Blast From The Past #5

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Apr 172014
Blast From The Past #5

Dr. No (1962)
Directed by Terence Young

James Bond is sent to Jamaica to investigate the disappearance of a fellow British agent. The trail leads him to the underground base of Dr. No, who is plotting to disrupt an early American manned space launch with a radio beam weapon

 Directed by Shaun Terence Young (1915-1994)
Produced by Harry Saltzman (1915-1994) and Albert R. Broccoli (1909-1996)

Sean Connery as James Bond
Ursula Andress as Honey Ryder
Joseph Wiseman as Dr. No
Jack Lord as Felix Leiter
Bernard Lee as M
Anthony Dawson as Professor R.J. Dent
Eunice Gayson as Sylvia Trench
Lois Maxwell as Miss Moneypenny
Peter Burton as Major Boothroyd
 Posted by at 6:40 pm
Apr 172014

Reminder: We’re down to the final day of the blog’s tenth anniversary week sale. You’ve got until midnight PST to snag a copy of Down the Hatch at Amazon for the paltry price of $1.99. Go do it now. I’ll wait. Then leave a review. I’ll check baseball scores until you’re back.

What follows is the most read Cocktail of the Week post by a wide margin. Why? It certainly ain’t the writing. I’m not saying I phoned this one in, although as you’ll see I had reasons to be otherwise occupied on August 3, 2012. It’s likely because the Greenpoint is fairly new as cocktails go, so there’s not as much written about it. Whatever the reason, I’m happy to be seen as an advocate for any rye drink.

This will be a fairly short post about another rye-based cocktail named after a neighborhood in Brooklyn. That’s because today is my birthday and I have other plans that include drinking rye-based cocktails named after neighborhoods in Brooklyn.

The first such drink, the Red Hook, was spawned at New York’s Milk & Honey. Another bartender at the same establishment, Michael McIlroy, carried on the tradition with the Greenpoint. (Fun facts about the neighborhood: sometimes called “Little Poland,” Mickey Rooney’s birthplace is currently featured on HBO’s Girls!) Like the Red Hook, the Greenpoint uses Punt e Mes. Here the somewhat bitter vermouth is complemented by yellow chartreuse, with its herbal, almost buoyant flavor. Two types of bitters bookend the taste to excellent effect. The Greenpoint is both lighter than the Red Hook and more layered. Another reason why it never hurts to drink around the borough of Kings.

The Greenpoint

Michael McIlroy, Milk & Honey, New York City

2 oz. rye
½ oz. Punt e Mes
½ oz. yellow chartreuse
dash of Angostura bitters
dash of orange bitters

Shake. Strain. No garnish.

 Posted by at 6:34 pm

Forgotten Books: Cross Country by Herbert Kastle

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Apr 172014

Forgotten Books: Cross Country by Herbert Kastle


Herbert D. Kastle wrote a number of science fiction stories in magazines of the 1950s. That's where I first read him. Later in the 1960s he was writing those fat sexy bestseller-type novels that owed more to marketing and Harold Robbins than his presumed muse. Then in 1974 he wrote CROSS COUNTRY. Here's a quote from one of the reviews: "This novel seems to occupy the same dark and twisted territory as the works of Jim Thompson. Characters interact in a dance of barely suppressed psychopathological urges and desires that is as grotesquely fascinating as a multi-car pileup on the freeway. It may leave you feeling unclean afterwards, but chances are you will not forget it."

Damn straight. It really is a sewer of sex and terror and blood-soaked suspense. I read it in one long sitting. If it's trash, as some called it at the time, it is spellbinding trash.

IMDB sums up the story line succintly: "After a woman is found butchered in her New York apartment, suspicion falls on her estranged husband, an ad executive who has suddenly left town on a cross-country road trip. He takes along a beautiful girl he met in a bar and a drifter he picked up along the way. A cop sets out after the husband, but he's more interested in shaking him down than bringing him back."

Kastle masterfully controls his long nightmare journey and you buy into his paranoia. He shows you an American wasteland of truck stops, motels, convenience stores connected by interstate highway and darkness. By book's end everyone will betray everyone else. This is survival of the fittest enacted by a Yuppie businessman, sociopathic hippies and a crooked cop. The sheer nastiness of Kastle's existential vision make this book impossible to forget. Thirty-some years after I first read it I still think of it from time to time when hundreds of other novels have fled from memory.

