Apr 012015

Ed here:  It has been ordained by the Mystery Gods that I begin each comment on Lawrence Block by noting that he writes the best sentences in the business. He does and I don't say that frivolously. There is an unpretentious elegance in just about everything he writes. Words never had a better friend.

If you read the following you won't need any sales pitch from me. This is one of the most incisive and fascinating collections about living it out as a full time professional writer I've ever read. I read it in three eager sessions and came away enlightened, amused and wanting more.  This is a legacy collection for Larry. Perfecto, dude, perfecto.

Here are a few samples plus the table of contents. 

An MWA Grand Master tells it straight: 

Fredric Brown: “When I read Murder Can Be Fun, I had a bottle of 
bourbon on the table and every time Brown’s hero took a drink, I had a snort myself. This is a hazardous undertaking when in the company of Brown’s characters, and, I’ve been given to understand, would have been just as dangerous around the author himself. By the time the book was finished, so was I.” 

Raymond Chandler: “You have to wonder how he got it so right. 
He spent a lot of time in the house—working, reading, writing letters. He saw to his wife, who required a lot of attention in her later years. And when he did get out, you wouldn’t find him walking the mean streets. La Jolla, it must be noted, was never much for mean streets.” 

Evan Hunter: “In his mid-seventies, after a couple of heart attacks, an aneurysm, and a siege of cancer that had led to the removal of his larynx, Evan wrote Alice in Jeopardy. And went to work right away on Becca in Jeopardy, with every intention of working his way through the alphabet. Don’t you love it? Here’s a man with one foot in the grave and the other on a banana peel, and he’s perfectly comfortable launching a twenty-six book series.” 

Donald E. Westlake’s Memory: “Here’s the point: Don’s manuscript 
arrived, and we had dinner and put the kid to bed, and I started 
reading. And my wife went to bed, and I stayed up reading, and after a while I forgot I was having a heart attack, and just kept reading until I finished the book around dawn. And somewhere along the way I became aware that my friend Don, who’d written a couple of mysteries and some science fiction and his fair share of soft-core erotica, had just produced a great novel.” 

Charles Willeford: “Can a self-diagnosed sociopath be at the same 
time an intensely moral person? Can one be a sociopath, virtually unaware of socially prescribed morality, and yet be consumed with the desire to do the right thing? That strikes me as a spot-on description of just about every character Willeford ever wrote. How could he come up with characters like that? My God, how could he help it?” 

An MWA Grand Master and a multiple winner of the Edgar, Shamus, and Maltese Falcon awards, Lawrence Block’s reflections and observations come from over a half century as a writer of bestselling crime fiction. . Several of his novels have been filmed, most recently A Walk Among the Tombstones, starring Liam Neeson. While he’s best known for his novels and short fiction, along with his books on the craft of writing, that's not all he’s written. THE CRIME OF OUR LIVES collects his observations and personal reminiscences of the crime fiction field and some of its leading practitioners. He has a lot to say, and he says it here in convincing and entertaining fashion. 

Table of Contents

Table of Contents BEFORE WE BEGIN . . . MY LIFE IN CRIME Anthony Boucher (1911-68) Fredric Brown (1906-72) James M. Cain (1892-1977) Raymond Chandler (1888-1959) Stanley Ellin (1916-86) Erie Stanley Gardner (1889-1970) Dashiell Hammett (1894-1961) Chester Himes (1909-84) John D. MacDonald (1916-1986) Ross Macdonald (1915-83) Ellery Queen (Frederic Dannay, 1905- 82, and Manfred B. Lee, 1905-71) Jack Ritchie (1922-83) Rex Stout (1886-1975) Jim Thompson (1906-76) Charles Willeford (1919-88) Cornell Woolrich (1903-68)



Evan Hunter Was My Hero
ROBERT B. PARKER “They Like the Way It Sounds”
EDGAR ALLAN POE “It All Started With Poe” The Curse of Amontillado
The Edgar and I
ROSS THOMAS Remembering Ross Thomas
DONALD E. WESTLAKE Remembering Memory Butcher’s Moon Comeback Backflash

The Crime of Our Lives Lawrence Block Copyright © 2015, Lawrence Block All Rights Reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced in any form or by any means, or transmitted in any form or by any means, without the express written permission of the author. Ebook Production: QAProductions ALawrence Block Production lawrenceblock.com F
Apr 012015

buca_logoPulpFest 2015 is organizing a group dinner on August 15th. Eating together on Saturday evening while talking about this great hobby of ours has been a long-standing and popular tradition at summer pulp cons. Last year’s group meal was a complete sell-out!

