. That last bit is probably the key factor for Johnson. Given the opportunity, he’d probably make a Colombo sequel or adapt some Agatha Christie novel in to a movie, but with Poker Face and Knives Out and Glass Onion, he gets to revel in all the stuff he loves while playing in his own sandbox.

Friday, February 10, 2023

Art Taylor on writing with range

Guest Post by Art Taylor

I debated fiercely about the subtitle of my new book: The Adventure of the Castle Thief and Other Expeditions and Indiscretions, due out February 14 from Crippen & Landru, a publisher specializing in collections of short mystery fiction. 

In an informal and very limited poll (my wife Tara, our son Dash, and Jeffrey Marks at Crippen & Landru) “and Other Expeditions and Indiscretions” was the unanimous winner among several options, and I hope readers ultimately find it more catchy than cumbersome. But my mind keeps circling back to the subtitle I’d originally been considering: “Stories Light and Dark”—a tag which would’ve served two purposes, not only description but also (frankly) disclaimer.

In an interview several years back, Ed Aymar mentioned the range of my stories (a nice compliment, I’d thought!) but then he asked if I ever worried about branding, which . . . which honestly I hadn’t considered before in terms of my own work . . . and maybe I should’ve? I’m an avid reader in the mystery genre—everything from traditional mysteries to domestic suspense to hard-boiled and beyond—and I’d enjoyed writing across a similar spectrum, even crossing some genres within a single story, a bit of speculative fiction in the mix, for example. 

But are other readers equally broad in their tastes, or are they more focused in what they like and don’t like? With a collection, does that phrase “something for all readers” (you’ll find that idea in my book’s description) also carry the suggestion “oh, well, you can’t make everyone happy all the time”?  

The title story, “The Adventure of the Castle Thief,” is a traditional clue-driven mystery: a college study abroad in Ireland, students suffering a series of small thefts, and a professor and his star student setting out to solve the case discreetly and return order to their once-happy little group. This one’s at the lighter end of the spectrum. 

And at the other end . . . “The White Rose of Memphis” focuses on a hotel which has made a tourist spectacle out of the legendary assault and murder of a woman on her wedding weekend; the story follows a modern-day couple paying to recreate that experience, which hardly goes well. Do Some Damage’s own Steve Weddle originally published this one in Needle: A Magazine of Noir—with emphasis on that subtitle, noir at the core. 

Truth in advertising, the book jacket for my new collection explains that range, and I’ve ordered the stories within mostly with an eye toward increased darkness as readers push ahead—and increased dipping of my toes into speculative fiction as well. 

Ease into these waters—that’s the message. Not “Abandon All Hope Ye Who . . .”—at least I hope not!   

Coming back to titles and subtitles, I’m grateful to be here at Do Some Damage, and I want to focus on the site’s own subtitle/tagline: Crime Fiction Is For All of Us. In fact, it’s that combination that’s prompted some of these reflections. What kinds of “damage done” are readers here willing to accept in the fiction they read? How widely do you read generally in either direction? And for the writers, how much attention do you give to positioning yourself along that spectrum from light to dark—with an eye toward whatever reader you imagine? 

(These are real questions, I should stress—and I hope folks reading this might answer below!)

Order yours:




Art Taylor is the author of  two collections—The Adventure of the Castle Thief and Other Expeditions and Indiscretions and The Boy Detective & The Summer of ’74 and Other Tales of Suspense—and On the Road with Del & Louise: A Novel in Stories, winner of the Agatha Award for Best First Novel. His short fiction has won three additional Agatha Awards as well as the Edgar, Anthony, Derringer, and Macavity Awards. He is an associate professor of English at George Mason University.

