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.

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

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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

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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.

Friday, August 08, 2014

Listening to the Experts

(Editor’s note: The Rap Sheet has enjoyed a cordial and mutually beneficial relationship over the last few years with Australia-born Scottish author Tony Black. In 2010 he debuted an original short story on this page, “Last Orders,” featuring his series character, journalist-cum-detective Gus Dury. Two years later, we featured an excerpt from Miracle Mile, his second novel about Edinburgh Detective Inspector Rob Brennan. And then last year, we were pleased to host Black’s long-hoped-for interview with William McIlvanney, still best known for his 1977 series debut, Laidlaw [which is now back in print]. In addition to having a new novel out in Britain, Artefacts of the Dead, Black has also released Hard Truths: Cross-Examining Crime Writers, a collection of interviews he’s conducted with accomplished modern contributors to the crime and mystery genre. Below, he briefly explains his intentions with that work.)

Writing, as everyone knows, is a tough business. Just when you think you’ve got on top of the tricky craft aspects along comes the even trickier feat of finding an agent. Then a publisher. Then the industry changes and you find yourself doing the agent and publisher’s job too.

If I was to track the bumps in the road to calling myself an author, I wouldn’t know where to start. I had about 10 years in the wilderness and five novels gathering dust before I got a break with Random House. Twelve books later, the only thing I’m sure about is that it’s a constant learning process … and, nothing like what I thought it might be.

I’ve spoken with dozens of writers about the business of putting words on a page and always found that it’s a familiar tale; precious few have it easy. The path to publication is filled with face-slaps and rejections. We all have our horror stories. My personal favorite is being told by two separate London publishers, on the same day, “We’re not looking for a Scottish writer” and “We have a Scottish writer.” There was also an American agent who wanted to turn my breakthrough novel’s protagonist, Gus Dury, into a “bonnie Scotch lassie,” but I simply stored that away in the “insane/hilarious shit” file.

Writers trade this stuff like football stickers. Once, at a gig with Russel D. McLean (The Lost Sister, Mothers of the Disappeared), he regaled the audience with a tale of one manuscript coming back covered in crayon, and a note attached saying, “As you can see, my child didn’t rate it much either.” Appalled? You should be. But in an industry where the upheaval has been seismic recently--giving everyone with an Internet connection a voice--writers get used to it. Opinions are like arseholes: everybody has them.

I like Trainspotting author Irvine Welsh’s attitude toward critics, which he outlines in one of three interviews I’ve conducted with him, all featured in Hard Truths: “If they were any good, they would have done it themselves and be selling truckloads. But they ain’t, and I am. I know this, they do too. Enough said.”

videoBlack talks with fellow novelist McIlvanney about his writing and the crime-fiction genre, in general.

Another Scottish author, William McIlvanney, recounted for me the halcyon days of gentlemen reviewers, who thought twice about “annihilating an author” because they generally had a book of their own on the way.

The wisdom of these wordsmiths--and that of many more like them--is gold. And crime writers like to share. It’s said they’re the nicest of the writing bunch, because they get all their angst out on the page; for the opposite reason, romance writers are the ones to watch, allegedly.

When I started interviewing the crime writers featured in this collection, a few years ago, it was a way of providing content for the nascent Webzine Pulp Pusher. That was it, plain and simple; the idea of gathering their collected wisdom wasn’t on my mind. But, slowly, I found myself quoting back the interviewees’ responses to reading groups, students, my own interviewers, and just about anyone else who would listen. So, I asked myself, why? The answer was obvious, and I thought, well worth sharing.

Hard Truths: Cross-Examining Crime Writers features my exchanges with the likes of Ian Rankin, Andrew Vachss, Stuart MacBride, Ken Bruen, and a long list of others. The book clocks in at about 85,000 words--and being the words of the best in the business, you can rely on the quality of every one of them.

READ MORE:Steve Jovanoski Interviews Tony Black” (Crimeculture).

