Grind Joint

Grind Joint is now available in both audio and e-book formats. Click on the covers below and to the right to order. (Audio book read by Mike Dennis.)

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Bouchercon Panelist Jonathan Woods

Jonathan Woods divides his time between Key West FL and Dallas TX, traveling the world looking for story ideas when he has a little stray cash. He holds degrees from McGill University, New England School of Law, and New York University School of Law, and for many years practiced law for a multi-national high-tech company. His first stories appeared in Dogmatika, 3:AM Magazine, Plots with Guns, Thuglit, Pulp Pusher, the noir issue of Blackheart Magazine and in the anthologies Speedloader, Crime Factory: The First Shift, Noir @ the Bar Vol. 1 and Murder in Key West.

He is the author of the collection of noir crime stories, Bad Juju & Other Tales of Madness and Mayhem, which won a 2011 Spinetingler Award for Best Crime Short Story Collection and was a featured book at the 2010 Texas Book Festival. His crime novel, A Death in Mexico was named one of the five top debut crime novels of 2012 by the indie BookPeople Bookstore in Austin, Texas. His new collection of crime stories is called Phone Call from Hell & Other Tales of the Damned.

clip_image002Jonathan and I were co-panelists on Peter Rozovsky’s hard-boiled and noir fiction at last year’s Bouchercon; this interview was intended to run as part of the series that included all the panelists (Eric Beetner, Mike Dennis, and Terrence McCauley) but its publication was delayed because I got a flat tire. My suit didn’t come back from the cleaners. I ran out of gas. I was in prison. The hospital. I swear to God, it wasn’t my fault!

One Bite at a Time: Let’s set the stage a little. Tell us about Jonathan Woods, then we’ll delve into your writing.

Jonathan Woods: I have the kind of wandering history you’ll find in the background of so many American pulp crime fiction writers. Growing up, we moved ten times from Pittsburgh to the West Coast, then back East then the Midwest and finally back East again. As a result I was always the “new” kid in school, the outsider, so I found the world of books to keep me company. First adventure stories and sci-fi, then literary stuff in college, and finally crime stories. I always wanted to be a writer, but making a living got in the way. For many years I worked as a deal lawyer for a multinational high-tech company. But I read constantly. Then one day I said: “Fuck it! If I don’t start writing now, I’m going to run out of time.” So I quit my law job and started writing in 2002. Eight years later Jon Bassoff at New Pulp Press published Bad Juju & Other Tales of Madness and Mayhem.

OBAAT: You’d established quite a reputation as a short story writer before releasing A Death in Mexico. What prompted you to shift gears and write in the longer form?

JW: I like writing both short stories and novels. But they’re totally different beasts. A good short story takes a couple of concentrated weeks to create. A novel is a long, hard slog, day in and day out. I’d written a couple of novels that have never seen the light of day and was pretty fed up with long haul writing, when I started writing the stories in Bad Juju & Other Tales of Madness and Mayhem. Many of those stories were published in on-line literary magazines (3:A.M. Magazine, Plots with Guns, etc.), which was very encouraging. After the success of Bad Juju, I wanted to see if I could write a publishable novel. A Death in Mexico was the result. I think it turned out pretty good. I love Hector Diaz, the last uncorrupted Mexican cop. He’s kind of a Philip Marlowe on the copper side of the fence. I hope to write a couple more Diaz tales before I croak.

OBAAT: Short stories are hard for me. My nature is to spin out the ideas I like into novels, and to shorten the others into flash pieces. Shorts seem to come natural for you. What are your thoughts on the strength and weaknesses of the various forms, as regards you personally?

JW: I read short stories, novellas, novels, poetry. If it’s good, if it takes you someplace you’ve never been before, the form doesn’t matter.

OBAAT: Hector Diaz reminds me a little of the late Leighton Gage’s Chief Inspector Mario Silva of the Brazilian federal police in that he’s as honest as he can afford to be while surrounded by corruption. Was that honesty in the face of corruption dynamic what led you to set the story in Mexico?

