Ed Gorman

Nov 232014


Letter That Inspired Jack Kerouac's 'On The Road' Discovered

from the great Talking Points Memo
The letter, Kerouac said shortly before his death, would have transformed his counterculture muse Cassady into a towering literary figure, if only it hadn't been lost.
Turns out it wasn't, says Joe Maddalena, whose Southern California auction house Profiles in History is putting the letter up for sale Dec. 17. It was just misplaced, for 60-some years.
It's being offered as part of a collection that includes papers by E.E. Cummings, Kenneth Rexroth, Robert Penn Warren and other prominent literary figures. But Maddalena believes the item bidders will want most is Cassady's 18-page, single-spaced screed describing a drunken, sexually charged, sometimes comical visit to his hometown of Denver.
"It's the seminal piece of literature of the Beat Generation, and there are so many rumors and speculation of what happened to it," Maddalena said.
Kerouac told The Paris Review in 1968 that poet Allen Ginsberg loaned the letter to a friend who lived on a houseboat in Northern California. Kerouac believed the friend then dropped it overboard.
"It was my property, a letter to me, so Allen shouldn't have been so careless with it, nor the guy on the houseboat," he said.
As for the quality of the letter, Kerouac described it this way: "It was the greatest piece of writing I ever saw, better'n anybody in America, or at least enough to make Melville, Twain, Dreiser, Wolfe, I dunno who, spin in their graves."
It turns out Ginsberg apparently was trying to get it published when he mailed the letter to Golden Goose Press in San Francisco. There it remained, unopened, until the small publishing house folded.
When it did, its owner planned to throw the letter in the trash, along with every other unopened submission he still had in his files.
That was when the operator of a small, independent music label who shared an office with publisher Richard Emerson came to the rescue. He took every manuscript, letter and receipt in the Golden Goose Archives home with him.
"My father didn't know who Allen Ginsberg was, he didn't know Cassady, he wasn't part of the Beat scene, but he loved poetry," said Los Angeles performance artist Jean Spinosa, who found the letter as she was cleaning out her late father's house two years ago. "He didn't understand how anyone would want to throw someone's words out."
Although she knew who Kerouac and Cassady were, Spinosa had never heard of "The Joan Anderson Letter," the name Kerouac gave it for Cassady's description of a woman he'd had a brief romance with.
"It's invaluable," historian and Kerouac biographer Dennis McNally said. "It inspired Kerouac greatly in the direction he wanted to travel, which was this spontaneous style of writing contained in a letter that had just boiled out of Neal Cassady's brain."
It was a style he'd put to use in the novels "On The Road" and "Visions of Cody," which featured Cassady, thinly disguised under the names Dean Moriarty and Cody Pomeroy, as their protagonists. He'd continue to use it in such books as "The Subterraneans," ''The Dharma Bums" and "Lonesome Traveler," cementing his reputation as the father of the Beat Generation.
Cassady would gain some small measure of fame as Kerouac's muse and, later, as the sidekick who drove novelist Ken Kesey's Merry Pranksters bus across the country.
Meanwhile, about a third of "The Joan Anderson Letter," copied by someone before it disappeared, became well-known to students of Kerouac.
When Spinosa discovered she had the whole thing, she took it to Maddalena, a prominent dealer in historical documents and pop-culture artifacts, to authenticate it.
He's reluctant to estimate what it might sell for. Although the original manuscript of "On The Road" fetched $2.4 million in 2001, everyone knew that existed. It's much harder to estimate the value, he said, of something no one knew was still around.
For her part, Spinosa says, she's just happy her father rescued the letter from the trash. She's hoping whoever buys it will give the public a chance to see it.
"The letter is so good, and you see why these guys loved him," she says of Cassady's fellow Beats. "The writing, it just breathes off the page."
Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.
Nov 232014

Posted: 22 Nov 2014 06:52 AM PST  BY BEN BOULDEN
A Grue of Ice was published in the U. K. in 1962 as a hardcover, and it was released in the U. S. that same year with the title The Disappearing Island. The edition that caught my eye is a mass market published by Fontana in 1973. The art is vivid. It features a bright single engine float plane in the foreground and shadowy warship in a gray background. The artist: Unknown.

The opening paragraph:

“‘Drake Passage!’”

