Tuesday, September 28, 2010
Erik Lundy is a stand-up comedian, cartoonist and crime writer… Hold on, I think I hear Anthony Neil Smith climaxing. Could be why he's one of the new assistant editors for Plots With Guns, (new issue features Jonathan Woods, Matthew McBride, Jason Duke, Bryon Quertermous, David James Keaton, Steven Torres, Chris Benton, Nathan Cain, Matthew C. Funk, Tim L. Williams). That means, he’s busy. Real busy. But he took the time to write a piece for the Narrative Music series. He also writes about one of my favorite types of fictional characters - those Tom Waits might refer to as, "Nothing wrong with her a hundred dollars wouldn't fix," but who still take on the world like everything's at stake. Those with no sense of proportion. Those who reach for the stars, but their own lack of grandiose vision limits them to liquor store hold ups, cheating on their spouses with meth dealers who have a nicer truck... you get the picture.
After you dig this piece, go check out Erik's stuff at Workplace of the Damned.
A Front Row Seat to Hear Old Johnny Sing
I know, I know, you’re sitting in a bar, sucking down a brewski, and your buddy pipes up, “Hey, crime fiction and music?” You slap your head and say, “Well, shit howdy. Shel Silverstein, of course.”
Okay, maybe not, but the dude who wrote Where the Sidewalk Ends also happened to write some of my all-time-favorite story-songs. He won a Grammy for A Boy Named Sue, was responsible for the harrowing story of a prisoner counting down the minutes to his execution in another Cash song 25 Minutes to Go, and told us of a girl, Sarah Cynthia Sylvia Stout, and her refusal to take some garbage out. You could practically put together a late night commercial shilling two-disc sets of Silver-songs. And, that’s just the ones sung by other people.
My favorite from The ‘Stein is the story of a young man who has almost completed his very own American Dream – he’s got a TV set, and a wife, a truck, but it just isn’t enough. He has to have a front row seat to hear ole Johnny sing, damnit. He’s went through all the proper channels in his life, getting the TV and truck on credit. And, what would be more Americana than purchasing a wedding ring at Woolworth’s?
And, the more he risks to achieve the goal (pawning his wife’s wedding ring, selling his own gold tooth, and even mortgaging the farm), the further it’s pushed away from him just a teensy bit more. From being turned away by Johnny’s wife at their door, to being laughed at when trying to buy tickets that have been sold out for months and months at the Opry box office. To the point that it’s downright normal for him to fight his way into a concert, and even get tossed in the penn for his trouble.
What I love most about this song is the simplicity of the goals. I’m a sucker for characters who, “shoot for the lowest star.” (I’d love to take credit for that phrase, but Amy Sedaris used it in reference to an actor friend.) Ya know, they long to make it to the sky, but they’ll settle before they get all the way to the moon. I understand Breaking Bad’s Walter White slinging meth for the good of the unborn child, wife and disabled son he’s leaving behind. But, the guy that makes me giggle ‘til I tinkle in my Fruit of the Loom’s a little is the one that foregoes fertility drugs in favor of snatching one of local furniture maven Nathan Arizona’s quintuplets.
The guy in this song, he didn’t dream of being a star on stage himself. Hell, he wasn’t even asking to meet Johnny, shake his hand, or get an autographed headshot for the living room. No, he was just happy to have a front row seat in the audience with all the other regular Joes who paid for tickets. And, by the end of the song, despite his travails and current state of confinement, it’s all worth it when The Man in Black sings a tune in his prison yard.
A Front Row Seat To Hear Ole Johnny Sing:
Now you know some fellahs, they want fame and fortune
Yeah, and other fellahs they just wanna swing
But all I wanted all my life
Was a TV set and a truck and a wife
And a front row seat to hear ole Johnny sing.
Yeah the TV and the truck I got on credit.
And I got that girl with a little old Woolworth ring
And life was warm and life was sweet
But still, it was kinda incomplete
Without a front row seat to hear ole Johnny sing.
Hey, John you walk the line,
Do "Deelia" one more time
And when you do them Cottonfields
You warm this heart of mine.
So, one day I thought, Hey, I'm gonna do it!
(That's what I said)
So, I mortgaged the farm and pawned her wedding ring.
I sold the gold tooth out of my mouth
And jumped in the pickup and headed South.