Make Your Preferences Known

“For the first time ever,” reports Shotsmag Confidential, “readers will decide the longlist for the [Crime Writers’ Association] Dagger in the Library Award as its sponsor Dead Good and the CWA relaunch the Award for 2014.” This commendation, one of six “highly prized” annual Dagger Awards, is given “not for an individual book but for an author’s body of work.” Previous recipients include Belinda Bauer, Steve Mosby, Mo Hayder, Colin Cotterill, Stuart MacBride, and Alexander McCall Smith.

The public nominating process for this year’s prize commenced last week and will continue until September 1. The 10 authors accumulating the greatest number of votes during that period will move on to the judging process. A panel that includes previous winners, CWA representatives, and UK librarians will select the winner.

Click here to find a page where you can vote for three of your favorite crime, mystery, or thriller authors. UK residents who cast ballots will also be entered in a drawing to win £200 worth of books.

Thursday, August 07, 2014

Sherlock Puts on a Show

For once, it seems, I am perfectly positioned to appreciate an itinerant display of particular interest to crime-fiction aficionados. As the Mystery Scene blog explains, the International Exhibition of Sherlock Holmes, which debuted at the Oregon Museum of Science and Technology in Portland last year, and is traveling through 2017, will make a stop in my hometown of Seattle about 26 months from now. The schedule shows it opening at the Pacific Science Center on October 13, 2016. Do you think it’s too early yet to buy tickets?

An article published back in March of this year in The New York Times defined the scope of this presentation: “From original manuscript pages from ‘The Hound of the Baskervilles’ to props from the current BBC hit ‘Sherlock,’ the exhibition aims to engage all levels of enthusiasts. Galleries feature an examination of [Holmes creator Arthur] Conan Doyle and late 19th-century London, the science behind the Holmes stories, and pop culture artifacts, past and present. There is also an immersive interactive Victorian-era murder mystery that visitors are asked to solve, clue by clue, after an introduction to Holmes’s scientific methods of crime-solving.”

The International Exhibition of Sherlock Holmes is currently situated at Columbus, Ohio’s Center of Science and Industry through September 1. After that, it will relocate to the following locations:

• October 9, 2014: St. Louis Science Center, St. Louis, Missouri
• February 12, 2015: Perot Museum of Nature & Science,
Dallas, Texas
• June 11, 2015: Discovery Science Center, Santa Ana, California
• October 15, 2015: Denver Museum of Nature & Science,
Denver, Colorado
• October 13, 2016: Pacific Science Center, Seattle, Washington

Additional stops may be added at a later date.

Tuesday, August 05, 2014

A Finnish Finish

James Thompson, the Kentucky-born crime-fictionist who over the last half-decade composed four novels starring Finnish homicide inspector Kari Vaara (including 2012’s Helsinki Blood), died unexpectedly on August 2 in his hometown of Lahti, Finland. Either 49 or 50 years old (he was born sometime in 1964), Thompson was married and had resided in Finland for about 15 years.

In his interview with Thompson from 2010, fellow novelist J. Sydney Jones explained that the creator of Inspector Vaara had been a “bartender, bouncer, construction worker, photographer, rare coin dealer, soldier, and wrestling announcer” at various stages of his life. However, he embarked on a writing career after winning “a publishing contract with northern Europe’s largest publisher, WSOY, for a series of political thrillers and crime stories. His first novel, Across the Green Line, appeared in 2008, in Finnish, under the title Jerusalemin veri. His second book, the crime novel Snow Angels (Lumienkelit), was released in spring 2009. Another thriller, The True Name of God (Jumalan nimeen), was published in March 2010.” Adds Jones:
Thompson has gone on to become one of the big guns in Nordic crime fiction. His 2011 [novel], Lucifer’s Tears, is, according to Publishers Weekly, “Stellar. … Thompson elegantly threads Finland’s compelling national history with Vaara’s own demons in this taut, emotionally wrought novel.” Booklist declared it “impossible to put down.” And Kirkus Reviews got over its snarkiness to note, “Nazi collaboration, government cover-ups, kinky sex, a baby daughter waiting impatiently to be born and a vigilante-minded hero who talks back to his boss more irreverently than Dirty Harry. What more could you want?” And the Washington Post thought that “the haunted, trouble-prone Vaara is an intriguing character, one who recalls Michael Connelly’s Harry Bosch and Ian Rankin’s John Rebus.”
In addition to penning the Vaara books, Thompson was the editor of Helsinki Noir, a short-story anthology scheduled for publication by Akashic Books this coming November. His fifth and latest series novel, Helsinki Dead, had been set for release by Putnam in fall 2015, but reports say it was left unfinished at the time of his demise.