Geoffrey Jenkins was a second tier adventure writer during the genre’s golden age—1950s to the 1980s—which means his work, on average, was good, but a step below the genre’s best. His work is comparable to Alistair MacLean, Desmond Bagley, Jack Higgins, and Gavin Lyall. He was South African, and, according to Wikipedia, he wrote the first James Bond novel after Ian Fleming’s death, which was never published and is presumed lost.

Interestingly, Merriam-Webster defines “grue” as—1. “a fit of shivering…” and 2. “gruesome quality or effect”

This is the tenth in a series of posts featuring the cover art ad miscellany of books I find at thrift stores and used bookshops. It is reserved for books I purchase as much for the cover art as the story or author.
Nov 222014


DVD Spotlight: David Janssen as "Harry O"

One of the most distinctive private eyes of the 1970s has finally made his DVD debut with Warner Archive's release of season 1 of Harry O. The series, which originally aired on ABC in 1974-76, starred David Janssen as Harry Orwell, a medically-retired police detective who moonlights as a private investigator. Filmed in San Diego and later Santa Monica, Harry O set itself apart from rivals with its world-weary protagonist, voice-over narration, and on-location photography. For Janssen, it marked a TV comeback after appearing in Jack Webb's glum flop O'Hara, U.S. Treasury (1971-72).

Harry spends each morning on the beach.
The DVD set includes the first of two pilot films, Such Dust as Dreams Are Made Of, which was broadcast in 1973. Martin Sheen co-stars as a former criminal who wants to hire Harry to find his ex-girlfriend and a former accomplice (Sal Mineo). Orwell has a personal interest in the case because, four years earlier, Sheen and Mineo were the culprits in a drugstore robbery that left Harry's partner dead and a bullet in Harry's spine. Forced to retire from the police department, Harry lives on his disability pension aboard his boat The Answer. Will Geer appears in a supporting role as a medical examiner who provides an in-depth explanation on how to make heroin. It's unlikely Geer would have been a regular had a TV series resulted--he was still playing Grandpa on The Waltons.

A second pilot movie (not included in the DVD set), Smile Jenny, You're Dead (with Jodie Foster) appeared the following year. Its ratings success convinced ABC to pick up the series. Harry O premiered in September 1974 on Thursday nights at 10 p.m. The show's only other regular was Henry Darrow (The High Chapparal), who played Detective Lieutenant Manny Quinlan. Harry now lived in a beachfront cottage, working occasionally on his boat (still called The Answer). As he explained in one of his trademark voiceovers: "A lot of cases I won't take. I don't have to."

Harry with San Diego in the background.
With his car frequently being repaired, Harry takes a lot of buses--which has its advantages when being followed ("It's hard to tail someone on a bus"). The first half of season 1 makes excellent use of its San Diego locale, highlighting both the flavor of the inner city and the stunning beaches. Even Harry emphasizes the importance of his surroundings: "You see, baseball teams win more games in their own ballpark. Now, San Diego is my ballpark. And if you name a street, I can close my eyes and tell you where the traffic lights are...that also applies to bus stops."

Linda Evans pre-Dynasty.
The guest stars included a bevy of newcomers and familiar faces to classic TV fans: Kurt Russell; Linda Evans (between The Big Valley and Dynasty); Leif Erickson (also from The High Chapparal); Stefanie Powers; Broderick Crawford; Anne Archer; Craig Stevens (Peter Gunn); Carol Rossen (a frequent guest star with Janssen on The Fugitive); and even Cab Calloway.

Farrah a year before
Charlie's Angels.
Despite modest success in its time slot, Harry O underwent signficant midseason changes. The location sadly switched from San Diego to Santa Monica and Farrah Fawcett had a recurring role as Harry's neighbor and sometime girlfriend Sue (whose Great Dane Grover wasn't a fan of Harry's). Anthony Zerbe replaced Henry Darrow as another police detective, although Darrow returned to give his character closure in "Elegy for a Cop," the next-to-last episode of the first season. The opening credits were tweaked, too, and even the theme music transitioned from a bluesy arrangement to a more uptempo one.

Anthony Zerbe.
Although Zerbe won a supporting actor Emmy for his performance in 1976, the changes had little impact on the series' popularity. Viewers watched Harry O to see Janssen, who remained a fan favorite from his days as man-on-the-run Richard Kimble in the TV classicThe Fugitive (1963-67). As HarryJanssen replaces Kimble's subtle intensity with a laid-back, cynical persona (though he still occasionally flashes his trademark quick smile, with one side of the mouth turned up). One senses that Harry's casual style and humorous quips hide a darker past.