For a front row seat to hear ole Johnny sing.
I hit Nashville cold and wet and hungry.
I said, "I'm here, bring him on let him do his thing."
But they told me down at the Old Pit Grill
I'd have to go all the way to Andersonville
For a front row seat to hear ole Jonny sing.
I found his house knocked on the door and it was opened
By a brown-haired girl and a baby with a teethin' ring.
I said "I seen you somewhere before
but don't stand there and block the door
I want a front row seat to hear ole Johnny sing."
She said I'd have to go down to The Opry
And the feller there said I'd have to wait till Spring.
He said, "We've been sold out for months and months
And this poor insane fellah wants
A front row seat to hear ole Johnny sing."
Well, he said a couple more things, and I started cryin'
And then he laughed at me and that's when I started to swing.
Well I bust through the doors in a roaring rage,
Crawled over the crowd till I reached the stage
For a front row seat to hear ole Johnny sing.
Then some crazy guard started shootin'
I shot back, and the next thing I know I was winged
and on the floor
When a guy in a voice kinda deep and low
Says, "Boy that's a mighty long way to go
For a front row seat to hear ANYBODY sing."
And I guess that judge, he weren't no music lover.
I got fifteen months but that don't mean a thing.
Cos' yesterday in the prison yard
A show come through and HAR! de HAR!
I had a front row seat to hear ole Johnny sing.
Saturday, September 25, 2010
Over at Ransom Notes I'm looking longingly at the new Black Mask anthology from Black Lizard & editor Otto Penzler and it's got me thinkun... Is there a modern day equivalent to Black Mask? E-zines & print periodicals are out there for folks who wanna read this stuff, but... Yeah, it's not quite the same. I'll tell you what I do love about the Mask, and we'll see someday how our publishing community stacks up, but they were shooting rapid fire from the hip with that stuff. Crank it out and crank it out again. It was supposed to be disposable literature, but some of it really stuck, huh? Some of it has way outlived its original fresh by date and shaped serious and hack writers alike for generations. It's also cool to see Penzler and James Ellroy have edited that noir of the century anthology and reached for some pretty heavy hitting modern writers to include therein.
Dennis Tafoya is sticking the questions to Anthony Zuiker whose Level 26 series is co-authored by Duane Swierczynski.
Benjamin Whitmer's debut Pike is amazing. Get off your ass and read that one like now, (thanks Keith Rawson for bringing that one to my attention). And thanks to Kieran Shea for turning me on to Thomas McGuane's Ninety-Two in the Shade which has one of the best friggin endings ever. Reminded me of what I love about Elmore Leonard too. Dunno how Shea or McGuane or Leonard would feel about that comment, but I made it and I'd do it again. By the way, Shea says not to see the film adaptation of that one, but lookit that cast, dunno if I can resist it.
Tuesday, September 21, 2010
Over at Ransom Notes, I'm getting all geographically specific again. Last time I did that was with John McFetridge and Canadian crime writers - as in - I didn't know any others. Thanks, Hilary Davidson, Sandra Ruttan and Brian Lindenmuth for schooling my ugly American ass, but this time? This time I'm prepared and looking for it to happen. Please gimme some good Australian crime recs over there as I'm trying to prepare for Cameron Ashley's visit. Cam, of course, will be here for N@B Oct. 21st along with Jonathan Woods. Be there.
10 - hour marathon of pitch meetings yesterday. Got go on the Warner Bros. lot and walk around checking out the big ol' sound stages where all kinds of great art was made. That was cool. Also spotted a location used a couple of times on The Shield, as we drove by. I've been geeking out on this trip wherever I could. Sunday, Scott and I were at a memorial retrospective for the artist Phil Lewis and I got to stand next to Toby Huss, an actor I really enjoy - especially in Carnivale. What? You've never seen Carnivale? Fix that, like now. Geeked. Yeah.
And speaking of great HBO dramas, because I've been staying in a fancy pants hotel, I was able to catch Boardwalk Empire, Sunday night. And Monday night. Wow. Got me very excited for the rest of that one. Getting ready to get on a jet plane soon. See you on the other side.
