Tuesday, November 30, 2010

"Stretch Dawson" by W.R. Burnett (Gold Medal, 1950)

W.R. Burnett’s Stretch Dawson was published in 1950. #106, it was not only the eighth book published by Gold Medal (since the numbering began at 99), but it was also their first Western. At the time, Burnett was the biggest name to appear in the Gold Medal line up to that point. His first success was the gangster epic Little Caesar in 1929, and after that he continued to appear in hardcover, while also penning some terrific movies in Hollywood. The year before Stretch Dawson, Knopf published a hardcover edition of The Asphalt Jungle, which would become one of the best film noirs by John Huston the following year.

Stretch Dawson is the leader of a band of outlaws that crawls its way out of the badlands only to find themselves trapped in a ghost town with an aging miner and his gun-toting granddaughter (curiously nicknamed “Mike” because of her tomboy image). Right away, Stretch finds himself torn between his gang, who wants to steal the old man’s gold, and his affection for Mike, who is equally conflicted between her loyalty to her grandfather and her newly awakened sexuality.

With its swift moving plot and stirring action, Stretch Dawson is an entertaining and worthwhile read. The first third is very strong, especially the opening horse chase through in the badlands, as well as the tense run ins with the trigger-happy granddaughter; the second third hits a slump with too much dull romance (Stretch’s male magnetism and Mike’s swooning are too one-dimensional), but the book finishes up with a solid finale and a rousing gunfight. It isn’t the best Burnett that I’ve read (the Stark House double with It’s Always Four O’Clock and Iron Man are both superior), but it still stands out as an interesting facet of Burnett’s career.

Hollywood made a terrific movie out of the book called Yellow Sky, which was directed by the legendary William “Wild Bill” Wellman and adapted by Lamar Trotti. As good as the book is, this is one instance in which the movie is better. The location shooting in Lone Pine, California looks beautiful in black-and-white, while Death Valley has never looked so desolate. Also, the stellar cast really brings the characters to life. Gregory Peck finds the right balance of charm and darkness as Stretch; Stretch’s rival is played by Richard Widmark, one of my favorite actors, and certainly one of the best villains in film history; and Anne Baxter’s Mike is tougher and less naïve than in the book, and just as ruthless as Stretch, which makes her character more interesting.

As always, a few quotes from the book:

“That blasted gold’s harder to get at than a nun in a convent. From here on in, I stick to bank robbing.”

“Fears and suspicions chased each other through his mind like rats behind a wainscoating. Nervousness grew in him and he began to shake. All at once he took himself in hand, disgusted at the state he was in.”

“Savage shouts rose near the top of the lower slope, then a ragged volley crashed out with stunning violence in the still desert night, and buzzed around the house like a swarm of bees, thudding into the adobe walls and the stout wooden posts, which shuddered under the impact.”

Monday, November 29, 2010

Gold Medal Western Marathon Begins Tomorrow

Pulp Serenade is going Westward!

Over the next couple of weeks, I will be hosting a retrospective of Gold Medal Westerns. It will be a book festival featuring reviews, artwork and quotes for twenty-three books that span nearly half a century.

The festival will begin tomorrow! Please check back daily for updates.

Here is the complete bibliography of books that will be covered. Special thanks to Ed Gorman and James Reasoner for sharing their knowledge and suggestions for this feature.

Stretch Dawson by W.R. Burnett (1950)
The Desperado by Clifton Adams (1950)
A Noose for the Desperado by Clifton Adams (1951)
Red Runs the River by William Heuman (1952)
The Man from Riondo by Dudley Dean (1954)
Some Must Die by Gil Brewer (1954)
The Name’s Buchanan by Jonas Ward (1956)
Dakota Boomtown by Frank Castle (1958)
Guns of North Texas by Will Cook (1958)
Home is the Outlaw by Lewis B. Patten (1958)
Wyoming Jones by Richard Telfair (1958)
Day of the Gun by Richard Telfair (1958)
Buchanan on the Prod by Jonas Ward (1960)
Gunswift by T.V. Olsen (1960)
Texas Fever by Donald Hamilton (1960)
Yellowleg by A.S. Fleischman (1960)
Desert Stake-Out by Harry Whittington (1961)
Lawman by Clay Randall (1964)
High Gun by Clay Randall (1965)
The Rare Breed by Theodore Sturgeon (1966)
Iron Men and Silver Stars edited by Donald Hamilton (1967)
The Lawmen edited by Bill Pronizni and Martin H. Greenberg (1984)
The Railroaders edited by Bill Pronizni and Martin H. Greenberg (1986)
Wolf Moon by Ed Gorman (1993)
The Sharpshooter by Ed Gorman (1994)

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Stark House Press Newsletter

Greg Shepard just forwarded me the following Stark House Press Newsletter, which has some fantastic forthcoming titles, including Peter Rabe and Day Keene, as well as a Stark House Bookclub. Read on for more information.


