Friday, September 3, 2010

Back in the Abbott

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.


Nigel Bird said...

sex and thugs shines out from my bookshelf. truly it does.
and patricia will be part of the 'talking with myself' series with a posting on thursday (the lucky 9/9). she has more good things to say, so it's worth coming over and taking a look.
and in writing terms, 'under-achiever, my ass' just about covers it - if that's under-achievement, i'm not sure i ever drew breath.

jedidiah ayres said...

sums it up, uh-huh. Some of us are realllllly lazy.

Paul D Brazill said...

She's a brilliant writer, that Mrs A. one of the best.

Kieran Shea said...

i made it a point to find Patti this past year at B'con and let me tell you...she's a class act. Had me in a choke hold in two seconds and stole my wallet.

Of course I kid...she's the greatest.