Sunday, September 19, 2010
Sunday breather. L.A. trip is good/exhausting. Seriously, I'm up at like four in the morning causa my midwest body clock and then up till midnight. Not complaining though. I'm happy to be doin this. Have had some good meetings and seen some crazy shit, like yesterday when we stopped at The Museum of Death. Kinda unsettling kiddos. Also found some weird relation the hotel I'm staying in has to the Wonderland murders, (but then, it's also the hotel John Malkovich fell to his death at in In the Line of Fire). Caught up with Jordan Harper and the good folks at the Mystery Bookstore yesterday, have met some great, friendly people and have a bunch more to go, before heading home Tuesday.
Next up. Preparing for Jonathan Woods and Cameron Ashley to seriously disturb the force in St. Louis. N@B, October 21st y'all.
Friday, September 17, 2010
Wednesday, September 15, 2010
Over at Ransom Notes I'm talking pseudonyms, or one in particular. For anybody who ain't heard, Richard Price has announced he'll be using one - Jay Morris - to pen a series of detective novels. So what? You may well ask, hasn't he been writing crime novels for years? Yeah, I'd say he has, but I'd also say, go for it, dude. Use the hell out of that name. Churn out some books. I want to see you get reckless. He's proven he's an amazing writer, let's see if the cover of a fake name lets him off the leash of high-brow respectability and he can have a lot of fun. Do you really think the guy who wrote Clockers, Samaritan and Lush Life is really gonna turn out genre dreck? I don't. Genre, sure, but dreck? Uh, no. Bring it on.
He's written some great genre screenplays too. They haven't all made great movies, but they've held a lot of potential. One of my favorite? Mad Dog & Glory. Robert De Niro as a timid cop and Bill Murray as a gangster - you gotta love that. Plus Uma Thurman and David Caruso? Yeah, I'll watch that one again. Oh, yeah, Barbet Schroeder's Kiss of Death also had Caruso innit. Hmmm. I'd like to revisit Price's Sea of Love and Night and the City soon, too.
Tuesday, September 14, 2010
Friday, September 10, 2010
Finally got the opportunity to see That Evening Sun, Scott Teems’ feature debut adaptation of William Gay’s short story I Hate to See That Evening Sun Go Down, tonight. I’ve had my eye on that production for a couple of years now, my interest in it manifold. I’m a fan of the acting talent as well as the producer/actors Ray McKinnon and Walton Goggins, (their previous producing credits with McKinnon in the director’s chair are Chrystal and Randy and the Mob), and I’m a big fan of Gay’s fiction. My third strain of interest in Teems’ film is purely selfish, as it’s the first feature to be made from the books of William Gay, with two more in the pipeline – Provinces of Night will arrive with the film title Bloodworth soonish. Then they’re calling the movie version Beyond the Pale instead of the book’s perfectly fine moniker, Twilight, for some reason, and if they wanna make another picture from a novel, it’s gotta be The Long Home, (unless The Lost Country ever gets a release). All that to say, guess who wrote a screenplay for The Long Home… Scott Phillips, (and me).
It was the third screenplay we wrote together and the first adaptation work either of us had ever done and damn it made us think we were awesome. I think it’s a kick ass screenplay, if that’s okay to say so, and I think it is ‘cause, I’ll tell you right now, William Gay did all the heavy lifting. It’s a hell of a good book and you should definitely give it a read. Then you should rent , (or buy), That Evening Sun and show movie makin’ types that there’s an audience for this kind of fare so that they’ll get our little screenplay made and we will be so, so filthy rich. Ah hell, even if it never gets made, it was one of the greatest writing experiences of my life. Being even tangentially aligned with the heritage of that piece gives me a word boner. Incidentally, I heard rather out of the blue from a writer I greatly admire several months ago, that he’d been visiting Gay in his home and seen a copy of our script lying around. I nearly puked when I heard that. Pleased and scared shitless at the same time.
But, how was Teems’ film? Real nice. He did a great job filling out the story and characters from the original short piece. The pacing is fantastic and the performances are a real pleasure. It deals with the themes that run through most of Gay’s work – young men unsure of their place in the world and old men unwilling to give up their’s, (except that the younger man in this story aint so young.) The balance struck between McKinnon’s Lonzo Choat and Hal Holbrook’s Abner Meecham is amazing. Neither man is wrong, but both are fooling themselves and neither are willing to bend to the blowing winds. Watching these two characters go at each other’s will, I was reminded constantly of Walter and The Dude’s conversation from The Big Lebowski:
Walter: Am I wrong?
