Jul 282014

Jeff Cohen

I'm at that mystical, magical moment in the creation of a new manuscript: the one where I start to ponder other professions I might in fact be better suited to. (As evidence, I point to the fact that the last sentence ends with a preposition.)

You hit a certain point and you can't remember why you thought this story was a good idea to begin with. You don't know what comes next, or why it should. You think the characters aren't coming to life properly, the plot is trite, the dialogue is jokey instead of conversational and wouldn't it just be a better idea to learn auto mechanics or something?

But I soldier on, without ever actually becoming a soldier, because I am in my mid-fifties and a coward. I don't give in to the urge to just "take a day off" because that becomes a week off, then a month off, and the next thing you know, a visit to the DeVry Institute seems like a really good career move. I don't believe in Writer's Block, so I keep writing every day.

The fact that at the end of this week (August 1, because that was what I promised myself) I will begin writing another manuscript at the same time I write the last third of the current one isn't really a great comfort.

But there is some solace in the knowledge that comes with experience. I'm now writing what will be my 13th published novel (along with a couple that are not-so-published, but one of which got me my master's degree), and that means this is the 15th time I've hit this wall. I always reach a spot where the work seems like a bad idea. I always think this is the end of the line. I always consider taking up the flute professionally, despite never having, to the best of my knowledge, ever touched a flute.

So this too shall pass. I'll barrel on through the wall because there's a real honest-to-goodness deadline coming up and there has to be a book by then, and besides, I don't really have a better plan. And when I'm done, I'll realize that the story actually came out pretty well, and there will be an editor out there (hi, Terri!) who will help it become better.

Is this keeping me up nights? Nah. The Yankees' complete lack of offense is making me stay awake, students are not getting their assignments in on time, I need to lose 30 pounds (low estimate) and my mom is still rehabbing a shattered ankle while my daughter prepares to move to East Harlem, so the book becomes an actual help in getting to sleep.

I think about the story when my head hits the pillow (usually that's not long after I've gotten the 1000 words in for the day) and sometimes even work out the odd plot problem. It helps me focus on something useful when all those other things threaten to weigh on my mind.

Maybe this isn't such an awful moment after all.


A few personal notes: Despite some unintentionally deceptive comments I might have made a few weeks ago, we now actually have adopted a rescue beagle who is--at least for the time being--named Gizmo. In the interest of driving up visits to DEAD GUY, I hereby include Imagea photograph.

As I mentioned before, my amazing daughter Eve will be moving this week to an apartment in New York City, where she will spend the next year in a project called Blue Engine, an AmeriCorps program intended to help teenagers prepare to apply to college by improving math and English scores. She'll be a teaching assistant helping with algebra. It all might seem overwhelming now, but I'm sure she'll end up loving it and the lucky students who will find her in their classrooms in the Bronx starting in September will be the better off for it. We'll miss her, but she'll be close enough to visit and give us excuses to go into the city now and again.

One other thing: The Deadly Ink Mystery Conference is being held this coming weekend, August 1-3, at the Hyatt Regency in New Brunswick, NJ! I've always found it to be a fun, intimate conference, and if you're in the area, you should definitely plan on stopping in! Register now!

Jul 282014

ROGUE. DirecTV, Season One (10 episodes), April-May 2013. Thandie Newton, Marton Csokas, Sarah Jeffery, Joshua Sasse, Kavan Smith, Leah Gibson, Jarod Joseph, Ian Tracey, Ian Hart.

   I don’t have a hookup with DirecTV, so I had to wait for the series to come out on DVD to be able to watch it, that and a span of a couple of weeks to find the time. For me, it started slowly but gradually caught my attention, and I ended up watching the last two episodes in one evening (last night).