JW: I love Mexico. I’ve spent a lot of time there over the years. Travelled around on the second class buses. Went everywhere. But nowadays Mexico seems really scary. I very much wanted to write about a Mexican cop that hadn’t given in to the corruption. So that’s what I did. Hector Diaz has his flaws. But being on the take isn’t one of them. Scott Montgomery of BookPeople Bookstore in Austin, TX captured the essence of my character when he described Diaz as “a rumpled Mexican cop full of vices and all the virtues that count.”

OBAAT: Most crime stories set in Mexico tend to locate either on the border, Mexico City, or one of the affluent resorts, such as Acapulco. You chose a small town, where violent crime such as the model’s murder isn’t as common. Why take it out of town? (I like that you took it out of town; I’ve done the same recently. I’m checking your motive, not questioning your judgment.)

JW: I wanted an exotic locale for A Death in Mexico. And since I’d spent time in San Miguel de Allende, I had a real feel for it. It was vivid in my mind. It’s an arty little colonial town that attracts upscale Mexicans who want to get away from the chaos and smog of Mexico City as well as gringos looking for the picturesque side of Mexico. For me San Miguel became a character itself, kind of like Pamplona in Hemingway’s The Sun Also Rises.

By the way, when the novel was published I collaborated with a Key West-based filmmaker named Quincy Perkins to make a two minute book trailer for A Death in Mexico. People have told me it’s the best book trailer they’ve ever seen. It captures the feel of the book but is a standalone work of cinematic art. Check it out on YouTube or Vimeo.

OBAAT: When the movie is made, who would you cast as Diaz? (Old and dead actors can be used.)

JW I’m thinking either Benicio del Toro or Javier Bardem.

OBAAT: Who do you consider to be the most prominent influences on your writing?

JW: Poe, Chandler, Robert Stone, Henry Miller, Charles Portis, Patricia Highsmith, Donald Barthelme, Thom Jones, Barry Hannah, Dan Kavanagh, Beryl Bainbridge and dozens more. I read a lot.

OBAAT: What’s next?

JW: My new book of noir crime stories Phone Call from Hell & Other Tales of the Damned is just coming out from New Pulp Press in April 2014. And I’m collaborating again with Key West filmmaker Quincy Perkins to make a short noir crime film based on my story “Swingers Anonymous” which appears in Phone Call from Hell. We raised $12,000 on Kickstarter for the production and in mid-March we spent five days shooting the film in and around Homestead, Florida. Now the film needs to be edited, special effects and the soundtrack added. Then we’re sending it out to the Film Festivals. We filmed it in black & white, just like the old film noir classics from the 1930s and 1940s. If you “like” the Swingers Anonymous, the Movie, page on Facebook, there are a bunch of behind the scene photos. And we got a huge writeup in the Miami Herald about making the film. Here’s the link to the Miami Herald story:

On top of all that, I recently finished a new road-trip crime novel called Kiss the Devil Good Night. Its protagonist, Bill, ex-Special Forces and a furloughed waste management truck driver, travels from Atlanta to Orlando to Miami to Mexico City to the Yucatan. I don’t have a publication date for it yet.

Monday, April 14, 2014

Reading and Signing at One More Page

The second reading and signing for Grind Joint took place last Saturday at One More Page Bookshop in Arlington VA. Perfect weather, a parking space right in front on the store, sufficient quarters on hand to feed the meter for the duration; not much more could be asked for.

That doesn’t mean more was not delivered. First, Terry Nebeker and everyone at One More Page could not have been nicer. Terry met us on the sidewalk, everything ready when we walked in the door. A nice turnout of folks from the Writers of Chantilly, the group of which I’ve been a member since I got serious about writing. Read a couple of chapters, told some lies stories, signed some books, and caught up with several people I’d not seen in too long, as well as making a new friend or two.

All writers have heard the horror stories of signings gone bad; I hope to have a career worthy of a few of my own. In my brief personal experience, I have had nothing but fun. The launch at Mystery Lovers Bookshop in Oakmont was legendary; I became a successful writer that day, if I never sell another book. A solo table gig at Greeting and Readings in Hunt Valley MD didn’t generate much traffic, but everyone at G & R was so nice I had a good time at what could have been a worst case scenario event for me: having to solicit my own customers. Not much traffic at 2nd and Charles in Newark DE, but that was the inaugural Meet Myster Write event and showed me the premise is sound, not least because these are fun people to be around. (Anyone on the fence about the 3C Conference in October, think hard. This shows great promise as a unique way to get readers and writers to mingle.)