The Dude: No, Walter, you’re not wrong, you’re just an asshole.
Please, go check this movie out. I want to be rich. Oooh, and maybe I will be. Scott and I are gearing up to visit Los Angeles next week with some scripts we’ve got nibbles on. Nibbles translates to exactly $0.00, but who knows? I’m done, jinxing them, now. While I’m there, I hope to see Jordan Harper and hey, Jimmy Callaway if you ever get out of the whale’s vagina,(San Diego, kids), I’ll be in the neighborhood. Last time I was there, I saw Kim Coates at a hotel bar. Didn’t say ‘hi’ or nothin cause I’m so cool, but now, as I’m watching the second season of Sons of Anarchy, I keep thinking maybe I should have. Eh, Scott’s gonna introduce me to all the big shots out there anyhow.
Speaking of Mr. Phillips, his new novel Rut will be published by Stona Fitch’s Concord Free Press in October and if you want a copy, all you have to do is make a donation to charity. What charity? You choose. How much? You choose. Just let CFP know so that they can track the money on their website. Go on over and give it a gander. They’ve put together some quality publications in the last couple years and raised no small nut for some worthy causes.
While we’re talking publishers, Mulholland Books, though they’ve not released a single title yet, have really gone to the wall with their website. They’ve published some great little essays by the likes of Tom Piccirilli, George Pelecanos, Megan Abbott, Laura Lippman, Charles Ardai, Allan Guthrie, Ken Bruen , Ray Banks and Charlie Huston. I dunno how long they can keep up that pace. I'm getting tired just posting links.
And while not a publishing house, Steve Weddle and company, over at the absolutely independent no strings on me club that is Needle magazine, have announced an exciting new development. Over the course of their next three issues, they’ll be publishing a novel length serial by Mr. Ray Banks. I like the sound of that. That’s a quality little magazine they do, yes sir.
If you don’t know Mr. Banks, you can read a bit about him over at Ransom Notes, or even better, you could get a taste in the current issue of Needle. Or how about checking the archives at Out of the Gutter or Crimefactory, or hell, just go get one of the novels. Yeah, I think that’s a safe bet, you’re gonna like what you read.
Wednesday, September 8, 2010
Writer/director David Michod’s debut feature, Animal Kingdom finally opened in St. Louis this weekend and it arrived burdened with enough anticipatory baggage to drown a lesser film. I’ve already gone on about how many times I’ve watched the Air Supply scored trailer and marveled at the effectiveness and sheer audacity of that song’s use in it, so I won’t repeat myself, suffice to say I knew a fair amount about what to expect from this film in terms of plot and tone, but it never went where I’d determined it was headed. No small achievement that. There was a moment early on where, in regards to a certain character, I realized that I’d seen every shot from the trailer he’d been featured in already and I was left to guess where he was headed. Unlike when I experienced that same rare feeling of uncertainty in a film previously this year in 44” Chest, (and then nothing happened), Animal Kingdom took me completely off guard and scared the hell out of me. There is an assassination early in the picture that so effectively sets up the danger and the very real stakes of everything that follows, that the pressure never lets up. Doesn’t matter what’s going on onscreen, you are tense, you know that no one is safe and that by the time you (or they) see it coming, it’ll all be over.
The first scene is a small work of perfection. Could’ve been an award winning short film, really and it sets up our main character better than any synopsis some hack like me might agonize over constructing, so I’ll leave it alone, but I’ll mention James Frecheville’s performance of J. as one of the best on screen portrayals of a teenager since Leo Fitzpatrick in Larry Clark's Kids. This dude is so dull in the eyes and blank about the face and turns in such a slack jawed demonstration of mouth breathing, without ever overdoing it, you’ll be tempted not to give him credit for acting. But that my friends is simply nailing the part. And it’s a brave part to nail. Aside from a single moment to break down crying, he’s given no flashy lookit-me type “acting” to do.
