Wednesday, October 31, 2007

A Message of Vital Importance

Just futzin' around with my new MacBook, which I call Whitey. The Photo Booth gizmo takes pics of me, right in my office. Yet another way for me to be distracted. Thanks, Apple.

That Double Vision Got the Best of Me

A while back, Jeff Pierce, the rompin' stompin' head honcho at THE RAP SHEET peeled the lid back on one of many nasty little truths of the publishing industry that nobody likes to admit: their covers often suck.

Startling news, I know, but he's since continued in that vein, routinely lambasting the perpetrators, "especially those that use the same imagery, duplicate the arrangement of elements, or bang repeatedly on a theme."

And oh, what glorious yucks there are to be had, gazing at the evidence. The line-up in his August 26, 2007 post "Can We Retire These Photos Yet?" tells all you need to know about the state of cover art these days.

As I said, I had quite the chuckle, checking out stock covers that have been recycled not once, but twice or even three times. All in recent years, and ll on books by some of the most respected writers around. This isn't just banging on a theme -- it's gangbanging on a theme. Yes, I laughed, laughed, laughed.

And then it happened to me.

The first short story I ever sold, "Two Fingers," appeared way back in 2001 in ICED, edited by Kerry Schooley and Peter Sellers, which billed itself as "The New Noir Anthology of Cold, Hard Fiction." It sported a jaunty photo of a smoking gun barrel, the warmth of the gold earthy hues of the photo contrasting nicely, I thought, with the often cold, grm stories inside -- and the implications of the photo itself.

I was proud to be included in that book, and pleased that the cover wasn't an embarrassment. I thought the designer, Mike O'Connor, did a heckuva job.

And then Marc Strange's SUCKER PUNCH arrived at my door. As an editor and reviewer my mailbox is always full of treasures, and nothing delights me more, this errant Canadian, than a package from home. I slashed open the envelope and dumped out the book, flipped it to the back cover, and started to read. Joe Grundy, ex-fighter. Check. Tough guy hotel dick, now working some swank joint in downtown Vancouver. Check. Dipshit, suddenly rich kid gets a premature trip to the pearly gates, while on Joe's watch, and Joe has to do what a Joe's gotta do. Check. Sounds good. I'm always in the market for a good Canadian P.I. and this one looks promising. Very promising, actually, after scanning the first few pages. This is going right to the top of my TBR pile.

Then I flipped the book back to the front cover. Talk about a sucker punch.

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Sunday, October 28, 2007

Gone Baby Gone: Whoda Thunk it?

Ben Affleck, hot new director?

I'm pleased to report that GONE, BABY, GONE is pretty good stuff.

I've had my fun over the years poking fun at the source of this film, a sterling example of hard-boiled bloat I simply found LONG, BABY, LONG. But first time director Ben Affleck cut out plenty of narrative fat from Dennis "MYSTIC RIVER" Lehane's book, and has delivered one of the best made-for-adults P.I. flicks in a long, long time; a lean, mean directorial debut that I don't think anyone saw coming.

I mean, sure, Affleck got an Oscar for co-writing GOOD WILL HUNTING with Matt Damon, but then, Affleck also has delivered more stinky, smirky cheese than any other actor his age in recent memory. But maybe all those cinematic turkeys served a purpose after all -- maybe Ben was taking notes.

He certainly seems to have learned well. Maybe his last turn as an actor -- a surprisingly solid, nuanced turn in HOLLYWOODLAND -- was the tell.

He gets so much right in GONE BABY GONE that it's hard to know where to start, but perhaps the most obvious is the casting. Morgan Freeman and Ed Harris in particular shine, like the seasoned pros they are, but he coaxes great performances out of the entire cast. In particular his kid brother Casey, in the lead role as P.I. Patrick Kenzie.

Casey looks about twelve, but he pulls it off with surprising effectiveness. The showdown in the bar with the locals is a classic -- the sorta scene that in most flicks usually ends up in an excess of violence and stuntmen working overtime and scenery smashing gets turned on its head; this is hard-boiled reduced to its essence. Not the willingness to loudly go at it, but to quietly stand up to the threat of it.

Both Bubba and Angie's characters have also been stripped down to their essence -- thank god -- and the stories moves quickly and stays focussed on the hunt for a missing little girl, culminating in a satisfyingly noirish ending that recalls CHINATOWN. Favourably.

And the feel for Boston is dead-on, more THE DEPARTED than SPENSER FOR HIRE, thankfully. The language, the attitude, the claustrophobic vibe of guilt and grit and working class dreams that get broken before they even start -- it all works. I'm not sure if rookie director Affleck can ever pull this off again -- being a Boston boy himself no doubt helped immeasurably -- but this is a good one. Not just adequate, or "too too bad," but arguably one of the best P.I. films ever made, and certainly the best in far too long.

No, really....

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Meet me in the middle, meet me in the end...

This is what it's come down to: me quoting lyrics from America.


What's next? Seals and Crofts?

