One Bite at a Time




Monday, May 21, 2018

No One Cares


People can do a lot worse than to read Joe Clifford. Not just the books; the blog. Maybe especially the blog. (Not that the books aren’t good. Nomination for the Bill Crider Award, anyone?) True, Joe can be a depressing SOB once in a while, but never without purpose. His blog is always thought-provoking, and one can only hope he’ll get more consistent about posting them.
 
Joe’s been re-examining things lately, and on March 15 he reminded me of something I’d forgotten in a post titled “Dennis Lehane’s Note.” Regular readers know how I feel about Lehane and his work, so I perked up right away. What Joe mentioned wasn’t news to be, but it was a worthy reminder:

One of my favorite bits of advice re: writing comes from Dennis Lehane, who carries a little reminder in his wallet: No one cares. Yeah, that can be depressing to some. To me (and Dennis) it’s freedom: No one cares. You can do whatever the fuck you want.

I typed up no one cares and taped it to my monitor next to the desk placard The Sole Heir bought me that reads, “If you were in my novel you’d be dead by now.” Joe’s right. It’s not depressing. It’s liberating.

It occurred to me several years ago why more people don’t buy my books: they don’t need them. Not just my books. Anyone’s. My personal library has hundreds of books. It’s smaller than many writers I know, but still substantial compared to the general public. I looked at those shelves one day and realized that, as a man in my early 60s, I never need to buy another book. I have enough books I’d love to re-read that I could live happily going through my library from one end to the other and starting over. I buy new books because I want to, not because I need them.

Sure, there is a handful of people that I’ll read whatever they publish. And a couple I wish would break their self-imposed hiatuses and write something new because they were in that handful but haven’t put out anything lately. (I’m looking at you, John McFetridge and Declan Burke.) I’m not actively seeking new authors, though I occasionally stumble onto someone in social media and check them out.

I’m a writer, and if that’s how I feel about books, imagine how the average reader feels. Lehane’s right: No one cares.

I’m okay with that. It means I can take a few months off to get my head back together after what The Beloved Spouse calls The Chaos™ disrupted large chunks of my personal and family life. It means if I want to re-boot the Penns River series and switch out a bunch of characters, I can. If I decide to write the next novel more as a loosely-connected series of vignettes with the same cast and location instead of a through-written novel, I can. You know why? Because no one cares.

Except me. I’m the guy who has to live with the book every day for twelve to eighteen months. It needs to be what I want it to be.

Down & Out Books has been great. Very supportive and patient, but they don’t really care. It’s not like they came to me when I suggested what I might do for the next book and said, “Whoa, take a deep breath. That’s a money-making franchise you’re fucking with here.” Maybe a new approach will get me over the hump. Maybe it won’t. No one knows. So what the hell. Roll with it.

This is something writers don’t want to hear, that no one cares, no one needs our books. Sorry. I like writing and I’d almost certainly write something even if Down & Out cut me loose. (Note to Eric and Lance: Not that I’m interested in finding out. Just saying.) The Beloved Spouse loves me. The Sole Heir loves me. My mother loves me. My ex-wife’s dog loves me. None of them care a bit about my writing except for how it affects me; they care about me. If writing makes me happy, they’ll want me to do it. If it doesn’t make me happy anymore, they’ll be good if I stop. It’s liberating and exhilarating to know the only person I have to please when I sit at the keyboard or with a pad of paper in my hand is me. You know why I get to feel like that?

no one (else) cares.




Wednesday, May 16, 2018

Cultural Appropriation


Having a social conscience is tricky business. Not only are there things to be for and things to be against, there are also degrees for which you must be for or against them lest one be declared insufficiently pure. The methods must measure up, as well.

One may now be part of the problem of discrimination and/or subjugation by writing empathetically of a different gender/race/religious group. “A cis white Christian-baptized man can’t possibly understand what it’s like to be a woman/African-American/gay/trans/Muslim and how dare he write as one” is a not uncommon comment, though I have amalgamated it somewhat for the sake of argument. (“Comment” is also way too tame a word for the reaction.)

To which I say, “Let’s all take a deep breath and look at the context of each individual case.”