Thursday, February 9, 2023

Beau recommends Rosson


This week, Beau recommends Keith Rosson's Folk Songs for Trauma Surgeons


“With this excellent collection of 15 jagged, fragmented pieces, dark fantasist Rosson subverts expectations and challenges his characters and his readers alike to second-guess their preconceptions. Evil is just as likely to spring from daily life as to lunge out of the supernatural in these disquieting tales. . . . These powerful stories will leave readers unsettled in the best ways.” – Publishers Weekly

Folk Songs for Trauma Surgeons is an unforgettable and often heartbreaking one-two punch of satire of and elegy for a decayed America.” – Paul Tremblay, author of A Head Full of Ghosts and Survivor Song

“Keith Rosson is a storyteller with magic and grit to spare. Mesmerizing from the first sentence to the last, Folk Songs for Trauma Surgeons is a phenomenal collection.” – Andy Davidson, author of The Boatman’s Daughter

“Effortlessly brilliant, entertaining and full of raw emotion, Rosson’s work takes you out of your comfort zone and into new landscapes of fiction. Literate, horrific, humanistic, sardonic. I’ve never read stories quite like Rosson’s and that is a great thing.” – John Hornor Jacobs, author of A Lush and Seething Hell

Tuesday, February 7, 2023

A Nanny and Dread

In the film Nanny (2022), which I saw recently, a Senelegese immigrant named Aisha works for an affluent white couple in their spacious New York City apartment.  She takes care of their young daughter, teaching her French, cooking her Senelegese food that the girl likes, and the nanny and daughter quickly bond. The parents, meanwhile, have issues, both personal and work-related, making life in this privileged environment a less than relaxed one. They don't always pay Aisha the amount they are supposed to on time, which is galling in and of itself but also screws up her plans.  She is trying to save money to bring over her six-year-old son in Senegal, where he is staying with her cousin.  Aisha is hardly timid in demanding the money owed her from her employers, but their excuses and self-absorption don't make things easy for her.  Meanwhile, Aisha begins to experience strange dreams and visions involving water and submersion in water and a West African mermaid spirit called Mami Wata.  The less I say about the plot from here on in the better, but suffice it to say that Nanny is an eerie and suspenseful movie that uses psychological horror to explore an immigrant's experience, her anxieties, hopes, and difficulties, the sacrifices and adjustments she has to make.   It's the first feature film by writer-director Nikyatu Jusu, and Anna Diop as Aisha, who is in virtually every scene, is very good. 

As the movie unfolded and Aisha had her disturbing visions, sometimes confusing reality with hallucination, one possible reason for these disruptions occurring to her struck me.  It's something that's likely to dawn on a lot of people watching the movie, a possibility for the film's outcome.  That outcome is confirmed by the film's end, news delivered toward the film's climax.  "It is that," I thought.  "Dammit!"  I wished it hadn't been that, but it makes utter sense and in retrospect, everything in the movie has been leading to this.  If you didn't foresee this coming, no matter; the final turn of the screw will still serve as a powerful punch.  But either way, it made me think about the difference between twists in stories and the use of dread, and how a story doesn't need a reversal or plot twist or an out of left field kicker to be effective.  You see those kinds of things so often, that strain for a final twist, that it gets redundant and forced.  In a genre like horror especially, dread is extremely effective.  A situation is set up, unease is created by what's going on, and there are any number of possible outcomes, one of which at least, without question, is an upsetting one.  You hope that outcome won't be the one chosen and you feel a sense of mounting dread thinking well, it may be that one after all.  No outlandish twists needed, no attempts at a stunning revelation.  Your dread just mounts and mounts and you hold out hope for the outcome not to be feared, which is also possible in this story, but if at the end your pessimistic expectations are met, you feel a release of your dread through emotion.  It's more of an emotional experience really than the intellectual one that the twist offers, the twist being something that appeals primarily to the mind in how it tricked you or threw you off track.  

That's not to say Nanny ends on a total downbeat note, because it doesn't.  But it does deliver on the dread all while taking you completely into the world of its main character, Aisha.  I liked it quite a bit and it's on Amazon Prime, easy to see.

Sunday, February 5, 2023

Noir at the Bar, Arizona Style

Are you going to Left Coast Crime in Tucson next month (March 16-19)? Start it off the night before with Noir at the Bar. I'll be part of a great line up. We'll all be reading from our works and enjoying an in-person (!) evening. If you'll be in town, join us!