The Saturday night group dinner returns to this year’s PulpFest on August 15th when we’ll be dining together, family style, at the nearby Buca di Beppo Italian Restaurant, just a few minutes walk from the Hyatt Regency Columbus.

Priced at $33 per person—tax and gratuity included—the menu includes:

Mixed Green Salad – Caesar Salad – (Served with House Bread)

Fettuccine Alfredo – Spaghetti with Meat Sauce – Chicken Parmigianino

Chocolate Chip Cannoli

Unlimited Soft Drinks, Coffee & Tea

We’ll be accepting no more than sixty reservations for this popular event, the largest group that Buca di Beppo can easily accommodate. So if you have been thinking about joining our Saturday night meal, now is the time to buy your ticket. We will accept reservations through Monday, August 10, 2015 or until the event sells out. Last year’s meal sold out weeks before the start of the convention.

Payment is due when you place your dinner reservation. You’ll find a group meal form with your member or dealer newsletter. Please send your $33 check or money order to David J. Cullers, 1272 Cheatham Way, Bellbrook, OH 45305 or use the “group dinner” button on our Paypal Order page. All payments must be received by Monday, August 10, 2015. We look forward to dining with you in August during “Summer’s Great Pulp Con.”

 Posted by at 1:00 pm
Apr 012015

I was going to post about that blankety-blank clean-up app (expletive deleted, not because I have any objection whatsoever to expletives in their place, but because there’s no expletive powerful enough to express my feelings) but three people got in ahead of me and said almost everything that needs to be said. So let me just add this: a guy called Bowdler tried the same trick on Shakespeare back in the late eighteenth century, with the result that we now can’t be quite sure we still have exactly what Shakespeare wrote. And nowadays, isn’t it a simple matter of copyright infringement? Or plagiarism? Both of which were still illegal last time I checked? Someone thinks they have the right to take an author’s plot, setting and characters, and put out an edition of that author’s work which is identical in every way except that a very, very few of the words are missing. I hope someone, somewhere gets prosecuted, or at least sued for a great deal of money.

But a hundred and sixty-nine words do not a blog post make, and I’m still working on last week’s challenge. What else shall we talk about?

Ah. Local interest. Probably easier to achieve here in the UK, where distances between places are shorter. Correct me if I'm wrong.

When I was publishing, I was never quite sure what qualified as local, though I was always delighted when a bookshop claimed one of my authors as one of theirs. Just as significant as where the author lives, though, is the setting of the books.

Last week a little of both came to my village. The local library (here I use the word in a narrow sense – it’s within walking distance of my house) organized a crime fiction panel made up of local authors, this time using the word in a slightly broader sense. There were three panellists; one writes dark and gritty books set in a city with a dark and gritty side about twenty miles away, which is also where he lives; another writes more thoughtful, character-led books set in the beautiful countryside of a national park which has its edge less than ten miles away, and lives about thirty miles in the opposite direction; the third lives about twelve miles away and writes books with a quirky protagonist, set in Greece. Each one local enough, in their own way.

And then there’s my good friend Chris Nickson, born in the city of Leeds and now living there again after an absence of many years, and author of three series of books set there, and two more series set in other places he’s lived in during that absence.

The big question is – isn’t it always? – does it help with the marketing? How does where a book is set, or an author is based, impact on sales? Especially in this digital age of globalization and worldwide availability.

Well, if the queue at the signing table after that panel discussion is any criterion, I don’t think those three authors felt it was a waste of an evening. And the city centre chain bookshop where Chris launched his latest title a few weeks ago has that book in the window at the moment, and has just sold out of and reordered at least one of his books. My local – that word again – branch of the same chain sold out of the first in one of his non-Leeds series (set right here in my home town, albeit eight hundred years ago) three times, and it’s still going strong.

