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Saturday, November 15, 2003

Memo to Jennifer Howard 

Jen, Jen, Jen. In your haste to condemn certain bloggers for their penchant to scratch each other's backs, you've forgotten the Golden Rule: which is that all publicity is good publicity.

Nice work in increasing their traffic for the next little while. See, ad hominem attacks have their uses!

But like Mark, I'm kind of pissed I was left out. I mean, the Fab Five (oh, god, I didn't just say that) have each linked to me several times, though perhaps not as much as these folks , and I'm plenty good at back-scratching, plugging books I love, people who deserve wider attention, and oh yeah, keeping a pulse on matters literary and cultural. Shouldn't I get the attacks I deserve? Or perhaps I'm still too new at this. Ah well, something to aspire to as time goes on, I suppose...

Besides, obviously Ms. Howard hasn't really been paying as much attention as she ought if she hadn't heard of Identity Theory until the Vendela Vida interview. So, Jen, while you're busy trying to ferret out pertinent information amongst the sea of friendship and community that's pervasive among the literary blogosphere, I strongly suggest that you make yourself at home with the Crime Fiction links to the right. Because if not, then you'll certainly not be amongst the cool people, now will you?

EDIT: Had I seen Terry's post I wouldn't have said anything. But I didn't, so what can I do.

Somebody get me a copy 

According to yesterday's edition of Publisher's Lunch, the traditional cover ad package that accompanies issues of Publisher's Weekly actually resulted in some controversy. Evidently the folks at Rugged Land, a new publishing house founded by Webster Stone and former Random House editor Shawn Coyne (who edited, among others Robert Crais) decided to have some fun with the space they were given. They produced a five page tabloid-style package which poked fun at various publishing bigshots like Sonny Mehta, Morgan Entrekin, and Jay McInerney, as well as themselves. Unfortunately, PW nearly got cold feet and phoned up Rugged Land to request a multitude of changes so as not to piss anyone off. Stone got upset and threatened to pull the ad, but in the end, the only thing that was altered was an image of "a big publisher of a company recently up for sale "merged" between socialites of the moment Paris and Nicky Hilton ("Old media +new media = hot media!"). The photo was blurred, and over the person’s name it will say "censored" instead."

From what I can see of Rugged Land, they seem like really cool people, small publishers who really know what they are doing and know how to get results. The company only publishes 10-12 titles a year (included Donald Harstad's A LONG DECEMBER, the latest in a series originally acquired by Coyne back when he was a senior editor with Doubleday) but really put a concerted effort into each title. So why not produce an ad package with humor and fun? Makes them different from the stodgy Old Guard. So yeah, I want to see this.


In other news, Ed Sullivan eyes a return to the screen 

"Dick Clark says he's on the verge of signing a deal to bring back "American Bandstand" as a syndicated show. Clark, who rose to fame as host of "American Bandstand," said he's planning to bring back the series - with someone else as host."

Saturday morning cartoons 

Literary agent Giles Gordon has died at the age of 63, after suffering a head injury.

Laura Miller rambles about the National Book Award. Something about how they don't really reward the best of the year, but like lifetime achievement awards:

When I served on a prize committee, one member, a novelist, vowed to keep a very popular, widely praised, genuinely brilliant novel from winning, for reasons that were no less righteously asserted for being fairly vague. Far more appealing to the author/judge is a candidate who's done great work, just not lately. Of this year's N.B.A. finalists, three -- Spencer, Wiggins and Hazzard -- published much better books five or more years ago.

So the NBA is the Academy Awards of literature. Didn't we already know this already?

More from the Times: a rave review of a new biography of Pushkin, a look at the latest Hollywood novel by Bruce Wagner, and a nice review of Elizabeth Hay's Giller-nominated GARBO LAUGHS.

Gordon Burn feels that contemporary American literature kind of sucks now. Based on who he deems as indicative of AmLit, I think he's reading the wrong people. OTOH, at least talking crime fiction, I'm much more in sync with UK based authors these days.

Julie Burchill (yup, she's still there) argues that Jacqueline Susann's VALLEY OF THE DOLLS was a hallmark of subversive literature. Can't wait what meaning she attaches to GROUPIE.

Sarah A Smith of the Guardian totally misses the boat on WE NEED TO TALK ABOUT KEVIN. Well, she doesn't like it very much, thinking it "discordant" and "misguided." So the Brits like a book about American school shootings and the like as told by someone who isn't in that culture, but doesn't like a book that gives a more unflinching portrait of the guilt and aftermath and wondering whether a parent can have less than loving feelings toward her child? Okay....

Martin Levin was unsure Steve Martin could pull it off, but feels THE PLEASURE OF MY COMPANY works rather well.

Lloyd Axworthy wrote a book?! Well, it seems the former Canadian Foreign Minister has indeed done so, and even more amazingly, the National Post feels it has some merit.

The perils of going on a book tour--what happens when you're faced with too many people, or none at all? DBC Pierre and Carl Hiaasen offer their perspectives.

Kate Finlayson's first novel is just out, and she's rather surprised she made it in the first place. Well, true, the odds are rather high of getting published....

And finally, the Australian media is still trying to make sense of the weird phenomenon that is the Hilton sisters. I don't blame them--I still can't understand it either.

Friday, November 14, 2003

The 2nd Annual Harrogate Crime Writing Festival 

For those who were unable to attend this summer's inaugural edition, you really missed out on what will likely be the crime fiction convention in the UK. Buoyed by their success, the folks at Harrogate, and especially the programming committee of Val McDermid, Maria Rejt, Jane Gregory, and Jane Bradish-Ellames, are putting on an even better show next year.

For an exclusive look at what's in store for the festival, which will be held at the Majestic Hotel from 22-25 July 2004, go here. (You'll need Adobe Acrobat Reader, for those stray few who have yet to get it.) Keep in mind that the schedule is not finalized, and no doubt further news will be made available as we get closer to the festival dates.