Still, some of the best episodes were the more lighthearted ones, such as "Gertrude" with guest-star Julie Sommars as a young woman whose only clue to her brother's disappearance is a single shoe. The first season also introduced the character of Lester Hodges (Les Lannom), a young man who aspires to be a criminologist after meeting Harry. Lester appears in four episodes over the two seasons, with the last one--"Lester Hodges and Dr. Fong"--serving as a pilot for a spin-off series co-starring Keye Luke that never materialized.

Harry O faced an uphill challenge finding a regular audience amid a landscape cluttered with popular TV detectives  (e.g., The Rockford FilesCannonStarsky and HutchHawaii Five-OKojak, and Baretta). ABC cancelled Harry O after just two seasons. Though its demise came far too early, at least it didn't suffer the fate of overstaying its welcome. We're left with a quirky, entertaining detective series with a character perfectly matched to its star. We can only hope that Warner Archive releases season 2 of Harry O. It'd also be nice if someone would release the only season of television's other seldom-seen, quirky private eye series: The Outsider (1968-69) starring Darrin McGavin.

A review copy of this DVD was provided to the Cafe.
Nov 212014

First off, so sorry to hear about the passing of Mike Nichols.  I never met him personally and don't know what I could add to all the other heartfelt tributes, but he was a giant.  There damn well better be a special salute at the Oscars next year.   Anyway, I'm back from Atlanta with some Friday Questions.   

Marianne gets us started. 

I was watching Madam Secretary last night and I noticed that Bebe Neuwirth plays quite a similar character to that of Lilith. How difficult is it for actors to avoid falling victim to typecasting? 

Actors can certainly get pigeonholed. It’s up to them to not accept those similar roles (if they can), or break out and play something different.

One of the reasons Ted Danson took the role of BECKER was that he would play such a different character from Sam Malone.

This is why you see a lot of known actors doing independent films. They don’t get paid much but they get to show off other sides of themselves.

On the other hand, there are actors who don’t mind playing essentially the same part over and over. They’re working.

When I was showrunning and an agent said a certain actor I was inquiring about didn’t do episodic television I always asked, “Who else is paying him $5,000 this week?” You’d be surprised how often that worked.

On a similar note, Michael wants to know: 

Some supporting actors from TV shows disappear after their show ends while others continue to pop up in new shows in varying degrees. In your opinion, which factor is most important in determining this - talent, a good agent, simple luck? 

All of the above. How identified they were with their character is also a factor. How versatile they can be comes into play (again, Ted Danson).

An actor’s TV-Q becomes a factor. That’s research that determines how well-known an actor is and more importantly, how popular they are. Yes, it is pretty heartless and cutthroat. Welcome to Glitter City.

But there are some TV actors that the public just loves. Dylan McDermott is one of those guys. You’ll notice he gets a series every year. Chris Noth is another. Julia Louis-Dreyfus also tops that list.

And then there are actors from hit shows that just cash in their winnings and walk away from the table. They do theatre, they paint, the move away and live happy lives. David Schramm from WINGS would be an example of that. He’s quite content not guesting on television shows. Yes, there is life after sitcoms.

Lou H. asks:

When a multi-camera sitcom episode needs to use multiple sets, is it still shot in sequence, with everybody moving from set to set, or are things optimized a bit so that, say, all the scenes on one set are shot in a single batch, even if that makes the story a bit harder for the studio audience to follow? 

It’s shot in sequence so the audience can follow it. Yes, this causes delays due to costume changes, but if the audience can’t follow the story there’s really no point. And the time it takes for the cameras to roll from one set to another is maybe three minutes.

Single camera shows (shot like movies) will shoot out of sequence. They’ll film all the scenes in one location then move to the next. Not being an actor myself I’ve always felt that had to be difficult on actors – having to adjust their attitudes based on what the scene requires. “Okay, in this one you’re distraught.” “Now you’re hopeful.” I don’t know how they can just turn on and off emotions that quickly and still keep the whole piece in their heads. But that’s why they get the big bucks and their sex tapes go viral.

And finally, from Jim S: 

How do you know if an actor has "it" that x factor that makes actor A better than actor B?

