Saturday, November 01, 2003

Tasteless costume awards 

With Halloween but a fading memory (hardly any kids showed up here, which means leftover crappy candy for me not to eat), Page Six reports on the most Tasteless Halloween Costumes:

A slender man with short black hair and a bloodied white shirt had a stuffed tiger wrapped around his neck. His lady friend, dressed all in black, had slicked-back blond hair. Did someone say "Roy?"

Topping that, however were the duo dressing as Elizabeth Smart and her kidnapper, and the guy going as a WTC victim. However, and I wish I had the link handy, I'll go one better: the Baltimore Ravens football player who dressed up as Kobe Bryant, while his wife went as Bryant's accuser, going so far as to wear a t-shirt with the slogan "3 men in 3 days" written across the chest.

Pretty freaking tasteless.

News, reviews, short stories, and more 

Laura Miller is everywhere, dammit. But she makes some interesting points in looking at the short story, and why it doesn't sell nearly as well as editors would like. Sure, there's always a glamour collection--Nell Freudenberger being this year's, Adam Haslett last year's, and so on--but generally, unless the collection is sold alongside a novel, many are hesitant to touch it. She brings up several of the "Best American" anthologies but forgets the one that offers some wonderfully plotted, well-executed stories--the Best American Mystery Short Stories (this year edited by Michael Connelly.)

Miller also takes her best shot at Toni Morrison's new novel (which was already panned by Michiko.)

Other books reviewed today at the NYT include a new translation of Don Quixote, the latest (and oft-reviewed) from Ann-Marie MacDonald, David Guterson's new book, and George Pelecanos compares and contrasts two new books about the Sniper attacks last year.

And of course, there's Stasio. The verdicts this week? BLOW FLY is panned for being "incoherent," she adores Ruth Rendell's latest Wexford (which was actually released in the UK last year), appreciates Donald Harstad's "ambitious plan" for his series (the latest of which is A LONG DECEMBER), and thinks Val McDermid's new book is "cunningly plotted." So 3 raves and 1 pan, that's not a bad record at all.

Over at the Guardian, there's a very long profile on Swedish crime writer Henning Mankell. Had no idea that Ingmar Bergman was his father-in-law. Must make for interesting conversations....

Zadie Smith gushes about E.M. Forster, and Nicholas Lezard enjoys a new anthology of essays called Modern British Fiction.

Jiro Kimura reports that T. Jefferson Parker won the 2003 Southern California booksellers Association Book Award for COLD PURSUIT, his latest novel. Congratulations, Jeff!

Friday, October 31, 2003

Was Playboy ever Relevant? 

A couple of days ago, Dana linked to a recent article wondering what, if any, influence Playboy has on society these days. The fact that they have recently moved their head offices to New York City and, in order to compete with the lad mags, aren't requiring their centerfolds to pose fully nude anymore. So what's happened?

I've long believed that Playboy lost any cultural importance whatsoever when Kennedy was assassinated in 1963. They managed to hang on for a while, and when Hefner & co. moved the mansion from Chicago to LA, there was an artificial sense of relevance in that celebrities showed up to party and Hef managed to get arrested for something or another, but really, the moment was gone. This became crystal clear a few years back when I paid a visit to the Museum of Television and Radio in midtown Manhattan.

I was on a fishing expedition, after hearing rumors that my favorite icon, who I semi-jokingly refer to as "the Court Jester of Playboy," had made some appearances on a television show affliated with the magazine. In actuality, there were two: 1959's PLAYBOY'S PENTHOUSE, and 1968's PLAYBOY AFTER DARK (well, each show ran a couple of years but those are when they first aired.) As it happens, to the best of my knowledge Shel didn't appear in the former show as he spent much of the time recuperating from a near fatal-accident he'd sustained while doing one of his foreign correspondent-type things for the magazines, but I didn't know that at the time. And because my time was constrained I limited myself to watching the premiere episodes of both shows.

Boy, what a difference less than a decade made.

'59 was only about three years removed from the rambling manifesto that graced the pages of 3 consecutive issues (a manifesto, incidentally, that Silverstein himself wasn't exactly fond of. . Read the rest of the interview while you're at it) but already the main tenets were in place: late nights, low lights, dry martinis, jazz music, black tie and tails, and gorgeous girls. Lenny Bruce was the special guest and as he drank liquor live on the air, told off-color jokes about the rituals of Jewish funerals and why he disdained them. I was enthralled from the moment the first notes of the theme music began, absolutely fascinated when Hef, pre-toupee, stepped in front of the curtain to explain what was going on.

