Tuesday, August 26, 2014

The Story Behind the Story:
“Forever’s Just Pretend,” by Craig McDonald

(Editor’s note: Ohio journalist and fiction writer Craig McDonald has been a periodic guest here at The Rap Sheet. He’s penned two previous “Story Behind the Story” essays, one about his 2010 novel, Print the Legend, the other focusing on 2011’s One True Sentence. Below, he not only introduces us to Forever’s Just Pretend, his fifth and latest novel featuring historical writer-cum-detective Hector Lassiter--he also kicks off a competition specially made for veteran Lassiter fans. If you’d like to read more from McDonald, check out his blog here.)

For the uninitiated, the Hector Lassiter novels usually incorporate historical events and figures, including Ernest Hemingway, Orson Welles, and myriad other 20th-century luminaries who interact with the main character.

The series returns this month, though not with just a single new novel, or with a re-launch of the previously printed four entries centered on crime novelist and screenwriter Lassiter, “the man who lives what he writes and writes what he lives.” Instead, European publisher Betimes Books will unveil the entire series of Lassiter novels, released in an aggressively accelerated combination of “old” and new titles. Within a matter of just a few months, the whole of the Lassiter saga will be available for the first time.

I’m fairly certain we’re headed into uncharted publishing territory here, strategically speaking. But then the Hector Lassiter series has always been a genre maverick.

In a kind of premonition of this unusual publishing schedule, the Lassiter series was written in rapid-fire fashion, one book after another, long before the original second novel in the series, Toros & Torsos, was even contracted for publication. I had written the books with an eye to an overarching storyline that would bind the series into a larger tale focused on Hector’s life journey and climaxing with the mystery of whatever became of Hector, the author and the man.

After all the first drafts were completed, I went back over them en masse, polishing and pulling the series together in meticulous detail. To be clear, while other authors carry a series forward one book at a time, I plotted and wove the Lassiter novels together to form that larger story, from the jump.

Several of the individual Lassiter installments sprawl across decades. So a novel here may at points intersect or overlap with a novel or even two over there. Most series treat life as a chain of compartmentalized episodes, each book standing more or less alone. Real life more closely resembles an oil spill, of course. Events and episodes bleed together. I aimed to come closer to that mixing of mile-markers in shaping the Lassiter series.

At conception, it seemed this strategy allowed readers to tackle the novels in any order they chose. In their original publication sequence, the “first” Lassiter novel, the Edgar Award-nominated Head Games, opened in 1957. Its sequel took flight in 1935. The third novel, Print the Legend, explored the death of Ernest Hemingway and was largely set in 1965. The fourth, One True Sentence, was a Lassiter/Hemingway origin story, of sorts, set in 1924 Paris.

But as the series extended to four published novels, increasing numbers of new readers reached out, craving a recommended reading sequence. A striking number told me they wanted to read the novels in something approaching chronological order. I came to see readers’ attitudes toward Hector were dramatically affected by which Lassiter novel they read first.

When Betimes proposed publishing the entire series in a concentrated burst, and it was suggested we present the books in something like chronological order, I immediately embraced the notion.

Strictly speaking, the fact that some of the novels cover three or more decades makes truly chronological presentation of this series an impossibility. We’ll therefore be offering the novels in order of when each book opens.

In this new publishing sequence, One True Sentence--a story encompassing one week during February 1924--is now novel No. 1. OTS was released last week, followed by its never-before-published sequel, Forever’s Just Pretend, which is set across successive holidays in Key West, Florida, circa 1925.

Those two installments will appear simultaneously with a re-release of Toros & Torsos, which opens in 1935. A few weeks later, two more previously unpublished, World War II-era Lassiter novels will debut: The Great Pretender (1938) and Roll the Credits (1942). The remaining novels, a similar mix of old and new installments, will quickly follow.

I wrote an essay for The Rap Sheet about One True Sentence when the novel debuted in February 2011. That tale traces aspiring novelists Lassiter and Hemingway as they confront a cult of nihilist artists.

One True Sentence also introduced the character of Brinke Devlin, a fetching female mystery author who resembles sultry screen siren Louise Brooks but writes like Craig Rice. Brinke was established in OTS as the woman who shaped or even “created” the Hector Lassiter we come to know.

The previously unseen Forever’s Just Pretend delivers on the promised Hector-Brinke reunion teased in the final pages of One True Sentence.

Forever’s Just Pretend breaks the Lassiter template in significant ways. Most notably, for the first time, there are no historical figures; the focus is kept squarely on Hector and Brinke. Also, for the first time, we meet a Lassiter blood-relative.

This new novel introduces Hector’s paternal grandfather, a thinly veiled homage to a beloved, recently passed actor who helped inspire the meta-fictional, sometimes irreverent tone of the Lassiter series.

While no overt historical personages haunt the pages of Forever’s Just Pretend, the crimes that drive the plot are based on a real cycle of murders and arsons that rocked 1920s America.

Now, here’s a challenge to all you Lassiter series readers: the first three people who can correctly identify the inspiration for the “Key West Clubber” killings in Forever’s Just Pretend will be rewarded with signed and numbered copies of the now über-rare, limited-edition hardcover version of Toros & Torsos, complete with the “booking sheet” for yours truly and a personalized fingerprint. Submit your answer in an e-mail note to jpwrites@wordcuts.org. And please be sure to write “Key West Clubber Contest” in the subject line. We’ll let you know when we have our three winners.

“For Hire” Soon For Sale

Although the first four (of seven) television movies inspired by Robert B. Parker’s novels about Boston private eye Spenser have been available in DVD format for some time now, the 1985-1988 ABC-TV series, Spenser: For Hire, starring Robert Urich and Avery Brooks, has been gathering dust, waiting for its own release. But it appears that wait is finally coming to an end.

TV Shows on DVD reports that Warner Archive Collection recently offered a novel spin on the widely publicized ALS Ice Bucket Challenge in order to announce the coming debut of Spenser: For Hire--The Complete First Season (22 episodes). “The title isn’t up for pre-order yet, so we don’t have a date or a cost for you right now,” the site explains. However, the cover art can be seen in a video here.

UPDATE: There’s now a link to Spenser: For Hire--The Complete First Season on the Warner Archive site. The set is priced at $39.95.

Monday, August 25, 2014

Pierce’s Picks: “The Silent Boy”

A weekly alert for followers of crime, mystery, and thriller fiction.

The Silent Boy, by Andrew Taylor (HarperCollins UK)

The Gist: “Taylor’s new novel utilizes two of the characters from his last book, The Scent of Death,” explains a review of The Silent Boy featured on the Web site of The Forest Bookshop, in Coleford, England. “In 1778, London clerk Edward Savill was obliged to turn detective in the desperate last days of British colonial New York, posted there by his patron Mr. Rampton, his wife Augusta’s uncle. Now, 14 years later, Savill’s estranged wife has apparently been murdered in the midst of the post-[French] Revolution Terrors, which splattered guillotine-riddled Paris with torrents of blood in 1792. But a murder mystery isn’t the thrust of this story--rather, it concerns a child-custody battle involving, on one side, [Augusta’s 10-year-old son] Charles’ claimed aristocratic father, holed up in a ‘Somersetshire’ mansion to which he and his Parisian retinue have fled with the child, versus Savill acting on behalf of Rampton and also Savill’s daughter--Charles’ half-sister. … What is a mystery are the protagonists’ motives for wanting custody of Charles--it certainly doesn’t appear many of them have the child’s interests at heart.” Writing in Shots, critic L.J. Hurst carries the plot line further: “Then early one morning the boy, Charles, disappears, at just about the time a stranger has been spied on the edge of the estate. Savill produces his warrant and invokes his powers on the local magistrate, but they can do little more than follow the strangers back to London. It is in London that events develop James Bond-style: breaking-and-entering, mysterious cabs driving by, doors left open to overhear what is being said, knives used, pistols fired. Or to put it another way: double-crossing, triple-crossing, returns from the dead, simpletons more trusting than they should have been.”