There is no formula.  It's just a sense you have.  If two actors are auditioning and you can't take your eyes off of one of them, that's a good sign.

In some cases you just "know."  They have an ease, a charisma, a presence.  Almost instantly you can tell.

On the other hand, some X-factor actors can go unnoticed.   George Clooney knocked around for years.  NBC once passed on Tom Cruise for a pilot.  Madonna also got turned down.   I helped out on a short-lived series in the '80s (doing punch up one day a week).  The actress who starred in the show was God awful.  I later learned she was chosen over Annette Bening.

So the answer is:  you never know, but you do.

What’s your Friday Question? You know you have one.

My First Novel Fast Lane by Dave Zeltserman

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Nov 202014

I wrote the first draft of Fast Lane in 1990, although the title back then was In His Shadow. This was the first piece of fiction I wrote with the intent of seeing it published. Before then I fooled around at times writing short stories, usually badly aping Ross Macdonald’s style. I knew the stuff I was writing then wasn’t any good, and it eventually all ended up in the trashcan. In fact, my first attempt at Fast Lane was writing it like a Lew Archer novel where it was written from the point of view of my white knight detective who uncovers the sins of the celebrity (and very psychotic) detective, Johnny Lane, and like all my other attempts back then to ape Macdonald, it ended up (rightfully) in the trash. Things changed, though, after I read Hell of a Woman by Jim Thompson, followed quickly by Swell-looking Babe, Pop. 1280, and After Dark, My Sweet. These noir novels from Thompson opened my eyes to other ways of doing things, and helped me realize that you can do whatever you want as long as you can make it work. I now saw a new approach to Fast Lane and began finding my own voice, and by the time I was halfway through I started to get excited that I was writing something that could be published.
After the first draft, I started working on a second draft, which I finished in 1991. It was a different world back then, and editors actually responded to well-written query letters. I ended up getting about 10 invitations to send in my manuscript, and about half of them sent me back  encouraging rejections—telling me they liked the writing and the book, and encouraged me to send them my next, but that they didn’t think readers would accept a psychotic private eye. At the time I didn’t realize that selling true psycho noir to a major publisher would be only slightly easier than pulling one’s own wisdom teeth, and instead of wisely taking their advice and working on a new novel (which I wouldn’t do until 1997 with Bad Thoughts), I stubbornly started a third revision of Fast Lane—this time taking advice from several readers and pushing the start of the novel back so I could show Lane acting in a more normal manner with only hints of his psychotic tendencies showing. This required about 60 new pages, and just as I was finishing this, my early version of Microsoft Windows crashed and I lost these new pages. I doubt  I’d be able to do this now—and I can’t swear that I retyped those 60 pages exactly as I originally wrote them—but I’m pretty sure I did. Once I had this version finished, I tried again, and collected more rejections. Sometime around 1993, I had a couple of short story sales, but for the most part gave up writing (at least until 1997), and put Fast Lane away in a drawer.
I’ll jump ahead to 2001. I had two novels—Fast Lane and Bad Thoughts—and I was unable to sell either. I decided to sacrifice Fast Lane (still In His Shadow) to self-publishing in the hopes of getting enough people saying good things about it to get Bad Thoughts published, and so I self-published it on iUniverse. It somewhat worked—I was able to get enough generous writers like Vicki Hendricks, Bill Crider, Ken Bruen, and Gary Lovisi, to blurb it, which got noir readers on Rara Avis to discover it, which led to Luca Conti finding it. Luca was working as a translator with the Italian publishing house, Meridiano Zero, and he convinced the publisher to publish it—and so I had my first book deal—Fast Lane translated to Italian. Eventually, Allan Guthrie (whose first story I published on my webzine Hardluck Stories)  and JT Lindroos  would publish Fast Lane under their Point Blank Press imprint and Fast Lane’s long and tortuous road to publication would come to an end.
One final note. At one point I tried sending Fast Lane to the London publisher Serpent’s Tail, only to never hear from them. Years later after they published Small Crimes, Pariah, Killer, and Outsourced, I sent my editor a copy of Fast Lane, and he rather liked it, telling me if he had seen it years earlier he would’ve fought to get it published. C’est la vie. 

Nov 192014

Inline Image

Welcome to the wonderful world of big-time publishing – F. Paul Wilson

First novels are unpredictable. 