I wanted to be there. Forty-plus years and the difference between celluloid and reality separated me from that time, but if there was some way I could force myself into the screen, don a bunny suit, and serve alcohol to the leering guests, I was there in no time flat. It was cool, it was seductive, and of course it was absolutely manipulative. But whatever it was, Playboy possessed it in spades.

By 1968 of course, things had changed. The Camelot years were a fading memory. RFK was dead, and so was Martin Luther King. Hell, so was Lenny Bruce. The sexual revolution was in full swing, and regular folk didn't bother much with formalwear and certainly not jazz. Playboy struggled to keep up and one of the ways was to launch a new show. Thus, PLAYBOY AFTER DARK was born. Still in the mansion, but judging by the opening episode, the surroundings were miles different from before. Garish color, platform shoes, funk and soul as opposed to jazz. Instead of Lenny, there was Big Bill Russell, looking rather pained as he talked black politics. The people didn't float, they danced awkwardly. Hefner's rug looked like it had a life of its own.

The mood was all wrong. There was simply no it. In that hourlong episode, Playboy demonstrated just how utterly uncool it had become in the intervening years. And much as they tried to hide it, the evidence was there for people to access if they tried. Or still try.

I don't know if Playboy actually broke ground or just exploited it. But Hefner had a vision, and that was to create his own brand of cool that people flocked to emulate. That vision couldn't be sustained, but it certainly existed. How else to explain my own reaction, so many decades later? And they certainly had interesting people from near day one. He had John Dante running the clubs, Larry Moyer snapping photos, and plucked Silverstein from post-army misanthropy to draw cartoons, travel to far-flung places, and be a port of call for his creativity for more than 40 years. There was something for every guy--literature, interviews, cartoons, and of course, topless girls (later more.) The girls changed hourly, but the core group of Old Boys persisted throughout. Dante, Shel, Moyer, Reg Potterton, to name but a few. It was Esquire before Esquire was really it, in the late 60s/early 70s. Would there be lad mags without Playboy? Would there be Penthouse, or Hustler? Perhaps, but not in quite the same way, and without the same kind of vehemence.

So maybe the magazine isn't relevant and hasn't been for decades. But it certainly was, once. And when, like many of his cronies, Hefner finally shuffles off to his mortal coil, he'll have one hell of a legacy. Troubling, disturbing, at times offensive, but never anything less than fascinating. At least from this woman's point of view.

New York Times Bestseller List, November 9 

Well well well, Patsy couldn't hold her position after all. BLOW FLY drops to #3 this week, and Mitch reclaims the top spot. Inspirational claptrap or Kay "My Perils Kick Pauline's Ass" Scarpetta? In the end, it wasn't even close....

Sandwiched in between them is Dan Brown, who made the news this week because Elizabeth Vargas is actually spending ABC's money to see if Mary Magdalen, rather than being Jesus's top groupie, was actually his wife--a theory espoused in THE DA VINCI CODE. For the true answer, I direct you to this impeccable source.

Debuts this week: The latest installment of Jan Karon's Neverending saga comes in at #4, While the newest in the Apocalyptic Factory books hits the list at #7. These books are so ripe for parody it is not even funny. I mean, look at this blurb: "A fearless archaeologist and biblical scholar confronts the greatest evil of all." Wasn't that a Whitney Houston song...?

Wait, I have it! Apocalyptic Chick Lit! Meet Sandy, a twentysomething who hasn't had that much to worry about in her life beyond broken nails and a crummy love life. But the Rapture approacheth and only a few souls are left....will Sandy discover her true self before such a self doesn't exist? Will the "Last Man on Earth" turn out to be a complete dog, or maybe, just maybe, that hot guy at work she's had her eye on for months? And more importantly, what if she's just not ready for the World to End As She Knows It (and no she doesn't feel fine, thank you very much)?

Er, back to the NYT list....

I'm not sure if Sara Paretsky's latest V.I. Warshawski book only made it into the main list for the first time, but cool anyway. It's tied at #14. Also jumping onto the main list is the sleeper hit THE TIME TRAVELLER'S WIFE. It's supposed to be uplifting and well written and just got optioned for a movie. To me, it seems like one concocted excuse. A woman's married to a guy who keeps jumping time periods or another. If any guy tried that line on me, I'd have to wonder if he was making it with other women......

