Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Roly-Poly Fish Heads

Was great to see everybody who came out to the Donald Ray Pollock event at Subterranean Books last week. I got to introduce him and decided to mostly read directly from Kyle Minor’s review of The Devil All the Time which was a good decision. Afterward, grabbed a drink with Rod, Judy and Matthew McBride and that was a good decision too.

You know what else would be a good decision? Doing what I tell you to, that’s what. How many times have I told you to pick up and read The Sixth Gun by Cullen Bunn and Brian Hurtt now? Mmmm, five or six anyway. Welllll, Imadoitagin. Pick it up. Read it before you watch it on SyFy. Over the weekend came the announcement  outta ComiCon that the cable network will be adapting the comic book for television. Am I excited? Hell yeah, I’m excited – that’s a great series and SyFy’s history boasts y’know Battlestar Galactica and… Well, Battlestar Galactica was a good fuckin show. Before the weekend’s announcement I was trying to drum up some adaptation fervor for Brian Hurtt’s latest book Cowboys, a Vertigo Crime one-off , written by Gary Phillips (who’s also got another comic book just out – Angeltown) over at Ransom Notes. I petitioned the likes of Martin Scorsese, Brian De Palma, Spike Lee and Antoine Fuqua, but I haven’t heard back from any of them yet.

I did hear back from one film maker though; Thomas Kaufman who stopped by the HBW with a guest post about writing violence a couple weeks back – a few of you read and appreciated that one. Just dropped a line to lemme know that he’s got a companion piece up at The Prime Time Crime Review.

Tomorrow night I’ll be at Square Books in Oxford, MS for the Megan Abbott - Scott Phillips event for The End of Everything and The Adjustment. Never been to Ol’ Miss, (though I used to live in Arkansas), and I’m looking forward to it. Speaking of Arkansas, I just read the first two issues of Fish-Head – a magazine devoted to people who like hang out under bridges and drink beer…- that I read about on Don Lee’s blog and enjoyed them immensely. They’re published outta Clarksville and speak of many places I know and knew in Fayetteville, Rogers and Eureka Springs, (hell, probably Erik Lundy did too, maybe even John Hornor Jacobs, Tom Franklin, Charles Portis, William Harrison or Daniel Woodrell – all spent their time in Arkansas). My favorite pieces included: How I Almost Wrote Porn for the Mob and Lived to Tell the Tale, Dept. of Strange Sexual Encounters: Case # 216B and Emmett Sudsbury’s Taxicab Confessions. Emmett? You’re ever up in St. Louis, let’s set up a reading.

Somebody else who’s worked as a cab driver that I’d like to rope into one of our events, other than Jack Clark (Nobody’s Angel), is St. Louis’s own Daniel Waugh who’s written at least a couple of books about St. Louis crime – Egan’s Rats and Gangs of St. Louis. Good anecdotal true crime that ought to enhance the St. Louis experience for anybody coming to town for Bouchercon in September.

When I get back from the Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter I’ll be focused on the next N@B event happening Saturday, August 6, 7pm at Meshuggah CafĂ©. Scott will be doing his first St. Louis event for The Adjustment, Jane Bradley will make you squirm reading from You Belivers, Jesus Angel Garcia will probably just collapse in exhaustion built up over the past weeks on the road, but hey I’m sure that’ll be entertaining too. David Cirillo will read from his story in Noir at the Bar THE BOOK! (which SHOULD be available for the first time that night!), so it oughtta be…emotional.

Monday, July 18, 2011

On the Way

Well it looks like those Los Angeles fellas Eric Beetner, Stephen Blackmoore and Aldo Calcagno have pulled off a successful launch for their strain of Noir at the Bar. Last night they were joined by Josh Stallings, Holly West and Duane Swierczynski and apparently nobody died. I'll be following their regress with interest - looks like they're already looking at another event in October. 'Course, they don't have their very own book like St. Louis N@B does! We are now down to the waiting for hardcopies to land and I'm terribly pleased with the book. Just goes to show what you can accomplish when you're surrounded by generous, talented people and you don't give two shits about punctuation or spelling.