Nationwide and international conventions and festivals are great, and lots of books get sold – but digital age notwithstanding, authors and publishers underestimate the power of a local connection at their peril.

First Wednesday Book Review Club: HUSH HUSH

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Apr 012015

A welcome return of Tess Monaghan in a fine addition to the series. Tess is now a mother and that role makes her both suited and ill-suited to looking into security issues for a woman, Melisandre Dawes, who murdered her infant daughter on a hot day one August.

Dawes got off, suffering from PPD, but her return to Baltimore more than a decade later stirs up trouble for her two surviving daughters (now teens) her former husband, now remarried, and his new wife and son. Throw into the mix an attempt of Melisandre to tell her story via a documentary film maker and someone who seems to have it in for Tess. This is a well-populated tale but Lippman is skillful in keeping it sorted out for the reader.

I enjoyed seeing Tess cope with motherhood in a palpably loving yet very human way.  I love Lippman's standalones, but this novel functioned as both. We had a nice mix of Tess and her gang along with the gaggle of girls who occupied this case.  A very fine novel indeed.

For more book reviews, see Barrie Summy.

My Favorite 7 Things

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Apr 012015
by Holly West

Before I begin today's post, I'd like to direct your attention to Keith Rawson's recent LitReactor article: Why The F*ck Aren't You Reading Eric Beetner? Indeed, why aren't you? 

Now, on to the post:

If you're friends with crime fiction writers on Facebook, then you might've seen a recent meme in which writers are tagged to reveal seven things about their writing. Sometimes I find memes like this tedious but this one has been interesting--maybe because instead of having to answer a pre-established set of questions, we're able to say whatever we choose to.

Anyway, here are a seven of my favorites, as posted by my author friends on Facebook:

1) GO DOWN HARD took so long to sell that when Brash Books publishers Lee Goldberg and Joel Goldman told me they loved it and wanted to publish it, they asked if it had to be a period piece. I have since updated references to such antiquities as "Kinkos" and "flip phones." -- Craig Faustus Buck, author of PSYCHO LOGIC and GO DOWN HARD

2) I wrote the lyrics and sang "Estrogen Overdose" with the rock group Idiot. I sucked but we were friends so who were they to stand in the way of my dreams. The song was about a lad we knew who was taking estrogen to grow breasts. It was glitter days, and all bets were off. -- Josh Stallings, author of ALL THE WILD CHILDREN and the Moses McGuire crime books

3) Sometimes I think I am incapable of writing a happy ending. I got halfway through what was intended to be an erotic romance (meaning - it HAS to have a happy ending) and realized that giving the protagonist two kinds of cancer sort of killed the vibe. -- Renee Pickup, writer, editor-in-chief of Revolt Daily, Books and Booze podcaster, and class facilitator at LitReactor

4) My ultimate goal as a writer is to be so famous I don't ever have to come back to Facebook again. -- Rob Hart, author of NEW YORKED

5) I know what year all my characters are born and I name them accordingly. For example, there are no 45-yr-old Briannas in my stories because nobody born in 1969 was named Brianna. I use the Social Security website to find first names. -- Jen Conley, writer and editor at Shotgun Honey

6) The first draft of anything is for me, because it's usually a mess and only going in the direction of where I want to be. The second draft goes to my wife, the third is usually good to leave the house. -- Alex Segura, author of SILENT CITY

7) My early readers usually end up asking me to be less mean to my characters. I think this is because in the raw version I'm very focused on the grief and anger and destruction that comes from a murder.In the first drafts, all of my characters are in varying degrees of despair at the end of the book, in the second draft I give some of them a break, and by the third most of the characters have a little bit of hope. A reviewer on Amazon knocked me down to four stars for being so mean to Marty. I have never been so delighted to lose a star. -- M.P. Cooley, author of ICE SHEAR

Do you have any deep, dark, writing secrets? Feel free to share them in the comments.
Apr 012015
Coffin, Scarcely Used (1958) is the first of Colin Watson’s Flaxborough comic crime novels and sets the tone for all that followed in the series. It may not be the most successful of his books but I wager it was pretty daring for its time. Watson shakes up the cozy English village by populating his town with an assortment of venal businessmen, randy husbands, duplicitous housewives and bemused policemen. Sex and greed serve as the primary motivators in a mixture of scandalous criminal activity, base revenge, all oddly livened with Watson's usual absurd antics.