Book events can be tedious, or a rare combination of entertainment and education, no matter which side of the audience one sits. The two keys are preparation by the author, and a friendly and supportive atmosphere on the part of the bookseller. I’m happy to do the former, and have been spectacularly lucky every time I’ve left the house on the latter, for which I am sincerely grateful to those who did their parts at each venue. Thank you all very much.

Another handful of stops are scheduled on what amounts to the Grind Joint World Tour:

April 27: Kensington Day of the Book Festival, Kensington MD. (If I’m not at my table, I’ll be as close as I can be and still see and hear The Nighthawks.)

June 7: Bowie Book Expo, Bowie MD

October 10 – 12: Creatures, Crimes, and Creativity Conference, Hunt Valley MD

October 30 – November 2: NoirCon, Philadelphia PA

November 13 – 16: Bouchercon, Long Beach CA

(Additional Meet Myster Write events to be announced.)

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Twenty Questions With Jack Getze

Jack Getze is an author I can comfortably say deserves a break. I’ve read his novels, Big Numbers and Big Money, and have to think there’s a market for his Austin Carr series if a publisher can be found with the creativity to approach an appropriately appreciative audience. Jack has a chance to do for stockbrokers what Carl Hiaasen has done for land developers.

Jack’s a former Los Angeles Times reporter, currently Fiction Editor for Anthony-nominated Spinetingler Magazine, one of the internet's oldest websites for noir, crime, and horror short stories. His Austin Carr mysteries Big Numbers and Big Money were re-issued by Down and Out Books in 2013, with Big Mojo and Big Shoes set for 2014. His short stories have appeared in A Twist of Noir, Beat to a Pulp, The Big Adios, and the airline magazine Passages.

clip_image001One Bite at a Time: Tell us about the Austin Carr series (Big Numbers, Big Money and the upcoming Big Mojo).

Jack Getze: Austin Carr is the cat with nine lives. Or he’s a zombie who doesn’t know he’s dead. Austin first hit the pages of my morning fiction in the mid-1980s – thirty years ago. The first version of Big Numbers earned an agent in 1987 but was rejected by every New York publishing company. Unlikeable. Twenty years later, with a new single-dad angle, Austin came back to life with a new agent. Unfortunately, New York still had the same opinion, and the agent stuck Austin with a small regional publisher. Austin lasted two books in that relationship, but when his agent went shopping the third book and the series to New York again, guess what they said? It was three rounds of NO for poor old Austin Carr, smart-ass stockbroker. He was likeable enough this time, but anything that smelled of Wall Street was taboo. “I’d be fired if I bought a series with a stockbroker lead,” an editor confided to me in 2012. Yikes. Then last year I found another agent, but after reading Austin and liking him, even she didn’t think she could sell a stockbroker protagonist. I was about to self-publish when my friend Les Edgerton put me in touch with Eric Campbell at Down and Out Books. Eric said he loved Big Numbers and wanted to re-issue the first two, then publish #3, Big Mojo. Naturally, I was pleased. Austin thinks Eric walks on water.

OBAAT: Where did you get this idea for this series, and what made it worth developing for you? (Notice I didn’t ask “Where do you get your ideas?” I was careful to ask where you got this idea.)

JG: Basically it’s my life – exaggerated to the point of crazy distortion and lie. I couldn’t believe the life of a bond salesmen – my second career – and I couldn’t help but write about it. All anyone talked about all day was numbers – prices, yields, ratios, commissions. I remember some salesman chalking up a big sale on the blackboard and saying out loud to the room he was doing “big numbers” this month. It was 1985. I leaned over to my desk partner and said, “I’m going to write a novel some day called big numbers. It’s all this fucking business is about.”

OBAAT: How long have you worked on the Austin Carr series?

JG: Austin Carr was born in 1985, but he was never a series until I sold Big Numbers and they wanted a second, so let's say 2006 is the start of the series.

clip_image003OBAAT: In what time and place are the stories set? How important is the setting to the book as a whole?