   The star of the series is without a doubt Thandie Newton, who plays Grace Travis, a black police officer from the San Jose Police Department who has been working undercover for the Oakland police to get the goods on Jimmy Laszlo (Marton Csokas), a local crime boss controlling the waterfront area. But obsessed with finding out who killed her young son in what was written off as a tragic but accidental drive-by shooting, she finds herself getting deeper and deeper into a complicated plot of greed, revenge, mob killings and more, alienating her own family while getting closer and closer to the man she is supposed to be bringing down.

   It takes all ten episodes for the entire story line to work its way through, and naturally there is plenty of violence to go along with it, some of shockingly graphic. And perhaps equally naturally not everyone in the cast survives to the end, some a lot sooner than viewers might expect, including this one. There is also, given the freedom of not being seen on broadcast TV, quite a few almost as graphic sex scenes.

   The setting, mostly in around the Oakland waterfront (but probably filmed in Canada) and the seedier sections of that particular town, is beautifully filmed, and the plot has enough twists and turns to keep everyone’s minds constantly in high gear.

   The largest downside is the level of the actors’ performances. I found them uneven, to say it mildly, from actor and actor, and even in the case of some of the players, from scene to scene. Some of the dialogue is awkward and clunky, though, and tough to bring off convincingly, so the actors don’t deserve all of the blame.

   Thandie Newton carries the show well, however. The character she plays is both tough and vulnerable, and she is placed in any number of situations in which she can show off how she tries to deal with them, and believe me, she gets into quite a few scrapes and narrow escapes. It would be a strenuous role for anyone, especially the vulnerability Newton’s character has to display, as mentioned above, and I think she nails it. I can’t imagine anyone else playing the part.

   The series deserved a second season, and it got one. It’s playing now but will end its run this week.

 Posted by at 3:26 am
Jul 282014

Astounding Science-Fiction 39-02When John W. Campbell became editor of Astounding Stories, he began working to create a science-fiction magazine for mature readers. Writers, both new and old, began to respond: Lester Del Rey with “The Faithful” and “Helen O’Loy;” Jack Williamson with “The Legion of Time;” and L. Ron Hubbard with “The Tramp.” Campbell himself joined in with “Who Goes There,” as did Clifford D. Simak, who had left science fiction, and new writers L. Sprague de Camp and Eric Frank Russell. Seasoned professionals such as Arthur J. Burks, Raymond Z. Gallun, and Manly Wade Wellman also joined in.

But Campbell had been merely tilling the soil in the first year of his editorship, preparing it for the blossoming of science fiction’s Golden Age in 1939. The stage was set when the February Astounding Science-Fiction featured the magazine’s first cover by Hubert Rogers. A free-lance illustrator long associated with Adventure, Rogers would paint nearly sixty covers for Campbell’s Astounding.

Astounding Science Fiction 39-07Although the outpouring of exceptional fiction continued in the early months of 1939, it is the July issue that is most often cited as the start of Astounding‘s golden age. Behind an effective cover by artist Graves Gladney, the reader would find the first prose fiction by A. E. van Vogt as well as Isaac Asimov’s first story for the magazine. August’s and September’s issues continued the trend with the first stories of Robert A. Heinlein and Theodore Sturgeon. October’s number began the serialization of E. E. Smith’s “Gray Lensman,” along with another tale by Heinlein.

Under the editorship of John W. Campbell, Street & Smith’s Astounding Science Fiction was the genre’s trend setter, introducing many of the field’s top authors and publishing some of its most memorable stories. On Friday, August 8th, beginning at 10:30 PM, please join 2013 Munsey Award winner, Professor Garyn G. Roberts, editor of The Prentice Hall Anthology of Science Fiction and Fantasy; Professor Tom Krabacher of California State University, Sacramento, a member of the Pulp Era Amateur Press Society who has written and lectured on the history of pulp magazines and has long owned a lengthy run of Astounding, back to the late thirties; and PulpFest organizer, movie and pulp historian, author, and the editor of Blood ‘n Thunder, Ed Hulse who will dissect Astounding’s 1939 issues and the blossoming of science fiction’s Golden AgeA slide show featuring the 1939 issues of Street & Smith’s Astounding Science Fiction will accompany the trio’s presentation.

