Tuesday, September 01, 2015

A wandering granddaughter job: My Bouchercon Hammett panel

Here's a post from December 2013 that is more relevant today than ever. I'll be discussing Dashiell Hammett with Julie M. Rivett and Richard Layman at Bouchercon 2015 in Raleigh, N.C., next month in a session called "Inside the Mind and Work of Dashiell Hammett."  The Bouchercon schedule calls it a special event, and I agree. Hammett was the best ever, and Julie and Rick know more about him than just about anyone else. See you there; the fun starts at 8:30 a.m., Saturday, Oct. 10.
Julie M. Rivett, co-editor of The Hunter and Other Stories, the new volume of previously uncollected and unpublished work by Dashiell Hammett, drove up from Orange County to chat with Detectives Beyond Borders about the book, Hammett, the movie interpretations of his work, his critical reception at home and abroad, and other subjects—including some of her favorites among current crime writers.

Rivett is not just a Hammett scholar and researcher, she's also the daughter of Hammett's daughter Jo (she met her grandfather once, when she was 3 years old) and, she says, "What I want to come from this is that people will read [Hammett's work] as literature. I want to make him a rounder character."  Your humble blogkeeper says the book, co-edited with the noted Hammett biographer and scholar Richard Layman, will do just that, especially in the form of "The Secret Emperor."

Rivett says the combination of her personal contacts and Layman's professional ones strengthens their partnership. (They also worked together on Return of the Thin Man, which brought together two previously unpublished stories about Nick  and Nora Charles.) And, asked about the portrayals of Hammett as a communist, a drunk, or a bad family man, Rivett rebuts some of the stories, concedes others, and says: "It's always a difficult thing for me when people co-opt my actual grandfather."

Her list of favorite contemporary crime writers includes Declan Hughes, Dennis Lehane, Michael Koryta, and George Pelecanos, and if I were a crime writer favored by a descendant and scholar of the greatest of all crime writers, my sinews would come unstrung and my tongue would cleave to the roof of my mouth for a few minutes before I was able to resume writing.

Coming soon: Rivett on Hammett's reception in France and Italy, and the possibility of more Hammett material to come.
Rivett and I met for tea and a wine chaser at the Musso & Frank Grill on Hollywood Boulevard, close to stars on the Walk of Fame that honor several figures prominently connected with Hammett's life, career, and interests. Mary Astor's, Myrna Loy's, and Fatty Arbuckle's stars are within a block and a half of the restaurant, and later I found Peter Lorre's and also the one that honors some guy named Bogart. Lorre and Sydney Greenstreet were perfect for their roles in John Huston's celebrated film version of The Maltese Falcon, Rivett said, and Bogart, she added, while not physically perfect for the role, did marvelous things with the character.

© Peter Rozovsky 2013

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Monday, August 31, 2015

My Bouchecon 2015 panels

The Bouchercon 2015 schedule is up, and I'll be moderating a couple of good panels, including one special event.  On Thursday, October 8 (Thursday, 8 October, for our English friends) I'll moderate "Beyond Hammett, Chandler, Spillane, and Macdonald," in which authors, editors, and other experts in present-day crime fiction talk about their favorite lesser-known, less-remembered crime writers of the past.

This year's lineup includes Sarah Weinman on Elisabeth Sanxay Holding, Kevin Burton Smith on Norbert Davis, Jordan Foster on Ted Lewis, and, Mark Coggins on Paul Cain in a late-breaking addition, Laura Lippman, who will discuss that mysterious writer TBA.

On Saturday, October 10, at 8:30 a.m., I'll discuss the greatest crime writer ever with two of the people who know his work and life best. The discussion is called "Inside the Mind and Work of Dashiell Hammett," and the two insiders are Julie M. Rivett, Hammett's editor and granddaughter; and Richard Layman, Hammett's biographer and perhaps the leading name in Hammett scholarship.  This is an especially good time to talk about Hammett, what with Nathan Ward's new book and this past spring's donation of two major collections of Hammett's papers to the University of South Carolina. Layman donated one of the collections, Hammett's family the other, so this panel will be the center of the Hammett universe, and I hope you'll all attend.

Bouchercon 2015. The time: Oct. 8-11, 2015. The place: Raleigh, North Carolina. See you there.

© Peter Rozovsky 2015

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Sunday, August 30, 2015

Noir at the Bar in pictures: Jen Conley's big night

Last night was a big night for Jen Conley. She hosted an excellent Noir at the Bar; she read a story of her own that involved porn, a stripper, and a liquor-store hold-up; and she announced her engagement.  I know plenty of people who have done each of these things, but none except Jen who have done them all the same night.  Congratulations and thanks, Jen Conley.

I read a story of my own that was well-received in a rowdy, good-natured manner, but I have no pictures to prove it. I do have these, though, all photos by your humble blogkeeper:
Scott Adlerberg

I don't know his name, but he did
yeoman-like double duty as bartender
and waiter.

Suzanne Solomon
Jeff Markowitz
Jen Conley (Have I mentioned
her yet?)
Ed Aymar
Chuck Regan, who read a mind-exploding
science-fiction/fantasy story and designed
the poster you see at the top of this post.