The official Shel Silverstein site 

It almost seems like another life, but although I don't put nearly as much effort into it as I once did, I maintain the Shel Silverstein Archive, a hodgepodge of essays, obscure information, and other things related to the life and work of the one Renaissance Man I worship above all else. I won't expound on why I find him so brilliant here. Check the Archive and Carol Arnett's Banned Width site for that sort of thing. Although I will say that had Silverstein's life not been cut short so soon, I think that he would have eventually made his mark in the crime fiction genre. Some of the last things he did were poems and stories for Otto Penzler's trio of "MURDER AND..." anthologies published by Delacorte in the mid 1990s. In fact, Shel's short story "The Guilty Party," which first appeared in MURDER AND OBSESSION, was included in the Best American Mystery Short Stories of 1999 Anthology.

One of my favorite Shel stories was related to me some years back by Hank Luttrell, once the proprietor of an independent used and rare shop in Madison, WI, where Shel's son Matthew grew up. Shel was a regular visitor to the shop (whose name sadly escapes me) and would avidly peruse the mystery section, especially the old AHMM and EQMM magazines. One day he walked in and wanted a recommendation. Luttrell pointed him towards some of the works of Edward D. Hoch, otherwise known as the only person in crime fiction who can actually make a living solely on short stories, as Hoch's had a story in every issue of ELLERY QUEEN for as long as anyone can remember. Shel obliged. The next time he was back in the shop, he told Luttrell, "I really like this Hoch guy. Get me everything he's ever written," and have it shipped back to his Key West house. Not surprisingly, the shipment was rather large.....

It's been four and a half years since Shel's death, and only now does he have an official site that's geared towards his main market: the children who adore his poetry books like WHERE THE SIDEWALK ENDS and A LIGHT IN THE ATTIC. A joint project between HarperCollins and Shel's family, it's handsomely designed by longtime graphic designer and friend Kim Llewellyn, keeping the distinctive "look" that nearly all his books have had, and offers a list of the books, interactive bits, a kid-friendly biography and best of all, a way to contact the right people for permission to use excerpts from the works (which is the second most frequent question I get concerning Shel.) Thanks to Mitch Myers for letting me know that the site has launched. You guys did a marvellous job.


And the winner of the New York Times Book Review Sweepstakes is.... 

...according to well-placed sources, the Book Review will name Dale Peck as editor of the Book Review, replacing Chip McGrath, who is vacating the position to pursue other opportunities as a full time writer with the paper.

EDIT: OK, I lied. Supposedly there's "some intrigue" going on which will be revealed by early next week. All I ask for, besides the Literary Saloon's brief list, is that there be more crime fiction that's a little less Stasio and a lot more in-depth. Hey, a girl's gotta try....

Boris Becker did drugs, and we should be surprised? 

So in the next excerpt in his autobiography, Boris cops to being hooked on all sorts of pills during his heyday. Um, didn't everyone read John Feinstein's absolutely fabulous (and of course, sadly out of print) book HARD COURTS? Published in '91, it chronicles a year in the life of the tennis circuit, for both the men and women. Not only was 1990 a pivotal year, but it was a time when Becker was very much in the throes of an identity crisis--a few years removed from phenom-ville but fresh off his US Open win in 1989. He was moody, depressive, and still very, very young. Though as I recall it, the issue of pill-popping was never explicitly said, Feinstein sure implied something was going on, especially as "something wasn't quite right" with Becker when he lost to Stefan Edberg at Wimbledon that year.

Anyway, HARD COURTS is well worth reading. Things haven't changed all that much in the intervening years--the agents still rule the tournaments, there's a lot of money thrown around, and the players are still under tremendous pressures.

Friday morning roundup 

Blogging will be light because, well, because. Besides, the weekend's nearly here anyway.

The city of Norwich is trying awfully hard to be deemed a City of Culture. They're throwing money at people to write stuff, for god's sake.

As the Christmas bells sound in the distance, booksellers hope it means more customers and more books sold, at least in the UK. We shall see. Meanwhile, Waterstone's has accepted the fact that Boxing Day=Shopping Day by pledging to open five times as many stores on the 26th of December.

Another Kennedy book? Yup, as a Roman Catholic Priest who gave Jackie O tennis lessons kept a diary the whole time. Add it to the sheer multitude of those already available and those upcoming thanks to the 40th anniversary or JFK's assassination.

With the 100th anniversary of George Simenon's birth upon us, the LA Times reflects on the origins of noir. (link from Mark Sarvas.)

More news on the CWA Dagger awards can be found here. And just in time is a review of Gold Dagger winner Minette Walters' latest novel, getting a rave from Jane Jakeman at the Independent.

Why I Hate Blake Crouch 

Last year, my fellow reviewer at January Magazine (and King of the Thrilling Detective universe) Kevin Burton Smith reviewed Lawrence Block's short story collection ENOUGH ROPE by listing all the reasons he hated the author. Well, I shall do the same thing, although I'm assuming most of my readership has some passing knowledge of Larry, while hardly any of you have heard of Blake. Yet.

That's because Blake Crouch's debut novel, DESERT PLACES, won't be in stores until January, but lucky me, I got the advance copy in the mail today. So I thought perhaps I'd get in a few pages after sticking to my usual end of the night routine: catch the latest edition of The Daily Show, listen to my mother comment for the umpteenth time how beautiful Jon Stewart's eyes are, laugh at all the absurdities, then switch the tube off when the show's done and get to bed.

Boy did that get shot to hell pretty quickly.

It all started with the first chapter. A successful, though not yet stratospheric, crime writer's finishing up the last touches on his latest opus when he gets a note in the mail. He opens it and it reads as follows: "Greetings. There is a body buried on your property, covered in your blood. The unfortunate young lady's name is Rita Jones. In her jeans pocket you'll find a slip of paper with a phone number on it. You have one day to call that number. If I have not heard from you by 8 PM tomorrow, the police department will receive an anonymous call. (I do believe a paring knife is missing from your kitchen.)"

