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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Tuesday, August 25, 2015

My Bouchercon panels — 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.)
Jordan Foster will discuss Get Carter author Ted Lewis as part of a panel I'll moderate at Bouchercon 2015 in Raleigh, N.C.,  called "Beyond Hammett, Chandler, Spillane, and Macdonald." The panel happens Thursday, Oct. 8, at 2:30 p.m., and there is still time to register for the convention. Trust me: It's fun.

© 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

My Bouchercon 2015 panels: 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 called her the Godmother of Noir.)
Sarah Weinman will talk about Elisabeth Sanxay Holding as part of a panel all moderate at Bouchercon 2015 called called "Beyond Hammett, Chandler, Spillane, and Macdonald." The panel features authors, editors, and other experts discussing their favorite crime writers of the pulp and paperback-original eras. It happens Thursday, Oct. 8 at 2:30 p.m. There's still time to sign up for Bouchercon. See you!

© 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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