I wish this guy were a trucker in his day
 job so I could give him the nickname
"Semi." He is Angel Colón.
© Peter Rozovsky 2015

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Saturday, August 29, 2015

A Facebook post to make me blush

It's from Jen Conley, and it's about the Noir at the Bar she'll host Saturday evening:
"Finally, the one and only Peter Rozovsky! The guy who invented Noir at the Bar! He'll be reading tomorrow night at Tumulty's."
I like to drop in on Noirs at the Bar around North America from time to time, like a derelict father checking in on the children he should have done a better job raising. But this event somewhere in the swamps of Jersey is different: I'll be reading.

Immediately above is the poster Chuck Regan designed for the event, and it's a stunner. So if you're anywhere in the Northeast Corridor, come on in to Tumulty's Pub, conveniently situated and amusingly named in New Brunswick, New Jersey.

© Peter Rozovsky 2015

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Thursday, August 27, 2015

How Hammett became Hammett and what happened when he did: A brief description

Nathan Ward's new book The Lost Detective: Becoming Dashiell Hammett proposes that Hammett's experience as a detective for the Pinkerton Agency was a formative influence on his writing.

Ward is not the first Hammett scholar/researcher to make the connection; Richard Layman titled his 1981 Hammett biography Shadow Man. Ward, too, notes Hammett's writing about being a good shadow man — that is, being good at tailing someone without himself being detected.  One key, Hammett wrote, is to note the quarry's physical attitude. The way a person moves or wears clothes can be vastly more important in identifying one's quarry than can his or her face.

Fresh off reading Ward's book, I picked up The Maltese Falcon again, to find Hammett turning his detective's eye on Sam Spade.:
"The steep rounded slope of his shoulders made his body seem almost conical—no broader than it was thick—and kept his freshly pressed grey coat from fitting very well."
You'd know that man if you saw him again* and, having shown than he can do it, Hammett puts description to brilliant thematic use right from the start. But that's a subject for a future post.
* Hammett's Spade is blond and "quite six feet tall." He looks, that is, about as far from Humphrey Bogart as it is possible for a human being to look.
 © Peter Rozovsky 2015

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Tuesday, August 25, 2015

I Got Carter: What movie adaptations can and cannot do

OK, so Get Carter was too good to read slowly; I finished it in one evening, and that spurred one more observation about books and movies, namely the rather obvious one that the page is a better place for getting inside a character's head than is the screen.

Mike Hodges, who directed the celebrated 1971 movie adaptation of Get Carter, explains in a foreword to the new Syndicate Books edition some of the changes he made from Ted Lewis' novel. (The book was published originally as Jack's Return Home, should you find an old copy.)  Hodges explained that he wanted to include locations in the north of England that had opened his eyes to poverty and social inequality during his naval service. He also wanted a more visually interesting location for a key confrontation in the novel.

Not from Get Carter, the book
or the movie. This is one of
my own.
But he does not explain his most obvious and, arguably, most sensible choice: not to attempt a straightforward transcription of Carter's thoughts, mostly about the brother whose death he has come to avenge and that make up a large part of the novel. The movie gives us less than the book does about the dead Frank Carter, less of Jack's mix of fondness and embarrassment about his brother, almost none of the latter. That makes the movie feel less personal than the book. This is no argument for book over movie or vice versa. In this case, both are excellent. It's just a recognition that each form can do some things better than the other can.

Now it's your turn. What do books do better than movies? Movies better than books? (Read Detective Beyond Borders posts on Why books are better than television.)

© Peter Rozovsky 2014

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Saturday, August 22, 2015

A book (about Hammett) and a picture (by me)

Discussion to come about The Lost Detective, Nathan Ward's fascinating new book about how a tubercular ex-detective with an eighth-grade education made himself into the greatest crime writer who has ever lived. In the meantime, here's a recent example of work by a copy editor with an education of uncertain utility who has made himself possible the greatest photographer on his block.

© Peter Rozovsky 2015

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Friday, August 21, 2015

A bit about the best hard-boiled writer named Cain

Two crime novels I’m reading now have nothing in common except startlingly good prose style. Paul Cain’s Fast One, the only novel by that most elusive of the great Black Mask authors, is a textbook for today’s neo-noir and neo-hard-boiled authors and movie makers. It has all the pace, all the wit, and, though there is lots of shooting, none of the hyperviolence and over-the-top jokiness that sometimes mar the newer efforts.

Possibly most astonishing for a novel published in 1932 is that it is not at all dated. There are no “dames” here, and none of the archaic diction that mars the work of other writers from the same period, such as Raoul Whitfield or even some early Hammett. If only the mysterious Cain had written more, he would be mentioned right up there with Chandler and Hammett, and the Chandler-Hammett debate might be over which was the second-best of the group. As this brief discussion reveals, Cain is also an ancestor of the tradition by which hardboiled writers seek to buttress their tough-guy credentials with extravagantly glamorous hard-edged work histories.