“Hitch was with this great, high-heeled monster of a woman and the only reason I was along, I spoke Italian and Hitch did not. It turned out that the woman was not Italian at all, she was Sicilian, and her glue-voiced accent was so heavy that I understood almost as little as Hitch. Not that it mattered.”

Hello Everyone--

Stark House Press is happy to announce the long-awaited publication of the late, great Peter Rabe’s final manuscripts, The Silent Wall and The Return of Marvin Palaver. Along with a very rare Rabe short story, “Hard Case Redhead,” the books will appear in a single volume this coming January. The above passage is the opening from The Silent Wall, which Booklist calls “a claustrophobic noir, at times almost unbearably tense.” And it is certainly that. Matty Matheson has the run of an entire town but he is not allowed to leave, held captive by the Mafia for reasons he only thinks he knows.

The Return of Marvin Palaver is a darkly comic, highly complex short book about a swindle, payback and the incredible lengths one man will go to get his revenge against the man who ruined him. Rabe never wrote the same book twice and even with his talent for writing different kinds of crime fiction, the story will leave you breathless with its unique voice and dark sense of humor.

Shortly before his death in 1990, Rabe had sent these manuscripts to friend and author Ed Gorman, who’s had them in his possession until now. We’re ecstatic to be the ones who are finally bringing these books, along with the short story “Hard Case Redhead,” into the world. In “Redhead,” two thieves and their uninvited guest try to wait out the aftermath of a troublesome heist. It’s hard-boiled and noir and shows that Rabe could write just as well at shorter lengths.

Donald E. Westlake named Rabe and Hammett his two major genre influences, Bill Pronzini called him “a kind of fictional surgeon,” and Bill Crider said, “Few writers are Rabe’s equal in the field of the hardboiled gangster story.” If you’ve never read Peter Rabe, there’s no better time to start.

We’re also announcing the creation of the Stark House Book Club with a special offer of free shipping on all our books to everyone who signs up now. No minimum to buy, no obligation, just sign up and you’ll receive each new release, hassle free and with no shipping, as they are published. For a limited time, each new member can order as many backlist titles as they’d like for 15% off list price and again, free shipping. To sign up for the club, e-mail us at griffinskye3@sbcglobal.net. And to check out our list of authors and titles, visit our website at www.starkhousepress.com.

On tap for the near future are a two-in-one volume of vintage sleaze crime novels from the famous (under his real name) Don Elliott and a nice trio from Day Keene, and many other exciting titles. So sign up now and don’t miss a book!

To receive this newsletter automatically, please send your e-mail address. We look forward to hearing from you.

Greg Shepard, publisher
Stark House Press

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Gabriel Hunt Updates

Just received this update from Charles Ardai, the creator of Gabriel Hunt, about the publishing plans for the final volume in the series. I'll hand things over to Charles to explain.

Apologies for the long silence on the Hunt front. As some of you may know, Dorchester Publishing, the publisher we've been working with over the past half dozen years, first to put out our Hard Case Crime line of crime novels and then, more recently, to publish the Gabriel Hunt series of adventure novels, fell on hard times this past summer and is still digging out from under. As a result, they temporarily stopped publishing new books, and the consequence was that the sixth Hunt novel -- HUNT THROUGH NAPOLEON'S WEB -- didn't come out in October as scheduled. We've been in talks with Dorchester about the fate of that book and the line as a whole, and I wanted to bring you up to date.

Happily, the news is good: In a classic, Hunt-like example of snatching survival from the jaws of certain doom, Dorchester will resume publishing paperback novels in 2011, albeit in the larger 'trade' paperback format (typically about 5 inches by 8 inches) rather than the smaller 'mass market' format (about 4 by 7 inches). You wouldn't think that extra inch in either direction would make much difference, but apparently it does for various distribution-related reasons. Alas, it also means that anyone who has the first five Hunt novels in mass market format won't be able to get the sixth in matching size -- and being a collector and a purist myself, I know how annoying that is. But on the positive side, the plan is to reissue all the earlier Hunt books in the new, larger trade size, which should give the whole series a new chance to reach a wide audience.

We don't have a definite date from Dorchester yet for when the trade editions will start arriving in stores, or what the schedule will be, but as soon as we do, we'll let you know. (Yes, if you look on Amazon.com, you'll see a projected pub date of August 8, 2011 for HUNT THROUGH NAPOLEON'S WEB. I'm not sure whether to believe that or not. We'll keep you posted.)

In the meantime, you might be interested to know that a company called AudioRealms is releasing the Hunt novels in audiobook format. They started with HUNT THROUGH THE CRADLE OF FEAR (a personal favorite of mine...), and I have to say that the performance by reader Jim VanDusen is first rate. The unabridged reading runs 8 hours, so you've got several car rides worth of adventure in store for you! And AudioRealms is working on the other Hunt novels as we speak -- hopefully you'll be able to get all six before too much longer. If you'd like to try CRADLE OF FEAR, you can get it on CD or download it to your computer immediately as an mp3. Just go to www.audiorealms.com and click on the Hunt cover on their home page. (It's in the third row.)