First off, anyone who thinks I’m about to defend racist, homophobic, religious zealotry might as well stop reading now. Those of you who know me know that’s not where I’m going and those of you who don’t know me well enough to know better can kiss my ass. Racist, homophobic, etc. screeds aren’t cultural appropriation; they’re racism. Or homophobia. Or et cetera. Those who write such material can all fall dead in the middle of whatever they’re doing at 3:00 PM EDT tomorrow afternoon and my response will be along the lines of, “That’s nice. What time is hockey?” My position is that a little distance can come in handy when seeking to provoke empathetic thoughts in people not inclined to have them, or who just haven’t thought about the subject much because it didn’t affect them directly.

Danny Gardner wrote a strong and thought-provoking piece for Do Some Damage a while back that touched on how easy it is to claim deeper knowledge of a problem than one has because one claims the appropriate cultural touchstones:

Deep familiarity of black Americans at large, acquired through binge-watching five seasons of a television show about people from Baltimore. If they stayed with David Simon for HBO's Treme, they're a scholar. If they can go all the way back to Homicide: Life on the Street, whooo lawdy, you have a hell of a cocktail party debate on your hands. Multiple-degreed historians and anthropologists struggle with getting our shared existence in this country right, but you know what's up because you had an HBO subscription and plenty of time one weekend. I listen to NPR in the car, right up until I hear mention of "The Wire," which is just about weekly, and always in relation to someone's professed understanding of black Americans. It's what we do with new insights. We peddle them everywhere and lend them to everyone we can get to listen. It's just human.

Danny’s primary point is well taken. Watching The Wire however many times—I’m up to at least five now—does not give me an understanding of what it’s like to grow up and live black in Baltimore. What it has done is make me curious. Hell, much of what The Wire got me to thinking about are things I hadn’t been aware of at all, semi-rural white boy that I am. What The Wire did for me was get me to wondering, and David Simon has a knack for getting to things I hadn’t thought of in ways that didn’t turn me off, so I read The Corner.

It’s not uncommon online for people, especially writers, to talk about “books that changed my life.” It’s the plural use of “book” that disturbs me. Anyone who has a long list of books (movies, TV shows) that “changed” their life doesn’t have much of an internal rudder. Having said that, The Corner changed my life. Not that I now suddenly understood what it is to be black in Baltimore, but I now have a better picture of the depths of my ignorance, and a realization that this ignorance can never fully be overcome. The best I can do is to imagine myself in the place of someone whose position I can’t fully internalize and wonder how I’d feel. It also taught me to look for historical perspective. Baltimore’s tragedy isn’t that so many kids grow up to be drug dealers, it’s that so many of them want to grow up to be drug dealers because they don’t see any better options.

Middle-class white America was shocked—shocked!—at the brutality of black gangs and the advent of drive-by shootings in the 80s like white gangs hadn’t done the same things as far back as the 20s. What do black drug gangs and Italian/Jewish/Irish bootleggers have in common, other than violent criminal enterprises? They grew up in areas where they were discriminated against and their options severely limited, and not by their own actions. It’s not predestination; not everyone from those neighborhoods grew up to be criminals. Not all middle-class suburban kids grow up to be gainfully employed taxpayers, either. What’s their excuse?

What David Simon brought to both The Wire and The Corner was empathy, a desire to be fair and get as much right as he could, and, maybe just as important, a little distance. He grew up in suburban Silver Spring MD and went to the University of Maryland in College Park, not Baltimore. Working for the Baltimore Sun taught him to recognize what he didn’t know and what he might be able to do about it. While he understood he couldn’t get the truly black perspective, his greatest gift—in addition to being a master storyteller—was to know how to tell the story so people who also didn’t get it might at least wonder about it.

The genius of The Wire and The Corner isn’t that they tell you what to think, it’s that they give you new things to think about. Simon had enough cultural and emotional distance that he could tell the stories in a documentary style and still evoke strong emotions in people whose personal experience was such these stories could be set in Thailand for all the more the audience’s lives intersected with the characters. That distance kept him from having too much invested in the telling, or hammering too vigorously on the point he wanted to make. You picked up on it or you didn’t.

Doubt me? Season Five of The Wire, while still better than damn near everything else on television, is universally regarded as the weakest. What’s wrong with it? The newspaper industry is something Simon loves and still cares deeply about. Many of the strengths of seasons 1 – 4 are lost as Simon hammers home his thoughts on the decline of the industry. Newspaper employees explain things to each other they all obviously already know so the audience will know, too. The upper echelons of the fictional Sun’s staff are two-dimensional, if that. Simon now was too close himself, and the product suffered because of it.