It's a vision of hell that fascinates you as it troubles your conscience.

Apr 172014
There are a number of excellent works among the nominees for this year’s Barry Awards, including Derek B. Miller’s Norwegian by Night (one of my personal favorites from 2013), Thomas H. Cook’s Sandrine’s Case, Stuart Neville’s Ratlines, and Charles McCarry’s The Shanghai Factor. These commendations are organized by Deadly Pleasures Mystery Magazineand will be given out during this coming November’s Bouchercon in Long Beach, California. Below is the complete roster of Barry contenders.

Best Novel:
A Conspiracy of Faith, by Jussi Adler-Olsen (Dutton)
A Tap on the Window, by Linwood Barclay (New American Library)
Sandrine’s Case, by Thomas H. Cook (Mysterious Press)
Suspect, by Robert Crais (Putnam)
Ordinary Grace, by William Kent Krueger (Atria)
Standing in Another Man’s Grave, by Ian Rankin (Reagan Arthur)

Best First Novel:
Burial Rites, by Hannah Kent (Little, Brown)
Japantown, by Barry Lancet (Simon & Schuster)
The Bookman’s Tale, by Charlie Lovett (Viking)
Rage Against the Dying, by Becky Masterman (Minotaur)
Cover of Snow, by Jenny Milchman (Ballantine
Norwegian by Night, by Derek B. Miller (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt)

Best Paperback Original:
Joe Victim, by Paul Cleave (Atria)
Disciple of Las Vegas, by Ian Hamilton (Picador)
The Rage, by Gene Kerrigan (Europa Editions)
I Hear the Sirens in the Street, by Adrian McKinty (Seventh Street)
Fear in the Sunlight, by Nicola Upson (Harper)
Fixing to Die, by Elaine Viets (Signet)

Best Thriller:
Dead Lions, by Mick Herron (Soho Crime)
Ghostman, by Roger Hobbs (Knopf)
Red Sparrow, by Jason Matthews (Scribner)
The Shanghai Factor, by Charles McCarry (Mysterious Press)
Ratlines, by Stuart Neville (Soho Crime)
The Doll, by Taylor Stevens (Crown)

Congratulations to all of the nominees!

(Hat tip to Janet Rudolph’s Mystery Fanfare).
Apr 172014
Shark Fighter, by Nicholas Brady No date stated (1976), Belmont-Tower Books One of Len Levinson's more elusive novels, Shark Fighter was published under the pseudonym “Nicholas Brady,” which was a house name at Belmont-Tower (who couldn’t even be bothered to put a publication year on the book). According to Len, BT editor Peter McCurtin came up with the concept, of a man fighting sharks for

Author Myths – 3

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Apr 172014

In this final installment, I cover a few of the most destructive myths. A warning before you read further: if you’re looking for feel good affirmations, this ain’t gonna be your brand of cereal. But I’ve always believed that it’s best to go into any enterprise with your eyes wide open. God knows I’ve done a few where I didn’t, and those were always failures.

1) Write a good book and you will make decent money. Or write a lot of good books and you will make decent money. Would that it were so. Reality is that the overwhelming majority of good books, which is to say competently written-and-edited tomes, fail to sell much. That’s the harsh truth. If you dislike that fact, that’s fine. The world should be fair, but it’s not. Puppies starve or are crushed by cars or brutalized by sadists every day, good, hard working people are maimed or killed in horrible circumstances, and evil men who have never contributed anything worthwhile to the world prosper while screwing everyone else. So let’s get clear on that. The world is not only not fair, but it’s highly unfair much of the time. Never more so than in the arts.

In the old days of trad publishing, if you rubbed shoulders with the right people in a small area of New York, your odds of being published were off the charts compared to the great unwashed. One of the reasons is because of nepotism. It’s natural. People are more likely to sign you if they know you. Just the way things work. But even so, that was no guarantee you’d have much more than bragging rights. Because readers reject most books traditional publishing slings at them. Whether that’s because the trad establishment’s hopelessly out of touch with what the vast majority of readers prefer and are victims of their own inbred literary tastes, which are usually far more advanced and nuanced than yours or mine, or because nobody has the faintest idea what the public prefers (even on their best day), is debatable. If you’re reading this, it’s probably not your problem, because you’ve chosen to self-publish. Which is a double-edged sword.