What Else You Should Know: A recipient in 2009 of the Crime Writers’ Association’s Cartier Diamond Dagger Award for lifetime achievement, Andrew Taylor is also the author of the Lydmouth stories, the Roth Trilogy, and Bleeding Heart Square (2008). His novels rarely fail to impress, though they may start out slowly; give them a chance to prove their value, and you shouldn’t be disappointed. I haven’t yet read The Silent Boy, but some of the blurbs convince me that I shall relish the experience. “I enjoyed this book very much indeed,” says C.J. Sansom, the author of Dominion as well as the Matthew Shardlake historical mysteries. “I found the evocation of late 18th-century England, and the French exiles, effortlessly authentic, the hunt for Charles gripping, and the portrayal and first-person narrative of the helpless, traumatized, yet strong and resourceful little boy moving and believable. An excellent work.”

“The Hard Liquor of Crime Films”

In a piece for The Dissolve about Mark Fertig’s new book, The 101 Best Film Noir Posters from the 1940s-1950s, Noel Murray writes:
There’s something bracingly adult about noir. Even the best Hollywood movies from the 1940s and 1950s sometimes feel incomplete, because they’re populated by characters who never appear to feel any lust or shame. Film noir was a corrective to that lack. While still working within the limits of Hollywood’s written and unwritten production codes, noir directors like Anthony Mann, Fritz Lang, and Samuel Fuller acknowledged the shadow America where desperate men and women made bad choices. These people aren’t all that different from anybody else. They’re driven by sexual desire and greed, and they wear the stain of guilt that human beings carry with them like a birthmark--even though most have learned how to keep it concealed.

The posters for these movies are startlingly brazen. None of the artists and designers working in the studios’ advertising and promotions departments tried to hide what film noir was all about, because that would’ve defeated the purpose. The whole idea was to advertise seductive women in form-fitting dresses, rough-hewn men holding smoking guns, and underlit neighborhoods far from the local Bijou. To extend Fertig’s analogy, the best posters for noir films were, for some moviegoers, the equivalent of seeing a skull and bones on a bottle of rotgut. “
This,” the posters whispered, “is what you’re really looking for.”
Click here to see nine examples of posters that, in Murray’s opinion, are “especially evocative.”

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Honoring Healy

It’s been just over a week since news broke that novelist Jeremiah Healy committed suicide at age 66. Now, the Mystery Writers of America Florida Chapter is collecting fond remembrances of the man who created series private eye John Francis Cuddy.

A note posted this morning in Mystery Fanfare asks that friends and colleagues of Healy send their tributes “of 250 words or less” to author Elaine Viets at eviets@aol.com. The deadline for such submissions is short: You have to send them in by this coming Tuesday, August 26. “Favorite photos (jpg and gif files) are also welcome.”

Thursday, August 21, 2014

The Story Behind the Story: “Screams from My Father: Stories by Paul F. Gleeson”

(Editor’s note: This is the 50th entry in our “Story Behind the Story” series. Today we bring you Sean Gleeson, who writes below about an unusual short-story collection he and his siblings in Chicago put together to honor their late lawyer father. Asked for a few biographical details, Sean explains: “I was born in Chicago in 1966. Worked at advertising agencies from 1987 to 2004, where my duties ever-so-gradually morphed from old-school art direction with marker layouts and paste-up to Web site development and programming. One day--I’m not sure when--I realized I was no longer an ad man, and had not been one for awhile. From 2005 to 2011, I was an adjunct professor teaching Web design and game creation. Today I am senior programmer at a defense contractor in Oklahoma City.” He and his family live outside of Arcadia, Oklahoma.)

In my fifth-grade classroom in 1977, an old nun was telling us kids about the radio shows she used to love. “Ooh, The Shadow was very exciting. It always started with a creaky door …” My hand shot up. “No, sister, The Shadow started with organ music and laughter. Inner Sanctum had the creaky door!” The good woman must have wondered, How did this ill-mannered 11-year-old become annoyingly familiar with old time radio dramas? That was from my father.

Paul Francis Gleeson loved stories. He loved hearing them, loved reading them, loved telling them. He was a successful lawyer in Chicago, but for one brief season in 1979-1980 he was something more. He was a pulp writer. He wrote well-crafted short stories of murder and intrigue, twisted tales ending with ironic justice, or sometimes ironic injustice. Witty and unsettling vignettes of the human condition.

I can tell you his literary influences, because he continued to enjoy them--and share them--long after they vanished from the rest of the world. He kept old radio dramas on tape, and played them often. “So, kids,” he’d say, “you want to hear Suspense tonight? Or X Minus One?” He loved publisher EC Comics’ Crime SuspenStories and The Vault of Horror, and television’s Twilight Zone and The Outer Limits.

He submitted his tales to the pulp mags of the day. The sci-fi he sent to Amazing Stories. The murders went to Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine and Ellery Queen--as well as to Mike Shayne, the less-popular alternative to those. Besides the fiction, he submitted humorous essays to the Chicago Tribune and The New York Times; the Tribune printed one as a guest column. But none of the pulps would buy any of his stories. Every manuscript kept coming back, rejected. Until one did not: finally, Mike Shayne accepted the story “Unhappy Hour,” and printed it in their May 1980 issue. If you have trouble finding a copy of that back-issue now, it may be because my dad bought so many of them.

In the next issue, the magazine printed a letter from one Bruce Moffitt, a janitor in Brookfield, Missouri, who began his epistle quite dismissively, admitting he only bought Mike Shayne “to keep my file complete” and generally held the magazine in low regard. But he continued, “Then I began reading ‘Unhappy Hour’ by Paul Gleeson. This tale deserves to be anthologized. I’ve been smiling at my mop for the last hour.” I never saw Dad happier than when he read that letter, aloud, five or six times.

Mike Shayne Mystery Magazine went on to publish a second Paul Gleeson story, “Don’t Touch That Dial,” in the October 1980 issue. It was starting to look like Dad was actually on the cusp of achieving his goal of being a full-time lawyer and part-time world-famous pulp writer. But that is not how this story goes.


Sean’s brother Kevin Gleeson (left) with their father in 1980.

A few of the rejection letters contained handwritten notes from helpful editors who explained their decision. “We already run too many of these domestic murders,” said one. “Having the X’s turn out to be Y’s instead of Z’s was just not enough of a twist ending for me,” said another (except I redacted three nouns from that sentence, because, you know, spoilers). But most of them were generic and impersonal photocopies: “Your story has been read by one or more members of our staff, but we regret …” “We regret …” “… we regret …”

How much regret can a man take? Each must have his own limit, and while it is easy enough to say to aspiring authors, “Don’t be discouraged! Just keep at it, champ!,” it must also be said that Paul Gleeson had ample sources of regret in his life without volunteering for more. And so, sometime in 1980, he stopped writing. These stories, these thrilling tales of crime and folly, these fables for an amoral world, were consigned--with the rejection letters--to a cardboard box under Dad’s desk. While they sat, unseen and untouched, turning more yellow and brittle each decade, he never mentioned them again, but he never discarded them either.