Well, with a killer opening like that, my routine was completely and utterly ruined. So there's reason one why I hate Blake Crouch.

With sleep out of the question, all I could do was keep going. No way in hell I was putting this baby down. It's two hundred and eighty pages of pure, lean, thriller, the pace never letting up. Even if I'd wanted to force myself away from the pages, I simply couldn't. That's reason two.

Think the opening's twisted enough? That's only the beginning. Things get much, much sicker as the book goes on. There's killing, torture, disturbing violence--and none of it is gratuitous! How the hell did he pull that off. And that's reason number three.

But DESERT PLACES isn't just about plot, there's a hell of a lot of character development. The relationship between our erstwhile protagonist (or is he?) and his family, especially the twin brother who'd mysteriously disappeared in college. The thin line between good and evil, love and hate, both sides of a mirror. There's history and philosophy and literature. That's not what a thriller's supposed to do, it's supposed to entertain, be tonic for the unwashed masses. You mean I have to think while I'm reading this? Argh, that Blake's making me hate him a fourth time.

Just when I thought I knew what was happening, the plot changed on me again. Any lulls? Sure, but they went away awfully fast. It was such a rollercoaster I thought my stomach would churn. And I have a pretty good stomach. Any author that makes me contemplate antacid pills is not someone I'm liking. And that's the fifth reason.

So with all this, think I've run out of reasons to hate? Hell no. Here's reason six: DESERT PLACES, like I said, is a debut novel. It's supposed to have first novel problems but nope, barely any of that. Instead there's prose that's throat grabbing. Like when our novelist has finally gone over the edge from writing about crime to preparing to kill. All that research for his books had finally come to fruition. "Who does this kind of thing? Pretty fucking gutsy. It'd make one hell of a book." I mean, that's deep. And shows the kind of talent that authors on their third, fourth, fifth book would ache to have.

And then on top of that, there's Val McDermid blurbing, calling it "a genuine thriller that pulses with adrenaline from start to finish. Blake Crouch is one of the most exciting new writers I've read in years." Dammit, I hate when Val's right. And there's reason seven.

Am I done? Nope, because here's the kicker: Blake Crouch is twenty-five years old. I don't get it. There are other new crime writers around my age, like Rebecca Pawel (Death of a Nationalist) and Edwin Thomas (The Blighted Cliffs) who are in their mid-20s and already well on their way to long careers in the writing world. I don't hate them. Maybe it's because they write historical fiction and so they're not plumbing the depths of darkness and evil in the same way, in such a raw, visceral manner. But how can Blake be so nice and placid in person and come up with one of the most messed-up novels I have read in ages? I haven't had a "can't-put-it-down-read-it-in-one-sitting-flat" experience in ages. This is going to do wonders for my psyche, and not in a good way. There must be several more reasons to hate him in that paragraph.

But ignore my vitriol. I'm just a bitter, jealous girl because I can't handle the fact that Blake Crouch is a major league talent who is going to be really, really big. You'll just all have to see for yourselves when DESERT PLACES hits stores near you in a couple months' time.

And as for me, I'm gonna try to get some sleep--not that I expect to.

Argh.

Thursday, November 13, 2003

Signs of....something 

Dennis Haskins, known to all of a certain generation as Principal Belding on the forever immortal SAVED BY THE BELL, is touring around college campuses, trying to inspire young students to pursue their dreams by sharing anecdotes about his own life. No doubt the "An Evening with Mr. Belding" DVD will hit stores everywhere sometime next year. (link from Marc "Bloor Street Blogger" Weisblott.)

As for me, I'm still anxiously awaiting the Urkel & Screech Buddy Movie, or a repeat of this particular anecdote, which shows what happens when two has-beens try to crash a party (scroll down to Emanuel Lewis, "The Indignity Of It All.")

New York Times Bestseller List, November 23 

And let's get right into things. At #1 is...well, it's that book again. You know what it is. #2 is much more interesting as it's Stephen King's DARK TOWER Omnibus. But how curious, as the NYT chooses to lump all five books into one listing! Naughty, naughty, NYT, 5 different books shouldn't just occupy one spot. But I suppose creating a list for Mr. King all by himself just wouldn't do, now would it?

Next debut, at #5, is...huh? Is it me, or does Danielle Steel release a new book every other week? I could have sworn she had a new one in the charts really recently. Anyway, Steel's new entry drops the Jan Karon Juggernaut down a couple of notches to number six. Oh, those Mitfords! Facing sex, lies, scandal, videotape....wait, I guess I'm talking about the Steel book again. My mistake.

At #9 and #10 respectively are Linda Howard's new rom/susp novel CRY NO MORE (which, incidentally, has garnered rave reviews from the romance world; seems Linda "has her groove back" or something.) and a new Star Wars novel. Why are these books necessary? Oh, I know why. Because the new movies suck eggs and people need Jedi Revisionist History, where George Lucas is only a shadowy man behind the curtain and not front-and-center, demonstrating just how awful a director he is.

Dropping like a rock to the bottom of the main list is Babylon Rising, the latest from the Tim Lahaye Doom n' Gloom Factory. I still haven't gotten a straight answer on what "The Greatest Evil of All" is. What could it be? That there's no end to Paris Hilton cavorting on camera? And that she can't pick someone a little less on the sleazy side yet again? Although I guess if you're going to videotape yourself having sex and it ends up all over the Internet, it's assumed the guy in question would not necessarily be a kind and decent sort...