Click on the illustrations to learn more about the images.

Jul 272014

Science Fiction League LogoOne of the most popular presentations at PulpFest 2013 was Chris Kalb’s discussion of hero pulp premiums. As reported by Sam Maronie, “Graphic designer Chris Kalb presented a dynamite presentation Saturday night on pulp premiums—those little geegaws that readers received for mailing away coupons and a dime to the pulp publishers.”

How did pulp magazine publishers keep readers coming back month after month? Of course the best way was to publish excellent stories. Regardless of genre, the leading pulps–Adventure, Astounding Stories, Black Mask, Blue Book, Dime Western, Doc Savage, G-8 and His Battle Aces, Love Story, The Shadow, The Spider, Sports Stories, Startling Stories, Weird Tales, Wings–attempted to do just that, issue after issue.

Another method that publishers employed to lure dimes on a regular basis from buyers with thin wallets was to create a club and offer premiums. For a few cents or by clipping coupons from a favorite pulp magazine, a devoted fan could become a member in good standing of the Doc Savage Club, one of the Friends of the Phantom, or Adventure magazine’s Camp-Fire Club. Also available were rings, pins, and items such as the Spider Pencil, a celluloid mechanical pencil with rubber eraser of The Spider seal, produced in very limited quantity during 1941-42.

Once again, Chris Kalb will take us back to a time when a few cents not only bought a pulp magazine filled with thrills, but also a Shadow board game or a Spider pennant. Please join him on Friday, August 8th, at 9 PM for a look at how pulps and the radio and movie presentations inspired by them were promoted. You’ll also learn which pulps hosted “The Trail’s End Club,” “The Hollow Tree Club,” or “The Globe Trotter’s Club” and all about the “Shadow Christmas” of 1940. And how about those beautiful promotional items that publishers sent to newsstands? Chris will cover these and more in part two of his presentation on pulp premiums and other collectibles.

To learn more about pulp premiums, please visit Pulpster editor Bill Lampkin’s The Pulp.Net website and do a search for “premiums.” Bill has photographs of rings, membership cards, pins, and other items on his highly informative website.

Science Fiction League Card

Click on the illustrations to learn more about the images.

Jul 272014

Derek Waterhouse (Michael Denison) learns from a friend (subsequently murdered) that his employer Lord Brasted (Hugh Williams) has been embezzling thousands of pounds intended for post-war relief efforts. He confronts Brasted who, while denying the allegation, offers his Secretary a ‘present’ of £10,000 pounds and employment abroad. Waterhouse refuses and Brasted, seeing Waterhouse has no proof, takes him to court in an attempt to discredit and ultimately destroy him. Brasted is urged on by his wife, Lady Brasted (Anne Crawford), who’s in fact a former lover of Waterhouse and who turns out to be something less than a lady.

The Blind Goddess though based on a play by Patrick Hastings manages to avoid obvious theatrical constructions - thanks to a script by Sydney and Muriel Box that while wordy is not talky; also to the dexterous direction by Harold French (The Hour of 13 (1952), The Paris Express (1952), Forbidden Cargo (1954)).

The little-known Brit-noir is rich with wonderful lead and supporting performances, among them those of Eric Portman as John Dearing KC who serves as Brasted’s attorney and Claire Bloom as Dearing’s daughter, Mary. Bloom is luminous in her first film role. Anne Crawford as the treacherous opportunist Lady Brasted is also a standout.

The full weight of this noir melodrama is felt particularly in the film’s tense courtroom scenes. However, not all is revealed there as evidence continues to be gathered and as momentum begins first to shift outside of court. The film’s narrative build-out is deft and disciplined and for that clearly owes something to the play. ‘The Blind Goddess’ is a splendid British film noir. At one time or other, it showed on BBC Channel Four but needs to find commercial re-issue on DVD to really get the attention it deserves.