We offer our condolences to Thompson’s family in this difficult time.

(Hat tip to The Gumshoe Site.)

FOLLOW-UP: J. Sydney Jones writes in this new post that “According to one Finnish source, James [Thompson] was apparently killed in an accident.” He adds as well that the late author was born on October 16, 1964, which would make him 49 at the time of his death.

READ MORE:Jim Thompson’s Last Walk,” by Gareth Rice (Belfastnomad); “James Thompson, 1964-2014” (Book Reviews by Elizabeth A. White); “Finnish-American Writer Jim Thompson Is Dead,” by David Cord (The Helsinki Times).

A Lost Father’s Long, Cold Trail

Inspired by Ken Kuhlken’s essay for The Rap Sheet about his brand-new novel, The Good Know Nothing (Poisoned Pen Press), I decided to make that same rollicking historical mystery--the seventh and last installment in Kuhlken’s Tom Hickey California Crime series--the focus of my Kirkus Reviews column this week. As I write,
Ever since [his first series entry] The Loud Adios saw print, and won the St. Martin’s Press/Private Eye Writers of America Best First Private Eye Novel contest, Kuhlken has been jumping around through the 20th century, penning sequels and prequels both. (“If I’d planned [to compose a series],” he told an interviewer not long ago, “I might’ve started from the beginning, rather than write them in no particular order. What happened was, once I got immersed in the drama of Tom’s life, stories just kept coming.”) The plot of his last book, 2010’s The Biggest Liar in Los Angeles (see how mendacity has become a durable theme with this guy?), took place in 1926 and found him probing the lynching of an old friend. The events rolled out in The Good Know Nothing occur a decade later, in 1936, at a time when the Great Depression still has a stranglehold on the United States, and Hickey has moved up from struggling musician to LA cop. His future is not assured, however, since his candor and resistance to corrupting influences have led him afoul of his LAPD superiors. What happens in this new yarn is likely to get Hickey kicked off the force altogether, and maybe imprisoned to boot.
You will find the complete column here.

The Story Behind the Story:
“The Good Know Nothing,” by Ken Kuhlken

(Editor’s note: Today we bring you the 49th entry in our “Story Behind the Story” series, this one penned by Ken Kuhlken, an author based in La Mesa, California. Kuhlken’s short stories, features, essays, and columns have appeared in Esquire as well as other magazines and anthologies. He has been honorably mentioned in Best American Short Stories, and earned a National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship. His novels received awards such as the Ernest Hemingway Best First Novel, the St. Martin’s Press/Private Eye Writers of America Best First Private Eye Novel, and the Shamus Best Novel. He writes below about his brand-new work, The Good Know Nothing, the final entry in his Hickey family series, which began with 1991’s The Loud Adios and has ranged across the 1900s.)

I used to teach at California State University in Chico. My office partner, Dr. Michael Baumann, had fled Germany with his family during the 1930s. Among Mike’s scholarly pursuits was the study of the author B. Traven, whose books were originally published in German, though his distinctly American narrators led readers to assume that their creator must be American himself.

Traven refused to make his identity or background public. So, the mystery surrounding him intrigued literary folks, especially following the release of the 1948 film version of his novel The Treasure of the Sierra Madre. The movie, which starred Humphrey Bogart, was a grand success. You may remember the line often misquoted as “Badges? We don’t need no stinking badges.”

Mike Baumann spent years on linguistic and biographical research and analysis, and at last concluded that B. Traven began his public life as Ret Marut, a leftist radical pamphleteer who, following World War I, ran afoul of the German establishment on account of his involvement with the short-lived Bavarian Free State.

Yet to Mike the question remained: how did this fellow manage to so convincingly assume, especially as narrator of The Death Ship (1926), a wholly credible American identity? Mike’s strong suspicion was that The Death Ship and perhaps other Traven novels were in fact collaborations between Marut and an American expatriate with whom he connected in Mexico, to where Marut had fled from a likely death sentence in Germany.