But where were we? Oh yeah, books. And Christmas books, too. They are everywhere this week, as SKIPPING CHRISTMAS leads up the Extended list, with Jude Deveraux's new book following right at Grisham's heels. Eric Jerome Dickey's entry is at #20, and two more pop up before the NYT list is done. Now I realize that Christmas Season starts the week before Halloween and we're well into November, but come on. Where are the Very Special Kwanzaa books? The story of a man struggling with Ramadan who finds enlightenment and happiness? Hell, you won't see any publishers doing special releases for Lent, that's for sure. I won't even bring up Chanukah because really, it's a minor holiday. I mean, it's barely in the "kh" part of the Tanakh after all, which makes it practically bogus. But try telling people that and you get some rather strange looks....

Anyway, it's also very nice to see the new Don Quixote translation make the Extended at #34. High literature can crack the bestseller lists after all! Besides, why shouldn't it--QUIXOTE is a great story, first and foremost.

So that's it for this week. Will the list separate the DARK TOWER novels next week to try to distribute the weight, or will they resist, and risk having the entire weight of the series create a huge strain on the list, making it collapse completely? And what new interlopers will show up to muck things up for all the other staples? Stay tuned....it's always intrigue and hijinks at the NYT List.

The Daggers are announced 

The CWA Dagger Award Luncheon was held earlier today and the winners were as follows:

Minette Walters' FOX EVIL took the Gold Dagger for fiction, and Morag Joss won the Silver Dagger for her new novel HALF BROKEN THINGS. While I doubt anyone was terribly surprised that Minette won, nobody thought Joss would be any factor whatsoever to get anywhere near the top of the list. I should have known better, since I remember earlier this summer how one of the Fiction Dagger committee members went on and on about how wonderful the book was, that it was her best yet, etc etc. In any case, congratulations to both.

In a bit of surprise, but a nice one, William Landay won the Creasey for Best First Novel. Upon receiving word of the win, Landay said that he's "delighted, and grateful, flattered, and humbled" by the news. As previously stated here, I had thought CJ Sansom would take the Creasey, but since my opinion on MISSION FLATS is well recorded, I'm more than pleased for the win. No doubt it will be a harbinger of things to come for Landay awards-wise next year, as well.

Also just a bit on the surprising side is the winner of the Ian Fleming Steel Dagger is Dan Fesperman for THE SMALL BOAT OF GREAT SORROWS. But again, considering the field he was up against, including Lee Child's PERSUADER, I'm more than glad to see Fesperman get the award.

It should be noted that both Landay and Fesperman are published by Transworld and I suspect there are going to be a whole lot of happy people at the publishing house tonight. I must say that when I see a crime fiction book has been published by them, I am more inclined to peruse it and give it a try. They publish some seriously good quality folks besides the above two, including Dennis Lehane, Denise Mina, Mo Hayder, Edwin Thomas, and Simon Kernick. Although still relatively new to the crime fiction game, they are making some serious inroads. Keep up the great work!

Winning the Short Story Dagger is Jerry Sykes for "Closer to the Flame," while Stephen Booth takes home the Dagger in the Library, beating out the likes of Ann Cleeves and Chris Brookmyre. Samantha Weinberg received the high honors for the Non-Fiction Dagger for POINTING FROM THE GRAVE.

FInally, the Debut Dagger was won by Kirsty Evans for THE CUCKOO, beating out a strong shortlist. I expect we'll be seeing reviews of that book in a few years to come.

Congratulations to all the winners and nominees! And more details to come when available....


News for the day 

HarperCollins UK is revamping Perennial, their paperback line. They'll be adding new content like author interviews, CVs, and additional information to "freshen up" the look.

100.000 copies of Madonna's new book will be given away to school teachers as a venture of the Scholastic Book Fair and Penguin, who publishes the book in the US. I guess the sell-through on that is pretty minimal....

Bernard-Henri Levy, most recently the author of WHO KILLED DANIEL PEARL? is interviewed by the Toronto Star. The book, recently translated into English, has sold 70,000 copies since its release.

Douglas Glover's ELLE won the Governor-General's Prize for Fiction yesterday, beating out Margaret Atwood, among others.

J.M. Coetzee won the Nobel Prize for Literature. But the question is, will he show up? And if he does, will he attempt to be in the voice of his character, Elizabeth Costello?

And finally, Andrew Wood has written The Pigeon Conspiracy, an apocalyptic novel about what would happen if pigeons ruled the world. God, what a horrible, horrible thought. Pigeons are evil. When I first heard Tom Lehrer singing about Poisoning Pigeons in the Park, I cheered. I get close to a bunch of pigeons and they don't do anything. Nothing! Stupid buggers. Er, anyway, I think I might track this book down....

Wednesday, November 12, 2003

Late night roundup 

The New York Times offers up a nice profile of Swedish author Henning Mankell, hot on the heels of the Guardian's interview a few days ago.

Janet Maslin reviews Jim Crace's new novel GENESIS (titled SIX in the UK) and finds it to her liking. (link from Maud.)

I'm only linking the Times' story on Sting's booksigning (he's just written his memoirs and I do believe Tantric sex is not mentioned whatsoever) because the byline lists Lola Ogunnaike as the writer, and I'd wondered why she had disappeared off the list of the contributors to Rush and Molloy's column. Looks like Lola's moved up a bit in the world, and congratulations to her.

Ewan McGregor doesn't read the Harry Potter books to his kids because they "don't make good bedtime reading." He'd much rather read them the Lemony Snicket books, and you know, he's kind of annoyed nobody asked him to be in the movie.

The Whitbread shortlists are up, and Mark Haddon seems to be the favorite for the Best Novel award. I sure hope he takes it. That book is truly a feat of imagination. Also, the children's book list had a record 111 entries, but the committee managed to whittle it down to four. Meanwhile, the Saltire Award shortlist is up as well.

Finding it hard to get presents for your loved ones? Does the sight of a huge bookstore make you tremble and shake with fear? Well, Waterstone's has the answer for you: your very own personal shopper. It's free until December 23. Book fast.....

Ruminator Books could be closing down soon, but a bunch of authors, including Neil Gaiman, are chipping in to try to save the independent shop.