Looking at the extended, we have Lilian Jackson Braun's latest book. It's not an actual "Cat Who" book but some offshoot looking at their private life. Yikes. What's next, The Sex Scandals of The Cat Who? OTOH, something similar was explored in Robert Kaplow's recent parody THE CAT WHO KILLED LILIAN JACKSON BRAUN. Which was absolutely hysterical for the first half, and then fizzled out. And did feature some really icky sex, which was quite off putting (though none, thankfully, involved the aforementioned Ms. Braun. She was dead after all.)

So what's in store for next week? Will the love child of Cornwell/Albom/Brown shoot to #1? Will Tim LaHaye be denied, even if he did change writing partners? Will a book that's actually good make it to the top? Stay tuned for all the excitement, glamour, and intrigue that is the NYT List!

Serial killers in the news 

A 35 year old man who turned himself in was charged with the murders of 4 of the missing schoolboys and 1 adult killed last year. The fifth boy, 12 year old Jake Grant, who went missing in May, is attributed to the handiwork of 4 similarly aged boys. Whether that's going to stick is another question, but the police have a lot of explaining to do regardless.

Gary Ridgeway will plead guilty next week to 42 of the victims attributed to the Green River killer and 6 others not originally on the list. The move will spare him the death penalty but he'll still be imprisoned for life without the possibility of parole. The move doesn't surprise much of anyone, as a trial would have been horrifically expensive. Ann Rule's book will be out sooner, too, I would think. The book I want to read--it remains to be seen if Rule's will be that--is just how badly mismanaged the case was from the getgo. What a sea of incompetence.

Finally, it looks like Anthony Allen Shore is going to face the death penalty for the murders of four young girls and women in the Houston area. I'm sure I'm not the only one wondering if he's good for many more, especially the "Killing Fields" murders, including these two unidentified women.

The end of week roundup 

Although Toronto was lovely and I enjoyed my time there, travelling does put a damper on the natural rhythm of blogging. But I'm back and here's some stuff to catch up on.

Karin Slaughter is interviewed about her latest book at CNN.

Julie Andrews, aside from being famous for musicals, movies, and as Mrs. Blake Edwards, has been a noted children's author for several years now. She's just about to launch her own imprint of books for HarperCollins. One day she'd like to write books for adults but her schedule "doesn't allow for it."

The tortured, tangled history of what used to be Crime in Store, an independent mystery bookshop based in London, has just added a few more twisty strands. After moving to a new location only to have its assets liquidated only a year later, it was revived as Crime On Store after Trevor Doyle stepped in to add some financial fuel. Now, only two months afterwards, things don't look so good as they had been ordered as of yesterday to vacate the premises at 32 Store Street. Doyle claims that the difficulties are due to "solicitors being on holiday" and promises to be in new digs within a few weeks. Much as I'd like to be optimistic, I have a feeling the death knell may be sounding sooner rather than later.

Contrary to the party line, HarperCollins CEO Jane Friedman asserts that "publishing is alive and well." Take that statement with all the grains of salt that are necessary.

Recent book deals reported for Ari Fleischer, Christine Todd Whitman, playwright and children's author William Nicholson, and several others.

MobyLives chronicles the trials of Amy Gutman as she struggles with Amazon's new search engine. Don't expect this mess to get resolved anytime soon....

New book reviews: Clive James' collection of poetry is admired, Juli Zeh's novel (translated from German) leaves the reviewer excited and chilled, and Helen Fielding's attempt at a girlie spy novel is examined in great detail.

Seducing Graydon Carter. I agree wholeheartedly, Ms. Spiers, it was very wrong of you to put such an image in our heads. It might even force me to ponder my own tenuous connection to the aforementioned Vanity Fair CEO. But it's so slight as not to be worth mentioning in the slightest.

Thursday, October 30, 2003

News, interviews, etc.  

Barbara J. Stewart, author of The Sleeping Boy is interviewed at January Magazine. She talks about her career as a filmmaker, her diversion into horticulture, how she found "Canada's top agent", why the book is more than just a thriller, and what she's working on next. Stewart seems like a very complex, fascinating individual and it certainly came through in the The Sleeping Boy. She shows a lot of promise, although I found it suffered from "first novel blues," in that another round of editing, tightening the prose and really getting rid of a lot of passive voice would have made this a better book.