Frecheville’s is one among an ensemble of strong performances that include Jackie Weaver, Ben Mendelsohn, Sullivan Stapleton and Guy Pearce. Writer of The Square (as well as brother of The Square’s director Nash Edgerton), Joel Edgerton also turns in what would be a star making performance in a bigger exposure picture as the singular voice of reason and moderation amongst this circle of thieves and madmen. His onscreen presence is one of the most magnetic in years. Dude’ll be huge, mark my words. Let’s just hope that he can say ‘no’ to a few of those awful first offers that come his way now – the ones Colin Farrell wasn’t able to turn down for a few years.
I remember reading some early reviews of Reservoir Dogs where critics said “I know what this film wanted to do. It just wanted to show you all the things you don’t get to see in crime movies. It’s a heist film and you never see the heist. Instead, it focuses on all the boring parts. Ha-ha. A cheap trick.” And I suspect some folks will feel the same about Animal Kingdom. There is no big job our bank -robbing protagonists are gearing up for. There is no little job. And we’re mercifully spared any court -room procedural even though a large section of the film is preparing us for the testimony one character will bring against his partners. We understand enough from the preparation and the aftermath exactly how things go. Anything else would be gratuitous, and even though it’s a well-trod genre, there is nothing gratuitous about Animal Kingdom.
There is no cool criminal speak about ‘scores’, ‘hits’, ‘marks’ or ‘vigs’. Nobody racks a gun in a sexy manner. No one discusses grand plans for outwitting the police or each other. In fact, all we get to see of the reward for the criminal life style the main characters live is a bunch of high-strung, paranoid bundles of kinetic violence cowering in the dark of their own living rooms from the police. And with good reason. At one point, we hear a character say that they heard the police are looking to kill him, (apparently out of frustration, since they’ve been unable to prove any allegations against him). In any other movie, we’d have no reason to believe that this was anything more than a paranoid delusion of grandeur, but we’re given several onscreen demonstrations of the ruthless, systematic abuse of power these guys are up against and, like I said earlier, you’re just tense the whole time. I was reminded of the quote from Frank James on why he’d turned himself in, (found in Scott Wolven’s collection of outlaw and convict stories Controlled Burn),
“I was tired of an outlaw’s life. I have been hunted for twenty-one years. I have literally lived in the saddle. I have never known a day of perfect peace. It was one long, anxious, inexorable, eternal vigil. When I slept it was literally in the midst of an arsenal. If I heard dogs bark more fiercely than usual, or the feet of horses in a greater volume of sound than usual, I stood to my arms. Have you any idea of what a man must endure who leads such a life? No, you cannot.”
And like a Wolven story, there is more meaning packed into the details, more nuance in the choice of words, (or silence), and more life pulsing beneath the sum of the character’s actions than the combined yield from any ten examples of the standard fare “crime” fans are typically fed. Just watch a single scene between the oldest, Pope, and his youngest brother - the relentless goading masked as an appeal for clearing the air and understanding between them, and the weary acceptance of brotherly abuse -you’ve got that relationship down. Or the sweet, bordering on creepy way mom treats her sons, their prompt, slumped shouldered acquiesce to her kisses that put them in their place – directly under her. Family,the ties that bind. And gag.
I’m not sure why this film is drawing so much comparison to Goodfellas. I wish that it weren’t, because they’re dissimilar experiences and it’s an unfair, if flattering, parallel to make. I’m tempted to think that when audiences feel moved or overwhelmed by a mere genre picture, it’s immediately heralded as the second coming of, ‘oh, what was that other good movie about criminals?’ and A Prophet had already snagged The Godfather comparison this year. Animal Kingdom is not the scale of film that Goodfellas is. One of its strengths is its firm grasp of its own identity. It’s a small picture, modest in scope, ambitious in tone and confident in its abilities. It will not meet you halfway. It’s not pandering for a larger audience. Like each creature in the titular metaphor, it strives to set the terms and if you’ll just submit to them, we’ll all get along fine.
Tuesday, September 7, 2010
The chalk outline Blood patterns. The sleep-fucked men standing by. The punk flanked by two squadroom bruisers. He’s blinking back flashbulb glare. He’s got one finger twirling. He’s flipping the square world off.
Don DeLillo called it “the neon epic of Saturday night.” It’s Crime. It’s the bottomless tale of the big wrong turn and the short cut to Hell via cheap lust and cheaper kicks. It’s meretricious appetite. It’s moral forfeiture. It’s society indited for its complicity and dubious social theory. It’s heroism. It’s depravity. It’s justice enacted both vindictively and indifferently. It’s our voyeurism refracted.