And e-book editions of the first 5 titles are still available, with the e-book of #6 scheduled to come out at the same time the paperback edition hits stores.

So...Gabriel Hunt is still alive and kicking. He's taken a bit of a beating, but this is one man who knows how to get up again when he's down. Stay tuned for more news -- and for more adventure.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Rancho Diablo Interview with Bill Crider

A new Western series is here -- Rancho Diablo! A collaboration between writers Bill Crider, James Reasoner, and Mel Odom, and featuring artwork by Keith Birdsong, the Rancho Diablo series will center around main character Sam Blaylock. The first book, Shooter's Cross (published under the house name "Colby Jackson"), is now available in print and as an ebook. One of Rancho Diablo's collaborators, Bill Crider, was kind enough to answer a few of Pulp Serenade's questions about his latest endeavor.

Pulp Serenade: Can you tell us a bit about your cohorts in Rancho Diablo and how you all came together?

Bill Crider: The Rancho Diablo crew is me, James Reasoner, and Mel Odom. Mel is the driving force. He's very into the e-book market, and he thought we should get into it as soon as we could. He thought it would be fun to do something in the spirit of the old pulps. Instead of, say, THE RIO KID WESTERN MAGAZINE, we'd have RANCHO DIABLO WESTERN MAGAZINE, and instead being a print magazine, it would be an e-publication. Mel knew that James and I were big fans of the fiction in the pulps, so he asked what we thought. We thought it was a great idea, and we jumped at the chance to be part of it.

PS: How did you all come up with the main character of Sam Blaylock?

BC: This was a group project from the beginning. We used e-mail to bat around ideas, and everybody contributed. Mel originated the concept, and then we hashed things over until we had characters and a setting that everybody liked. I think I've saved all the e-mails for posterity.

PS: How are you all splitting the writing duties for the Rancho Diablo books?

BC: Mel wrote the first one, James will do the second, and I'm in line to do the third. The idea was that sometimes we might do just a short story instead of a novella, and who knows what might happen as we go along? I'm eager to read James's contribution. After I do mine, we'll see where we stand, and if things are working out, we'll keep going.

PS: Is there a story behind the house name "Colby Jackson" that is attached to SHOOTER'S CROSS?

BC: That's the same story as above. We went over everything together, including all the names, locations, and so on.

PS: Can you divulge any hints about the upcoming books? There’s an advertisement for the next one, HANGROPE LAW at the end of the first book.

BC: Well, I have James's plot summary right here, but I haven't see the completed story, so I don't want to say much. Sometimes an outline and the final product differ considerably. I'll just say that you can count on some more action, some more good writing, and some complications in the relationships with characters from the first episode. This time some of Sam's kids will be involved.

PS: I know you're a big fan of gators and they appear frequently on your blog. Any chance of a gator cameo in a Rancho Diablo book?

BC: I'm not sure gators got up to that part of Texas in the 19th century, but you never know what somebody (namely me) might do.

PS: What is the most fun part of the Rancho Diablo project for you?

BC: Since I haven't written my story yet, I had the most fun during the planning. Mel and James are great to work with, and they're both pretty funny guys. So we had some laughs and we got a lot done at the same time. Which is always fun.

PS: Lastly, what’s up next for you?

BC: There's a big secret project that I'm connected with, along with a few other writers. All will be revealed soon. Of course I'll be working on my Rancho Diablo story soon, too. Next year there'll be another Sheriff Dan Rhodes book, THE WILD HOG MURDERS. And there's always my world-renowned blog [Bill Crider's Pop Culture Magazine]. I keep pretty busy for an old guy.

PS: Thanks so much, Bill.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Day Keene: Critical Perspectives 1

So, what did the critics make of someone like Day Keene back in the day?

This is the first in what I hope will become an ongoing series of explorations into criticism on classic writers, and how their works were received in their own time. For my first posting, I chose one of my favorite novelists: Day Keene (real name Gunard Hjerstedt).

When going through newspaper archives online, I was surprised by how often Day Keene’s work was reviewed in the New York Times. What wasn’t surprising was that it was mostly the work of Anthony Boucher, one of the most famous and important mystery reviewers of the 20th century, and perhaps one of the best critics in general. His reviews may have been short, but they were unerringly perceptive, and often pretty damn funny.

The one thing that kept popping up from review to review was the amount of sex and violence in Day Keene’s books – apparently the critics were sufficiently shocked enough to warn readers in advance. Oh, Gunard…

Without further ado, I am handing things over to the critics!