After Dad died in March 2012, at 70 years of age, that box of old stories turned up, and my two brothers, my sister, and I had to figure out what to do with them. We decided that we would turn those 10 short stories and five humor columns, everything Dad had ever tried to get published, into a book. We also decided that we four surviving Gleesons would make this book together, each of us taking on a role suited to his or her talents. Kevin, the oldest, would write the foreword, explaining who Dad was and how these stories came to be. Colleen would be the editor, transcribing and correcting the manuscripts. Brendan, who had attended New Jersey’s Joe Kubert School of Cartoon and Graphic Art, would illustrate the cover. None of us had ever produced a book before, but we knew we had the skills, the smarts, and the inspiration to do this one.

My job was to publish. Having labored in advertising, I knew about design and print production, but I had never published a book before, so I had to teach myself how. I studied the specs for the CreateSpace print-on-demand platform. I acquainted myself with such terms as folio, running head, and front matter. I figured out how to get an ISBN, and the difference between a preface, an introduction, and a foreword. I also had to learn how to format a book for the Kindle, but this was a pleasant surprise: it turns out that Kindle books are made with essentially the same code as Web pages, which I already knew.

(Left) Sean Gleeson today

Not wanting to make any mistakes on Dad’s book, I did a dry run. All by myself, I edited and published a little volume titled Subjective Grounds: Writings by Persons with the Initials S.G. (Really, it’s a whole book of short works by 11 authors with my initials. Pretty good stuff, too.) That process went smoothly--it only took two weeks from start to finish, and cost nothing--and helped me navigate all the stuff you need to do after a book is launched: Amazon controls for adding descriptions, fixing prices, running promotions, and other settings. So now, I was a real honest-to-God publisher.

But I also felt that a book should have “blurbs” on its cover. You know, quotes from prominent persons saying this author is a new star in the firmament, and that you are indeed fortunate to be about to read this wondrous literary triumph, and so forth. I figure they’re easy enough to get at large publishing houses; the bosses probably shoot a text message to Stephen King, saying, “Sent new galley, fax me blurb by Monday,” and go golfing on their yachts. But I had no idea how to go about getting blurbs. So I just asked nicely, and found that David Cranmer, the editor of Beat to a Pulp, was happy to supply a great quote. Dad’s brother Tony Gleeson, who works as an illustrator in Los Angeles, helped me get a second blurb from Terrill Lee Lankford, the author of Earthquake Weather as well as dozens of other works. (He even wrote the screenplay for Hollywood Chainsaw Hookers.)

We did it! Except for some guys at the bindery, I was the first man on earth to hold Screams from My Father: Stories by Paul F. Gleeson. The book my dad sired, and his children birthed. A dream come true after death. I am not exaggerating when I say it is beautiful. And I have to be honest, the very first moment I held it, all I could think was how damned sorry I am. I’m sorry he’s gone, and I’m sorry he was not happier in this life, and I’m sorry we didn’t think of publishing this book years ago (print-on-demand has been offered since about 2006) so Dad could have held it in his hands, and seen how much people love to read it. I held back a tear, maybe two. But I got over it; regret is a killer. And frankly, I doubt my dad would have allowed this book to exist while he lived. I imagine he has a better view of things now.

There will be no author tour, for obvious reasons. And we have no promotion budget, because I am not that kind of publisher, so you will see no ads for Screams from My Father. I have been sending copies of the book to various strangers, some in the media, some not. Every day I try to find a person I think should like the book, and I mail him one.

I even tried to look up Bruce Moffitt, the letter-writing janitor. I wanted to send him the anthology he wished for in 1980 while smiling at his mop. I was too late; he died in 2014. Mr. Moffitt, wherever you are, I want you to know your letter made my father smile too.

Bullet Points: Protests-Free Edition

• American political thriller writer Vince Flynn passed away in 2013 at the painfully young age of 47. “At the time,” explains Shotsmag Confidential, “he was only two chapters into his next Mitch Rapp book, The Survivor.” The blog notes that fellow author Kyle Mills has recently “stepped in to complete the story of the famous undercover CIA counter-terrorism agent. The Vince Flynn Estate has signed a three-book deal with Mills and Simon & Schuster’s Atria Books to complete The Survivor and deliver two new books in the series.”

• Readers who are sorry to discover Icelandic author Arnaldur Indridason bringing his Detective Erlendur series to an apparent close in Strange Shores (due out from Minotaur in late August) should take heart from this short piece in Crime Fiction Lover, which explains that Erlendur won’t be gone for very long. Indridason’s Reykjavik Nights--scheduled for release this month in the UK, with a U.S. edition set for publication in April 2015--is “the first of three planned books which cover Erlendur’s early years as a detective.”

• Janet Rudolph reports that a memorial service will be held in Victoria, British Columbia, on Sunday, September 14, to celebrate the life of Lou Allin. The author of the Belle Palmer and Holly Martin mysteries died in mid-July. She was 69.

• As someone who purchased and valued several versions of Leonard Maltin’s Movie Guide over the decades, I am sorry to hear that the next edition will be its last.

• Well, that’s something, anyway ... Although I’ve never resided in any of The Economist’s 10 most livable cities, I have at least visited most of them--including both Melbourne and Perth, Australia, which figured prominently in my honeymoon itinerary years ago.

• Not being someone who uses an e-book reader, this news from The Christian Science Monitor seems pretty abstract to me. But others might find it more surprising. A new study reveals that people “who read a novel on paper remember more about the story than a person who used an e-reader to peruse the same text.”
The Guardian reports that lead researcher Anne Mangen of Stavanger University in Norway said at a recent conference in Italy that she and those she worked with presented 50 people with a short story by writer Elizabeth George. Of those 50 readers, 25 received a paper copy and 25 used a Kindle e-reader and then all were then asked questions about the story’s setting, characters, and other details.

“The Kindle readers performed significantly worse on the plot reconstruction measure, i.e. when they were asked to place 14 events in the correct order,” Mangen said, according to the Guardian.

Why would Kindle readers be worse at putting steps of the story in order? Mangen suggested that it’s the process of reading a physical book. “When you read on paper you can sense with your fingers a pile of pages on the left growing, and shrinking on the right," she said. "You have the tactile sense of progress, in addition to the visual. … Perhaps this somehow aids the reader, providing more fixity and solidity to the reader’s sense of unfolding and progress of the text.”
Don Quixote--private eye?

• In the wake of Lauren Bacall’s death earlier this month, at age 89, The Bogie Film Blog recaps the onscreen roles she played opposite Humphrey Bogart, including in To Have and Have Not, The Big Sleep, and the whistle-perfect Key Largo.

• Margot Kinberg looks at the ways in which crime and mystery fiction have portrayed the turbulent, change-propelling era of the 1960s.

• Check out this interesting article in The Huffington Post by Åsa Larsson, the Swedish crime writer, about women as fictional victims.

• Oh, great. Republicans are already planning more costly federal government shutdowns, should they win a majority of seats in the U.S. Senate this coming November.