We want to know. We need to know. We have to know. We don’t want to live crime. We want our kicks once removed-on the screen or the page. It’s our observer’s license and inoculation against crime virus itself. We want celebrity lowlifes and downscale lives in duress. We want crime scenes explicated through scientific design. We want the riddle of a body dumped on a roadway hitched to payback in the electric chair.
We want it. We get it. Filmmakers, novelists, and journalists keep us supplied. They know how much we want our bloodthirsty thrills and how we want them circumscribed. Movies, TV, novels and stories. Dramatic arcs. Beginnings, middles, and ends. Most crime is fed to us fictionally. The purveyors exploit genre strictures and serve up the kicks with hyperbole. We get car chases, multiple shootouts, and limitless sex. We get the psychopathic lifestyle. We get breathless excitement-because breathless excitement has always eclipsed psychological depth and social critique as the main engine of crime fiction in all its forms.
Herein lies the bullshit factor. Here we indite the most brilliant suppliers of the crime-fiction art. I’ll proffer indictment. Count number one-and cringe in the throes of self-indictment.
In the worldwide history of police work there has never been a single investigation that involved numerous gun battles, countless sexual escapades, pandemic political shake-ups, and revelations that define corrupt institutions and overall societies.
Count number one informs all subsidiary counts. That sweeping statement tells us that we are dealing with a garish narrative art.It’s underpinnings are unrealistic.It’s story potential is manifest-and as such usurped by artists good, great, fair, poor, proficient and incompetent. Crime fiction in all forms is crime fiction of the imagination. That fact enhances good and great crime fiction and dismisses the remainder. Crime fiction fails the reader/viewer/voyeur in only one way: It is not wholly true. And that severely fucks with our need to know.
True Crime TV shows, feature documentaries, full-length books and reportage. Revised narrative strictures.
You must report the truth.You can interpret it and in that sense shape it-but your factual duty is nonnegotiable.
- James Ellroy
The Hilliker Curse:My Pursuit of Women is out today kids. At Ransom Notes, I'm setting the stage in my best demon-dog voice. Leave a comment in the comment section of this here piece to be entered in an Ellroy book giveaway. No, not the new one. The other one. I'll draw a name Friday.
For those of you who haven't checked out the Mulholland Books site, would do well to go over there and read some of the great essays they're racking up including this one from Ken Bruen.
Friday, September 3, 2010
Going down the contributor list for Beat to a Pulp: Round One still. It will be the third time, I’ve had a piece published with one by Patricia Abbott, whose name was hardly new to me the first time we appeared together in Sex, Thugs and Rock & Roll. After all, she’d been among the contributors to Murdaland magazine’s first issue, the landmark publication that I think, in the future, we’re going to hear a lot of authors, (myself included), sight as the final push for them to try their hand at writing and to take it seriously.
Of course, the second time we appeared in print together was in the premier issue of another crime journal, Needle, that, in only two issues, has raised some pretty ridiculous expectations. I’ve also, just seen the contributor list for the first Crime Factory print anthology and find that I’ll be sharing space with Patti a fourth time there. She’s everywhere, and her presence is part of the mortar that holds this on-line writing community together. On her blog, Pattinase, she hosts the weekly feature Friday’s Forgotten Books where a regular cast of writers contribute lists of overlooked gems from their own reading experience.
Over at Ransom Notes, I’m hoping to introduce some more folks to the series, and here I’m printing an expanded edition of her own account of its origin and her experience with it.
PA: By spring of 2008, I’d been blogging for nearly two years. One thing that bothered me about blogging was its solipsistic nature. It was mostly about me, day after day: my writing problems, movies I’d seen, books I was reading. Why did anyone want to read that? What I enjoyed about blogging most was the network of people I’d connected with and I began to think about some sort of joint project we could work on. (Flash fiction challenges was another project I started around them. But again, they were self-promotional to some extent). What I didn’t want to do was get into the habit of reviewing current books. I knew I could never give a contemporary writer a bad review so what value would a stream of good reviews have. Also I didn’t like to be held to reading current or solely crime fiction books. And there were enough blogs reviewing current books and doing it very well.