Framed in Guilt: The story is a great deal better than the atrociously punning title might lead one to hope. –Unsigned (New York Times, Jan 16, 1949)

Death House Doll: Action-crammed, legitimately sexy, with some ironic bite to its hardness, it’s a strong job of good pulp story-telling, in the “Black Mask” tradition. –Anthony Boucher (New York Times, Jan 24, 1954)

Joy House: A bit more conventional than usual… but the story of a murderer on the lam who seeks concealment in a curious sexual alliance is well constructed and sharply twisted in the James M. Cain manner. –Anthony Boucher (New York Times, Jul 25, 1954)

Who Has Wilma Lathrop? Day Keene manages to treat a vivid and violent plot with unusual restraint and quietly convincing realism… Sex and brutality are here integral to the plot and handled with skill and taste, and the writing, in characterization, prose and movement, is the best I’ve read from the always interesting Mr. Keene. –Anthony Boucher (New York Times, Jul 10, 1955)

Bring Him Back Dead: It’s all somewhat oversexed and oversimplified, but fast and concise. –Anthony Boucher (New York Times, Oct 21, 1956)

Passage to Samoa: Combines murder-mystery with the unfailing appeal of ship-wrecked treasure in a lively and enjoyable adventure tale, in which the copious lashings are necessary to the plot. –Anthony Boucher (New York Times, Jan 18, 1959)

So Dead My Lovely, Dead Dolls Don’t Talk, and Take a Step to Murder: Day Keene, recently elected Vice President of M.W.A. for Southern California, has come out with three novels within a matter of weeks… and all are worth reading if you’re not shocked by explicit sexual detail or offended by lapses in taste or careless writing. Keene invents good strong plots, in something like the Williams-Thompson tradition if with less subtlety, and tells them vigorously; but his crudities are sometimes tiresome. I have the impression that Keene was writing better books a few years ago, and the conviction that he’ll be writing still better ones in the future–there’s a lot of unguided talent here. –Anthony Boucher (New York Times, May 10, 1959)

Too Hot to Hold: It’s all a mite too Mittyish, but told with an ease and a speed that are hard to resist. –Anthony Boucher (New York Times, Dec 6, 1959)

Too Hot to Hold: Short, simple, well-written little New York thriller about unhappily married ad-man who stumbles on $200,000 being carried for gangster by lost girl Linda. Chase, passionate love affair and rather a lot of torture. –Maurice Richardson (The Observer, Jan 8, 1967)

Chautauqua: Not all of this first novel by Day Keene and Dwight Vinson is quite that heavy. There is a great deal of good humor, and probably a dose of nostalgia for provincial senior citizens. … The prose is steady, with the viewpoint shifting form person to person like an intelligently handled movie camera. (Both the authors are veteran Hollywood and TV alumni.) “Chautauqua” is good swift melodrama. It belongs somewhere between “Payton Place” and “Winesburg, Ohio.” –George Lea (New York Times, Mar 26, 1960)

World Without Women (with Leonard Pruyn): Keene and Pruyn do an excellent job of sustaining interest and suspense. “World Without Women” is a paperback original, but in entertainment it is a good deal richer than many a hard-cover novel. –Robert R. Kirsch (Los Angeles Times, May 27, 1960)

Payola: Familiar enough in its sex and violence and in its expose of criminous goings on in the pop-record business; but it’s fast, lively and professional, and Irish-Hawaiian Johnny Aolha is better company than many of ficiton’s private eyes. –Anthony Boucher (New York Times, Sept 4, 1960)

The Brimstone Bed: The pornographic-picture gambit has been badly overworked in paperbacks; but Day Keene manages to make it interesting again in The Brimstone Bed, largely by the awesome scale of the business operations and the orgies involved. The story’s fast and effective, but such intensive contemplation of the nasty side of sex may not be to every taste. –Anthony Boucher (New York Times, Oct 9, 1960)

Bye, Baby Bunting: The terror and tribulations of Jennifer’s giving birth to her first child–in prison–and then standing trial for her life, are presented in spade-calling terms that may dismay the queasy. –Vivian Mort (Chicago Tribune, June 30, 1963)

Bye, Baby Bunting: Rather unlikely in spots, but holds up beautifully. –Unsigned (Tucson Daily Citizen, June 29, 1963)

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Newspapers sure ain't what they used to be (Day Keene edition)

Wouldn't it be swell if you could get your morning cup of coffee, tea, or Ovaltine (my preference), and open the daily newspaper to page 29 and read a serialized version of a Day Keene novel? Well, beginning in May of 1953, you could. While doing research on Day Keene (real name Gunard Hjerstedt), I discovered that his novel To Kiss, or Kill was serialized in at least two different newspapers: the Oshkosh Daily Northwestern in Oshkosh, Wisconsin, and the Galveston Daily News in Galveston, Texas.

And they say New York has everything...well, here's at least one thing we definitely don't have.