Y'know who gets a big fat round of applause for this book tho? Fuckin Jon Bassoff and Matt Kindt, thems who. Bassoff formatted it and pulled some strings for my cherry ass and Kindt designed the shit outta it. Y'know who else gets a big thanks? Our blurbers - Lawrence Block, Duane Swierczynski, Megan Abbott, Todd Robinson, Roger Smith, Tom Piccirilli, Stephen Graham Jones and Sara Gran. Without their cavalier attitudes toward public decency in the information age I would've been without the leverage to wrangle some juicy recommendations outta that prestigious lot.

So, who wants a copy?

Here's what you need to know: this has been put together as N@B's effort to help out our local bookselling heroes at Subterranean Books, which is why they're the only place you can get it. As soon as it's available, I'll make that announcement and you can order one off their website or send me a suitcase full of cash to trade for it. What? You don't order books online? Fine, come on out to a N@B event 'cause you know we'll pimp 'em there. Are you attending Bouchercon in September? Subterranean Books will have a table in the book room and you can make for to purchase it there too. There will be no eBook.

Not good enough? Kiss my ass. Publish your own damn book.

I was hoping to have them available at Subterranean by Wednesday for the Donald Ray Pollock event, but that aint happening. Should be able to put one in your hand Saturday, August 6 at Meshuggah Cafe when we do the whole N@B thing live with Jane Bradley, Jesus Angel Garcia, David Cirillo and Scott Phillips. Show the hell up and getcha one. Also pick up You Believers, badbadbad and The Adjustment while you're at it.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Dr. Pollockian's Monster

Cruising the Twitters the other day I caught Brian Lindenmuth remarking that his favorite character on Breaking Bad was Jonathan Banks' Mike the PI and having just finished watching season three on DVD, I can find no fault with that choice - a testament to the strength of the writing, acting and production in general that among a heavyweight cast of amazing characters somebody can take a "small" role and make it shine. Myself, I might pick Giancarlo Esposito's Gus Fring. I've been a big fan of Esposito's since I saw him ooze menace in Boaz Yakin's Fresh (back in what '94?) Throw in Dean Norris and Bob Odenkirk's supporting work and geez is it any wonder it's my favorite show on the TVs right now? Gawsh, even Anna Gunn got better, (less irritating) things to do this season - I LOVE that she's throwing herself into the business - it's the reaction I've been waiting for from a compromised spouse for too long (The Shield, The Sopranos, Dexter - had your chances). Back to Banks though, Brian said that Mike the PI recalled to him the character Joe Sarno played by James Caan in Christopher McQuarrie's superb Way of the Gun (speaking of strong character ensembles), and it got me thinking - I just watched Caan in a pretty decent recent crime flick Middle Men (uneven for sure, but I didn't want my two hours back afterward) - and I ought to put together a quick list of my favorite James Caan crime films that aren't y'know, The Godfather. So, here you go in no particular order:

Christopher McQuarrie's Way of the Gun
Michael Mann's Thief
Matt Dillon's City of Ghosts
James Gray's The Yards
Rob Reiner's Misery
honorable mention to Flesh and Bone, The Gambler, The Killer Elite and Bottle Rocket

So... yeah, there's that.

Speaking of good stuffs on TV, I was pleasantly surprised by Southland on DVD. I dunno, ads made it look like the typical craptastic, networkerrific body of the week procedural, but turns out it's a character ensemble working with pretty decent scripts that allow for some of that weird street shit that you want from cop shows while not becoming all about 'solving crimes'. Far from blowing me away, but far better than I was expecting, I'm hoping a second season really solidifies this show.