The other style king is Australia's Peter Temple, about whom readers of this blog will have read much. Dead Point, third of Temple’s novels about lawyer/cabinetmaker/horse-racing expert Jack Irish, contains more of the gorgeous prose that Temple readers know well. Here’s the novel’s opening:

“On a grey, whipped Wednesday in early winter, men in long coats came out and shot Renoir where he stood, noble, unbalanced, a foreleg hanging. In the terminating jolt of the bolt, many dreams died.”
That’s gorgeous, I’d say, the kind of stuff that may make you want to stop just so you can savor the prose. And that leads to today’s tough question for readers: Who are your favorite crime-fiction prose stylists? Whose sheer skill with words takes your breath away? And is this necessarily a good thing?

© Peter Rozovsky 2007 

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Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Elisabeth Sanxay Holding fits an exciting pattern

Elisabeth Sanxay Holding's story "The Stranger in the Car" is  the second reminder I've received in recent months that domestic in crime fiction need not mean cozy.  The first came when I read Dolores Hitchens and Charlotte Armstrong for a panel I moderated at Bouchercon 2015 on lesser-known writers of the pulp and paperback eras.

As part of that panel, I asked the estimable Sarah Weinman to what extent domestic subjects in mid-20th-century American crime writing were the property of female authors, and to what extent Armstrong, Hitchens, and other women drew from the same currents in American life that, say, Raymond Chandler did. (His novel The Big Sleep emphasized the Sternwood family as a locus for drama more than did the celebrated Hawks/Bogart/Vickers/Bacall movie version.)

"Bit of both," Weinman replied, and as nearly as I can tell, she's right. "The Stranger in the Car" is terrific, atmospheric mystery, and the only twists are of the narrative kind. A prosperous businessman is the story's narrator, his wife and daughter figure prominently, and the story includes a fine example of hard-boiled wit. Said prosperous businessman is being driven to silent madness by the family music teacher's piano playing, and then she finally stops:
"'Very nice,' Charleroy said. `Very--' He sought for a word. `Very soothing.' he said.

tried to be nice!' said Miss Ewing. `It wanted to soothe you, Mr. Charleroy.' 
'`Ha!' he said, with a benevolent laugh."
 (Click on Holding's name at the beginning of this post to see why criminalelement.com called her the Godmother of Noir.)

© Peter Rozovsky 2015

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Sunday, August 16, 2015

Enough about climate change; what about language change?

Here's a post from last year that has it roots in crime and explains why "language changes" is no reason to use "partner" as a verb, "transparency" to mean "openness," or "they" as a singular. 
  Monday's post contained the following, from Eric Partridge's Origins: A Short Etymological Dictionary of Modern English:
 "1. Crime, adopted from OF-F, derives from L crimen, *that which serves to sift (hence, to decide), decision, esp a legal one, hence an accusation, finally the object of the accusation—the misdeed itself, the crime ... "
The next day a sentence came to my attention in which a buyer "could not ... pay the ... price tag" for an item, emphasis mine.

Now, reporters love to write price tag for price, presumably because they think it gives their writing colloquial zing. The affectation is superfluous, except in such constructions as this:
"Juventus slap £53m price tag on Man United, City, Chelsea and Arsenal target Paul Pogba."
There, slap works with price tag to create a vivid image. The examples I generally remove from the stories, though, are on the order of:
"Finally, there's a paragraph that amounts to an explanation of just what makes for a $24 hamburger, the price tag for Harvey's product."
in which tag is unnecessary, but easily removed with damage neither to the sentence's rhythm or sense nor to the writer's pride. But "pay the price tag" suggests a shift, in which the writer imagines tag, rather than price, as the object of pay.

"Pay the price tag" is painful to me, but then, the writer in question may have seen few price tags in her life and, with the spread of online shopping, will likely see even fewer in the future. It is not out of the question that in five, 50, or 100 years, the tag in price tag will lose any relevance to what people see every day. But that does not mean the word will disappear. It could ease into a new function, the way crime acquired its current meaning. In five, 50, or 100 years, literate speakers and readers, if any of the latter remain, may speak without embarrassment of "paying the price tag" or even "paying the tag." But not as long as I have any say in the matter.
I thought of titling this post "The hell with climate change," which might be an example of change something like what I discuss here, in which one word replaces another as speakers and writers lose contact with an expression's original meaning. "To hell with ... " makes much more sense, doesn't it? But how many people would write it that way?

© Peter Rozovsky 2014

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Saturday, August 15, 2015

If anyone complains, you can tell them I said so

Literacy may slow the process of [language] change, as people then gain vocabulary partly from accumulated literature."
Jean Manco, The Peopling of Europe from the First Venturers to the Vikings
If language is changing faster than ever because of the Internet, that could mean that ...

© Peter Rozovsky 2015

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Monday, August 10, 2015

A story of memory loss, alienation, and urban squalor ...

. . . It's Shaun the Sheep! The new feature from Aardman Animations, creators of Wallace and Gromit and Creature Comforts, is also funny, intelligent, and heart-warming, and its soundtrack is good music. All that helps explain why the movie probably won't may not make a lot of money in the United States.