Let’s assume you’ve written a good book. Hell, let’s assume it’s a frigging awesome book. I mean, Lord of the Flies-level prose, an incredibly innovative story with unexpected hooks and a message frenzied crowds can rally behind, mesmerizing mastery of craft…the whole shooting match. And let’s further assume you package it well, and have a competent editor polish it, and a proofreader catch most of the nits. You put it out there with an awesome cover and a breathtaking blurb, you do all the right things, you tweet, you facebook, you advertise, you blog, you do interviews, you go to bookstores and kiss babies and shake hands…and nothing happens. The book doesn’t move. You’ve lost a grand or two and are scratching your head, or if like me, are standing on the roof of your house, brandishing a broadsword and a tequila bottle, screaming incoherently at passers-by whilst making obscene gestures with your man thong. Meanwhile, your slow cousin who can barely cobble together three sentences makes a hundred grand from her zombie-vampire love triangle potboiler, with more typos per page than a prison menu and a plot that would make Dr. Seuss cringe.

That’s reality. Shit happens. If you’re writing because you think it’s your ticket out of whatever misery that is your daily grind, think again. It’s not a ticket to stardom. It can be, if you win the lottery, but that’s not a business. That’s playing the lottery. If you write you should do so because you love it. Not for any other reason. And you shouldn’t expect your first, or your fifth, or your tenth book, to put you into the black. Law of averages says you won’t do well. Sorry. And it’s not because you, or your writing, blows goats. Although you or it well might. It’s because life isn’t fair. So get over it already.

When I offer advice, I do so with the expectation that you can write decently. If you can’t, that’s not necessarily a deal killer, but it makes your chances far, far worse. My message is simple: working very hard and very smart can improve your terrible odds, but that’s all it can do. It’s not a magic pill, nor a recipe for success. There is no such thing. The concept that anyone has one is bullshit.

I can tell you how to operate your writing and publishing company intelligently, but you need to recognize that most well-run publishing companies fail. Just as most well-run any-kind-of-companies fail. Most start-ups don’t last. They go belly up. Even those with the smartest people and shiniest wow products. That’s just how it works. Don’t start a company if you’re uncomfortable with that idea. Own it, internalize it, and if you’re okay with it, then plot how to be the exception. Because being one of the majority means you won’t make it. Harsh? Yes. But that’s life.

As I write this, I realize that this topic deserves more examination than a few paragraphs. So forget the rest of the myths I was going to cover today. Let’s focus on this one.

It’s a depressing business. There’s no certainty to any of it. You dance at the king’s pleasure, and there’s no reason to it – it seems completely random…and yes, unfair. Most authors I talk to don’t like hearing that, or think that somehow, they’re the exception. Only they aren’t. Everyone thinks they’re the exception. Every. Single. Person. They’re right and they’re wrong. We’re all special snowflakes, but the world doesn’t really give a crap. So what to do?

I’m a big proponent of choosing a genre that can support you, which means one that’s popular, and sticking to it (with the caveat that if it doesn’t meet your expectations after a massive, concentrated effort, pay attention to the result you’re getting, and switch to something with better odds). I’m also big on publishing regularly, meaning every three or four months (more often if possible) if you intend to make this your living. I’m huge on pro editing and covers and proofreading. I consider your cover and your blurb essential to success. But those are the basics. Important basics, but still, building blocks.

They will narrow your long odds because most authors simply don’t do what they should to make themselves successful. Understanding that is an advantage. It means you already know more than 90% of those who will publish on Amazon this year. If you do everything right, that will make you the 10% that has a chance.

But still, it’s not a lock. By any stretch of the imagination. Get clear on that. In all businesses, this included, you can do everything absolutely, spectacularly right, and go nowhere. Because God hates you. Or because the world’s unfair. Or because you’re not good enough. Or were born under a dark star. Or didn’t get breast fed enough as a child. Pick your reason. It doesn’t matter what it is, as long as you recognize that in ALL industries, most businesses do not succeed.

Nobody’s holding a gun to your head, forcing you to write. It breaks my heart when I correspond with authors for whom writing is their last chance – they have no money, no prospects, their life has hit bottom, and their hope is that their book will pull them out of the swamp.

It doesn’t work that way. It can, but it’s as rare as flipping a coin and having it land on its side. Mostly, those are people whose dreams will be crushed by a cold uncaring world. Is that fair? No. Go back and reread my words about life not being fair.