This isn’t to say white men can write whatever the hell they want and get defensive when criticized. Don’t claim knowledge and understanding you don’t have. David Simon had a unique set of experience, background, and talent that allowed him to pull this off, not to mention having paid his dues. Tread lightly and be careful to think of how you’d feel if someone presuming to understand you got things fundamentally wrong, even if no malice was intended.

This is also not to be interpreted as saying we don’t need more black/gay/trans/Muslim/etc. writers to lend their voices, nor that publishers don’t need to do a better job of seeking out those best suited to tell the stories people other than their traditional audiences want to hear. (See “No, We Haven’t Reached All Readers” about halfway down the page at Toe Six Press’s current issue.) That’s a whole nuther discussion.

Friday, May 11, 2018

Reviews


Reviews have come to be thought of as almost synonymous with “marketing,” which is a shame. True, a good review from a trusted source can be helpful in generating interest, but the current algorithm tends to equate volume of reviews with merit. That’s not only a mistake, it’s potentially dangerous.

First we’ll talk about reviews from trusted sources. Dead End Follies recently reviewed Bad Samaritan and had quite a bit to say, both good and not so good. What I like best about it is that Benoit Lelievre takes a stand on what the book is about. He doesn’t just rehash the plot and conclude with “I liked it,” or “I didn’t like it,” or “It was okay.” He invited readers to draw their own conclusions and go a few rounds with him. (“I'm simplifying here, but if you read the novel in its entirety, I'd be glad to debate its representation of women via email.”)

In short, the review is fair and thought-provoking, at least for me. The overall assessment is encouragingly neutral. (“Not bad. File this one as ‘interestingly flawed’, but it could've definitely been a lot worse.”) It’s in the particulars where the review is most worthy.

On one hand, Lelievre appreciates the depictions of the kinds of violence women have to routinely deal with. On the other, he’s less than satisfied that the confrontations are mainly between protagonist Nick Forte and the men’s rights advocates and other cowards who ate the book’s antagonists. That’s a fair criticism. Forte has shown issues with the treatment of women in other books, and I wrote this to show how his preferred resolutions have become more violent as his personality grows darker. The problems are two-fold:

1. It’s extremely difficult, maybe impossible, to reasonably portray this issue from the perspective of a man who feels compelled to interject himself as the solution every time he perceives an injustice toward a woman.

2. It’s too much. All of the subplots involve the same issue, and Forte’s attempted resolutions are too similar. It gives him too much credit to call what he does “resolutions.” His heart’s in the right place, but he’s an oaf, doing things for his own reasons that may or may not result in the resolution the woman prefers, whether she appreciates his “help” or not.

This is a review that clearly passes the $25 test. (The key element of any review is to help a potential reader decide if the book is worth $25? Or $15, or $30. Whatever it costs.) It also gives readers—and the author—things to think about based on what’s in the book. I follow Dead End Follies regularly. Its purpose is to try to raise the level on internet criticism. To me, he’s going about it the right way.

Now let’s contrast that with passes for internet criticism more all the time: online reviews. This is a difficult subject because I’m close to touching the third rail for authors: arguing with a reviewer. I’m trying to make a point, though, so bear with me.

Benoit Lelievre did me a solid by posting an Amazon review distilled from what he wrote in Dead End Follies. He gave the book three stars and said: File this one as "interestingly flawed.” BAD SAMARITAN is a fundamentally sound detective story that's somewhat bogged down by an overbearing theme. Its heart is at the right place and it wants to expose violence against women, but it's more about male's perception of the problem than about the problem itself.

It's appropriately funny and goofy at times, it's a classic case of a book trying to do too much.

 Again, a fair assessment with which I have no issue.

There’s another three-star review directly beneath it.

Story felt too rushed and didn’t flow well.

I voluntarily read an advanced copy.

Let me start by saying I take no issue with the criticism. This reviewer isn’t the first to say I get in and out too quickly. (Fortunately my wife is not among them.) It’s just that that’s all there is.