Nearly 20 year old Christopher Paolini's debut novel ERAGON is a phenomenon. Knopf kids has just reprinted the book for the 14th time, and it's riding high on the bestseller lists. Things are certainly looking good for the up-and-coming author.

Evidently the more danger you're in, the more likely you'll get a travel book deal. Kate Browne finds out why.

And finally, even though some people (me included) weren't originally sure, Neal Pollack is shutting down his blog. You'll be missed by a great many people, but that new book had better kick some serious ass. When it's ready, of course.

The down side to finishing a novel 

S.J. Rozan, the author of the Lydia Chin and Bill Smith books, is one of my favorites, both as a writer and as a person. She's managing a unique construct in her series by alternating protagonists with each book (eight so far, the most recent is the Edgar award-winning WINTER AND NIGHT) and especially succeeds in creating a hard boiled point of view when she writes in Bill's voice. Her next book, which she just finished, is the standalone ABSENT FRIENDS, due out next summer from Bantam. Everything's done and the publisher has it in the pipeline--but Rozan has been feeling the crash, and she explains why:

Three things happen when you're done. One is the same crash actors get when the show closes or athletes get when the big game is over, even if they win it, from the sudden let-up of pressure. The second thing is that the world you created and the characters who live there will go on but you can't go there anymore, except as a visitor like your readers. You don't belong now, you're shut out. The third thing is, you look at the book and realize this is really it, it'll never get any better than this. It's not that you can't see the good things in it, but all the time you're writing it and rewriting it there's a chance it may yet come up to the idealized vision in your mind of what this book can be. Then when you're finally totally done you have to face what the book is, and it's never that vision.

She later adds that her musician friends have a similar sort of feeling after a performance, and I must say I can relate in both cases. I used to sing in public regularly when I was younger, and after every performance, no matter how good it was objectively, I was always ready to nitpick each detail right after. Then I'd feel depressed for a few hours. A good night's sleep helped though. In writing, I find myself in a similar pattern. Story or review or column is done, I edit it, I send it off. I look at it later and think it's crap, but then maybe a few months later I re-examine it and hey, it's not so bad. Humans are such self-critical beings, and it's so hard to let go and to keep a distance, but perspective is so crucial. There's always room for improvement, but there's a lot to be happy about as well.

News in the world of pulp 

The latest issue of the crime fiction e-zine Hardluck Stories is up. The guest editor is G. Miki Hayden, and featured writers include Ray Banks, Tim Wohlforth, and Dave White, who also wrote one of my favorite shorts from last year, "Closure," which aside from being a ripping good crime story, offers perhaps the most poignant take on the aftermath of 9/11.

Thrilling Detective has put up their Halloween issue, but naturally I get to it a couple of weeks late. Dave has another story in the current issue, too.

From the people responsible for Noir Originals and Crime Culture comes a new publishing venture, Pulp Originals. Their mission is to bring some great pulp novels of old back into print, and their first selection is Dick Whittington's THE DEVIL WEARS WINGS. Neo-noir author Jason Starr serves up a very nice introduction.

Issue 4 of Shred of Evidence is now up as well, featuring stories from Allan Guthrie, Stephen D. Rogers, and the prolific John Broussard (who's had a story in every issue thus far.)

Two new blogs 

I'm always looking to link those in the crime fiction world who have taken up the pastime of blogging (even those who resist officially, but unoffically are part of this world as well) and I'd like to point your attention to a couple that are coming along very nicely.

Jim Pascoe is a man of many talents, as a writer, artist, designer, and co-publisher (along with Tom Fassbender) of perhaps the coolest independent publisher in America, UglyTown. The books look wonderful and what's inside is never, ever disappointing. Case in point? They're responsible for Sean Doolittle's BURN (which you are going to buy, of course.) and launching Victor Gischler's career with GUN MONKEYS, among many other fine books. I first met Jim at the DC Bouchercon two years ago, when everyone was wondering "who are those cool cats wearing sharp suits? And why does one have green hair?" Jim hasn't had green hair in a while but he does have an addiction to googly glasses. His site's back up after a too-long hiatus but I like it already.

Charlie Stella is the author of three noir novels, the latest (out in a few weeks) being CHARLIE OPERA (full disclosure: my review of the book runs next month in January Magazine's Rap Sheet, but lead times are such that it was in the can a while before I started visiting his site.) He's had "Knucksline" running for a couple of years now, and perhaps he doesn't think of it as a blog per se, but it is, and one that has a distinctive voice--just like Stella's books.

Wednesday morning QB 

Although I am probaby the only person in blogworld not to have viewed the Paris Hilton Sex Tape (besides, I'd love a gender breakdown of who's watchin' it. Somehow I doubt it approaches the usual 52:48 skew towards women....) that doesn't mean I don't have pithy news to offer instead.

Seems that while 9/11 books are selling briskly, books about the war in Iraq simply aren't doing so well. Reasons? Perhaps that "books about the countries involved tend not to sell until there is a resolution."

Meanwhile, Iraqi doctors dispute the claim that Private Lynch was raped, as such an act "could have killed her." Oh, the media storm continues on....

Saw this yesterday but didn't get to it till now, but Jonathan Yardley presents a wonderful tribute to the works of John D. MacDonald, who is most noted for his Travis McGee series set in Florida.
(thanks to Mark Sarvas for reminding me to post about it.)

In interviews, Hugh Nissenson is profiled at January, and Robert Birnbaum's latest subject is Janette Turner Hospital, author of the eerily prescient (as it was written prior to 9/11) DUE PREPARATIONS FOR THE PLAGUE.

When one thinks of a Russian novel, Tolstoy, Bulgakov, or Turgenev come to mind--dense tomes that plumb the deepest meanings and highest emotions. But in the new Russia, pulp thrillers reign supreme. However it was lovely to see such positive mention of Boris Akunin, whose first novel THE WINTER QUEEN was finally translated into English and released here last summer. The next book to be translated is actually the third in the series, LEVIATHAN. Look for it next April. (link from Collected Miscellany.)