One day I was browsing at a flea market and saw shelves of books by writers that I’d read or knew about as a child. Names like Mary Stewart, Peter Dickson, Sloane Wilson, Colin Dexter, Herman Wouk. The dusty old books sold for under a dollar. Or didn’t even sell for under a dollar, to be frank. Why? If you look at the New York Times best sellers lists for the early fifties, Frank Yerby had four books on the list between 1950-55; Francis Parkinson Keyes, four too. Thomas B. Costain, three. Are these books worth resurrecting? I thought a lot of them were.
So I asked a few of the friends I had made online if they would like to write about a forgotten book on April 25, 2008. I would write one myself (Desperate Characters by Paula Fox) and post links to their blogs. I called the project The Book You Have To Read, but almost immediately, people referred to it as Forgotten Books. I asked each of the original reviewers to pass the torch to someone else.
Two interesting things happened. One of the initial reviewers passed the torch to Ali Karim and his review the second week, appearing on The Rap Sheet, turned it into a joint project when J, Kingston Pierce picked it up. Secondly, when we came to week two, Bill Crider wrote a second review. It’d never occurred to me that anyone would do it a second time—especially not consecutively. Someone had to call it to my attention before I inserted his link. To date, Bill has done a review of a forgotten every week for two and a half years. A number of other reviewers nearly match his devotion. They are truly what keeps it going.
I do get feedback from people who have found books through Forgotten Books all the time. And the people who review books steadily have formed a community that discusses the books among themselves. One of the most interesting things for me is the writers I have learned about—ones I never noticed on those dusty flea market shelves or in the second-hand bookstores. Names like Orrie Hitt, Harry Whittington, James Hadley Chase, Gil Brewer, Vin Packer, George Chesbro, Day Keene and Derek Raymond were all new to me. No one has learned more than me from the project so there is still a solipsistic element to it. I never realized there was a whole different set of crime writers I’d never read. And I find it funny to see that the books several of the regular reviewers champion (Martin Edwards, Kerrie Smith, Bonnie Lawson) are the ones I’ve read, and the ones another group writes about are the ones I haven’t. I am truly out of my element with the reviews of westerns, having read only a few. Then we have someone like Ed Gorman who writes about books from all genres. I usually feel woefully under-read.
We have delved heavily into forgotten westerns, fantasy, science fiction and horror. We do seem to lack reviews that concentrate on romance though. And non-fiction is a bit sparsely noted. We have had weeks on books for kids, short story collections, biographies and books we read in college. The most often remembered book is Daughter of Time by Josephine Tey. Another favorite has been The Friends of Eddie Coyle and No Orchids For Miss Landish, which intrigued my husband enough to order and read it.
Many hundreds of writers and readers have contributed a review to this endeavor. People like Ken Bruen, Laura Lippman, Wallace Stroby, Sandra Scoppettone, Al Guthrie, Dave Zeltserman, Sandra Ruttan, Jason Starr, Craig MacDonald and many, many others helped me out early on. Having a known writer contribute to the project brought readers in. An average of 250-300 individual people look in every Friday. We may not be saving these forgotten books but maybe they will go out having had their titles mentioned.
I try to features someone new on my blog each week although that is getting more difficult now that so much time has passed. But it’s the regular group that you see every Friday that keeps the project going. If you combine it with the people who have reviewed for The Rap Sheet it has to exceed five hundred people. Although The Rap Sheet has given up posting a weekly book review, it will still participate often. Jeff and I talk about putting together a collection of the reviews. It might happen now with so many formats to consider.
Everyone in the Abbott household writes. My son, an appellate prosecutor probably writes the most, preparing briefs and arguments for the Michigan Appeals and Supreme Court every day. My husband is the author of 13 books and over fifty scholarly articles. Megan is working on her sixth novel. The End of Everything comes out in April and a graphic novel, Normandy Gold (with Alison Gaylin) in the fall of 2011. I am the underachiever by far. That’s okay. I have my blog.
Underachiever, my ass, Patricia Abbott has written more than seventy short stories in literary and crime fiction venues. Forthcoming print stories will appear in Damn Near Dead 2; By Hook or By Crook and a Halloween anthology edited by Anne Frasier. Online stories are scheduled to appear in Spinetingler and Dark Valentines. She won the Derringer Award in 2008 for My Hero. And I have a feeling we’ll see novels from her soon.