Well, Jed, you may ask, what is blowing you away these days? To which I'd reply, Pete Dexter's memoir in disguise Spooner and of course, Donald Ray Pollock's The Devil All the Time. And you'd say  'well duh' and I'd say 'hey you asked' and you'd say something trite and I'd karate chop you in the neck. Seriously, this is the book of the year far as I can tell, and you have a need to experience it. You can read my review of it at Ransom Notes. St. Louis people, if you don't show up at Subterranean Books next week, July 20 for Mr. Pollock's event, you're dead to me. The rest of you that can't make it here would do well to aim for September 10 in Corydon, IN. where he'll be appearing with Scott Phillips, Kyle Minor and myself for the release of Frank Bill's Crimes in Southern Indiana. I see lots of names appearing on the might-be-there list - Matthew McBride, Chad Eagleton, Aaron Michael Morales, Matthew C. Funk, Richard Thomas, Fred Venturini, Cameron Ashley and Daniel O'Shea. That's gonna be a party.

Also, don't forget N@B on August 6, 7pm at Meshuggah Cafe. Scott's new book The Adjustment will be available, as will Noir at the Bar the book! Also, Jesus Angel Garcia with badbadbad, Jane Bradley with You Believers and David Cirillo. What a mix! What an event! What a country!

So, in case you're keeping track, the anthologies you can find me pushing especially hard the rest of the year are Noir at the Bar, D*CKED, Surreal South '11 and Crime Factory - which just got a little mention in PW. Guess whose story they found 'revolting?' Yup, Greg Bardsley's. Can Not Wait. Speaking of the Bards, he and Kieran Shea are working awful hard on D*CKED and even getting me off my substantial ass to contribute (just a little). Anyhow, I re-read Scott Phillips', Hilary Davidson's, Cameron Ashley's, Harry Hunsicker's and Eric Beetner's pieces the other night and really enjoyed them... I dunno, I got to thinking of setting up a special D*CKED at the Bar event for Bouchercon week. Any of you contributor's gonna be in town and wanna do that? Lemme know.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Thomas Kaufman: Guest Post

I met Thomas Kaufman a year ago when he stopped through St. Louis promoting his first novel, Drink the Tea. We grabbed dinner and talked about our shared enthusiasms – film and crime fiction. I knew Tom was a funny, bright and insightful guy from that one exchange, but when I saw him six months later at NoirCon and heard him discuss Patricia Highsmith film adaptations, I felt retro-actively intimidated. This guy knows his stuff. He's a film maker and novelist who puts half-assed posers like me to shame with his chops. I'm going on a bit about Tom and his second Willis Gidney title, Steal the Show at Ransom Notes, while over here, Tom's got something to say.

Take it away, Tom.

(SPOILER ALERT: If you've never seen PSYCHO, this may ruin some of the surprises for you.)

Something that I love about the internet is the democratization of music, video, and writing.  Anyone can attain a global audience, especially if they create something noteworthy.  There's a lot of stuff out there, and some of it is extraordinary.

And the rest of it?  Ordinary. 

Or worse.

Now, I love noir fiction.  Charles Willeford is a favorite author.  So is Horace McCoy, David Goodis, Cornell Woolrich, and Donald Westlake (especially when he wrote as Richard Stark).  There are many others.  If you want to write noir, you look to the greats, you sample what's been done.

When I read noir fiction online, what I usually come across is a bloodbath.  And while it's true that you can't have noir without violence, the stuff I come across reads the crime version of a soft-core pornography.

Seriously.  Substitute the sex for violence, and what've you got?  It seems you're only a paragraph or two into some short story and already the hero is humping attacking someone, killing them in some graphic way.  And while the writers may be talented, the effect is a let-down.

Why is that? In my opinion, it's because there's no build-up.  Just like the sex act, anticipation is –nearly – everything.

The shower scene in Psycho is a great example.

Bloody, violent, swift, merciless.  But it's also a release of tension that began when the movie started thirty minutes ago.  So while the shower scene is a brilliant use of direction, camera work, and montage, it would just be a series of shots if it weren't for what came before: the theft of the money, the suspicious cop, the strange conversation with Norman Bates, the decision to return the money, the cleansing shower.  These elements keep building and building tension in the audience.