JG: Present day, New Jersey, an older town near -- but not on -- the shore. I call the place Branchtown, but the setting is more or less an amalgamation of the towns and boroughs around Red Bank, NJ. The Atlantic Ocean is close by and often shows up. So does Jersey's Pine Barrens. I think the setting is important to Austin Carr, my protagonist. He moved there from southern California and finds the people and places much different. He likes to comment on how tough Jersey is, though I think it's more his perception than truth.

OBAAT: What kinds of stories do you like to read? Who are your favorite authors, in or out of that area?

JG: Crime and mystery exclusively, although I go through binges of picking up bestsellers to see what's hot. Last one was Gone Girl which I loved, and realized immediately it was also a crime novel. Ha. I absolutely loved that book. I think I have a crush on Gillian Flynn and have never met her. Elmore Leonard is my favorite author. I've read everything he's ever written, and Hombre -- the western -- is high on my list of favorites. Loved that character John Russell the half-breed. I read everything new by Robert Crais as well.

OBAAT: Who are your greatest influences?

JG: Leonard, without a doubt. His 10 Rules are debatable points for most writers, but I live by them. I think he is the master of the craft, the guy who explains better than anyone how to write great stories, great fiction. If it sounds like writing, rewrite it. Fly on the wall I've also heard it described. Authors should stay out of their fiction.

OBAAT: Do you outline or fly by the seat of you pants? Do you even wear pants when you write?

JG: Ha. I love it when you try to be funny. I start writing a first draft and an outline at the same time, kind of a running list of one-liners that might be major turning points or at least good scenes coming up. I don't know what the story really is until I finish that first draft and the crude list of scenes. At that point -- before the second draft -- I try to polish up that list of scenes, add things that need to be included, stuff I forgot. Then the hard work comes ... that second draft.

OBAAT: If you could give a novice writer a single piece of advice, what would it be?

JG: Write stories that are fun for you to do -- stories that make you want to think about them, research them and write them. If you enjoy the process of writing, there's a good chance the reader will have fun, too.

OBAAT: Favorite activity when you’re not reading or writing.

JG: I watch some television. There are great crime dramas on cable these days. Watching True Detectives this past winter was as much fun as a good novel. Summer finds me at the beach, swimming and sunning. I was good golfer once, club champ at forty, and I still like to play with my two sons a few times each year.

OBAAT: Which do you take to bed at night, the money earned or the good review?

JG: Haven't had that many or much of either one, so I'd say my case is unproven, but I prefer the happy review -- the one where I made somebody laugh.

OBAAT: Would you stop writing if someone paid you enough money so you’d never have to work again, on the condition you could also never write again?

JG: No. I don't have to work anymore. I write all day because I love it, because I dream of creating a character that lives on after I'm dead.

OBAAT: If you were just starting out, which would you prefer: 1. Form your own indie publishing house and put your work out in paper and e-book yourself? 2. Go with a small or medium traditional house that offers very little or no advance, a royalty that is only a fraction of what you'd get on your own, and also makes no promise of any type of publicity push, keeping in mind that you also will lose the publishing rights for a period, sometimes indefinitely? 3. Go with a Big Six or legacy publisher that offers a larger advance, legitimate review possibilities, entrance to industry literary awards, and exposure on the shelves of brick and mortar stores. Pick one and say why.

JG: Just starting out, you have to go with the Big Six. Get the reviews, the libraries, the award nominations. Then after they screw you, you've got a name to self-publish.

OBAAT: Beer, mixed drinks, or hard liquor?

JG: Oh God, I was afraid of this. I've always been a bourbon man, Wild Turkey, Jack Daniels. But I'm too old now and my digestive system can't hack much. I mostly drink beer and cheap white wine.

OBAAT: Baseball or football?

JG: Baseball. Looking forward right now to the new season of fantasy. Finished second last year, thanks to that turkey Jared Weaver blowing up at the end. I played baseball every day of my life from the age of seven to thirteen. If I hadn’t of switched to golf at fifteen, I would have pitched professionally. I had a curve ball you wouldn’t believe. The funny part is, I actually believe that – like most baseball fan-boys I know. Ha.

OBAAT: What question have you always wanted an interviewer to ask, but they never do?

JG: How the hell did you learn to write so well?