Anne Perry whines that she can't escape the shadow of her past--granted, it's a most salacious past, as her real name is Juliet Hulme, and her story is the basis for the movie HEAVENLY CREATURES. OK, so you helped kill someone, but Kate Winslet got to play you in the movie and you're making oodles of money with the two-book-a-year pace you're on. What's to complain about?

Jimmy Carter is the first President of the United States to write a novel and get it published. It's historical fiction, and hey, it might actually be pretty good.

Tupac Shakur has been dead for seven years now. Isn't it time to declare him legally dead too so that this madness of releasing posthumous work can stop already?

Stephen Hunter's latest book gets a favorable review from USA Today. I've been hearing lots of other good things about this book, which is good since I'll be getting it in the mail soon....

The Miami Book Fair was held recently, and turnout was very strong--400,000 folks showed up. Shows that literary life is alive and well in Miami, and thriving at that.

Tuesday, November 11, 2003

Blogger Periodic Table 

Terry Teachout points the way to this lovely little creation, and he's represented as "Te." Filling in some of the blanks as some elements are still not filled in: Tm, Cs
, Kr, Hg, Mo, Th, and that's just to start with. Maybe the entire table can be filled by the end of the week.....

UPDATE: The table is now more or less complete. Check out the "Artisoid" series, which features more than a few of the usual suspects.

Taking a sentimental journey 

So Old Hag has been collecting lists of books, movies, and other things that make grown people cry. For whatever reason, it's much easier to list what makes me laugh out loud or happy or whatever rather than burst into tears--but then, I'm not really much of a crier. Actually, most times I'd rather cut off my left hand rather than show tears, but on occasion, I come across something so gut-wrenching that I must engage.

This summer, while staying at the house of a friend of a friend, I came across a slim volume by the Ottawa-born writer Elizabeth Smart (yup, there was another Elizabeth Smart, and she was tall, blonde and quite beautiful as well. Spooky.) called BY GRAND CENTRAL STATION I SAT DOWN AND WEPT. Published at the tail end of the Second World War, It was barely a hundred pages, but within those pages was a story of love that was tragic, often unfulfilled, and never anything less than savage. Smart carried on a long affair with George Barker and bore four children by him, in spite of the fact that he was married and never did quite leave his wife. She'd fallen in love with Barker through his poetry, and then by some impulse or another, she paid for him and his wife to fly to California to live with her--and that's how the affair began. The writing is lush and poetic, and in the hands of others perhaps the story would be pure soap opera. But Smart's emotions take the reader by the throat and never let go, the stranglehold forcing down the naked longing and rapture she feels.

I was gutted when I put down the pages. It's an emotionally disturbing experience to read about love so full and bursting, so powerful and yet so destructive. I don't think I could understand it or even want it, but for a fleeting moment, I did. And I cried for Smart, for the woman she was, for the choices she made. Later I didn't think much of her, really; why put her children through the stigma, her family through all of that? Did she not really reckon with the consequences of her actions? Did she care? But BY GRAND CENTRAL STATION is truly a remarkable work; short, but unbelievably powerful. I think had it been any longer the level sustained would only have dropped off and withered. Instead, it remains throughout.


Tuesday news 

#1 on the bestseller list in China is David Beckham's autobiography. It's all part of a trend, as imported bestsellers are now doing big business in that country.

To celebrate its own milestone of 100 million books in print, The Guinness World Book of Records is hosting events around the world today, including a gathering of 500 children in New York City for an attempted record-breaking "simultaneous balloon pop."

The BBC really isn't good at playing by the rules, are they. Looks like the brouhaha about re-enacting THE CATCHER IN THE RYE is really biting them in the ass, as Salinger and his agents are exploring the possibility of a lawsuit.

Booksense and The History Channel find they are a natural fit, and are working together on retrospectives of JFK Jr.

January Magazine features a favorable review of Stewart O'Nan's new novel.

Michiko reviews Gabriel Garcia Marquez's first volume of memoirs--and actually likes them. She's capable of it, but sometimes I forget.

Mark Timlin rounds up crime fiction for the Independent on Sunday. Not bad but I do wish he'd lay off the attempt at misogyny, as evident in the opening line of his review of the Nora Roberts/J.D. Robb Hybrid REMEMBER WHEN:

After one for the men (and boys), here's a book definitely aimed at women, which is probably why it left me cold.

I mean, give me a break here. If you don't like it because the writing's bad or you have issues with plot or substance, fine. But that it's aimed at women? Blergh.

Neal Pollack responds to his "takedown" by David Kamp of the New York Times. I'm sure the tape he mentions will show up on the web at any moment now. (link from Moby.)

Finally, because I don't mention it enough here, I present a collection of photos taken at Bouchercon by paparazzi to the crime stars, Ali Karim. This one may be my favorite, and then there's Ian Rankin holding a paper airplane.

Monday, November 10, 2003

Eating Out With Lunch Weekly 

Scanning through this week's deals, I first come across something that only I think is rather cool:

Television and film writer Barbara Davilman and humorist Ellis Weiner's YIDDISH WITH DICK AND JANE, a parody kids'book/language primer wherein grown-up versions of Dick and Jane help us all learn Yiddish, to Terry Adams at Little, Brown, for publication in fall 2004, by Paul Bresnick in affiliation with Carlisle & Company (world).pbresnick@carlisleco.com

But then, Yiddish is my first language. Although I bet the book would have been ever better had this man been recruited for the job. Although perhaps the end result might not be for children....

In the Spoiled Princesses Dept:

Sasha Cohen, with Kathy Stafford and Linda Stiegler's untitled autobiography of the seventeen year-old Olympic Champion figure
skater, to Abigail McAden at Harper, in a nice deal, by Andrea Brown,with Robert Preskill, at the Andrea Brown Literary Agency (NA).