I asked Mike what became of the American. “Right,” he said, “that’s the big question”

Later, I found an answer in the family story of Detective Tom Hickey.

The Death Ship appeared in English in 1936. My knowledge of Tom during that era being less than comprehensive, I began to investigate.

The early 20th century abounded in mysteries. Several of them piqued my imagination:

What became of Ambrose Bierce, acclaimed short-story writer and journalist whom William Randolph Hearst sent, during 1913, to cover the Mexican revolution, and who never returned. (Carlos Fuentes offered his answer in The Old Gringo.)

Were the rumors of the death in 1908 of Harry Longabaugh, aka Sundance Kid (who had become legend through a number of dime novels), erroneous? And did Longabaugh actually survive a battle in Bolivia and subsequently lend his skills not only to Mexican revolutionary Pancho Villa, but to Depression-era bank robbery gangs as well?

Together, these and other mysteries led to my discovery of what befell Detective Tom Hickey during 1936, which in turn led to The Good Know Nothing (Poisoned Pen Press), the latest release in the Tom Hickey California Crime series.

The series is about half of the story I feel both obliged and privileged to write.

The whole story began while I read Doctor Zhivago and caught myself envying writers whose times were as loaded with drama as the Russian Revolution or the Napoleonic wars that inspired Tolstoy’s War and Peace.

Or it began even earlier, with my grandma telling classic epic tales in versions fit for a little guy, which may have led me, in college, to major in literature and minor in history.

No matter the reasons, my favorite books are epic spellbinders that also help us contemporary folks understand how we came to live in the world as it is today.

So, one spring weekend in the village of San Felipe, Baja California, around a campfire high on a dune above the Sea of Cortez, while entranced by accounts and revelations from my friends Clifford Hickey and Otis Otterbach, I discovered what I’ve been writing ever since.

My story--explored through the California Crime series--is about Clifford's remarkable family, especially his father, Detective Tom Hickey; about Otis and the mission forced upon him, to rescue the world from immanent desolation; and about the mad vision of Cynthia Jones, where the Otis and Hickey stories intersect.

Over the years, life and art have taught me that neither Doctor Zhivago nor any character of Homer, Tolstoy, Dickens, Austen, Bronte, Hardy, or Hemingway inhabited a place and time more dramatic than my own time and place, 20th-century California.

(Left) Author Ken Kuhlken

Stories that live are begotten in passion and nurtured with attitude. Let’s call my attitude Beat Noir. Noir because the darkness we live in and the darkness inside us is often my subject matter. Beat because even before I started writing, I found an affinity for the writers labeled Beats. In hindsight I see that it wasn’t their iconoclasm, wild enthusiasm, or intellectual vigor that intrigued me so much as their quest.

Here’s a clip from Wikipedia about Jack Kerouac, the prime instigator of the Beat movement:
On May 17, 1928, while six years old, Kerouac had his first Sacrament of Confession. For penance he was told to say a rosary, during the meditation of which he could hear God tell him that he had a good soul, that he would suffer in his life and die in pain and horror, but would in the end have salvation. This experience, along with his dying brother's vision of the Virgin Mary, as the nuns fawned over him convinced that he was a saint, combined with a later discovery of Buddhism and ongoing commitment to Christ, solidified his worldview which informs his work.
According to Kerouac, his 1957 novel, On the Road which is commonly misinterpreted as a tale of companions out looking for kicks, is in truth “about two Catholic buddies roaming the country in search of God.”

My fascination with Cynthia Jones and Kerouac may rest upon a deep belief the three of us share: that the end of this age began in 1945, when a crew of Dr. Strangeloves and their bomb not only annihilated cities, but unleashed a legion of physical and spiritual demons.

Kerouac proposed that those of us who live with the threat of sudden obliteration ought to experience and respond with hearts and minds to everything while we can, before nuclear Armageddon gets us.