Sometimes it's the best thing a writer will do in his career, something into which he empties so much of his heart and talent and experience that he’s left with too little fuel to light much of a fire under future work. 

For another it sets the course for an entire career: he’s found the key in which his voice is most comfortable and he sticks to it. 

For some writers that first novel gives no hint as to what is to come, the restless been-there-done-that-don't-wanna-do-it-again school where every new work is a departure from the last. 

And then there’s that first novel, not terribly uncommon in the science fiction field during the 1970s, where the writer is learning his craft in public. 

Healer is one of those. 

I wrote it in 1975, using "Pard," a previously published novelette, as a springboard. I’d sold "Pard" to John Campbell for Analog at a nickel a word a few years before and had always intended to continue the story of Steven Dalt, a man who shares his brain with an alien.  The alien, Pard, was conscious down to the cellular level, making Dalt potentially immortal. With the novelette as the opening section, I outlined Dalt’s story starting a few decades after the end of the novelette and tracked him through the centuries as he becomes a mythical figure known as "The Healer." 

Okay, I had a partial and an outine.  All I needed was a publisher. (The idea of an agent never occurred to me.)  Naïve as can be, I decided to start at the top and work my way down, so I sent off the package to Doubleday. (Hey, they were good enough for Asimov.) A couple-three of months later I received a letter from Sharon Jarvis, Doubleday’s SF editor at that time, with a whopping $2,000 offer for world rights. 

Wow. My first book proposal, accepted by the first publisher I’d sent it to. As the saying goes: How long has this been going on and why didn't anybody tell me about it? Looking back later I realized that Healer had a significant advantage in that the anchoring novelette originally had been purchased and published by John W. Campbell, Jr., the Zeus of modern science fiction. That pedigree gave my partial and outline instant credibility and a definite advantage over the average proposal that landed in Sharon’s office via the transom. 

I mentioned naïve above.  I’m not yet done with naïve.  Get this:

Published in June of 1976, Healer garnered decent reviews, with paperback rights picked up almost immediately by Jim Frenkel at Dell. But I wasn’t satisfied. Month after month I scanned the New York Times Book Review, waiting for the full-page ad that would announce to the world the existence of this epochal novel and checked the Bestseller List every Sunday for the magic word Healer. (See?  I wasn’t kidding about naive.). I haunted the science fiction sections of bookstores but only rarely was I rewarded with a Healer sighting. Finally I gathered the courage to ask the manager of a Fifth Avenue Doubleday Bookstore – owned by my publisher – why he of all people wasn't carrying my Doubleday book. He looked up Healer on his microfiche and informed me that it was out of print. 

Out of print? It was published in June and this was only November! There had to be some mistake! 

I staggered home and called Sharon Jarvis who patiently explained that as soon as the libraries have their copies and paperback rights have been sold, Doubleday remainders most of its science fiction books – sanitary landfill! I’d be getting a letter soon allowing me to buy leftover copies for pennies on the dollar. 

Welcome to the wonderful world of big-time publishing. 

Headlines that shouldn’t be true but are

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Nov 182014

Jon Stewart rips Mitt Romney: Voters told you ‘Ixnay,’ but you’re still
‘talking it-shay’

Bernie Sanders to Stephen Colbert: I’m here to ‘frighten the
billionaire class’

Ferguson officer accused of raping pregnant woman: ‘You’re the type of
girl that can get me in trouble’

Idaho Christian faith healers — 12 kids have died since 2011, and
nobody’s doing anything about it

University won’t turn over video that shows campus cop gunning down
‘sarcastic’ student

Mystery virus that turned millions of starfish into goo is finally

NJ cop exposed himself to young men he stopped and let go without
tickets: police

Georgia man avoids jail after fatally shooting man guided by GPS to
wrong driveway

Minnesota couple admits to collecting welfare while living life of

Bill Maher bashes Mormon religion: It’s ‘based on a 19th century sex

Rush Limbaugh defends Bill Cosby against rape allegations: ‘It’s not
like he did it yesterday’

8 things you should never feed to dogs and cats

Georgia police arrest father and daughter accused of starving infant

Ferguson recordings show encounter lasted less than 90 seconds : report

Cenk Uygur on Glenn Beck’s mysterious illness and quack cure: ‘I’m not
buying it’

Bill Maher to Rand Paul: ‘I’m available to the Rand Paul campaign’