I wish I could tell you how to avoid being that person. I wish there were a formula. What I’ve come up with I share openly: Pick a genre you love and that’s large enough to support you, stick to it, write a lot of seriously good books, focus on improving your grasp of craft each time you sit down to write, make each book your best ever (meaning respect your reader above all else), package and quality control your books like the pros do, market intelligently, and spend massive amounts of time and energy working smarter than everyone else. And above all, be extremely realistic about everything. Some might say, cynical. I’d say pragmatic. Don’t allow your mind to be your worst enemy. Understand you’ve taken on a difficult challenge. Eschew those who cheerlead and cajole – that won’t do you any good. Be  your own motivation. Don’t rely on others. Develop a relentless drive to succeed at this, don’t take no for an answer, and build a self-perpetuating engine of achievement and determination. Make yourself essential and relevant. Don’t have an attitude, just focus on backing your mouth with product that delivers. Or have an attitude. Whatever. In the end it won’t matter. The important part is to recognize that your job, should you decide to take it, is to be one of the exceptions, and that to do so is damned hard.

Now that you want to put your head in the oven, let’s look at the positives. Right now, your odds of making decent money, even good money, are better than at any time in the history of publishing. More authors are making five and six figures self-publishing than ever. It’s happening every minute. It’s not an illusion. Every day new names appear on the bestseller lists, but perhaps more importantly, every day more authors are appearing with four, six, ten books in the #1000-#15,000 ranks, which collectively, add up to a nice living. It can be done. And you can do it. Someone has to. Why not you?

I counsel tough love. My inner dialogue isn’t particularly fluffy or fun. I’m hard-nosed as they come when I put my business hat on. I don’t bullshit myself into performance. I sit down, get clear on how hard it is to do whatever I’m thinking about doing, determine what I’ll need to do to succeed, ask myself honestly whether I’m willing to do what it takes, and if so, I spend some serious time researching how to devise a plan that will make me the exception. I’ve done that in a number of different fields. It works more often that it doesn’t. It’s not a magic bullet, but it narrows your odds.

Can you do this part time and make it? Sure you can. So can someone who starts any business part time. Just recognize that your odds of making it are lower than if you did it full time. Duh. Put in 80 hours a week, you might get better results than 10. Big surprise. Can you put in 10 or 20 and still do well? Sure. Again, anything’s possible. But you have to be unable to grasp basic business concepts if you think your odds will be the same. If they were, nobody would put in the 80. They’d all put in the 10, because their odds are identical. Figure it out.

Self-publishing is two jobs, not one. It’s the job of being an author, and hopefully a constantly improving one who’s concerned with mastering an essentially un-masterable craft, and it’s the job of being a publisher, which is a production, marketing and distribution engine. Two separate jobs. Both requiring an investment in time and energy.

I get a lot of emails. I talk to a lot of authors who are making decent to great money at self-publishing. They all work their asses off. Every. Single. One. They all publish regularly, are hyper-aware of the changing landscape of the marketplace, invest money in their business, and are constantly trying to improve their product. And they all love what they do, and are passionate about it. They’d be doing it if they were making a tenth what they make. Because it’s what they do.

What’s my point? That self-publishing is both exciting in its possibilities and daunting in its requirements. And that very few businesses succeed, whether it’s a new shoe shop, or a convenience store, or a restaurant, or a software start-up…or a publishing company. But it’s more possible now to succeed than at any point in the past. I’m living proof. Authors like Bella Andre (who I’ll be featuring this month on an Author Spotlight), Holly Ward, Melissa Foster, Barbara Freethy, Courtney Milan, Hugh Howey, LT Ryan, CJ Lyons, Jay Allen, Saxon Andrew, Joe Nobody, BV Larson, Colleen Hoover, and on and on and on, are doing it every day, and making bank. They’re all exceptions. Every single one. Not one chose the same path. Not one did exactly the same thing. They all made their own way, in their own way.

The good news is there’s plenty of room for more. The question is not whether there will be more, the question is whether you will be one of them, and what your plan is to get there.

Now I’m going back to writing my next one. JET – Ops Files is in the bag and will release in a week, and it’s a barn burner of a prequel to the JET series. My co-authored action/adventure novel with Clive Cussler is already in the top 1000 as a pre-order, five months before release. Sales are good, more readers seem to like me than hate me, and I’m enjoying the hell out of writing for a living. It doesn’t get any better than that.