And what does Hitchcock do after this shower sequence?  He takes the pacing way down.  The shots of Norman Bates cleaning up after the murder are of long duration (as opposed to the fast editing and quick shots during the shower scene).  Hitchcock is telling the audience to calm down, relax.  In other words, he's getting them ready for the next shocker.

Let's face it, folks, this is foreplay.  And sex without foreplay is rarely any fun.  Let's take a look at the second murder in Psycho, when the private eye Arbogast dies:

Do you see what Hitchcock is doing here?  He's building the anticipation.  The shots of the detective going up the stairs, the door opening a crack, the light spilling through, leading to a high angle of the killer rushing at the victim.

Notice something else? When the detective is at the bottom of the stairs and the killer is going to finish him off, Hitchcock frames the knife as it comes up, into the frame. 

By doing this, Hitchcock is emphasizing the anticipation of the knife coming down.  And that, folks, is great direction.

(It's not that different from music: listen to the end of a Beethoven Symphony, say the last 60 seconds.  What would it sound like if he'd begun the symphony that way?  Like a bad dream.  Beethoven spends his time wisely, guiding the listener and building to that final 60 seconds.  Musical foreplay, leading to a great climax.)

Donald Westlake's series about Parker may sometimes begin in the middle of the action. I can think of at least two books that start with Parker killing someone.  But in a typical Parker story, the violence is implied.  Westlake uses this to create tension. Just now I'm finishing The Green Eagle Score just one of the many Parker books I've enjoyed reading over and over.  I'm near the end, and so far Parker hasn't even swatted a fly.

So why is the book suspenseful?  Because of the people and the situations Westlake puts them in.  We know Parker can be violent.  We can see trouble ahead.  In other words, you need to build towards the violence.  The flipside is, if you have one violent act after another after another, you could wind up with something like this:

Great for humor, but for suspense?  Not so much.

Here's one last observation: before you kill off a character, please go to the trouble of bringing her/him to life in the mind of the reader.  Psycho stunned people because Hitchcock had the audacity to kill off the lead character (and the only "name" star of the film) within the first thirty minutes. We have her point of view up to her death, Hitchcock carefully brought her to life in the minds of the audience before she got sliced to ribbons – that's one of the reasons the shower sequence is so powerful.

So go ahead.  Shoot, stab, and garrote to your heart's content.   Just remember the build-up.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

The End Is Nigh

Can't say the title of the new Megan Abbott book, The End of Everything, without cuing that Chris Isaak song in my head. Come to think of it, they sorta go nicely together - both are melancholy and haunting, shimmery summer mirages that come on sweet and twist something in your gut before they're through. Anyway, I'm talking about Ms. Abbott's latest over at Ransom Notes. Planning on hitting Square Books in Oxford, MS. on July 27 for Megan's event, and I'll be in Corydon, IN. September 10 for Frank Bill's event with the Donald and company. I've also just found out about a Surreal South shindig at SIUC in Illinois hosted by the Benedicts in October... hmmm, wonder if John Hornor Jacobs will be there? Have you checked out Senor Jacobs' blog Bastardized Version lately? He's doing a new interview series called Why I'm Badass. So far he's spoke at Daniel O'Shea and Julie Summerell Teat. Entertaining format, yup.

Anybody seen or know interesting shit about (that other Arkansas guyJeff Nichols' latest Take Shelter with Michael Shannon? If you saw his feature debut with the same star Shotgun Stories, then you, like me are excited about this one based on pedigree alone. How about Martha Marcy May Marlene? John Hawkes as a creepy-ass cult leader? Sold. Speaking of creepy, the usually so Peter Stormare leads in Small Town Murder Songs which looks terrific and Monte Hellman's The Road to Nowhere looks like it could be something good featuring songs by, no not Ozzy Osbourne, but Craig McDonald favorite, Tom Russell.

I got nothin.