American audiences like cynical, condescending, manipulative, bland, relentlessly age-appropriate fare for their "children's" movies and television, soundtracked with crappy upbeat pop music, or so moviemakers and marketers seem to think. Animation suffers by being lumped in with all that.

The coming attractions before Sean the Sheep at my "local" theater included a prequel to Peter Pan called, if you can believe it, Pan; an Alvin and the Chipmunks movie; a dopey-looking animated feature about a polar bear (because, you know, Arctic and Antarctic setting are hot); and something with Will Ferrell in it. And that is what the movie industry thinks will appeal to people who also like Aardman's intelligent and entertaining productions. Has the industry's brains been so rotted by the Disney Channel and Saturday morning cartoons that it thinks animation is for kids?

Back to Shaun the Sheep. The story includes everything I mentioned in this post's title, and the movie's one crappy upbeat pop song is put to clever narrative use twice, once in a barbershop-quartet version much superior to the original. Oh, and did I mention that Shaun the Sheep is, like M. Hulot's Holiday, wordless, though by no means silent, and that its one fart joke is pretty clever? 

© Peter Rozovsky 2015

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Saturday, August 08, 2015

The Fade-Out, The Romance of the Three Kingdoms, and DBB meets Repairman Jack

1) The Fade-Out, Act One, by Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips. Terrific, atmospheric, shadow-drenched art, and a story that's noir at its helpless, claustrophobic, desperate, Goodis-like best. Like Scalped, its only rival as the best noir comic I've read. The Fade-Out is peppered with tributes to the genre its creators love so well. A movie-studio mogul has the same last name as The Maltese Falcon's Floyd Thursby, and if The Fade-Out's perky, bespectacled studio publicity girl, Dottie Quinn, is not a tribute to Dorothy Malone's bookstore owner in The Big Sleep, I deserve to spend the rest of my life scraping black paint off bogus falcons.

2) The Romance of the Three Kingdoms, attributed to Luo Guanzhong. This massive Chinese classic is both a swashbuckling adventure story and a handy introduction to the tumultuous Three Kingdoms period in Chinese history that attended the decline of the Han dynasty (Think of it as Western Europe from the break-up of the Roman Empire to the emergence of national states.)  It's also a fascinating lesson in the mercurial nature of political alliances, and thus it may make one contemplate the messy nature of state-formation. No wonder it has been a classic for 500 years or more.

F. Paul Wilson
3) Quick Fixes: Tales of Repairman Jack, by F. Paul Wilson. This collection of short stories is my first experience with Wilson's urban fixer Repairman Jack.  Wilson's introduction goes out of its way to say Jack "is not a vigilante, not a do-gooder. He's not out to right wrongs. Nor is he out to change the world or fight crime."  So what is a reader to think when, within the first two stories, Jack defends a small businessman against a manipulative drug dealer, beats the crap out of a gangster, and returns a woman's engagement ring that a thug had taken from her? ("She clutched the tiny ring against her with both hands and began to cry.")

Jack is, in those stories at least, manifestly everything that Wilson insists he is not, except that he takes payment for his work.  If Batman is like a gentleman athlete from the amateur-era Olympics, Repairman Jack is a modern-day, professional Olympian. But his goals are exactly the same as Batman's. (His methods can be harsher, reminiscent of Andrew Vachss' Burke. And Vachss, in fact, has said nice things about Repairman Jack.)

4) Oh, and before I forget, Dietrich Kalteis' Off the Cuff blog is back with a discussion among three authors talking about how they deal with rejection. He illustrates this discussion with one of my nourish shots (above/left). I have no idea if the unknown cyclist was an author whose manuscript had just been rejected.

© Peter Rozovsky 2015

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Friday, August 07, 2015

Three photos that I shot this week

© Peter Rozovsky 2015


Tuesday, August 04, 2015

Douglas Sanderson: World's toughest sort-of Canadian

Douglas Sanderson is said to have been inspired by Mickey Spillane, but his 1959 novel Cry Wolfram reminds me more of Peter Rabe or Patricia Highsmith.

Like Rabe's The Box and Highsmith's The Tremor of Forgery, Cry Wolfram is a story of foreigners at loose ends in a warm country just as likely to bite them in the ass as it is to give them a suntan. (In this case the foreigners are in Spain chasing down a lucrative concession to mine wolfram — also known as tungsten — hence the book’s delicious pun of a title.)

Like Highsmith and Rabe, Sanderson offers a convincing portrait of a setting outside his own country. Scenes of bull-fighting, religious festivals, and the eerie calm of a small town at night, and of how the latter can scare the bejeebers out of a visitor, are beautifully rendered. While these scenes may not want to make you visit Sanderson's Spain, they will surely give you a vivid picture of what to expect if you do

Cry Wolfram also reminds me a bit of Charles Williams. Like Williams and Rabe at their best, Sanderson could write gracefully and artfully enough to satisfy the demands of a “literary” novel without, however, sacrificing suspense and tough-guy credibility. (Highsmith, of course, was so good as not to need mentioning in this respect.) In only one paragraph — one sentence, really — does Cry Wolfram come even close to literary preciousness. Disregard those eight words, if you like, and enjoy the rest of the book.