• This comes from Deadline Hollywood: “Keanu Reeves is making a foray into television with Rain, an hour-long series from Slingshot Global Media based on the best-selling book series by Barry Eisler. The Matrix star will topline the globe-trotting action drama and will executive produce alongside Chad Stahelski and David Leitch, his directors in the upcoming feature John Wick, as well as Eisler and Slingshot Global Media, which will distribute the show. Rain marks Reeves’ first major TV series acting and producing gig.”

Every Alfred Hitchcock film cameo--finally compiled.

• Not an unreasonable question to ask:Why can’t any recent Sherlock Holmes adaptation get Irene Adler right?” That said, however, I did enjoy Lara Pulver’s sometimes under-dressed portrayal of Adler in Season 2 of BBC-TV’s Sherlock.

• Jake Hinkson concludes his excellent six-part series for Criminal Element about “film noir’s landmark year,” 1944, with an assessment of William Castle’s When Strangers Marry, starring Dean Jagger and Kim Hunter. He wrote previously about Double Indemnity, Laura, Murder My Sweet, Phantom Lady, and The Woman in the Window.

• Kelli Stanley does a dream-casting of her new Miranda Corbie mystery, City of Ghosts (Minotaur), for the blog My Movie, the Book. I must confess, I had to look up her choice to play the magnetic Ms. Corbie. Michelle ... who?

• By the way, if you missed seeing the column, City of Ghosts was among my half-dozen selections--in Kirkus Reviews--of crime novels worth reading this summer.

• A few recent author interviews worth reading: Ben Winters (in As the Plot Thins); Giles Blunt (in Crime Watch); and James Lee Burke and Dana King (in Omnimystery News).

• And get ready for NoirCon 2014! That annual Philadelphia event devoted to “examining some of the darkest--most nourish--aspects of life” (or at least of fiction) will kick into gear come Wednesday, October 29, and conclude on Sunday, November 2. You can find the schedule of events here. Registration costs $250.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Brash Talking

What happens when you turn a couple of friendly but ambitious crime-fiction writers loose to create their own publishing company? Something like Brash Books, the independent enterprise developed over the last year by author-screenwriter Lee Goldberg and trial attorney-turned-novelist Joel Goldman. As I explain in my new column for Kirkus Reviews, Brash will make a big splash in September, when it rolls out its first 30 titles (in paperback and e-book versions). Those include private-eye yarns, espionage adventures, Old West justice tales, and even a couple of vigilante-for-hire thrillers. Tom Kakonis, Maxine O’Callaghan, Gar Anthony Haywood, Bob Forward, Jack Lynch, Barbara Neely, and Dallas Murphy are among those represented by the company’s initial offerings, but other familiar names, such as Geoffrey Miller, Mark Smith, and Robin Burcell, will join them on Brash’s release roster over the next 12 months.

Not long ago, I contacted Goldberg and Goldman, via e-mail, with a long list of questions about their new publishing endeavor. They responded quickly--and in more than 4,300 words. I was able to use part of what they told me in Kirkus, but certainly not all of it. So below, I am presenting most of the rest of our exchange. (The covers featured in this post, by the way, all come from soon-forthcoming Brash releases.)

J. Kingston Pierce: How do the two of you know each other?

Joel Goldman: I met Lee at some long-ago mystery conference, probably Left Coast Crime or Bouchercon, not long after my first book was published in 2002. We kept running into each other and people kept mistaking us for brothers.

Lee Goldberg: We met at a mystery conference somewhere 10 or 12 years ago. We became fast friends and ended up working closely together on the Mystery Writers of America’s board of directors for many years. During that time, I developed enormous respect for his intelligence, business savvy, and his ability to negotiate complex disputes (I guess that comes from his background as a lawyer). So, in some ways, it feels like we’ve been in business together for a very long time. When we’re together, people constantly mistake him for my brother, Tod, who is a crime writer, too.

JKP: Why did you decide to republish only books that have originally seen print since 1970? Is it simply a way of distinguishing Brash from other companies that are also bringing back out-of-print crime fiction?

JG: As a startup, we knew we couldn’t do it all. We had to stake out our ground without taking on too much. 1970 seemed like a good jumping-off point, but that’s not how we’re distinguishing ourselves. We’re doing that by publishing the best crime novels in existence, a carefully curated list of award-winning and critically acclaimed novels plus a select list of new titles. Sorry, I know that sounds really corporate but it’s the best way of saying who we are.

LG: I don’t want to give the impression that all of our republished books are from the 1970s. That’s definitely not the case. Our reprints go as far back as the mid-1970s, but are also as recent as the early 2000s. Most probably fall in the late ’80s, early ’90s. But the pub date of the books or time period that the books are set in aren’t what’s important to us. It’s the storytelling. A great crime story that is well-told is timeless, regardless of when it was published or what year the stories take place.

JKP: Is it correct that you’re launching your first 30 books, all in early September? How many authors do those 30 represent?

JG: Yep. Thirty books from 12 fantastic authors.

JKP: Do you worry that with such a huge single-month rollout, some of the individual works you’re publishing might get lost?

JG: We’d be crazy if we didn’t worry about that, because we don’t want to publish more books than we can support.

LG: But we also wanted to make a big splash, to launch with a list of books that truly announces who we are, that represents the range of work that we’re publishing, and that demonstrates the high quality that sets us apart from our competitors.

JG: Our marketing plan is a solid mix of old-school and new-school promotion, including magazine and convention ads, online ads, social media, and our killer Web site. We’ve hired an ad agency and a PR firm to help us, and we’re going to as many conventions as we can to get the word out.

LG: The best advertisements we have are our books and our authors. People are blown away by how gorgeous our books are and are very enthusiastic about the authors we’re publishing. Those readers are spreading the word for us better than any tweet or Google ad can.

JKP: Who was the first author who signed with Brash Books?

JG: The first author Dick Lochte. He was at Bouchercon. We told him what we’re thinking about doing and asked him if he was interested, and he said yes. We knew that if someone as well-respected as Dick would join us, that we were really on to something.

LG: Dick Lochte was the first author to say he’d sign on with us, and that gave us the boost we needed to know we were on to something. But I think the first author who actually signed a contract with us was Tom Kakonis. I’d been a fan of his for years. Back in the early ’90s, I nervously approached him at a conference to ask if he’d blurb for my book My Gun Has Bullets [1995]. I was stunned and enormously flattered when he actually gave me one. Over the years that followed, it broke my heart to see his books gradually fall out of print. So when Joel and I decided to launch Brash, he was at the top of my list of authors we had to republish. Not only did we get his backlist, but he offered us a brand-new novel, too [Treasure Hunt]. That was an unexpected gift, one I took as a positive omen of our success.

JKP: How do the two of you split your responsibilities with Brash? Do you both acquire and edit the works, or is the company structure more complicated than that?

JG: It’s hard to have a complicated structure when it’s just the two of us--plus someone who coordinates the preparation of the books. One of the great things about working together is how easily and naturally we’ve divided things up. I take the lead on the business side, finances, legal, things like that. Lee takes the lead on the Web site, social media, and scouting for authors and books. We’re both involved in acquisitions. We give notes to authors on new manuscripts but we also work with a freelance developmental editor to do the heavy lifting.

LG: It’s amazing how naturally we’ve fallen into our roles. We do almost everything together, but Joel ultimately handles the nitty-gritty business side of things. I have complete faith in Joel’s sound judgment. He’s an amazing negotiator and has a great head for business and numbers. Me? I need a calculator to count my fingers and toes. I tend to be the book scout and the person who makes the initial contact with authors and estates. We’re basically mining my collection of mysteries and thrillers for the backlist titles that we’re publishing. I also solicit recommendations from writers and readers that I know who have a deep appreciation and knowledge of the field. People like you, Bill Crider, Dick Lochte, Johnny Shaw, Paul Bishop, and Jan Burke.