First, I am not aware of anyone who forces people to read advance copies, so saying one “voluntary read” the book is, at best, a pleonasm. Given the disclaimer is 42% of the total review, it can safely be said not a lot of thought went into the rest of it. This strikes me more like someone who’s trolling for free books. I checked—because investigations are what I write about—and found no fewer than eleven reviews posted in the previous week.

Really? What level of thought can have gone in to any of them? Why even bother to write them up, unless there’s some frequent reviewers award you’re gunning for?

I don’t mean to hold civilian reviewers to the same standard I hold the pros. I also don’t mean to compare this review to those one-star pieces of shit some give because they didn’t like the cover or thought the book was too expensive or found a typo. Still. Online reviews are supposed to provide a service and not just provide yet another forum for onanistic proclamations. Maybe Amazon needs some review standards beyond checking for foul language and looking to see if the author is a friend of the reviewer. Maybe there should be a standard before any review is acceptable.

What should it be? Twenty-five words? Fifty? Fuck if I know. I’m the author. My job is to get people to think, not tell them what to think. This small sample shows a failure in both regards. The review I care about showed me I was too busy trying to tell people what to think. The second implied I didn’t get that reader to think at all.

Monday, May 7, 2018

A(nother) Conversation With Jenny Milchman


Jenny Milchman made her first appearance here on OBAAT in March. It’s rare that I interview the same author so close together, but Jenny was promoting The Night of the Flood that time, which was edited by Ed Aymar and Sarah Chen, and—no offense to Sarah, who is a lovely person—I thought Jenny was entitled to an interview of her own without the Shadow of Aymar hanging over her.

Jenny is the author of four books, of which Wicked River is the most recent, having launched May 1. Her debut, Cover of Snow, won the Mary Higgins Clark Award. Jenny is also Vice President of Author Programming for International Thriller Writers, and the founder of Take Your Child to a Bookstore Day. She teaches writing and publishing for the New York Writers Workshop.

She took time from her Wicked River tour to chat with OBAAT.

One Bite at a Time: Let’s hit the ground running. Tell us about your new book, Wicked River.
Jenny Milchman: Wicked River arises from an incident in real life. No, my husband and I
weren’t stalked through the wilderness by an extremely smart and manipulative madman, but we did set out on a back-country honeymoon deep in the Adirondacks. The only difference between us and my heroine, Natalie, and her husband, Doug, was that my hubby and I had to turn back after just one day. (We wound up going to Paris on a borrowed credit card, and paid it off for-ev-ah). Natalie and Doug didn’t get so lucky, however. For them to make it out of the woods will require the fight of their lives. The question that stalked me as ardently as the madman in the novel was: what if my hubby and I hadn’t turned back when we did? I had to sit down and write a book about it.

OBAAT: Ahhh, the classic “What If?” premise. Think of how many thrillers would never have been written if authors didn’t think like that. Do you find yourself killing time coming up with “What If?” scenarios for the most innocuous things? “The counterperson at Wendy’s seems distracted. Maybe I’ve stumbled onto a hostage situation.” That sort of thing.
JM: You just described my life. I think that if I weren’t such a scared person, seriously living with a degree of fear that would probably strike most people as panic-inducing on an everyday basis, then I never would’ve come to crime fiction. The counterperson at Wendy’s, the guy who stands too close on a subway, the car that swerves on the road, the overly nice babysitter…I could go on and on. That said, it wasn’t a what if that made me first take the plunge and start writing suspense fiction, but a what was.
Here’s how it happened. I was working as an intern at a rural community mental health center when I got assigned this very frightening case. A mother brought her cherubic, blonde, five year old daughter in to see me. This little girl had just killed the family pet.

It was my job to find out why. And with that, life became a suspense novel, a mystery, a thriller all wrapped into one. I sat down and wrote the first work of crime fiction I’d ever tried my hand at. Seven manuscripts later, I would be published. And now my fourth novel, Wicked River, a true “what if” is about to come out May 1st.

OBAAT: You and I talked before about how your books are essentially a series of standalones that inhabit the same universe built around the fictional town of Wedeskyull. Was this something you thought would be cool from the get-go, or did it kind of evolve as you went along?
JM: Very little of my writing is something I thought would be cool—or thought about at all, to be strictly truthful. It’s not really intentional, in other words. And some of my all-time favorite crime writers would scoff at me for this (politely, of course). They feel writing to be a business, a pursuit, a job like any other, and of course it is.