That belief was the cornerstone for the attitudes of the Beats, the hippies, and the Jesus people of the 1960s and ’70s. Most people in my generation have, in the words of Jackson Browne, traded their wings for resignation “and exchanged love’s bright and fragile glow for the glitter and the rouge.” Yet that fear and urgency still own us. We recognize that things continue to fall apart. We fear, like W.B. Yeats, that the center cannot hold, and we too wonder what strange beast is slouching toward Bethlehem.

My Hickey and Otis stories first connect when a Cynthia Jones vendetta incites the action of The Venus Deal (1993). Then a Tom Hickey rescue gives birth to Cynthia’s apocalyptic vision. And that vision drives the entire story, in four or five volumes, of Otis Otterbach.

I dream my books will acquaint more and more readers with Otis, Cynthia, the Hickey family, their times and their California, which like all true stories deserve to live in memory.

Seven Hickey books are now available, including The Good Know Nothing. The Gas Crisis, first volume of the Otis saga, will appear in October 2014.

I fondly hope you will read the whole story.

READ MORE:9mm: An Interview with Ken Kuhlken,” by Craig Sisterson (Crime Watch); “Summertime Won’t Be a Love-in There,” by Stephen Miller (January Magazine).

Monday, August 04, 2014

Another Sad Farewell

This is most unfortunate news, delivered by Sarah Weinman:
Dorothy Salisbury Davis, whose short story “Lost Generation” was reprinted in Troubled Daughters, Twisted Wives, died last night in Palisades, NY. She was 98 years old. I don’t have a lot of information to share yet, and will update accordingly as I learn more, but understand a memorial service is being planned for the fall.
Janet Rudolph adds a bit of biographic information:
She was an MWA [Mystery Writers of America] Grand Master and six-time Edgar nominee. Ms. Davis wrote 17 crime novels, three historical novels and numerous short stories. She served as president of MWA and was one of the founders of Sisters in Crime. She was presented with Lifetime Achievement Awards from Bouchercon and Malice Domestic.
Our sympathies go out to Ms. Davis’ family.

Sunday, August 03, 2014

Four to the Fore




What was once a field of eight candidates for the 2014 Ngaio Marsh Award for Best Crime Novel has now been cut in half. Judging convenor Craig Sisterson just announced the list of finalists as follows:

Frederick’s Coat, by Alan Duff (Vintage)
Joe Victim, by Paul Cleave (Simon & Schuster)
My Brother’s Keeper, by Donna Malane (HarperCollins)
Where Dead Men Go, by Liam McIlvanney (Faber and Faber)

Failing to advance to the next, concluding round are: The Luminaries, by Eleanor Catton (Little, Brown); Only the Dead, by Ben Sanders (HarperCollins); The Beckoning Ice, by Joan Druett (Old Salt Press); and Cross Fingers, by Paddy Richardson (Hachette).

“This has been without a doubt the broadest, deepest, and most diverse longlist in the five-year history of New Zealand’s crime, mystery, and thriller writing award,” Sisterson wrote recently in his blog, Crime Watch. “That has made for an exceptionally tough decision for the international panel of judges, as all the books are wonderfully written in their own way, but so different, making it hard to compare.”

As one of those judges recruited to devour all eight nominated novels (more than 3,200 pages in total!) and evaluate their relative strengths, I concur with Sisterson. The contenders certainly offered a broad spectrum of reading material--from the densely woven and perfectly period-pitched yarn Catton tells in The Luminaries, and Malane’s tale of a family torn asunder by the long-ago drowning of a child; to the mystery unfolded by Liam McIlvanney (son of the famous William McIlvanney) around a star newspaper reporter’s suspicious death in Glasgow, and Druett’s fifth novel in her series about half-Maori linguist Wiki Coffin, the official investigator traveling with the early 19th-century United States Exploring Expedition. The books’ range of stories and writing styles led to a wide spread of votes among the judges. Sisterson tells me he might have to cast a ballot of his own to “break a near-three or four-way tie for the winner.”

Whatever the ultimate results of this year’s Ngaio Marsh Award competition are, they’ll be broadcast on Saturday, August 30, “following the Great New Zealand Crime Debate event at the WORD Christchurch Writers & Readers Festival 2014.”