(Sanderson came by his knowledge of Spain honestly. Born in England, he moved to Montreal as a young man, then hit the road, settling eventually in Spain, where he married and had a son, according to the good folks at Stark House Press, who publish Cry Wolfram in a twofer edition with Sanderson’s Night of the Horns.)

© Peter Rozovsky 2015

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Sunday, August 02, 2015

What's your favorite weasel word, Part II (The Rowdy Roddy Piper memorial edition)

It seems to me that the infiltration of the word team into American writing and speech beyond sports coincides at least roughly with the cult of the CEO, the decline of labor unions, and the slippage in the relative position of the middle class.

Team may not be quite as transparently evil as narrative, partner as a verb, going forward, and, er, transparency, but think of it: If you're part of a team, you're expected to sacrifice your own interests for the greater good, and if your own interests are, say, salary, a pension, and benefits, and the greater good is that of the company and its executives, well, then, no wonder companies want teams rather than work groups. Why, it's a win-win!

That's why I perked up when I heard team in John Carpenter's 1988 horror/science fiction/comedy They Live. I don't remember who said, but it was probably one of the human sellouts trying to convince good guys "John Nada" (played by the late Rowdy Roddy Piper) and Frank to give up the fight and join the aliens.

And so, in the interest of transparency, I'll bring back an old Detectives Beyond Borders post and ask you to partner with me and answer this question: What's your favorite weasel word?

© Peter Rozovsky 2015

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Thursday, July 30, 2015

Betcha didn't know ... The real Rashōmon Effect

"Movies are the new opiate of the people. They’ll believe anything we can get on the screen.”
— James Ellroy, The Big Nowhere
As is often the case when I want to read something but I don't know what, when I'm itchy and anxious and grabbing books off the TBR pile, then flinging them aside, I have turned to Ryūnosuke Akutagawa's short stories. You might call Akutagawa my ideal discomfort reading.

You may not have read Akutagawa, but you have likely seen a movie that takes its title, but not its plot, from one of his stories: "Rashōmon." Another thing that Rashōmon, the movie, does not take from "Rashōmon," the story, is "the Rashōmon effect," the phenomenon of different witnesses' offering mutually contradictory versions of the truth. That, and the multiple-witness murder-rape plot, come instead from another Akutagawa story, "In a Bamboo Grove." (The only element of  "Rashōmon" that Akira Kurosawa appropriated for Rashōmon appears to be the picturesque setting of the decrepit Rashōmon, or "Rashō Gate.")

In Kurosawa's movie, the gate is merely the setting where the characters offer their testimony about a rape and killing. Akutagawa's story, on the other hand, makes of the gate a dumping ground for dead bodies, where an unemployed servant on the verge of becoming a thief encounters an ancient scavenger, and each offers justification of his or her ghastly acts.  If not itself a noir story, it's at least a wry commentary and questioning of the nature and roots of criminal behavior, and it appeared a decade and a half before the Flitcraft Parable in The Maltese Falcon. As such, it ought to interest any reader of noir and hard-boiled crime writing.

As for that stuff about contradictory versions of the truth, it should really be called "The Bamboo Grove Effect," but I won't hold my breath.

© Peter Rozovsky 2015

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Tuesday, July 28, 2015

I, the Narrator, by Mike Dennis

  Mike Dennis (Photo
by Peter Rozovsky)
Mike Dennis (right) is a Key West-based crime writer and a musician. He also combines sound and words in his latest professional incarnation. Here's Mike's pulse-pounding story of how he became an audio-book narrator and landed the gig reading and producing the new version of Mickey Spillane's I, the Jury, published by Simon & Schuster Audio.
First and foremost, I want to convey my deep appreciation to Peter Rozovsky for giving me the opportunity to appear on DBB. He has a lot of followers, and I'm very grateful for the chance to tell my little story on his great site.

And what a story it was! Well, for me, anyway. Since my latest reinvention of myself (and there have been many over the long years) as an audiobook narrator, I was hot to move up the ladder. Of course, I didn't kid myself. I knew I had to have a worthy product, skillful storytelling, quality sound production, and knowledge of my own strengths and weaknesses as a narrator if I was to achieve any success at all. The first thing I learned was the learning curve is steep.

So after a couple of years, I get a handle on sound crafting, and I hone my natural ability to tell a story. Then one day in the summer of 2014, I was trolling Amazon and came across Mickey Spillane's I, The Jury. The cover was typical Spillane: a gorgeous doll coming out of her clothes while a guy holds a gun on her. Then whoa! I noticed there was no audiobook attached to it.

Positive I had made a mistake, I looked again. No audiobook. I went to Audible.com and typed in the title. No results. There was an audiocassette on Amazon dating back to the Paleolithic Era for sale by a third-party vendor, but no modern downloadable audio version. Could this be true? I, The Freaking Jury, the first Mike Hammer novel and the biggest selling book of Spillane's entire career, does not appear in audiobook form?

Well, it was true, all right. I looked up the other Hammer books. Nearly all of them were available as audiobooks, and those were all narrated by Stacy Keach, who played Mike Hammer on TV for years. I mean, the guy is Mike Hammer!