While the denizens of Flaxborough are trying to make sense of the outrageous death of the editor of the town’s newspaper who is found electrocuted at the foot of a power pylon Inspector Purbright is confronted with some incongruous evidence. Why would Mr. Gwill make a impulsive midnight climb up the pylon with slippers on his feet? What of that odd daffodil shaped burn embedded in Gwill’s right palm? Nothing on the pylon comes anywhere close to looking like a flower. And then there are the marshmallows found in Gwill’s pocket and in his stomach. That’s some kind of strange last meal for anyone. To Purbright and Sgt. Sid Love it looks like a murder cover-up. They need to find out where Gwill was really killed and why he was moved and why someone would think anyone be fooled by the implication that he fell from a power pylon.

Investigation of Gwill’s death leads Purbright to the newspaper offices of the Flaxborough Citizen and some strange personal ads setup by Gwill himself. They all seem to indicate an unusual interest in buying and selling curios and antiques and the numerous replies, all sent to Gwill’s personal box, all too coincidentally make mention of evening appointments and all include deposits of eight pounds. Purbright begins to imagine that some kind of underground conspiracy is at work. He is sure the ads have nothing to do with buying old furniture. Eventually he uncovers a surreal secret code that seems modeled on bad spy novels and an eye opening surprise in the examination rooms at a physician’s offices.

The sexual content in Coffin, Scarcely Used may have prevented it from being published in the US until ten years after its original appearance in England. Watson seemed decades ahead of his fellow crime writers (at least those who confined their plots to charming British villages) in terms of dealing with sex in the crime novel and doing so it such a bawdy and preposterous way.

* * *

Reading Challenge update: Golden Age card, space E1 - "Book with a detective team"
 Posted by at 3:50 am

Another Short Break.

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Apr 012015

Hopefully I’ll be posting again by Thursday, but the last past week has been filled with doctors’ appointments for both Judy and me, car problems, a 20-minute visit with our tax accountant yesterday, but a 30-minute trip each way, and on and on. I’ve been on the go a lot, and I’m pooped. But lunch with Paul Herman on Sunday was fun, and luckily the weather seems to turned the corner for the better, and it’s about time.

There is plenty of material backlogged and ready to post, including Mike Nevins’ column for April, but the past couple of days, I’ve simply run out of time. I’ll take tomorrow off as well, to catch my breath, but after that I’m planning on being back to business again.

PS, from Mike Tooney: You might want to alert your readership to this: for those with access to the MHz network, they’re re-broadcasting ‘THE VANISHING OF PATO’ this Friday, April 3rd, at 9:00 P.M. EST/PST for free. (Viewers with a Roku device have to pay $4.99 for a pay-per-view.)

As you may recall, we posted a review on MYSTERY*FILE about a year ago here: http://mysteryfile.com/blog/?p=25885

 Posted by at 3:40 am

Mostly Done

 Books, Josh Getzler, Writing  Comments Off
Apr 012015

Josh Getzler


I’ve been working with a client for most of the past year on a thriller he’s writing. He’s a multiply-published author looking to start a new series, and the work he is doing is exciting and fresh.


A few months ago, he was well past halfway done, when we realized that if he pushed on, we might be able to submit his book and make a new deal—and a splash—if we were able to submit the book before the London Book Fair in mid-April. We worked backward and assigned, well, yesterday as the drop-dead date for him to finish if we wanted any shot of making the deal we were looking for.


So for the past six weeks or so, sleeping very little and subsisting, it seems, largely on bourbon, he soldiered on. Finally, on Thursday night, he sent me the manuscript, albeit without the last 20 or so pages, which he was planning to complete over the weekend and give me after I read the first 90% of the book. Which I did, with him sitting by the computer as I sent along notes as I went through the second half.