So everyone has been linking to the new trend in chick lit. That's cool, but will it branch out to other religions as well? There's some of this in Britain, where authors like Meera Syal tackle the culture clash of being traditionally Indian in a Western environment, but really, chick lit--romance too--tend to be areligious. I, for one, would love to see more overtly Jewish issues in chick lit. I suspect it's a ten foot pole few would want to touch.

George Easter, the editor of Deadly Pleasures, offers his Bouchercon report.

Ms. Maslin looks at some weighty tomes on The Boss and Eminem. Verdict: likes them with reservations.

Virginia Lanier has died, after many years of battling illness and tragedy. She was the author most recently of A BLOODHOUND TO DIE FOR. She was 72 (link from Jiro Kimura.)

Wednesday, October 29, 2003

Checking in from T.O. 

Aside from attending the International Festival of Authors and trying to get forensic science types to hire me, my time here is limited to shopping, perusing bookstores, and watching the Royal Conservatory of Music building get torn apart so they can make it look spiffy again. Blogging, as said previously, will definitely be on the light side. If I get in one update a day I shall be a happy girl.

Maudreports about a Brooklyn author acting as an oracle, and it seems to be Jonathan Safran Foer. Funny, I thought he still lived in Queens....

January's review du jour looks at a series of books about movies from the 70s, 80s and 90s.

For the rest of the news, check out the links to the side.

Tuesday, October 28, 2003

Another passing from my own personal pop culture 

Rod Roddy is dead. If you don't know him, you probably know his voice, especially if you were obsessed with game shows like I was as a child. Roddy wasn't the first announcer TPiR had, and when Johnny Olsen died he had some very tough shoes to fill, but boy, did he ever. The booming voice, the ridiculously flamboyant jackets. It was all very entertaining to a young child who spent way too much time figuring out how to outwit those morons who couldn't play The Clock Game properly.

Roddy's career in voice-over work took off when Casey Kasem decided that he couldn't deal with announcing for Soap, as it was "too risque." Roddy took over and his trademark "These are the Tates, and these are the Campbells," was heard every week for several years. A couple of game shows later and he was on The Price is Right playing Jester to Bob Barker's straight man.

I'll miss him.

News you can use, I guess 

Paul Burrell's biography of Diana is creating a real ruckus, but the Daily Mirror is happy. A few months ago they had shelled out 500,000 pounds to interview Burrell after his trial ended so dramatically, and now the paper's circulation since has increased by nearly enough to recoup the entire investment.

Michiko trashes Martin Amis's YELLOW DOG. Isn't this old news already? Although her summation is rather amusing:

"It bears as much resemblance to Mr. Amis's best fiction as a bad karaoke singer does to Frank Sinatra, as a kitchen magnet of Munch's "Scream" does to the real painting."

Next: Michiko takes on Jessa.

Also at the New York Times, Maurice Sendak and Tony Kushner have been busy doing stuff together. They just put out a picture book, "Brundibar," based on an opera performed by children at the Terezin concentration camp.

The Guardian examines the phenomenon of NaNoWriMo, otherwise known as National Novel Writing Month. I admire all those who are taking part but I'm not really ready to tackle such a thing. Maybe next year.

The Telegraph interviews Pamela Anderson on her upcoming career as a novelist. Not surprisingly I have fixated on this particular exchange:

'I definitely feel well, much more empowered. For instance, these days I read all my own contracts and sign all my own cheques.'
'And you never used to do that before?'
'No! I used to trust everyone.'
'Why do you think that was?'
'Because I'm Canadian.'

PW's interview with DBC Pierre asks the question of whether he's really a British writer and thus "less deserving" of the Man Booker. Funny, I thought the prize went to any writer within the entire Commonwealth, so what does being British really have to do with it?

And no link here, but GQ's current issue has a profile on Michael Connelly by Steve Friedman. It seemed like Friedman was trying so hard to box Connelly into some kind of corner, by holding him up at the expense of other authors. I mean, calling T Jefferson Parker's current books "cartoonish"? Has he even read Parker's books? OTOH it was good that Connelly gave back some, when Friedman started criticizing someone who had blurbed Connelly's first novel. In the end, Connelly came off as he basically is---introverted, wheels constantly turning behind his eyes, always observing--and Friedman succeeding in looking like an asshole.

For better interviews of Mike, there's this recent one about the publication of The Best American Mystery Stories of 2003, which he edited, and my own two favorite from earlier this year: from Robert Birnbaum, and Craig McDonald.