OBAAT: What’s the answer?

JG: I don’t. I write so that you don’t notice, I hope. I believe what Elmore Leonard said: “If it sounds like writing, I rewrite it.” That's not as easy as it sounds.

OBAAT: What are you working on now?

JG: Big Mojo, number three in my Austin Carr Mystery Series. I introduced a character last time named Angelina "Mama Bones" Bonacelli, and in number three, she takes a big role, setting up a major shift in Austin's life. But I'm having a lot of fun polishing this up. I "finished" it three years ago, I thought. But I've learned more of my craft the last few years and when I read it one more time this January, I realized Big Mojo was NOT finished.

Monday, April 7, 2014

March’s Reads

I didn’t read a lot of books in March, having immersed myself in Max Hastings’s wonderful history of the Second World War, Inferno, which checks in at about 800 pages. More on that when I look back on April.

Frag Box, Richard Thompson. Thompson is a fine example of why to go to conferences. I saw him on a panel at Bouchercon in Indianapolis, which inspired me to read Fiddle Game, which in turn impressed me enough to keep Thompson on the radar. I took way too long to get to Frag Box, but books have the endearing ability of waiting for tardy readers, so it was as good as I’d hoped it would be, though quite a bit different from its predecessor. Thompson has the ability to disappear into his writing while maintaining a style of his own, which must be damned hard to do, since so few people can do it. He’s has written two books since Frag Box; the only question for me is which to read first.

In the Morning I’ll Be Gone, Adrian McKinty. The final installment of McKinty’s Troubles Trilogy, featuring Catholic Sean Duffy as a member of the nearly all Protestant Royal Ulster Constabulary, when the only job in Ireland more dangerous than being a member of the RUC was to be a Catholic RUC. I went into this book in more detail a few weeks ago. Suffice to say, I’m as struck by the entire series today as I was when I first read The Cold Cold Ground. Tours de force, all three.

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Twenty Questions With Javier Marquez Sanchez

Javier Márquez Sánchez (born in Seville, Spain in 1978) is Editor-in-Chief of the Spanish edition of Forbes magazine. He has been Editor-in-Chief of the Spanish edition of Esquire Magazine and Deputy Director of Cambio16, and has written several novels, short stories collections and non-fiction books on film and music. Sometimes he plays music with his two bands, Rock & Books and The Last Drink.

Lethal as a Charlie Parker Solo, out now from 280 Steps, is his first novel to be translated into English. 

PrintOne Bite at a Time: Tell us about Lethal as a Charlie Parker Solo.

Javier Marquez Sanchez: It's the first novel about Eddie Bennett, a ‘problem solver’ in Las Vegas.

OBAAT: Where did you get this idea, and what made it worth developing for you? (Notice I didn’t ask “Where do you get your ideas?” I was careful to ask where you got this idea.)

JMS: It's about a true story: the shooting of the film 'The Conqueror'. Well, not the shooting, but the consequences of it, with the death, directly or indirectly, of thousands of people, including the great star John Wayne. That story gave me the opportunity to talk about the dark side of the government. And along that way, I met my new character: Eddie Bennett.

OBAAT: How long did it take to write LASCPS, start to finish?

JMS: Not long, the story came very easily, and the writing process was really fast, too. I guess it was that way because I really enjoyed writing it. Maybe three months. After writing it, I read, rewrote and revised the manuscript for almost a year and a half.

OBAAT: What’s the back story on the main character or characters?

JMS: The main character is Eddie Bennett, a 'problem solver' in Las Vegas. He works for the hotels in the city and is responsible for making sure its most important guests (music and movie stars) do not have any problems. Eddie makes sure that "What happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas". He has good friends on both sides of the law, including the most dangerous mobsters, such as Sam Giancana and Johnny Roselli. He spends much of his time too with the best bartenders in town, as well as with some of the stars of the day, like his good friend Dean Martin.

OBAAT: In what time and place is LASCPS set? How important is the setting to the book as a whole?

JMS: We are in Las Vegas, 1955. No other time was possible, no other place. The time and the city are part of the story, as ‘special characters’.

OBAAT: How did LASCPS come to be published?