Just not always.

For me, the creative part feels very much sent from elsewhere. Flowing through me—like a river—wild and out of my control.

The town of Wedeskyull, where all four of my novels are either set or have some close tie to—Wicked River takes place almost entirely in the wilderness, but Wedeskyull’s police chief must venture into the woods at one point in the story—exemplifies this. It feels less like any creation of my own, and more like a place I’ve been shown. A secret parallel universe to which I’ve been granted entry.

 
OBAAT: You take legendary promotional tours. What’s the agenda for Wicked River?
JM: Those legendary tours—dubbed “the world’s longest book tour” by Shelf Awareness—
were unique in a couple of ways. First, the whole family came with. My husband worked from the front seat, kids were “car-schooled” in the rear. We drove a total of 75,000 miles over 15 months for my first three releases. Second, although we had the help of a fantastic independent publicity firm, my husband and I set up each of those tours on our own.

Then a few things changed. The kids got older, and got lives of their own, go figure. (Actually, it’s a freaking miracle, is what it is). And I got something too: a new, dream publisher. One that sets up pretty magnificent tours.
For the “Get Wicked” tour I will be in the air and on the road for a total of five weeks. Something like 25 cities and as many events. You can see the whole itinerary here: http://jennymilchman.com/tour/get-wicked-2018

And then, the month after I return, my publisher is doing something equally cool. They are sending four authors out together, coast-to-coast, on the Up All Night Thriller Tour. We’ll appear at events as a quartet. I can just imagine what all four of us will do. Sing? Dance? Debrief every night over drinks, or, in my case, cake? Take a quick, energizing hike before we appear at the legendary Tattered Cover, only to get lost in the Rockies, and have to rely on each other to survive…oh wait, I’m writing another thriller.

OBAAT: You’re the founder of Take Your Child to a Bookstore Day. How did that come about?
JM: Take Your Child to a Bookstore Day began back in 2010 when I had two preschool children whom I was taking to story hour at our local bookstore almost every week.
Inspired by Days such as Take Your Daughter to Work, I floated the idea for a special holiday linking kids and bookstores. Bloggers and listserv members took to the web and before I knew it, 80 bookstores were celebrating. By the following year, Take Your Child to a Bookstore Day had grown to nearly 300 bookstores. And today TYCBD is celebrated by over 800 bookstores, including one national chain, on five continents.
During one of the recent years, I turned my attention to the fact that not all children have access to bookstores. In fact, with one in five kids in the United States "food insecure," owning a book can be an unheard of luxury.

Through the help of generous volunteers and donors, we now have TYCBD field trips for kids in an at-risk region of New York State. One day, I hope such programs can be instituted in towns and cities nationwide.


Friday, April 27, 2018

A Conversation With Lawrence Kelter, Editor of The Black Car Business


Among the many unexpected treats I’ve had since hooking up with Down & Out Books is the opportunity to participate in anthologies. First up is The Black Car Business, a project edited by Larry Kelter that drops next week.

The unifying thread is a black car. It could be parked outside your house or down the block. Pacing you on the highway. Have a body in it. Or be what you run toward when in trouble. Larry has the juice to pull together enough writers that The Black Car Business had to be broken into two anthologies to fit all the people who wanted in. Volume 1 features talent including Eric Beetner, J. Carson Black, Cheryl Bradshaw, Diane Capri, Jeffery Hess, Lawrence Kelter, Allan Leverone, Simon Wood, and Vincent Zandri. (And me.)

Thanks to Larry Kelter for taking time away from his busy schedule to chat with me a bit about The Black Car Business.

One Bite at a Time: Tell us about The Black Car Business.
Lawrence Kelter: The black car is more than a car. It's an ominous symbol which in the
setting of a mystery story can represent almost anything - and now it has. I'm privileged to know many fine authors in the suspense genre, who fortunately felt the same way about this anthology idea. We've assembled two groups of noir powerhouse writers who've applied their talents to writing stories in which a mysterious vehicle takes center stage. The results are nothing short of amazing. In a two-volume set we've compiled twenty-one killer stories, each capable of sending chills down your back.