Let's see. Seventeen. Autobiography. Figure Skater. What the hell is she going to say besides "I Hate Michelle Kwan?"

For the aspiring writers:

Literary agent Pamela Brodowsky's SECRETS OF SUCCESSFUL QUERY LETTERS, an insider's guide showcasing the working query,
complete with real letters that landed writers an agent, to Marcia Schutte at Nonetheless Press, in a nice deal.


If you ask some agents, evidently, the successful query is no query at all. Look, a query is like a cover letter for a job, it's just that people get attached to their books a hell of a lot more than they get attached to their work. Usually.

More on the Geezer Sherlock:

Mitch Cullin's literary novel THE MOON REFLECTS THE SUN, his seventh book but first with a major publisher, deconstructing Sherlock
Holmes at age 93, portrayed here as retired and tending his bee apiary and losing his prized memory, as he visits post-war Japan and Hiroshima invited by a Japanese intellectual whose motivations are concealed - until converging mysteries force Holmes to come to terms with emotions he has resisted his entire life, to Coates Bateman at Nan A. Talese/Doubleday, at auction, in a good deal, for two books, by Peter Steinberg at JCA Literary Agency (NA).


Uh, Holmes and bombed-out Hiroshima. Sherlock and nukes. What am I missing in this picture?

I'm reporting this because of the hook, which cracks me up:

Two hip caper novels ("Notting Hill" meets "Ocean's Eleven") by Lucy Hawking, British journalist and daughter of Stephen Hawking, JADED and MY GLORIOUS BREAKDOWN, to Julie Saltman at Plume, at auction, by Amy Jameson at Janklow & Nesbit.

The scary thing is, I suspect I might actually like these books.

In totally fantastic news if you're into crime fiction in translation, like I am:

Norwegian mystery/crime writer Karin Fossum's DON'T LOOK BACK and HE WHO FEARS THE WOLF, to Drenka Willen at Harcourt, for
publication beginning in March 2004, by Random UK (NA).


Fossum is really gaining a huge following in the UK, and I predict similar success in the US, where contrary to popular belief, Henning Mankell's books do quite nicely in the independent mystery world, thank you very much. A very welcome addition.

In the head-scratcher dept:

Dylan Shaffer's novel I WRITE THE WRONGS, the second in a series of legal thrillers about Gordon Seegerman--Public Defender by day, lead singer in a Barry Manilow cover band by night, again to Colin Dickerman at Bloomsbury, by Lydia Wills at Writers & Artists Agency (world).

The first one's not even out yet, and I scratched my head plenty when that deal was announced a few months back.

In CanConCrime news:

Hammett Prize shortlisted Brad Smith's PICKLOCKS, his third "country noir" crime novel, about the discovery of what may be the only known recording of Lincoln giving the Gettysburg Address, the small-time scams surrounding it, and the larger-than-life characters trying to get a piece of it, to Jennifer Barth at Holt, and to Barbara Berson at Penguin Canada, by Ann Rittenberg at the Ann Rittenberg Literary Agency, Inc.

In the "it makes sense after you've thought about it a while" department....or maybe not:

Terry Burns' MYSTERIOUS WAYS, and two other books, part of a new line of Christian Westerns, to River Oak Publishing, by Joyce Hart at Hartline.

Dirty Girls, Bad Guys, and more 

Finally, The Independent puts up Jim Driver's amusing article about being a UK publisher in distinctly American waters as he attends Bouchercon. Since the convention was held in Vegas, the local niceties may have been lost on poor, jet-lagged Mr. Driver
:

"Where is Bouchercon being held?" I asked the uniformed guy at the Information Desk. "No idea, sir," he replied, turning to the next enquirer. This antithesis to the usual semi-fawning American service took a while to get used to. Author Peter Lovesey told me he rang down to hotel reception to enquire if they could recommend a dentist. "There's a Yellow Pages in your drawer, sir. Please use it." Click.

Soon everybody had similar stories to tell. Paul Charles, a Londoner by way of Northern Ireland, put it down precisely to their being open 24-7. Los Angelino Gary Phillips, easily recognisable thanks to his giant frame and garish gambling shirts, disagreed: "Hell, man, no one does anything around here unless you tip them." In a country bereft of betting shops, casinos and slot machines, Vegas is the USA's Blackpool, Soho and William Hill rolled into one. Mark Billingham and John Connolly, both up for the Best British Novel award despite Connolly being a Dubliner and as Irish as shamrock, stumbled across a barn of a bar offering "Mud Wrestling: Dirty Girls, Cold Beer", with "Bikini Bull Riding" at weekends. The upmarket Venetian recreates the Grand Canal indoors under a mock projected sky. "Gondoliers" dressed in stripy vests sing cod-opera and waiters ask if you want to dine alfresco. If you laugh, you're the one considered barmy.


I'd pretty much have to agree, but I'd also like to add two things: one, that the "gondolier" in question was horrifically off-key and did about the worst rendition of O SOLE MIO I have ever heard, even taking into account how utterly dreadful that song is.

And two, the mud wrestling wasn't all that. Or so I was told.

Bruce Alexander dies 

As reported at the Deadly Pleasures website, Bruce Cook, aka Bruce Alexander, author of many historical mysteries, including the John Fielding series, died yesterday at a Los Angeles area hospital at the age of 71. He had suffered a stroke and never regained consciousness. He will most certainly be missed, especially by historical mystery lovers. Booklist deemed the Fielding series, the most recent entry being THE PRICE OF MURDER, released last month, "... the best historical mystery series around."


It's All About the Pollacks 

OK so let's keep everythings straight: David Kamp got cranky about NEVER MIND THE POLLACKS over the weekend. Then TMFTML comments about how Kamp's description of Pollack as "yet another doughy, 35-ish white man with a goatee and thinning hair" is somewhat unfair. Now Marc Weisblott offers a dissenting opinion of his own, much of which is based on the fact that before Neal started writing the book, he hadn't heard of many of the bands he was about to satirize. So if that's the case, why do it?