Here's a glance at the first installment of the serial on page 29 of the Galveston Daily News, May 29, 1953. Right between the shoes and the comics, and beneath the Indo-China War.

P.S. Pulp Serenade reviewed the Gold Medal edition of To Kiss, or Kill earlier this year.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

News Update: Top Suspense Group

I'm excited to report about a new eBook venture called Top Suspense Group. Founded by Dave Zeltserman (author of The Caretaker of Lorne Field and Pariah), Top Suspense Group is offering eBook versions of some of the best crime writers out there, including Ed Gorman, Vicki Hendricks, Max Allan Collins, Bill Crider, Harry Shannon, and Zeltserman himself.

What I find encouraging about this group – beyond the service of making available some great books, some of which are unjustly out of print (such as Gorman's spectacular Western Wolf Moon) – is that it is bringing people together to work as a group. We all know the literary industry is undergoing a lot of changes, and people are figuring out how to adapt in order to survive as authors, publishers, and readers. Collaborations such as Top Suspense Group seem like a good possibility for the future.

Read the official press release below:



Electronic books are soon to be a billion dollar business, yet it's more difficult than ever to find a good read, especially via digital download. With more than 700,000 ebooks already on line, with a good number of them self-published, ebook stores are becoming the equivalent of publisher's past 'slush piles'. A newly-formed collaborative site called The Top Suspense Group plans to slash through all the clutter. www.topsuspensegroup.com will be offering readers one central site filled with exciting e-books, covering several genres and all at reasonable prices.

"Readers can count on us," creator and acclaimed author Dave Zeltserman explains, "Every member of our group has already made his or her mark on genre fiction, whether it's noir, crime, mystery, thriller, horror or Westerns, and in some cases, several of these genres."

Authors aboard include Zeltserman, Max Allan Collins, Bill Crider, Ed Gorman, Vicki Hendricks, and Harry Shannon.

Zeltserman has spoken before about the difficulty readers have in searching for sites that offer seasoned professionals. Top Suspense Group members make some of their finest material available at affordable prices. Many of the ebooks will contain bonus material, such as the writer’s commentary on the book that has been purchased, or the addition of a free short story.

"We believe readers will appreciate a reliable inexpensive site that continuously delivers some of the best in contemporary genre fiction," said Top Suspense Group member and multi-award winning author, Max Allan Collins.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Coming Soon: Gold Medal Westerns Marathon

Coming soon to Pulp Serenade will be a marathon of Gold Medal Westerns. Reviews, quotes, and high-quality scans will accompany all reviews, as well as an essay of appreciation. While the Gold Medal crime novels get most of the acclaim these days, the imprint also published a large number of excellent Western novels (many of them authored the same writers as their crime novels). This marathon will celebrate the Gold Medal Westerns with a selection of their best works that span nearly half a century. Stay tuned for more details!

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

NoirCon Pictures

Kieran Shea and Jonathan Woods

Dennis Tafoya

The NoirCon Bookstand, courtesy of Farley's Bookshop - this is only a fragment of the books they brought along! A great selection that included books by all of the panelists. If only I had won the lottery before I attended...

NoirCon Audience

NoirCon Master of Ceremonies Charles Benoit gives away a raffle prize: beer!

Lou Boxer, NoirCon founder, pulls double duty as bartender.

Jed Ayres, Kieran Shea, and Wallace Stroby

Scott A. Cupp and Patti Abbott

Eric Rice and Aaron Finestone

Ed Pettit, Meredith Anthony, and Peter Rozovsky

Megan Abbott and Anthony Neil Smith

Matthew Martin Quinn, Libby Cudmore, and William Boyle

Margery Budoff, Jeff Wong, Scott Phillips, and Lou Boxer

Cameron Ashley and Duane Swierczynski

Monday, November 8, 2010

NoirCon Day 4

The final day of NoirCon got off to a spectacular start with Fantomas at 99: The Lord of Terror, a panel about the famed French arch-criminal that has appeared in numerous books, comics, and movies over the past century. Panelists Howard A. Rodman and David White detailed not only the rich heritage of Fantomas, but also the many possibilities the future holds for the figure, who continues to appear in books and movies (including White's own novel, Fantomas in America).

Fantomas began as a serialized novel in 1911 by Marcel Allain and Pierre Souvestre. The cheap publication was similar to the pulp magazines in America around the same time. They continued to write these 100,000 word issues at the rate of one a month for two years straight. White and Rodman revealed that the reason why Fantomas had two protagonists who were after the arch criminal, Inspector Juve and the journalist Fandor, was that Allain and Souvestre to each write about one character, which sped up the process. The two writers would spend 1 week plotting, 2 weeks on their own writing, and then 1 week combining their writing into the finished product.