Catholic leaders in St. Paul hid evidence of priest’s child porn
collection from police for 16 years

8 surprising things that may be making Americans fat

L.A. school district claimed girl,14 , consented to sex with teacher

Adult film stars explain net neutrality and speculate about Ted Cruz's
porn habits

Police expert: War on terror has turned our cops into occupying armies
— and we’re the enemy

Men's rights activist: Civilization fails when women and their vaginas
are allowed in the workplace

Nicki Minaj ‘Nazi’ video was inspired by ‘hero’ Alex Jones, director

Women who have sex before marriage are like ‘filthy dishrags,’
California pastor roars

'He wasn't making a noise': Man engulfed in flames outside AZ
restaurant was calm, witness says

Oklahoma public school under fire for field trip to out-of-state
creationist zoo

How marijuana was used to shrink one of the most aggressive brain

Mich. medical marijuana card holder commits suicide after police 'witch
hunt' over pot 'butter'

Boston couple ‘sucker punches’ city worker because they don’t ‘take
sh*t from n*ggers’

Reza Aslan trashes biblical literalism: The gospels are absolutely
replete with errors

More guns, more crime: Stanford research undermines the NRA’s favorite

Darren Wilson supporters to buy #PantsUPdontLOOT billboard near site of
Ferguson shooting

‘The real world sucked’: The first multiplayer computer game was
invented as a political gesture

Atheist and proud: Former adult star Asia Carrera wears ‘Pastafarian’
colander for Utah license photo

Protesters mob courthouse where grand jury weighs Ferguson case: 'We
want an indictment'

Bernie Sanders: US may be at ‘tipping point’ where only ‘the
billionaire class’ picks presidents

Cops arrest ‘Philly Jesus’ after accusing him of begging in LOVE Park

Ben Boulden & Gravetapping- LYNCHED by Ed Gorman

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Nov 182014


LYNCHED by Ed Gorman

Kindle $2.99

Ed Gorman wrote no fewer than 10 western novels for Berkley between 1999 and 2006. The earlier titles tended to be branded with a single word—LawlessVendettaRelentless,Lynched—and like all of Mr Gorman’s westerns, each is as much a mystery as a western. I recently read his novel Lynched, which was originally published by Berkley in 2003 and recently released as an ebook by Rough Edges Press.

Ben Tully is a quiet working class marshal in a small, unnamed, frontier town. The new century is approaching, and the world is changing. The business of law is moving from the end of a gun to a more scientific approach. Fingerprints are a big deal in the trade magazines (even if the courts don’t approve), as is reading a crime scene for evidence. But the future is far away when Tully finds his town dark and quiet, his office a shambles—the night deputy beaten and unconscious—and a man swaying, dead, at the end of a rope behind the jail.

The town has a secret. Everyone knows who hanged the man, and why. The woman he killed was Marshal Tully’s sweet young wife. The evidence was clear—he was covered with blood, and in his pockets were a few items from Tully’s house. Open and shut, but Tully doesn’t trust the mob verdict, and when the dead man’s sister came to town crying his innocence she found an unlikely ally.

Lynched is a melancholy crime novel wrapped and delivered as a western. The prose is lean and smooth; something close to hardboiled, but not quite. It is sharp with working class pain and a palpable angst—

“There was a cold amusement—an arrogance—in the man’s voice that Tully didn’t like. A superiority. Tully wasn’t educated, rich, or fashionable. He wasn’t particularly intelligent, virtuous, or cunning. When people talked down to him, the way this man did, he secretly felt he deserved it.”

It is cast with a litany of scoundrels and saints, and it is often difficult to tell one from the other. There is a wandering con man, cum actor, a self-absorbed, and somewhat delusional, boarding house mother, a beautiful and shy young woman, a saloon and casino keeper, and Tully. And the town, and everyone has their own agenda. The mystery is sharp and plotted with a sure hand. There is more than one red herring, and I didn’t guess the ending until the final pages.

Lynched is a winner. It is entertaining, and, in its small and quiet moments, thought provoking. 
Nov 172014

Writing Is a Lonely Business: James McKimmey, Philip K. Dick, and the Lost Art of Author Correspondence by Jason Starr

Ed here: Jason Starr in one of my favorite writers anyway. This piece makes me think he should be nominated just for being such a damned original thinker. And if that award doesn't exist it should. 