OBAAT: What gave you the idea?
LK: Exploring an author's motivation can be dangerous - learning the innermost workings of the wannabe criminal mind. However ... this fun idea came to me many years ago when I was taking a long ride in the back seat of a Lincoln limo. The driver and I got to talking and he mentioned one particular adventure he'd had as a chauffeur. It was quite a story as I remember. I commented on it and he said that he had encountered lots of interesting people in the "black car business." That was all it took - my mind started whirring with the possibilities and it made its way onto my to-do list (one of them anyway). Long story short, life and my writing schedule got in the way. It took many, many years before it occurred to me to do an anthology around the concept. Voila, here it is, ages hence.

OBAAT: That could be a good series or anthology TV show, just the stuff that happens to a limo driver. You have twenty-one crime and suspense writers, and their tastes and voices cover quite a range. Give us an idea of how wide that range turned out to be once you saw the finished products.
LK: I can’t put into words how incredibly diverse these stories are, but I’m sure readers will be delighted by the array, which covers a time from the 1920s to current day. We’ve got gangsters, gumshoes, thugs, goons, hooligans and more, and that just story number one. I found it so incredibly interesting to see how each of the scribes took the black car in a different direction (no pun intended). I remember reading some of the submissions and saying, “Huh, I never would’ve thought about that.” I’m glad someone did though. This is a good one. I can’t wait for it to be released.


OBAAT: You’re a successful novelist with northward of twenty books of your own out there. Why take the time away from your own work to take on the headaches of editing an anthology?
LK: Because that’s what we do, we writers lead from the heart and follow our passion wherever it takes us. I’ve wanted to see the Black Car Business fleshed out for quite some time and I’m glad its finally happening. Aside from the above, it was a great learning experience and a heck of a lot of fun.

OBAAT: Anthologies have become a much more prominent piece of the crime fiction landscape over the past few years. Akashic probably started it with their [insert city name here] Noir series. Then there are the collections based on songwriters. (Trouble in the Heartland inspired by Bruce Springsteen and Just to Watch Them Die for Johnny Cash.) Now there’s Unloaded, The Night of the Flood, Black Car Business and those are just the examples from Down & Out Books. Why do you think anthologies have become such a big deal?
LK: Credit to James Patterson, he developed the “sound bite” market. So many readers have only a short opportunity to capitalize on a good story and often time opt for a brief read. Patterson’s chapters are usually no more than a page or two. A reader can pick up one of his books with only a small amount of time to spare and still get a good dose of suspense. I think he’s helped train readers in this manner. Sort of like shopping at departments stores only on Wednesdays when everything is marked down. Or maybe I’m dead wrong. Perhaps it’s the art of Edgar Allan Poe making a resurgence—great suspense, twists and turns crammed into the space of just a few pages. Sounds good to me.


OBAAT: With The Black Car Business behind you, what’s next?
LK: I’ve spent a lot of time on project development in the last two years and now it’s time to put the lime in the coconut, or more commonly, put the bread on the table.

The Stephanie Chalice series has been my bread and butter, with more than half a million copies sold. I’ve been so busy with other projects that my Chalice output has been a little off. That’s fixed now—beginning April ’18 and continuing each month thereafter—that’s right, I said each month—Chalice is back in a new series I’ve chosen to call the City Beat. These are small novels of about one hundred pages, and as I said, this will be a monthly series. I’ve been brow beaten to death by Chalice fans complaining that I’m just not writing enough to keep them happy. A book a month is a hectic pace but I’ll stick to it until arthritis kicks in—or my fingers fall off.

I’m the new voice of Vincent Gambini and Mona Lisa Vito, that zany couple from “My Cousin Vinny.” Back To Brooklyn, the sequel to the iconic comedy was published last summer and received a warm reception from readers and critics alike. We’re moving forward. Next up is the official movie novelization. If you thought Vinny and Lisa were funny on the big screen, just wait until you start turning pages. Updated with added scenes and even more laughs, this literary version of “My Cousin Vinny” will have you rolling on the floor. Early in 2019, we’ll release You Should Know, the next chapter in the My Cousin Vinny saga. I foresee a longer and merry future for Vinny and Lisa. Am I sure? Yeah, I’m pos-i-tive!

Lastly, if you enjoyed “The Princess Bride” you’re sure to love The Treasure of Indecisie, a fantasy set in the age of enchantment, a story within a story that’ll have you laughing out loud. Out June ’18.


Monday, April 23, 2018

The Black Car Business Drops April 30


The Black Car Business launches one week from today.