Howard A. Rodman and David White

Rodman and White showed stills from the many Fantomas movies, including the famous silent serial by Louis Feuillade from 1913; a lost American serial made in the early 1920s; Paul Fejos' sound version from 1932; Fantomas Against Fantomas, which is from 1949 and set in a castle owned by the SS; and this curious surrealist short called Monsieur Fantomas, which was made by Ernst Moerman in Belgium in 1937. The panelists said the short was online, and low and behold it is!

The final event of NoirCon was called the Last Call Panel, which featured authors William Lashner, William Boyle, Jon McGoran, and Lawrence Light. They began with a discussion of one topic they felt had been missing from the 4-day event: humor. As Lashner said, "The less in life your expectations have been met, the more necessary humor is to keep you from going insane." He also revealed that "serious sex scenes frighten me," which got the audience laughing. This led into a discussion of sex in noir fiction ("I think some people should do it, and some people shouldn't," according to William Boyle ), followed by a look at different perceptions of villains. Scott Phillips, from the audience, cracked everyone up with a story about his evil dentist who once made him get a root canal without any anesthetic. When Phillips would cry out in pain, the doctor would remind him, "It can't possibly hurt!" To end the event, Lawrence Light told a rousing Irish yarn about how all it takes is one goat to ruin a man's reputation. Overall, the candid panel was lively and engaging with lots of interaction with the audience, a great ending to NoirCon 2010.

William Lashner, William Boyle, Jon McGoran, and Lawrence Light

Sunday, November 7, 2010

NoirCon Day 3

Day 2 of NoirCon 2010 ended with a great, low-key hang in the lobby of the Doubletree Hotel. Now, that made getting up for Day 3 a little tough on only 4 hours of sleep, but it was well worth it for Keynote Speaker Joan M. Schenkar's Lady in the Dark: As Noir As it Gets, a slideshow presentation on Patricia Highsmith. The author of The Talented Miss Highsmith: The Secret Life and Serious Art of Patricia Highsmith wittily began by saying, "What could be more noir than a hungover writer trying to address an audience during breakfast?"

"You can take the dark out of night, but you can't remove the noir from American society," said Schenkar. The presentation revealed how the enigmatic author's life often mirrored her own duplicitous, peculiar characters -- sometimes eerily so, such as how Highsmith repeatedly set murders in her books in the real life locations of her lovers' homes. Love and murder are inextricable in Highsmith's work, Schenkar maintained. Both are described as "a pursuit and a capture," and even while even Highsmith's The Price of Salt may have the distinction of being her only book without a murder, Schenkar insightfully pointed out how many of the metaphors involve bullets or other violent acts, leaving a subtle shade of death on every page.

Other quotes that have stayed with me are: "She was always in disguise. Misdirection was her middle name"; "She wasn't a crime writer -- she was a punishment writer. She was really concerned with how murder affects the murderer"; and "She inspected human like a martian on high."

Noir Scholars: Joan M. Schenkar, Lou Boxer, Robert Polito

Up next was another Highsmith-related panel: "Patricia Highsmith at the Movies" with Rich Edwards and Thomas Kaufman. Focusing just on the Ripley adaptations, the two panelists used clips and frame enlargements to show how filmmakers used cinematic compositions to represent the complexities of the Ripley character. The films they focused on were Purple Noon (1960), The American Friend (1977), The Talented Mr. Ripley (1999), Ripley's Game (2002) and Ripley Under Ground (2005). Despite feeling that "the movie adaptations lack the audacity and perversity of the original novels," both panelists made strong cases for the artistry of all the adaptations.

Rich Edwards and Thomas Kaufman

Next, Megan Abbott and Anthony Neil Smith took the stage for Through a Rearview Darkly: A Revisionist History of Noir. Abbott and Smith are not only stellar fiction writers, but both have a deep, scholarly understanding of literature, and they have Ph.Ds to back it up. Their focus was on the contentious fascination of noir writers with the 1940s and 1950s. They dared to ask how we can represent those areas without falling into pastiche or cliche. Smith and Abbott cite Walter Mosley and James Ellory as two of the first (and most influential) writers who began to re-examine the classical noir age through different lenses. This was one lively discussion, with some participants arguing that writers shouldn't fetishize the post-war Los Angeles area anymore, while others maintained that the city's importance in the evolution of noir literature makes it an important focal point to return to.

Megan Abbott and Anthony Neil Smith

Following lunch, John Buntin, author of L.A. Noir, gave a historical presentation called Sorting Out the Syndicate: Goombahs, Gonifs, and The Italian-Jewish Mob. Buntin detailed the criminal and police clash in Los Angeles from the 1930s through 1950s by examining the rise of L.A. crime boss Micky Cohen and LAPD police chief William Parker.

John Buntin

Next up was the panel Damn Near Dead 2: Live Noir or Die Trying!, based around the upcoming anthology from Busted Flush Press. A number of authors took the stage: Patti Abbott, Scott Cupp, Christa Faust, Scott Phillips, S.J. Rozan, and Reed Farrel Coleman. After the authors described their stories and how they got involved with the anthology, they all shared memories of late Busted Flush Press founder David Thompson. The audience shared their own stories about David, which made for a warm and endearing memorial.