November 3rd, 2014RESET-+

IN 2004, AFTER I WROTE an introduction for a reprint of James McKimmey’s 1962 classic crime novel Squeeze Play, I was thrilled when McKimmey emailed me an effusive thank-you letter. Jim (who passed away in 2011 at 87 years old) was a prolific pulp writer who had his biggest successes during the 1950s and 1960s. The author of 17 novels and hundreds short stories, he wrote several outright masterpieces includingThe Perfect VictimCornered!, and Run If Youre Guilty that were on the level of, or even better than, the works of better-known crime writers of his era, such as James M. Cain, David Goodis, and John D. MacDonald. Several of his books were optioned for movies in the 1960s, but none were filmed. Better luck in Hollywood may have garnered more interest in his books over the years, and his work deserves a wider readership.
When Jim contacted me I had written several noir crime novels, and as a diehard fan of pulp fiction it was great to be in touch with such a warm, outgoing writer who was a major player during the Golden Age of the crime novel. In retrospect it seems almost quaint that he contacted me by email, as today he probably would have reached out with a less personal Facebook message or even a tweet.
Over the next several months, we exchanged many emails, mainly discussing writing past and present. In his fiction, Jim’s style was tough and spare, but he wasn’t a proponent of brevity in his emails. Our backgrounds were very different, but his stories about starting out as a writer seemed remarkably similar to my own. He told me all about his current life in Northern California and his years of experience in the book industry. He was kind enough to read a few of my novels, and wrote me effusive notes about them. I imagined if I had been writing in the 1950s and 1960s, I, too, may have been writing for the pulps. I got the sense that he saw me as a kindred spirit, that I reminded him of himself as a young(ish) pulp writer trying to find success in an uncertain industry.
In one email Jim mentioned that he’d had a correspondence for many years with Philip K. Dick, when they were both young, emerging genre writers. He asked me if he could send me copies of the letters.
“Hell yeah,” I responded.
I’d been a huge Dick fan since I saw Blade Runner and then tore through a dozen or so of his novels. Many of his works have become fodder for Hollywood, including Total RecallA Scanner Darkly, and Minority Report. To me, Dick is to science fiction what Jim Thompson is to crime fiction — a true, unflinching original who was prolific and respected, though not fully appreciated in his lifetime. While Dick’s work is full of visionary ideas, I’ve always read him as a pure pulp writer, and have always admired his relentless, paranoid take on the ordinary world.
I was excited about reading the letters, but I wasn’t sure why Jim was so intent on sending them to me. I didn’t know him all that well. I sensed they had a deeper meaning to him that he wanted to share. If he’d simply wanted to preserve the letters, he could have had them archived, or sent them to a biographer. (As far as I know he did neither.) Or perhaps I was reading into it too deeply, and he was simply cleaning out his garage. Maybe he didn’t have a significant correspondence with Dick; maybe they’d just exchanged a couple of perfunctory fan letters.
A few days letter when the letters arrived in a large Priority Mail envelope, I was surprised at the volume. There were nine typewritten letters, all from Dick to Jim, from five to 12 pages long, dated from July 25, 1953, to early 1964. As I read through them, I realized I was in possession of something special — part of a fascinating correspondence that shed light on the changing pulp market of the 1950s and the lives of two prolific practitioners who were just embarking on their careers. The letters include Dick’s poignant observations about publishing, writing, politics, religion, and glimpses into an increasingly dark, paranoid mind.

for the rest (and it's a dazzler) go to the Los Angeles Review of Books

Writing Is a Lonely Business: James McKimmey, Philip K. Dick, and the Lost Art of Author Correspondence by Jason Starr