Monday, October 27, 2003

Of course you know this means war 

So Choire went and interviewed Dale Peck, and it's pretty freakin' hilarious. (He's on Friendster! Reviews his own profile! Apologizes for a bad review!) However, should we expect a bitchfight between Mr. "I won't give any more negative reviews" Peck and Jessa Crispin, who by virtue of saying that "his books suck" gets called "ditch-dirty stupid"? Dear oh dear, can they ever be friends after this?

It's time for Lunch 

Lots and lots of new deals reported, but as usual, I'll just zero in on the ones that interest me.

"Historian Joshua Zeitz's FLAPPER, a narrative history of the flapper in Jazz Age America, as well as the men and women--from F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald to Clara Bow--who invented and embodied this new type, to Rachel Klayman at Crown, by Susan Ginsburg at Writers House

The 1920s fascinate me and have ever since high school, when I wrote an essay on various famous crimes that took place in that decade for my senior year history project. (Didn't hurt that I read THE GREAT GATSBY the same year.) Although it's been a while since I revisited the subjects, I still think there were a lot of parallels between then and now--well, the 1990s in particular--in how media and culture related to the world. And the flappers, of course, were a part of all this.

"Camille Forbes's THE BERT WILLIAMS STORY, a biography of the phenomenally successful vaudeville star who blazed a trail for every black performer in American show business, to Liz Maguire at Basic Civitas, in a nice deal, for publication in spring 2006, by Tina Bennett at Janklow & Nesbit (world English)."

Well it's about time Bert got his own biography, since he's virtually unknown now and deserves the same kind of recognition for trailblazing that Jackie Robinson did for baseball. And Williams' story is likely less fraught with stereotyping than Bill "Bojangles" Robinson....

"Dr. Christopher J. Kurtz and Robert D. Hunter.'s DARK TRUTHS: Modern Theories of Serial Murder, an examination of serial murder that presents new psychological models that explore the motivations and compulsive behaviors of serial killers, suggesting that their crimes are best understood as part of an addictive cycle, plus insights from the killers themselves, to Kerri Sharp at Virgin, in a nice deal, by Frank Weimann at the Literary Group (UK)."

Oh yay, another one. I guess this is supposed to be the antidote to Ressler & Douglas's tomes SEXUAL HOMICIDE and CRIME CLASSIFICATION MANUAL, never mind many, many others.

"Alison Pace's first novel IF ANDY WARHOL HAD A GIRLFRIEND, about a young woman looking for love in the New York art world, to Allison McCabe, at Berkley, in a nice deal, by Peter Miller at PMA Literary & Film Management (NA)."

I only linked this because I liked the title. Although it says here that it's Pace's first novel, I found a listing that claims she's written two romance novels back in 1988 and 1989, but it's entirely possible they are not the same person.

Crime fiction related:

"Gammy Singer 's LANDLORD TALES, set in Harlem in 1976, about a likeable ex-con and ex-numbers banker who leaves this world behind to serve as the landlord for two brownstones left to him by his father, and the skeleton he finds in the basement wall of one of the brownstones turns out to be his murdered mother--who he had been told died in childbirth--and now he wants to
know who killed her, to Karen Thomas at Dafina, in a good deal, for two books by Frank Weimann at The Literary Group (NA).

Hmm, this sounds interesting, and I must admit I'm always on the lookout for black crime writers, since there really are so appallingly few.

"Federal appeals court Judge Eugene Sullivan's THE MAJORITY, about a judge who finds himself in the middle of a string of murders to cover up a murderous conspiracy to fix cases on the U.S. Court of Appeals, to Tom Doherty at Tor, in a nice deal, by Frank Weimann at the Literary Group (NA)."

Oooh, another legal/political thriller. Are they going to put "Judge" on the cover, or leave it out?

"Trevor Scott's FATAL NETWORK, the first book in the Jake Adams international thriller series, in which a former CIA officer must battle German and Hungarian agents to secure high tech computer technology for the new Joint Strike Fighter, and EXTREME FACTION, to Roger Cooper at iBooks, in a nice deal (world)."

Scott is another graduate from POD to real publishing, as FATAL NETWORK was first made available in 1998. There are a few more books in the series, and Scott has put out several other novels as well.