READ MORE: ‘Rules Are Made to Be Broken’: The Ngaio Marsh Award and Musings on the Borders of Crime Writing” and “Whiter The Luminaries?” by Craig Sisterson (Crime Watch).

Brainy Runt and His Cheapskate Chief

Just over two weeks ago, Jeffrey Marks--who’s in the midst of composing a biography of Erle Stanley Gardner--posted a list of his 10 favorite Perry Mason novels. Today he follows up with a rundown of his five favorite entries in another Gardner series, this one starring mismatched Southern California private eyes Bertha Lam and Donald Cool. Check it out here. I’m pleased to be able to say that I have read all but one of Marks’ picks.

Saturday, August 02, 2014

Making Off with David

Earlier in the evening, during a banquet at this weekend’s Deadly Ink Mystery conference in New Brunswick, New Jersey, the David Award--named for David G. Sasher and honoring “the best mystery published during the prior year”--was presented to E.F. Watkins for her latest paranormal novel, Dark Music (Amber Quill Press).

Also in the running for this year’s David Award had been: Lethal Treasure, by Jane Cleland (Minotaur); There Was an Old Woman, by Hallie Ephron (Morrow); Condemned to Repeat, by Janice MacDonald (Ravenstone); and The Wrong Girl, by Hank Phillippi Ryan (Forge).

(Hat tip to Classic Mysteries.)

Friday, August 01, 2014

No. 1 on the “77” Hit Parade

I can’t say this for certain, but I do not believe I ever saw the pilot/opening episode of 77 Sunset Strip until earlier today. Titled “Girl on the Run,” it first aired on ABC-TV on October 10, 1958. The screenwriter was Marion Hargrove (who’d go on to script episodes of several James Garner series, as well as I Spy, The Name of the Game, and The Magician). However, the principal driver behind “Girl on the Run” was writer-producer Roy Huggins, whose private-eye creation, Stuart Bailey--introduced in Huggins’ 1946 novel, The Double Take--served as the protagonist in “Girl on the Run” (played by Efrem Zimbalist Jr.) and was carried over into the series.

As Paul Green explains in his recently released biography, Roy Huggins: Creator of Maverick, 77 Sunset Strip, the Fugitive and The Rockford Files (McFarland & Company), in 1958 the Warner Bros. TV studio commissioned a pilot from Huggins for a gumshoe series he proposed titling 77 Sunset Boulevard. So pleased were Warner execs with the results, “Girl on the Run,” that they asked him to expand it beyond its 60-minute length. This gave the studio the option of releasing “Girl on the Run” as a theatrical feature; it eventually showed for a single week in a West Indies theater before introducing ABC’s retitled 77 Sunset Strip. (You will see a promotional poster for that film on the left. Note its “Not Suitable for Children” warning.)

Huggins was concerned that such a release represented part of a Warner Bros. scheme to cut him out of any royalties for the future small-screen series, by claiming that 77 Sunset Strip had been inspired by the film, rather than Huggins’ own literary efforts. Warner Bros. “was also planning another move to enforce [its] ownership of Huggins’ creation,” Green explains. “His third novel, Lovely Lady, Pity Me [1949], was bought by Warner Bros. and a script written [for 77 Sunset Strip] that included Stuart Bailey even though there was no private eye in the original novel.” It seems Huggins’ fears were justified; the studio ultimately refused to pay him royalties for his creation, and he took the studio to legal arbitration over the matter. After Huggins lost, he bowed out of the weekly series 77 Sunset Strip. But the show went on--through six seasons, in fact, the last one being a noirish departure from its predecessors.

Not long ago, I happened across an abundance of 77 Sunset Strip episodes on YouTube (watch them now--while you can!), and the 71-minute version of “Girl on the Run” was among that trove. I’ll let you watch the show for yourself, below, but will offer this synopsis of the plot from the Internet Movie Database (IMDb): “A private investigator is hired to find and protect a singer who witnessed the murder of a union official and is being stalked by the killer. What he doesn’t know is that he has actually been hired by the killer himself.” Just wait until you see which subsequent 77 Sunset Strip cast member plays the vicious, hair-obsessed shooter, Kevin Smiley!

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See Part I of “Girl on the Run” above. For the rest, click here.