Forgotten Films: The Man From Laramie

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Apr 162014

The Man from Laramie Poster.jpg

The Man From Laramie

TCM ran the letterbox version of The Man From Laramie this afternoon. I hadn't seen it in years and I'll tell you I was dazzled by it in every respect. If, as John D. MacDonald suggested, most pulp fiction is actually a kind of folk tale, then Laramie is one of the best folk tales ever told.

I've never heard a satisfactory explanation from why Anthony Mann and James Stewart fell out. But what an extraordinary way to say goodbye.

While Stewart is the star this is really ensemble acting. In fact Donald Crisp as the complicated, doomed patriarch is, for me, the most compelling character in the movie.

If I was asked to compare the differences between a genre western (even a great one) and a mainstream western I'd point to this film. Each of the main characters has a history that bears at length on the story. Stewart, as usual in a Mann western, is driven by a hatred that makes him difficult to like at certain time, though the violence visited on him early on still has the ability to shock even in this age of slice and dice movies. A great line early is spoken by an old man to Stewar:t "Hate is unbecoming on some men, Mr. Lockhart. On some men it shows."

For me, Mann is a far better director of westerns than John Ford (though I greatly admire The Searchers and The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance). There is no sentimentality or Cavalry myth here. There a few scenes that would do the Sopranos proud.

Laramie is also one of the most exciting hardboiled stories ever done in the western field. Phillip Yordan's fine script gives us a twist every fifteen minutes or so. And the last twenty minutes consist of three stunning set-pieces of sustained action.

And what a pleasure to see Cathy O'Donnell again. A sad, quiet turn here gives a look at how limited life was for women on the frontier.

Here's a good over view from IMDB:

Author: ironside ( from Mexico

Some of the best Westerns of the fifties were those directed by Anthony Mann and John Ford, straightforward and unpretentious, but each with an interesting approach to the requirements of the genre... Mann's films were the more prestigious, usually featuring James Stewart who, with John Wayne, was the fifties' biggest box-office draw... "The Man From Laramie" best known because of the Frankie Laine theme strong which accompanied it, is notable for (among other things) Alex Nicol's extraordinary projection of sadism, an element which dominated the best of Mann's movies... The motion picture was to be the last of the Mann-Stewart Westerns...

Stewart is cast as a wagon handler from Laramie, Wyoming, but is, really, an army officer out to avenge the death of his younger brother, a U.S. Cavalryman, massacred by the Apaches who were buying guns from unknown persons... It is these persons that Stewart is looking for..

Soon Stewart gets involved in an area of New Mexico which is ruled by the iron hand of a cattle baron Donald Crisp, a strong authoritarian "who can't live with a lie"... Crisp's one weakness is his love and care for his spoiled son, Alex Nicol...

Wild but feeble, yet vicious, Nicol - with extraordinary projection of sadism - accosts Stewart in several confrontations in which (among other outrages) Stewart is dragged through fire by horses, and has his hand held tight while Alex puts a bullet through it... Mann proceeds in this mood throughout the movie, growing even more sadistic...

Arthur Kennedy, a hard-working heavy, plays the adopted son of Crisp... He is a son in disguise, jealous of Alex, pretending to be his brother's ally and protector...

A lot of good supporting actors are cast including Cathy O'Donnell, the fragile beauty who has little to do but await patiently for an opportunity; Aline MacMahon, the fine 'ugly' woman who never leaves the old man, and Jack Elam who tries to knife James Stewart in the back...

Anthony Mann adopted an altogether tougher approach to Western mythology than John Ford... His obsessive, neurotic characters and his emphasis on violence foretell the work of Peckinpah, Leone and Eastwood...

Filmed in Technicolor, "The Man From Laramie" is a Western with new touches of brutality touching off the wide screen spectacle...
Apr 162014

In this article, originally published in Mystery Scene in 2010, LB talks about Charles Willeford.

In the summer of 1985, Lynne and I moved from New York to Fort Myers Beach, Florida. Well, it seemed like a good idea at the time. After we’d been there a few months, I got a phone call from Dennis McMillan, the small press publisher. He was in a car, he said, with Charles and Betsy Willeford, and he wasn’t far from Fort Myers, and he thought they might stop by.

Click here to read the full article

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