"Steinbeck scholar and University of Carolina English Professor Brian Railsback's THE DARKEST CLEARING, a thriller featuring an environmental terrorist trained as a CIA Special Ops who's determined to return America's most famous national park to nature by killing every human that enters it, with only a lone female Park Ranger left to stop him, to John Gist at High Sierra, in a
nice deal, by Jodie Rhodes (NA)."

Seems like environmental terrorism is kind of hot deal-wise. Anyway, Railsback is also the author of a non-fiction book comparing Charles Darwin to John Steinbeck.

A Note about Comments 

It appears that my own pithy little screeds meet with approval, but I wonder, if so many of you appreciate my comments, why then do you not make use of the available space right here? The boxes sit, time after time, feeling so lonely and unloved. They like having friends to play with. Don't disappoint the poor dears, because after the last freak injury I endured at their hands, I'm not totally sure what they are capable of.....

It depends how you define normal 

In answer to TMFTML's rather bald question about the round of publicity Elizabeth and her family are going through now, all I have to say is: wait till she turns 18 and gets to tell her own story. Although in her way, she's already started:

"I think there's some things different about me, but I think I'm still pretty much the same person."

Talk about understatement.

But then, I've long been pissed off with this whole case, because the way it's been presented since almost day one has been absolute bullshit. The points are said much better here (scroll down to "The Smart Circus"). Was she in over her head? Absolutely. Was it a creepy, abnormal situation? Well she was 14 at the time and Mitchell was in his 40s. That's inappropriate, to say the least. But the only thing that makes the Smart case different from that of Shevaun Pennington, Lindsay Drake or any other girl who ran off with a much older man after meeting them is how elaborate the setup was, and that perhaps the Internet wasn't involved.

Right now, Elizabeth's parents are controlling the spin and doing it rather well, because the media's complicit. They don't really want to report on how Elizabeth basically lived with Mitchell & Barzee as another wife, how she was sexually active, and that things aren't really so cut and dry as a kidnapping would suggest. And the full story may never come out. But I doubt highly the world has heard the last of Elizabeth Smart by a longshot.

Burning Garbo 

Kevin Burton Smith's latest long review at January Magazine is up. It seems he's having a major crush on the main character, Nina Zero, who starred in Robert Eversz's earlier novels SHOOTING ELVIS (1996) and KILLING PAPARAZZI (2001) before this new adventure. I haven't read GARBO yet but she is one pissed-off, ass-kicking heroine and that's why I love her too.

Bouchercon Rogues' Gallery 

Jiro Kimura, the crime fiction world's version of a paparazzo, was snapping away throughout the convention. It was really cool to finally meet him, as it turns out this was the first BCon he'd attended in over 20 years. Also, I know I have finally arrived as my own mug shot is alongside some of the best and greatest.

Scanning through the images, I came across this one of Michael Koryta, the 21 year old winner of the St. Martin's/PWA PI novel contest, which means his book will be out next year. God, they make these writers younger and younger....congratulations to Mr. Koryta, who has studied journalism at Indiana University and is a staff writer for the Hoosier Times there, most notably covering the Jill Behrman case.

I don't hate Mondays.... 

...but considering how unbelievably dreary it is outside, I may have to start.

In today's roundup, first Woody Allen was doing a book deal, then he wasn't. How did things go awry? Amanda "Binky" Urban, uberagent to the stars, is fighting with publicist Leslee Dart over the matter. (link from Publisher's Lunch.)

Janet doesn't like Cecil Beaton's memoirs very much, finding them rather gossipy and nasty from a bitter old man. But it's Cecil Beaton, costumer to movie stars everywhere! Sounds like a good read to me. The more venal, the better....

More from the New York Times: I'm late to the whole Amazon book search game, but not surprisingly, some authors don't like it very much, as they fear making the books' contents available will lead to readers printing off recipes or publishing excerpts without permission. Personally, I wouldn't worry so much; the search engine is a long way from being refined and frankly, it sucks. I did a search on one author's books as a test and the engine returned with 27660 results.

The Sam Sheppard case has been controversial since his wife Marilyn was murdered 50 years ago. Several books give conflicting solutions, so who's telling the truth? All I know is that a high-ranking forensic scientist who was involved in one of the civil lawsuits pertaining to the case once told me that he thought Sheppard was "guilty as hell." Although at least no one has tried to blame Dr. Sheppard for the Black Dahlia Murder yet....