Written by Gary Deane

The Man Who Knew Too Much (1934)

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Jul 272014
The Man Who Knew Too Much

Bob and Jill Lawrence are a British couple on vacation in Switzerland, with their daughter Betty, where the wife Jill is participating in a clay pigeon shooting contest. They befriend a foreigner, Louis Bernard, who is staying in their very hotel. One evening, as Jill is dancing, she witnesses the foreigner being killed. Before dying, he passes onto them some vital information to be delivered to the British consul. To ensure their silence, the assassins, led by a Mr Abbott , kidnap the Lawrences' daughter. Unable to seek help from the police, the couple return to England After following a series of leads, they discover that the group intends to assassinate the head of state of an unidentified European country during a concert at the Royal Albert Hall. The wife, Jill attends the concert and distracts the gunman with a scream.

Directed by
Alfred Hitchcock

Written by 
Charles Bennett and D. B. Wyndham-Lewis

Leslie Banks as Bob
Edna Best as Jill
Peter Lorre as Abbott
Frank Vosper as Ramon
Hugh Wakefield as Clive
Nova Pilbeam as Betty Lawrence
Pierre Fresnay as Louis
Cicely Oates as Nurse Agnes
B. A. Clarke Smith as Binstead
George Curzon as Gibson

 Posted by at 7:45 pm
Jul 272014

With the U.S. southern border so much in the news these days, Hard Case Crime’s reissue of Lawrence Block’s 1962 pulp novel Borderline would definitely seem to be riding the zeitgeist. Set in the early sixties, the book follows a quartet of aimless Americans as they cross the line ‘tween El Paso and Juarez, moving across the border for “excitement,” which they get in spades.

Click here to read the review


Jul 272014

Jessy Randall

Or some of them anyway.

WandorasmallIn 2009, a small press called Ghost Road published my young adult novel The Wandora Unit. I got paid a tiny, thrilling advance. The book sold a few copies and got reviewed in Bitch, and then Ghost Road quietly went out of business. In 2012 another small press wanted to reprint it, but then they went out of business, too.

Maybe that's okay. I made so many mistakes in that book. Just mistake after mistake after mistake. Here are a few:

  • The book doesn't really have a plot. It's about high school poetry nerds making a literary magazine. There's friendship and love, but nothing really happens.
  • I was way too attached to my interpretation of things that occurred in actual real life, as though readers would care one fig what song was playing at the dance or what color my boyfriend's hair was.
  • When I did occasionally try to pump up the story with bits of fiction, I did a bad job of it, contriving stupid conflicts and surprises.
  • I didn't read the manuscript aloud until after it was a full-fledged published novel. DUH. IDIOT.
  • By the time the book came out, fifteen years after I'd written it, my clever postmodern format with multiple-voiced fragments was nothing particularly new in YA fiction.

Things I did right:

  • I started the novel when I was a teenager, and wrote most of it before I was 24. So it's a pretty authentic young voice, not some kind of pretending-to-be-young thing with faked-up slang.
  • I included poems by fourteen different actual teenagers. Contacting them to get permission to use their work was probably my favorite part of the whole writing/editing/publishing experience.

Maybe now that I've admitted these mistakes publicly I'll be able to move the fuck on. But I doubt it. If I knew how to fix the book and make it a marketable YA novel, I probably would never have written it in the first place.


Cool–Lee Goldberg’s videos about his books

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Jul 272014

I've just posted a bunch of short (1-2 min) videos on YouTube about my books... and about writing crime novels. If you find any of the videos particularly entertaining or worthwhile, I hope you will spread the word. I appreciate it!

The Story Behind WATCH ME DIE

The Story Behind McGRAVE

The Story Behind FAST TRACK

Writing My First Book

My Living Outlines

My Writing Process

This is the Golden Age of Publishing