JKP: Which authors are you most excited to see back in print?

LG: I’m equally excited about all of them, and I’m not just saying that. It goes to the core of our business model. Each and every book has to excite us. It’s what sets us apart from most of our competitors, who are vacuuming up backlists just to build their content libraries. We are publishing the books that we love, books that our fellow authors love, and books that have earned incredible praise. Keep in mind, we’re paying for all of this out of our own pockets, so every book we publish is personal for us.

JG: This is a little bit like asking which of my kids do I like best. The answer can depend on the day! But I love all my kids and I’m thrilled to introduce all of our authors to a new audience. That’s why we’re doing this.

JKP: So far, who have been the authors you’ve had the hardest time convincing to join the Brash “family”? Have there been many who have turned down your offers? And what reasons did those holdouts give for their refusal?

LG: We’ve been lucky. I’d say 95 percent of the people or estates that we’ve approached have enthusiastically jumped on board. They can tell how much we love the books, that we are genuinely enthusiastic, and they can see we are the real deal, not a couple of hucksters. It really helps, I think, that we are successful authors ourselves. We’ve lost a couple of authors because they couldn’t get the reversions of rights back from their publishers on their out-of-print books. And there have been a few estates where there are a number of heirs or parties who have to agree in order to make the deal … and we haven’t always succeeded in making that happen.

JKP: Are there other living authors you simply can’t find? Or authors whose descendents have proved elusive so far? Please name names.

JG: Some people are hard to find. We’ve even hired a P.I. from Boston to help us, and she’s done a great job. I’d love to name names but we don’t want to give the competition any ideas.

LG: Hunting down some of these authors or their heirs has been a challenge … but it’s also been fascinating, too. We lucked into this terrific, tenacious P.I. who is really enjoying these cases and has taught us a lot.

JKP: In addition to republishing existing novels, you’re commissioning new works from authors who are still alive. Can you tell me the names of some authors you have convinced to deliver fresh books to Brash?

JG: Discovering great new books has been one of the real perks. Tom Kakonis had one sitting in his drawer called Treasure Coast. It’s one of the best crime novels I’ve read in a long time and we’re releasing it in September.

LG: We’re also publishing a thriller from Philip Reed, a new “Wyatt Storme” novel from W.L Ripley, a kick-ass action-adventure from debut authors James Bruner and Elizabeth Stevens, and a crime novel from Robin Burcell, based on the novels by Carolyn Weston that inspired the TV series The Streets of San Francisco. All those books, still yet-to-be-titled, will be out in 2015. We’ve also got a couple of other original novels we’re currently negotiating to acquire that came in as unsolicited submissions.

JKP: How many Brash Books releases would you like to put out every year? And how many of those would you like to be new books, rather than reprints?

LG: We’re publishing at least one original novel per quarter, and eight or nine reprints of previously published work. So, at this point, we’re planning on publishing 35 to 40 books a year. That’s not counting the two or three collections we’ll be releasing between quarters. For instance, we’ll be releasing all four of Michael Stone’s Streeter books in one volume and all four of Barbara Neely’s Blanche White books in one volume, after we’ve released them all individually.

JKP: I saw, in the front of Treasure Coast, that author Kakonis credits Lee with “rescuing” him. Is he referring there to Brash having extended his writing career?

LG: The last thing Tom ever expected was for me to call him up out of the blue and ask if we could republish his out-of-print thrillers. I was surprised that he remembered who I was, but he hadn’t forgotten me any more than I had forgotten him. When I told him how much I wanted to bring his books back, he was touched and excited. He figured that he had had his time in the publishing limelight and that it had passed. I asked him if he’d stopped writing novels. He mentioned that he had a novel that he wrote some years ago, but had stuck in a drawer because he’d been so badly burned by the publishing business. I asked if I could read it … and he sent it to me. I was blown away by it. I couldn’t believe that a book this good, that was every bit as great as his most-acclaimed work, had gone unpublished. It was a gift for us to be able to publish it.

I can’t speak for Tom, but I think what he means by his kind dedication is that Brash Books has saved his past work from being forgotten … and reinvigorated his desire to write books. We may have rescued him, but he launched Brash Books with Treasure Coast.

video
Lee Goldberg and Joel Goldman discuss the line-up of private-eye novels Brash will release in September.

video
Goldman and Goldberg talk about some of the unconventional heroes featured in their Brash Books line.

JKP: One of the more interesting moves you’re making--and which you mentioned briefly before--is to, first, pick up the late Carolyn Weston’s three Sergeant Al Krug/Detective Casey Kellog novels, including 1972’s Poor, Poor Ophelia, which inspired The Streets of San Francisco; and then you’re planning to continue that series with a new author. What’s the status of those negotiations? And have you decided to keep the story setting in 1970s Santa Monica, or move it to San Francisco, perhaps in the present day?

JG: We’re really fortunate that the fabulous Robin Burcell, who’s won a shelf-full of awards, has agreed to continue Carolyn’s series. We’re bringing it into the present-day and moving it to San Francisco.

LG: I grew up in the San Francisco Bay Area and my father was an anchorman on KPIX [TV]. So, naturally, as a kid, I was a big fan of The Streets of San Francisco. And when I saw that the TV series was based on three books by Carolyn Weston, I snapped those up and devoured them. They’ve been on my shelf ever since. They are great police procedurals that won acclaim in the 1970s--a time when there weren’t a lot of female crime writers out there, certainly not many getting the kind of attention that she was or inspiring a hit TV series. And yet, even though everybody knows about The Streets of San Francisco, nobody remembers Carolyn Weston’s books, perhaps because she never wrote any more books after those three procedurals. They fell out of print and into oblivion. Not with me. They were at the top of my list when we launched Brash. We acquired all the rights to Carolyn’s books from her heirs and decided to continue the series. Joel and I both knew the perfect writer for the job: our old friend Robin Burcell. We had no one else in mind (which also shows how much Joel and I think alike). Not only is Robin an acclaimed crime novelist, but she’s a cop in Northern California, too. Who could possibly be a better choice? We can’t wait to read her book.

JKP: Brash Books seems to put a great deal of emphasis on handsome book covers. How important is it to put out novels that look good in addition to reading well?

JG: We know from self-publishing our backlists that a dynamite cover is essential to a book’s success, because that’s how a reader first encounters a book. The cover has to grab the reader and tell her enough about the book to make her want to buy it. Just as important, the production quality of the print books--from the cover, to the binding, to the interior layout--has to be indistinguishable from any book put out by the Big Five [publishers], and ours meet and exceed those standards. We’re proud to say that CreateSpace is responsible for producing these beautiful books. They’ve amazed us with their incredible work.

LG: Joel and I are very, very involved in the design of each and every cover, working very closely with CreateSpace’s excellent team of artists. We know exactly what we want and aren’t satisfied until our expectations are met … though these artists exceed them on a daily basis. I’m sure they would tell you that we’ve been very tough on them and, as a result, have brought out their A-game. They are as proud of these covers as we are. Perhaps even more so. We also felt strongly that our trade paperbacks had to look indistinguishable from those from the Big Five … not just to wow customers, but to show brick-and-mortar booksellers and the mystery-writing community at large that we are serious about putting out quality work. And I think our books do that.