Yes, ladies and germs, once more the road to regular publication of THE THRILLING DETECTIVE has hit a speed bump. Most of it's my fault, of course -- I'm the world's worst time manager, and I simply have too much on my plate. One day I'll learn to say "No," and mean it.

The new issue, what I'd optimistically thought would be a late summer/early fall/back-to-school issue, is now a month and a half late.

Procrastination and a few long promised articles and commitments, kept getting in the way, as well as a change in my work schedule (man does not live by web sites alone), a slew of social engagemnts I couldn't duck out of, my own fiction, and a major new non-fiction writing project (more about that later) have all conspired to keep me from working on the site.

And now my iBook has died. I'm writing this from my old (now almost ancient) iMac, which is still running Classic, a trusty old warrior that, alas, can't keep up with all the bells and whistles that have spread over the web like a cancer over the last few years. Half the pages I visit on the web are incomplete or unable to load, a sad commentary on modern web design. And web-based mail? Yuck!

(And it's not a Mac thing -- even state-of-the-art Windows machines like my sweetie has have trouble displaying some pages. But another problems with using ol' Big Blue is the fact that, well, I got used to the speed and ease of OS X.updating web pages is, of course, still possible, but it's so sloooooooow. On Saturday, I had to revise some pages for some clients, and it took most of the day. Partly it was the re-learning curve, but a big part of it was simply an older operating system struggling at the brink of its abilities. Isn't it amazing how quickly we take for granted improvements in technology? The new MacBook I'm considering will be faster, stronger, bigger... and cheaper than the last one.)

But I digress. Part of what was so disheartening about the breakdown was its timing -- not that there's ever a good time. I was just about to wrap up an article for MYSTERY SCENE (my annual gift guide); the last in a long string of to-dos before buckling down to the site and finally getting it up.

And that's when the God of Computers said "Hah!"

It sounds like a pathetic excuse for a missed deadline. I'm not even sure if Kate Stine, Mystery Scene's two-fisted editor believes me -- I'd sure have my doubts, if I were her. Especially since -- I kid you not -- D.L.'s laptop also died a few weeks ago. Also just as she was about to wrap up a final draft. I mean, what are the odds of thatr happening not once but twice? within weeks? In the same house?

If there is a God of Computers, he's really starting to piss me off.

Anyway. The prognosis, according to the computer doctor? A cracked logic board, probably sustained from a hard fall a few years ago. Repairing a three-and-a-half year old laptop will cost almost half the what a newer, faster, better machine will, so it looks like I'm shopping for a new computer. And this time, a better protected case.

One of the things I've also realized, going through the slow-pokery of web-based e-mail in the last few days, is how out of touch I've become from the mystery community. Once I'm back in the groove, I hope to rectify that. DetecToday, Rara-Avis, Wicked Company, SMFS and several others are all doing very well without me, but I miss them. and it's occurred to me that the more I play with others, the more they'll play with me.

Also, I'm really going to have to come to terms with fiction on the site. What started as a labor of love has become a true burden. Gerald does a great job, but it's often a long ardorous task, on both our parts, whipping them bad boys into shape. We'll muddle through to our tenth anniversary with the fiction, and then I'll come to some sort of a decision.

Don't get me wrong -- I'm not dropping the site. I love doing it. A cup of coffee or a few beers, some music blasting and a stack of notes, clippings, e-mails, books and magazines to wade through and enter onto the site, and I can easily and happily blow a whole day off. But once again, I'm feeling the strain (and ain't it a shame?) of finding that time. A hiatus isn't an option at this point (although maybe a brief nap after the holidays may be in order).

So bear with me. Let me get a new computer (should take a few days), let me set it up, and I'll unleash a new "issue" as soon as I can. It'll probably only sport a few new stories. But then, hopefully sometime in December, I'll unleash another "issue," with a few more stories and all the year-end crap I usually do.

And as usual, my apologies to those who've been waiting for about forever for their stories to show up.

They deserve better than this.

Monday, October 01, 2007

Oh, to be in Ireland now that Shamus time is here...

Well, that does it. I'm moving to Ireland.

Nah, not really.

This year's Shamuses were announced at the Bouchercon and Ken Bruen nabbed the Best Novel for THE DRAMATIST and fellow Irishman Declan Hughes picked up the Best First Novel for THE WRONG KIND OF BLOOD.

And tag-team sister act P.J. Parrish grabbed the Best PBO award, while O'Neil De Noux grabbed Best Short Story.

Let's see... two Micks, two women and a guy with a suspiciously French (FRENCH!) last name. If they all walked into a bar together, it would probably be the start of a helluva joke.

But it's proof, if anything, that the "American" private eye is up for grabs to just about anyone willing to "storm the citadel," as Chandler put it. The authors' gender, nationality and all the rest of that crap isn't really what excites me, so much as the books and stories themselves. These are fresh voices, new experiences, new styles and tones, stuff that pushes what is and is not a "private eye" story; stuff that not just honours but builds on a tradition.

Pretty cool, if you ask me.

And I've been lucky enough to correspond or meet with most of the winners (usually in bars) over the years, so believe me, it's coming from the heart when I say congrats all around. Next one's on me.

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