I set out to become the narrator for this novel. First, I had to find out who held the audio rights. I wrote to my friend Max Allan Collins, novelist and Spillane collaborator, and he essentially told me to forget it. Simon & Schuster had the audio rights to all the Hammer novels, he said, and they had released them with Stacy Keach's powerful voice driving them. He said it would probably be just a matter of time before they got around to I, The Jury.

OK, not good news. But I kept after it, anyway. Fruitless efforts at contacting Simon & Schuster yielded nothing. After a lot of digging into the bowels of their website, however, I turned up the name of the head of their audiobook division. I called S&S, asked for him, and to my surprise, I had him on the line.

Once I collected myself, I explained who I was: an audiobook narrator/producer operating out of my home studio in Key West, and I wanted the chance to narrate and produce I, The Jury.

Now, this is the point where a guy like him would tell a guy like me, "We don't work with home studio narrators," or "We use movie stars to narrate our audiobooks," or "Buzz off, kid." And you know, you couldn't blame him if he did. Not even I could blame him. But instead, he said, "Do you deliver a finished product?"

Knowing that I had now arrived at my date with destiny, I said "Yes. But how about if I send you a brief recorded excerpt of I, The Jury? That way you can not only get an idea of how I would approach the material, but also of my sound quality." He paused for what felt like forever, then said, "OK." And he gave me his e-mail address.

I carefully prepared a recorded piece from the novel and sent it off to him. Frankly, though, I was sure that the minute he hung up the phone, he was shouting into his intercom, "Get me Stacy Keach!"

A couple of months went by. I was certain the game was over. But one day I opened my e-mail to find a response. He had sent my sample to the head of their production department for her opinion. My God, I still had a shot!

Two more months go by (they sure move slowly up there in New York), and one day I get an e-mail from the head of S&S audio production. She liked my sample, but she asked if I wouldn't mind submitting a finished version of the entire first chapter, so they could get a better idea of my sound and my consistency, as well as how I would handle more dialogue. I really couldn't believe it!
Of course, I did the first chapter, laboring over it lovingly and with great precision. Another month later, she writes back and offered me the job. We agreed on the terms and I narrated and produced the audiobook. It'll be released in unabridged form Wednesday, July 28. And you know, I still can't believe I'm actually the voice of Mike Hammer.

Mike Dennis' narration of I, The Jury, from Simon & Schuster Audio, is available on Amazon. http://tinyurl.com/p6et4qp

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Sunday, July 26, 2015

Don Winslow's Savages: James Ellroy meets Woody Allen on dope

Don Winslow's 2010 novel Savages reads as if James Ellroy and Woody Allen were one person, and that person took careful notes while hanging around with people who did lots of drugs.

(Woody Allen, you ask? A bit of description on Page 30 could,  but for one word, have come straight from Allen's early comic crime parodies:
"John Sr. was a founding member of the Association, the legendary group of Laguna beach boys who made millions of dollars smuggling marijuana before they fucked up and went to prison.")
The social observation  in Savages is unbeatable, the characters managing at the same time to represent social types and to seem full-blooded, three-dimensional, and sympathetic, even the worst of them.

The satire of ruthless young entrepreneurs and their trickle-down moralizing is priceless ("Money isn't enough [says a multi-multi-multi-millionaire young drug dealer who spends his spare time working on Third World development projects], you have to commit your heart, soul, and body.")

My only gripe with Savages so far, other than that it ruined a trip I planned to New York today because I stayed up till 5:45 a.m. reading the damned thing, is that once that main conflicts have been set up and Winslow has to resolve them, the plot elements begin to fall into place just a bit too mechanically.  Now, let's go finish the novel and see if I can prove myself wrong.

© Peter Rozovsky 2015


Thursday, July 23, 2015

Dashiell Hammett, father of the wisecrack, plus questions for readers

Dashiell (accent on the second syllable)  Hammett was not the first to introduce humor; Edgar Allan Poe had already done that by 1844, in "The Purloined Letter." (First publication in December of that year, right here in Philadelphia.)

But Hammett may have been the first to incorporate wisecracks, and he was almost certainly the best.

The scene in "The Girl with the Silver Eyes" in which the  Continental Op tries to pry information about the vanished Jeanne Delano from her would-be lover Burke Pangburn ought to be read in its entirety, but this excerpt gives something of the flavor:
"`What color hair?' 
"`Brownso dark that it's almost blackand it's soft and thick and 
"`Yes, yes. Long or bobbed?'
"`Long and thick and'
"`What color eyes?'
"`You've seen shadows on polished silver when' 
"`I wrote down gray eyes ... '"
Hammett's wisecracks are entertaining for their own sake, wittier than most, and, unlike most wisecracks by the generations of hard-boiled writers who have followed, they are always thematically apt. They advance the story; they never seen designed to attract attention for their own sake. Hammett did it first, and Hammett did it best.

And now, readers, who are your favorite wisecracking hard-boiled writers? Why? What do wisecracks contribute to a story? What makes for a good wisecrack in the context of a story, as opposed to a mere funny line?