Christa Faust, Scott Phillips, S.J. Rozan, Scott Cupp, Patti Abbott, and Reed Farrel Coleman

The final panel of the day was Reality and Noir, with Wallace Stroby and David Corbett. The authors discussed the need to make the criminal element both more realistic and human. Stroby used his experiences as a journalist (including a tense but hilarious dinner with the New Jersey mob to honor the retirement of a fellow reporter who covered organized crime), while Corbett shared many stories from his days as a real Private Investigator. "Evil is paying the bills," Corbett memorably said, explaining that "for the most part we represented the bad guys." Corbett also offered the following wisdom: "Number one rule of criminal defense: snitches lie." He and Stroby also advised never to hire a convicted felon for a locksmith -- apparently, it is a popular occupation for felons that want to go "straight."

Wallace Stroby

David Corbett

Saturday, November 6, 2010

NoirCon Video 2: George Pelecanos Reads David Goodis

George Pelecanos, recipient of the David L. Goodis Award at the 2010 NoirCon, reads an excerpt from Goodis' The Wounded and the Slain.

NoirCon Video 1: Robert Polito Reads Kenneth Fearing

This video is of Robert Polito reading two poems by Kenneth Fearing at NoirCon2010. The poems are St. Agnes' Eve and Angel Arms. Apologies for the poor audio quality.

NoirCon Day 2

NoirCon Day 2 got off to an auspicious start when I bumped into Reed Farrel Coleman and S.J. Rozan trying to make sense of Google Maps' confusing directions on the street. Somehow between all of us, we did make it there on time for the opening panel, "Pornography in Noir Fiction," which included Reed, as well as Jay Gertzman and Christa Faust. Reed, always with a sense of humor, offered an alternate title for the panel: "Hegelian Motifs in Cat Cozies." The conversation had as much to do with the shape-shifting definitions of both "noir" and "pornography" as it did the function of such labels. Christa made a good point about the necessity of sex scenes in literature to show the uniqueness of characters, and that by cutting to the conventional "blowing curtains" (as she called it), or by overly dramatizing or idealizing the moment, a writer loses a great opportunity to show how a character can react both physically and emotionally.

Christa Faust and Reed Farrel Coleman

Up next was the Philadelphia Noir panel, centered on the newly published anthology by Akashic Press. Wrtiers Meredith Anthony, Dennis Tafoya, Jim Zervanos, and Duane Swierczynski, and editor Carlin Romano, were in attendance. The panel hammered home the importance of how intimate knowledge of locations and site-specific research can not only enhance a story, but offer new avenues for plot and character.

Meredith Anthony, Jim Zervanos, Duane Swierczynski, Carlin Romano

The third panel of the day was a conversation with Johnny Temple, publisher of Akashic Books and recipient of the Jay and Deen Kogan Award for Excellence in Publishing, and Tim McLoughlin (editor of Brooklyn Noir). It was exciting to learn that Temple was a member of the punk rock band Girls Against Boys -- as a musician, I always appreciate seeing overlaps between two of my biggest areas of interest. The thing that Johnny said that stayed with me most was that his main goal with Akashic was to "normalize diversity" by publishing under-represented writers, minorities, and even genres, and by not limiting them to niche markets or labels. Everything they publish they treat as literature with the utmost respect.

Tim McLoughlin and Johnny Temple

It was my great honor to host a conversation with the great William Heffernan for the International Association of Crime Writers luncheon. Heffernan spoke of the real-life story that inspired his latest novel (and one of his best), The Dead Detective: it was a news story he heard about a mother who one day decided to leave her car running and murder her two children, and then headed to church. One survived, the other didn't. Heffernan then fictionalized the story by asking, "What if the surviving son became a police officer and had to deal with another case that involved abuse against children, how would he handle it?"

William Heffernan and myself

Heffernan also talked about his career in writing, which began as a journalist for several different newspapers in New York and New Jersey. It was an economic necessity, but it was also a crucial training ground, as his assignments brought him close to the crime and corruption that would be at the core of so many of his novels. It also brought him close to danger: while looking into the supposed accidental death of someone, Heffernan was shot at by someone who didn't want the death investigated or questioned. He also spoke of his contacts with the police department, who could give him first-hand insight into the life and career of Johnny Broderick, who was the focus of his first novel Broderick, and how because the statute of limitations had passed, they could reveal the famed NY police officer's corruption and violence.

Stylistically, Heffernan explained his preference of switching between multiple points of views (often including the killer's perspective, even when we as readers don't know their real identity). For him, the attraction of mystery fiction is that level of insecurity, of realizing just how vulnerable we really are, of opening up to the dangers that could be present at any moment.