JKP: Joel mentioned before that you guys are fronting the money for Brash yourselves. Is that correct? This venture can’t be cheap.

LG: It hasn’t been cheap, and I think that shows in the books themselves and in our Web site. I was a TV producer for many years, and I made sure that you could see every penny we spent on-screen. Well, every penny we’re spending [here] is on the page. We’ve invested a considerable amount of our own money in this … which goes back to one of your earlier questions. We wouldn’t be investing this much of our money into Brash if we didn’t love each and every book we are publishing. This publishing company is a reflection of our shared passion for crime fiction--as authors and readers.

JKP: You say you want to treat authors the way you would prefer to be treated. The upside of that seems obvious: You presumably go out of your way to help writers bring the finest products they can to market, and compensate them as best you can. But is there a downside to that, too? Can you be sympathetic and also profitable?

JG: We’re publishers but because we’re also authors, we know what kind of relationship authors want to have with their publishers. That’s not about having sympathy. It’s about having respect. Authors understand that writing and publishing are separate businesses and that neither can be successful unless both are successful, and if we aren’t profitable, no one will have any sympathy for us.

JKP: Speaking of your both being authors, how do you balance your Brash responsibilities against your own interests as writers? Have you had to take a step back from composing and publishing your own books, in order to get Brash Books up and running?

JG: I’m pretty certain that Lee has found a way to make his days last around 27 hours. I’m still scrounging for the elusive extra time to keep up with writing my own books. It’s a daily challenge.

JKP: That said, what book(s) are you writing at the moment?

JG: I’m working on two new co-authored series, one with Lisa Klink and one with James Daniels. And, I’m working on the next book in my Alex Stone thriller series--at least in my head.

LG: I’m writing the fourth “Fox & O’Hare” novel with Janet Evanovich, which will be out next year. But at this moment, Janet and I are signing a few thousand copies of The Job, the third novel in the series, which will be out in November.

Monday, August 18, 2014

Up with Women Down Under

The organization Sisters in Crime Australia has announced the shortlist of nominees for its 2014 Davitt Awards. These prizes are named for Ellen Davitt, the author of Australia’s first mystery novel, Force and Fraud (1865), and are meant to honor the best in Down Under crime/mystery fiction by women. The nominees are:

Best Adult Novel:
Dark Horse, by Honey Brown (Penguin Books Australia)
Nefarious Doings, by Ilsa Evans (Momentum Press)
A Bitter Taste, by Annie Hauxwell (Penguin Books Australia)
Web of Deceit, by Katherine Howell (Pan Macmillan Australia)
Burial Rites, by Hannah Kent (Picador Books)
The Dying Beach, by Angela Savage (Text)

Best Young Adult Novel:
The Midnight Dress, by Karen Foxlee (UQP)
Girl Defective, by Simmone Howell (Pan Macmillan Australia)
Cry Blue Murder, by Kim Kane and Marion Roberts (UQP)
Every Breath, by Ellie Marney (Allen & Unwin)
A Ring Through Time, by Felicity Pulman (Harper Collins)

Best Children’s Novel:
The Perplexing Pineapple: The Cryptic Casebook of Coco Carlomagno (and Alberta), Book 1, by Ursula Dubosarsky (Allen & Unwin)
The Looming Lamplight: The Cryptic Casebook of Coco Carlomagno (and Alberta), Book 2, by Ursula Dubosarsky (Allen & Unwin)
Verity Sparks: Lost and Found, by Susan Green (Walker Books)
Truly Tan: Jinxed!, by Jen Storer (Harper Collins)
Truly Tan: Spooked!, by Jen Storer (Harper Collins)

Best True Crime Book:
Night Games: Sex, Power and Sport, by Anna Krien (Black Inc)
Deadly Australian Women, by Kay Saunders (ABC Books)

Best Debut Book (any category):
A Trifle Dead, by Livia Day (Twelfth Planet Press)
The Midnight Dress, by Karen Foxlee (UQP)
Girl Defective, by Simmone Howell (Pan Macmillan Australia)
Burial Rites, by Hannah Kent (Picador Books)
Every Breath, by Ellie Marney (Allen & Unwin)

In addition, 660 members of Sisters in Crime Australia will cast votes for their Readers’ Choice award recipient of the year.

The winners in all six categories will be declared during a “gala dinner” on Saturday, August 30, by South African crime writer Lauren Beukes.

(Hat tip to Crime Watch.)

Pierce’s Picks: “No Safe House”

A weekly alert for followers of crime, mystery, and thriller fiction.

No Safe House, by Linwood Barclay (New American Library)

The Gist: “Seven years after barely surviving the terrors of No Time for Goodbye (2007),” explains Publishers Weekly, “the Archer family of Milford, Conn., once again tempts fate in this darkly comic if decidedly creepy thriller … History seems to be repeating itself as mom Cynthia fights to set limits on 14-year-old Grace, who defies her--much as the rebellious 14-year-old Cynthia herself did the night she got drunk with local hood Vince Fleming and her parents and brother disappeared. But Grace’s latest lapse in judgment--agreeing to joyride with pistol-packing bad boy Stuart Koch, whose father assists the now-grown Vince--plunges the entire clan into a deadly perfect storm of greed, violence, dog walkers, and ruthless rival crooks at cross-purposes.” Reviewing the Evidence says this novel plays to the author’s strengths: “Here we are on familiar, if still effective, ground for Barclay. He specializes in mining a suburban angst rooted in the suspicion that the leafy streets and tidy homes sit atop a subterranean fault line that constantly threatens to split wide open and engulf their earnest and respectable citizens in unexpected anarchy. He is particularly good at situating the threat in the teenaged characters, who behave in that familiar and maddening combination of reckless daring and moral superiority most parents of adolescents will recognize instantly. Grace in this case does something thoroughly foolish yet almost sweetly naïve. When she learns what she may be responsible for, she has to be almost physically restrained from rushing off to the authorities to confess, while her exasperated but loving father does what he can to protect her.”

What Else You Should Know: For a piece in The Big Thrill, A.J. Colucci “asked Barclay why he chose to go back to the story after all these years. ‘It was my U.S. publisher, Penguin, that really wanted me to do a sequel, and seven years seemed like the right amount of time. The daughter in the book, Grace, is the same age as her mother Cynthia when the first event happened, and that had some symmetry to it.’ … Barclay enjoyed going back to the original characters and imagining how they developed. ‘When something traumatic happens in the context of a thriller, even when you find out all the answers, you have to wonder--what’s it like for those people afterwards? How does their life change? What does it do to them personally? I knew how it would affect Cynthia and her relationship with her daughter. That’s the stuff I wanted to get into, how she would be so obsessively overprotective. It’s the law of unintended consequences--the more you try to achieve one thing, the more you achieve the opposite. The more Cynthia tries to rein Grace in, the more she fights back. We’ve all been there.’” The Minneapolis Star Tribune adds that “While this is a sequel to No Time for Goodbye, familiarity with that earlier thriller isn’t required to enjoy this look at a family trying to maintain cohesion. What makes the story work is the depth and strength of the Archer family and their love for each other that oozes off the page while bad things continue to happen around them.”

Terrible ... or Terribly Good?

I’ve been rather joyfully following the annual Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest since 2009. Taking its name from George Earl Bulwer-Lytton (1803-1873), it champions hideous (read: humorous) opening sentences from never-to-be-completed books. Entries are accepted in categories ranging from Adventure and Children’s Literature to Historical Fiction and Purple Prose.