The Washington Post has a long profile on transvestite comic Eddie Izzard. Well, he's way more than that, but as he's touring his new one-man show "Sexie" and he's back in drag, it's too easy to reduce him to a one-line description.

And Patrick Anderson listened to me after all--he's back with a crime novel in his thriller column. It's Donna Leon's UNIFORM JUSTICE, marking the first time in many years that her books are available in the United States. Ms. Leon is an odd bird; fans clamor for the UK editions, and when I was still working at the bookstore, so many people would file in day after day wanting her backlist, her latest novel, and so on. Though the books are set in Venice, she has steadfastly refused to allow an Italian publisher to make the books available in that country. The books were out of print in the US for years because her German publisher somehow controlled the rights and she's been in fights over this issue. Good that she's here now, but lord, was all that trouble worth it? Time will tell.

Over at the Guardian, Hymel Walsh argues that Dylan Thomas, rather than celebrating the Welsh, actually demeaned them in his work.

Every time I hear Zoe Trope's name I'm reminded of Francis Ford Coppola's production company (the one that took a real beating when The Cotton Club tanked at the box office 20 years ago.) But evidently she's a teenage author who's written a buzzed-about book, first published when she was 14. Like any hot young thing, there's a backlash that's begun. (link from Bookslut.)

Sunday, October 26, 2003

The International Festival of Authors 

Unbeknownst to me, the International Festival of Authors, held at Toronto's Harbourfront Centre each year, began earlier this week and ends on November 1st. The lineup assembled is nothing short of fantastic: Margaret Atwood, A.S. Byatt, Peter Carey, Ann-Marie MacDonald, Damon Galgut, Tama Janowitz, David Guterson, and from a crime fiction standpoint, Louise Welsh, Peter Robinson and Jasper Fforde. As I had been planning on spending a few days in Toronto this week (and hence, it will be a light week for blogging) anyway, it looks like I'll be hanging out at the Festival for part of the time. Should be fun, although my bank account may feel a serious pinch.

Christmas presents for conservative kiddies 

Rush and Molloy report on a series of dolls available at Talking Presidents.com. For the low, low price of $29.99, you can get yourself your very own Ann Coulter doll, spouting rhetoric just as well as the real life Annie does. Although I suspect this will be somewhat successful, I also think a more life-size version where Ann doesn't talk at all would have been a bigger hit with some of her fans....

Donald Rumsfeld and Dennis Miller action figures will also be available soon. Actual presidents like Bill Clinton and both George Bushes are already for sale.

The Irish are good at storytelling 

John Connolly, author of the Charlie Parker novels and most recently, the bestselling BAD MEN, sent out his latest newsletter yesterday with a lot of interesting nuggets. First, the man who never met a country he couldn't tour in will be in Bulgaria next week. Though I don't believe I have any Bulgarian readers (but I'm too lazy to get referral logs, so who knows?) if by some chance there are any out there, don't miss the opportunity to catch John at an appearance. Since, as one author once put it, he could probably charm the leg off a barstool.

Anyway, his next projects include a contribution to Karin Slaughter's upcoming anthology LIKE A CHARM (February in the UK from Century, May in the US from Morrow) and a collection of ghost story tales called NOCTURNES which should see publication in the fall. There'll be several short stories and two novellas, one starring Parker called "The Reflecting Eye" and one entitled "The Cancer Cowboy Rides."

I must admit I am quite excited about this. Although I've long been a fan of the novels, the shorts that he's made available are some excellent stuff--very gothic with a real neo-romantic feel. And yet these stories, including the most recently posted, "The Inn at Shillingford", won't be in the book because he "wasn't entirely happy with them."

Yet the reason I'm looking forward to the collection is also what may pose a real problem. If the stories are anything like the ones on his site, they will be far harder to categorize within a crime fiction milieu, since they really get into the supernatural and at least in my own view, have a much more literary feel to them, at least on the "magical realism" area of the spectrum. But that combination has served Connolly well with the Parker novels, and those books have sold well to a crowd that likes the hardboiled PI aspects, but also seeks something more unorthodox. The other, more important point is that in the crime fiction world, short story collections simply don't sell so well. It's something I personally don't understand, since I love the short form, both to read and write. Yet many people have said to me face to face and on message boards and mailing lists that they just don't like short stories; don't like that it's a morsel when they could have a meal, don't want to invest in a story when there's a whole novel that can grab their attention. I saw it firsthand when I worked at my old haunt and tried, oh how I tried, to push TART NOIR (best collection of short stories last year, bar none) in people's hands, and was rebuffed near every time. Some other stores did better but still, the same complaints came back: it's a short story collection, so why bother.