The next morning, when we were getting dressed, my wife asked “so, you ready to send it over?”


And I paused. I’d been up much of the night. Because I realized that, in fact, I wasn’t ready to send it in. Not because the book isn’t good—it is, very much so. It’s interesting and scary and moves like crazy. There’s a strong protagonist and a terrific, almost equivalent, antagonist. I think we could make a deal right now.


But it wouldn’t be the right deal. Because the book is only mostly done, to paraphrase from Miracle Max. That means it’s partly not-done. There’s some layering of backstory that needs to happen; a couple of explanations, some description, a little tweaking of language. Maybe seven notes, all told, which might take three days of reasonable work. Not a huge deal. Except that then we would miss our window for London.


Part of an agent’s job is to know when to be aggressive, know when to push even when you know something isn’t perfect. And this was a tough one because the difference, in my mind, is in degree, not in absolute value. So I went to the office, spoke to the author, explained my issues, and discussed his options. Ultimately we decided to talk to the most likely editor and be frank—ask whether he’d rather crash-read the mostly-done version and potentially have the opportunity to sell foreign rights at the London Fair; or whether he’d rather wait a few weeks until after the fair to see and evaluate the more well-scrubbed version, and possibly sell it at BEA at the end of May. In the end it was somewhat academic. The editor had a serious conflict that would have likely made him need to read this very long book almost overnight (which is hardly ideal and, I’ve found, makes editors cranky even if it’s kind of exciting); so weighing the options we decided to let the author make the changes.


I emailed him: “Go take a nap.” The response was priceless: “I am about to cry. My liver and I thank you.”


I don’t know whether we are giving up a sale or two overseas by delaying until after the London Book Fair. But I know this: The editor will have the chance to evaluate the very best this author will have to give, and not need to do it under duress. I suspect that if we are able to make a deal, it will be the right one, and it will all work out. Sometimes the best course of action is to slow down, even when everything in you wants to step on the gas.

Apr 012015
At a guess, I’d say I now own 50 percent more books than I have shelves on which to showcase them. Those that don’t fit wind up neatly packed into boxes in my perpetually toasty furnace room. They include my numerous Erle Stanley Gardner novels, about half of which are Perry Mason tales (he did, after all, pen 82 of those!), with the rest coming from his other significant two series--one about Los Angeles gumshoes Bertha Cool and Donald Lam (The Bigger They Come), which he wrote under the nom de plume A.A. Fair, the other starring small-town district attorney Douglas Selby (The D.A. Calls It Murder). Oh, and I have a few of Gardner’s standalones (such as The Clue of the Forgotten Murder) and one of his Terry McClane mysteries (Murder Up My Sleeve).

I appreciate Gardner’s complex plotting and propulsive storytelling style, so I often dip into those boxes of his work for my reading material. This practice proved recently to be a damn smart one. I had boarded a train bound south from Seattle to Portland, Oregon, with three books in my bags. The first two were new or forthcoming novels, about which I thought to write for either The Rap Sheet or Kirkus Reviews. The third was Gardner’s 1941 Mason outing, The Case of the Haunted Husband. It was a four-hour train ride, so I settled down initially with one of the new works, figuring to polish off at least most of it before arriving in the Beaver State. However, after reading 100 pages, I’d had quite enough, and turned to the second new novel … which was a product of the same publishing imprint … and which I also decided wasn’t worth my time. (I won’t say what the imprint was, but may have to be more wary of it in the future.)

Finally, I picked up The Case of the Haunted Husband. And the next thing I knew, I’d reached my destination, oblivious to the miles passed and cozily wrapped in the world of attorney Mason, his ever-protective secretary, Della Street, and their private-eye colleague, Paul Drake. The Case of the Haunted Husband, Gardner’s 18th Mason novel, was one I hadn’t read before, and I enjoyed it immensely--enough so, that I made it the focus of my new Kirkus Reviews column.

By the way, this is the latest entry in my all-too-occasional “rediscovered reads” series for Kirkus.