Winning this year in the Crime category was Carl Turney of Bayswater, Victoria, Australia. Here’s his submission:
Hard-boiled private dick Harrison Bogart couldn’t tell if it was the third big glass of cheap whiskey he’d just finished, or the way the rain-moistened blouse clung so tightly to the perfect figure of the dame who just appeared panting in his office doorway, but he was certain of one thing … he had the hottest mother-in-law in the world.
Harrison, Ohio’s Joshua Long scored runner-up honors with this:
Hard-boiled private eye Smith Calloway had a sinking feeling
as he walked into the chaotic crime scene, for there, as expected, was the body dressed in a monk’s habit; there was the stuffed cream-colored pony next to the crisp apple strudel; there was the doorbell, the set of sleigh bells, and even the schnitzel with noodles--all proclaiming that the Von Trappist Killer had struck again.
Actually, though, I got the biggest chuckle from one of three “Dishonorable Mention” recipients in this category, submitted by Brian Brandt of Lansdale, Pennsylvania:
When the CSI investigator lifted the sheet revealing the mutilated body with the Ginsu Knife still protruding from the bloody chest, Detective Miller wondered why anybody would ever need two of them, even if he only had to pay extra shipping and handling.
Click here to read (or groan at) all of this year’s top contenders.

Friday, August 15, 2014

Jeremiah Healy Passes Away

I’ve had my head down over the last couple of days, trying to finish work on my latest column for Kirkus Reviews. Which may explain why I missed the tragic news that Jeremiah Healy--author of the Boston-based John Francis Cuddy private-eye series--committed suicide yesterday in Pompano Beach, Florida. He was only 66 years old. A post in Bill Crider’s blog says that “depression exacerbated by alcohol” contributed to Healy’s action.

Born in New Jersey on May 15, 1948, Healy was a graduate of Rutgers College and Harvard Law School, and had been a military police lieutenant, a trial attorney, and later a professor at the New England School of Law for 18 years. He’d served as the chair for the Shamus Awards, president of the Private Eye Writers of America, and president of the International Association of Crime Writers. During his writing career, he turned out at least 18 novels and dozens of short stories. His second Cuddy outing, The Staked Goat (1986), won the Shamus. Under the pseudonym Terry Devane, he also penned novels about Boston lawyer Mairead O’Clare.

I had the chance to interview Healy for January Magazine back in 2000, but saw him at more than one Bouchercon over the years. The last time, I believe, was during the 2011 convention in St. Louis. He always struck me as a smart guy, and very much a fighter. He’d already survived a bout with prostate cancer.

His fiancée, author Sandra Balzo, sent out the following message:
My heart breaks to send you all this news, especially by e-mail. As you may know, Jerry has battled chronic severe depression for years, mostly controlled by medication, but exacerbated by alcohol. Last night he took his own life. Jerry was the smartest, kindest man I’ve ever met, and I thought we’d continue to grow old together. His demons had other plans. Please keep Jerry in your heart, as you all were in his.
I offer my best wishes to his family.

FOLLOW-UP I: Not surprisingly, other writers who knew Healy have taken to social media to express their sorrow this loss. The following two notes came through Facebook.

From Reed Farrel Coleman:
“I am very saddened to learn of the suicide of my colleague Jerry Healy. Jerry was what we in my family would call a real character. He had his foibles and eccentricities, as do we all--writers more than most--but he was a good man, a caring man. It’s people like Jerry who make being part of the mystery-writing community a special thing. It’s safe to say, there won’t be another like him.”

From Brendan DuBois:
“I’m shocked and stunned beyond belief on the news that my old friend Jerry Healy has taken his own life. Fuck. He warmly introduced me to MWA when I first joined, encouraged my own writing, helped me get my first agent, and blurbed my first novel. A quiet joke between us was that he claimed he had the body of a 19-year-old paratrooper, a description I used in one of my later novels about a law professor. We sometimes would share a meal and companionship in Boston. He was a great presence at New England MWA meetings and B’cons, and could be found rounding up people to go bar-hopping or just to hang out at the bar. He always welcomed newcomers, to make them feel at home, and his output was magnificent, being a multi-Shamus Award winner. He was a true light in this field, and my Lord, he will be missed.

“An MP and law professor, he often joked he was to the right of Atilla the Hun, but you’d never know it from his warm demeanor.

“Prayers and wishes for Sandy and his family. I can’t remember feeling this sick and gobsmacked in ages.”

From Richard Helms:
“I am so shocked and saddened to learn that Shamus Award-winning author, and my friend, Jerry Healy has taken his life.”

“I first met Jerry at Sleuthfest in 2002. He attended a presentation I did on forensic profiling, and afterward he stayed and talked with me for almost an hour. I was in awe. Jerry was already a 10-time PWA Shamus Award nominee in 2002, and had won several of them, and he took time out of his conference to talk with a guy who only had two books on the shelves.

“Two years later, he agreed to provide a cover blurb for my novel Grass Sandal. A year later, he helped engineer my introduction to Bob Parker, and helped me get a cover blurb from The Master for my novel Cordite Wine. I caught up with him at Bouchercon in 2006, after Cordite Wine had garnered my third Shamus nomination, and I bought him a couple of rounds to thank him for helping out a young(ish) author who really didn’t have the street cred to merit it. He gladly accepted the drinks, but also said that if I really wanted to thank him I should ‘pay it forward’--that is, help the next author who came along asking ME for help.

“Since then, I’ve made it my policy to help any author who contacts me for whatever answers I can offer, cover blurbs for new novels, and any other assistance. When I won the Thriller Award in 2011, I told this story in my acceptance speech, and reiterated--as Jerry had taught me--that as authors, at whatever level of success we have achieved, we have the privilege and the obligation to help others up the ladder.

“Just two years ago, at Killer Nashville, we spent two or three hours in the hotel bar tossing back cold ones and talking about a little bit of everything. The next day I moderated a panel with Jerry and his partner Sandy Balzo. As always, Jerry stole the show, and he did it masterfully. I had no idea at the time that it was the last time I’d see him.

“Jerry was a very important and influential person in my early days writing and publishing mysteries, and I can honestly say that he will be dearly missed. I think I’ll mark his passing by going back and re-reading one of his excellent John Francis Cuddy novels.

“Safe travels, my friend.”

FOLLOW-UP II: And this comes from Sandy Balzo …

“I posted Monday about Robin Williams’ loss, saying, ‘Severe depression is about as far from “the blues,” as Ebola is from a cold,’ based on seeing Jerry battle through a bad bout in May and June. You can’t just ‘cheer up,’ or ‘see somebody’ or ‘take something’ and instantly make it better. Even the right drug, when you finally find it, takes days or weeks to work. Plain and simple, I said, depression kills. Little did I know that three days later it would claim my love.

“I plan to have the memorial at Jerry’s beloved Lauderdale Tennis Club [in] mid-November when the snowbirds are back in South Florida. You know how Jerry always loved a crowd.

“I’ll post the exact date and time here, as well as on the memory page: http://serenityfuneralhomeandcremation.com/book-of-memories/1929690/Healy-Jeremiah/index.php

“In the meantime, please know that I appreciate every single post, even if I don’t respond directly. We are blessed in our friends. Jerry would have been so pleased.”