Nov 162014

The White Mists of Power
Kristine Kathryn Rusch

First, let me establish the fact that The White Mists of Power, the first novel I sold, was not the first novel I ever wrote. As with most writers, I wrote quite a few novels before selling one.
However, The White Mists of Power was the first novel I finished as an adult.
Huh? You might ask. Well, I started writing novels when I was a kid. My first (which I blush to remember) was a Partridge Family tie-in, written in (of all things) a Gothic romance style. Yes, I had a thing for Keith Partridge. Yes, I had read the other Partridge Family tie-in novels and I had been inspired.
Needless to say, that book has never been published. Neither has the classic Star Trek I co-wrote with my friend Toni Rich during our 7th grade English class. Or any of the other pretentious novels I wrote in high school (all mimicking something or other).
I wrote all of those books longhand. When I got serious about publishing, I wrote on a typewriter and, anal me, retyped every single page with a typo rather than using Wite-Out. With that kind of obsessiveness, a novel seemed impossible.
I had to get my first computer before I attempted a “real” novel. I wrote that novel, The White Mists of Power, out of order, then sat on the floor of my office with the chapters spread before me, organizing them into something that made sense. Little did I realize that process would be my normal process on novels—only at some point, I was able to ditch the actual physical sorting process for a virtual one.
Because I made my living as a non-fiction writer, I included a cover letter that had back cover copy in it—and that copy was good. Because of the cover letter (and the book), my novel worked its way up the food chain more than once. It didn’t sell, but I got letters back from vice presidents of companies or heads of book lines.
I had no idea that was a good thing.
I went to Clarion, learned I’d made a “mistake” in that novel. But I was a few novels down the road, and I decided not to fix it. I did retire the book, since it was “flawed.”
I wrote other novels (which didn’t sell) and a lot of short stories (that did sell), and then I got nominated for every award that existed in science fiction and fantasy. An agent called me, selling himself, and asking that I be his client. I had no idea that was unusual either, and stupidly, I didn’t research him from a business perspective. That led to serious problems down the road (he had sticky fingers), but at the time, I went with it.
He needed a novel to sell. I only had one that wasn’t under submission elsewhere, so I sent him The White Mists of Power.  He sold the book within a week. Then I gave him a list of the other books I had under submission, and he talked to the editors.
He sold eight books of mine before the first ever saw print. For a while, I thought that was how it worked: you wrote a book, submitted it, got paid, and no one would print it.
Although the lack of publication wasn’t his fault; it was mine. I kept winning awards, and the publisher kept deciding to move the book around in the schedule. First, the book was to be a standard release (no promotion, no nothing). Then it became a second release (behind some big name author). Then it became a lead title.
I was a pretty young thing. After the senior met me, he decided to promote me as well as the book—very baby-doll cheesecake in a 1990 kinda way. I was hugely embarrassed, but the strategy seemed to work.
Almost three years after the novel sold, it finally hit the stands.
Then the reviews came out.
I cringed even more. Remember, the book had a “mistake,” as I learned at Clarion. But to a person, every critic—every person—who has read that book has loved that mistake. The mistake is a giant, unexpected (but set up) twist, and it made the book rise above standard fantasy fare into something original.
Seems if I had gone to Clarion before I had written the book, my originality would have vanished with the “should-haves.”
I have taken that lesson to heart. I don’t like should-haves, and I don’t do them if I can avoid them.
Ironically, I’ve published several first novels since—at least reviewers think so. Mostly, the reviewers are correct from their perspective. My first Kris Nelscott book about Smokey Dalton got reviewed as a first novel most of the time (the publisher didn’t want to admit that I was a white woman writing about a male African-American detective). My first Kristine Grayson novel got reviewed (when it got reviewed) as a first novel in the romance field—and so on with each and every pen name I’ve used.
Now, I ignore all that noise and just write what I want to write.
But that first novel—that first sale? It was an extremely big deal. I felt validated (more than all those short fiction awards made me feel), and I felt like a Real Writer.
The day of the sale, my boyfriend (now my husband) Dean Wesley Smith sent a dozen roses to my day job. My first novel sale, my first dozen roses. I think he bought me dinner too, but I don’t remember. The rest of that day was a gigantic blur.
I don’t remember the day the novel got published either. I just remember how it felt to finally sell that “flawed” novel, and the way my voice didn’t work for hours afterward, and how lucky I felt.
You know, I still feel lucky every time I publish a novel. I’m privileged to work in this industry, doing what I love, something I’ve done since I was a little kid scrawling on a yellow legal pad. It still amazes me that people like those scrawls and pay me cash money for them.
By the way, The White Mists of Power is still in print, which is why I won’t tell you what that “mistake” is. Check it out for yourself and see if you can find it, and, if you’re a writer, figure out what a workshop would have said about it. You’ll know it when you see it.
And for the record, “flaw” and “mistake” are in quotes, because I now realize that I didn’t make a mistake at all. Rule breaker that I am, I wrote that novel exactly the way it should have been written—
My way.