After my conversation with Heffernan, Laura Lippman took the stage with George Pelecanos, recipient of the David L. Goodis Award. Pelecanos gave a great, one-sentence definition of noir: "There's no way out." Laura had a great, comical quote about Pelecanos' work: "Sane, well people don't write the books you write." Pelecanos later explained that, "It is all right to wake up in the gutter once in a while, but when you are 50 and you wake up int he gutter it isn't fun any more." Regarding his latest book, The Way Home, Pelecanos explained, "There is nothing more noir than a kid born in the wrong place."

Laura Lippman and George Pelecanos

The Dark Passage: Noir Poetry panel opened up with Ed Pettit reading Joseph Moncure March, as well as a poem solely comprised of David Goodis titles. Robert Polito, author of Savage Art about Jim Thompson, read several selections from his book Hollywood and God as well as poems by Kenneth Fearing, author of The Big Clock. What stayed with me most from Polito was his point that noir fiction has a complex mainstream tradition: it is at once on the fringes, and populated by characters also on the fringes, but at the same time these stories not only get to the heart of American society, but they are also part of mainstream literature. In the case of Goodis he was writing widely-distributed paperback novels, while someone like George Pelecanos is writing a hit TV show The Wire and reaching broad audiences with his novels.

Robert Polito and Ed Pettit

The Writers on Noir panel included Vicki Hendricks, Reed Farrel Coleman, William Heffernan, Seth Harwood, and Cameron Ashely. Something Heffernan said stayed with me: "The only time I outline is if a publisher requests one. Then I throw it way. There is a certain moment when characters begin to take over a book. If they don't, then I'm in trouble..."

William Heffernan, Vicki Hendricks, Reed Farrel Coleman

At the Awards Ceremony, Temple said many kind words about David Thompson of Busted Flush Press, who tragically died all too young last month. Pelecanos ended his speech by saying that that, "I'm very proud to be a crime writer and one of y'all."

Johnny Temple and Lou Boxer

The NoirCon 2010 Awards

Thursday, November 4, 2010

NoirCon Day 1

NoirCon 2010 is off to a great start! The 4-day event fittingly kicked off with Larry Withers' terrific new documentary, David Goodis...To a Pulp. When Withers' mother, Elaine, passed away, he and his family discovered a family secret that had been locked away for nearly half a century: Elaine had been married to a young pulp writer named David Goodis. Withers' doc is both a literary biography and a love story, but not the kind with a nice and neat ending. While much of their relationship is still shrouded in mystery, Withers chronicles both of their lives leading up to their brief marriage, what happened to both after the divorce, and -- most importantly -- Elaine's impact on Goodis' writing. Withers, along with Goodis scholars such as Lou Boxer, Aaron Finestone and Jay Gertzman, provides evidence that the haunting, domineering women in many of Goodis' books may be variations on his relationship with Elaine.

David Goodis...To a Pulp is a long overdue vindication for the legacy and work of David Goodis. It treats his novels with the scholarly eye and respect they deserve, and provides a humanistic portrait of a man who, still to this day, is as much an enigma as he is an icon. Fans of the author will not want to miss this one. Stories such as him pretending to get caught in the train tracks, or playing Dr. Kildare with his friends, makes Goodis all the more recognizable as a real person, but it also makes his erratic adult behavior all the more complex.

The post-film Q&A with Jared Case revealed that not only was the documentary made with passion, but also on an incredibly shoestring budget, which makes the final product all the more impressive.

Goodis Scholars Galore on Opening Night:
Aaron Finestone, Jay Gertzman, director Larry Withers, and Mr. Noircon himself, Lou Boxer


Also on day 1, I got to meet in person many friends I have made through Pulp Serenade. Patti Abbott, Jed Ayres, Cameron Ashley, Lou Boxer, Aaron Finestone, Duane Swierczynski, Kieran Shea. Sitting at a German Beer Hall (while sipping herbal tea, no less), Jonathan Woods (author of Bad Juju & Other Tales of Madness and Mayhem) wandered over to our table to hang out. The fabulous graphic designer Jeff Wong (who made the awesome program for NoirCon 2010 pictured at the top, as well as designing many of the Busted Flush Press covers), was also at our table.

All in all, a great start to NoirCon.

More updates tomorrow!

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

NoirCon Pre-Gaming

Over the course of the next several days, Pulp Serenade will be attending NoirCon in Philadelphia. I am very excited for the event. On Friday morning, I will also be moderating an hour-long conversation with author William Heffernan, whose most recent novel The Dead Detective is just out from Akashic Books.

Throughout NoirCon, I will be taking pictures and some video clips and uploading them here to Pulp Serenade. That is, assuming I can get the digital camera to work. I've never used one before, so keep your fingers crossed that I can figure it all out tonight.

If you are at NoirCon, please let me know!

I am hoping to meet a lot of new people and make lots of new friends.

See y'all in Philly!
Related Posts with Thumbnails