JMS: I meet my editor at ‘The Noir Week in Gijon‘, an annual meeting of noir writers, the most important in Spain. We just talked about the story, I sent it to him, he read it...and here we are.

OBAAT: What kinds of stories do you like to read? Who are your favorite authors, in or out of that area?

20140402 - Javier_Marquez_02 JMS: I love noir stories. Raymond Chandler, Jim Thompson, Ross Macdonald, George V. Higgins... and of course, the Spanish authors Manuel Vázquez Montalbán, Juan Madrid and Andreu Martín. When I have enough deaths, I go back to Hemingway, Cheever, Carver, Auster...

OBAAT: Who are your greatest influences?

JMS: In literature, I think Ernest Hemingway, Vázquez Montalbán, and Juan Madrid. My influences are not just literary, but also cinematographic. The Spanish director José Luis Garci, the emotional view of Sam Peckinpah... Even music influences me, most of all the narrative songs by Kris Kristofferson.

OBAAT: Do you outline or fly by the seat of you pants? Do you even wear pants when you write?

JMS: I always outline. I spent almost ten years writing several things just flying by; and I lost my time... and my pants.

OBAAT: Give us an idea of your process. Do you edit as you go? Throw anything into a first draft knowing the hard work is in the revisions? Something in between?

JMS: When I write, I just write. I put all the doubts or the things I should check in a notebook, but I like to write directly, and as fast as I can, to keep the feeling. This way is more natural to me, and less artificial.

OBAAT: If you could give a novice writer a single piece of advice, what would it be?

JMS: Write what you would like to read, or even better: write what you would like to live. And, of course, as Hemingway said: Write drunk, edit sober.

OBAAT: Favorite activity when you’re not reading or writing.

JMS: Play music with my friends. I have two bands: Rock & Books and The Last Drink.

OBAAT: Which do you take to bed at night, the money earned or the good review?

JMS: The good reviews, I guess. You spend money, not thinking about it. Although I would enjoy much more the good reviews if they came with some money...

OBAAT: Would you stop writing if someone paid you enough money so you’d never have to work again, on the condition you could also never write again?

JMS: You can’t stop writing. It’s something so natural as breathing. You can stop publishing, but you can’t switch off your imagination or your feelings. But if you pay me enough money so that I can live on an island and write my stories in the sand before the next wave clears it, I won't cry.

OBAAT: If you were just starting out, which would you prefer: 1. Form your own indie publishing house and put your work out in paper and e-book yourself? 2. Go with a small or medium traditional house that offers very little or no advance, a royalty that is only a fraction of what you'd get on your own, and also makes no promise of any type of publicity push, keeping in mind that you also will lose the publishing rights for a period, sometimes indefinitely? 3. Go with a Big Six or legacy publisher that offers a larger advance, legitimate review possibilities, entrance to industry literary awards, and exposure on the shelves of brick and mortar stores. Pick one and say why.

JMS: I think the second option is the best one for a new writer starting out. The big publishing house will forget you and the indie one is too amateurish.

OBAAT: Beer, mixed drinks, or hard liquor?

JMS: Beer by day, hard liquor by night. Vodka martinis anytime.

OBAAT: Baseball or football?

JMS: Boxing.

OBAAT: What question have you always wanted an interviewer to ask, but they never do?

JMS: Which published book do you wish you had written?

OBAAT: What’s the answer?

JMS: A short story: ‘The Killers’, by Ernest Hemingway.

OBAAT: What are you working on now?

JMS: I’m working on two different stories: an international political thriller and a noir story from my hometown, Seville (Spain).

Monday, March 31, 2014

Sleeping With Veronica Lake

Authors continuing series created by others is the rage right now. Among the first was Max Allan Collins, finishing up Mickey Spillane’s Mike Hammer series. (This is a bit of a special case, as Collins had worked hand-in-glove with Spillane for years, and was asked to complete the unfinished Hammer novels by The Mick himself.) Ace Atkins is continuing Robert B. Parker’s Spenser series at the behest of the Parker estate. More recently, Raymond Chandler’s Phillip Marlowe has been resurrected by Benjamin Black, who isn’t even really Benjamin Black, but John Banville. (As if who’s writing these books lacks complication already.) Parker himself was an early adopter, having completed Chandler’s unfinished manuscript of Poodle Springs, and penning his own sequel to The Big Sleep, Perchance to Dream.