“Okay,” you say. “What’s The Black Car Business?”

Fair enough. The Black Car Business is the newest anthology from the criminal masterminds at Down & Out Books. It’s a collection of stories that could be about anything, but you can rest assured “anything” does not include Corgi puppies riding on a unicorn that’s farting rainbows.

Think about the black car that’s been following you for the past half-hour. Doesn’t speed up, doesn’t slow down. You see two people in the front seats not well enough to describe them.

What about the black car that sits at the curb all day? Not right across from your house, but close enough to watch it.

Or the black car that pulls into your driveway. The driver door opens and a man with hams for biceps and no neck wearing gold chains and a track suit opens the door for a gentleman with hair in his ears whose eyes have all the vibrant enthusiasm of a shark.

Lawrence Kelter, author the best-selling Stephanie Chalice and Chloe Mather series as well as over a dozen other books, pulled together a wide and varied collection of authors including Eric Beetner, J. Carson Black, Cheryl Bradshaw, Diane Capri, Jeffery Hess, Lawrence Kelter himself, Allan Leverone, Simon Wood, and Vincent Zandri. (Okay, and me. Buy the book anyway.) Larry will be here on Friday to talk about the anthology in more detail, so I’ll cut to the chase.

You can pre-order The Black Car Business from Down & Out Books without having to do any more than click this link. Trade paperbacks are available at $15.95 with e-books selling for $3.99. Not a typo. Three dollars and 99 cents. Not even four bucks for the assemblage of talent listed above. (And me.) Of course, for the full freight of $15.95 you get the feel and smell of an honest to God book with the pride of ownership that comes with being able to look at a unique collection of fiction on your own personal bookshelf, waiting for you to pick it up and read it, or re-read it, as often as you like. Dog-ear your favorite passages. Bring it to Bouchercon and get the authors to sign it. They won’t all be there, but bring a copy to and I’ll put whoever’s name you want in it.

The Black Car Business. April 30 from Down & Out Books. Don’t be the guy who wonders what everyone is talking about when next year’s awards come out. You’ll thank me later.

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Movies Since Last Time


One-Eyed Jacks (1961) There’s a good movie in here somewhere, though four or five appear to peek out at various times. In the end it’s too long and too soap-opera-ish, not a
completely unexpected result given the number of cooks with input to this broth even though Rod Serling was the original screenwriter and Sam Peckinpah did the first re-write. There were others after that (including Calder Willingham) but in the end the task proved too great for novice director Marlon Brando. The final cut of 2:21 is down from Brando’s five hours (not a typo) and the ending is changed to a bittersweet yet more upbeat resolution. Worth a watch if you’re a cinephile or deeply interested in the Western movie canon, but there are better ways to spend two-and-a-half hours.

Blade Runner 2049 (2017) I cannot remember being more disappointed by a movie.

Darkest Hour (2017) A worthy film on multiple levels, but obviously will be remembered as
the peak of Gary Oldman’s superb career. Yes, some of the history is fudged, but the core elements are accurate enough and the story-telling is exceptional. If you’re a World War II buff, this will get you to thinking. If you’re not, this is as good a place as any to learn about a global cataclysm that still shapes how we live today and not feel like you’re having education forced on you. (Note: Yes, there is more to Churchill than the sympathetic treatment he receives here; he was a deeply flawed man. That’s not what the movies is about. It’s about how Churchill pretty much saved England from the Nazis, which is worth remembering him for regardless of his faults.)

Locke (2013) Interesting concept for this Tom Hardy vehicle. (No pun intended.) Hardy plays Ivan Locke, a man who lived his entire life as the picture of responsibility as his way of
making up for a father who was the exact opposite. He steps out of line one time—I’ll not say how, as the film takes its time doing the reveal—and his whole life is turned over, in large part because he continues to insist on doing the right thigs by everyone when it just can’t be done. The whole film takes place in Locke’s car as he’s talking to various people on the phone. No one else is seen; all the other actors are disembodied voices. That it works is a tribute to writer/director Steven Knight’s focus and ability to create a whole live for Locke that we never see, and Hardy’s low-key version of old-time movie star charisma. That the audience willingly gives him their undivided attention for an hour and a half is no mean feat. A good but not great film. Certainly one worth seeing and talking about.