© Peter Rozovsky 2015

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Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Dashiell Hammett, copy editor's friend

Dashiell Hammett is better known these days for his novels and the movies made from them than he is for his short stories. But he had established himself as one of the great crime writers ever at least six years before his first two novels appeared. While I delve once again into the Library of America's volume of Hammett's Crime Stories and Other Writings, here's an old post about just one more reason to admire Hammett.

In recent posts, I've taken one book to task for misusing a word, another for its surfeit  of dialogue tags, and a third for using a word not coined until the 1960s though its story takes place in 1953.

More recently, I picked up a book that uses a word in a sense it did not acquire until years after the date when the book is set, and last night, a misused homophone/heterograph  momentarily marred my enjoyment of one of the most moving, exciting crime novels I have read in years.

Since you're likelier to hear tales of ludicrous copy editing changes than thanks for errors caught before publication, we proofreaders and copy editors must blow our own horns or rely on critics to say what we would say if we thought anyone would listen.

Discovering the Maltese Falcon and Sam Spade, another invaluable book about Dashiell Hammett from the good folks at Vince Emery Productions, offers some delightful examples from Hammett's days as a mystery-fiction reviewer for the Saturday Review of Literature and the New York Evening Post.

Here's Hammett on The Benson Murder Case by S.S. Van Dine:
"This Philo Vance is in the Sherlock Holmes tradition and his conversational manner is that of a high-school girl who has been studying the foreign words and phrases in the back of her dictionary. He is a bore when he discusses art and philosophy, but when he switches to criminal psychology he is delightful. There is a theory that any one who talks enough on any subject must, if only by chance, finally say something not altogether incorrect. Vance disproves this theory: he managed always, and usually ridiculously, to be wrong."
Can you imagine caring enough about what you read that you would write something like that?

Here's Hammett on Sydney Horler's 1926 novel False-Face. Besides lampooning Horler's ludicrous plot and his contempt for seemingly every nationality but his own, he makes fun of Horler's sloppy sentences:
"Scotland Yard promises to `safeguard the safety' (page 29, if you think I spoof) of an American inventive genius who has business with the British government."
Now, what is a reader to do, especially if that reader happens to be a copy editor in his professional life and, moreover, a copy editor who has heard authors complain that publishers expect authors to pay for editing that publishers would have paid for twenty years ago? Shrug off mistakes with the bland acceptance that nothing is perfect? Bang one's head against the wall and shout that the world is going to hell?

I don't know the proper course, but I sure wish reviewers and critics would follow Hammett and highlight defects in the form as well as the substance of books they write about, because there really is no difference between form and substance when it comes to writing.

© Peter Rozovsky 2011

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Saturday, July 18, 2015

Early Ellroy, politics, and perspective

I've been reading James Ellroy's earlier work, first The Big Nowhere (1988), second novel in the L.A. Quartet; and now Because the Night (1984), second of Ellroy's three Lloyd Hopkins novels, and Clandestine, a standalone novel from 1982. Here are some highlights, first from Clandestine:
"She was starting to like me, so I couldn’t bring myself to tell her she was nuts."
"I laid on the more gentle, picaresque side of police work: the friendly drunks, the colorful jazz musicians in their zoot suits, the lost puppies Wacky and I repatriated to their youthful owners. I didn’t tell her about the rape-o’s, the abused kids, the stiffs at accident scenes or the felony suspects who got worked over regularly in the back rooms at Wilshire Station. She didn’t need to hear it. Idealists like Sarah, despite their naiveté, thought that the world was basically a shit place. I needed to temper her sense of reality with some of the joy and mystery. There was no way she could accept that the darkness was part of the joy. I had to do my tempering Hollywood-style."
Hindsight is perfect, of course, but it's easy to see in that first the line a microcosm of Ellroy's transition from something like conventional hard-boiled to the harsher and weirder stuff that he would write later. That "nuts" hits pretty hard.

For that matter, the second selection is, in retrospect, transitional, too.  The passage reads as if its narrator, a young cop, is just talking about the sort of violence and corruption into which later Ellroy protagonists would plunge headfirst and wholeheartedly.

Meanwhile, over at The Big Nowhere, the following suggests that for all Ellroy's gleeful proclamation that he is the White Knight of the Far Right, his books set in the 1950s poke far more serious fun at anti-Communist witch-hunt madness than it does at fellow travelers:
"A flick of the overhead light; the living room jarring white— walls, tables, cartons, shelves and odd mounds of paper— Loew and company’s once-in-a-lifetime shot at the political moon. Graphs and charts and thousands of pages of coerced testimony. Boxes of photographs with linked faces to prove treason. A big fuckload of lies glued together to prove a single theory that was easy to believe because believing was easier than wading through the glut of horseshit to say, `Wrong.'”
Not that he loved those fellow travelers:
"Hollywood writers and actors and hangers-on spouting cheap trauma, Pinko platitudes and guilt over raking in big money during the Depression, then penancing the bucks out to spurious leftist causes. People led to Lesnick’s couch by their promiscuity and dipshit politics.