I suppose there are two kinds of satire: that which pillories a subject that the satirist knows a great deal about, maybe even loves; and satire for satire's sake. Pollack, it seems, falls somewhere in between. Rock criticism seems rife for satire, especially the "uber-serious" kind that sprung up in the early 70s by the likes of Lester Bangs & co. So having at least some knowledge of this, and wanting to write a novel, why not satirize the subject? So Pollack may not have had any real familiarity with the subjects he was about to mock, but that's why there's research. I'm already on record as having loved the book, but I also know that satire, and humor in general, is a very tricky bastard. What some find funny, others simply do not get at all.

Like Marc, I'm also looking forward to Marc Spitz's upcoming book, and as I said before, I would love to see Pollack write something where he doesn't have to try so hard, and be so out there and brash. He can write, and he has the chops; now it's time to really hone his talents.

Monday Roundup 

Janet Maslin loves, simply loves, Peter Straub's new book LOST BOY LOST GIRL.

Robert Harris discusses the impetus for his new novel POMPEII (bestseller already in the UK, out next month here) and the parallels between the earlier civilization and a post 9/11 world.

Maxim Jakubowski's crime roundup actually ran on Saturday at the Guardian (how'd I miss it?) where he gives a favorable review to Thomas Kelly's THE RACKETS, a new translated crime novel from Fred Vargas, and the first 3 J.D. Robb books. Huh. Well I read them a zillion years ago too, but got tired of the same old with Eve 'n Roarke. But they are up to what, book 20 now?

Meanwhile, the mayor of St. Tropez is unhappy with his fictional portrayal in Christian Millau's new novel about the isle. Now he's suing the debut novelist.

Speaking of pissed-off folk, McDonald's doesn't want to face the reality of the definition of what a "McJob" is. Of course, Webster's didn't have to put said definition in their dictionary.

Don't want to read OLIVIA JOULES in its entirety? Here's the succinct digested version. Or just read John Walsh's interview of Helen Fielding.


The bloom has worn off The English Rose, as Madonna's second children's effort is panned.

Patrick Anderson's weekly thriller column features two novels set in and around World War II: Thomas Moran's ANJA THE LIAR (also reviewed here and here) and Gaylord Dold's THE LAST MAN IN BERLIN.

Sunday, November 09, 2003

Some things just weren't meant for Express Delivery 

"FedEx workers discovered a shipment of two human legs and an arm when one of the boxes was found leaking at a company depot, police said.

A Las Vegas donor research company sent the limbs to a man who sells body parts to doctors for use in research projects, Kirkwood police spokeswoman Diane Scanga said. The FBI, state agencies and local police determined no laws were broken, she said. "


Not so bloody Sunday 

While the rest of the world focuses on Prince Charles' alleged gay tryst (I still can't get over that it's not the brother I'd expected) and the Paris Hilton Sex Tape (Shannen Doherty's line was classic), I'll continue to affix my fishy lens on the world of books, for now.

From my local paper: A detailed review of Val McDermid's newest book (with a really cool photo--Val, appropriate it for the next book cover!) and the debut of Choice Words, Peter Darbyshire's new roundup of the "book buzz on the Internet." Basically, if you're reading The Usual Suspects, you already know this stuff, but since the vast majority of people don't even know what blogs are, let alone twig to the literary ones, it's good for them. Cool.

At the Sunday-only rags: The Observer offers reviews of photographer-to-the-stars (and star herself) Annie Liebovitz's new book, a look at the finer points of punctuation, and yet another review of OLIVIA JOULES. No link here, sorry. I'm putting a moratorium on reviews of the book, so you'll just have to go and find it yourself.

There's also a hilariously resigned "review" of the upcoming Rod Stewart musical TONIGHT'S THE NIGHT, penned by whore-for-hire Ben Elton. What happened? This man, one of the minds behind horrifically brilliant BLACKADDER, is responsible for the drecky QUEEN: THE MUSICAL (cheap laugh: go to the corner of Tottenham Court Road and Oxford Street and stare at the giant statue of Freddie Mercury that's above the roof of the theatre where the musical still runs. I mean, it's just weird.) and now this? One cannot believe it took Elton a lot of energy to create the backbone for this production:

How long, I wonder, did it take Elton to write this extravaganza? An hour? Two? Who knows, with a tea break, it may have taken a whole afternoon.

But like Rachel Cooke, I expect TONIGHT'S THE NIGHT to be a big hit. Even if there won't be a Rod Stewart statue to make fun of.

From the Washington Post's Book World: a fascinating account of the murder of Mary Phegan and the lynching of Leo Franks, 90 years after the fact; another review of THE BOOKSELLER OF KABUL; Michael Dirda's take on the new translated version of DON QUIXOTE; and in the non-fiction book I most want to read, a biography on the corrupt life and times of Arnold Rothstein, the gambler who likely fixed the 1919 World Series and whose murder still technically remains unsolved.

More Canadian perspectives: Karen Tulchinsky brings to life the Toronto of old; Philip Marchand finds John Gould's Giller-nominated short story collection somewhat depressing; and a profile of Jack Hodgins finds his book may have trouble in the US market because it's sadly deemed "too Canadian."

Newsday has an interesting interview with Marion Ettlinger, whose new book features 20 years of author photographs. We also get to see how she sees herself.

Crime fiction-wise, John Sandford's newest Kidd novel, THE HANGED MAN'S SONG, is up to snuff; Susanna Yager offers up her roundup of the latest (link TK); and I can't find a link to the story yet, but Jim Driver, co-founder of the Do-Not-Press, offers up a British perspective on Bouchercon, and it may be the best article yet on the goings-on. He thinks it "would make a great Altman movie," and describes how all the would-be writers in attendance pretty much ignored him or any of the other UK publishers present; I guess Britain really isn't on most of these aspiring authors' radar. A pity.

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