The only issue I have with this trend is mild disappointment that the reading public is too timid in its tastes to try something new, even after their favorite author has shuffled off his mortal coil. (This should also be an ego check for authors who write series; they love your characters more than they love you. Get over it.) Maybe a reader of one of Atkins’s Spenser novels will be tempted to try a non-Spenser book by the same author. One can only hope.

While I’m good with the idea in principle—anything that pays writers is a good thing, almost by definition—I won’t be reading any of them. No offense to the writers mentioned above, or others who may be earning a living doing the same thing. It’s a matter of authenticity.

L.A. Confidential is one of my favorite movies, as close to a perfect crime film as I can think of. A key plot line involves a stable of prostitutes who pass themselves off as famous actresses of the day, even if a little plastic surgery is required. Ava Gardner. Rita Hayworth. Kim Basinger plays a hooker who passes for Veronica Lake. (And, as Russell Crowe says in the movie, “looks better than Veronica Lake.”) Men will pay premium prices to have sex with these “actresses.”

Here’s the thing: sleeping with a hooker who looks like Veronica Lake isn’t sleeping with Veronica Lake, even if the hooker looks better. Even if she’s better in bed. It ain’t her.

I’ve not read any Atkins or Black yet. I may well do so, when my backlog sorts itself out a little. If/when I do, it will be a book with a world and characters they created. Just as I want the original Chandler or Parker, I’ll want these authors’ unfiltered best, to lose myself in their world, instead of hopelessly trying not to compare them to someone else.

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Misogynistic, or Picky?

Egomaniac that I am, I publish an annual list of what I thought were the best books I read each year, as if anyone else gives a shit. In 2012 the list contained no female authors. This was a genuine surprise to me when pointed out—I honest to God hadn’t noticed—but it got me to thinking. Since then I have made a conscious effort to read more female writers, and to add female characters to my writing.

My 2013 list contained only two females, both in the Honorable Mention list. (Laura Lippman and Zoe Sharp.) None made the Top Ten.

This prompted some examination. Why don’t I read more female authors, and why don’t I enjoy them more when I do? As the father of a daughter, I felt a need to see if there was something more afoot. I doubt my conclusions will satisfy many, but what good is a writer without an occasional well-intentioned controversy?

I looked for a common denominator in the writing that might put me off. This is dangerous business, as that implies all women write more or less the same way, which is no truer that saying all men do. I needed to organize my thoughts around writing, not gender, to see if there were common elements in the books I either didn’t like as much as I’d hoped, regardless of the author’s plumbing. I found three things:

1. So long as the story is plausible and doesn’t require me to rupture myself suspending disbelief, I’m interested more in the manner of the telling than I am in what’s told. In short, I read for style. Most of the female authors to whom I’ve been exposed are storytellers more than stylists, with a couple of notable exceptions. (Megan Abbott, Christa Faust.)

2. Women tend to be more descriptive than men. Lots more adjectives. I don’t care that it was a pale blue house with a white door and cedar shake shingles unless it’s important for some reason. I don’t care that a person set down his Louis Vuitton garment bag, shrugged up the sleeve of his Caraceni suit, and looked at his Piaget watch unless it tells me something about him, and it’s something worth remembering, which means I don’t have to hear about it every time. That reason doesn’t have to be readily evident, but there needs to be one. That’s a matter of personal taste. It doesn’t make me right, but it does affect my reading enjoyment.

3. Forgive me for saying this, but a lot of female authors drop in too many scenes that seem to have been written for Lifetime TV movies. I don’t watch TV movies. As above, that doesn’t make me right, but it does affect my choices.

Who do I read and enjoy? Megan Abbott. (Though I’ll admit Dare Me put me off. Maybe because I used to be a public school teacher or because my daughter is not that far removed from high school, but every character I remember was detestable, and I just stopped caring about them. In fairness, Bury Me Deep is as good as it gets.) Christa Faust. Laura Lippman’s standalones (Tess Monahan I can live without). Sandra Parshall. S.J. Rozan. Zoe Sharp.

Help me out. With the above caveats in mind, who am I missing?