© Peter Rozovsky 2015


Tuesday, July 14, 2015

"Ellroy’s a dipshit"

I'm not always a fan of self-reference in crime writing, but I found this bit hard to resist. It's from James Ellroy's Shakedown: Freddie Otash Confesses:
"They want to prime my prose and mold my moral vision. They’ve put me in telepathic touch with an earthling writer named James Ellroy.

"Ellroy’s a dipshit. I knew him in my waning months alive. I’ve been granted
tell-all telepathy. I will know that cocksucker cold." 
The real-life Otash was a police officer, private eye, and affiliate of the Hollywood scandal sheet Confidential, and Ellroy used him as a character in several of his novels. This novella-length book is useful and even illuminating as a companion to Ellroy's novels, with their conflicted cops and low-down losers:
"A fragmenting frustration set in. I had the dirt. It would take an armada of shakedown shills and photo fiends to deploy it. I racked my brain. I knocked my noggin against the bruising brick wall of unknowing. Extortion as existential dilemma. A confounding conundrum worthy of those French philosopher cats. 

"My cop life could not compete with the lush life. I was a double agent akin to that Commie cad Alger Hiss."
or how about this, which bespeaks an empathy readers may not associate with Ellroy:
"I scanned for boosters and looked down at legions of the lost.

"Their pathos pounded me. Bit actors buying stale bread and Tokay. Six-foot-two drag queens shopping for extra-long nylons. Cough-syrup hopheads reading labels for the codeine content. Teenage boys sneaking girlie mags to the can to jerk off. I watched, I peeped, I lost myself in the losers."
Or this:
"Confidential presaged the infantile Internet. Our gobs of gossip were repugnantly real. Today’s blowhard bloggers and their tattle texts? Pussyfooting punks all. We stung the studios and popped the politicians. We voyeur-vamped America and got her hooked on the devilish dish. We created today’s tell-all media culture."
© Peter Rozovsky 2015
 Read about Fred Otash and other interesting subjects in Ellroy's 2010 discussion with that other challenging and immensely entertaining novelist David Peace.

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Sunday, July 12, 2015

The Executioner pursues me across California, finds me in Philadelphia

Selfie at California Citrus State Historic Park,
Riverside. All photos by Peter Rozovsky, your
not so humble blog keeper.
Don Pendleton's first Executioner novel, War Against the Mafia, turned up free as an e-book earlier this week.  In honor of the discovery, here's a post from my trip last year to that mecca of action-adventure stories, Southern California, where I could not, however, find a copy of War Against the Mafia. Early chapters suggest that the book might make interesting collateral reading to Richard Stark's The Hunter and The Outfit.
Not much to note from yesterday's crime reading, except that Don Pendleton's second Executioner novel, Death Squad, takes its hero and his cast of associates on a path through Southern California nearly identical to that I have followed in recent days. Yesterday that took them to the citrus groves around Riverside, where I had just spent the day, and let me tell you: Having one's steps dogged by Mack Bolan and his gang of Mob-hating, authority-snubbing, police-respecting gang of expert killers gives a jasper a screwy feeling.

Mission Inn Riverside
Yesterday's book yield, from the Downtowne Bookstore in Riverside: a collection  of secret wartime cables between Dwight Eisenhower and George C. Marshall.

© Peter Rozovsky 2014

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Wednesday, July 08, 2015

Why Frank Kane is better than Stieg Larsson

Frank Kane's 1955 novel Liz, newly rereleased by Stark House Press, is about a sexy, smart woman who kicks ass, takes revenge on sexual sadists, and has great breasts. Stieg Larsson's The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo and its follow-ups are about a sexy, smart woman who kicks ass, takes revenge on sexual sadists, and acquires great breasts through surgery.

What are the differences between Kane's Liz Allen and Larsson's Lisbeth Salander, besides two syllables, three novels*, and 2,260 pages?  Liz does not pretend to be about big issues; at least one of Larsson's novels, on the other hand, feels compelled to include alarming statistics about violence against women as chapter epigraphs.  Why Larsson or his publishers chose to do this other than as a flagrant bid to have the book regarded as a thinking person's thriller, I don't know, but the following excerpt, typical of one strand of Larsson criticism, makes the point well:
Larsson's detractors, that is, accuse him of wanting to have it both ways: to condemn violence against women while using that same violence to attract readers. Kane makes no such pretense; I suspect that sort of pandering was left to higher-brow authors in 1955.

Speaking of having it both ways, Salander is bisexual, which I think readers are meant to take as a sign that she is a complex, modern character, though the real reason may lie elsewhere. The discussion to which I link above notes the apparent breast fixation of Larsson's co-protagonist Mikael Blomkvist. Big tits and female bisexuality. Sound like any set of male fantasies you know?

Kane's Liz, on the other hand, endures then deflects a lesbian encounter with a mix of fascination and repulsion. It's a sexy scene, yes, but believable and utterly without self-congratulation or self-importance.
Ed Gorman's blog reprints Robert J. Randisi's introduction to the Stark House reissue of Liz, which also includes Kane's Syndicate Girl.

* Including the post-Larsson novel due out in the U.S. in September

© Peter Rozovsky 2015

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