If the people at Hodder & Stoughton and Simon & Schuster are smart, they'll recognize this "problem" as a blessing in disguise. Short story collections may not be the crime fiction reader's cuppa, but boy are they devoured by the literary crowd. Not just read, but discussed, dissected, and the object of many petty jealousies (Nell Freudenberger, anyone?) Since Connolly's writing has been heading out of genre boundaries almost since the time his first book was published, why not just make the leap entirely? From a marketing standpoint, it's still important to keep one hand in the mystery section and visit the independent shops and all, but the point of a new book isn't only to maintain the audience one has, but to attract new readers. And not necessarily readers in the same crowd, either. If there's to be a tour, then perhaps some of the usual suspects ought to be bypassed in favor of some new places. Make some new friends, broker some new connections. The world of fiction is a vast one beyond the confines of crime fiction, and if Connolly is to make some inroads, NOCTURNES might just be the book to do it.

Besides, the next Parker book will be out in the spring of 2005, a mere half a year later. And for those readers impatient because it seems like a long wait between books, it isn't really. Time goes awfully fast, and the damn things have to be written and vetted first before they are made available to us greedy readers....

Sunday Morning roundup 

After hanging out with old friends and seeing a fluffy but enjoyable movie, I found lots of goodies to post about as the clocks get shifted back an hour (don't forget!)

Craig McDonald's website has long been a favorite here, and he's updated with some great new author interviews of J.A. Jance , Anne Rice, Dan Brown, David Corbett, and Peter Straub. The Straub interview is especially interesting as it not only delves into the process of writing his latest book, LOST BOY LOST GIRL, but addresses a concern I picked up on some time ago:

McDonald: ". . . A few days ago, a long piece about you appeared in Publisher’s Weekly focusing largely on the comparative brevity of this book measured against some of your longer works. Much was also made of the perceived need to publish more frequently — aiming for a book a year. Since that article appeared, and as this interview drew closer, I’ve monitored some book chat sites here and there, and some literary blogs. The reaction so far, seems to be either sympathy for your decision to succumb to "book a year" pressure, or sadness/wariness that you’ve in some way possibly capitulated to market forces. Did you know the piece would be taking that tack?

Straub: No I didn’t. Mind you, I don’t at all object to that article. I think it’s a very good article and I think it presents me in a very accurate way. I don’t see myself as capitulating to market forces anymore than I have throughout my career.

McDonald: Writers write to be read.

Straub: Yeah. I also wanted to write really good books that were different from other peoples’ books and I think I actually mange to do that, I think, and people who like my work agree. When I say I want to write a book a year, I’m describing what I actually do want to do. I want to write shorter books. I had a wonderful time writing
lost boy lost girl. It was the best time I had had in a long long time."

I'm happy to see Straub be up-front about this; although I certainly have and still have concerns about the nature of the industry, he strikes me as someone in control of his own career. Considering that LOST BOY LOST GIRL has garnered some excellent reviews, the change in attitude seems to be working, and should be a good indication of what is to come. If a book a year is Straub's natural rhythm these days, more power to him.

The Washington Post's Book World has some interesting new offerings. There's a review of five, count 'em, five books on Winston Churchill. A book on the hostesses with the mostest in Washington gets a lukewarm reception. The jury's still out on Madeline Albright's memoir; and Jonathan Yardley finds Toni Morrison's latest book, LOVE, to be a "clotted, tedious, uninviting novel." Ouch.

The Observer offers an in-depth profile of comedian Lenny Henry. Not surprisingly, his life hasn't always been a bed of roses. The latest reality TV sensation in Britain is Celebrity Poker Club, where famous enthusiasts can compete against each other for a 25 000 pound prize. Talking about books, there's a critique of a Douglas Adams biography which doesn't meet the reviewer's expectations; Ursula Kenny loves Clare Morrall's Booker-shortlisted novel; Michael Moore may be full of himself, but Stephanie Merritt still thinks DUDE, WHERE'S MY COUNTRY should be out there for people to read; and of course, Robert McCrum waxes poetic on many a literary topic.

I admit that I really only know her for the name, but the Telegraph profiles punk rock legend Siouxsie Sioux, as does the Independent. The Sex Pistols may be long gone, but she's still around and promoting a new album.

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