READ MORE:Farewell, Jeremiah Healy,” by Ali Karim (Shotsmag Confidential); “Interview with Jeremiah Healy,” by Jon Jordan; “The Popularity of Legal Thrillers,” by Jeremiah Healy (Mystery Fanfare).

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Gone, Baby, Gone

video

Damn, what a horrible way to start the week! First it was comedian Robin Williams, lost yesterday, apparently to suicide, at age 63. Now comes the news that actress Lauren Bacall--born Betty Joan Perske in the Bronx, New York, in 1924--has passed away at age 89.

A former theater usher and fashion model, Bacall first came to prominence in 1944, when, at age 19, she starred with 44-year-old Humphrey Bogart in To Have and Have Not, a film based loosely on Ernest Hemingway’s 1937 novel of the same name. Her famous double entendre-laced line, delivered to a smoking, reclining Bogie--“You know how to whistle, don’t you, Steve? You just put your lips together and … blow”--knocked out movie-going audiences everywhere, and had no less impact on Bogart himself. At the time he was already on his third marriage, to actress Mayo Methot, but he divorced her the next year to wed Bacall, or “Baby” as he called her. The pair were together only until his death in 1957, but if Bogie’s ghost is still anywhere around today, he’s whistling for her to join him today.

You can watch a Turner Classic Movies tribute to Bacall here.

READ MORE:Lauren Bacall (1924-2014), Hollywood Legend and Style Icon,” by Noel Murray (The Dissolve); “Lauren Bacall, Sultry Movie Star, Dies at 89,” by Enid Nemy (The New York Times); “Lauren Bacall, Legendary Actress, Dies at 89,” by Ryan Parker and Dennis McLellan (Los Angeles Times); “The Magnetic Mystique of Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall,” by Soraya Nadia McDonald (The Washington Post); “Lauren Bacall’s Guide on How to Become a Successful Model in New York City, 1941” and “Was Lauren Bacall the World’s Most Glamorous Newsie?,” by Greg Young (The Bowery Boys); “Fond Farewells: Please Dreams, Mrs. Bogart,” by John “J.F.” Norris (Pretty Sinister Books); “Tribute to Lauren Bacall (1924-2014),” by Scott (The Nick Carter & Carter Brown Blog); “Reactions to Lauren Bacall’s Death: Great Beauty, An Iron Backbone” (Deadline Hollywood); “Last Bacall” (Pulp International); “Historian Explains Lauren Bacall’s Cool: ‘She’s Got That It Factor With a Capital I,’” by Jessica Goldstein (Think Progress); “Lauren Bacall: Sept. 16, 1924-Aug. 12, 2014,” by Jon M. Wessel (Eleven-Nineteen); “What the Media Isn’t Telling You About Lauren Bacall (and Humphrey Bogart),” by Clancy Sigal (Salon).

Monday, August 11, 2014

Pierce’s Picks: “Brainquake”

After a six-month hiatus (really, that long?), I’m reintroducing “Pierce’s Picks,” a weekly alert to new crime, mystery, and thriller novels worth reading. I hope this slightly modified format will make it easier to keep up the feature’s regular pace. We shall see.

Brainquake, by Samuel Fuller (Hard Case Crime)

The Gist: “The bagmen who transport money for organized crime,” explains a Hard Case blurb, “live by a special set of rules: no relationships, no ties … no alcohol, no women … no talking … and never, ever look inside the bag you’re carrying. For more than 10 years, despite suffering from a rare brain disorder [that causes uncontrollable seizures], Paul Page was the perfect bagman. But that ended the day he saw a beautiful Mob wife become a Mob widow. Now Paul is going to break every one of the rules he’s lived by to protect the woman he loves--even if it means he might be left holding the bag.” Kirkus Reviews calls Brainquake “a hard-boiled story filled with quick dialogue and rich archetypal characters.” Publishers Weekly adds: “The writing is pulpy and the violence brutal, but Fuller explodes a few surprises to keep the plot unpredictable, and his mordant asides on crime and corruption elevate this tale above much standard genre fare.”

What Else You Should Know: This novel, with its gorgeous cover illustration by Glen Orbik, was originally slated for publication on September 9. Somewhere along the line, though, the folks at Hard Case decided it would be better to release it tomorrow, August 12--maybe because that would have been the 102nd birthday of Samuel Fuller, the author and filmmaker who died in 2007. Fuller had penned half a dozen previous novels (including 1944’s The Dark Page), but left Brainquake unpublished at the time of his death; it was discovered later, and Hard Case’s edition represents its first English-language release. “We’ve had some big books at Hard Case Crime,” editor Charles Ardai writes in a press notice, “but the publication of Brainquake in some ways tops ’em all. Fuller was a larger-than-life figure--decorated D-Day veteran, liberator of the Falkenau concentration camp, teenage crime reporter in New York City, rail-rider with hoboes in the Depression, Hollywood wunderkind, fighter for racial equality, revered American icon overseas--and having him join the Hard Case Crime family is a special privilege.”

J.-Talking

Over this past weekend, PulpFest 2014 took place in Columbus, Ohio. Included among its events was the presentation of two prizes.

J. Randolph Cox, a former editor-publisher of Dime Novel Round-Up and author of the bibliography Man of Magic & Mystery: A Guide to the Work of Walter B. Gibson, won the Munsey Award, “presented annually to a person who has worked for the betterment of the pulp community.” Meanwhile, J. Barry Traylor picked up the Rusty Award, “designed to recognize those individuals who have worked long and hard for the pulp community with little thought for individual recognition, it is meant to reward especially good works and is thus reserved for those individuals who are most deserving.”

Congratulations to both prize recipients.

READ MORE:Convention Report: PulpFest 2014,” by Walker Martin (Mystery*File).

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Ready for the Neddies?

It seems as if I’ve been writing a great deal lately about Down Under crime fiction. Last weekend brought an announcement of the four finalists for this year’s Ngaio Marsh Award for Best Crime Novel in New Zealand. And now comes word of which books and authors have made the shortlist for Australia’s 2014 Ned Kelly Awards.

Best Crime Novel:
Bitter Wash Road, By Garry Disher (Text)
Fatal Impact, by Kathryn Fox (Pan Macmillan)
In the Morning I’ll Be Gone, by Adrian McKinty (Serpent’s Tail)
Beams Falling, by P.M. Newton (Penguin)
One Boy Missing, by Stephen Orr (Text)
The Dying Beach, by Angela Savage (Text)

Best First Crime Novel:
Dead Cat Bounce, by Peter Cotton (Scribe)
Hades, by Candice Fox (Random House)
Blood Witness, by Alex Hammond (Penguin)
Every Breath, by Ellie Marney (Tundra)

Best True Crime:
Disgraced? by Paul Dale (Five Mile Press)
Forever Nine, by John Kidman and Denise Hofman (Five Mile Press)
No Mercy, by Eleanor Learmonth and Jenny Tabakoff (Text)
JFK: The Smoking Gun, by Colin McLaren (Hachette)
Outlaw Bikers in Australia, by Duncan McNab (Pan Macmillan)
Murder in Mississippi, by John Safran (Blackfriars)

Sandra Harvey Short Story Award:
“Housewarming,” by Louise Bassett
“The Scars of Noir,” by Darcy-Lee Tindale
“Voices of Soi 22,” by Roger Vickery
“Splinter,” by Emma Viskic
“Web Design,” by Emma Viskic

The winners of the 2014 “Neddies” will be declared on Saturday, September 6, during the Brisbane Writers Festival.